General Lee, by Fitzhugh Lee, Chapter 9

General Lee


THE strategy of Lee was daring and dangerous, the conception brilliant and boid. Self-reliant, he decided to separate his army into two parts. On August 24, 1862, he had fifty thousand troops, while Pope, including his own army, had, with Reno’s corps of Burnside’s army, and Reynolds’s division of Pennsylvania reserves, about the same number, which two days later was increased to seventy thousand by the arrival of the corps of Fitz John Porter and Heintzelman. Lee proposed to hold the line of the Rappahannock and occupy Pope’s attention with thirty thousand troops under the immediate command of Longstreet, while he rapidly transferred Jackson by a circuitous march of fifty-six miles to a point twenty-four miles exactly in rear of Pope’s line of battle. On August 25th Jackson, with three divisions of infantry, under Ewell, A. P. Hill, and W. B. Taliaferro, preceded by Munford’s Second Virginia Cavalry, crossed the upper Rappahannock, there called the Hedgman River, at Hinson Mills, four miles above Waterloo Bridge, where the left and right of the two opposing armies respectively rested. The “Foot Cavalry” were in light marching order, and were accompanied only by a limited ordnance train and a few ambulances. Three days’ cooked rations were issued and duly deposited in haversacks, much of which was thrown away in the first few hours’ march, the men preferring green corn, seasoned by rubbing the meat rations upon the ears, and the turnips and apples found contiguous to their route. After the sun sank to rest on that hot August day, Jackson went into bivouac at Salem, a small village on the Manassas Gap Railroad, having marched in the heat and dust twenty-six miles. But one man among twenty thousand knew where they were going. The troops knew an important movement was on hand, which involved contact with the enemy, and possibly a reissue of supplies. At early dawn the next day the march was resumed at right angles to the course of the day before, following the Manassas Gap Railroad and passing through Bull Run Mountains at Thoroughfare Gap. At Gainesville, Stuart, with Robertson and Fitz Lee’s brigades of cavalry, overtook Jackson, whose subsequent movements were “greatly aided and influenced by the admirable manner in which the cavalry was employed and managed by Stuart.” On reaching the vicinity of Manassas Junction, his objective point, Jackson inclined to the right and intersected the main railroad in. Pope’s rear at Bristoe Station, four miles closer to Pope, where he halted for the night, having marched nearly thirty miles. That night he sent General Trimble, who had volunteered for the occasion, with five hundred men, and Stuart, with his cavalry, to capture Manassas, which was handsomely done. Pope claims that Jackson’s movement was known, and that he reported it to Halleck, but on the day Jackson marched Pope was disposing his army along the Rappahannock from Waterloo to Kelly’s Ford. On the night of the 26th, when Jackson began to tear up the railroad at Bristoe, the nearest hostile troops were the corps of Heintzelman and Reno at Warrenton Junction, ten miles away. The next day, leaving General Ewell’s division at Bristoe to watch and retard Pope’s march to open his communications, Jackson, with the remainder of his troops, proceeded to Manassas. He found that Stuart and Trimble had captured eight guns, three hundred prisoners, and an immense quantity of stores. The vastness and variety of the supplies was a most refreshing sight to his tired and hungry veterans. All of the 27th his troops, transformed from poverty to affluence, reveled in these enormous stores, consisting of car loads of provisions, boxes of clothing, sutler’s stores containing everything from French mustard to cavalry boots. Early that morning Taylor’s New Jersey brigade, of Slocum’s division of Franklin’s corps, which had been transported by rail from Alexandria to Bull Run for the purpose of attacking what was presumed to be a small cavalry raid, got off the cars and marched in line of battle across the open plain to Manassas. Fitz Lee, who with his cavalry brigade had crossed Bull Run to make a reconnaissance in the direction of Alexandria, ascertained that Taylor was not supported by other troops and sent information of this fact to Jackson, suggesting that Taylor be allowed to march to Manassas, where he and his whole command would be most certainly captured. The artillery, however, opened on the brigade, giving them notice that a large force was present, which resulted in the killing of many men, including the gallant brigade commander, and capturing many others. The remainder beat a hasty retreat. That afternoon Ewell was attacked by Hooker’s division of Heintzelman’s corps, who had been ordered to re-open the Federal communications, and retired, as he had been directed, to join Jackson. This enterprising officer, having executed General Lee’s instructions and having torn up the railroad and burned the bridges in that vicinity, now determined to move in such a manner as to avoid disaster to his own troops, while he united them at the earliest possible moment with those under Longstreet en route to his assistance. He had successfully thrown his fourteen brigades of infantry, two of cavalry, and eighteen light batteries in Pope’s rear; but his position was perilous.

