By Bruce Catton
A desirable learn of the 1st sleek battle and its impression on American tradition.
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And of course the one and only Ben Butler. There is no denying that some of these men turned out to be utterly incompetent soldiers. Is saying that the same thing, however, as saying that the Lincoln administration made a terrible mistake in commissioning them? I do not think it is. Fremont and Sigel and Butler would handicap any army, of course. But would the Federal war effort have gone along faster if better men had been in their placesand if the government had never had the popular support which it won by commissioning those men?
Everybody had to be asked. Not to dwell on the point unduly, the creation of the Federal armies in 1861 and 1862 was of necessity pretty much a homespun process. Leading citizens of high and low degree organized companies and regiments, winning commissions for themselves in the process. Given the circumstances, that was probably the best and quickest way in which those new armies could be called into being. In any case, while it was creating these armies the government also had to create generals to command them.
It obliterates the moralities and the restraints which the race has so carefully built up through many generations. If it has any kind of rational base, the rationale is nothing much loftier than a belief that the end justifies the means. It canand doesput an entire nation at the mercy of its most destructive instincts. What you do to your enemy comes, at last, to be limited not by any reluctance to inflict pain, misery, and death, and not by any feeling that there are limits to the things which a civilized people may do, but solely by your technical capacity to do harm.
America goes to war by Bruce Catton