The Contest in AmericaThe Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1149, p. 599.
June 14, 1862
The most recent accounts of the internecine struggle which is going on in the Republican States of North America give little hope of any approaching settlement of the unhappy differences between the North and South. On the contrary, all that we know seems to indicate the beginning of a new phase in the contest. The military policy, the strategy, or by whatever name it may called, of the Southern leaders appears to have been based on the course which the Russian Generals adopted in the face of the French invaders. A gradual retirement before the advancing forces through a country laid desolate with a view to draw them as far as possible from their sources of supply is a game which, if well played, is tolerably sure to be successful in the end, and the approach of its results may generally be calculated by days. As matters stood when the last advices left America, it would seem that the time had arrived when the Confederates believed that a stand was to be made, and we believe that more serious fighting is imminent than has yet taken place. Recollecting that the statements which reach Europe come from Federal sources, it is quite clear that the authorities of the North do not underrate the seriousness of this crisis. In truth, in some degree they would seem to overrate it, for there has been something very neary [sic] nearly akin to a panic amongst the Federals. If it be the fact that the President of the United States has over half a million of men under arms, notwithstanding the division of that force into several corps-d'armée, operating on different points and extended over an enormous tract of country, yet the bodies which are acting in concert in Virginia and its neighbourhood are each sufficiently strong; and therefore it argues a grave condition of affairs when we hear that alarm is felt for the safety of Washington, that a demand of 150,000 militia is made for its defence, and that volunteer regiments have absolutely been sent from New York for this purpose. Can it be that climate and disease are already doing their fell work on the thousands of the North who have been drawn towards those regions of the South where fever is a more dreaded foe than myriads of armed men? At any rate, whereas a fortnight or three weeks ago recruiting for the Northern forces had been stopped, we now hear of pressing demands for a new and extraordinary levies.
The great motive cause of that which we will delicately designate a little nervousness in the North has, of course, been the defeat of General Banks at the battle of Winchester. Previously to this, General Halleck, who had gained a victory over the Confederates, had somehow found it either necessary or convenient to remain in a state of inactivity; in fact, his advance was practically stopped; while General M'Clellan, with characteristic caution, having felt his way, intimated that, owing to the large force opposed to him, he was not likely to make any very dashing onset. When, however, General Banks's defeat was followed by the expulsion of the Federal army from Virginia, the matter reached in the eyes of the Northerns the height of disaster, and an immediate advance of the Confederates upon Washington was taken for granted. No doubt, such a step would prove an immense moral advantage to the Southerners, and the occupation of the capital of the Federal Union would be, however shortlived, at once a triumph and a benefit to their cause; but it is not very probable that they would or could take any such step. It would be inconsistent with the plan which, as far as we can judge, they have adopted, and so far with success. It is no little matter for them that their line touches once more upon the Potomac, and that the important State of Virginia is as far as ever from being in the
Page 600possession of the Federals. While the Northern forces, numerically large as they are, have, as we have said, been drawn upon by the corps necessary to operate against the coast cities of the South, so that the bodies which have advanced from the Potomac in what may be called the invasion of the South inland are strong but not overwhelming in numbers, the Confederates appear to have concentrated their troops for the purpose of defending their land frontier. In Virginia, in Kentucky, and Tennessee, they were holding their own at the last accounts. It is understood that Beauregard, giving up his command at Corinth, has gone to encounter M'Clellan, and it is probable that a great battle will be fought between these, who have been hitherto what may be termed the representative Generals of the contending parties. How long before such a consummation will be achieved it is at present not easy to say. The campaign is becoming one of slow and cautious movements of intrenchments and that sort of attack and defence which is not usually indicative of a fight in the open field. A new levy of 100,000 men has been called for by President Lincoln for his regular army, and this implies time for recruiting, for drilling, and organisation; and therefore it is clear that he at least does not contemplate a speedy cessation of the war.
