The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, by Edward Lee Childe, Chapter 5

The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, by Edward Lee Childe


MACDOWELL’S disaster at Manassas was the greatest piece of
good fortune that could have happened for the Federal Government. It caused it to understand how serious was the enterprise on which it had embarked, and that its projects for reconquering the South bristled with difficulties. The Federal authorities were obliged to confess that their armies were nothing but masses of men without discipline. The defeat of Manassas, fatal to the self-love of the North, yet rendered it better service than to the conquerors of the day. Everybody in the North began to work bravely to raise new armies and equip the fleet. The government negotiated some loans, decreed new levies of men, bought and built ships. It would be difficult truly to approve all that was done in the North at this time. A great number of the measures taken were despotic and arbitrary, and would have been thought disgraceful by all honourable men. But it is not the less certain that the Federal Government acted with decision and energy.

From the breaking out of hostilities, it was clear that the decisive struggle would take place in Virginia. After MacDowell’s retreat, the Federal Government hastened to assemble another army under the walls of Washington. Major-General George B. MacClellan was placed at its head, whose name had already appeared in the campaign of Western Virginia. The new commander was one of those men about whom it is difficult to form a just idea. When nominated by the president, the country had in him the greatest hopes, because of the campaign of the preceding summer. If he did not justify them, it must be recollected that many influential people in the North offered him a lively opposition, and that Mr. Lincoln’s Government fettered him continually. However this may be, he passes for having been the best general the North had. More brilliant in the council than on the battle-field, he understood better how to map out a plan for a campaign than how to execute it. His military operations seldom succeeded, in consequence of his hesitancy and want of vigour. The immense superiority of his army over that of his adversary rendered still more surprising the trifling results of his Virginian campaign. Nevertheless the affection of his troops for him, and the enthusiasm which he knew well how to awaken in them, are proofs that he had military qualities of the first order.

At first he was entirely occupied in reorganizing his army. On July 27th, 1861, he assumed the command of it. It comprised only 51,000 men; all appearance of military organization had disappeared, and every day the number of deserters increased. He lost not a moment in stopping this evil, and obtained from Congress a law which permitted him to dismiss incompetent officers. Thanks to this law, he was able, during the autumn, to get rid of several hundreds of them. The new recruits were rapidly organized, and subjected to a strict discipline. Thus, when the army of the Potomac commenced the campaign of 1862, it comprised 221,987 men of all arms, including 25 regiments of cavalry, and was provided with 92 batteries of 521 cannon, a corps of engineers, all manner of conveyances and supplies, pontoon bridges, and so forth, all in a high state of perfection. Never was the army of the South, that medley of rags and heroism, provided in this way, and yet what marvels did it accomplish!

It would be unjust to deny that General MacClellan, in this matter, gave proof of great talent as an organizer. To him especially it is due that the Northern army was able to preserve its discipline intact under the most overwhelming reverses. But the resources placed at his disposal were inexhaustible, when compared with those of the South, and it was especially in this that the superiority of the North made itself so cruelly felt.

In the month of October, 1861, the Federal army was ready, and public opinion in the North showed itself impatient of prolonged inaction. The confederate army was encamped at Centreville, its outposts being stationed on certain elevations named Mason, Munson, and Upton’s Hills, over which the inhabitants of Washington saw the Southern flags floating, and whence came to them the noise of the enemy’s drums. The Northern humiliation at this was great; it became still greater when, some time after, the Potomac was blocked. Loud demands were made to force MacClellan to a decided course of action before the winter rendered all military operations impossible.

For a moment he seemed to think seriously of threatening Manassas. Had he even left half of his effective force at Washington and along the Potomac, there still remained an army at his disposal of 75,000 men, 30,000 more than could be opposed to him by the Confederates. The time was singularly favourable; for many years the roads had not been so good at this season. It would at least have been a gain to thrust back Johnston from the line of the upper Potomac upon the line of the Rapidan, and the moral effect in the North would have been immense, without reckoning that in the following spring he would commence his campaign with just as much prestige as his slowness made him lose.

The plan remained a mere project, and autumn and winter passed in an inaction of which the South profited to develop its resources as much as possible by establishing ammunition factories and cannon foundries, by buying all it wanted of the foreigner, and summoning to its standard all the able-bodied men.

