Comments of the Northern Press.
[From the Baltimore Exchange, June 12]
has already received a foretaste of the work that is before him. His first exploit of capturing a pump was happily conceived and heroically executed.
His success in seizing and confiscating stray Negroes as ‘"contraband of war"’ was equally great.
Animated to fresh exertions by these most astounding achievements, and desirous of wreathing his victorious brows with laurels of a less questionable kind, he finally concluded to set out in search of new adventures.--As, however, the risk in capturing slaves was far less than what might be expected in an attempt to capture their former masters, Brigadier General Butler
wisely determined to ensconce himself safely behind the walls of Fortress Monroe
, and to leave to General Pierce
and his subordinate officers all the perils attendant upon the new conquest, of which he felt certain of being adroit enough to monopolize all the glory.--Alas, for Brigadier General Butler
The five thousand troops which were to open for him the way to Yorktown
, moving in separate detachments fell afoul of each other in the darkness, and commenced a battle among themselves.
The patriotism of the native American regiment had not stamina enough to resist the onset of their German auxiliaries.
ingloriously fled, leaving ‘"the foreign element"’ masters of the field.
The loss from this chance encounter is reported to have been two killed and nine wounded. When the ‘"mistake" ’ was discovered, and explanations and condolences had been exchanged, the entire force pushed on towards Yorktown
, or rather towards Great Bethel, on the Yorktown
road, where the Confederate forces, to the number of fifteen hundred men, were said to be encamped.
One report has it that General Butler
had made a vow ‘"to sleep in Yorktown
that night or resign "’ In the dispatch of the Associated Press
, ‘"revised and corrected by Gen. Butler
in person,"’ there is no mention whatever of this interesting fact; but we do learn that the ‘"mistake"’ which brought the Albanians and Germans into conflict occurred at the village of Little Bethel, which was promptly destroyed by fire, not because it had offered resistance, but because it had been the scene of the disaster.
It was not until this noble and humane act had been satisfactorily accomplished, that the troops, ‘"re-formed,"’ marched against Great Bethel.
That they were repulsed with great slaughter is reluctantly admitted by General Butler
himself, who reports the killed at twenty-five and the wounded at one hundred--other accounts put the killed at one hundred and the wounded at double that number.
The blame is of course, attributed to General Pierce
, who is charged by Butler
with having ‘"lost his presence of mind,"’ but great credit is given to Lieut. Col. Butler
for bringing off the killed and wounded; and we are gravely told that since the battle General Butler
has been ‘"ubiquitous," ’ which proves conclusively that he can be in many different places at one and the same time, although we do not hear of his having yet been seen at Great Bethel.
[From the Baltimore Republican
seem better soldiers than their brother Abolitionists, as it is said they fired upon a regiment of their brethren in the midnight raid of Gen. Butler
and the Americans
fled from them in terror.
It is true, the Dutchmen were very poor shots — having fired nine rounds and only killed one man, according to Butler
But if the Dutchmen were poor shots, what can be said of the courage of the Albany
regiment, which fled from a supposed enemy, when only one man had been shot?
This whole story is incredible.
That a regiment of a thousand men should, within fair striking distance, fire upon a similar body nine
rounds--nine thousand shots
--and only kill one man, is a story which Abolitionists may believe, as it comes from their party, but reasonable men can hardly swallow so monstrous a story.
[From the Philadelphia Press, 12th]
We have learned a lesson in Southeastern Virginia
, and experience has charged us an unusually dear price.
Some three or four thousand Federal troops left Fortress Monroe
on Sunday night, for the purpose of taking a rebel battery at a place called Great Bethel, about nine miles from Hampton
The erection of the battery was evidently part of a plan to environ the Fortress and to strengthen the defensive works of our enemies.
It was found, on making the attack, that the Federal
troops were unable to cope with the well fortified Rebels.
Their artillery was inefficient, and they were compelled to retire before the rifled cannon of the Virginia
Our own loss was heavy.
