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London: Saturday, March 26, 1864

The Illustrated London News, vol. 44, no. 1250, p. 298.

March 26, 1864

London: Saturday, March 26, 1864.

At this period of the year, when, after befitting attention to the most serious of all concerns, the mind of our people turns upon social and lawful enjoyment, it is impossible not to think (with deep regret for those who are differently engaged) upon the unhappy condition of our American brethren. A few words in explanation of the present state of the war may not be inappropriate, now that the war itself appears to have reached a point of temporary stoppage.

The new campaign opened with a series of boldly-conceived but badly-executed movements on the part of the Federals. General Sherman set out from Vicksburg for a rush eastward, and Admiral Farragut made an assault of some kind at the entrance of the bay of Mobile, in the extreme south, in order to distract the attention of the Confederates. Both efforts appear to have signally failed. The sea attack was useless, and has given new courage to the South; and Sherman, who certainly dashed with great courage into a terrible danger, was not seconded by the assistance on which he seems to have relied. Had he succeeded, a most important gain would have accrued to the Federals, by the acquisition of a large portion of Alabama and of Georgia, with the Confederate arsenals and stores. As it is, we are by no means informed how far Sherman proceeded; but he was soon met by the enemy, suffered at least two defeats, and retreated to Vicksburg. Rumour said that he had suffered most tremendous loss; but, except that the absence of authorised contradiction, usually so ready, gives us reason to believe that there may be foundation for such reports, we cannot form an opinion upon this part of the story. The Confederate cavalry had again shown its vigour and the ability with which it is handled; and though, as one of our military writers said years ago, "more men are killed in an hour of musquetry than in a day of galloping and sabring," the carnage must, at some points, have been frightful. Moreover, the other attempt which was made against Lee has even more conspicuously failed, and the Federal force had to make its escape as best it might, leaving large numbers behind it, either killed or prisoners. Nothing, in fact, could well be more disastrous than the way the Federals have opened the war this new year.

Such is the state of military affairs in America while we English are preparing for a national holiday. The condition of political matters there affords also a great contrast to that of our own. We have had party fights; but no principle is at stake, and the confidence of the country is given generously and fully to the veteran statesman at the head of the Government--a man whom the bitterest enemies of the Cabinet do not venture to say they desire to displace. Our Parliament has done nothing since its meeting, for the best of all reasons--it has had little or nothing to do; and if it has occupied itself with wrangles it is because men are impatient of idleness and will combat on trifles rather than sit silent. Were the honour of the country at stake, or were a domestic interest in question, we should speedily see patriotism take the place of petulance. But the northern part of America is simply given up to electioneering intrigue, and to all its treacheries and evil influences. That unhappy arrangement, by which it becomes impossible for the Americans to elect one of their best and ablest men, and which compels them to fix upon some person for Chief Magistrate whose chief merit is that nobody knows much about him, is not to be laid to the present generation as a fault, though none will deny that it is a misfortune. There is not one of the reputed candidates for the presidency who, by any stretch of words, can be called a first-rate man. But America is evidently longing for a military dictator, one who will place a strong foot upon the miserable intriguers who make her success in peace or in war an impossibility, and one who with a strong hand will force the revolted States into submission. The two favourite names are those of M'Clellan and of Grant, and, though neither has met with disasters enough to disqualify him from popularity, neither has done anything to justify his being raised to the headship of a mighty country. It seems probable, however, that a military ruler may be more easily obtained than a successful commander. Mr. Lincoln's friends are strong, and he has the advantage of possession, and it may be fairly said that his chances are at present the best. But all presents a sorry prospect for our American brethren, and both North and South have the sincerest sympathies of all who are sincere in their observance of the season which is now passing.

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