The Campaigns of Robert E. Lee, by A. H. Guernsey

The Campaigns of Robert E. Lee

By A. H. Guernsey

Note: Alfred Hudson Guernsey (1824–1902), editor of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine from the early 1850s to 1869, was widely published in the leading journals of his day, penning more than seventy-five articles and essays. His “The Seven Day’s Battles on the Peninsula, June 26 to July 1, 1862,” in the March 1866 issue of Harper’s (volume 32, pp. 475–92) formed chapter 19 of Harper’s Pictorial History of the Great Rebellion (New York: Harper & Bros.; 2 volumes, 1866, 1868), written by Guernsey with Henry M. Alden.The following appeared in the May and June 1871 issues of The Galaxy (New York: Sheldon and Company, vol. 11, pp. 641–51, 818–25).


NO. I.

NO commander ever led large armies or conducted treat military operations whose career can be more fairly estimated than that of Robert E. Lee. We know his precise force and that opposed to him at every period. His own admirable reports of his campaigns down to that of Chancellorsville detail all his movements; and in respect to those which followed, the essential facts are beyond dispute. We propose to consider these campaigns in their chronological order.


On the 20th of May, 1862, the Federal army, 100,000 strong, under McClellan, reached the Chickahominy. Its immediate object was the capture of Richmond, whither the Confederates, numbering 47,000, under J. E. Johnston, had fallen back ten days before. The Chickahominy, a little stream running through a broad belt of swamp, formed an admirable defensive line about ten miles in front of Richmond; for it could be crossed with artillery only by bridges. For a space of twenty miles there was but one place where an available military bridge could be constructed except by building long causeways through the swamp. At this point there had been two bridges a mile apart, one known as Bottom’s Bridge, the other that over which passed the railroad from Richmond to the York river. The Confederates in their retreat had damaged these bridges so slightly that they were easily repaired in two or three days.

Richmond was at this time wholly unfortified, and the retreat of Johnston from Yorktown the moment he was seriously menaced should have convinced McClellan that his own force was greatly superior. Nothing can be more evident than that the one thing for McClellan to do was to throw his whole force by these bridges across the stream and march directly upon the Confederate capital for if, contrary to all likelihood, he should be worsted, the bridges furnished a perfectly safe way of retreat, and by destroying them behind him he could in an hour place the impassable Chickahominy between himself and any pursuit. Instead of doing this, he sent a third of his army just across the stream, and stretched the remainder for eighteen miles along the north bank. His army then lay in the shape of a V, the left wing being six miles long, the right eighteen, and the river between. He himself accurately describes the position in which he had placed his army: “The only available means of uniting our force was to march the troops on the left or north bank of the Chickahominy down to Bottom’s Bridge, and thence over the Williamsburg road, a distance of about twenty-three miles. In the condition of the roads at that time, this march could not be made with artillery in less than two days.” In a word, he divided his army in the face of the enemy, placing a two days’ march between the portions. This initial error, as will be seen, was repeated and exaggerated during the whole campaign which ensued.

Johnston, whose force had now been augmented to 67,000 men, could not fail to perceive the opportunity thus presented to him. On the 31st of May he made a sudden onslaught upon that part of McClellan’s force south of the Chickahominy. For this he had designed to employ fully 50,000 men, but Huger blundered, and the attack was made with barely 30,000. As it was, it narrowly missed of success at the Seven Pines. But Sumner, who, owing to the illness of McClellan, was then in actual command, hurried a division across a half-submerged bridge which had been with difficulty constructed, restored the balance, and on the following day drove the Confederates back in disorder to Richmond.

Toward night on the 31st Johnston was severely wounded, and the command of the Confederates devolved upon G. W. Smith, who two days after was disabled by a paralytic stroke, and on the 2d of June Lee was appointed to the chief command. For some months he had nominally been merely superintendent of fortifications, though really acting as Secretary of War. While awaiting the movements of the enemy he set himself at work to surround Richmond with a strong line of intrenchments. McClellan, untaught by the sharp lesson which he had received, kept on in his old way. In three weeks he had got eleven bridges built, over which on the 20th of June he passed half of the force which had been lying along the north bank of the Chickahominy, where Porter was still left with about 36,000 men.

McClellan had now made up his mind to begin offensive operations. On the 25th his picket lines were advanced, “preparatory,” as he said, “to a general forward movement.” At five o’clock in the afternoon he telegraphed to the President that everything had succeeded. An hour and a half later he sent quite a different despatch. Beauregard and Jackson, he said, had joined Lee, raising the Confederate force to 200,000 men, and he should probably be attacked the next day. This was true in the one point that he was to be attacked the next day. For the rest, Beauregard, sick and without any command, was in Georgia; Jackson was a day and a half away, and even including his force of 30,000, the whole Confederate army numbered barely 100,000 men of all arms, instead of 200,000.

Lee had matured his plan of attack. It involved in a more egregious form the very error which McClellan had committed. He divided his army into two parts incapable of mutual support. The forces on each side were nearly equal; neither varied by more than 5,000 from 100,000. Lee’s plan was to leave Magruder with 25,000 men before Richmond, a few thousand more under Holmes being at Fort Darling across the James river, while the three divisions of A. P. Hill, Longstreet, and D. H. Hill, 36,000 strong, were to cross the Chickahominy above McClellan’s extreme right, and, uniting with Jackson, who with 30,000 was moving down from the Shenandoah, fall upon the Federal force, the bulk of which Lee supposed to be still on the north side of the river. But, as it happened, Porter with 36,000 was all there was on that side, the other 70,000 being already across. Early on the morning of the 26th Longstreet and the Hills, having marched since midnight, were concentrated opposite the extreme Federal right; but Jackson was a whole day’s march behind time. Weary of waiting, A. P. Hill crossed the Chickahominy, here a mere brook, and fell upon the Federal outpost, held by two brigades, at Mechanicsville. They were strongly posted on the bank of a creek. The Confederates were repulsed with a loss of 1,500, the Federals losing but 300. Thus commenced the so-called “Seven Days’ Battles,” although they were really comprised within six days.

McClellan had that very morning resolved to do what he should have done weeks before—cross the Chickahominy with all his force, and change his base of operation and supply from the York river to the James. The brigades at Mechanicsville were quietly withdrawn, and on the morning of the 27th all the troops on that side of the river were concentrated near Cold Harbor. Here in the afternoon a fierce battle was fought between Porter’s 36,000 and the Confederates, who, Jackson having come up, numbered after their losses 63,000. The Federals were defeated, although the enemy advancing under a hot artillery fire lost fully 9,500, the Federal loss being about 7,500, of whom nearly 3,000 were prisoners. Had McClellan sent back a seventh part of the 70,000 which he had actually unengaged across the river, Lee must have been repulsed. Or had Porter felled the trees in his front and thus formed barricades, he could have easily held his ground; but unluckily the axes had all been taken over, and when Porter, perceiving the approach of the enemy, sent to ask or axes the officer, who happened to be half deaf, misunderstood his message. Neither until it was too late did McClellan attempt to reinforce Porter, for he had been amused all day by showy demonstrations from the Confederates on his side of the stream.

