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



BY the waters of the Opequon in the lower Shenandoah Valley, the Army of Northern Virginia enkindled its campfires in September, 1862. The mellow autumn days brought rest and health, and the harvest-fields furnished bread. But the marching and fighting of the summer had left the men in rags, and now upon the bare earth they bivouacked, without shelter, awaiting a supply of shoes and blankets. The Commander-in-chief dwelt among his soldiers in a plain pole-tent. So thickly strewn with boulders was the ground about headquarters that horsemen found difficulty in making their approach. A farm-house stood near and offered shelter, but Lee’s general orders forbade interference with private property, and this rule he first followed himself by sleeping under the thin canvas. No guard was on duty near his person; everything was arranged with neatness, but with the utmost simplicity, A small army-chest contained his entire private equipment of pewter plates, forks and spoons. A simple suit of plain grey cloth formed the outward apparel of the grave, courtly Virginian. Upon his person were displayed none of the insignia of rank except three stars upon each side of the collar of his coat. The grey slouch hat was in keeping with the unassuming dignity of the man. The hair was silvered; the lines in the brow were becoming deeper, but in the eye there was an intense glow which spake of the fire that slumbered within. The strong temper of a Washington was held under bit and curb. In moments when the patience was tried, the veins in Lee’s temples would swell, the neck would twitch nervously, and a deep flush wouldcrimson the forehead, to show that the will to control was stronger than the hidden passion. One of Lee’s aides, W. H. Taylor, relates this incident:

He had a great dislike to reviewing army communications; this
was so thoroughly appreciated by me that I would never present a paper for his action unless it was of decided importance and of a nature to demand his judgment and decision. On one occasion, when an audience had not been asked of him for several days, it became rfecessary to have one. The few papers requiring his action were submitted. He was not in a very pleasant humour; something irritated him, and he manifested his ill humour by a little nervous twist or jerk of the neck and head peculiar to himself, accompanied by some harshness of manner. This was perceived by me, and I hastily concluded that my efforts to save him annoyance were not appreciated. In disposing of some cases of a vexatious character matters reached a climax; he became really worried, and, forgetting what was due to my superior, I petulantly threw the paper down at my side and gave evident signs of anger. Then in a perfectly calm and measured tone of voice, he said, “Colonel Taylor, when I lose my temper don’t you let it make you angry.”

While encamped near Winchester, Lee received a visit from Colonel Garnet Wolseley and other English officers. One of these has recorded the following account of Lee at this time:

Every one who approaches him does so with marked respect; although there is none of that bowing and flourishing of forage-caps which occurs in the presence of European generals; and while all honour him and place implicit faith in his courage and ability, those with whom he is most intimate feel for him the affection of sons to a father. Old General Scott was correct in sa3dng that when Lee joined the Southern cause it was worth as much as the accession of twenty thousand men to the “rebels.” Since then every injury that it was possible to inflict, the Northerners have heaped upon him. Notwithstanding all these personal losses [the pillage of Arlington], however, when speaking of the Yankees he neither evinced any bitterness of feeling nor gave utterance to a single violent expression, but alluded to many of his former friends and companions among them in the kindest terms. He spoke as a man proud of the victories won by his country, and confident of ultimate success under the blessing of the Almighty, whom he glorified for past successes and whose aid he invoked for all future operations.

A half-year’s service as Commander in the field had brought Lee face to face with one of the great crises of the war. The prestige of victory was his; inadequate numbers alone prevented him from driving the flag of McClellan from the Maryland Heights and from winning peace beyond the Potomac. The zeal of the Northern people was waning; McClellan’s army was growing weaker from desertion and straggling, when Mr. Lincoln boldly threw off the mask by proclaiming the emancipation of Southern slaves as a military measure. In his Inaugural Mr. Lincoln declared that he had neither the “lawful right” nor the inclination “to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” Lee’s view of Lincoln’s course was thus expressed officially to President Davis:

The military Government of the United States has been so perfected by the recent proclamation of President Lincoln, which you have no doubt seen, and civil liberty so completely trodden under foot, that I have strong hopes that the conservative portion of that people, unless dead to the feelings of liberty, will rise and depose the party now in power.

With complete lack of personal resentment toward any individual in the North the above opinion was set forth, for two days later Lee was asking permission of the Confederate Government to return the Federal officer Kearney’s sword and horse to his widow “as an evidence of the sympathy felt for her bereavement and as a testimony of the appreciation of a gallant soldier.”

