The Life of General Robert E. Lee
G. Mercer Adam


AFTER issuing the appreciative General Order to his army, given at the close of the last chapter, General Lee, having received some 5,000 additional troops, cast about him to see how he could best pursue the struggle and continue successfully to meet his adversary, “the little Napoleon.” One thing was now clear to him, that, with his small army, he could not hope again to take the offensive; all he could well do was to keep further watch on the Federal approaches to Richmond, harass the outposts of the enemy, and by daring raids interfere with its communications with Washington, and learn what he could of McClellan’s future movements. In the two latter designs, he had in the gallant Stuart and his cavalry command a highly efficient, as well as valiant and trusted, aid. On the 8th of Oct., Lee directed Stuart to make a reconnaissance across the Potomac, with portions of several mounted brigades (some 600 in number), with four guns. The crossing was effected above Williamsport, whence the column moved swiftly through Maryland, passing by the right of McClellan, and even entered Pennsylvania as far as Chambersburg. Here, and en route, Stuart picked up fresh horses for his troopers, destroyed a considerable amount of Federal stores and public property, and returned by McClellan’s left flank, ascertaining his position and strength, and all within so brief a time as to surprise and elude the Northern army he had circled round, besides sending a thrill of fear, by his boldness and celerity of movement, into the bosoms of the authorities at Washington. The results of the reconnaissance were, as usual, of high value to Lee; while the dashing raid roused the Federal Government to renewed urgency in insisting upon their tardy, deliberately moving Commander-in-chief making a further demonstration against Richmond and the Confederate line interposed to protect it. Towards the close of October found McClellan once more crossing the Potomac, this time near Berlin, Va., below Harper’s Ferry, which before this had been reoccupied by a Northern garrison, followed by a leisurely advance in the direction of Warrenton and the line of the Upper Rappahannock. To meet the movement, Lee directed Longstreet to hasten with his command across the Blue Ridge Mountain, which he promptly did, taking up a position under Lee’s eye at Culpeper Court House.

At this juncture, McClellan, who, by his procrastinations, had lost the confidence of his Washington superiors, was relieved of his command, which was now given to General Ambrose E. Burnside, an officer who had much less of the genius for fighting than had McClellan, whom, moreover, the Northern army loved, in spite of his over-cautiousness and want of success. Burnside’s plan of campaign had for its objective Richmond, though he first sought to concentrate his various divisions, under Sumner, Hooker, and Franklin, on the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg. On learning this, Lee tactically met the movement by ordering Longstreet to move thither, to confront Burnside; while, a little later, he brought on the scene the redoubtable Jackson, who by this time was at Orange Court House, to unite with Longstreet at Fredericksburg. Here, on the Stafford Heights, overlooking the town and the Rappahannock’s waters, the Union army, 116,000 strong, was massed towards the close of November, the Federal artillery being in a position to sweep the two miles plain intervening between the river and the bluffs of the Spottsylvania Hills, where were marshalled “Lee’s Legions,” now recruited to a total strength of about 78,000. A couple of weeks were consumed by the Federals in getting ready their pontoons and bridge-erecting construction to enable them to cross the river, which they contrived to do in large force on the day and night of December 12th. On the morning of the 13th, the battle began by a vigorous attack of French’s division against the Confederate right, 30,000 strong, under Jackson, at Hamilton’s Crossing, an onslaught which was finally repulsed; while, on the Federal right, the forces under Sumner and Hooker moved out of Fredericksburg Town and attempted to storm the Confederate position on Marye’s Hill, but had first to cross the intervening plain, where the advancing Northern forces were successively withered by the enfilading fire of the Confederate artillery and sharpshooters. In spite of this destruction, fresh troops were again and again brought forward to the assault, but with the same result—practical annihilation—until nightfall brought the bloody conflict to a close. Fortunately for his command, Burnside wisely desisted in his design of renewing the battle, and two days later he recrossed the Rappahannock with his dispirited troops, having suffered a loss of over 12,600 in killed, wounded, and missing. The Confederate loss in the battle was close upon 5,400, but the rejoicings of “the boys in gray” were great at the victory. After “the horror of Fredericksburg,” the two armies spent the next four (winter) months in quiet on either side of the Rappahannock, though towards the middle of January (1863) the rash Burnside was dismissed and the chief command of the Army of the Potomac was given to “Fighting Joe”—General J. E. Hooker.

The year we now enter upon saw the promulgation (Jan. 1, 1863) of the far-seeing and humane Edict of Emancipation, which marked the Lincoln Administration’s executive at this period, and put slavery forever under legal and moral ban in the States and Territories of the Union. Emancipation, it is true, was resorted to as “a war measure” in the thick of the deadly contest between the two sections of the riven Nation; but with Lincoln, long before the era of the decree and the amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery forever from the country, the traffic, as we have elsewhere observed, had always been held in abhorrence, and deep in his mind had lain the thought of abolishing it or seeing it abolished. The immediate effect of the measure, as we know, was to drive the South well-nigh to the verge of desperation; while at the North it was only partially accepted, and for a time it aroused even bitter animadversion. Happily, however, a change of sentiment came ere long, when it was seen what freedom meant to the slave, and how telling were the consequences of emancipation in the issues of the war. The act, almost entirely, was Lincoln’s own, and its consummation did surpassing honor to him, as well as to his Administration, and, at large, to the people who endorsed and applauded it.

