General Lee, by Fitzhugh Lee, Chapter 6

General Lee


GENERAL LEE was in Richmond during the operations at Manassas, and contributed his humble part by the organization and equipment of the army, as well as in the selection of the battlefields. He was not dazzled by the blaze of victory which glistened from the tips of the Southern bayonets, or filled with undue elation. He was one among the very few in the South who always felt the contest would be obstinate and prolonged. No one knew better than he the great resources of one of the combatants, as well as the determination and courage of both. Six days after the battle he writes Mrs. Lee from Richmond, July 27, 1861: “That, indeed, was a glorious victory, and has lightened the pressure upon us amazingly. Do not grieve for the brave dead, but sorrow for those they left behind—friends, relatives, and families. The former are at rest; the latter must suffer. The battle will be repeated there in greater force. I hope God will again smile on us and strengthen our hearts and arms. I wished to partake in the former struggle, and am mortified at my absence. But the President thought it more important that I should be here. I could not have done as well as has been done, but I could have helped and taken part in a struggle for my home and neighborhood. So the work is done, I care not by whom it is done. I leave to-morrow for the army in western Virginia.”

As no immediate hostile advance now threatened the Federal or Confederate capitals, other sections began to receive attention. Northwest Virginia lies between the Alleghany Mountains and the Ohio River. It is a rough, mountainous district, with only a few passable roads connecting it with the remainder of the State. The iron horse had never penetrated its soil or watered in its mountain streams. There was not that touch and feeling of interest that is derived from personal contact between the citizens of northwest Virginia and other portions of the Old Dominion. On the question of secession the majority of them differed widely from the great mass of Virginians. It was doubtful territory, and both the Governments at Washington and at Richmond recognized the importance at an early date of sending troops there, the one to protect and nourish the Union sentiment, the other to aid and encourage those who sympathized with the South. Henry A. Wise, once their governor, was made a brigadier general and assembled a force with which he advanced to Charleston, on the Kanawha River, but afterward returned to Lewisburg, on the Greenbrier. It was thought by his presence and eloquence that the resident population might be made confederate in feeling and his army largely recruited. General John B. Floyd, who had been President Buchanan’s Secretary of War, had been commissioned at Richmond as brigadier general, and had recruited and organized a brigade in southwest Virginia, and in July led it over to the region of the Kanawha. This was the first field assigned to George B. McClellan by the Federal War Department, an officer of great promise, who, graduating at West Point in 1846, had for his classmates, among others, Burnside and Stonewall Jackson. He served first in the Engineer Corps, and in 1855 was appointed a captain in the First Cavalry. His previous military experience had been much the same as Lee’s. In 1857 he resigned, to take up railroad work, and when war commenced he was made a major general of Ohio volunteers. He crossed into northwest Virginia on the 26th of May, he says, of his own volition and without orders. A portion of his command was under General Cox on the Kanawha. In McClellan’s immediate front was a Confederate force under General Robert S. Garnett, who had been ordered to defend that portion of northwest Virginia.

Garnett was a Virginian, who had graduated at the Military Academy five years before McClellan. He had won his laurels in the Mexican campaign and afterward against the Indians. Upon resigning from the United States Army his first service in the South was as adjutant general of the Virginia forces. He was considered an excellent officer, a rigid disciplinarian, and, in consequence of many soldierly traits, had at one time been appointed commandant of the Cadet Corps at West Point. In June this officer occupied, with a force of about five thousand men, Laurel Hill, thirteen miles south of Philippi, on the turnpike leading to Beverly, in Randolph County. McClellan reached Grafton on the 23d of the same month, and on the same day issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of West Virginia, and on the following day another to the “soldiers of the Army of the West,” both in the bombastic, inflated style followed by officers on each side in the early days of the war. He called his enemies hard names and charged them with grave offenses, and in many ways differed from the same McClellan who afterward commanded the Army of the Potomac. “Soldiers,” said he, “I have heard there was danger here. I have come to place myself at your head and share it with you. I fear now but one thing—that you will not find foemen worthy of your steel.” He had evidently been reading some of the proclamations of a “great master of war,” and attempted to follow his style. The attention of the public was drawn to this Napoleonic imitation, for about that time he received the appellation of the “Young Napoleon,” and was so called after he had been brought from West Virginia to the command of the Army of the Potomac. The headquarters of the Department of the Ohio were established at Buckhannon, and from this point McClellan determined to attack the force on Rich Mountain, and advanced and deployed in front of the opposing army, which he found strongly intrenched. He promptly resorted to the only method left in military operations in the mountains, and decided to turn their flank and rear, which General Rosecrans successfully did with four regiments. The troops at this point were a portion of Garnett’s force under Lieutenant-Colonel John Pegram. Beverly was occupied by the Federal troops the next day, and General Garnett with the remainder of his army, finding that retreat had been cut off in that direction, abandoned his intrenchments on Laurel Hill and made a hasty retreat in the night over a rough country road in the direction of St. George, in Tucker County. He was rapidly followed and his rear overtaken at Carrick’s Ford, on the Shafer Fork of the main branch of Cheat River. In the engagement which followed Garnett was killed.

Lieutenant-Colonel Pegram, who had escaped with a force of some five hundred men from Laurel Hill, not being able to join General Garnett in consequence of the latter’s retreat, determined to surrender his little force, which had been without food for two days, as prisoners of war, and on July 12th surrendered to General McClellan five hundred and sixty men and thirty-three commissioned officers. Four days afterward McClellan issued another address to his troops: “Soldiers of the Army of the West,” said he, “I am more than satisfied with you; you have annihilated two armies commanded by educated and experienced soldiers.” The two armies here referred to were the four thousand men under Garnett, and Pegram’s small force. In his dispatch of July 12th to the adjutant general at Washington he estimated Garnett’s force at ten thousand, beginning at this time a habit of multiplying the number of his enemy by two, which he never afterward abandoned. The success of the campaign, however, had a marked effect upon his future. General Scott telegraphed: “The General in Chief, the Cabinet, the President, are charmed with your activity and valor. We do not doubt that you will in due time sweep the rebels from western Virginia, but we do not mean to precipitate you, as you are fast enough.” After McDowell’s defeat at Manassas, McClellan was selected to command the defenses at Washington, and the day after that battle, while at Beverly, was informed by Adjutant-General Thomas, at Washington, that his presence there without delay was necessary. General William S. Rosecrans succeeded him.

On July 28th McClellan assumed command of the Department of Northeastern Virginia and of Washington. Being necessary to select another commanding officer for the Southern troops in Northwest Virginia, General Lee designated Brigadier-General Loring, who had been a distinguished officer in the United States service, to be Garnett’s successor. Loring left Richmond July 22d and proceeded at once to Monterey, in Highland County, and thence to Huntersville, where a force was being organized for the purpose of securing the Cheat Mountain pass, a strategic point of great value over which the Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike crossed. The Confederate authorities—having been informed of the advance of the Federal General Cox in the Kanawha Valley and that there would probably be two armies operating in northwest Virginia, and also being disappointed in what had been accomplished in that section—determined to send out there an officer of high rank and reputation. Mr. Davis offered the command of that department, therefore, to General Joseph E. Johnston first, as there was no necessity for Johnston and Beauregard both to remain at Manassas. General Johnston declined the offer, because he thought the most important battles would be fought between Washington and Richmond. It was then determined that General Lee should assume command in person of that department, for his duties of organizing and assigning troops to the different sections had nearly terminated. The Secretary of War and the adjutant general, under the direction of the President, were the proper persons to direct army movements now. General Lee proceeded at once to West Virginia, and for the first time assumed active command of the troops in the field. He went at first to Huntersville, where he found Loring, then to Valley Mountain, where Colonel Gilliam had been stationed. From the former point he wrote to his wife, August 4, 1861:

“I reached here yesterday to visit this portion of the army. The points from which we can be attacked are numerous, and the enemy’s means unlimited, so we must always be on the alert; it is so difficult to get our people, unaccustomed to the necessities of war, to comprehend and promptly execute the measures required for the occasion. General Johnson, of Georgia, commands on the Monterey line, General Loring on this line, and General Wise, supported by General Floyd, on the Kanawha line. The soldiers everywhere are sick. The measles are prevalent throughout the whole army. You know that disease leaves unpleasant results and attacks the lungs, etc., especially in camp, where the accommodations for the sick are poor. I traveled from Staunton on horseback. A part of the road I traveled over in the summer of 1840 on my return to St. Louis after bringing you home. If any one had told me that the next time I traveled that road would have been my present errand, I should have supposed him insane. I enjoyed the mountains as I rode along. The views were magnificent. The valleys so peaceful, the scenery so beautiful! What a glorious world Almighty God has given us! How thankless and ungrateful we are!”

And from Valley Mountain, August 9, 1861, he writes: “I have been three days coming from Monterey to Huntersville. The mountains are beautiful, fertile to the tops, covered with the richest sward and blue grass and white clover. The inclosed fields wave with a natural growth of timothy. This is a magnificent grazing country, and all it wants is labor to clear the mountainsides of timber. It has rained, I believe, some portion of every day since I left Staunton. Now it is pouring. Colonel Washington, Captain Taliaferro, and myself are in one tent, which as yet protects us. I have enjoyed the company of our son while I have been here. He is very well and very active, and as yet the war has not reduced him much. He dined with me yesterday and preserves his fine appetite. To-day he is out reconnoitering, and has the full benefit of this fine rain. I fear he is without his overcoat, as I do not recollect seeing it on his saddle. I told you he had been promoted to a major in the cavalry, and he is the commanding cavalry officer on this line at present. He is sanguine, cheerful, and hearty as ever. I sent him some corn meal this morning, and he sent me some butter—a mutual exchange of good things. The men are suffering from measles and so on, as elsewhere, but are cheerful and light-hearted. The nights are cool and the water delicious. Send word to Miss Lou Washington that her father[1] is sitting on his blanket sewing a strap on his haversack. I think she ought to be here to do it.”

And on September 1st, from the same place, he tells her: “We have had a great deal of sickness among the soldiers, and those now on the sick list would form an army. The measles is still among them, but I hope is dying out. The constant cold rains, mud, etc., with no shelter or tents, have aggravated it. All these drawbacks, with impassable roads, have paralyzed our efforts.”

It was Loring’s purpose to attempt a movement on Reynolds’s rear. This officer occupied, with two thousand men, Cheat Mountain pass, through which the Staunton and Parkersburg pike passed, and had three thousand men in Tygart’s Valley on the road to Huttonsville, with a reserve at Huttonsville, so he could re-enforce his troops on the Staunton road, or on the Valley Mountain road, as necessary. Loring, with thirty-five hundred effective troops, was in front of him on the latter, while General H. R. Jackson, with twenty-five hundred men, opposed him on the Staunton road. The natural topographical features, supplemented by artificial means, rendered his position very strong on both. General Lee promptly took the offensive by threatening his front, while a column should proceed, if possible, around one of Ins flanks and assault his rear—a plan similar to that adopted by McClellan at Rich Mountain.

The greatest difficulty in a campaign of this description is to discover suitable routes or paths over the rocks and precipitous mountain sides for the troops of the turning column. General Lee’s experience as an engineer in Mexico had taught him the duties of a reconnoitering officer. He therefore not only availed himself of the information derived from others, but would personally proceed daily long distances for that purpose.

