Mr. Seward to Mr. Dayton.
Sir: Your despatch of March 25 (No. 129) has been submitted to the President.
It relates to a conversation which you held with the Emperor on the 25th of March last.
The President is pleased with the fact that you have had an opportunity, under favoring circumstances, to submit his opinion concerning the desirableness of a revocation of the imperial decree by which the insurgents were recognized as a public belligerent.[Page 330]
The Emperor is understood to have avowed in that conversation that this decree was made upon the assumption then commonly held by European statesmen, that this government would be unable to maintain the authority of the American Union. After discussing the changed condition of affairs, so far as it was then visible in Europe, his Majesty reverted to the question so naturally presented to his mind, whether cotton would be speedily procured from the United States when the national forces shall have come into occupation of the ports in the so-called cotton States.
I am instructed now to give you a more full and particular survey of our military position as it is at the present moment, to enable you to show to Mr. Thouvenel that it is such as authorizes friendly nations to assume, as a fact, the certainty of the failure of the insurrection.
Secondly. I am to show you how the immediate commercial interest of France is involved in an early revocation of the concession of belligerent rights to the insurgents.
A map of the middle, southern, and southwestern States accompanies this paper and elucidates it.
You will bear in mind that all those States called slave States are the seat of the insurrection, and that all the other States called free States, together with the Territories, are free from its presence, and even from the roots from which the insurrection sprang. Not a division, brigade, regiment, or even a company of men, organized in or derived from any free State or Territory, is in arms against the Union. Some of the border slave States have furnished regiments to each cause. But Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia severally have sent very large forces into the armies of the Union. Missouri has been cleared of all organized bodies of insurgents, and for some time the outrages once committed by the few roving guerilla bands there have ceased.
The battle of Pea Ridge, in which General Curtis beat the chiefs Van Dorn, Price, McIntosh, and McCullough, has firmly established that general and the national colors in the northwestern part of Arkansas, which is an interior slave State. In Kentucky, a border slave State, no insurgent force remains. All the fortified positions of the rebels have been abandoned, and the State of Tennessee, an interior slave State, has been crossed by the advancing army of the nation, which, after the victories of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the occupation of Bowling Green, Nashville, Murfreesborough, and Columbus, a few days since captured the fortified position of Island No. 10, with one hundred and twenty-five guns and six thousand prisoners,and two days afterwards beat the revolutionary army, eighty thousand strong, at Pittsburg Landing, killing their general-in-chief, Albert Sidney Johnson.
Within the last few days General Mitchell, by a forced march and subsesequent evolutions, manifesting extraordinary vigor, occupied, without loss, Huntsville, Stevenson’s Station, and Decatur, and thus possessed himself of one hundred and ten miles of the Charleston and Memphis railroad, with two hundred prisoners, twenty locomotive engines, and a large number of railroad carriages, which will be very useful in future operations.
This stroke is very important, insomuch as it cuts the great artery of communication by railroad between Memphis and Richmond with the southeastern (slave) States. Jacksonsborough, in Eastern Tennessee, has been visited by our forces, which are thus seen to be approaching Knoxville, the principal city of that always loyal part of the State of Tennessee.
The western part of Virginia has been cleared of insurgents, and General Frémont has set his columns in motion in that direction from Monterey and Moorefield. General Banks is ascending the valley of the Shenandoah. General Blenker’s division is on the march from Warrenton towards Strasburg to unite in that movement which promises to cut the Richmond and [Page 331] Covington railroad first, then the Southwestern Valley railroad of Virginia, and so sunder the communication between Richmond, the seat of the pretended confederacy, and Knoxville.
General McDowell, with the army which covers Washington, reports that the insurgents have retired upon Richmond from the new line which they recently attempted to establish on the Rappahannock and the Rapidan. The eastern shore of Virginia has been entirely relieved of insurgents by General Lockwood’s brigade.
Generals McClellan and Wool, at Fortress Monroe, and on the peninsula between the York and James river, are laying siege upon Yorktown, which covers the approach to Richmond from Chesapeake bay.
