Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy
By Henry Alexander White

CHAPTER VI.

1861–1862.
IN COMMAND OF THE FORCES OF VIRGINIA—THE CAMPAIGN IN WESTERN VIRGINIA—CONSTRUCTION OF ATLANTIC COAST DEFENCES.

THE rnilitary forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia were under the control of Major-General R. E. Lee from April 23 until May 10, 1861. Thereafter, until June 8, he was assigned to the command of the forces of the Southern Confederacy operating in Virginia. May 25 marked the change in his military rank from the position of Major-General in the State militia to that of Brigadier-General in the army of the Southern Confederacy. The Confederate Government had not yet created a military rank in the field service higher than the grade of brigade-commander; it was Lee’s indifference to the mere insignia of office that prevented friction in the matter of lowering his rank.

When Vice-President Stephens, in the month of April, saw the admiration poured out upon Lee by the Virginia Convention, and saw him created Major-General, he scented danger. He perceived that the Convention of Virginia would not unite with the Confederacy if General Lee should refuse to step down to the grade of brigadier. He sought Lee on the evening of April 23.

I unfolded to him, [writes Stephens,] with perfect candour the object of my mission [alliance of Virginia with the Confederacy], the nature of the alliance I should propose, and particularly the effect it might have upon his official rank and position. There was on his part equal candour and frankness—no reserve whatever. He understood the situation fully. With a clear understanding of its bearing upon himself individually, he expressed himself as perfectly satisfied, and as being very desirous to have the alliance formed. He stated in words which produced thorough conviction in my mind of their perfect sincerity, that he did not wish anything connected with himself individually, or his official rank or personal position, to interfere in the slightest degree with the immediate consummation of that measure.

The Convention soon discovered the omission of any provision for General Lee’s permanent rank in the new alliance. They were ready to withhold Virginia from the Confederacy upon this single issue, but Lee’s own solicitations led to the union with the other States. Stephens adds this word: “The truth is, a look, or an intonation of voice, even, at this time, which would have indicated that his professed satisfaction was not the real and unaffected feeling of his heart, would have defeated that measure.”

Twelve hours after the interview with Stephens, Lee was at work preparing Virginia to meet war with war. To Cocke in Alexandria he thus gave instructions, April 24: “Let it be known that you intend no attack; but invasion of our soil will be considered an act of war.”

Until June 8, when President Davis, as Commander-in-chief of the Confederate army and navy, assumed the direction of all movements in the field, General Lee was setting in order the defences of Virginia. He foresaw that the Old Dominion would be the main theatre of strife, and Richmond the objective point of Northern invasion. He clearly perceived also the magnitude of the task involved in defending the South from the Northern onset. President Davis, as late as the month of May, despatched an agent to England to purchase ten thousand Enfield rifles to arm the Confederacy. More than a month before this, Lee had written to his wife: “The war may last ten years. .#&160;. . Make your plans for several years of war.” At the same time he wrote this: “Tell Custis [Lieutenant in the U.S. Army] he must consult his own judgment, reason, and conscience as to the course he may take. I do not wish him to be guided by my wishes or example. If I have done wrong, let him do better. The present is a momentuous question which every man must settle for himself and upon principle.”

Lee’s eye rested now upon the approaches to Virginia’s borders. He set himself to the task of erecting fortifications and batteries for the defence of the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, James, and Elizabeth rivers. Forty thousand Virginia volunteers were armed by June. 15, and sent to watch the outposts. Already in April, the State government had seized the military posts at Harper’s Ferry and Norfolk, located on Virginia’s soil. About one hundred and fifteen cannon were thus furnished to Lee. The machinery at Harper’s Ferry for the manufacture of arms and munitions was transplanted to Richmond and Fayetteville, North Carolina. Only fifty-six thousand stand of small arms, of inferior quality, were available. Secretary Floyd’s alleged removal of Federal cannon and muskets southward, had failed to furnish the Southern States with their just share of serviceable arms and munitions. With the equipment of a few war vessels and the construction of various field works this part of Lee’s task was completed.

The strictly defensive policy of the Confederacy prevented the effective protection of the lower Valley of Virginia. Upon that lion of war, Colonel T. J. Jackson, who was straining at the leash and anxious to make ready for the maintenance of Harper’s Ferry by planting heavy guns on Maryland Heights, Lee laid mild restraint by suggesting, May 9, that it was not yet advisable to “intrude upon the soil of Maryland.” To a restless officer. May 13, he gave his opinion concerning the relation of rank to honour: “I do not consider that either rank or position are necessary to bestow upon you honour, but believe that you will confer honour on the position.”

