With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War, by G. A. Henty, Chapter 8

With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War.

Chapter VIII.
Mcclellan’s Advance.

IT WAS not until three weeks after the fight between the ironclads that the great army under General McClellan arrived off Fortress Monroe, the greater portion of the troops coming down the Potomac in steam transports. Vast quantities of stores had been accumulated in and around the fortress. Guns of a size never before used in war were lying on the wharfs in readiness to be placed in batteries, while Hampton Roads were crowded with transports and store vessels watched over by the Monitor and the other war ships. McClellan’s army was a large one, but not so strong a force as he had intended to have taken with him, and as soon as he arrived at Fortress Monroe he learned that he would not be able to expect much assistance from the fleet. The Merrimac completely closed the James River; and were the more powerful vessels of the fleet to move up the York River, she would be able to sally out and destroy the rest of the fleet and the transports.

As it was most important to clear the peninsula between the two rivers before Magruder should receive strong reinforcements, a portion of the troops were at once landed, and on the 4th of April 56,000 men and 100 guns disembarked and started on their march against Yorktown. As soon as the news of the arrival of the Northern army at Fortress Monroe reached Richmond fresh steps were taken for the defense of the city. Magruder soon found that it would be impossible with the force at his command to hold the line he had proposed, and a large body of negroes and troops were set to work to throw up defenses between Yorktown and a point on the Warwick River thirteen and a half miles away.

A portion of this line was covered by the Warwick Creek, which he dammed up to make it unfordable, and erected batteries to guard the dams. Across the intervening ground a weak earthwork with trenches was constructed, there being no time to raise stronger works; but Magruder relied chiefly upon the swampy and difficult nature of the country, and the concealment afforded by the forest, which rendered it difficult for the enemy to discover the weakness of the defenders.

He posted 6,000 men at Yorktown and Gloucester Point, and the remaining 5,000 troops under his command were scattered along the line of works to the Warwick River. He knew that if McClellan pushed forward with all his force he must be successful; but he knew also that if the enemy could but be held in check for a few days assistance would reach him from General Johnston’s army.

Fortunately for the Confederates, the weather, which had been fine and clear during the previous week, changed on the very day that McClellan started. The rain came down in torrents, and the roads became almost impassable. The columns struggled on along the deep and muddy tracks all day, and bivouacked for the night in the forests. The next morning they resumed their march, and on reaching the first line of intrenchments formed by the Confederates found them deserted, and it was not until they approached the Warwick Creek that they encountered serious opposition. Had they pushed forward at once they would have unquestionably captured Richmond. But McClellan’s fault was over-caution, and he believed himself opposed by a very much larger force than that under the command of Magruder; consequently, instead of making an attack at once he began regular siege operations against the works on Warwick Creek and those at Yorktown.

The delay saved Richmond. Every day reinforcements arrived, and by the time that McClellan’s army, over 100,000 strong, had erected their batteries and got their heavy guns into position, Magruder had been reinforced by some 10,000 men under General Johnston, who now assumed the command, while other divisions were hurrying up from Northern and Western Virginia. Upon the very night before the batteries were ready to open, the Confederates evacuated their positions and fell back, carrying with them all their guns and stores to the Chickahominy River, which ran almost across the peninsula at a distance of six miles only from Richmond.

The Confederates crossed and broke down the bridges, and prepared to make another stand. The disappointment of the Federals was great. After ten days of incessant labor and hardship they had only gained possession of the village of Yorktown and a tract of low swampy country. The divisions in front pressed forward rapidly after the Confederates; but these had managed their plan so well that all were safely across the stream before they were overtaken.

The dismay in Richmond had for a few days been great. Many people left the town for the interior, taking their valuables with them, and all was prepared for the removal of the state papers and documents. But as the Federals went on with their fortifications, and the reinforcements began to arrive, confidence was restored, and all went on as before.

