General Lee, by Fitzhugh Lee, Chapter 13

General Lee


FOR three weeks Lee waited, hoping to be attacked, and then suddenly, on October 9th, put his own army in motion with a design of making a wide circuit around his antagonist’s right, to manœuvre him out of Culpeper to his rear, and force him to deliver battle by intercepting his march toward Washington. He left a small force of infantry and cavalry to hold his old line on the Rapidan, which the Union cavalry attacked the next day, and was repulsed and pursued rapidly toward Culpeper Court House, where Stuart was driving Meade’s rear guard under Kilpatrick.

The Army of Northern Virginia, numbering, without Longstreet’s corps, forty-four thousand, was placed by a wide swing, via Madison Court House, around Meade’s right, and in forty-one miles reached Culpeper Court House to find the Army of the Potomac had been promptly withdrawn to the north bank of the Rappahannock. Lee then essayed another swing around the circle, and forced a passage over the Rappahannock at the White Sulphur Springs on the 12th, roughly handling Gregg’s cavalry division, which guarded Meade’s right, marching eighteen miles that day; but while Lee was moving north, Meade, not hearing from him, recrossed the river and moved south to Culpeper again, leaving one corps on the river. As soon as Gregg reported Lee’s position, the Union troops were countermarched in haste, and on the morning of the 13th, after a night march, were again north of the Rappahannock. That morning Lee only went to Warrenton—seven miles. He was still the nearer to Washington, and ahead. A five-mile march from Warrenton to Auburn, or nine miles to Warrenton Junction, or fourteen to Bristoe, would have placed him in position to strike as Meade’s columns marched South. The 13th, after a march of a few miles, was passed at Warrenton by Lee, while Meade’s rear, under Warren, bivouacked five miles away at Auburn. That delay, which General Lee says was due to being out of rations, allowed Meade to pass beyond him.

The next morning, the 14th, Ewell was sent via Auburn to Bristoe, and A. P. Hill by New .Baltimore to the same place. The former struck Warren’s rear, the latter the head of his column at Bristoe, and attacked it with only two brigades, which were repulsed by the masterly management of Warren, who seized with Hays’s division a cut on the railroad. So skillfully was this done that Warren captured from Hill four hundred and fifty prisoners, five pieces of artillery, and two stand of colors, and passed his whole corps across the broad run, following Meade’s rear without further molestation, though one half of Lee’s army might have been hammering his head and the other half his tail.

The adventurous Stuart got caught near Auburn on the night of the 13th between two marching parallel columns of Federal infantry, and, with a portion of his cavalry and some guns, lay perdue during the night within a mile or two of Meade’s headquarters and some four hundred yards from General Warren’s rear division, but dexterously extricated his whole command next morning.

While Lee lay at Warrenton on the 13th, Meade was twenty miles south of Bristoe, but, in spite of his night march on the 12th, succeeded in placing his whole army beyond Lee on the 13th, except Warren, who stopped opposite him and only a few miles away. Meade fell back to Centreville and its vicinity, where he prepared to offer battle. The position might have been turned, as in the case of Pope, but the immense works around Washington held out hospitable arms in case Meade again declined the contest. Nothing was accomplished except to demonstrate that the army which first left Gettysburg first assumed the offensive in Virginia. When General Lee retired, Meade followed, and his advance cavalry, under Kilpatrick, was routed by Stuart wheeling about and attacking it in front, while another portion of his horsemen assailed their flank at Buckland on the Warrenton road in an affair christened “Buckland races.”

“I have returned to the Rappahannock,” wrote General Lee to his wife, October 19, 1863; “I did not pursue with the main army beyond Bristoe or Broad Run. Our advance went as far as Bull Run, where the enemy was intrenched, extending his right as far as Chantilly, in the yard of which he was building a redoubt. I could have thrown him farther back, but I saw no chance of bringing him to battle, and it would have only served to fatigue our troops by advancing farther. If they had been properly provided with clothes I would certainly have endeavored to have thrown them north of the Potomac; but thousands were barefooted, thousands with fragments of shoes, and all without overcoats, blankets, or warm clothing. I could not bear to expose them to certain suffering on an uncertain issue.” The Union troops around Warrenton waited for the railroad which the Confederates had torn up to be repaired.

From Camp Rappahannock, October 28, 1863, the General said to Mrs. Lee: “I moved yesterday into a nice pine thicket, and Perry is to-day engaged in constructing a chimney in front of my tent which will make it warm and comfortable. I have no idea when F. [his son, W. H. F. Lee] will be exchanged. The Federal authorities still resist all exchanges, because they think it is to our interest to make them. Any desire expressed on our part for the exchange of any individual magnifies the difficulty, as they at once think some great benefit is to result to us from it. His detention is very grievous to me, and, besides, I want his services. I am glad you have some socks for the army. Send them to me. They will come safely. Tell the girls to send all they can. I wish they could make some shoes, too. We have thousands of barefooted men. There is no news. General Meade, I believe, is repairing the railroad, and I presume will come on again. If I could only get some shoes and clothes for the men I would save him the trouble.”

On November 1st Lee reviewed his cavalry corps, much to the delight of J. E. B. Stuart, who, like Murat, was not averse to the pomp of war. The cavalry chief was in all his glory with his “fighting jacket” and dancing plume. The cavalry corps numbered—by the returns of the day before—seven thousand nine hundred and seventeen. Many squadrons were absent on picket and other detached duty, but at least five thousand sabers passed his front. It was an inspiring sight. The privates, who were graceful riders, owned the horses, which were generally good.

From Camp Rappahannock, November 1, 1863, he wrote Mrs. Lee: “I have just had a visit from my nephews, Fitz, John, and Henry. They looked very well. The former is going on a little expedition. As soon as I was left alone I committed them in a fervent prayer to the care and guidance of our heavenly Father. I think my rheumatism is better to-day. I have been through a great deal with comparatively little suffering. I have been wanting to review the cavalry for some time, and appointed to-day with fear and trembling. I had not been on horseback for five days previously and feared I would not get through, but, to my surprise, I got along very well. The Governor was here and told me Mrs. Letcher had seen you recently.”

Meade now decided to get closer to Lee so as to be in a position where he in turn could take the offensive, and began to advance on November 7th. His left wing of three corps, under French, was directed to cross the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford; his right, under Sedgwick, at Rappahannock Station. French progressed without much opposition, but Sedgwick found at tête-de-pont with lines of rifle trenches on the north side of his crossing point. This was a fort or redoubt, being in part some old intrenchments, but without a ditch and open to the south, with which it was connected by a pontoon bridge. It was occupied by two of Early’s brigades under Colonels Penn and Godwin, with four pieces of artillery. Daylight was fast disappearing; Russell’s division of the Sixth Corps was in line of battle in its front, with Upton’s brigade deployed as skirmishers. Russell thought he could carry the work, so Sedgwick gave the order. The conditions were favorable to success; the wind blowing strong from south to north, the firing could not be heard by the supporting batteries on the south side, so Russell stormed the redoubt with so much dash that it was captured before the Southern force on the south side knew it.

It was a brilliant coup de main, reflecting credit on those engaged, particularly the Maine and Wisconsin regiments. The troops assailed by a division amounted to one thousand six hundred and seventy-four, and so rapid was the Federal rush that only six were killed and thirty-nine wounded; eight captured flags were carried to Meade’s headquarters by Russell and Upton, preceded by a band, and then sent in charge of Russell to the War Department at Washington, after the manner Napoleon’s trophies went sometimes to Paris, but the Secretary sent the gallant officer word he was too busy to see him, so the concluding ceremony was not as ostentatious as planned. Lee withdrew on the night of the 8th to his lines behind the Rapidan, while Meade reoccupied his camp between the rivers. Both sides wanted a battle, but on ground of their own selection.

About this time the city of Richmond presented General Lee with a house. In consequence, the President of the City Council received the following letter, dated November 12, 1863: “I assure you, sir, that no want of the appreciation of the honor conferred upon me by this resolution, or insensibility of the kind feeling that prompted it, induces me to ask, as I most respectfully do, that no further proceedings be taken with reference to the subject. The house is not necessary for the use of my family, and my own duties will prevent my residence in Richmond. I shall therefore be compelled to decline the generous offer, and trust that whatever means the City Council may have to spare for this purpose may be devoted to the relief of the families of our soldiers in the field who are now in need of assistance, and more deserving of it than myself.”

The general was still worried about his imprisoned son, who was an affectionate, lovable fellow, as well as a fine officer, and wrote: “Camp, November 21, 1863.—I see by the papers that our son has been sent to Fort Lafayette. Any place would be better than Fort Monroe with Butler in command. His long confinement is very grievous to me, yet it may all turn out for the best.”

The people of Richmond, not being able to do anything for General Lee, doubled their acts of kindness to his wife. She was deeply grateful for their love and friendship, and so informed her husband, who replied from camp, November 25,1863: “The kindness exhibited toward you as well as myself by our people, in addition to exciting my gratitude, causes me to reflect how little I have done to merit it, and humbles me in my own eyes to a painful degree. I am very sorry the weather was so bad that I could not give the President a review. I wanted him to see the troops, and wanted them to see him.”

Over two weeks elapsed, after the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia were face to face along the Rapidan, before Meade executed a well-considered plan to turn Lee’s right and either throw him nearer to his capital or beat him before he could concentrate his force, which was much scattered, in order to secure supplies more easily. At dawn on November 26th his columns were put in motion to cross the Rapidan at its lower fords, reach the country south of the river and east of Orange Court House, and there be directed to Orange Court House on the roads leading from Fredericksburg to that point. He was in light marching order, well supplied with ten days’ rations, and his wagons were left north of the Rapidan; but around his Culpeper camp hovered Southern cavalry scouts, and Lee early knew Meade’s preparations and movements.

Flowing northerly into the Rapidan and almost at right angles was Mine Run, on whose western banks Lee rapidly deployed a line of battle, his great engineering talent assisting him in locating his troops, and with great rapidity breastworks were constructed too strong to be assailed. When Meade reached the line of Mine Run en route to Orange Court House, Lee’s army confidently blocked his way. He could not make a direct assault, so the Union commander resolved to attack both wings, by Sedgwick on Lee’s left, by Warren on his right; but the latter, formerly an engineer officer, who was to begin, reported that closer reconnoissance disclosed his enemy’s lines too were well defended. There was no alternative left Meade except to withdraw, which he did during the night.

To Mrs. Lee the general gave his account of the affair from Camp Rapidan, December 4, 1863: “You will probably have seen that General Meade has retired to his old positions on the Rappahannock without giving us battle. I had expected, from his movements and all that I had heard, that it was his intention to do so, and after the first day, when I thought it necessary to skirmish pretty sharply with him on both flanks to ascertain his views, I waited patiently his attack. On Tuesday, however, I thought he had changed his mind, and that night made preparations to move around his left next morning and attack him. But when day dawned he was nowhere to be seen. He had commenced to withdraw at dark Tuesday evening. We pursued to the Rapidan, but he was over. Owing to the nature of the ground, it was to our advantage to receive rather than to make the attack, and as he about doubled us in numbers, I wished to have that advantage. I am greatly disappointed at his getting off with so little damage, but we do not know what is best for us. I believe a kind God has ordered all things for our good.”

In the latter part of December General W. H. F. Lee, still in prison, was overtaken by a great calamity. His wife and his two children died. When General Lee was informed of their death he wrote:

Sunday Morning, December 27, 1863.

Custis’s dispatch which I received last night demolished all the hopes in which I had been indulging during the day of dear Charlotte’s recovery. It has pleased God to take from us one exceedingly dear to us, and we must be resigned to his holy will. She, I trust, will enjoy peace and happiness forever, while we must patiently struggle on under all the ills that may be in store for us. What a glorious thought it is that she has joined her little cherubs and our angel Annie [his daughter] in heaven! Thus is link by link of the strong chain broken that binds us to earth, and smoothes our passage to another world. Oh, that we may be at last united in that haven of rest, where trouble and sorrow never enter, to join in an everlasting chorus of praise and glory to our Lord and Saviour! I grieve for our lost darling as a father only can grieve for a daughter, and my sorrow is heightened by the thought of the anguish her death will cause our dear son, and the poignancy it will give to the bars of his prison. May God in his mercy enable him to bear the blow he has so suddenly dealt and sanctify it to his everlasting happiness!

Rations and clothing for his men and forage for his animals were sources of great anxiety to him. In the midst of winter many of his brave men were without blankets and barefooted. From camp, January 24, 1864, he wrote: “I have had to disperse the cavalry as much as possible to obtain forage for their horses, and it is that which causes trouble. Provisions for the men, too, are very scarce, and with very light diet and light clothing I fear they suffer; but still they are cheerful and uncomplaining. I received a report from one division the other day in which it was stated that over four hundred men were barefooted and over a thousand without blankets.”

Difficulties surrounded him on every side! From camp, February 6, 1864, he wrote Mrs. Lee: “I received your letter some days ago, and last night your note accompanying a bag of gloves and socks and a box of coffee. Mrs. Devereux sent the coffee to you, not to me, and I shall have to send it back. It is so long since we have had the foreign bean that we no longer desire it. We have a domestic article, which we procure by the bushel, that answers very well. You must keep the good things for yourself. We have had to reduce our allowance of meat one half, and some days we have none. The gloves and socks are very acceptable, and I shall give them out this morning. The socks of Mrs. Shepherd are very nice, but I think it is better to give them to the soldiers than to dispose of them as you suggest. The soldiers are much in need. We have received some shoes lately, and the socks will be a great addition. Tell ‘Life’ [his youngest daughter] I think I hear her needles rattle as they fly through the meshes.”

