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COMMENCEMENT OF THE WAR. CONDITION OF PUBLIC SENTIMENT, AND
OF THE MILITARY FORCE IN THE TWO CONTENDING SECTIONS. THE
CAMPAIGN OF WESTERN VIRGINIA.
GENERAL MCCLELLAN CALLED
The two great sections into which the American States had by the force of circumstances been gradually divided, having at last, under the stress of political passions and social exasperation, become engaged in arms, the one against the other, it rested mainly with the more powerful of the two, and with the one which claimed to represent the true idea of the national unity, to decide how and for what objects the impending war should be waged.
The majority of the Northern people, as we have seen, had no very definite views, nor, indeed, any very positive feelings on this point. They were content to accept the policy of the government whatever that might be. A well-considered apprehension of the probable results, immediate and remote, of the secession of the Southern States upon Northern greatness and Northern progress, might and no doubt would have dictated a policy to the people themselves. But no such wellconsidered apprehension existed or could exist among a people to whom the whole of the great drama upon which they were entering was an amazement and a dream.
With the exception of the small and insignificant minority of those who sympathized with the secessionists of the South, the whole North and West were united in the determination to meet force by force, and uphold at all hazards the authority of the Union. But as to the true condition of the South, and the best steps to be taken in carrying out this determination, great diversities of opinion existed. Into the details of these diversities it is unnecessary for us here to enter. Let it suffice to say, that two grand theories of action were evolved from them, each of which had its partisans and supporters in or about the immediate body of the administration.
The first of these theories recognized the facts of secession as they actually existed; the second accepted them as they appeared in the mist of popular astonishment and sectional passion at the North. According to the first theory, the organization of eleven States, containing a population three times as large as that of the Colonies which revolted against the British crown in 1776, and embracing an area of territory half as large as Europe, under a regular system of Federal government, able to command all the resources of those States in money and in men, was a reality too formidable to be lightly dealt with. Those who adopted this view of the position, insisted that the military preparations of the government to assail and overthrow the antagonist authority, thus erected and established, should be at least as carefully considered and as effectively carried out as they would be were it the intention of the government to invade the American possessions of Great Britain or the Republic of Mexico. And they insisted upon this the more strenuously that political considerations of the highest importance were involved in the case actually before them, which would by no means enter into the case of an invasion of the British territories or of Mexico. The object of the war against the South being simply the restriction of the South within the limits of its constitutional obligations, it was evident that if the war were not so conducted as to secure this object, with the least possible loss of life and property, and the least possible inflanimation of popular feeling at the South, the war must inevitably aggravate the mischief it was expected to abate.
To this end, they maintained, it was essential that no blow should be struck unless with a moral certainty of success; and that it would be better to spend many months in the preparation of an army which should be reasonably adequate to the enormous work it was to attempt, than to risk the indefinite prolongation and extension of the conflict by such an ill-advised opening of the war as must, in all military probability, result in the failure of the Federal invasion.
Those who thus reasoned, were fortified in their conclusions by the further reflection, that the secession of the Southern States was not a well-organized act of revolution, but an explosion of popular passion. They saw nothing in the Constitution of the Confederacy to which the secession had given birth, to encourage the belief that it could long commend itself to the support of the majority of the States which composed it. They recognized the existence of such an essential antagonism of interests and tendencies between the Southern States of the lower Atlantic and the Gulf on the one hand, and the Southern States of the border on the other, as must infallibly make itself felt at once in the councils of the new federation; and they believed it to be the course of true wisdom to allow these internal forces to work for the disruption of the ties so hastily and so passionately formed. At the same time they perceived that the Northern people also needed to be disciplined and schooled by calmer reflection than is possible to any people amid the heats and clamors of actual war, into a proper comprehension of their own mistakes and their own responsibilities in this matter.
In a word, with men of this way of thinking, the maxim laid down by Lieutenant-General Scott, in a remarkable letter on the prospects of the country, addressed by him to President Buchanan, on the 30th of October, 1860, still held good. They believed, with the only American who had ever successfully conducted a war of invasion, a veteran whose life's experience embraced the most critical periods of the nation's bistory, that it was “a great object to gain time” for the cooling of the popular passions and the precipitation of the popular
But these men were confronted in the government by an overwhelming majority of the adherents of a totally different theory, in which the movement of secession and the establishment of the Southern Confederacy appeared as the impotent and contemptible uprising of a handful of demoralized politicians against the colossal power of a great people and of its government. Those who looked upon matters in this light, were fully convinced that, to the immediate annihilation of all resistance to the Federal authority, nothing more would be necessary than the dispersion of the bands of insurgents assembled at Richmond for the protection of the arch-conspirators engaged in this audacious treason. They regarded the rebellion of the South as a riot, and the army of the South as a mob.*
The almost universal ignorance of the real nature and necessities of war which existed in America, contributed at once to strengthen these convictions, and to increase the influence of these men.
The educated military men of the United States were few in number, and quite destitute of influence as a class. Their own experience of war, indeed, was for the most part of the most limited character. Few of those highest in rank among them had ever seen an army arrayed for actual service; fewer still had ever borne a part in the operations of a grand campaign conducted against a powerful enemy. The military traditions of the nation, too, bore very much the same relation to the realities of its military history, as the legends of the Paladins of Charlemagne bear to the realities of the Pyrenean fights between the Saracens and the Franks.
* Two years after the outbreak of the war we find Governor Andrew of Massachusetts announcing, with the air of a discoverer, to his people at Worcester, that we are “engaged in a war and not in putting down a riot”!
Remote from the contact of powerful neighbors, and marvellously favored by the accidents of climate, soil, and geographical position, the people of the United States had been educated into an overweening self-confidence, a contempt of probabilities, and an indifference to the laws of success, which were now about to bear their bitter but wholesome fruit of disaster and disappointment. The popular voice was at the command of those who were ready to brand prudence as cowardice, forbearance as disloyalty, and patience as poverty of spirit.
For a time, however, the execution of the policy of war determined upon by the government was necessarily confided to the man of the largest military experience in America. Lieutenant-General Scott, in virtue of his position at the head of the national army, was charged, in name at least, with the organization of the troops called by the president into the field, and with the planning of the campaign in which those troops were to be employed.
Mainly in consequence of the representations of LieutenantGeneral Scott, the president was induced to issue, on the 4th of May, a second proclamation, supplementary to his proclamation of April 14th, and to call upon the States to furnish more than forty thousand additional troops, to be enlisted for three years or for the war.
An increase of the regular army was also ordered by the president in advance of the action of Congress, summoned to meet at Washington, in an “extra session," on the 4th of July, 1861.
Assuming that the war about to be waged was to be, indeed, a war, it was evident that success was only to be looked for by the armies of the Union from a strict obedience to the principles of the art of war.
To assail the armies of the Confederates from the Atlantic coast, and drive them back upon the mountain fastnesses of the interior, commanding so great and fertile an extent of territory, the very heart of their strength and hope, was mani