General Burnside occupies the cities, sounds, and coasts of the eastern part of North Carolina, an interior (slave) State, and holds Fort Macon by siege, which cuts it off from all succor
The national forces have cleared all insurgent bodies from a territory which embraces one hundred and fifty thousand square miles, and which, at the last census, returned a population of three millions. One-half of the coast of South Carolina and the whole coast of Georgia, and the harbors, cities, and coasts of Eastern Florida are occupied by the army under the command lately of General Sherman, now of General Hunter. The fortresses of the Florida reef at Key West and the Tortugas islands at the harbor of Tampa Bay and Cedar Keys are all garrisoned by national forces. Ship Island, Biloxi, and Pass Christian, on the coast of Mississippi, the head of the delta of the Mississippi river, are also fully occupied by federal troops. Fort Pulaski, on the Savannah river, and commanding Savannah, having undergone bombardment several days, has at last succumbed. There is scarcely a harbor on the coast of the insurrectionary States, from the Chesapeake to the Mississippi, which is not held and hermetically sealed by a force occupying some island or battery, as well as by the blockading squadron. Charleston, St. Mark’s, Apalachicola, and Mobile, although not occupied by troops, are yet closely blockaded by our fleet. New Orleans is threatened by the bomb fleet of Captain Porter, who is ascending, and by the iron-clad flotilla of Captain Foote, which is now descending the Mississippi with General Pope’s victorious army under convoy. A few days will probably complete the opening of the Mississippi river, and restore to the country that national outlet of the great granary of America which disunion, in its madness, has temporarily attempted to obstruct, in violation not more of political laws than of the ordinances of nature.
An iron-clad fleet is being rapidly concentrated to reduce Fort Sumter and the fortifications of Mobile.
The national forces contain not one drafted conscript or other involuntary soldier. They have risen to the number of seven hundred and eleven thousand men. They are amply provided with arms of precision, artillery, wagons, horses, steamers, and other means of transportation, clothing, and all the provisions and appliances of war.
Supplies are cheap and abundant. The magazines contain clothing and tents for several months, and the people are pressing upon the commissariat their requests to furnish additional stores. An order from the Secretary of War to receive no more volunteers brings back remonstrances from individuals and States.
Twenty-five thousand prisoners, carefully guarded in the loyal States, find themselves better sustained, better clad, and more humanely treated than they were when bearing arms against the government. The insurgent chiefs have for months resorted to levies en masse and to drafts, forcing the young and the aged, the loyal and the disloyal alike, into their unnatural service. The troops of the Union are all well equipped, well drilled, well [Page 332] disciplined, good marksmen, brave, patriotic, and eager. They make much and very skilful use of the bayonet, and always with effect. They are everywhere advancing. They have taken every position they have approached, and have won every battle and skirmish in which they have been engaged for several months past.
Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the western and northern parts of Virginia, as well as Eastern Florida, have been abandoned by the insurrectionary chiefs.
Finally, not only are our resources ample, but our credit is undisputed and sound, while that of the insurgents is exhausted, and they are reduced for revenue to direct taxation upon only the cotton States, which, while they produce little else than cotton, are threatening to destroy the cotton now on hand, and refusing to plant the seeds for a future crop.
We think we may safely submit to maritime nations the question whether there is any longer the least ground to apprehend a failure of this government to restore the federal authority in the revolutionary section, and to maintain and preserve the federal Union. If this is so, is it generous, just, or wise for friendly states any longer to recognize the insurgents as a public belligerent?
The questions how soon cotton can be gotten, and how much cotton, of course depend mainly upon the point how soon and how completely the insurrection shall cease. The Emperor of France need not be told that terror precedes and desolation follows the track of armies, and that when war has ceased, industry resumes its haunts and habits just in the degree that they have left unexhausted the resources of the country.
We have seen that the insurgents threaten to destroy the cotton already in store, and to prevent the new planting of that important staple. Why? There is a reason frankly assigned by them, namely, to compel France and Great Britain to become their allies in a war against our own country. Why do they still dream that such alliances are yet possible? Only because they have seen France and Great Britain seem to hesitate whether to look for cotton through the overthrow of the Union or through its success in arms. In the President’s opinion it is this attitude of maritime powers alone that now prolongs the war. The war will indeed speedily come to an end, in which the Union will triumph, even though that attitude of friendly nations remains unchanged; but the end would follow all of a sudden the change of attitude. There is no doubt that the blockade might be safely removed, and cotton, tobacco, and other southern productions be left to flow freely out of the southern ports, if commercial states should now come to the conclusion to know and regard the flag of the Union as the only one in our country entitled to be known in their commercial and political intercourse.
It is proper that you should be informed that a despatch essentially similar to this has been transmitted to Mr. Adams, with instructions to exercise his discretion as to the time when its suggestions shall be communicated to the British government. You will exercise a like discretion on your part.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
William L. Dayton, Esq., &c., &c., &c.