The great Federal army was so scattered through the forests, and the discipline of some of the divisions was so lax that it was some days before McClellan had them ranged in order on the Chickahominy. Another week elapsed before he was in a position to undertake fresh operations; but General Johnston had now four divisions on the spot, and he was too enterprising a general to await the attack. Consequently he crossed the Chickahominy, fell upon one of the Federal divisions and almost destroyed it, and drove back the whole of their left wing. The next morning the battle was renewed, and lasted for five hours.

It was fortunate indeed for the Confederates that the right wing of the Northern army did not, while the action was going on, cross the river and march straight upon Richmond; but communication was difficult from one part of the army to another, owing to the thick forests and the swampy state of the ground, and being without orders they remained inactive all day. The loss on their side had been 7,000 men, while the Confederates had lost 4,500; and General Johnston being seriously wounded, the chief command was given to General Lee, by far the ablest soldier the war produced. Satisfied with the success they had gained, the Confederates fell back across the river again.

On the 4th of June, General Stuart—for he had now been promoted—started with 1,200 cavalry and two guns, and in forty—eight hours made one of the most adventurous reconnaissances ever undertaken. First the force rode out to Hanover Courthouse, where they encountered and defeated, first, a small body of cavalry, and afterward a whole regiment. Then, after destroying the stores there they rode round to the Pamunkey, burned two vessels and a large quantity of stores, captured a train of forty wagons, and burned a railway bridge.

Then they passed right round the Federal rear, crossed the river, and re-entered the city with 165 prisoners and 200 horses, having effected the destruction of vast quantities of stores, besides breaking up the railways and burning bridges.

Toward the end of June McClellan learned that Stonewall Jackson, having struck heavy blows at the two greatly superior armies which were operating against him in the valley of the Shenandoah, had succeeded in evading them, and was marching toward Richmond.

He had just completed several bridges across the river, and was about to move forward to fight a great battle when the news reached him. Believing that he should he opposed by an army of 200,000 men, although, in fact, the Confederate army, after Jackson and all the available reinforcements came up, was still somewhat inferior in strength to his own, he determined to abandon for the present the attempt upon Richmond, and to fall back upon the James River.

Here his ships had already landed stores for his supply, for the river was now open as far as the Confederate defenses at Fort Darling. Norfolk Navy Yard had been captured by the 10,000 men who formed the garrison of Fortress Monroe. No resistance had been offered, as all the Confederate troops had been concentrated for the defense of Richmond. When Norfolk was captured the Merrimac steamed out to make her way out of the river; but the water was low, and the pilot declared that she could not be taken up. Consequently she was set on fire and burned to the water’s edge, and thus the main obstacle to the advance of the Federal fleet was removed.

They had advanced as far as Fort Darling and the ironclad gunboats had engaged the batteries there. Their shot, however, did little damage to the defenders upon the lofty bluffs, while the shot from the batteries so injured the gunboats that the attempt to force the passage was abandoned. While falling back to a place called Harrison’s Landing on the James River, the Federals were attacked by the Confederates, but after desperate fighting on both sides, lasting for five days, they succeeded in drawing off from the Chickahominy with a loss of fifty guns, thousands of small arms, and the loss of the greater part of their stores.

All idea of a further advance against Richmond was for the present abandoned. President Lincoln had always been opposed to the plan, and a considerable portion of the army was moved round to join the force under General Pope, which was now to march upon Richmond from the north.

From the commencement of the Federal advance to the time when, beaten and dispirited, they regained the James River, Vincent Wingfield had seen little of his family. The Federal lines had at one time been within a mile of the Orangery. The slaves had some days before been all sent into the interior, and Mrs. Wingfield and her daughters had moved into Richmond, where they joined in the work, to which the whole of the ladies of the town and neighborhood devoted themselves, of attending to the wounded, of whom, while the fighting was going on, long trains arrived every day at the city.

