Robert E. Lee
Philip Alexander Bruce

CHAPTER VI
SECOND MANASSAS AND SHARPSBURG

ON Jane 26th Mr. Lincoln had ordered the consolidation into one large army of the three small armies commanded respectively by Frémont, Banks, and McDowell; and at its head, he placed General Pope, an officer who had recently won some distinction in the West. After the battle of Gaines’ Mill, it became impracticable for this new army to unite with McClellan by land, and it was not thought advisable for it to do so by sea, as Washington would thereby be left open to invasion by way of either Manassas or Harper’s Ferry. As a means of guarding the capital, and also of creating a diversion in McClellan’s favor, Pope was directed to move his troops toward Gordonsville, with the ultimate design of cutting at that point the Confederate railway communication with the Valley. It was anticipated that Lee would seek to prevent this by weakening Richmond’s defenses, which would give the army on the James an opportunity to capture the city.

On July 7th, Banks reached Culpeper, the place where the several detachments of Pope’s army were to concentrate. As the Federal authorities had expected, the southward movement of their troops caused Lee to dispatch several divisions, under Jackson, to Gordonsville. The Confederate general now stood between two Federal armies, the one numbering 50,000 men, the other 80,000. Until McClellan should show his hand, Lee thought it unwise to remove the main body of his troops from their camps at Richmond; but, in order to cause McClellan’s withdrawal from James River, by playing on Mr. Lincoln’s apprehensions for Washington’s safety, he decided to increase the number of troops with Jackson, so as to enable the latter to begin an aggressive campaign northward from Gordonsville. That officer was gradually reinforced until he found himself at the head of 24,000 men.

Now, it was necesaary, not only to bring about McClellan’s retirement, but also to strike the Federal army under Pope a destructive blow before he could unite with it. Such a blow, Jackson could not hope to inflict with 24,000 troops, but if able to attack in detail the several detachments of the enemy before they had had time to concentrate at Culpeper, he might deliver a stroke that would hasten McClellan’s retirement, and thus quickly bring Lee on the ground for a joint assault on Pope before the other Union army could march to his aid from the Potomac. Jackson advanced rapidly northward, and at Cedar Mountain defeated Banks; but on moving forward, he found that the road was barred by on overwhelming Federal force, and he, therefore, fell back to Gordonsville to await the arrival of Lee, now, in consequence of McClellan’s withdrawal from James River, no longer apprehensive for Richmond’s safety. In the meanwhile, Pope had been ordered by the Washington authorities to remain at Culpeper.

On August 11th, Lee, accompanied by Longstreet, joined Jackson at Pisgah Church on the south bank of the Rapidan. His aim was to attack and defeat Pope’s army before McClellan could come up from Acquia Creek, for should the two Federal forces be able to unite, the numerical predominance in their favor would destroy all prospect of Confederate success. The Confederate army embraced about 55,000 men, which put it on an equal numerical footing with Pope’s alone. Only a few hours after Lee’s arrival, he ascended Clark Mountain, and from its signal station, looked down on the principal Federal encampment, situated at the base of Slaughter’s Mountain, barely fifteen miles away. Thousands of tents were scattered over the face of that part of the landscape; smoke was rising peacefully from the sutlers’ fires; the cavalrymen had unsaddled their horses and were resting in the shade; while the infantry were moving about freely and carelessly. The scene’s whole aspect showed unmistakably that Pope was still unaware of the presence of the Confederate army, hidden away from sight, as it was, by the intervening rise of ground.

The enemy’s most vulnerable section was their left wing, because spread out to a point only six miles distant. It was finally arranged that Stuart, having with his cavalry moved swiftly around to Rappahannook Station in Pope’s rear, should there cut his line of railway communication, while the infantry, having crossed the Rapidan, should strike the Federal position squarely in front. It happened that a part of the cavalry was absent, and Lee, unheeding Jackson’s advice to the contrary, decided to await its return. The opportunity was thus lost. A spy, in the interval of postponement, informed Pope of the Confederate troops’ presence, and the capture of Stuart’s adjutant-general and dispatch box revealed the fact that they embraced almost the entire opposing army. In alarm, Pope immediately drew back to the north bank of the Rappahannock. On the 19th, when the haze began to melt away from the landscape, the Confederate commander, from Clark Mountain, saw only an abandoned camp in the foreground, while for away in the distance, the enemy’s rear-guard was discovered vanishing toward the north.

For the moment the prospect of defeating Pope before McClellan could come up seemed to have been lost beyond recovery. How was it possible to strike the former’s army a blow in the short interval that must pass before the latter’s arrival? The new position occupied by the Federals was more difficult of assault than the old; if attacked in front and worsted, Pope would simply fall back toward Washington until reinforced, and then return in greater strength than ever. Was it practicable, by stealing to the rear of his new position, to break the line of his communications, cut off his army from assistance, and throw it into a confusion that might render it a comparatively easy prey? If this were possible at all it could be done only by a turning movement from the north. Lee, before deciding upon his final plan, sent Stuart, at the head of his cavalry, across the Rappahannock to burn the railway bridge over Cedar Creek situated at the Federal back; but this could not be accomplished owing to the wooden structure’s saturation by the heavy rains. Stuart, however, succeeded in capturing dispatches which showed the strength of Pope’s army, his designs for its disposition, his expectations as to reinforcements, and, above all, his purpose to fall back from his present entrenchments on the Rappahannock.

If the Federal army was to be crushed, it must be done at once. The Federal troops were now concentrated on the turnpike connecting Sulphur Springs on the river’s north bank with Gainesville, a small village east of Warrenton. Their right flank was protected by the closure of the bridges and fords of the river; their left, by the columns advancing from Washington. Behind the long Federal line, rose the bulwark of the Bull Run Mountains, a range overgrown with dense forests and penetrated by few roads.

Lee and Jackson, the night of August 24th, consulted as to the best plan of overcoming the advantage of this strong position. The whole Confederate army could not pass to the Federal rear without its withdrawal from its station on the river’s south bank being discovered and reported by the Federal outposts. As it would require forty-eight hours for that army to march up the Rappahannock and thence over the Bull Run Mountains to Gainesville or Manassas, Pope would have ample time to draw back, and thus continue to keep his opponent in his front, while he himself would be so much nearer to a junction with the reinforcements now daily expected. The two Confederate generals determined to divide their forces, with the ultimate intention of uniting on the field of battle. Jackson was to move northward to the upper fords of the Rappahannock, and then wheeling to the east, descend from the Bull Run range upon Manassas, in the rear of the Federal army. Lee, remaining in his old position was to make a demonstration in order to divert Federal suspicion; and then, when assured by his cavalry of Jackson’s successful passage of the mountains, was to follow in his footsteps. The two wings were to join at some point south of Thoroughfare Gap. It was a bold and hazardous plan, for Pope, by closing up that Gap as soon as Jackson had got through, could apparently prevent Lee from supporting his lieutenant when attacked by the entire Federal army. But there was another pass to the northeast of Thoroughfare, and it was clearly understood by the two Confederate commanders that, should Jackson be hard-pressed without Lee being able to break through Thoroughfare, and come to his aid, he was to fall back to Aldie’s Gap and join Lee west of the mountains.

At dawn on August 26th, Jackson started upon his celebrated march. The whole Confederate army did not exceed 55,000 men, and now one-half of its number were about to plunge boldly into a region occupied by over 100,000 hostile troops, probably, in a few days, to be swelled to 150,000 by reinforcements from Washington. Their haversacks contained only three days’ cooked rations, for they had determined to rely for their chief subsistence on the green corn now maturing in the fields, on such ripe fruits as were to be plucked in the orchards, and on a small herd of cattle driven in their rear. All baggage was left behind.

During the first day, a distance of thirty-six miles was traversed. The column, in passing rapidly along, was observed from a Federal signal station, but it was surmised that this was the first stage of a retreat toward the Valley. That night the little army bivouacked under the canopy of the open sky, and the stars had hardly begun to grow dim in the heavens the next morning, when the march was resumed, with redoubled ardor and energy. Ascending to the summit of Thoroughfare Gap, they saw from afar, rolling away mile upon mile, the broad plains of Manassas shining in the glare of the unclouded summer son. Descending, they advanced at double quick toward Gainesville, where they were joined by Stuart’s large body of cavalry. From that point, instead of marching straight to Manassas, his real objective, now a vast storehouse of Federal supplies and munitions of war, Jackson wheeled to the right toward Bristoe Station, a spot nearer the Federal army, and directly in its rear. The seizure of this place would prevent Pope from throwing forward a large detachment to cut off the Confederate line of withdrawal after the destruction of the stores at Manassas. Bristoe Station having been captured, two regiments, accompanied by the cavalry, were dispatched to Manassas, and there began the work in hand at once. They were soon joined by the rest of the little army, with the exception of one division.

When Pope heard that Jackson’s corps, which he had at first taken for a small raiding party, had planted itself athwart his line of communications, he hurriedly drew back from the Rappahannock in force toward Gainesville, with the view of concentrating for his daring opponent’s destruction. This movement made it safe for Lee to break up his camp on the river’s south bank, and hasten onward to reunite with his lieutenant east of the Bull Run Mountains. Expecting his commander’s advance, and aware that, should he remain at Manassas, he would be isolated, and perhaps overwhelmed by the Federal army, now numbering, since the arrival of the fifth and third corps, from 70,000 to 80,000 men, Jackson retreated in the direction from which he knew that Lee was approaching.

Pope, deluded by his own wishes and hopes, presumed that his antagonist would make a stand at Manassas, and therefore instead of keeping his troops in a position where, with one arm, he could hold off Lee, while, with the other, he could crush Jackson, set practically his whole force in motion toward that place. “March at the earliest blush of dawn,” so ran his order; “we will bag the whole crowd if we are prompt and expeditions.” But the converging Federal corps found no trace of the Confederate general at Manassas except the smoking ruins of the supplies and munitions. It was reported that he had retreated toward Centreville, but no trace of him was to be found there either. What had become of the wily and furtive foe? Jackson had really been falling back westward while Pope had been searching for him northward. After sweeping around the Federal flank, cutting the Federal line of communications, and applying the torch to a vast quantity of Federal clothing, food, ammunition, and other articles of war, he had now planted himself within twelve miles of Thoroughfare Gap, almost in sight of Lee’s advancing column.

But Jackson was not satisfied with these achievements alone. They did not constitute the real object of his great march; that object was to seize Pope by the flank, like a bulldog, and by holding on, prevent him from escaping before Lee could come up and give the coup de grace. The Union general must be crashed before McClellan could arrive with reinforcements, but so long as he could continue to retreat at will, that hope must be abandoned. With the purpose of finally stopping him, Jackson, halting at Groveton, sprang upon the first Federal division which passed that way,—a very bold act, as he was then unaware that Lee and Longstreet had forced the passage of Thoroughfare Gap; indeed, that wing of the Confederate army, when night closed the short engagement, was only twelve miles off. There were not less than 70,000 Federal troops still marching and countermarching in his vicinity in an active search for his whereabouts; but it did not occur to Jackson, now that darkness had fallen, that it would be more prudent to fall back for the support of the approaching column. His purpose remained unchanged:—he would not budge an inch before that column’s arrival on the ground to give the finishing blow, although the entire force at his disposal for the enemy’s detention did not exceed 18,000 infantry, 2,500 cavalry, and forty pieces of artillety.

Concentrating his men behind the deep cuttings and steep embankments of an unfinished railway, he calmly awaited the stroke which he expected to receive the next day. Nor did his anticipations prove incorrect; early on the following morning, an assault was made by the large Federal force which Pope, confident that his opponent was retreating, had sent forward to hold him until heavy reinforcements could arrive for his destruction, the very fate which that opponent had planned to inflict on him. In a few hours, 18,000 additional Federal troops deployed on the ground; and later, there were further accessions of strength. Lee and Longstreet, unknown to Pope, had now reached the extreme right of the Confederate position. Five gallant and determined assaults in all were made on the Confederate extreme left, but without success. The Federal commander, still unaware of Longstreet’s presence on the right, ordered Fitz-John Porter to march around what he imagined to be Jackson’s unprotected flank in that quarter and strike the Confederate position in the rear. Porter, recognizing the proposed movement’s impracticability with such a force to break through in his front, reported the situation’s real character to his superior, who, disbelieving his lieutenant, renewed his peremptory orders for the movement to begin; but it was now too late, as night was fast approaching.

During Porter’s inaction, Lee, observing a favorable opportunity to strike the Federal left wing, directed Longstreet to advance his troops at once. With that opinionativeness which he had pushed almost to the point of insubordination at Fair Oaks, and was to repeat on the second and third days at Gettysburg, this officer obstinately opposed his chief’s wishes, and instead of vigorously attacking the weak force in front of him, confined himself, with Lee’s reluctant consent, to a reconnaissance to secure a good position for an assault on the following morning. Had Pope fallen back, as he should have done, to the naturally strong line of Bull Run, and there awaited the appearance of the large reinforcements which he was expecting, Longstreet’s action in practically refusing to carry out his commander’s orders would have given the battle of Second Manassas the character of a mere repulse of the Federal right wing by Jackson’s corps. Another conflict on the line of Bull Run, with the Federal troops firmly entrenched, and greatly strengthened by the arrival of additional corps, might have been fatal to every prospect of Confederate success. As it was, the last day’s battle was brought on simply by Pope’s hallucination that the Confederate army was really retreating, and that, if vigorously pursued, might be overwhelmingly defeated.

It is a fact of great significance as touching the characters of his two principal lieutenants, that, previous to Jackson’s death, Lee assigned all independent movements to that officer’s leadership, while he himself always accompanied Longstreet’s corps, as if he thought this to be the one requiring his immediate supervision. And yet, as we perceive from the record of the first day at Second Manassas, not even his presence, known wishes, and almost formal instructions, could overcome his subordinate’s inveterate tardiness and his pertinacious loyalty to his own opinions. Unless Longstreet happened to assent fully to the advisability of the orders he received, he had, from the very beginning of his advancement to high command, a way of thwarting his chief’s designs by his slowness and half-heartedness in executing them. This characteristic was fatal to the Confederate hopes at Fair Oaks; it might have been still more fatal at Second Manassas; and was disastrous in the extreme at Gettysburg.