The very day after this letter was written these destitute men joyfully sprang to arms. General Butler at Fort Monroe, but commanding the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, thought, from what he had heard, he could capture Richmond with cavalry from the Peninsula—the general ability of Butler was great, his military qualifications small. Brigadier-General Wister marched from New Kent Court House to the Chickahominy and marched back again. A portion of the Army of the Potomac, in pursuance of Butler’s plan, were to cross the Rapidan and threaten Lee, to prevent him from dispatching troops to Richmond by rail. This Army-of-the-Potomac diversion was under gallant old Sedgwick, who was commanding the army during Meade’s temporary absence.

General Lee gives his account of the diversion in a letter dated Camp, Orange County, February 14, 1864: “This day last week we were prepared for battle, but I believe the advance of the enemy was only intended to see where we were and whether they could injure us. They place their entire loss in killed, wounded, and missing at twelve hundred, but I think that is exaggerated. Our old friend Sedgwick was in command. In reference to Rob” (his youngest son, who was a private in the Rockbridge artillery battery, and who Mrs. Lee desired to be with his father), “his company would be a great pleasure and comfort to me, and he would be extremely useful in various ways, but I am opposed to officers surrounding themselves with their sons and relatives. It is wrong in principle, and in that case selections would be made from private and social relations rather than for the public good. There is the same objection to going with Fitz Lee. I should prefer Rob’s being in the line in an independent position, where he could rise by his own merit and not through the recommendation of his relatives. I expect him here soon, when I can better see what he himself thinks. The young men have no fondness for the society of the old general. He is too heavy and sombre for them.”

Again Lee’s rest was disturbed by a diversion on his left flank by infantry and cavalry, in order to allow Kilpatrick, with some four thousand horsemen, to ride past his right, make a dash for Richmond, release the Union prisoners, and disturb the peace generally. It accomplished nothing. The idea originated in Washington, it is said, for Meade disapproved it. Upon one of Kilpatrick’s officers”Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who was killed—some remarkable papers were found, including a sort of an address to the soldiers to burn Richmond, “kill Jeff Davis and Cabinet,” and do many other horrible things. The United States Government promptly disclaimed any knowledge of such orders, and so did Meade. Dahlgren was a daring, dashing young fellow, but was too enthusiastic. It is certain the papers published at the time were taken from his person. The Southern President laughed as he read over the originals in his office, and turning to Mr. Benjamin, his Secretary of State, who was with him, said, when he reached the word Cabinet, “That is intended for you, Mr. Benjamin.”

Lee was now making every effort to promote the efficiency of his army for the great struggle he knew must come in the spring. On March 18, 1864, he wrote: “I arrived safely yesterday.” (He had been on a short visit to Richmond.) “There were sixty-seven pairs of socks in the bag I brought up instead of sixty-four, as you supposed, and I found here three dozen pairs of beautiful white-yarn socks, sent over by our kind cousin Julia and sweet little Carrie, making one hundred and three pairs, all of which I sent to the Stonewall brigade. One dozen of the Stuart socks had double heels. Can you not teach Mildred [his daughter] that stitch? They sent me also some hams, which I had rather they had eaten. I pray that you may be preserved and relieved from all your troubles, and that we may all be again united here on earth and forever in heaven.” His wife and daughter and other friends of the cause were knitting socks for the soldiers, and the commanding general had brought some of them back to the army himself!

The cavalry, for the better subsistence of men and horses, had been moved back to Charlottesville for the winter, and, not having much to do, some of the officers proposed to dance. General Lee wrote his son Robert, then belonging to that arm of service, from Camp Orange Court House, January 17, 1864: “I inclose a letter for you which has been sent to my care. I hope you are well and all around you. Tell Fitz I grieve over the hardships and sufferings of his men in their late expedition. I would have preferred his waiting for more favorable weather. He accomplished much under the circumstances, but would have done more in better weather. I am afraid he was anxious to get back to the ball. This is a bad time for such things. We have too grave subjects on hand to engage in such trivial amusements. I would rather his officers should entertain themselves in fattening their horses, healing their men, and recruiting their regiments. There are too many Lees on the committee. I like them all to be present at battles, but can excuse them at balls. But the saying is, “Children will be children.” I think he had better move his camp farther from Charlottesville, and perhaps he will get more work and less play. He and I are too old for such assemblies. I want him to write me how his men are, his horses, and what I can do to fill up his ranks.”

From camp, April 2, 1864, he wrote Mrs. Lee: “Your note with the socks arrived last evening. I have sent them to the Stonewall brigade; the number all right—thirty pairs. Including this last parcel of thirty pairs, I have sent to that brigade two hundred- and sixty-three pairs. Still, there are about one hundred and forty whose homes are within the enemy’s lines and who are without socks. I shall continue to furnish them till all are supplied. Tell the young women to work hard for the brave Stonewallers.” And once more, from Orange County, April 21, 1864: “Your note with bag of socks reached me last evening. The number was correct—thirty-one pairs. I sent them to the Stonewall brigade, which is not yet supplied. Sixty-one pairs from the ladies in Fauquier have reached Charlottesville, and I hope will be distributed soon. Now that Miss Bettie Brander has come to the aid of my daughters, the supply will soon be increased.”

The preparations of the Government of the United States for prosecuting the war in 1864 were on a vast scale. Stupendous efforts were made to crush armed resistance everywhere. An irresistible invasion was designed to destroy “rebellion” from center to circumference. The principal objective points were the two principal armies of the Confederacy—the one then at Dalton, Ga., under J. E. Johnston, and the other in Virginia under Robert E. Lee. The Washington authorities decided that there should be only one head to direct these immense plans of campaign, and it determined the head should be on the shoulders of General U. S. Grant. This officer was commissioned lieutenant general on March 9, 1864, and placed in the command of all the armies of the United States. His success in the West had brought him prominently to the notice of Mr. Lincoln. In the exercise of supreme command his especial attention was to be bestowed upon General Lee, and his headquarters were to be established with Meade’s army. Hiram Ulysses, as christened, or Ulysses S. Grant, as he was registered at West Point, was a native of Ohio, who graduated at the United States Military Academy in 1843; was assigned to the Fourth Infantry and became regimental quartermaster; served with distinction in Mexico, and was bold and adventurous—for instance, at Molino del Rey he climbed to the roof of a house and demanded the surrender of Mexicans occupying it; and at another point placed howitzers in the belfry of a church to drive his enemy out of a defensive position near the City of Mexico. After eleven years in the United States Army he resigned, was afterward on a small farm near St. Louis, and then became a clerk in 1860 in the hardware and leather store of his father in Galena, Ill. When the war broke out he offered his services to his Government in writing, but received no reply, and was afterward made colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Regiment by the Governor of that State. He was thirty-nine years old when he confronted Lee, and was not to be despised as a commander. He was fortunate in being placed in command at a time when the resources of men and means of the Confederacy were smaller than ever before, and his peculiar direct tactics could be employed in consequence of superiority in numbers, for he admitted to Meade he never manœuvred. With two hostile armies of approximate strength commanded by Lee and Grant in a campaign demanding a high order of military sagacity and a familiarity with strategic science, the chances of success would be with Lee.