Nothing is known about the Rebels
, but as they were well entrenched behind masked batteries, it is probable they escaped without loss.
We have before us two statements of this melancholy affair.
It is evident that there has been an unpardonable error somewhere.
By a misunderstanding of the orders, two of our own regiments engaged in a conflict, each under the impression that the other was of the Rebel
Several shots were interchanged, and many brave men were wounded and slain before the mistake was corrected.
We are told that General Pierce
lost his presence of mind on the field of battle, and the inference is that to him the disaster of the day is owing.
This statement is made, however, on the unconfirmed authority of a telegraphic reporter, and justice to Gen. Pierce
requires us to await the facts before we pass an opinion on his conduct.
We cannot conceive how a force so poorly equipped and apportioned, lacking in artillery and the means of an available and offensive warfare, should have been sent on an errand like that order taken by the command of General Butler
We hope we shall have no more blunders in this campaign.
The moral effect of a repulse like that of Monday will be wonderful among the Southern
The lives of our volunteers are too precious to be sacrificed in fruitless sallies, or by the ignorance or misapprehension of those commanding them.
We deplore this disaster, and mourn the melancholy fate of the brave men who have fallen, but it teaches discretion to those in authority and shows our soldiers that rashness is not valor, nor reckless daring true military court age. The lesson will not be without its uses, however dearly we may have paid for it.
[From the Philadelphia inquirer, 14th]
It is somewhat premature to criticise the causes of the calamity at Great Bethel, on Monday morning last, and we therefore deferential comment; but we will be happy surprised it the full particulars do not furnish abundant means to point and confirm the remarks we made a few days ago upon military appointments ‘"not fit to be made"’ Our Executive authorities must be compelled by the overpowering force of public opinion, to commit the guidance of the field movements of our troops to the educated officers of the regular Army, or the deplorable event of Monday may prove to be but the beginning of a bad end.--While the astute chieftains of the Rebel Government
are offering premiums for regularly educated officers, our War Department is perilling the lives of our brave men by placing them in charge of political incompetents — The Confederates take their trained Captains
, and wisely make them Colonels
Such are their Lees
, Braggs and Beauregard
But our War Minister leaves the educated and tried officers just as be finds them — Lieutenants
— and seeks for his Colonels
in such material as Petriken
, we believe, has not yet been commissioned, and who is responsible for General Pierce
we are not yet informed.
[From the Philadelphia Ledger, 12th]
The affair at Bethel
appears to us to show a degree of blundering which must be attributed to nothing else than want of skill in the officers.
Over three thousand men start out at night to unmask some batteries which the rebels, it was believed, had erected between Hampton
, outside of Gen. Butler
's lines at Fortress Monroe
The danger of night attacks is that, unless great caution observed, the columns, if in detached commands, are likely to encounter each other.--This is the case in this affair, and two of the New York regiments attacked each other in the supposition that they were encountering the enemy.
This mistake, which might have produced much mischief, was discovered in time, before any great injury was done — But the event does not seem to have induced greater caution, for we find the commander, Gen Pierce
, attacking a masked battery of thirty rifled cannon without apparently knowing its power or strength though these, probably, could have been tested before the assault was ordered.
It is a difficult matter, at this distance from the scene of operations, to criticise the judgment of the officer in command; but as the soldiers who were engaged in the affair condemn their officer, it seems highly probable, that their condemnation is based upon substantial reasons, for they very soon find out the qualifications of their leaders when they see them tested in the field.
affair is an important one, for the first rebuff to a series of well planned and skillfully executed movements by General Butler
at that important end of the line of operations against the enemy.
That this live General and sensible and clear-sighted Commander
will repair this temporary disaster, we have not the least doubt, for with promptitude he combines the faculty of knowing how to and when to act, having shown himself erro equal to any emergency or any duty required of him. The repulse, we hope will be a lesson full of wise instruction — It will induce regiments to get rid of incompetent officers and to place men of known qualifications and skill in command.