Two plans were open to Pope after he had ascertained that Jackson was on the line of his communication and between him and his capital—one to throw his whole force on Longstreet and, if possible, destroy him, and then move with his victorious legions on Jackson; the other to hold Longstreet apart from Jackson with a portion of his force, in which he would be greatly assisted by the topographical features of the country, while moving with the remainder of his command on the Confederate forces in his rear. He decided to adopt the latter, and might have succeeded had he so manœuvred as to prevent the junction of the two wings of Lee’s army. There can be no fault found with the skillful directions issued for the movements of Pope’s army on Jackson on the 27th. At sunset of that day Jackson’s command was still eating, sleeping, and resting at Manassas. McDowell, with his own, Sigel’s corps, and Reynolds’s division of Pope’s army, was at Gainesville, fifteen miles from Manassas and five from Thoroughfare Gap, through which Lee’s route to Jackson lay, being directly between Jackson and Lee, while Reno’s corps and Kearny’s division of Heintzelman’s corps were at Greenwich, in easy supporting distance. Hooker at Bristoe Station was four miles from Manassas, and Banks and Fitz John Porter at Warrenton Junction ten miles. On the night of the 27th everything was favorable to Pope, and it seemed his various corps would only have to be put in motion on the morning of the 28th to crush Jackson. McDowell was told by Pope if he would move early with his forty thousand on Manassas he would, as Pope expressed it, with the assistance of troops coming in other directions, “bag Jackson and his whole crowd.”

But Pope made two great mistakes—one in not holding, with a large force, at all hazards, Thoroughfare Gap, five miles from McDowell’s position at Gainesville, and thus shut the door of the battlefield in Longstreet’s face. The other, in supposing Jackson was going to remain at Manassas in order that he might carry out his plans to beat him; for while Pope was arranging that night to his own satisfaction his tactical bagging details for the next day, the three divisions of that wide-awake officer were marching away from Manassas: A. P. Hill to Centreville, Ewell to the crossing of Bull Run at Blackburn Ford, and up the left bank of that stream to Stone Bridge, where the Warrenton turnpike crosses, and Taliaferro, whose march Jackson in person accompanied, to the vicinity of Sudley Mills, north of Warrenton turnpike and west of Bull Run, at which point Jackson designed to concentrate his command. The movements of the two divisions across Bull Run were made to mislead Pope, and did so. When he reached Manassas the next day Jackson was not there. He thought from the passage of Bull Run he had gone to Centreville, and so the march of his converging troops was directed upon that point. Jackson had exercised his usual skill in the selection of his position. He could attack any of Pope’s troops marching down the Warrenton turnpike in the direction of Centreville, where they hoped to find him, and at the same time by prolonging his right he would be in a position to communicate at the earliest possible moment with General Lee as he came through Thoroughfare Gap with Longstreet. After Jackson had arrived at his new position a courier of the enemy was captured by the cavalry, who was conveying a dispatch from McDowell to Sigel and Reynolds, which disclosed Pope’s intention to concentrate on Manassas. One of Jackson’s division commanders writes that the messenger bearing the captured orders “found the Confederate headquarters established on the shady side of an old-fashioned fence, in the corners of which General Jackson and the commanders of his divisions were profoundly sleeping after the fatigue of the preceding night, and there was not as much as an ambulance at his headquarters. The headquarters train was back beyond the Rappahannock, with servants, camp equipage, and all the arrangements for cooking and serving food. The property of the general, of the staff, and of the headquarters bureau was strapped to the pommels and cantles of the saddles, which formed pillows for their weary owners.[“] The captured dispatch roused Jackson like an electric shock; he was essentially a man of action, and never asked advice or called council. “Move your division to attack the enemy,” said he to Taliaferro; and to Ewell, “Support the attack.” The slumbering soldiers sprang from the earth. They were sleeping almost in ranks, and by the time the horses of the officers were saddled, lines of infantry were moving to the anticipated battlefield. It was Stonewall’s intention to attack the Federals who were on the Warrenton road moving on his supposed position, but after marching some distance north of the turnpike in the direction of Thoroughfare Gap no enemy was found. McDowell, after sending Rickett’s division to the gap to retard the advance of Longstreet, moved it direct to Manassas and not down the Warrenton pike; so finding this pike clear of his enemy, he halted, and, keeping his flanks guarded by cavalry, watched it, while ever and anon he turned a wistful eye in the direction of the gap in the mountain to his right.

