Robert E. Lee
Philip Alexander Bruce


IN presenting a general estimate of Lee’s greatness, it will be necessary to weigh separately his military career and his private character, although the latter in the nature of things, largely shaped the former. First, let us consider his military career. Lee combined in himself, in an extraordinary degree, the qualities of a great organizer, a great strategist, and a great tactician. It was through his unremitting energy and practical knowledge as a disciplinarian that the raw and inexperienced troops of 1861 were trained to carry out the operations culminating in the battle of First Manassas. The same capacity for organization was exhibited by him in the rapidity and thoroughness with which he reformed his army after the close of each campaign; most notably after Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. It was due, perhaps, to his suggestion, certainly to his approval, that the sub-divisions of that army were from the beginning made upon a principle which, by its logical simplicity, assured the highest degree of efficiency for the whole body. It was only in the artillery arm that an important change was made as the war progressed, and then simply to bring that branch more in harmony with the spirit of the admirable system already governing the other branches of the service.

Not less conspicuous was Lee’s ability as a tactician—an ability increased by his unerring insight into the idiosyncrasies of his opponent for the time being. His movements in front of the enemy were always governed more or less by his reliance upon his knowledge of these idiosyncrasies. Lee manœuvred one way in McClellan’s presence; another in Pope’s; yet another in Hooker’s; and still another in Grant’s. In Grant’s presence, he would not have weakened his right in order to strengthen his left as he did on a large scale at Gaines’ Mill, and on a small at Sharpsburg; nor, had he had that resolute and fearless antagonist in front of him at Second Manassas, would he perhaps have staked the fate of his army upon a great flank march; nor would he perhaps have repeated so dangerous an operation at Chancellorsville.

But never in his whole military career did he display larger tactical capacity than when opposed by Grant himself, simply because the persistent activity of that determined commander kept his antagonist in a state of continuous alertness. At the close of the battles in the Wilderness, Lee swung his troops entirely around in front of the enemy’s advancing columns, and afterward, by a successful counter-movement, marked by even greater celerity, anticipated every secret attempt of the foe to concentrate at some one point to right or left. At the North Anna, he compelled Grant to withdraw his

army by a manœuvre, which, by separating its two wings, rendered their coöperation practically impossible. At Petersburg, his divination was even more unerring. Although the disparity in the enemy’s favor was as four to one, and that enemy could hurry from wing to wing a large body of men without weakening the main line, Lee, by rapid concentration, was able, through a siege that lasted for nine months, to meet every attack not only on his front, but also on his flanks; and he gave way in the end only when his soldiers were too reduced in number to hold their entrenchments longer.

Nor was he content simply to repel assault, if the opposing force was not too overwhelming. During the entire war there was no finer example of the counterstroke than the one delivered by him at Second Manassas. In spite of the greater peril, this would have been repeated at Fredericksburg, had he not expected a second attack the day after the battle; and it would certainly have been repeated at the North Anna, had he not been disabled by sickness. On no field was his tactical ability more strikingly exhibited than at Sharpsburg. Whether or not, it was a mistake to have made a stand there, he, after the battle began, used his resources in troops with consummate skill; nor does he deserve the less credit for that skill because it was only Hill’s opportune arrival that saved him from a great disaster on his left. His disposition of the different corps revealed that discriminating eye for topography, which he was to display to a still more extraordinary degree in the campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor.

The least commendable of all his battles, from the tactical point of view, was Gettysburg; but this was attributable to the fact that the unexpected collision with the enemy placed him, by an accident incapable of being remedied, in the possession of ground so peculiarly shaped that it was impossible to communicate rapidly from wing to wing, and thus to move his several corps in perfect concert according to the exigencies of the moment. Moreover, the physical obstructions to harmonious coöperation were vastly increased by the practical insubordination of his chief lieutenant, whose conduct would have disorganized any plan, however otherwise easy of execution. “In the course of battle,” Lee once remarked, “my direction is of more harm than use. I must then rely on my division and brigade commanders. I think and I act with all my might to bring up my troops to the right place at the right moment. After that, I have done my duty.” No one was more fully aware of this fact than Longstreet, and his refusal on the second day to occupy the Round Tops while still undefended, simply because he had instructions to move his corps toward another quarter of the field, was an act of perversity that reflected no honor upon him as an officer, though conforming to general orders.

