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[69] was the very key-note on which all the motions of public sentiment turned. It was, therefore, in the highest degree important for him to seize the first opportunity to justify, by some palpable proof, that confidence which the country had spontaneously extended to him. There was too little moderation, too little stability in the public judgment, to make it possible that this condition of things should long continue. The faith that had been freely bestowed would presently disappear, nor ever be overtook unless deeds should go with it.

A commander who, under a popular government, is intrusted with the conduct of a war, has to shape his acts not alone according to abstract military dictates, but must take into account considerations of a political and moral order as well. For the wishes, impulses, prejudices, ignorances even of his countrymen, enter as really into the problem with which he has to deal as the character of his enemy or the lines of military operation. A captain who is also king, may act in quite different wise from a captain responsible to a Cabinet or Congress. What a Caesar or a Napoleon might do, could not be imitated by a Wellington or a Eugene; and the history of the latter illustrious commander, and his equally illustrious colleague—Marlborough—shows, strikingly, how that even the victor of Blenheim and Ramilies had to conform the inspirations of his military genius to the dull wits of a Dutch States-General. McClellan, who had as yet done nothing to prove himself either a Wellington or a Eugene, should have made the lightest possible draft on the indulgence of the people.

There is little or no doubt that, thus far, General McClellan had formed no other theory regarding the employment of the Army of the Potomac, than that which was common throughout the country; which, compendiously stated, was to make a direct attack on the enemy in front of Washington, and to make this attack as soon as possible.1

1 Though General McClellan used to keep his own counsel, yet General McDowell tells me he was wont, in their rides over the country south of the Potomac, to point out towards the flank of Manassas and say, ‘We shall strike them there.’

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