General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 10

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier

CHAPTER X.
BATTLES AROUND RICHMOND.

THE beleaguered city, our beautiful Richmond, was then filled with refugees, soldiers’ families, and sick and wounded soldiers, which bad almost doubled its population. We well remember how full of excitement every one seemed, and yet how calm; nor was it the calmness of despair, but of confidence in the valor of our troops, and in the blessing of God on a just cause. This feeling was not a little enhanced by the entire confidence which was everywhere felt in the guiding spirit of the army. There was an abiding feeling of security in haling him so near us.

The ever memorable 27th of June, 1862, was a day of intense excitement in the city and its surroundings. Early in the morning it was whispered that some great movement was on foot. Large numbers of troops were seen under arms awaiting orders. A. P. Hill’s division occupied the hills overlooking the “Meadow Bridge,” about five miles from the city, About three o’clock the order to move was given. The Fortieth Virginia led the advance. The enemy’s pickets were immediately across the Chickahominy, and the men thought they were in heavy force of cavalry and infantry, and that the passage of the bridge would be hazardous in the extreme; yet their courage did not fail. The gallant Fortieth, followed by Pegram’s Battery, rushed across the bridge at double-quick, and drove the enemy’s pickets from their posts. The enemy was driven rapidly down the river to Mechanicsville, where the battle was raging fiercely. At nice o’clock all was quiet; the bloody struggle was over for the day.

“Our victory,” says a diary kept in Richmond during the time, “was glorious, but not complete. The streets were thronged to a late hour, to catch the last accounts from couriers and spectators returning from the field. The sickening sight of the ambulances bringing in the wounded met the eye at every turn. The President and many others were on the surrounding hills during the fight, deeply interested spectators. The calmness of the people during the progress of the battle was marvellous. The balloons of the enemy hovering over the battlefield could be distinctly seen from the outskirts of the city, and the sound of musketry as distinctly heard. All were anxious, but none alarmed for the fate of the city. From the firing of the first gun till the close of the battle, every spot favorable for observation was crowded. The tops of the Exchange, the Ballard House, the Capitol, and almost every tall house, were covered with human beings; and after nightfall, the commanding hills from the President’s house to the Almshouse were like a vast amphitheatre covered with men, women, and children witnessing the grand display of fireworks—beautiful, yet awful, and sending death among those whom our souls hold so dear. It was a scene of unsurpassed magnificence, the brilliant light of bombs bursting in the air and passing to the ground. The lights emitted by thousands and thousands of muskets, together with the roar of artillery and the rattling of small arms, constituted a scene terrific, grand, and imposing. What spell has bound our people? Is their trust in God, in their General, and in the valor of their troops, so great that they are unmoved by these terrible demonstrations of our powerful foe? It would seem so; for when the battle was over, the crowd dispersed and returned to their respective homes with the apparent tranquillity of persons who had been witnessing a panorama of transactions in a far-off country, in which they had no personal interest; though they knew that their countrymen slept on their arms, only awaiting the dawn to renew the deadly conflict, on the success of which depended not only the fate of our city, but of that splendid army containing the material on which our happiness depends. A crowd was out of those who were too restless and nervous to stay at home; but ah, how many full, sorrowful hearts were in their chambers besieging Heaven with prayers for our success, or else were busy in the hospitals administering to the wounded and dying.”

The diary continues:

10 o’clock at night, Another day of terrible excitement in our beleaguered city. From early dawn the cannon has been roaring around us. Our success has been glorious! The citizens, gentlemen as well as ladies, have been fully occupied in the hospitals. . . . General Jackson has joined General Lee, and nearly the whole army on both sides are engaged. The carnage is frightful. The enemy had retired before our troops to their strong works near Gaines’s Mill. Brigade after brigade of our brave men were hurled against them, and repulsed in disorder. General Lee was heard to say to General Jackson, “The fighting is desperate. Can our men stand it?” Jackson replied: “General, I know our boys; they wii1 never give back.” In a short time a large part of our force was brought up in one grand attack, and then the enemy was entirely routed. . . . Visions of the battle-field have haunted me all day. Our loved ones, whether friends or strangers,—all Southern soldiers are dear to us,—lying dead or dying; the wounded in the hot sun; the dead hastily buried, McClellan is said to be retreating. “Praise the Lord, O my soul!”

