The Illustrated London News

Home | About | Introduction | Bibliography | Articles | Illustrations | Search | Links

Northern Reverses.

The Illustrated London News, vol.41, no.1155, p.66.

July 19, 1862


Through the haze of the telegrams brought to this country by the China and the preceding packets from New York and Quebec, dimly outlining such information from the principal seats of war as the Government at Washington thought fit to give to the American public, looms the fact that the Federal arms have sustained a succession of serious reverses. The Confederate General, "Stonewall" Jackson, suddenly quitting the valley of the Shenandoah and crossing the mountainous district lying between it and Richmond, fell upon General M'Clellan's right wing, and succeeded, after three days' sanguinary conflicts, in driving it back behind his centre and left wing, on the other side of the Chickahominy River. Another battle, fought on Sunday, June 29, probably resulted in a still more important defeat of M'Clellan's forces (subsequently confirmed by the news brought by the Jura), since the Secretary of War forbad the Northern press to publish any detailed news. It is clear, however, that things have gone unfortunately with the Federals, or President Lincoln would hardly have issued a proclamation calling for 300,000 additional troops, much less would a cry have been raised for a conscription, if necessary. But ground has been lost elsewhere than before Richmond. James Island, lying in close contiguity to Charleston, has been evacuated by the troops under General Hunter, and the campaign against that city has been indefinitely suspended. The position of General Curtis in Arkansas had become so precarious that he is reported to have retired into Missouri. Vicksburg, on the Mississippi, still remains in possession of the Confederates, although the latest news states that its bombardment by twenty Federal vessels had commenced. Altogether, Northern prospects have become gloomy; the idea of mediation appears to be entertained with some show of favour; and the night before the China steamer sailed from New York an enthusiastic public meeting in favour of peace was held in that city. If these latter statements can be safely taken as indicating a turn in the current of public sentiment, we might almost indulge the hope that the conclusion of this most disastrous war cannot be very far off.

Summer heat has now entered upon its allotted term on the American continent, and what that means in the Southern States the shiploads of sick men sent back to New York may faithfully, but only faintly, make manifest. A tropical sun acting upon an immense extent of unreclaimed forest and swamp fearfully tries the vigour of even an acclimatised constitution. When associated with the toils and hardships, the broken rest, and the coarse and irregular fare of camp life, it becomes a more merciless foe than men, however infuriated and in whatever force, can prove themselves. Its power is unseen and intangible, and therefore irresistible. It is at work along the whole line night and day. No resolution, no discipline, no bravery, can fight it off. The havoc it has already played with M'Clellan's army far exceeds that inflicted by the arms of his adversaries, and as yet the unhealthy season has but initiated its rule. For several weeks previously the commander had reiterated the most urgent demand for reinforcements, and it was only just before the late reverses that General M'Dowell had succeeded in joining him with his division. The telegram tells us that in the collision before Richmond, M'Clellan was driven from his position on the Pamunkey River and the White House "with great loss," and that "there was fearful carnage on both sides." Quite irrespectively, therefore, of his strategical loss, which, by changing his position, has increased his disadvantages, if not involved his army in danger, it seems evident that he will be unable to resume the offensive, even if he succeeds in holding his ground, until after the solstitial months. Protracted inaction during the coming three months, at least in Virginia, would appear to be the best prospect which the case of the Northern army will now admit of, and there is a possibility that it may have to face a far more gloomy one. The 300,000 additional men called for by the President will not be available for the purposes of the closing campaign, and Northern patience and persistence are doomed to undergo a further and much severer test than it has yet sustained.

