Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/357

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


General Joseph E. Johnston. 351

troops, wherewith to relieve the beseiged, was run against those who could easily outstrip him. After five weeks of indefatigable exer- tion, he could only say, on the 2Oth of June, " when all reinforce- ments arrive, I shall have about twenty-three thousand." A twice beaten army, enclosed in Vicksburg, could not be saved by one not equal in strength to a third of the covering force. To have attempt- ed it, against strong circumvallations, would have been to complete the capture of the army within, by the wanton massacre of the army without to fling a second catastrophe after the first. The fate of Vicksburg and Port Hudson was sealed, unless an army strong enough to carry Grant's intrenchments could be brought to the as- sault.

"He should have struck a blow," it is said. To strike a blow unwisely is one of the simplest of human actions. It is done daily with the smallest possible profit to mankind. It will ever be a nar- row cockpit in which the tactics of Donnybrook Fair score their success. The shout of victory or death is irrelevant where death alone is possible. It is not even to court the hazard of a die to rush to sure destruction. Should the general then set his cause upon the cast and rush into battle merely to die there ? The rush of de- spair proclaims as much fear as courage. Johnston was right. The place to defend Vicksburg was in the field. As a beleaguered city its defence was hopeless. Isolation was destruction. Vicksburg ceased to be of value when its bluffs could no longer close navigation to a hostile force, nor keep it open to a friendly one. The army within was invaluable and could not be replaced. To immure was to sacrifice. To shut in strength was to shut out strength. In the great game of danger he wins the day who really risks the least, however he may seem to hazard all. Courage and skill are shown in disregarding the imminent appearance in the confidence of victory seen through the deadly imminence. But when to the unblenching eye of war's leader the peril is the only reality and the victory beyond is the illusion it is fatuity to strike. The perilous movement is victorious only when it places an adversary at a real disadvantage. Instead of a concentration of the weaker army as ordered by John- ston, so as to be able to fall upon the stronger one in detail, by the deviations from his orders the weaker army was so distributed as to be taken in detail by the concentrated stronger one.

There are times in life's experience when the winds of fortune seem to sport with human actions ; when those we would unite with