May 11, 1862: English reactions to Shiloh

The New York Times ran a lengthy piece from their Manchester correspondent. In a time before the transatlantic telegraph, news still traveled to and from England by ship, so the correspondent wrote on April 26 a piece that ran in New York on May 11. And the subject of that piece was the British reaction to the news of the battle of Shiloh. To a modern reader this seems a bit like science fiction, where you have to wait days for the light-speed signal to get to a remote outpost and back.

The correspondent notes, first, that the Brits have developed a healthy skepticism for American news, and cites a good sample of instances where the first news was quite wrong. There is a pro-Southern bias in any case in England, and they discount the reports of a Union victory. As he recounts, the English would be decidedly for the North if they were convinced that the North was trying to abolish slavery — but there’s not much evidence of that so far. In the absence of an emancipation proclamation, the English are mainly interested in getting the war ended and resuming shipments of cotton to their mills.

Finally, the Brits express doubts about the possibility of keeping the Union together if some states don’t want to stay.


MANCHESTER, Eng., Saturday, April 26, 1862.

This is Saturday morning, and “steamer day” for the United States. The first startling reports of the great battle at Corinth reached us by the China on Monday of this week. A feeling of great anxiety was at once manifested for details, by both Americans and Englishmen. On Wednesday the Jura, and on Thursday the Etna, arrived, with dates from Portland and New-York of the 12th inst., but still leaving us, with the few additional particulars they brought, painfully to await further intelligence.

Enough is known, however, to convince all who have no distaste for Federal success, that an obstinate battle has been bravely fought on both sides, and gallantly won by the loyal troops.

The leading newspapers in England, however, with very few exceptions, can only gather from the reports either that the contest was but a drawn battle, or that the Federal forces were absolutely defeated. The Morning Post of Thursday, in a careful examination of all the accounts, declares for a decided Confederate victory; scores of other papers rejoiced in the same flattering unction. The Times assumes praiseworthy candor, and only claims a drawn battle in its issue of Thursday, but, as its editorial corps cannot find Corinth upon any map of the United States to which they have access, it is obviously implied that they consider the whole subject mythical, and the “battle” without a “local habitation or a home.”

This, the Times follows up on Friday morning, with a long leader, opening with a ghostly attempt at the most dismal drollery, and makes itself (devilish) merry at the expense of the President’s proclamation for a day of thanksgiving and prayer; and adds, that it would be well for us to pay all our debts as promptly as we do those we owe to Heaven; to which it intimates we are under very little obligation, and that we are squandering our thanksgiving with the same profusion that we issue treasury notes, and brag of victories.

The Guardian, of this city, is one of the ablest papers out of London, and stands fully equal to any of the metropolitan journals in its hostility to the Federal cause; it is, however, always dignified and decorous in its treatment, and in the manifestations of its dislike. The Guardian is also decided in its opposition to the least thought of intervention for cotton in any form. This paper receives all accounts having a favorable bearing upon the Federal side, with extreme reluctance, turns them every way for examination, and presents them to its readers with expressions of doubt, and with deprecatory explanations. With regard to the surrender of Island No. 10, the Guardian hypothecates the query, whether or not it had not fully served its purpose by delaying the up-river forces, and was rather evacuated for strategical purposes than under the pressure of Commodore FOOTE. And as to the battle of Corinth, or Pittsburgh, the Guardian has grave doubts as to whether it was more than a successful reconnoissance in force by BEAUREGARD.

What I have said of the Press, is not with the slightest idea to object to its views, or the expression of them, but only to inform American readers of the facts, as matter of interest to them. And here let me say that the English journals have had too much reason to distrust “News from America;” and hence, when any favorable report is received by steamer, and announced at once, as it is, throughout England by telegraph, when the vessel touches Queenstown, the first and unanimous thought of the people is one of doubt, as to the extent to which the news may be true. Two or three very recent reports of great importance, “If true,” will give you an idea of this. About four weeks ago it was reported, on what appeared to be official authority, that Island No. 10 had been captured after a hard fight! — this was soon modified by the true accounts, that the fight had not then commenced, and that the Island remained as before.

