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America--North and South

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1274, p. 181-182.

August 20, 1864


Into that spirit of partisanship which has characterised individual feeling in this country in reference to the contest waging between the hostile States of America we have never been able to enter. In the reasons given for warmly espousing either cause we have not found enough to justify their entire adoption. It has always seemed to us a fallacy to assert that the North is contending purely for the abolition of slavery, or that the South is battling merely for liberty. It would be much nearer the truth if it were laid down that both are struggling for political ascendancy, while the South is, besides, fighting for what has always been held to be property. Something may be set down, also, for difference of race, always an important element of animosity between belligerents. But what we have ever contended for, in dealing with the American question as it exists, has been a strict impartiality, not only of action but of opinion, on the part of this country; a rigid non-interference, moral as well as physical, and a public feeling expressive only of earnest hope of a speedy cessation of a civil war unparalleled in its magnitude and terrible in its accessories. Holding these views, we conceive that we are entitled to review the position of both parties as it stood when the latest intelligence left America, and to draw deductions from that examination, without laying ourselves open to any suspicion of partiality or bias. Our first, indeed our only, wish is that the war was over; and it is mainly with reference to the realisation of that wish that we from time to time consider the relative situation of the armies opposed to each other and dwell on the details of these battles which are periodically fought with a curious similarity of circumstance and result.

Although operations are being conducted in several outlying districts, principally in the South, and we hear of movements of army corps here and there, since the siege of Charleston has practically ceased the chief interest has been concentrated on that small space which lies between Washington and Richmond. The country between the Potomac and the Rappahannock has become as familiar to the mind's eye of the English public as the space between St. Paul's and South Kensington is to the real vision of the general metropolitan population. Under whatever General--M'Clellan, Hooker, Burnside, Meade, or Grant--the ground traversed by the Federals has been nearly the same, and the object

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identical--the capture of the Southern capital; and the issue of each campaign, up to the last accounts, almost identical also. There has been a continuous series of assaults by the Federals on the Confederates, more or less in force, which have been, as a rule, repulsed, with a loss to the assailants of hecatombs of men, and with serious inroads on the comparatively small numerical strength of the defenders; and each army has occupied nearly its original position, although, in the earlier periods of the present operations under Grant he did manage to fight his way onwards for a distance which cost him a thousand men a mile. Now, although the general description of the condition of the opposing forces may not appear to differ very palpably from that which was given weeks or even months ago, a careful examination of the state of affairs will show that a radical alteration has taken place in the position of the Southerners, and that they stand in an attitude of marked advantage. It is probably well known that there are at this moment three points towards which, as the scenes of operations, observation is especially directed--namely, Petersburg, Atlanta, and Martinsburg--on the frontier of Pennsylvania. As everyone knows, the recent attempt of Grant on Petersburg, which he has chosen to consider as an outwork of Richmond which cannot be turned but must be reduced from its importance as an obstacle to a march on the capital, has signally failed; that he has been repulsed with severe loss, confessedly severe; and that it is supposed that he will have to retire and throw himself into Washington, unable to arrest the threatened advance of the Confederates. Hitherto the Federals have obtained advantages at Atlanta, and the object of the operations at that point were believed to be close upon being attained. But here, too, the Confederates have recovered themselves, and hold the Northern General in check. From Martinsburg the Confederates have started on another raid into Maryland. It is asserted that the movements at each of these places are founded on a concerted plan; that they are based on a certain combination; and that the strategy on which they were founded is now bringing forth its legitimate fruits. No one has ever seriously questioned the bravery or the resolution of the North; but the gigantic efforts which that party has made, the steady draught which has been made on the resources that it possesses--which have been proved to be so vast, and which are used as if they were actually illimitable, and the obstinacy it has displayed--a quality of which General Grant is now the type and the personification--have in this, the fourth year of the war, left the Federals in a situation not only far from successful, but of positive disadvantage, to say no more. When the South undertook what they conceived to be the duty of defending by arms their right to secession, they were conscious of all the hardships and dangers which awaited them; they accepted all the troubles and responsibilities incident to the enterprise, and they have held their own and worked their way with a firmness and persistency undaunted by past losses or future perils. The Federals, not without reason, assumed that they must win by mere force of numbers and amplitude of resources; they took their success for granted; and in some self-complacent way or other they have declined to recognise the fact that they have not been engaged in a series of triumphal marches through the country of a flying enemy. Indeed, just now the probability of a change in the character of the war, by which the Confederates will cease to be on the defensive and become the aggressors, is much discussed. For our own parts, we believe that, independently of military reasons, the advance of the Confederates upon Washington will be considered as a question of policy. The raids into some of the Federal States are purely military operations, having for their objects the distraction of the enemy and the obtaining of supplies, and are, in fact, temporary in their character. But an advance by Lee in force into the territory of the North, with the ostensible purpose of a march upon the capital of that which was the Union, would be productive, as we think, of exactly opposite results to those which persons who look at the question from a Southern point of view anticipate. It would not create such a panic in the North as to bring about a popular demand for the abrupt closing of the war on any terms, but it would be much more likely to bring about a really national concentration of the Federal strength; it would tend to change the character of the armies of the North, which would then enrol in its ranks men like those who constitute the military strength of the South--men of the country, ready to fight for the country--instead of the Irishmen, Germans, and negroes, who are thought good enough for food for powder in a crusade against Lee in Virginia. In short, the quarrel would have a new point of departure and would become more intensified, more real, more actually a quarrel between the populations of North and South than now, when it is hardly more than one between a party in the North, of which Mr. Lincoln is the representative, and the people proper of the South.

The situation, we conceive, is one which, if for a moment good sense and good feeling could come into play between the contending parties, might be turned to advantage. If the Federals could be brought to admit that the Confederate position is impregnable, that all has been done which military and national honour require for victory, they might, without derogation, consent to a compromise in the interests of humanity and peace. It is quite clear that if the war is to go on it cannot be conducted by the Federals on a smaller scale than hitherto; for, vast as have been the forces employed, owing to the peculiar nature of the country which has to be invaded they have never been sufficient to carry out the only strategy which could have been successful. If hostilities continue, the war must resolve itself into one of extermination. A time must come when men must be wanting to carry on so sanguinary a contest--nay, a time must come when the means of obtaining men and matériel must fail; and the moment of exhaustion is not that when negotiation can be carried on upon terms consistent either with mutual fairness or mutual dignity. As we have said, we think the present juncture one when the voice of reason, of humanity, and of peace might be raised effectually with the object of putting an end to a struggle such as the world never yet saw, and which, whatever may be its issue, generations yet to come will have to deplore.

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