NP: June 14, 1864 Richmond Examiner: The English Press on The Wilderness and Spotsylvania



in June 1864

Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.


Comments of the English Press of various parties upon the military events of this campaign up to the battles at Spotsylvania Court House, are at length come to hand, and are duly spread forth in the columns of Confederate newspapers.  It might almost be supposed that these oracular pronouncements were the thing we have been waiting for, and resting our arms this past month.  And this, in fact, seems to be the impression of our “Anglo-Saxon brethren” across the Atlantic.  They think the Federal generals and armies are endeavouring to overrun and subjugate our country—and that we are defending our homes and liberty—chiefly to show to Europe that we also can get up armies and slay and be slain, as well as the rest of mankind:  and accordingly, that when a blow is struck on either side, we wait to see what the old country thinks of THAT.—This British nation has in its own eyes somewhat of the attributes of the “Father of Gods and “men”, looking over Troy, and hanging forth in heaven his scales of gold, weighing evenly the fortune of Greeks and Trojans:  and supposes that in the very crisis and agony of this bloody struggle our people pore over the oracles arriving by each mail from that heavenly sphere with all the religious earnestness of CALCHAS the soothsayer.

The celestial signs have just appeared—that is a steamer has arrived at New York—bearing the oracles uttered upon the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania.  The Sibylline leaves must be caught eagerly and deciphered with anxious care.  What the TIMES has deigned to utter is given out to us under the title, “Encouragement from the Thunderer;” and the utterances of the MORNING HERALD are, “What the Aristocracy Thinks.”—To do those newspapers justice, they seem fully conscious of their lofty position, and measure their words with a cool supercilious dignity which proves them far removed above the din of this lower world.  They gracefully accept the position which we assign them; as the supernal  (illegible) sitting serene above the clouds, and hanging forth scales now inclining to the side of broadstreeted Ilion, and now to that of the longhaired Greeks.  Here, for example, is what the HERALD utters from its inmost shrine:  “The circumstances are such as to suggest a very precise balance of “advantages on either side—enough indeed to make us doubtful as to the issue of events.  * * * As in “the battle between the Greeks and Trojans, when the Father of the Gods considered it such a perfect “match that he urged upon his fellow-banqueters the propriety of not interfering on either side, SO AS “TO SPOIL THE GAME;  this great match between the Federal and the Confederate seems so even that “the very expression of sympathy for either from the far off spectators of the combat has something of “unfairness in it.”  So the golden scale hangs level.

The “Thunderer” also—which, it appears, is a title commonly given to the TIMES by the inhabitants of the British Isles, and repeated in these parts—issues a long and most Delphic oracle in which to discover any word favourable to either party, or any hint of preference for either, would demand a wise inspector of the entrails of beasts indeed.  If Grant can still advance, and bring his army with him, and get to Richmond, why, then he will be in Richmond:  but if Lee can successfully resist him, then, in that case, Grant will have been successfully resisted—that’s all.— In short, the TIMES says:  “It is the rudest  “and most savage issue of war—who can stand the most killing?  It is more than ever difficult to predict “the result of a contest of endurance.”  Whichsoever of you, says this augur, can stand the greatest loss of blood, he will survive the other.  What is remarkable is, that not one of those English newspapers, even of those popularly believed to be “favourable to the South,” gives the slightest hint of sympathy with either side, or of preference for the one cause over the other.  The reason is, that they hold the chances so equally balanced as to make it very doubtful how the campaign will end; and they are not going to commit the blunder (for a blunder is worse than a crime) of saying one word on behalf of a cause which may turn out the beaten cause.  “CATO will please himself,” as SYDNEY SMITH says, but they mean to be on the side of the Gods.

What these English newspapers say is not a matter of the very smallest consequence in life.  They are sure to be eloquent and brilliant in our praise provided we defeat the invasion of our country and establish Confederate independence in their despite—equally sure to be loud and loathsome in their vilification and outrages against us if we should be unhappily worsted.  Neither should any time or any space be here occupied with matters so truly irrelevant and immaterial, but that we are certain to find, wherever we look in the Confederate newspapers, column after column taken up with what the Thunderer says, and what the Aristocracy thinks.  All that they say and all that they pretend to think is skillfully aimed and bent to, the one main object—namely, to stimulate our enemies to prosecute the war with vigour and to encourage us to resist them with desperation.  Whether the Federals are much excited or not by this stimulant is hard to say; but certainly Confederates do not need it at all; they will defend their country, whether the British are of opinion that it ought to be defended and can successfully be defended, or otherwise.

And surely it is time for us to appreciate the real feeling of all parties in England towards us and our cause.  It may be stated as a general principle, that all England desires to see us, our name and nation, abolished utterly; and desires, further, that the United States, in accomplishing this task, shall be so weakened, exhausted, impoverished, so broken up politically and ruined financially, that there will be left no powerful maritime rival to English commerce in the world, and no great land of Democratic freedom, to be a continual exemplar for Reformers and Charitists.  To accomplish all these ends completely and safely, England must develop the war to its grandest proportions; and finds she has a potent agency for the purpose in this same habitual reception and universal anxious perusal of whatsoever her newspapers choose to print about us and our affairs.  For many years back any article in a leading English journal is read by twenty times as many persons in America as in England.  So, they often produce matter expressly for American consumption.— Those public instructors are sensible of their responsibility; know that they have the teaching of us, and adapt their lessons to the requirements of so interesting pupils.  When this war broke out, that great power of the British press was not wasted.  If some of those journals seem for a while “favourable” to us, they are sure to be balanced by others, which repeat all the cant and balderdash of Boston, and cry out for our subjugation.  On the whole, a perfect equilibrium is maintained: and those “far-off spectators” are as intensely neutral as the mob around the ropes of a prize fight; some shouting to the heavy weight to go in and win, others crying three to two on the little ‘un!  It is a cruel and brutal game; and of her winnings at that game England will one day be asked for a strict account.1


  1. No Title. Richmond Examiner. June 14, 1864, p. 3 col. 2-3


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