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THE FIRST DEFEAT OF ITS LESSONS., The Colonist, Volume IV, Issue 425, 19 November 1861
THE FIRST DEFEAT OF ITS LESSONS.
When Admiral Robert Blake, who hitherto had been a soldier, was appointed to the command ol the navy of the English Com-mon-wealth, his first exploit was to encounter the Dutch in the Downs, and there to receive a salutary beating. He took refuge in the Thames, and there probably devoted his leisure to the consideration of the causes that had brought about the disaster. He who had always been successlu! on land, and had performed some of the most brilliant achievements in arms that, any soldier could boast of, had been utterly routed and put to flight by the heavy sterned seamen of the Dutch Republic. Like a wise and brave man, he accepted his defeat as a lesson, and resolved that from that day forth he would be beaten no more. He 83t to work to reform his navy, and it is from him that Great Britain inherits the mastery of the seas. He found that his officers, or those who commanded the vessels, were really and truly only civilians called upon by accident to perform the duties ot war. The master navigator, who belonged to the vessel that had been hired by the Government, was by strange oversight or neglect continued in the command of the ship when the ship was turned to warlike purposes; and as that master navigator or sea-captain had no professional interest in the battle, he naturally enough provided for his own safety, -and ran away. The rabble of merchant ships that had been collected together, each commanded by its own merchant captain, could never form a navy, and could never be expected to encounter the trained seamen of Holland, led as they were by the most distinguished sea-captains of the day. Blake then took his beating in good part, and searching out its causes, took good care to remedy them. He put all the officers on a new footing, and converted them into navy-captains holding commissions from the Government, and bound to its service. He created the navy in fact, and when it was in order, he proceeded once more to try issue with his old antagonists. Out of a diversity of separate interests he made a unity of purpose. He made a profession out of an accidental emp'oyment, and thenceforth he sailed to victory after victory, until he had cleared the seas, and no hostile flag was to be seen on the salt water. His first defeat was the very best thing that could have happened to him or to his country. Had he been successful, he might never have undertaken the reforms that placed England at the head of all maritime Powers, and made her nary the terror of her enemies.
The army of the Northern States has suffered its first defeat, and it now remains to be seen what talent or virtue there is in the northern commanders to convert the defeat to its proper purpose, and to make it a great lesson for the future conduct of the war. If the North has, as we suppose it has, the elements of strength, and the intellect to employ that strength, it will transform its immense rabble of volunteers and amateur soldiers into a warlike force that can be handled by a General. The very enthusiasm of the people which led them to rush into uniform was a source of weakness. The army bulked large, and was supposed to be invincible on account of its size. It appeavs to have had no correct information, too little drill, very insufficient discipline, no unity of purpose, no professional spirit, none of the means of internal communication which make an army act under the controlling head of a commander —none of the secondary provisions which in the case of a reverse become primary provisions. Everything betokens that each corps acted for itself and made the best of its own retreat. Like Blake's captains in his first engagement! the civilians ran away when their opponents would not run away. The slim scaffolding of the army broke down, and the materials fell together in a heap like a million of bricks. This deplorable result could only have been averted by a still greater and more unexpected pusillanimity on the part of the Confederates. Had the Confederates turned their backs the triumphant Northerns might have swept on with the loudest glorifications of their own courage and consequent success; but as the Confederates did not give way to panic, the Northerns appear first to have wondered at the fact, and then to have established the panic on their own account. The realities of war were altogether new, and its responsibilities misunderstood. So far as we learn, the Norhems seem to have gone into the attack as if they were engaged in a grand sporting excursion. They had nothing to do but drive the rebels before them as a band of mounted men would drive a herd of buffaloes.
All this is veiy well as a lesson in the earliest stage of war, simply because every one is absolutely ignoiant. Peisonal courage avails nothing in circumstances so utterly novel, The very men who in a
personal encounter would manifest the greatest coolness and self-possession might lose their heads in a field of battle where they could not understand the nature of the risk and had not been sufficiently subdued to discipline to obey implicitly the orders they received. Defeat under such circumstances is less defeat than the mere result of ignorance. The Northern volunteers expected to find war a different thing altogether from what they actually found it, and they ran away, not from the shot of the Southerns, but from their own misapprehensions, and the panic that all men feel more or less when an unknown catastrophe occurs.
As far as the first defeat goes it counts for little more than this, that it is the first lesson in actual war. The whole result has yet to be elaborated. The strength of the parties has yet to be proven. It is possible that the subjugation of the South may be utterly beyond the power of the North. It is possible that no effort the North could make could end in what would be termed success. The ultimate conclusion is one thing, the immediate effect another. The quality of the North is not to be shown merely in the fact of success, any mora than the old dominion of England over a large part of France could he held as the criterion of England's power. The English were driven out of France. What then? Did England go down, or become weaker, or lose her place in the great roll of nations because slie was unable to hold the territory to which she had no proper claim? Not at all; but she left her name on Poictiers, OiHcy, and Agincourt, the wonderful victories that proved more than anything in the world could prove the futility of attempting to control the laws of nature by political arrangements that have no basis in the actual circumstances and wants of the people. England lost nothing by losing her French tenitory, but she gained immensely by developing the hardihood of her national character, and by establishing the high standard of chivalry that taught her sons to encounter any odds, and not to flinch from battle, come what might. This lesson the Northern States of America have now to learn. They may or may not induce the Southern States to enter once more into union; but what they are imperatively called upon to do is to prove themselves men in spite of a first defeat. They may lose the Southern territory, and in that circumstance there would be no great loss; but to lose their honor—to be convicted before the world of inordinate boastfulness and consummate self-conceit and to be driven from a field of battle like a flock of frightened sheep, would strike a deadly blow at the national character, and sink the Republic to the depths of degradation. If the North has any manhood, the first defeat can only prove the incentive to a tremendous fervor of renewed exertion. The army may have been all wrong in the very principle of its construction; but the nation may be sound at heart, and, being so, may enter on a course that shall redeem the past and procure security for the future. The States aye on their trial, and the first conflict is only a first lesson in the great art of war. — Weekly Herald.
THE FIRST DEFEAT OF ITS LESSONS., The Colonist, Volume IV, Issue 425, 19 November 1861
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