Robert E. Lee
Philip Alexander Bruce


NO just conception can be formed of the greatness of General Lee’s military achievements during the war now opening without a clear preliminary understanding of the varied obstacles which the Confederates had to contend against from the beginning. From start to finish, the advantages preponderated in favor of the North.

First, it had a long-established and highly organized government, with its several departments,—particularly those of War and the Treasory,—in systemized working order. It had an army of disciplined troops, which though small numerically, was a rigorous trunk on which to engraft a greater force; it had a navy capable of immediate enlargement; and it possessed a diplomatic corps of acknowledged standing and influence abroad. Every form of governmental instrumentality necessary for the conquest of the Southern states existed already. All had to be developed, but not one created. In the light of these combined facts alone, it was not presumptuous in the North to think that she would be able to trample down all resistance on the part of the South before the end of ninety days.

Secondly, in the size of their respective populations, the North and the South were not equally matched. The twenty-two states remaining in the Union contained twenty-two million inhabitants, of whom about five hundred thousand only were held as slaves; the eleven states that withdrew contained nine millions of people, of whom not less than three and a half were negro bondsmen. The proportion favorable to the North was further increased by the disaffection of western Virginia and eastern Tennessee, both of which contributed many regiments to the Federal armies; by the drafting of black troops in the invaded districts; and by the enlistment of German and Irish volunteers, drawn to the United States by the offer of bounties and pensions.

Thirdly, the South was peculiarly vulnerable from its long coast line, and its intersection by innumerable great waterways. At the first blush, the vast area covered by it seemed to be an almost insuperable obstacle to its conquest, since every forward movement would carry the Northern armies farther away from their base, and thus increase the difficulty of protecting their lines of communication. But the disadvantage of distance was more apparent than real. Not only was every Southern state, except Tennessee and Arkansas, penetrable directly from the sea, but all, including Tennessee and Arkansas, were open to invasion by the channels of their great streams, the command of which, as with the Cumberland and Red River in the West, or the James and Rappahannock in the East, either allowed the Federal communications to be run far up in the interior, or permitted both a rapid and a safe change of base.

Seizure of the Mississippi cut the Confederacy in two; shut it off from its most fertile and abundant region of supply; and practically deprived it of all effective use of fifty-five thousand men at an hour when their presence with the Army of Northern Virginia or at Atlanta would have turned the scale in favor of the South. Seizure of the other great streams enabled the North to throw troops into the very heart of the Southern states; while the blockading of the Atlantic and Gulf ports enabled her to bar the exportation of cotton, by means of which the Confederate Treasury might have been replenished, and mercenaries and supplies in large quantities brought in from abroad. In other words, the possession of a powerful ocean fleet and flotillas of river gunboats enabled the North to convert the disadvantage to her cause of the vast area of the South into a positive advantage, which she used with indefatigable energy from beginning to end. It is not too much to say that, had the South been able to build or purchase an equally destructive navy, she would have won her independence. It was the Federal naval power which enabled the Federal military power to conquer her.

Fourthly, as the South had never attempted to erect manufactures, she was forced, as soon as the blockade barred all importation from foreign markets, to employ numerous unsatisfactory expedients in order artificially to acquire the supplies she needed. The Southern states formed practically one great plantation, the inhabitants of which confined their attention to agriculture because they knew they could, without difficulty, obtain the manufactured articles they required by exchanging their products for them. The only mechanics and artisans outside of the few existing towns were negro slaves, whose skill was restricted to the simplest departments of work. There were few foundries and still fewer factories. On the other hand, the North was a combination of shop, factory, and farm; and whatever deficiency she was unable to meet out of her own established or improvised resources, she was able to supply by drawing on Europe. As the war progressed, all manufactured articles in the Southern states grew smaller in number until they practically disappeared; in the Northern states, on the other hand, they grew increasingly abundant down to the end of the war, owing to the fostering influence of a higher tariff, and a closer foreign connection. The South was unable, not only to supply her armies with proper clothing and medicines, but also to produce the rolling stock necessary for transportation when that purchased of the North before the war had worn out from overuse. She learned to manufacture cannon, small arms, and ammunition, but she was not equipped to make rails for her over-worked railways.