On June 8, President Davis assumed the practical management of the great military game. To his wife, then at the White House on the Pamunkey, Lee thus expressed himself:

You may be aware that the Confederate Government is established here. Yesterday I turned over to it the command of the military and naval forces of the State . . . I do not know what my position will be. I should like to retire to private life, so that I could be with you and the children, but if I can be of service to the State or her cause, I must continue.

Mrs. Lee had led her daughters in flight from Arlington, and her stately mansion was occupied as Federal headquarters in Virginia, May 24. Furniture, portraits, chinaware, and other property, brought as heirlooms from the house of Washington, were left to become the spoil of the Federal soldiery. Lee’s words of comfort were these: “I grieve at the anxiety that drives you from your home. I can appreciate your feelings on the occasion, and pray that you may receive comfort and strength in the difficulties that surround you. When I reflect upon the calamity pending over the country my own sorrows sink into insignificance.”

Nominally as military adviser of President Davis, Lee remained in official connection with the Confederate Cabinet. The war-cloud was now about to burst in two quarters: in the mountains of western Virginia, and on the banks of the Potomac. We find no record of a formal division of executive labours, but, in fact, President Davis did take entire charge of the larger movements in the Valley and around Manassas, while Lee busied himself with the fortunes of the Confederacy in north-western Virginia and on the Chesapeake Bay. Lee’s usual term for Davis was, “The commanding General.“

At Philippi, June 3, three thousand Federal soldiers surprised eight hundred Confederates and put them to flight. To Colonel Porterfield, Lee sent swift words of sympathy concerning “the unfortunate circumstances” with which that Confederate officer had been beset. In sending R. S. Garnett to supersede Porterfield, he broke that news to the latter in the most delicate and courteous terms:

It is hoped that he [Garaett] will soon reach the sceneof action, that a more agreeable state of things will be inaugurated, and that loyal-spirited citizens of the country will be encouraged and enabled to put down the revolution which you mention. Your services will be very valuable to General Garnett in giving him information as to the state of affairs in the country under his command, and in aiding him to achieve the object of his campaign.

By the first of July, Lee had concentrated beyond Beverly forty-five hundred men under Garnett. By July 18, he had placed thirty-eight hundred muskets and ten field guns under Henry A. Wise on the Kanawha below Charleston. In these operations, or in some active field-work, Lee desired to share, but was prevented. On June 24, he wrote: “My movements are very uncertain, and I wish to take the field as soon as certain arrangements can be made.”

Up into those western mountains General McClellan led twenty thousand soldiers from Ohio and Indiana, in search of Garnett’s band. In imitation of the Emperor Napoleon, McClellan issued a proclamation from Grafton, dated June 23. He heaped withering scorn upon the Confederates. He urged his men forward to victory with the cheering intelligence: “Your enemies have violated every moral law; neither God nor man can sustain them!” Garnett stationed his men in two detachments on Rich Mountain and Laurel Hill in advance of Beverly. A flank movement enabled McClellan to capture a part of Pegram’s detachment on Rich Mountain and to cut off Garnett at. Laurel Hill. The pursuit beyond Carrick’s Ford resulted in the death of the brave Garnett, on July 13.

McClellan supposed that the two fragments of Garnett’s command were two large separate forces, and hence his next proclamation announced that he had “annihilated two armies.” While he was glorying in the title accorded him of the “Young Napoleon,” Lee, on the other hand, was bending every energy to collect the scattered Confederates, and to bring additional forces into the mountains. How tender his sympathy for the defeated, as expressed to H. R. Jackson, the next officer sent to command them: “Our brave troops must bear up against misfortune. Reverses must happen, but they ought only to stimulate us to greater efforts.”

Before the advance of J. D. Cox as far as Gauley Bridge, Wise retreated entirely from the Kanawha Valley, and the trans-Appalachian regions seemed lost to the Confederacy. But before this, the victory at Manassas brought great hope to the Southern people. In the movements on the latter field, Lee had no share. But he was full of eagerness to join his brethren in arms. On July 12, he unburdened himself to his wife in these terms:

I am very anxious to get into the field, but I am detained by matters beyond my control. I have never heard of the assignment to which you allude—of Commander-in-chief of the Southern army—nor have I any expectation nor wish for it. President Davis holds that position. I have been labouring to prepare and get into the field the Virginia troops.

