Confederacy Resolute after First Big Losses of the Civil War
The Confederacy got off to a good start in 1861, the first year of the Civil War, winning the opening clash (the Battle of Fort Sumter) and the war’s first major engagement (the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas). The second year started off better for the Union, however. A little-known general named Ulysses S. Grant won the North’s first two major victories, both in Tennessee: the Battle of Fort Henry on Feb. 6, 1862, quickly followed by the Battle of Fort Donelson on February 16. Suddenly, the South’s western line of defense was breached, the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers were undefended, and the North had an open invasion path into the interior of the Confederacy.
The loss of Fort Donelson was an especially damaging blow to Southern hopes. Not only was it a much stronger fortification than Fort Henry, but with its defeat came the surrender of an entire Confederate army of nearly 12,000 troops. To counteract despair, the Memphis Appeal published an editorial rallying Southern spirits, reminding its readers of the dark days of the Revolutionary War before the determined colonists turned the tide—accomplished, in large part, through the courage and determination of a people who refused to give up their struggle for independence even in the face of the enemy’s victories.
This rallying cry was reprinted by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on Feb. 22, 1862:
The Dark Days of the Republic
The fall of Fort Donelson on Saturday last, the evacuation of Bowling Green and the unexplained agreement to surrender Nashville on yesterday, have forcibly engendered the conviction in the public mind that Gen. Sydney Johnston has been out-generaled by Buell in the progress of army operations in Kentucky. We have no disposition to harshly judge him in this matter, but the fact is too palpable for denial that some of his blunders have at least temporarily transferred the war from Kentucky to Tennessee soil.
In the events of the last few days we witness disasters which will arouse the spirit of our people throughout the whole Confederacy. There is nothing, it is true, in the surrender of a city, or the fall of a fort, to discourage or alarm us. These things have happened before without proving the harbingers of subjugation or of fatal disaster to a nation struggling bravely for its freedom. The price of liberty is blood, and if we would obtain the boon, we must pay the price. We cannot expect to achieve our independence without undergoing at least some of the hardships and incurring some of the misfortunes and obstacles that befell our forefathers in the dark days of the American Revolution. The colonies passed through the fiery ordeal of defeat after defeat, and were baptized with continual disasters, without allowing a cowardly despair to seize upon their hearts.
When the British captured Charleston and Savannah, and routed the Continental forces at Camden, South Carolina, there was no thought of surrender; nor even yet when defeat overtook the American army at Bunker Hill, and Gen. Washington was compelled to evacuate New York, and make a precipitate retreat—leaving the snow stained with the blood of his barefooted and fugitive soldiers.
These disasters only nerved a brave and invincible people to renewed determination. The dark hour of trial was upon them, but they saw the light of victory peering through the clouds in the distance. Shall we be less brave, resolute or self-sacrificing than they? Have we less hope than they? On the contrary we have more to gain by victory—more to lose by defeat. Now is the time to test the metal of the true and loyal patriots, and to expose the base treason of the hypocrite and the time server. We have not the shadow of a doubt of the final result in this conflict even yet. Defeats may protract the war, but can subjugate us never! never!! never!!!
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