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THE ARMY IN VIRGINIA
From The Missouri Republican, August 20, 1862.
This article was republished in the July-August 2007 issue of The Shrapnel .
THE ARMY IN VIRGINIA
There can hardly remain a doubt that there has been some severe fighting in Virginia this week, the advantages not altogether, perhaps, on the side of the Union forces. We know not what news we may be able to give in our telegraphic columns, since we have had nothing direct from the army for three or four days past, and cannot of course tell how much longer it may be deemed proper to withhold information from the public.
The Press censorship has not yet been so perfectly regulated, in our opinion, as to give the military authorities that aid which is thought to be desirable; for while direct reports are carefully, and it may be prudentially, excluded, we observe that unauthorized statements and exciting rumors still creep into the dispatches that are allowed to be transmitted, in many cases working much harm. To illustrate: In our last morning issue was a message from Philadelphia, alluding in rather obscure terms to a rebel attack on Manassas, and the destruction of the Federal stores there. This news is said to have come from an officer at Alexandria, who added, "they are fighting now (27th) at Manassas." Now, to an ordinary reader, it would appear from this that the enemy has be pressing vigorously upon our lines, and that the Federal troops had retreated from the Rappahannock beyond Culpepper to near the scene of the Bull Run Battle in July of last year. It is just such a dispatch as is calculated to depress the feelings of loyal people and exhilarate the Secessionists. The natural inference is that a battle or series of battles has taken place between the Rappahannock and Manassas Junction, and that the result had not been more favorable than might be wished.
Nor, in the absence of any other and better information, are we prepared to confront this inference with facts which might totally disprove it, or at least show that there has been no serious disaster. We might, indeed, state a belief that the attack upon Manassas was a mere repetition, by no formidable force, of the late raid on Catlett's Station, not affecting the general position or safety of the army; but, unfortunately by anything which the military censor has allowed to pass over the wires.
The country is fully prepared for tidings of a desperate advance by the rebels in the direction of the Potomac. It is prepared even to hear that the Union troops have met some losses, or sustained a defeat. It knows the situation of our army for the last six to eight weeks had been very critical indeed; but in spite of that, it has an abiding confidence that the time is near when all reverses will be quickly reversed, and that this present struggle is the last the enemy can make for the discomfiture of the soldiers of the Union. The people, then, can bear unfavorable intelligence, if there is any; and we submit that such dispatches as that to which we have alluded, are only calculated to intensify an anxiety which might be wholly relieved by the full facts.
If our whole Virginia army has retreated to Manassas, it will seem as though the war in the Old Dominion is returning to the place from whence it started, thirteen months ago. Yet there is nothing discouraging in this, when we remember how short a time it will take, when once fairly ready, to recover all the lost ground and add many leagues of new territory to our lines of occupation. Our armies are now like the gymnasts who run back that they may gain new velocity and momentum when arriving at the point fixed upon for the starting place. They are wanting headway, and when again they start forward it will be with a swiftness and impetuosity that will break down all barriers.
There is this consolation in regard to a retreat. Every retrograde step brings our forces upon fresh supports, drawing in detachments and strengthening the general column. In the same ratio the enemy is weakened by following. His transportation must be increased, and greater labor performed in bringing up supplies for the maintenance of his troops. In the haste of pursuing our withdrawing corps it must have been impossible to provide all things necessary for making war, and it is probable the enemy has now reached a point beyond which he can no further go, even leaving out of the question the augmenting resistance of Federal arms.