The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, by Edward Lee Childe, Chapter 14

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

CHAPTER XIV.
BATTLES OF THE WILDERNESS, SPOTTSYLVANIA, AND COLD HARBOUR.—OPERATIONS IN THE VALLEY.—C0MMENCEMEN OF THE SIEGE OF PETERSBURG.

THE Confederate troops had re-occupied their winter cantonments behind the Rapidan. Lee’s headquarters during the autumn and winter were established in a wood on the southern slope of a high hill, Clarke’s Mountain, some miles to the east of Orange Court House. Surrounded by his staff, he there led almost a family life. Those who had intercourse with him at that time are loud in their praises of his sweetness, and the perfect equilibrium of his moral qualities.

The charm of his society was very great. Not a shade of pretension, the most perfect sincerity, the simplicity of a child; the more one saw of him, the more one loved him, for, contrary to what generally happens, Lee was greater when near than when at a distance.

During those long weeks of inaction on the Rapidan, his soldiers learned to know him better. In the rough campaigns of the past two years the old warrior had shared their fatigues, and never once had he neglected to watch over them and assist their needs. He had led them under fire, exposing himself with the most perfect indifference; but as much as possible he spared his men’s lives, and often, to the displeasure of the civil authorities, he had insisted that, above all things, care should be taken of his veterans. These facts gradually came to their knowledge, and, from the division-general to the lowest drummer, Lee was adored. The whole army felt that this man, so undemonstrative, so simply clad, sleeping like the commonest soldier in his tent, having in the midst of the wood but a single blanket, was its guide, its protector, incessantly attentive to its welfare, jealous of its dearly-purchased fame, and always ready, as its commander and friend, to defend it.

This winter there arose, among the Confederate soldiers, a movement which often occurs in the United States, especially in the parts most recently colonized, and at certain times of the year. We speak of a certain fermentation, a certain religious excitement. The trials which the Southern populations had undergone, more especially the events experienced by the Northern Virginian army, its present forced inaction, all contributed to reawaken those religious ideas, always powerful with men of the old English or Scotch race. Continually one came across the affecting spectacle of old grey-bearded soldiers, devoutly kneeling in a circle, addressing their humble prayers to Him who hitherto had so visibly protected them. A commander-in-chief educated in a European school would only have compassionately smiled at these sensational assemblies, or have paid them no attention, regarding them as beneath his notice. Lee, on the contrary, contemplated the religious enthusiasm of his soldiers with a pleasure he did not conceal. He went to see them, talking the matter over with the chaplains, and lent the support of his authority to this good work, altogether joyful at witnessing the spread of religious sentiments in his army. The most remarkable feature of this illustrious soldier, the one most deeply rooted in him, the one which regulated all others, was his love towards God. By the world this feeling was called love of duty; but with Lee the word duty was only another name for the Divine will. To search out that will and execute it,—such was, from the first to the last moment of his life, the only aim of the great Virginian.

Perhaps we delay too long in coming to the last great campaign of the war. But in order to thoroughly understand his conduct in the last days of his public life, it is absolutely necessary to become imbued with the idea that the heart of this man of worth was profoundly convinced of the existence of a Providence whose exalted wisdom rules all things, and that he was resigned beforehand to its impenetrable decrees.

We are about to contemplate the spectacle of a courageous heart meeting adversity and disaster with perfect calm and unflinching resolution. Up to a certain point this impassivity could be attributed to the proud and valiant nature of the man. But a moment of trial approached, in which the courage of the soldier could avail nothing, in which it was no longer possible for human nature, finding its only support here below, not to lose courage entirely, and give up the struggle. In this decisive moment, Lee was still firm, and would not succumb. Few persons were in a position to explain whence came the absolute serenity of his soul, which, without illusion, could behold everything crumbling around him. Not only was it that the pride of the soldier did not yield, but he was also sustained by a sentiment much stronger than human courage: the consciousness of having done his duty, the inward assurance that he was protected by God, whose sublime goodness best knows what is for our well-being.

The final struggle between the two armies still belonged to the future. The veterans of the army of Northern Virginia kept still guarding the line of the Rapidan, and their white-haired commander from his tent in the woods attentively watched the movements of the enemy. During these long winter months his official correspondence, as was usual, occupied him much, and the minute care which he gave to the welfare of his soldiers, as well as preparations for the spring campaign, absorbed the rest of his time. Often he visited the men in their tents. As soon as the general-in-chief appeared in the distance, clad in his grey uniform, covered with a felt sombrero of the same colour, and mounted on his dapple-grey courser, Traveller, his old warriors ran up to him on all sides, receiving him with all sorts of tokens of respect and affection. Sometimes his rides reached the borders of the Rapidan, the outposts, stopping sometimes with one officer, sometimes with another, conversing with all, gaining knowledge about everything, and, in particular, never forgetting to exchange kind words with the private soldiers, and by preference with those who, like himself, were no longer young. His smile, full of good nature, was irresistible, and every old soldier, with his poor tattered uniform, felt how much the general-in-chief looked upon him as a friend and comrade.

There is scarcely a spectacle more alluring, more refreshing, in the midst of the cruel trials of a fratricidal war, than that of the characteristics of a great and good man, in those daily relations which permit him to give play to the effusions of his heart. Simple and affectionate, the old Virginian gentleman has not been forgotten by his soldiers. They recollect him as he appeared to them on many a battle-field, galloping before them in the days of victory. But what above all they do not forget is old Uncle Robert as he was during the winters of 1862 and 1863, on the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, coming into their midst, calling each by their name, having a smile for one, a good word for another.

In the early days of May, 1864, commenced the long campaign which was to finish in the downfall of the Confederate Government In view of this new assault of arms the North had made formidable preparations. New levies were raised to fill up the voids in the Federal ranks. Enormous supplies of provisions and ammunition were accumulated at the central depots at Washington, and the Government ordered from the West an officer of great reputation to take the command of the Northern troops in Virginia, where, it was more than ever evident, the really decisive blow in this supreme struggle must be struck. Thus, General Grant, to whom we refer, found himself at the head of all the forces of the Republic, estimated at a million men.

