« AnteriorContinuar »
in the rapid Neapolitan patois, besought me to tell her, for the love of God and of the Holy Virgin, whether it was true that there had been a battle. I tried to make her understand, in the best Neapolitan that I could muster up, that for twenty-four hours at least there was no prospect of a fight. “Graz a Dio !” was her ejaculation, repeated many times; and then, turning to me, she said, in explanation, “ Ce il figlio unico nell' armata, Lei mi scusi ;* and then she crouched down again upon the ground, praying and telling her beads. And I own that whenever I think of the Italian war, I think also of the widowed mother, praying in that gloomy, squalid alley for her only son.
So, what little I have recorded of this American campaign, are some few incidents in its course which came under my own notice. These, with the reflections that at the time they forced upon me, are the sole contributions that I shall give to the military history of the war.
In a book, too clever to have been so soon forgotten, I remember meeting, years ago, with a passage which, at the time, struck me strangely. I speak of the “ Travels of a Roving Englishman.” The recollection of the exact words has passed from me, but the sense of the passage was after this fashion. The writer told you how he stood one day at the latticed window of a high gable-roofed house, looking out upon the lime*“My only son is in the army. Your Excellency will pardon me.”
shadowed market-place of a great city in the fair German land, when the loud, glorious music of an Austrian band came crashing by; and how, as the music died away, and was followed by the dull, heavy tramp of the soldiers' feet, the thought passed across him, that this grand music might have much to answer for in the nation's history; that the strains of glory and pomp and war, which the band seemed to send thrilling through you, were such as no people could listen to daily without danger.
While at Washington I recalled this passage often. From the windows of my lodgings, I looked out upon the mile-long Pennsylvania Avenue, leading from the broad Potomac river, by the marble palace of the President's, up to the snow-white Capitol, and every hour of the day almost I was disturbed while writing by the sound of some military band, as regiment after regiment passed, marching southwards. The Germans have brought with them into their new fatherland the instinct of instrumental music, and the bands are fine ones, above the average of those of a French or English line regiment. The tunes were mostly those well known to us across the water_“ Cheer boys, cheer,” the “Red, White, and Blue,” and “Dixie's Land," being the favourites. For the war had brought out hitherto no war-inspired melody, and the quaint, halfgrotesque, half passion-stirring air of
“ John Brown's body lies a mould'ring in the grave,”
was still under McClellan's interdict. But yet, be the tunes what they may, the drums and fifes and trumpets rouse the same heart-beatings as in the Old World, and teach the same lessons of glory and ambition and martial pride. Can this teaching fail to work ? is the question that I asked myself daily, as yet without an answer.
Surely no nation in the world has gone through such a baptism of war as the people of the United States underwent in one short year's time. With the men of the Revolution the memories of the revolutionary wars had died out. Two generations had passed away to whom war was little more than a name. The Mexican campaign was rather a military demonstration than an actual war, and the sixteen years which had elapsed since its termination form a long period in the life of a nation whose whole existence has not completed its first century. Twenty months ago there were not more than 12,000 soldiers in a country of 31,000,000. A soldier was as rare an object throughout America as in one of our country hamlets. I recollect a Northern lady telling me that, till within a year before, she could not recall the name of a single person whom she had ever known in the army, and that now she had sixty friends and relatives who were serving in the war; and her case was by no means an uncommon one. Once in four years, on the fourth of March, two or three thousand troops were collected in Washington to add to the pomp of the Presidential inauguration ; and this was the one military pageant the country had to boast of. Almost in a day this state of things passed away. Our English critics were so fond of repeating what the North could not do-how it could not fight, nor raise money, nor conquer the South — that they omitted to mention what the North had done. There was no need to go farther than my windows at Washington to see the immensity of the war. It was curious to me to watch the troops as they came marching past. Whether they were regulars or volunteers, it was hard for the unprofessional critic to discern ; for all were clad alike, in the same dull, grey-blue overcoats, and most of the few regular regiments were filled with such raw recruits that the difference between volunteer and regular was not a marked one. Of course it was easy enough to pick faults in the aspect of such troops. As each regiment marched, or rather waded through the dense slush and mud which covered the roads, you could observe many inaccuracies of military attire. One man would have his trousers rolled up almost to his knees ; another would wear them tucked inside his boots; and a third would appear with one leg of his trousers hanging down, and the other gathered tightly up. It was not unfrequent, too, to see an officer with his epaulettes sewed on to a common plain frock-coat. Then there was a slouching gait about the men, not soldierlike to English eyes. They used to turn their heads round when on parade, with an indifference to rule which would drive an old drill-sergeant out of his senses. There was an absence, also, of precision in the march. The men kept in step ;, but I always was at a loss to discover how they ever managed to do so. The system of march, it is true, was copied rather from the French than the English or Austrian fashion ; but still it was something very different from the orderly disorder of a Zouave march. That all these, and a score of similar irregularities, are faults, no one—an American least of all-would deny. But there are two sides to the picture.
One thing is certain, that there is no physical degeneracy about a race which could produce such regiments as those which formed the army of the Potomac. Men of high stature and burly frames were rare, except in the Kentucky troops ; but, on the other hand, small, stunted men were almost unknown. I have seen the armies of most European countries; and I have no hesitation in saying that, as far as the average raw material of the rank and file is concerned, the American army is the finest. The officers are, undoubtedly, the weak point of the system. They have not the military air, the self-possession which long habit of command alone can give; while the footing of equality on which they inevitably stand with the volunteer privates, deprives them of the esprit du corps belonging to a ruling class. Still they are active, energetic, and