Probably the most influential newspaper utterances of the moment were the letters of W.H. Russell to the Times. This famous war-correspondent had been sent to America in the spring of 1861 by Delane, editor of the Times, his first letter, written on March 29, appearing in the issue of April 16. He travelled through the South, was met everywhere with eager courtesy as became a man of his reputation and one representing the most important organ of British public opinion, returned to the North in late June, and at Washington was given intimate interviews by Seward and other leaders. For a time his utterances were watched for, in both England and America, with the greatest interest and expectancy, as the opinions of an unusually able and thoroughly honest, dispassionate observer. He never concealed his abhorrence of slavery, terming apologists of that institution "the miserable sophists who expose themselves to the contempt of the world by their paltry theiscles on the divine origin and uses of Slavery[323]...." and writing "day after day ... the impression of my mind was strengthened that 'States Rights' meant protection to slavery, extension of slave territory, and free-trade in slave produce with the other world[324]." But at the same time he depicted the energy, ability, and determination of the South in high colours, and was a bit doubtful of similar virtues in the North. The battle of Bull Run itself he did not see, but he rode out from Washington to meet the defeated army, and his description of the routed rabble, jostling and pushing, in frenzy toward the Capitol, so ridiculed Northern fighting spirit as to leave a permanent sting behind it. At the same time it convinced the British pro-Southern reader that the Northern effort was doomed to failure, even though Russell was himself guarded in opinion as to ultimate result. "'What will England and France think of it?' is the question which is asked over and over again," wrote Russell on July 24[325], expatiating on American anxiety and chagrin in the face of probable foreign opinion. On August 22 he recorded in his diary the beginnings of the American newspaper storm of personal attack because of his description of the battle in the Times - an attack which before long became the alleged cause of his recall by Delane[326]. In fact Russell's letters added nothing in humiliating description to the outpourings of the Northern press, itself greedily quoted by pro-Southern foreign papers. The impression of Northern military incapacity was not confined to Great Britain - it was general throughout Europe, and for the remainder of 1861 there were few who ventured to assert a Northern success in the war[327].

Official Britain, however, saw no cause for any change in the policy of strict neutrality. Palmerston commented privately, "The truth is, the North are fighting for an Idea chiefly entertained by professional politicians, while the South are fighting for what they consider rightly or wrongly vital interests," thus explaining to his own satisfaction why a Northern army of brave men had chosen to run away[328], but the Government was careful to refrain from any official utterances likely to irritate the North. The battle served, in some degree, to bring into the open the metropolitan British papers which hitherto professing neutrality and careful not to reveal too openly their leanings, now each took a definite stand and became an advocate of a cause. The Duke of Argyll might write reassuringly to Mrs. Motley to have no fear of British interference[329], and to Gladstone (evidently controverting the latter's opinion) that slavery was and would continue to be an object in the war[330], but the press, certainly, was not united either as to future British policy or on basic causes and objects of the war. The Economist believed that a second Southern victory like Bull Run, if coming soon, would "so disgust and dishearten the shouters for the Union that the contest will be abandoned on the instant.... Some day, with scarcely any notice, we may receive tidings that an armistice has been agreed upon and preliminaries of peace have been signed[331]." John Bright's paper, the Morning Star, argued long and feverishly that Englishmen must not lose sight of the fact that slavery was an issue, and made appeal for expressions, badly needed at the moment, of pro-Northern sympathy[332]. To this John Bull retorted: