General Lee, by Fitzhugh Lee, Chapter 10

General Lee

CHAPTER X.
SHARPSBURG AND FREDERICKSBURG.

THE small town of Sharpsburg, lying amid surrounding hills, formed an attractive center to the beautiful landscape stretching away on every side. Here, in the embrace of the Potomac on the west and the Antietam Creek on the east, with rolling fields well cultivated and fenced, and fringed here and there with picturesque patches of woodland, it presented an inviting field for battle; but the rich fields were destined to be plowed by cannon balls and fertilized with blood; while against such desecration the peaks above the passes in the mountains loomed up in the distance, as if pointing to heaven in solemn protest.

The position was well selected by Lee to deliver a defensive battle; and while a big, though fordable, river a few miles in the rear was objectionable, its concave curve allowed each of his flanks to rest on the river, though the center of his line of battle was some three miles to the front. There could be no overlapping his flanks by the superior numbers of his opponent, who had to meet a line of battle at whatever point he might select for the attack. It is true the scattered Southern troops could have been more easily concentrated in Virginia and, if necessary, a battle avoided; but Lee had entered Maryland with the intention of fighting, and did not care to change his plans until he had appealed to the God of War.

The troops under Longstreet and D. H. Hill were leisurely marched the four or five miles from Boonsboro’ to Sharpsburg. After crossing the Antietam Creek on the morning of September 15th, Lee formed his line of battle along the hills—Longstreet on the right and D. H. Hill on the left of the road facing the creek, which runs north and south. General Lee reported that the advance of the enemy was delayed by the brave opposition encountered from his cavalry, and did not appear on the opposite side of the Antietam until about 2 P.M., when the battalions began filing to the right and left of the road, taking up their position in his front and exchanging artillery salutations. The sluggish creek flowing between the two armies was spanned by four bridges at the various road crossings converging at Sharpsburg, and was fordable at other points.

McClellan, always deliberate, consumed the whole of the 16th in making his arrangements for approaching battle, much to General Lee’s relief. At 4 P.M. in the afternoon Hooker from the Northern right crossed the Antietam with instructions to take position in front of the Southern left, and during the night Mansfield’s Twelfth Corps also crossed. In anticipation of such a movement Lee had ordered Longstreet to send Hood with two brigades to prolong D. H. Hill’s left, so that when Hooker, with three divisions under Meade, Ricketts, and Doubleday (an officer that Jackson in one of the few jokes of his life called “Forty-eight Hours”), proceeded to execute his orders, he found General Hood across his path with a command equal in efficiency and courage to the best troops of either army, and each claimed the advantage in the engagement which followed.

Jackson reached Sharpsburg that morning from Harper’s Ferry, and Walker later. At night Hood was relieved by Lawton’s and Trimble’s brigades of Ewell’s division. Jackson’s division, under General J. R. Jones, was placed on Lawton’s left, supported by the remaining brigades of Ewell, while General Walker with his two brigades was placed on Longstreet’s right. The cavalry were located on either flank.

These are all the troops McClellan would have encountered if he had attacked on the 16th. Anderson’s six brigades, McLaws’s four, and A. P. Hill’s five—making fifteen brigades—did not reach Lee until the 17th. After they had arrived the total infantry amounted to 27,255 men, which, with eight thousand cavalry and artillery, would make Lee’s army at Sharpsburg 35,255.[1] McClellan reports he had in action, on the 17th, 87,164 troops of all arms. He had therefore present fifty-two thousand more men than Lee. When the inequality in numbers and the difference in quality of cannon, small arms and ammunition, food and raiment is considered, Sharpsburg, as it is called at the South, Antietam at the North, is a superb monument to the valor of the Confederate soldier and the tactical genius of a great commander.

The picture of the private soldier of Lee’s army at Sharpsburg, as he stood in the iron hail with the old torn slouch hat, the bright eye glistening with excitement, powder-stained face, rent jacket and torn trousers, blanket in shreds, and the prints of his shoeless feet in the dust of the battle, should be framed in the hearts of all who love true courage wherever found. He was a veritable tatterdemalion, loading and firing his rifle with no hope of reward, no promise of promotion, no pay, and scanty rations. If he stopped one of the enemy’s bullets he would be buried where the battle raged, in an unknown grave, and be forgotten, except by comrades, and possibly a poor old mother who was praying in her Southern home for the safe return of her soldier boy.

Six corps of Federal troops, under Hooker, Sumner, Burnside, Franklin, Mansfield, and Fitz John Porter, stood in battle array, while Pleasonton had forty-three hundred and twenty cavalry. McClellan’s plan of battle was to envelop the Confederate flanks—first the left, and then the right—and could he have succeeded in breaking through either of them and gaining the Williamsport road in Lee’s rear and cutting him off from the Potomac, his victory would have been decisive. Had General Lee not divined the main struggle would be on his left, McClellan informed him when he ordered Hooker over the Antietam the evening before?

The fighting at Sharpsburg on the Federal side was done by four corps, numbering fifty-seven thousand six hundred and fourteen men, with a loss of twenty per cent of their numbers. Porter’s and Franklin’s corps and the cavalry, numbering twenty-nine thousand five hundred and fifty troops, were not engaged. As all of General Lee’s army fought except a portion of his cavalry, the actual difference between the active combatants was some twenty-six thousand.

On that memorable autumn morning, about the center of his long, slim, gray battle line, Lee stood on a large rock to the right of the Boonsboro’ road, east of the town, calm, dignified, and confident, as his glance swept the country in front. “His fine form was sharply outlined against the sky,” says a Confederate general, “and I thought I had never seen a nobler figure. He seemed quite unconscious that the enemy’s shells were exploding around and beyond him.”

Most of the time he was on foot, having both arms and hands injured before leaving Virginia from being thrown violently to the ground, his horse making a sudden jump when he was standing by his side with the bridle reins over his arm. Some of the bones in one hand were broken, and the other arm injured. He was obliged to ride in an ambulance or let a courier lead his horse. In the tumult of battle he could ride but little along his lines on his famous war horse Traveler. So McClellan on that day had the advantage of him as he galloped about on his black charger Daniel Webster.

Jackson, too, had been stunned by the rearing and falling back of a large gray mare which had been presented to him a few days before by an enthusiastic admirer, and was obliged to ride in an ambulance, but fortunately recovered in time for the battle. His horse at Sharpsburg seemed to be gentle enough, for during a lull in the firing he was found under an apple tree, with one leg over the pommel of the saddle, eating apples. The fate of a battle with Generals Lee and Jackson both in ambulances would have been uncertain.

At dawn on the 17th the Federal artillery opened on Hood’s front, being directed against the Confederate left, to mask and assist the advancing columns of attack on Jackson. “For several hours the conflict raged,” says General Lee, “with great fury and alternate success.” The troops advanced with great spirit and the enemy’s lines were repeatedly broken and forced to retire. Fresh troops, however, replaced those that were beaten, and Jackson’s men were in turn compelled to fall back. General J. R. Jones was obliged to leave the field, and “the brave General Starke” (as General Lee called him), who succeeded him, was killed. General Lawton was wounded, and was succeeded by Early, who had been supporting the cavalry and horse artillery in defending a most important hill, which if occupied by the enemy would have commanded and enfiladed Jackson’s position, and who “got in” with his brigade, as he usually did, at the proper moment. Hood and Early, re-enforced by the brigades of Ripley, Colquitt, and Garland, under Colonel McRae, of Hill’s division, and D. R. Jones, under Colonel G. T. Anderson, now took up the fighting; the Federals were again driven back, and again brought up fresh troops. General McLaws arrived just in time to meet them; General Walker brought from the right, together with Early’s division, drove the Federals back in confusion, beyond the position occupied at the beginning of the engagement.

