Thursday, August 11, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: May 26, 1861

The heat to-day was so great, that I felt a return of my old Indian experiences, and was unable to go, as I intended, to hear a very eminent preacher discourse on the war at one of the principal chapels.

All disposable regiments are on the march to Virginia. It was bad policy for Mr. Jefferson Davis to menace Washington before he could seriously carry out his threats, because the North was excited by the speech of his Secretary at War to take extraordinary measures for the defence of their capital; and General Scott was enabled by their enthusiasm not only to provide for its defence, but to effect a lodgment at Alexandria, as a base of operations against the enemy.

When the Congress at Montgomery adjourned, the other day, they resolved to meet on the 20th of July at Richmond, which thus becomes the capital of the Confederacy. The city is not much more than one hundred miles south of Washington, with which it was in communication by rail and river; and the selection must cause a collision between the two armies in front of the rival capitals. The seizure of the Norfolk navy yard by the Confederates rendered it necessary to reinforce Fortress Monroe; and for the present the Potomac and the Chesapeake are out of danger.

The military precautions taken by General Scott, and the movements attributed to him to hold Baltimore and to maintain his communications between Washington and the North, afford evidence of judgment and military skill. The Northern papers are clamoring for an immediate advance of their raw levies to Richmond, which General Scott resists.

In one respect the South has shown greater sagacity than the North. Mr. Jefferson Davis having seen service in the field, and having been Secretary of War, perceived the dangers and inefficiency of irregular levies, and therefore induced the Montgomery congress to pass a bill which binds volunteers to serve during the war, unless sooner discharged, and reserves to the President of the Southern Confederacy the appointment of staff and field officers, the right of veto to battalion officers elected by each company, and the power of organizing companies of volunteers into squadrons, battalions, and regiments. Writing to the “Times,” at this date, I observed: “Although immense levies of men may be got together for purposes of local defence or aggressive operations, it will be very difficult to move these masses like regular armies. There is an utter want of field-trains, equipage, and commissariat, which cannot be made good in a day, a week, or a month. The absence of cavalry, and the utter deficiency of artillery, may prevent either side obtaining any decisive result in one engagement; but there can be no doubt large losses will be incurred whenever these masses of men are fairly opposed to each other in the open field."

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 238-9

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