The Campaign of 1861

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Chapter IX  Pages: 100-103

Although by July first more than 200,000 volunteers had been mustered into service for three years, (44) the Government could not withstand the temptation to repeat anew the folly of short enlistments. Forgetful of the fact that numbers and military strength are by no means synonymous, that the reputation acquired by the militia at Bunker Hill and New Orleans was gained behind formidable entrenchments, the entire country_Congress, the Cabinet, the press and people__began to clamour that, before the 75,000 men called out for three months (45) were discharged, they should be led to battle. (46)

The first real encounter of the war took place on June 10th at Big Bethel, a few miles up the Virginia peninsula from Fortress Monroe, when the Northern volunteers under General Pierce were repulsed, (47) and this fiasco, magnified into a great victory by the South, produced deep mortification on one side of the Potomac and corresponding elation on the other. (48)

The victories of Rich Mountain and Carrick's Ford, West Virginia, on July 11th and 14th, resulted in the capture and dispersal of the Confederate troops in that section, and a week later General Patterson's force near Harper's Ferry had so disintegrated as a result of its repulse at Winchester and the expiring enlistments that notwithstanding his efforts to retain the men, he was reduced to absolute impotency."

On July 21st the main armies met "two armed mobs" was the very apt description given them by Count von Moltke. The forces were approximately of equal strength, (50) but the elements of weakness were, if anything, more apparent in General McDowell's command than in General Beauregard's. (51) The battle of Bull Run (52) ended in an overwhelming victory for the Confederates, (53) the Northern troops being thoroughly routed and __with the exception of the regulars (54)__ran away in a panic, which could not be checked until they reached the Potomac. (55)

Although the Confederate "army was more disorganized by victory than the United States was by defeat," (56) there is no gainsaying the fact that "the North richly deserved its punishment." (57) Of the causes of this disaster,

"First among them was the popular but mistaken belief that because our citizens individually possess courage, fortitude, and self-reliance, they must necessarily possess the same qualities when aggregated as soldiers. And next to this error was the fatal delusion, that an army animated by patriotism needed neither instruction nor discipline to prepare it for battle." (58)

As Swinton aptly declares: (59)

"So far as regards the mere physical fact of fighting, which was at the time the all-important question, there was nothing of which the union soldiers had to be ashamed they stood up to it with the blood of their race. The fault lay in the inherent vicious organization of the force in the great number of miserable subordinate officers, which in turn was the natural result of the method of raising regiments.

"When the army that so lately had gone forth with such high hopes returned from Manassas shattered and discomfited to the banks of the Potomac, wise men saw there was that [which?] had suffered worse defeat than the army, it was the system under which Bull Run had been fought and lost. The lesson was a severe one; but if it was needed to demonstrate the legitimate result of the crude experimentalism under which the war had been conducted when campaigns were planned by ignorant politicians, and battles, precipitated by the pressure of sanguine journalists, were fought by three months' levies, the price paid was perhaps not too high. The Bull Run experiment taught the country it was a real war it had undertaken, and that success could only be hoped for by a strict conformity to military principles."

The remaining operations of the year (60) can be scarcely be dignified by any other title than skirmishes, with the possible exception of Wilson's Creek, but popular imagination invested them with all the importance of pitched battles. The sequel of Bull Run is thus admirably described by that gallant and distinguished French officer, (61) the Comte de Paris, long attached to the staff of General McClellan who superseded Scott in command of the Union armies on November first. (62)

"Its immediate effect upon military operations was to produce a sudden change in the attitude of the belligerents. The possession of Virginia, with the exception of that portion which had been recaptured by McClellan, was secured to the Confederates. Richmond was beyond danger of any attack, and Washington was threatened anew. We shall see the Federal government organize a powerful army within its capital; but its opponents, also taking advantage of the respite which the victory gave them, will increase their forces almost as rapidly, so as to keep those of the enemy constantly in check; and they remained quiet during a period of nine months on the field of battle conquered on the 21st of July.

"But it was chiefly through its moral effect that this first encounter was to exercise a powerful influence upon the war of which it was only the prelude...In short, this victory inspired the South with unlimited confidence in her own resources and the conviction that she could never be vanquished. At the outset this conviction was a great element of success; it inspired her soldiers, already impressed with a sense of their superiority over their adversaries, with that daring which frequently determined the fate of battles. But at the same time it also rendered her improvident, and made her neglect many details the importance of which she felt too late; it prevented her, at this critical hour, from availing herself of all resources, from calling together all able-bodied men, from organizing the interior defense of the States, which she thought could never be invaded; and, in this manner, it prepared the way for the disasters she met with in the West the following year....

