Robert E. Lee
Philip Alexander Bruce

CHAPTER IX
WILDERNESS TO COLD HARBOR

LEE, after crossing the Potomac, drew back slowly to the Rapidan, where his army reposed during the next three months. Meade, in the meanwhile, was stationed near Culpeper Court-House. At the end of this interval, there began between the two a campaign of manœuvres, ranging over the entire region between the Rapidan and Bull Run. Lee, on one occasion, followed his opponent as far as Chantilly, almost in sight of the spires of Washington. “I could have thrown him further back,” he wrote, “but saw no chance of bringing him to battle, and it would have only served to fatigue our troops by advancing farther. I should certainly have endeavored to throw him north of the Potomac, but thousands of my troops were barefooted, thousands with fragments of shoes, and all without overcoats, blankets, or warm clothing. I could not bear to expose them to certain suffering and an uncertain issue.”

In November, Meade sought, by a rapid and secret march, to surprise the Confederate army, now preparing to retire into winter quarters, but still greatly spread out. Lee, informed by Stuart of the movement in time, promptly concentrated his 30,000 veterans and 160 guns behind log breastworks erected on the densely wooded south bank of Mine Run. His original army, like Meade’s, had recently been reduced by the dispatch of a large detachment to the West. When the Federal troops arrived in front of the quickly-devised fortifications, they found the barrier too strong to be assailed with hope of success, and they quietly withdrew to Culpeper Court-Honse. Winter now setting in in earnest, military operations in the eastern theatre of war came to an end for the year.

In the following March, before the campaign in Virginia opened, occurred the great battle of Missionary Ridge, a victory of more far-reaching consequences than Gettysburg, and the real turning point of the war, because it assured the Federal supremacy in the West, where the Confederacy was ultimately to be conquered. The fall of Vicksburg, the battle of Missionary Ridge, and the retreat of the defeated Confederates to Dalton had left the entire area of the South outside of Georgia, the two Carolinas, Florida, and the lower half of Virginia in the enemy’s possession. The Federals were now able to concentrate two great armies,—one against the forces in north Georgia, now led by Johnston; the other against the forces on the Rapidan, still led by Lee. Grant, having been appointed the Federal commander-in-chief, elected to assume personal direction of the troops then stationed at Culpeper Court-House; on his arrival there, in the spring of 1864, he found himself at the head of 120,000 men supported by 316 pieces of artillery, against whom, Lee, now joined by Longstreet, fresh from the campaign in East Tennessee, could marshal only about 60,000 men and 224 pieces of artillery. These he had spread out all the way from Orange Court-House to Gordonsville, as he could not anticipate precisely where the first blow would be struck.

In Grant, Lee was confronted by a much greater antagonist than any he had previously fought. In tenacity, resolution, vigor, and energy, the newly appointed chief was incontestably the first of all the Federal commanders. The record of no other was adorned with such a series of triumphs as those which he had won at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg and Missionary Ridge. In his manner of warfare, he resembled some mighty driving rain, relentlessly directed against the opposing army. All the accounts which we have of his private life prove that he was a man of more than ordinarily kind heart and affectionate disposition, and yet in the campaign reaching from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, he, in his unyielding determination to restore the Union at all costs, no more hesitated to send his soldiers to slaughter than if they had been so many automatons of wood or stone. It was the stern spirit of his Covenanter forefothers that disclosed itself in this apparently reckless sacrifice of human lives for the accomplishment of a supreme purpose. But vigorous and rapid and continuous as were the strokes which he delivered, the Army of Northern Virginia was to be destroyed, not so much by what he achieved in the East as by what Sherman and Thomas accomplished in the West. No Missionary Ridge, no Nashville, were to tarnish Lee’e career after Grant’s arrival any more than they had tarnished that career before.