The action at Cold Harbor was in every way an error on the part of McClellan. He was under no necessity of fighting at all. Hours before it commenced he could easily have got every man and every gun across the Chickahominy, and Lee would have had his two days’ march for nothing; and before he could retrace his steps Richmond might have been taken; and at that time its fall would have insured the destruction of the Confederate army, for outside of the city Lee had not provisions for a week. Or if the battle was to be fought, McClellan could easily in two hours have sent over a sufficient force to insure victory.

Lee’s position on the morning of the 28th was one of extreme peril. He had indeed won a formal victory, but at a heavy loss, and with only the result that McClellan had done just what he had meant to do without a battle. He had crossed the Chickahominy, and with fully 90,000 men was in front of Richmond, defended only by 25,000, stretched along a line of ten miles. For all purposes of defending the city Lee’s remaining 53,000 on the north of the river might as well have been a hundred miles away. Of all possible things to be done, McClellan chose the one only which could have relieved Lee from his peril. Instead of attacking Richmond, or even remaining where he was, he resolved to retreat to the James.

This retreat, euphemistically styled a “change of base,” was in itself a simple operation, and with the most ordinary precautions could have been performed without molestation. He had only to destroy the bridges which he had built. But by some incomprehensible negligence these were so slightly damaged that the Confederates rebuilt them in a few hours. McClellan, abandoning his sick and wounded, set out on his retreat, sending on in advance a herd of 2,500 cattle and his long train, which in a single line would have extended forty miles. Yet even this could convey only a part of his stores and munitions, immense quantities of which were destroyed. On the 29th his rear-guard was attacked at Savage’s Station by a few regiments from Richmond, and sustained considerable loss.

Lee, finding the passage of the Chickahominy perfectly feasible by the bridges with which McClellan had kindly provided him, attempted a grand stroke of strategy. Jackson and D. H. Hill were to follow hard after the retreating Federals, while Longstreet and A. P. Hill were to make a long detour, and, joined by Magruder, to strike the flank of the column. He hoped to cut this in two, and drive the half of it back upon Jackson, and between the two to annihilate it. Strangely enough, the Confederates had neglected to make themselves acquainted with the roads lying right around Richmond. Magruder lost his way in the swamp, and failed to coöperate. Longstreet and Hill, after a weary march, fell on the afternoon of the 30th upon the centre of the Federal column, rear Frazier’s farm. Jackson had come up with the Federal rear, but was checked by a battery which covered the only ford across a creek running through the swamp, and though in full hearing of the battle could render no assistance. Hill and Longstreet attacked furiously, but were unable to effect their purpose. Darkness put an end to the action, or rather group of engagements, and the Federal column, pursuing its retreat, took up an admirable position at Malvern Hill. Longstreet and Hill had five days before marched from Richmond with 24,000 men. In three engagements they had lost 8,200 killed and wounded, and the remainder were so exhausted that they were not able to fire a gun in the action of the next day.

In the action at Malvern Hill, July 1, Lee committed every possible error. The enemy considerably outnumbered him, and were in a position which could be held against a double force. Lee attacked in driblets with only a part of his force. Jackson made an attempt on the right, and was speedily repulsed by an artillery fire. Lee ordered him and Magruder to again attack “with a yell.” The charge was vigorously made, but without a gleam of success, the assailants being everywhere swept back in hopeless confusion, losing 4,500 men, double the loss which they inflicted. It was not merely a defeat, but a rout. What must have been the surprise of Lee when as the rainy morning broke he saw the strong Federal position abandoned. McClellan had not merely continued his retreat, but had fled from a complete victory as though from a field irretrievably lost.

In these “Seven Days’ Battles,” the entire Confederate loss was 19,400, of whom 18,400 were killed and wounded, and 1,000 missing. The Federal loss is officially stated at 15,249, of whom 9,291 were killed and wounded, and 5,958 missing; but probably many hundreds put down as “missing” were really among the killed. Reviewing the campaign, it may fairly be affirmed that there has rarely been better fighting and never worse generalship than were displayed on both sides. Where everything from beginning to end was a series of blunders, the commander who happened to make the last great error must lose. When McClellan fled from Malvern Hill, without even attempting a blow against a beaten enemy, he committed the final blunder, and so Lee won in spite of himself. The siege of Richmond was raised, and thereby the Confederacy gained almost three more years of life.


On the 26th of June, the day on which began the Seven Days’ Battles, Pope was placed in command of the Federal forces in Northern Virginia; and Halleck, with the title of General-in-Chief, was placed over both him and McClellan. Oddly enough, both commanders began to play into each other’s hands. Halleck thought the thing to be done was to enable McClellan to get away from the James, and so directed Pope to demonstrate upon the Rappahannock, hoping thereby to draw away a part of Lee’s army to check the movement. Lee, also wishing to get McClellan away from the neighborhood of Richmond, proposed to send a strong force toward Washington, hoping that the Federal army would be called back to defend the capital. McClellan was unwilling to abandon the peninsula; but Halleck was peremptory, and McClellan, nervously apprehending an attack while retreating, only breathed freely when on the 18th of August he had put the Chickahominy behind him. On that very day the bulk of the Confederate army was a hundred miles away confronting Pope on the Rappahannock. At Richmond, besides a few local militia, there remained only D. H. Hill’s division of not much more than 10,000 men.

Lee with 75,000 men pressed Pope, who had barely 40,000, half-way back toward Washington. But Pope was in daily expectation of receiving reinforcements from McClellan’s army which would enable him to assume the offensive. On the 22d of August accident placed in Lee’s hands the despatch-book of Pope, which showed the precise situation of the Federal army, and the time when it would be strengthened. He conceived the idea that by a bold and rapid movement he could gain Pope’s rear, cut off his supplies, and perhaps even destroy his army before it could be reinforced. He undertook with a part of his force to occupy Pope’s attention in front, while Jackson with some 30,000 should move rapidly around the Federal flank, and establish himself in its rear, where he was to be joined by the others. This manœuvre was a delicate one, for it involved the separation of the Confederate army for a week, even should the weather or any other mischance not hinder the execution of the movement. Still the advantages to be gained by success were so great, that the chance was worth the risk. Lee in the end found himself committed to a much larger undertaking than he had anticipated in the outset.

On the morning of the 25th Jackson moved rapidly, his march being partly hidden by the intervening mountains, rounded Pope’s flank, and passing through a gap took up on the 28th a strong position within sight of the old battle-field of Bull Run; Longstreet, with whom was Lee, following more slowly. Pope, whose force had now been increased to 60,000, moved upon Jackson, whose position was critical, for he was outnumbered two to one; and unless Longstreet, many miles behind, should come up in time, he ran imminent risk of being overwhelmed. On the 29th Pope attacked in force and gained some apparent advantage. He believed that Longstreet was more than a day’s march distant, and that he could at least cripple Jackson, and then, if need were, fall back across Bull Run and intrench himself until large reinforcements which were not far distant should come up. On the 30th he attacked with all his force, but was surprised to find himself greatly outnumbered; for Longstreet had come upon the field. The action, sometimes called the Second Bull Run, or the Second Manassas, but better distinguished as that of Groveton, resulted in a disastrous Federal defeat. The Confederates lost during the two days about 9,000 in killed and wounded, the Federals about 11,000, besides some thousands of prisoners; and the army was so disorganized that on the next day Pope could rally only 38,000 men. He fell back to Centreville, where on the next evening he was joined by 24,000, raising his force to 62,000.