In the month of February, 1864, General B. F. Butler had made a dash on the Chickahominy side against Richmond, but retired without accomplishing anything. General Kilpatrick, at the head of a column of cavalry, had also tried, about the same time, to penetrate to Richmond on the north-west side, in the direction of the Rapidan, with the hope of delivering the Federal prisoners. All the able-bodied men being in Lee’s army, it was easy for him to come by surprise pretty near the city, but there he was stopped by some militia hastily assembled. He was compelled to retire as quickly as he came. One of his officers, Colonel Dahlgren, was slain in the skirmish. There was found on him a detailed plan of the projected enterprise, also some papers which proved that, after the prisoners were freed, the city was to be given up to pillage, and the Confederate President and Cabinet put to death. Let it be hoped, for the honour of humanity, that the designs of the Federal chiefs were exaggerated.

Everything favoured General Grant from the moment he took command. His predecessors, MacClellan among others, had had to complain of the Federal authorities, who either lent them only an equivocal support, or actually counteracted them in their plans. The new commander-in-chief, on the contrary, entered on his duties cordially supported by the whole Government, with which he sympathised personally and politically. His powers were unlimited. He was at liberty to concentrate in Virginia whatever troops he like, and to choose the élite of the corps of all the other Union armies. He therefore enrolled under him those regiments which counted the longest service, and that, too, at the moment when his adversary saw his troops diminish in number and vigour daily. It seemed, therefore, probable that he would crush him in the first encounter.

The Federal army on May 1st, 1864, amounted to 141,116 fighting-men. Lee’s was only 52,626, a little more than one-third of the forces at Grant’s disposal. Ewell’s corps numbered 13,000 men, Hill’s 17,000, that of Longstreet 10,000. The cavalry and artillery altogether were a trifle more than 10,000. Longstreet, as we have seen, had rejoined Lee, but the Confederates suffered disadvantages still more serious than those resulting from such a disproportion in numbers. The Southern army was not only numerically feeble, but also half-starved, and in rags. Vainly had General Lee protested energetically against such inconsiderate treatment of an army on which the destinies of the South depended. Whether the fault is chargeable on the authorities, or whether it proceeded from circumstances over which the Government had no control, certain it is that the commissariat department was badly administered, and when the army began the campaign in the early days of May, the soldiers were but half fed, and nowise in a proper state to support the hardships about to be encountered. Things came to this pass, that the meat ration of the Confederate army during the winter season of 1863–4 was only 125 grammes (a trifle above ¼ lb.); further, the meat consisted only of fat pork, which the soldiers melted, and ate on their bread like butter. The bread served out was chiefly of maize, seldom of flour, and that in so small a quantity as to afford only a mouthful. The horses had hardly anything to live on. Several times during the winter, meat and bread were wanting entirely. Lee had even to address to his soldiers an order of the day to quiet their grumblings. He set them an example of frugality, eating meat only twice a week; generally his dinner consisted of cabbage and maize. At one time so great was the distress that Lee wrote to President Davis that he feared he should be unable to take the field.

The Confederate Government also was wrong in not enrolling soldiers for a longer period than twelve months. It would have been easy, amid the enthusiasm of the early days, to engage all the Southern volunteers for the whole duration of the war. Gradually the enthusiasm of the population cooled; then it was necessary to have recourse to conscription, a sad measure, but absolutely indispensable. It was hoped it would yield 800,000 men, but official reports at the end of 1863 asserted that scarcely 400,000 had been enrolled. Furloughs, sickness, and desertion reduced this figure by a good third. The terrible privations which the Confederate army had to endure have much to answer for as regards this deplorable diminution of efficients.

However this may be, there was nothing for the South but to struggle with the energy of despair as long as its strength lasted. It was on the army of Northern Virginia, enfeebled, lessened, half-starved, as we have just seen, that all the weight of the final effort was about to fall. After it there was nothing more. With it triumphed or perished the entire Confederacy.

General Grant and General Lee did not ignore each other. The Federal commander reckoned that the struggle would be long and eager. He cherished no hope of easy and prompt success. his plan, according to the official report, was: “To hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until, by mere attrition, if by nothing else, there should be nothing left of him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our common country to the constitution and the laws.”

The horrible sacrifice of men which this plan would entail does not appear to have presented itself for a moment to Grant’s mind. But he is not to be reproached for that. In truth there remained no other course for the Federal Government to take. For three years, pitched battles, favourable or unfavourable to the Northern arms, had left the Southern troops as unshaken and dangerous as in the past. Further, this army had become inured to every kind of hardship; these soldiers, accustomed to fatigue, tried by so many dangers, no longer offered an easy prey either to the manœuvres, the assaults, or the surprises of their adversaries. Whether attacked in the front or on the flan, they retreated not a step.

General Grant, therefore, intended to adopt the mathematical and infallible procedure of sacrificing five of his own soldiers for every one of Lee’s, positive that the day would come when none remained to the latter.

The Federal chief’s first idea was to turn Lee’s right, traverse the forest of the Wilderness rapidly, and march straight on Richmond. This done, he meant to invest the city on the north and west, cross James River at a point above the city, and unite with the 30,000 men whom General Butler, coming from Fortress Monroe, was to lead to City Point. Thus the blockade of Richmond on three sides would be complete.

Had Grant been able to traverse the Wilderness and arrive in the plain before Lee had succeeded in crossing swords with him, his task would have been much facilitated. Thus he had no desire to meet the Confederates on his road. Lee immediately divined Grant’s plan. He left the enemy to cross the Rapidan without molestation, in order to attract him into the Wilderness; he counted on falling upon him in this inextricable labyrinth, where his artillery and numerical superiority would be of no service. Further, the Confederates were well acquainted with the district. Lee defiled his army by two parallel roads coming from the west to the east, from Orange Court House to Fredericksburg, and cutting the roads by which the Federals must necessarily emerge in their march from north to south at right angles.