The Union chief had, however, many excellent qualities for a soldier. He was taciturn, sturdy, plucky, not afraid of public responsibility or affected by public opinion. There was no ostentation in his position, and to an outsider he was not as showy as a corporal of the guard. Meade had a Solferino flag with a golden eagle in a silver wreath for his headquarters. When General Grant first saw it unfurled, as they broke camp for the Wilderness campaign, he is reported to have exclaimed, “What’s this? Is imperial Cæsar anywhere about here?”

Lee, who had campaigned against McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade, had now to measure swords with Grant. Sheridan, too, made his first bow in Virginia at this time. He had served with distinction under Halleck in the West, and when Grant asked for the best officer that could be found to be his chief of cavalry, Halleck suggested Sheridan, and his suggestion was instantly adopted. This officer graduated in 1853 at West Point, was a classmate of McPherson, Schofield, and Hood, had served in the Fourth Infantry—Grant’s old regiment—and was thirty years of age when he first drew his sabre in Virginia in 1864.

The Federal Government laid at the feet of Grant its unbounded treasures. His Virginia army was increased to one hundred and eighteen thousand men of all arms and three hundred and eighteen cannon, as some authorities have it; but the report of the Union Secretary of War to the first session of the Thirty-ninth Congress gave one hundred and forty-nine thousand one hundred and sixty men. Some idea of its vast proportions may be had by the statement that one hundred and eighteen thousand men, disposed for battle two ranks deep, would cover a front of thirty miles, while sixty-two thousand men, similarly disposed, would cover only sixteen miles. Grant says, in his Memoirs, his wagon train would have reached on a single road from the Rapidan to Richmond, sixty-five miles. To meet this grand “On to Richmond!” Lee had sixty-two thousand men and two hundred and twenty-four field guns.

At midnight on May 3d Grant began to cross the Rapidan at Ely’s and Germanna fords, some distance below Lee’s right, but at the very points Lee had predicted, a few days before, in a conference with his officers. The Army of the Potomac was now consolidated into four corps—Second, Fifth, and Sixth—commanded by Hancock, Warren, and Sedgwick, and the Ninth under Burnside. (Under the consolidation the First and Third Corps disappeared.) When the sun sank to rest on the 4th, Grant had crossed his whole army, and on the morning of the 5th confidently started across the Wilderness in a southerly direction to force Lee to accept battle.

Crossing the river without opposition relieved his mind from serious apprehensions; but it was no part of Lee’s plan to resist him there. Indeed, he generally gave plenty of room on his side of a stream for his opponent to form, hoping to make it as difficult for him to get back as it was easy for him to get over. It is safe to say he would never have formed his troops at the water edge of the Bull Run fords as Beauregard did at the first Manassas, but upon commanding positions back, with only sufficient force to delay and give notice of the crossing. Had Beauregard done this, he would not have had his left turned, for the opportune arrival of Johnston alone gave him the battle. Grant’s move did not, as he expected, compel Lee to fall back toward Richmond and fight a defensive battle; but hardly had he filled the Wilderness with men as thick as “raging locusts” than Lee marched to meet and attack him.

Early on the morning of May 4th he bade adieu to the three or four tents near Orange Court House which had been the winter home of himself and personal staff, and with Ewell’s corps, two detached brigades, and two divisions of Hill’s corps, with artillery and cavalry, marched by the most direct course for Grant’s army. Longstreet, who was at Gordonsville then with two divisions (Pickett’s was south of James River), was directed to follow, as well as Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps which was on Rapidan Heights. On the 5th, in two columns, Lee advanced by the old turnpike and plank roads, which, leading east from Orange Court House via Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg, were being crossed by Grant at right angles, who was marching south. Ewell was on the former and Hill moved on the latter road, and by Hill’s side at the head of the column rode Lee, while his cavalry marched still farther to the right. Grant did not know of the proximity of the Confederates, though Ewell’s advance had bivouacked on the night of the 4th three miles from Warren’s corps, which was at the intersection of the Germanna road with the old turnpike, called Wilderness Tavern. So on the 5th Grant gave orders for his army to move in two columns—Fifth and Sixth Corps from Wilderness Tavern to Parker’s Store, where their route intersected the plank road, and Hancock from Chancellorsville to Shady Grove Church. Warren, as a military precaution, threw Griffin’s division up the old turnpike toward Orange Court House to protect his moving column, and Ewell, coming down the pike about this time, met and engaged Griffin, and the battle of the Wilderness began, for shortly thereafter Hill became engaged with a force at Parker’s Store.

Hancock, whose troops formed Grant’s left advance, was stopped, and the heads of his columns turned toward Parker’s Store to meet Hill. Grant discovered that he had Lee’s army on his right marching flank and would have to fight in the Wilderness.

As Ewell and Warren became more engaged, lines of battle were formed—Warren in the center and Sedgwick on his right, and afterward Hancock on his left. On the plank road Hill’s left did not connect with Ewell’s right. Getty’s division, Sixth Union Corps, was sent first to retard Hill’s progress, and then Hancock’s corps arrived. Ewell and Warren had their encounter, and then Hancock and Hill took up the fighting. Warren gained ground at first against Ewell, but was in turn driven back with the loss of three thousand men, while Hancock’s vigorous assaults on Hill’s two divisions on the plank road were successfully resisted.

Night came and both sides prepared for the morrow’s desperate battle, when Lee and Grant each proposed to assume the offensive. It was a terrible region to receive or deliver battle: thousands of acres of tangled forest, interlaced undergrowth, scrub oaks, dwarf pine and cedar, were on every side, with here and there a few narrow roads. Grant did not manœuvre, so it suited him in that respect; but his preponderance of numbers could not be made effective, and his men were in each other’s way, just as Hooker’s had been in this same Wilderness nearer to Chancellorsville. Artillery was of but little service, mounted cavalry none; no man could command the battle, because no man saw but a few yards around him. Two hundred thousand men were mixed up in a wild, weird struggle, like a hole full of snakes with their tails intertwined. On the morning of the 6th, Sedgwick, Warren, Burnside (now up), and Hancock faced Ewell and Hill, while Longstreet was rapidly marching to Hill’s position.

