Book I:—the American army.
The volunteers of the Eighteenth century.
T the beginning of the year 1861 one of those acts of violence which ambitious men are often able to disguise under names the more attractive in proportion as their motives are most culpable, occurred to rend the republic of the United States
, and enkindled civil war.
A coup daetat
was attempted against the Constitution
of that republic by the powerful oligarchy which ruled in the South
and had long controlled in the councils of the nation.
On the day when the common law, which guarantees alike to the poor and the outcast respect for their individual rights, and to the majority the full enjoyment of political power, is violated by any portion of the community, if the outrage be not severely repressed, despotism is established in the land.
Beaten in the presidential elections of 1860, the Southern States
sought to regain by intimidation or force the influence they had exercised until then in the interest of slavery; and while shouting aloud the words ‘Independence and liberty,’ they trampled the solemn contract under foot as soon as the national ballot had declared against their policy.
But success, that great apologist of predestinarians, failed them, and victory favored the cause of right and loyalty.
Then it was seen what treasures of energy the free and constant practice of liberty hoards up for a people fortunate enough to possess it and sufficiently wise to guard it.
had already solved one of the most difficult problems of our age by developing free institutions in the midst of a democratic society; but no great internal crisis had yet arisen to try their solidity.
Many people had asserted that the first storm would wrench this fragile plant from a soil that could not afford it sustenance.
The storm-wind of civil war arose, and, contrary to these predictions, the vigorous tree of American institutions, spreading its shadow over the country where it had taken such deep root, saved it from impending destruction.
In this crisis, the American
people learned to appreciate their Constitution even more than they had done in the past; and they proved to the world that the statue of Liberty is not a worthless idol, deaf in the hour of danger, but the holy symbol of a powerful divinity which may be invoked in seasons of adversity.
Therefore, although war always presents a cruel aspect, we may, at least, examine the one that has lately rent America
without experiencing that profound and unmitigated sadness which the triumphs of violence and injustice inspire.
It is interesting to observe how that victory, so long disputed, the results of which are patent to every observer, although the causes are difficult to unravel from a distance, was achieved.
In this study, as important to the soldier as to the statesman, we should doubtless take into consideration the difference of institutions, customs, and many peculiar circumstances; but on the other hand, we should not reject without examination precious examples and dearly bought experiences, under the pretext that what has succeeded in America
cannot be applied to Europe
The work we have undertaken is essentially a military history.
We shall not, therefore, attempt to describe the constitutional struggles and the political events which brought on the war, a narrative of which we present in these pages.
But at a time when the misfortunes of our own country impart a peculiar importance to all questions of military organization, we have thought this narrative would appear incomplete if we did not begin by placing before the reader a somewhat detailed account of the resources of the two adversaries, how they made use of them, the services rendered to both parties by a corps of regular army officers, well trained and brought up under the influence of excellent traditions,
and finally the improvisation of the large armies which sustained that long war. This preliminary exposition will show how those armies, finding themselves on both sides in an analogous condition, were able to organize and gradually acquire a military character, without being exposed to the disasters which both would have experienced if from the commencement they had had to fight with veteran and disciplined troops.
We must, therefore, in the first place, show in a rapid sketch what the American
army was previous to 1861.
Although the Americans
were not a military people, they had had occasion to exhibit certain warlike qualities.
During their short history they already had precedents for the organization of their national forces, and a small knot of brave and devoted men had preserved from oblivion the traditions acquired in campaigns instructive if not brilliant.
Without dwelling at length on the wars in which the American
soldier figured prior to 1861, it is necessary that we should say a few words on the subject.
The reader will the better understand the remarkable movement which called large armies into existence at the first rumor of civil war, when he has seen how volunteer corps were formed at other epochs in the history of the young republic.
After having followed the small regular army to the far West
and to Mexico
the part it played in the great military organization of the Federals
and the Confederates
will be understood.
It was against our soldiers in the Seven Years War that the American
volunteers, then composing the militia of an English colony, made their debut
This fact may be recalled to mind not only without bitterness, since, Heaven be praised!
the flag of the United States
, since it has been afloat, has never been found opposed to that of France
on the field of battle, but also as a remembrance constituting an additional tie between them and us. For, during the unequal struggle which decided the ownership of the new continent, those militia-men received some useful lessons while contending with the handful of heroic men who defended our empire beyond the seas in spite of a forgetful country.
The soldiers of the war of independence were formed in that
, even more than Wolfe
, was the instructor of those adversaries who very soon undertook to avenge him. It was while endeavoring to supplant the French
on the borders of the Ohio
, by long and frequently disastrous expeditions, that the founder of the American
nation gave the first indications of that indefatigable energy which in the end triumphed over every obstacle.
It was the example of the defenders of Fort Carillon, in holding an English army in check from behind a miserable breastwork, which inspired at a later period the combatants of Bunker Hill
It was the surrender of Washington
at Fort Necessity
, and the disaster of Braddock
at Fort Duquesne
, which taught the future conquerors of Saratoga
how, in those wild countries, to embarrass the march of an enemy, to cut off his supplies, to neutralize his advantages, until, at last, he was either captured or annihilated.
So that, although at first despised in the aristocratic ranks of the regular English army, the provincial militia
, as they were then called, soon learned how to make themselves appreciated, and to compel respect from their enemies.
