Although often over-shadowed in Civil War literature by accounts of the Army of the Potomac's struggles against Robert E. Lee in Virginia and the bold Confederate invasion of the Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Western theatre of the Civil War was the scene of some of the most desperate, hard-fought and strategically important battles of the five year conflict. John Fiske's eloquent narrative begins with the seizure of the secessionist arsenal at Camp Jackson in St. Louis, MO, and follows the Union Army through its campaign to control the Mississippi River and its subsequent actions in Georgia and Tennessee. The text draws heavily on remembrances and personal journals of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman and examines in painstaking detail not just events on the field of battle but the logistical considerations and political maneuvering that helped shape these campaigns. The result is a fascinating, informative and engrossing account of the turning of the Confederacy's left flank and the resulting defeat of the Army of the Rebellion.
During the seventy years which elapsed between the overthrow of the Stuart dynasty and the victory of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham, the relations between the American colonies and the British government were, on the whole, peaceful; and the history of the colonies, except for the great and romantic struggle with New France, would have been almost destitute of striking incidents. In view of the perpetual menace from France, it was clearly unwise for the British government to irritate the colonies, or do anything to weaken their loyalty; and they were accordingly left very much to themselves. Still, they were not likely to be treated with any great liberality,—for such was not then, as it is hardly even yet, the way of governments,—and if their attachment to England still continued strong, it was in spite of the general demeanour of the mother-country. Since 1675 the general supervision of the colonies had been in the hands of a standing committee of the Privy Council, styled the “Lords of the Committee of Trade and Plantations,” and familiarly known as the “Lords of Trade.” To this board the governors sent frequent and full reports of the proceedings in the colonial legislatures, of the state of agriculture and trade, of the revenues of the colonies, and of the way in which the public money was spent. In private letters, too, the governors poured forth their complaints into the ears of the Lords of Trade, and these complaints were many and loud. Except in Pennsylvania and Maryland, which were like hereditary monarchies, and in Connecticut and Rhode Island, where the governors were elected by the people, the colonial governors were now invariably appointed by the Crown. In most cases they were inclined to take high views regarding the royal prerogative, and in nearly all cases they were unable to understand the political attitude of the colonists, who on the one hand gloried in their connection with England, and on the other hand, precisely because they were Englishmen, were unwilling to yield on any occasion whatsoever one jot or tittle of their ancient liberties. Moreover, through the ubiquity of the popular assemblies and the directness of their control over the administration of public affairs, the political life of America was both really and ostensibly freer than that of England was at that time; and the ancient liberties of Englishmen, if not better preserved, were at least more conspicuously asserted. As a natural consequence, the royal governors were continually trying to do things which the people would not let them do, they were in a chronic state of angry warfare with their assemblies, and they were incessant in their complaints to the Lords of Trade. They represented the Americans as a factious and turbulent people, with their heads turned by queer political crotchets, unwilling to obey the laws and eager to break off their connection with the British Empire. In this way they did much to arouse an unfriendly feeling toward the colonies, although eminent Englishmen were not wanting who understood American affairs too well to let their opinions be thus lightly influenced. Upon the Lords of Trade these misrepresentations wrought with so much effect that now and then they would send out instructions to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, or to abridge the freedom of the press. Sometimes their acts were absurdly arbitrary. In New Hampshire, the people maintained that as free-born Englishmen they had the right to choose their representatives; but the governor held, on the contrary, that this was no right, but only a privilege, which the Crown might withhold, or grant, or revoke, all at its own good pleasure.
"What are you, where did you come from, and whither are you bound?"—the question which from Homer's days has been put to the wayfarer in strange lands—is likewise the all-absorbing question which man is ever asking of the universe of which he is himself so tiny yet so wondrous a part. From the earliest times the ultimate purpose of all scientific research has been to elicit fragmentary or partial responses to this question, and philosophy has ever busied itself in piecing together these several bits of information according to the best methods at its disposal, in order to make up something like a satisfactory answer. In old times the best methods which philosophy had at its disposal for this purpose were such as now seem very crude, and accordingly ancient philosophers bungled considerably in their task, though now and then they came surprisingly near what would to-day be called the truth.
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