[From] THROUGH SMOKE OF BATTLE
IN June, 1860, just as Mrs. Stowe was on the eve of returning from Europe, she received the news of the death of Miss Annie
Howard, the beautiful daughter of her intimate friend, Mrs. Tasker Howard. She had been almost as near and dear to Mrs. Stowe
as an own daughter. To Mrs. Howard she writes: "Ah! Susie, I who have walked in this dark valley now for three years, what
can I say to you who are entering it? One thing I can say—be not afraid and confounded if you find no apparent religious support
at first." Her own heart, sore and bleeding from the loss of her son Henry, she had written to her husband: "Since I have
been in Florence I have been distressed by unutterable yearnings after him [Henry], such sighings and outreachings, with a
sense of utter darkness and separation." So she had moved in the midst of all the popularity and adulation that she received,
with a hungry, aching heart. She wrote to her husband: "I long for my
husband, my children, my room, my yard and garden and the beautiful trees of Andover."
The voyage home was as delightful as smooth seas and congenial company could make it. Mrs. Stowe, Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne, and Mr. and Mrs. James T. Fields made a rare assemblage of choice spirits. Hawthorne exclaimed one moonlight evening, "O, that we might never get there!" On the pier at East Boston, as the steamer docked, were Professor Stowe and Charley, adorned with smiles and cobwebs,—the latter acquired by poking their heads out of all sorts of unfrequented nooks and crannies in their efforts to get a first glimpse of the home-returning travelers.
The political horizon at this time was dark and threatening, but no one dreamed of what was coming or realized that the storm
of war was about to break upon the nation. In a conversation at this time held in the Stone Cabin at Andover between Frederick
Douglass, Mrs. Stowe, and an old colored woman, a kind of prophetess, called Sojourner Truth, Douglass, in all the bitterness
of his soul, painted the hopelessness of the situation. What Mrs. Stowe said on the more hopeful side was swept away like
a dam of rushes before the flood of his eloquence. Sojourner finally rose up
to her majestic height and cried out, "Frederick! Frederick! Is God dead?" One evening, not long after, Professor Stowe and Doctor Lyman Beecher were talking over the situation which both admitted to be very dark indeed. They were sitting in rocking-chairs on opposite sides of the fireplace. "Well, Father Beecher," exclaimed Professor Stowe, "there is one comfort! The Lord reigns!"
"Yes, Stowe," said the old man, making that characteristic gesture with his right fore-finger so well known to all who had heard him preach, "and the devil tries to, yes, the devil tries to!"
Never was there a more impressive scene in that old stone house in Andover than that which followed the receipt of the news
of the attack on Fort Sumter. Twenty or thirty sturdy old farmers came to talk matters over with Professor Stowe, who was
full of fight and courage. There was to be war he thought, but it would be short and decisive, and the Union would be saved.
Neither Professor nor Mrs. Stowe ever had the least sympathy with Garrison's idea of secession. They often said that the
Northern States were equally culpable with the Southern for the existence of slavery, and hence should not leave them
alone to grapple unaided with dangers and difficulties which they had so largely helped to bring upon them. Mrs. Stowe asserted that the agitation kept up by the Anti-Slavery party in the United States, augmented by the general antipathy of Europe to slavery, had made unbearable the position of the slave-holding aristocracy. They felt themselves under the ban of the civilized world. "Two courses only were open to them," says Mrs. Stowe,—"to abandon slave institutions, the source of their wealth and political power, or to assert them with such an overwhelming force as to compel the respect and assent of mankind. They chose the latter."
She did not state, what was nevertheless the fact, that the strong sentiment in Europe against slavery was largely the result
of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The above quotation is taken from her reply to the "Address from the Women of England," published
in the Atlantic Monthly in January, 1863. This address shows how clearly she grasped the situation. The thunder of the cannon in Charleston harbor
spoke to her ears with no uncertain sound. The slave power had determined to sever a union they could no longer dominate.
The address concludes: "The time of the Presi-
dential canvass that elected Mr. Lincoln was the crisis of this great battle between slavery and freedom. The conflict had become narrowed down to the one point of the extension of slave territory. If the slave-holders could get states enough they could control and rule; if they were outnumbered by free states, their institutions by the very law of their nature would die of suffocation. . . . A President was elected pledged to opposition to this one thing alone (the extension of slavery)—a man known to be in favor of the Fugitive Slave Law, and other so-called compromises of the Constitution, but honest and faithful in his determination on this one subject. That this was indeed the vital point was shown by the result. The moment Lincoln's election was ascertained, the slave-holders resolved to destroy the Union they could no longer control."