Lee, after all his losses, had about 60,000 men, to whom were soon added D. H. Hill’s 10,000 ,who had hurried from Richmond. The situation was far from unfavorable for Pope, for the Confederates could not count upon another man, while the Federals were constantly increasing. But a senseless panic had seized the authorities at Washington, and the troops were hurried back to the capital. Lee’s plans had succeeded beyond all reasonable anticipation. Not only had the siege of Richmond been definitely raised, but all Virginia was freed from the enemy, and the rich harvests of the fertile valley of the Shenandoah would feed the Confederate army. The season also was favorable for military operations, and it seemed feasible to carry the war into the North, for which also there were political as well as military reasons.

Lee himself gives succinctly the reasons which induced him to cross the Potomac: “The condition of Maryland encouraged the belief that the presence of our army, however inferior in number to that of the enemy, would induce the Washington Government to retain all its available forces to provide against contingencies which its conduct toward the people of that State gave it reason to apprehend. At the same time it was hoped that military success might afford us an opportunity to aid the citizens of Maryland in any efforts they might be disposed to make to recover their liberty.” In a word, he hoped, and not altogether unreasonably, that Maryland would join the Confederacy, in which event Washington would no longer be tenable as the Federal capital. The march to the Potomac was promptly begun and rapidly prosecuted—too rapidly, indeed, for in four days fully 10,000 men dropped from the ranks from absolute exhaustion; and thus it happened that when on the 7th of September the army was concentrated at Frederick City, it numbered but 60,000.

Pope had meanwhile, at his own request, been relieved from the command of the forces around Washington, which passed almost informally into the hands of McClellan—Halleck, however, as General-in-Chief, resting as an incubus over him. McClellan set himself earnestly at work to reorganize his shattered army. However deficient he had shown himself, and was yet to show himself, as a commander in the field, for the work now to be done he was admirably fitted. As Secretary of War, or even as General-in-Chief directing operations at a distance, he would have been in the right place. In a week there were gathered around Washington 72,000 men, besides 13,000 most foolishly and against his earnest remonstrance posted at Harper’s Ferry, and a movable force of nearly 100,000 men to operate directly against Lee. But the moment that active operations were to be undertaken, McClellan’s constitutional timidity came into play, and he also as usual estimated the force of the enemy at double its actual number. So when he began to head toward Lee, he moved only thirty miles in the first six days.

A week in Maryland showed Lee that there was no hope of a rising in that State, and he resolved to move his army northward, hoping to draw McClellan after him and away from his base of supplies. Meanwhile, in order to keep open his own communications, he thought it necessary to gain possession of Harper’s Ferry. Here he committed a grave error, for a place more utterly useless in a military point of view does not exist. It commands nothing, and in order to cross the Potomac no army need ever go near it. He could not reasonably hope to capture the force there, and he could not wish them in a place where they would be more useless to the enemy; and although he did actually capture them, it was owing to a stupidity beyond all example on the part of their commander.

In order to capture Harper’s Ferry, Lee divided his army into three parts. Jackson, with fourteen brigades, was to make a detour of eighty miles, crossing the Potomac and attacking the Ferry from above; McLaws, with ten brigades, was to march forty miles and attack from below; while Lee himself, with sixteen brigades, was to move to Hagerstown, fifty miles from the Ferry, where the whole army was finally to rendezvous. Supposing that there was no delay or mishap, a week would be the shortest time at which the junction could be effected; for Jackson would have to make a march of 130 miles in all. The operation was begun on the 0oth of September. On the morning of the 15th, a day later than was expected, Jackson and McLaws invested the Ferry, which was surrendered with 11,000 men, the cavalry escaping, as the infantry might easily have done but for the pusillanimity of Miles, their commander. At noon Jackson was startled by evil tidings from Lee.

Accident, which had three weeks before favored Lee by giving him Pope’s despatch-book, now played a like good turn for McClellan. D. H. Hill had carelessly left behind a copy of Lee’s order, which fell into the hands of the Federal commander. McClellan’s course was too plain to be mistaken. He had but to follow Lee, who with hardly 28,000 men was moving leisurely toward the appointed place of rendezvous. For once McClellan moved rapidly, and on the 14th came up with the Confederate rear in the passes of the South Mountain. Lee faced about, and vainly tried to check the pursuers. The passes were forced at two points, which cost Lee 2,000 men. There was but one thing now for Lee to do. He must change the direction of his march toward Harper’s Ferry, and hasten Jackson and McLaws back to rejoin him on the way. On the morning of the 15th he crossed Antietam creek and stood at bay near Sharpsburg. He could go no further, for the Potomac was in his rear. He had now barely 24,000 men, for straggling had increased his losses to 4,000. The position was not of great strength. It was one which a commander with 20,000 might hope to hold against 30,000, or which one with 30,000 might fairly venture to assail against 20,000. Jackson was summoned to Sharpsburg. He commenced his march at midnight, and by dawn on the 16th joined Lee, having crossed the Potomac and made a night march of fifteen miles in six hours. He brought but himself and 5,000 men. The others, outworn by a week’s constant marching, could not keep up.

The afternoon of the 15th and all of the 16th was spent idly by McClellan. During the night he made up his mind to attack on the next morning. All told, he had 83,000 infantry and artillery. McLaws in the early dawn of the 17th had come up with such of his force as could march; so that when the battle opened Lee had 36,000. Of the cavalry on either side we take no account, as they were not engaged. When the plan of action was determined upon, it was understood that McClellan had resolved upon the one only right thing to be done—to throw his whole force upon Lee. Had he done this, the Confederate army could hardly have escaped destruction. When and why a different course was resolved upon has never been told. But McClellan, to quote the words of Sumner, “attacked in driblets.” First one corps was sent in; when this was repelled another took its place. These desultory assaults were made mainly upon the left and centre of Lee, who, by withdrawing every possible man from his right, was able to oppose about equal numbers. At last Burnside with 14,000 men was ordered to attack Lee’s right, which had been so weakened as to leave barely 25,000. Hour after hour the attack was delayed. At length Burnside forded the creek, and then unaccountably halted two hours. When finally he advanced, he swept the weak enemy before him, and had gained a point whence the whole Confederate position could be enfiladed. The battle on the centre and left had died away; but at this moment A. P. Hill with 4,000 men came hot-foot from Harper’s Ferry. With but half of these he struck Burnside, and fairly drove him in the gathering darkness across the creek; and so the battle closed. Of McClellan’s six corps, two were not at all engaged. Out of 83,000 men, 58,000 were at different times brought into action. Of Lee’s entire 40,000, including Hill’s late arrival, 38,000 were engaged, most of them all the day. The Federal loss at South Mountain and Antietam was 15,000, of whom 1,000 were “missing,” besides the 11,000 surrendered at Harper’s Ferry, who, however, were never fairly in the enemy’s hands. The entire Confederate loss was 17,000, of whom 5,000 were “missing.”

