Robert E. Lee, The Southerner, by Thomas Nelson Page, Chapter 11

Robert E. Lee, The Southerner

CHAPTER XI
GETTYSBURG

POSSIBLY, one other fault in Lee as a soldier may appear to some: that he accounted the abilities of the opposing armies at less than their true value. Study of the war must lead to the conviction that neither courage nor fortitude was the monopoly of either side. The men who withstood at Malvern Hill the fierce charges of the Southern infantry; the men who marched down the rolling plain of Second Manassas against Stonewall Jackson’s lines of flame, and dashed like the surging sea, wave upon wave, on Lee’s iron ranks at Antietam; the men who charged impregnable defences at Marye’s Heights; the men who climbed the slippery steeps of Chattanooga and swept the crimson plain of Franklin; the men who maintained their positions under the leaden sleet of the Wilderness and seized the Bloody Angle at Spottsylvania; the men who died at Cold Harbor, rank on rank, needed to ask no odds for valor of any troops on earth, not even of the men who followed Lee.

In a recent discussion of this subject, the philosophical Charles Francis Adams, himself a veteran of the Army of the Potomac, whose laurels were won in opposing Lee, quotes with approval Lee’s proud declaration that, “there never were such men in an army before. They will go anywhere and do anything if proper led.” “And for myself,” he adds, “I do not think the estimate thus expressed was exaggerated. Speaking deliberately, having faced some portions of the Army of Northern Virginia at the time, and having reflected much on the occurrences of that momentous period, I do not believe that any more formidable, or better organized and animated force was ever set in motion than that which Lee led across the Potomac in the early summer of 1863. It was essentially an army of fighters—men who individually or in the mass could be depended upon for any feat of arms in the power of mere mortals to accomplish. They would blench at no danger. This Lee, from experience, knew. He had tested them; they had full confidence in him.”*

Lee’s error, such as it was, lay not in over-rating his own weapon, but in undervaluing the larger weapon of his antagonist. Yet, if this under-rating of his enemy was a fault it was a noble one; and how often it led to victory! Lee’s success was due largely to his splendid audacity.

If, in attacking the redoubtable forces of Meade on the heights of Gettysburg, he overestimated the ability of that army of sixty thousand Southern men who wore the gray, who can wonder? In their rags and tatters, ill-shod and ill-armed, they were the flower of the South. Had he not seen them on every field since Mechanicsville? Seen them, under his masterly tactics and inspiring eye, sweep McClellan’s mighty army from the very gates of Richmond? Seen them send Pope, routed and demoralized, to the shelter of the fortifications around Alexandria? Seen them repel McClellan’s furious charges on the field of Antietam and hold him at bay with a fresh army at his back? Seen them drive Burnside’s valorous men back to their entrenchments? Seen them roll Hooker’s great army up as a scroll and hurl it back across the Rappahannock? What was disparity of numbers to him? What strength of position? His greatest victories had been plucked by daring, which hitherto fortune had proved the wisest of calculation, from the jaws of apparent impossibility. Besides, who knew so well as he the necessity of striking such a blow? The Southwest was being gradually conquered. Vicksburg, the last stronghold of the Confederacy on the Mississippi, was in the last throes of a fatal siege, and, on the same day that Lee faced his fate at the heights of Gettysburg, fell, and the Confederate South was cut in two. His delivering battle here under such conditions has been often criticised. He is charged with having violated a canon of war. He replied to his critics once that even so dull a man as himself could see clearly enough his mistakes after they were committed.

This battle, now generally esteemed the crucial battle of the war, has been fought over so often and so fully that it is not necessary to go over its details now, and to do so is not within the scope of this volume, which only deals with Lee’s military genius as borne evidence to by his audacity. Gettysburg was only one factor in the unbroken chain of proof to establish his boldness and his resolution. Southern historians have unanimously placed the chief responsibility for his defeat on Longstreet, whose tendency to be dilatory and obstinate has been noted in connection with the fields of Seven Pines, Frazer’s Farm and Second Manassas, and whose slowness and surliness now probably cost Lee this battle and possibly cost the South, if not its independence, at least the offer of honorable terms. And in this estimate of him many other competent critics concur. “Lee,” says Henderson in his “Life of Stonewall Jackson,” “lost the battle of Gettysburg because he allowed his second in command to argue instead of marching.”* Lee, we know, held him in high esteem, speaking of him as his “old war horse,” and was too magnanimous ever to give countenance to the furious clamor which later assailed his sturdy if opinionated and bullheaded lieutenant. Longstreet seems, indeed, to have been not unlike a bull, ponderous and dull until aroused, but once aroused by the sight of blood, terrible in his fury and a ferocious fighter. But the question here is, did Lee err or not in fighting the battle.

