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London; Saturday, May 2, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1201, p. 474.

May 2, 1863


The great "artillery duel," as American writers are so fond of calling what used to be termed a cannonade, seems to have astounded the Federal organs into something like frankness and veracity. They admit, almost candidly, that the Confederates have fairly beaten the fleet of the North. We would meet them in a similar spirit, by saying that (apart from the fact that the terrible swagger with which the certain destruction of Charleston was announced has been most sadly rebuked) there is nothing to be ashamed of in the repulse that has been sustained. The South had done everything that science could suggest to make the harbour impregnable, and the advantages were chiefly on the Confederate side. The fire of the defenders was awful, and yet but one vessel was sunk and one placed hors de combat, and the Northern commander effected a safe retreat with the others. A "safe retreat" is, to judge by the history of the war, the height of the ambition of Federal land captains; and the Federal sea captains, who have occasionally done much more, are not to be assailed for having simply kept up to the standard of Union successes. It behoves us at home to study this conflict with reference to more important considerations than the reputation of American leaders; but into this part of the business we do not propose to enter at present.

Charleston is invicta. It is said that Washington, in North Carolina, has been relieved; but we are uncertain on this point. Vicksburg is described as being prepared for the fiercest attack, and victualled for the longest siege likely to be laid. There are the usual rumours of mysterious movements, and of great things that are to be suddenly done; but we might keep this sentence in stereotype, as also its usual lame anti-climax, which arrives with the next batch of telegrams. The war may be said, briefly, to be in the most unsatisfactory state as regards the North; and the paper of largest circulation there distinctly asserts that a crisis is approaching in which it will be necessary to hand over the Union to a military dictator and despot--the words are the journal's own. It comforts the people by precedents to show that the natural progress of all States is from liberty to despotism; so that, we presume, England, who thinks herself not to be entirely without some little remnant of freedom, is considered to be in a transition condition. We can wait.

Meantime, and while looking out for a dictator, and while the army takes every opportunity of cheering "little Mac," the new made Presbyterian, in proof that the soldiers comprehend the real meaning of the elaborate pamphlet published against him by the Republican commissioners, the American Government, we are told, has made up its mind to inform Earl Russell that if another vessel of English build gets into the hands of the Confederates, Lord Lyons and Mr. Adams shall change places. Of course, if this be true, the probabilities are in favour of a collision. We think we may assume it as certain that no one, save the workers of the American press in London, will ask Lord Russell to propose to Parliament to change the law--the Foreign Enlistment law. Even to please Mr. Seward, we are not prepared to accelerate the progress which we are said to be making along the road to a despotism. We must continue to adhere to the old Saxon rule which, in the most unenlightened manner, prescribes that there shall be some evidence of guilt before anybody is punished. The law has been fairly worked. In one single case an offender escaped us, as hundreds have escaped from the vigilance of the American authorities themselves, though they had ten times the means of preventing such escapes, and were bound by no superstitious regard for the arrangements called laws. But where evidence could be obtained we have interfered, and the Alexandra lies in helpless captivity. Mr. Seward knows all this perfectly well, and we doubt not that at his own table he speaks with all recognition of the bona fides of the English Government, though the necessities of party, for which we make all allowance, induce him to permit agitation against this country, and may have even driven him to the extreme step of requiring us to commit illegal acts in order to satisfy the North. We speak of Mr. Seward, for it is clear that the Government has virtually passed from the hands of the good-natured attorney, who ought to have been left to entertain his friends with highly-flavoured anecdotes in Kentucky. Mr. Seward must understand that there is nothing England would so much hate as a war with America, except one thing, and that is a cowardly sacrifice of an Englishman's rights to the protection of the law, until it can be shown that there is a primâ facie case for converting the protector into a punisher.

We are not, however, in the absence of more specific information, inclined to believe that Mr. Seward has done more than reiterate the complaints which have been so conclusively answered by Earl Russell, even if the American statesman has done so much. The kind of despatch which has been described would leave next to nothing to be done beyond a recall of Lord Lyons, and then the fatal preparation for that for which Mr. Roebuck, in language that cannot be condemned more strongly than it deserves, needlessly stated we were ready, calling out himself the indignant reproof of the generous-hearted Monckton Milnes. For such an issue we believe that no statesman in America is really prepared; and the mercantile and educated classes would, we imagine, signify in an unmistakable way, at need, that the destinies of their country had been played with long enough. The instant recognition of the South would follow, the blockade would be forced wherever it interfered with commerce, and if France did not rush into the quarrel it would only be because her mediation would be sought by those who have so rudely repulsed it, in confidence in the will and power of England to keep her ally in good temper. We need not point to Canada in arms, to the strength of that position about which so much nonsense has been talked, but which American soldiers are now declaring to be as formidable as anything in the South; for to the invasion of Canada we do not believe the war would ever come. But for any part of this programme the American Government is unprepared, and Mr. Seward will hardly have risked new damage to the amour propre of his subjects by sending a despatch which can receive no notice beyond acknowledgment. We should hear, with a gladness for which the American press will give us no credit, but which the better nature of those who sent the Griswold to Liverpool will surely understand, that the Charleston lesson, in which there is no disgrace, has been accepted by the North as a final intimation that the crimson flag with the blue cross is not to be pulled down, and therefore had better be saluted. We write these lines on the anniversary of the proclamation of European peace seven years ago, and wish we could find an omen in the date.

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