At this time Rosecrans was in the Kanawha Valley with Cox’s column, and was opposed by the troops of the Confederate Generals Floyd and Wise, and was not with the force in General Lee’s front. He and Lee commanded the whole department on their respective sides. The army whose movements General Lee was about to superintend in person consisted, as stated, of about six thousand men, including a few companies of cavalry, as well as a fine battalion of the same arm under General Lee’s son, Major W. H. F. Lee. Reynolds’s force was estimated at about ten thousand.

After Floyd’s clever defeat of Tyler at Cross Lane, on the 26th of August, he and General Wise seem to have kept on different sides of the Gauley River, and there did not seem to be that concert of action between them necessary to win success. General Rosecrans, an able and sagacious officer, was not slow to recognize the detached positions of these commands, and determined to re-enforce Cox and attempt the defeat of one or both of them. He advanced rapidly and assaulted Floyd’s position, but was repulsed. Floyd then crossed the Gauley, followed by Rosecrans, and with Wise fell back to Sewell Mountain, the latter remaining on its eastern front, while the former fell still farther back to Meadow Bluff, eighteen miles west of Lewisburg.

Leaving the operations in this section for the present to the immediate commanders of the troops, General Lee proposed first to win a victory, if possible, over Reynolds. He was combative, anxious to strike, but many difficulties confronted him. He fully realized he had been sent to West Virginia to retrieve Confederate disasters, and that he had a most difficult task to perform. The Federal commander held the center summit of Cheat Mountain pass, the mountain having three well-defined summits. The center one was selected by the Federals as the best one to defend, and there a block fort was constructed with flanking outworks consisting of intrenchments of earth and logs, the whole line of defense being protected by dense abatis. The position chosen was inaccessible in many directions by the steep, rugged walls of the mountain. It was necessary first to carry this well-selected position of the Federal troops. A citizen surveyor, in sympathy with the South and familiar with the mountain paths, had made a trip to an elevated point where he could clearly see the Federal position, and reported his observations to General Lee. Afterward he made a second reconnoissance, accompanied by Colonel Albert Rust, of the Third Arkansas Regiment, who was anxious to see the nature of the ground and the strength of the position for himself. They reported to General Lee that in their opinion the enemy’s position could be assailed with success with troops which could be guided to the point they had reached. General Lee decided to make the attack, and gave to Rust a column of twelve hundred infantry, with such capable officers as Taliaferro and Fulkerson. General Jackson was to advance via the turnpike to confront the enemy from that direction, while another column, under Brigadier-General Anderson, was to advance to the third or west top of Cheat Mountain, where they could secure possession of the turnpike and be in the rear of the enemy. The rest of the army was to move down the Tygart’s River valley upon the forces of the enemy stationed there. The attack on these troops, however, was to depend on the successful assault of the fortified position on Cheat Mountain. It was an admirably conceived plan. The key point was first to be carried; the report of the guns of the troops engaged there was the signal for an assault in front, while a force was thrown in the rear of both positions to cut off retreat. General Loring issued his order of attack on September 8, 1861. General Lee issued an order approving it on the same date, telling his troops that the safety of their lives and the lives of all they held dear depended upon their courage and exertions. “Let each man,” said he, “resolve to be victorious, and that the right of self-government, liberty, and peace shall in him find a dePender.” The movement was to begin at night, which happened to be a very rainy one. All the troops, however, got in the positions assigned to them without the knowledge of the enemy, where they waited, every moment expecting to hear the rattle of Rust’s muskets, who had been charged with the capture of the pass on Cheat Mountain; but hour after hour passed, and no sounds were heard. After a delay of many hours, and the enemy had divined the nature of the attack, the troops were ordered back to their former position. There had been only a small conflict between cavalry, in which Colonel John A. Washington, General Lee’s aid-de-camp, who had been sent with Major W. H. F. Lee to reconnoiter the enemy, was killed from an ambuscade. Colonel Rust did not report to General Lee until the next day—September 13, 1861; he admits that he got to the designated place at the appointed time, notwithstanding the rain; that he seized a number of pickets and scouts, and learned from them that the enemy in front of him was between four and five thousand strong and was strongly fortified. He made a reconnoissance and found these representations were fully corroborated. Rust claims in his reports that spies had communicated the movements of the Confederate troops to the enemy. This officer evidently did not attack, because he found, on getting close to the Federal position, that it was much stronger than he thought it was from the preliminary reconnoissances he had made. As the attack of the whole depended on the assault of this force, the failure to attack caused a corresponding failure of the whole movement. The plan of operations was well devised, and, under ordinary circumstances, might have proved successful.

