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Southern commentary on the battle, has been recently given by Gen. Johnston himself in a letter printed in the newspapers. In this late publication, with the advantage of retrospect, Gen. Johnston contends that the pursuit of the fugitive enemy towards Alexandria and Washington would have been fruitless, and would have encountered insuperable obstacles. No more could have been hoped from the battle, he declares, than the preservation of the Confederacy, and the arrest of the Federal advance towards Richmond. “A movement upon Washington was out of the question. We could not have carried the intrenchments by assault, and had none of the means to besiege them. Our assault would have been repulsed, and the enemy, then become the victorious party, would have resumed their march to Richmond. But if we had captured the intrenchments, a river, a mile wide, lay between them and Washington, commanded by the guns of a Federal fleet. If we had taken Alexandria, which stands on low and level ground, those guns would have driven us out in a few hours, at the same time killing our friends, the inhabitants. We could not cross the Potomac, and therefore it was impracticable to conquer the hostile capital' or emancipate oppressed Maryland.”
Ingenious as is this explanation, candour compels us to declare that it is deficient, and at important variance with the official reports of the enemy himself. The account of Gen. McClellan of the state of affairs about Washington, on the heels of the retreat from Bull Run, differs materially from the picture drawn by Gen. Johnston. He declares that “in no quarter were the dispositions for defense such as to offer a vigourous resistance to a respectable body of the enemy;" that the earthworks on the Virginia side were of the slightest and most trivial character; and that there was nothing to prevent the Confederates from occupying the heights, and shelling the city from across the Potomac. But even had it been impossible for the Confederates to follow the routed army into Washington, that was no reason why they should not have followed and harassed it as far as they could
The fact is, the omission of pursuit, or its dilatory and irresolute character, was a fault, and yet one rather to be ascribed to the condition of the army than the judgment or temper of the commander. Gen. Johnston was not especially responsible for it. His troops were almost as much bewildered and demoralized* as those of the enemy, and they had won a victory only by a narrow chance, and only after the scale of battle had hung for a whole day. Neither army knew the damage it had inflicted on the other. Gen. Beauregard bears witness to the disorganization which prevailed in his command at the close of the day; and Gen. Johnston adds : “ According to my information of the disposition of the army, the troops believed that their victory bad established the independence of the South-that all their country required of them had been accomplished, the war ended, and their military obligations fulfilled. They, therefore, left the army in crowds, to return to their homes. Such was the report of the Generals, colonels, staff-officers, and railroad officials. The exultation of victory cost us more than the Federal army lost by defeat."
It was in this view that the victory of Manassas, whatever it exhibited of Confederate valour or skill, was a deplorable event for the South-a brilliant frontispiece to a variable and disastrous story. In stemming the torrent of swollen hopes flowing from it; in reducing the popular expectation; and in winning the second prize of safety in renewed competition with the enemy, we shall hereafter find Johnston more characteristic and admirable than when his genius adorned the bloody field.
* One of the best colonels in Jackson's brigade, Col. James F. Preston, in showing how unfit for pursuit was that part of the army which had been engaged in the action, said, that he had himself endeavoured, with his superiour's permission, to follow the flying enemy, but he found, before he had proceeded a mile, that his regiment had dwindled to fifty men, and he was obliged to return.
An early concuit of the Confederate Government.--Unpopularity of Gen. Johnston.
He indicates the value of concentration, and proposes an aggressive movement across the Potomac.-Overruled by President Davis.-Attempt to bring McClellan to battle. -Blockade of the Potomac River.-True theory of the Battle of Leesburg, or Ball's Bluff.-Gen. Johnston meditates a retreat from North Virginia.-A notable Council of War in Richmond.-Gen. Johnston's advice overruled by President Davis and Gen. Lee.---Transfer of Johnston's Army to Yorktown.-Why he abandoned the Peninsula.-Gen. Johnston's share in Jackson's Valley Campaign.---Battle of Seven Pines.—How its results were limited.--Gen. Johnston wounded.--He loses command of the Army of Northern Virginia.