Mrs. Stowe had herself contributed in a larger measure than she ever suspected to this situation. When Lincoln sent out his
call for troops, thousands of young men responded whom "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had made the deadly enemies of slavery. One of
the first to volunteer was her own son, the little boy who had cried out ten years before, when "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was read
the first time, "Oh, mama, slavery is the most cruel thing in the world!" The little boy of eleven was now a young man of twenty-one. He was at the time a student of medicine, studying under Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes at the Harvard Medical School. Mrs. Stowe's son was full of the patriotic enthusiasm which filled the very air he breathed. He wished to enlist immediately. His mother wanted him to finish his studies and then enter the army as a surgeon. Dr. Holmes tried to persuade him to the same effect. One day when the three were arguing the matter in Dr. Holmes's study, throwing his hat on the floor with a dramatic gesture, the young man cried out hotly, "I should be ashamed to look my fellow men in the face if I did not enlist. People shall never say, 'Harriet Beecher Stowe's son is a coward.'"
There was no more resistance, and the next day he enlisted in Company A of the First Massachusetts Infantry. The young man
felt very strongly that a son of the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" should be in the very front of the physical conflict which
that book had done so much to precipitate. Mrs. Stowe was to learn from personal experience what thousands of mothers were
feeling throughout the land. Immediately after the first battle of
Bull Run a poor mother whose son had fallen in that action came a long distance to see Mrs. Stowe. "O, Mrs. Stowe, God only knows what I suffer," she said, the tears streaming down her wrinkled face, "but I wanted to see you and tell you about it," she continued, as she tightened her grasp on the hand that held hers. Mrs. Stowe, the tears rolling down her own cheeks, turned on the poor woman a face in which it seemed as if the sorrows of the nation were pictured in all their tragic greatness and said, "Yes, you suffer, I suffer, we all suffer!" And she continued, "But we do not suffer alone. There is a Great Heart of Infinite Love that suffers with and for us!" The simple-hearted woman went away greatly comforted. Probably there arose in Mrs. Stowe's mind at that moment those prophetic words which she afterwards wrote: "It was God's will that this nation—the North as well as the South—should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South; that the ill-gotten wealth, which had arisen from striking hands with oppression and robbery, should be paid back in the taxes of war; that the blood of the poor slave, that had cried so many years from the ground in vain, should be answered
by the blood of the sons from the best hearthstones through all the free States; that the slave mothers, whose tears nobody regarded, should have with them a great company of weepers, North and South,—Rachels weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted; that the free States that refused to listen when they were told of lingering starvation, cold, privation, and barbarous cruelty, as perpetrated on the slave, should have lingering starvation, cold, hunger, and cruelty doing its work among their own sons, at the hands of these slave-masters, with whose sins our nation had connived."
On June 11, 1861, she wrote to her husband from Brooklyn. "Yesterday noon Henry [Ward Beecher] came in, saying that the Commonwealth, with the First Massachusetts Regiment on board, had just sailed by.
"Immediately I was of course eager to get to Jersey City to see Fred. Sister Eunice said she would go with me, and in a few
minutes she, Hattie, Sam Scoville, and I were in a carriage driving towards the Fulton Ferry. Upon reaching Jersey City we
found that the boys were dining in the depot, an immense building with many tracks and platforms. It has a great cast-iron
under the roof, apparently placed there with prophetic instinct of these times. There was a crowd of people pressing against the grated doors which were locked, but through which we could see the soldiers. It was with great difficulty that we were at last permitted to go inside, and that object seemed to be greatly aided by a bit of printed satin that some man gave Mr. Scoville.
"When we were in, a vast area of gray caps and blue overcoats was presented. The boys were eating, drinking, smoking, singing, and laughing. Company A was reported to be here, there, and everywhere. At last Sam spied Fred in the distance and went leaping across the tracks towards him. Immediately afterwards a blue-overcoated figure bristling with knapsack, and haversack, and looking like an assortment of packages, came rushing towards us.
"Fred was overjoyed you may be sure, and my first impulse was to wipe his face with my handkerchief before I kissed him. He was in high spirits in spite of the weight of blue overcoat, knapsack, etc., etc., that he would have formerly declared intolerable for half an hour.
"I gave him my handkerchief and Eunice gave him hers, with a sheer motherly instinct that is so
strong within her, and then we filled his haversack with oranges.
We stayed with Fred about two hours, during which time the gallery was filled with people cheering and waving their handkerchiefs. Every now and then the band played inspiring airs in which the soldiers joined with hearty voices. While some of the companies sang others were being drilled, and all seemed to be having a general jollification. The meal that had been provided was plentiful, and consisted of coffee, lemonade, sandwiches, etc.