The long lines of blue which first recoiled from the walls of gray on the Southern left were Hooker’s corps, fourteen thousand eight hundred and fifty-six men, which was to have formed, with the Ninth Corps, the left of McClellan’s battle line, both to be commanded by Burnside. But Hooker was ambitious and enterprising and secured permission to lead the assault on Lee’s left against Jackson, around the well-known Dunker Church, a mile to the north of Sharpsburg on the Hagerstown road, and over the historic cornfields and the “east and west woods,” where raged all the morning, with varying fortunes, the bloody combat.

As early as 7 A.M. Hooker had given up the task assigned him, and Mansfield’s corps, ten thousand one hundred and twenty-six in numbers, with flags flying, advanced to his support; but in the midst of deploying his columns this veteran general was killed, and in two hours “the corps seems to have about lost all aggressive force,” said a Federal historian. Sumner’s corps marched next into the battle—Sedgwick’s division in advance. The Federal troops previously fighting had melted away, and the march of Sedgwick in close column of three brigades in the direction of the Dunker Church was unsupported, and it appeared as if he had been assigned to fight the remainder of the battle alone. The First Corps had been disposed of and Hooker wounded and carried to the rear, the Twelfth broken into fragments and Mansfield killed. Sedgwick was annihilated by the Confederate fire in front and on both flanks. The ground was strewn with the bodies of the dead and wounded, while the unwounded men moved rapidly away. “Nearly two thousand men were disabled in a moment.”

The other divisions of the Second Corps under Richardson—who was mortally wounded—and French were ordered up to support Sedgwick, but too late, for R. H. Anderson’s division, just from Harper’s Ferry, had re-enforced D. H. Hill in his position on the famous Sunken road, which enabled the Confederates to vigorously assume the offensive, and the assaults of the remainder of Sumner’s corps were repulsed.

The terrible carnage had progressed six hours. Franklin, with his Sixth Corps from Pleasant Valley, arrived about 10 A.M.—having sent Couch’s division of the Fourth Corps to guard Maryland Heights. His leading division under Smith, whose advance brigade was commanded by Hancock, went to the support of Sumner; a forward movement of this division and that of Slocum, which had arrived about noon, was stopped by McClellan, who feared a counter attack on his vanquished right. The attack on the Confederate left being foiled, McClellan next threw a heavy force on the Southern center, which was repulsed by a part of Walker’s division and the brigade of General G. B. Anderson, and Rodes of D. H. Hill’s, assisted by a few pieces of artillery. R. H. Anderson came to the support of this line too, and formed in rear. The Fifth Alabama, on Rodes’s right, was being enfiladed by battery fire, and Rodes gave directions to retire it, when the whole brigade, through a misapprehension of orders, moved back, making a gap which was immediately occupied by the Federals. G. B. Anderson’s brigade was broken, its commander being mortally wounded, and Major-General R. H. Anderson and Brigadier-General Wright were also borne from the field wounded. General Lee says that “heavy masses of the enemy again moved forward, being opposed by only four pieces of artillery, supported by a few hundreds of men rallied by General D. H. Hill, being parts of Walker’s and R. H. Anderson’s commands. Colonel John R. Cook, with the Twenty-seventh North Carolina, stood boldly in line without a cartridge. The firm front presented by this small force, and the well-directed fire of the artillery under Captain Miller of the Washington Artillery, and Captain Boyce’s South Carolina Battery, checked the progress of the enemy, and in about an hour and a half he retired.” Longstreet states that the only troops there were Cook’s regiment, and that as he rode along he saw two pieces of Washington Artillery, but that there were not enough men to man them, and that he put his staff officers to work the guns, while he held their horses.

During the battle McClellan held Fitz John Porter’s corps, twelve thousand nine hundred and thirty men, with his cavalry, in reserve in the rear of his center. The “Little Napoleon,” as he was then sometimes called, was reserving it to be used as the Great Napoleon employed the “Old Guard,” to win a battle at the opportune moment, or save an army from destruction should defeat ensue. Had they supported Burnside even as late as his attack was made, McClellan might still have gained a great victory.

“In the afternoon,” General Lee says, “the enemy began to extend his line as if to cross the Antietam below, and at 4 P.M. Toombs retired from the position he had so bravely held. The enemy immediately crossed the bridge in large numbers, and advanced against General D. R. Jones, who held the crest with less than two thousand men. After a determined and brave resistance he was forced to give way and the enemy gained the summit. General A. P. Hill had now arrived from Harper’s Ferry, having left that place at 7 A.M., and immediately attacked, while his batteries and those of D. R. Jones and D. H. Hill opened an enfilade fire north of the Boonsboro’ road, and the Federal progress was arrested, seeing which, General Jones ordered Toombs to charge the flank, while Archer, supported by Branch and Gregg, moved upon the front of the Federal line. The enemy made a brave resistance, and then broke and retired in confusion toward the Antietam, pursued by the troops of Hill and Jones until he reached the protection of the batteries on the opposite side. In this attack the brave and lamented General L. O. B. Branch was killed, gallantly leading his brigade.”

While this attack was going on, Lee ordered Jackson to turn the enemy’s right, but found it extended nearly to the Potomac, and was so strongly defended with artillery that the attempt had to be abandoned. J. E. B. Stuart had been selected to command the advance in this movement. The Union attack on the Confederate right was made by Burnside’s Ninth Corps of four divisions. It was on the eastern side or left bank of the Antietam Creek in front of a bridge, and he was ordered early in the morning to hold his men in readiness to assault.

At eight o’clock McClellan says he sent Burnside orders to cross the creek and take the heights beyond, and move so as to gain possession of them and cut Lee off from the Williamsport or Shepherdstown road, and Burnside immediately prepared to execute them. Toombs had only some four hundred Georgians at this bridge, but his defense of the passage was well executed. Burnside’s thirteen thousand troops took three hours to cross, and lost five hundred men. It was now one o’clock, and two hours more were consumed in preparations to assault the ridge held by Jones. The opportune arrival of A. P. Hill, with his thirty-four hundred men, saved Lee’s right. Had McClellan placed a portion of his large cavalry force on that flank, Hill’s approach might have been retarded and the battle won before his arrival. It is difficult to explain, too, why Couch was not recalled from the vicinity of Maryland Heights after Harper’s Ferry was abandoned by Hill.

The bloody battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, has passed into impartial history as a drawn combat. The next day neither side would renew the fighting—Lee says because he was too weak to renew the offensive; but that he awaited without apprehension the renewal of the attack. He had received reports that McClellan was expecting the arrival of re-enforcements, and as he could not look for a material increase of his strength, it was not thought prudent to wait until his adversary should be ready to again fight a battle. During the night of the 18th his army was passed to the south of the Potomac, near Shepherdstown. The enemy advanced next morning, but was held in check by cavalry, who covered his movements with success.

