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Atlantic Monthly, Volume 8, No. 48, October, 1861 by Various

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It is all plain, but it has been an astonishment to us, as our war-comet
was to the astronomers. The comet, as some of them say, brushed us with
its tail as it passed; yet nobody finds us the worse for it. So, too, we
have been brushed lightly by mishap, as we ought to have been, and as we
ought to have prayed to be, no doubt, if we had known what was good for
us; yet at this very moment we stand stronger, more hopeful, more united
than ever before in our history.

Misfortunes are no new things; yet a man suffering from furuncles will
often speak as if Job had never known anything about them. We will take
up a book lying by us, and find all the evils, or most of those we have
been complaining of, described in detail, as they happened eight or ten
generations before our time.

It was in "a struggle for NATIONAL independence, liberty of conscience,
freedom of the seas, against sacerdotal and _world-absorbing tyranny_."
A plotting despot is at the bottom of it. "While the _riches of the
Indies_ continue, he thinketh he will be able to weary out all other
princes." But England had soldiers and statesmen ready to fight, even
though "Indies"--the King Cotton of that day--were declared arbiter of
the contest. "I pray God," said one of them, "that I live not to see
this enterprise quail, and with it the utter subversion of religion
throughout Christendom."--"The war doth defend England. Who is he that
will refuse to spend his life and living in it? If her Majesty consume
twenty thousand men in the cause, the experimented men that will remain
will double that strength to the realm."--_"The freehold of England will
be worth but little, if this action quail;_ and therefore I wish no
subject to spare his purse towards it."--"God hath stirred up this
action to be a school to breed up soldiers to defend the freedom of
England, which through these long times of peace and quietness is
brought into a most dangerous estate, if it should be attempted. Our
delicacy is such that we are already weary; yet this journey is nought
in respect to the misery and hardship that soldiers must and do endure."

"There can be no doubt," the historian remarks, "that the organization
and discipline of English troops were in anything but a satisfactory
state at that period."--"The soldiers required shoes and stockings,
bread and meat, and for those articles there were not the necessary
funds."--"There came no penny of treasure over."--"There is much still
due. They cannot get a penny, their credit is spent, _they perish for
want of victuals and clothing_ in great numbers. The whole are ready
to mutiny."--"There was no soldier yet able to buy himself _a pair of
hose_, and it is too, too great shame to see how they go, and _it
kills their hearts to show themselves among men_."--These "poor subjects
were no better than abjects," said the Lieutenant-General. "There is but
a small number of the first bands left," said another,--"and those so
pitiful and unable to serve again as I leave to speak further of
them, to avoid grief to your heart. A monstrous fault there hath been
somewhere." Of what nature the "monstrous fault" was we may conjecture
from the language of the Commander-in-Chief. "There can be no doubt of
our driving the enemy out of the country through famine and excessive
charges, if every one of us will put our minds to forward, _without
making a miserable gain by the wars_." (We give the Italics as we find
them in the text.) He believed that much of the work might be speedily
done; for he "would undertake to furnish from hence, upon two months'
warning, a navy for strong and tall ships, with their furniture and

In the mean time "there was a whisper of peace-overtures," "rumors
which, whether true or false, were most pernicious in their effects";
for "it was war, not peace," that the despot "intended," and the "most
trusty counsellors [of England] knew to be inevitable." Worse than this,
there was treachery of the most dangerous kind. "Take heed whom you
trust," said the brother of the Commander-in-Chief to him; "for that
you have some false boys about you." In fact, "many of those nearest his
person and of highest credit out of England were his deadly foes, sworn
to compass his dishonor, his confusion, and eventually his death, and in
correspondence with his most powerful adversaries at home and abroad."

It was a sad state of things. The General "was much disgusted with the
raw material out of which he was expected to manufacture serviceable
troops." "Swaggering ruffians from the disreputable haunts of London"
"were not the men to be intrusted with the honor of England at a
momentous crisis." "Our simplest men in show have been our best men,
and your _gallant blood and ruffian men the worst of all others_." (The
Italics again are the author's.) Yet, said the muster-master, "there is
good hope that his Excellency will shortly establish such good order
for the government and training of our nation, that these weak, badly
furnished, ill-armed, and worse trained bands, thus rawly left unto
him, shall within a few months prove as well armed, complete, gallant
companies as shall be found elsewhere in Europe."

Very pleasant it must have been to the Commander-in-Chief to report to
his Government that in one of the first actions "five hundred Englishmen
of the best Flemish training had flatly and shamefully run away."
Yet this was the commencement of the struggle which ended with the
dispersion and defeat of the great Armada, and destroyed the projects of
the Spanish tyrant for introducing religious and political slavery into
England! It seems as if Mr. Motley's Seventh Chapter were a prophecy,
rather than a history.

* * * * *

An invasion and a conspiracy may always be expected to make head at
first. The men who plan such enterprises are not fools, but cunning,
managing people. They always have, or think they have, a _prima facie_
case to start with. They have been preparing just as the highwayman has
been preparing for his aggressive movement. They expect to find,
and they commonly do find, their victims only half ready, if at all
forewarned, and to take them at a disadvantage. If conspirators and
invaders do not strike heavy blows at once, their cause is desperate; if
they do, it proves very little, because that is the least they expected
to do.

It is very easy to run up a score behind the door of a tavern; credit
is good, and chalk is cheap. But these little marks have all got to be
crossed out by-and-by, and the time will surely come for turning all
empty pockets wrong side out. The aggressors begin in a great passion,
and are violent and dangerous at first; the nation or community assailed
are surprised, dismayed, perhaps, like the good people in the coach,
when they see Dick Turpin's pistol thrust in at the window.

The Romans were certainly a genuine fighting people. They kept the state
on a perpetual military footing. They were never without veterans, men
and leaders bred in camp and experienced in warfare. Yet what a piece of
work their African invader cut out for them! It seemed they had to learn
everything over again. Thousands upon thousands killed and driven into
Lake Trasimenus,--_fifteen thousand_ prisoners taken; total rout again
at Cannae,--rings picked from slain gentlemen's fingers by the peck or
bushel,--everything lost in battle, and a great revolt through the
Southern provinces as a natural consequence. What then? Rome was not to
be Africanized as yet. The great leader who had threatened the capital,
and scored these portentous victories, had at last to pay for them all
in defeat and humiliation on his own soil.

Even the robber Spartacus beat the Roman armies at first, with their
consuls at their head, and laid waste a large part of the peninsula.
These violent uprisings and incursions are always dangerous at their
onset; they are just like new diseases, which the doctors tell us must
be studied by themselves, and which are rarely treated with great
success until near the period of their natural cessation. After a time
Fabius learns how to handle the hot Southern invaders, and Crassus the
way of fighting the fierce gladiators with their classical bowie-knives.

Remember, _Rome_ never is beaten,--_Romans_ may be. It is inherent in
the very idea of a republic that its peaceful servants shall be liable
to be taken at fault. The counsels of the many, which are meant to
secure all men's rights in tranquil times, cannot in the nature of
things adapt themselves all at once to the sudden exigencies of war.
Consequently, a republic must expect to be beaten at first by any
concentrated power of nearly equal strength. After a time the
commander-in-chief emerges from the confused mass of counsellors, and
substitutes the action of one mind and will for the conflict of many.
The Romans recognized the Dictatorship as the necessary complement of
the Republic; and it is worthy of remark that that high office was
never abused so long as the people were worthy to be free. "_Ne quid
detrimenti respublica capiat_" was the formula according to which they
surrendered their liberty for the sake of their liberty. A great danger,
doubtless, for a people not leavened through and through with the spirit
of freedom; but not so where the army is only the representative of a
self-governing community. This army is not like to enslave itself or
the families it comes from, to please the leader whom it trusts for an
emergency. The pilot is absolute while the vessel is coming into harbor,
but the crew are not afraid of his remaining master of the ship.
Washington's reply to Nicola's letter, proposing to make him King, was
written at a time when the republican system under the shadow of which
three generations have been bred up to manhood was but as a grain of
mustard-seed compared to this mighty growth which now spreads over our
land. It is not likely that another man will make out so good a claim
to supremacy as he; it is pretty certain, that, if he does, he will not
have the opportunity of rejecting the insignia of royalty, and if this
should happen, he can hardly forget the great example before him.

It is curious to see that the difficulties a general has to contend
with now are much the same that were found in the first Revolution: bad
food,--the poor surgeon at Valley Forge, whose diary was printed the
other day, could not keep it on his stomach at any rate,--insufficient
clothing, and no shoes at all, as the bloody snow bore witness,--and
among our own New England troops "a spirit of insubordination which they
took for independence," as Washington expressed himself. We do not think
the New England men have rendered themselves liable to this reproach
of late,--and this is a remarkable tribute to the influence of a true
republican training. But in various quarters there has been enough of
it, and the consequent disorganization of at least one free and easy
regiment is no more than might have been expected.