In brief, the battle of Gettysburg came of the necessity to “yield to a stronger power than General Burnside.” Feeling the imperative necessity of relieving Virginia of the burden that was crushing her to the earth, Lee determined as the summer of 1863 drew near, to manœuvre Hooker from his impregnable position on the Stafford Heights and to transfer the theatre of war to Northern soil. His army, though not large, was a veteran body who, properly led, would go anywhere and do anything they were ordered to do. Accordingly, in the first week of June (from the 3d to the 7th), Lee, leaving A. P. Hill to occupy the lines at Fredericksburg and cover Richmond, withdrew the major portion of his force to Culpeper, and directed them from there to the Shenandoah Valley, which he immediately cleared of the enemy, capturing in the several engagements fought in his advance from Culpeper to Winchester, over 4,000 men, 29 pieces of artillery and many stores.

As he anticipated, his strategy drew Hooker back toward the Potomac, and Longstreet was moved forward on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, while A. P. Hill followed Ewell over the mountains into the Valley of Virginia, the whole being screened by Stuart’s cavalry.

By the middle of the month (June) Lee’s advanced corps had crossed the Potomac and Longstreet was ordered soon afterward to do the same, while Stuart was left to impede Hooker should he attempt to follow across the Potomac, it being left to Stuart’s discretion whether to cross east or west of the Blue Ridge; but on crossing he was to cover the right of the army. On the 21st, Ewell was ordered to advance in the direction of Harrisburg, and he reached Carlisle on the 27th. On the same day Longstreet and A. P. Hill reached the vicinity of Chambersburg Up to this time no information had come from any source of the crossing of the Potomac by the Federal army, and it was not until the 28th that Lee was apprised by one of his scouts that the army had crossed several days before and was near South Mountain. Lee promptly decided to concentrate his forces on the east of the mountains, and Hill was ordered to Cashtown, to the north-westward of Gettysburg, to which place a turnpike ran, with Longstreet following next day.

On the morning of the 30th, Pettigrew’s brigade, of Heth’s division, was ordered to the little town of Gettysburg, a few miles away, to get shoes and other supplies of which it stood sorely in need, and found it occupied by the enemy, who were not known to be nearer than fifteen miles away. General Lee having arrived at Cashtown on the morning of July 1st, Heth was sent to ascertain the force of the enemy, but was ordered if he found infantry in force to report the fact and not force an engagement. At this time Hill had two divisions up and the third not far in the rear, and Ewell was on his way, having been ordered to recall his divisions and concentrate about Cashtown. Before long the sound of artillery from the direction of Gettysburg gave evidence that an engagement was on, and General Lee, accompanied by Hill, hastened to the front, where they found that the enemy’s artillery and infantry, who were present in considerable force, had driven Heth’s two advanced brigades back, and the whole division was now hotly engaged.

This was the beginning of the famous three days’ battle of Gettysburg; for from this time on the conflict continued with only the intermissions due to darkness and the need for fresh troops. Heth’s division would have paid dearly for their shoes had not Ewell learned that morning that Hill was moving toward Gettysburg and headed his column in that direction, and had not Rhodes, whose division was in the lead, caught the sound of guns and pushed forward, “making his dispositions” for the battle as he hurried on. Even when he reached the field he found the force before him so strong that he was glad to hold his own, and it was not until Early reached the field and put in his division on the left that they forced back the enemy’s right, as Pender, rushing to Heth’s relief, made good his advance and the enemy were driven in disorder from the field, through the town and on beyond to the heights where one of Steinwehr’s brigades of the Eleventh Corps lay in reserve. It was a stubborn and bloody conflict, with from twenty-two thousand to twenty-four thousand men on either side, and while it resulted in a clear victory for the Confederate troops, who not only swept the field but captured some 5,000 prisoners, the loss on both sides was heavy. General Lee, who was an eyewitness of the victory, sent his adjutant-general with a message to Ewell to say that “from the position he occupied he could see the enemy retreating over those hills without organization and in great confusion, and that it was only necessary to press those people in order to secure possession of the heights and that, if possible, he wished him to do this.“* General Ewell, however, “deemed it unwise to make the pursuit,” for fear, probably, as Taylor conjectures, of bringing on a general engagement. However this was, the pursuit was not pressed, though Gordon, who was in the full tide of victory, required three or four orders “of the most peremptory character” before he stayed his eager troops.

Ewell halted his men on the field, and that night the Federals fortified the heights and as new troops came pouring in by forced marches, the lines were rapidly strengthened with entrenchments. At this time the commanding position of Culp’s Hill was unoccupied. Hancock states that he ordered Wadsworth’s division and a battery to take position there in the afternoon. But two of Ewell’s staff officers reported to him that they were on the hill at dark.

Meade, at Taneytown, Maryland, thirteen miles away, with the Second Corps, received Hancock’s report of the situation that afternoon, and, issuing orders with a promptness which bore rich fruit, he marched for the heights commanding the battlefield, where he arrived at 1 in the morning. There was discussion as to the availability of the position and Meade at one time thought of withdrawing from it. The Fifth Corps, that evening, was at Union, Mills, twenty-three miles away, and the Sixth Corps was at Manchester, thirty-four to thirty-six miles away. Lee’s army lay close to the battle-field, and might attack before his troops got up or might interpose between him and Washington.* Longstreet says he himself opposed further fighting there.

Lee, however, was ready for the fight and believed he could destroy Meade in detail. He had a talk with Longstreet on Seminary Ridge that afternoon at 5 o’clock, and that evening he held a conference in the captured town of Gettysburg with Ewell, Early and Rhodes; where it was determined that Longstreet, whose troops were only four miles away, should begin the battle in the morning, by seizing the commanding positions on the enemy’s left and thus be enabled to enfilade Meade’s flank, while he was attacked by Hill and Early. Lee left the conference to give the order, and that night told General Wm. N. Pendleton, his chief of artillery, that he “had ordered General Longstreet to attack on the flank at sunrise next morning.”* At daybreak Lee himself was ready and waiting for the battle to begin; but Longstreet, who the evening before had been averse to attacking, says he sought him out again at daybreak and renewed his views against making the attack on this side, an expostulation which caused Lee to send a staff officer to Ewell to ascertain whether, after examining the position by daylight, he could not attack. The position in front of Ewell was, however, now too strongly fortified to make an assault possible, and Meade in contemplation of assuming the offensive, was massing his forces there. Lee even then rode himself to confer with Ewell, but finding what the situation was, adhered to his original decision and ordered Longstreet at 11 o’clock to attack as already directed.

Even then, however, Longstreet held back—whether from obstinacy and refractoriness, or because “his heart was not in it” longer, or because he felt the situation hopeless—the two former of which reasons have been charged against him, and the last of which has been claimed by him, has ever been a question hotly debated. However it was, though his troops, except one brigade, Law’s, were encamped close to the battlefield, he failed to move until half the day had been lost, because, as he said, he hated to go into battle with one boot off; and when he moved, Round Top was fully protected. Meade had changed his plan of attacking with his right and had strengthened his left; Sedgwick’s corps, the Sixth, had come up after an epoch-making march of thirty-six miles since 9 o’clock the night before and was in position while Longstreet sulked and dawdled with his eager troops awaiting orders on the edge of the battlefield.

