For a month—yes, months—the burden of the press, the prayers of the North, had been, “On to Richmond!” Jack, through Colonel Grandison, knew that General McDowell and the commander-in-chief, the venerable soldier Scott, had pleaded and protested against a move until the new levies under the three-months’ call could be drilled and disciplined. But on the Fourth of July Congress had assembled, and the raw statesmen—with an eye to future elections—took up the public clamor. They gave the Cabinet, the President, no peace until General Scott and McDowell had given way and promised the pending movement.
“Our soldiers are so green that I shall move with fear,” McDowell said to the President.
“Well, they” (meaning the rebels) “are green too, and one greenness will offset the other,” Lincoln responded with kindly malice. It was useless to argue further; useless to point out that the rebels were not so “green,” for the young men of the semi-aristocratic society of the South were trained to arms, whereas it was a mark of lawlessness and vulgarity to carry arms in the Puritan ranks of the North. Something of the unreadiness of the army, every reflecting soldier in the ranks comprehended, when he saw within the precincts of his own brigades the hap hazard conduct of the quartermaster’s and staff departments. Some regiments had raw flour dealt them for rations and no bake-ovens to turn it into bread; some regiments had abundance of bread, but no coffee or meat rations. As to vegetables—beans, or anything of the sort—if the pockets of the soldiers had not been well supplied from home, the army that set out for Manassas would have been eaten with scurvy and the skin diseases that come from unseasoned food.
Now, at the very moment the legions were stripped for the march, many of them were without proper ammunition. Various arms were in use, and the same cartridge did not lit them all. Eager groups could be seen all through the brigades filing down the leaden end of the cartridge to make their weapons effective, until a proper supply could be obtained. This was promised at Fairfax Station, or Centreville, where the army’s supplies were to be sent. So, in spite of the high hopes and feverish unrest for the forward movement, there was a good deal of sober foreboding among the men, who held to the American right to criticise as the Briton maintains his right to grumble. For the soldier in camp or on the march is as garrulous as a tea gossip, and no problem in war or statecraft is too complex or sacred for him to attempt the solution. Of the thirty thousand men leaving the banks of the Potomac that 16th of July there were, at a low estimate, ten thousand who believed themselves as fitted to command as the chieftains who led them.