Lee’s plan was to feign attack on Grant’s right and assail his left flank, Grant’s to attack along his whole line. Sedgwick was attacked before his orders required him to attack; but Longstreet was not yet up, nor was Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps. So Lee had to wait on his right; but Hancock[1] with nearly forty thousand men did not wait, but rushed on Heth and Wilcox’s division of Hill’s corps, and finally carried their whole front and drove their right back in some confusion. Lee’s right wing was threatened with disaster; neither Longstreet’s corps nor Anderson’s division of Hill’s had arrived. The former left his camp near Gordonsville at 4 P.M. on the 4th, and marched that afternoon sixteen miles. The next day, when Hill and Ewell were fighting, he resumed his march, lost his way, had to retrace his steps, and finally went into camp on the night of the 5th near Verdiersville, some ten miles in the rear of where Hill and Ewell had been fighting, broke camp at 12.30 A.M. on the 6th, and reached Hill, whose two divisions had been assailed by six Federal divisions under Hancock, just in time to save Lee’s right.

Lee has stated since the war[2] that he sent an officer to Longstreet to stay with him and show him the roads, anticipating he would move him when Grant crossed the Rapidan, but Longstreet discharged him, and, by taking the wrong road, did not get up to his position until May 6th, when he might have joined him on the 5th. Gordonsville was only ten miles from Orange Court House and the court house thirteen from Verdiersville, where Longstreet bivouacked the night of the 5th. By the route he should have marched he could have reached Verdiersville in twenty miles. He consumed one day and a half of precious time in getting there. Though late in his arrival, no one could have made dispositions to assume the offensive with more celerity, or have attacked with more promptness. Hancock was now in turn assailed. Holding his front with three brigades under Gregg, Benning, and Law, Longstreet threw four—viz., Mahone’s, G. T. Anderson’s, Wofford’s, and Davis’s—around Hancock’s left flank. Attacked in flank and front, Hancock’s troops were routed and driven rapidly back three quarters of a mile to his line of works.

It was a well-planned, well-executed movement. As Longstreet rode down the plank road at the head of his column he came opposite to his brigades, which had made the flank movement, and were drawn up parallel to the plank road and some sixty feet from it. He was mistaken in the thick woods for the Federals, and a volley was fired at him by his own men, which severely wounded him and killed General Jenkins by his side. It was most unfortunate. Jackson at Chancellorsville had been shot down by his troops at the moment of victory, and here in the Wilderness in the midst of a deserved success, and when Longstreet had given orders for the advance of his whole force, he, too, fell by the fire of his own men. His fall arrested the movement. R. H. Anderson was taken from Hill’s corps and put in command of Longstreet’s, and Mahone given Anderson’s division; but the change required time.

Lee had in person been in the midst of Hill’s troops, restoring confidence and order, and his presence, as he rode along the lines on his gray horse, was most inspiring. In splendid style the troops of Longstreet went into battle. As the Texans swept by with enthusiastic cheers Lee rode with them in the charge until those brave fellows insisted he should go back. A sergeant actually seized his horse, and just then Colonel Venable, of his staff, called his attention to Longstreet sitting on his horse on a little knoll not far away, and he rode off and joined him. The Texas soldiers were, like “Scipio’s veterans, ready to die for him if he would only spare himself.” General Lee had served in Texas when in the United States Army, and was familiar with the State and her people; he had the highest admiration for the Texas troops, as the whole army had. They were descendants of the adventurous spirits who first settled Texas, were good marksmen, and their eyes could look down a gun barrel without a tremor of the lid. He asked Senator Wigfall, of Texas, to get him more Texans, and said after Sharpsburg if he had more of them he would feel more certain of results.

Hancock’s troops were driven behind their log breastworks, upon which a later attack failed. The same afternoon Gordon, with three brigades of Ewell’s corps, made a successful assault on Sedgwick’s line, Wright’s division; but night stopped the contest. During the day severe combats had taken place between the cavalry of the two armies on the Furnace and Brock roads and at Todd’s Tavern, with no decisive results. Both armies were locked in their temporary breastworks. Lee could no longer hope to successfully assail the immense masses of Grant, and on Grant, imperturbable and calm, the impression had been made that to again “attack along the whole line” would be hopeless. It was a terrible field for a battle—a region of tangled underbrush, ragged foliage, and knotted trunks. “You hear the saturnalia, gloomy, hideous, desperate, raging unconfined. You see nothing, and the very mystery augments the horror; nothing was visible, and from out the depths came the ruin that had been wrought in bleeding shapes borne in blankets or on stretchers.” The Wilderness was a tract of gloom, and over all was the shadow of death. Grant had lost[3] seventeen thousand six hundred and sixty-six men, his opponent one half that number. Science had little to do with such a struggle. “Two wild animals were hunting for each other; when they heard each other’s footsteps they sprang and grappled.” It was like a huge Indian fight, and different from any other battle. The two days’ contest on this unique ground can be compared to nothing in military records, ancient or modern. “Charges were made and repulsed, the men in the lines scarcely seeing each other. Soldiers fell, writhed, and died unseen, their bodies lost in the bushes, their death groans drowned in the steady, continuous, never-ceasing crash.”

To add to the horrors, the woods caught fire and many wounded men perished in the flames. Lee’s army was Grant’s objective point, but the objective point sought Grant, and the latter, after remaining in its front all of the 7th, deliberately marched away during the night and attempted to interpose between it and Richmond at the strategic point of Spottsylvania Court House, fifteen miles southeast of the battlefield. His infantry did not begin to march until 9 P.M.; but during the afternoon a portion of his wagon train was first moved toward Chancellorsville, and the watchful Stuart, who had cavalry on all sides, at once reported the fact. Lee divined Grant’s plans, and promptly ordered Anderson, commanding Longstreet’s corps, to move around General Hancock’s left to the same point.

Warren, the Union van, was much delayed during the night. Meade’s large escort was first in his way, and then Merritt’s cavalry, which was preceding his march, failed to drive the Confederate cavalry in his front, but finally gave the right of way to Warren; it was then daylight. Indeed, so effectual was the resistance of a dismounted division of Confederate cavalry that Warren’s leading division, Robinson’s, did not get in sight of Spottsylvania Court House until after 8 A.M., and then found Anderson’s troops in his front, which, marching by a parallel road, had replaced the cavalry and received Robinson with a savage musketry fire, severely wounding him and driving back his line. As the Union troops came up they formed on Warren, while Anderson formed the nucleus for Lee’s lines. The race had been finished, and Lee, between Grant and Richmond, cried Check!