In that war, so different from those waged in Europe
, in those conflicts carried on in the midst of a wild and wooded country, they already displayed all the qualities which have since characterized the American
—shrewdness, strength, valor, and personal intelligence.
These qualities were again displayed when, fifteen years later, they took up arms once more, under the name of volunteers
or national militia
, in order to shake off the oppressive yoke of the mother-country; but they had no longer the intelligent officers of the English
army to direct them, nor the old regular forces to support them at the critical moment.
of auxiliaries had but poorly prepared them to sustain alone the great struggle which patriotism imposed upon them.
no colonial officer had ever figured in a high rank.
Consequently, the French
who came with Lafayette to place their experience at the service of the young American army brought to the latter most valuable assistance.
But their best ally, their greatest strength, was that perseverance which enabled them to turn a defeat to advantage instead of succumbing under it. This was demonstrated when the arrival of Rochambeau
furnished them the opportunity to undertake that splendid and decisive campaign
which transferred the war from the borders of the Hudson
, and ended it by one blow in the trenches of Yorktown
The late events which have steeped the United States
in blood impart a peculiar interest to the study of the war of American independence.
The theatre is the same, the character of the country has changed but little since then, and on both sides the actors are the descendants of the soldiers of Washington
In that first attempt of the young American nation to organize its military power we shall find precedents for what was done in 1861, and in the meagre armies of the last century the model of those which, in our own day, have participated in the civil war.
But we must, first of all, point out certain important differences which mark both wars, and the circumstances under which they were undertaken; in fact, it is in consequence of not having taken notice of these differences that many people have found their predictions falsified by the results of the late struggle.
Because the thirteen colonies had exhausted the efforts of England
, they believed that the Confederate States
would eventually wear out the strength of the North
Fortunately, the comparison between the generous movement of 1775 and the resort to arms by the slave-owners in 1861 is as false in a military as in a political point of view.
On the day when the colonies shook off the authority of the mother-country, all the strategic points of their territory were occupied by the English
It was necessary, therefore, to conquer everything: they had nothing to lose, and could not have considered themselves as beaten, even though the enemy was still in the heart of the country.
In 1861, on the contrary, the Confederates
, masters of all the territory which they sought to alienate from the lawful jurisdiction of the new President
, had need of all that vast country, partly for the maintenance of the institution of slavery, and partly for the support of their numerous armies.
When that country was invaded, they felt themselves vanquished.
What was possible in the war of independence, where the number of combatants was limited, was so no longer.
and Cornwallis, had, ordinarily, not more than ten or fifteen, and very rarely twenty, thousand
men under their command.
These little armies could live upon the country which they occupied.
It was not always without difficulty, it is true; and the soldiers of Washington
suffered cruelly during the winter they passed at Valley Forge
The English army, passing through a relatively rich country from Philadelphia
to New York, was obliged to carry its provisions along with it; and Cornwallis lost all his baggage in North Carolina
, even while he was making a conquering march through it. But neither of these had to depend upon that vast system of victualling which relies upon a fixed and certain base of operations, and without which large armies cannot be supported in America
They subsisted, marched, and sojourned for months by the side of an enemy who was master of the country.
If we wished to draw a comparison between the two wars, it would be the armies of the North
, and not those of the South
, that we should have to compare with the volunteers who freed America
The Confederate conscripts—impetuously brave, accustomed to obedience, and blindly following their chiefs, but individually without perseverance or tenacity—were men of different spirit, different habits, and different temperament; their character had been moulded by the aristocratic institutions founded upon slavery.
The Federal volunteer, on the contrary, with his peculiarities and his defects, is the direct heir of those Continentals
, as they were called, who, difficult to manage, badly organized, and almost always beaten notwithstanding their personal courage, ended, nevertheless, by defeating the English
He has, moreover, other claims to be considered their inheritor, for he can recall to mind the fact that it was the Northern States
, then simple colonies, which sustained nearly all the brunt of the war of independence, the rewards of which they shared with their associates of the South
Out of the two hundred and thirty-two thousand men whom that war saw mustered under the Federal
alone, always the most patriotic and the most warlike, furnished sixty-eight thousand; Connecticut
, with less population, thirty-two thousand; Pennsylvania
, twenty-six thousand; New York, almost entirely occupied by the English
, eighteen thousand; to sum up, the States which were faithful to the Union
in 1861 had given one hundred and seventy-five thousand
men to fight against England
—that is to say, more than three-fourths of the total number.
Among those which, at a later period, espoused the Confederate
cause, valiant Virginia
was the only one which at that time contributed a respectable contingent, while South Carolina
, so haughty since, could not raise more than six thousand men during the whole war against England
It will thus be seen that the States which defended the Union
in 1861 are those that had made the greatest sacrifices to establish it, while those that raised the standard of rebellion against it are also those that had the least right to call themselves its founders.
We cannot be astonished, therefore, at finding among the soldiers who were the first to carry the star-spangled banner to the battle-field the traits which have always characterized the Federal
These traits have been displayed from the beginning of the struggle with the mother-country.
As soon as mustered, they would meet the onset of the English
veterans from behind the rudest defences.
They defended themselves with extraordinary energy at