previous next

Reverses in war.

We must expect occasional reverses in war. We have never heard of a war yet in which the tide of victory was uninterrupted on either side, Certainly, if there ever was such a war, it was not the war of the American Revolution. For seven long, hard, dreary years, did the storm of battle roll above their heads, with alternate clouds and sunshine. The war began brilliantly, then the sky became chequered, then came some encouraging victory, to be followed by an overwhelming defeat, until at one time, so deep was the surrounding gloom, scarcely a human being save Washington retained confidence undiminished and hope undimmed. His great, steadfast soul, like that of Columbus, saw land ahead when all others bad despaired, and by the inspiring power of his faith and courage turned midnight into day-dawn. But, undeniably, there never was a more disheartening war than that of the Revolution; destitute of money, and often of men, the whole land, in all its length and breadth, infested with tories, who were almost as implacable and unscrupulous as those of Northwestern Virginia; in our own ranks traitors like Arnold, as bad a man as Carlile; and large portions of the very population which had gotten up the war, that of New England, unwilling to assist in carrying it on. Gen. Washington, Gen. Greene, that illustrious son of Rhode Island, and other distinguished officers, bear testimony to the extreme and insurmountable difficulty of inducing the New Englanders to enlist in a war which they had gotten up for their own benefit. All-over, our forces were mostly militia, commanded by inexperienced officers, and opposed by regular British and Hessian soldiers, besides the tory levies and hostile Indians. For years defeat, desertion, treachery and disappointment seemed the order of the day. But the cause was in the hands of men who had profound trust in Providence, in the righteousness of their cause, and whose souls were even more remarkable for constancy and steadfastness than for a valor which was certainly never surpassed in history. The successive reverses which they met were but opposing waves making the ship ride the ocean more bravely and buoyantly, or like gales which strip the oak of its dry foliage, but cannot lift it from its immovable roots.

The South has entered upon the present struggle under great disadvantages, and our only wonder is, when we consider the disparity of numbers, gold, and all the equipments and appliances for a state of war in the possession of the Federal Government and in working order, that we have been able to hold a single foot of ground in Virginia. When we consider the state of things before General Lee assumed the control of affairs, and the mighty energies of President Davis were brought personally in this quarter to the support of the war, we stand amazed at the amount which has been accomplished in so brief an interval. There was a time when the Federal Government could have struck a blow at Richmond which would have involved almost irreparable injury to the cause in the South. But that time has passed by. Our rivers and estuaries, so long without a single battery for their protection, are now bristling with guns, which have beaten back the foe in every attempt he has made; the peninsula below us has become one vast entrenched camp; the important position of Manassas, which seemed at one time to invite attack, is now so strong that Scott hesitates long, as well he may, before he attempts an assault; the Navy-Yard at Norfolk, with its immense supply of arms, which might have been retaken by a half- dozen regiments, is now impregnable; the Valley is defended at one extreme by Gen. Johnston and an army of force which the enemy dare not come out of his entrenchments to fight; and our only weak point is Western Virginia, which is weak because of the treason within it. Occasional reverses have their uses also, if we will turn their lessons to account. They teach us the necessity of vigilance, of energy, of discipline. They impress upon us the importance of always valuing an enemy at his own estimate of himself, if you would be sure of doing all that you can do to defeat and destroy him.

The war has thus far demonstrated that the enemy dare not attack us with anything like equal numbers. He must have at least four or five to one before he goes forth to win laurels which, gained under such circumstances, would be, to a sensitive brow, a diadem of thorns.--Even with those odds, he was overwhelmed at the battle of Bethel by the most glorious and wonderful achievement in arms which this continent has ever witnessed. If Southern men had failed in a like enterprise; if five thousand Southern soldiers had attacked twelve hundred Yankees, and been repulsed with tremendous slaughter, whilst our opponents escaped with the loss of a single life, there might have been some reason for grumbling. But we cannot always expect to whip, in the proportion of one to four or five, and we should not be discouraged if, before such odds, we sometimes fall back to a position where we shall have better luck next time.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
West Virginia (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Virginia (Virginia, United States) (1)
Rhode Island (Rhode Island, United States) (1)
New England (United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Washington (1)
Scott (1)
Lee (1)
H. E. Johnston (1)
Indians (1)
Greene (1)
Davis (1)
Carlile (1)
Arnold (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: