Page images



With the railroad untouched, the Confederate govern ment can rapidly mass its troops on the Atlantic or on the Mississippi region, and hurl them at pleasure, right or left, on its antagonist. With the railroad broken, such movements become very difficult, perhaps even impracticable.

of Chattanooga.

If the eye follows the line of this road from Memphis, Military importance on the Mississippi, eastwardly, it is seen to divide when it reaches the great strategical position Chattanooga: its upper branch runs northeastwardly to the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond; its lower branch runs southeastwardly to the important cities Savannah and Charleston. Chattanooga and its im mediate environs present, therefore, a vital military point. To General Halleck must be given the credit of the solution of the Mississippi problem. He showed that the correct movement was a march on the line of the Tennessee. The truth of this principle was strikingly exemplified by the event. The victories on that river opened the Mississippi from Cairo to Memphis, and, in the opinion of a very great military authority, had Halleck's army at that time possessed the tenacity of Sherman's in 1864, he could have completed the opening by continuing his march south from Corinth to Mobile.

Correct solution of

the problem of the opening of the Mississippi.

[ocr errors]

Opposing efforts of

Such were the views taken by the national generals who successfully solved the problem of the the Confederates. military destruction of the Confederacy. On the other hand, their antagonists, thrown from the beginning on the defensive, recognized with equal precision the correctness of these principles. When one military line was broken through, they attempted to establish a secand in a parallel direction. When the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was effectually severed, they made haste to construct a parallel one by completing the more



southerly line from Meridian to Selma. This likewise was, in its turn, destroyed.

General course of

Considered thus, so far as military topography is concerned, it was plain that decisive operations the correct military must commence in the central region with a view to the destruction of the east and west line of communication, and securing possession of the strategic point Chattanooga. The opening of the Missis sippi followed as a corollary upon their successful issue. The great result, however, would be the partition of the Confederacy.

Whatever armed force the Confederacy might have in the Atlantic region would now be placed between two antagonists, one threatening it from the north of Richmond, the other through the portal of Chattanooga.

The whole male population of the Confederacy being in the armies, there could be no resistance except where those armies were. The decisive result could alone be reached by their destruction.



In the Atlantic region of the Confederacy, to the correct military eye, the proper objective was ive of the Atlantic therefore the great army of Virginia. Richmond and Charleston were in themselves nothing. The Confederacy could afford to lose one, or both, or a dozen such, and would not be weakened thereby. And that these views were correct the event showed. Charleston fell by the march of Sherman, who never took the trouble to go to it; and Richmond fell by the operations of Grant, who disdained to enter it.

The military object to be aimed at was, therefore, not the political object proposed. It was not

is the extermination the occupation of a city or territory, but the extermination of the opposing army.

of the Virginia


Battles conducted by generals of not unequal skill, and



ending without a signal catastrophe, usually exhibit losses not far from equal on the opposing sides. In armies of equal strength, and operating in a similar region, the waste of life in the hospitals may also be considered as equal.


A general who is acting upon these principles, and is Effect of incessant aiming, not at the seizure of territory, but at the life of the antagonist army, will foresee an inevitable issue to his campaign. If he can bring into play during the whole operation two hundred thousand men, and his antagonist only one hundred and fifty thou sand, he will certainly secure his result when, by this process of attrition, each side has lost one hundred and twenty-five thousand.

Now the available military force of the South was never numerically equal to that of the North, and the disparity became still greater when the slaves were armed by the North. Military errors or catastrophes were therefore of far more serious moment to the insurgents than to the government. There was danger that exhaustion would ensue. It actually did at last occur.


Doubtless there is something very dreadful in a method which looks with indifference on the issue of battles, whether there has been a victory or a defeat, but inquires with earnestness how many of the enemy have been destroyed, and discerns with a frigid, a Machiavelian satisfaction the mathematically inevitable superiority of the greater mass after equal attrition of both conflicting bodies.

The duration of resistance of the weaker party in this process of attrition or extermination will necessarily turn on the magnitude of the political object at stake, and the facility or possibility of effecting an ostensible compromise. But it is politically impossible that an aggressive Aristocracy and an aggressive Democracy should coexist in the same nation after they have once been in open con


flict. And that was the real character of the contending antagonists of this Civil War. Moreover, though the South, at the beginning, derived most important advan tages in accomplishing the unifying of her entire popula tion by putting forth the preservation of Slavery as the Reaction of the grand object of the war, it led eventually to a fatal result. The slave became at last, not fictitiously, but in reality, the stake played for. The South could not lose him without absolute ruin. It was the loss of her labor-force, without which her lands were worth nothing.

Slavery war-cry.


Persons who thus considered the subject perceived that the war would be no affair of ninety days, but that it would go on until the weaker party was utterly exhausted and the great stake won.

Application of these

By those skillful officers who brought the war to a close, these principles were clearly recog principles by Grant nized, as may be seen from the strategy they adopted. They looked upon all oper ations in the right region as without effect; they consid ered it as incorrect to have many converging lines of operation; they perceived the true function of the central region, and the inevitable effect of a powerful movement through it. They did not fall a second time into the blunder of making the main operation in the left region a combined one of the army and navy, as was done in the Peninsular campaign. Coast operations and expeditions they regarded in the light of mere indecisive adventures. They raised no cry for the capture of Richmond; they did not even deign to enter it in triumph when it was spontaneously falling, but pursued the fugitive remnant of the ruined army with inexorable energy, applying the military principle that had been inaugurated in the Wil derness, until Appomattox Court-house was reached.


Viewed in the manner thus presented, the various op erations of the war stand in their proper position, and are capable of easy interpretation. The battle of Bull Run, as we have seen, was nearly without military significance; politically, it meant the failure of that portion of the plan of the Conspiracy which had reference to the capture of Washington. Nor is there any importance to be attached to the affairs of Big Bethel, Ball's Bluff, Drainesville. They were merely personal encounters.

True epoch of the

In fact, true warlike operations can not be said to have begun until the issue of Lincoln's order dicommencement of recting the movements of the armies on February 22d, 1862. The issue of that order followed the appointment of Stanton as Secretary of War, and was due to his suggestions.

the war.


The events of the war interpreted on these ideas.

Though the completion of the organization of the Army of the Potomac by General McClellan marks the close of the preparatory period and the commencement of military movements properly speaking, these movements still continued to be of a mixed kind— not purely military, but influenced also by political considerations. There may be discerned on the part of the government an intention to give to certain officers the opportunity of acquiring military reputation. But this can not be regarded as altogether blameworthy. A government influenced by profound convictions that the principles on which it is acting are those most certain to insure the welfare of the nation is entitled to bring into fitting prominence men who will carry those principles into effect.

The changes in its conduct.

The quality of the armies themselves by degrees underwent an observable change. It is a great step from McDowell's army of Bull Run to McClellan's of the Peninsula, but it is a still

Perfection gradually reached by the armies.

« PreviousContinue »