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



THE Army of Northern Virginia spent the dreary months from December, 1863, until May, 1864, upon the bluffs that skirt the southern bank of the Rapidan River. Behind the army to the southward were outspread the tangled forests of the Piedmont and Tidewater sections of central Virginia. The flight of the bee toward the rear from the position of the Confederate intrenchments would pass across the network of streams that feed the York and the James rivers and at the distance of sixty-five miles would find Richmond, the capital of the Southern Confederacy. The Confederate line of defence behind the Rapidan was twenty miles in length. The left wing under A. P. Hill lay around Orange Court-House. The right wing was commanded by Ewell, and its flank was made strong by the works that followed the windings of Mine Run. From this stronghold the Confederate guns frowned upon every avenue of approach from the direction of Culpeper Court- House. The latter was the adopted home of the Army of the Potomac, ten miles due northward from the central point of Lee’s encampment. The worst-clad and the worst-fed army, perhaps, ever mustered into service was the band of Confederate heroes who shivered and starved together on the banks of the Rapidan. Rude huts of pine and oaken logs, furnished inside with beds of straw, formed the habitations of both officers and men. The soldiers were clad in garments made up of patches and fluttering strings. Very few possessed comfortable shoes. Thousands were absolutely destitute of covering for head or foot. The only complete outfits were the products of handlooms, woven by wives, mothers, and daughters who kept brave watch and prosecuted unmurmuring labours in the old plantation-homes.

Hunger was the most inveterate enemy of the Confederates in the Rapidan bivouac. One quarter of a pound of fat pork, with a little meal or a little flour, was the portion of food assigned daily to each man. Very frequently the pork only was dealt out, or perhaps the meal, or a bundle of crackers. This winter of 1863 saw the climax of high prices due to the inflated paper currency of the Confederacy. When bacon was selling for eight dollars and sugar for twenty dollars a pound, beans for sixty dollars and corn-meal for fifty dollars a bushel, the result was famine in the army. The negro servants were still faithful; very few, except along the border, had been enticed into the North. They were manifesting strong affection for their masters by cultivating the plantations to feed the Southern armies in the field, and the old men, women, and children at home. But the railways were dilapidated, and the rolling-stock was worn out, and the meat and corn and flour produced in the far South could not be swiftly borne to the starving men who were defending the northern threshold of the Confederacy.

General Lee’s winter home was pitched in the midst of the camp. His small tent stood on a steep hillside, about two miles northeast of Orange Court-House. Two or three additional tents furnished accommodations for his staff. Only the man himself was there to indicate the presence of one in authority. General Lee shared the sufferings and privations of his men. He allowed himself a small ration of meat only twice a week and sometimes declined even that. He lived on corn-bread or crackers or a bit of cabbage as each or all came with convenience. All luxuries sent him by friends went invariably to the sick and wounded in the hospitals. In reply to remonstrances he would always say, “I am content to share the rations of my men.“*

[Note] * We are told that on one occasion Lee received through the mail from an anonjrmous private soldier a very small slice of salt pork carefully packed between two oaken chips, with the statement in a letter that this was the daily ration of meat; the writer claimed to be unable to live on this allowance and, although a gentleman, had been compelled to steal. But the Commander himself fared no more sumptuously. It is stated that some officers once came to dine in General Lee’s tent. The fare set before them was only a plate of boiled cabbage; in the centre of the dish rested a diminutive slice of bacon. With knife well poised above this morsel, General Lee invited each guest in turn to receive a portion. But the small size of the piece of bacon led them all to decline. The meat remained on the plate untouched; hunger was appeased with cabbage. On the foUowing day, General Lee called again for the bit of swine-flesh, but his coloured servant, with many bows, gave the information that the bacon had been borrowed to grace the offcial board of the day before and had been already returned to the owner.