Pope now seemed to have lost his military head. It did not occur to him that his success lay wholly in keeping Longstreet and Jackson apart. Jackson alone was a subject of concern to him. He reached in person Manassas about midday on the 28th, and found that Jackson had left the night before after burning five thousand pounds of bacon, a thousand barrels of corned beef, two thousand barrels of salt pork, two thousand barrels of flour, together with large supplies of every sort. While Pope was following his supposed route to Centreville, Jackson in his war paint was in line beyond the Warrenton turnpike waiting for Longstreet. He had evidently determined to attack any and every one who dared to occupy the pike he was keeping open for Longstreet. It so happened that King’s division of McDowell’s corps, which on the night of the 27th was near Buckland, in getting the order to march to Centreville had to pass without knowing it in front of Jackson, by whom he was promptly and furiously attacked, and a most stubborn contest followed. Kmg’s troops fought with determined courage, ahd his artillery was admirably served. In addition to the four brigades of his division, he had two regiments of Doubleday’s, and fought two of Ewell’s and three of Taliaferro’s brigades of Jackson’s command. A. P. Hill’s division was not engaged. It was an exhibition of superb courage and excellent discipline on both sides, and a fight face to face. “Out in the sunlight, in the dying daylight, and under the stars they stood,” neither side yielding an inch, while brave men in blue and gray fell dead almost in each other’s arms. Jackson’s loss was heavy. Ewell and Taliaferro were both wounded, the former losing a leg, while King lost over a third of his command. The Federal commander held his ground till 1 A.M., when, being without support or orders, he marched to Manassas Junction. Jackson, who was not at Manassas or Centreville on the days Pope desired him to be, informed that officer by this fight exactly where he was; so on the 29th Pope once more changed the march of his columns, still hoping he would be able to defeat him before being re-enforced by General Lee. General Lee, with Longstreet’s command, left the Rapidan on the 26th and followed Jackson’s route. A little before dark on the 28th he reached and occupied the western side of Thoroughfare Gap with one brigade. At the same time Ricketts came up from Gainesville with his division and occupied the eastern side of the same pass. Longstreet describes this pass as rough and at some points not more than one hundred yards wide. A turbid stream rushes over its rugged bottom, on both sides of which the mountain rises several hundred feet. On the north the face of the gap is almost perpendicular. The south face is less precipitous, but is covered with tangled mountain ivy and projecting bowlders, forming a position unassailable when occupied by a small infantry and artillery force. This gap and the Hopewell Gap, three miles north, if seriously disputed by the Federals would have embarrassed Lee. Prompt measures were taken to prevent it. Hopewell was occupied, and through it three brigades under Wilcox were passed during the night, while Hood climbed over the mountain near Thoroughfare Gap by a trail. At dawn on the 29th, much to General Lee’s relief, Ricketts had marched away to join McDowell. At 9 A.M. the head of Longstreet’s column reached Gainesville on the Warrenton pike. The troops passed through the town and down the turnpike and were deployed on Jackson’s right, and ready for battle at twelve o’clock on the 29th. At daylight on that day, to Sigel, supported by Reynolds, was delegated the duty of attacking Jackson and bringing him to a stand, as Pope expressed it, until he could get up Heintzelman and Reno from Centreville, and Porter, with King’s division, from Bristoe and Manassas. Pope reached in person the battlefield about noon, and found nearly his whole army in Jackson’s front. Longstreet had connected with Jackson’s right, which Pope did not know, but rode along his lines and encouraged his men by stating that McDowell and Fitz John Porter were marching so as to get in Jackson’s right and rear. The Federal attack had been principally made with the center and right against Jackson. The left, under Fitz John Porter—some ten thousand men—was stationary, McDowell having gone to the support of the rest of the army. Lee’s line had been advanced in the fierce contests of the day, but during the night was retired to its first position.

Porter’s inaction in front of Longstreet has been the subject of much comment, and did not please either Longstreet or Pope. Both wanted him to attackÔPope, because he was under the impression it would be a flank and rear attack on Jackson’s position; Longstreet, because, having nearly three men to Porter’s one, he could easily defeat him. It is certain that when Pope ordered Porter at half past four o’clock in the afternoon to attack, Longstreet’s whole force had been in front of him for four hours and a half. Porter reported the enemy were in great force in front of him. “They had gathered artillery, cavalry, and infantry, and the advancing masses of dust showed the enemy coming in great force,” said he. The indefatigable Stuart “had ridden out in the direction of Thoroughfare Gap to meet General Lee and inform him of the exact position of Jackson and the general disposition of the troops on both sides. He then passed the cavalry he had on that flank through Longstreet’s column so as to get on his right, and directed Rosser to have brush dragged up and down the road by the cavalry from the direction of Gainesville so as to deceive the enemy, and, according to Porter’s dispatch, it had the desired effect. Stuart found an elevated ridge in front of Porter, and sent back and got three brigades of infantry and some artillery, which, in addition to his cavalry and the effect produced by dragging the brush and making a great dust, gave the impression that he had a large force in Fitz John Porter’s front. The next day—the 30th—Pope, desiring to delay as long as possible General Lee’s further advance on Washington, renewed the engagement. He advanced Porter, whom he had called to him during the night, supported by King’s gallant division, to attack the Confederates along the Warrenton pike, while he assaulted with his right wing Jackson’s left. His first impression in the morning was that General Lee was retreating, and he so telegraphed to Washington, having derived the impression from the retirement of Lee the night before to his original lines. Jackson was still Pope’s objective point. It was evident Lee must re-enforce Jackson or attack with Longstreet. He did the latter after first pounding the flanks of Pope’s assaulting columns with artillery, under Stephen D. Lee, splendidly massed and served. Pope and Lee were of the same mind that day from their respective standpoints, for as the former was moving on Lee’s center and left, the latter was marching to attack the Federal left. A bloody and hard-fought battle resulted, in which the Federal troops were everywhere driven back, and when night put an end to the contest, Pope’s line of communication was threatened by the Southern troops occupying the Sudley Springs road close to the stone bridge on Bull Run. He could stay in Lee’s front no longer, for he had been badly defeated, and that night withdrew to Centreville, having lost, since he left the Rappahannock, in killed, wounded, and missing, nearly fifteen thousand men. On the 31st his army was posted on the heights of Centreville. Halleck telegraphed him on that day from Washington: “You have done nobly. All reserves are being sent forward. Do not yield another inch if you can avoid it. I am doing all I can for you and your noble army.”