We record these Federal reverses with unfeigned regret. We are conscious of no inclination to allow the unreasonable petulance into which the baffled hopes of a young and self-confident community have temporarily betrayed it to alienate our sympathies from the principles with which, whether it means so or not, its conduct in this struggle is inseparably identified. We cannot find pleasure in its humiliation, nor gratify our own violated self-respect by taunting it with the collapse of its vainglorious boasts. But it would be childish to attempt to pass any delusion upon ourselves as to the stern significance of the facts before us. We see in them, indeed, no proof that the North is essentially inferior to the South in military qualities. We do not trace them to lack either of courage, of discipline, or of generalship. But we do ascribe them to the nature of the enterprise upon which the North saw fit, although under great provocation, to embark. All subsidiary chances are against them, for the simple reason that they are invaders of the soil of a hostile people. They can command no accurate information because the inhabitants of the Southern States regard them with fiercest hate—they are not familiar with the regions into which they seek to penetrate. They cannot choose their own ground, nor determine where or when battle shall be given them. Political reasons, if not strategical exigencies, have compelled them to distribute their forces over a vast surface, and every important place that they take must be held by garrisons detached from the main army. Their antagonists, on the contrary, move about amid a sympathising population, know every movement of every part of the invading force, are free to select the positions they will abandon or hold, and, by surrendering minor advantages, can concentrate nearly their whole military power at will upon any one point. It will require immense superiority in men and means to balance these advantages, and it is no discredit to the military character of the North that it has not succeeded where European arms would have certainly failed. Its miscarriage is almost inevitable; for, although it may tear out the word "impossibility" from its dictionary, the stubborn impracticability of geographical facts and of physical and moral laws will successfully defy it. Its only chance was bound up with the hope that the rebellion was the work of a dominant faction rather than the deliberate resolve of a whole population. When that hope was shattered every likelihood of ultimate success was shattered with it.

The question now presents itself whether, during the coming three months of compulsory inaction, the North will hang on to its determination to reinstate the South in the Union with the same desperate tenacity of purpose it has hitherto exhibited. Already a peace party makes itself heard, and the alternative of mediation begins to be discussed. With the evidence before us of the singular want of correspondence, from the very beginning of this war, between European predictions and American events, we will not be rash enough to forecast the probabilities of the future. But we may venture to say that such moral certainties as are within view do not favour a belief that another campaign must precede the termination of hostilities. That, no doubt, is at the present moment the fixed intention of the Government at Washington; perhaps, also, it is the preponderant resolution of a majority of the people. But there is no saying how long it will remain so. In the first place, all the sober-minded and well-informed classes of society must have become sceptical, to say the least, of the feasibility of the enterprise upon which they started, and of its desirability even if it is considered feasible. The temper of the Southern people can no longer be mistaken. Their attachment to the cause of Secession has been tried by the severest vicissitudes, but has never wavered even for a moment. No compromise will entice them back—no offer to concede their largest claims. This fact has become undeniable, and a protraction of the war can hardly be persisted in with the expectation of practically disproving it. The main object for which the North so enthusiastically welcomed privation, suffering, debt, taxation, and even death, may be said to have disappeared. Will not this fact take the heart out of resolution? Immense losses have been incurred--immense sacrifices are further required; and there is no reasonable hope that either the one or the other will be of ultimate avail. For several weeks to come there will probably be no tidings calculated to excite or feed national ambition. Swollen sick-lists, commercial disquietude, the rapid exportation of bullion, high prices, and the first call of the tax-gatherer, are not very well adapted to shore up a bulging and undermined determination to persevere. Should the North give way to inevitable necessity, or, as Napoleon III. describes it, to "the inexorable logic of facts," before the middle of October next, and should it invite mediation in place of rushing into a new campaign, it will be only yielding to the force of motives which all the world over are powerful to influence reasonable minds.

That the statesmen and people of Federal America may feel their way to a settlement of this terrible quarrel before the close of the summer heats will be, we are sure, the most earnest desire of Englishmen of all political parties. They are convinced that free institutions are never in greater peril than during the convulsions of civil strife. They can discover no possible compensation in the future either of Europe or of America for such a miserable waste of life and resources as another campaign would entail. Perhaps they are not wholly disinterested in their desire for the restoration of peace. But, whether their own industry would be profited or otherwise by the sheathing of the sword, it is certain that the dictates of humanity alone would suffice to make them hail with delight any probable prospect of witnessing the end of a contest which, in political and moral as well as in social and commercial respects, has proved the most calamitous event of modern times.


According to the last advices three ships had arrived at San Francisco, from Hong-Kong, with 1000 Chinamen on board.

Colonel Colt, the inventor of the revolver, died worth about £800,000. His manufactory at Hartford, United States, employs 1100 hands, and the wages paid there amount to £10,000 per month.

Previous: [A Letter from Jerusalem]ArticleVolume 41, no.1152, p.2 (18 paragraphs)
Next: Foreign IntelligenceArticlevol.41, no.1155, p.67 (21 paragraphs)
Article List for: Illustrated London News: Volume 41

Download Article as Plain Text

Search Entire Text

Article Date

University Libraries | Beck Center | | Emory University
A Joint Project by Sandra J. Still, Emily E. Katt, Collection Management, and the Beck Center.

Powered by TEI