A correspondent for the New York Times gives a pretty rosy view of the outcome of the summer and fall campaigns in the west. Bragg is routed, Van Dorn and Price are beaten, and the Union holds the high cards in the southwest. Of course, it could have been better — if Buell had cut off the Confederate retreat by moving quickly, they’d have been destroyed instead of simply setting up to winter in Murfreesboro.
THE BEECHES, October, 1862.
Your reporters give you a great many de tails of the war, with a good many speculations of what never happens. It would be good thing to have these connected together in a general view of the passing drama. I will aid you with a glance at some general facts occurring in the Central West.
In the first place I must remark on the credulity which sketched the plan of LEE’s army, or a part of it, marching over the Alleghanies, 500 miles, to join an imaginary army in Western Virginia — then joining KIRBY SMITH and BRAGG in this Central Valley! Wasn’t that a magnificent stretch of the imagination? But, it serves to show you how very timid the public mind had be come. If LEE with his half-starved and demoralized troops could do that in the face of 200,000 Western troops, he would have surpassed ALEXANDER, and become the Achilles of another heroic Epic.
But, let us proceed to the facts.
Whatever may have been the direct objects of the rebel raids on the Potomac and the Ohio, (of which I think the principal was to raise the people of Maryland and Kentucky,) they have most signally failed, and the reaction against them will be tremendous. I am told that in Central Kentucky they have done little better in recruiting than they did in Maryland. They have no doubt got a great deal of forage, provisions and salt, but can carry very little away. They could scarcely get into Kentucky through the rough passes of the Cumberland; and how are they to got out with long trains of loaded wagons? You may depend upon one thing, that the rebels will go out of Kentucky as speedily as possible. But this does not satisfy us. Why should they get out safely? It would have seemed three weeks ago to have been impossible; and yet now, I think, they will probably leave without a decisive battle. Why? Because BUELL’s army, instead of marching in the rear of BRAGG when he came out from Tennessee, marched round in a circuit to the West, in order to reach Louisville before BRAGG. But where was the necessity for this, when there were forty thousand good troops in and about Louisville before BUELL’s army reached there? Perhaps this was unknown to Gen. BUELL, and he may have supposed Louisville in real danger; or, possibly, that a union of the whole rebel force in Kentucky could be made between him and Louisville. On this ground he may be justified by some military men.
One of the great difficulties with BUELL’s army is its enormous and unwieldy train; very like that of an Asiatic army. BUELL had 1,800 waggons, which if each occupied, fifty feet, would make eighteen miles. I am told that in fact the train was twenty-five miles long. Now I assert that not more than one-third that number was at all necessary. The residue should have been left at Nashville. Why bring it to the Ohio? The result was that Gen. BUELL did not cut off the rebels; but, on the contrary went round them, and that now our immense army in Kentucky is in front of them, I see not why (if they do not commit the same blunder of marching with an immense train) they may not escape. One thing, however, seems certain, from the fact that our column is now at Lebanon, that their retreat must be through South-Eastern Kentucky, perhaps through Pound Gap. If they at tempt Whalen Gap, they can be reached by our forces on a shorter line. At any rate, I repeat, the rebels will soon be driven further back than they were before they begun their raid.
The most interesting military scene is the Kanawha Valley. The retreat of Col. LIGHTBURN with only 2,500 men and his trains, was really a brilliant affair. He brought off everything but the Salt Works; and he could neither bring them away nor destroy them. The rebel gain is chiefly in the salt; but their harvest will be very short. As in Kentucky, they will retreat from the Kanawha very rapidly. I assure you that we have now a large army at Point Pleasant, and it will continue to gather till it is irresistible. If we lose no time, the mountains may be passed before the cold weather sets in. Our Kanawha army ought to have its Winter quarters in the Valley of Virginia; at any rate, not farther north than Lewisburgh.
From Cairo to Wheeling we have now full two hundred thousand good troops, and there is nothing to prevent their going forward with irresistible force. Two hundred and fifty miles of marching, with each column, and with little fighting — for the rebels can make no successful stand — will put the Army of the Kanawha in the Valley of Virginia, and the army of BUELL in Knoxville and Chattanooga, — just where they ought to have been one year ago.
One year lost! Why should we have lost it? Plainly, the want of sagacity in the Government and of generalship in the army. A Republic has to learn war by bitter experience. But time gives experience, and in the end success. The marches I speak of a good General could accomplish in thirty days; a tolerable one could easily do it in fifty; I hope that we shall do it in some time.
A glance at the Western position shows you that all things are moving with uncommon success — that my “cheer up” letter was founded on fact.
In Missouri we hear that SCHOFIELD is driving home the great army which the rebels boasted of having gathered west of the Mississippi. ROSECRANS, in the Southwest, has almost destroyed the army of PRICE, VAN DORN & Co. In Kentucky, BRAGG and SMITH are retreating as fast as possible, and in a few days the army of the Kanawha will be in full movement, chasing the rebel ragamuffins over the mountains. We have lost time, and with time a vast amount of blood and treasure; for that we must thank our own stupidity. I aver, with perfect confidence, we might have been, on the 1st of December last, where we shall be this 1st of December. We wanted nerve, sagacity and generalship. We have got them with time, that slow but certain teacher.
This brings me to the Emancipation Proclamation, which so many people denounced in advance, and for which so many officers were to resign. Not one resigned or ever will for such a reason. The objections made to emancipation were mere moonshine. Everybody, except the accession sympathizers, have discovered that it was just the thing! Of course, when anybody has the nerve to announce a great truth, the world soon comes to it. As to any officers — if any one ever had a repugnance, to emancipation — he got rid of it by considering his duty to obey orders. The Proclamation, let me tell you is — contrary to what many persons say — a document of tremendous practical effect. The South must either avoid it, by coming to terms, or it will involve the depopulation and total reorganization of Southern society. It is of far less importance in the Border States than it is on the Gulf. The heart of Stavery is on the Mississippi and the Gulf, where the greatest and richest slave plantations will soon be wholly in our power. How can rebel masters remain? What will become of Southern society? What must be the madness which would voluntarily encounter such a boll of destruction? Let us hope that God, in his great mercy, will restore the Southern people to their sense before that bolt shall suddenly and totally fall!
A VETERAN OBSERVER