The simplicity of the South’s economic interests resulted in a great dearth of men trained to business affairs, who, in a crisis like the War of Secession, are almost as essential to the success of such a movement as officers in the field. There was in the Southern system the pervading influence of no great business school resembling that which existed throughout the North; nor any of that coöperative spirit, that spirit of combination, to which the free states were chiefly indebted for their marvelous growth. Each planter managed the affairs of his own estate independently of his fellow planters. He needed neither aid nor supervision; nor was he inclined to seek an association with others even when he became interested in some business enterprise.

The absence of captains of industry was severely felt when the South was forced to organize her material resources in order to strengthen her powers of resistance. Her lack of this trained business capacity,—the result of her system alone, as her recent history has proved,—deprived her of the power to utilize even her agricultural wealth to the utmost for the benefit of her armies in the field. Innumerable herds of cattle roamed over the trans-Mississippi prairies; Georgia’s rich plains, Alabama’s fertile lowlands, the coast lands of South Carolina and the valley of the Shenandoah produced, in extraordinary abundance, the indispensable grains,—wheat, maize and rice; the number of horses, mules, oxen, sheep, and hogs was nearly as great in the Southern as in the Northern states; and yet, with all the bursting barns and droves of live stock, the Southern armies were often for weeks on the verge of a famine, chiefly because the Commissary Department, zealous and patriotic as it was, had never been educated to those businees methods which are today inculcated by the new system from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. At the time that the soldiers of General Lee were starring in the trenches of Petersburg, Sherman’s army was reveling in the plenty which they found everywhere on their march to the sea. No doubt, the steady contraction of the Confederate territory, the deficiencies in railway rolling stock and the unacceptability of the depreciated currency, in some measure account for the inefficiency shown by the supply department of the Confederate government, but these reasons are pertinent only to the history of the last year or two of the war.

Such were the greatest of the obstacles to success which confronted the Southern people throughout their contest with the North and which, in the end led to their conquest.

What were the advantages enjoyed by them at the opening of the mighty struggle? At that time certainly, the South, man for man, was superior to the North owing to the peculiar physical and moral training enforced by her secluded, independent, open-air life. There was little in the daily occupations of the average Northern citizen to fit him for the performance of military duty; the store and counting house, the factory and foundry, constituted but a poor school for the development of military efficiency, whether consisting of the power to endure want and exposure or to command men. The spirit of persons so situated is naturally one of great hostility to any change that interrupts them in their avocation of money-making; and war, as upsetting and confusing every interest, is always particularly distasteful to them.

The body of the Northern people resided in villages, towns, and cities, and preferred the life of the streets; the body of the Southern people resided in the country and preferred the life of the fields. Long familiarity with nature had cultivated in them quick and accurate sight, firm nerves, constant watchfulness, and the ability in emergencies to decide upon the instant. They were accustomed to camping out in all sorts of weather, and submitting, as a matter of course, to all forms of hardship and privation. The spirit of adventure and love of hazardous enterprises were nourished in their breasts by the pursuit of wild game on land and on water. The whole Southern country was a region of wood and stream. The man who had learned from boyhood how to shoot a partridge, wild duck, deer, or wild cat, with unerring marksmanship, was quite certain of equal success when he came to level his gun at a Federal soldier. “Nine-tenths of our men,” a distinguished Confederate officer has stated, “were excellent shots and practiced judges of distance.” When Enfield rifles were first distributed among the Confederate soldiers, they immediately knocked off the backsight, since they needed no mechanical contrivance to assist their aim. Furthermore, there were few among them who had not, from their youth, acquired perfect skill in horsemanship, a fact which gave the South great tactical advantages, paiticularly early in the war, before practice in the ranks had made the Federal cavalry equally efficient.

Moreover, the Confederate rank and file was largely drawn from the refined and educated classes of the Southern people. Every profession as well as every social division was represented in the gray lines. The students and alumni alike of the most venerable and exclusive colleges and universities volunteered to serve as privates; for instance, when hostilities began, nine-tenths of the young men pursuing the courses at the University of Virginia threw down their books, shouldered their muskets, and enrolled themselves in the ranks. In the Rockbridge Battery alone, there were as many as seven masters-of-arts who had graduated from that institution, twenty-eight men who had won college diplomas, and twenty-five former students of theology. What was true of one commonwealth was equally true of the others. When the Army of Northern Virginia was lying in winter quarters in 1863, many of the soldiers, in order to relieve the tedium of inaction, formed clubs for the reading of Latin, Greek and even Hebrew authors.

In the Confederate rank and file, composed as it was of such diverse material from a social point of view, all inequalities were ignored; young men belonging to the oldest and wealthiest Southern families claimed no consideration beyond that shown their comrades in danger and fellow supporters of a common cause,—the sons of their fathers’ overseers,

or the poor whites from the sand hills and pine barrens. The youth who had been brought up in luxury, and had enjoyed every advantage of education, shared his rations with his friend, who had been born in a mountain cabin, and had never in his life passed an hour at school. The youngest son of the commander-in-chief himself, General Lee, was a private in the ranks, and as such participated in the perils and privations of his comrades without the slightest pretension to any form of superiority over the humblest and most obscure among them. All this was the more remarkable in a soldiery drawn entirely from that part of the country where the existence of slavery during several centuries had nourished an aristocratic spirit by producing recognized classes in society.

These influences, which, in combination, were directly calculated to raise the Southern armies’ morale to a high pitch, were further strengthened by the conviction that they were resisting an unwarranted invasion of their homes. This deep-seated feeling filled them with extraordinary energy and activity. Every man who raised his gun to fire at the enemy remembered that he was defending his distant hearthstone and the dear ones who were gathered about it. This inflaming idea had so gripped the minds of some of the Confederates that even so religious a man as “Stonewall” Jackson thought the South would be justified in raising the black flag as the quickest way to bring the struggle to an end: “Kill, kill, kill,” was the drastic plan proposed by that stern commander for sickening the North with their “wicked attempt,” as he termed it, to subdue a free people to their hated yoke.

Never for a moment did the Confederate soldiers forget that they were sprang from the men of the Revolution who had won their independence in the teeth of even greater odds. The rosters of all the Confederate regiments show the same lists of names as those which were entered in the rosters of the Southern regiments during the war with Great Britain. Owing to the unchanged economic condition, the uneventful provincial life, and the perfect homogeneity of the Southern people in the interval, the Revolution seemed to them for less remote in time than it really was; and this fact naturally made them, to an extraordinary degree, conscious of its spirit, and responsive to its lessons and its example. A very large part of the Southern population consisted of persons of Scotch-Irish descent, whose family traditions went back, not only to King’s Mountain, Guilford Court-House, and Yorktown, but also to Bothwell Bridge, the Battle of the Boyne and the Siege of Londonderry,—traditions which together gave a fierce concentration to their resolution to resist to the last ditch what they considered to be an unjustifiable encroachment on their rights.

There never existed a people disposed more strongly than were the Southern people under slave institutions to follow leaders who had won their confidence. It was natural that a volunteer army recruited from such a population should have wished to advance to positions of military control, the very men, who, in times of peace, would have served as their social and political guides; but the evil of such a course was foreseen by the Confederate authorities, and from an early date in the war all the higher officers were appointed by the government and only the lower elected by the troops. Of the twelve hundred graduates of West Point, who, in 1861, were available for immediate military service, about three hundred were of Southern birth, and with few exceptions, the latter, as soon as hostilities began, thought themselves under a sacred obligation to defend their native states. Owing to this fact, the Confederacy acquired on the threshold of the war a considerable body of men who had enjoyed a sound and thorough theoretical military training, supplemented, in many conspicuous instances, by practical experience in the Mexican campaigns.

All the early nominations to high command made by Mr. Davis were strikingly judicious. Having been for some years at the head of the War Department of the Federal government, and having himself taken an active part in the Mexican battles, he was competent, by his personal knowledge of the officers of the old army seeking service in the Confederate, to estimate their relative qualifications correctly. Many civilians were advanced to the rank of brigadier-general, but all the commissions carrying the highest responsibilities were reserved for men who had been educated at West Point, and who had already participated with distinction in actual warfare. It was lately due to Mr. Davis’s militaty training and experience that the organization of the Confederate armies was from the beginning marked by extraordinary efficiency: a single army was commanded by a general, a division by a major-general, and a brigade by a brigadier-general;—a simple, natural, and logical system, which, except in a very few cases growing out of individual idiosyncrasies, assured perfect subordination among the officers of the highest rank.