From that moment Lee meant to compel his adversary, to execute his plan the wrong way, by placing himself resolutely before him at each step he set. The Federal chief saw himself obliged to pursue a plan which was not in his original project, and of which he had only thought as a makeshift in the last resort.

On the 4th of May, 1864, Grant crossed the Rapidan with all his army at Germanna Ford and other crossings above Chancellorsville. In the Federal army it was thought that Lee would take up a defensive position behind the South Anna, The Southern commander did just the contrary. He marched with his three corps towards the Wilderness, there to deliver battle. It was in this same region, covered with stunted and tufted trees, that General Hooker’s defeat had taken place in 1863. Just a year had glided by, and another Federal army was venturing into this sombre and desolate district; another dolorous and more eager conflict was soon to redden the ground already so sadly celebrated.

The heads of column of Grant’s army, followed by its 4000 waggons and a host of other impedimenta, had already arrived at the little inn, the Wilderness Tavern, before which Jackson had passed in his flank march on the Federal army in May, 1863. As mentioned above, the Northern staff did not think that lee, with his small army, would so boldly throw himself in front of the Federals. It was to be supposed that somewhere on the road to Richmond, Lee would halt and fight on a ground of his own choosing, where the chances seemed favourable to him; but the idea had never come into the adversaries’ heads that he would himself offer battle.

Such was, however, the bold project of the Southern chief. Ewell, with the vanguard, marched briskly in front, and the same night bivouacked three miles from the enemy. Hill’s corps proceeded in a parallel direction on the right, while Longstreet, coming from Gordonsville, conducted his columns along the right of Hill, in order to intercept the Federal van.

Grant, utterly astonished at the presence of the Confederates, whom at first he took for he rear of the Southern army beating a retreat, was exceedingly vexed to be obliged to accept a conflict in the Wilderness, where his numerical superiority was of so little avail. Thinking at first he had only to do with the Confederate rearguard, he simply marched forward three divisions, who soon came to blows, on the morning of the 5th of May, with the troops of Ewell, who commanded the Confederate left. The Federal General Warrenton having been driven back with loss, Grant perceived that the whole Southern army was barring his passage. He sent forward reinforcements, and the contest rapidly extended to the centre, where the strife was obstinate. General Hill persisted in keeping his ground, and the two armies slept on the battle-field. The advantage rested with the Confederates. They had stopped Grant’s march and forced him to give battle in spite of himself, repulsing all the Federal efforts to pierce their line, and inflicting on the enemy great losses, taking 2000 prisoners. Longstreet’s corps not being yet in line, Lee did not wish to push his advantage further, preferring to await the reunion of all his forces.

On May 6th, at dawn, the two armies again engaged. The Federal centre, under Hancock, marched furiously on the Confederate centre and right, where Hill commanded. The latter was outnumbered and obliged to yield; his troops fell back in disorder. Happily at that moment Longstreet appeared on the battle-field. For a moment there was great confusion. After a sanguinary scuffle, Longstreet, getting his whole corps into line, drove back the enemy. General Hancock, who commanded the Federal left, had with him, in consequence of numerous reinforcements, nearly half the Federal army. Lee’s intention in taking the offensive was to turn Grant’s left, which would have obliged him to retire on the Rapidan. Ewell had already, at peep of day, commenced his attack on Sedgwick, on the Federal right wing, when Hancock came to blows with Hill.

It is impossible to describe that battle otherwise than as a blind embrace, a clutching of the body between two vast agglomerations of men hardly able to see each other, and guided rather by sound than sight; amid these shrubs, these thickets, this brushwood, these marshes, they stumbled on each other unawares. There could be no manœuvring. One threw himself on the enemy as on a wild beast, seizing him by the throat; the survivor moved on. Then the curious spectacle was seen of officers leading a charge with a compass in their hands. In such a sinister manner was the campaign of 1864 inaugurated.

In a semidarkness 200,000 combatants in blue or grey sought to poignard each other. Till then the war had not been so carried on. The genius of destruction, tired apparently with the old methods of slaying, had lighted on “invisible death.” At five in the morning the adversaries presented body to body. Both sides had hastily raised some works in earth and wood, but trifling in all. Each tried to dislodge his foe from these lines, situated a few paces apart, whence the fire of musketry never ceased to be heard. These lines were scarce visible under the wood; they were, however, lighted up continually by the cracking of rifles; from the depths of the forest arose clamours, cries of triumph; at each moment a column emerged, rushed on the opposing line with enthusiastic shouts, and after a short interval the bruised and crowded remains regained their point of starting. Scarce was one seen; men fell, gasped, died in the thicket, and their groans were drowned in the outrageous clamour of the strife. At ten o’clock Longstreet arrived to recapture the lost ground. Lee enjoined him to follow up his success. Longstreet pursued Hancock closely, and was preparing to drive back the hostile left and get possession of Brock Road, when a Confederate bullet, as had happened to Jackson, disabled him in the moment of triumph.

This accident brought about great disorder, which lasted till Lee’s arrival. He took the command himself; but much time had been lost. It was four o’clock before the attack was recommenced, and the enemy, forewarned, had leisure to get prepared. Putting himself at the head of the Texas brigade, Lee sounded the charge. With bare head, white locks floating to the wind, the ardour of combat animating his looks, and his hand pointing to the Federal lines, Lee at that moment was sublime. His soldiers refused to let him expose himself to so great a danger. On their supplications, he had to give up leading them to the assault. Advancing, with cries a thousand times repeated, Longstreet’s soldiers drove everything before them, and planted their standards on the enemy’s works. The carnage was frightful, and to increase the horror, the brushwood caught fire. Smoke and flame blinded and enveloped the combatants. A part of the Federal works fell into the hands of the Confederates, but this success was without decisive result, for night fell too quickly for them to profit by it. The Confederates lost in these two days 7000 men, killed and wounded; the Federal loss amounted to nearly 20,000.

Nevertheless the indecisive battles of the 5th and 6th of May caused Grant to come to a resolution to issue as soon as possible from these inextricable thickets, where all deploying of his forces was impossible, and where his foe had had the address to stop him. On the 7th he kept quiet, but the same night he rapidly defiled in the direction of Hanover Junction, following the road to Spottsylvania Court House.