[From the New York Tribune, 12th]
We do not believe Gen. Butler
o dered an attack by wearied troops, having but two or three guns, on an entrenchment of breastwork bristling with artillery.
Nor do we believe Gen. Butler
ordered an attack on such a position in ignorance of its real strength.
We presume the officer in command of the expedition was fired by a ste resolve to efface the recollection of his initial disaster in the brilliancy of his ultimate achievement, and was thus impelled to exceed his orders.
And the gallantry of our brave volunteers would have wrested victory from fortune had it been possible to flank the enemy's position.
As it was, heavier guns and more of them were indispensable, and the attack necessarily failed.
Let us not lose the lesson.
There are some who talk of a war of p ts and skirmishes — of strategy and endurance.
This failure is an answer to all such.
Behind a breastwork, poor soldiers are nearly equal to good ones, since flight is often more dangerous than persistence, while discipline goes for little; good marksmanship is the main point.
No, the Union
is not to be saved by any system of petty warfare.
It we have no better recourse, we may as well give it up.
‘"Ah!"’ says a shrewd one, ‘"you want Gen. Scott
to offer battle whether he is ready or not"’ No, sir; we want him not
to give battle till he is perfectly ready.
He understands all that business a great deal better than we do, or ever will.
But we do want him to be at the head of a force with which he can not only offer battle when he thinks at, but compel the enemy to accept it.
That is the whole story.
It he thinks 50,000 men enough to walk right over the rebels, then 50,000 he it, in spite of our demurrers.
If he wants 100,000 immediately in hand, let that be the number.
In 200,000, say the word, and let them be forth coming at the earliest possible day. But, in any case, let the requisite number be mustered forth with, and ‘"Forward March "’ the word until the rebels are chased in Texas
, and the rebellion put down.
If we are whipped in a fair fight, let us give it up, and make our peace accordingly.
But let ready forthwith to do our best, and being ready, let us make the shortest possible word of this treason.
Guerrilla warfare is formidable against, weak or purposeless commanders; Napoleon
in person was never troubled by it. The General who knows how to win great battle knows how to compel his adversary to fight one.
And it is only by great battles — at least, by movements that look and offer such — that this rebellion is to be extinguished.
So much for the lesson of Great Bethel.
[From the New York Times.]
An expedition thus literally and figuratively in the dark could only end in disaster.
Setting aside, indeed, all dictates of military science, the plainest common sense would presuppose some knowledge of the adversary thus sought in darkness; of the ground over which the advance was to be made, and the nature of the obstacles likely to be encountered.
Signals establishing the friendly character of detachments approaching each other might have been suggested by ordinary sound judgment, uninstructed on the maxims of Cæsar, Frederick
, and Jmini But our leaders seem to have had neither sense nor science.
Regardless of the they were hazarding, they flung the elate
of the army they commanded into the hands of the enemy, which if it had followed up its advantages might have cut the retreating force to pieces.
Had Gen. Butler
had ordinary prudence, or his subordinate, Gen. Pierce
, courage and presence of mind, the calamity would have been spared.
But neither seems to have supplied the absence of military experience, with the simplest exhibition of prevision, practical judgment, and soldierly conduct; and hence this mischievous reverse.
Government, we cannot doubt, will make thorough inquiry into the affair.
If the facts be as they appear upon a first presentation, the sooner this brace of Massachusetts
barristers are dismissed to their special pleadings, replications, and demurrers — the petty warfare of the bar, at which they are expert — the better it will be for the country.
It is possible such men might in time be schooled into generalship, but the education is too costly.
The people will not consent that their best and bravest — the patriots who first has steed to the protection of the Union
, and the soldiers who in the very hour of peril, proved how much too valuable they are to be thus sacrificed — shall be squandered to convert political hacks into heroes and to balance and adjust the chances of a future Presidential campaign.
We must have leaders worthy of our men, or the army will perish through needless slaughter, or melt away through.