At dawn on August 31st, the Federals were seen to be massed on the rising ground situated directly in front of the Confederate position. Lee decided to allow Pope to begin the battle, and he was the more inclined to do this as he was momentarily expecting the arrival of D. H. Hill’s, McLaws’s and Walker’s divisions, which had been left at Richmond to watch McClellan’s last retiring movements. Pope still thought that Lee was not yet on the field, and that Jackson was falling back, an impression apparently confirmed by the discovery that, during the night, the latter had taken a new position in a wood further in the rear. At twelve o’clock, the first Federal line, composed of 20,000 men, was ordered to push forward in pursuit, while a body of 40,000 was concentrated behind them ready to march up to their support on the instant. Not satisfied with such great strength. Pope, still ignorant of the presence of Longstreet’s corps, began to weaken his left by calling to the centre a large proportion of Porter’s troops. As the Federal first line moved with great gallantry across an open meadow to assault the Confederates, that part of Jackson’s corps in their immediate front advanced from its new station in the wood, and again planted itself behind the railway cuttings and embankments. Volleys in rapid succession were poured into the faces of the enemy as they came on, while their ranks were also torn and smashed by a terrific crossfire of artillery and musketry. In spite of the destruction thus caused, the Federals marched, with the firmest courage, up to the very muzzles of the Confederate guns; but the concentrated frontal and lateral fusillade now grew too deadly to be resisted, and they were forced to fall back. Twice the assault was renewed, with unsurpassed bravery, and as often repulsed. A like success was won by the remainder of Jackson’s corps in another part of the field.

It was now four o’clock in the afternoon. Depressed by the failure of their previous attempts to capture the Confederate positions; discouraged by their heavy loss in killed and wounded; and exhausted by their exertions during two days of fighting, the Federals were indisposed to renew the battle. Lee promptly seized the opportunity for a great counterstroke. His right wing, commanded by Longstreet, having taken no part in the conflict, was eagerly holding itself in readiness to advance. An order was dispatched to Jackson to bring his corps in close touch with Longstreet’s; and when this had been effected, the entire Confederate line, four miles in length, leaped forward simultaneously at a signal to drive the enemy from the field.

Every regiment, squadron, and battery in the Confederate army participated at first in the movement of the long gray ranks; but so rapidly did the infantry traverse the ground that the artillery was unable to keep up, a fact that had a vital influence on the ultimate issue of the battle. As if pressed forward by an avalanche’s irresistible weight, the Federals yielded position after position all along their front. Jackson succeeded in capturing Matthew Hill, situated only fourteen hundred yards from Stone Bridge, the main line of the Federal retreat over Bull Run. Had Longstreet also succeeded in capturing Henry Hill, access to the crossing would have been blocked from both sides, and a panic would probably have ensued in the already more or less confused masses of the retiring enemy. The absence of artillery made the attack on the last plateau futile in the face of the determined resistance. Darkness soon began to fall, and the Federals, cloaked by it, withdrew to Centreville, their confidence partially restored by the opportune arrival of 20,000 fresh troops under Sumner and Franklin, accompanied by abundant stores and supplies. Threatened next day with an attack in his rear, Pope retreated to Fairfax Court-House; and he escaped a disastrous defeat at Chantilly only by the intervention of a heavy thunder-storm, which, for a time, stopped operations on both sides. Still fearful lest he should be outflanked, he finally withdrew behind the fortifications of Alexandria.

With the exception of Chancellorsville, Second Manassas constitutes the greatest victory of General Lee’s military career. Like Chancellorsville, it was a masterpiece of offensive strategy, and like Chancellorsville also, it was won by the prompt, energetic, daring, and skilful coöperation of “Stonewall” Jackson. Here for the first time on the same field, the two Confederate generals are seen planning and striving together, not so much as superior and subordinate,—which was the relation they distinctly bore during the Peninsula campaign, where Jackson’s conduct was unequal to his previous and after reputation,—but as the alter ego of each other, as a double executive but a single head. From the moment that Jackson broke camp on the Rappahannock, on the morning of August 25th, until the great counterstroke began on the second day at Manassas, he was operating on his own responsibility and on his own initiative. He was simply Lee’s double in another part of the field, upon whose judgment and dexterity his superior relied with as great confidence as he did upon his own. When at Fredericksburg, “Stonewall” sent for instructions to Lee, who said, “Go, tell General Jackson that he knows as well what to do as I,” one of the most generous compliments ever paid by a commander to a lieutenant.

The bold march to the enemy’s rear at Manassas was the first great turning movement (unless the operations on Porter’s right wing at Gaines’ Mill can be so characterized) ever made by the Army of Northern Virginia;—the last was at Chancellorsville. Lee never ventured upon such a stroke after Jackson’s death because he knew that it required the qualifications possessed by that officer to carry it through successfully.

Lee has often been criticised for dividing his army before Second Manassas with the intention of uniting it on the field of battle,—two operations that violated the fundamental maxims of the greatest of all masters of war, Napoleon. Succees under such circumstances has been pronounced by Moltke to be the most brilliant of military achievements. It should be remembered, however, that Lee had a phenomenally energetic and resourceful lieutenant to carry out his design, and also a very rash and impulsive opponent to overcome,—one who, in his eagerness to capture the isolated corps, would, in all probability, leave Thoroughfare Gap open, or at least not take steps to close Aldie’s Gap further north, by which “Stonewall” could easily retire beyond his grasp, should Lee fail to break through the mountain wall. Moreover, so important did both Lee and Jackson consider an assault upon Pope, before McClellan could come up, that they thought it not unwise to run serious risks in order to bring him to battle. By audacity alone could the numerical disparity between the two combatants be equalized, and it happened that an audacious policy was equally congenial to the tastes of both men.