The military game against General Scott was played by President Davis. Four of the seven military bands in Virginia he left to the control of General Lee: Wise and Garnett in the mountains of western Virginia, Huger at Norfolk, and Magruder at Yorktown. Davis himself directed the movements of the other three.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER VI.

GENERAL JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON.

J. E. Johnston was withdrawn from Harper’s Ferry to Winchester; his force there, July 1, was eleven thousand men and twenty guns. Later in the month. Holmes was moved across from Aquia on the Potomac to unite with Beauregard at Manassas, and thus were concentrated behind the Bull Run, twenty-two thousand men with twenty-nine guns. The railroad from Manassas to Strasburg was now to be used in combining these two armies, either in the Valley, or at Manassas, according to General Scott’s choice of routes in making the grand Federal assault. But President Davis had no carefully arranged plan for the rapid shifting of soldiers soon to be necessary, and Lee was not ordered to prepare such a plan, although Beauregard asked that one should be adopted. Johnston and Beauregard were left almost entirely to their own devices in mapping out a method of combination against the enemy. This message passed from Beauregard to Johnston eight days before the battle: “Oh, that we had but one good head to conduct all our operations! We are labouring, unfortunately, under the disadvantage of having about seven armies in the field, under as many independent commanders, which is contrary to the first principles of the art of war.” As late as July 9, however, each of these officers was convinced that his own position would be assailed, and each demanded assistance from the other.

July 16, saw McDowell moving upon Manassas with thirty thousand men; two days later, Johnston eluded Patterson in the Valley, and sped across the Blue Ridge Pass. On July 21, an army of twenty-nine thousand under Johnston and Beauregard stood on the southern bank of Bull Run to withstand the Federal advance. The miscarriage of an order to Ewell withheld the proposed movement of the Confederate right wing across Bull Run and against the heights of Centreville; the delay gave McDowell opportunity to throw his own right over the stream, and to fall upon the Confederate left flank. It was the eagle eye of General T. J. Jackson that found the key-point of defence on the field that was well-nigh lost. His brigade formed the rallying-centre for the Confederate left; his advance pierced the Federal centre, just as Kirby Smith and Early came from afar to strike the Federal right flank, and McDowell fled to Washington. The victory thus won brought over-confidence to the South. Manassas was ultimately disastrous by reason of the resultant inactivity in the Confederacy. No advance across the Potomac was attempted; the politicians began to discuss the possible successor of President Davis, six years hence, and the different States made rival offers to secure the position of permanent capital of the Southern Confederacy.

The army at Manassas soon proceeded to battalion drill and the construction of log-tents, while Davis, Johnston, and Beauregard entered into a three-cornered discussion concerning the responsibility for the management of the recent campaign.

In Richmond, General Lee’s heart was swelling with joy for his country’s victory. To Beauregard, three days after the battle, he wrote: “I cannot express the joy I feel at the brilliant victory of the 21st. The skill, courage, and endurance displayed by yourself excite my highest admiration. You and your troops have the gratitude of the whole country.” To Johnston, also, Lee wrote: “I almost wept for joy at the glorious victory achieved by our brave troops. The feeling of my heart could hardly be repressed on learning the brilliant share you had in its achievement.”

To his wife, July 27, he thus poured out his sentiments:

That, indeed, was a glorious victory and has lightened the pressure upon us amazingly. Do not grieve for the brave dead, but sorrow for those they left behind—friends, relatives, and families. The former are at rest; the latter must suffer. The battle will be repeated there in great force. I hope God will again smile on us, and strengthen our hearts and arms. I wished to partake in the former struggle and am mortified at my absence. But the President thought it more important that I should be here. I could not have done as well as has been done, but I could have helped and taken part in a struggle for my home and neighbourhood. So the work is done, I care not by whom it is done. I leave to-morrow for the army in western Virginia.

Lee was definitely asked for an opinion in connection with the controversy between the two Generals and the President. But he would say only this (November 24): “The successful combination of the armies was made, and the glorious victory of July 21 followed.”