The Confederate government’s first false step was in establishing its capital at Richmond, a point so open to approach by both land and sea that it was possible to attack it at once from the north and east, and even from the south. The presence of valuable mills, foundries, and factories in that city doubtless had a powerful influence in its selection as the seat of the central administration, but, had Atlanta, a town to be invaded only from the north been chosen, the same manufactures could have been built up there. As we shall see, the struggle to hold Richmond when no longer strategically advisable, made Lee’s successful resistance to Grant’s assaults from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor of no practical importance beyond postponing the inevitable hour of final surrender. The Confederacy was conquered in the West: there all of its available resources should have been concentrated; and there at some point like Atlanta, for from the sea and protected on the north by a fortified mountainous region, its capital should have been fixed. By the transfer of the seat of government to Richmond, General Lee’s military career was destined to become associated with the eastern theatre of warfare alone, instead of with the western, where the successes of the Army of Northern Virginia, unhampered by the vulnerableness of Richmond and the necessity of holding it, would, in all probability, have secured the independence of the Southern states.

Immediately after receiving his commission as commander-in-chief of the Virginia troops, General Lee, with characteristic energy and resolution, took all the necessary steps to protect the state against invasion. To the call for volunteers issued by Governor Letcher, there had been a quick response by a large body of men; and these having been formed by Lee into companies, the companies into regiments, and the regiments into divisions, all were carefully drilled in order to ensure concert and cohesion. The supply of firearms was extremely small: sporting rifles and fowling pieces had to be requisitioned to supplement the infantry’s equipment; while for the cavalry’s use, rude lances, manufactured, in most instances, by country blacksmiths, had to be procured. Early provision was also made for the casting of cannon. Before two months had passed, by which time Richmond had been chosen as the seat of government, and troops from other states besides Virginia were pouring in to be organized into divisions, Lee had dispatched sixty infantry and cavalry regiments, and also numerous batteries of artillery, to the front. Of these soldiers, not less than 40,000 consisted of Virginia militia, which became the nucleus of the armies soon operating in the Valley and around Manassas. Lee had at an early date recognized the importance of seizing Harper’s Ferry and the Gosport Navy Yard, and of throwing up earthworks to bar the Federal advance by water to the upper reaches of the main streams.

In June, the War Department undertook the task of organizing the newly recruited forces, and Lee’s duties as commander-in-chief of the Virginia troops thereby came to an end. He was one of the five generals appointed at this time by an act of Congress, but as there was, at the moment, no army without a commander, he was retained by Mr. Davis as his military adviser, and in that capacity was, at a most critical hour, engaged in directing the general movements of the Confederate forces, more particularly in the theatre of operations in northern Virginia. He was chiefly responsible for the strategical plan which led up to the victory at Manassas; and it was due to his energy in hurrying forward troops to that part of the state that so successful a blow was made possible.

Previous to Manassas, the Federals were advancing from four different quarters; namely (1) down the Alexandria and Orange Railway, which afforded a safe line of communication with Washington and protected the capital; (2) up the Shenandoah Valley, with Harper’s Ferry, which the Confederates had evacuated, as a base; (3) through the passes of northwestern Virginia; and (4) up the Peninsula, with Fortress Monroe as a base. It was necessary that the Confederate forces should be promptly and judiciously distributed in order to meet the invasion threatened from each of these points of the compass. Johnston was stationed in the Valley with 15,000 men; Beauregard at Manassas with 20,000; Huger at Norfolk and Magruder at Yorktown with 17,000 when combined; Garnett in West Virginia with 5,000; and Holmes at Acquia Creek with 8,000; a total of 65,000 troops.

The policy adopted by Lee at this time, with the approval, and perhaps at the dictation of Mr. Davis, who was always primarily influenced in his military views by political motives, was for the Confederate armies in Virginia to stand on the defensive. This left the Federals to develop their own plans at their leisure. The first point that they decided to attack was Manassas, where Beauregard lay encamped for the purpose of guarding the junction of the Alexandria and Orange Railroad with the Manassas Gap Railway, which formed the line of communication between his army and Johnston’s stationed near Winchester. Lee and Davis determined to reinforce General Beauregard by ordering the transfer of Johnston’s troops to Manassas, but delayed transmitting these instructions until it could be plainly seen whether McDowell’s advance from Washington was really directed against that place. The Federal aim becoming clear by July 17th, Johnston was commanded by telegraph from Ricbmond to move at once by the railway across the Blue Ridge to Beauregard’s assistance.