All the resources of the South were needed to meet the openly declared war of social reconstruction as well as of conquest announced by the Federal Administration. Lee gave every energy to the task of calling all the forces of the South into the field. In the midst of these manifold labours, the father’s heart was wrung with anguish by the death of a beloved daughter. The spirit of the man in personal trial shines forth in the message sent to the mourning home-circle: “But God in this, as in all things, has mingled mercy with the blow in selecting that one best prepared to leave us. May you be able to join me in saying, ‘His will be done.’ ”

From Winchester Lee besieged the Richmond authorities with letters asking ammunition and supplies of clothing, and urging the Government to recruit the army. “The number of barefooted men,” he wrote, “is daily increasing, and it pains me to see them limping over the rocky roads.” He askdd that proper arms be imported from Europe for the cavalry. The stragglers began to flock to their old regiments. From Leesburg alone came ten thousand barefooted veterans, and some new soldiers marched to the front. The Confederacy had begun already to wrestle with that economic problem which was to overwhelm it in the end. From the army and the country, shoemakers were detailed and set to work that the soldiers might be shod. It soon transpired that blankets were not to be obtained in all the South; therefore the shivering Confederates all the more sternly resolved to capture them from the enemy. The financial scheme of a paper currency, issued on the credit of the Confederacy, began also to work ruin. The inflation of prices foreboded commercial disaster to the Southern commonwealths. Shoes were rated at fifty dollars per pair, and salt was sold for one dollar and ten cents a pound. These financial and economic difficulties were greater obstacles in the way of Lee’s success than all the Federal armies in the field.

Discipline in the Confederate army was tightened, and incapable officers were removed. As corps-commanders over the two wings, Longstreet and Jackson were appointed at Lee’s suggestion. To the President he wrote as follows, concerning the latter:

My opinion of the merits of General Jackson has been greatly enhanced during this expedition. He is true, honest, and brave; has a single eye to the good of the service, and spares no exertion to accomplish his object.

When Lee’s eldest son, G. W. C. Lee, brought messages from Richmond, he sought his father’s headquarters near the centre of the camp, but found him in bivouac on the flank of the army, among the boulders near Longstreet’s quarters. The latter had pitched his dwelling-place in a beautiful, shaded grass-plot. When asked the reason. General Lee replied: “General Longstreet is so slow. I am compelled to encamp near his headquarters, in order to hasten his movements.” This practice Lee continued almost throughout the war. It was, no doubt, his high estimate of Longstreet’s ability on the immediate field of battle that led Lee to retain him as permanent commander of the First corps.

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


The gallant Stuart kept close watch upon McClellan. The saddle seemed to be his constant home, and his eye appeared never to sleep along the forty-mile line of pickets that guarded the mouth of the valley. An humble Christian of joyous temperament was this bold Virginian knight. To the accompaniment of Sweeney’s banjo, he sang merry camp-songs as he rode slowly along. Often he would dash at full speed through the bivouac of the infantry, shouting the wild refrain, “Jine the cavalry.” With Stuart on guard at the front, Lee’s army was always safe from surprise.

One week after Sharpsburg, Lee was sending the suggestion to Loring to press forward from the Kanawha through Morgantown into Pennsylvania, in the hope that a combined movement might be made in that direction. To Davis he wrote, September 25:

In a military point of view, the best move, in my opinion, the army could make would be to advance upon Hagerstown and endeavour to defeat the enemy at that point. I would not hesitate to make it even with our diminished numbers, did the army exhibit its former temper and condition.

The former temper of the soldiery was rapidly restored. Military enthusiasm glowed around the brightening campfires, and to this was added a deep and growing religious sentiment. The Confederate chaplains were untiring in their labours. Each night found eager groups of men gathered in wooded glades, lending earnest attention to the appeals of these men of God. Among the men were often seen Lee and Jackson, with heads bowed reverently in prayer. In many brigades, increasing numbers accepted the Christian faith, and thus began that widespread interest in religion that rendered the Army of Northern Virginia more than the equal of Cromwell’s Ironsides in piety and in fighting qualities. The opening days of October marked great increase in the muster-rolls of the two armies that were keeping watch upon each other across the Potomac. Lee was still more than overmatched in numbers by McClellan, but the Confederate General had the strong desire that the Army of the Potomac should be led into the Valley. McClellan showed no disposition as yet to set his soldiers in battle array. Therefore Lee despatched Stuart with eighteen hundred troopers in quest of information concerning McClellan’ s plans. Across the river above Williamsport dashed the Confederate cavalry, and October 11 dawned upon them in Chambersburg. Over the mountain to Cashtown marched Stuart; thence he moved southward and passed between the Federal army and Washington. Mid-day of October 12 saw the Confederate horsemen on the southern bank of the Potomac eighty miles distant from Chambersburg, while Pleasanton’s troopers were left panting with exhaustion on the Maryland shore at the end of a fruitless chase. This ride of Stuart secured fresh horses for his corps, furnished Lee with information as to McClellan’s position, and aroused the Federal Administration. The latter soon stirred McClellan into activity; and he moved the head of his column along the eastern base of the Blue Ridge; a guard being posted in each gap of the ridge as the army passed it, in order to secure the right flank from surprise. Lee guessed McClellan’s objective point to be Richmond. Instantly he moved Longstreet’s corps eastward across the mountain. November 6, the day of McClellan’s arrival in Warrenton, found the Confederate chieftain with Longstreet at Culpeper Court House. McClellan began to reach out from Warrenton toward the upper Rappahannock, but Jackson yet remained in the valley on the Federal flank at the western outlet of the Manassas Gap. Lee’s two wings were sixty miles apart; while McClellan was seeking to strike one of Lee’s two lines of communication, Jackson was ready to rush between the Federal army and Washington as in the campaign against Pope.