August 1, 1861, dawned upon General Lee as he rode through the rain from Monterey towards Huntersville in the mountains of western Virginia. He had been placed in command of all the Confederate troops in this American Switzerland of steep ridges and narrow valleys. The magnificence of the wooded heights, in parallel lines, “covered with the richest sward of blue-grass and white clover“ caught the eye of the soldier every hour of the three days’ journey. August 8 found General Lee at the Confederate outpost known as Valley Mountain, on the road from Huntersville to Huttonsville. There he enjoyed the company of his son, Major W. H. F. Lee, who commanded the cavalry on that mountain-top. Through the pouring rain, Lee now looked westward over the regions sloping toward the Ohio. In that land of hills and swift streams the forces of the foe were marshalled under General Rosecrans. By August 15, Rosecrans had stretched a chain of fortified posts parallel to the Ohio, extending from Clarksburg and Weston through Bulltown, Sutton, and Summersville to Gauley Bridge. At the latter point, Cox had charge of the Federal guns that were pointing up the valleys of the New River and the Gauley. A large Federal force under Reynolds had pushed forward from Buckhannon to hold Tygart’s Valley. Reynolds left reserves at Huttonsville, and planted two thousand men on Cheat Mountain, guarding the Staunton and Parkersburg road, and three thousand at Elkwater on the Huntersville road. These two posts were seven miles apart in a bee-line course. Meanwhile, Rosecrans was busy in recruiting a larger force from these mountainous counties that were soon afterward knocking for admission into the Federal Union as the new State of West Virginia.

The element of politics played a controlling part in Lee’s campaign in the mountains. Four brigadiers were subject to his orders. On the Staunton turnpike, in Camp Bartow, facing Cheat Mountain, were twenty-five hundred muskets under H. R. Jackson; on the Huntersville road, threatening Elkwater, were Loring’s thirty-five hundred. Along the highway from Lewisburg toward Gauley Bridge and the Kanawha Valley, marched John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise, two former Governors of Virginia. They had received military commands because of their political influence in the western and south-western parts of the ancient Commonwealth.

In the closing days of July, Wise had retreated from the Kanawha across the Alleghanies to the Greenbrier River. Again, in August, Wise was sent westward under Floyd as his superior in command. Both were expected to use their personal influence in gathering recruits, and their swords in driving Cox from Gauley Bridge. As a political expedient the appointment of Floyd and Wise may have been well advised; as a military measure, it proved disastrous. An angry contention arose between these two brigadiers, and a large part of Lee’s time was spent in pouring oil upon troubled waters that should have dashed their united volume against the enemy.

Just as Lee at Valley Mountain began to spy out Reynolds’s position, he heard the first gun in the Wise-Floyd warfare, in the form of a message from Wise, dated August 7, asking “special orders, separating the command of General Floyd from mine.” This request for distinct fields of operation was the result of the first personal interview between the two brigadiers. In reply, Lee kindly advised a concentration of forces. August 15 found Wise convinced by Floyd’s orders that the latter wished to “mutilate” Wise’s legion in order to augment Floyd’s brigade; two days later. Wise set himself in bold opposition to Floyd on the ground that he was “bound to maintain the integrity” of his legion. From the summit of Big Sewell Mountain, August 18, Wise declared the firm purpose, never to permit his own subordinate officers to take orders directly from Floyd. The two lines of riflemen, five thousand six hundred under Floyd, and two thousand two hundred under Wise, now moved westward toward the Gauley. To Wise, Lee sent a message appealing to “patriotism and zeal” in rendering due obedience to his legal superior, Floyd.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER VI.

THE CAMPAIGN OF WESTERN VIRGINIA IN 1861.

Wise wrote to Lee, August 24, as follows: “I am compelled to inform you expressly that every order I have received from General Floyd, indicates a purpose to merge my command in his own, and to destroy the distinct organisation of my legion.” Moreover, Wise criticised the wisdom of Floyd’s movements, and made this request: “Send me anywhere, so I am from under the orders of General Floyd.” Two days later Floyd floated a force across the Gauley at Carnifex Ferry, and drove back Tyler’s Ohio regiment. This river now separated the two Confederate brigadiers. Since all appointments were made by the administration in Richmond, Lee felt constrained to limit the exercise of his authority to a simple appeal “for the sake of the cause” that there should be no “division of sentiment or action” in the Army of the Kanawha.

Thus in slowness of military movement did the August days wear themselves away. As September began to tell off the hours, Rosecrans was marching with three heavy brigades from Clarksburg to bring assistance to Cox. September 9 found Wise and Floyd sending hot words back and forth across the river, in a dispute over the ownership of a certain brass six-pound gun. The daybreak of September 10 marked the advance of Rosecrans’s column upon Floyd at Carnifex Ferry. Wise sent not a man to aid the latter. But Floyd’s men knew how to fight; they wrapped their breastworks in a flame of musketry, and the Federal assault was soon rolled back with severe loss to Rosecrans. But unity of action now seemed impossible to Floyd and Wise. No further advance was made toward the Kanawha; and the two forces retired again toward the mountain-tops. Rosecrans followed the retreating Confederates, and on September 23 his flag was planted on Big Sewell Mountain, and his supplies furnished by waggons that passed over a road sixty miles in length. While the Kanawha expedition was thus dragging out its course in complete failure and permitting Rosecrans to threaten the flank of Lee’s own columns, the latter was confronted by other difficulties on the ridges overhanging the head waters of the Cheat River.