Even as it was, in the furious battle which took place that afternoon when Longstreet at last began to fight, Lee seized Big Round Top, held it for some time, and passed beyond it; turned Sickles’s left and made a lodgment on Little Round Top, behind which Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps, white with the dust of their thirty-six miles march, was massed on the Taneytown road; which Meade declared “the key-point of his whole position,” and held it with his brave Alabamians until driven back by the Fifth Corps, massed for the purpose, and this, if held, would, Meade states, “have prevented him from holding any of the ground he subsequently held to the last.” At nightfall Lee had secured possession of the important position known as “The Devil’s Den,” the Ridge on the Emmitsburg Pike, made lodgment on the bases of both Round Tops; made an impression on the Federal centre, and had occupied a portion of the works on the Federal right.* It was enough to lead Lee to report that the condition “induced the belief, that with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render the assaulting columns, we should ultimately succeed, and it was accordingly determined to continue the attack.”*

Longstreet at Gettysburg is a subject that few Southerners can contemplate with philosophic calm. It used to be common soon after the war for old Confederate officers to declare that he should have been shot immediately after the battle, and that Napoleon would certainly have done so. But Lee was cast in a different mould. Of all his army he possibly knew most fully how absolutely Longstreet had frustrated his plans, and certainly of all he treated him with most leniency. But while he was assuming the burden of the responsibility and wrote Longstreet the affectionate letters of an old brother in arms who knew his worth and overlooked his errors, Longstreet, with what was not far from ingratitude, was placing on Lee the blame for his own shortcoming and was claiming that had he been allowed to dictate the plan of the campaign the result would have been different.

After General Lee was in his honored grave, Longstreet published his own defence, in which he undertook to prove that Lee had made eleven grave errors in the precipitation and conduct of the battle of Gettysburg. He says that he opposed fighting the battle of Gettysburg and that when he, on the evening of the 1st, gave his opinion to General Lee that they could not have called the enemy to a position better suited to their plans, and that all they had to do was to file round his left and secure good ground between him and his capital, he was astonished at Lee’s impatience, and his vehement declaration, “If he is there to-morrow, I will attack him,” and thereupon he observes, “His desperate mood was painfully evident and gave rise to serious apprehensions.” All of which was written long afterward and as a defence against the quite general and serious criticism of his own conduct as the cause of Lee’s failure.

But why should Lee have been in a desperate mood? He had an army on which he could count to do anything if they were properly led. He had gone into the North to fight; he had just seen a part of his force roll two fine army corps, fighting furiously, back through the town and over the heights, in confusion, leaving in his hands 5,000 captives, and he knew that the bulk of the Federal army was from four to nine times as far from the field as his own corps. His reason for fighting next morning was, therefore, not his desperation, but his apparently well-grounded hope that he should win a battle before Meade could concentrate, and then be in a position to force terms. His position has commended itself to clear-headed soldiers since,* and the criticism of it is retroactive and based on events which should not have occurred and in all human probability would not, but for Longstreet’s slowness if not his bull-headedness.

Lee, as he waited next morning for Longstreet to move forward, gave Hood, who had been on the ground since daybreak, his chief reason for fighting. “The enemy is here,” he said, “and if we don’t whip him he will whip us.” it was a sound reason and has been approved by good critics, and had Longstreet not dallied or sulked for more than half the day, it might have been justified before dark fell on the night of the 2d of July. As we see Longstreet, fooling away the hours while spade and shovel rang along the green crest piling up the earthworks, and while Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps, hot-footed, pushed along the dusty roads, telling off the long miles hour after hour, we may well understand how different the result would have been had but Stonewall Jackson commanded that day the bronzed and eager divisions lying all morning with stacked arms awaiting orders. Doubtless it was this that was in Lee’s mind when, long afterward, he said, “If I had had Jackson at Gettysburg, as far as human reason can see, I should have won a great victory.”

The next day Lee assaulted and was repelled in what is known to soldiers as the third day’s battle; but his defeat was accomplished in the first half of the preceding day, when Longstreet failed to carry out his orders, and the golden opportunity was lost.

As the scope of this discussion includes only the question of Lee’s ability as a general in offensive operations, it is not within its province to go further into the details of this great battle, except to show that on this day Longstreet again delayed and faltered, and that this time his slowness destroyed finally all possibility of success. This cannot be better shown than by quoting from the illuminating review of his book by Lieutenant-Colonel, afterward Brigadier-General, G. F. R. Henderson, already cited.