Pope now occupied a strong and commanding position along the Centreville heights. He had been re-enforced by the corps of Franklin, which arrived on the 30th, and Sumner on the 31st, and the divisions of Cox and Sturgis. These two latter amounted to seventeen thousand men, and the infantry of Sumner’s and Franklin’s corps to twenty-five thousand. The march of these troops and their junction with Pope had been reported to General Lee by the cavalry, under Fitz Lee, which, having left Manassas the day of Jackson’s arrival there, had penetrated the country as far as Fairfax Court House. Near that point the cavalry commander captured a squadron of the Second Regular Cavalry, which was sent out reconnoitering by General Sumner, having surrounded it while halting to feed their horses. The officers were captured in the house just as they were going to dinner. The cavalry commander did not know whether they would be considered as belonging to McClellan’s or Pope’s army; and as orders had been received not to parole any of Pope’s officers, he kept the Federal officers with him, having simply exacted from them their pledged word that they would not attempt to escape. These officers rode with his staff during the battle of the 30th, and one of them bore a dispatch for the Confederate commander, who had sent off all his staff officers on the ground that he had been kindly and courteously treated. After the battles were over they were duly paroled and permitted to ride their horses to the Federal lines near Washington. McClellan reports this capture in a dispatch to Halleck on December 31st, and adds that he had no confidence in the dispositions made by Pope; that there appeared to be a total absence of brains, and he feared the total destruction of the army; while Halleck, in a dispatch from Washington on August 29th, telegraphs McClellan, then in Alexandria, that he had been told on good authority that Fitzhugh Lee had been in that town the Sunday preceding for three hours.

The great strength of the Federal position with the large re-enforcements Pope had received decided General Lee to turn Centreville by moving to Pope’s right and striking his rear in the vicinity of Fairfax Court House. Jackson was again employed for this purpose. He crossed Bull Run at Sudley, and marched to the Little River turnpike, pursuing that road in the direction of Fairfax Court House. As soon as this movement was perceived Pope abandoned Centreville. Hooker was immediately ordered to Fairfax Court House to take up a line on the Little River pike to prevent Lee’s troops getting in his rear at the point where it joins the Warrenton pike, the movement to be supported by the rest of his army. As his troops reached the vicinity of Fairfax Court House, Jackson determined to attack them, and moved at once upon the force which had been posted on a ridge near Germantown for the purpose of driving them before him, so he could be in a position to command the pike from Centreville to Alexandria, down which Pope’s troops must pass on their retreat. A sanguinary battle ensued just before sunset, terminated by darkness. The battle of Oxhill, as it was called, was fought in the midst of a thunderstorm. Longstreet’s troops came on the field toward its conclusion. The loss on both sides was heavy, the Federals losing two of their best generals, Kearny and Stevens. The former was a dashing officer of undoubted courage and great merit. Had he lived he might have been an army commander. He rode into the Confederate lines, thinking they were occupied by a portion of his troops. It was nearly dark and raining. Seeing his mistake, he whirled his horse around, threw himself forward in the saddle, Indian fashion, and attempted to escape. A few men close to him fired, and he fell from his horse. General Lee had his body returned to the Federal lines the next day, accompanied with a courteous note to Pope.