Lee had remained completely stationary all the 7th, watching his enemy. He well perceived that Grant would not retire. Far from that; he had an instinct that he would push on; so much so, that at nine o’clock the same night, at the very moment when the Federal columns were likewise moving forward, General Anderson, with Longstreet’s corps, preceded by Stuart’s scouts, marched towards Spottsylvania Court House. He had fifteen miles to travel. All night these two hostile columns contended in speed. At every step Fitz-Lee’s cavalry worried the Federals by means of felled trees, so stopping the columns of Hancock. Grant’s van arrived at Spottsylvania after sunset: but the Confederates were already there, and rendered all General Warren’s efforts to get possession of it useless. Lee still barred the road to Richmond. A second time Grant saw himself foiled in the attempt. At nightfall the two armies encamped opposite each other, separated by a watercourse, the Pô. The rapidity of the Southern chiefs movements had hindered Grant from occupying the important strategic point, Spottsylvania Court House.

The Southern army had taken position on a range of heights not far from the watercourse mentioned above, one of the four tributaries of the Mattapony, which partly covered the Confederate line. All the 9th the two armies were occupied in intrenching themselves by means of felled trees all along their respective positions. These works are still to be seen. On the 9th and 10th Grant endeavoured to turn the Confederate left, but without result, although the contest lasted all day, and was very murderous. The Federal commander, after having tried the two flanks of his adversary, resolved to throw himself on his centre unawares. On the 12th, at 4 a.m., the Federal columns, in close masses of chosen troops, profited by the unevenness of the ground to march on an a advanced work situated near the centre of the Confederate line. By an error much to be regretted this point the evening before had been partly stripped of its artillery. General Johnson, in command of this part of the line, observing that the enemy was concentrating his forces in its vicinity, urgently demanded reinforcements, and above all, recalled the guns. But before there could be any response to his appeal, the Federals, at 4.30 a.m., rushed on the work, routed its defenders, became masters of the place, and took 3000 prisoners, among whom was General Johnson.

Hancock lost not a moment in taking advantage of his success, but was soon arrested by a second line of defence. Generals Gordon, Rodes, and Wilcox, hastening up with their divisions, resisted all his efforts. In spite of repeated assaults on this point, and although the two Federal wings had likewise engaged the Confederate right and left, nothing could shake the firmness of Lee’s position. The combat lasted till midnight. The Confederate chief did not, indeed, succeed in recapturing the work lost by Johnson, but he nullified all his adversary’s attempts to pierce his centre. The capture of Johnson’s 3000 men and 18 cannon was cruelly avenged; the Federal loss amounted to upwards of 8000 men. On the 13th and 14th Grant again sought, to pierce the Confederate lines; but on the 18th, the date of his last effort, he definitively abandoned his project. Since the 4th, the day on which he passed the Rapidan, the Northern army had lost 40,000 men, and its moral force suffered thereby. Grant decided, therefore, to take another road to Richmond.

Numerous reinforcements unceasingly came to join the army of the North, and raised it to the figure of 140,ooo men, while Lee’s little army, continually diminished by these combats, numbered less than 40,000.

On the 21st of May, Lee learnt from his scouts that Grant’s army was on the move, marching towards the line of the North Anna. The same evening the Confederate commander started with his first columns in the direction of Hanover Junction, and on the evening of the 22nd reached the southern bank of the North Anna.

When General Grant next morning arrived on the southern bank of this same river, he found there the Confederate army ranged in order of battle to dispute his passage. The position occupied by Lee was very important. Behind the river, at the distance of nearly two miles, is Hanover Junction, the place where the Central Railway of Virginia meets that leading from Richmond to Fredericksburg. It was by the Central the Confederates received most of their supplies, for this was the most direct mode of communication with the Shenandoah Valley.

Grant wished to cross the North Anna by main force, impatient at always having the same adversary before him. He began by ordering his extreme right and extreme left to cross the river. Lee allowed this to be done, confident of paralysing his adversary’s movements when he chose. But Grant’s difficulty was the bringing up of the bulk of his army in order to connect the two wings. Lee earnestly hoped Grant would attack him. A glance at the map will show his reason for this. The two points where the Federals had effected their passage were over five miles apart. At Oxford Mills, half-way between them, Lee had strongly posted his centre on the river itself. His right extended beyond Hanover Junction, inclining to the South; his left, going from east to west, touched Little River. His two wings were protected by swamps and watercourses, the whole being defended by earth-works. His centre, abutting on the North Anna, was thus interposed between the two Federal wings, effectually hindering them from intercommunication south of the river. Thus the Confederate lines formed the two sides of an obtuse angle, so that Grant could only attack it with a part of his forces at a time, unless, at least, he crossed the river twice, while the Confederates had the advantage of being able to concentrate themselves on any point menaced, or to mass themselves to fall on the Federal right or left, at the same time hindering one of the enemy’s wings from coming to the help of the other.

This combination of Lee’s was the work of a master in the art of war. Without striking a blow, he had just reduced to nothing all Grant’s plans, and endangered the Federal wings. A vigorous onset by the Federals against Lee’s centre made no change in the state of affairs, and if grant had not quickly withdrawn from the net into which he had strayed, his temerity would have ended in a disaster. Had lee’s army been sufficiently numerous to allow him at that moment to assume a vigorous offensive, the Federals would have had much difficulty in getting out of the mess. But Lee’s first duty was to watch jealously the preservation of the feeble resources which remained to him. His comparative weakness, much to his regret, allowed his adversary in the night of May 26th to recross the North Anna without opposition.