The defence of Richmond, as the chief requisite in any strategic plan, bound fast the hands of Lee. Jackson was eager to spring through the passes of the ridge and fall upon McClellan’s flank and rear. Lee was just as eager that such a blow should be delivered, or that Jackson should move into Maryland and call the Federal force again north of the Potomac. But a strategic manœuvre was out of the question in the face of the political and economic necessity which Lee felt constrained to set before his lieutenant: “You must keep always in view the probability of an attack upon Richmond from either north or south, when a concentration of forces will become necessary.” For the defence of his cannon foundry and central commissary, and in behalf of the sentiment that regards the Capital as the country’s citadel, the Confederate leader was forced to give up his vantage-ground in the mountains and to stretch out his thin lines as a shield in front of Richmond.

As long as General Jackson can operate with safety, [said Lee,] and secure his retirement west of the Massanutton Mountains, I think it advantageous that he should be in position to threaten the enemy’s flank and rear, and thus prevent his advance southward on the east side of the Blue Ridge. General Jackson has been directed accordingly, and, should the enemy descend into the Valley, General Longstreet will attack his rear and cut off his communications. The enemy, apparently, is so strong in numbers that I think it preferable to attempt to baffle his designs by manœuvring, rather than to resist his advance by main force. To accomplish the latter without too great risk and loss, would require more than double our present numbers.

In order to be able to operate on either side of the Blue Ridge, Lee established two lines for the transmission of supplies—one through Culpeper and the other through Staunton. His antagonist, McClellan, now commanded one hundred and twenty-five thousand men between Manassas and the Rappahannock; eighty thousand were in the defences of Washington, and twenty-two thousand were near Harper’s Ferry. Lee’s numbers were short of seventy-two thousand.

At Warrenton, McClellan was removed from command, and Burnside entered the military arena with plans for a swift flank movement through Fredericksburg upon Richmond. On November 15 the Federal advance was pushed toward the lower Rappahannock; Stuart’s vigilance made known to Lee this movement, and Lee’s sagacity was easily equal to the task of divining the Federal plan of campaign. Before Burnside’s pontoon bridges could be brought to his army encamped on the Stafford Heights, Lee had thrown Longstreet’s corps from Culpeper to Fredericksburg, and on November 22 stood intrenched upon the heights south of the town, ready to dispute the passage of the Rappahannock. Jackson left behind him in the Valley the wreckage of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and a wide-spread consternation in the North as to his whereabouts, and in a march of forty-eight hours, pressed through the mountain-passes as far as Orange Court House. Among Lee’s last orders at Culpeper was the commander’s protest against the vice of gambling in the army. “It was not supposed,” ran the order, “that a habit so pernicious and demoralising would be formed among men engaged in a cause, of all others, demanding the highest virtue and purest morality in its supporters.” One week later at Fredericksburg the great Christian soldier, unmoved by the danger from Burnside’s parks of artillery, was stirred by the conduct of the people of Fredericksburg. Without a murmur they yielded their town as a battle-field, and took up their abode in barns and brush-huts. Lee has left on record the following tribute: “History presents no instance of a purer and more unselfish patriotism, or a higher spirit of fortitude and courage, than was evidenced by the citizens of Fredericksburg.” In a letter to his wife, he said: “I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me. I know too well my weakness, and that our only hope is in God.”