The issue of the battle which so soon followed is well known, and to no one did it give more satisfaction than to General Lee. “I wished,” he wrote a few days later, “to participate in the struggle [at Manassas] and am mortified at my absence, but the President thought it more important that I should be here. I could not have done as well as has been done, but I could have helped and taken part in the struggle for my home and neighborhood. So the work is done, I care not by whom it is done, and my thoughts and strength are given to the cause, to which my life, be it short or long, will be devoted.”

The victory of Bull Run was allowed by the Confederates to pass without any real effort to gather its substantial fruits. General Johnston, who was responsible for this failure, asserted in his own defense that the victors were more demoralized by their success than the vanquished by their defeat, a statement questioned by General Beauregard, his colleague, and upon its face open to grave doubt in the very nature of things. Johnston, whose military character would perhaps have shone more brightly had he lived in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, when the slow and formal manner of making war was more in vogue, exhibited after Manassas that spirit of overcaution, if not of timidity, to which he was too much disposed to yield. When the Federals retreated in confusion from the battle-field, three and a half hours of daylight still remained, while there were near at hand not less than 15,000 Confederate troops who had not fired a gun. Had they pushed on to Centreville by the direct road, they could have reached that point ahead of the fugitives, as the latter had taken a more circuitous route. Nor would the body of fresh Federal troops under Miles’s command have certainly offered a determined resistance, as they, too, must have felt the weakening influence of the flight which they had been called upon to witness.

Even if Washington could not have been successfully stormed, the Confederate army might have taken a position between Baltimore and the capital, without serious apprehension of an attack in the rear by Patterson, as his army had been greatly diminished by the expiration of enlistments. The Confederate troops, full of confidence and ardor as the result of their victory, and of enthusiastic loyalty to their leaders, with only new recruits for the most part to face, would very probably have compelled the Federal government to abandon Washington, while Maryland, encouraged by this success, would have arrayed herself openly on the side of the South, to the augmentation of the Confederate army by fifty thousand men at the least.

McClellan began to reorganize the Federal army immediately after his appointment to its command. Many thousand recruits were now added; it was supplied with abundant stores, ammunition, arms, and ordnance; and thoroughly drilled. In the meanwhile, Johnston and Beauregard looked on with alarm. Knowing that each day would increase the odds in their new opponent’s favor, they urged Mr. Davis to withdraw at once from different Southern points a large body of troops for union with those at Centreville preparatory to a grand invasion of the North before McClellan, could further strengthen his position. In other words, they proposed to do now what should have been done immediately after the battle of Manassas. Mr. Davis refused to approve this aggressive but judicious plan, although aware that McClellan was hastening his elaborate preparations for overrunning Virginia with one hundred thousand men. The Confederate President’s reasons for this decision were, first, that the withdrawal of troops from Georgia and the Carolinas would, by weakening those states’ power to resist invasion, create discontent; and secondly, that the South should confine herself to defensive campaigns. This was the first and, for the Confederate cause, perhaps the most fatal of the numerous sacrifices of strategic necessity to short-sighted political motives. A victory on northern soil, following so closely upon the victory at Bull Run, would have raised the spirits of the Confederates to the highest point, sunk those of the Federals to the lowest, led to the evacuation of Washington, and not improbably to foreign intervention.

General Lee was not responsible for this flagrant error of judgment. At this time, he was not serving as Mr. Davis’s military adviser; had he been at the Confederate President’s side, he would most probably have supported Johnston’s and Beauregard’s plans because entirely in harmony with the suggestions of his own military genius as exhibited in his subsequent career. He himself was now indirectly to suffer from Mr. Davis’s refusal to consent to these plans. Had Johnston and Beauregard crossed the Potomac, the Federal government would have been compelled to hurry forward to Washington’s defense every soldier then stationed in the neighboring regions. The army operating in western Virginia would have been so seriously diminished that Lee, on his assignment to the command of the Confederate forces in that quarter, would have been able to occupy the country with little opposition. All that had been lost there would have been regained; and the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, so important as a feeder of the Federal armies in the East, seized, and perhaps permanently held.

At the beginning of the war, General Garnett, with a considerable force, had been dispatched to western Virginia to resist the invasion of that region from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Western Virginia was separated physically from the eastern portion of the state by the Alleghanies’ rugged chain, and sentimentally by the absence of negro slaves. There was in its different communities a large body of waverers, whose allegiance was certain to go to the Federal or Confederate side as the arms of either succeeded or failed; and this body would decide which section of the equally divided inhabitants would carry the whole region for the Northern or Southern cause.

