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Book III:—the first conflict.

Chapter 1:

Rivers and rail ways.

THE modes of warfare vary in every country according to the nature of the ground. What is possible on the wide plains of Germany or in the rich provinces of Italy becomes impracticable among the mountains of Switzerland or on the parched and rugged soil of Spain. It follows, therefore, that in this recital, which takes us upon another continent, before we judge men, and compare what they have done with what might be accomplished in any stated part of Europe, we must consider the conditions imposed upon them by the physical characteristics of the country in which they had to operate.

Let us therefore begin by casting a glance over the map of that vast country where, for the last half century, modern civilization, taking a marvellous flight, has developed itself amid the grandeurs, almost intact, of virgin Nature. What strikes the observer at first is the simplicity of the geographical configuration of the United States. We set aside the Pacific basin, which, closely connected with the other sections of the confederation by political and social affinities, is separated from them by the Rocky Mountains and the plains which guard the approaches of that wild and desolate chain to the eastward. Those spacious deserts, which the emigrant crosses without settling, envelop the new States, where he goes to seek his fortune, with a belt that is impassable for large armies. No great natural divisions are to be met between the foot of the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic borders. There is but one solitary range of mountains to be seen—that of the Alleghanies, of great length, but deficient in altitude, extending from north-east to south-west, and consequently not presenting diversities of climate; intersected by numerous rivers of considerable size, divided throughout its whole extent by large and fertile valleys, [198] but without the snowy crown of the Alps and the Pyrenees, and devoid, therefore, of all that can render a chain of mountains a real barrier and a political boundary. The American rivers, slow and deep, easily navigable, instead of being an obstacle, are so many open highways for war as well as for commerce. The general aspect of America, therefore, is grand and imposing, but singularly monotonous and uniform, and very different from that of Europe, where Nature and man have vied with each other in producing striking varieties of form. It is easy to take in at one glance the collective features of that country; but the details of its different parts are so much alike that the observer can with difficulty identify any of them. Under the artificial divisions of States and counties traced by rule and line across hundreds of leagues, where no historical associations exist, and which make a perfect checker-board of the map; between towns and villages whose names, by turns classical and vulgar, are so frequently repeated that they become a useless embarrassment to the memory, nothing can be distinguished but a network of water-courses more entangled than the blood-vessels of the human body. It is a country possessing an even surface, with equal undulations throughout its whole extent, and covered with forests that collect the dampness and stock it in a multitude of valleys. Except among the Alleghanies, no clearly defined division of waters occurs, no large table-lands nor open spaces, no deep depressions, so that on nearing the Atlantic the level of the ground gradually lowers, until land and sea become interlaced; the smallest valleys are transformed into estuaries and the faintest undulations into long peninsulas. It is not a part of our subject to point out the effect of this configuration upon the political condition of America. Being without the long and bloody history of Europe, and not divided between different races or hostile civilizations, she has not witnessed the formation of artificial frontiers upon her soil, to take the place of those natural divisions that are at variance with them. The same single people have spread over a uniform territory, and have everywhere implanted the same institutions. And by a truly providential coincidence, the day when the immensity of her domain might have weakened the bonds of her unity, railways were introduced which averted the impending [199] danger. Thanks to them, New Orleans is to-day nearer New York than Marseilles was to Havre forty years ago, when France could count as many inhabitants as constitute the population of the United States at the present time. It is wrong, therefore, to suppose that the extent of their territory is an obstacle in the way of their commercial development and a cause for political dissolution.