A panic or two, with all the disgrace and suffering that attach to such
hysterical paroxysms, or at least a defeat, are the experiences through
which half-organized bodies often pass to teach them the meaning of
discipline and mechanical habit. An army must go through the annealing
process like glass; let a few regiments be cracked to pieces because
their leaders did not know how to withdraw them gradually from the
furnace of action, and the lesson will be all the better remembered
because taught by a costly example. Our early mishaps were all
predicted, sometimes in formal shape, as in various letters dated long
before the breaking out of hostilities, and very often in the common
talk of those about us. But, after all, when the first chastisement
from our hard schoolmaster, Experience, comes upon us, it is a kind of
surprise, in spite of all our preparation.

A writer in the present number of this magazine shows us that there is a
complete literature of panics, not merely as occurring among new levies,
but seizing on the best-appointed armies, containing as much individual
bravery as any that never ran away from an enemy. The men of Israel gave
way before the men of Benjamin, "retired" in the language of Scripture,
in order to lead them into ambush. At a given signal they faced about,
and the men of Benjamin "were amazed" (panic-struck) and "turned their
backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness,"--took to
the woods, as we should say. Their enemies did not lie still or run as
fast the other way, like ours at Bull Run, but they "inclosed" them, and
"chased them, and trode them down with ease," and "gleaned of them in
the highways," and "pursued hard after them." Yet "all these were men of

Not to return to our old classical friends, what modern nation has ever
known how to fight that had not learned how to be beaten and how to run?
The English ran ninety miles from Bannockburn, seared by the "gillies"
and the baggage-wagons. They paid back their debt at Culloden. The
Prussian armies were routed at Jena and Auerstaedt. They had their
revenge in the "_sauve qui peut_" of Waterloo. The great armada, British
and French, undertook to bombard Sebastopol, and eight ships of the line
were so mauled that they had to go back to Toulon and Portsmouth for
repairs. Lord Raglan is said to have so far despaired of success as to
have contemplated raising the siege.

Everybody remembers the feeling produced by the repeated fruitless
attacks on the fortifications, the three unsuccessful bombardments,
the divided counsels, the disappointment and death of Lord Raglan, the
complaints of Canrobert of the want of a single commanding intellect,
and the relinquishment of his own position to Pelissier, itself a
confession of failure. If there ever was a campaign begun with defeat
and disaster, it was that which ended with the fall of Sebastopol.

Read the account of the retreat of the advanced force of our own army
at the Battle of Monmouth Court-House. Washington could not believe the
first story told him. Presently he met one fugitive after another, and
then Grayson's and Patton's regiments in disorderly retreat. He did not
know what to make of it. There had been no fighting except a successful
skirmish with the enemy's cavalry. He met Major Howard; this officer
could give no reason for the running,--had never seen the like. Another
officer swears they are flying from a shadow. Lee tries to account for
it,--troops confused by contradictory intelligence, by disobedience of
orders, by the meddling and blundering of individuals,--vague excuses
all, the plain truth being that they had given way to a panic. But for
Washington's fierce commands and threats, the retreat might have become
a total rout.

It is curious to see how the little incidents, even, of our late
accelerated retrograde movement recall those of the old Revolutionary
story. Mr. Russell speaks thus of the fugitives: "Faces black and dusty,
_tongues out in the heat_, eyes staring,--it was a most wonderful
sight." If Mr. Russell had ever read Stedman's account of his own
countrymen's twenty-mile run from Concord to Bunker's Hill, he would
have learned that they "were so much exhausted with fatigue, that they
were obliged to lie down for rest on the ground, _their tongues hanging
out of their mouths_, like those of dogs after a chase." One rout is as
much like another as the scamper of one flock of sheep like that of all

A pleasing consequence of this war we are engaged in has hardly
been enough thought of. It is a rough way of introducing distant
fellow-citizens of the same land to each other's acquaintance. Next to
the intimacy of love is that of enmity. Nay,

"Love itself could never pant
For all that beauty sighs to grant
With half the fervor hate bestows
Upon the last embrace of foes,
When, grappling in the fight, they fold
Those arms that ne'er shall lose their hold."