This was still the state of things when, on the 8th of March, General Jackson had evacuated the line of Manassas, and retired southwards. In spite of the advantages which the South drew from MacClellan’s inaction, Johnston and Beauregard, to their great regret, had been obliged to leave the Federal general leisure to reorganize his troops. They felt all the value of the time lost. Their true interest would have been to force MacClellan to accept battle before he had finished his preparations, to trammel and paralyze the reorganization of his army as much as possible. But the deplorable state of the commissariat of the South at that period, and the fear of exposing, by a concentration of all the disposable forces of the Confederacy, different points on the coast, and especially the capital, to the attack of an enemy commanding more numerous forces, compelled them to be prudent.

It is easy, indeed, to understand that, because of its numerical inferiority, the South was obliged to remain on the defensive, especially at the beginning of the struggle, when its soldiers had not yet learned their trade, and the brilliant successes of the campaign of 1862 had not yet given them that confidence which afterwards twice victoriously carried them beyond the Potomac.

The army at Centreville, therefore, also remained on the defensive during the winter. But in the month of February, 1862, Johnston resolved to abandon Manassas and fall back on the line of the Rappahannock. This movement brought the Southern army nearer its base of operations, and afforded better shelter from marauding foes to the convoys of provisions which were arriving.

He dismounted guns of heavy calibre from the lines at Bull’s Run and the Potomac, and moved them to the rear of the Rappahannock. The army numbered 50,000 men. Of these Jackson had 6,000 with him in the Valley of Virginia, so that 44,000 men remained under the immediate orders of Johnston. The outposts were recalled from Leesburg and Evansport, and, on March 8th, 1862, the entire army retreated behind the Rappahannock, destroying all the bridges on its way.

The smoke of the barracks, to which the Confederates had set fire, revealed next morning to the Federals the retrograde movement of their enemy. MacClellan made no attempt to pursue him, convinced that his adversary had too much start for him to overtake him. He was contented to occupy the forsaken lines, and send out a strong reconnoitring party to the Rappahannock. Soon after, Johnston, having assured himself that the line of the Rapidan offered a better defensive position than that of the Rappahannock, retired behind that stream.

MacClellan then, renouncing the movement on Manassas, thought of changing his base of operation, and carrying his troops into the Peninsula of Virginia. His plan of campaign was very simple. The principal army under MacClellan, to the number of 120,000 men, was to embark at Washington and Alexandria, and occupy the Peninsula, making use of Fortress Monroe as a base of operations in an advance upon Richmond. MacDowell’s corps, 40,000 strong, was to follow MacClellan as soon as possible, and he would have for his mission to act against the Confederate flank, if they persisted in defending the Peninsula. General Banks was ordered to occupy Manassas, and cover Washington with 40,000 men; Fremont commanded in Western Virginia, having 30,000 men under him. He was to descend the mountains and march on the Southern capital. All these troops combined could not fail to lead to the forcible capture of Richmond in less than a month.

From February 27th to March 16th, 400 steamers and sailing-vessels assembled at Washington and Alexandria. There were shipped 121,500 men, 14,592 horses and mules, 44 batteries, waggons, ammunition-vans, ambulances, train-service, telegraphic materials, supplies, and all the baggage required for so great an army. On the 17th of March the embarkation began, and was completed without hindrance. The transports had only to descend the Potomac, a large and deep river, whose two banks were in the power of the Federals, then navigate a few hours along the coast into the Bay of Chesapeake, a small inland sea separated from the Atlantic by tongues of land which shelter it against storms, and so they were conducted without danger to the mouth of the York River.

General MacClellan, in adopting definitively a plan which he had declared should only be followed in the last extremity, committed a grave error. Napoleon said that every general who puts into execution a plan which he considers bad, is culpable in the highest degree. Otherwise, the plan was not bad in itself, but it should have been executed with more boldness and decision.

On April 1st, MacClellan disembarked at Fortress Monroe. Johnston, during this time, had contented himself with drawing his forces little by little nearer Richmond. The Confederate Government having signified its wish to him that he should take up a position in, and defend, the Peninsula, the Southern general put his army in motion towards the lines of Yorktown. It began to defile through the streets of Richmond on the morning of April 5th, and on the 7th the advanced guard rejoined General Magruder’s corps.

To the south-east of Richmond, between that town and Chesapeake Bay, there stretches a tongue of land, bounded on the north by the York River, on the south by the James, and known under the name of the Peninsula. Properly speaking, it is terminated at West Point, where the York River begins; but, since 1862, this name has been given to all the country between Richmond and the bay, bounded by the rivers Pamunkey, York, and James. A railway connects Richmond with West Point, whence vessels of the largest draught ascend the York. Several good coach roads start from the town toward various points in the Peninsula, which is terminated at Fortress Monroe.

