Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 16, 1861 - It's not looking good for the North

Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South will be published July 21. As it happens, that is also the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run or, if you will, First Manassas. While Consul Bunch in Charleston began laying the groundwork for secret talks with the Confederate government (which he loathed), his friend William Howard Russell, the great war correspondent for the Times of London, was in Washington D.C. examining preparations for the battle everyone knew would be coming soon in northern Virginia.

It’s not looking good for the North.

July 16. … On arriving at the Washington platform, the first person I saw was General McDowell alone, looking anxiously into the carriages. He asked where I came from, and when he heard from Annapolis, inquired eagerly if I had seen two batteries of artillery Barry s and another which he had ordered up, and was waiting for, but which had”gone astray.” I was surprised to find the General engaged on such duty, and took leave to say so. “Well, it is quite true, Mr. Russell ; but I am obliged to look after them myself, as I have so small a staff, and they are all engaged out with my head-quarters. You are aware I have advanced ? No ! Well, you have just come in time, and I shall be happy, indeed, to take you with me. I have made arrangements for the correspondents of our papers to take the field under certain regulations, and I have suggested to them they should wear a white uniform, to indicate the purity of their character.” The General could hear nothing of his guns ; his carriage was waiting, and I accepted his offer of a seat to my lodgings. Although he spoke confidently, he did not seem in good spirits. There was the greatest difficulty in finding out anything about the enemy. Beauregard was said to have advanced to Fairfax Court House, but he could not get any certain knowledge of the fact.

“Can you not order a reconnaissance?”

“Wait till you see the country. But even if it were as flat as Flanders, I have not an officer on whom I could depend for the work. They would fall into some trap, or bring on a general engagement when I did not seek it or desire it. I have no cavalry such as you work with in Europe.”

I think he was not so much disposed to undervalue the Confederates as before, for he said they had selected a very strong position, and had made a regular levee en masse of the people of Virginia, as a proof of the energy and determination with which they were entering on the campaign.

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