Lee has also been censured for his failure completely to disperse the Federal troops during their retreat from Bull Run; but after Second Manassas, as after his later victories, reinforcements, hurried up with great promptness, soon restored the numerical superiority of the enemy. Had Lee broken up McClellan’s army at Frazier’s Farm, and no peace in consequence had followed, there was still Pope’s army in northern Virginia to subdue; had he destroyed Pope at Second Manassas, McClellan was still behind the fortifications of Washington. Nevertheless, the general results of the operations from Gaines’ Mill to Chantilly were calculated to inspire the Confederates with greater confidence and stimulate them to even greater efforts for the advancement of their cause. Practically, that mighty host, whose tramp had resounded from the Chickahominy to the Rapidan, had been driven beyond the confines of Virginia. By a dramatic reversal of positions, it was now not McClellan listening to the ringing bells and chiming clocks of Richmond, but Lee looking down from the hills of Fairfax on the flaming dome of the Capitol at Washington. During his last two campaigns, he had captured so many rifles of the most improved patterns that he was able to supply every soldier in his ranks with one: at Manassas alone, he had taken twenty thousand, in addition to thirty pieces of artillery; had destroyed a vast quantity of stores and munitions of war; had seized 7,000 prisoners; and killed or wounded 13,500 men. Such success in the face of great numerical odds not unnaturally raised the morale of the Confederate army to a high pitch, while it correspondingly lowered that of the Federal.

Previous to these two campaigns, Mr. Davis’s conviction that the Confederacy’s proper military policy was to stand on the defensive had very generally prevailed. But it was now perceived that the Federals’ vast numerical superiority was ultimately just as likely to overwhelm the Confederate armies on Southern as on Northern soil; that the consequences of defeat were just as disastrous, while the consequences of victory were far less favorable to the Confederate cause, since the enemy was able to retreat to some protected base like Harrison’s Landing or Washington. Moreover, it was now clearly recognized that the only hope of overcoming the disparity in number of men and in resources would be by beating the foe in detail, and the chances were hostile to the accomplishment of this purpose should that foe simply be awaited on Southern soil rather than sought for in the North.

So fixed was the North’s determination to conquer the Confederacy it was unlikely that this feeling would be gradually weakened by a succession of defensive battles, which would only remotely bring home to the people the horrors of war. Both Lee and Jackson now thought that a decisive victory on Northern soil alone would ensure at one blow an acknowledgment of Southern independence. Jackson had held this opinion from the first; and if Lee had not done so as soon, his practical experience as commander-in-chief had soon driven him to the like conclusion. The time seemed ripe for such an invasion, now that the two Federal armies operating in the East had been assaulted in turn, and their morale sensibly lowered. These two armies, after the defeat at Second Manassas, had been merged under McClellan’s leadership; but a very large proportion of the newly combined force consisted of recruits, who, before their enlistment, had never fired a musket.

There were yet other reasons which seemed to make an invasion of the North the wisest course to adopt. In the first place, some conspicuous success in the East was needed to restore the Confederacy’s declining fortunes on western fields. Owing to the increased strictness of the blockade, and the advance of the Federal fleets of gunboats up all the western rivers, there was a growing prospect that Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, the chief provisioning department for the Southern armies, and an important recruiting ground, would be virtually lost to the cause. Moreover, an invasion of the North would compel the Federal government to withdraw the troops still stationed at Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry, thus leaving the Shenandoah Valley unexposed to incursions, and, therefore, free to send a great quantity of grain and beef for the support of Lee. It was also thought that the passage of the Potomac, the Federal army being pressed back, would encourage the people of Maryland openly to show their sympathy with the Confederacy by hurrying to reinforce the advancing columns, and aiding them with supplies of food, arms, and ammunition. Above all, it was hoped that the invasion, by carrying to the very doors of the Northern people, the perils and terrors of actual warfare, would tend to spread among them a spirit that would oppose all further attempts to conquer the South.

In the face of these different motives justifying an invasion, there were several conditions calculated to discourage such a movement. Firstly, owing to the commissary department’s deficiencies, the Confederate soldiers were wretchedly equipped for so exhausting a march; their shoes, when they had any at all, were, in consequence of the long tramps from Gaines’ Mill to Second Manassas, worn almost to shreds, while their clothes were scanty and ragged. Secondly, a considerable number had been so often wounded in the previous series of battles that they ought properly to have been furloughed, or sent back to serve as a homeguard; a still greater number were suffering in health from the free use of green food snatched from corn-fields and orchards along the road and eaten raw. All needed rest after the two arduous campaigns just ended. Deficient clothing, lack of shoes, physical infirmities, great fatigue from previous marches,—all these drawbacks were certain to lower the men’s efficiency while operating in a country never before explored by them, and one broken by mountain ranges and spurs.

