The Stride of a Giant
The Great Union Offensive of 1862
On New Year's Day, 1862, two rival presidential mansions a hundred miles apart were the sites of festive public receptions. In both Richmond and Washington, cabinet members, army and navy officers in full regalia and a host of influential private citizens celebrated the onset of a new year and compared notes on the appearance, personality and demeanor of their respective chief executives. Guest at Jefferson Davis' soiree found the Mississippian looking relatively healthy and appearing quite friendly, although more careful observers found him distracted and felt that his cordiality was largely for show. Visitors at the White House in Washington seemed to think that Abraham Lincoln's friendliness and warmth were more genuine, but he seemed as pre-occupied by the war as his Confederate rival. William Russell, correspondent for the London Times, acknowledged the warmth and sincerity of the President but added, "this poor president is to be pitied. He is trying, with all his might, to understand strategy, big guns, the movement of troops and exterior and interior lines," hardly the usual purview of a professional politician.
While each of these men shared a common challenge of leading a nation in a time of military crisis, Davis and Lincoln probably viewed the events of 1861 with quite different feelings. Jefferson Davis continued to worry about the continued shortage of weapons and supplies for the Confederate armies, and instinctively realized that a long war would allow the North to mobilize far more men and resources than his Southern republic commanded, but the first phase of the war had clearly favored the secessionists. The new republic had won a spectacular victory at Manassas and had gained a potentially decisive diplomatic coup when rebel envoys James Mason and John Slidell had been plucked from the British steamer Trent by an over eager Federal naval captain. The most talented military leaders from the old army had generally sided with the South. Thus a combination of proven Southern