But it is as a strategist that Lee will take the highest rank in military history. From this point of view, there is reason to think he will be finally accepted as the foremost commander produced by the war. Jackson, among Southern generals, may have surpassed him in energy and celerity, in the vigor of his strokes, and in power to enforce discipline; but in strategical conception, Lee had no superior, probably no equal among his contemporaries. “A great strategist,” says Colonel Henderson, “is one who carefully calculates ways and means,—the men at his disposal; food, forage, and ammnuition; the forces to be detached for political purposes; who also calculates the different factors of the problem,—strength and disposition of the enemy; roads, railways, fortresses, weather, natural features, morale of the opposing armies, character of the opposing general, and facilities for supply.” The object of strategy is to concentrate in superior force at the decisive point, i.e., the battle-field, and, at the same time, to prevent the enemy from concentrating there.

Both Lee and Jackson saw with equal clearness that the only hope of winning Southern independence lay in strategical combinations that would, on the battle-field at least, equalize the respective resources of the two opponents. It was a rule with each of these commanders never to attack against heavy odds, if, by any possible manœuvring, he could hurl his own force against part, and that the weaker part of the enemy; in other words, each strove to compensate by extreme mobility for his numerical inferiority. Had Lee been equal in numerical strength to his antagonists, he would never have followed the example set by McClellan and Hooker in retaining a large proportion of their respective armies in a second line for mere defense in case the first was defeated. At Sharpsburg, one-third of the Federal troops remained inactive in the rear; and at Chancellorsville, this over-cautious conduct was repeated. On both battle-fields, every Confederate soldier participated in the actual fighting.

So essentially aggressive was Lee’s military genius that even in his purely defensive campaigns, he always exhibited that spirit at the first promising opportunity. Over-prudent in his tactics during the operations in West Virginia, even then he was full of daring in his strategy. It is true that he afterward opposed Johnston’s bold suggestion to gather a great army at Richmond, and end the war at a stroke in the swamps of the Chickahominy by the overwhelming defeat of McClellan; but when he himself was appointed to the command, he practically adopted that suggestion before advancing on the Federal right wing at Gaines’ Mill. His boldest strategical achievement during the Peninsula campaign, however, was accomplished in the use of Jackson’s troops in the Valley, while he himself was still stationed at Richmond as Mr. Davis’s military adviser. By thus reducing McClellan’s available force one-third, he made it possible to attack a part of that force with success and drive the whole back to James River. The same far-seeing strategy that led him to order Jackson to march against Banks at Winchester, prompted him to dispatch the same officer to Gordonsville, with the design of alarming the Federal Administration at Washington so far as to recall McClellan from Harrison’s Landing; and when that end had been attained, he, for the purpose of recovering the opportunity lost at Clark Mountain, to destroy Pope’s army, deliberately divided his troops in front of the enemy, marched one part of them to that enemy’s rear, and united the whole again on the field of battle.

The great flank movement at Chancellorsville was a still bolder operation of the same nature, as it was carried out under his opponent’s very eyes, and with a second Federal army threatening to advance in his rear at any moment. There, he not only divided his army again on the field of battle, but he left one-half of it to be exposed to the crushing impact of Hooker in front and of Sedgwick behind. The situation was even more dangerous than that at Sharpsburg, where, at the head of 39,000 men, he accepted the gage of battle from 90,000, with a deep river practically cutting him off from his only possible line of withdrawal in case of defeat.

That Lee weighed and calculated with great care all the chances even in his boldest movements is shown by his prudence and caution in remaining in position after the Federal recoil at Fredericksburg, where a reckless or impulsive general would not have resisted the temptation to strike the defeated enemy in the plain below, in spite of the fierce cannonade from the Stafford Heights, and the open road to the pontoon bridges. The hazards of his two invasions of the North, with such a small force to preserve unbroken his lines of communication, caused him to guard almost too thoroughly, as in the capture of Harper’s Ferry, for instance, against every contingency. In both he was thwarted by influences which it was impossible to anticipate: first, by the loss of the general order before Sharpsburg; and, secondly, by Longstreet’s procrastination and obstinacy on the second day at Gettysburg, and by his practical disobedience of instructions on both the second and third days.

Subsequent to that battle, Lee showed even superior caution, not because the numerical disparity in his opponent’s favor was greater than ever, but because there was left no officer who approached Jackson in boldness, skill, and energy in carrying out his commander’s designs, or in ability to suggest designs which had not occurred to that commander. It was not simply that Lee, after Gettysburg, had Grant, the most vigorous and courageous of the Federal leaders, in his front; in the deadly struggle from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, more than one opportunity arose, which, had he had Jackson at hand, he would have promptly used, but which he allowed to pass because, for the execution of such dangerous manœuvres, he could trust only to a lieutenant with “Stonewall’s” characteristics.

If Lee possessed such extraordinary qualifications as an organizer, tactician, and strategist, why did he fail to win with his sword the independence of the South? From Gaines’ Mill to Petersburg, his career was marked by no great catastrophe. The check at Malvern Hill was a check delivered by a retreating rear-guard; the repulse at Cemetery Ridge was the repulse of 15,000 men only, after two days’ success on the part of all the Confederate forces; the overthrow at Five Forks was the overthrow of one unsupported detachment cut off from the main body. There was no Missionary Ridge, no Nashville, no Waterloo in the history of the Army of Northern Virginia; no defeat, not even a repulse, of the whole body at once. Why was it then that, after inflicting on the Army of the Potomac great disasters, as at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, or after repulsing furious assaults, as at Sharpsburg, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor with almost unparalleled slaughter, he was unable to reduce the North to the mood of making peace?

The causes of his failure to do so were the subordination by the Confederate government of all military requirements to the supposed political necessity of holding Richmond; the enormous disparity in number of men and in quantity of material and supplies in favor of the Federal army; the lack of a highly trained corps staff, and the general prevalence of a somewhat loose discipline among the officers and troops, more particularly in the early years of the war; certain personal qualities of Lee himself; and finally, and most conspicuously, the inefficiency of the Confederate leadership in the West.

As already pointed out, the selection, for the capital, of a city situated as near the ocean highways as Richmond, was the Confederate government’s first serious mistake. The next, and thus was an error of even graver character, was to make the retention of that city the central policy upon which was to turn every movement of the Eastern army. Apart from all other considerations, such a policy was certain to invest its fall with fatal significance; it was practically staking the existence of the new republic upon an ability to prevent the capture of one little town of a few thousand inhabitants. Had the capital been established at some interior point, like Raleigh or Danville, where the necessary workshops and foundries could soon have been erected, or, what would probably have been wiser, at Atlanta, a city lying in a mountainous country, and remote from any natural highway to serve as a line of communication, it would have been far more difficult for the Federals to seize it, had it been defended with the valor, resolution, and constancy distinguishing the operations around Richmond. Richmond was situated upon a great stream which the Confederates could never really have hoped to close. One Federal army escaped destruction by retreat to the protection of this stream; another, by this means, was able to take a position less than twenty miles from the capital, and to hold it without the slightest apprehension as to the interruption of their communications.

As early as 1862, when Jackson was eager to lead his victorious troops from the Valley into Maryland, he was warned to “keep always in view the probability of an attack upon Richmond from either the north, or the south, when a concentration of forces would become necessary.” Had that city not been the capital before the battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside might have been drawn far from his base toward Charlottesville, where, with his line of communications exposed to severance, a retreat after defeat might have been attended with an overwhelming Federal disaster. Had Richmond not been the capital after the battles in the Wilderness, Lee could have slowly retired toward the hills south of Lynchburg, and with the advantages of that position, and with a mobile army, could, as he himself stated, have prolonged the war indefinitely.

