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London, Saturday, August 10, 1861

The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1102, p. 132.

August 10, 1861

"The news, long looked for, came at last." On Sunday London heard that on the preceding Sunday fortnight the soldiers of the South and North had met in decisive battle; and we learned that the Secessionists had inflicted disastrous defeat upon the Federalists. The details have since arrived; every one has mastered them; and it is not needful to recapitulate the story of the ill-advised attack, of scientific defence, of retaliatory onslaught, and of disgraceful flight. The day was not done when miles upon miles of the road between Bull's Run and Fairfax were covered with fugitives from the apprehended vengeance of the South. The flight did not end with the end of possible danger. The terrified soldiers of the Union continued to hurry onwards, and their rush was only checked at Washington. Of the amount of slaughter we know nothing with certainty, but an army might have better afforded to lose half its members than to endure the moral blow which has fallen. The Palmetto flag is for the time triumphant. Fierce is the exultation of the South; deep the humiliation of the North. Yet the disaster is perfectly explicable; and it is much to know the causes of things. The Southern force was well disciplined, and was led by men who have studied the art of war. It was, in great measure, acting on the defensive, in a district admirably suited for the purpose, and these natural advantages had been largely improved. The Northern force rushed upon battle without due preparation, and it is to the blatant folly of the newspapers acting upon the weakness of statesmen who fear the mob that this great disaster is due. Scott would not have fought until autumn, it is understood; but the idiot shout "Go ahead!" drove him upon the guns of the South, and the Union flag has gone down. On the more disgraceful part of the story it is painful to dwell. A battle may be lost; every battle must be lost as well as won; but panic and cowardly flight, accompanied by acts of yet more cowardly ferocity, are features in few of the battles of civilised war. It is clear that such volunteers as have yet been raised are not to be depended on for the steadiness which is the greatest virtue of a soldier, one for which no courage, no enthusiasm, is an equivalent. General Scott has to reconstruct his army and to make it fit for the field; and when we read of new thousands being poured down as reinforcements, we cannot but ask in what respect do these promise better than their predecessors? What, too, shall be said of the "soldiers" who, because the last day of their term was up, quitted their fellow-countrymen under the thunder of the guns of Beauregard? The whole narrative is too full of unpleasant features to induce an English writer to dwell upon it. Nor will we do more than advert to the savage braggadocio which, at the moment of an earlier and temporary success, menaced England with the seizure of Canada in return for her resolve of neutrality. Had the Union been less miserably beaten at Bull's Run we might have resented such wanton and unjust insult; as it is, we are silent. Let it be understood, however, wherever English journals are read, that the victory of the South places its cause in no better position in English eyes, and that if we see any favourable sign in this opening misfortune, it is that the South has given such evidence of its strength that an American statesman who shall, when the Northern laurels have been somewhat retrieved, suggest a compromise and peace, will be able to advance the strongest of all arguments—the impossibility of crushing the enemy. There was a rumour that, the Confederates were advancing, and that Harper's Ferry was to be the next scene of strife. Possibly, in abandoning a defensive position, they may forfeit the results of their victory, and yet General Beauregard does not appear to be a rash and headstrong leader. Washington has been secured, and the energies of the aged Generals of the North, nearly all of whom are very old men, are devoted to the reconstruction of the army.

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