The first step toward western Virginia’s abandonment had been taken by Johnston in evacuating Harper’s Ferry in order to be able the more quickly to unite his army with Beauregard’s at Manassas, a step disapproved by General Thomas J. Jackson, who, having fortified the heights opposite the town, defied dislodgment. Jackson’s view was supported by General Lee, at that time acting as Mr. Davis’s personal adviser. It was not many weeks before the retirement from Harper’s Ferry was followed by Garnett’s death at Carrick’s Ford, and the rapid exclusion of the Confederate forces from all that part of the state. McClellan, the commander of the Federal troops, did not stop until he had seized and strongly fortified the principal passes leading into northeastern Virginia. The most important result of these Federal successes was that they turned all the waverers to that side, which gave a preponderating influence to the men, who, from the beginning, had been disaffected to the Confederacy.

After Garnett’s death, the Confederate forces in western Virginia were broken up into four detachments, two of which, under Wise and Floyd, respectively, were stationed in the Kanawha Valley; the remaining two, onder Loring and H. R. Jackson, between Staunton and Parkersburg. The Confederate authorities at Richmond saw that the only hope of recovering the lost ground lay in the appointment of a commander who, by combining these several bodies of troops, would be able to use them as one army against the strongly entrenched and confident enemy. Mr. Davis first offered the position to General Johnston, and when he declined it, to General Lee, a proof, in each instance, of the importance attached to the proposed operations in that region. Lee was thought to have special qualifications for a campaign in a mountainous country owing to the reputation which he had won in the Mexican War by his successful reconnaissances over rough and precipitous ground. In accepting the appointment, however, he was not disposed to underestimate the great difficulties to be overcome. Not only would he have to surmount the obstacles of a mountainous region and an unfriendly population, but also remove the weakness and confusion caused by dissensions among the officers, and the depression among the troops, owing to their repeated defeats. The season was also one that might prove unpropitious to bold and energetic operations, as in the early summer, the rains were frequently heavy and prolonged, a particularly serious drawback in a country remarkable for the existence of few good roads.

General Lee left Richmond in July to take up his new duties. At this time, the Federal forces stationed in western Virginia were divided into three detachments under the supreme command of General Rosecrans, who had succeeded McClellan when the latter had been transferred to Washington. Of these detachments, one under Rosecrans himself, was advancing up the Kanawha Valley; the remaining two under Reynolds, were encamped, one in Cheat Mountain Pass to bar the Confederate march along the turnpike uniting Staunton with Parkersburg; the other at a point some seven miles away, but in a position to come to their comrades’ assistance if needed.

Lee decided to attack Reynolds’s force numbering 3,000 men, in the hope of overwhelming it before aid could arrive; but he was compelled to delay doing so by a heavy rainfall, which continued with little interruption during six weeks. The roads under this downpour soon melted into such quagmires that it became impossible to move the wagon trains for any distance. Typhoid and measles grew epidemical among the troops, unaccustomed to such extraordinary and prolonged exposure, and not less than one third of the little army was thus disabled. Lee, using this interval of inaction to reconnoitre his ground, discovered that the enemy had erected in Cheat Mountain Pass a bulwark consisting of a block fort flanked by outworks of earth and logs, and protected by dense abatis. Apparently, the most effective way of attacking this position would be by advancing along the turnpike against the front or rear of the entrenchments, as the mountain walls rose abruptly on each side.

It was now September, and winter, which must close the campaign, came on early and suddenly in that high, remote, and inhospitable region. Colonel Rust reported that, during a reconnaiasance, he had found a path along which infantry could be led to the mountain’s rear. Lee at once concerted a plan of attack promising success. General H. R Jackson was ordered to march forward to the turnpike and take a position there in readinees for an assault in front as soon as he heard the signal agreed upon beforehand; while General Anderson, by following a circuitous route, was to take a similar position in the enemy’s rear, and to await the same signal. This signal was to be given by Colonel Rust, who was to attack the Federal fortifications from the mountainside. The other Confederate troops were to be occupied in preventing the second Federal detachment, encamped in the valley of Taggart’s River, from reinforcing their comrades stationed in the pass. Before this plan of a concerted assault could be carried out, it would be necessary for the soldiers participating in the surprise operations to traverse twenty miles of rugged wooded mountain slopes.