Lee’s humility of spirit seemed to increase, if possible, day by day. His devout trust in God grew stronger and more childlike. His great heart was full of solicitude for the welfare of his men, and for the upbuilding of the strength of his army. Upon himself he laid the lowliest duties in order to relieve the sufferings of his soldiers. The man who always sat upon the most uncomfortable seat in his tent lest some one else might secure it, could also bring to the army for distribution the socks knit by his wife and daughters and other devoted women of Virginia.

After a visit from his soldier-nephews, Fitz, John, and Henry Lee, in the autumn of 1863, General Lee wrote this: “As soon as I was left alone, I committed them in a fervent prayer to the care and guidance of our Heavenly Father.” When the City Council of Richmond made him the gift of a house, Lee expressed his appreciation of the kind generosity of the Council, and added these words:

The house is not necessary for the use of my family, and my own duties will prevent my residence in Richmond. I shall, therefore,be compelled to decline the generous offer, and trust that whatever means the City Council may have to spare for this purpose may be devoted to the relief of the families of our soldiers in the field who are now in need of assistance, and more deserving of it than myself.

To his wife he wrote the following:

The kindness exhibited toward you as well as myself by our people, in addition to exciting my gratitude, causes me to reflect how little I have done to merit it, and humbles me in my own eyes to a painful degree.

The midwinter days brought increase of suffering to the soldiers and greater anxiety to Lee. He wrote this letter on January 24, 1864:

I have had to disperse the cavalry as much as possible to obtain forage for their horses, and it is that which causes trouble, provisionsfor the men, too, are yery scarce, and with very light diet and light clothing I fear they suffer; but still they are cheerful and uncomplaining. I received a report from one division the other day in which it was stated that over four hundred men were barefooted and over a thousand without blankets.

On February 6, he sent this message:

. . . It is so long since we have had the foreign bean [coffee] that we no longer desire it. We have a domestic article which we procure by the bushel, that answers very well. . . . We have had to reduce our allowance of meat one-half, and some days we have none. . . . The soldiers are much in need. We have received some shoes lately, and the socks will be a great addition. Tell “Life” [his daughter Mildred] I think I hear her needles rattle as they fly through the meshes.

The eighteenth day of March found him writing this:

There were sixty-seven pairs of socks in the bag I brought up instead of sixty-four, as you supposed, and I found here three dozen pairs of beautiful white-yam socks, sent over by our kind cousin Julia and sweet little Carrie, making one hundred and three pairs, all of which I sent to the Stonewall brigade. One dozen of the Stuart socks had double heels. Can you not teach Mildred that stitch. They sent me also some hams, which I had rather they had eaten. I pray that you may be preserved and relieved from all your troubles, and that we may all be again united here on earth and forever in heaven.

The following message was sent by General Lee on April 2:

Your note with the socks arrived last evening. I have sent them to the Stonewall brigade; the number all right—thirty pairs. Including this last parcel of thirty pairs, I have sent to that brigade two hundred and sixty-three pairs. Still, there are about one hundred and forty whose homes are within the enemy’s lines and who are without socks. I shall continue to furnish them till all are supplied. Tell the young women to work hard for the brave Stonewallers.

This letter to his wife bears the date, April 21, 1864:

Your note with bag of socks reached me last evening. The number was correct—thirty-one pairs. I sent them to the Stonewall brigade, which is not yet supplied. Sixty-one pairs from the ladies in Fauquier have reached Charlottesville, and I hope will be distributed soon. Now that Miss Bettie Brander has come to the aid of my daughters, the supply will soon be increased.

General Lee’s second son, W. H. F. Lee, the spirited leader of cavalry, was disabled in the battle of Brandy Station, June 10, 1863, and was afterwards carried off as a prisoner of war. In Fortress Monroe and Fort Lafayette, with Capt. R. H. Taylor, he was held under sentence of death, as hostage for Federal officers who were threatened with execution in Richmond on account of some retaliatory measure. While the younger Lee was thus wounded and in prison, his wife and children were stricken with sickness even unto death. The elder brother, G. W. Custis Lee, through the agency of a flag of truce, asked permission of the Federal authorities to take his brother’s place and to die, if needs be, in his stead. But the rules of warfare would not permit the exchange. When the wife and children died, the sorrowful event drew from General Lee this letter, dated December 27:

Custis’s despatch which I received last night demolished all the hopes in which I had been indulging, during the day, of dear Charlotte’s recovery. It has pleased God to take from us one exceedingly dear to us, and we must be resigned to His holy will. She, I trust, will enjoy peace and happiness forever, while we must patiently struggle on under all the ills that may be in store for us. What a glorious thought it is that she has joined her little cherubs and our angel Annie in heaven! Thus is link by link of the strong chain broken that binds us to earth, and smooths our passage to another world. Oh, that we may be at last united in that haven of rest, where trouble and sorrow never enter, to join in an everlasting chorus of praise and glory to our Lord and Saviour. I grieve for our lost darling as a father only can grieve for a daughter, and my sorrow is heightened by the thought of the anguish her death will cause our dear son, and the poignancy it will give to the bars of his prison. May God in His mercy enable him to bear the blow He has so suddenly dealt, and sanctify it to his everlasting happiness.*

[Note] * In March, 1864, General W. H. F. Lee was exchangedand returned to his cavalry brigade in time to take part in the Wilderness campaign.

When General Lee received the suggestion that he should give to his youngest son a position on his staff, he thus replied:

. . . His company would be a great pleasure and comfort to me, and he would be extremely useful in various ways, but I am opposed to officers surrounding themselves with their sons and relatives. It is wrong in principle, and in that case selections would be made from private and social relations rather than for the public good. There is the same objection to going with Fitz Lee. I should prefer Rob’s being in the line in an independent position, where he could rise by his own merit and not through the recommendation of his relatives. I expiect him here soon, when I can better see what he himself thinks. The young men have no fondness for the society of the old general. He is too heavy and sombre for them.

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


A month prior to the writing of the above-quoted letter, General Lee sent the following to his son Robert, then at Charlottesville:

. . . Tell Fitz [General Lee’s nephew] I grieve over the hardships and sufferings of his men in their late expedition. I would have preferred his waiting for more favourable weather. He accomplished much under the circumstances, but would have done more in better weather. I am afraid he was anxious to get back to the ball. This is a bad time for such things. We have too grave subjects on hand to engage in such trivial amusements. I would rather his officers should entertain themselves in fattening their horses, healing their men, and recruiting their regiments. There are too many Lees on the committee. I like them all to be present at battles, but can excuse them at balls. But the saying is, “Children will be children.” I think he had better move his camp farther from Charlottesville, and perhaps he will get more work and less play. He and I are too old for such assemblies. I want him to write me how his men are, [and] his horses, and what I can do to fill up his ranks.

On the sixth day of February, Meade marched down to Morton’s Ford to test the mettle of Lee’s half-fed veterans. With eager impetuosity the latter fell upon the division of Hays and sent it back across the Rapidan with loss. In the opening days of the month of March, Kilpatrick and Dahlgren were leading a troop of Federal horsemen across the Ely Ford and through Spotsylvania toward Richmond. Dahlgren had great expectation of burning and sacking the Confederate Capital and of capturing all the executive officers of the Confederacy. Instead of this, he lost his own life, and the entire expedition was another Federal disaster.

The second day of May, 1864, brought General Lee to the signal-station, on the summit of Clark’s Mountain, just behind the advanced guns of his own right wing. The frosts of three winters spent in camp had added an additional silvery tinge to his hair and had made deeper the lines inthe brow, but they had also set a more intense glow in the eye whose flashing spake of eagerness for battle. Unabated was Lee’s natural vigour as he stood in the beauty of perfect manhood, and with field-glass swept the plains of Culpeper to discern the future movements of the Army of the Potomac.

Along the Orange and Alexandria railway from the Rapidan far northward toward the Rappahannock, Lee could look upon a great city of tents and above the city he saw banners unfurled in multitude to declare the presence of a vast host of Federal soldiery. Long time did Lee scan the warlike horizon. Carefully he noted the location and arrangement of the Federal encampment, to see if Grant’s intent was favourable to early battle. Early battle the Federal commander seemed to desire. There was much riding to and fro; there was great commotion in Culpeper that May day, and it was evident to Lee that the Army of the Potomac would soon strike tent and advance southward.