The Southern loss in the Maryland campaign was ten thousand two hundred and ninety-one—eight thousand at Sharpsburg. McClellan’s loss in the battle was twelve thousand four hundred and ninety-six. He did not claim a victory until Lee had recrossed the Potomac. At 1.20 P.M., during the battle, he telegraphed Halleck: “We are in the midst of the most terrible battle of the war—perhaps of history. Thus far it looks well, but I have great odds against me.” And at 8 A.M. on the 18th he telegraphed: “The battle of yesterday continued for fourteen hours, and until after dark. We hold all we gained, except a portion of the extreme left. Our loss was very heavy, especially in general officers. The battle will probably be renewed to-day.” But it was only on the 19th—thirty-six hours after the fighting was over—that he informed Halleck that “we may safely claim a complete victory.”

General Lee’s Maryland campaign was a failure. He added but few recruits to his army, lost ten thousand men, and fought a drawn battle, which for an invading army is not a success. It was preferable, in his opinion, to consuming the substance of the Confederacy in Virginia after the second Manassas, and the result of a victory in Maryland was worth the attempt. McClellan threw two divisions of infantry across the river, but was driven back, the Confederates losing four guns—a part of their reserve artillery.

The Confederate army then moved back to the Opequan, near Martinsburg, and after a few days’ rest to the vicinity of Bunker Hill and Winchester. McClellan occupied Harper’s Ferry and the surrounding heights with two corps under Sumner, and encamped the remainder near the scenes of its late exploits, amid the picturesque hills and vales of southwestern Maryland. Rest with regular rations at regular times was most grateful to both armies, for both were more or less exhausted. General Lee’s two weeks’ campaign in Maryland had demonstrated that his army, without re-enforcements, was too small for offensive operations.

His son Robert was at that time a private in the Rockbridge Battery, and was in the thickest of the fight. Just after the battle the general wrote to Mrs. Lee: “I have not laid eyes on Rob since I saw him in the battle of Sharpsburg going in with a single gun of his battery for the second time after his company had been withdrawn in consequence of three of its guns having been disabled. Custis has seen him, and says he is very well and apparently happy and content. My hands are improving slowly, and with my left hand I am able to dress and undress myself, which is a great comfort. My right is becoming of some assistance, too, though it is still swollen, and sometimes painful. The bandages have been removed. I am now able to sign my name. It has been six weeks to-day since I was injured, and I have at last discarded the sling.”

In his tent near Winchester he heard of the death of his daughter Annie, who had always been the greatest favorite with her father, and on October 26, 1862, in a letter to Mrs. Lee, he said: “I can not express the anguish I feel at the death of our sweet Annie. To know that I shall never see her again on earth, that her place in our circle, which I always hoped one day to enjoy, is forever vacant, is agonizing in the extreme. But God in this, as in all things, has mingled mercy with the blow in selecting that one best prepared to leave us. May you be able to join me in saying, ‘His will be done!’ When I reflect on all she will escape in life, brief and painful at the best, and all we may hope she will enjoy with her sainted grandmother, I can not wish her back. I know how much you will grieve, and how much she will be mourned. I wish I could give you any comfort, but beyond our hope in the great mercy of God, and the belief that he takes her at the time and place when it is best for her to go, there is none. May that same mercy be extended to us all, and may we be prepared for his summons.”

It was now McClellan’s turn to assume the offensive. To cross the Potomac, having that river at his back, and to fight Lee, was too hazardous for a man of his prudence; but by crossing below Harper’s Ferry and marching into Virginia he could keep interposed between his capital and the Confederate army, and at the same time move on interior lines toward Lee’s capital, which would bring Lee from the Valley of Virginia to offer battle at a point where, if he could be defeated, Richmond might fall. Both armies had increased in numbers. Three days after the battle Lee had 40,000 men, and McClellan—notwithstanding his loss in the two battles, had 80,930, exclusive of the two divisions of Couch and Humphreys, which reached him the day after the battle. The morning report, dated September 2oth, sent by McClellan—which included the troops at Washington under Banks and 3,500 men at Williamsport, Frederick, and Boonsboro’—showed an aggregate present for duty of 164,359, and an aggregate absent of 105,124, making a total present and absent of 293,798.

“General McClellan was never in a hurry, but wanted to reach the ideal of preparation before action.” He was deliberate, his Government impatient. The chasm between the two was widening. The blood on the field of Sharpsburg was not dry before the Federal army commander was expressing his regret that every dispatch from his general in chief, Halleck, was fault-finding; he asked him to say something in commendation of his army; that it had been lately “badly cut up and scattered by the overwhelming numbers brought against them in the battle of the 17th, and it was only by very hard fighting that we gained the advantage we did. As it was, the result was at one period very doubtful, and we had all we could do to win the day.” On the other side Halleck was, with Mr. Lincoln’s assistance, putting hot coals on his back. “The country is becoming very impatient at the want of activity in your army, and we must push it on,” the former writes, October 7, 1862. And again: “There is a decided want of celerity in our troops. They lie still in camp too long.”

Three days after the withdrawal of the Southern army from Maryland the President of the United States issued his proclamation proclaiming freedom to the slaves. It was admitted to be a war measure, whose purpose, if necessary, was to kindle insurrectionary fires in the Southern States, which should assist the Federal arms in crushing the “Rebellion,” as it was termed: but to McClellan and a large part of his army it was objectionable. In his General Order No. 163, of October 7th, in reference to it, he deprecated in the army heated political discussions, and reminded them that the remedy for political errors is at the polls, thus widening the growing gulf between him and his administration, which President Lincoln’s visit to him on October 1st, and charging him with being overcautious, did not diminish.

As soon as Lincoln returned to Washington he directed Halleck to order McClellan to “cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy and drive him South.” But many suns were destined to rise and set before that order was executed. General Lee, as well as the Union President, was growing impatient, and wondering why McClellan did not promptly obey orders. So he directed his chief of cavalry, Stuart, on October 8th, to cross the Potomac above Williamsport with his cavalry and ascertain McClellan’s positions and designs; to enter Pennsylvania, and to do all in his power to impede and embarrass the military operations of his enemy.

Stuart left the army next morning with detachments of six hundred men from each of the brigades of Hampton, Fitz Lee, and W. E. Jones, and four guns. He was considerate in his orders to his own troops, directing them to give receipts for everything that they were obliged to take in the way of subsistence for man and horse, and also that whenever his column met ladies in Maryland and Pennsylvania, it should turn out of the road to let them pass with their conveyances without molestation. He marched to Chambersburg, in Pennsylvania, passing the right flank of the Federal army, and made a complete circuit, returning by the left flank. He rode eighty miles in twenty-seven hours, and by his swiftness and boldness deceived and evaded every effort to intercept him. “His orders were executed,” says General Lee, “with skill, address, and courage.” He had destroyed a large amount of public property, reported McClellan’s exact position to General Lee, and recrossed the Potomac without loss. “Not a man should be permitted to return to Virginia,” telegraphed Halleck to McClellan in informing him that Stuart was at Chambersburg, Pa., and was answered that, in spite of all precautions, Stuart “went entirely around this army”; and calls attention to his deficiency in cavalry, and complained that “the horses of the army were fatigued and had sore tongues,” which called forth an inquiry from Mr. Lincoln: “Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since Antietam that fatigues anything?” And that “Stuart’s cavalry had outmarched ours, having certainly done more marked service in the Peninsula and everywhere since.” And yet McClellan had received seventeen thousand nine hundred and eighteen fresh horses since the Sharpsburg battle.