Grant himself was too wise to depreciate his opponent; from the beginning, he saw that there was but one way of vanquishing Lee; namely, by the resolute and persistent use of the almost inexhaustible Federal reserves in men and material regardless of their destruction. The Army of Northern Virginia had not simply to be defeated,—it had practically to be destroyed before it would yield. During the campaign’s early stages, Grant announced his general plan to be “to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources until by mere attrition, if by nothing else, there would be nothing left for him” but to submit. He knew that the Federals could better afford to lose ten men and five cannon in battle than the Confederates one man and one cannon. A vainer, more ambitious, and a less sincere commander would never have used such plain and blunt words; but Grant’s purpose was to save the Union, not to advance his own reputation by exploiting beforehand strategical and tactical schemes in which pure genius and not numbers was expected to play the first part. He went about that purpose with a singleness and directness that was utterly oblivious of all personal pretension. “Wherever Lee goes,” he wrote to Meade, “there you will go too.” Lee was to be the objectives, not Richmond, and if, after Cold Harbor, (perhaps earlier), he abandoned this policy, he did so only because he discovered that his opponent could not be overwhelmed even by the most lavish expenditure of the unlimited Federal resources. He declared, before crossing the Rapidan, that he would strike the enemy between that river and Richmoud, “if Lee will stand.” Whatever doubt he had entertained as to the latter’s attitude was soon dispelled. Before many days had passed, instead of Grant going “where Lee was,” it was Lee who was following close in Grant’s track, and, in the end, always interposing between him and the Confederate capital.

Three courses were open to Grant on the threshold of the campaign: he could throw his army across the Rapidan and make a frontal assault on Lee’s entrenchments; he could move around the Confederate left; or he could skirt the Confederate right. A direct attack, doubtful of issue at best, was certain to be attended with heavy loss of life. An advance around the left would only cause Lee to fall back on a line that would bring Grant no nearer Richmond. If, on the other hand, the Union leader could outflank the Confederate right, he would be able, not only to plant his army firmly between Lee and Richmond, but also to force Lee to join battle in the open country, where superior numbers were more likely to prevail. It is true that in such a movement, Grant would have to abandon the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, then his base of supply; but it would require only about ten days’ rations, which could be easily transported, before he would be in a position, after passing through the Wilderness, to form a new base on the Rappahannock; and as he came nearer Richmond, he knew that he could shift that base, first to the York, and then to the James.

By the night of May 4th, the whole of the Federal army, with a part of its wagon train, had crossed the Rapidan. Lee did not attempt to dispute the passage. Why did he not take advantage of its confusion to attack? Because he had not forgotten the opportunity which Hooker, about twelve months before, by a similar plunge into the same thickets, though further east, gave the Confederates to destroy their enemy. The respective strength of the two antagonists was just as disproportionate then as it was now, and Lee hoped that the peculiar topography of the country would again serve him equally well in neutralizing the numerical disparity.

Grant would have to traverse about ten miles of jungle before be could emerge into an open region. This jungle, like the one surrounding Chancellorsville, had been formed by the use of the original growth of trees in feeding the now extinct fires of local iron furnaces. There were the same scraggy pines, scrub oaks, stunted hazel, and bristling chinquapins, in the midst of which the soldiers of the two armies were invisible to each other at half musket range, and generally not discernible even at half the length of a battalion. This wild region of deep shadow was haunted only by the bat, owl, and whippoorwill, the hare, fox, and deer. Here and there, the surface under the heavy cloak of bushes was broken by a narrow ravine, through which a rivulet flowed to the Rapidan; and here and there also, a little light found its way through the cuttings made in clearing the tracks for hauling wood to the smelters. The district was intersected by only two public highways, namely, the turnpike and the plank road that ran from Orange Court-House, by way of Chancellorsville, to Fredericksburg.

The Confederate commander was well content to see the Federal troops entangled in the intricacies of this wild tract; first, because its topography was fully known to him, and, secondly, because it would entirely obstruct the use of cavalry and artillery,— two arms in which Grant possessed an almost overwhelming superiority. Lee, without difficulty, could have assailed the first half of the Federal army as soon as it had crossed the Rapidan, but to do so was to forego the chance of destroying the whole when it should become involved in the dense thickets on the south bank. In order to draw the enemy still deeper into the labyrinth, he, for a time, held back his own men out of sight under cover of the gloomy undergrowth; but at the moment Grant was congratulating himself that be would be able to pass the Wilderness unmolested, and, without the loss of a man, plant his entire force beyond the Confederate right wing, a rush was made for his flank. Lee did not pause even for Longstreet to come up from Gordonsville, but attacked the entire Federal army with Hill’s and Ewell’s corps alone. From this hour, that army, as long as it remained in the Wilderness, resembled a great boar charging in the underbrush the mastiffs which had brought him to bay.

Longstreet, who had only twelve miles to traverse, should have arrived on the ground that afternoon (May 5th), but instead did not appear until the next morning. During that interval, owing to his being away, the two corps engaged had been unable to strike the separated Federal wings an effective blow, and one had been on the edge of disaster. The cooperation of the whole Confederate army, small enough as a whole, compared with its antagonist’s, was necessary to success. Grant, aware of Longstreet’s absence, sought to overwhelm Hill and Ewell before they could be reinforced. Hancock threw himself on Hill, and a fierce contest, attended with equal fortune to each side, ensued until night fell. Ewell, who had taken the precaution to erect breastworks, was able, not only to repel the enemy’s assault in his front, but also to drive him back some distance. That night the two armies held the positions which they had occupied in the morning, but Hancock had the foresight to protect his approaches by a strong line of entrenchment.

At dawn of the second day, Sedgwick and Warren advanced to attack Ewell, and Hancock, Hill. Burnside was ordered at the same time to press between the two Confederate corps, and then wheel to right or left as seemed best, and strike one or the other. Ewell stood firm in spite of the vigor of the assault. Hill, confident that he would soon be reinforced by Longstreet’s had neglected to throw up entrenchments in imitation of Hancock, and when attacked, was driven back in confusion. Lee observing this, rode forward to rally the troops. Just at this critical moment, the first division of Longstreet’s corps came upon the ground at double quick. It was a body of Texans, and as they passed the commander-in-chief they saluted him with loud cheers; but it was not until they had advanced some distance that they perceived his intention to accompany them. “Go back, General Lee,” rang out all along the charging line. “Go back; we will not go on unless you go back.” A sergeant seized his bridle-rein and turned his horse in the direction of the rear. Yielding with reluctance to his men’s entreaties, he slowly withdrew to a safer position. In a few minntes, Hancock, whose rapid forward movement had caused some confusion in his own ranks, was stopped and finally driven back, but reforming, advanced again.

Longstreet, taking advantage of the shelter offered by the cuttings of a disused railway penetrating that part of the forest, sent four brigades to assail Hancock’s flank. Struck unawares, that section of the Federal line was thrown into disorder; and this soon extending to the remainder of Hancock’s corps, the whole body, in considerable confusion, retreated behind the log breastworks, which fortunately for them, had been erected during the previous night. Longstreet ordered a general assault on these entrenchments, but as he rode forward to overlook the movement, he was by mistake shot at by his own men, and so severely wounded that he had to be carried off the field. The delay in substituting a new commander gave the Federals time to strengthen their fortifications and to bring up reinforcements. Though successful at first in their next attack, the Confederates were finally baffled and retired. In the meanwhile, the dry leaves and brushwood underfoot having been set on fire by the repeated volleys, the gloom of the thick undergrowth was lit up by the flames, which caught the wounded and the dead in their progress, and cast a pall of smoke over the whole of the strange battle-ground.

The total result of the second day’s contest was that Sedgwick and Warren had been checked, Burnside driven back to his original position, and Hancock repulsed and shut up in a precarious situation. At an expense of 10,000 men, the Confederates had inflicted a loss of 17,666 on their opponents. Had Burnside, Hooker, or McClellan been in command of the Army of the Potomac, it would, most probably, have now retreated to the Rappahannock.

But Grant was made of firmer metal; and he never for a moment forgot his numerical superiority. Rejecting a frontal attack as hopeless, he decided to move again to the left, a step made practicable only by the Federal command of the sea; for, had the Rappahannock, York, and James been closed by Confederate cruisers, the Army of the Potomac would have been compelled to retire through an intricate region to its only possible base, the Orange and Alexandria Railway. As it was, although but seven days’ rations remained, and thousands of wounded had to be transported by wagon, it was Grant’s safest course to advance eastward; and in adopting this course, he was probably thinking more of his new line of communication by water than of the capture of Richmond. In spite of the depression which the latter event would have caused in the South, and in spite also of the loss of the valuable workshops and foundries situated in that city, it would undoubtedly have greatly prolonged the Confederacy’s existence had Grant now succeeded in thwarting and keeping his army between Lee and that point. Had the Confederate capital been removed, after the battles in the Wilderness, to Danville or Raleigh, Lee’s movements would no longer have been complicated by the strategical drawback of having to defend Richmond, and consequently he would have fallen back slowly to the line of the upper Staunton River to be nearer Johnston’s army and the mountains, instead of being gradually drawn into the military morass of Petersburg, and there deprived forever of all power of uniting with that army when the coalition became imperative.

Lee, justly appreciating Grant’s indomitable will and indefatigable persistence, and aware that he enjoyed his government’s full confidence, and would be backed by its entire resources, felt no surprise when Stuart reported that the Federal wagon train was moving, not northward, but eastward. Knowing that this was the first step toward a second flank march, Lee acted so energetically that, when the Federal Fifth Corps reached Spottsylvania on the morning of May 8th, it found the Confederate First Corps entrenched in front to bar its passage. Although Grant, by his first movement in the Wilderness, had succeeded in outflanking Lee, the latter, by his success in that battle, had gained such a position that he was now able to swing his army entirely round and plant it squarely in the Federal path.

The region in which the new operations began possessed more open spaces than the one so recently abandoned, and consequently there was more room for active manœuvres, and less obstruction in the use of cavalry and artillery. Lee’s main line rested on a ridge crossing the neck of land between the Po and the Ny. His eye for the strongest defensive points in the topography of a country was never more clearly shown; here, as at Sharpsburg, the ground selected was exactly adapted to the number of his troops. If Grant attacked in front, he would expose his army to the risk of being repulsed with great slaughter; if on the flank, he would first have to make, across one or the other of the two streams, a reconnaissance in force that was liable to be overwhelmed before reinforcements could be hurried up. Such was the fate which nearly overtook one corps that boldly ventured to pass.

The only weak point in the Confederate line consisted of a salient resembling the inverted letter U projected northward. This salient, about a mile long and half a mile wide, was defended, on its western side, by Rodes’s division of the Second Corps, and on its eastern by Johnson’s. Its vulnerableness caught Grant’s watchful eye at once, and he ordered it to be attacked by three divisions drawn up in double lines, supported at a distance of one hundred paces by twelve battalions formed in four lines. The centre was to make the rush, while each wing distracted the enemy in its immediate front. Breaking from the cover of a wood where it had been concealed, the column swept over the first line of Confederate entrenchments, and even succeeded in seizing the second; but, exhausted and unsupported, after capturing 1,200 prisoners and twenty guns, was driven back by a counterstroke delivered by Confederate brigades in reserve. At first, they held on to the front line of breastworks, but at night abandoned it.

Grant, not discouraged by the loss of 4,000 men in the previous attempt, decided to attack the apex of the salient with a greater force. An assaulting column, 20,000 strong, was formed just before daybreak of the 12th, in front of that position, which, according to the report of a deserter from Johnson’s division stationed there, had been greatly weakened in anticipation of another flank movement by the Federal army. The artillery withdrawn had, however, really been returned. Although suspecting the Federal design from noises overheard, the division was unable to withstand the assault when made, owing to the confusion caused by a heavy fog, which, at that early hour, enveloped every object. The great Federal wave, having overwhelmed the whole division, swept on irresistibly until it seemed as if the entire Confederate army would be split in two; but, fortunately for Lee, in making the salient, he had taken the precaution to throw up a line of entrenchments at a distance of half a mile in the rear. When the Federal column reached this point, the battalions had become mixed and the entire force was in a state of disorder.

It was a critical moment for the Confederates. General, Lee, recognizing the peril and wishing to inspire his troops by his presence, placed himself at the head of General Gordon’s column about to make a charge. That officer, seizing his bridle, exclaimed: “This is no place for you, General Lee,” “Is it necessary for General Lee to lead this charge?” he then cried out to his men. “No! No!” was the unanimous response from the ranks; “we will drive them back if General Lee will only go to the rear.” As he withdrew, greatly touched by their devotion, Gordon rode to the head of the division, and in that ringing voice which had been so often heard above the storm of battle, shouted: “Forward, march, and remember your promise to General Lee.” The Federals were slowly pressed back to a spot which came to be known as the Bloody Angle from the desperate character of the struggle that took place there. The ground was soon covered with heaps of dead and wounded, and the very trees were cut down by the volleys of bullets. Rodes and Gordon were reinforced by only three brigades, and although their troops, now separated from the enemy by a breastwork of logs alone, were assailed in front and enfiladed in reverse by the Federal artillery, they could not be dislodged. As soon as darkness fell, however, they raised a new line of entrenchments in their rear, and to this they withdrew before daybreak.

The Federals had lost 6,800 men, and the Confederates 4,600, in addition to the prisoners belonging to Johnson’s division captured in the first Federal rush. The balance of success in the entire operations favored the Southern side.

Repulsed on both flanks. Grant was left in his original position by the new line of Confederate earthworks across the salient. Recognizing that a frontal assault on this new line would fail, he decided to manœuvre for an advantage. Hardly stopping to rest his fatigued and shattered troops, he ordered a large force to be concentrated on the following night (May 13th), at a point from which the Confederate right might be outflanked; but before this point could be reached, several miles had to be traversed, and the Federal corps, instead of being in position by the next morning, were strung out in a state of exhaustion along the whole interval. Confederate troops were hurried up to the right wing, and the Federal plan had to be abandoned. Deferring further operations for three days, Grant then decided to manœuvre again; but this time be ordered an attack on the Confederate centre, which he supposed had been weakened by the withdrawal of forces to protect the right. On the contrary, it had been strengthened by Lee, now put on his guard by the previous movement, and when the Federal troops came on, they were soon repulsed.

Thus ended the series of battles at Spottsylvania, a series that made up a short campaign of unexampled fury. It would be difficult to discover in the history of the entire war a course of operations in which the Confederate soldier’s high qualities shone more brilliantly. Johnson’s division, it is true, had been surprised, but every other assault had been successfully resisted, every breach had been promptly filled, and every broken line restored. The Confederate action had been characterized by extraordinary alertness, firmness, and resourcefulness; the Federal, by unsurpassed vigor, courage, and persistency. This series of battles, which resembled somewhat the series afterward occurring around Petersburg, revealed the vital importance of not imposing on the Confederate army the permanent defense of one point. As long as that army was mobile, its opponent could not gain time to erect formidable fortifications. Without Richmond to guard, Lee would have been in Meade’s advantageous position before the battle of Gettysburg: he could have awaited attack behind temporary breastworks, easily held or abandoned as circumstances required.

The Confederate army’s invincibility while engaged in the mobile defensive was silently acknowledged by Grant, when, on the 20th, notwithstanding the arrival of 40,000 fresh troops, he disappeared from Lee’s front as completely as if no Federal soldier had ever been seen there. As he marched eastward, he pushed one corps forward a very considerable distance, in the hope that his energetic opponent would be tempted to attack before throwing up entrenchments. But Lee, moving on the interior lines, was satisfied to take position behind the North Anna River, with a view of disputing the passage, should Grant seek to force it. It was here for the first time during the campaign that he obtained reinforcements, which, however, numbered barely 9,000 men. From the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the entire addition to his strength did not exceed 14,400. His army was now further weakened by the absence of his cavalry in pursuit of Sheridan, sent by Grant to break up the Virginia Central and Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroads in the Confederate rear. It was during this raid that Stuart, dispatched to intercept that officer, was killed.

Lee, when he halted behind the North Anna, extended his troops in an almost straight line some distance back from the river, but parallel with it. Two bridges spanned the stream opposite his right wing, while a ford was situated opposite his centre, and another about two and a half miles beyond his left. Grant, on arriving, advanced a corps across the river by this more remote ford, and as these troops at once threw up entrenchments, the Confederates were prevented from driving them back. Had not sickness confined Lee to his tent at this moment, the assault of his soldiers, which lacked vigor, would perhaps have proved successful. Grant, encouraged, dispatched a second corps to the first’s assistance, and a third was moved across the bridge opposite the Confederate centre. As their opponents were posted in a straight line with their several commands more or less separated, there would apparently be no difficulty in uniting the three Federal corps after the last two had also passed over the stream; but this anticipation was thwarted by a curious manœuvre of Lee: He drew back his troops after the manner of closing an umbrella, with the point resting upon the river; thus a double line, shaped like an obtuse angle, intervened between the two Federal corps stationed on the Confederate left, and the one Federal corps stationed on the Confederate right. The only way in which either Federal wing could reinforce the other would be by crossing the river twice, an operation that would consume three hours.

A favorable opportunity of assailing the three isolated Federal corps was now presented, but Lee was too ill to utilize it. “We must strike them,” he exclaimed on his sick bed, “we must strike them. We must never let them pass us again.” There was, however, no Jackson to take his place. Even Longstreet, not yet recovered from his wound, was absent. Never had there been a more conspicuous illustration of the fact that Lee was the heart and mainspring of his army.

Grant, perceiving their danger, withdrew on the night of May 26th, the isolated corps. Again, he moved to the left, and again Lee followed on the interior lines. The Southern troops now took a position so near Richmond that Grant would be tempted to leave the Pamunkey far behind him; detained on that river, he would be led to reinforce Butler at City Point for an attack on the capital; but if detained on the Totopotomoy further inland, he would be unable to do this with the same ease. Moreover, Lee, by posting his army near Richmond, placed it where it could promptly assist that city’s defenders, should Butler advance from the Appomattox. He had a force of only 45,000 men to repel the attack of the Federal army, numbering 112,000.

Grant now could not move to the left without leaving Richmond behind, a fact that shook his temper so far that he was led, as if by uncontrollable passion, to do what he himself afterward keenly regretted; namely, to advance directly on Lee’s entrenched lines at Cold Harbor. Before the end of an hour, 13,000 Federal dead and wounded lay strewn on the ensanguined ground in front of the Confederate breastworks. A command to renew the assault, transmitted through the regular channels to the private soldiers, was received in silence, or followed by a feeble demonstration. Rank and file that had stoically bared their breasts to the previous storm, tacitly declined to make so useless a sacrifice a second time; nor was this any reflection on their bravery and fortitude, but rather a proof of their correct instinct in protesting against such a reckless course.

Thus, in a rain of blood, was ended this terrible campaign. No wonder that Grant decided to abandon his original plan of “fighting it out on this line if it took all summer.” The season was just beginning, and yet here was Grant, the incarnation of courage, firmness, and persistency, instead of going “where Lee was,” as he had directed Meade to do, finding himself compelled to throw out a thick screen of cavalry to prevent Lee from intercepting him as he made a wide detour in order to break into Richmond, if possible, by the back door of Petersburg. In other words, after the appalling slaughter of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor, the Federal commander was forced to do what he might have done in May without the loss of a single soldier.