As the head of the civil administration, it was perhaps natural that Mr. Davis should have relied too much on political influences to secure the triumph of the Confederacy. He never entirely lost the hope of foreign intervention, and he thought correctly that this hope would be at once dispelled altogether by the abandomnent of the city formally adopted as as the capital. A peripatetic president and cabinet would present a spectacle so devoid of dignity as to lose all foreign respect. On recalling the events of the Revolution, he remembered the aid given by France, but he forgot that, during that war, no city was made of permanent importance to the cause of the patriots, and that one after another the towns of the struggling republic, from Boston to Savannah, fell into British possession without, in the slightest decree, affecting the final issue of the contest. From the beginning to the end of hostilities, the Confederacy had but one real ground of hope, namely, the success of its armies. Lee, and not Davis, should have enjoyed supreme power in deciding all questions of military expediency; and no political considerations should have been permitted to over-ride obvious military necessities. Lee was compelled to bear the heavy burden of military responsibility alone, and yet at no time was he in absolute control of the general movements of his own troops; in the last resort, he had to submit to the dictation of Mr. Davis and his advisers, a monstrous contradiction, apart from mere political theory, when practically upon his unhampered judgment depended the very existence of the government they represented.

Furthermore, it is necessary to consider the disparity in number of men, and in quantity of material and supplies. “It will be difficult,” General Lee himself remarked after the close of the war, “to make the world believe the odds against which we fought.” At Sharpsburg, the numerical superiority of the Federal army over the Confederate, was more than two to one; and at Chancellorsville, the disproportion was as great. In the battle of the Wilderness, the disparity began at more than two to one, and but for the slaughter of the Northern soldiers from that point to the end of the battles at Spottsylvania would have grown to more than three to one after 40,000 recruits had joined Grant at the latter place.

In order successfully to resist odds apparently so overwhelming, Lee was compelled to use on these battle-fields in mere defense of his position every soldier in his ranks. No heavy reserve could be held back to invade the enemy’s entrenchments with a counterstroke at the auspicious moment. “The country has yet to learn,” he wrote, “how often advantages secured at the expense of many valuable lives have failed to produce their legitimate results by reason of our inability to prosecute them against the reinforcements which the superior numbers of the enemy enabled him to interpose between the defeat of an army and its rain. More than once most promising opportunities have been lost for want of men to take advantage of them, and victory itself has been made to put on the appearance of defeat because our diminished and exhausted troops have been unable to renew a successful struggle against fresh numbers of the enemy.”

And again he said when looking back upon the war: “The force which the Confederates brought to bear was so often inferior in numbers to that of the Federals that the more they followed up the victory against the position of the enemy’s line, the more did they lay themselves open to being surrounded by the remainder of the enemy. It was like a man breasting a wave of the sea who, as rapidly as he clears a way before him, is enveloped by the very water he has displaced.”

With her own teeming population to furnish recruits, with abundant funds to secure mercenary European troops in addition, and with tens of thousands of former slaves also to enrol, could the North have paid a more remarkable tribute to the valor, fortitude, and constancy of the decimated armies of the South than by declaring medicines contraband of war, and refusing to exchange prisoners,—acts of apparent inhumanity which she could justify only by proclaiming the supreme necessity of restoring the national authority at all costs? “I offered to General Grant,” said Lee, “to send into his lines all the prisoners within my department provided he would return me man for man, and when I informed the Confederate authorities of my proposition, I was told that, if it was accepted, they would place all the prisoners at the South at my disposal. But my proposition was not accepted.”

Why was it not accepted? Was it because Mr. Lincoln and General Grant were personally more indifferent to suffering than Mr. Davis and General Lee? Not so. It was not accepted because the Federal authorities had correctly concluded that the South could be subdued only by annihilation, and that the Federal government must not shrink even from such ruthless expedients to accomplish this end. Such was the principle on which Sherman’s devastation of Georgia and the Carolinas, and Sheridan’s of the Valley were, according to their own recorded professions, carried out. In other words, impoverished as the South now was from every point of view, it was nevertheless declared by these two commanders, with the approval of Grant and Mr. Lincoln, that she could not be conquered until her remaining territory had been swept far cleaner of all resources than by a plague of Egyptian locusts.