"On our way out we were introduced to the Rev. Mr. Cudworth, chaplain of the regiment. He is a fine-looking man, with black hair and eyes set off by a white havelock. He wore a sword, and Fred touching it asked, 'Is this for use or ornament, sir?'
"'Let me see you in danger,' answered the chaplain, 'and you'll find out.'
"I said to him I supposed he had had many entrusted to his kind offices, but I could not forbear adding one more to the number. He answered, 'You may rest assured, Mrs. Stowe, I will do all in my power.'
"We parted from Fred at the door. He said he
felt lonesome enough Saturday evening on the Common in Boston, where everybody was taking leave of somebody, and he seemed to be the only one without a friend, but that this interview made up for it all.
"I saw also young Henry. Like Fred he is mysteriously changed, and wears an expression of gravity and care. So our boys come to manhood in a day. Now I am watching anxiously for the evening paper to tell me that the regiment has reached Washington in safety."
Then came the news of the first battle of Bull Run. Again there was a long line of farmers' wagons drawn up before the Stone Cabin whose owners wanted to talk matters over with the Professor and his wife. Then came two lively letters from Fred Stowe written on the battle-field. The first day he did not get an opportunity to fire his gun at a real live "reb" all day, and the sun was, as he phrased it, "thundering hot." The shells, as they whizzed through the air, reminded him of great bumble-bees. For his part he had been neither hurt nor scared, and fired his gun only once, and that when he shot a young pig which they roasted on their bayonets and ate with great relish.
It is impossible for human beings to live all the time on a strain like a bow strung to its utmost tension. Not sombre gloom, but a cheerful excitement, pervaded the household in the old Stone Cabin at Andover most of the time during the War. Cheerfulness, hopefulness, and courage was indeed the atmosphere of Mrs. Stowe's life. She concluded a little speech at the celebration of her seventieth birthday with these words, "Let us never doubt. Everything that ought to happen is going to happen." This was her philosophy of life.
During the darkest days of the Civil War, when disaster and defeat to our armies in the field coupled with rumors of possible
foreign intervention to compel the Northern States to recognize the Confederacy were filling the stoutest hearts with gloomy
forebodings, Mrs. Stowe was talking one day with Dr. Holmes in Mr. James T. Fields's study in Boston. She was speaking with
unusual animation of her confidence that all would come out right in the end, and Dr. Holmes and Mr. Fields were listening
intently. As she paused for a moment, Dr. Holmes eagerly exclaimed, "O, Mrs. Stowe, do go on! I do love to hear any one talk
who believes so much more than I can!" It
was about this time that her younger son went to his mother's room to bid her good-night and found her reading her New Testament, a candle in one hand, and in the other an iron crucifix that always hung over her bed. "What are you doing, mother?" he exclaimed in surprise. She looked up and said impressively, "My dear child, I am seeking the strength to bear what God has given us to bear in these sad days!"
"But why do you hold that crucifix in your hand?"
"Because it is a visible, tangible emblem of my Crucified Lord, and it helps me to cling to Him! I want to feel that I hold
fast to Him! That I have a dear friend to whom I can cling as well as a God to adore." The rest of the conversation was past
repeating, but left an ineffaceable impression on her son's mind. Once when this same son rashly risked his life in skating
over thin ice, his mother said to him as he was going to bed, "O, Charley boy, you've kept the angels very busy to-day!" For
Mrs. Stowe there was no natural and supernatural any more than to the writers of the New Testament. To her the supernatural
was the habitual. It lay about us like a cloud, a world we might not see. "Our dead," she wrote, "are
ministering angels: they teach us to love, they fill us with tenderness for all that can suffer."
In November, 1862, Mrs. Stowe, with many others, was invited to visit Washington, and attend a great Thanksgiving dinner which was to be provided for the thousands of fugitive slaves who had flocked to that city. This invitation she accepted the more gladly because her son's regiment was then encamped near the city. She wished also to have a talk with Mr. Lincoln. By a proclamation issued September 22, 1862, he had warned the states still in rebellion that unless they should return to their allegiance by January 1, 1863, he would, purely as a matter of military necessity, declare the slaves within their borders free. Mrs. Stowe was anxious to learn from his own lips what was to be his policy in this matter.
