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London: Saturday, December 31, 1864

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1295, p. 666-667.

December 31, 1864

London: Saturday, December 31, 1864.

American news, at the close of the year, is very interesting in itself, and seems to have a still graver interest for this country. It is quite on the cards that, without much prudence and forbearance on the part of the Governments of England and of the Federal States, complications will arise which may produce a rupture. Enraged at the liberation of the raiders and ruffians of St. Albans, General Dix, without waiting to hear whether the decision of the French-Canadian Judge was to be reviewed by the Executive, issued orders that, in future, any such outrages were to be chastised by the slaughter of the offenders, wherever they might be found, and that they were to be followed into the territories of the Queen of England, without any regard to frontier rights. Now, it happens that the Canadians have no more sympathy with these scoundrels than we have, and also that the judgment has been set aside, the Judge apprised that he was wrong, and orders had been given for the re-arrest of the men, if they have not been wise enough to get out of the way. But, whether this had been the case or not, it is clear that Dix's act must be disavowed by the President, and that, if his orders have been obeyed in the slightest degree, apology is due from the American Government. Whether the decision of a regular law court be right or wrong, it is not to be borne that it should be followed by a military outrage. But there is more. The Federal papers do not scruple to say that Mr. Lincoln meditates war with this country. They assert that he intends to quarrel with us, in order to have a good excuse for terminating the struggle with the obstinate Confederates, whom he may occasionally beat in battle, but cannot subdue. We meet these assertions, as we have a right to do with an expression of total disbelief in their truth. Hitherto, even when our relations with the Union have been most unpleasant, the Government of the States has manifested a readiness to believe in the honesty of our conduct, and we have given Mr. Seward no reason that justifies his abandonment of that belief. We are blameless in the matter. Moreover, the ink is scarcely dry upon our reprint of the President's solemn declaration that the war shall proceed until one party succumb. We have no right to insult the chosen head of a great nation by assuming that he meditated treachery towards a friendly Power. We do not even put a harsh construction on the notice to terminate the treaty in respect of the lake armaments. It places us at a disadvantage; but the Americans are within the letter of the agreement, and we have no right to complain. It may be well that they should distinctly understand that, whatever may be the rabid utterances of a portion of our own press, which almost rivals their own in recklessness of assertion and


Page 667

want of reticence and good taste, the thoughtful and respectable portion of English society has at present no belief that the Government of Washington contemplates a crime.

Assuredly we have no intention of meeting swagger by swagger. We are not inclined to boast of what we could do if a rupture should take place. The American Government knows this as well as Earl Russell does. Canada would at first suffer, especially if the new war should be conducted in the spirit in which certain of the Northern generals have acted towards men who were the other day fellow-citizens of those who now ravage the Southern districts. England herself is rarely herself at the outset of war. But who doubts the issue? The Union would be at an end forever. Our instant recognition of the Confederacy would be followed by the pouring through its harbours, whose blockade we should go through as through paper, such armaments as would speedily turn the fortunes of the war, and, aided by the re-invigorated and vengeful Southerns, we should sweep Federalism from the South as we swept Napoleonism from the Peninsula. And we should soon place Canada in a position to hurl back the invaders, no matter what early successes they might have gained. But it is undesirable to dwell on possibilities which we hope and believe will never arise. Assured that the American Government comprehends the whole question, and assured also that the better portion of the people in both countries would denounce the wickedness of a needless war, we would leave the disagreeable question which has just arisen to the solution of honourable diplomacy.

The end of the year has brought triumphs to the Federal arms. We are imperfectly informed as to the exact position of General Sherman, but there is reason to believe that Savannah has fallen. He had certainly stormed and taken its ill-manned but gallantly-defended fortress, Fort M'Allister. The rest of the account is but rumour, but there are reasons for thinking the rumour correct. At all events, after a very masterly display of strategy during his "retreat," by menacing one enemy and another, and bewildering all, Sherman has made his way to the sea, and is in communication with Admiral Dahlgren's squadron. If Savannah be not reduced, it has been formidably besieged. We are informed, however, that its defences are strong, and, supposing that it has not been seized at a coup-de-main by Sherman, his work may yet be heavy. We also hear that General Thomas has bided his time, more suo, until he could strike at Hood with effect, and that he has struck heavily, routed the valiant but not over-skilled Confederate leader, and captured many prisoners and guns. The last advices left him about to follow up his blow; but this sequel is not always one in which the assailant is successful. A real "victory" is, nevertheless, claimed. The Wilmington expedition has also been dispatched at last, and the description of the armament is very imposing. Wilmington would be a far more valuable acquisition than Savannah, and both sides are well aware of this, and will make proportionate efforts. But, taking the whole state of the war into account, the close of the year brings renown to the Federal generals and discouragement to their adversaries, though the value of the victories, taken at their highest, is not great as bearing upon the issue of the war. City after city may surrender, but Confederatism will not surrender; and the Union will need almost as many garrisons as it can number of conquered towns if it is to hold its dearly-bought prizes. The spirit of the South is said to be unbroken. Sherman's march has revealed some of the weakness of the Confederate chances; but in the face of all this the great army of the North is defied, and can do nothing while the successes of its other armies are won only by desperately hard work and frequent and fierce fighting. We are strangely misinformed as to the resources of the South if the exhaustion of which we hear so much has brought it to a moribund state.

Setting entirely aside the irritating topic which has newly arisen, treating as spiteful bluster the menaces of some of the Federal organs, and refusing to believe, with others, that the Chief of the Union is planning treachery, we unhesitatingly recur to the declarations which we have repeatedly made on behalf of the better classes in England--namely, that we earnestly desire to see the Americans at peace. We trust to close our record of the in-coming year with an allusion to the conclusion of the most hideous and irrational war hitherto noticed in history. That a still more hideous and irrational war will succeed it we have too much faith in a superintending Providence to believe.

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