Of the two brigadiers in this field, Loring outranked H. R. Jackson; it was Loring, therefore, who had made the preliminary movements. At Huntersville, Lee found Loring busied in planning an advance against the Federal forces under Reynolds. The latter had only a small body of soldiers in the early days of August, and most of these he planted in a fort in the Cheat Mountain Pass, overlooking Cheat River. Along the Parkersburg road Jackson was sent forward against Reynolds. Loring betook himself to Huntersville, and there began preparations to move around the south-western end of Cheat Mountain to the right and rear of the main Federal position. Loring’s men were eager to move; the way to Huttonsville and Beverly was practically undefended. Success depended upon immediate advance. But Loring’s scheme demanded a transportation train with large stores concentrated at Huntersville for the forty-mile march to Beverly! For seven days Lee awaited the completion of Loring’s battalion of waggons. He rode forward and stationed himself at Valley Mountain; while Federal reinforcements were pouring into Tygart’s Valley beyond him, he still awaited anxiously the advance of Loring. Loring had outranked Lee in the old army. Upon the latter modesty and courtesy were so visibly stamped, that he would not exercise his authority. Lee did not assume formal command, nor would he order Loring forward, so long as Loring protested that he was unprepared. The rain continued to fall; measles and typhoid fever invaded the ranks. Loring’s army soon became a multitude of sick and dying, encamped in the mud. When Loring did move his waggons and his men to Valley Mountain the enemy outnumbered the Confederates on both roads, and were strongly fortified in the valley at Elkwater and on the central ridge of Cheat Mountain The hour for an opportune flank attack had passed. Lee was now in charge of two small columns which must drive superior forces out of mountain strongholds, or retire. When this task fell upon him, he was at the same time bearing the burden of anxiety concerning the soldiers led by the quarrelling brigadiers on the Kanawha turnpike. It was not encouraging, just as he pressed forward to feel the position of Reynolds, to receive from Wise this message, written September 5: “Let us [Floyd and Wise] divide the balance of State forces, and then let us part in peace. I feel, if we remain together, we will unite in more wars than one.”

It was determined to attack, simultaneously, the two Federal fortifications. Eastward from Huttonsville the Cheat Mountain lifts itself in three parallel ridges, and upon the second or central height, Reynolds had placed about two thousand men behind the walls of a log fort. At Elkwater he had three thousand men behind breastworks, while five thousand waited at Huttonsville to bring succour to either outpost. Colonel Rust, of H. R. Jackson’s band, reconnoitered the Federal fortress on the Cheat Mountain, and declared his ability to flank the post and capture it. Upon this representation, Lee decided to make the double assault on the mountain-top and at Elkwater. The march was to begin under cover of darkness, and the blows were to fall in the early morning twilight of September 12.

From Jackson’s column of twenty-five hundred, the two regiments of Taliaferro and Fulkerson were assigned to Rust for the flank attack on the (Federal) right and rear of the Cheat Mountain fortress. Jackson was ordered to lead the rest of his men boldly in front along the turnpike against this post.

From Loring’s column of thirty-five hundred, three regiments under S. R. Anderson were ordered to gain the roadway between the Cheat Mountain fort and Huttonsville, and likewise keep in touch with the two flanking regiments under Rust. Two regiments under Donaldson were to seek the (Federal) left and rear of the Elkwater works, and hold the roadway in their rear. The remainder under Loring were to move forward along the highway against Elkwater. The troops were to move in silence during the night, and Loring’s bands were to await, as the signal for attack, the guns of Rust’s regiments on the mountain ridge. To encourage the troops, Lee published the following order:

The forward movement . . . gives the General commanding the opportunity of exhorting the troops to keep steadily in view the great principles for which they contend, and to manifest to the world their determination to maintain them. The eyes of the country are upon you. The safety of your homes and the lives of all you hold dear, depend upon your courage and exertions. Let each man resolve to be victorious, and that the right of self-government, liberty, and peace shall in him find a defender. The progress of this army must be forward.