At the opening of hostilities the Confederate Government was persuaded that the enemy would attempt to push through on that side to the capital, and in the month of May, 1861, Colonel (afterwards General) Macgruder had been stationed at Yorktown for the protection of that neighbourhood. Although at first he had but 3000 men at his disposal, gradually increased to 15,000, he succeeded after the battle of Bethel, of which mention has been already made, in keeping the Federals shut up in their entrenched camps at New-Port-News and Hampton.

Deceiving MacClellan as to the number of forces under him, he stopped the Federal army before some earth-works, rapidly thrown up and armed, till Johnston, at the head of 53,000 men, was able to join him. The Northern army was double that of the others. Nevertheless, Johnston was able to maintain himself in the lines of Yorktown till they became no longer tenable, in consequence of the disembarkation of Federal troops in his rear. After a sanguinary engagement at Williamsburg, he slowly retired, presenting an undaunted front to the enemy, and finally halted on the banks of the Chickahominy. For some days the weather was abominable, rendering military operations very difficult, the rivers and marshes overflowing on all sides. A Federal corps, commanded by General Franklin, having landed at West Point on the York River, marching to place itself between Johnston and Richmond, was thrown back, after a sharp encounter, towards the York, and obliged to seek refuge under the fire of the Northern batteries.

Thus, at Williamsburg, the Federal pursuit had been arrested, and Franklin’s plan at Eltham’s Landing had been baffled.

But, on the contrary, the evacuation of Norfolk, and the destruction of the Confederate iron-clad, the Merrimac, permitted the Federals to ascend the James River to within a short distance of Richmond. Great was there the consternation. Happily, the defences raised at Drury’s Bluff (a height commanding the river), considerably augmented, sufficed to shelter the town on that side.

This did not make the Southern situation less gloomy. The army, exhausted by its retreat, reckoned only 47,000 men. The country was alarmed, and many people left Richmond to take refuge in the interior. The Federal army, numbering twice its opponents, encamped at the gates of Richmond. MacClellan, in his report, estimated it at 156,838, of whom 115,102 were efficients, that is to say, present on the field of battle. Provisions and war-material came to it direct, and without hindrance, from the White House, on the Federal rear, MacClellan’s headquarters, situated on the York River, and connected with the Federal camp by a railway. Hundreds of steam-boats brought daily from Washington and New York all that the Federal commissariat or the general had need of.

The Northern army occupied an excellent position. Its left was protected by the White Oak Swamp, nearly impassable; all approaches in the direction of Richmond had been rendered inaccessible by the natural difficulties of the soil; these had been farther defended by means of felled trees and earth-works. Unless the Confederates could succeed in turning MacClellan’s right, his communication with his base at the White House, and his army’s safety ran no risk. As regards this contingency, precautions had been taken.

Other Federal corps were advancing into Virginia to co-operate with the principal army. MacDowell was at Fredericksburg with a strong division of 40,000 men, and was to descend in all haste towards the South, and form on the extreme right of MacClellan. Fremont was ordered to defile into the Valley of Virginia, to crush Jackson’s feeble corps, and give a helping hand to General Banks, who was directed to leave Winchester, and post himself along the railway to Manassas. Both were to watch the approaches to Washington, and replace MacDowell before that city. Thus Richmond would be half surrounded by the Federal armies. At the head of 200,000 men it seemed certain that, before the summer, MacClellan must make himself master of the Confederate capital, which had for its defence but 100,000 men at the most. It is plain now that it was only the ability of such men as Johnston, Lee, and Jackson, which succeeded in saving Richmond from this imminent danger.

Taking in at a glance the general position of Virginia, and penetrating the enemy’s scheme, Johnston ordered Jackson, who commanded in the Valley, to take the offensive, and, by disquieting the Northern generals about the safety of their capital, to stop the continual influx of troops into the Peninsula. Jackson immediately precipitated himself on General Banks, who was executing his movement from Winchester by the Blue Ridge towards Washington. Repulsed at first at Kernstown, Jackson made a second attempt at Strasburg, overthrew Banks, and pursued him closely beyond the Potomac. The fright caused by the news of this at Washington was such that President Lincoln ordered MacDowell, who was still at Fredericksburg, to detach 20,000 men to bar Jackson’s passage. The Federal plan was thus entirely deranged Banks being vanquished, and MacDowell detained by order of the President, MacClellan was obliged to remain inactive, always awaiting MacDowell. The Northern army was half on one side and half on the other, of the Chickahominy, and its chief felt little disposed to give battle under these circumstances.