Military operations are often like a vast piece of machinery: with one part out of gear, the successful operation of the whole machine is not possible. In a letter to Mrs. Lee, dated Valley Mountain, September 17, 1861, the general writes: “I had hoped to have surprised the enemy’s works on the morning of the 12th, both at Cheat Mountain and on Valley River. All the attacking parties with great labor had reached their destination over mountains considered impassable to bodies of troops, notwithstanding the heavy storm that had set in the day before and raged all night, in which they had to stand till daylight; their arms were then unserviceable, and they in poor condition for a fierce assault. After waiting till ten o’clock for the assault on Cheat Mountain, which did not take place, and which was to be the signal for the rest, they were withdrawn, and after waiting three days in front of the enemy, hoping he would come out of his trenches, we returned to our position at this place. I can not tell you my regret and mortification at the untoward events that caused the failure of the plan. I had taken every precaution to insure success, and counted on it; but the Ruler of the Universe willed otherwise, and sent a storm to disconcert the well-laid plan. We are no worse off now than before, except the disclosure of our plan, against which they will guard. We met with one heavy loss which grieves me deeply: Colonel Washington, accompanied Fitzhugh [his son] on a reconnoitering expedition. I fear they were carried away by their zeal and approached within the enemy’s pickets. The first they knew there was a volley from a concealed party within a few yards of them. Three balls passed through the colonel’s body, three struck his horse, and the horse of one of the men was killed. Fitzhugh mounted the colonel’s horse and brought him off. I am much grieved. He was always anxious to go on these expeditions. This was the first day I assented. Since I had been thrown in such immediate relations with him. I had learned to appreciate him very highly. Morning and evening have I seen him on his knees praying to his Maker. ‘The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; the merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous are taken away from the evil to come.’ May God have mercy on us all!”

And on the 26th of the same month he writes from his camp on Sewell Mountain: “I told you of the death of Colonel Washington. I grieve for his loss, though I trust him to the mercy of our heavenly Father. It is raining heavily. The men are all exposed on the mountains, with the enemy opposite to us. We are without tents, and for two nights I have lain buttoned up in my overcoat. To-day my tent came up and I am in it, yet I fear I shall not sleep for thinking of the poor men. I have no doubt the socks you mentioned will be very acceptable to the men here and elsewhere. If you can send them here I will distribute to the most needy.”

This movement having failed, and knowing that the enemy would be prepared for any second attempt which, from the nature of the country, would have to be similar to the one already tried, General Lee decided to turn his attention to the commands of Wise and Floyd in front of Rosecrans, leaving General H. R. Jackson in Reynolds’s front. He proceeded at once to Floyd’s command, which he reached on September 20th, and then to Wise’s camp, closely inspecting both. He at once perceived that Wise’s position was the strongest and offered the best means for successful defense, and promptly concentrated his forces at that point.

General Lee expressed regret at not finding the commands of Floyd and Wise united, and said it would be the height of imprudence to submit them separately to the attack of Rosecrans. He desired the troops to be massed at once, so that “We conquer or die together,” a most extravagant and unusual form of speech for him to adopt. “You have spoken,” said he to Wise, “of want of consultation and concert. Let that pass till the enemy is driven back. I expect this of your magnanimity. Consult that and the interest of your cause, and all will go well.” “Just say, then,” replied Wise, “where we are to ‘unite and conquer or die together,’ and I will delight to obey you.”

