Reflections on the times.
conduct of the war.
[written for a forthcoming number of Depew's Review]
The New York Evening Post
, the some very harsh comments on the conduct of the Federal
officers in crossing the Potomac
with a small body of troops near Leesburg
lately remarked, that the greatest blunder an officer could make was ‘"sleave an impassable river behind him with an enemy in superior force before him."’ Not heeding the lessons we tried to teach the Yankees
, at Manassas
, and the other day, at Leesburg
, though less people among us are continually complaining that our armies do not follow the fatal examples set by the North
, and rush headlong into positions where they would have to encounter superior force, strong fortifications, and natural advantages of situation.
Tis the mob of the North
, and its mouthpiece, the press of the North
, that has urged on their armies to certain defeat.--
This mob rules despotically among our enemies.
Shall we install it in supreme power at the South
So far, our President
and all our officers have disregarded the senseless clamor of home-keeping people, who talk and write ignorantly, thoughtlessly, and recklessly, about the conduct of the war, which they comprehend about as well as they do the Chaldaic language, or the Egyptian
Out of danger's way themselves, they do not feel or care for the useless danger to which they would expose our troops.
Our officers, whether volunteers or regulars, have exhibited remarkable prudence, caution, skill, and sagacity.
as conscientious men they have endeavored to gain victory with little loss of life.
In this they have succeeded, because they have fought the enemy at advantage, and never at disadvantage.
An army acting on the defensive, in its own territory, may by retreating, choose its own position for battle.
The Invading army must either cease to advance, give up its project of conquest, or attack it at disadvantage, in the strong position which it has selected.
Where such retreat is conducted in good order, the retreating army gathers strength daily from the surrounding country, and has little difficulty in procuring provisions, because it is always among friends whose resources have not been exhausted.
On the other hand, the invading army rapidly diminishes in numbers, from having daily to detail forces to keep open its line of communication with its base of operations.
Besides, with it the difficulty of obtaining provisions increases with each advance.
It must procure them from home, from which it is hourly receding, for it the retreating army have not entirety exhausted the supplies of the country through which it has passed, the people are unfriendly, and will not bring into the camp of their enemies the little that is left.
If they send out foraging parties this still further weakens them, and exposes them to decimation in detail.
set out for Moscow
with half a million of men, and if we mistake not, had little over a hundred and fifty thousand when he arrived there.
, and the whole of Northern Europe
, and Lapland
, is a dead level, interspersed with towns and villages.
It has no natural strength, and hence in past times conquest in Europe
, with slight exceptions, has proceeded north was dry. The Confederate States
present greater natural obstacles to an invading army than any equal area of country on the globe.
Armies cannot march down our Atlantic coast, because of the great number of bays, inlets, creeks, and rivers; nor down the inferior, because of mountain ridges, impassable roads, sparse population, and scarcity of provisions.
The Mississippi is narrow, long, tedious, and easily defended, and its valley is subject to overflow.
No invading army will attempt a serious invasion in that direction.
It is our true policy to decoy the enemy into the interior, and then to cut them off as were Braddock
, and Burgoyne
, and Cornwallis, and Ross
, and Packenham
, and our own troops in the everglades of Florida
When we have defeated and captured their armies, exhausted their treasury, and cowed their spirits by defensive warfare, it will be time for us to begin to act on the offensive, and to invade their territory.
The Northwest is as level a country as Northern Europe
, teems with provisions, and abounds with towns and villages Its population is a spiritless rabble, who have few arms and know little of their use, and who are endowed with no sense of personal or national honor.
The Northeast rules them with a rod of iron, and, by its protective tariff, robs them of half the proceeds of their labor.
They should welcome us as deliverers from Yankee bondage, rather than as conquerors.
are both weak and tempting points, and when we have well whipped the enemy within our own territory, it will be time to turn our attention to those cities.
we need not fear that we shall not have abundant opportunities, if we will but be prudent and cautious, to fight them at advantage.
They have undertaken to conquer the South
, and must advance.
, and Northwestern Virginia
, we may bide our time and opportunity, select our positions, and fight them only when it is policy to do so. They propose too, to go to the relief of Eastern Tennessee
Let them try it. When they have marched through Kentucky
, it will be impossible for them to keep up communication with the North
, and their invading army will fall an easy prey to our forces.
We must conquer Washington
is required by the whole North
He must advance or resign.
If he, or the General
who succeeds him, advances, we will be sure to defeat them at Centreville
, or Manassas
, or at some point between Washington
A half dozen defeats would not injure us. A single one would ruin them, and open the way to Washington
We must break up their army before we advance into Maryland
; and this they will afford us an early opportunity to effect, if we will be but patient.