The privations from which Lee’s army suffered long before the March to the Sea began, necessarily diminished its effciency to an appreciable degree. It was due as much to a lack of shoes as to sickness from the use of improper food that so large a number of the Confederate troops were unable to arrive with the main force on the field of Sharpsburg. It was due, also, to a lack of shoes that the unfortunate movement which brought on the battle of Gettysburg was made; and it was due, too, to the want of clothing of all kinds that Lee was unable, in October, 1863, to undertake a third invasion of the North. One who stood by the roadside and watched 10,000 men under Hood pass on their way to the Rappahannock in the autumn of that year, has written: “Such rags and tags as we saw now! Nothing was like anything else! Most garments and arms were such as had been taken from the enemy. Such shoes as they had on! Such tin pans and pots as were tied to their waists, with bread and bacon stuck in the ends of their bayonets.” “I think the sublimest sight of the war,” said General Lee, “was the cheerfulnees and alacrity exhibited by this army in the pursuit of the enemy under all the trials and privations to which it was exposed.” As we have seen, the soldiers, during the campaign of Second Manassas, were forced to rely upon the orchards and corn-fields along the line of march to supplement their regular rations; and in the winter of 1863–4, it was often necessary to restrict the troops to half rations; while during that of 1864–5, they were not infrequently on the verge of actual starvation.

We most consider, too, the lack of rigid discipline in the army at large, and the absence of a highly trained corps staff. The Army of Northern Virginia, like all the other armies engaged on either side in the great conflict, was a mass of volunteers, who, unlike European soldiers, had not previously received a thorough military training. Hostilities began so suddenly and unexpectedly that there was no time to subject the troops to prolonged drilling, and an extended series of sham manœuvres. The Southern soldier had the defects of his virtues; his very independence of spirit and strength of individuality, the result of the free and active life which he had led before enrolment, only caused him to submit the more impatiently to disciplinary restraints, though ready to endure without a murmur every form of hardship and want. He did not resent the exercise of authority over his movements when his intelligence showed its reasonableness; but if not, his first disposition was to follow his own inclination, and refuse compliance.

This inborn self-assertiveness, while it increased the army’s efficiency in some ways, seriously diminished it in others. It was as characteristic of the officers as of the rank and file. “The greatest difficulty I find,” said General Lee on one occasion, in a tone of complaint unusual with him, “is in causing orders and regulations to be obeyed. This,” he added, “arises not from a spirit of disobedience, but of ignorance.” “The spirit which animates our soldiers,” he said on another occasion, “and the natural courage with which they are so liberally endowed have led to a reliance on these good qualities to the neglect of measures that would increase their efficiency and contribute to their safety.” It was in some degree due to this impatience under restraint that straggling became so conspicuous a feature of every Confederate march. Could the Army of Northern Virginia have been handled more like a machine, without losing the fire and resolution generated in the whole by the highly developed individuality of each soldier, it could have been used by its commander more successfully in both combination and manœuvre. Lee was forced to console himself with the thought that the superior intelligence and sturdy spirit of both officer and private were some compensation for the disinclination of both to submit to the strict discipline which alone made possible perfect unity of action.

The deficiencies of the corps staffs were also a serious obstruction to success. Many of the most accomplished officers of the Army of Northern Virginia were to be found among the members of these staffs; particularly was this so with the commander-in-chief’s, which included such men as Colonels Walter H. Taylor, Charles S. Venable, and Charles Marshall, besides others equally entitled, by their high qualifications, to special designation. But conspicuous efficiency was not general, not from lack of zeal and intelligence, which were universal, but simply from want of previous military training. Naturally, the shortcomings were more observable during the first years of the conflict than later, when the staff had been educated to a far greater degree of usefulness by the practical experience acquired in the rough school of actual war.

