London: Saturday, December 12, 1863The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1235, p. 586.
December 12, 1863
At length the Federals have gained a General, and that leader has gained a victory, which may fairly be described as a great one. General Grant is declared to have destroyed the army of Bragg. Chicamauga has been more than avenged. The Confederate commander is described as having fled amid the rout of his forces, and to have abandoned his guns, caissons, and waggons. Fifty cannon are stated to have been taken. Bragg was flying, at the last accounts, to Dalton, burning bridges and destroying all behind him; and the victor was pursuing him with all possible speed, but had tarried to cut up the railway by which Longstreet might have come to the aid of Bragg. From the position of the antagonists it is clear that the rectification of statements of detail, or even the information that the demoralization of the Confederate army is not so complete as has been stated, cannot alter the fact that General Grant has done a great thing for the North, and that, for the first time in the war, the Federals have won a brilliant victory. We attach no value to the statement that this success excites no enthusiasm in the North. If it be not recognised for what it is, the Federals scarcely deserve a General who can win such laurels. But we make no doubt of hearing that the North is quite aware of the greatness of the exploit. And we cannot see the wisdom of those who seek to disguise the fact that the resources of the Federals have at length begun to tell terribly upon their enemies.
The Confederates cannot afford to lose an army. They have not the means of recruiting, in the first place, and, in the second, they lose the strength and flower of their population, instead of a class which we dare say the Federal authorities think are just as well occupied in receiving the fire of the Southerns as in loafing about the streets of the Union cities. Not that we would be understood to direct this remark at the whole, or even the majority, of the Northern armies, which have in their ranks thousands of estimable citizens; but the Federal authorities have used the "dangerous classes" very plentifully, and not unwisely, and can send them to the front in almost any number to replace losses; whereas the Confederates have no such power. They put forth their best strength, and when that is overmastered they suffer very much more heavily than their antagonists. We imagine that this blow may be regarded as the beginning of the end.
It is only due both to victors and vanquished to point out that this, the most remarkable victory of the North, has been won by the very best soldiers whom it could launch upon the foe. The Federals of the West are a fine and sturdy race, not likely to quail before the rush of the Confederates, who come on like a tempest, and have so often swept the newly-raised armies of the North before them. These Western soldiers charged with a fierceness equal to that of their foes, and were probably superior to them in the stubbornness which has given so many a victory to English warriors. Then it must be remembered that, if the details already obtained be correct, the South was largely outnumbered; and, finally, it must not be forgotten that, whereas Grant was fresh at his work and had all the confidence of his soldiers, Bragg had for a long time been on such ill terms with his army, or at least with his chief officers, that the presence of Mr. Davis himself had been necessary at the camp to set matters in some kind of order. The Confederates, therefore, went into action against an enemy as good as themselves as regarded physique, and better off in numbers and in the relation of the General to the army. Take all this into account, in justice to both sides, and still General Grant remains the victor upon a glorious battle-field. English writers will not show the impartiality and fair play on which it has been, and justly, the custom to pride ourselves, if we refuse to a brilliant exploit by the North the admiration which we have always been ready to show to Confederate valour and endurance.
While Grant was defeating Bragg the Virginian army, which it was asserted that Meade was unable to move on account of the state of the country, had resumed the offensive, had crossed the Rapidan at three fords, and was advancing upon Orange Courthouse. General Lee would doubtless be prepared for the encounter; and, as he did not resist the Federal General's passage of the river, he is supposed, with probability, to be trying to lure him into a trap, or, at all events, to design to fight him on ground of Lee's own selection. If this battle should be decisive, and Lee be defeated--a result which is not to be calculated on from past events--the Confederates will have to consider whether they will give up the game or concentrate themselves in some restricted but easily-defended portion of Secessia. On the other hand, if Lee beats Meade, here is the old see-saw work over again, only that the Confederates are weaker by an army. The telegram says that rumours of an unfavourable kind were going about; but, under the circumstances, the statement seems to us to have no significance.
Longstreet had certainly got Burnside (or else Foster, in the "temporary absence" of Burnside) shut up in Knoxville, and was besieging him, although it may be true that actual investment, such as is understood from the ordinary use of the word, was impossible. But, if Longstreet had access to the only road by which the encaged General could escape, the result might be pretty much the same as a complete investment. On this point it is not easy to obtain accurate information. But one thing is certain--namely, that the Confederates can less than ever afford to lose time over Knoxville; and if Meade should be fortunate, Burnside will be even more so, without action of his own to justify his good fortune. We may expect early tidings as to this feature in the campaign.
We may repeat our belief that the Confederates have at last received a blow which will have a visible effect upon the fortunes of the war. The rule in mechanics, that when two forces come into collision one must give way, is true in war; but there are so many retarding and balancing influences which come into play in military matters that we are always a long time in ascertaining which is the superior force. It was doubtful in this American struggle. There was a vast numerical majority on the side of the North, and there was a navy, and there were all the resources of Europe at her command. The odds, no doubt, seemed very great against the South, but she contrived to reduce them so enormously by her display of military skill, by the daring of her troops, and by the unanimous sentiment of hatred for the North and of resolve to work out independence, that many observers, not usually hasty, believed that it was the latter that would soonest weary of the contest. We believe that the problem has now been solved, and that the game is beginning to be decided--that is to say, supposing no intervention take place, and the North be left to measure itself steadily and remorselessly against the South. The Federals may lose another army and send a new one to replace it. The Confederates may lose another army, but would not be able to replace it. It is as in chess--when once the balance of power is gained, every exchange does but more severely damage the chance of the weaker. The work of subjection, which Earl Russell declared, early in the war, was the work that the North had undertaken in its resolve for empire, will be done, if permitted. And if the South have a friend who intends to take her part, he will do well not to lose time. We do not hesitate to mark the news that has come this week as the most significant which we have had since Bull Run, and we shall see it so accepted as soon as the details shall have afforded the public mind some more real view of the case than is presented by the bald language of a telegram.