On the morning of the 18th Lee received a few thousand more, raising his force to 38,000. McClellan received also 14,000, giving him after his losses 84,000; of these 39,000—more than Lee’s entire force—had not been engaged, while the others were in better plight than the best of the enemy. Yet he dared not attack. He shall state his reasons: “One battle lost and all would have been lost. Lee’s army might have marched as it pleased on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York, and nowhere east of the Alleghanies was there another organized force able to arrest its march.” But if a commander with 84,000 men fears to lose a battle upon an open field against 38,000, with what force could he gain it? He changed his mind during the day, and ordered that an attack should be made on the 19th. But in the darkness of the night Lee had quietly slipped away, and by daylight was safely across the Potomac. He moved leisurely on for a few miles, gathering by the way the stragglers who had been left in Virginia; yet on the 30th he had but 50,000 men present for duty. On that day McClellan had with him 100,000 present for duty, besides 73,000 around Washington, 50,000 of whom might have been safely given to him.

The merits and demerits of Lee during this campaign are apparent. His operations against Pope were judicious; for though hazardous, there was a fair prospect of gaining much, while a failure could hardly have proved ruinous, since the way of retreat down the Valley was unobstructed. The invasion of Maryland is open to grave criticism, yet on the whole it must be considered justifiable, for he could hardly have imagined that the army which on the 3d of September was flying before him, an apparently demoralized mob, would in a week be not only restored but increased to twice his own numbers. Lee’s besetting error, one which, as we shall see, was to cost him so dearly at Gettysburg, was that of underestimating the force of his enemy. He doubtless believed that his army when reunited at Hagerstown would be superior to any that could be brought against him, and that either with or without a battle he might dictate peace at Washington or Baltimore, or perhaps even at Philadelphia. The movement upon Harper’s Ferry was in every way an injudicious one. The place was useless to him, and the best that he could ask was that the 13,000 men who occupied it should stay there and not be added to the active army opposed to him. That they should be captured without a show of resistance, when retreat was so easy, did not come within the limits of military probability. Too high praise cannot be awarded to the ability displayed by him at Antietam; but that its result was not the surrender of his army can fairly be attributed only to the incapacity of the commander to whom for the second time he found himself opposed.


After five weeks of delay in Maryland McClellan began to move slowly toward Lee, whose force had now been recruited to 73,000. McClellan marched with 116,000 besides 20,000 who were ordered to be sent to him from around Washington whenever he wished for them. Lee fell back quietly down the valley of the Shenandoah, crossed into that of the Rappahannock, and halted at Culpepper, whence he had started eleven weeks before. McClellan followed, and seems to have made up his mind to attack. But on the 7th of November he was removed from the command, which was forced upon Burnside against his wish.

Of this amiable man, who before—at Antietam always excepted—and after performed such good service in a lower position, little need here be said. He gave his true measure when he urged upon the President that he “did not feel himself competent to take the command of so large an army.” His command is notable mainly for the disastrous battle of Fredericksburg, fought on the 13th of December. Lee with 80,000 men lay well posted on the south bank of the Rappahannock. Burnside with 100,000 crossed the river and attacked. Lee forbore to offer any serious opposition to the passage, wisely preferring to receive it on his side of the stream. He could hardy have gone amiss here, for he had only to meet the assault where made. The result was that the Federals were repelled at every point, and recrossed the river the second night after under the cover of storm and darkness, having lost 13,700 men, the Confederate loss being 5,400. This great disparity in loss took place in the assault upon Marye’s Hill. At the foot of this hill there was a sunken road forming a perfect fosse. From below this was wholly invisible, the face of the hill presenting the appearance of an unbroken slope. In this road were posted 2,000 men, drawn up four deep. Two desperate assaults were made upon this hill, in the last of which Humphreys’s division charged up almost to the brink of the road, but were met with such a sheet of musketry from invisible foes that the column melted away like a snow-bank before a jet of steam. The Federal loss here alone was 6,500; that of the Confederates hardly 500, and these fell before the artillery while getting into position. In the final charge, made by Humphreys with unloaded muskets, when he was flung back in fifteen minutes with a loss of 1,700 men, it is doubtful whether the Confederates lost a man.

So sudden was the repulse that the Confederates never suspected the extent of their advantage, and lay upon their arms all that night expecting a renewal of the attack. Much surprise has been expressed that Lee did not on the following day follow up his victory. An absurd theory has been put forth that he saw the enemy so completely at his mercy that he refrained from attacking them on the score of humanity. He himself gives the true reason: “The attack on the 13th had been so easily repulsed, and by so small a part of our army, that it was not supposed the enemy would limit his efforts to one attempt, which, in view of the magnitude of his preparations and the extent of his forces, seemed to be comparatively insignificant. Believing, therefore, that he would attack us, it was not deemed expedient to lose the advantages of our position and expose the troops to the fire of his inaccessible batteries beyond the river, by advancing upon him. But we were necessarily ignorant of the extent to which he had suffered.” Lee might well style the attack “insignificant,” in proportion to the force which had crossed the river, and the part of his own army actually engaged in its repulse. Of the 55,000 composing Burnside’s left, only 17,000 were brought into the fight. For a final effort they awaited the result on the right. Here there were 45,000, of whom 15,000 actually assaulted; they were hurled back by only 5,000 out of the 40,000 whom Lee had at hand in position to meet the grand assault which he expected.

Severe as were the losses in this battle, they formed only a small part of the injury suffered by the Federal army. Its morale was seriously impaired. The lack of confidence in the commander was shared by officers and men. Burnside at length became aware of this, and offered his resignation, which was accepted; and on the 26th of January, 1863, Hooker was placed in command. Only three days before Burnside had drawn up an order dismissing him from the service.

Hooker set himself at work to improve the discipline of his army. By the middle of April it was in admirable condition. Besides 12,000 cavalry, who were sent upon a separate expedition, he had 120,000 men. Lee, who had strongly intrenched himself, had sent away nearly all his cavalry, with many of his infantry, and had 62,000. Hooker resolved to move up the Rappahannock, cross above the extremity of the Confederate line, and then descend, taking the enemy in the rear; a strong force meanwhile being left behind to demonstrate, or if occasion served, to attack in front.

The turning operation was begun on the 28th of April, and on the afternoon of the 30th the columns, 45,000 strong, were concentrated at the solitary house known as Chancellorsville, in the centre of the Wilderness, eleven miles from Fredericksburg. During the night Sickles’s corps came up, raising the force to more than 60,000. Hooker was fairly justified in believing that “the enemy must either fly ingloriously, or come out from his intrenchments and give battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.” But he had neglected the one thing then needed for certain success. A march of two hours would have taken him clear, out of the Wilderness. Directly between him and Fredericksburg were only Anderson’s division of 9,500; Early with 10,000 was just below the town, and Jackson with the remainder of Lee’s army was a score of miles further down the river.

Lee had been taken by surprise, and the night was far spent before he learned that his rear was threatened. How formidably he did not anticipate; and resolved to attack this flanking column, he ordered Jackson to come up. The long march began at midnight; and when on the morning of Friday, May 1, Hooker began to move, he found the Confederates, less than 50,000 strong, drawn up ready to receive him as he emerged from the Wilderness. After some skirmishing, Hooker fell back into the Wilderness to await an attack instead of giving it.