From Washington she writes to Professor Stowe in Andover: "Imagine a quiet little parlor with a bright coal fire, and the
gaslight burning above the centre-table about which Hattie, Fred, and I are seated. Fred is as happy as happy can be with
mother and sister once more. All day yesterday we spent in getting him. First we had to procure a permit to go to camp, then
we went to the fort where the Colonel is, and then to another where
the Brigadier-General is stationed. I was so afraid that they would not let him come with us, and was never happier than when at last he sprang into the carriage free to go with us for forty-eight hours. 'O!' he exclaimed, in a sort of a rapture, 'this pays for a year and a half of fighting and hard work!'
"We tried hard to get the five o'clock train out to Laurel where James' [James Beecher, her youngest brother] regiment is stationed, as we wanted to spend Sunday all together; but could not catch it, and so had to content ourselves with what we could have. I have managed to secure a room for Fred next ours, and feel as if I had my boy at home once more. He is looking very well, and has grown in thickness, and is as loving and affectionate as a boy can be.
"I have just been writing a pathetic appeal to the Brigadier-General to let him stay with us for a week. I have also written to General Buckingham with regard to changing him from the infantry, in which there seems to be no prospect of anything but garrison duty, to the cavalry, which is full of constant activity.
"General B. called on us last evening. He seemed to think that the prospect before us was,
at best, of a long war. He was the officer deputed to carry the order to General McClellan relieving him of command of the army. He carried it to him in his tent about twelve o'clock at night. Burnside was there. McClellan said it was very unexpected, but immediately turned over the command. I said I thought he ought to have expected it after disregarding the President's order. General B. smiled, and said he supposed McClellan had done that so often before that he had no idea any notice would be taken of it this time."
On Thanksgiving Day, 1862, Mrs. Stowe attended the great dinner given to the Freedmen in Washington. In her reply to the "Address
from the Women of England" sent to her so many years before, she thus alludes to this occasion "This very day the writer of
this [reply] has been present at a solemn religious festival in the national capital, given at the home of a portion of those
fugitive slaves who have fled to our lines for protection,—who under the shadow of our flag find sympathy and succor. The
national day of thanksgiving was there kept by over a thousand redeemed slaves, for whom Christian charity had spread an ample
repast. Our sisters, we wish you could have witnessed the scene. We wish you
could have heard the prayer of a blind old negro, called among his followers John the Baptist, when in touching, broken English he poured forth his thanksgiving. We wish you could have heard the sound of that strange rhythmical chant, which is now forbidden to be sung on Southern plantations, the psalm of this modern exodus,—which combines the barbaric fire of the 'Marseillaise' with the religious fervor of the old Hebrew prophet:—
'Oh, go down Moses,
What impressed Mrs. Stowe most strongly was that the burden of this old negro's prayer was for humility. His great fear for himself and his people seemed to be that, becoming filled with pride, they might forget the God who had saved them.
Mrs. Stowe, in telling of her interview with Lincoln at this time, dwelt particularly on the rustic pleasantry with which
that great man received her. She was introduced into a cosy room where the President had been seated before an open fire,
for the day was damp and chilly. It was
Mr. Seward who introduced her, and Mr. Lincoln rose awkwardly from his chair, saying, "Why, Mrs. Stowe, right glad to see you!" Then with a humorous twinkle in his eye, he said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war! Sit down, please," he added, as he seated himself once more before the fire, meditatively warming his immense hands over the smouldering embers by first extending the palms, and then turning his wrists so that the grateful warmth reached the backs of his hands. The first thing he said was, "I do love an open fire. I always had one to home." Mrs. Stowe particularly remarked on the expression "to home." "Mr. Lincoln," said Mrs. Stowe, "I want to ask you about your views on emancipation." It was on that subject that the conversation turned. Mrs. Stowe, like so many others at this time, had failed to grasp Lincoln's far-sighted statesmanship. "Mr. Lincoln has been too slow," she said, speaking of what she called his "Confiscation Bill." "He should have done it sooner, and with an impulse. . . ." Bismarck has said something to the effect that a statesman who should permit himself to be guided exclusively by abstract moral considerations in his public acts would be like a man
taking a long pole in his mouth and trying to run through a thick woods on a dark night. Would it have been for the best interests of humanity to have had a John Brown or a Garrison in Lincoln's place in those critical moments of the Civil War?
At this period Mrs. Stowe's interest in literature was overwhelmed by the intensity with which she entered into the great struggle that was going on about her. She wrote to the Independent, "The agitations and mental excitements of the war have in the case of the writer, as in the case of many others, used up the time and strength that would have been devoted to authorship.
"Who could write on stories that had a son to send to battle, with Washington beleaguered, and the whole country shaken as with an earthquake?" . . .