The initial steps in the movement were completed with great spirit. Through the heavy rain and the darkness, marching partly in Cheat River itself and then through the dense forest, over boulders and up steep ascents, the soldiers hurried with noiseless tread. The dawn found each column at the appointed place. Anderson and Donaldson reached the rear of the two Federal positions; Loring and Jackson advanced to threaten each position in front. Rust succeeded in placing his band to the (Federal) right and rear of the mountain intrenchment. Muskets were loaded and bayonets fixed for the assault. But the signal sounded not.

Unfortunately, Rust captured some pickets, who made him believe that five thousand Federal troops were fortified on the mountain summit awaiting his onset. As the morning dawned, he saw before him heavy abatis and, beyond these, intrenchments, and, within the intrenchments, he saw the soldiers with ready guns. He gave no signal except the signal to retreat. The other columns grew impatient and strained their ears to catch the sound of the musketry-fire on the ridge. Rust withdrew and acknowledged his failure; two days later all the bands were withdrawn to their former camping-places. Let it be remembered that widely separated bodies of soldiery usually fail to make simultaneous attacks. In this case, the movement under Lee’s own eye at Elkwater was a complete success—but no communication was possible between the wings of his army. In an order of September 14, Lee spoke of the movement as a “forced reconnaisance,” and commended “the cheerfulness and alacrity displayed by the troops in this arduous operation.”

Lee had no words of blame to lay upon his subordinates. To his wife he wrote: “I cannot tell you my regret and mortification at the untoward events that caused the failure of the plan. I had taken every precaution to insure success, and counted on it; but the Ruler of the Universe willed otherwise, and sent a storm to disconcert the well-laid plan.”

To Governor Letcher he thus expressed himself:

I was very sanguine of taking the enemy’s works on last Thursday morning. I had considered the subject well. With great effort the troops intended for the surprise had reached their destination, having traversed twenty miles of steep, rugged mountain-paths, and the last day through a terrible storm, which lasted all night, and in which they had to stand drenched to the skin in the cold rain. Still, their spirits were good. When the morning broke, I could see the enemy’s tents on [Tygart’s] Valley River at the point on the Huttonsville road just below me. It was a tempting sight. We waited for the attack on Cheat Mountain which was to be the signal, till 10 A.M.; the men [Federals] were cleaning their unserviceable arms. But the signal did not come. All chance for surprise was gone. The provisions of the men had been destroyed the preceding day by the storm. They had nothing to eat that morning, could not hold out another day and were obliged to be withdrawn. The party sent to Cheat Mountain to take that in the rear.had also to be withdrawn. The attack to come off from the east side failed from the difficulties in the way; the opportunity was lost and our plan discovered.

It is a grievous disappointment to me, I assure you. But for the rain-storm I have no doubt it would have succeeded. This, Governor, is for your own eyes. Please do not speak of it. We must try again. Our greatest loss is the death of my dear friend, Colonel [John A.] Washington . . . Our greatest difficulty is the roads. It has been raining in these mountains about six weeks. It is impossible to get along. It is that which has paralysed all our efforts.

Time was not given Lee to devise another plan against Reynolds. He was compelled to bring a portion of Loring’s command to aid Floyd and Wise in checking the advance of Rosecrans toward Lewisburg. The two retreating columns of Confederates he succeeded in concentrating in a fortified position on Big Sewell Mountain. With the addition of Loring’s troops, Lee had now about eight thousand men. Upon a parallel ridge one mile distant, Rosecrans was established behind stout breastworks, with probably a larger force than that of Lee. Each commander waited for the other to attack. Before September closed, an order from Richmond relieved Wise of his command.

In the midst of great labours and still greater anxieties, Lee had time to cherish great sympathy for the suffering soldiers. He wrote to his wife: “We are without tents, and for two nights I have lain buttoned up in my overcoat. To-day my tent came up, and I am in it, yet I fear I shall not sleep for thinking of the poor men.” Until October 6, both armies continued to look defiance at each other across the narrow valley. It was clear to see that the attacking party, from either side, would probably be defeated. During the night of October 6, Rosecrans retreated toward the Kanawha. Lee was not adequately equipped for pursuit. Three days before this, on October 3, Reynolds had led five thousand men from Cheat Mountain to test the strength of H. R. Jackson’s eighteen hundred posted on the banks of the Greenbrier. The latter played a gallant part, and hurled back every assault until Reynolds was glad to retire. On October 7, Lee wrote as follows to his wife:

I am sorry, as you say, that the movements of our armies cannot keep pace with the expectations of the editors of the papers. I know they can regulate matters satisfactory to themselves on paper. I wish they could do so in the field. No one wishes them more success than I do, and would be happy to see them have full swing. General Floyd has three editors on his staff. I hope something will be done to please them.