At last on October 26th, three weeks after he had received orders, he began crossing his army over the Potomac into Loudoun County, Va., at Berlin, below Harper’s Ferry. This occupied nine days. A slow concentration of his army in the direction of Warrenton followed. Lee met this movement, and later, on November 3d, marched Longstreet’s corps to Culpeper Court House to McClellan’s front, and brought the division of Jackson to the east side of the mountain. He had crossed swords, however, for the last time with his courteous adversary. The axe had fallen, and with it McClellan’s official head into the basket already containing Pope’s. General Order No. 182 from the War Department, dated November 5, 1862, announced, by direction of President Lincoln, that General McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Major-General Burnside take command of that army.

“Late at night,” says McClellan, “I was sitting alone in my tent writing to my wife. All seemed to be asleep. Suddenly some one knocked upon the tent pole, and upon my invitation to enter, there appeared Generals Burnside and Buckingham, both looking very solemn. After a few moments Buckingham said to Burnside: ‘Well, General, I think we had better tell General McClellan the object of our visit’; whereupon Buckingham handed me the order of which he was the bearer. I read the papers with a smile, and immediately turned to Burnside and said: ‘Well, Burnside, I turn the command over to you’.” When General Lee heard of it he said he was sorry to part with McClellan;[2] not that he anticipated his army would be defeated by a change of commanders, but it was a satisfaction to know that as long as McClellan was in command everything would be conducted by the rules of civilized warfare. The soldiers parted with McClellan with great grief, and tears stood in many an eye that had learned to look on war without a tremor.

Many circumstances directed Mr. Lincoln’s course. The entente cordiale between his Secretary of War, Commander in Chief, and McClellan had been broken. The little value the latter placed upon time as an important element in military operations had been exasperating to them. It had been charged, too, that his different political faith from the party in power, his popularity with his troops, and the probability of his becoming the presidential candidate of his party in opposition to Mr. Lincoln, united to effect his removal. It is not thought that this last condition weighed with the Federal President, or tipped the scales, but rather McClellan’s procrastination and his overcautiousness, added to an absurd overestimation of his opponent’s strength, and the impatience of the Northern people for more battles. McClellan was always and everywhere a gentleman, who believed in conducting war in a Christian and humane manner. He had strategic, but no tactical ability. Risks have to be taken when battle is joined, but he never took them. Broken, wavering lines were not restored beneath the wave of his sword, and his personal presence was rarely felt when it might have been beneficial. He had none of the inspiration of war. Lee had a great respect for him as a soldier, though he counted on his being slow when manœuvring in his front. The Federal general could organize with great ability and inspire confidence in his troops, and would have been a great commander had he been more rapid in his movements and adventurous in his plans.

His unwilling successor, Ambrose E. Burnside, was the soul of good-fellowship, an amiable officer, and a kind-hearted gentleman. He possessed these qualities as a cadet. The celebrated Benny Havens, who kept a saloon in the old days outside of West Point limits, had a special toast which he invariably repeated every time he indulged in a stimulant—and the repetition of the toast was very frequent during the day. He drank to the health of the two greatest men, in his opinion, who had ever lived—St. Paul and Andrew Jackson; but he took such a fancy to Burnside, when he was a cadet, that he added his name to his toast, and ever thereafter, to the day of his death, he drank to St. Paul, Andrew Jackson, and A. E. Burnside.

This officer conceived the idea of concentrating his army on the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg. The position there would be about sixty miles from Richmond, and by a short railroad to his rear he could reach the Potomac near Acquia Creek, and then, by water some fifty miles, his Washington base. He divided his six corps into three grand divisions—the right, composed of the Second and Ninth, under Sumner; the Third and Fifth Corps, the center, under Hooker; and the left, under Franklin, consisting of the First and Sixth. Sumner, in advance, arrived opposite Fredericksburg on November 17th. Franklin was in supporting distance on the 18th, and Hooker on the 19th, but their pontoons did not arrive for eight days afterward. The vigilance of Stuart informed Lee of this movement on the 15th, and he ordered at once two divisions of infantry and a brigade of cavalry and a battery to proceed to Fredericksburg. A forced reconnoissance of Stuart to Warrenton told him that the whole of Burnside’s army had gone to the Rappahannock opposite Fredericksburg. On the 19th Longstreet was ordered to Fredericksburg with the remainder of his corps, and Jackson, who had been moved to Orange Court House, was, about the 26th, ordered to Fredericksburg also. There was much deliberation in Lee’s movements. His army was stretched out from the mountains to the river, and it was only after he was satisfied that the Federal army had gone to the Rappahannock that he moved Longstreet, and not for nine days afterward did he direct Jackson to unite with him. He knew a large army changing its line of communication with its base of supplies required time to assume the offensive.

When Sumner arrived at Falmouth, a little village on the left bank of the river a mile above Fredericksburg, with his thirty-three thousand men, across the river was only a regiment of cavalry, a battery, and four companies of infantry. Four days afterward Longstreet arrived, and his attempt to cross then would have been resisted. The surrender of the town had been demanded by Sumner just before the arrival of Longstreet. If not granted, the women, children, aged and infirm, could have sixteen hours to leave their homes, and then “I shall proceed,” said Sumner, “to shell the town.”

Fredericksburg, a typical Virginia town, is built on a plain every foot of which is commanded by the heights opposite in Stafford County. A plunging fire would destroy it, and Sumner’s threat was a serious one to the inhabitants. The man of the house was in the Southern army, and it was a heart-rending experience for the women and children to have their homes and their household goods battered to pieces with cannon. Before the expiration of the time arranged, Longstreet arrived and told the authorities he would not occupy the town for military purposes, and that there was no reason why it should be shelled, and this being communicated to Sumner, he decided not to execute his threat.

It was not wholly Burnside’s fault that he was sluggish in his preparations. The railroad to the Potomac had to be prepared, his pontoons were late getting up, and many unexpected matters had to be considered. The twenty-four days which elapsed before he delivered battle were greatly appreciated by Lee. It gave him time to concentrate his army and deploy and strengthen his line of battle on a most defensible position. He would have preferred fighting the battle at North Anna, a defensive point in his rear, because it would draw Burnside farther from his base, and if in the fortunes of battle he could assume the offensive, decisive results would follow, and so thought Jackson; but an unwillingness to give up more of the country, and a desire to draw supplies from the Rappahannock Valley, decided him to fight at Fredericksburg.

Picture a river about four hundred yards wide running east the short distance you see it, and then southeast, the little village of Falmouth, in Stafford County, I being on its left, and the town of Fredericksburg, in Spottsylvania, a mile below on its right bank. Imagine a high line of hills from Falmouth down the river whose western slopes touch the water. These are Stafford Heights. On the Fredericksburg side a level plateau stretches out to a range of hills which, beginning at a point above the town, runs parallel to the river for a mile or two, then extends back in a curve for four miles, until at its southern extremity at Hamilton’s Crossing they gradually sink to the level of the surrounding country. Along Stafford Heights was posted the army of Burnside—104,903 infantry, 5,884 cavalry, and 5,896 artillery, making, by the report of December l0th, 116,683 men present for duty equipped. On the Spottsylvania hills, a cannon-shot away, lay Lee’s legions 78,513 of all arms, which included the cavalry brigades of Hampton and W. E. Jones, both of whom were absent.