It is with astonishment that we see what must be deemed a revival of the strength of the Confederates. One wonders whence they draw their resources and how they contrive to keep up the large armies which are now coming into play in a manner which was certainly not expected of them a week or two since. What is now demonstrable to the most sanguine believer of a comparatively early triumph by the Federals over the Seceders is, that the crowning conquest is by no means at hand. It is not likely now that a great battle fought between any of the different corps which are in presence of each other would be decisive of the fate of the war. The dreams of a ninety days' contest are still dissolving, and that in a more rapid ratio than before; and, while blood and treasure are being poured out day by day, all things portend that the measure of the flow of both cannot yet be calculated. It is, of course, not to be expected that those who are entirely engaged in this strife, which is the last arbitrement of difference of opinion, can reason on its ultimate effects, or calmly sit down to count the cost. But there must be many thinking men in America who concur with thinking men in England in mourning over the advent of circumstances which point to an indefinite prolongation of warfare in that fair region of the West, which has been long a land of promise to those who could not find sufficient room in the old country. The diplomatists of Europe know well the difficulty, not to say the danger, of interference in the internal affairs of a people so sensitive and so proud as the Americans; but may it not be insinuated that the time is approaching when some friendly attempt might be made to bring on at least an armistice, with a view to giving opportunity to both sides to consider their relative positions, undisturbed by the passionate impulses which stir the blood of men with arms in their hands and placed front to front with an enemy? We would not counsel, we would not suggest, any intervention in the strict sense of the term ; but in the interests of humanity it is desirable that some endeavour should be made merely to procure a cessation of hostilities during the season which is even now upon those large bodies of men collected in districts where they must be decimated, at the very least, by disease.
No one denies the resources of America, and indeed, if they had been doubted before, the events of the last twelve months would have dissipated every difficulty of belief in their extent; but even such powers of raising and maintaining armies as this young country has developed must have their limit. Even now one dreads to contemplate the hereafter of this civil war. Something has been said, with an affectation of philosophy, that, after all, the ordeal which America is going through will only result in making her that what she has hitherto not been in the most positive sense—a nation. It is true that history teaches us that most countries have had fiery trials to encounter ere they culminated into nations; and amongst them the baptism in blood, domestic as well as foreign, has been so prominent as to cause it to be supposed to have been essential. But in most of the instances to which reference can be made, so far as Europe is concerned, the ordeal has fallen upon ruder times, upon a less advanced stage of civilisation, and, in most respects, upon a different condition of national affairs than that which prevailed in America when she drifted into civil war. Much that we in England had to fight hard for, to win by the exercise of physical, as distinguished from moral, force, America possessed more than sufficiently when she went to war on a question of ascendancy between certain sections of her population. Each party is now fighting for an idea, which will be an idea so long as they continue to fight, but which, so far as the North is concerned, might become a reality by means of negotiations carried on in a wise and temperate spirit. Let it not be supposed that we speak in any offensive sense (we view this contest in all its bearings with too profound a sorrow knowingly to utter anything which could be construed into offence) if we venture to say that it is at last becoming doubtful whether slavery and its abolition and continuance, as the case may be, is now the motive influence in the struggle between the North and South. It is a struggle for victory and ascendancy on the one hand and for independence on the other. The elements of cohesion between North and South, always of the slightest, are now dispersed, dissipated, gone. Assuming a conquest by the North, a nominal reintegration of the Union as it stood two years ago, there would only be created a state of things to which the relative positions of Austria and Hungary afford a parallel. It is admitted by men in America who are strong advocates of that freedom of institution and of person which has hitherto prevailed in the Transatlantic Republic that such a union could only be maintained by the establishment of a standing army of 500,000 men, and that it might even be necessary to convert the form of government into a military despotism in order to the accomplishment of that ideal confederation of all those provinces which in combination went by the name of the United States. This is, to say the least of it, a curious picture of the future of the freest country in all creation. To us it is by no means a pleasant one to contemplate. It implies a military nation, and, by consequence, an aggressive one; and, in a dim future, one beholds fierce wars between the old countries and the new, waged for the purpose of checking aggrandisement on the part of the latter, or even on the part of America for that false deity, the influence of which is beginning to fail even amongst the most infatuated of its worshippers in Europe, and which has been known under the name of Glory! Something like this is indicated in that notion which is coming uppermost, to which we have previously alluded, that of making America a nation. Assuming that that consummation is yet to be arrived at, which we are very far indeed from admitting, is it necessary that, like the Israelites, she must pass through a desert in order to become a nation?