June 30th. McClellan certainly retreating. We begin to breathe more freely; but he fights as he goes. Oh, that he may be surrounded before he gets to the gun-boats! Rumors are flying about that he is surrounded; but we do not believe it,—only hope that it may be so, before he reaches the river. The city is sad because of the dead and wounded; but our hearts are filled with gratitude to God for His mercies. The end is not yet; oh, that it were! Richmond is disenthralled—the only Federals here are in the Libby and other prisons.

This journal gives the true idea of the confidence felt by the people in their Generals and army, and above in the blessing of God on a cause which we believed to be righteous, and for which we were not afraid to ask His help. We knew that our commanding General looked to God for His guidance, and we believed that it would be granted him.

The Rev. Dr. Dabney, in his Life of Jackson, says: “The demeanor of the citizens during the evening (June 26th), gave us an example of their courage, and their faith in their leaders and their cause.[”]

For many weeks the Christians of the city had given themselves to prayer; and they drew from Heaven a sublime composure. The spectator passing through the streets saw the people calmly engaged in their usual avocations, or else wending their way to the churches, while the thunders of the cannon shook the city. As the calm summer evening descended, the family groups were seen sitting upon the door-steps, where mothers told the children at their knees how Lee and his heroes were now driving away the invaders. The young people promenaded the heights north of the town, and watched the distant shells bursting against the sky. At one church a solemn cavalcade stood waiting; and if the observer had entered, saying to himself, “This funeral reminds me that Death claims all seasons for his own, and refuses to postpone his dread rites for any inferior honors,” he would have found a, bridal at the altar! The heart of old Rome was not more assured or steadfast, when she sold for full price in her Forum the field on which the Carthaginian was encamped.

Such were the correct statements of the situation of Richmond during these days of bloodshed. Prayer was the vital breath of every Christian in the city, and God gave them strength to bear their own sorrows, and to minister to the necessities of others.

About the 8th of July the troops were allowed to go into camp to rest, after their wonderfully successful campaign. Thus had General Lee, in the beginning of his career, been instrumental in saving the Capital of the Confederacy. The people lauded and almost worshipped him as their deliverer. He received the homage with the quiet and calm dignity which always characterized him. He never showed great elation, but the gravity which became the great Christian leader, who felt the responsibility of his situation. He knew that be had a great work to do, and that what he had passed through was but the successful prelude to the eventful scenes which were before him. His country’s very existence was at stake, and all eyes were turned on him with full confidence, as one competent to save it from threatened ruin. And nobly did he execute all that was in the power of man to that end; and that he failed at last must be attributed to circumstances which could not be averted by human skill! That he succeeded so long and so well is due to what appears to have been more than human genius, commanding armies which have been rarely equalled, never surpassed.

General Lee remained near Richmond, observing the motions of General McClellan, when intelligence reached him of the movements on the upper waters of the Rappahannock. General Pope, with a large army, evidently designed a disastrous attack upon Gordonsville, at the junction of the two principal railroads. They were plundering, burning, and producing general disaster. General Jackson was immediately sent to stop their progress, with his corps consisting of Jackson’s and Ewell’s divisions. This has been called a “war of wits” between General Lee and the authorities at Washington. Lee watched Pope and McClellan to discover the real design of the enemy. General McClellan still remaining inactive, on the 27th of July A. P. Hill’s division was sent to reinforce Jackson, who, on the 2d of August, attacked the enemy at Orange Court-House.

