I am always amazed when I run into some younger leftists, or even older radicals who may have not read much Marx and Engels, and find that they are surprised, very surprised to see that Marx and Engels were avid partisans of the Abraham Lincoln-led Union side in the American Civil War. In the age of advanced imperialism, of which the United States is currently the prime example, and villain, we are almost always negative about capitalism’s role in world politics. And are always harping on the need to overthrow the system in order to bring forth a new socialist reconstruction of society. Thus one could be excused for forgetting that at earlier points in history capitalism played a progressive role. A role that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and other leading Marxists, if not applauded, then at least understood represented human progress. Of course, one does not expect everyone to be a historical materialist and therefore know that in the Marxist scheme of things both the struggle to bring America under a unitary state that would create a national capitalist market by virtue of a Union victory and the historically more important struggle to abolish slavery that turned out to a necessary outcome of that Union struggle were progressive in our eyes. Read on.
Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1862
The English Press and the Fall of New Orleans
Source: MECW Volume 19, p. 199;
Written: on May 16, 1862;
First published: in Die Presse, May 20, 1862.
London, May 16
On the arrival of the first rumours of the fall of New Orleans, The Times, The Herald, The Standard, The Morning Post, The Daily Telegraph, and other English “sympathisers” with the Southern “nigger-drivers” proved strategically, tactically, philologically, exegetically, politically, morally and fortificationally that the rumour was one of the “canards” which Reuter, Havas, Wolff and their understrappers so often let fly. The natural means of defence of New Orleans, it was said, had been augmented not only by newly constructed forts, but by submarine infernal machines of every sort and ironclad gunboats. Then there was the Spartan character of the citizens of New Orleans and their deadly hatred of Lincoln’s mercenaries. Finally, was it not at New Orleans that England suffered the defeat that brought her second war against the United States (1812 to 1814) to an ignominious end? Consequently, there was no reason to doubt that New Orleans would immortalise itself as a second Saragossa or a Moscow of the “South”. Besides, it harboured 15,000 bales of cotton, with which it could so easily have kindled an inextinguishable fire to destroy itself, quite apart from the fact that in 1814 the duly damped cotton bales proved more indestructible by cannon fire than the earthworks of Sevastopol. It was therefore as clear as daylight that the fall of New Orleans was a case of the familiar Yankee bragging.
When the first rumours were confirmed two days later by steamers arriving from New York, the bulk of the English Ispro-slavery press persisted in its scepticism. The Evening Standard, especially, was so positive in its unbelief that in the same number it published a first leader which proved the Crescent City’s impregnability in black and white, whilst its latest news” announced the impregnable city’s fall in large type. The Times, however, which has always held discretion for the better part of valour, veered round. It still doubted, but, at the same time, it made ready for every eventuality, since New Orleans was a city of “rowdies” and not of heroes. On this occasion, The Times was right. New Orleans is a settlement of the dregs of the French bohème, in the true sense of the word, a French convict colony -and never, with the changes of time, has it belied its origin. Only, The Times came Post festum to this pretty widespread realisation.
Finally, however, the fait accompli struck even the blindest Thomas. What was to be done? The English pro-slavery press now proves that the fall of New Orleans means a gain for the Confederates and a defeat for the Federals.
The fall of New Orleans allowed General Lovell to reinforce Beauregard’s army with his troops; Beauregard was all the more in need of reinforcements, since 160,000 men (surely an exaggeration!) were said to have been concentrated on his front by Halleck and, on the other hand, General Mitchel had cut Beauregard’s communications with the East by breaking the railway connection between Memphis and Chattanooga, that is, with Richmond, Charleston and Savannah. After his communications had been cut (which we indicated as a necessary strategical move long before the battle of Corinth), Beauregard had no longer any railway connections from Corinth, save those with Mobile and New Orleans. After New Orleans had fallen and he was only left with the single railway to Mobile to rely on, he naturally could no longer procure the necessary provisions for his troops. He therefore fell back on Tupelo and, in the estimation of the English p ro-slavery press, his provisioning capacity has, of course, been increased by the entry of Lovell’s troops!
On the other hand, the same oracles remark, the yellow fever will take a heavy toll of the Federals in New Orleans and, finally, if the city itself is no Moscow, is not its mayor a a Brutus? Only read (cf. New York”) his melodramatically valorous epistle to Commodore Farragut, “Brave words, Sir, brave words!” But hard words break no bones.
The press organs of the Southern slaveholders, however, do not construe the fall of New Orleans so optimistically as their English comforters. This will be seen from the following extracts:
The Richmond Dispatch says:
‘What has become of the ironclad gunboats, the Mississippi and the Louisiana, from which we expected the salvation of the Crescent City? In respect of their effect on the foe, these ships might just as well have been ships of glass. It is useless do deny that the fall of New Orleans is a heavy blow. The Confederate government is thereby cut off from West Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas.”
The Norfolk Day Book observes:
“This is the most serious reverse since the beginning of the war. It augurs privations and want for all classes of society and, what is worse, it threatens our army supplies.”
The Atlantic Intelligencer laments:
“We expected that the outcome would be different. The approach of the enemy was no surprise attack; it has long been foreseen, and we had been promised that, should he even pass by Fort Jackson, fearful artillery, contrivances would force him to withdraw or ensure his annihilation. In all this, we have deceived ourselves, as on every occasion when the defences were supposed to guarantee the safety of a place or town. It appears that modern inventions have destroyed the defensive capacity of fortification. Ironclad gunboats destroy them or sail past then) unceremoniously. Memphis, we fear, will share the fate of New Orleans. Would it not be folly to deceive ourselves with hope?”
Finally, the Petersburg Express:
“The capture of New Orleans by the Federals is the most extraordinary and fateful event of the whole war.”