Johnston ended this indecision. Perceiving that the Federal forces opposed to him near Seven Pines, on the south bank of the Chickahominy, were only a portion of the enemy’s army, the Confederate general, profiting by a sudden rise of the water, resolved to attack. MacClellan the same day, the 30th of May, at length decided, it would appear, to attack the lines of Richmond, when the Confederate columns came out to assail him. The battle which followed is known as that of the Seven Pines. It was one of the most furious and sanguinary of the whole war. On both sides they straggled frantically, and neither gained a decisive advantage. On the Confederate right, near the Seven Pines, the Federal lines were thrust to the rear; but on the left, at the station of Fair Oaks, the Confederates, in their turn, were repulsed. Night put an end to this indecisive contest. The onward march of the Federals had just been rudely checked, but, on the Southern side, General Johnston had received a severe wound, and had to be carried to Richmond.

For some time Lee had returned from Carolina. When the calamity which had fallen on Johnston was known, all thoughts turned towards Lee. Till now no opportunity worthy of his talent had been given him. The only command, if one may give it the name, which he had held was in that part of Virginia beyond the Alleghanies; it was rather in remembrance of his services in the old United States army, than of those hitherto rendered to the Confederacy, that he was to be nominated to the command of the principal Southern army. His nomination was dated the 3rd of June. Thus the Virginians, assembled for the defence of their capital, found themselves under the orders of the most illustrious of their fellow-citizens.

The critical position of affairs decided President Davis to put Lee at the head of the army of Northern Virginia. While retaining his rank of commander-in-chief of all the Confederate forces, he held besides the command which had just been entrusted to him. While at Richmond he had sent all the reinforcements that could be spared to Johnston’s army. The conscription began to bring many soldiers to the Southern standard. On the 20th of June the army of Northern Virginia numbered 70,000 fighting men. Like his predecessor, Lee did not wish to allow the Federals to come close under the walls of the Confederate capital. He spent some days following his appointment in studying the position of the two armies.

Meanwhile President Lincoln at length consented to MacDowell’s division rejoining the principal army under MacClellan, provided it made its march by land, so as not to expose Washington. The Federal general-in-chief extended his right wing to Hanover Court House,* in order to render assistance to MacDowell’s advanced guard. It was a critical moment for the Southern cause. This new reinforcement of 40,000 men, coming to swell 120,000 Federals already in line, would probably necessitate the abandonment of Richmond, the moral effect of which would have been great. MacClellan, with ear extended towards the North with feverish impatience, thought he already heard MacDowell’s cannon. But this movement was never to he executed.

General Jackson, charged with neutralizing the three columns of Banks, Fremont, and MacDowell, and so hindering them from helping MacClellan, rose to the height of his difficult mission. The conqueror of Banks, who had been ordered to replace MacDowell at Manassas, this indefatigable Jackson succeeded in beating separately Fremont, who, according to the preconcerted plan, was advancing from the west on Richmond, as well as Shields’s division, detached by MacDowell to intercept his passage. Free, then, in his movements, Jackson could join Lee for a decisive attack on MacClellan’s army. Lee, on his side, had decided not to lose an instant, and an immediate attack was resolved on.

On the receipt of these disastrous tidings from the Valley, President Lincoln absolutely opposed the departure of MacDowell. MacClellan, thoroughly disheartened by this new delay, perceived that he would be compelled to change all his combinations, and must rely only on himself. The left of the Federal army was, to the south of the Chickahominy, protected by a system of formidable works, whose approaches were rendered inaccessible by the felling of huge trees; the whole being commanded by numerous batteries. The centre was supported on the stream itself, near New Bridge. The right extended to Meadow Bridge, beyond Mechanicsville, strongly intrenched in a country admirably adapted for defensive operations. This line, fifteen miles in length, was in shape a crescent. At Meadow Bridge, where the outposts of the right wing were, the river is only six miles from the capital. At New Bridge, in the centre of the Federal position, the distance from Richmond is nine miles. York River railroad connected the camp with the Pamunkey in a straight line, a river navigable to this point for the largest steamers, and kept the army in communication with all the North. It was thus most easily provided with everything it needed.

