Saturday, April 18, 2009

Our Military Reputation

Mr. Russell’s last letter to the London Times, although adhering with stupid obstinacy to the motion he was sent here to maintain, that the rebellion will ultimately succeed, nevertheless does justice to the admirable material of our armies and their wonderful progress in discipline. Mr. Russell is also reported as speaking in private in terms of the warmest admiration of the grand army of the Potomac, even going so far as to say that he has not seen in any other country soldiers of such uniformly admirable physique and such aptness of military discipline. He fails to appreciate, however, the most important qualities of the American soldier, and those in which he is intrinsically superior to those of any other nation, England not excepted. We refer to the general education and intelligence of our men, and their strong personal interest in the cause for which they fight. The value of the European soldier depends almost wholly upon discipline which makes him a mere machine in the hands of his commander. The personal independence and self-direction of a republican citizen have been supposed to be insurmountable obstacles to the perfect discipline and subordination required in the rank and file. But the experiences of this war will prove that these obstacles can be overcome, and that the intelligent “fighting machine,” inspired by a great idea and a high motive, and thus brought into the closest sympathy with his commander, is altogether more efficient and reliable than the human machine that is a machine and nothing else. The ambition for success for the sake of success and its honors and rewards is common to all fighting men, but where the soldier in addition to drill and discipline, and this general ambition, is susceptible of the higher inspiration of patriotism and its ennobling motives and aims, it is manifest that he has an increased power and is capable of a better style of execution. These are some of the differences between an ignorant and an intelligent soldiery, and just here lies our military advantage and distinction, as compared with the other great powers. It is because our people are universally educated, and are a reading and writing people, that we can extemporize an army, and make effective soldiers out of farmers and mechanics, in less time than any other nation, and have done it in this war with a rapidity and success that has caused astonishment and admiration among European military men. The Albion, the English paper published in New York, which as hitherto manifested much of the vulgar British contempt for everything American, said the other day, in reference to the soldiers of the Potomac army:

“Not a few British officers from regiments stationed in Canada, are employed there on special service, have been recently permitted to examine with professional eye their bone and sinew, their equipment, their discipline, their maneuvers. It comes within our own personal knowledge that several of these our soldier countrymen, whose opinions are of the greatest value, report their unbounded surprise and admiration at the effective and promising condition of the thousands of troops whom they have seen. Of the fighting qualities they may have something to say hereafter, for – thanks to the unexpected and exceeding courtesy of General McClellan – some of these gentlemen have been allowed to accompany the headquarters of the United States army in its expected onward march. This obligation, we need scarcely say is far more appreciated by military men than any reviews or entertainments got up for their benefit, while those who could not remain to avail themselves of this privilege are nevertheless most grateful for the hospitality with which they have been received.”

The recent great battle must have made a favorable impression as to the fighting qualities of our troops, and such of the British military visitors as have accompanied the army into Virginia are likely soon to see good fighting there. We are also showing the European powers some novelties in the art of war. Even the rebels have the honor of giving the first demonstration of the immense superiority of iron-clad vessels, and thus of revolutionizing the whole matter of naval warfare. As a consequence of this demonstration we shall in six months have a formidable iron-clad fleet, the very existence of which will be the best guaranty against invasion from abroad, and will command the respect which the other powers were inclined to withhold from us in the period of our weakness and doubt. All that is now past, and the European nations are taking novel lessons of us in maritime warfare, and learning practical military science at the feet of our commanders.

There has been no campaign on the soil of Europe for half a century, involving such a vast extent of country, such great natural and moral difficulties, and requires such broad and comprehensive military science and military strength and resources, as the present war. It is absolutely appalling in its proportions, and it is not strange that foreigners should have been incredulous as to the power of our government, taken by surprise and without an army or navy to commence with, to re-establish its authority over nearly half the Union in open and declared revolt. They were doubtless honest in the belief that success in so gigantic a work was out of the question. Now that they see our armies marching on to its rapid accomplishment their incredulity changes suddenly to surprised admiration. We are demonstrating to the world that a republic may have sufficient vitality for self-preservation, and we are achieving a military reputation that will make us respected as we never have been before. This is not our greatest or most valuable gain from this bloody struggle, but it will be worth something as a security for our future peace and the peace of the world. And it will be worth a great deal in future to the struggling people of Europe in their attempts to throw off the burdens of hereditary despotism and vindicate their own rights to self-government. – {Springfield Republican.

– Published in the Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, April 19, 1862

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