Vincent himself had taken no active part in the fighting. Magruder’s division had not been engaged in the first attack upon McClellan’s force; and although it had taken a share in the subsequent severe fighting, Vincent had been occupied in carrying messages from the general to the leaders of the other divisions, and had only once or twice come under the storm of fire to which the Confederates were exposed as they plunged through the morasses to attack the enemy. As soon as it was certain that the attack was finally abandoned, and that McClellan’s troops were being withdrawn to strengthen Pope’s army, Vincent resigned his appointment as aide-de-camp, and was appointed to the 7th Virginian Cavalry, stationed at Orange, where it was facing the Federal cavalry. Major Ashley had fallen while protecting the passage of Jackson’s division when hard pressed by one of the Federal armies in Western Virginia.

No action in the war had been more brilliant than the manner in which Stonewall Jackson had baffled the two armies—each greatly superior in force to his own—that had been specially appointed to destroy him if possible, or at any rate to prevent his withdrawing from the Shenandoah Valley and marching to aid in the defense of the Confederate capital. His troops had marched almost day and night, without food, and depending entirely upon such supplies as they could obtain from the scattered farmhouses they passed.

Although Richmond was for the present safe, the prospect of the Confederates was by no means bright. New Orleans had been captured; the blockade of the other ports was now so strict that it was difficult in the extreme for a vessel to make her way in or out; and the Northerners had placed flotillas of gunboats on the rivers, and by the aid of these were gradually making their way into the heart of several of the States.

“Are you thinking of going out to the Orangery again soon, mother?” Vincent asked on the evening before setting out on the march north.

“I think not, Vincent. There is so much to do in the hospitals here that I cannot leave. I should be ashamed to be living in luxury at the Orangery with the girls while other women are giving up their whole time nursing the wounded. Besides, although I do not anticipate that after the way they have been hurled back the Northerners will try again for some time, now they are in possession of Harrison’s Landing they can at any moment advance. Besides, it is not pleasant being obliged to turn out of one’s house and leave everything to their mercy. I wrote yesterday to Pearson to bring the slaves back at once and take up the work, and I shall go over occasionally to see that everything is in order; but at any rate for a time we will stop here.”

“I think that is best, mother. Certainly I should feel more comfortable knowing that you are all at Richmond than alone out there.”

“We should be no worse off than thousands of ladies all over the State, Vincent There are whole districts where every white capable of using a gun has gone to the war, leaving nothing but women and slaves behind, and we have not heard of a single case in which there has been trouble.”

“Certainly there is no chance of trouble with your slaves, mother; but in some of the other plantations it may not be so. At any rate the quiet conduct of the slaves everywhere is the very best answer that could be given to the accusations that have been made as to their cruel treatment. At present the whole of the property of the slaveowners throughout the Southern States is at their mercy, and they might burn, kill, and destroy; and yet in no single instance have they risen against what are called their oppressors, even when the Federals have been close at hand.

“Please keep your eye on Dinah, mother. I distrust; that fellow Jackson so thoroughly that I believe him capable of having her carried off and smuggled away somewhere down south, and sold there if he saw a chance. I wish, instead of sending her to the Orangery, you would keep her as one of your servants here.”

“I will if you wish it, Vincent; but I cannot believe for a moment that this Jackson or any one else would venture to meddle with any of my slaves.”

“Perhaps not, mother; but it is best to be on the safe side. Anyhow, I shall be glad to know that she is with you. Young Jackson will be away, for I know he is in one of Stuart’s troops of horse, though I have never happened to run against him since the war began.”

The firing had hardly ceased before Harrison’s Landing, when General Jackson, with a force of about 15,000 men, composed of his own division, now commanded by General Winder, General Ewell’s division, and a portion of that of General Hill, started for the Rapidan to check General Pope, who, plundering and wasting the country as he advanced, was marching south, his object being to reach Gordonsville, where he would cut the line of railway connecting Richmond with Western Virginia. Vincent was glad that the regiment to which he had been appointed would be under Jackson’s command, and that he would be campaigning again with his old division, which consisted largely of Virginian troops and contained so many of his old friends.

With Jackson, too, he was certain to be engaged in stirring service, for that general ever kept his troops upon the march, striking blows where least expected, and traversing such an extent of country by rapid marches that he and his division seemed to the enemy to be almost ubiquitous.

It was but a few hours after he received his appointment that Vincent took train from Richmond to Gordonsville, Dan being in the horse-box with Wildfire in the rear of the train. His regiment was encamped a mile or two away, and he at once rode on and reported himself to Colonel Jones, who commanded it.

“I am glad to have you with me, sir,” the colonel said. “I had the pleasure of knowing your father, and am an old friend of your mother’s family. As you were in Ashley’s horse and have been serving on Magruder’s staff, you are well up in your duties; and it is a comfort to me that the vacancy has been filled up by one who knows his work instead of a raw hand. We have had a brush or two already with the enemy; but at present we are watching each other, waiting on both sides till the generals have got their infantry to the front in readiness for an advance. Jackson is waiting for Hill’s division to come up, and I believe Pope is expecting great reinforcements from McClellan.”

A few days later Colonel Jones was ordered to take charge of the pickets posted on the Rapidan, but before reaching Orange a gentleman rode up at full speed and informed them that the enemy were in possession of that town. Colonel Jones divided his regiment into two parts, and with one charged the Federal cavalry in the main street of Orange, while the other portion of the regiment, under Major Marshall, attacked them on the flank. After a sharp fight the enemy were driven from the place; but they brought up large reinforcements, and, pouring in a heavy fire, attacked the town on both sides, and the Confederates had to fall back. But they made another stand a little way out of the town, and drove back the Federal cavalry who were pressing them.

Although the fight had been but a short one the losses in the cavalry ranks had been serious. Colonel Jones, while charging at the head of his men, had received a saber-wound, and Major Marshall was taken prisoner.

Five days later, on the 7th of August, Jackson received certain intelligence that General Burnside, with a considerable portion of McClellan’s force, had embarked, and was on the way to join Pope. He determined to strike a blow at once, and marched with his entire force from Gordonsville for Barnett Ford on the Rapidan.

At daybreak next morning the cavalry crossed the river and attacked and routed a body of Federal cavalry on the road to Culpepper Courthouse. On the following day Jackson came up with his infantry to a point about eight miles from Culpepper, where Pope’s army, 32,000 strong, were stationed upon the crest of a hill. General Ewell’s division, which was the only one then up, at once advanced, and, after a severe artillery fight, gained a point on a hill where his guns could command the enemy’s position.

Jackson’s division now came up, and as it was moving into position General Winder was killed by a shell. For some hours Jackson did not attempt to advance, as Hill’s division had not come up. Encouraged by this delay, the enemy at five o’clock in the afternoon took the offensive and advanced through some cornfields lying between the two armies and attacked Ewell’s division on the Confederate right; while shortly afterward they fell with overwhelming strength on Jackson’s left, and, attacking it in front, flank, and rear, drove it back, and pressed upon it with such force that the day appeared lost.

At this moment Jackson himself rode down among the confused and wavering troops, and by his voice and example rallied them. At the same moment the old Stonewall Brigade came up at a run and poured their fire into the advancing enemy. Jackson led the troops he had rallied forward. The Stonewall Brigade fell upon the enemy’s flank and drove them back with terrible slaughter. Other brigades came up, and there was a general charge along the whole Confederate line, and the Federals were driven back a mile beyond the position they had occupied at the commencement of the fight to the shelter of some thick woods. Four hundred prisoners were taken and over 5,000 small-arms.

The battle was known as Cedar Run, and it completely checked Pope’s advance upon Richmond. The troops were too much exhausted to follow up their victory, but Jackson urged them to press forward. They moved a mile and a half in advance, and then found themselves so strongly opposed that Jackson, believing that the enemy must have received reinforcements, halted his men. Colonel Jones was sent forward to reconnoiter, and discovered that a large force had joined the enemy.

For two days Jackson remained on the field he had won; his troops had been busy in burying the dead, in collecting the wounded and sending them to the rear, and in gathering the arms thrown away by the enemy in their flight. Being assured that the enemy were now too strong to be attacked by the force under his command, Jackson fell back to Orange Courthouse. There was now a few days’ delay, while masses of troops were on both sides moving toward the new field of action. McClellan marched his troops across the James Peninsula from Harrison’s Landing to Yorktown, and there the greater portion were embarked in transports and taken up the Rappahannock to Aquia Creek, landed there, and marched to Fredericksburg.

