Marx-Engels Correspondence 1862
Source: MECW Volume 41, p. 403;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913.
I was very sorry not to have been able to come on Friday. Apart from anything else, I had more or less fallen out with Ermen, and hence could neither ask a favour of him, nor stay away without saying a word. Otherwise, nothing would have prevented me from coming, not even the risk of missing something important on the Saturday.
Things are going awry in America and, in fact, Mr Stanton is after all chiefly to blame in that, after the conquest of Tennessee, sheer boastfulness led him to stop recruiting, so that the army was doomed to grow constantly weaker at the very time when it particularly needed reinforcing with a view to a rapid and decisive offensive. With a steady influx of recruits the war had hitherto not, perhaps, been decided, but there could be no doubt about its successful outcome. Moreover, the run of victories had ensured a brisk supply of recruits.
This measure was all the more inane in that, at that very time, the South was calling up all men aged between 18 and 35, i.e. staking everything on one throw. It is these men, who have meanwhile become seasoned troops, that have since enabled the Confederates to gain the upper hand everywhere, and assured them the initiative. They pinned down Halleck, drove Curtis out of Arkansas, beat McClellan and, in the Shenandoah Valley, under Jackson, gave the signal for guerrilla bands, which are now already penetrating as far as the Ohio. Stanton could not have acted more stupidly had he tried.
Again, when Stanton saw that he would be unable to oust McClellan from the command of the Potomac Army, he perpetrated the stupidity of reducing McClellan’s strength by detaching special commands to Frémont, Banks and McDowell, and dispersing the forces with a view to displacing McClellan. Not only was McClellan defeated as a result, but public opinion is laying the blame for that defeat, not on McClellan, but on Stanton. Serves Mr Stanton right.
None of this would have signified, and it might even have been all to the good in as much as the war might at last have been conducted along revolutionary lines. But there’s the rub. Defeats don’t spur these Yankees on, they just make them flabby. If things have come to such a pass that, to get recruits at all, they say they are prepared to take them on for only 9 months, then this is tantamount to admitting: ‘We're in the shit and all we want is a make-believe army to do some sabre-rattling during the peace negotiations.’ Those 300,000 volunteers, that was the criterion, and in refusing to muster them, the North is declaring that it doesn’t, au fond, give a damn about the whole thing. And then, what cowardice on the part of the government and Congress!
They shrink from conscription, from resolute fiscal measures, from attacking slavery, from everything that is urgently necessary; everything’s left to amble along at will, and, if some factitious measure finally gets through Congress, the honourable Lincoln hedges it about with so many clauses that it’s reduced to nothing at all. It is this flabbiness, this wilting like a pricked balloon under the pressure of defeats, which have destroyed an army, the strongest and the best, and left Washington virtually undefended, it is this complete absence of any resilience among the people at large which proves to me that it is all up. The occasional mass meeting, etc., means nothing at all, and doesn’t even rival the excitement of a presidential election.
Add to that a complete want of talent. One general more stupid than the other. Not one who would be capable of the slightest initiative or of an independent decision. For 3 months the initiative has again rested wholly with the enemy. Then, the fiscal measures, each one crazier than the last. Fecklessness and cowardice everywhere except among the common soldiers. The same applies to the politicians — just as absurd, just as much at a loss. And the populus is more feckless than if it had idled away 3,000 years under the Austrian sceptre.
For the South, on the other hand — it’s no use shutting one’s eyes to the fact — the affair is a matter of life and death. Our not getting any cotton is one proof of this. The guerrillas in the Border States are another. But, in my view, what clinches the matter is the ability of an agrarian population, after such complete isolation from the rest of the world, to endure such a war and, having suffered severe defeats and the loss of resources, men and territory, nevertheless to emerge victorious and threaten to carry their offensive into the North. On top of that, they are really fighting quite splendidly, and what remained of union feeling, save in the mountain districts, will now, with the re-occupation of Kentucky and Tennessee, undoubtedly evaporate.
If they get Missouri, they will also get the territories, and then the North might as well pack up and go home. As I have already said, unless the North instantly adopts a revolutionary stance, it will get the terrible thrashing it deserves — and that’s what seems to be happening.
How is little Jenny getting on?
Cordial regards to your wife and children.