Current LiteratureThe Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1345, p. 542.
December 2, 1865
History of the American War. By Lieutenant-Colonel Fletcher. Vols. I, II. (Richard Bentley.) The scale (not only as regards cubic inches, avoirdupois weight, and kindred characteristics, but also in respect of the labour freely bestowed by the author and the deep interest he evidently felt in the subject he has undertaken to write about) on which these two volumes have been produced lead to the conclusion that the author intended his history when completed to be--so far as Englishmen at least are concerned--the history of the American War. But it is almost certain that when the author began his work the time had not come, and it is doubtful whether the time has yet come, for a satisfactory history of that great and eventful struggle which all but rendered for ever ridiculous the idea, cherished by many worshipful politicians, of a single gigantic nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and governed by the voice of the people as by the voice of God, and which threatened to rivet the fetters of the slave, to open once more the hideous traffic in human flesh, to stop the propagation of the Monroe doctrine, and to forthwith demolish the castles built perchance in air by wise men from the West who saw some astrological meaning in the conjunction of the stars and stripes. Passions are not yet cooled; Prejudice has not yet removed the beam from her own eye; Justice cannot properly hold the scales till the bandage which in the tumult of parties was torn from her eyes has once more been replaced; and Peace is not yet sufficiently composed to give her evidence unregardful of the menacing attitude of War. Truth was drowned in the mystic well ages ago, and therefore she cannot be expected to appear in person; and her satellites, who still reverence her memory and attempt to discharge her functions, have scarcely yet had time to investigate all matters connected with the memorable War of Secession. Colonel Fletcher is impartial with the impartiality of one who has a bias in one direction counterbalanced by a bias in another; he was apparently led by personal friendships to sympathise with the Federals, and by general considerations with the Confederates; and he can possibly enter into the feelings of the self-examining advocate who satisfied his conscience with the reflection that he had saved from well-merited hanging as many as he had got sentenced to unmerited hanging, and that so, on the whole, justice had been done. It will be strange if Unionists do not fancy they detect in Colonel Fletcher's tone a decided leaning towards the Confederates, whether he be discussing the grounds of secession, or narrating the gallant deeds of Confederate men and Confederate ships, or exalting Mr. Davis and disparaging Mr. Lincoln. The latter is frequently spoken of or alluded to in just such contemptuous terms as one might expect the guardsman to apply to the rail-splitter. But the bullet of an assassin, if no personal merit in the victim, has rendered detraction nugatory; and Abraham Lincoln will live in grateful memories as beloved and perhaps as honoured as George Washington, pater patriæ. Colonel Fletcher says little or nothing of English opinion at the commencement of the struggle; he tells the story of the "Star of the West" and Fort Sumter, the firing upon the flag of the United States, which kindled in all Unionists a feeling similar to that described in the words,
the bloodless defence, and the ultimate evacuation but he does not, perhaps wisely, mention the derision with which the leading English journal and its following received the news; how men made merry over the want of sport when only two men were killed, and that not in fight but in saluting their own flag; and how guesses were made about the probable amount in the end of the "butcher's bill." A wholesome lesson might have been read, and a touching contrast might have been drawn between prophecy and reality, At the commencement of the strife leading article-writers and thoughtless readers laughed merrily; now the angel of death alone has a right to smile, for he has reaped a goodly harvest. But perhaps we are better without such reminders. It may, however, be interesting to remark by the way that, according to a certain account, "two bullet-gatherers on Gettysburg field sent to Baltimore fifty tons of lead." Colonel Fletcher is not responsible for, nor does he mention, this statement: it is to be found in the Atlantic Monthly, and may be a piece of American exaggeration. It may also excite the sneers of those who like large "butcher's bills," and think that the slaughter at Gettysburg was unworthy of the leaden shower. Nevertheless, "General Meade acknowledges to the total loss during the campaign of 28,186 killed, wounded, and missing." The first of Colonel Fletcher's volumes is devoted to the first year, and the second to the second year of the war. The first ends at the period when victory was beginning to smile on the Federal arms, when Island No. 10 had, by an unparalleled mixture of science and daring, been captured; when New Orleans had fallen, dragging down with it the prestige of the Confederates; when the formidable Merrimac had been destroyed, and when all hope of Confederate successes by sea was abandoned. The second ends with the campaign of Gettysburg, during which there were fought on three successive days three great battles, followed by the retreat of the Confederates, which, Unionists are fond of remembering (though Colonel Fletcher, so far as our memory can be trusted, does not mention the fact), took place on the same day on which Vicksburg surrendered, on the sacred Fourth of July. Colonel Fletcher had many advantages in his endeavours to obtain an insight into the affairs of both parties, and he was an eye-witness of many events; but the accounts of many eye-witnesses and superintendents of the same event are required ere its features can be accurately portrayed. It is said that General Lee is himself about to write the history of his own campaigns, and when he has written it there will be one contribution towards an accurate history of the whole war. Should Generals Grant and Sherman and subordinate officers, both Federal and Confederate, follow General Lee's plan, and should there be published, a plain and truthful account of the international questions which have arisen, been settled, and remain to be settled, posterity may have a more trustworthy and more instructive narrative than has ever yet followed the completion of a war. Meanwhile Colonel Fletcher's history may take no mean place amongst its like; it contains interesting details, fair critcisms, useful maps, and descriptions easily and yet graphically written. It does not display the noble style of a Napier, but it is free from pretentiousness and other disagreeables. The author does not scorn to notice trivial things which have, nevertheless, some spice of romance or similar ingredient, and therefore one looked with some curiosity to see whether he would confirm or contradict the report which identifies the Confederate General Marmaduke with a Mr. Marmaduke Constable, of Scotch family and publishing renown; but we could find no information upon the point.
a fury seized on them,A fiery family passion for the name
Of Launcelot, and a glory one with theirs,
Little Foxes. By Mr. [sic] H. B. Stowe. (Bell and Daldy; Sampson Lowe, Son, and Marston.) The wise man sings, in Canticles ii. 15, "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines;" and applying, after the fashion of New England, to the affairs of everyday life the language of the singer, Mrs. Stowe has written a series of excellent essays upon "those unsuspected, unwatched, insignificant little causes that nibble away domestic happiness." She displays her usual insight into human hearts, her usual happiness of illustration, and her usual charm of composition....