The Chickahominy, which thus cut the Federal position at right angles, is a narrow watercourse, without any perceptible current. Its banks are boggy; trees and brushwood descend to the water, and form there an impenetrable mass, rendering its passage, except where there are bridges, difficult and dangerous. The Confederate army covered Richmond, extending from the James River, where its extreme right commenced, to the Chickahominy, beyond Meadow Bridge, on which its extreme left abutted. General Huger commanded the right, General Magruder the centre, General A. P. Hill the left. The divisions of Longstreet and D. H. Hill, drawn up behind and beyond the left, were to support, at a fitting moment, the turning movement of Jackson.

In order to get an account of the positions occupied by his foe, General Lee directed General Stuart, the commander-in-chief of the cavalry, to reconnoitre in force. This feat of arms, one of the most daring the war saw, succeeded perfectly. MacClellan’s vulnerable point seemed to be his extreme right. To this side, therefore, the Confederate new commander-in-chief gave his attention.

General James E. B. Stuart, who here appears for the first time, was a Virginian by birth, and, as yet, only thirty years old. A cavalry lieutenant who had resigned, he served under Johnston in the Valley in the early engagements. At Manassas, in the skirmishes which followed Johnston’s retreat behind the Rappahannock, and in the combats of the Peninsula, he was always remarked for his courage and skill. Of medium height, square shoulders and large chest, he wore a long beard and moustache, turned up at the ends, in the manner of Charles I. The glance of an eagle flashed from his clear blue eyes. A lover of noise, movement, adventure, brilliant colours, Stuart had engaged in the strife with the ardour and passion which the hunter experiences in the pursuit of game. Young, ambitious, brave as his sword, joyous, laughing, and for ever joking, continually followed by a negro banjo player, hurling himself on the enemy while singing a lively refrain, Stuart was the beau-ideal of a cavalier, and was adored by his soldiers. It was with joyful alacrity he answered the appeal of his chief.

He assembled 1200 men, composed of the 1st, 4th, and 9th regiments of Virginian cavalry, under Colonels W. H. Fitzhugh Lee and Fitz Lee, the son and nephew of the general-in-chief, (both subsequently became generals), two squadrons of Davis’s legion, and two pieces of horse artillery. The column left Richmond on the 12th of June, and moving northwards, encamped for the night near Hanover Court House, not far from the bridge over the South Anna. Stuart had taken this direction in order to make the enemy believe that he was moving from General Jackson’s side. He was twenty-two miles from the town, and could from thence bear down directly on the rear of the Federal army. During the night Stuart sent up some rockets, to let them know at Richmond where he was. An answer was made to these signals from the city. Sentries posted on all sides watched against surprise. On June 13th, at dawn, after a short meal, everybody was in the saddle. The most profound silence reigned in the ranks. Up to this moment nobody asked a question about the object of the expedition. Once in the enemy’s lines, Stuart confided to his officers his orders and plans. Scouts brought back word that the Oldchurch road was open. This point is equidistant from New Bridge on the Chickahominy, and the Pamunkey, a river serving as the base of Federal operations. He thus found himself on the road leading straight to MacClellan’s centre. The column rapidly advanced in that direction.

At Hanover Court House, 150 Federal cavalry took flight towards Mechanicsville. They were not pursued; Stuart was in too great a hurry for that. At Hawe’s Shop several of the enemy’s sentries were seized. A little further on a whole regiment of cavalry (the 2nd Federal, General Lee’s old regiment,) precipitately retired before Stuart’s column. The pursuit continued to a little watercourse named Tottapotomy. A little further on, the Federals having been reinforced, halted at Oldchurch. There was no time to hesitate. Stuart threw on them a squadron in close column, occupying the width of the road. Captain Latané, who commanded it, was slain, but the Federal cavalry made no stand, and the 1st regiment of Virginian cavalry, under Colonel Fitz Lee, put it to the rout, capturing several prisoners and horses. The tents, waggons, and provisions were burnt.