“His conduct on the third day,” declares this critic, “opens up a still graver issue. The First Army Corps when at length, on the afternoon of July 2d, it was permitted to attack, had achieved a distinct success. The enemy was driven back to his main position with enormous loss. On the morning of July 3d, Lee determined to assault that position in front and flank, simultaneously; and, according to his chief of the staff, Longstreet’s corps was to make the main attack on the centre, while the Second Corps attacked the right. But again there was delay, and this time it was fatal. . . . We may note that according to Longstreet’s own testimony the order (to attack) was given soon after sunrise, and yet, although the Second Corps attacking the Federal right became engaged at daylight, it was not until 1 P.M., eight hours later, that the artillery of the First Corps opened fire, and not till 2 P.M. that the infantry advanced. Their assault was absolutely isolated. The Second Corps had already been beaten back. The Third Corps, although a division who were ready to move to any point to which Longstreet might indicate, was not called upon for assistance. Two divisions of his own corps, posted on the right flank, did absolutely nothing, and after a supremely gallant effort the 15,000 men who were hurled against the front of the Federal army, and some of whom actually penetrated the position, were repulsed with fearful slaughter.”

After discussing in detail Longstreet’s tactics and action, this thoughtful critic adds: “But the crucial question is this: Why did he delay his attack for eight hours, during which time the Second Corps with which he was to coöperate was heavily engaged? If he moved only under compulsion, if he deliberately forebore to use his best efforts to carry out Lee’s design, and to compel him to adopt his own, the case is very different. That he did so seems perfectly clear.” “If Lee was to blame at all in the Gettysburg campaign,” adds Henderson, “it was in taking as his second in command a general who was so completely indifferent to the claim of discipline.”

Had Lee’s orders been obeyed, he would probably have won the battle of Gettysburg. He must have won it on the 2d of July, when he had “a fine opportunity of dealing with the enemy in detail”; he might have won it even on the 3d. But fate, that decides the issues of nations, decreed otherwise. The crown of Cemetery Ridge, seized and held for twenty minutes by that devoted band of gray-clad heroes, marks the highest tide, not of Confederate valor but of Confederate hope. Even so, it appeared at first but a drawn battle. The Army of Northern Virginia had struck Wade so terrible a blow that, as Halleck testified before the Commission on the Conduct of the War, a council was held to decide whether they should retreat.

All that day the two armies lay on the opposite hills like spent lions nursing their wounds, neither of them able to attack the other. Next day, Lee, with ammunition-chests nearly exhausted, fell slowly back to the Potomac, cautiously followed by his antagonist, and after waiting quietly for its swollen waters to subside recrossed into Virginia. It was a defeat, for Lee had failed his purpose. But it was a defeat which barely touches his fame as a captain. No other captain or army in history might have done more.

The gallant and high-minded Meade was a little later superseded by his Government in favor of the victorious Grant and loyally served under him as commander of the Army of the Potomac to the end; but at the South, neither Lee nor his heroic army ever stood higher with the authorities or the southern people. His very defeat seems even now but the pedestal for a more exalted heroism. With a magnanimity too sublime for common men wholly to appreciate, he took all the blame for the failure on himself. History has traversed his unselfish statement and has placed the blame where it justly belongs: on those who failed to carry out the plan his genius had conceived.

Moved possibly by the criticism of the opposition press, for there was ever a hostile and intractable press attacking the Government of the Confederacy and reviling all its works, Lee wrote to Mr. Davis and proposed that he should be relieved by some younger and possibly more efficient man. His bodily strength was failing, he said, and he was dependent on the eyes of others. Mr. Davis promptly reassured him in a letter which goes far to explain the personal loyalty to him, not only of Lee, but of the South.

These letters give a picture of the two men in their relation to each other and to the cause they represented, and should be read in full by all who would understand the character of the two leaders of the Confederacy.

Lee’s letter was as follows:

CAMP ORANGE, August 5, 1863.

MR. PRESIDENT:

Your letters of the 28th of July and 2d of August have been received, and I have waited for a leisure hour to reply, but I fear that will never come. I am extremely obliged to you for the attention given to the wants of this Army, and the efforts made to supply them. Our absentees are returning, and I hope the earnest and beautiful appeal made to the country in your proclamation may stir tip the whole people and that they may see their duty and perform it. Nothing is wanted but that their fortitude should equal their bravery to insure the success of our cause. We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true and united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war, and all will come right in the end. I know how prone we are to censure, and how ready to blame others for the non-fulfilment of our expectations. This is unbecoming in a generous people, and I grieve at its expression. The general remedy for the want of success in a military commander is his removal. This is natural, and in many instances proper; for no matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops, disaster must sooner or later ensue.