A river and a plain lay between the hostile forces, and the Northern troops had to cross both to reach the Southern position. The Federal batteries commanded the town of Fredericksburg and the contiguous plain, while the Confederate batteries everywhere swept the open plain nearest to the Southern lines. Burnside’s army had to cross this open plain in full view of Lee, and he knew that it would be plowed by shot and shell, and any assault would have to be made amid the iron hail of small arms. Lee’s position was strong by nature and made stronger by art. No troops could successfully assail it, and no commanding general should have ordered it to be done. Burnside’s order for battle was fathomless; he could not carry Lee’s position by surprise, as he told Franklin he expected to, or hope for success least of all by the tactics adopted and made known to his right and left grand division commanders on the morning of battle. Three weeks after Burnside arrived on the Rappahannock, public pressure pushed him across it. He did not cross some miles below Fredericksburg, as first contemplated, because he said Lee had divined his intention and prepared for it, but would cross directly in his front, because General Lee was not expecting it, and attack him before re-enforced by the troops detached to prevent his crossing at the lower point.

The night of December 10, 1862, was a long one for Burnside. One hundred and forty-seven rifled cannon, 20-pound Parrotts, and 4-inch siege guns were distributed along Stafford Heights by Hunt, Burnside’s able chief of artillery. The pontoons were placed in position, and at three o’clock on the morning of the 11th the task of constructing four or five bridges opposite the town and two miles below began.

Scarcely had the work commenced before Lee’s signal gun announced the news to his sleeping troops. He had never contemplated making a serious resistance at the river banks. To use his own words: “The plain of Fredericksburg is so completely commanded by the Stafford Heights that no effectual opposition could be made to the construction of bridges or the passage of the river. Our position was therefore selected with a view to resisting the enemy’s advance after crossing, and the river was guarded only by a force sufficient to impede his movements until the army could be concentrated.”

The Thirteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Twenty-first Mississippi, of Barksdale’s brigade of McLaws’s division, and the Third Georgia and Eighth Florida of Anderson’s division, guarded the points where pontoons were to be laid, and displayed such skill as marksmen and such courage as men, sheltered behind the houses at the river banks, that the Federal army was delayed at the river bank for sixteen hours, giving the Confederate commander ample time to prepare for battle. During the night of the 11th and succeeding day Sumner’s two corps, with one hundred and four cannon, crossed at the upper, and Franklin’s two corps, with one hundred and sixteen guns, crossed at the lower bridge, and by the night of the 12th Burnside’s army was in readiness for the attack. His plans for the next day were ambiguous. A Federal general reports him as riding about on the evening of the 12th as if he had arrived at the conclusion to attempt to do something with his left, and, if successful, to do something with his right. The tremendous responsibility of having one hundred thousand on the wrong side of the Rappahannock was having its full effect. He seemed to expect Franklin to get in somewhere on Lee’s right and Sumner on his left, and these lodgments being made, the Confederate line between would have to retire or be crushed. He increased Sumner’s troops to about sixty thousand, and added Butterfield’s corps and Whipple’s division to Franklin’s command, giving him about forty thousand. At 5.55 A.M. on the 13th, the day of battle, he sent orders to Franklin—which he received two hours and a half afterward (it was said, because the staff officer who carried them stopped to get his breakfast)—to keep his command in readiness to move down the old Richmond road, and send out at once a division at least to seize the heights at Hamilton’s Crossing, where Lee’s right rested, taking care to keep it well supported. In an order dated 6 A.M., the same morning, he directs Sumner to “push a division or more along the streets and roads on the line from the town to Lee’s left, with a view to seizing the heights in the rear of the town,” but not to attack until he got additional orders.

Lee was quietly awaiting him. Earthworks had been constructed at points on the crests of the hills, skillfully designed by General Pendleton, chief of artillery, and the engineer officers. His army was divided into two corps, under Longstreet and Jackson, Longstreet being on the left. Anderson’s division rested on the river, and then McLaws, Pickett, and Hood extended to the right in the order named. Ransom’s division supported the batteries on Marye’s and neighboring hills, at the foot of which Cobb’s brigade, of McLaws’s division, and the Twenty-fourth North Carolina, were stationed, protected by a stone wall. The Washington Artillery, under Colonel Walton, occupied the redoubts on the crest of Marye’s Hill, and those on the heights to the right and left were held by a part of the reserve artillery. Colonel E. P. Alexander was in charge of the division batteries of Anderson, Ransom, and McLaws. A. P. Hill, of Jackson’s corps, was posted between Hood’s right and Hamilton’s Crossing. Early’s and Taliaferro’s divisions composed Jackson’s second line, while D. H. Hill’s division was formed in reserve. Stuart, with two brigades of cavalry, under General Lee’s son and nephew, was on Jackson’s right. A dense fog overhung the plain and river until after 9 A.M., obscuring from view the movements of the Federals. Then, as the struggling rays of the sun lifted the mist, it unmasked to Lee and his army a picture unparalleled in surpassing splendor, unequaled in terrible sublimity.

From his lofty position on Telegraph Hill, in the center of his line, Lee saw the mass of Federals deploying in A. P. Hill’s front. Franklin was about to assault with “one division at least,” as ordered. As a matter of fact, his attack was afterward made with Reynolds’s First Corps of three divisions, under Meade, Gibbon, and Doubleday. Meade, an excellent soldier, was sent in first; Gibbon to support him, and Doubleday to follow. Meade selected for his point of attack the place where the ridge on Lee’s right terminated and where it gradually reached the level of the plain. It was a salient point, and at its southern end devoid of fortification. Stuart had placed his cavalry and horse artillery far out on the plain, and his guns enfiladed the march of this attacking column. The fire of his horse artillery, under his celebrated boy chief, Pelham, was very effective. The second ball from a Whitworth gun tore through the knapsack of a Federal infantryman, distributed his clothing to the winds, threw a pack of playing cards twenty feet in the air, and created consternation and death as it flew a long distance down the line. Doubleday’s division was halted by Pelham’s fire and the presence of cavalry on its flank, and Reynolds was deprived of its support, and with only two divisions and two regiments of Stoneman’s Third Corps was attempting to overthrow Jackson, who lay in his front with thirty thousand men in a sheltered, and for a portion of the line, fortified position. Why Reynolds was not supported by Smith’s Sixth Corps of twenty-four thousand men, which was a short distance behind him, is one of the mysteries of war. Franklin would still have had fourteen thousand men—namely, two divisions of the Third Corps and one of the Ninth—exclusive of thirty-five hundred cavalry, under the gallant Bayard, as a reserve. The Federal advance marched to destruction. Meade broke through a gap in Jackson’s line between Thomas’s and Archer’s brigade, but fresh troops came up under Taliaferro and Early, amid cries of “Here comes Old Jubal!” “Let Jubal straighten that fence!” and it was securely rebuilt.