The troops set out, and they had nearly reached the end of their march, when a violent storm arose, which continued unabated through the whole night preceding the morning appointed for the joint attack. The men were exposed to its full fury. Though drenched to the skin, with their firearms rendered unserviceable for the time being, and their rations destroyed, at daybreak they began to prepare for the assault. The first sound of Rust’s musketry was to be the signal for the simultaneous rush against the enemy’s front and rear, but the sound never came. It afterward appeared that Rust, in advancing to the position assigned him, had captured some Federal pickets, who represented that five thousand soldiers, fully prepared, were quietly awaiting in their fortification below the expected attack, and when morning arrived, the information seemed to be confirmed by a careful reconnaissance of that position. Rust’s resolution weakening, he failed to give the signal, and the opportunity was irretrievably lost. As the other Confederate detachments considered it unwise to assault without the signal, since it alone would have assured coöperation, they remained quietly in their places. The enemy having got wind of his design, the success of which was dependent upon an unexpected attack, and his troops being without food, Lee was forced to retire to his original camp. Though keenly disappointed by the failure of his carefully matured plan, with characteristic generosity he omitted in his report of the operations all reflection on the officer responsible for their failure, one of the first instances of that forbearance in dealing with incompetence and even insubordination devoid of disloyalty to the cause, which he was to show at other critical moments of his military career.

During these operations, Wise and Floyd were slowly retreating up the Kanawha and New River valleys before Rosecrans’s columns, advancing to join Reynolds. Foiled in his main purpose, which was, by the Federals’ expulsion from Cheat Mountain Pass, to throw open the road to the northern parts of western Virginia, Lee decided to merge in one body the greater proportion of his scattered forces, and with this attack Rosecrans before Reynolds could come to his assistance. Having ordered the largest section of the troops stationed at Cheat Mountain to follow him, he pushed on ahead with his staff, and by October 7th had reached Floyd’s camp at the eastern base of Sewell’s Mountain. Wise was now posted on that mountain’s western crest, and as his position offered superior advantages, Lee directed the immediate concentration there of all the men belonging to Floyd’s detachment. Hardly had this been effected when Rosecrans appeared on the opposite crest about a mile distant and separated from the Confederate position by a long gap, impassable but for the turnpike that intersected it laterally. After reinforcements reached him from Cheat Mountain, Lee’s army numbered fifteen thousand troops; but although his officers urged an assault on the enemy’s entrenchments, he declined to permit it because of a hope that Rosecrans would become impatient and attack him first. If not, the Federal position could be easily turned.

Lee was arranging to dispatch a large force to the enemy’s rear after nightfall when, on day breaking one morning, Rosecrans, at the head of his entire army, was seen retreating westward. He did not attempt to pursue, because, first, his artillery and wagon horses had been greatly reduced by exposure to the cold rains and by lack of provender; and secondly, the only provisions obtaintable for his men, now seventy miles distant from the railroad which was their base of supply, must be collected from the country adjacent to the line of march, and the deeper they penetrated that unfriendly mountainous region, the more precarious and dangerous their situation would become. General Lee always declared that, even if he had attacked Rosecrans and won a victory, he would have been compelled to fall back at last to his base of communications. It shows his perfect self-control that, although aware that the failure of his plans at Cheat Moantain had subjected him to public criticism and shaken popular confidence in his ability, nevertheless he was not to be driven by any desire of restoring big lowered prestige to expose his troops to the terrible losses of a frontal assault on the Federal position at Sewell’s Mountain as long as there was a hope of turning that position by a flank movement. “I could not afford,” he said with characteristic simplicity, “to sacrifice the lives of five or six hundred of my people to silence public clamor.”

If Lee’s reputation had suffered from his failure to expel the Federals from Cheat Mountain, it was even more damaged by his allowing Rosecrans to escape without the loss of a man. The impression arose that he was over-cautious to the point of timidity; that he lacked the capacity to handle large bodies of troops; and that, alter all, he was fitted only for the performanoe of the tasks assigned to the organizer, the engineer, and the reconnoitring officer. The disappointment caused by the final issue of the campaign was in proportion to the sanguine expectations of succees created at the banning by his appointment to the command. The importance of driving the Federals from that region had been clearly recognized, and yet nothing had been accomplished toward loosening the hold which they had secured. The permanent result of Lee’s failure was the establishment of the state of West Virginia; had he succeeded at Cheat and Sewell Mountains, his native commonwealth would to-day perhaps still cover its original extant of ground.