Sheridan, the commander of the Northern cavalry, had been directed, at the moment when Grant moved on Spottsylvania Court House, to make a demonstration from the side of Richmond, and cut off all the ways leading to this capital. He partly succeeded, but, on trying to penetrate to Richmond, he was repulsed. The only remarkable incident of this expedition was the death of General Stuart. This brilliant commander of the Southern cavalry, being directed to pursue Sheridan, had overtaken him at Yellow Tavern, not far from Richmond. An eager mêlée took place, and it was in trying to supplement his meagre forces by the fury of his charge that the great Southern cavalier received a mortal wound. His loss was a sensible blow to Lee and the Confederate cause. Of heroic bravery, active, energetic, insensible to fatigue, devoted body and soul to the cause for which he fought, having for his commander-in-chief the love and admiration of a child, this officer was to the Southern cavalry what Jackson was to its infantry. His death, at so critical a moment, was irreparable. Lee was profoundly vexed by it. He was succeeded by General Wade Hampton.

Grant found himself again out-manœuvred in his efforts to turn Lee. He sought still another plan to place himself between the Confederates and their capital. Crossing the Pamunkey (the name borne by the North and South Anna after their junction) at Hanovertown, after a forced night march, he advanced a corps of troops towards Hanover Court House, to intercept Lee’s retreat or unmask his position. But it was labour thrown away, for Lee had not gone to that side. As soon as the Federal movement was planned, he also had marched across country to Cold Harbour.

Halting in the rear of the Tottapotomoi (a marshy watercourse flowing from west to east, and falling into the Pamunkey), he formed his lines, with his left supported on Atlee Station, on the Fredericksburg railway, his centre at Mechanicsville, and his right at Cold Harbour, backed by the Chickahominy. The country is partly covered with wood, with here and there plains and fields. On the 28th, the Southern cavalry, commanded by Fitz-Lee, turned back Sheridan’s, and, having made sure that all the Northern army had crossed the Pamunkey, rejoined the bulk of the Confederate army. On the 29th and 30th there were reconnoitrings on both sides; also frequent skirmishes. Grant now for the fourth time found his enemy in front of him. Each time the Northern army, hoping to get rid of its indefatigable foe, had marched by night; starting from the Wilderness on the night of the 7th of May; from Pennsylvania on that of the 21st of May; from the North Anna on that of the 26th of May. Each time Lee had regulated his movements by those of his enemy, and at the right moment was planted on his road, barring his passage, and offering him battle.

The two armies were nearly on the same spot where took place the series of battles in June, 1862. General Grant had to decide on forming a new plan of campaign; or, by hurling his whole army in a compact mass against his adversary, to force the passage of the Chickahominy, and take Richmond by assault. He chose the latter plan.

On both sides there had been considerable reinforcements. General Butler brought Grant 16,000 men from the Peninsula, Breckenridge and Pickett had joined Lee, raising his army to 44,000 men, a number too small to repair the losses it had sustained.

On June and, several encounters took place between the different corps, sufficiently sanguinary; during this time the bulk of the forces on either side were getting into position. On the 3rd in the morning, the Federals charged furiously all along the Confederate line. It was a hand-to-hand conflict, in which the courage and physical strength of the soldiers played the principal part; a complete absence of manœuvres. An hour’s strife decided the victory. Thirteen thousand Federals strewed the ground. When the officer sent by Lee to Hill to know the result on his side presented himself, the latter, leading him to a point in his line, and showing him the dead bodies of the enemy heaped up before his intrenchments, said, “Tell General Lee that it is the same everywhere.” The Confederates lost only 1200 men. This murderous encounter bears the name of the second battle of Cold Harbour.

Lee had carefully fortified the lines occupied by his soldiers with felled trees and earth-works. The experience of the campaign of 1862 was of great use to him. This, indeed, explains the great disproportion between the losses of the two armies.

Grant, in the course of the day, wished to renew the conflict, but the officers could not get their men to advance. The check was decisive; Grant was obliged to abandon his original plan, and transport the theatre of war to the south of the James River.

Hitherto, the campaign conducted by the Federal general-in-chief had ended only in disaster. It had been commenced in the hope of turning Lee’s position on the Rapidan, and of getting possession at Gordonsville of all the roads by which he obtained provisions and reinforcements. Instead of this, Grant had been surprised when he least expected it, detained in the Wilderness, and compelled to give up his original plan. His second attempt to place his army between Lee and Richmond at Spottsylvania had succeeded no better. All his efforts to carry Lee’s positions, thanks to which the latter barred the way to Richmond, were useless. His flanking movement in the direction of the North Anna once more brought him in front of the Confederate army, ready to dispute his passage. His night march along the Pamunkey was of no avail, and his attempt to force the passage of the Chickahominy at Cold Harbour met with a serious check, costing him 13,000 men.

This short campaign of a month, from May 4th to June 4th, 1864, was a very bloody one. The Northern army lost 60,000 men, of whom 3000 were officers, 19,000 more than all the Confederate army! The latter lost 18,000 efficients. This passage of arms, so honourable to Lee and his soldiers, does not at all justify the many praises which it is the custom to bestow on Grant in the North, and among certain European republicans. From the Northern point of view this short campaign is persistently spoken of as a series of successes. Had there been many more such the cause of the Union would have been ruined.

Notwithstanding these brilliant feats of arms, Lee was a prey to no such illusions as were those around him. He well knew that, however valiant his soldiers were, however admirable their conduct, however great their devotion, there was yet a limit to their strength. If new recruits did not come to increase the ranks of his veterans, exhausted by their very triumphs, if material means of feeding his soldiers, and continuing the war, failed him more and more daily, and if it was forbidden him to retreat from a position so exposed, he felt that the fatal ending could not be far distant. But around him, in the Government districts, the blindness was complete. He submitted to those whom he ought by law to obey, and prepared to continue the struggle to the bitter end, without any sign of discouragement that might be contagious.

It will, perhaps, be recollected that, concurrently with the march of the principal army of the North against Richmond, two lateral movements entered into the outline of the operations projected by Grant. The object of one was the capture of Lynchburg, in the south-west of Virginia, an important town, connected with Richmond by river, railway, and canal. The other, under General Butler, was directed by sea to the peninsula of Virginia, to co-operate there with Grant.