The Union troops were broken and driven back with great slaughter. Meade lost in killed, wounded, and missing, 1,853, and Gibbon 1,266 men, in a short, fierce, furious and useless combat. Meade told Franklin he “found it quite hot,” taking off his slouch hat and showing two bullet holes between which and the top of his head there must have been little space. To Lee—calm, self-contained and self-reliant as Wellington at Waterloo—from his position on Telegraph (since called Lee’s) Hill, the movement appeared like an armed reconnoissance, and was only considered a precursor to something more serious. Jackson was much pleased at the result on his front. He appeared that day for the first and last time in a bright new uniform which replaced his former dingy suit, having actually exchanged his faded old cap for another which was resplendent in gold lace, a present from J. E. B. Stuart. It was a most remarkable metamorphosis of his former self, and his men did not like it, fearing, as some of them said, that “Old Jack would be afraid of his clothes and would not get down to his work.”

Burnside’s plans seem to have been to attack simultaneously on both of Lee’s flanks, like Napoleon when he had the river and three bridges behind him at Dresden, and he may have reasoned, as did that great French soldier, that an assault on both flanks would demoralize the center, which he would overwhelm by concentrated attack. Sumner’s right grand division held the town. Couch’s Second Corps occupied it, and Wilcox’s Ninth Corps stretched out from Couch’s left toward Franklin’s right. At 8.15 A.M. Couch received an order from Sumner, who was across the river at the Lacy House, “to form a column of a division for the purpose of seizing the heights in the rear of the town”; to advance in three lines, and be supported by another division to be formed in the same manner as the leading division; but the movement should not begin until further orders. French’s division in column of three brigades, at two hundred yards’ interval, was selected to lead, Hancock’s in similar formation to follow. About eleven o’clock, the fog lifting, Couch signaled to Sumner that he was ready, and received orders to move. The troops debouched from the town, crossed with difficulty the bed of an old canal at right angles to their course, and deployed along the bank bordering the plain over which they were to charge. At this time Burnside, the army commander, was two miles away, across the river at his headquarters, the Phillips House. Sumner, the right grand commander, was at his headquarters also, on the other side of the Rappahannock. Couch, in command of the corps, and Howard, his remaining division commander, climbed the steeple of the courthouse in the town, and the battle began. It was not long before Couch exclaimed to Howard: “Oh, great God! See how our men, our brave fellows, are falling!” And so they were. They “could not make reply” or protest, and nothing was left but “to do and die.” “I remember,” said Couch, “that the whole plain was covered with men prostrate and dropping, the live men running here and there, and in front, closing upon each other, and the wounded coming back. The commands seemed to be mixed up. I had never before seen fighting like that, or anything approaching it in terrible uproar and destruction. There was no cheering on the part of the men, but a stubborn determination to obey orders and do their duty. As they charged, the artillery fire would break their formation and they would get mixed. Then they would close up together, everywhere receiving the withering infantry fire, and those who were able would run to the lines and fight as best they could; and then the next brigade coming up in succession would do its duty and melt like snow coming down on a warm morning.” Hancock and French sent promptly for assistance. Two brigades of Wilcox’s corps were sent to the slaughter pen, and one of Howard’s, and then a division of Stoneman’s, of Hooker’s center grand division, as well as Gifford’s division of Butterfield’s corps. The other divisions of the same corps were also put in supporting distance, and it now began to look like a genuine attempt to crush Lee’s left. At 3 P.M. Couch was told by a dispatch from Sumner that Hooker had been ordered to put in everything. “His coming to me,” said Couch, “was like the breaking out of the sun in the storm.” It had been demonstrated the storm was there, but what became of the sun? Hooker consulted Hancock, who had been in the leaden hail and had lost two thousand out of five thousand men composing his division in a very brief interval of time, after which, without obeying orders, he rode back at 2 P.M. across the river to Burnside, and did not return for two hours.

The battery of artillery on Marye’s Hill was relieved in the meantime by fresh batteries, under Wolfolk and Woody, which produced the impression that the hill was being abandoned, so Couch directed Humphreys to attack with his two brigades and Getty’s division of the Ninth Corps. This was bravely done, but with the same result. Humphreys lost seventeen hundred out of three thousand men. It was hardly possible for Hooker’s whole army to have carried Marye’s Hill by direct assault as long as Confederate ammunition lasted. It resisted the successive charges of the Federals as Gibraltar withstands the surging seas. It was defended by the famous battalion of Washington Artillery from New Orleans. The men and officers were full of fight, enthusiastic, vigilant, enterprising, and brave. No mistake had been made in committing this important post to that organization. Around and stretching on either side was the left wing of the army. Marye’s Hill met the streets leading from the town, and offered the most inviting point of attack. The front sloped to a sunken road, on the town side of which was a stone wall some four feet high; the exacavated dirt had been thrown on the other side of the wall, so that no part of the wall showed on the side of the Federal advance, and their troops were in ignorance of its existence. Behind this wall, four files deep, was the Georgia brigade of General Thomas R. Cobb, which was afterward re-enforced by portions of Kershaw’s and Cook’s brigades. To reach this wall the Union troops were obliged to march over a plain swept by artillery. General E. P. Alexander, Longstreet’s accomplished artilleryman, remarked before the battle: “We cover that ground now so well that we will comb it as with a fine-toothed comb. A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”

The dauntless courage displayed by the Federal officers and men availed nothing against the rapid plunging fire of well-served 12-pound howitzers, Napoleons, and rifle guns. The three-inch rifle balls of the Federals that fell near these batteries were hurled back at them out of Confederate guns. “On they came in beautiful array,” wrote a Washington Artillery participant, “more determined to hold the plain than ever; but our fire was murderous, and no troops on earth could stand the feu a’enfer we were giving them. In the foremost line we distinguished the green flag with the golden harp of old Ireland, and we knew it to be Meagher’s Irish brigade.”

It was a picturesque field, the blue, the red breeches of the Zouaves, and the green of old Ireland were mingled in Death’s cold embrace. Imagine troops, as soon as deployed, stormed at with shot and shell, and those who escaped, treated next to canister, and the brave survivors exposed to the severe fire of concealed infantry which scorched the ground beneath their feet! The battle on Lee’s left was fought principally by the artillery and the few thousand infantry in the sunken road—troops whose courage, steadiness, and endurance has been honorably mentioned. Were it possible to have scaled Marye’s Hill no hostile force could have lived there, for a concentrated, converging fire from the heights in the rear which commanded it, and of which it was simply an outpost, would have swept it from its face.

The battle of Fredericksburg was a grand sight as Lee witnessed it from Lee’s Hill in the center of his lines, and Burnside through his field glass from a more secure position, two miles in the rear of the battlefield, with the river flowing between himself and his troops. The roar of over three hundred cannon—the Federals alone had three hundred and seventy-five in their army—formed an orchestra which had the city of Fredericksburg for audience, as well as both armies.

Earth shook, red meteors flashed along the sky,
And conscious Nature shuddered at the cry.

A hundred thousand men in line of battle, both flanks being visible, from whose bristling bayonets were reflected the rays of the morning sun as they penetrated the rising mists, was a gorgeous pageant viewed from the Confederate lines.

The battle of Fredericksburg was a farce which one could laugh at, except for the sacrifice of human life. A grand army seeks offensive battle, makes isolated attacks by fractional forces, remains in position two days, and secretly, in the midst of a violent storm, recrosses the river during the night, with a loss of twelve thousand six hundred and fifty-three. If Burnside had held fast with a small force in Fredericksburg, protected by the reserve artillery on Stafford Heights, while re-enforcing Franklin with the bulk of Sumner’s and Hooker’s forces so as to have threatened the Confederate line of communication, he would have drawn Lee from Marye’s Hill and forced him to deliver battle on more equal terms.