Hardly had Lee crossed the Potomac, at the head of barely 55,000 troops, when the evil consequences of these unfortunate conditions began to show themselves. Thousands of soldiers, unable to keep up with the main body by reason of lacerated feet or diarrhetic weakness, straggled behind in its wake, until they were strung out all the way from the Potomac to Sharpsburg, in which battle hardly two-thirds of the original invading force took part. Those remaining in the ranks presented, in most instances, an unkempt appearance for men of such extraordinary courage and constancy: their hats were brimless; their belts consisted of strands of rope; their shoes were rude moccasins fashioned out of rawhides; their coats and trousers when not hanging in tatters were, by exposure, stained to every color. It was an army of ragamuffins, but ragamuffins of undaunted hearts, the firmest nerves, and an unconquerable spirit; to whom discomforts were nothing in the scale, if by a keen eye in firing a musket, and a strong arm in wielding a sword, they could win the South’s independence.

When Lee crossed the Potomac, Harper’s Ferry was occupied by a Federal garrison of 8,000 men; he, however, confidently expected that, as he advanced toward Frederick and Hagerstown, these troops, recognizing their untenable position, would retire northward. During the operations in Virginia, the Alexandria and Orange Railroad had been used as the Confederate line of communication, but as soon as the army entered western Maryland, it became necessary to shift that line to the Shenandoah Valley. Should the Federal garrison remain at Harper’s Ferry, its presence might interfere with the safe transportation of the Confederate recruits, ammunition, and other supplies, only conveyable to Shepperdstown by that route. When it was found that, in accord with orders from Washington,—unapproved, however, by McClellan,—the Federal troops would not be withdrawn, the question was presented to Lee whether or not he should reduce the place before seeking battle with the forces of the enemy, now moving toward Frederick with great caution because unable to penetrate the screen formed by Stuart’s cavalry. It would require 25,000 men to capture Harper’s Ferry, and both Jackson and Longstreet were opposed to the army’s division with the enemy so near at hand; and their view was doubtless the correct one. Nothing but the certainty that, by leaving the garrison undisturbed, the supply of ammunition would be cut off would have justified such an expedition. When Lee invaded Pennsylvania the following year, he did not endeavor to dislodge the force then holding the same post, and neither danger nor inconvenience resulted. Nor would either have done so now had he listened to his lieutenants’ advice.

Exaggerating the importance of removing the obstruction, he thought that the expedition under consideration would be rendered safe, first, by the excessive caution and tardiness marking all McClellan’s military operations; and, secondly, by the swiftness and energy characterizing Jackson in the performance of a dangerous enterprise. Lee argued that McClellan was now advancing with more than his usual slowness and timidity; that Stuart could be trusted to maintain for some time longer the screen which hid the Confederate movement from the enemy’s view; and that, before the Northern commander could discover that the Confederate army had been divided, Jackson would be able, not only to reduce the garrison at Harper’s Ferry, thus removing all danger of the Southern line of communication being interupted, but also to reunite his corps with the main body of the troops, awaiting his return at some convenient point west of South Mountain.

It is quite probable that Lee’s hazardous plan would have been successfully carried out had not an unexpected incident occurred. As soon as he reached a decision, he sent to the several commanders copies of a general order touching the intended movements of the various parts of his army during the next few days. One of these copies, wrapped around a handful of cigars, was picked up by a Federal soldier, who, with his comrades, was occupying the site of D. H. Hill’s recent encampment. This paper was at once delivered to McClellan and revealed to him, not only the proposed reduction of Harper’s Ferry and the division of the Confederate forces, but also the position of every important detachment. “I have all the plans of the rebels,” he exclaimed with natural exultation, “and will catch them in their own trap.” Never in the coarse of the war was such an opportunity presented to a Federal commander for the destruction of the Army of Northem Virginia in the hour of its strength at one blow. Had McClellan advanced at once, he could quite probably have overwhelmed Longstreet’s corps before Jackson had been able to hurry back from Harper’s Ferry, and could then have turned upon Jackson’s corps with equal success. But this military Hamlet, when all the cards were in his hand, and the hour for prompt and energetic action had arrived, began characteristically to hesitate, as if he thought that the order was designed merely to deceive and mislead him.

Fortunately for the Confederate cause, Lee was informed of the lost paper’s fate in less than fourteen hours after its discovery. At this moment, he himself was marching toward Hagerstown with Longstreet’s corps. The crest of the South Mountain range, which lay between him and McClellan’s advancing army, had already been occupied by Stuart’s cavalry, while D. H. Hill’s division was encamped at Boonesboro not far away. There were two gaps in the range, namely, Turner’s and Crampton’s, and if the Federals were to be held off at arm’s length until Jackson could hasten back from Harper’s Ferry, then both must be vigoronsly defended, so that McClellan, if not entirely stopped in his approach from the east, might at least be greatly delayed. That commander had received the copy of the lost order on September 13th, but it was not until the 14th that he began to move, and then by no means rapidly.

