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London: Saturday, February 7, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1187, p. 139.

February 7, 1863


Whatever light may be thrown upon the foreign relations of America by the debates which have recommenced at Westminster, it is certain that the state of the war and the domestic politics of the so-called Union are involved in a haze which at once obscures and distorts the objects it envelops. At this moment the American journals which are supposed to have the best means of procuring information can tell us neither what is being done nor what is wished. It is true that each of the leading papers--cæci cæcos--is in a manner wedded to a party. When such is the case in England, and when such used to be the case in France, the utterances of party organs were at least frank and intelligible, let them be worth what they might as exponents of truth. But even the party organs in Federalia seem afraid of the crisis, of one another, and of themselves, and anything more helplessly self-contradictory than the united evidence of the American press upon the present condition of affairs can hardly be conceived. There seems only one point upon which they are agreed, although they express their conviction, of course, with more or less reticence, and that is, that the President of the North is a mistake. A certain amount of credit is given to him for being a well-meaning man, but such saving clauses are always followed by an array of proof that all his well-meanings lead to bad ends. The Democrats are naturally the most unsparing in their strictures on Mr. Lincoln. They do not actually invite him to lay down his authority and subside into the country attorney, but they endeavour to impress upon the public that, unless he does pretty much the same thing--namely, abandons all his plans and all his Cabinet--the nation will be ruined. The Abolitionists are bound to praise his proclamation; but they regard it as a brutum fulmen until the war shall be carried on in a way which they evidently consider him unable to point out, or even superintend; and, indeed, the Tribune seems inclined to give up the game, and proposes that the North shall "bow to malignant fate" if another three months' sharp fighting (again ninety days) shall not have suppressed the Confederates.

We do not yet hear how the Imperial Message recommending a conference has been received. But his Majesty's declaration that he proposes to stop the undue extension of Anglo-Saxon dominion in America has given great offence, although circumstances will scarcely permit the Federals to display the anger they feel. We do not attach much weight to a demonstration which has been made on the subject in Congress. It is not to be expected that the North will fly in the face of their former idol and compel him to a recognition for which they believe him to be only too ready. The celebrated Mexican despatch does not come formally under the notice of Mr. Seward, and he will hardly volunteer to take it up; and he may urge that it concerns the South even more than the North. We shall be surprised if this despatch, which in other days would have been answered by a riotous demonstration of defiance, will prevent Mr. Seward from returning a very polite answer to the conference proposal. We may also risk the expression of our belief that unless that answer be a direct acceptance of the scheme--an event hardly within probability--it will not very much disturb the present plan of the Emperor of the French.

It is generally believed that the army of the Potomac, under Burnside, is once more to be launched against the Confederates. We have heard of marchings and counter-marchings, but we finally read an almost piteous appeal from the Commander-in-Chief urging his soldiery to do something for the honour of the Union. It is scarcely fair to put the matter in this way, and, unless we are misinformed, the army itself sees the unfairness, as well as something else, which it does not hesitate to talk about. The Federals have gone to the slaughter with a courage that makes it shocking to see how badly they are handled by their leaders. Such men under a Wellington or a Clyde would have had another story to tell than one of incessant disaster and defeat. And the courage of the poor foolish hirelings, especially the Irish, who dashed themselves almost upon the guns that blew them away, is undeniable. But the army can have no confidence in such leadership as it has hitherto had, and without confidence in its chiefs an army is a mob. If it be true that the soldiers of the Potomac are once more to be brought up to the defences of the Confederates, instead of being led in a way that offers reasonable hope of success, we see not how such wanton waste of life is to be justified in the face of civilisation.

Meantime we are told that the North is really advancing to victory, for, though defeated in every pitched battle save one, the result of which was only less disastrous than defeat, it is forcing its way in upon the Confederate territory at various points other than in Virginia, and that its attacks are telling upon the resources of the enemy. It is easy to say this, and it may be consolatory to those who are prompt to accept such assurances. But where is the proof? Doubtless New Orleans is in the hands of the Federals (who have done some good there, by-the-way, in compensation for much evil); but the possession of the Crescent City has rather relieved the South of a troublesome and dangerous post than injured the cause of the Confederates. And we know not what else there is to point at as a triumph. On the river the Federals have notoriously failed, and it is thought that the latest failure is still being kept back from the knowledge of the public. But were twenty "points" made, the sole use of such occupation is to serve as a basis for operations, and it is mere child's play to talk of gain when such gain amounts to nothing but the holding an isolated spot, whence no practical movement can he made. We in England have had, unhappily, too much acquaintance with the real meaning of war to be deceived by the nonsense which passes muster among those who are profoundly ignorant of the true objects and nature of warfare, though they are singularly prompt at picking up its technicalities. We judge dispassionately, and we are unable to perceive that the war is really making any progress at all, or that the vaunted successes are more than a series of tentatives, more resembling exploration than military achievement. Furthermore, at the risk of offence, we must say that we believe the American public to be hopelessly in the dark as to the campaign; and that, if it were possible for their vanity to study the strife through the English newspapers, there would soon be a demonstration of a very different kind from that of any which has yet been reported. Yes, we say it frankly--but without the least intention of wounding sensitive Americans--the fact is, that the boasted press of the North has proved hollow and rotten in the hour of trial, and when the English press best vindicates its claims to the respect and confidence of the people. The Americans have been content with "smart" journals, and the end of all is that the Union is left at the mercy of ignorance and of dishonesty. May a better state of things arise out of the present dismal chaos!

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