On the 5th, McClellan made a demonstration towards Malvern Hill, to prevent Lee seeding reinforcements to the Rappahannock. General Lee promptly went to meet him, and a slight engagement occurred at Curie’s Neck; but the next morning the Federal army had retired, and the whole movement proved to be a, feint. The eagle eye of Lee now seeing that the real design of the enemy was upon the Rappahannock, he soon directed his attention to that quarter. General Jackson had already struck an important blow in attacking Pope at Cedar Run. The struggle was obstinate, but the Confederates were left in possession of the field. This success, and their slow but sure advance, alarmed the authorities at Washington. The Confederates were approaching too near their city, and McClellan was hastily called from the James to the assistance of Pope. General Lee immediately sent large reinforcements to the Rappahannock, and soon after followed them. Then followed the wonderful flank movement which brought the armies in contact, and which resumed in the second victory on the plains of Maryland. Thus ended the great campaign of the summer of 1862, the whole success of which reflects never-dying lustre on the great mind which planned it, As usual, he gives glory to God for his successes. His announcement by telegraph runs thus:

TO PRESIDENT DAVIS,

The army achieved, to-day, on the plains of Manassas, a signal victory over the combined forces of Pope and McClellan. On the 28th, 29th, and 30th, each wing, under Generals Longstreet and Jackson, repulsed with valor attacks made by them separately. We mourn the loss of our gallant dead in every conflict, yet our gratitude to Almighty God for his mercies rises higher each day. To Him, and to the valor of our troops, a nation’s gratitude is due.

R. E. LEE.

How well it is remembered with what heartfelt gratitude and joy these telegrams, signed R. E, Lee, filled us, when they brought good tidings, and with what sorrow, when the news was adverse! Other telegrams might give false impressions—sometimes they were too elating, sometimes too desponding—but General Lee knew the truth, and dispassionately, and in the fear of God, gave it to the country. The President appointed Thursday, the 18th of September, as a day of thanksgiving for our victories. He issued a beautiful “proclamation” on the subject. Every church of every denomination of Christians, that could be opened, was filled that day with grateful worshippers. Our leaders, and many of our people, were mindful of our dependence upon Providence, and remembered that “when Moses held up his hand, then Israel prevailed, and when he let down his hand, then Amalek prevailed.” And was it that our “hands were let down,” that our cause was finally lost? It is sad to think that it may have been so. Jackson and Stuart, and a host of Christian soldiers, were taken from the evil to come; even in the flush of victory; but General Lee was spared to show the world how a Christian can bear defeat—how, when he has done his best, and God has allowed the worst to come—how, when the hopeless struggle was over, he could, with God’s help, gird on a new courage, not to contend, but to endure. There is a sad pleasure in thinking of our Christian heroes, both of the rank and file, who now sleep the sleep of death, to be aroused by no reveille, until the resurrection morn, when the trump of the archangel shall sound, and the “dead in Christ shall rise first.” The bright and chivalrous Stuart died in the triumph of the faith which he had professed long before; amid all the sufferings of his dying body, he joined the man of God, who ministered to him and prayed for him, with his feeble voice in singing a favorite hymn. Soon after his wonderful raid around McClellan’s army, a youthful soldier, who had been one of his guides through the entangled thickets of the Chickahominy, and who was interesting the passengers of a railroad car with an animated account of his hair-breadth escapes by flood and field, concluded by saying, “In all the tight places that the General got into, I never heard him swear an oath, and I never saw him drink a drop.” Mrs. Stuart, the General’s wife, was one of the amused auditors of the enthusiastic narrator. As soon as she could do so without being observed, she leaned forward, introduced herself to the youth, and asked him if he knew why General Stuart never swears nor drinks? The youth answered in the negative. She replied, “It is because he is a Christian, and loves God; and nothing would induce him to do what he thinks wrong; and I want you, and all of his soldiers, to follow his example.”

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