Lee, instead of attacking McClellan on his march across the peninsula, determined to take his army north at once to join Jackson and attack Pope before he was joined by McClellan’s army. But Pope, although already largely reinforced, retired hastily and took up a new position so strongly fortified that ho could not he attacked. General Stuart had come up with Lee, and was in command of all the cavalry.

“We shall see some work now,” was the remark round the fires of the 7th Virginian Cavalry. Hitherto, although they had been several times engaged with the Federals, they had been forced to remain for the most part inactive owing to the vast superiority in force of the enemy’s cavalry; but now that Stuart had come up they felt certain that, whatever the disparity of numbers, there would soon be some dashing work to be done.

Except when upon actual duty the strict lines of military discipline were much relaxed among the cavalry, the troopers being almost all the sons of farmers and planters and of equal social rank with their officers, many of whom were their personal friends or relatives. Several of Vincent’s schoolfellows were in the ranks; two or three of them were fellow officers, and these often gathered together round a camp fire and chatted over old schooldays and mutual friends.

Many of these had already fallen, for the Virginian regiments of Stonewall Jackson’s brigade had been terribly thinned; but the loss of so many friends and the knowledge that their own turn might come next did not suffice to lessen the high spirits of the young fellows. The hard work, the rough life, the exposure and hardship, had braced and invigorated them all, and they were attaining a far more vigorous manhood than they would ever have possessed had they grown up in the somewhat sluggish and enervating life led by young planters.

Many of these young men had, until the campaign began, never done half an hour’s hard work in their lives. They had been waited upon by slaves, and their only exercise had been riding. For months now they had almost lived in the saddle, had slept in the open air, and had thought themselves lucky if they could obtain a sufficient meal of the roughest food to satisfy their hunger once a day. In this respect, however, the cavalry were better off than their comrades of the infantry, for scouting as they did in small parties over a wide extent of country, they were sure of a meal and a hearty welcome whenever they could spare time to stop for half an hour at the house of a farmer.

“It’s a glorious life, Wingfield! When we chatted over the future at school we never dreamed of such a life as this, though some of us did talk of entering the army; but even then an occasional skirmish with Indians was the limit of our ideas.”

“Yes, it is a glorious life!” Vincent agreed. “I cannot imagine anything more exciting. Of course, there is the risk of being shot, but somehow one never seems to think of that. There is always something to do and to think about; from the time one starts on a scout at daybreak to that when one lies down at night one’s senses are on the stretch. Besides, we are fighting in defense of our country and not merely as a profession, though I don’t suppose, after all, that makes much difference when one is once in for it. As far as I have read all soldiers enjoy campaigning, and it does not seem to make any difference to them who are the foe or what they are fighting about. But I should like to feel a little more sure that we shall win in the long run.”

There was a chorus of indignant protests against there being any possible doubts as to the issue.

“Why, we have thrashed them every time we have met them, Wingfield.”

“That is all very well,” Vincent said. “Here in Virginia we have held our own, and more than held it. We have beat back Scott and McClellan, and now we have thrashed Pope; and Stonewall Jackson has won a dozen battles in Western Virginia. But you must remember that in other parts they are gradually closing in; all the ports not already taken are closely blockaded; they are pushing all along the lines of the great rivers; and worst of all, they can fill up their vacancies with Irishmen and Germans, and as fast as one army disappears another takes its place. I believe we shall beat them again and again, and shall prove, as we have proved before, that one Southerner fighting for home and liberty is more than a match for two hired Germans or Irishmen, even with a good large sprinkling of Yankees among them. But in the long run I am not sure that we shall win, for they can go on putting big armies into the field, while some day we must get used up.

“Of course it is possible that we may some day capture Washington, and that the North may get weary of the tremendous drain of money and men caused by their attempt to conquer us. I hope it may be so, for I should like to think that we should win in the long run. I never feel any doubt about our winning a battle when we begin. My only fear is that we may get used up before the North are tired of it.”