Again Lee scans the horizon of the field of war. What route will the new commander choose? Recent cavalry movements along the borders of the upper Rapidan beyond the left flank of the Army of Northern Virginia indicate a possible advance of the Federal army in that direction. But eastward from the Confederate position lies the region of previous Federal assaults. In the distance to Lee’s right is Fredericksburg, the field of Burnside; half-way between Lee’s mount of observation and the Marye Heights lies Hooker’s battle-ground at Chancellorsville. Immediately on his right Lee’s glass may discern the course of Mine Run,, from whose intrenched banks General Meade withdrew his army the previous November. Only two months old in May is the memory of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid around the Confederate right flank. While Lee thus seeks to discern the future through his field-glass, and weighs the chances of approaching battle, his corps and division commanders stand near their leader and assist him to scan the field. Longstreet has recently returned from Tennessee, and holds his corps in bivouac on the Central railroad. Field leads Hood’s old division while Kershaw directs the division once commanded by McLaws. Pickett’s division is standing on guard near the coast of North Carolina. Ewell’s division leaders are Early, Edward Johnson, and Rodes; those of A. P. Hill are R. H. Anderson, Heth, and Wilcox. To this company of councillors General Lee turns himself after long-continued searching of the Rapidan valley-slopes. With quiet dignity he points down-stream toward Chancellorsville, and gives his opinion that the Army of the Potomac will advance across the Rapidan at the Germanna or Ely Ford. He bids his officers hold the Confederate divisions in readiness to take up the line of march at the waving of the signal-flag.

On that same second day of May, perhaps at the very hour when Lee’s field-glass caught glimpses of the city of tents, General Meade was writing an important military order. Lee possibly could not discern the solferino colour of Meade’s headquarters’ flag, nor could he see the golden eagle in a silver wreath wrought into the banner’s folds, but he had already divined the intent of the commands now issued by the Federal commander. Meade was directing the Army of the Potomac to set itself in motion across the Germanna and the Ely fords at the midnight hour, which should usher in the fourth day of May. This order of General Meade was written in obedience to the instructions of Lieutenant-General Grant, then commanding all the Federal forces in the field. This spring of 1864 saw only two Confederate armies yet abiding in strength. Both of these bands were facing northward, under J. E. Johnston, in northern Georgia, and R. E. Lee in northern Virginia. Against these armies General Grant ordered an advance “all along the line.” Sherman was directed to press forward from Chattanooga to crush Jofinston. Crook had orders to move south-eastward from the mountains of western Virginia. Sigel was sent up the Valley of Virginia to threaten the Central railroad; Butler was placed in charge of an armament intended to plough the waters of the James River and usher its commander within the portals of Richmond. At the same time Grant came eastward wearing the laurels of Vicksburg and Chattanooga, and pitched his tent with the Army of the Potomac. Across the Rapidan he proposed to send Meade with the duty laid upon him of destroying the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant’s instructions to Meade were these: “Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” The system inaugurated by Grant was “to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if by nothing else, there should be nothing left for him but . . . submission.” The purpose of Grant was set forth in other terms as the intention “to fight Lee between the Rapidan and Richmond if he will stand.