Lee had at first resolved to make a stand behind the North Anna River. This policy was also advocated by Jackson. But the Richmond authorities were anxious to save Virginia’s territory from devastation, and Lee acquiesced in the plan of establishing his army on the southern bank of the Rappahannock. Herein we observe the fatal defensive policy pursued by the Confederate Administration. Hitherto, the Federal armies in Virginia had been defeated so near to their base of supplies on the Potomac and the James, that the Confederates could not reach the flank and rear of the routed enemy to accomplish their destruction. In December, 1862, the Confederate Government held the corn crops between the Rappahannock and North Anna rivers to be of more importance than the strategic advantage of luring Burnside as far as the Anna, where a Federal defeat, so far from water communication, would most probably result in the destruction of the Army of the Potomac.

Jackson was brought at once from Orange, and D. H. Hill’s division was set to watch the lower river at Port Royal; Ewell’s division under Early took position at Skinker’s Neck; the divisions of A. P. Hill and Taliaferro went into camp near the railroad in readiness to give support to D. H. Hill or Longstreet. Amid the falling snow of the early December days the Army of Northern Virginia stood ready behind their guns on the hills fringing the plain of Fredericksburg. Nearly three thousand Confederate soldiers were still barefooted; many were without muskets, and still more destitute of blankets. Yet Lee wrote of his band of seventy-two thousand, that it “was never in better health or in better condition for battle than now.” Upon the Stafford Heights stood Burnside’s host of one hundred and sixteen thousand men and three hundred and fifty heavy guns. Burnside supposed that all of Jackson’s corps was at Port Royal, eighteen miles from Fredericksburg. He therefore decided to cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, and to move immediately toward Richmond, between the wings of Lee’s army. Provisions for twelve days were assigned to the Federal army as its portion until supplies should be drawn in the Confederate Capital!

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


Through the dense fog, at the dawning of December 11, two Confederate guns boomed out the signal calling Lee’s men to arms. The Fedeial bridge-builders were advancing to the river’s edge to float their pontoons for the passage of Sumner at Fredericksburg and Franklin near the mouth of Deep Run. One hundred and forty-three wide-mouthed guns, planted in a line of three and one half miles, began to roar defiance to the Southern soldiers from the Stafford Heights. Defiance was hurled back by the Mississippi riflemen under Barksdale posted on the southern bank of the Rappahannock. Behind the river-bluffs, in cellars and behind houses, these marksmen were sheltered. Their unerring aim brought down the foremost Federal bridge-makers and drove the rest in panic. Until the middle of the afternoon Barksdale held his dangerous position and thwarted nine different attempts to float the pontoons. At length the great batteries were turned upon the houses and bluffs that gave shelter to Barksdale’s men. Flame and smoke and battle-yell made the river-bank a pandemonium. An assaulting party of infantry under cover of the iron storm moved across in boats, but darkness had come at the hour when Burnside won passage into the town of Fredericksburg. Lee at once sent request to Jackson for aid, and the morning of December 12 saw A. P. Hill and Taliaferro moving into position at Longstreet’s right. D. H. Hill and Early continued to watch the lower river. Lee supposed that the movement at Fredericksburg was only a feint. The heavy fog of the morning of the 12th veiled the passage at the Deep Run bridges of forty-five thousand five hundred muskets, and one hundred and sixteen guns under Franklin, and of thirty-one thousand under Sumner at Fredericksburg. When the noonday sun shone upon the glittering Federal array, Lee saw Burnside’s plan to make direct assault, and at once he called Jackson’s remaining divisions to the field and made ready for battle. During the night D. H. Hill marched eighteen miles and took position at the dawn of the 13th. It was in Burnside’s thought to surprise Lee by a quick assault against the Confederate right at Hamilton’s Crossing, three miles below Fredericksburg. But Jackson’s swift feet brought his entire corps face to face with Franklin on the early morning of December 13. A. P. Hill’s division of ten thousand men was drawn up to form Jackson’s first and second lines, twenty-six hundred yards in length. Fourteen heavy guns were planted on his right and thirty-three guns on his left, near Deep Run. Stuart pushed his horsemen in advance of Jackson’s right flank. Behind these two lines stood Early and Taliaferro; D. H. Hill was in reserve to the right rear. A. P. Hill’s front line was two hundred yards in rear of the railroad, along the wooded brow of a slight declivity. The continuity of this front was broken by a marshy jungle, somewhat triangular in shape, projecting its wooded face into the plain toward the river.

From Deep Run on Jackson’s left the divisions of Longstreet held position along the line of hills as far as the Rappahannock above Falmouth. Hood and Pickett held the central field between Deep Run and Hazel Run; R. H. Anderson occupied the extreme left, touching the river, while Ransom and McLaws were posted to defend the salient of Marye’s Hill. Like a great fortress this plateau stood in the centre of Lee’s left wing, its summit bristling with the guns of the Washington artillery and its flanks guarded by Alexander’s guns. The Confederate position was stronger on the left; on the right there was an open field in front of Jackson’s corps.