Perhaps, there never was a contest in which the demand for the services of such a body was more constant and urgent than during these Eastern campaigns, because the ground fought over was so covered with heavy forests, and, in some places, so overgrown with dense thickets, that, without such assistance, manœuvre and combination were alike impossible. The great disadvantages created by the physical obstructions confronting the troops at every turn could be overcome only by the prompt and accurate conveyance of orders from one wing or detachment to another. Whether this was done well or ill depended entirely upon the ability and training of the staffs charged with the performance of that vital task. Perhaps the most promising opportunity ever presented to Lee to annihilate the Army of the Potomac, was at the battle of Frazier’s Farm, and yet that battle proved a failure for the Confederacy because he was able to concentrate on the ground only 20,000 men instead of the 75,000 called for by the combination which he had so carefully planned, and which would have been entirely practicable had the corps and detachments been kept in touch by well-trained and organized staffs, such as belong to every European army. In some measure, Longstreet’s delay after one o’clock, in taking position opposite the Peach Orchard, on the second day at Gettysburg was due to inefficient staff support; and other specific instances might be mentioned.

Again, the final failure of the Army of Northern Virginia was, to a certain extent, attributable to the defects of Lee’s own virtues. Rather than give pain to a subordinate whose devotion to the Confederate cause was unquestionable, he would overlook grave shortcomings in that subordinate’s conduct even though likely to be repeated at the next critical moment. He preferred to retain an officer in a responsible position which he was incapable of filling properly, rather than wound his pride, and tarnish his reputation by removing him. This was a weakness which Jackson never exhibited. But in Lee’s defense it should be remembered that, as the commander of an army drawn from all parts of the South, it was necessary for him to exercise extraordinary tact and forbearance in order to allay the jealousies of each state, so easily aroused by any imagined slight to its representatives in that army. As unity and harmony were justly deemed by him to be all important to the Confederacy, he often endured what was repugnant to his own judgment rather than, by obeying its dictates, indifferent to consequences, sow possible seed of discord and dissension.

It was not simply by his great military talents that Lee won the respect and devotion of his officers and men; it was also by that patient and considerate spirit,—that disposition to make allowances,—which never failed him even under the most exasperating circumstances. “I agree with you,” he wrote to General Hood in 1863, “in believing that our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There were never such men in an army before. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. But there is the difficulty—proper commanders. Where can they be obtained? But they are improving, constantly improving. Some was not built in a day, nor can we expect miracles in our favor.”

This spirit of over-tolerance was indirectly responsible for the destruction of the Confederacy’s last but most promising opportunity of winning independence. Justly believing that his lieutenants were as interested as himself in defeating the enemy, Lee always allowed them a wide latitude in the exercise of their discretion, and was ever anxious to receive and weigh their respective opinions as to the wisdom of any movement be was considering. This attitude of mind, which was undoubtedly carried too for, encouraged in one of his principal lieutenants a spirit that, on more than one occasion,
led to practical insubordination. Longstreet’s conduct on the first and second days at Gettysburg was made possible only by the lenient and yielding way in which Lee had borne with his previous opinionativeness, tardiness, and perversity. Such conduct would never have been indulged in by that officer had he, during the same length of time, been serving under either Grant or Jackson; for he would have known that, should he venture upon a half-hearted support, or no support at all to the orders of those commanders, he was certain to meet with the fate of Garnett, Porter, Franklin, and Warren.

General Lee evinced a sublime self-forgetfulness in assuming all the responsibility for the repulse at Gettysburg on the third day, but had he been less disposed, after similar events, to accept as his own the acts of obstinate and self-complacent subordinates, those subordinates would have been slower in giving rein to their obstructive qualities. Jackson did not always approve of his commander’s decisions,—witness his opposition in the beginning to the expedition against Harper’s Ferry during the Sharpsburg campaign,—but when once he was ordered to march, be performed the task assigned him with as much vigor and alacrity as if the plan had been first suggested by himself; and that is the course pursued by every true soldier and faithful lieutenant.

It seems contradictory that, although Lee tolerated in a corps commander difference of opinion stretched to the point of practical insubordination, he was, to an extraordinary degree, subservient to the authority of Mr. Davis as the head of the Confederate Administration. Accustomed to military discipline almost from his youth, he looked upon obedience to his official superior as the cardinal principle, the very keystone, of his profession. “I am a soldier,” he said to General Gordon near the close of the war, when urged to use his influence in ending a hopeless contest. “It is my province to obey the orders of the government, and to advise and counsel with the civil authorities only upon questions directly affecting this army and its defense of the capital and country.” And so far did he press this attitude of non-interference that, apparently, be made no protest against Johnston’s removal from the command of the forces operating north of Atlanta, although that unwise act was probably regarded by him with strong disapproval. It was entirely foreign to his nature to assume any form of responsibility that did not legitimately belong to him; and he particularly shrank from ever encroaching on a field from which the military authorities were expressly excluded by constitutional provision. It must be recalled, also, that he was peculiarly indebted to Mr. Davis, who, when his military reputation was under a cloud, in consequence of the unsuccessful campaign in western Virginia, had, by appointing him to the command of the Army of Northern Virginia, given him the opportunity to enter upon his great career.