Stuart had to choose whether he would return by the way he came, or, making a complete circuit of the hostile army, cross the Chickahominy lower down. His instructions left him free to act as he thought best. The railroad of the York River once crossed, he made sure of arriving at the Chickahominy, hazarding, if he met with infantry, his leaving it behind him, or if cavalry, his defeating it. He therefore decided for the hardiest plan, but in truth, the least dangerous, for it was probable that the enemy was watching with superior forces all the country he had just traversed, thus rendering his return very problematical. He started, therefore, in the direction of Tunstall’s Station. On the road, his soldiers burnt everything that belonged to the Federal army—tents, waggons, supplies. Everywhere the inhabitants welcomed them with shouts of joy. At the sight of their grey jackets many an eye was filled with tears, and more than one old man counselled them to be prudent, “for the enemy,” it was added, “surrounded them on all sides.”

On the edge of New Kent County the squadron of the advanced guard fell on a canteen establishment, well furnished with provisions. The famished horsemen halted and ordered a meal. When the canteen-keeper wished to be paid, great was his consternation at learning that he was a prisoner, and so it was with some Federal soldiers who were in the public-house. The rest of the column arriving, finished off the remaining victuals; a little further on Stuart reached the Pamunkey, and there set fire to two ships, loaded with provisions, moored to the bank. Here the column turned off on the railway. Some chosen men went on in advance and surprised the Tunstall station, cutting the telegraph wires, making prisoners twenty men on guard, and obstructing the line. Hardly had this blow been struck before a long convoy of provisions was observed approaching by the road, on its way to the Federal army, under the escort of five squadrons of cavalry. To put these to flight, and obtain possession of the booty, was but the affair of a moment. Shortly after a train was heard coming from the Richmond side, bound for the white House on the Pamunkey. The Confederates stationed sharpshooters along the way, but the train passed very swiftly, without being stopped by the obstacles. Presently Stuart’s soldiers rained down a perfect hailstorm of bullets on some open waggons full of Federal soldiers. Some were killed or wounded; others, terror-stricken, leaped from the train, and were made prisoners.

It was night, and time was becoming precious. The convoy they had taken was burnt, as well as the railway bridge at lack Creek, thus intercepting the highway of communication between the Federal army and the Pamunkey. These precautions taken, it was necessary to set out again. The burning waggons gave light to the departing of the hardy Confederates. The roads were abominable; they had all the difficulty in the world to drag their cannon through the mud. Some of the men wandered on the road. A delay of three hours and a half was therefore necessitated at Talleysville, in order to rally the stragglers. A Federal hospital, with 150 sick men in it, fell into the hands of the Southerners, but suffered no damage. At midnight the march was resumed, and on the morning of the 14th the column reached the Chickahominy at Forge Bridge, where Stuart hoped to find a ford. But Colonel Fitzhugh Lee, having tried to cross, found the river there very deep and the current very rapid. The situation became critical. The Federal sentries were so near that one could almost hear them, and numerous columns of Federal cavalry scoured the country in all directions to cut off the retreat of Stuart’s troopers, whose audacious exploits had awakened all the energy of General MacClellan. Before them flowed an impassable river; on all sides they were beset by a swarm of enemies bent on their destruction. It seemed impossible that, on the return of day, they would not be made prisoners. Over and over again men threw themselves into the water, seeking a ford, but in vain. The only resource was to construct a bridge. Happily, at this moment, the ruins of an old bridge were discovered, destroyed by the Confederates some weeks previously. These they could make use of. With the aid of some boards found in a house, and some trees felled on the banks of the river, they succeeded in repairing the bridge, and before day all the column had crossed the Chickahominy and re-entered the Southern lines.

Without speaking of the intelligence, precious and precise, which had been gained relative to the position and strength of the Federal army, General Stuart led back 165 prisoners, 260 horses and mules with their accoutrements, and a considerable quantity of arms. He had likewise destroyed provisions and war-materials valued at several million dollars. This magnificent result had cost the life of only a single man, the brave Captain Latané. The soldiers’ conduct was worthy of all praise. Except a very short halt on Thursday evening, they had not left their saddles from Thursday morning till Saturday night, stopping neither to rest nor eat, and amid a thousand dangers accomplishing with success one of the most brilliant feats of arms that have ever rendered the cavalry of a country illustrious.

Thanks to the intelligence which Stuart brought back, General Lee saw that the Federal right could be easily turned, for, so to speak, it was unguarded. He resolved to profit by this circumstance. His first care, on assuming the command, had been to construct along his lines works of defence sufficiently strong for a part of his army to hold them against all the Federal army, leaving the rest of the Confederate troops free to take the offensive. The time was favourable. Jackson, the conqueror of Shields and Fremont, was in a situation to join his soldiers with the Confederate army under Richmond. He was, therefore, recalled, with the recommendation to operate this movement as secretly as possible, so that the enemy might not know he had left the Valley.