The popular notion that General Jackson wanted to move on the Federals after their repulse and drive them into the river is disposed of by his own report, in which he says: “The enemy making no forward movement, I determined, if prudent, to do so myself; but the first gun had hardly moved from the woods a hundred yards when the enemy’s artillery reopened and so completely swept our front as to satisfy me that the projected movement should be abandoned.”

Lee had really fought a defensive battle to a finish without knowing it. Only one third of his army had been engaged, and in killed, wounded, and missing his losses were only five thousand three hundred and seventy-seven. The Washington Artillery, which for four hours and a half mowed down the charging columns until their canister, case, and solid shot had been exhausted, lost three killed and twenty-four wounded. Naturally the Southern commander waited in his advantageous position for the big battle, but he waited in vain. It would have been a mistake to have done otherwise; and “in war the crown of laurel is reserved for him who makes the fewest mistakes himself and most promptly profits by the mistakes of others.”

Lee greatly regretted the loss of his brave men, the wounding of the gallant Cook and the death of such splendid soldiers as Cobb, Maxey, and Gregg. Cobb fell mortally wounded at the foot of the stone wall he had so bravely defended, at the door of the house of Mrs. Martha Stevens, who must have been a sort of “Molly Pitcher,” for it is related that she was very active all day in the Confederate cause, and after using all her materials for bandages for the wounded, actually tore from her person most of her garments, on that cold December morning, in her anxiety to minister to their necessities.

After one or two abortive attempts to assume the offensive were made later by Burnside, the two armies looked quietly at each other from their respective positions on either side of the Rappahannock for four months. A few wall and common tents, pitched half way between Fredericksburg and Hamilton’s Crossing on the border of an old pine field, marked the headquarters of the Confederate commander, and here Lee labored to promote the efficiency of his troops and prepare them for the active operations which he knew must commence when spring succeeded winter.

It was at this time, Long tells us, that among a number of fowls presented to the general was a sprightly hen, who went into the egg business before her turn came to lose her head, and thus persuaded Bryan, General Lee’s well-known steward, that her egg, which she each morning deposited in the general’s tent, was better for the general’s breakfast than herself. Lee, fond of domestic animals, appreciated her selection of his quarters, and would leave the tent door open for her and wait elsewhere until her cackle informed him that he could return to his canvas home. She roosted and rode in his wagon, was an eye-witness of the battle of Chancellorsville, and there it is said she refused to lay until victory perched upon her general’s plume, when she at once recommenced. Many months she soldiered—participated, in her way, in the battle of Gettysburg, but when the orders were given to fall back, and the headquarters wagons had been loaded, the hen could not be found. General Lee joined others in a search for her, and finally she was found perched on top of the wagon seemingly anxious to return to her native State.

In the fall of 1864, when Lee’s headquarters were near Orange Court House, the hen had become fat and lazy, and on one occasion when the general had a distinguished visitor to dine with him, Bryan, finding it difficult to procure suitable material, unknown to every one, killed the hen. At dinner the general was surprised to see so fine a fowl, and all enjoyed it, not dreaming of the great sacrifice made upon the altar of hospitality.

Lee’s forced inactivity brought homesickness. He longed to be reunited to his family. In his letters he tells them of the noble spirit displayed by the people of Fredericksburg; that the faces of the old and young were wreathed with smiles and glowed with happiness at their sacrifices for the good of their country. “Many have lost everything. What the fire and swords of the enemy spared, their pillagers destroyed; but God will shield them I know.” That the only place he “can be found is in camp, and there I will have to be taken with the three stools, the sun, the rain and mud.” That “Hooker, Burnside’s successor, is obliged to do something, but what, I do not know.” That “he plays the Chinese game, runs out his guns, starts his wagons and troops up and down the river, and creates an excitement generally. Our men look on in wonder, give a cheer, and immediately again subside.” That “God is kind and gives me plenty to do in good weather and bad, and that I owe Mr. J. Hooker no thanks for keeping me here, for he ought to have made up his mind long ago what to do.” Later he writes: “The cars have arrived from Richmond and brought me a young French officer, full of vivacity and ardor, for service with me. I think the appearance of things will cool him. If they do not the night will, for he brought no blankets.”

In a letter to his daughter Mary, previous to Burnside’s attack, dated Camp near Fredericksburg, November 24, 1862, he says: “I have just received your letter of the 17th, which has afforded me great gratification. I regretted not finding you in Richmond, and grieve over every opportunity at not seeing you that is lost, for I fear they will become less and less frequent. The death of my dear Annie was, indeed, to me a bitter pang, but ‘the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In the quiet hours of the night, when there is nothing to lighten the full weight of my grief, I feel as if I should be overwhelmed. I have always counted, if God should spare me a few days of peace, after this cruel war was ended, that I should have her with me, but year after year my hopes go out and I must be resigned. General Burnside’s whole army is apparently opposite Fredericksburg, and stretches from the Rappahannock to the Potomac. What his intentions are he has not yet disclosed. I am sorry he is in position to oppress our friends and citizens of the Northern Neck. He threatens to bombard Fredericksburg, and the noble spirit displayed by its citizens, particularly the women and children, has elicited my highest admiration. They have been abandoning their homes night and day during all this inclement weather cheerfully and uncomplainingly, with only such assistance as our wagons and ambulances could afford—women, girls, children, trudging through the mud and bivouacking in the open fields.”

Again, in a letter to his wife from the same camp, on December 2, 1862, he writes: “I am glad you had the opportunity of visiting New Kent; but the sight of the White House must have brought particularly sad thoughts. It will all come right in the end, though we may not live to see it. That is Lieutenant Spangler who addressed me so familiarly. He was orderly sergeant of Captain Evans’s company, Second Cavalry, United States Army, and was a good soldier. I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me. I know too well my weakness, and that our only hope is in God.”

On December 11th, at the commencement of the Federal operations, General Lee writes Mrs. Lee: “I return a bit sent up by Custis. It is not the one I wished, but I do not want the one I wrote for now, as I have one that will answer as well. The enemy, after bombarding the town of Fredericksburg, setting fire to many houses, and knocking down nearly all those along the river, crossed over a large force about dark, and now occupy the town. We hold the hills commanding it, and hope we shall be able to damage him yet. His positions and heavy guns command the town entirely.”

On December 16th he thus writes of the recrossing of the Federals, and also of the liberation of the Arlington slaves: “I had supposed they were just preparing for battle, and was saving our men for the conflict. Their hosts crown the hill and plain beyond the river, and their numbers to me are unknown. Still, I felt a confidence we could stand the shock, and was anxious for the blow that is to fall on some point, and was prepared to meet it here. Yesterday evening I had my suspicions that they might return during the night, but could not believe they would relinquish their hopes after all their boasting and preparation, and when I say that the latter is equal to the former, you will have some idea of the magnitude. This morning they were all safe on the north side of the Rappahannock. They went as they came—in the night. They suffered heavily as far as the battle went, but it did not go far enough to satisfy me. Our loss was comparatively slight, and I think will not exceed two thousand. The contest will have now to be renewed, but on what field I can not say. As regards the liberation of the people [slaves] I wish to progress in it as far as I can. Those hired in Richmond can still find employment there if they choose. Those in the country can do the same or remain on the farms. I hope they will all do well and behave themselves. I should like if I could to attend to their wants, and see them placed to the best advantage. But that is impossible. All that choose can leave the State before the war closes. The quartermaster informs me he has received the things you sent. The mitts will be very serviceable. Make as many as you can obtain good material for. I have everything I want.” General Lee was the executor, and the date of the emancipation of the slaves under Mr. Custis’s will had arrived.