During the night a plan was proposed by Jackson and adopted by Lee, which can be explained only by supposing that he believed himself much stronger than Hooker. Jackson with 30,000 was to make a circuit around the Federal position and fall upon its right, while Lee, with less than 20,000 should demonstrate upon its front. By three o’clock in the afternoon the detour was accomplished, and after a march of fifteen miles Jackson was close upon Hooker’s right, and only six miles in a direct line from the point whence he had set out. So little was an attack here anticipated that no pickets had been sent out; the intrenchments were unguarded and the arms stacked. At five o’clock in the evening the Confederates burst from the woods upon the unsuspecting Federals. In an instant Howard’s corps was flying in every direction. But the Confederate advance was soon checked by an artillery fire. Jackson was mortally wounded by an accidental shot from his own men. Hill was also wounded, and the command of the division was devolved upon Stuart.

During the night Reynolds’s corps of 17,000 joined Hooker, so that after the partial disorganization of Howard’s corps, he had still in hand on the morning of May 3 fully 75,000 men. If he had had the posting of the enemy, he could hardly have wished them otherwise than they were. Stuart’s 30,000 were separated from Lee’s 20,000 by six miles of dense forest. Had Hooker struck either, nothing which lay within the limits of military probability could have saved Lee from a disastrous defeat. That Hooker should have now awaited an attack, or that Lee should have ventured one, would never have entered the mind of one who, knowing the respective forces, could have overlooked the whole field.

Hooker’s position formed three sides of an irregular square. The right faced westward toward Stuart; the centre southward toward Lee; the left eastward toward Fredericksburg, with no enemy in its front. Sickles had rested the night before on a small cleared eminence known as Hazel Grove, whence Jackson had been repulsed. This, though a little out of the line, was the only point of strategical importance, since from it the whole Federal centre could he enfiladed by artillery. Hooker ordered it to be abandoned. Stuart at once seized it, and planted a battery of thirty guns from which he opened fire without the possibility of reply, and then brought his whole force against Sickles. The battle raged furiously for two hours with varying success. Sickles, who was greatly outnumbered, and whose ammunition became exhausted, sent repeatedly for aid; but none came, for at the moment Hooker was stunned by a shot which struck a pillar against which he was leaning, and there was no one at hand to give an order, though all the while Reynolds’s corps lay inactive within half an hour’s march. Had half of that corps swung around, they would have taken Stuart square on the flank, and swept him into the wood from which he could never have escaped. As it was, the Confederate reports show how nearly they lost the day. The entire left, consisting of Meade’s corps and the remainder of Howard’s, was also wholly unengaged, for Lee had been demonstrating against rather than assaulting Slocum and Couch in the centre, all the while edging toward Stuart, with whom he effected a junction while the battle yet hung in even scale. The combined force bore upon Sickles, whose corps fell back in disorder upon Chancellorsville.

Couch had now taken command, and by his order the whole force fell back to a strong position two miles in the rear. After all losses they still numbered 70,000, not half of whom had been seriously engaged. Lee, with but 40,000 after his heavy losses, was on the point of again attacking, when he was arrested by ominous tidings. Sedgwick had assailed Early on the heights at Fredericksburg, driven him back southward, and with 22,000 men was fairly between him and Lee. Four brigades were sent to meet Sedgwick, when after hard fighting night fell and suspended the battle.

No commander ever was in a more perilous position than was Lee on Monday morning, May 4. At all events Sedgwick must be driven back. Leaving but 20,000 in front of Hooker, the remaining force of 32,000, Early having joined, was hurled upon Sedgwick’s remaining 20,000, and the action went on all day within hearing of the intrenchments where Hooker’s 70,000 lay motionless. During the night Hooker ordered Sedgwick to cross the river. Half an hour later he sent countermanding the order, for he would attack next day. But the messenger was delayed by the darkness, and the order was not received until the corps was nearly across. Hooker meanwhile had called a council of war, and it was voted to abandon the enterprise, and the Federal army returned to its old position opposite Fredericksburg, foiled in an operation which had promised so much, and in which there was not an hour from Thursday till Monday when success would not have been easy.

The Federal loss at Chancellorsville was 12,197 killed and wounded, and about 5,000 missing; the Confederate 10,277 killed and wounded and about 3,000 missing. Hooker declared that he “felt that he had fought no battle,” because he could not get his men into position, and that his enterprise had failed from causes “of a character not to be foreseen or prevented by human sagacity or resources.” A careful survey of what was done and left undone will evince that every untoward circumstance was of a character which should have been foreseen and prevented. If final success were a sure test of the merits of a military operation, that of Lee would deserve the highest praise. But with the exception of the first movement toward Chancellorsville every other was such a palpable violation of every principle of warfare as should have insured a total defeat. He succeeded through a series of accidents, the failure of any one of which would have proved fatal; and a general, save in the direst emergency, has no right to reckon upon fortune. Lee tempted fortune unwarrantably on Saturday when he divided his forces; on Sunday when be attacked an enemy of superior numbers strongly posted; still more desperately when on Monday he again divided his force. He had no right to presume that the Federal right would be surprised in broad daylight, while an action was going on in full hearing; that his opponent would on one day fail to use well-nigh half his troops and on the next hold three-fourths of them inactive, when a quarter of these would have been amply sufficient to insure a complete victory.




THE victory at Chancellorsville inspired the Confederates with unbounded confidence. They believed that the invincible Army of Virginia could now conquer a peace upon Northern soil. In the course of a month Lee found himself at the head of the most formidable army ever raised by the Confederacy. It numbered not less than 100,000 men, of whom 15.000 were cavalry. Concentrating at Culpeper, this great army moved down the valley of the Shenandoah with a deliberation strongly contrasting with the hurried march of the year before. As if to invite attack, its long line was stretched for a hundred miles. “If the animal is so long,” wrote Lincoln to Hooker, “it must be very weak somewhere. Could you not break him?” Hooker—wisely perhaps, fortunately at all events, as the result showed—refrained from passing through the Blue Ridge, but moved parallel to Lee on an inner circle, always keeping between his opponent and the capital.

On the 25th of June, 1863, Lee crossed the Potomac almost within sight of the battle-field of Antietam, land, moving through a corner of Maryland, entered Pennsylvania. The next day Hooker also crossed the river, at the very point where Lee had crossed the year before. There were 10,000 men posted at Harper’s Ferry; and so nearly were the opposing forces balanced that this number might turn the scale. Hooker asked that they should be sent to him. Halleck refused. Hooker tendered his resignation, and on the 28th Meade was placed in command.

Lee pushed rapidly forward, and his advance had reached almost to Harrisburg when he received tidings which caused him to pause. He had sent Stuart with his cavalry on a separate expedition. Meade had moved in such a manner as not only to interpose between the two bodies, but also between Lee and his line of supply. Lee at once resolved to face around and meet Meade, naming Gettysburg as the point where his columns were to concentrate. As it happened, the corps of Reynolds and Howard, the most advanced of Meade’s columns, were heading toward the same point. Both Meade and Lee had expected that the inevitable battle would take place some miles to the south, and Meade had already selected the place. Accident rather than design determined that it should be fought at Gettysburg.

On the morning of July 1 the heads of the opposing columns encountered. A sharp action took place, lasting nearly all day. Reynolds was killed, and Howard took command of both corps, numbering 21,000. Before night 50,000 Confederates had come up. The Union forces were driven back with heavy loss, and took up a strong position upon Cemetery Ridge, just behind Gettysburg. Sickles, who was a dozen miles away, pushed on, and came up after the action was over. Hancock was meanwhile sent forward by Meade to take command and report whether the whole army should move to Gettysburg or should fall back. He reported that this was the place to fight, and by morning the whole force, with the exception of Sedgwick’s corps, was gathered on Cemetery Ridge.