Both armies intrenched, and two formidable lines of earthworks sprang into existence. For twelve days Grant repeatedly and vainly assaulted at different points his opponent’s position. The small army in gray stood as immovable as the mountains. Twice Grant assailed on the 8th of May, five times on the 10th, and on the 12th, when he succeeded in carrying a salient. On the 18th and 19th he attacked again. Grant lost eighteen thousand three hundred and ninety-nine men, making forty thousand[4] in the two weeks of overland travel, or in numbers equal to two thirds of Lee’s whole army. The “hammering” process was costly, but might ultimately succeed as long as General Lee lost one man to his three, because the Federal reservoir of human supply was so much greater.

Here the Union commander lost one of his best and bravest corps commanders—John Sedgwick, of the Sixth Corps. On the 11th, while walking along a portion of his line, a ball from the gun of a Confederate sharpshooter pierced his cheek under the left eye. A soldier in front of him a moment before dodged to the ground as he heard the shrill whistle of a bullet. Sedgwick touched him gently with his foot, telling him to get up, he was ashamed of him, and remarked, “They could not hit an elephant at this distance.” The man rose, saluted, and said, “General, I dodged a shell once, and if I hadn’t it would have taken my head off.” Sedgwick laughed and told him to go to his place in line, and was immediately afterward killed. He had two mourners—his friend and his foe. With Lee and others who had served with him before the war he was a great favorite; he was so true, so faithful in all of life’s relations. In his death the Army of the Potomac lost an arm. General Horatio G. Wright succeeded to the command of his corps.

The Union assault of the 12th was partially successful. There was a salient on Ewell’s works, and its V-shape was enwrapped by the Federals. Hancock’s corps was brought from Grant’s right during the stormy night before and massed twelve hundred yards from the work, and at half-past four in the morning, with Barlow’s and Birney’s divisions in advance, successfully and gallantly stormed the position, capturing General Edward Johnson, one of Ewell’s division commanders, between three and four thousand prisoners, and twenty pieces of artillery.

Lee had detected the weak point, and had already commenced a line across the base of the triangle. It was well conceived, as his right center would have been pierced and his army divided. This second line received the victorious rush of the Federals, who were in turn driven back with great slaughter to the salient, where the fiercest and most deadly fighting in the war took place. Lee concentrated his efforts to retake the salient, Grant to hold it. The musketry fire with its terrific leaden hail was, beyond comparison, the heaviest of the four years of war. In the bitter struggle, trees large and small fell, cut down by bullets. Grant re-enforced Hancock by the Sixth Corps and by two of Warren’s divisions, after failing to get Warren and Burnside in at other points. He then had over half of his army—over fifty thousand men—holding on to the advantage gained, while Lee, equally as determined, purposed to retake the position. Rodes’s, Ramseur’s, and Gordon’s troops, three brigades under McGowan, Perrin, and Harris, and two battalions of artillery were “put in,” and all day the savage contest raged.

Late in the night Lee drew back his troops on the new line. On the 11th he thought Grant was preparing for another move, and that night ordered most of the cannon out of the salient so as to be ready for a counter move, all of which a deserter from Johnson’s line reported, and which may account for the assault which, though favored by a climatic condition, was courageously executed. Johnson during the night, becoming suspicious of ominous sounds in his front, ordered them back, but was attacked before getting them in position. The famous salient has been called the “bloody angle.” Some trenches almost ran with blood, while others had to be cleared of dead bodies. The lips of the dead were incrusted with powder from biting cartridges. It was a horrible scene. Two days before Upton’s brigade of the Sixth Corps broke through the, Confederate lines. General Lee was very sensitive about his lines being broken. It made him more than ever personally pugnacious, and ready and desirous to lead in their recapture.

On this occasion the general rode to the head of the column forming for the charge, took off his hat, and pointed to the captured line; but General John B. Gordon proposed to lead his own men, and no one in the army could do it better, for he was in dash and daring inferior to none. “These are Virginians and Georgians who have never failed,” said Gordon. “Go to the rear, General Lee.” And appealing to his men, he cried: “Is it necessary for General Lee to lead this charge?” “No, no,” they exclaimed; “we will drive them back if General Lee will go to the rear.” The Union troops were hurled back in the charge that followed and the line re-established. Grant again had no alternative but to flank—or fall back. He had written Halleck, addressing him as “Chief of the Staff of the Army,” that he was sending back his wagons for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and proposed “to fight it out on this line if it takes all the summer,” and asking that “re-enforcements be sent as fast as possible, and in as great numbers.” Grant, who said he never manœuvred, states in his official report that from the 12th to the 18th “was consumed in manœuvring and awaiting the arrival of re-enforcements,” which to the number of some thirty-five thousand were sent to him from the Middle and Washington Departments.

When Grant reached Spottsylvania Court House he determined to throw Sheridan’s cavalry corps between Lee and Richmond, tear up his communication, and be in position to dispatch what was left of Lee after he had crushed him in Spottsylvania, just as Hooker had proposed to use Stoneman at Chancellorsville. So on the 9th of May, at 6 A.M., Sheridan, clearing widely Lee’s right, turned toward Richmond. Ten thousand horsemen riding on a single road in columns of fours made a column thirteen miles in length, and with flashing sabres and fluttering guidons were an imposing array. Stuart was not long in ascertaining and following the movement, but had only three brigades available for that purpose, one of which, a small North Carolina brigade, was directed to follow Sheridan’s rear, while the other two, riding over the chord of the arc traveled by Sheridan, reached Yellow Tavern, six miles from Richmond, on the 11th, before Sheridan, and were thrown directly across his route. Here a fierce though most unequal cavalry combat ensued, the numbers of the contestants being as ten thousand to three thousand. Nearly all day these two cavalry brigades held their ground in Sheridan’s front, while General James B. Gordon’s small force attacked his rear, losing their gallant commander, giving General Bragg, commanding the Richmond defenses, ample time to get some troops from below Richmond, so that when Sheridan finally broke through them and arrived in front of the defenses his valor was replaced by prudence, and he marched around them, making a long circuit, and rejoined his army after an absence of over two weeks. It would have been the usual record of nothing accomplished and a broken-down command, except that at Yellow Tavern the Confederate cavalry chieftain was mortally wounded, and died the following day in Richmond. This sad occurrence was more valuable to the Union cause than anything that could have happened, and his loss to Lee irreparable. Stuart was the “best cavalry officer,” said General Sedgwick, the late Sixth Corps commander, who had been an officer in that arm of service, “ever foaled in America.” He was the army’s eyes and ears—vigilant always, bold to a fault; of great vigor and ceaseless activity, he was the best type of a beau sabreur. He had a heart ever loyal to his superiors, and “duty” was “the sublimest word in the language” to him.