On September 2d Pope’s army, by Halleck’s direction, was withdrawn to the intrenchments around Washington. While Pope was undoubtedly overmatched in generalship, an analysis of his tactics on the battlefield will show that they are of a higher order of merit than he is credited with, and many of his troops fought with stubbornness and courage. It is true he did not at times seem to appreciate his situation, and his orders were the subject of rapid and radical change. He telegraphed after the battle of the 30th: “We have fought a terrific battle here which lasted with continuous effort from daylight till dark, by which time the enemy was driven from the field, which we now occupy.” Whereas the facts of the case were that the Confederate lines were advanced and were only retired after the fighting was over, during the night, to their former positions. The very next day, however, at Centreville, he wires Halleck that his troops were in position there, “though much used up and worn out,” but that he could rely upon his giving his enemy as desperate a fight as he could force his men to stand up to, and adds that he should “like to know if you feel secure about Washington should this army be destroyed.” He had still an army much greater than Lee’s, but there was more or less demoralization in the ranks.

General Franklin, who arrived at Centreville on the 30th with his corps, threw out Slocum’s division across the road between that point and Bull Run at Cub Run, to stop, as he says, “an indiscriminate mass of men, horses, guns, and wagons all going pellmell to the rear. Officers of all grades, from brigadier general down, were in the throng.” McClellan estimated the number of stragglers he saw two days later at twenty thousand; and Assistant-Adjutant-General Kelton, who had been sent out by Halleck, puts the number at thirty thousand. Much uneasiness prevailed in the Federal capital, disorder reigned, and confusion was everywhere. As a precautionary measure, it was said, the money in the Treasury and in the banks was shipped to New York, and a gunboat with steam up lay in the river off the White House, and yet there was in and around Washington one hundred and twenty thousand men. On the 1st of September McClellan was again assigned to the command of the defenses around Washington. He had been much mortified in listening to the distant sound of the firing of his men, and asked General Halleck on the night of the 30th of August for permission to go to the scene of battle, telling him his men would fight none the worse for his presence; and that if it was deemed best not to intrust him with the command of even his own army, he simply desired permission to share their fate on the field of battle. Kelton had reported that General Pope was entirely defeated and was falling back to Washington in confusion, and McClellan reports that Mr. Lincoln told him he regarded Washington as lost, and asked him to consent to accept command of all the forces, to which McClellan replied that he would stake his life to save the city, but that Halleck and the President said it would, in their judgment, be impossible to do that.

General McClellan having accepted command, on September 2d rode out in the direction of Upton’s Hill to meet Pope’s army and direct them to their respective positions in the line of the Washington defenses. He met Pope and McDowell riding toward Washington, escorted by cavalry, when the former asked if he had any objection to McDowell and himself going to Washington; to which McClellan replied: “No, but I am going in the direction of the firing.”

Lee’s military plans had been wisely conceived, and the tactical details splendidly executed by his officers and men. Only three months had elapsed since he had been in command of the army, and in that brief period he had transferred a hostile army superior in numbers from the lines in front of his capital to the redoubts of the capital of his enemy. Richmond had been relieved; Washington was threatened. He could not hope with prospect of success to attack the combined armies of Pope and McClellan in their intrenchments on the Virginia side of the Potomac, for behind them they could fight two soldiers where he could bring only one in front of them. Apart from these difficulties a wide and unfordable river rolled between Virginia and Washington. His residence at Arlington had made him familiar with the topography of that section. He had but two alternatives: One, to withdraw his army and take up a line farther back in Virginia, rest and recruit his army, and patiently wait, as was done after the first battle of Manassas, till his antagonist should again assume the offensive. The other, to continue the active prosecution of the campaign and fight another battle while he had the prestige of victory and his enemy the discomfiture of defeat. He determined to adopt the latter method, and decided to cross the Potomac at the fords near Leesburg, some forty miles above Washington, and march into western Maryland.

Having received the approval of the Southern President to this plan, he immediately proceeded to put it into execution. First, because he believed if he could win a decisive victory the fall of Washington and Baltimore would follow, with far-reaching results. Second, because it would relieve Virginia and the Confederate quartermasters and commissary departments at Richmond of the support of his army for a time. Third, because it was hoped that large accessions to his decimated ranks would be obtained from those who sympathized with his cause in Maryland. Accordingly, the heads of his columns were turned toward the Potomac, and on September 5th successfully crossed that river and advanced to Frederick, where he established himself behind the Monocacy. He had been joined by the divisions of McLaws and D. H. Hill, which had been left at Richmond, but many of his men were obliged to be left on the Virginia side on account of their condition—long marches in bare feet had incapacitated them for further service. His army had been so constantly engaged in marching and fighting during the past few months that its condition was not favorable to further active work. The soldier was still there with his gun and his ammunition, but his clothes—from the hat on his head to his shoeless feet—were tattered and torn. The army was not presentable to the inhabitants of a State who had been accustomed to the sight of Federal troops well clothed and well fed. It was with difficulty they could understand that these troops had gained fame. The Southern feeling had been overawed and kept down in Maryland for so long a time by Federal occupation that recruits from that State did not care to join the Southern army till it was demonstrated that it could seize and hold their territory. They were not prepared to leave their homes and accompany the army back to Virginia.