Lee drew up his army upon Seminary Ridge, a wooded elevation separated from Cemetery Ridge by a valley; and presuming that he had before him only the force which he had driven back the day before, on the 2d of July he ordered a strong attack by Longstreet upon the Union left, supported by a demonstration upon its right by Ewell. As it happened, Sickles, upon the left, had taken up a position considerably in front of that designed by Meade. Upon him fell the brunt of the action. He was driven back with great loss by Longstreet, who in turn was repelled from the second Union line, but retained the ground which he had won from Sickles. Ewell also succeeded in effecting a lodgment within the Union intrenchments on the right.

The action of the day was indecisive, yet the Confederates had apparently gained considerable advantage. Moreover, from the manner of the fighting, Lee was apparently convinced that he had encountered the entire Union army, and that he himself was in much superior force. Thus only can we account for his action on the following day; for had he known that he was confronted by numbers fully equal to his own, he would probably not have attacked at all, certainly not with only a part of his force. His plan was essentially the same as that of the previous day. Ewell was to press his apparent advantage on the right, while a strong attack was made on the centre and left. But as it happened early in the morning Meade took the initiative and forced Ewell from the position he had won. By some strange mishap Lee was not informed of this, and at an hour past noon opened a fierce cannonade upon the Union front from 120 guns. Owing to the rugged character of the ground Meade could reply with only 80; moreover, after a while, Hunt, Meade’s chief of artillery, gradually slackened his fire in order to allow his guns to cool and to save his ammunition. All of this must have confirmed Lee in the belief of his own superiority. In fact the forces were about equal on each side—each, after the losses of the previous day, consisting of about 70,000 men.

At three o’clock Lee launched his assaulting columns, consisting of the divisions of Pickett and Pettigrew, 18,000 strong. They marched swiftly, but without the usual Confederate yell, down the slope and across the valley. As soon as they came within range, a fierce cannonade was opened upon them, ploughing great gaps in their ranks, which were quickly closed up. They pressed on until they came within musket-shot, when they were met by a sheet of fire before which Pettigrew’s column melted away, and in five minutes were streaming back, leaving besides the dead a third of their number prisoners. Pickett’s veteran Virginians pressed on undaunted. So determined was their rush that they fairly broke through the first Union line, charging right among the batteries, where a hand-to-hand fight took place. The assailants advanced a few rods, and met another line which had been formed. All that mortal man could do was done by Pickett’s men in the five or ten immortal minutes during which their flags flaunted in the Union lines. Of the three brigade commanders, one lay dead, another fatally wounded, the third was borne off to die. Of fifteen field officers only one was unhurt. But all was vain. They were checked in front and fusilladed in flank. To advance or retreat was impossible. They flung themselves on the ground with hands uplifted, in token of surrender. Of that gallant band three out of four were dead or prisoners. So quickly was it all over that Lee’s supporting columns found nothing left to support, and of the 50,000 men whom Meade could have brought up in half an hour, only six brigades could actually touch the fight. At the same hour another scene in the drama was enacted twelve hundred miles away. The same shadow on the dial marked the time of the defeat at Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg.

The Union loss in the three days at Gettysburg was 23,190, of whom 16,567 were killed and wounded, 6,643 missing. The Confederate loss has never been officially published. It was probably about 36,000, of whom there were certainly 13,733 prisoners, many of whom were wounded. Probably the entire number of killed and wounded exceeded 25,000.

The Confederate defeat was final and decisive in so far as it put an end to the invasion of the North upon which so much had been staked; but it was in no sense a rout. Lee’s remaining 50,000 were in condition to repel an assault, unless made with a force far more preponderating than that of Meade, and he waited all the next day, probably hoping to be attacked. Then at night he began an orderly retreat toward the Potomac, not leaving behind a single gun. When on the 7th he reached the river, he found that a sudden rain had rendered it unfordable, and a bridge which he had thrown over had been destroyed by a cavalry dash from Harper’s Ferry. He sat down to wait for the falling of the waters. Meade, for reasons which we think valid, refrained from attack on the 4th or pursuit in force on the following day. On the 7th he moved cautiously forward, and on the 12th came up with Lee. He had received considerable reinforcements, a[n]d was minded to attack at once. But a council of war advised that it was better to wait for further examination of the position. Meade, unwisely we think, yielded his own opinion. The probabilities of success were greatly in his favor. At the worst he could only be repulsed; while if he succeeded Lee’s whole army must have been captured, for he was in a trap from which there was no escape. On the evening of the 13th orders were issued by Meade for an attack on the following morning. But in the meanwhile Lee had managed to patch up a single frail bridge, and the river had fallen so as to be barely fordable at a single point. By bridge and ford Lee crossed during the night, and by morning was safely over, leaving hardly a man or gun behind.

Little remains to be added by way of criticism upon the battle of Gettysburg. The action of the first day was purely accidental. Neither commander dreamed of fighting then or there. Lee was warranted, from what he knew or could know, in supposing himself much the stronger, and so was justifiable in the assault on the second day. The result of that indecisive engagement, and the character of the cannonade on the morning of the third day, warranted the final assault. But he committed what, with his belief, was a grave fault in making the attack with so small a part of his force. If there was a fair probability of success with 18,000, there was a certainty with 30,000. It was indeed fortunate that he sent no more to the assault; since, as we now know, his whole force would not have been able to carry the heights, and the stronger the attack the greater would have been the defeat. If he had acted wisely according to the light before him, he would have suffered far more severely.

In the series of great actions which we have considered, lasting a year and a week from the Seven Days to Gettysburg, the sum of losses was approximately as follows: Confederate—killed and wounded, 80,000; prisoners, 21,000; in all, 101,000. Union—killed and wounded, 76,000; prisoners (including the 11,000 surrendered to Jackson at Harper’s Ferry, who were never in the hands of the enemy, but were paroled in a mass), 36,000; in all, 112,000.

The ineffectual campaign of the later summer and autumn of 1863 requires but brief mention. Lee retreated up the valley of the Shenandoah, thence to and across the Rappahannock, halting at Culpeper on the last day of July. His army on that day numbered 41,000 men “present for duty.” The six weeks’ campaign had thus cost him well-nigh 60,000 men. Meade followed closely after, reaching the Rappahannock with nearly 75,000. He proposed to advance upon Lee, but was forbidden by Halleck, who ordered him to merely take up a threatening attitude upon the Rappahannock. It is hard to see what could be threatened by any “attitude” which did not imply an advance upon Lee. In October Lee’s effective force was 45,000, Meade’s 68,000. Lee attempted to repeat the movement which he had made against Pope. Meade, although fully aware of his own superiority, actually retreated as far as Centreville, where he halted, whereupon Lee retraced his steps.