“I did not expect to hear you talk so, Wingfield, for you always seem to he in capital spirits.”

“I am in capital spirits,” Vincent replied, “and ready to fight again and again, and always confident we shall lick the Yankees; the fact that I have a doubt whether in the long run we shall outlast them does not interfere in the slightest degree with my comfort at present. I am very sorry though that this fellow Pope is carrying on the war so brutally instead of in the manner in which General McClellan and the other commanders have waged it. His proclamation that the army must subsist upon the country it passes through gives a direct invitation to the soldiers to pillage, and his order that all farmers who refuse to take the oath to the Union are to be driven from their homes and sent down south means ruin to all the peaceful inhabitants, for there is scarcely a man in this part of Virginia who is not heartily with us.”

“I hear,” one of the other officers said, “that a prisoner who was captured this morning says that Pope already sees that he has made a mistake, and that he yesterday issued a fresh order saying that the proclamation was not meant to authorize pillage. He finds that the inhabitants who before, whatever their private sentiments were, maintained a sort of neutrality, are now hostile, that they drive off their cattle into the woods, and even set fire to their stacks, to prevent anything from being carried off by the Yanks; and his troops find the roads broken up and bridges destroyed and all sorts of difficulties thrown in their way.”

“It does not always pay—even in war—to be brutal. I am glad to see he has found out his mistake so soon,” another officer said. “McClellan waged war like a gentleman; and if blackguards are to be allowed to carry fire and sword through the land they will soon find it is a game that two can play at, and matters will become horribly embittered.”

“We shall never do that,” Vincent said. “Our generals are all gentlemen, and Lee and Jackson and many others are true Christians as well as true soldiers, and I am sure they will never countenance that on our side whatever the Northerners may do. We are ready to fight the hordes of Yankees and Germans and Irishmen as often as they advance against us, but I am sure that none of us would fire a homestead or ill-treat defenseless men and women. It is a scandal that such brutalities are committed by the ruffians who call themselves Southerners. The guerrillas in Missouri and Tennessee are equally bad whether on our side or the other, and if I were the president I would send down a couple of regiments, and hunt down the fellows who bring dishonor on our cause. If the South cannot free herself without the aid of ruffians of this kind she had better lay down her arms at once.”

“Bravo, Wingfield! spoken like a knight of chivalry!” one of the others laughed. “But many of these bands have done good nevertheless. They have kept the enemy busy there, and occupied the attention of a very large force who might otherwise have been in the woods yonder with Pope. I agree with you, it would be better if the whole thing were fought out with large armies, but there is a good deal to be said for these hands you are so severe upon. They are composed of men who have been made desperate by seeing their farms harried and their buildings burned by the enemy. They have been denounced as traitors by their neighbors on the other side, and if they retaliate I don’t know that they are to be altogether blamed. I know that if my place at home were burned down and my people insulted and ill-treated I should be inclined to set off to avenge it.”

“So would I,” Vincent agreed, “but it should be upon those who did the wrong, not upon innocent people.”

“That is all very well, but if the other side destroy your people’s farms, it is only by showing them that two can play at the game that you can make them observe the laws of war. I grant it would be very much better that no such thing should take place; but if the Northerners begin this sort of work they may be sure that there will be retaliation. Anyhow, I am glad that I am an officer in the 7th Virginians and not a guerrilla leader in Missouri. Well, all this talking is dry work. Has no one got a full canteen?”

“I have,” Vincent said. “Dan managed to buy a gallon of rum at a farmhouse yesterday. I think the farmer was afraid that the enemy might be paying him a visit before many days, and thought it best to get rid of his spirits. Anyhow, Dan got the keg at ordinary city prices, as well as that couple of fine turkeys he is just bringing along for our supper. So you had better each get your ration of bread and fall to.”

There was a cheer as Dan placed the turkeys down in the center of the group, and soon the whole party, using their bread as plates, fell to upon them, and afterward joined in many a merry song, while Dan handed round the jar of spirits.

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