In reviewing the operations from the Rapidan to the Chickahominy, it is seen that, during their progress, Grant made four great flank movements in his effort to plant himself between Lee and Richmond, and he ended with a fifth in the advance to the James, when he had foregone all hope of breaking through the line of Confederate steel. His primary object had been to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia; but failing in that, to compel it to abandon the defense of its capital. In every battle, his force, both in men and artillery, was double that of his opponent, and at times it was nearly treble. In spite of this fact, he had been baffled by Lee in every instance, and had the two armies been nearer numerical equality, the Federal would probably have been driven back in a shattered condition to the defenses of Washington. As it was, Lee, by the close of the campaign, had succeeded in killing and wounding as many Federal soldiers as he himself possessed men; in other words, one in nearly every three of the Federal army had been either destroyed or disabled by its determined antagonist. Had the Federal troops inflicted the same loss on their opponents, the Confederate army would have been annihilated.

As a rule, Lee remained throughout the campaign on the defensive; first, because his force was too small as compared with Grant’s to allow him to assume the offensive: and, secondly, because he saw that the enemy did not shrink from attacking his entrenchments. His attitude resembled Meade’s at Gettysburg and was precisely what the situation called for. At North Anna, however, sickness alone prevented him from assailing the isolated Federal corps; and after Cold Harbor, Grant was saved from a counterstroke only by the rapidity with which he effected a change of base. Lee, from start to finish, had exhibited extraordinary skill in running his defensive lines; at Spottsylvania, at North Anna, and at Cold Harbor alike, his opponent could not manœuvre against his flanks without crossing difficult streams, and thus dividing forces. In all the positions taken by Lee, he had relied as much on the country’s topography as on the strength of his own entrenchments.

From one point of view alone had the campaign proved favorable to the Federal cause. If Grant was right in seeking to destroy the Confederate army by attrition, then that organization had undoubtedly been seriously reduced by his blows; but the same end could have been attained just as quickly by his sitting down permanently at Spottsylvania, and there repeating his frontal assaults until Lee’s entire army had been killed or disabled. It is true that ten Federal soldiers would have perished to one Confederate, but what of that when the North could have better afforded to sacrifice ten than the South one? It is quite possible, however, that the Federal troops, after a series of unsuccessful attacks, accompanied by heavy loss, would have finally declined, as they did at Cold Harbor, further to make so appalling a sacrifice.

Swinton acknowledges that, at the close of the campaign, the Army of the Potomac, “shaken in its structure, its valor quenched in blood, and thousands of its ablest officers killed or wounded was the Army of the Potomac no more.” And General Francis A. Walker, in his history of the Federal Second Corps, one of the very bravest participating in the conflict, declares that when this corps turned its face southward after Cold Harbor, “something of its pristine virtue had departed under the terrific blows that had been showered on it. . . . Its casualties had numbered more than 400 a day for the whole period since it had crossed the Rapidan. Moreover, the confidence of the troops in their leaders had been severely shaken. They had again and again been ordered to attacks which the very privates in the ranks knew to be hopeless from the start. They had seen the fatal policy of assault all along the line persisted in even after the most ghastly failure, and they had almost ceased to expect victory when they went into battle.”

When Grant set out for the James, there was considerable danger that the war party at the North would yield to the longing for peace which now, like a wave, swept over the Northern people, deeply depressed by the unexampled sacrifices of the last campaign. Federal succees in the West alone, in some degree, restored the hope of final triumph. Had the contest been confined to the East, and to the armies of Lee and Grant, the feeling of confidence would perhaps not have returned: for never was the devotion to their commander stronger in the hearts of the Army of Northern Virginia than after the victory of Cold Harbor; never was their admiration for his genius higher; never were they themselves more steadfast, or more self-reliant; never so capable of offering a successful resistance to the enemy’s advance, had that enemy been restricted to the Army of the Potomac.

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