General Lee then came out with his strong and powerful army and fought us at Gaines’s Mill, where he beat us after a desperate battle. We might as well confess that we were beaten, and badly beaten, in that battle; and that we had to make the best we could of our defeat, and get across the Chickahominy Swamp as quick as we could, and turn our backs on it forever, for we had filled it with the graves of our brave soldiers. George was sanguine, had great confidence in the endurance of his army, and looked forward to the future with faith and hope. He did not want to acknowledge that he was beaten at Gaines’s Mill; but the nation made up its mind that he was. Indeed, the nation could not comprehend the principle of generalship that claimed a victory, and at the same time made a change of base necessary in the face of an advancing enemy. But George got his army safe across the Chickahominy, though in some confusion, and instead of driving the enemy to the wall, as he had promised us he would do, the enemy began driving him to the James River.
Like the Irishman who had twice got his head broken, but was unwilling to say he was beaten, George continued to show General Lee that our army was still full of pluck.
So he turned round and thrashed the enemy right soundly at Savage’s Station, at White Oak Swamp, and at Malvern Hill—just to show that he could do it. These are places, my son, you shall read of in history. And the glories of the battles fought at them shall become brighter and brighter as we contemplate them; and new lustre will shed on the names of the officers who fought them, and set such noble examples of courage to their men. It was George’s misfortune that he fought these battles and gained these victories while his army was moving backward instead of forward—while seeking a place of safety instead of driving the enemy to seek one. This makes a great difference with the public, which does not generally study the rules of strategy, and does not like to see an army fall back after it has gained what its commander claims to be a great victory.
Pope did it.
Here, my son, you have an exact portrait of the great general who was brought to Washington to command all our armies, and to keep us from making any more military mistakes. He is presented to you just as he sat in his easy chair, confounding the rules of war and bringing confusion on the army. This great general, though he had never fought a battle, except on paper, brought with him from the West a new and much enlarged plan for taking Richmond.