In May, General Siegel, who commanded the first-mentioned expedition, had been defeated at Newmarket, in the Valley, by Breckenridge; but the latter was presently obliged to rejoin Lee. General Jones, with a handful of men, remained to keep back General Hunter, who had succeeded Siegel. On the 5th of June, Jones was defeated and slain at Piedmont. Nothing then prevented Hunter from advancing into the Valley, burning and pillaging everything on his road. Having, on the 16th, arrived at Lynchburg, he came to blows with General Early, at the head of 12,000 men, whom Lee had been obliged to detach against him. Early beat him, and forced him to a rapid retreat Instead of retiring by the road he came, Hunter marched to the east of the mountains, leaving the road of the Valley open. Early, who had received certain instructions from General Lee, hastened to carry them into execution. We shall have occasion to return to these operations of Early. Hunter had destroyed the Virginia and Tennessee railway over an extent of 135 miles, but in 60 days the mischief was repaired.

General Butler, following Grant’s orders, started from Fortress Monroe, (situated, as is well known, at the mouth of the James River,) on the 4th of May, and disembarked at Bermuda Hundreds, on the James, opposite the mouth of the Appomattox, where he intrenched himself, forgetting that he had come to operate offensively. Just then he might easily have become master of Petersburg, but shortly after General Beauregard arrived from the South with a few regiments, and then Butler had to watch for his own safety. Attacked by Beauregard, he retired to the Peninsula, and could not believe himself secure till he had taken shelter behind formidable entrenchments.

For several days after the decisive check of the Federals at Cold Harbour, Lee remained immovable in his lines, thinking his adversary would renew the attack, and convinced that it was necessary to repulse him. Grant, seeing the necessity of a complete change of tactics, resolved to give up his plan of assaulting Richmond on the north and east, and march rapidly to Petersburg, (a small town twenty-two miles south of Richmond, on the Appomattox,) get possession of it, and cut off the railways connecting Richmond with the districts of the South. By thus isolating Richmond from all the region whence it drew its means of subsistence, and the army its rations, he hoped to force Lee to increase his distance from the capital.

If the Federal commander were able to execute this project, Lee would be obliged to retire towards Lynchburg, in order to keep open his communications with the South and West, and the war would, perhaps, there have taken another character.

Consequently, on the 12th of June, Grant kept continually inclining his left flank, and crossed the Chickahominy at Wilcox’s Landing on the 14th) much lower than Cold Harbour. In the absence of Early, who had been dispatched to Lynchburg, Lee did not deem it prudent to oppose this operation. He nevertheless so disposed himself as either to cover Richmond, or march to the aid of Petersburg, according to circumstances. Grant, on his side, marching to City Point, where the Appomattox falls into the James, crossed the latter river on pontoons, and, without losing a moment, marched on Petersburg, which he hoped to surprise.

The want of soldiers had not allowed the Confederate authorities to leave at Petersburg sufficient forces to protect the town against a sudden blow. Fortunately some volunteers who were at Petersburg, joined with the able-bodied population, were able to deceive the enemy as to their numerical inferiority, till Beauregard had time to send the greater part of his corps there. Thus the town was saved, and on the 15th, at night, Lee’s advanced guard reached Petersburg. The same day the bulk of the Federal army rejoined Grant.

Scarce arrived, Lee lost not a moment in raising some earthworks to the south and east of the town, and in. fortifying himself. It was clear to him that Grant would not delay to strike a great blow, and that, too, before these works were firmly constructed. In effect, next day, the 16th, a furious assault on the part of the Federals drove Lee behind his second line of defence. On the 17th and 18th, Grant sought to become master of this likewise. But having lost 4000 men, he was obliged to give up the attempt The Federal staff realized the necessity of isolating the town. Hence, on the 21st, an attempt was made further to the west, on the Confederate right, in order to gain Weldon Railroad, running southwards. Here again the Federals were repulsed, leaving in the hands of the Confederate General Hill nearly 3000 men. A corps of Federal cavalry took away the rails, and did some mischief on the three railways of Weldon, Southside, and Danville, which gave a communication to the Confederates with the South and West.

But, harassed by General A. H. F. Lee, and vigorously charged near Sapponey Church by General Hampton, with the greater part of what remained of the Confederate cavalry, (1500 horses,) the squadrons of the North retreated in disorder. Hardly escaped from General Hampton, they found themselves fighting with Fitz-Lee’s brigade and General Mahone’s infantry, which completed their rout. They left 12 pieces of artillery and 1000 prisoners in the hands of the Southerners, and were so disorganized as to be unable for some time to resume service.

The end of June was approaching. All efforts to pierce the Confederate lines had failed. Every day the works of the defence became more formidable. There was nothing else, therefore, for the Federal general but to sit down before this long fortified line, to raise parallel works for his own protection against all offensive artifices, and so to undertake the regular siege of Petersburg. Such being his object, his first thought was to gain ground towards the left, and gradually lay his hand on the railways of Weldon and Southside, thus cutting of all communication between Petersburg and the west and south of the Confederacy.

During the months of June and July, the Confederates bestowed all their care on increasing the strength of their intrenchments, On the 1st of July, the Federal engineer officers declared there was no chance of taking the place by assault. It was a line of redans connected together by covered ways, while all the approaches were defended by felled tress, chevaux-de-frise, and all sorts of obstacles. Surrounding Petersburg from east to south, it extended from the Appomattox to beyond the enemy’s left wing. To the north of this same river a system of similar fortifications defended that quarter of the town, and the railway going to Richmond, from all attack by Butler’s army at Bermuda Hundreds. The City of Richmond had it own peculiar system of defence. Petersburg, like Sebastopol, was not besieged in the strict sense of the word, since to the north and west the ways were free.

The task before Lee was difficult and discouraging. With an army of 40,000, or 50,000 men, scattered over an extent of nearly forty miles of country, he had to defend, against three times the number of his forces, the capital, situated twenty-two miles in his rear. From the month of July in one year to that of April in the next there was not a moment when, had this line of defence been pierced, the war would not suddenly have ended. The way in which he performed this toilsome duty will always be one of his greatest titles to glory. Perhaps, from a military point of view, the defence of Richmond is the finest part of his career.