Burnside ordered Franklin to begin the battle against the Confederate right. Federal reinforcements had continued to cross the river. The heavy fog of the morning concealed the deployment of the Federal troops, but the sunshine broke through in the middle of the forenoon and laid bare to the Confederates the mighty panorama of war. In all the pomp and circumstance of spectacular array, with fluttering flags, polished gun-barrels, and bright-coloured uniforms, fifty-five thousand Federal soldiers were marching across the plain to attack the corps of Jackson. Lee took his station on a hill near the left centre of his line, since called Lee’s Hill. The deep, luminous glow was in the eye of the chieftain as he gave orders, in quiet tone, for the array of battle. Stretching away to his left he could discern the line of Longstreet, partly fortified, eager for the fight; but Sumner had not yet thrust his head outside of the town. To Lee’s right were Jackson’s ragged veterans without fortifications, except the woods in which they lay concealed. Jackson’s skirmishers were stationed behind the railroad embankment. Lee and Jackson both manifested eager expectancy as they rode toward Hamilton’s Crossing, to watch the first exchange of blows.

Meade came bravely onward toward the railroad, leading forty-five hundred men in threefold line of battle. Far to Jackson’s front and right Stuart sent Pelham with one Napoleon gun. Fairly upon the Federal left flank he planted his piece. Straight along Meade’s front line Pelham began to fire his solid shot. Five Federal batteries ran out to defend the Federal flank and Pelham had to retire, but the advance of Meade’s division was checked nearly one hour. During the rest of the day, Doubleday’s entire division was kept on guard facing down the Rappahannock to prevent the repetition of the daring gunnery. As Lee watched the effect of the cannon-shot, he is reported to have said to Jackson, “You should have a Pelham on each flank.” At the same time, however, he said that Pelham began his fire too soon, and thus halted Meade too far away from the Confederate line of infantry.

Meade moved forward again to the assault after eleven o’clock. Jackson’s batteries destroyed his left brigades, and the Federal advance was driven back in dismay before they came within rifle range of the woodland that concealed the Confederate infantry. When Lee now saw Jackson’s full batteries paralyse Franklin’s initial effort, he turned his personal attention to Longstreet’s front. At 11 A.M. Sumner was ready to despatch a division across the open field against Marye’s Hill. At that hour a great artillery duel began to belch out the flame and smoke of four hundred guns across the Rappahannock valley. One and a half hours these cannon continued to hurl their shell and solid shot while Hooker was hastening two divisions to the aid of Franklin for the grand assault upon Jackson at 1 P.M., and while Sumner was offering up a vain sacrifice of blood in front of Longstreet’s veterans. Marye’s Hill looks down upon the plain at Fredericksburg that now became a field of blood. Around the base of the hill runs the Telegraph road. This roadway was sunk below the surface of the earth to the depth of four feet, and was bordered on each side by a solid stone wall. A broad rifle-pit was thus furnished to the Confederates at the base of a high plateau crowned with artillery. From hills to the right and the left a cross-fire of heavy guns was directed upon the sloping fields in front. Two thousand riflemen from Georgia and North Carolina under T. R. R. Cobb held the stone wall. The fire of these men, assisted by a line on the brow of the hill and by the artillery, sent havoc into every Federal line of assault.

French’s division of Sumner’s corps advanced from the river along two parallel streets of Fredericksburg, and about eleven o’clock looked across the terraced plain toward the Confederate parapet. Over the canal bridges they advanced in two columns. Behind the first embankment near the canal the two columns were swung around into line of battle, and onward they came in brigade front with intervals between the brigades of two hundred yards. A fierce fire from the long-range guns on the Stafford Hills lent support to the assault. The guns from the Marye Hill crest had point-blank range; from Stansbury’s Hill and Lee’s Hill, a cross-fire of shot and shell was poured upon the brave Federal brigades. Cobb’s muskets behind the wall blazed out in a flame of fire, and the Federal lines went down one after another to redden the field with their blood; twelve hundred men was the tribute of dead and wounded rendered up by French’s division. As Hancock’s division came on in gallant form, Ransom sent another regiment into the sunken road eager to avenge the fall of the chivalrous Christian, T. R. R. Cobb. With fierce courage Hancock’s brigades, in threefold line of battle, faced the smoking cannon of the Marye summit. The riflemen behind the wall reserved their fire until the Federal line was just one hundred paces distant; then the muskets spoke while the Confederates rolled forth their yell of defiance. Two thousand men left prostrate on the field furnished evidence to the deadly aim of the Confederate riflemen. Howard’s division at one o’clock moved out toward the deadly Confederate guns. Kershaw took command in the sunken road, and two regiments of South Carolinians and one from North Carolina came with him, while the line on the brow of the hill was made stronger. Under their additional fire Howard’s lines withered from the field; nearly seven hundred of his soldiers fell, and Sumner’s men could fight no longer in this battle. Nine regiments in the sunken road and seven in reserve on the hill’s crest had aided the artillery in visiting ruin upon the Second corps.

