Letter to Joseph Weydemeyer, March 10, 1865
|Written||10 March 1865|
First published: abridged in Die Neue Zeit, 1906-1907, and in full in Marx and Engels, Works, Moscow, 1934.
To Joseph Weydemeyer in St Louis
Manchester, 10 March 1865[edit source]
At last I have got down to answering your letter of 20 January. I had sent it to Marx who — partly because he was indisposed — kept it a very long while, in fact did not return it until a week ago today, so that my letter could no longer catch the steamer; I was too occupied with business on that day.
My best thanks for your detailed answers to my questions. With the negligent reporting on militaria in the papers here, I had lost the thread of all the ‘combined’ operations; I found the Red River expedition quite puzzling and I was not much wiser about Sherman’s move eastward from Vicksburg, as there was no mention here of the Southern corps advancing from New Orleans. These combined operations with a point of meeting up not merely in the enemy’s territory but even behind his very lines show precisely how crude are the ideas of strategy of a nation that has no experience of war whatever. And yet if the noble Wrangel and Prince Frederick Charles had not been 2 to 1 in the Danish war they would have got up to much the same tricks. The battle at Missunde and the 2 inexplicable ‘demonstrations’ (to give a nameless thing some kind of name, nevertheless) against Düppel before the assault were, if anything, even more childish.
As to Grant’s conduct at Richmond, I am trying to explain it in another way. I am completely of the same opinion as you that strategically the only correct thing was to attack Richmond from the west. However, it seems to me — insofar as one can form a judgement from such a distance and from such vague reports — that Grant preferred the eastern side for 2 reasons:
1. because he could provision himself more easily there. Whilst on the western side he commanded only the roads to Fredericksburg and to Tennessee (both crossing areas that had been exhausted), on the eastern side he had the Fredericksburg line, and the York and James Rivers as well. Since the difficulty of supplying large armies with provisions has played an important part throughout the war, I would not like to condemn Grant out of hand until I am clear on that score. You reproach him with having turned his back to the sea. But if one controls the sea and has secure points of embarkation (Monroe and Norfolk), then that is an advantage. Compare Wellington’s campaigns in Spain and the Crimean campaign, where the Allies, who had been victorious on the Alma, positively ran away from the enemy in order to ensure their rear the protective cover of the sea south of Sevastopol. That the possession of the Shenandoah valley was the best way to secure Washington is clear. But? The question arises
2. did Grant (and Lincoln) want to have Washington completely secure? On the contrary, it seems to me that with the loose constitution of the Federation and the great indifference to the war in some parts of the North, Lincoln never seriously wanted to drive the Confederates out of Richmond, that, on the contrary, he just wanted to pin them down in a position where they represented something of a threat to Washington, Pennsylvania and even New York. I believe that without that he would have got neither the recruits nor the money to finish the war. I certainly believe that Grant would have very much liked to have taken Richmond in the last 3-4 months, but he has not sufficient forces to do so. I see them estimated at from 70-90,000 men and Lee at 50-70,000. If this ratio is approximately correct, then, with his attack acknowledged to be strategically wrong, he has done everything possible to frustrate any offensive defence by Lee, and to encircle Richmond on at least 3 sides out of 4. For, after distinguishing himself amongst all the other generals of North and South in the last 2 years just by his brilliant use of counter-attacks, I cannot believe that Lee would now abandon this tactic unless forced to. It was, however, a stupendous gain for the North if it succeeded in pinning down the South’s best army at Richmond, in one corner of the southern territory, because of a childish point d'honneur, until the whole hinterland was cut off and militarily disrupted for the South, firstly by conquest of the Mississippi valley and then again by Sherman’s campaign, until finally, and this seems to be the case now, all the Union’s available troops are marching on Richmond and one decisive blow can put an end to the whole business.
The latest news we have is from New York, dated 25 February, i.e. it includes the taking of Charleston and Wilmington, and Sherman’s advance from Columbia to Winnsborough. This Sherman appears to be the only fellow in the North who knows how to use his men’s legs to win battles. But he must, incidentally, have splendid lads under him. I can’t wait to see what will happen. If Lee assesses his desperate situation aright, he has no choice but to pack up and go south. But where to? The only way open to him is to Lynchburg and Tennessee; but that would be exceedingly hazardous to march into such a narrow mountain valley with just one railway, and Knoxville and Chattanooga fortified ahead of him. Besides, that would probably mean sacrificing Beauregard, Hardee and all other Confederate troops positioned in North Carolina, and exposing his flank to Sherman. Or he could advance from Petersburg, turn Grant’s left flank and march directly south against Sherman? Daring, but better; the only way to draw to himself the remnants of the fleeing armies, delay Grant by destroying the railways and bridges, and fall on Sherman with superior strength. If the latter offers battle to this combined force, he will certainly be beaten; if he falls back toward the coast, he will open up the road toward Augusta for Lee who will there be able to make his first respite. But Sherman and Grant would then surely join forces and Lee would then again be faced by a superior force, this time as good as in open country; for I do not believe the Confederates can again concentrate so many heavy guns in any one place inland as to organise another Richmond there. And even if they were to do so, they would only be jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire. Or else — invasion of the North? Jefferson Davis would no doubt be capable of this, but that would also spell the end within a fortnight.