To this end recourse was had to a stratagem. On the 11th of June, Whiting’s division of Lee’s army were loaded in several trains at the terminus of the Danville railroad at Richmond. They were made to cross the river at a point near Belleisle, where there were, at that moment, a considerable number of Federal prisoners, about to be released and sent down the James River. The trains loitered a long time, and the prisoners were able to convince themselves that all these Confederate soldiers were sent by Lee to reinforce Jackson, who was only waiting for them to march on Washington. MacClellan, in effect, believed this report of the liberated prisoners. The trains set out in the direction indicated, but returned the same night Jackson, on his part, by a clever combination of marches and countermarches, made believe that he was descending the Valley towards the upper Potomac, and disappeared suddenly. Even his soldiers were ignorant whither he was leading them. They had received orders not to ask the names of the villages they passed through, and to reply to all questions: “I don’t know.” So well, that Jackson, having surprised a soldier stealing cherries, and asking him his name and regiment, could get him to say nothing else but “I don’t know.”

On the 15th of June, Jackson’s division arrived at Ashland, fifteen miles north of Richmond. Here he left his tired soldiers, and rapidly betook himself to the city. Crossing the streets at night, he arrived, without being recognised, at the house which served Lee for head-quarters, near Fair Oaks Station. There took place the first interview, since the commencement of the war, between these two remarkable men

Lee’s plan was to take the Federal’s right wing in front and rear, throw it back on the centre, and thus force MacClellan issue from his intrenchments and deliver battle in order to maintain his communications with the Pamunkey. Consequently Jackson was to direct his march on Pole Green Church, nearly in the direction of Stuart’s reconnoitring expedition. This latter, with a large part of the cavalry, was stationed at Jackson’s extreme left, to surround the Federals more surely. General Branch was to defile by Meadow Bridge on Mechanicsville, while General A. P. Hill would bear directly on Mechanicsville, supported by the concentrated fire of all the Confederate batteries raised along the Chickahominy. The position of Mechanicsville once carried, General D. H. Hill would support Jackson’s operations, who was charged to attack on the rear, and squeeze everything that came in his way as in a vice, all the while pressing on the Federal centre. Longstreet was to support General A. P. Hill, and the two corps united had for their mission to occupy the enemy’s lines at New Bridge. Generals Huger and Magruder were meanwhile to defend the works before Richmond, making demonstrations against the centre, and to advance if the enemy retreated, pursuing him vigorously. On the roads abutting on the capital were posted sentries and detachments of cavalry, to watch the movements of the enemy. Reserves of infantry were ready to support them in case of an unforeseen attack. The soldiers were ordered to carry provisions for three days. As the Confederates occupied the inner, that is, the shorter line, it was easy for them, if needed, to concentrate themselves rapidly, either for attack or defence.

MacClellan, on his side, since the battle of Seven Pines, had been content to fortify his position, seeking to divine the schemes of his adversary. He had quietly given up the offensive part to Lee, and during the rest of this campaign the Federal forces offered the strange spectacle of an army invading a country, and, although very superior in number and resources, awaiting the attack, instead of pressing forward and engaging itself in conflict MacClellan had also committed the remarkable blunder of so disposing his army that the Chickahominy flowed between its two wings, thus cutting its centre at right angles. The wings could only communicate with each other by means of bridges and roads, always very bad, because of the marshy nature of the ground bordering the river. Sudden overflows might at any moment carry away the bridges, in which case the two halves of his army could not possibly succour each other. Having established his base of operations on the Pamunkey, which was unnecessary, he was compelled to keep his right wing between that river and Richmond, to protect his communications. Had he chosen the James, all need of remaining north of the Chickahominy would have disappeared, and this dangerous position, the holding of both banks of a stream which could play him a bad turn, would have no further shade of excuse or reason for its continuance.

For the rest, he felt the peril of his position so much, that he was thinking of changing his base of operations, when a deserter from Jackson’s division arrived on the 24th of June, and informed him that that general was preparing to march on his right flank.


* A court house in its origin was frequently but a house, situated generally in the centre of the county whence it took its name; a place where, at certain times, the authorities and judges of the county met, and serving both for town-hall and sessions-house. In this district, the population of which is scattered, there are not many villages; the inhabitants are disseminated in plantations, and the farms isolated.

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