"This disaster, which might have discouraged the North, proved, on the contrary, a salutary lesson. Far from dividing the States faithful to the Union, as the Confederate leaders had anticipated, it only had the effect of stimulating their patriotism and of rendering them more clear-sighted. At the news of the defeat, they appreciated at last the difficulty of the task they had undertaken, but they never shrank from it. They understood that in order to OBTAIN SUCCESS IN A GREAT WAR, IT IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO HAVE A GREAT NUMBER OF SOLDIERS, IT IS NECESSARY THAT THEY SHOULD BE WELL TRAINED; that ARMIES ARE COMPLICATED MACHINES WHICH REQUIRE AS MUCH SCIENCE AS CARE IN THEIR CONSTRUCTION, AND THAT if popular enthusiasm and personal courage supply the materials, IT REQUIRES DISCIPLINE TO COMBINE THEM. From that day the North submitted patiently and with determination of purpose to all that was required to organize her forces and to put them in a condition to undertake long and fatiguing campaigns. Although the soldiers composing the national armies still bear the name of volunteers, the aim of all their efforts will henceforth be to acquire THAT INSTRUCTION AND THAT EXPERIENCE WHICH CAUSE THE SUPERIORITY OF REGULAR TROOPS.

"The improvised generals will give place to those who are brought up in the military career; (63) the officers who seriously try to learn their profession will be greatly encouraged by the confidence of the public and of the army. It is not, therefore, to this American democracy, which is essentially practical and profits by experience, (64) that the partisans of levies en masse and improvised armies must look for confirmation of their theories."

FOOTNOTES (44-64) ON CHAPTER IX Pages: 100-103

44.By virtue of the President's call of May 3rd and the Congressional acts of July 22nd and 25th, the North furnished 700,680 volunteers.__Phisterer, Statistical Records of the Armies of the United States (Campaigns of the Civil War Series), p. 4.

45. Mr. Lincoln's call of April 15th produced no less than 91,816 men for three months' service.__Ibid, p.3.

46. Upton, p. 243; Alexander, Military Memoirs of a Confederate, p. 15.

47. This expedition, devised by General Benjamin Butler for the purpose of capturing the Confederate posts at Bethel, was composed of six volunteer regiments and a battalion. General Pierce was never mustered into the United States service and had no right to any command. The Confederate force, composed of North Carolina and Virginia troops about 1,100 strong, was commanded by Colonel D.H. Hill,__Swinton, pp. 31-33/

48. Ibid, p.33.

49. Swinton, pp. 38, 39 and 46; Comte de Paris, I, pp. 222-226; Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, III; pp. 196-197; Ropes, I, pp. 129-131.

50. Confederates 29,949, Union 28,568.__Report of the Joint Committee, II, p. 249; Upton, P. 246.

51. McDowell had only 800 regulars. On the day of the battle some of the volunteers had been in service less than a month; the terms of all the militia were on the eve of expiring. The force was an unknown quantity, and discipline and cohesion were notable for their absence.__Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, I, pp. 175-194; Report of the Joint Committee, III, p. 38; Swinton, pp. 42-44; Comte de Paris, I, pp. 227-228.

52. The Union forces engaged consisted of 896 officers, 17,676 men and 24 guns. Beauregard, having been joined by Johnston from the Shenandoah, had 18,053._Battles and Leaders, I, pp. 194-195.

53. The Union army lost 460 killed, 1,124 wounded, 1,312 captured or missing, a total of 2,896. The Confederates had 387 killed, 1,582 wounded, and 13 captured or missing, a total of 1,982.__Ibid. Alexander, pp.50-51, gives the Confederate losses as 2,708.

It was at this battle that General Thomas J. Jackson won his appellation of "Stonewall Jackson."__Long, Memoirs of Robert E. Lee, p. 108.

Interesting accounts of this action are also given by Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox, pp. 42-57, and by Gordon, Reminiscences of the Civil War, pp. 37-46.

54. Official report of Major Sykes. Moore, II, pp. 24-25.

55. Official reports of General McDowell and General Heintzelman, Ibid, II, pp. 2-7 and 25-27.

56. General Joseph E. Johnston's Statement. Battles and Leaders, I, p. 252.

57. Ropes, I, p. 157.

58. Upton, p. 243.

59. Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, pp. 58 and 60.

60. Defeat of the Union forces and death of General Lyon at Wilson's Creek, August 10th; surrender of Lexington, Missouri, September 20th; disastrous repulse at Ball's Bluff, October 21st; indecisive action at Belmont, November 7th; and victory of Drainesville, December 20th, 1861.

61. Comte de Paris, I, pp. 254-256.

62. McClellan's Own Story, p. 200.

63. Of the five Major Generals appointed up to September 18, 1861, four were selected from civil life; of 71 Brigadier Generals, 24 were civilians.

At the commencement of hostilities there were 1,054 graduates of West Point, 168 of whom joined the Rebellion. Although there were more than 600 captains and lieutenants in the Regular Army who might advantageously have been utilized in the highest grades of the volunteer regiments, Congress, by the Act of July 22, 1861, prevented any use being made of them in that capacity if the governor of a State choose to make his own appointments (pages 98 and 605). This policy, which resulted in keeping professional officers in the lower grades of the Army, was undoubtedly one of the greatest blunders committed during the war. Compare Upton, pp. 236, 237, 261 and 263; Cullum, I, pp. 12-14.

64. Quaere? Certainly not from a military standpoint.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Campaign of 1861
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of Books: The Military Unpreparedness of the United States- A History of American Land Forces from Colonial Times until June 1, 1915. By Frederic Louis Huidekoper; Publisher: The Macmillan Company-New York 1916
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