Now, however, Lee can only send some of his forces southwards as well to join with Beauregard and company and stop Sherman, and this seems to me the most probable course. In this case, Sherman will probably give them a proper ‘drubbing’, as they say in South Germany, and then Lee will really be stuck. But even if Sherman were to be defeated, Lee would only have gained one month’s respite, and the troops advancing from every part of the coast — not to mention Grant’s successes in the meantime against the weakened Richmond army — would soon make his position as bad as it had been before. One way or another, the game is up, and I look forward to the arrival of each steamer with expectancy; there is a positive deluge of exciting news just now. The strategic speculations of the numerous Southern sympathisers here are most comical to listen to, they are all epitomised by the remark made by the Polish general Sznaycle in the Palatinate who said after every rout, ‘We are doing exactly what Kossuth did’.
Incidentally, I am most grateful to you for your explanations about military organisation in America, it was only as a result of them that I obtained a clear picture of many aspects of the war there. I have been familiar with the canons Napoléon for many a long year, the English had already replaced them (light, smooth-bore 12-pounders with a charge weighing 1/4 of the ball) when Louis Bonaparte re-invented them. You may have any number of Prussian howitzers, as they have all been withdrawn now and replaced by rifled 6-pounders and 4-pounders (which fire 13-pound and 9-pound heavy shells). I am not surprised that the elevation of your howitzers is only 5°, it was no higher with the old long howitzers the French had (until 1856), and, if I am not mistaken, the English ones were only a little more. In general, the high-angle fire from howitzers has been used for a long time only by the Germans; its great unreliability in range-finding in particular had brought it into disrepute.
Now to other matters.
A Frankfurt lawyer ‘von Schweitzer’ had indeed established himself in Berlin with a little paper called Der Social-Demokrat and asked us to write for it. As Liebknecht, who is in Berlin, was to join the editorial board, we accepted. But then, firstly, the little paper embarked on an insufferable cult of Lassalle, whilst we meanwhile received positive proof (the old Hatzfeldt woman told Liebknecht about it and urged him to work for the same ends) that Lassalle was much more deeply implicated with Bismarck than we had ever realised. There was an actual alliance between the two which had gone so far that Lassalle was to go to Schleswig-Holstein and there to advocate the annexation of the duchies by Prussia, while Bismarck had rather less definitely consented to the introduction of a sort of universal suffrage and more definitely to the right of combination and concessions regarding social policy, state support for workers’ associations, etc. The foolish Lassalle had no guarantee whatever from Bismarck, au contraire he would have been put in prison sans façon as soon as he became troublesome. The gentlemen on the Social-Demokrat knew this but, for all that, they continued to intensify their cult of Lassalle. In addition to that, the fellows allowed themselves to be intimidated by threats from Wagener (of the Kreuz-Zeitung) into paying court to Bismarck, flirting with him, etc., etc. That was the last straw. We published the enclosed statement and made our exit, with Liebknecht doing likewise. The Social-Demokrat then declared that we did not belong to the Social-Democratic Party, which excommunication naturally did not bother us. The whole Lassallean General Association of German Workers’ has taken such a wrong road that nothing can be done with it; however, it will not last long.
I was asked to write about the military question, which I did, but, in the meantime, relations between us became more strained, and the article turned into a pamphlet, which I have now had published separately; I am now sending you a copy of it by the same steamer. To judge by the newspapers I receive, the thing appears to be creating quite a furore, especially on the Rhine, and it will, at any rate, make it very difficult for the workers to ally themselves with reaction just now.
The International Association in London is going from strength to strength. In Paris especially, in London no less so. It is also going well in Switzerland and Italy. Only the German Lassalleans are refusing to bite, and in present circumstances least of all. However, we are again receiving letters and offers from all sides in Germany, a decisive change has taken place, and the rest will turn out right.
The only reply I can make to your wife’s question is that I have not yet entered into a state of holy matrimony.
Photographs enclosed, of Lupus and myself, I have come out a little too dark; but it is the only one I have left.
Schimmelpfennig has taken Charleston — Hurrah!