The fourth day of May was the date assigned for the simultaneous advance of all the Federal hosts against Johnston, Lee, and Richmond. Under his own immediate direction near Culpeper, Grant could count about one hundred and forty-seven thousand men. Meade’s Army of the Potomac was arrayed in three grand corps d’armée. The Second Corps was commanded by Hancock, the Fifth was under Warren, and the Sixth followed Sedgwick. Burnside held the Ninth Corps apart from Meade’s forces, on the northern bank of the Rappahannock. Of this great Federal host about twenty thousand had charge of the waggon trains. More than one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers with arms were ready to obey Grant’s orders. General Sheridan controlled nearly thirteen thousand cavalry, and a park of two hundred and seventy-four heavy guns accompanied the army. “The best-clothed and best-fed army” that ever took the field was Grant’s invading host, according to the judgment of one of his officers. For the furnishing and comfort of this multitude Grant possessed a supply train that would have extended in a continuous line from the Rapidan to Richmond. This tremendous engine of war was about to hurl itself across Lee’s right flank in the effort to accomplish the destruction of the ragged Confederate heroes of the Rapidan. The total effective force under Lee’s command at the end of the month of April, 1864, fell short of sixty-two thousand men.*

[Note] * In the Third Corps, under A. P. Hill at Orange Court-House, about twenty-two thousand officers and men were ready far duty. The Second Corps on the Rapidan under Ewell was reckoned at a little over seventeen thousand. Two divisions of the First Corps, commanded by Longsteet, lay in camp at Gordonsville, arid numbered ten thousand effectives. Four batteries of four guns each were assigned to Lee’s eight infantry divisions. Seventy-two cannon were in the Reserve and twenty-four guns constituted Stuart’s horse-artillery. Four thousand eight hundred men served this park of two hundred and twenty-four guns. Eight thousand three hundred troopers followed the black plume of “Jeb” Stuart. The corps of horsemen was organised in two divisions of three brigade! each. Wade Hampton, the Carolinian, rode at the head of the first division and Fitz Lee, the Virginian, led the second. In Hampton’s division, the brigade of Gordon came entirely from the mountains of North Carolina, the brigade of Young was made up of South Carolinians and Georgians, and Rosser’s brigade was gathered from Virginia. From Virginia also were mustered the three brigades of Fitz Lee’s division, and they were commanded by W. H. F. Lee, Lomax, and Wickham. In the opening days of May, Stuart held most of these swordsmen along the lower Rapidan and on the Rappahannock guarding the Confederate right.

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


When Grant made ready to advance, Stuart’s couriers bore swift messages to Lee that the Federal cavalry were swarming on the northern bank of the Rapidan, opposite Chancellorsville. Lee knew that the hour of battle was at hand, and he stood ready to spring upon the flank of his adversary as soon as the latter entangled himself in the toils of the Wilderness.

The third day of May saw much burnishing of muskets in the Confederate camp. Letters were written and final farewells sent to the circles where love and tenderness kept watch at home. No busy cookery scattered its noisy din among the houses of the soldiers, for the supply of meal was short. But the hungry began to talk of Federal provision trains as the possible spoil of battle, and comrade bade good-bye to comrade and looked upon faces in other brigades which he might not see again.

General Lee began the duties of May 4 by issuing general order No. 38, repeating his previous commands to “prevent injury to fencing, crops, and other private property” during the approaching campaign. The war-horse was already snuffing the battle from afar. At 9 A.M. the signal-flag on Clark’s Mountain was waving the news to Lee’s headquarters that Grant’s tents were folded and his column in motion around the Confederate right flank across the Rapidan. At once the order was given to advance. On parallel roads leading a little east of a due southward course from the Rapidan, Grant was moving his army in two columns. He was thrusting himself into the thickets of the Wilderness at a right angle to Lee’s front line. Lee wheeled instantly toward his own right flank and turned his face eastward along two other parallel roads’ that led him with the course of the Rapidan in perpendicular line against the right flank of Grant’s long columns. At noontide on the 4th, Ewell moved from the Palmyra Ford by the right flank eastward along the Orange turnpike. At the same hour two of Hill’s divisions marched from Orange Court-House eastward toward Chancellorsville along the plank road two or three miles southward from Hill’s advance on the turnpike.

As early as 11 A.M. Longstreet was ordering Field and Kershaw to follow a cross-country road that runs eastward from Gordonsville. But it was 4 P.M. when the two divisions fell into the line of march.