Before resuming the narration of the incidents connected with the operations of the two hostile armies on the Rappahannock, let us glance for a little at the operations in the West (chiefly Federal successes), in the latter half of the past year. These Western operations, it is true, had nothing to do with General Lee, or he with them; but they form part of the great internecine struggle of the time, and, hence, should find some chronicle, however brief, of their happenings in this historical Memoir. In our earlier notice of the operations in the Mississippi region, we indicated the motive of Federal exploitation on the great highway, as one inspired not only by the purpose of getting possession of the river and the important towns on its banks, but also by the intent of cutting the Confederacy in twain, and so limiting the area of sympathy with, if not of actual aid in, Secession. The dual purpose was what instigated the Federal attack on Island No. X., in the Mississippi, and the movements of General Grant, after capturing Forts Henry and Donelson, up the Tennessee River in the direction of Corinth. Of the operations in the region, the most notable was the battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing (April 6, 1862), when Grant was driven back by the Confederate general, who lost his life in the engagement, Albert Sidney Johnston, and but for the timely arrival of Buell and his command would have been routed by the Confederate leader, Beauregard, who, later on, fell back upon Corinth and after a siege evacuated it (May 30). Other Confederate operations in the West include those of General Bragg, who took A. S. Johnston’s command, and with 35,000 men proceeded by rail to Mobile, thence northward, where he seized Chattanooga, and with Kirby Smith invaded Kentucky. Here Bragg sought to head off Buell in a race to Louisville, Ky., but on October 8th he was defeated at Perry ville, and fell back on Chattanooga. Hither Buell, for some reason, did not pursue Bragg, but went into camp at Nashville, on the Cumberland River. Emboldened by Buell’s failure to follow him, Bragg now set out for Nashville, advancing northward as far as Murfreesboro, where he encountered the Federal forces under Rosecrans on their way south to Chattanooga. Here, at Stone River, on the last day of the year, 1862, a serious battle was fought, as bloody in its issue as were those of Shiloh and Antietam. The engagement opened badly for the Northerners, two of whose divisions were routed on the right, by Rosecrans’s tactical neglect in placing them in a weak position, which threw the Union army on the defensive. It, however, was saved by the brilliant charges of Sheridan and Thomas, and the battle ended in “a draw,” after 23,000 men on either side had been put hors de combat. Two days’ later, when Rosecrans advanced upon “the Rebs,” Bragg, after a brief resistance, retired once more upon Chattanooga. Meanwhile, the Southern commanders Price and Van Dorn, who had been operating in the region, in the hope of driving Grant down the Tennessee River, sought to execute their assigned parts of the Confederate campaign, gave battle to the Union armies at Iuka (Sept, 19), and at Corinth (Oct. 3 and 4). In both battles, the Southern forces were repulsed (at Corinth, disastrously so), by the portion of Grant’s army under Rosecrans, though the fightings prevented for a time the sending of reinforcements to Buell. The latter, soon after this, was relieved of his command, and was replaced by General Rosecrans.

But it is time to return to the region of the Rappahannock, where we left the Union and the Confederate armies in winter quarters during a severe and inclement season. So intensely cold was it that some of the Federal pickets were frozen to death at their posts; while the Southerners suffered greatly from want of adequate provisions and the warm clothing and comfortable footwear which the Confederate Commissary- and Quartermaster-Generals unfeelingly failed to provide. The morale of “the rebel” army was nevertheless maintained, thanks to General Lee’s constant and unwearied efforts in its behalf, and his ready, considerate sharing in the privations of his men. Meanwhile, Burnside was restlessly anxious to do something to advance his own modest attainments and reputation in the chief Northern command. By the 19th of January (1863), he had planned to cross the Rappahannock, in force, at Bank’s Ford, some six miles above Fredericksburg, to assail the Confederate army and drive it from the strong position it held near by, and, if possible, cut off Lee’s communications with Richmond. The carrying out of this design was entrusted to the divisions of Hooker and Franklin, aided by Sigel’s corps, which was left to guard the Federal camp and its approaches, while Couch’s corps was to make a feint in another direction, down the river, all being protected by strong batteries of Northern artillery. The whole movement, however, miscarried, in consequence of a series of violent rainstorms coming on just as the project was about to be launched, which made havoc of the roads, besides swelling the river to unusual proportions. The failure of the expedition was naturally disconcerting to Burnside, who, in a fit of rage and jealousy, sought to dismiss a number of his generals, but this was promptly negatived at Washington, when Burnside had no alternative left him but to resign, which he at once did, and was replaced in the chief command, as we have already indicated, by General Hooker.

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