Should they go into winter quarters in Washington
, the North
will see that the subjugation of the South
is a hopeless project, and the nations of Europe
will recognize our independence and break up the blockade.--The press and the people of the North
see this, and promise, as a dernier resort, a series of brilliant victories to be achieved by land and by sea within the next few weeks.
They must fight us within that time on our own soil and at positions selected by ourselves, and defeat us, too, or the illusion of subjugating the South
will pass off from all Northern minds.
Invasion alone can subjugate a country; and after nine months of threatening and preparation the North
has not advanced ten miles into the well affected portion of our territory, and has almost lost Missouri
, Northwestern Virginia
, and Maryland
, which offered them no resistance when the war began.
The grand result of their attempted conquest has been, so far, to add a third to the numbers and strength of their enemies.
Many who admit that it is both perilous and useless, so far as ultimate success is concerned to attempt now to take Washington
; who see that so soon as we cross the Potomac
we divide our strength, and ‘"have an impassable river behind us and an enemy in superior force before us,"’ contend, nevertheless, that we are in honor bound to attempt the relief of Maryland
Marching into her territory will be sure to transfer the seat of war from Virginia
and carry it into her midst.
She is now comparatively well treated by the Federal
forces, because they are trying to conciliate her favor, and retain her in the Union
When we attempt to relieve her by crossing the Potomac
, we shall place her in the situation of Kentucky
, Western Virginia
, and Fairfax
The Federalists will burn her farm-houses, and villages, and towns, and rob and lay waste her whole territory; and her own citizens divided in their allegiance, will rise up and shed each other's blood.
We can imagine no situation more deplorable than would be that of Maryland
if we were now to march a part of our army into her territories.
The time has not yet arrived when the Federals
would flee from her soil, panic stricken at our approach; and will not arrive until we have re-enacted on Virginia
soil another Manassas
This we shall almost certainly have an opportunity to effect are winter closes.
Should we be defeated in Maryland
our whole array, with their arms and ammunition, would be captured by the enemy.
We might in a short time repair the loss of our, men, but the loss of our munitions of war would inflict upon us a stunning and appalling blow.
One defeat in Maryland
would do us more harm than ten in Virginia
We have the selection of the battle- ground — why choose Maryland
We cannot conquer the North
except by exhausting it, or by stirring up dissension between the North
east, East, and Northwest.
Our victories but excite their indignation, increase their energies, stimulate them to enlist in the army, and keep down sectional and domestic broils among them.
To avoid civil discord, by keeping the people engaged in foreign war, has been the common policy and practice of statesmen in all ages and in all countries.
It is thus with the North
She fears the unemployed, destitute, agrarian
mob of her large cities, and equally fears a rupture with the Northwest
She has to choose between domestic war and war with us. She prefers the latter, and will carry on the war as long as her money or credit lasts.
She will hardly be at a loss for men, as the wages she pays to her soldiers are better than those which she gives to her laborers.
The prodigious expense which she is now incurring cannot be long continued, unless some rashness on our part enables her to recruit her failing strength from the spoils of the South
The cautious policy and strategy so far pursued by our armies, if persevered in, will insure us against any serious disasters, and gradually and slowly wear away and exhaust the strength and the means of our enemy.
Our soldiers and our officers have exhibited a noble specimen of the moral sublime, in the patience with which they have submitted to misconstruction, calumny and abuse.--They prefer to pursue that course which is right, to that which only seems to be right — They will not sacrifice true honor to gain ephemeral reputation.
They possess that lofty moral fortitude, that true courage, that can submit, even to the imputation of cowardice, rather than by failing in duty, to play the actual coward.
With what truth and pathos did Scott
exclaim (in effect,) ‘"I am a coward, because I have permitted popular clamor to swerve me from the line of duty."’
It is easier, far easier, to face the cannon's mouth, or mount the deadly breach, than to prefer duty to reputation.
's virtue satisfies most men; for they are solicitous not so much for self-approbation as for the applause of the crowd, and are satisfied to do what is wrong, provided they can win the plaudits of the mob. When the future historian records the story of our war, his pen will become most eloquent as he dilates upon that wise, cautious, and prudent policy that, despite of misconstruction and sacrificing temporary reputation to ultimate success, often won victory by avoiding battle.
He will place the men who have pursued this policy upon the highest pedestal in the Temple of Fame
, along with Fabins and Washington
, for the respect and admiration of endless ages.
Horace has already written the appropriate eulogy for all such men, and the occasion is so appropriate that we cannot refrain from quoting a few of his well-known and eloquent lines:
Justum et tenacem propositi virum,
Non civium ardor prava jubentium,
* * * * * *
Mente quantit solida.