Blowin’ In The Wind at Petersburg

by Fred Ray on April 8, 2009 · 0 comments

As a followup to my previous post on Bob Dylan, the Times blog has posted some thoughts on what he might have been reading. They put in a quote from a Times correspondent comparing Northern and Southern forces in mid-1864 (not 1863 as stated).

The rolls of company after company exhibit not a single name other than that of a native-born American. It is squeamishness, because these Southern armies are undisciplined, to deny to many of the men serving in them the title of veterans. It is doubtful whether in any three years of this century the most disciplined and War-experieniced (sic) veterans of Europe have seen more or harder fighting than many of these Southerners.

There is with them no enlistment for 100 days, or one year, or three years. Not a man but is in “for the war,” and those who have seen less fighting than their fellows take their tone from, and are leavened by, the men of Bull Run and of the seven days around Richmond. They are of such stuff as Victor Hugo’s Vielle Garde, who, diminished in number, waxed greater in heart. Their aim as marksmen is such as would warm General Hay’s heart, and their practice in these familiar Virginian woods would far surpass that of the best regiment that ever graduated at Hythe.

This last sentence is quite a compliment coming from a Brit, since Hythe was the British Army’s marksmanship school and was considered at the time to be the best program in the world. The Times has their archives on line back to the 1700s but there’s a pretty steep charge to access them. Nor can I give you a direct link—you’ll have to follow the above link to the Times article and go from there to get access. It’s worth it, though, because it’s a good article from their (unnamed) Richmond correspondent. You can print the article but it takes patience (right click, go to frames menu and then print frames, adjusting as necessary) and they obviously don’t want you to do it.

Also of interest was a description of mining. “It is known,” he says, “that the Federals are running a mine forward at one spot, it is believed that they are making similar efforts in other spots…. It will be obvious that, even if it were impossible to meet him by countermining, little result would arise from blowing into the air perhaps 100 yards of earthwork along a line which runs 12 or 15 miles.” This was datelined July 20, 1864—ten days before Grant popped the mine at the Crater.

The article also confirms something I wrote about earlier in a review of The London Confederates—that there was considerable sympathy for the South at all levels of British society, but not enough to risk war or an open break with the United States. As I wrote then:

…the issue of media bias was as much of a problem then as it is now. Bennett shows that the London press, with few exceptions, was pro-Confederate and tended to report Southern successes and Union setbacks rather uncritically. The established press narrative became that the North could never subdue the South, and thus the fall of Richmond and the surrender of Lee’s army came as a shock to Fleet Street, who hastily issued revisions, much like the modern press after the success of the “surge” in Iraq.

That certainly applied to the Times’ correspondent, who goes on at considerable length to compare the low morale of the “hirelings” from Germany and Ireland “who have been either starved, bribed, or hocussed into the ranks” with that of the native-born Southerners. “As to Grant with his present army taking Richmond or Petersburg,” he says, “the child born this day will be a stalwart man before he witnesses such an event.” He mentions seeing an English lad in Castle Thunder in Richmond who claimed to have been literally drugged and shanghaied into a New York regiment. In all it’s a rosy and not very realistic article, when in reality the Confederacy was in desperate straits.

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