In a letter from Spottsylvania Court House, May 16, 1864, General Lee said to his wife: “As I write I am expecting the sound of the guns every moment. I grieve the loss of our gallant officers and men, and miss their aid and sympathy. A more zealous, ardent, brave, and devoted soldier than Stuart the Confederacy can not have. Praise be to God for having sustained us so far. I have thought of you very often in these eventful days. God bless and preserve you.” And in his order, May 20th, announcing the death of Stuart to the army, he said: “Among the gallant soldiers who have fallen in this war, General Stuart was second to none in valor, in zeal, and in unflinching devotion to his country. His achievements form a conspicuous part of the history of this army, with which his name and services will be forever associated. To military capacity of a high order and to the nobler virtues of the soldier he added the brighter graces of a pure life, guided and sustained by the Christian’s faith and hope. The mysterious hand of an all-wise God has removed him from the scene of his usefulness and fame. His grateful countrymen will mourn his loss and cherish his memory. To his comrades in arms he has left the proud recollections of his deeds and the inspiring influence of his example.”

Lee was much attached to Stuart and greatly lamented his death; he had been a classmate and friend at West Point of his son Custis, and his whole family were fond of him. In his tent in the hours of the night, when he knew not what the morrow would bring forth, his thoughts constantly turned to the great cavalryman whose saber had been sheathed forever. Stuart’s superb personal gallantry was conspicuous to the last. His death wound was received while from the back of his horse he was steadying dismounted men by words of encouragement, and firing his pistol over their heads at the Federal cavalry in close proximity.

Once more General Grant, “deeming it impracticable,” he said, to make any further attack upon the enemy at Spottsylvania Court House, drew his troops from Lee’s front on the night of the 20th and started on another flank march, this time for the North Anna; but when his leading corps, the Fifth, reached that stream on the afternoon of the 23d Lee was there too, still between his capital and his enemy, where he again exclaimed, Check! To Mrs. Lee, from Hanover Junction, May 23, 1864, the general wrote: “General Grant, having apparently become tired of forcing his passage through, began on the night of the 20th to move around our right toward Bowling Green, placing the Mattapony River between us. Fearing he might unite with Sheridan and make a sudden and rapid move upon Richmond, I determined to march to this point so as to be in striking distance of Richmond, and be able to intercept him. The army is now south of the North Anna. We have the advantage of being nearer our supplies and less liable to have our communication trains, etc., cut by his cavalry, and he is getting farther from his base. Still, I begrudge every step he takes toward Richmond.” Lee’s position south of the North Anna River was an admirable one, and his defensive lines showed the skill of the engineer. Grant crossed his army at two points some miles apart. Lee kept his center on the river, but retired his wings so that the Union forces in front of them were separated from each other, and could only hold communication by crossing the river twice or by breaking through his army. It was his intention to assume the offensive here, and to strike Grant a stunning blow; but, unfortunately, he was taken ill. Colonel Venable, of his staff, writes that as he lay in his tent he would say in his impatience: “We must strike them. We must never let them pass us again.” He wanted to seize the advantage of his position. Warren, on the right of Grant’s army and Hancock on the left, supposed, after crossing the river, they could unite, but were totally unprepared to find Lee’s lines of battle between them. The Confederate army was posted upon two long lines of an obtuse-angle, whose strong apex rested on the river. It had received its first re-enforcements in the force under Breckinridge and Pickett’s division, and Hoke’s brigade of Early’s division—in all seventy-five hundred men. And the whole army was in good condition; but its commanding general was ill, and so was one of his corps commanders, while another had been disabled by wounds. Lee’s sickness made it “manifest he was the head and front, the very life and soul of his army.”

Grant did not like his North Anna situation. He said he found Lee’s position stronger than either of the two previous ones, so he withdrew “during the night of the 26th and moved via Hanovertown to turn the enemy’s position by his right.” Hanovertown is on the Pamunkey River, which is formed by the North Anna and South Anna; the Mattapony is formed by the junction of the Mat, Ta, Po, and Ny, and the two make the York. When Grant crossed the Pamunkey and marched south he was on the Peninsula, and when his advance reached Cold Harbor on May 31st he was on McClellan’s former grounds. Across his path, and once more between him and Richmond, was the Army of Northern Virginia. Its commander was again in the saddle, and again he heard Check! The duty of keeping from his capital an army nearly three times as great in number as his own was an occupation sufficient to employ all the military skill of Lee; but so great were the resources of the United States Government that it was able to converge several armies on the one objective—Richmond. Butler was to concentrate the troops of his department, largely re-enforced from detachments hitherto operating in the South, and march on Petersburg, twenty miles south of Richmond, destroy the railroads running south, and invest the Confederate capital from his side of the James, so as to be in position to co-operate with Grant when his conquering banners should wave from the other side. The columns of Crook and Averell were to debouch from West Virginia, and Sigel to advance up the great Valley of Virginia, capture Staunton, Charlottesville, and Lynchburg, and then be guided by future instructions.

But the co-operating armies did not co-operate; Butler, with an army of over thirty thousand men, “marched up the hill and then marched down again.” On transports he conveyed his troops up the James River, landed them at City Point, and above, at Bermuda Hundred, in the angle between the junction of the Appomattox River flowing from Petersburg and the James from Richmond, and intrenched across the narrow neck of land on a line some three miles only from the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, less than ten from Petersburg and twenty from Richmond. Here he established his entrepêt of supplies, and from this base proceeded to play his part in the campaign drama. He was too slow for after some preliminary success, just as he was about to achieve fame, he was attacked by Beauregard on the morning of the 16th, and driven within his fortified lines, in front of which Beauregard threw up works stretching from river to river. He was caged, so far as any further advance from that point could be made, for Beauregard had locked him up and put the key in his pocket, or, as General Barnard, Grant’s chief engineer, expressed it—and General Grant adopted the phrase in his report—he was in a bottle which Beauregard had corked, and with a small force could hold the cork in place. Beauregard had been brought from the Southern Department, and his command consisted of detachments from South Carolina, Georgia, and other points. His plans to defeat Butler were most skillfully arranged, and would have been crowned with great success but for the unpardonable and admitted nonaction of one of his division generals, to whom had been confided the duty of cutting off General Butler’s retreat.

Sigel, the Valley co-operator, with sixty-five hundred men, was defeated by Breckinridge with five thousand troops on May 15th at New Market, the day before Beauregard beat Butler, in which he was greatly assisted by a battalion of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, Va. The boys were transformed by the crash of arms, roar of cannon, and shouts of combatants, into young heroes, and displayed marked heroism. The cadets of the Virginia Military Institute are responsible for the fact that many soldiers fought for the last time “mit Sigel.” Breckinridge was then called to Lee, and General David Hunter replaced Sigel in command in the Valley, with whom Crook and Averell later united.