Rosecrans had advanced to the top of Big Sewell Mountain and had placed his army in a strong position. General Lee, with the troops of Wise, Floyd, and Loring—about eight thousand men—occupied a position on a parallel range. The two armies were now in close proximity to each other, both occupying strong defensive positions. Lee and Rosecrans, having been officers of the engineers, were fully aware of the great disadvantage an attacking army would have, and each waited, hoping the other would attack. After occupying these positions for twelve days, Rosecrans, on the night of October 6th, retreated. The condition of the roads, the mud, the swollen streams, the large numbers of men with typhoid fever and measles, the condition of the horses, of the artillery, and transportation, were such that Lee decided not to pursue. It is possible that had he known Rosecrans would not attack he would have given battle himself, notwithstanding the great advantage Rosecrans would have possessed by accepting it in his strong defensive position. The rapid approach of winter and the rainy season terminated the campaign in this section.

In a letter dated Sewell Mountain, October 7, 1861, General Lee tells Mrs. Lee that at the time of the reception of her letter “the enemy was threatening an attack, which was continued till Saturday night, when, under cover of darkness and our usual mountain mist, he suddenly withdrew. Your letter, with the socks, was handed to me when I was preparing to follow. I could not at the time attend to either, but I have since; and as I found Perry [his colored servant from Arlington] in desperate need, I bestowed a couple of pairs on him as a present from you; the others I have put in my trunk, and suppose they will fall to the lot of Meredith [a colored servant from the White House], into the state of whose hose I have not yet inquired. Should any sick man require them first he shall have them, but Meredith will have no one near to supply him but me, and will naturally expect that attention. The water is almost as bad here as in the mountains I left. There was a drenching rain yesterday, and as I left my overcoat in camp, I was thoroughly wet from head to foot. It has been raining ever since, and is now coming down with a will; but I have my clothes out on the bushes, and they will be well washed. The force of the enemy, estimated by prisoners captured, is put down at from seventeen to twenty thousand—General Floyd thinks eighteen thousand. I do not think it exceeds nine or ten thousand, but it exceeds ours. I wish he had attacked, as I believe he would have been repulsed with great loss. The rumbling of his wheels, etc., were heard by our pickets; but as that was customary at night in moving and placing his cannon, the officer of the day, to whom it was reported, paid no particular attention to it, supposing it to be a preparation for an attack in the morning. When day appeared the bird had flown, and the misfortune was that the reduced condition of our horses for want of provender, exposure to cold rains in these mountains, and want of provisions for the men, prevented the vigorous pursuit of following up that had been prepared. We can only get up provisions from day to day, which paralyzes our operations. I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of the armies can not keep pace with the expectations of the editors of papers. I know they can regulate matters satisfactory to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do, and would be happy to see them have full swing. General Floyd has three editors on his staff. I hope something will be done to please them.”

It is true West Virginia, as it is called, would have been a desirable accession to either side. Both Governments were actuated in its occupation by a desire to protect the citizens who adhered respectively to their cause. The country abounded in vast forests, coal, and iron, presenting fields of wealth and enterprise. The advantage, however, in a campaign there was in favor of the Federals. The proximity of their railroads on the one side made it easier for them to concentrate troops rapidly and furnish them with supplies, while on the other hand the Southern lines of communication from Staunton and other portions of eastern Virginia were necessarily long and difficult.

At the termination of this campaign of General Lee’s the Confederate Government did not bestow much attention upon this section. The majority of the people seemed inclined to support the Federal side; indeed, most of the counties sent representatives to a convention which passed an ordinance creating them into a new State, which the Government at Washington recognized as the State of Virginia.