As soon as Lee knew his plans had been disclosed, he ordered Longstreet to retrograde to South Mountain for Stuart’s and D. H. Hill’s support; but before that officer could traverse the distance, which he did with characteristic slowness, consuming ten hours in making thirteen miles, the Confederates and Federals had come in conflict in both the passes. It was particularly important that Crampton Gap should be blocked, as its opening would at once allow McClellan to throw a heavy force across the roads by which Jackson’s corps would seek to reach the main army. By five o’clock in the afternoon, Franklin, at the head of a large detachment, had broken in and occupied the summit. In Turner’s Gap, where, owing to Longstreet’s arrival, the numerical disparity was not so great, the Confederates were able to hold their ground until darkness fell. The day’s advantage for their side was that the Federal advance had been delayed twenty-four hours, but this had been gained only by the loss of 3,400 men, the temporary rupture of many regiments and a distinct lowering of the morale of that part of the Confederate army, which was further depressed by the retreat at night to the line of Antietam Creek. The sense of defeat was, however, soon largely counterbalanced by the news of Jackson’s success. As Lee was taking position at Sharpsbnrg, he was informed that his lieutenant, having captured Harper’s Ferry with 12,520 prisoners, 13,000 small arms, and seventy-three pieces of artillery, was hurrying forward to rejoin him.

Lee now debated whether it would not be best for him to withdraw his troops across the Potomac and take an entrenched position in Virginia. The section engaged had not yet fully recovered from the depression caused by their discomfiture at South Mountain; the ranks of the entire army had been seriously depleted by straggling; and the whole of the corps sent to Harper’s Ferry was still absent. Above all, the ground he now occupied was marked by what might prove to be a fatal disadvantage. A large river, not easily fordable, flowed just back of his position, and defeat would mean, if not the destruction of his whole force, the loss of all his artillery. Longstreet, wisely on the whole, urged retreat. Jackson, on the contrary, favored making a firm stand, and Lee, being of the same bold temper, so decided.

Their reasons for adopting a course apparently so imprudent were, first, that the Confederate army was composed altogether of veteran troops, whilst the Federal consisted either of raw recruits, or of men who had been defeated in the Peninsula and Second Manassas campaigns. Secondly, that the Confederate artillery, having been recently reorganized, was never before in so efficient a condition. Thirdly, that, if a victory should be won, the Federal troops could be pursued to far more advantage than after Second Manassas, when they had Washington’s fortifications to retire behind for protection, and a second army to come to their assistance; even the fall of the capital, Baltimore, and Philadelphia might follow, with overwhelming political as well as military consequences. Fourthly, that the Confederates were at this time highly successful in the West: a victory in the East would redouble the North’s despondency, and by strengthening the peace party, render the issue of the approaching Federal elections unfavorable to the war’s continuation; cause an immediate diminution in the Federal Western forces in the effort to increase the Eastern, a fact that would make it easier for General Bragg to clear Tenneesee, and even Kentucky, of invaders; and, by removing the Federal pressure on Maryland, encourage that state to send thousands of recruits to the Southern army. Fifthly, that, as it would be a tacit confession of defeat for the Confederate troops to retreat across the Potomac without giving battle, the general effect of the movement, in depressing the Southern and elating the Northern people, would be almost as marked as if those troops had been beaten in the field. And, finally, that McClellan would be left undisturbed to strengthen his forces, until, on the resumption of hostilities, the disproportion in Federal favor would be far greater than it was even now.

The country lying between Boonesboro and Sharpsburg consisted of corn and meadow land, intersected by excellent roads. Had McClellan advanced in force promptly and energetically, he might have attacked the Confederate position by noon of the 15th, a time when little resistance could have been offered. Not until then did even his skirmishers appear. By the following morning, his army was on the ground, but, during the day, he was so busy in placing his different corps that it was sunset when he ordered two of them to cross the Antietam, which flowed between the opposing lines. In the meanwhile, the principal part of Jackson’s corps had arrived on the field, after an exhausting night march. Hill, with several thousand men, still remained at Harper’s Ferry. Had McClellan attacked with vigor even by noon of the 16th, the movement would have been sure of success. As it was, he was that day content simply to prepare for an assault on the next. Apparently, he thought his slowness would, in the end, be compensated for by his greatly superior force; as his cavalry and infantry numbered 87,164 men, supported by 276 guns, while the Confederates numbered only 35,000 infantry, and 4,000 cavalry, supported by but 194 guns. McClellan, however, perhaps not unwisely, weakened his actual fighting strength by holding in reserve a very large section of his army to resist his antagonist’s forward movement, if he himself was unsuccessful in front, or to make a great counterstroke, should his own advanced corps triumph.

Lee had posted his army to extraordinary advantage on the opposite heights of Sharpsburg. His right was stationed about a mile southeast of the town; and from this point, his line of battle ran parallel to the turnpike uniting Sharpshurg with Hagerstown. On the left, the line curved back, in the form of a rough angle, until it reached the Potomac. Owing to a great bend in that stream, both the right and left wings rested on the river. The Antietam, which flowed in front of the greater part of the line, was crossed by four bridges. It was by the one situated on the extreme Confederate left that the two Federal corps advanced after sunset on the 16th. Their passage was unopposed, and at a point not for beyond the creek, they bivouacked, with the intention of attacking Jackson’s corps, which formed the Confederate left wing, next morning. The original plan adopted by McClellan was first to assault that wing with a heavy force; if the movement succeeded, to follow it up with an assault by his left on the Confederate right; and if that also succeeded, then to drive his centre against the Confederate centre.