From the same camp on Christmas day he writes Mrs. Lee: “I will commence this holy day by writing to you. My heart is filled with gratitude to Almighty God for the unspeakable mercies with which he has blessed us in this day, for those he has granted us from the beginning of life, and particularly for those he has vouchsafed us during the past year. What should have become of us without his crowning help and protection? Oh, if our people would only recognize it and cease from vain self-boasting and adulation, how strong would be my belief in final success and happiness to our country! But what a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that on this day, when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace. Our army was never in such good health and condition since I have been attached to it. I believe they share with me my disappointment that the enemy did not renew the combat on the 13th. I was holding back all that day and husbanding our strength and ammunition for the great struggle for which I thought I was preparing. Had I divined what was to have been his only effort he would have had more of it. My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.” Again, from the same place he tells her: “We had quite a snow day before yesterday, and last night was very cold. It is thawing a little this morning, though the water was freezing as I washed. I fear it will bring much discomfort to those of our men who are barefooted and poorly clad. I can take but little pleasure in my comforts for thinking of them. A kind lady—Mrs. Sallie Braxton Slaughter—of Fredericksburg, sent me a mattress, some catsup, and preserves during the snowstorm. You must thank Miss Norvell [Caskie] for her nice cake, which I enjoyed very much. I had it set out under the pines the day after its arrival, and assembled all the young gentlemen [of his staff] around it; and though I told them it was a present from a beautiful young lady, they did not leave a crumb. I want a good servant badly. Perry [an old Arlington servant] is very willing, and I believe does as well as he can. You know he is very slow and inefficient, and moves very like his father Lawrence. He is also very fond of his blankets in the morning—the time I most require him. I hope he will do well when he leaves me, and get in the service of some good person who will take care of him.”

On the 8th of January he again makes reference to the Arlington servants, and says: “I executed the deed of manumission sent me by Mr. Caskie, and returned it to him. I perceived that John Sawyer and James’s names among the Arlington people had been omitted, and inserted them. I fear there are others among the White House lot which I did not discover. As to the attacks of the Northern papers, I do not mind them, and do not think it wise to make the publication you suggest. If alt the names of the people at Arlington and on the Pamunkey are not embraced in the deed I have executed, I should like a supplementary deed to be drawn up containing all those omitted. They are all entitled to their freedom, and I wish to give it to them. Those that have been carried away I hope are free and happy. I can not get their papers to them, and they do not require them. I will give them if they ever call for them. It would be useless to ask their restitution to manumit them. The enemy is still in large force opposite to us. There is no indication of his future movements.” And on the 29th of January he writes: “The storm has culminated here in a deep snow, which does not improve our comfort. It came particularly hard on some of our troops whom I was obliged to send some eleven miles up the Rappahannock to meet a recent move of General Burnside. Their bivouac in the rain and snow was less comfortable than at their former stations, where they had constructed some shelter. General Burnside’s designs have apparently been frustrated, either by the storm or by other causes, and on last Saturday he took a special steamer to Washington, to consult the military oracles at the Federal seat of Government. Sunday I heard of his being closeted with President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, and General Halleck. I suppose we shall have a new programme next week. You had better finish all the gloves you intend making at once, and send them to the army. Next month they will be much needed. After that no use for this winter. Tell Mr. Haskins I am delighted the turkey was so good. I was that day up at United States Mine Ford, on the Rappahannock. Did not get back till late at night. After our nocturnal repast was over, having been on horseback from early breakfast, you can imagine how I would have enjoyed it. I was, however, thinking so much of General Burnside’s playing us such a shabby trick, running off to Washington when we were waiting for him, that I did not then miss my dinner.”

General Lee was surrounded by embarrassments during the winter—the troops were scantily clothed, rations for men and animals meager. The shelters were poor, and through them broke the sun, rains, and winds. He could not strike his enemy, but must watch and be patient, for he remembered the favorite maxim of Marlborough, “Patience will overcome all things, and the gods smile on those who can wait.” He was obliged to send Longstreet with two of his four divisions to the section south of James River, nearly one hundred miles away, to relieve his commissary department and to collect supplies, and was thus deprived of their support when the campaign opened. Across the river his better sheltered, fed, and clothed opponent had his troubles too. Burnside had lost the confidence of many of his principal officers, and after a harmless attempt to reach Lee by Banks’s Ford, six miles above Fredericksburg, further winter operations were suspended.

Then Burnside prepared a sweeping order, dismissing from the army Generals Hooker, Brooks, Cochrane, and Newton, and relieving from their commands Generals Franklin, W. F. Smith, Sturgis, Ferrero, and Colonel Joseph Taylor, Sumner’s adjutant general. To approve the order, or accept his resignation, was the alternative presented to the President. Mr. Lincoln accepted his resignation, and immediately placed the baton of the army commander in the hands of Joseph Hooker, the head and front of the caballed officers. Mr. Lincoln’s letter of January 26, 1863, to Hooker, is characteristic. He tells him he has thwarted Burnside as much as he could, doing a great wrong to his country and to a most meritorious brother officer; that he had heard of his saying that both the army and country needed a dictator. “What I ask,” he adds, “is military success. In that event I will risk the dictatorship”; and concludes by begging him to “Beware of rashness!”

Hooker, or “Fighting Joe,” as he was sometimes called, had managed a corps well, possessed personal magnetism and a fine presence, but had not the ability to conduct great operations; and yet it must be admitted his preliminary steps toward reorganization and the promotion of the battle power of his army were well taken. He found his army amid the Stafford hills, on the left bank of the Rappahannock, and stretching back to the Potomac some twelve miles, which river gave him a splendid line of communication with his capital, secure from an enemy who had no boats. Much discontent prevailed in the ranks, and his men were deserting at the rate of two hundred per day. A majority of the officers, too, were hostile to the policy of the Government, and the number of absentees without leave amounted to 2,922 officers and 81,964 non-commissioned officers and privates, while the express trains to the army were filled with citizens’ clothing, sent to assist soldiers to desert. Hooker, by judicious furloughs, stopped this in a measure, filled up his ranks, instilled discipline, gave leaves to the officers, consolidated his cavalry into a corps, and replaced the Corps d’armée or Grand Divisions by an army organization of seven corps, commanded by, First, Reynolds; Second, Couch; Third, Sickles; Fifth, Meade; Sixth, Sedgwick; Eleventh, Howard; and Twelfth, Slocum. Then he began to study strategy, for Mr. Lincoln had said, “Go forward and give us victories.” Lee’s army, his objective point, must be reached—but how? The more the problem was considered the more he was convinced its solution involved reaching General Lee’s left rear.

[Notes]

[1] General Lee told the writer he fought the battle with 35,000 troops.

[2] General Lee said, after the war, that he considered General McClellan the most intellectual of all the federal generals.

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