I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this Army. I have seen and heard of expressions of discontent in the public journals as the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends to the Army. My brother officers have been too kind to report it, and so far the troops have been too generous to exhibit it. It is fair, however, to suppose that it does exist, and success is so necessary to us that nothing should be left undone to secure it. I, therefore, in all sincerity, request your Excellency to take measures to supply my place. I do this with the more earnestness, because no one is more aware than myself of my inability to discharge the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfil the expectations of others? In addition, I sensibly feel the growing failure of my bodily strength. I have not yet recovered from the attack I experienced the past spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making the personal examination, and giving the supervision to the operations in the field which I feel to be necessary. I am so dull, that in undertaking to use the eyes of others I am frequently misled.

Everything, therefore, points to the advantage to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can be readily obtained. I know that he will have as gallant and brave an army as ever existed to second his efforts, and it would be the happiest day of my life to see at its head a worthy leader—one that would accomplish more than I can perform and all that I have wished. I hope your Excellency will attribute my request to the true reason—the desire to serve my country and to do all in my power to insure the success of her righteous cause.

I have no complaints to make of any one but myself. I have received nothing but kindness from those above me, and the most considerate attention from my comrades and companions in arms. To your Excellency I am specially indebted for uniform kindness and consideration. You have done everything in your power to aid me in the work committed to my charge without omitting anything to promote the general welfare. I pray that your efforts may at length be crowned with success, and that you may long live to enjoy the thanks of a grateful people.

With sentiments of great esteem, I am,

Very respectfully and truly yours,
R. E. LEE.
General.

His Excellency Jefferson Davis, President Confederate States.

To this letter President Davis sent the following reply:

RICHMOND, VA., August 11, 1863.

GEN. R. E. LEE, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:

Yours of the 8th inst. has just been receive am glad that you concur so entirely with me as to the wants of our country in this trying hour, and am happy to add that after the first depression consequent upon our disasters in the West, indications have appeared that our people will exhibit that fortitude which we agree in believing is alone needed to secure ultimate success.

It well became Sydney Johnston when overwhelmed by a senseless clamor to admit the rule that success is the test of merit; and yet there has been nothing which I have found to require a greater effort of patience than to bear the criticisms of the ignorant who pronounce everything a failure which does not equal their expectations or desires, and can see no good result which is not in the line of their own imaginings.

I admit the propriety of your conclusions that an officer who loses the confidence of his troops should have his position changed, whatever may be his ability; but when I read the sentence I was not at all prepared for the application you were about to make. Expressions of discontent in the public journals furnish but little evidence of the sentiment of the army. I wish it were otherwise, even though all the abuse of myself should be accepted as the results of honest observation. Were you capable of stooping to it, you could easily surround yourself with those who would fill the press with your laudations, and seek to exalt you for what you had not done, rather than detract from the achievements which will make you and your army the subject of history and the object of the world’s admiration for generations to come.

I am truly sorry to know that you still feel the effects of the illness you suffered last spring, and can readily understand the embarrassments you experience in using the eyes of others, having been so much accustomed to make your own reconnaissances. Practice will, however, do much to relieve that embarrassment, and the minute knowledge of the country which you have acquired will render you less dependent for topographical information.

But suppose, my dear friend, that I were to admit, with all their implications, the points which you present, where am I to find the new commander who is to possess the greater ability which you believe to be required? I do not doubt the readiness with which you would give way to one who could accomplish all that you have wished, and you will do me the justice to believe that if Providence should kindly offer such a person for our use I would not hesitate to avail myself of his services.

My sight is not sufficiently penetrating to discover such hidden merit, if it exists, and I have but used to you the language of sober earnestness when I have impressed upon you the propriety of avoiding all unnecessary exposure to danger, because I felt our country could not bear to lose you. To ask me to substitute for you some one, in my judgment, more fit to command or who would possess more of the confidence of the Army or of the reflecting men of the country, is to demand an impossibility. It only remains for me to hope that you will take all possible care of yourself, that your health and strength will be entirely restored, and that the Lord will preserve you for the important duties devolved upon you in the struggle of our suffering country for the independence which we have engaged in war to maintain.

