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NP: July 16, 1864 Richmond Examiner: Editorial: Union Cavalry Raids on Railroads

The progress and present stage of the mighty Federal campaign of 1864 begins to be ludicrous.  Disinterested spectators far off must be deriving amusement from it, though probably thinking, the farce has been played long enough, and that a joke is a joke.  We Confederates can scarcely—-absurd as the performance is—find it in our hearts to laugh; and our enemies are even very much less in a merry mood.  Yet there is a certain grim humour, a sort of horrible buffoonery in the affair.  Think of it—nearly three months ago, after the mightiest preparations by land and sea, two immense armies moved against Richmond in two directions, while another great force careered up the Valley of Virginia—all to unite in and around Richmond, and there and then cut the throat of the “Rebellion.”  And now, the irresistible, inevitable U. S. GRANT, who was to achieve that mighty work, sends word to his masters in Washington that if they can repulse the rebels (a Confederate army which is said to be threatening the Federal Capital,) he, GRANT, “can attend to Richmond.”  Why he has been attending to Richmond for many weeks, paying it the most devoted, though respectful and distant attentions; but what comfort is this to Mr. LINCOLN and Mr. SEWARD, as they “ride to the front,” or at least towards the front, listening to Confederate shells bursting in the suburbs of Washington, while they have a fast vessel in the Potomac with steam up, in their rear?  GRANT can attend to Richmond!  What kind of security is that to the bankers of Washington who have huddled their safes and their books on board another ship of the Potomac fleet?  GRANT may be paying attentions to Richmond, who, indeed, does not relish his attentions at all but keeps him at arm’s length; while Washington, his peculiar trust and care, his own lawful wife as it were, whom he is bound to defend and to cherish by all the tenderest ties, is exposed at home to the insolent overtures of a Confederate suitor.  Attending to Richmond!  and who then is to attend to LINCOLN and SEWARD, to Annapolis and Baltimore?

This Federal war to conquer the Confederacy has already furnished rich material to satirists and caricaturists in amusing pictorials of Europe, to the CHARIVARI and MR. PUNCH, and the German KLADDERADATSCH.  Not LOUIS XV, himself, “prosecuting his conquests in Flanders,” was ever so mocked by an irreverent world as these successive Grand Armies of the Yankee nation, who are always going to make a clean sweep of the South THIS time; and their long series of invincible generals, each of whom is, for a moment, the Coming Man, and next moment the Going One.  POPE, who had seen only the rebel’s back, losing the coat from his own back when the “rebels” broke his camp and scattered his army—which respectable uniform coat was long after to be seen hanging in a store window of Richmond—BANKS, who came to destroy us but turned out our beat Commissary and Quartermaster-General, and who, when last heard of, was fast running away out of his glorious conquests in Louisiana, with the loss of his “baggage and champagne,” to say nothing of his wagons and cannons, gunboats and transports, nor of the carriages which contained his fair companions with their wardrobes.

Then the “grand raids,” always destined to cut off Richmond and chop up the Confederacy into two or four pieces, which usually come to a bad end, but which are always found to have—whatever else they may lack—abundance of preserves and cheeses, jellies, Scotch ales, sardines and cognac, plenty of ladies’ dresses, corsets, petticoats, together with silver plate and richly-bound books and gold and gems, all stolen:  each of those Grand Armies and Grand Raids has its own day of popular favour; and as represented in the illustrated papers of New York, each of them does really seem, with its superb equipments, sleek horses and luxurious warriours, sufficient to conquer an empire.  It is surely well for our Confederate people that they do not often get a sight of FRANK LESLIE or HARPER’S WEEKLY; the sight of themselves in those broad wood-engravings, so cut up and chased, so driven and routed by the innumerable hosts of handsome gentlemen, on thoroughbred chargers, would almost conquer us without a blow struck.  Also the pictures of the beautiful and costly apparatus of every sort, with which that great nation goes to war—of General SICKLES’ travelling carriage, with its desk and lamps and exquisite liquor-case of rosewood inlaid with silver—of their elegant sutler’s stores and reading-rooms—of their balloons, travelling kitchens, portable steam-engines—should certainly make us take shame to ourselves that we, thus ragged and all forlorn, pretend to resist so illustrious, or at least so illustrated an army and nation.  One day this whole history, rightly told, will make the universe hold its sides.  Poor LOUIE QUINZE was nothing to it; who “was said, and even thought, to be ‘prosecuting his conquests in Flanders,’ “when he let himself, like luggage, be carried thither; and no light luggage;  “covering miles of road.  For he has his unblushing CHATEAUROUX, with her “band-boxes and rouge-pots, at his side.  He has not only his MAISON DE BOUCHE and VALETAILLE without end, but his very troop of players, with “their pasteboard coulisses, thunder-barrels, their kettles, fiddles, stage “wardrobes; all mounted in wagons, tumbrils, second-hand chaises—“sufficient not to conquer Flanders, but the patience of the world.”