But it is otherwise in a military point of view. The distances, the nature of the country, and the condition of its settlements, interpose extraordinary difficulties to the great movements of armies and their manoeuvres on the battle-field. The population is distributed very differently from what it is in Europe. While centuries of war, of violence, and oppression have concentrated the inhabitants of the Old World in cities and villages, peace, safety, and freedom have induced the settlers of America to spread themselves over the surface of the country; and each of them settling down upon the patch of land which he has undertaken to clear with his individual resources, the rural families, instead of drawing near their neighbors and forming small straggling towns, have preferred an isolated country life. Since then, immense cities have undoubtedly sprung up in the free States—not as a consequence of public danger, but, on the contrary, as the natural results of accumulated wealth and powerful commerce; but in the matter of social organization, these cities play a totally different part from that of our great European centres. In America it is not the man from the country who goes to seek his fortune in the city; it is, on the contrary, the city people whom the hope of higher wages or of rapid profits draws into the country. Far from absorbing the vital forces of the nation, the city is only a vast reservoir from which they are poured over the whole country. Nor must it be forgotten that these great cities only exist in the Northern States. In the slave States, which have been the exclusive theatre of the war, prudence on one side, the demands for field-labor on the other, caused the servile population to be distributed among the vast plantations of their respective masters. So that in those States there are neither large cities nor villages; small towns are scarce, the chief county place being designated by a solitary building, generally situated at the intersection of two roads, and the Federal armies [200] had frequently to march for many long days without meeting with more than four houses together in the same clearing. Essentially expansive in its tendencies, the population of the United States, like a liquid which nothing can keep within bounds, has always spread itself over new tracts of land before it has completely settled those already occupied. Thus, in the slave States this slight sprinkling of white population represented in 1860 less than six inhabitants to every square kilometre and the proportion of cultivated lands to the entire surface of the territory was only 16.07 per cent. in the South-eastern States and 10.17 per cent. in those of the South-west. During the eighty years which followed the war of Independence, this proportion was scarcely increased, while during the same period of time, the total population of the Republic increased tenfold. Forest and swamp are yet in exclusive possession of the eight or nine-tenths still undisturbed by man—the forest, ordinarily an assemblage of lofty trees mixed with coppice; the swamp, a woody marsh where the combined action of sun and water develops a powerful vegetation, the thickness of which interposes serious obstacles to the movements of armies.

To the natural difficulties which a too scanty population has not yet been able to overcome, there was added in the South the enervating influence of slavery. This fatal institution paralyzes that spirit of enterprise which, in the North, produces a striking contrast between the triumphs of industry and the splendors of a yet rebellious Nature only half conquered by civilization. Turnpikes are few and poorly kept. The roads, laid out at random from clearing to clearing, over a rich soil easily softened, become impassable at the first rainfall. Magnificent rivers roll their unexplored waters through the great shadows of the virgin forest, as in the days when the canoe of the Indian was gently wafted upon their currents. There were no maps, or at least bad maps, which is even worse yet for the purposes of war. It appears that the drawings made by Washington during the leisure hours of his youth still constitute the best topographical charts of Virginia, and the only States which possess correct drawings of land-surveys are those most recently admitted into the Union, which, as Territories, were for some time under the jurisdiction of the Federal government and surveyed by Federal officers. [201] Those portions of America which were the earliest colonized are those whose geography is the most imperfect.

Another capital difficulty in the way of military operations arose from the fact that the products of the Southern States, especially during the early stages of the war, were not adapted for the subsistence of armies. The cotton-plant and the sugarcane reigned without rivals in the extreme South, and, more to the northward, tobacco. Virginia alone cultivated wheat to a great extent in the elevated valleys of the Alleghanies, but like the neighboring State of Kentucky, her principal product was the slave himself. She took him out of her infamous pens to supply the sugar and cotton plantations, and to repair the ravages of forced labor and an insatiable climate. This interior traffic, which an odious application of the politico-economical principle of the relations between supply and demand had developed since the suppression of the African slave-trade, had by a just retaliation struck a death-blow to the prosperity of those States. The production and raising of slaves, to which everything was sacrificed, had ruined agriculture by multiplying the number of useless mouths, without increasing the number of strong arms, which were constantly being exported into other markets. Consequently, at the opening of the war, the Southern States depended entirely for their flour and salt meats upon enormous importations from the Western States.