As ever,

Very respectfully and truly,
JEFFERSON DAVIS

With these letters to portray the character of Lee, history will endorse with its infallible pen what the President of the Confederacy wrote: There was no better man to take his place.

Though Lee failed of final success, to the student of history who weighs opportunities and compares resources, this in no wise mars his fame. He lay in the face of the enemy twenty-four hours and then, with the swollen Potomac at his back, brought off his army intact and undisspirited and proceeded to prepare for the next campaign. Indeed, with the Army of the Potomac in his front, he sent two divisions under Longstreet to reinforce Bragg and defeat Rosecrans at Chickamauga. When Meade crossed the Rappahannock into Culpeper, Lee manœuvred so threateningly that Meade retired, and only the lack of shoes and equipment prevented Lee from again crossing the Potomac. *

The chief disaster of Gettysburg lay not so much in the first repulse of the intrepid lines, which, in the face of a constantly increasing storm of shot and shell, swept across that deadly plain and on up the flaming slopes of Cemetery of Missionary Ridge and Little Round Top, as in the consequences which were soon disclosed.

The North was enabled to recruit her armies by drafting all the men she needed, and her command of the sea gave her Europe as a recruiting ground. On October 17, 1863, the President of the United States ordered a draft for 300,000 men. On February 1, 1864, he called for 500,000, allowing a deduction for quotas filled under the preceding draft; and on March 14, 1864, he issued an additional call for 200,000 more, “to provide an additional reserve for all contingencies.”*

The South was almost spent. Her spirit was unquenched, and was, indeed, unquenchable; but her resources both of treasure and men were well-nigh exhausted. Her levies for reserves of all men between fifteen and sixty drew from President Davis the lament that she was grinding the seed-corn of the Confederacy. Yet more significantly it satisfied the new General, who, with his laurels fresh from the dearly won heights of Missionary Ridge, succeeded (on March 12,) the high-minded Meade, in the command of the Union Army on the Potomac, that a policy of attrition was one, and possibly the only one, which must win in the end. Clear-headed, aggressive, and able, he began his campaign with this policy from which he never varied, though the attrition wore away two men in his own ranks for every one in Lee’s army, and he found himself forced to abandon the line which he somewhat boastfully declared he would fight it out on if it took all summer.

Grant, acting on his policy of “persistent hammering” (a phrase coined by him after the events which proved its effectiveness), and assured of vast levies and of a free hand to carry out his plan on his own line, no matter what the cost, crossed the Rapidan on the night of the 3d of May, 1864. His army numbered over 140,000 men of all arms—double the number that Lee commanded—and he had 318 field guns. His equipment was possibly the best that any army could boast that ever took the field. His baggage train would, as he states, have stretched in line to Richmond, sixty odd miles away.

[Notes]

* Address at Lexington, Virginia, cited ante.

* Vol. II, p. 488.

* Taylor’s “General Lee,” p. 190.

* Meade to Halleck. Dispatch, 2 P.M., July 2, 1863.

* “Life of General Wm. N. Pendleton,” by S. P. Lee. Fitzhugh Lee’s “Lee.”

* Cf. Fitzhugh Lee’s “Life of Lee.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson’s Review of General Longstreet’s “From Manassas to Appomattox,” cited ante; General Humphrey’s “Gettysburg Campaign.”

* Lee’s Report.

* Lieutenant-Colonel G. F. R. Henderson’s review of Longstreet’s “From Manassas to Appomattox.” “Journal of Royal United States Inst.,” October, 1897.

* Letter to Mrs. Lee, Oct. 19, 1863. Fitzhugh Lee’s “Lee,” p. 317.

* Under the first call 369,380 men were drawn, of whom 52,288 paid commutation; under the second 259,575 men were drawn, of whom 32,678 paid commutation. Again on July 18, 1864, a call was made for 500,000 more men, of whom 385,163 were furnished; and on December 19, 1864, 300,000 more were called for and 211,755 were furnished. —Rhodes’s “History,” Vol. IV, p. 429, citing “Statistical Rec. Phisterer,” pp. 6, 8, 9.

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