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Chapter 17: conclusion.

The official reports show a loss to the Union side in the battle of Bull Run of 25 guns (the Confederates claim 28), 481 men killed, 1,011 men wounded, and 1,460 wounded and other Union soldiers sent as prisoners to Richmond. On the Confederate side the loss was 387 killed, 1,582 wounded, and a few prisoners taken.

These simple figures prove the engagement to have been well contested and fought with equal courage and persistence by both sides. Greatly ridiculed and denounced when it occurred, the battle of Bull Run is gradually finding its vindication. General Sherman says it was “one of the best-planned battles of the war, but one of the worstfought,” and that “both armies were fairly defeated.” General Johnston says: “If the tactics of the Federals had been equal to their strategy, we should have been beaten.” To the military student, Bull Run, with its extended field of strategy, its quick changes of plan, its fluctuating chances and combinations, and its rapidly shifting incidents and accidents, is a most interesting, and likely to become a typical, “game of war” between volunteer armies.

The loyal people in Washington were rejoicing over a victory, steadily reported during the greater part of the day, when suddenly, at about five o'clock, came the startling telegram: [207] “General McDowell's army in full retreat through Centreville. The day is lost. Save Washington and the remnants of this army.” General Scott refused to credit the astounding and unwelcome intelligence. Nevertheless he put the Alexandria and Arlington camps into activity, sent confidential notice to Baltimore, called reinforcements from Harrisburg and New York, and suggested to McClellan to “come down to the Shenandoah Valley with such troops as can be spared from Western Virginia.” By midnight, officers and civilians who were lucky enough to have retained horses began to arrive, and the apparent proportions of the defeat to increase. It was a gloomy night, but yet gloomier days followed. Next day, Monday, the rain commenced falling in torrents, and continued for thirty-six hours with but slight intermission. Through this rain the disbanded soldiers began to pour into Washington City, fagged out, hungry, and dejected, and having literally nowhere to turn their feet or lay their head. History owes a page of honorable mention to the Federal capital for its unselfish generosity on this occasion. The rich and poor, the high and low of her loyal people, with one quick and entirely unprompted impulse opened their doors and dealt out food and refreshment to the footsore, haggard, and half-starved men, whom ill-luck rather than their own delinquency had so unexpectedly reduced to tramps and fugitives.

The evil was, however, quickly remedied. By Monday noon the full extent of the disaster, though not yet certainly known, could be reasonably estimated, since indications began to show that the enemy had not pressed their pursuit in force. But, in due preparation for the worst, and in addition to all possible precautions for local defence, General McClellan was called to Washington to take command, Mc-Dowell being continued in charge of the defenses on the [208] Virginia side of the Potomac. Patterson's time having expired, he was mustered out of the service; Banks was sent to Harper's Ferry, Dix put in command at Baltimore, and Rosecrans in West Virginia.

Coming to Washington under the favorable acquaintanceship and estimate of General Scott, and with the prestige of his recent success in West Virginia, McClellan's arrival was hailed by officials and citizens with something more than ordinary warmth and satisfaction. This good opinion was greatly augmented by the General's own personal conduct. He exhibited at once a promising energy and industry in repairing the shattered army organization; cleared Washington City of stragglers; established a more perfect military discipline than had hitherto been maintained; displayed great tact in his first intercourse with both junior and senior officers; was free, affable, kind, patient, and attentive to all; manifested great talent and unceasing watchfulness in the details of military administration; and being young, vigilant, cheerful, intelligent, and apparently possessed of great professional skill, he reaped, almost at a single harvest, a well-nigh universal popularity.

It is in its political aspects that Bull Run becomes a great historical landmark. To say that the hope and enthusiasm of the North received a painful shock of humiliation and disappointment, is to use but a mild description of the popular feeling. This first experience of defeat-or recognition of even the possibility of defeat — was inexpressibly bitter. Stifling the sharp sorrow, however, the great public of the Free States sent up its prompt and united demand that the contest should be continued and the disgrace wiped out Impatience and over eagerness were chastened and repressed; and the North reconciled itself to the painful prospect of a tedious civil war all the more readily because of the necessity [209] of bending every energy to immediate preparation on a widely extended scale.

If the North was cast down by the result of Bull Run, the South was in even a greater ratio encouraged and strengthened. Vanity of personal prowess is a weakness of Southern character; and Bull Run became to the unthinking a demonstration of Southern invincibility. To the more cautious leaders the event was yet sufficiently flattering to inspire them with full confidence in ultimate success. Perhaps the most potent influence of the battle was upon foreign nations, who now looked upon the Confederate States as a belligerent of “great expectations;” while speculative foreign capital turned somewhat eagerly to this promising new field of contraband trade.