Near Frederick, on September 8th, General Lee issued a proclamation to the people of Maryland in accordance with the suggestion of President Davis, who wrote him that it was usual on the occupation by an army of another’s territory. General Lee told them that the people of the Confederate States had seen with profound indignation their sister State deprived of every right and reduced to the condition of a conquered province. That his army was there to enable them again to enjoy the inalienable rights of freemen, and restore independence and sovereignty to their State. That no constraint upon their free-will was intended, and no intimidation would be allowed. That it was for them to decide their destiny freely and without restraint, and that his army would respect their choice, whatever it might be; for, “while the Southern people will rejoice to welcome you to your natural position among them, they will only welcome you when you come of your own free-will.”

Lee’s crossing the Potomac and marching to Frederick relieved the Federal authorities from their immediate anxiety about the safety of their capital. As he had supposed, they determined to send an army after him, marching in such a way as not to uncover the capital, because it was feared that, after drawing their troops away from Washington, Lee might suddenly cross the Potomac and, with the rapidity of march for which he was noted, seize Washington, which attempt would be facilitated by its lines being weakened by troops taking the field. The time had arrived for the Federal army to advance, but no commander had been assigned to take the field with it. Halleck had intimated that McClellan would not be allowed to have it. The latter has stated that he was expressly told that no commander had been selected, but that he determined to solve the question for himself, so left his “cards at the White House and War Department with ‘P.P.C.’ written upon them, and then went to the field.” That he “fought the battles of Antietam and South Mountain with a halter around his neck.” If he had been defeated and had survived, he “would have been tried for assuming authority without orders, and probably been condemned to death.” There is no doubt that at that time much dissatisfaction existed in the Federal councils with McClellan. His great personal popularity with his troops, the threatened safety of Washington, and the difficulty of finding a suitable successor, all combined to produce a negative acquiescence in his assuming command of the army for offensive operations. McClellan pushed slowly and cautiously his march in Lee’s direction; for he said he knew Lee well, had served with him in Mexico, and had the “highest respect for his ability as a commander, and knew that he was a general not to be trifled with or carelessly tendered an opportunity of striking a fatal blow.” General McClellan was deceived, too, as usual, in reference to his opponent’s numbers, which he estimated to be one hundred and twenty thousand men—about three times the actual strength of Lee’s army.

The determination of the boundary line between Maryland and Virginia has been attended with much expense and discussion. It never has been satisfactorily ascertained, because, as a talented son of Maryland put it, “there is no real division between them.” The acquisition of Maryland would have added a bright star to the Southern constellation; but for many reasons there was no rushing to arms or many recruits added to Lee’s army. The sons of Maryland in the Confederate army were splendid soldiers, enthusiastic in the cause, and brave in battle: and they knew, as the Southern commander did, that a battle fought and won in western Maryland, followed by a rapid march in the direction of Baltimore and Washington, would be attended with immense results, and that nothing would be accomplished, so far as Maryland was concerned, till then. Much curiosity existed in that State to see the victors of the first Manassas, the Seven Days’ Battles around Richmond, and the three days’ combats on the plains of the second Manassas. Inquisitive crowds hung around the commanding officers. Jackson was especially an object of much interest. The magic name of “Stonewall” had been heard at the hearthstones of the people, and they wanted to see him. He was described by one of them as wearing a coarse homespun, over which flapped an old soft hat that any Northern beggar would have considered an insult to have offered him. It was reported that he was continually praying, and that angelic spirits were his companions and counselors, and a desire was expressed to see him at his “incantations.” His dress and deportment disappointed many who expected to see a great display of gold lace and feathers; and when he ordered his guards, said a writer, to clear his headquarters of idle crowds, many went away muttering, “Oh, he’s no great shakes after all!”