At one o’clock two great corps d’armée of sixty thousand men were advancing against Jackson’s thirty thousand. Meade and Gibbon came in advance with bristling bayonets supported by the fire of fifty-one guns. They pressed through the gap made by the projecting tongue of marsh and broke A. P. Hill’s first line of battle. The gallant Gregg of the second line gave up his life in the attempt to check the Federal tide. Disaster and bloody repulse fell to the lot of Meade and Gibbon at the hands of Early and Tahaferro. In confusion and dire disorder the Federal divisions were driven back beyond the railroad, with Trimble’s brigade in hot pursuit. Their heavy guns were abandoned on the field. The Sixth Federal corps under Smith had kept respectful distance, and only made a noisy artillery battle against the Confederate centre. About two o’clock Lee was looking upon the flight of Franklin’s shattered lines from Jackson’s front, and at the same time saw Sturgis’s division of the Ninth Federal corps set its face against the Marye Hill. A thousand blue uniforms were soon outstretched upon the field to tell the story of Sturgis’s defeat.

Two o’clock came and passed. The sounds of strife began to die away on the Confederate right where Jackson had given a quietus to Franklin’s grand-parade attack. Burnside was just then ordering Franklin to begin the battle anew, and Franklin was flatly disobeying the command. The latter had lost confidence, he declared, in his soldiers and in Burnside himself. Some of Sumner’s men were still crouching under the embankments or hugging the plain in front of Marye’s Hill. Lee stood in the midst of his men upon the crest, unmindful of the Federal shells. His presence added inspiration to his gunners, and the fire of enthusiasm leaped from heart to heart as the beloved leader passed in view. Alexander heard him say, “It is well war is so terrible or we would grow too fond of it.”

Against Hooker’s advice Burnside pushed the Fifth corps into the field already covered with the wreckage of the Second corps. Sheltered behind dead horses and dead men lay the scattered and terrorized Federal musketeers, who could not escape from the presence of the Confederate sharpshooters. Two regiments were brought to the base of the hill and two more to the crest by Ransom to face the advance of Humphreys’s division. Alexander’s guns now took the place of the Washington artillery on the Marye summit. The spirit of Humphreys was bold, and he pushed his men forward with bayonets fixed. A sheet of flame again enwrapped the base of Marye’s heights, and the Federal soldiers fell like leaves. Human valour was not equal to the task laid upon the Federal regiments. One after another the brigades of Humphreys broke and fled. A storm of death roared from that hill-slope which no organised body of men could face and live. Cool and methodical were the veterans of Kershaw, Ransom, and Alexander as they visited death and wounds upon one thousand men of this Federal division. Hooker held Sykes in check to cover the retreat of Humphreys, while Griffin’s division rushed toward the southern end of the stone wall. Carroll’s brigade was followed by one of Getty’s in making this battle strong. From five to six o’clock the fighting was terrific; confusion and death reigned in all the Federal lines of assault. Night settled down upon disaster and disorder in Burnside’s right wing. More than thirty thousand men from three different corps had been launched against Longstreet’s position; seven thousand men of Georgia and the Carolinas had kept them easily at bay. Not a Federal soldier touched the stone fence, while eight thousand eight hundred lay prostrate on the field in front of it.

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


Along the river-bank that night in shelterless bivouac lay the disheartened Federal regiments. Burnside made ready to renew the assault against the Marye heights. But the morning brought the universal opposition of his subordinate officers, and he countermanded the order of battle. He waited quietly until the storm of the night of the 15th gave the Federal army a way of escape, and without further harm they sought the northern bank of the river. Twelve thousand six hundred and fifty-three men Burnside left behind him, as the victims of battle. The Confederate casualties were five thousand three hundred and nine; the larger part of this loss was in the corps of Jackson.

Into active conflict Burnside had sent more than fifty thousand men; less than twenty thousand Confederates drew trigger in hurling them back. No breastworks offered the Confederates shelter along Jackson’s front. The fierce valour of “Stonewall’s” men was unconquerable. Like the grass before the scythe Franklin’s soldiers went down under the Confederate fire. The ascent was not steep, the field was open, and the Federal lines had great opportunity to crush Lee’s right. Franklin withheld his men from slaughter after the grand assault of 1 P.M. Burnside’s attacks against Lee’s left were made to relieve the pressure against Franklin. The valour and buoyant spirit of the Confederate privates were the chief factors that wrought out the great Confederate victory along the entire line. Burnside assigned as the reason for his defeat the fact that the “enemy’s fire was too hot”!