The vast blockade in which the North held them shackled during the war compelled them at last to make their own soil yield them the necessary means for sustaining life. Cotton, sugar, and tobacco, having lost their value, gave place to cereals, the cultivation of which, contrary to many predictions, spread and prospered as far as the warm plains of Georgia. It was alone owing to this change in the cultivation of the soil that the Confederate armies were able to subsist, but, at the same time, it deprived the South of one of her strongest defences, by rendering invasion easier.

Sherman understood this, and attempted, in 1865, that decisive march which, all other things being equal, he could not have undertaken two or three years before, across those States then exclusively devoted to the cultivation of cotton. And yet [202] his example affords no proof that an army can subsist in America upon the resources of the country it occupies. It was only by avoiding all stoppages, by always marching on, and constantly occupying a new section of country, that Sherman was able to get along for some time without the supplies forwarded from the Northern States. When the large American armies, proportioned not to the density of the population, but to its entire number, found themselves, with all the requirements of a refined civilization, in the midst of a country yet so little cultivated, they encountered difficulties unknown in our European wars, and which Washington, Rochambeau, and Cornwallis had formerly escaped, owing to the small number of their soldiers. The population is too limited to supply, out of its husbanded resources, the wants of such masses of men gathered together within a narrow space by the chances of war.

We have shown that this population does not form any agglomerated centres, where the products of the country are naturally brought together, and where armies can easily obtain supplies. The railways, which facilitate the circulation of such products and favor their exchange, have rendered depots where capital remains inactive—a thing always repugnant to an American—unnecessary, by carrying off at once all the fruits of the soil except what is strictly necessary for local consumption. Armies, therefore, except under peculiar and fleeting circumstances, are obliged to draw the largest portion of their supplies from sections of country remote from the seat of war. To concentrate provisions in the quiet and productive districts, to have these provisions safely forwarded to the depots stationed en echelon in the rear of the army, and by means of these depots to issue daily supplies to all the corps on their march,—such is the first requirement for conducting a campaign in America, and one of the most difficult problems which a general-in-chief has to solve. The almost entire absence of turnpikes, the necessity of subjecting the thousands of tons of provisions consumed daily by a large army to such long and complicated transits, limits the transportation by wagons considerably, and renders the powerful assistance of steam indispensable both by water and by rail.

These fruitful arteries, which have permitted the concentration, [203] at different points, of the resources of an immense territory, and whose life-bearing current has alone been able to feed those artificial and unproductive masses of humanity called armies, are so important that the Southern Confederacy died of inanition the very day it was deprived of their help. Hence the decisive influence of the combined system of these river and iron highways upon the conduct of the war; it traced in advance, so to speak, the route of armies, and indicated the points the possession of which they contended for. It is important, therefore, to a proper understanding of the manner in which the war was conducted, that we should offer a few remarks regarding this system, notwithstanding the little attraction geographical descriptions possess in general.

All travellers have vaunted the majesty of American rivers, but have failed to present an idea of their number. These rivers penetrate the continent in every direction, and are navigable at all times for a certain distance; but when the rainy season comes, the shallows disappear, the smallest tributaries are rapidly swollen, extending the limits of navigation to the very heart of the Union, and opening thereby an easy way of access to the steamboats that have come from the remotest parts of the continent. It is for this reason that the American journals always published a register of the water-marks of their great rivers as among the most important news-items of the war. The American steamboat, a huge flat-bottomed structure resembling a castle many stories high, with its strong engine and powerful wheels, can transport, in a single trip, enormous cargoes of provisions, ammunition, and even soldiers. An army appuyee upon one of these rivers can easily receive all the supplies it needs. So long as it controls the waters its resources are unlimited. Piers can easily be improvised from the forests which border the banks; upon this level highway no impediments are ever met with, no intermediate loadings or unloadings; the cargoes can be transported directly from the large cities of

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