When General Lee faced Grant at Cold Harbor, Butler was still “bottled up”; but twelve thousand five hundred of his force under General “Baldy” Smith, as he was called, had been taken out from the bottom of the bottle, placed on transports, carried down the James and up the York, landed, and marched to Grant. Lee was also re-enforced by a division of North Carolinians. On June 1st, at 5 P.M., Smith’s command and the Sixth Corps attacked, the other corps being held by Grant in readiness to advance on receipt of orders. The Confederate thick skirmish or preliminary line was carried, but the main position was immovable, of which, after the loss of two thousand men, Smith and Wright became convinced. “The 2d of June,” says Grant, “was spent in getting troops into position for attack on the 3d; on the 3d of June we again assaulted the enemy’s work in the hope of driving him from his position. I n this attempt our loss was heavy while that of the enemy, I have reason to believe, was comparatively light.”

This remarkable assault deserves more attention than the brief statement in which Grant disposes of it. Its isolation on the pages of history as the most extraordinary blunder in military annals will alone make it famous. Nearly all of the one hundred and thirteen thousand troops then at Cold Harbor, in double lines of battle six miles long, sprang to arms at half-past four on the morning of the 3d, and, in obedience to the customary order “to attack along the whole line,” assailed the army of Lee and were terribly slaughtered at every point. There has been no instance of such destructive firing attended with such small loss to the men who were shooting from stationary lines. The troops went forward, said Hancock, “as far as the example of their officers could carry them”; but that was not far, for eight or ten minutes was the time of actual advance—sixty minutes of battle from first to last. Grant seemed willing to submit everything to the “nice hazard of a doubtful hour.” Death and destruction everywhere enveloped charging columns, and direct and cross fires tore them to pieces. Lee’s men were hungry and mad: three hard biscuits and one piece of fat pork were all the rations many had obtained since leaving the North Anna, and the pork was eaten raw because cooking involved waste. One cracker to a man, with no meat, became a luxury, and the lament of a poor fellow who had his shot out of his hand before he could eat it was ludicrous: “The next time I’ll put my cracker in a safe place down by the breastworks where it won’t get wounded, poor thing!” said he.

In front of the Confederate defenses the scene was heartrending. The ground was strewn with the dead, dying, and wounded Federals, and yet at 8 A.M. an order came from the chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac for the corps to assault again, each without reference to the other’s advance. It is known that “Baldy” Smith positively refused to obey it, while some of the other corps commanders went through the form of opening fire, but there was no advance. Again the order was given for a general assault. It was transmitted to corps commanders, from them to the division chiefs, down through brigades to regiments; but immobile ranks entered a solemn protest against human butchery, and men who had charged to the cannon’s mouth when there was a chance for victory lay in long lines as still as their dead comrades. The rank and file knew the hopelessness of another attack upon Lee’s lines; they had been there, and did not propose to make another useless, bloody experiment. In an incredibly short time twelve thousand seven hundred and thirty-seven of their number had dropped from their ranks. Who knew how many would fail to answer roll call after another attack? “Cold Harbor,” said General Grant after the war, “is the only battle I ever fought that I would not fight over again under the circumstances.” Wellington, victorious at Waterloo, said to Lord Fitzroy: “I have never fought such a battle, and I trust I shall never fight such another.” Lee proudly stood at the gate of his capital. If Grant was going to fight it out on that line, he must enter there. Another flank move would carry him farther from his objective, so he determined to lay siege to Lee’s position and dig up to it, and began the construction of parallels united by zigzag trenches, the work on which had to be done at night; but he soon gave up the substitution of spades and picks for guns and determined to move his army south of James River, and on the night of June 12th began the movement.

Five days before, he sent Sheridan on an expedition against the railroad which runs from Richmond to Charlottesville and Staunton, as well as to meet Hunter, who was expected from the Valley, and conduct him to the Army of the Potomac. Sheridan started on the 7th with the divisions of Gregg and Torbert, ten thousand strong, in light marching order; two days’ “short forage,” three days’ rations, and one hundred rounds of ammunition were carried by each trooper. On the evening of the 10th Sheridan bivouacked three miles from Trevilian’s Station in Louisa County. Hampton, with a division of cavalry, moved at once after him, while another division speedily followed; with these two divisions Hampton intercepted Sheridan at Trevilian’s, and interposed between him and Charlottesville. Here he was attacked on the 12th by Sheridan, all of whose assaults—principally apon General Butler’s command—were handsomely repulsed, and that night Sheridan started back to his army, having accomplished nothing. Hampton, with half of his numbers, was not strong enough to seriously interrupt his retrograde movement.

After the battle of Cold Harbor, Lee had such great confidence in his ability to keep Grant from getting closer to Richmond that he detached Breckinridge to meet Hunter, who, having defeated the small Confederate force in the Valley, under W. E. Jones, was advancing via Staunton and Lexington to Lynchburg. On the13th he sent Early with the Second Corps (Ewell’s), eight thousand muskets and twenty-four pieces of artillery, to join him. Lee then crossed the James, and on that night his tent was pitched near Drewry’s Bluff. Grant had sent Smith’s troops around by water, down the York and up the James to City Point, with orders to try and capture Petersburg, and on the morning of the 15th Smith was in front of the lines there. He was slow and cautious. That afternoon Lee’s army began to arrive, any opportunity to capture the city by a coup de main was gone, and the siege of Petersburg, destined to last ten long, weary months, began. The campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg was brilliantly conducted on Lee’s part. It was a magnificent exhibition of defensive warfare.

For one month his gigantic opponent fought him over nearly every mile between the Rapidan and the James. Practically every soldier in Lee’s army placed hors de combat a soldier in Grant’s, for the latter’s losses equaled in numbers the strength of the former’s command. Colonel Taylor, General Lee’s able adjutant general, places the number of re-enforcements Lee received in the thirty days’ campaign at fourteen thousand four hundred men, which, added to his original strength, gives seventy-eight thousand four hundred as the aggregate of all troops under his command from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor. And to Grant, Taylor assigns fifty-one thousand during the same period, giving him an aggregate under his command from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor of one hundred and ninety-two thousand one hundred and sixty men. This is a marvelous monument to the skill of Lee and the courage of his troops. Grant’s hammering process was expensive in time and men. It took him thirty days to march seventy-five miles, at a loss of sixty odd thousand men, and then he was only on ground reached by McClellan without firing a gun, if we except the affair at Williamsburg.


[1] His own corps and Getty’s division of the Sixth, and Wadsworth’s of the Second Corps; afterward he was re-enforced by a division of the Ninth Corps.

[2] Told his son, General G. W. Custis Lee.

[3] Fifteen thousand three hundred and eighty-seven.—Humphreys.

[4] Thirty-seven thousand three hundred and thirty-five.—Humphreys.

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