"We shall learn to respect each other," as one of our conservative
friends said long ago. It is a great mistake to try to prove our own
countrymen cowards and degenerate from the old stock. It is worth the
price of some hard fighting to show the contrary to the satisfaction of
both parties. The Scotch and English called each other all possible hard
names in the time of their international warfare; but the day has come
for them, as it will surely come for us, when the rivals and enemies
must stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder, each proud of the
other's bravery.

* * * * *

For three-quarters of a century we have been melting our several
destinies in one common crucible, to mould a new and mighty empire such
as the world has never seen. Our partners cannot expect to be allowed
to break the crucible or the mould, or to carry away the once separate
portions now flowing in a single incandescent flood. We cannot sell and
they cannot buy our past. Our nation has pledged itself to unity by the
whole course of its united action. There is one debt alone that all
the cotton-fields of the South could never pay: it is the price of
our voluntary humiliation for the sake of keeping peace with the
slaveholders. We may be robbed of our inalienable nationality, if
treason is strong enough, but we are trustees of the life of three
generations for the benefit of all that are yet to be. We cannot sell.
We dare not break the entail of freedom and disinherit the first-born of
half a continent.

When the Plebeians seceded to the Mons Sacer, some five hundred years
before the Christian era, the Consul Menenius Agrippa brought them back
by his well-known fable of the Belly and the Members. Perhaps it would
be too much to expect to call back our seceders with a fable which they
will hardly have the opportunity of reading in the present condition of
the postal service, but the state of the case may be put with a certain
degree of truth in this of


Once on a time a mutiny arose among the teeth of a worthy man, in good
health and blessed with a sound constitution, commonly known as Uncle
Samuel. The cutting-teeth, or _incisors_, and the eye-teeth, or
_canines_, though not nearly so many, all counted, nor so large, nor so
strong as the grinders, and by no means so white, but, on the contrary,
very much discolored, began to find fault with the grinders as not good
enough company for them. The eye-teeth, being very sharp and fitted for
seizing and tearing, and standing out taller than the rest, claimed to
lead them. Presently, one of them complained that it ached very badly,
and then another and another. Very soon the cutting-teeth, which
pretended they were supplied by the same nerve, and were proud of
it, began to ache also. They all agreed that it was the fault of the

About this time, Uncle Samuel, having used his old tooth-brush (which
was never a good one, having no stiffness in the bristles) for four
years, took a new one, recommended to him by a great number of people as
a homely, but useful article. Thereupon all the front-teeth, one after
another, declared that Uncle Samuel meant to scour them white, which was
a thing they would never submit to, though the whole civilized world was
calling on them to do so. So they all insisted on getting out of the
sockets in which they had grown and stood for so many years. But the
wisdom-teeth spoke up for the others and said,--

"Nay, there be but twelve of you front-teeth, and there be twenty of us
grinders. We are the strongest, and a good deal nearest the muscles
and the joint, but we cannot spare you. We have put up with your black
stains, your jumping aches, and your snappish looks, and now we are not
going to let you go, under the pretence that you are to be scrubbed
white, if you stay. You don't work half so hard as we do, but you can
bite the food well enough, which we can grind so much better than you.
We belong to each other. You must stay."

Thereupon the front-teeth, first the canines or dog-teeth, next the
incisors or cutting-teeth, proceeded to declare themselves out of their
sockets, and no longer belonging to the jaws of Uncle Samuel.

Then Uncle Samuel arose in his wrath and shut his jaws tightly together,
and swore that he would keep them shut till those aching and discolored
teeth of his went to pieces in their sockets, if need were, rather than
have them drawn, standing, as some of them did, at the very opening of
his throat and stomach.

And now, if you will please to observe, all those teeth are beginning
to ache worse than ever, and to decay very fast, so that it will take a
great deal of gold to stop the holes that are forming in them. But the
great white grinders are as sound as ever, and will remain so until
Uncle Samuel thinks the time has come for opening his mouth. In the mean
time they keep on grinding in a quiet way, though the others have had
to stop biting for a long time. When Uncle Samuel opens his mouth, they
will be as ready for work as ever; but those poor discolored teeth will
be tender for a great while, and never be so strong as they were before
they foolishly declared themselves out of their sockets.

* * * * *

The foregoing fable is respectfully dedicated to the Southern Plebs,
who, under the lead of their "Patrician" masters, have "seceded," like
their predecessors in the days of Menenius Agrippa.

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