But not one of the obstructions that had to be overcome by Lee, whether subordination of strategical necessities to political considerations, disparity in number of men and in quantity of munitions and supplies, imperfect discipline among the soldiers at large, deficient training on the part of the corps staffs, or the over-leniency and generosity of the commander himself, was so influential in leading up to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as the Western army’s failure, almost from the beginning, to maintain its ground. This was the result of incompetent leadership, as the men who fought on the Confederate side in that field, were of precisely the same quality as those who, under Lee himself, won so many victories in the East. Unfortunately for the Southern cause, the decisive battle-fields were situated, not in Virginia, but in Tennessee. Appomattox was the result, not of Gettysburg, but of Missionary Ridge. With the exception of Chickamauga, a temporary triumph, and of the first day at Shiloh, which was reversed by the second, the Western army’s career was marked only by disasters. From the fall of Fort Donelson on to the evacuation of Atlanta, the superior resources of its Federal antagonist told to a degree never observed in Virginia until after the abandonment of the lines of Petersburg.

The victory of Missionary Ridge rendered it safe for Grant to transfer a large body of troops to the East in order to strengthen the Army of the Potomac; while the capture of Atlanta made it possible for Sherman to march through Georgia and the Carolinas and destroy the last remaining granary of the Confederacy. These two separate movements brought to bear on the Army of Northern Virginia two powerful destructive forces, which, taken together, proved irresistible. Had Jackson survived Chancellorsville and been placed in command of the Western army, the victory of Chickamauga would most probably have been pressed so energetically that no Missionary Ridge would have followed; no reinforcements would have been sent from the West to the Army of the Potomac; and Sherman would have been too much engaged in holding his position in Tennessee to descend upon Atlanta through the hills of north Georgia. Grant, the ablest, most vigorous, and most determined of the Federal commanders, would have been detained in the vicinity of Chattanooga, and Lee would have been left to oppose Meade, until that officer, defeated in his turn, should be succeeded by one who perhaps possessed still less boldness, energy, and native talent.

Looking back upon the history of the war from the Confederate point of view, it now seems clear that, after the battle of Missionary Ridge, the Southern aim should have been, not independence, but the acquisition of the most liberal terms for readmission to the Union. The psychological moment occurred when Grant recoiled from Lee’s entrenchments at Cold Harbor. Had the ripest practical statesmanship then prevailed in Confederate cabinet and Congress, causing a dispassionate scrutiny of the ultimate chances of failure, the indirect overtures which Mr. Lincoln made in the hour of his own and the North’s profound depression would have been accepted, the Southern people would have returned with full compensation for their slaves, to be expended in restoring their wasted resources; with the brilliant prestige of their long and heroic struggle for independence to raise their political influence to the highest point in our national history; and with complete power to fix the emancipated negro’s status in harmony with the dictates of their own experienced judgment. The era of Reconstruction, with its shameful and embittered memories, would never have intervened, and all the dangerous precedents established in the hour of uncontrolled passion would have been rendered forever nugatory by their practical revocation.

There is no evidence that General Lee favored the acceptance of the Federal advances, but when we study the history of his life after the close of the war, the conclusion seems irresistible that, had he been free at that time to show the practical wisdom, the conciliatory spirit, and the perfect foresight which he evinced when the country had been reunited by ruthless force alone, the South would stand indebted to him for the most beneficent act of statesmanship that could ever have been recorded in her history, and his name would be equally dear to the Northern and Southern people for closing the gaping wounds of a common country, with honor to all the states, and with humiliation to none.

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