Several other operations were meditated, important only in this, that they produced a conviction in all minds that the command of the armies in Virginia must be placed in stronger hands than those of Meade. Members of the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War urged the President to remove Meade, and suggested the reappointment of Hooker; though with Chancellorsville in their memory it is hard to imagine the reason, unless perhaps it might have been that this would certainly involve the removal of Halleck, who had ordered Hooker to be arrested for having after his resignation visited Washington without permission. Congress, however, had passed a bill reviving the grade of lieutenant-general, recommending that it should be conferred upon the captor of Vicksburg, who should be placed in command of all the armies of the United States. This was done, and on the 9th of March Grant was formally presented with his commission. If Meade lacked the faculty of command, the first requisite of a great general, he possessed the second, that of comprehending and executing the orders of another; and so Grant selected him for his executive officer, to be in immediate command of the Army of the Potomac, as Sherman was in that of the Tennessee. In this position, under the direction of a higher intelligence and a stronger will, Meade proved himself in the long and final campaign “the right man in the right place.”


To carry out our special purpose of forming an estimate of the military career of Lee, it will not be necessary to go into full details of the campaign which, beginning in May, 1864, at the Wilderness, closed a year later, lacking three weeks, with the surrender at Appomattox Court House. Though the incidents are many, the principles are few. If, as we have endeavored to show, in carrying on offensive operations no general ever committed more and graver errors than Lee, it will, we think, appear that in conducting defensive operations no commander ever committed fewer. In this last campaign it will be difficult to point out a single notable error.

The Confederate outlook in the spring of 1864 was gloomy enough. The Union force in Virginia and the Carolinas numbered quite 300,000; the Confederates had here in arms barely 125,000. The immediate struggle was to be between the Union Army of the Potomac, numbering 140,000, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, of 60,000. The Union force was concentrated near Culpeper, between the Rappahannock and the Rapidan; the Confederates lay south of the Rapidan, stretched along a space of twenty miles, so strongly posted that an attack in front was not to be apprehended. Grant undertook to turn their line by crossing the Rapidan to the east of their right, which he presumed would induce them to fall back toward Richmond, somewhere to the north of which he hoped to force an action. This plan involved a march of a dozen miles through the heart of the Wilderness, memorable for the defeat of Hooker just a year before.

The movement was made on the morning of May 4. The Rapidan was crossed at fords six miles apart, and by evening the heads of the two columns had without opposition reached the centre of the Wilderness. Another day’s easy march, if unopposed—and from the distance at which the Confederates lay opposition was not looked for—would have carried the whole army clear through that perilous region. But Lee was not minded that this march should be peaceably made, and his opposing movement was the best conceived of all the operations of the war. The Wilderness is traversed in each direction, north to south and east to west, by two roads nearly parallel. By the former roads Grant’s columns must move. Lee hoped by the other roads to strike the centre of the nearest column, cutting it fairly in twain. There was good reason to hope that he might not only do this, but also reach the other column, with which moved the long ammunition trains. In the labyrinth of forests, thickets, and swamps, which no eye could penetrate for more than a few yards, and where artillery could hardly be brought into action, Grant’s preponderance of numbers would be neutralized; and indeed, having much the better roads, Lee might reasonably expect to throw a superior force upon the decisive point. When, therefore, he learned that Grant was heading southward, he put his columns in motion to intercept him in the Wilderness. So rapid was the march of the Confederates, that on the morning of the 5th the two divisions of Ewell and Hill, coming by different roads, were, without being perceived, close upon the head of Grant’s column, which had just begun to move. But, as a mere matter of precaution, a few troops had been sent a little way down the road by which the Confederates were advancing, and so the action opened. Lee had a little miscalculated his spring. He was too soon instead of too late, and struck the head of Grant’s column instead of its centre, as he would have done two hours later. Grant was able to face around and meet the blow fairly. The battle of the day closed at night with no decisive result. Next morning the action was renewed, each side attacking at different points, neither being able to gain any decided advantage; but by a sudden rush the Confederates surrounded some outlying brigades and captured nearly 4,000 men.

The morning of the 7th found both armies in a different mood from that of the day before. Both had thrown up breastworks during the night, and each, while willing to be assailed, was indisposed to attack the other. The Union losses had been about 15,000 killed and wounded, and 5,000 prisoners. The Confederates lost about 10,000, of whom few were captured. Otherwise the two days’ combat had been a drawn battle. Lee had failed to overwhelm or drive off his enemy; Grant had turned the strong lines on the Rapidan only to find himself confronted in the Wilderness in a position equally unassailable. According to all precedent in the Army of the Potomac, he should have given up his plan and cast about for something new.

It is not necessary for our present purpose to detail the military operations of the next month. Grant’s guiding principle was to endeavor to strike the enemy with a superior force; and whenever he was found in a position too strong to be successfully assailed, to force him from it by moving around it and threatening to interpose between him and Richmond. Lee’s principle was to fall back from each position as it was turned, always keeping his army in a compact body; for he had learned that with Grant he could not venture upon any of those hazardous strokes which he had successfully tried upon McClellan, Pope, and Hooker. Thus were brought about the engagements near Spottsylvania, May 12–20; North Anna, May 21–31; near the Chickahominy, June 1–10. The upshot of all was that in this whole series of actions, from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, excluding Butler’s futile operations near Petersburg, the Union loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners was about 55,000; that of the Confederates not far from 33,000. Grant, in the mean while, had received reinforcements about equal to his losses, and Lee about half of his, so that relatively to his opponent he was weaker than at the opening of the campaign.

The result of the battle of Cold Harbor, June 2, fought on the same ground which had been so hotly contested two years before, and where Grant was repulsed from the Confederate lines with a loss of 7,000 men, double what he inflicted, decided that the campaign must take the shape of a formal siege of Richmond, which in the mean time had been elaborately fortified; for however Grant might manœuvre the result would be that Lee would fall back into his strong intrenchments. Two courses presented themselves to the Union commander: he might invest the city from the north, or by crossing the James lay siege to it from the south. So after making some tentatives, in the hope that Lee would fall into some error which would justify another direct assault, Grant, on the 14th of June, finally transferred his army across the James, and took up his position at the junction of the Appomattox and the James, midway between Richmond and Petersburg.

The effective besieging force numbered about 150,000. The Confederates, what with Lee’s own army, the regular garrison of Richmond, and the forces brought from the Carolinas, numbered about 70,000. Napoleon has laid it down that 50,000, with adequate artillery, can defend a fortified city against six times their number. The Confederates had good reason to believe that, could they keep up their supplies, they might maintain Richmond against any probable force that could be brought against it. But the city was not provisioned for a siege. There were never accumulated supplies for a fortnight, and they were often reduced to sufficient for only two or three days. The problem before Lee was not so much to hold his lines as to guard the railroads through which provisions must reach him. To do this he must keep possession of Petersburg as long as possible.

Neither side had hitherto apprehended the importance of Petersburg. This importance arose from the fact that it covered practically three of the five avenues of supply for Richmond. These were the Weldon Railroad, leading to Wilmington, whence mainly the supplies were brought from abroad; the Lynchburg or Southside road, leading to Tennessee, both centring at Petersburg; and the Danville road, running through the Carolinas to Georgia. Up to this time the city was entirely undefended by works or troops. On the 10th of June Butler made a feeble attack, which was repelled by two Confederate regiments and a handful of cavalry. On the 16th the movement was repeated in considerable force; but Beauregard, who had come up from Charleston, got together 8,000 men, held his ground, and during the night threw up defensive works, and on the next day was strongly reinforced from Richmond. On the 17th Grant renewed the assault, but only succeeded in forcing the enemy hack to an inner and stronger line from which he could not be dislodged; and so, in the words of Grant, “the army proceeded to envelop Petersburg as far as it could be done without attacking intrenchments,” which grew daily stronger until they formed a double line encircling the city. Grant proceeded to throw up works parallel with them, and thus on the 18th of June began the siege of Petersburg, which was to last nearly nine months.

