General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 8

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier


THE war having fairly commenced, we must trace rapidly his progress. He was not on the field during the first few months of the war, but at his post in Richmond, using mighty efforts to put Virginia in a state of defence. He knew that from her geographical position, she must be the battle-field for immense armies. The Government called for troops, and the “raw material,” men full of patriotism and valor, but without military training, poured into Richmond every day; training-camps were established, and officers who had had military educations appointed to drill them. In every town in the South, nothing was heard but the dill of military preparations; but Richmond, now the Confederate Capital, was the busiest point of all. The Federal Government threatened her. General Scott proposed taking his Fourth-of-July dinner there. The “On to Richmond” became the battle-cry of the Federal army, and therefore, to put the strategic points of the State, as well as the city, in a posture of defence, became his imperative duty. Volunteer regiments from the Gulf States, from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia sprang up like magic. Tennessee and Arkansas contributed noble soldiers; and even Kentucky and Maryland, in despite of their governments, afforded regiments as valorous as any that ennobled the Confederate army—men of daring, who were obliged to leave their own borders by stealth to avoid arrest. But all these men mist be drilled, armed, and equipped; arms were few and ammunition scarce. It required great minds and indomitable energies to have these wants supplied. Workshops for the manufacture of arms and ammunition arose speedily, and in an incredibly short time Virginia was ready to receive the mighty demonstrations of the Federal Government.

General Lee was at the helm planning and organizing, and, when occasion arose, sending troops to the field; the strategic points were made strong, and three steamers were converted into vessels of war. Skirmishing was going on at various points, but the first engagement of any importance took place on the 10th of June, at Big Bethel, between Yorktown and Hampton, in which Colonel Magruder, by skill and strategy, signally defeated General Butler. This affair was small in itself, but very encouraging to the Confederates. Then followed the brief campaign of General Joe Johnston and Patterson in the Valley, in which the South was successful; but it was soon followed by the defeat of Colonel Pegram, and the death of the gallant General Robert Garnett during his retreat from Laurel Ridge. Then came the great battle of Manassas, involving, perhaps, the most signal defeat with which the Federals met during the war. Generals Beauregard and Joe Johnston there won laurels which can never fade; and there the revered General Jackson, then merely a Brigadier, was first called “Stonewall,” because his brigade, always noted for its bravery, stood as immovable as a stone wall to receive the showers of shot and shell with which the enemy assailed it. “See,” said the gallant General Bee, of Georgia, while encouraging his troops, “see, Jackson stands like a stone wall to repel the invaders.” General Lee’s place, then, was in Richmond, sending off reinforcements to the field, and completing those fortifications which elicited the admiration even of the Federal officers. “While the fortifications of Richmond stand,” writes a Northern officer, “Lee will evoke admiration; the art of war is unacquainted with any defence so admirable.”

General Lee was first sent to the field in the summer of 1861, to operate against “General Rosecrans in the mountains of Western Virginia. Soon after getting there, he found that the nature of the country, wild and mountainous in the extreme, and the hostility of many of the inhabitants to the Southern came, made it impossible to make an offensive movement.”

“The movement against Cheat Mountain, which failed,” wrote one of his officers, “was undertaken with the view of causing the enemy to contract his lines, and to enable us to reunite the troops of Generals Jackson, of Georgia, and Loring. After the failure of this movement on our part, General Rosecrans, feeling secure, strengthened his lines in that part of the country, and went with a part of his forces to the Kanawha, driving our forces across the Gauley. General Lee then went to that line of operations, to endeavor to unite the forces under Generals Floyd and Wise, and stop the movements under Rosecrans. General Loring, with a part of his force from Valley Mountain, joined the forces at Sewell Mountain. Rosecrans’s movements were stopped, and the season for operations in that country being over, General Lee was ordered to Richmond, and soon after sent to South Carolina, to meet the movements of the enemy from “Port Royal,” etc. His engineering skill in fortifying the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia was highly appreciated by the people of those States; and it was owing to the admirable construction of those defences, that the Federal efforts in that quarter afterwards met with so little success. They had already taken possession of Port Royal, and were threatening the interior.”

General Lee was recalled to Richmond in the early spring of 1862, and on the 10th of March, duty was assigned him at the seat of Government, and under the direction of the President, he was charged with the conduct of the military operations of the Confederate armies. He was very popular in his new position; fresh life was at once infused into the Government, and the military situation at once seemed to grow brighter. His courtesy, and entire simplicity of manner, were now peculiarly apparent. Some persons seemed to expect him to make a great military display, and could scarcely realize that the plain, quiet gentleman who rode daily about the lines of Richmond, clad in simple gray, was “bending all the energies of a genius second to none in the world, to one of the most arduous tasks that ever tried the skill and patience of a soldier.” He remained in this position a very short time; circumstances soon transpired which called him to the field, and the President, at his request, relieved him from the general control of all the armies. The moment had come when his generalship was to be tested by a command worthy of his great abilities. The largest and most important army was put under his control, and the defence of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.

His family, in the meantime had been living at the “White House,” on the Pamunkey River. This fine estate had been the properly of Mrs. General Washington, the grandmother of Mrs. Lee, and was still owned by her immediate family. It was in this house, made so famous during the war by becoming a favorable “base” for the Federals, that Washington had wooed and won the fascinating Mrs. Custis; and it was either in this house, or in the neighborhood church, the venerable “St. Peter’s,” that afterwards married her. There Mrs. Lee and her young daughters took refuge, after it had become necessary for them to leave Arlington, vainly hoping to be safe from intrusion and danger. It was in June of 1862, when the Federal army was moving towards Richmond from the Peninsula, that she received intelligence that the enemy was approaching. She and her daughters immediately departed to the house of a friend, nearer Richmond, but not until she had affixed a paper to the door, imploring the Northern soldiers to forbear to desecrate the house in which Washington had spent the first part of his married life, and signed it, “A grand-daughter of Mrs. Washington.” This request was then respected; but in 1865, when it was no longer necessary for their purposes, it was burned to the ground by Federal soldiers. Let us, in the spirit of charity, hope that those who applied the torch were ignorant of its history.

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