It must be admitted that General Lee retired from West Virginia with diminished military reputation. Great results had been expected from his presence there. Garnett’s defeat and death were to be avenged, and the whole of that portion of Virginia speedily wrested from the Federal arms. The public did not understand the difficulties of the situation, or comprehend why he did not defeat Reynolds, or the failure to attack Rosecrans. The news of the expected great victories did not reach Richmond. Men apparently wise shook their heads and said he had been overrated as a soldier; that he relied upon a “showy presence” and a “historic name,” and that he was “too tender of blood” and leaned too much to the engineer-side of a military question, preferring rather to dig intrenchments than to fight. There were two men, however, who stood by him faithfully in this doubtful period of his career. One of them was the President of the Confederate States, the other the Governor of Virginia. They knew him well, and that the failure of the West Virginia campaign could not be fairly attributed to him. General Lee remained quiet under the occasional attacks of the public press. He knew that his duty had been discharged conscientiously. He was not aware that he had a “showy presence.” On the contrary, he was modest, unassuming and simple. He conducted the campaign in the most unostentatious manner. He had only two aid-de-camps, Colonels Washington and Taylor. The former was killed; the remaining aid-de-camp shared the same tent with him. The mess furniture was of the plainest kind—tin cups, tin plates, tin dishes, which Colonel Taylor says were carried all through the war. In the full zenith of his fame as a great army commander, any one who accepted his hospitality would be obliged to eat from this same old tinware with which he commenced the war in West Virginia. It is not known that General Lee ever attempted in any way to make explanation or defense of these attacks. In a private letter to Governor Letcher, dated September 17, 1861, he simply states that “he was sanguine of success in attacking the enemy’s works on Rich Mountain”; that “the troops intended for the surprise had reached their destination, having traversed twenty miles of steep and rugged mountain paths, and the last day through a terrible storm, which had lasted all night, in which they had to stand, drenched to the skin, in a cold rain”; that he “waited for an attack on Cheat Mountain, which was to be the signal, till 10 A.M., but the signal did not come. The chance for surprise was gone. The provisions of the men had been destroyed the preceding day by the storm. They had nothing to eat that morning and could not hold out another day, and were obliged to be withdrawn. This, Governor,” he writes, “is for your own eye. Please do not speak of it; we must try again. Our greatest loss is the death of my dear friend, Colonel Washington. He and my son were reconnoitering the front of the enemy. They came afterward upon a concealed party who fired upon them within twenty yards, and the colonel fell, pierced by three balls. My son’s horse received three shots, but he escaped on the colonel’s horse. His zeal for the cause to which he had devoted himself carried him too far.”

General Lee, in obedience to instructions, returned to Richmond, but not amid the shouts of the populace. The bands did not play, “See the Conquering Hero Come”; the chaplet of victory was missing from his brow, the scalps of Rosecrans and Reynolds from his belt. The public looked at the cold facts, and were interested in actual results. The difference between war in the mountains and war amid the hills and valleys and green fields was never for a moment considered. Four hundred and eighty-four years before the birth of our Saviour, history tells us that Xerxes marched with over one million men and twelve hundred war ships to invade Greece. And that Leonidas, with three hundred Spartans and about four thousand men from the other parts of Greece, defied the King of Persia and for two days held the defile in the mountains known as the Pass of Thermopylæ.

In 1861 there were still passes among the mountains, and a few men could hold them against an army, and could only be dislodged by flank and rear attacks over long, steep, circuitous paths. Lee made the attempt when in front of Reynolds. Had his well-laid plans been carried out, possibly he might have defeated the Federal general. In an offensive movement against Rosecrans the elements of success were against him. The naturally strong, elevated position on Sewell Mountain, made still stronger by the methods of an engineer of such great ability as Rosecrans, could not have been easily carried. When it was abandoned, the Federal rear guard, every few miles, could have found other strong positions where Lee’s army could have been detained for days had the condition of his troops and the roads permitted pursuit. On General Lee’s return to Richmond his duties as military adviser at the side of the chief executive officer of the Confederacy were resumed. No response was ever made to public criticisms. His vision swept the future, his vindication would come if opportunity offered.


[1] His aid-de-camp, Colonel John Augustine Washington.

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