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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Meanwhile all eyes were fixed on McClellan


in its essence a siege of the

Confederacy. To give it this character, however, one thing was essential--the control of the sea by the Union forces. The regular United States navy--unlike the regular army, which was divided--was fully under the control of the Federal Government, and was able to blockade the Southern ports. Davis had attempted to meet this menace by issuing letters of marque to privateers; but this could be little more than an irritant to the dominant power. It so happened, however, that a discovery had recently been made which was destined to revolutionize the whole character of naval war. Experiments in the steel-plating of ships had already been made in England and in France, but the first war vessel so fitted for practical use was produced by the Southern Confederacy--the celebrated _Merrimac_. One fine day she steamed into Hampton Roads under the guns of the United States fleet and proceeded to sink ship after ship, the heavy round shot leaping off her like peas. It was a perilous moment, but the Union Government had only been a day behind in perfecting the same experiment. Next day the _Monitor_ arrived on the scene, and the famous duel between the first two ironclads ever constructed commenced. Each proved invulnerable to the other, for neither side had yet constructed pieces capable of piercing protection, but the victory was so far with the North that the hope that the Confederacy might obtain, by one bold and inventive stroke, the mastery of the sea was for the moment at an end.

style="text-align: justify;">Meanwhile all eyes were fixed on McClellan, who was busy turning the mob that had fled from Bull Run into an army. His work of organization and discipline was by common consent admirable; yet when the time came when he might be expected to take the field, that defect in his quality as a commander showed itself which was to pursue him throughout his campaigns. He was extravagantly over-cautious. His unwillingness to fight, combined with the energy he put into bringing the army into an efficient state and gaining influence over its officers and men, gave rise to the wildest rumours and charges. It was suggested that he intended to use the force he was forming, not against Richmond but against Washington; to seize supreme power by military force and reconcile the warring States under the shadow of his sword. It is certain that there was no kind of foundation for such suspicions. He was a perfectly patriotic and loyal soldier who studied his profession diligently. Perhaps he had studied it too diligently. He seems to have resolved never to risk an engagement unless under conditions which according to the text-books should assure victory. Ideal conditions of this sort were not likely to occur often in real war, especially when waged against such an antagonist as Robert Lee.

McClellan remained in front of the Confederate positions throughout the winter and early spring. In reply to urgent appeals from Washington he declared the position of the enemy to be impregnable, and grossly exaggerated his numbers. When at last, at the beginning of March, he was induced to move forward, he found that the enemy had slipped away, leaving behind, as if in mockery, a large number of dummy wooden guns which had helped to impress McClellan with the hopelessness of assailing his adversaries.


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