The approach of winter closed the campaign, and left the Federal forces in possession of the western slopes of Virginia. They had failed to pass the summit of the Alleghanies. The golden moments of autumn, however, had passed away, and the Confederacy had wasted time and men in a vain attempt to defend the Kanawha Valley and adjacent regions. The point open to attack and offering fruitful results to a strong invading force was the State of Maryland. But the Confederate Administration let slip the opportunity. While Lee was attempting to maintain the Confederate flag in the midst of the bleak regions that slope toward the Ohio River, Federal troops and munitions were pouring into Washington, and the spring of 1862 found that city completely fortified against attack.

Gallant and obedient to his superiors, and modest as to his own abilities, Lee had done his best to carry out the orders given him. Failure had been the result, chiefly because the campaign in that quarter was ill-advised from the beginning, and because the inefficiency of some of the brigadiers had foredoomed every plan before Lee assumed active control. In perfect silence, however, Lee bore the blame which public clamour laid upon him for defeat, and not one word of criticism fell from his lips nor from his pen concerning his superiors or his subordinates in office.

During the autumn of 1861, the Federal Administration was gathering at Washington a vast armament of land and naval forces to be sent against Virginia and the other Atlantic States of the Confederacy. President Lincoln had proclaimed a blockade of all the Southern ports, and now sought to enforce it by sending expeditions against the forts and batteries planted at the water’s edge along the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.

The cannon of the Confederates were of small calibre, and could make only a feeble defence against heavy naval guns. August 28 saw the reduction of the Confederate forts guarding Hatteras Inlet. The broad waters of Pamlico Sound, formerly the refuge of blockade-runners, were thus opened to the Federal war-vessels. The chain of islands along the coast of each State could, very evidently, not be held by means of light shore-batteries against the Federal men-of-war. General Lee was sent to render more efficient the defences of the entire Southern seaboard.

On the evening of November 7, as Lee drew near the entrance to Port Royal Harbour he was met by the intelligence that the Federal fleet during the day had passed the Confederate batteries. Lee looked anxiously about for men and weapons to offer resistance. There were neither batteries nor guns in front of Beaufort; only three thousand soldiers were available to meet the thirteen thousand men set ashore on Hilton Head. The Federal vessels now held the key of inland navigation, commanded all the islands between Charleston and Savannah, threatened the connecting railway, and menaced those two great cities themselves. Two days after reaching his field, Lee made this report:

The enemy, having complete possession of the water and inland navigation, commands all the islands on this coast, and threatens both Savannah and Charleston and can come in his boats within four miles of this place [Coosawhatchie]. His sloops of war and large steamers can come up Broad River to Mackay’s Point, the mouth of the Pocotaligo, and his gunboats can ascend some distance up the Coosawhatchie and Tulifiny. We have no guns that can resist their batteries and have no resource but to prepare to meet them in the field.

Lee’s call for men was heard by the Carolinians and Georgians. But arms there were none. November 13 brought the steamer Fingal through the blockade with the ten thousand Enfield rifles ordered from England by President Davis. Four rifled cannon likewise came aboard the runner. Only half of these were assigned to Lee; the other half went to the Tennessee army under A. S. Johnston, although the Governors of Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia clamoured for a share.

By November 21 Lee had glanced along the coast as far south as Fernandina, and he was now ready with the general plan of defence: “The entrance to Cumberland Sound and Brunswick, and the water approaches to Savannah and Charleston, are the only points which it is proposed to defend.” While engrossed in these larger cares, Lee could yet find time, as he always did find time, to consider more trivial matters affecting the interests of the citizens. On the same day when he reported to Richmond his scheme for defending the entire coast, he caused the issue of the order forbidding “the evil practice of tearing down fences and other private property for firewood and other purposes. . . . The General hopes that it will only be necessary to remind the troops that they are citizens as well as soldiers.”

In a private letter he said of the existing means of defence along the coast: “They are poor indeed, and I have laid off work to employ our people a month. I hope our enemy will be polite enough to wait for us. It is difficult to get our people to realise their position.”

The skill of Lee had blocked the further encroachment of the hostile fleet. November 24, five Federal vessels crossed Savannah Bar, and Tybee Island was occupied. Lee, however, had strengthened Forts Pulaski and Jackson, and Savannah was safe.