An important event, so silent in its operation that the public was scarcely conscious it was occurring, now became the pivot and controlling force of military operations. This was the disbandment of the three months volunteers. Within a few weeks almost the whole seventy-five thousand men were mustered out and returned to their homes. Only a few regiments re-enlisted with organizations even approximately unbroken; but out of the whole number of troops thus suddenly dissolved a considerable proportion immediately entered the three years service as individuals, and in many instances their drill and experience secured them election or appointment as officers in the new regiments. Thus the disappearance of an army brought a certain compensation; it not only furnished the new volunteers a quickening leaven, but that portion which went home to every Free State, and to some of the Border Slave States, served to greatly strengthen and correct public opinion in their several localities.

The three years quota, and the increase of the regular [210] army, called by President Lincoln in advance of strict authority of law at the beginning of May, had so far progressed that garrisons and camps suffered no serious diminution. Congress, being convened in special session, now legalized their enlistment, perfected their organization, and made liberal provision for their equipment and supply. It authorized an army of five hundred thousand men, and a national loan of two hundred and fifty millions of dollars; it provided an increase of the navy to render the blockade vigilant and rigorous; and enforcement, revenue, confiscation, and piracy laws were enacted or amended to meet the exigencies of active rebellion.

Pending the change and transformation of the volunteer forces from the three months to the three years service, military operations necessarily came to a general cessation. Washington City, especially, and the fortified strip of territory held by the Union armies on the Virginia side of the Potomac, once more became a great military camp. Here, under McClellan's personal supervision, grew up that famous Army of the Potomac, about which future volumes of this series will have much to say. But in its formation, organization, complete equipment, and thorough drill the second half of the year 1861 passed away. A few intensely exciting incidents occurred, of which the Ball's Bluff disaster was, perhaps, the chief; but their consideration in detail does not fall within the scope of the present volume.

In the rebel camps, also, inaction was both a policy and a necessity during the remainder of the year. The trophies of Bull Run having been gathered up, and its glory vaunted in Southern newspapers and stump speeches, the rebel commander once more advanced his outposts to the positions held before the battle, while the bulk of his army turned Manassas into a fortified camp. Some of the earliest reasons [211] for this course are explained by Johnston with blunt frankness. “The Confederate army,” he writes, “was more disorganized by victory than that of the United States by defeat. The Southern volunteers believed that the objects of the war had been accomplished by their victory, and that they had achieved all that their country required of them. Many, therefore, in ignorance of their military obligations, left the army, not to return. Some hastened home to exhibit the trophies picked up on the field; others left their regiments without ceremony to attend to wounded friends, frequently accompanying them to hospitals in distant towns. Such were the reports of general and staff officers and railroad officials. Exaggerated ideas of victory prevailing among our troops cost us more men than the Federal army lost by defeat.”

It would appear that, about a month after the battle of Bull Run, the rebel commanders invited Jefferson Davis to Manassas to discuss a plan of active operations for the autumn. Generals Johnston, Beauregard, and G. W. Smith proposed “the concentration there of all the available forces of the Confederate States, crossing the Potomac into Maryland at the nearest ford with this army, and placing it in rear of Washington. This,” writes Johnston, “we thought would compel McClellan to fight with the chances of battle against him. Success would bring Maryland into the Confederacy, we thought, and enable us to transfer the war to the northern border of that State, where the defensive should be resumed.” Davis' conclusive reply was, “that the whole country was applying for arms and troops; that he could take none from other points for that army.”

Of the larger aspects of the civil war during the fall and winter of 1861, this volume does not afford further room to give even a summary. Starting with a series of favorable [212] accidents in the spring, the rebellion had confidently expected to hold every slave-holding State. So far from realizing this hope, the end of the year witnessed the substantial loss to the conspiracy of the four important Border States of Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. This, together with the effective blockade instituted on the seaboard, and the lodgment gained by the brilliant naval victories at Hatteras and Port Royal, already presaged the fate of disunion. In a rough and hasty measurement of strength and unity, political and military, the relative proportions of population, wealth, and skill, and the no less potent elements of devotion to freedom, justice, and humanity, had already so far turned the scale as to foreshadow, with unerring certainty, that the seceding States would ultimately fail in their desperate appeal from the ballot to the bullet. For the present, however, both the contestants remained confident, determined, and unceasingly active in gathering the huge armies destined, in the coming spring, to renew the mighty conflict.

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