Then came the report that Fort Macon was blown-up the rebels, and occupied by Gen. BURNSIDE, and that the Nashville was captured; this was modified by the facts learned afterward by the slower process of the mails, and succeeding steamers, that on the contrary the Nashville had gone triumphantly to sea, and that the Confederates still held the fort in good order, and with great strength. Then came the delicious bit of news (to all Americans at least) that YANCEY had been captured and was safely quartered at Fort Warren. This again was modified by the fact that he was, on the contrary, making a quiet speech to his “secesh” admirers in New-Orleans.

Hence, when the battle of Corinth was announced by telegraph here on Monday, as a contest in which twenty-two hundred had fallen on one side, and thirty-five hundred on the other; and simultaneously reported at London as twenty-two thousand on one side, and thirty-five thousand on the other, the numbers were at once believed to be “exaggerated as usual” at both London and Manchester.
All turn their thoughts now toward Gen. MCCLELLAN at Yorktown — Americans with great anxiety, and Englishmen according to their several proclivities. We should have important news from him to-day or Monday.

The cloud darkens decidedly over the poor operatives of Lancashire. The Right Honorable Chancellor of the Exchequer GLADSTONE was here on Wednesday evening, and made an excellent speech to a vast audience, at the Free Trade Hall. It was a meeting held to distribute prizes to the deserving lads and maidens of the Mechanics’ Institutions of Lancashire and Cheshire. The right honorable gentleman is a native of this city; he has risen from the commonality, and he entered warmly into the distresses of this district, with a kindly sympathy that showed him penetrated with an earnest solicitude in their behalf.

The dark Winter, with its dismal rains and impenetrable fogs, has passed, the hedges are almost in full leaf, all the Summer birds are come, and merry as ever but the Spring brings no joy, no relief. The sun to the eye of the well-fed passer-by, seems to smile pleasantly upon the laborer’s door-sill, and even to drop here and there, a broken ray into the open cellars upon pale women and children. The sparrows chatter about in all the little crannies of the houses, but the children are too hungry to be pleased with the birds, and the mother’s heart shuts out the sunshine enveloped in its own deep clouds of sorrow. The great statesman could see no encouragement; and much as he would have been pleased to hope for better things, he evidently thinks, and in fact said, that the days look still darker in the immediate future.

The applications for relief in the districts immediately around Manchester are vastly on the increase; and although the guardians of the poor are almost unlimited in their resources, yet the time is near at hand when the magnitude of the work will carry it beyond their ability, and it is much discussed as to whether the Right Honorable Chancellor may not be called upon, by inexorable necessity, to provide for these poor operatives from the National Treasury.

On the following day, (Thursday,) the Right Honorable gentleman was presented with the address from the Chamber of Commerce, and in reply made a speech, in which he entered into American affairs at considerable length. His speech was in harmony with the general tone of English feeling with regard to our cause. He speaks in a very good spint, and professes to have looked with friendly eyes upon our growth and development. He goes on to elucidate his views of our condition, and in his illustrations shows how the most arrant sophistry may present itself to the studies of a great man, in the garb of candor, and how impenetrable may be the ignorance, even of the most learned, in regard to the Constitutions of other countries, when such ignorance is, if not bliss, at least comfortable and satisfactory.

The follow extract on the subject of “sympathy” Lannex, not to criticise, but only to show how that branch of the subject struck the official mind of England:

“Why, there was a demand made upon us by the public voice in America, at the outset of this deplorable struggle, for what was called sympathy. What was the real meaning of that demand? If I can understand it — and I hope in what I say I shall not say a word inconsistent with that fraternal policy which I desire to cherish toward all men, and especially toward our kindred beyond the water — but, practically what was the meaning of that desire, and that call for sympathy? It was this: That we should take such a course by our language, and by our public acts, as would place the six millions of men, or the ten millions, I care not which you call them, of the South in permanent hostility with us.” [Hear, hear.]