Lee did not move on Washington after crossing the Potomac, because his numbers were too small to encounter the fortifications and large force assembled for their defense. His line of march was so directed as to draw a portion of the force at Washington after him and then defeat it. Frederick, in Maryland, was his first objective point, and then, it was said, Harrisburg, Pa. The Monocacy River, flowing from north to south, empties into the Potomac about twenty miles below Harper’s Ferry. Behind the line of that river he determined to halt and be governed by the movements of his enemy. From that point he could open his communications with the Valley of Virginia by Shepherdstown and Martinsburg; resupply his ammunition; gather in detachments of his men left behind in Virginia, from bare feet and other causes, and fill up his supply trains. He knew his enemy occupied Harper’s Ferry in large force, and Martinsburg in his rear, and that his proposed line of communication could not be opened so long as these places were garrisoned, and that sound military principles required that they should be evacuated when his army passed beyond them. So did McClellan, and urged it more than once. Halleck, the strategist of the Federal administration, differed from both Generals Lee and McClellan. Harper’s Ferry was in his opinion the key to the upper door of the Federal capital, and should be held till the wings of the Peace Angel were spread over the republic. General Lee promptly planned to show that McClellan was right and Halleck wrong, though it involved a change of his original designs. His cavalry, under the vigilant Stuart, was at Urbana and Hyattstown, and well advanced on the road from Frederick to Washington, and every mile of McClellan’s march was duly recorded and reported. The progress of this officer was so slow, his movements so cautious, that Lee determined to detach sufficient troops from his army to capture Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg, and bring them back in time to present a united front to McClellan. Daring, skill, celerity, and confidence were the qualifications of an officer to execute the movement. In Jackson they were all combined. He moved on September 10th from Frederick with three divisions; crossed the Potomac into Virginia; marched on Martinsburg, which was evacuated on his approach; and then to Harper’s Ferry, which he reached on the 13th. McLaws, with his own and Anderson’s division, was directed to seize the Maryland heights overlooking Harper’s Ferry, while Brigadier-General Walker was instructed to cross the Potomac below Harper’s Ferry and seize the Loudoun heights in Virginia. These movements were successfully accomplished, and on the 14th Harper’s Ferry was closely invested. The heights were crowned with artillery ready to open at command on the doomed garrison. The little village of Harper’s Ferry lies in an angle formed by the Shenandoah and Potomac where their united waters break through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a troop trap unless defended by the adjacent heights. Colonel Miles had strongly fortified the ridge in Virginia called Bolivar Heights, lying between the rivers; but Maryland heights, the key to the situation, was only feebly garrisoned. At dawn on the 15th, in response to Jackson’s order, a line of fire leaped from the mountain-crowned heights and told Colonel Miles, the Federal commander, in no uncertain tones, that his surrender was demanded. For two hours this plunging fire was maintained, and at the moment A. P. Hill advanced to storm the town from the Virginia side a white flag was displayed. The firing ceased, and Hill entered the village to receive the surrender of its garrison. Jackson’s work was well done. Twelve thousand men stacked their arms. Seventy-three pieces of artillery, thirteen thousand stand of small arms, large numbers of horses and wagons, and immense supplies were the results of his expedition. The cavalry, skillfully conducted by Colonel B. F. Davis, alone escaped on the Sharpsburg road.

When Jackson left Lee, five days before, McClellan was less than five marches from him. It was necessary that he should return as soon as possible, so leaving A. P. Hill to manage the details of surrender with his other two divisions, he marched day and night, recrossing the Potomac and reaching Sharpsburg on the 16th, followed by Walker. For the purpose of facilitating this reunion, Lee had retraced his steps from Frederick, directing the only two divisions Longstreet had left under Hood and Jones to move to Hagerstown, west of the mountains, while D. H. Hill with his division should halt at Boonsboro’, where were parked most of his wagons, and where he would be only three miles west of Turner’s Pass on the Frederick road. Two days after Lee left Frederick, McClellan occupied it, and at eleven o’clock on the night of the 13th informed Halleck that an order of General Lee’s, addressed to D. H. Hill, had accidentally fallen into his hands, the authenticity of which he thought was unquestionable. “It discloses,” said he, “some of the plans of the enemy, and shows most conclusively that the main rebel army is now before us. It may therefore be regarded as certain that this rebel army, which I have good reason for believing amounts to one hundred and twenty thousand men or more, and known to be commanded by Lee in person, intended to penetrate Pennsylvania.” Lee was fortunate in having the Federal commander overestimate his strength by eighty-five thousand; for confidence, a great attribute in war, is much more easily instilled into troops attacking an army of thirty-five thousand than one of one hundred and twenty thousand. But he was unfortunate in having a confidential order to one of his commanders find its way to the headquarters of the enemy. General D. H. Hill was under Jackson’s command. When the latter received Special Orders No. 191 he had a copy of it made and sent to Hill before starting for Harper’s Ferry, which Hill produced after the termination of the war, and his adjutant general made affidavit that no other order was received at his office from General Lee. As Hill was to remain with Lee and not march with Jackson, another copy of this order was addressed to him, but how transmitted from Lee’s headquarters to Hill’s camp, and who was guilty of gross carelessness in losing it, has never been ascertained. The Twelfth Federal Army Corps stacked arms when they arrived at Frederick on the 13th, on the ground that had been previously occupied by General D. H. Hill’s division; and Private B. W. Mitchell, of Company F, Twenty-seventh Indiana Volunteers, Third Brigade, First Division, found it on the ground wrapped around three cigars. Little did he think how his discovery would affect a great campaign! The knowledge of its contents had a marvelous effect upon McClellan. Lee had been informed by his cavalry of McClellan’s reaching Frederick. He did not know that his designs had been disclosed to him, and therefore did not understand the sudden life infused into the legs of the Federal soldiers; but learning at Hagerstown that McClellan was advancing more rapidly than he had anticipated, he determined to return with Longstreet’s command to the Blue Ridge, to strengthen D. H. Hill’s and Stuart’s divisions, engaged in holding the passes of the mountains, lest the enemy should fall upon McLaws’s rear, drive him from Maryland Heights, and thus relieve the garrison at Harper’s Ferry. Stuart, who had occupied Turner’s Gap with Hampton’s brigade of cavalry—this gallant officer having rejoined his army—moved to Crampton’s Gap, five miles south of Turner’s, to re-enforce his cavalry under Munford there, thinking, as General Lee did, that should have been the object of McClellan’s main attack, as it was on the direct route to Maryland Heights and Harper’s Ferry. When D. H. Hill, at dawn on the 14th, re-enforced his two advance brigades in Turner’s Gap, Stuart had gone, leaving one regiment of cavalry and some artillery under Rosser to guard Fox’s Gap, a small one to the south of Turner’s. As Hill reached the top of the mountain on that September morning a magnificent spectacle was presented. Far as the eye could reach flashed the bayonets of the advancing columns of McClellan’s army. It was a sight not often vouchsafed to any one, and was both grand and sublime. Hill must have felt helpless with his five small brigades numbering less than five thousand men, and must have been impressed vividly with “how terrible was an army with banners!” It was his duty to retard the march of this immense host, to give Lee time to get his trains at Boonsboro’ out of the way, to bring Longstreet from Hagerstown to his support, and to give Jackson time for his work at Harper’s Ferry. The resistance of Hill’s troops—from nine in the morning till half-past three in the afternoon—to the attack of Reno’s corps reflected great credit upon the capacity of the commander and the courage of his men. The combat later in the afternoon between Longstreet and Hill on the one side, and Burnside with the two corps of Reno and Hooker on the other, was marked by great gallantry on the part of both. Of the nine brigades Longstreet had with him, whose strength he estimated at thirteen thousand men (three of his brigades were with Jackson), Hill says only four were seriously engaged. So the struggle on the part of the Confederates was made with nine thousand men, one third less in numbers than their antagonists. The Southern lines were generally held, but when night put an end to the contest the advantage of the position was with the Federals.