As December came on, the Federal fleet increased in numbers. The twelfth day of the month saw eighty prows in Port Royal Harbour. Slowly were heavy guns added to the Confederate equipment. The land force was strengthened as fast as arms and munitions could be procured. So strong by this time were the harbour defences of Charleston, that no effort was made to capture the city. On the contrary, the Federal fleet sought to do the city permanent injury by attempting to close up the ship-channel, an act certainly not in accordance with the laws of nations. At this the spirit of Lee blazed out:

It has been reported to me by General Ripley that the enemy brought his stone fleet to the entrance of Charleston Harbour to-day [December 20], and sunk between thirteen and seventeen vessels in the main ship channel. The North Channel and Maffit’s Channel are still open. This achievement, so unworthy any nation, is the abortive expression of the malice and revenge of a people which it wishes to perpetuate by rendering more memorable a day hateful in their calendar [secession of South Carolina]. It is also indicative of their despair of ever capturing a city they design to ruin, for they can never expect to possess what they labour so hard to reduce to a condition not to be enjoyed. I think, therefore, it is certain that an attack on the city of Charleston is not contemplated, and we must endeavour to be prepared against assaults elsewhere on the Southern Coast.

From this matter he turned away to make suggestion to the South Carolina Convention to replace the twelve-months men by soldiers enlisted for the war. “The Confederate States,” he wrote, “have now but one great object in view, the successful issue of their war for independence. Everything worth their possessing depends on that. Everything should yield to its accomplishment.” The following letter of this period gives further expression of opinion:

Among the calamities of war, the hardest to bear, perhaps, is
the separation of families and friends. Yet all must be endured to accomplish our independence, and maintain our self-government. . . . Your old home [Arlington], if not destroyed by our enemies,
has been so desecrated that I cannot bear to think of it. I should have preferred it to have been wiped from the earth, its beautiful hill sunk, and its sacred trees buried, rather than to have been degraded by the presence of those who revel in the ill they do for their own selfish purposes. You see what a poor sinner I am, and how unworthy to possess what has been given me; for that reason it has been taken away. I pray for a better spirit, and that the hearts of our enemies may be changed.

Concerning Arlington, he wrote as follows to his wife, December 25:

They cannot take away the remembrances of the spot and the memories of those that to us rendered it sacred. That will remain to us as long as life will last, and that we can preserve. In the absence of a home, I wish I could purchase Stratford. It is the only place I could go to now acceptable to us, that would inspire me with pleasure and local love. You and the girls could remain there in quiet. It is a poor place, but we could make enough corn-bread and bacon for our support and the girls could weave us clothes.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER VI.

MARY RANDOLPH CUSTIS,
GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTER OF MARTHA DANDRIDGE (CUSTIS) WASHINGTON,
AND WIFE OF ROBERT E. LEE

A month before, his thoughts had been carried back to his birthplace, as the following indicates:

It [Stratford] is endeared to me by-many recollections and it has always been the desire of my life to be able to purchase it. Now that we have no other home, and the one we so loved has been forever desecrated, that desire is stronger with me than ever. The horse-chestnut you mention in the garden was planted by my mother. I am sorry the vault is so dilapidated. You do not mention the spring, one of the objects of my earliest recollections. How my heart goes back to those happy days.

A visit to Cumberland Island on the coast gave him the first sight of his father’s tomb: “The garden was beautifully enclosed by the finest hedge of wild olive I have ever seen.” As the Federal fleets began to make attack, he said: “The contest must be long, and the whole country has to go through much suffering.”

In the midst of multiplied labours and anxieties, there was restiveness, and, perhaps, jealousy among some of his subordinate officers. Yet Lee preserved his calm, dignified bearing throughout, so that Governor Pickens was led to say, “General Lee is a perfect head, quiet and retiring. His reserve is construed disadvantageously.”

Early in February the Federal movements were more aggressive. Burnside passed inside Pamlico Sound with a fleet and an army of twelve thousand, and captured Roanoke Island. New Berne was in their hands by the 14th, and Fort Macon by the 26th. On February 11 a Federal force was established on Edisto Island. But the mainland was not reached in any vital point. Success had crowned Lee’s policy of “abandoning all exposed points as far as possible within reach of the enemy’s fleet of gunboats, and of taking interior positions where we can meet on more equal terms.”

With an utterly inadequate force and poor equipments, Lee had neutralised the operations of a large Federal armament on land and sea. His works continued to stand the test of every assault. His inner lines were never shaken. But now the cloud of war was growing dark around Richmond, and a hasty message from President Davis, March 2, hurried him back to Virginia. On March 13, 1862, to General Lee was assigned the task of superintending, under the direction of President Davis, all military operations connected with the defence of the Southern Confederacy.

 

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