The Southern general-in-chief felt that if Grant succeeded in isolating the capital, there would be nothing for the Confederate Government to do but evacuate Richmond, and, the army’s duty being to follow it, he would have likewise to abandon Virginia. The Federal authority would thus be extended over the most ancient, the largest, the most important state of the Confederacy, and there was, in case this came about, little doubt that the other Confederate States would lose their courage, and give up defending themselves. None of these considerations escaped Lee, whose clearsightedness could not be deceived as to the probable results of so unequal a struggle as the one he was engaged in against Grant. In 1862, in a confidential conversation, he had said there was but one way of reducing Richmond, and it was that which Grant had at length adopted. As long as the enemy would only attack the north or east, Lee could justly hope, by fighting with eagerness, to repulse him, and maintain his stand at Richmond; but from the day the Federals encamped before Petersburg, and threatened all the arteries by which the capital and army were nourished, the moment would come when, sooner or later, the capital must be abandoned, and consequently Virginia.

For that matter, it was well Lee foresaw all this, when his adversary, forsaking every other system of attack, crossed the James River and marched on Petersburg. It is even said he would have then advised the evacuation of Richmond. But this opinion found no echo. A powerful party, including both friends and enemies of President Davis, regarded this idea with dismay. All the energies of the Government, therefore, were centred on the means to be employed to keep the enemy south of the Appomattox, and to this end no precaution was omitted. Some weeks were necessary for the two adversaries to complete their works of defence and attack. Grant wished to be able, at any given moment, to leave in his lines a feeble part of his army, and sally from his intrenched camp with the rest of his troops.

Not a day, however, passed without engagements between small parties. A Federal crops advanced to Charles City, on the north bank of the James, and menaced Richmond thence. The Federal lines extended from this point across the Peninsula of Bermuda Hundreds, formed by the Rivers James and Appomattox before their junction. They embraced Petersburg to the east and south, and thence, daily gaining ground to the west, they approached nearer and nearer the railways which fed the Southern army and the capital. Lee’s lines ran parallel to those of his adversary. To the east and south-east of Richmond there still existed some works of defence. To these an exterior line was added, fronting the enemy’s forces placed near Deep Bottom. Beneath Drury’s Bluff, a cliff overhanging the river, which had been fortified, some ruined buildings and other obstructions barred the passage to the Federal gunboats. The Confederate lines continued facing those of the enemy north of the Appomattox, then, passing this river, went round Petersburg to the north and south, stretching away to the west, accommodating themselves to those of General Grant. The two commanders felt that the decisive combat would take place to the west of Petersburg, and that a moment would come when Lee’s numerical inferiority would not be able to prevent his adversary turning him.

The long struggle around Petersburg does not offer the same dramatic interest as such battles as those of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Under Petersburg very bloody combats followed each other without apparent result. It was a long uninterrupted battle day and night, week by week, month by month, through the heat of summer, the dismal days of autumn, and the frosty nights of winter. It was, in fact, the siege of Richmond which Grant had undertaken; and what we shall have to chronicle will be less battles, in the ordinary sense of the term, than a long series of reiterated efforts to pierce his adversary’s lines, sometimes to the north of the James River, sometimes to the east of Petersburg, sometimes at a point in the continuous line of redoubts which defended the approaches of the Southside railway (southern bank), of which Grant wished to make himself master at any price. Once in possession of this railway he felt sure of victory.

It was the month of July, and every day, over the whole extent of the lines, whether to north of the James or to the south of the Appomattox, resounded the cracking of rifles. Grant kept constantly trying the armour of his foe, and that at all points, to find some fault in his cuirass, when suddenly the telegraph from Washington flashed him the astounding news that a strong Confederate column had passed into Maryland, dispersed the troops sent against it, and appeared before the fortifications of Washington. This diversion, altogether unanticipated by the Federals, had yet been prepared by Lee with great care, and he expected great results from it.

It will be remembered that we left General Early in the Valley of Virginia. He had just driven Hunter from Lynchburg. Without losing a moment the intrepid Early, descending the Valley and crossing the Potomac, entered Maryland with the intention of threatening Washington, as Lee had directed him, in the hope that President Lincoln would recall at least a part of Grant’s army for the succour of the capital. His march was very rapid, and, encountering no obstacle, he arrived at Monocacy, near Frederick City, whither the Confederate armies had penetrated twice already. There he found some thousands of men under General Wallace. Defeating them without difficulty, on the 11th of July, he appeared in sight of Washington. Great was the consternation there, and, in their terror, the Federal authorities looked upon the capture of the capital as inevitable. Grant did not allow himself to be troubled by their messages of distress. Two corps had just come by sea from Louisiana to Fortress Monroe, and were still there. Grant, without allowing them to disembark, sent them on without delay to Washington. They arrived in time to man the intrenchments of the capital.

Early was well aware that, with his 10,000 men and 40 cannon, he could not possibly take Washington by a sudden blow, as long as General Hunter, with various detachments reunited, menaced his rear. His corps had travelled 497 miles in twenty-five days, (nearly twenty miles a day on the average,) and his soldiers were exhausted. He had, therefore, to think about his own retreat. Recrossing the Potomac, he retired into the Valley, carrying off some booty and herds of cattle. He remained in the Valley, whence, for three months, he incessantly threatened the Northern border States.

Had this bold expedition of Early succeeded it would assuredly have terminated the campaign Grant was pursuing beneath Petersburg. But although it did not secure all the success hoped for, it partly accomplished its aim, since it retarded the Federal operations, and forced the Northern Government to retain an army of 40,000 men for purposes of observation near the capital, enfeebling by so much the army of Grant.