In a consultation that night between Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Hill, it was decided to withdraw the troops from that point, and form a line of battle at Sharpsburg, where he would be in a position to unite with Jackson, when he should recross the Potomac at Williamsburg. Fitz Lee, who had been with his cavalry brigade in the rear of the Federal army at Frederick, arrived at Boonsboro’ during the night, and was directed by General Lee to remain there and retard as much as possible the Federal advance the next day. On the morning of the 15th, when the Federal army debouched from the mountains, the cavalry brigade was alone between the Federals and Lee at Sharpsburg to dispute with their advance every foot of ground between the base of the mountains and Boonsboro’. This was done with artillery, dismounted cavalry, and charges of mounted squadrons. The object having been accomplished, the brigade was slowly withdrawn and placed on the left of the line of battle at Sharpsburg.

While McClellan was attempting the passage of Turner’s Gap with, his main army, Franklin with the Sixth Corps, supported by Couch’s division, was struggling to get through Crampton’s Gap, where McLaws had left a brigade and regiment of his division, and a brigade of Anderson’s, to prevent the enemy from passing through the mountains at that point, and threatening his rear at Maryland Heights. The work of these brigades and a portion of Stuart’s cavalry was well performed; and when the fighting, which had been going on from twelve o’clock, ceased at night, Franklin had made such progress that they were withdrawn also. On the morning of the 15th, as McClellan was passing through the mountains near Boonsboro’, Franklin was marching through Crampton Pass at about the same time, and occupying Pleasant Valley. Both were too late to relieve Miles at Harper’s Ferry, who surrendered about half-past seven that morning. Franklin declined to attack McLaws after reaching Pleasant Valley, remained there (the 16th) without receiving any orders, and on the morning of the 17th marched for the battlefield at Sharpsburg, arriving at ten o’clock.

McClellan did not anticipate Lee would offer battle on that side of the Potomac. When the head of his columns arrived west of the mountains he informed Halleck that his enemy was making for Shepherdstown in a perfect panic, and that General Lee had stated publicly the night before that he must admit he had been shockingly whipped, and that Lee was reported wounded. Mr. Lincoln was well pleased with this statement, and replied to McClellan: “God bless you and all with you. Destroy the rebel army if possible.” A little later, when the Federal commander discovered Lee’s army in line of battle waiting an attack, he declined to make it, stating that his troops had arrived in Lee’s front in sufficient force too late in the day to attack. He remained quiet all the next day, because he said the fog had prevented him from developing the situation of the enemy. Both sides had lost heavily in the mountain passes, and the deaths of such capable officers as Reno on the Federal and Garland on the Confederate side were greatly deplored by their respective armies.

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