Lee was convinced that the attack would be renewed on the 14th. Silence had just descended upon the field of strife on the evening of December 13 when Lee sent the order to Jackson to despatch immediately all the ordnance waggons to bring ammunition from Guinea depot. To this order Lee added these words: “I need not remind you to have the ammunition of your men and batteries replenished to-night and everything ready by daylight to-morrow. I am truly grateful to the Giver of all victory for having blessed us thus far in our terrible struggle. I pray He may continue it.” Longstreet affirms that a Federal courier was captured with Burnside’s order for renewed battle; otherwise, Lee might have made a counter assault against the town itself. But the guns on the Stafford hills, and the solid front displayed by Burnside’s brigades, admonished him that heavy loss would follow a rash advance. Jackson was given permission to make a counterstroke against Franklin. At sunset he ordered all his batteries forward to shatter Franklin’s line on the Richmond road. Stuart made a fierce attack against the Federal flank. But the fire from Franklin’s one hundred field-guns, and from the batteries on the Stafford bluffs, compelled Jackson to abandon the movement. Jackson then desired to make a bayonet charge after nightfall, but Lee deemed this plan hazardous, and it was not attempted. Moreover, Lee’s ranks were not full enough to justify offensive work; more men were needed, and yet upon the very day of battle there came a call for re-inforcements from his small army to aid in the defence of Wilmington, North Carolina. The different States were continually demanding the defence of all their borders, and thus the Confederacy was handicapped in the presence of the chief invading army. This constant local demand
for soldiers from the chief armies to stand at the threshold of nearly every city and State must, to some extent, vindicate the policy of the dispersion of forces adopted by the Confederate Government.

December 16, immediately after Burnside’s withdrawal, Lee wrote the following:

I had supposed they were just preparing for battle, and was saving our men for the conflict. Their hosts crown the hill and plain beyond the river, and their numbers to me are unknown. Still, I felt a confidence we could stand the shock, and was anxious for the blow that is to fall on some point, and was prepared to meet it here. Yesterday evening I had my suspicions that they might return [to the Stafford Heights] during the night, but could not believe they would relinquish their hopes after all their boasting and preparation, and when I say that the latter is equal to the former, you will have some idea of the magnitude. This morning they were all safe on the north side of the Rappahannock. They went as they came—in the night. They suffered heavily as far as the battle went, but it did not go far enough to satisfy me.

Amid the snows and rains of December the two armies sat down to watch each other across the river. Burnside’s men were sheltered in tents and had abundance, but Lee’s soldiers were forced to build rude log-huts and booths of tree-branches to protect their nakedness from the biting cold. Man and beast in the Confederate service were placed on short allowance; yet the fire of enthusiasm was unquenchable in the bosoms of these heroes. The spirit of earnest religious zeal ran through the camp, and the voice of the chaplain was often heard in preaching and praying. Hundreds were led to accept the Christian faith. The Commander-in-chief thus penned to his wife the reflections brought by Christmas Day, 1862:

I will commence this holy day by writing to you. My heart is filled with gratitude to Almighty God for the unspeakable mercies with which He has blessed us in this day, for those He has granted us from the beginning of life, and particularly for those He has vouchsafed us during the past year. What should have become of us without His crowning help and protection? Oh! if our people would only recognise it and cease from vain self-boasting and adulation, how strong would be my belief in final 5:uccess and happiness to our country. But what a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbours, and to devastate the fair face of this beiutiful world. I pray that on this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace.

Our army was never in such good health and condition since I have been attached to it. I believe they share with me my disappointment that the enemy did not renew the combat on the 13th. I was holding back all that day and husbanding our strength and ammunition for the great struggle for which I thought I was preparing. Had I divined what was to have been his only effort, he would have had more of it. My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.

Before the year closed, Lee sent his cavalry on raiding expeditions to Burnside’s rear as far as Fairfax and Occoquan. In January, the Federal commander entered upon his famous “Mud march.” Up the Rappahannock as far as Banks’s Ford he marched his men, but a storm began to beat upon him, and then through the deep mire the army plodded its way back to camp. At every crossing the Confederates stood ready for battle. They found amusement in erecting these signs, legible to Burnside’s men: “Stuck in the mud!” “This way to Richmond!”

Anxiety for the upbuilding of the Confederate armies filled Lee’s thoughts continually. To the Secretary of War, January 10, he wrote concerning “the absolute necessity” of increasing the forces in the field.