Lee left Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps to guard his rear and with twenty-eight thousand muskets under Hill and Ewell was making all speed to strike a blow at the side of Grant’s columns. The Confederate artillery moved to the front with the infantry. Stuart was already making obstinate battle far in advance. Lee rode with Hill’s column on the plank roadway and sent urgent messages to Longstreet to speed forward and support the Confederate right wing.

As the three columns of bronzed veterans press onward to deliver battle, we mark their eagerness for the coming strife. Confidence in their leader
and in themselves reigns supreme. The starving-time in the Confederate “Valley Forge” has whetted their appetite for the field of war. The men of Virginia and Maryland are here whose fathers suffered cold and hunger with Washington at the first Valley Forge. Here march the sons of the Virginian riflemen who made a “bee-line for Boston” under Daniel Morgan in 1775, stood with Washington at Trenton and Princeton, broke the strength of Burgoyne by their unerring aim at Saratoga, assisted in driving Cornwallis from the Carolinas, and in forcing his surrender at Yorktown. Under Lee’s command are assembled the sons of North Carolina, whose fathers trailed muskets after Wayne at Stony Point, and followed both Washington and Greene into battle. South Carolina, Georgia, and the Mississippi Valley States have sent the sons and grandsons of Revolutionary veterans. In Lee’s camp, multitudes never weary of telling how their sires won the day at King’s Mountain, Cowpens, New Orleans, Buena Vista, and Chapultepec. The gaudium certaminis which glows in the soul of almost every individual soldier of Lee’s army is a direct heritage from his fathers. Moreover, most of these Southern soldiers are descended from warlike races beyond the sea. The majority of the Army of Northern Virginia is made up of Ulstermen, who are, for the most part, non-slaveholders. Their fathers in Scotland suffered persecution in the days of Charles II., fought at Bothwell Bridge, passed over to Ireland to stand with William of Orange in the battle of the Boyne, and endured the pangs of hunger in Londonderry. From the province of Ulster, Ireland, they came to plant themselves in the fortress formed by the ridges and foot-hills of the Alleghany Mountains. These belligerent Calvinists held the front line in battle from the time of the old French and Indian War down to this struggle between the States; their days of peace they filled up with disputations in theology.

From the tidewater section of Virginia and South Carolina, Lee has summoned a small band of English Cavaliers whose ancestors followed Marlborough and Prince Rupert; whose love of good cheer and whose courtly bearing make them the centre of jovial comradeship in the starving-time in camp, and whose unquenchable courage sends them to the very cannon’s mouth in the hour of battle. From the same regions also come the Huguenots, whose patient endurance under sufferings in France, and whose gallantry in the days of partisan warfare under Francis Marion in the Carolina swamps, have ripened into that brave steadiness that wins the battle or dies upon the field.

Nearly all these sons of fighting sires were brought up in the quietude of plantation-life. Nearly all have used the rifle, nearly all from childhood upward have spent hours on horseback in the mountains and the fields; nearly all have strength and skill to make the woodland ring with the hunter’s wild echoing shout. When all these regfiments of country-bred soldiers advance in line of battle until they catch sight of the men in blue uniform, it is only the old view-halloo upon the hunting-field that has become the battle-slogan to greet the ears of the Federal soldiers as the terror-producing “rebel yell.” The yell and the chase are linked by long association. Scarcely a day has passed during the sojourn of the Confederate army in camp that has not seen a full regiment of soldiers in full chase across the fields after the swift-footed rabbit, every leap accompanied by wild shouts. It was a frequent remark in bivouac throughout the war, when the notes of this far-resounding enthusiasm were borne along on the breeze, “There goes Marse Robert or an old hare.”*

[Note] * Two characteristics are stamped upon this army that follows Lee—the deep religious faith of many and the buoyant good temper of all. In the ranks march ministers of the Gospel and laymen who from youth have been devotees of the i^ligious teachings handed down through pious ancestors from Knox, Cranmer, Wesley, and Bunyan. The labours of the chaplains during the winter on the Rapidan have been followed by a heightened religious devotion throughout the army. A veritable parallel to Cromwell’s Ironsides is the Army of Northern Virginia in this Wilderness campaign, when it wards off weariness by keeping step to the vocal music of psalms and hymns. The piety of General Lee himself has reached as full a measure of religious devotion as that manifested by Havelock and Stonewall Jackson. Often is Lee found engaged in earnest prayer. With bowed head he is frequently beheld standing in the assemblies for prayer held by the soldiers. He constantly asks for the prayers of his friends, and always ascribes to Providence the successes of his army.