This last campaign, especially destined three months ago to conquer a continent, and thought to be stupendous enough to subdue a hemisphere, is likely to make in history the most grotesque picture of all.  True, WE cannot yet fully enjoy the ludicrous aspect of it; because it is not yet quite over, and preposterous as it is, has cost, and will yet cost, tears and precious blood, which cry aloud for vengeance.—We cannot laugh; but all the rest of the world, to whom the representation costs nothing, already enjoy the thing exceedingly; and will go off into convulsions of merriment when they learn how UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER GRANT writes to the Federal capital from the swamps of the Appomattox, that if LINCOLN can only find forces enough to keep the Confederate army out of Washington, he, GRANT, can attend to Richmond.


Of such glorious rumours as those which pervaded the town on yesterday [July 15, 1864], it is best to decline discourse till we know whether they are truths or only illusions of hope.  Let us attend to another report of a different character—that GRANT’S cavalry has started on a fresh raid against the Weldon railroad.1

One of the marked peculiarities of the people with whom we war is, that they publish their military intentions in newspapers before commencing their execution.  One of the peculiarities of the singular breed of small politicians set over us at Montgomery, is a resolute disbelief in all information that comes to them through a plain, ordinary, public channel.—Although the result has a hundred times proven that the plan made public in the New York paper was really the plan of the enemy’s General or Government, they cannot comprehend the fact that the enemy does so give notice of their designs.  The publication is to them a perfect proof that they are going to do something else.2

They could not believe that this campaign in Virginia was intended, chiefly because the scheme was universally published.  They pay as little attention to the plan now ascribed to GRANT by that same press.  That plan is simple—to keep a large army close to Petersburg and LEE, while cavalry raids cut the railroads leading into Richmond as fast as we can mend them.3

This plan will be successfully executed if the Confederate authorities do not devise a method of defending the roads.  It is useless to repair, if the cavalry can ride in about the time the work is completed and undo it in a couple of hours.  They must defend the roads.  They must defend the roads by other means than the single method hitherto attempted; because that method has proven utterly and invariably ineffectual—there has not been a solitary exception in the course of the war.  The single method yet imagined or tried is, to send our Confederate cavalry in pursuit of the Yankee cavalry.  But, as one body of horse will go as fast as another, those who have six hours start are not overtaken before the goal is reached.  After the destruction is done, and the Yankee raiders have to return, they are sometimes met and sometimes not.  When collision occurs, our cavalry sometimes beats them, as they did the other day.4  But the railroad is broken, and the beating does not mend it.

The object being the salvation of the roads, it is clear that another means should be employed.  It would seem to an observer, that of all kinds of communication a railroad should be the easiest to preserve and defend.  Steam is stronger than horse flesh; locomotives move faster than cavalry; and a single train can transport a large body of troops to any point on the line in a few hours.  But a large body of troops is not necessary to obstruct the advance of cavalry.  A few hundred picked and well mounted men can obstruct roads and bushwhack the strongest raid till the pursuing cavalry overtakes and destroys it.  Only these few hundred must be before and not behind it—and the railroad can put both them and their horses where they will get before it, if they and the train to convey them are kept in perpetual readiness at a depot.  Hitherto the MILITIA has been relied on for that work.  Is it not time to discover that this expectation is a stupidity?  The militia is composed of stiff-limbed old men and little boys, both equally unaccustomed to arms.  Yet they are expected to perform the most dangerous as well as the most laborious service that can be demanded of the hardiest and most skilful soldier.  To bushwhack is a military duty, requiring more confidence in one’s weapon, greater strength of body and a cooler courage than any other whatever.  The man, who does it, has to close alone with the enemy, and if caught is killed.  For such a service thorough soldiers are required, and this or some other plan must be resorted to, if we would save our roads.5

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

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: A lot was going on during this time frame.  A few days before, General Grant had asked infantry and cavalry to probe Confederate lines in the vicinity or Reams’ Station on the Weldon Railroad.  He was receiving rumors from Washington, D.C. that Lee had severely weakened his lines at Richmond and Petersburg to reinforce the Confederate army attacking Washington, D. C. on and around July 11-12, 1864. These probes by Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division, Army of the Potomac may have been mistaken as the start of another Union cavalry raid.  If you have other, more specific information, please Contact Us.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: The editor of the Examiner isn’t terribly wrong here.  When you go through enough Civil War Newspapers, you begin to see that the Northern papers, especially the big three New York papers, the Herald, Tribune, and Times, always rushed to be first.  Only a day or two after the start of an operation, many of the details would be published in Northern papers.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Grant planned more than just cavalry raids.  His raids involved the cavalry, but he also almost always brought at least two full corps of infantry along as well.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: I would assume that this is in reference to the June 29, 1864 First Battle of Reams Station, the semi-disastrous end to the Wilson-Kautz Raid.
  5. No title. Richmond Examiner (Richmond, VA), July 16, 1864, p. 2, col. 1-3
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