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CONGRESS AND SLAVERY.
In the winter of 1861-2, while the army of the Potomac was still under the command of General McClellan, some members of the famous Hutchinson family of singers who in those days were widely known in New England came to Washington, and asked the secretary of war to permit them to visit the camps across the Potomac and sing to the soldiers. Secretary Cameron was delighted, for their songs were simple and beautiful; he not only allowed them to go, but he commended them. So, McClellan gave his permission to have them sing. Delighted crowds of soldiers gathered about wherever the singers went; for the songs brought the best and dearest thoughts of their own homes back to them. But an officer passing near caught a word that sounded like "abolition." That would never do. There was a small tempest among those to whom this was reported until
news reached McClellan himself. For the Hutchinsons were singing that most stirring and beautiful hymn written by the Poet Whittier "In War Time," a translation of Luther's Hymn, meaning "A Mighty Fortress is our God." It was a song for men to hear when none knew how soon they might be called to give up their lives for their country.
"In vain the bells of war shall ring
But blest the ear
That yet shall hear
As soon as he heard of it, McClellan issued an order forbidding the Hutchinsons to sing to the troops and sending the singers back across the Potomac. For General McClellan had announced to the people of Virginia what amounted to a promise to send back to them any slaves who should escape into the Union lines. This treatment of the Hutchinson family shows how many of the commanders felt in regard to slavery. But they could not keep the soldiers from that strange song which came from no
body knows where and was a favorite in the army for so long:
"John Brown's body lies mouldering in the grave, His soul is marching on!"
This was a hidden threat against slavery
whether the soldiers understood it or not.
But all generals did not agree with McClellan. General Butler at first thought the same. But when he was in command at Fortress Monroe, three negro slaves came within the Union lines from the confederate army near by. They said they were the property of a confederate colonel who was going to send them to North Carolina to work on confederate fortifications there. The owner sent word to Butler to return them to him. But General Butler thought that if the negroes were going to be set to work on fortifications, it would be better to set them to work on his own. He could not see why we should send men, black or white, to help build confederate fortifications behind which the Union soldiers could be shot down. If the negroes were going to do any digging or work of any kind, they ought to do it for him. He did not discuss slavery at all; he took the colored men just as he would have taken horses or mules or powder and shot, or food, or fodder for cattle, or the cattle themselves, or anything, no matter what