The success with which our efforts have been crowned, under the blessing of God, should not betray our people into the dangerous delusion that the armies now in the field are sufficient to bring this war to a successful and speedy termination. . . . The great increase of the enemy’s forces will augment the disparity of numbers to such a degree that yictory, if attained, can only be achieved by a terrible expenditure of the most precious blood of the country. This blood will be upon the heads of the thousands of able-bodied men who remain at home in safety and ease, while their fellow-citizens are bravely confronting the enemy in the field, or enduring with noble fortitude the hardships and privations of the march and camp. . . . In view of the vast increase of the forces of the enemy, of the savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed [Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863], which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honour of our families from pollution, our social system, from destruction, let every effort be made, every means employed, to fill and maintain the ranks of our armies, until God, in His mercy, shall bless us with the establishment of our independence.

When an officer suggested the formation of a battalion of honour, Lee replied:

The fact is, General, we have now an army of brave men. The formation of a battalion of honour would reward a few and leave many, equally brave and equally faithful, unnoticed and, perhaps, with the feeling that an improper distinction had been made between themselves and their comrades.

During these months of snow and rain, the question of campaign plans filled a place in Lee’s mind next to the questions of food and clothing for his army. On the one hand, he sent Longstreet’s corps to find subsistence south of the James River, He received frequent reports that the dilapidated railroads could furnish to his men little corn and a daily ration of only one-fourth of a pound of bacon; when April drew near he ordered his soldiers to gather a daily supply of “sassafras buds, wild onions, garlic, lamb’s quarter, and poke sprouts!” On the other hand Lee was waging continual cavalry warfare against the enemy’s communications. Imboden and Jones cut the main stem of the Baltimore arid Ohio railroad. Stuart and his lieutenants made frequent dashes across the upper Rappahannock. March 3 found him writing as follows:

Your poor mamma has been a great sufferer this winter. I have not been able to see her and fear I shall not. She talks of coming to Hickory Hill this month, when the weather becomes more fixed. We are up to our eyes in mud now, and have but little comfort. Mr. Hooker looms very large over the river. He has two balloons up in the day and one at night. I hope he is gratified at what he sees. Your cousin, Fitz Lee, beat up his quarters the other day with about four hundred of his cavalry, and advanced within four miles of Falmouth, carrying off one hundred and fifty prisoners with their horses, arms, etc. The day after he recrossed the Rappahannock, they sent all their cavalry after him . . . but the bird had flown. . . . I hope these young Lees will always be too smart for the enemy.

In February, Lee gave his opinion against a flank movement through Culpeper on account of “the liquid state” of the roads. In March, he was mourning the loss of the gallant Pelham, slain in battle against Federal cavalry “before he could receive the promotion he had richly won.” In February, he was advising Secretary Seddon to stand ready to meet the foe in South Carolina, because it seemed “the true policy of the enemy now to apply his whole strength to take Charleston, and it is proper for us to expect him to do what he ought to do.” In March again he was dealing as follows with the suggestion offered by General Trimble, to bridge the Rappahannock and surprise the enemy:

I am much obliged to you for your suggestions presented in your letters of February and March. I know the pleasure experienced in shaping campaigns [and] battles, according to our wishes, and have enjoyed the ease with which obstacles to their accomplishment (in effigy) can be overcome. The movements you suggest in both letters have been at various times studied, canvassed with those who would be engaged in their execution, but no practicable solution of the difficulties to be overcome has yet been reasonably reached. The weather, roads, streams, provisions, transportation, etc., are all powerful elements in the calculation, as you know. What the future may do for us, I will still hope, but the present time is unpropitious, in my judgment. The idea of securing the provisions, waggons, guns of the enemy, is truly tempting and the desire has haunted me since December. Personally I would run any kind of risk for their attainment, but I cannot jeopardise this army.

From all the difficulties that beset him, Lee could turn aside to stimulate his army to offer up their prayers on the day set apart by President Davis:

Soldiers! no portion of our people have greater cause to be thankful to Almighty God than yourselves. He has preserved your lives amidst countless dangers; He has been with you in all your trials; He has gou fortitude under hardships, and courage in the shock of battle; He has cheered you by the example and by the deeds of your martyred comrades; He has enabled you to defend your country successfully against the assaults of a powerful oppressor. Devoutly thankful for His signal mercies, let us bow before the Lord of Hosts, and join our hearts with millions in our land in prayer that He will continue His merciful protection over our cause; that He will scatter our enemies and set at naught their evil designs, and that he will graciously restore to our beloved country the blessings of peace and security.


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