July was drawing to a close, and Grant had not yet succeeded in forcing the enemy’s lines. None of his numerous attacks had found his foe off his guard. The Federals at length seemed resigned to the task of wearying and exhausting their adversary by calculated delays, giving up great attacks. Such, at least, was the general feeling in both armies, when, at sunrise, on the 30th of July, a violent explosion, which was heard twenty-five miles off, shook the ground around Petersburg, and a vast column of smoke obscuring the heavens, seemed to indicate that a powder magazine had burst. Nothing of the kind. What had happened was this:

A Federal engineer officer had called Grant’s attention to the fact that certain Confederate works being less than 200 yards from the Federal lines, it would not be impossible to work a mine in that direction. Behind this point the ground rose, and commanded the town. If, in consequence of the confusion caused by the explosion, this height could be mastered, the hostile lines could be taken in the rear, and the town would be at Grant’s mercy. The Federal chief welcomed the proposal.

On July 25th all the preparations were ended. A subterranean gallery, 500 feet long, had been dug, and, on the 27th, 12,000 pounds weight of powder was introduced into it. In order to turn away Lee’s attention, and force him partly to strip his lines, Grant ordered Hancock’s corps to join Butler’s. The two generals were to threaten Richmond. Lee, in fact, had to send several divisions to parry this new danger. As soon as Grant became sure, by the resistance which Hancock was encountering on the other side of the James, that Lee had considerably weakened his army, he recalled Hancock as mysteriously as possible, on the 29th, in order to take part in the assault planned for the morrow.

Lee, although not exactly aware of what was passing, still had his doubts that his lines at Petersburg were aimed at. On the morning of the 30th, as we have said, a terrible explosion sent the fort into the air, together with all in it. A yawning gulf, 150 feet long, 65 wide, and 30 deep, opened in its stead. At the same moment the Federal artillery, before the clouds of smoke and dust had dissipated, opened a fire along the whole line. A Federal corps of 15,000 men rushed forward in double-quick time, in the hope of crossing the horrible pit, and climbing the height, before the Confederates had recovered from their surprise and terror. But the latter were soon recovered, and ready to receive the charge. Hardly had Grant’s soldiers crossed the space covered with the smoking fragments when they were assailed by a terrible artillery fire, which raked them right and left, while in front they received from the infantry a perfect shower of bullets. Disorder and hesitation appeared in their ranks: all were soon possessed with but one idea, to take refuge in the bottom of the gulf, and over this mass of blacks and whites the Southern artillery rained down a storm of grape-shot. Those who sought to escape from this butchery, by climbing out of the yawning hole, attempted to flee to the Federal lines, and fell under the bullets of the infantry. General Mahone, who commanded on the Confederate side, eventually ordered the fire to cease, so heartrending was this scene of carnage. The Federals were at length able to effect their retreat, leaving 4000 prisoners in the hands of Lee, who, on his side, had lost very few men. He soon set up his lines in their old positions.

During August and September the Confederate chief had to repulse numerous attacks on different points of his lines. Grant, ever seeking to gain ground on the left, in order to intercept the railways which ran towards the west, tried also at times to pierce the enemy’s lines by surprise on the north of the James, and so to arrive at Richmond. Probably he did not count on much success in that direction, but his repeated attacks there offered an incontestable advantage in forcing Lee to weaken his right, and thus uncover the Southside Railway, the true object of Grant’s efforts.

After an indecisive assault on the Confederate positions to the north of the James about the end of August, a considerable Federal force attempted to gain the Weldon Railway, near Petersburg. This enterprise succeeded. For a long time Lee had informed the authorities at Richmond that it would be impossible for him to defend this advanced point if the enemy seriously attacked it. But to obey the orders of his Government he was obliged to maintain himself there as long as possible. Grant wished to pursue his success and seize Ream’s Station, further south on the same line, and destroy the permanent way at Hicksford. After several sanguinary encounters Lee succeeded in preventing him. The Federals retired with serious loss.

To the north of the James, General Butler took Fort Harrison, an important post, permitting him to menace the Confederate positions. But his efforts to penetrate further in the direction of the works at Chafin’s Bluff were repulsed.

The Federals, however, remained masters of the Weldon line, and by means of extending further and further on the left, gradually occupying and cutting off the different roads from Petersburg to the south, they succeeded in October in making good their footing at Hatcher’s Run, a little watercourse which flows southwards from the neighbourhood of Petersburg. The loss of the Weldon Railway was of no great importance to the Confederates, as long as they remained in possession of the Southside one, which went along the southern bank of the Appomattox, coming from the west; but at the point to which they had attained the Federals were about to commence their attacks direct on this part, so important in Lee’s system of defences.

Grant was the more persistent because the presidential election was approaching, and his chances as a candidate would be increased if success held him up to the admiration of his fellow-citizens. Indeed, on October 27th, three Federal corps, equipped for a campaign, leaving hardly enough men behind to man the works before Petersburg, crossed Hatcher’s Run. But they soon perceived that the Confederate lines extended much further than they thought. General Hancock hesitated to attack. Lee, profiting by an interval between Hancock’s corps and the one following, sent Hill’s troops to the charge. Disorder arose in the Federal ranks. Hampton’s cavalry made several hundred prisoners. At length, in the night, Hancock managed to retreat, giving up the prosecution of his attack. Grant was fortunate in recalling his soldiers, for Lee during the night had massed 15,000 infantry and all his cavalry in front of Hancock, and reckoned on the morrow morning, the 28th, to crush the Federal second corps. Very soon active operations were interrupted by the great rains. Each side went into winter quarters.

In November, the election of the delegates who were charged with nominating the president of the United States for the following four years took place. The choice assured the election of Mr. Lincoln, and the defeat of General MacClellan, who was regarded as more favourable to the Southerners. This was a sign there was no misconstruing. It became more and more clear, that only with their arms in their hands could the Confederates conquer their independence; there was no other way for them to issue happily out of their trials.

General Lee looked upon the gloomy prospect with firmness. The future did not appear in very encouraging colours. Every day Southern resources were diminishing, the blockade became more effective, his army was losing in number and strength, discouragement was creeping into all hearts. Alone, in the midst of this general despondency, the commander of the army of Northern Virginia preserved an impassive behaviour. Speaking one day to a Confederate senator he said: “For myself, I hope to die sword in hand.” The feeling of what he owed his country and his soldiers, hindered him later from seeking death, but it was perhaps the greatest sacrifice he could make them.

Return to The Life and Campaigns of General Lee