Sunday, June 9, 2013

Have We A General?

MR. EDITOR:  The present rebellion has now been persisted in for more than a year.  It has developed in an unexpected and almost marvelous degree, the before unknown resources of the country.  It has called a larger number of men into the field than any other single nation can muster, and all of them are volunteers.  It has created a navy able to compete with any in the world.  It has appropriated to active military use, novel, scientific and mechanical agencies, unknown to all previous wars.  It has developed financial resources, available and plenteous wealth, and rendered it easily applicable to the needs of the country, as much to our own surprise as it has been to the astonishment of other nations.  Above all, it has proven that the soldiers of the Union, are as gallant and courageous as the most ardent patriot could wish.

One thing, in my opinion, the war has not yet done.  It has found among us an abundance of the very best soldiers that ever fought and died upon the battlefield, but thus far it seems to have failed in giving prominence to any man competent to command a great army.  I cannot doubt that among the numerous officers in the national ranks, there must be some who would prove admirable leaders.  But they remain unknown, being over shadowed by those occupying higher positions – positions unworthily filled.

Our two great armies are commanded by McClellan and Halleck.  The former has been in command of his department for nearly a year, superseding McDowell, who had just fought and lost a great battle which he ought to have won.  He has under his command probably the best army, and the most completely appointed, ever yet led to the field.  His friends that he is a wonderful strategist, how justly events have plainly indicated.  He lay idle all winter before Manassas, with force and means enough to have captured all the rebels there at any time, by a single week’s use of but ordinary military skill.  Yet he allowed them to escape leaving behind them, scarcely enough of war materials to make trophies of.  He has been nearly, or quite, three months on the Yorktown [peninsula], and is now within sight of Richmond.  During the period, we have had the evacuation of Yorktown, without any material loss to the rebels, and several subsequent heavy [skirmishes].  In the most important of these, the rebels have made the attack, and in every instance, have found our forces unprepared and in a great measure uncommanded, and, consequently, in each instance have caused us heavy and intolerable loss of men.  It was so at Williamsburg, and so it was in the affair of last Saturday and Sunday.  In a word, this great strategist displays a remarkable capacity for placing portions of his army in positions which invite attack, without furnishing support, or with support so [distant] as to be able to give it only in time to just avoid absolute defeat and destruction.

At noon, Jun [1st], this strategist, Gen. McClellan, himself telegraphed these words, “We have had a desperate battle, in which the corps of Generals Sumner, Heintzelman and Keyes have been engaged against greatly superior numbers!  What kind of strategy is that which allows a portion of any army to be assailed by “greatly superior numbers”?  Is it any consolation to tell us that, “Our loss is heavy,” but that of the enemy must have been enormous?”  If the fight was a necessary one, it would be endurable.  If he had captured the enemy, we might perceive that something had been gained.  But the fight was “desperate” he says, and the enemy was merely repulsed.  That repulse cost us 1000 killed and 2000 or more wounded.  This is Gen. McClellan’s strategy.  This is a specimen of the battles he fights, and the glory he gives to our army.  A thousand bereaved mothers and widows, nothing gained, and all to display his “strategy.”

Gen. McClellan has had the power to take Richmond any time during the past six weeks. – It is plain that he has not the capacity to move a large army, that he does not know how to plan it; and that he will not be able to fight with it so as to secure all the advantages of victory.  I do not doubt that he will take Richmond.  But I think it safe to predict that but a small portion of the rebel forces will fall into his hands.  The best part of the campaign will be wasted before that city, and a barren possession of it, will be the sum of our gain.  If this is strategy, I do not see it.  I consider McClellan an egregious failure; by the time a few more thousand lives are sacrificed, to satisfy his strategy, I presume it will be thought expedient to try another.

I will not ascribe the folly of the battle of Shiloh to General Halleck.  I think General Grant is responsible for that, and it is a responsibility no one will wish to share with him.  The evacuation of Corinth, by the rebels taking with them all their munitions of war evidences either a marvelous degree of successful strategy on their party, or an equally marvelous want of Generalship on the part of Halleck.  General Grant set down about Pittsburgh Landing with some 40,000 men, and felt so secure that he never tho’t  of the ordinary precaution of entrenching his camp.  Halleck, having the addition of Buell’s, Mitchell’s, Pope’s and Curtis’ Divisions, making his army three of four times as effective as Grant’s, builds entrenchments all the way from Shiloh to Corinth, and when he gets there, obtains the place for his pains!  There is no doubt that Grant ought to have entrenched himself. – It is equally evident that Halleck has been wasting his time.  He could have taken Corinth, and the larger part of the rebel army, had he but moved on it with rapidity and energy, instead of wasting his time in his entrenchments.  The battle of Shiloh appears to have given him a “big scare.”  To avoid Grant’s absurd negligence and recklessness, he adopted the other extreme, and instead of proving a competent General, he has proven merely to be a good ditcher.

These two Generals are the only ones who have had command of large armies.  The ditchers around Corinth and Yorktown are the best evidence they have given of their capacity.  I do not know how well they were dug.  But I submit, that, although ditch digging is good in its place, a General ought to have the ability to do “something else.”  I do not know who should supersede these so-called Generals.  But I am sure some one, possessed of higher qualifications, ought to be found, with ease, by those whose business it is to know the character, and ability of our numerous military officers.  We have had too many evacuations without results.  If this mode of warfare should be persisted in, you and I need not hope to live long enough to see the end of the rebellion.  I repeat it, then, let us have a GENERAL if it be possible to find one.  We have had enough of ditch-digging; let us next have men who will “go in for a fight.”


– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, June 7, 1862, p. 2

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