No doubt, the obstacles which had to be overcome,—obstacles made worse by the previous operations of the generals whom he found in the field when he arrived,—were very serious. A region already overran by the enemy, a disaffected population, heavy rains, impassable roads, sickness among the troops, enfeebled draught animals, insufficient food and provender for man and beast, subordinate officers torn by jealous dissensions, rank and file discouraged and depressed,—all these elements in the character of the situation made the task undertaken by him in western Virginia an uncertain one, though not necessarily an impracticable one. In his later career, he exhibited a capacity to surmount far greater difficulties. After all has been said in explanation of his failure at Cheat and Sewell Mountains, it is still clear that the Lee of the western Virginia campaign was not quite the Lee of Gaines’ Mill, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Chancellorsville. These great achievements, marked by such extraordinary boldnees, promptness, and energy, were not forshadowed by anything done by him among the wild ranges of the Alleghanies. Never, however, did the moral stature of the man loom more resplendently than after this unfortunate series of events. The only comment that he made on the severe reflections passed on his acts was, “While they were hard to bear, nevertheless it was only natural that such hasty conclusions should be reached.” “It is better,” he added, “not to attempt a justification or defense, but to go steadily on in the discharge of duty to the best of our ability, leaving all else to the calmer judgment of the future, and to a kind Providence.”

Perhaps, Mr. Davis’s most signal act of service to the Confederate cause was his refusal to allow an unreasoning public clamor to shake his confidence in Lee’s ability. Had the Confederate President been unfamiliar with the old army’s personnel and the standing of its officers before the war began, the general would probably now have been relegated to a position from which he would never have emerged, had advancement depended exclusively on the goodwill and favorable opinion of the Chief Executive. His assignment to the duty of strengthening the coast defenses of Georgia and the Carolinas was evidently intended to be a mere temporary appointment, as was shown by his recall to Richmond as soon as a more conspicuous position could be offered to him. Lee, however, allowed no such expectation to influence him in taking up his new tasks. No word of complaint, no exclamation of impatience or disappointment, escaped him when he set out for his new scene of operations; indeed, but one ambition moved him, namely, to perform the work before him thoroughly and permanently. Nor was this work of an easy or unimportant character. The fact that the Federals controlled the sea, not only had made the enforcement of the blockade practicable, but also had thrown open the country along the coast to the incursions of large bodies of troops. As soon as Fort Sumter had been captured, the Confederates had striven to fortify the most salient points, such as Roanoke Island, the mouth of the Cape Fear River, Georgetown, and the harbor of Charleston; but the defenses erected there failed to prevent the Federals from seizing other points of great strategic importance which were allowed to remain unprotected. The capture of Port Royal, for instance, had taken place at an early date, and it had been followed by the seizure of Roanoke Island. The Confederates began to fear that these successes would soon make Charleston and Savannah untenable.

At this important crisis Lee arrived to take charge. It was now November, and winter was rapidly approaching. Establishing his headquarters at Coosawhatchie, be first directed his attention toward a careful examination of the whole region with that unsurpassed eye for the right position for resistance which had always distinguished him. So skilfully did be choose his ground, that the batteries erected by him were able to repulse without difficulty the reconnaissance soon undertaken by the combined Federal army and navy. Lee now turned with unrelaxed energy to the construction of a general system of coast defenses. His first step was to withdraw the garrisons occupying the forts situated on the outlying islands, and to concentrate them behind a strong interior line of separate fortifications, which, if held, would constitute a permanent barrier against further Federal advance from the sea in that direction. The most important points on this continuous line were Charleston, Pocotaligo, Coosawhatchie, and Savannah. Each fortification was situated sufficiently near to the fortification on each side to be able to obtain assistance in a few hours, if required in the crisis of an attack. All were armed with heavy ordnance cast for the special purpose.

So thoroughly and skilfully did Lee construct these coast defenses that it was not until Sherman’s flank march through the Carolinas occurred that the towns along the seaboard fell into the enemy’s hands, and then only by invasion in their rear. Not until near the end of hostilities was the Confederate line of communication from the Mississippi to the Potomac and Rappahannock broken. Upon the strength of this line, the Confederacy’s existence had depended, and the ability to maintain it intact so long, in spite of numerous attempted incursions from the sea, was due to the strategical genius which Lee had shown in selecting positions for fortification, and to his tactical genius in adopting the proper measures for their successful defense.

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