"The Fall of Richmond and Southern Feeling," New York Times, April 6, 1865, p. 4.
New York Times
The Fall of Richmond and Southern Feelings
John Osborne, Dickinson College
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
The Fall of Richmond and Southern Feeling
How will the Southern people take the capture of Richmond? As it is determined, so shall we know whether pacification and reconstruction will be easy or difficult, expeditious or protracted. We have had no such test before. So long as Richmond successfully defied our national armies, hope could linger in the Southern bosom that the confederacy itself might never be conquered. But no such hope can survive the fact that the most strongly fortified and best guarded spot in the confederacy has had to yield. So long as the Richmond government was a living force in its own capital, it might repress all opposition. But now that government is a fugitive, without power to deter or intimidate.
The Southern people have now to decide in the full face of the actual truth and without any malign constraint, whether to discard the rebellion or not. It seems most incredible that they should consent that their brothers and sons shall continue to be sacrificed in useless fighting. This would argue a worse than barbarian insensibility. There might be a certain mulish obstinancy that would prompt this, or a brutal determination to make our triumph cost us as dear as possible, even though it makes them bleed all the more, but rational men are not so actuated. Such men govern themselves by practical ends, and seek to relieve themselves as soon as possible from a fatal position. It may be said that a sense of honor may influence the Southern people not to desert their imperilled leaders. Probably the Confederate army has something of this feeling in respect to LEE. It is natural for good soldiers in any cause to acquire a personal attachment to their General, if he be able and brave, and to feel no more like abandoning him in his hour of peril than he would feel like abandoning them when danger threatened. We look for some exhibition of this spirit from a portion of LEE's veterans. There are men in his army who will probably adhere to him and fight for him to the last - till he either makes a voluntary surrender of himself, or succeeds in effecting his escape from the country. But no part of the army has any such feeling toward JEFF. DAVIS, or any other of the civil leaders. Nor are the Southern people out of the army bound to LEE's fortunes by any such military sentiment. It is their action that is the primary concern. If they resolve to give up the Confederacy, and show this determination by their political action through their State Legislatures and their primary conventions, the mere fact that some of LEE's soldiers might do a little fighting on his account, would make no change. Such warfare, with no civil government behind it, and no popular sentiment to back it up, would quickly languish and end. Undoubtedly the most unfavorable fact now in the way of the development of an effective Union feeling in the South, is the want of bold and able leaders. The men who have been accustomed to shape and direct the popular sentiment of the South have all been up to their eyes in the rebellion, and they cannot now utter a word against it without stultifying themselves. This will tend to keep them reticent. It is doubtful whether there are any new men who would have the power to concentrate and organize the new-born loyal sentiment without trouble and delay. A strong personal influence is needful for this, and that can hardly be acquired in a day. It is a pity that ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS has not more nerve and force of will. With his clear intellect, he certainly sees that the fall of Richmond is substantially the fall of the Confederacy. With his practical sense he as certainly appreciates that the future interests of the Souuth require as speedy and hearty a reconciliation with the North as possible. Would he speak out his present convictions in the language which befits them, and call for a prompt and square facing about towards the old Union, the effect, we believe, would be tremendous. It is true that he is the Confederate Vice-President, and that he has lent his powers, in some measure, though never fully to the maintenance of the rebellion. But the record still stands in his favor that he did all this under protest, in persuance of a pledge, unfortunately given, that he would abide by the action of Georgia. With all his misdoing, he has less consistentency than any other public man to embarrass him. The fate of the Confederacy is a complete verification of the wisdom of his great Milledgeville speech the week after the Presidential election of 1860, in favor of loyally accepting the result. Mr. STEPHENS has a splendid opportunity to fall back on his first ground, and to rally the South upon it, with personal honor to himself and immense good to the country. But we hardly expect this. He shrinks from responsibility.
Yet let the Northern people hope for the best, and evince no other than a concilliatory spirit. They may have to exercise much patience before the Union feeling in the South is organized into a practical movement toward reconstruction. But in all events, we shall surely very soon know, better than hitherto, the breath and depth of this feeling. The fall of Richmond must disclose it. So far as it exists, it will straightway manifest itself, by agitation at least, if not organized action. Whatever its extent or its aspect, it should be aided by all the moral support that the government and our people can give it.