The essential offensive feature of Grant’s operations was to hold his lines directly in front of Petersburg, and to extend them southward until they reached the railroads. Lee adopted the only possible counter-operations, to extend his lines in the same direction, and to attack any force which attempted to move beyond his right. The terrain south of Petersburg presented serious obstacles to the besiegers, and many advantages to the besieged. The region, covered with swamps and matted forests, was traversed by many small streams which must be crossed by the advancing force, while radiating from the city were several good roads by which the Confederates could strike the flank of any moving column, and after giving the blow fall back to their own defences. These blows were heavily given; but by slow and almost imperceptible degrees during the autumn and winter the besiegers gained ground. First, in September the Weldon road was destroyed for miles, so that the Confederates could receive no supplies from abroad except by making a long détour involving many miles of wagon transportation. At one time in December Lee had provisions for only nine days; again for days his army was wholly without meat. Northern Virginia had been overrun by Sheridan; Georgia and most of the Carolinas by Sherman.

When the spring of 1865 opened all men saw that the downfall of the Confederacy was close at hand. The Government on the first of March had actually in arms a million of men, of which, in case of need, half could be thrown upon Richmond. Lee’s army numbered upon paper 170,000, but of these 79,000 were “absent” wholly and could never be recalled, and there were “present for duty” only 65,000, including the local garrison of the capital. Lee’s only hope was to abandon Virginia, move into North Carolina, unite with Johnston, and, with the 100,000 men whom he would then have, to fall upon Sherman. In any case the contest might be prolonged, and at least more favorable terms of peace secured. But this movement could not be undertaken until the roads had become passable and supplies accumulated at points along the proposed line of march. To this last object Lee devoted all his energies. Provisions for only a day or two at a time were brought to Petersburg; all else was gradually accumulated to the south.

Grant, of course, divined all this, and his main purpose came to be to prevent any orderly retreat of the enemy. But the final blow came in an unexpected manner. Sheridan with the cavalry and a strong infantry support was sent clear around the extremity of the Confederate lines until he reached the Five Forks, close by the Southside Railroad, along which Lee must retreat. This must be protected at all hazards. Lee, stripping his long line almost bare, got together 15,000 or 20,000 men to meet Sheridan. They were defeated and dispersed at Five Forks on the 1st of April. On the next day Grant assaulted the centre of the thinly-manned defences, pierced them, and thus fairly cut the Confederate force in two. Nothing was now left for Lee except to surrender or make a hasty retreat, and try the desperate chance of a race for life or death, with a victorious army of thrice his force upon his flank and rear. All told, he had now 40,000; but they were widely scattered. About 5,000 were on the railroad fifteen miles to the south of Petersburg, where were 15,000; there were 5,000 in Richmond, ten miles below which were the remaining 15,000. When night came on the long lines were abandoned, and as morning dawned the entire Confederate force was heading toward a point of junction midway between Richmond and Petersburg. Moving rapidly, with rations for but a single day, Lee had put a score of miles between himself and the enemy. A safe march of one day more would bring him to the junction of the railroads, whence, by destroying the bridges behind him, he hoped to keep ahead of any pursuit.

The movement was admirably planned; but its execution was thwarted by accident. On the morning of the 4th Lee reached Amelia Court House, where he had ordered large supplies of food to await him. But orders had been sent from Richmond that the train should move on to the capital to carry off the Government officials and archives. In the hurry and confusion of the moment no order had been given for unloading; the trains wits all the stores of food moved on to Richmond, and when Lee reached the Court House he found not a morsel of food for his famishing troops. Thus at a time when every moment was precious he had no alternative but to halt, break up his force into small squads, and sweep the region around for such scanty supplies as might be gathered.

This enforced delay proved fatal. Sheridan, moving parallel with Lee, but with the Appomattox between them, reached the railroad and barred the advance of Lee in that direction, while Grant was pressing hard upon his rear. We need not follow up the details of the retreat. The famishing troops, assailed at every step, threw away their arms by regiments and dispersed, many of them glad to browse upon the tender shoots of the trees just bursting into bud. At length, when on the evening of the 7th they reached Appomattox, there were not 8,000 men with arms. Sheridan had preceded them, and lay right in their way. Gordon, who next day commanded the Confederate front, thinking that there was only cavalry, was minded to break through; but suddenly the cavalry moved aside like scenes of a theatre, and disclosed a strong line of infantry and artillery. Lee, seeing that all was lost, mounted his horse and rode slowly back to meet Grant, prepared to accept the terms of surrender which had already been offered, provided they were still open for acceptance. The two men who had for almost a year measured arms together now met. Most likely they had seen each other in Mexico well-nigh a score of years before; but the Virginian, the favorite of Scott, and even then looked upon as the rising man of the army of the United States, most likely had hardly observed a certain Second Lieutenant Grant acting as regimental quartermaster, although breveted as first lieutenant for gallant services at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. The meeting was brief, for there was little to be said, and neither was a man of many words. Lee must perforce accept of any terms. Never had a defeated commander or the army which he had led deserved more honorable terms; and never were terms so honorable accorded to an utterly powerless enemy. They were, in brief, that the Confederate army should surrender arms, artillery, and public property, the officers retaining their side arms, private horses, and baggage; and all, officers and men, upon giving their paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States, to be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws where they may reside. And so closed on the 9th of April, 1865, the military career of Robert E. Lee. It had lasted not quite two years and ten months from the day when he was placed at the head of the Confederate Army of Virginia.

If our analysis of the leading features of his campaigns is accepted, there can be little doubt as to the place which should be assigned to him among commanders. His subordinate operations in Western Virginia, of which we have not spoken, gave no promise of eminence. Indeed, so unpromising were they that for months he was almost in disgrace; and it was mainly due to the fact that his commission in the United States Army antedated that of any other general of the Confederacy, excepting the imbecile Cooper, that he was placed in command. Had Albert Sidney Johnston not been killed a few weeks before, he would in all likelihood have received the position. Had Lee died during the first year of his command, he would have been fairly set down as Frederick of Prussia would have been had he died after his first, campaigns. The operations in Maryland, at Chancellorsville, and at Gettysburg gave no indications of great military capacity. But, like Frederick, he had the power of gaining wisdom from his own errors. He must be estimated by his best achievements. It is to be regretted that he had not written an account of his closing campaign; yet there is enough to warrant us in ranking it among the great defensive campaigns of history. The successful ones of Fabius against Hannibal, and two of Frederick, are its equals. The unsuccessful one of Napoleon, when in 1814, with not more than 110,000 men, he well-nigh foiled the Allies, who had with 600,000 poured into France, is its superior. That the one after three months closed at Elba, and the other after eleven months at Appomattox, detracts nothing from their merits. Lacking that broad grasp of mind which enables one to conduct wisely a great offensive campaign, history will not place Lee among the great captains of the world—with Hannibal and Cæsar, with Frederick, Napoleon, or Wellington; hardly, we think, with Marlborough, Gustavus Adolphus, Ney, or, perhaps with two or three others of Napoleon’s marshals. We think that his place is by the side of Turenne and Masséna.