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The Civil War in America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1094, pp. 571-572.

June 22, 1861


The Times continues to receive letters from its Special Correspondent in the Southern States of America. On the 23rd ult. Mr. Russell writes as follows from New Orleans:—

The Congress at Montgomery, having sat with closed doors almost since it met, has now adjourned till the 20th of July, when it will reassemble at Richmond, in Virginia, which is thus designated, for the time, capital of the Confederate States of America. Richmond, the principal city of the old dominion, is about 100 miles in a straight line south-by-west of Washington. The rival capitals will thus be in very close proximity by rail and by steam, by land and by water. The movement is significant. It will tend to hasten a collision between the forces which are collected on the opposite sides of the Potomac. Hitherto Mr. Jefferson Davis has not evinced all the sagacity and energy, in a military sense, which he is said to possess. It was bad strategy to menace Washington before he could act. His Secretary of War, Mr. Walker, many weeks ago, in a public speech, announced the intention of marching upon the capital. If it was meant to do so, the blow should have been struck silently. If it was not intended to seize upon Washington, the threat had a very disastrous effect on the South, as it excited the North to immediate action, and caused General Scott to concentrate his troops on points which present many advantages in the face of any operations which may be considered necessary along the lines either of defence or attack. The movement against the Norfolk Navy-yard strengthened Fortress Monroe, and the Potomac and Chesapeake were secured to the United States. The fortified ports held by the Virginians and the Confederate States' troops are not of much value as long as the streams are commanded by the enemy's steamers; and General Scott has shown that he has not outlived either his reputation or his vigour by the steps, at once wise and rapid, he has taken to curb the malcontents in Maryland, and to open his communications through the city of Baltimore. Although immense levies of men may be got together on both sides for purposes of local defence or for State operations, it seems to me that it will be very difficult to move these masses in regular armies. The men are not disposed for regular lengthened service, and there is an utter want of field-trains, equipment, and commissariat, which cannot be made good in a day, a week, or a month.

The bill passed by the Montgomery Congress entitled "An Act to Raise an Additional Military Force to serve during the War" is, in fact, a measure to put in the hands of the Government the control of irregular bodies of men, and to bind them to regular military service. With all their zeal, the people of the South will not enlist. They detest the recruiting sergeant, and Mr. Davis knows enough of war to feel hesitation in trusting himself in the field to volunteers. The bill authorises Mr. Davis to accept volunteers who may offer their services without regard to the place of enlistment, "to serve during the war, unless sooner discharged." They may be accepted in companies, but Mr. Davis is to organise them into squadrons, battalions, or regiments, and the appointment of field and staff officers is reserved especially to him. The company officers are to be elected by the men of the company; but here again Mr. Davis reserves to himself the right of veto, and will only commission those officers whose election he approves.

The absence of cavalry and the deficiency of artillery may prevent either side obtaining any very decisive results in one engagement, but no doubt there will be great loss whenever these large masses of men are fairly opposed to each other in the field. Of the character of the Northern regiments I can say nothing from actual observation, nor have I yet seen in any place such a considerable number of the troops of the Confederate States moving together as would justify me in expressing any opinion with regard to their capacity for organised movements such as regular troops in Europe are expected to perform. An intelligent and trustworthy observer, taking one of the New York State militia regiments as a fair specimen of the battalions which will fight for the United States, gives an account of them which leads me to the conclusion that such regiments are much superior when furnished by the country districts to those raised in the towns and cities. It appears in this case, at least, that the members of the regular militia companies in general send substitutes to the ranks. Ten of these companies form the regiment, and in nearly every instance they have been doubled in strength by volunteers.

Reverting to Montgomery, one may say without offence that its claims to be the capital of a Republic which asserts that it is the richest and believes that it will be the strongest in the world are not by any means evident to a stranger. Its central position, which has reference rather to a map than to the hard face of matter, procured for it a distinction to which it had no other claim. The accommodations which suited the modest wants of a State Legislature vanished or were transmuted into barbarous inconveniences by the pressure of a Central Government, with its offices, its departments, and the vast crowd of applicants which flocked thither to pick up such crumbs of comfort as could be spared from the Executive table. Never shall I forget the dismay of myself and of the friends who were travelling with me on our arrival at the Exchange Hotel under circumstances with some of which you are already acquainted. With us were men of high position, members of Congress, senators, ex-governors, and General Beauregard himself. But to no one was greater accommodation extended then could be furnished by a room held, under a sort of ryot-warree tenure, in common with a community of strangers. My room was shown to me. It contained four large fourpost beds, a rickety table, and some chairs of infirm purpose and fundamental unsoundness. The floor was carpet-

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The Civil War in America: Harper's Ferry, Virginia.

Page 572

less, covered with litter of paper and ends of cigars, and stained with tobacco-juice. The broken glass of the window afforded no ungrateful means of ventilation. One gentleman sat in his shirt-sleeves at the table, reading the account of the marshalling of the Highlanders at Edinburgh in the Abbotsford edition of Sir Walter Scott; another, who had been wearied, apparently, by writing numerous applications to the Government for some military post, of which rough copies lay scattered around, came in, after refreshing himself at the bar, and occupied one of the beds, which, by-the-by, were ominously provided with two pillows a piece. Supper there was none for us in the house; but a search in an outlying street enabled us to discover a restaurant, where roasted squirrels and baked opossums figured as luxuries in the bill of fare. On our return we found that due preparation had been made in the appartment [sic] by the addition of three mattresses on the floor. The beds were occupied by unknown statesmen and warriors and we all slumbered and snored in friendly concert till morning.

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