Scathing Northern Editorial after the First Battle of Bull Run
Shortly after the attack on Fort Sumter began the Civil War on April 12, 1861, many Northern politicians, the public and the press were clamoring for the Union army to invade Virginia and attack the Confederate capital, which had been moved to Richmond after Virginia joined the Confederacy. Newspaper editorials ridiculed Lincoln and his military advisers for their inaction. Then, when they finally got their wish and the North invaded Virginia, the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) on July 21, 1861, resulted in a stunning Confederate victory, with nearly 3,000 casualties inflicted upon the Union army and its panicked soldiers fleeing the battlefield in disarray.
It did not take long for the Northern press to start assigning blame for the debacle. Just two days after the defeat, the New York Herald (New York, New York) printed a scathing editorial calling for a purging of “imbeciles and blunderheads.” (It should be noted that the paper’s numbers are wrong. The first “lesson” the editorial draws is pride that 45,000 Union troops almost defeated 90,000 Confederates. In reality, both armies had around 34,000 men that day.) The Herald printed this editorial on July 23, 1861:
The Lessons of Our Defeat
Letting all the details of the affair go—about these there may be some doubt or question—the bare fact stares us in the face that the Union army of Virginia has been beaten back by the rebel forces, and has retreated upon Washington. Weak minds succumb to defeat, and whine, whimper and speculate about it. The wise and the strong make adversity the stepping stone to success, and turn present defeats into the means of future victories. Let us, then, leave tears and lamentations to weak women, and calmly consider the lessons of our defeat, and the course to be taken to retrieve it.
The great battle at Bull’s Run settles one question mathematically and beyond a peradventure. It shows that the South is entirely at the mercy of the North. It explodes the oft-repeated boast that one Southerner is a match for five Northern men. Our troops have driven an enemy, outnumbering them two to one, from his own batteries, carefully and completely fortified. There is no question about that. That our forty-five thousand soldiers, wearied by a day’s hard fighting, retreated before ninety thousand of the enemy, twenty thousand of whom were fresh and untired, does not invalidate this conclusion. That a panic caused the precipitate flight of our over-fatigued soldiers does not affect the case. The logical fact still remains, that if our troops can beat those of the South against such heavy odds, we can beat them man to man. We have only to send the men, and our success is inevitable. There is the consolation and the remedy for this defeat.
Let it be remembered, also, that this is a defeat, not of the people of the North, but of the administration and its military advisers. The people wished to send hundreds of thousands of troops into Virginia, so as to make retreat an impossibility. The soldiers were offered. The administration and its advisers decided that fifty thousand men were enough for Virginia, and refused to accept the eager volunteers. Let them read the result of their refusal by the gun-flashes at Bull’s Run. Let them atone, if they can, for the murderous crime of sending an inefficient force against an overwhelming and strongly entrenched enemy, when thousands of brave soldiers have been refused leave to fight.
Nor does the criminality of the affair end there. What is true in the aggregate is true in the detail. The people demanded competent and experienced officers. The military advisers of the administration gave them imbeciles. Ought General Johnston’s army to have been allowed to reach Manassas to reinforce Beauregard? The people demanded a strong cavalry force. The administration declined regiment after regiment. Was not cavalry needed on our side to oppose that of the South, which harassed and routed our troops? The people demanded careful preparation and ample security against defeat. The administration listened to the abolition howls of “Forward to Richmond,” and gave the people—the slaughter of Bloody Run.
These are stern facts; but they carry their recipe with them. Let the administration and its advisers listen to the voice of the people, and disregard the frantic shouts of fanatics, whom the thick smoke of the late battle should have choked. Let the Cabinet, the Army, the Navy, and every other department of the government, be purged of imbeciles and blunderheads forthwith. Let experienced officers lead our gallant men, and our General Wools change places with our Pattersons. Let the army of five hundred thousand men authorized by Congress be put into the field. Let more troops be called out, if that number is not sufficient to give us three hundred thousand men in Virginia. Let this army be carefully and properly equipped, and supplied with every detail of cavalry, sharpshooters and artillery to make it effective. Let it not move one foot forward until it is ready, no matter who may cry “onward.” That is what the people imperatively demand. That is the necessity of the crisis. Will the administration listen and obey?
God only knows what disasters hang on the skirts of the battle of Bull’s Run. Already the people begin to talk of the secession of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland; to regard the European recognition of the Southern confederacy as not improbable; to ask “is Washington safe?”; to be doubtful of the propriety of enlisting under such leaders. Have not the administration and its military advisers done enough for themselves and for the abolitionists? Will they not now do something for the country? They have only to act, and the result is certain.
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.