It was the early conceit of the Confederate Government to defend its entire frontier, and to declare that no foot of Southern territory should be occupied by the invader. This declaration was not the mere bravado of the popular orator about the “sacred soil.” It was the deliberate inspiration of the Government itself; the military animus of President Davis that determined the almost fatal policy of dispersion, and strung the armies of the Confederacy on every imaginable line of defence. Against this policy Gen. Johnston set his face in the early months of the war, and never failed to rebuke the conceit which inspired it, and to chasten the foolish expectations of the populace. His severe military judgment, his sedate calculations, were not popular; and it was only when the people of the Confederacy had been sobered by the experiences of the war that they recognized the wisdom and excellent generalship of the leader whose counsels they had at first condemned as tame, whose precision they had regarded as timidity, and whose opposition to President Davis' policy of frontier defence they had treated with suspicion and innuendo.
But Gen. Johnston's opposition to this policy was founded on clear and firm principles of military science, which neither the President nor the people then well understood. He knew the value of the concentration of forces in war; that such concentration was, indeed, the condition of vigorous war, the necessary means of striking the enemy with effect, and making decisive fields. It is remarkable that shortly after the battle of Manassas, when President Davis was on a visit to the headquarters of the army, Gen. Johnston submitted a plan illustrating the value of concentration, and proposing it as a preliminary for an aggressive campaign. He was sustained in his views by Gens. Beauregard and G. W. Smith. These Generals urged the immediate concentration in that quarter of the greater part of the forces dispersed along the sea-coast at Pensacola, Savannah, Norfolk, Yorktown, and Fredericksburg, with which, added to the troops already in hand, a campaign across the Potomac should be initiated before Gen. McClellan had completed the organization of his grand army. This, they believed, might be done without risk to the positions weakened by the measure—though, in fact, the principles of the art of war prescribed that places of such relative military unimportance should be sacrificed or hazarded for the sake of the vital advantage anticipated. A very considerable army could have been thus assembled-larger, perhaps, than either of those which subsequently Gen. Lee was able to lead across the border under much less favorable military conditions. But the President could not be induced to sanction the measure, or to give up his own settled policy of dispersion, his waste of defensive resources in the attempted defense of every threatened position..
The counsels of Gen. Johnston for a concentration of forces, and a movement into the enemy's territory, being thus rebuffed, it only remained for him to develop and improve, as far as possible, the immediate field he occupied. As soon as the condition of his commissariat and appliances for transportation would permit, he threw forward his forces successively to Fairfax Court-House, Munson's Hill, and Mason's Hill to cover as much as possible of the country. Here the Confederate flag was flaunted in full view of the capital of the Union. From these advanced positions he withdrew to Centreville early in the fall, for convenience of supplies, and fortified that position with some care. Much attention had been paid before to Manassas, and more continued afterwards to be paid by himself to blockading the Potomac river with batteries and strong earthworks, planted at different positions along its right bank as far down as Acquia Creek. One of the principal of these batteries was at the mouth of the Occoquan, whence a straight line down throngh Centre
ville strikes the Potomac river at the bend beyond Drainesville, which line is the diameter of a circle of which the bend of the Potomac around by Washington is nearly the arc, and of which Centreville is nearly the centre. From this latter position he could strike in flank any column of the enemy attempting to advance by the line of the Alexandria and Gordonsville Railroad, whether it should take the northern route, by way of Edward's Ferry, or the southern, from the mouth of the Occoquan towards Manassas.
He was well advised of the formidable preparations which McClellan was making at Washington for a second onward movement, and of the magnitude of the army which he was then amassing, organizing, instructing, and reducing to discipline. As time progressed he became more and more apprehensive that his adversary would relinquish the design of advancing upon Richmond by the Manassas route, and substitute the line from Fredericksburg, or from some still more eastern base on the waters of the Chesapeake-a change of programme becoming more and more practicable with the rapidly increasing proportions of the Federal navy. He therefore the more diligently laboured on the batteries of the Potomac, in order, if an advance were made at all from any part of the line of that river, he might force its being made from near his own front; and in order, if McClellan's army should be embarked at Annapolis, it should be for the line of the Rappahannock, or of the York, or for some other destination so remote from Washington as to afford himself time for changing his own base, and confronting McClellan ere he could disembark at any point in front of Richmond which might be selected as most eligible. This work was pushed with so much energy and skill, that, by the first of October, 1861, the flagofficer of the Potomac Federal flotilla officially reported the navigation to be effectually closed. Thus was the Federal capital besieged as to its water approaches; and the Government was under the humiliating necessity of deriving all the supplies needful for the immense army that it was organizing and amassing there, as well as for the civil population, by the costly means of a limited and precarious overland transportation.
Nor was Gen. Johnston negligent, during this period, of the important duty of thoroughly organizing his own army. Warned by the assiduity of his adversary in this regard, he devoted