The battle began at sunrise with the advance of Hooker’s corps; and so fierce was the ensuing conflict that this officer afterward stated that the corn growing over a part of the ground, thirty acres in extent, was cut down by the bullets as if by the blade of a scythe. By half-past seven o’clock, his troops had been worsted, but the other corps, under Mansfield, moving forward, succeeded in forcing Jackson to fall back to a second position, where his line, instead of being bent, as formerly, into an angle exposed to cross fire, was almost straight, and, therefore, more easily defended. Owing to McClellan’s general plan, Lee, not being anxious for his left and centre, was able to dispatch heavy reinforcements to Jackson’s aid; but this accession of strength was counterbalanced by the arrival of 18,000 fresh Federal troops, who at once renewed the battle. This detachment being thrown into confusion by an unexpected attack, the Confederates rushed forward as the whole Federal line wavered; but just as they were most disorganized by their own rapid advance, they were confronted by two fresh Federal brigades, and subjected to a hot artillery fire. Stopped in their coarse, they were forced to withdraw to their former position. This ended the contest on the left, where 30,000 Federal troops, supported by 100 guns, had been foiled, and, for a short time, swept back in rout by 20,000 Confederates, supported by forty guns.

His right wing having failed, McClellan, instead of ordering his left to attack next, as originally planned, pushed forward his centre, which soon drove Longstreet back to the turnpike situated in his rear; but here that officer doggedly planted his foot, and as the Federals, being unsupported, were unable to dislodge him, the opposing forces in this quarter spent the rest of the day in a state of inaction. Burnside, in command of the extreme left wing, was now ordered to move. After much delay, three of his divisions succeeded in crossing the Antietam on that side of the field, and taking positions on the ridge situated just beyond it. Having thus outflanked the Confederate right, they began to roll the opposing line back upon Sharpsburg. Had this movement continued, the larger part of the Confederate army would have been in imminent danger of being huddled up in hopeless confusion; but from this peril it was saved by A. P. Hill’s opportune arrival at the head of 3,000 men, who, assaulting the Federals in reverse, not only stopped their advance, but also compelled them to retreat across the Antietam.

Thus ended the battle of Sharpsburg, for the time it lasted the most sanguinary of the whole war. The loss in killed and wounded amounted to sixteen per cent of the entire forces engaged on both sides. It is related that the Federal patrol passing into a field where the fighting had been especially desperate imagined, in the veiling darknees of the night, that they had surprised a Confederate brigade. “There in the shadow of the woods lay the skirmishers, their muskets beside them; and there, in regular ranks, lay the line of battle sleeping, as it seemed, the profound sleep of utter exhaustion. But the first man that was touched was cold and lifeless, and the next and the next. It was the bivouac of the dead.”

A Confederate council of war was held after the close of the battle. Even Jackson advised retreat into Virginia. Having listened quietly to the expression of each lieutenant’s opinion, Lee rose in his stirrups, and said: “Gentlemen, we will not cross the Potomac to-night. If McClellan wants to fight in the morning, I will give him battle again.” The only precaution which he took was to draw a part of his line back to a range of hills situated west of Sharpsburg, a position more defensible than the one previously occupied. Having been joined next day by six or seven thousand stragglers, he considered his army sufficiently strong to adopt the offensive, and it was only when he found, by the report of Colonel S. D. Lee, one of his most capable artillery officers, that the extreme Federal right wing’s position,—the only position possibly turnable,—was too formidable to be outflanked, that he abandoned all thought of the initiative. Informed during the day that McClellan was receiving heavy reinforcements, and expecting none himself, he, that night, retired across the Potomac, without the loss of a gun or wagon, and with no serious attempt on his antagonist’s part to interrupt or confuse the movement.

Sharpsburg was as distinctly a Confederate as Malvern Hill had been a Federal victory; in each case, the party repulsing an attack finally retreated. In its larger aspects, however, this battle was a Confederate defeat; it checked the invasion of the North, from which so much to the South’s political and military benefit was expected to follow, and it gave Mr. Lincoln a favorable opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Lee himself was not dissatisfied with the general results; if, for no other reason, because it showed that he could rely on his soldiers’ valor in the teeth of the most disheartening odds, and on their firmness and constancy even when their most sanguine hopes were frustrated. From a tactical point of view, Sharpsburg was, in some respects, the greatest of his military achievements; not only in the beginning had he posted his troops to the utmost advantage for repelling the assaults of an enemy so much superior in number, but during the course of the battle, in spite of the hostile masses of infantry and artillery in front of his whole line, he had moved detachments from point to point where the need of their aid was most pressing. His right wing alone had been in a very critical position because that was the last attacked, when his resources in fresh troops on the ground had been exhausted.

McClellan’s management of his army had shown far less skill. He attacked, not in combination, but in succession, and in succession was repulsed. He really fought three different battles, and from the beginning to the end of the conflict only two-thirds of his army was engaged. Like Hooker at Chancellorsville, he was thinking lees of winning a victory than of guarding his army from a possible rout.

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