After showing that “our friends in the North” cannot succeed in “bending all the horrors of this was to philanthropic ends,” and asserting that if this was really a “contest of Slavery and Freedom” there was “hardly a man in England that would hesitate a moment as to the side he would take,” the Chancellor goes on to say:

“Indeed, there are those among us who think — and I confess, for one, I have shared the apprehension — that if in the course of the vicissitudes of the war the Southern States of America should send an embassy to Washington, and should say: ‘Very well, we are willing to lay down our arms on one condition; we are ready to renew the compact; we are ready to make it perpetual and attach to it every security and guarantee you can imagine for holding us fast; but upon one condition — that you shall assure us there shall be no interference with our domestic institution, Ah! gentlemen, we have had a fear that that application, if it were made, would receive a very favorable reply.” [Cheers.]

When one considers the fact that interposition with Slavery in the States has never been proposed by the Government, or thought of, in opposition to the wishes of the States themselves, and that, if the revolted States should return to their loyalty, all their previous rights and institutions would remain to them as they were, not by any “assurance” that there should be no “interference,” but by virtue of the Constitution itself, and, as a matter of course, and of law; and when we consider how largely the extension of Slavery with new States is involved in the contest, and how completely this branch of the subject is dropped out of the above extract, which is expected to tell so heavily against us, we may fairly pause to indulge a regret, that the severe pressure of arduous duties, during a session of Parliament, had given the Honorable Chancellor only time for a partial examination of the subject.

Next, after speaking of the greater strength of the North, he says:
“Well, gentlemen, England was a great deal stronger in olden times than Scotland; but Englishmen, as well as Scotchmen, know that when it was the object of Englishmen to establish by force a supremacy over Scotland, the Scotch proved themselves to be what are called very ugly customers. [Laughter and cheers.] At length, it was not the exercise of force, but a sense of policy and prudence on both sides, dictated in the main by natural circumstances that led to the union of the two kingdoms.”
The application of this analogy to our position must have been an inadvertence entirely, and can only apply when we assume that the Southern States were, when the war broke out, a nation by themselves, independent of, and exterior to, the United States, as much so as Scotland ever was to the British Crown

The following is Mr. GLADSTONE’s view of our American partnership:
“But the position of the Northern States is this, ‘We won’t let you go.’ The position of the Southern is — ‘We are determined to go.’ Gentlemen, you are men of business, and it one of you has a partner, and that partner wants to separate from you, I ask you whether in the long run it is not very difficult to hold him. (Laughter.] But I ask you more. Supposing that you were able to hold that partner — supposing that you could contrive some indenture of partnership by which he should aodicate his free will, and tie himself to you like a captive to the chariot wheels of a victor, but he still retaining an alienated heart having no common interest in your business, but rather a desire to trip you up and embarrass you — I say you would not hold that partner if you could [Laughter and applause.]”

This matter of a partnership, dissoluble at pleasure, without even the limitations as to time to which partnerships are generally held, is the only idea of our Federation of States that can ever be got into the minds of the English people.

What matter though MOTLEY has explained to them so lucidly that we are not a league but a Government, though they have Judge STORY’s and Chancellor KENT’s writings in their libraries; though they are well acquainted with WHEATON’s Elements, and all these treat the subject fully, and show that we are only a partnership of States, in so far as England may be a partnership of Shires, or Counties, yet they won’t understand it, and still insist that we are like a score or two of oranges in a bag, badly tied, ready to roll every way as soon as anything happens to the string. I intend the people of England no disrespect in the following anecdote. I only relate it to express our own despair of being understood by them.

A lawyer in one of our Western States, in a addressing a Court, with three Judges upon the bench, was suddenly arrested, in what he supposed to be a very clear and very eloquent speech, by one of the Justices, who said he did not understand what connection all that had with the case. The lawyer dropped his argument, and his displeasure was beyond all fear of punishment for contempt of Court; he passed his eyes slowly over the person of the impenetrable Judge extended his hand toward him, in utter despair of his comprehension, and said, “D — n you, I don’t expect you to understand it. I see I am followed by a majority of your honorable Court” OAKLAND.

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