The unfailing good humour of the men on the march is often theironly panacea for thirst, hunger, and weariness. Privations furnish materialfor the spirit of innocent mirth, A lively fellow whistles an air, anotherchirps the fragment of a song, and all join in the chorus. Then a slip in the mud, a peculiar cry or quaint jest sets an entire regiment into a roar of laughter. After that follows the hum and the buzz of a bewildering medley of merriment and song that makes light the burden of the journey.

This lightness of spirit is the most significant fact connected with Lee’s army in the Wilderness. It indicates the superb morale of the Confederate troops. It is the sign of that cheerful endurance that carries them through the marching and starving and fighting of the fiercest campaign of the entire war. It follows them into battle. It marks them as they fight in the trenches. The men scarcely ever cease to talk and yell as they load and fire their muskets. We see the merriment and well-attempered buoyancy changed into the earnest enthusiasm of a devoted soldiery when Lee gallops forward along Hill’s column on the afternoon of May 4. Affection for their great leader breaks out in the tumult of wild cheers and the rolling of the battle-yell as the soldiers catch sight of their hero in the plain slouch hat and the suit of grey.

The evening of the 4th of May found one hundred and twenty-seven thousand men under Grant’s banner south of the Rapidan. Hancock’s corps crossed at Ely’s Ford, and pitched camp for the night amid the wreckage of the field of Chancellorsville. He was three miles eastward from the Brock road, and threw out Gregg’s cavalry in advance. Warren’s corps made passage at Germanna, and moved on the Germanna road to the Wilderness Tavern. Sedgwick led the Sixth Corps behind the Fifth, and his camp-fires were kindled along the Germanna highway just south of the Rapidan. Cavalry vedettes kept watch at every path that looked westward toward Lee’s position. Burnside’s corps remained as yet on the northern bank of the river. Like a huge serpent. Grant’s army was outstretched in the Wilderness from the Rapidan as far as Jackson’s last battle-ground. In the very heart of the dense forest-land between Orange Court- House and Fredericksburg, Grant thus wedged the Army of the Potomac, and, unfortunately for himself, paused to wait for another day.

This part of the Wilderness is a deserted mining region, the home of the whippoorwill, the bat, and the owl. Between the numerous rivulets are oak-covered ridges. The sweet-gum, the cedar, and the low. pine lift their tops just above the dense undergrowth. Numerous ravines bar the way, and the tangled thickets can be traversed only with extreme difficulty. A few cleared fields offer space for the deployment of a regiment or a brigade.

As the night of May 4 drew nigh, Grant called the passage of the river “a great success,” and declared that all his apprehensions had vanished. He had as yet met no opposition. He therefore telegraphed this message to Halleck in Washington: “Forty-eight hours will now demonstrate whether the enemy intends giving battle this side of Richmond.” At the same time with the sending of this despatch EwelFs corps of Confederates was about to bivouac within one hour’s march of Grant’s right flank, ready to leap to battle in the jungle.

Through this dense forest two roads seek passage from Orange Court-House to Fredericksburg. The Orange turnpike runs parallel to the Rapidan; the Orange plank road follows the same course, farther away from that stream. Upon these same highways Jackson delivered his rear attack against Hooker; in the same direction Lee was now hastening eastward to deliver a flank attack against Grant. Lee also declared that his apprehensions had taken wings, and that he had the Federal army in the position which he himself would select.

Lee was advancing with three columns en échelon against Grant’s central and advanced corps. Ewell was foremost on the turnpike as he rushed across the intrenchments at Mine Run and pitched camp at Locust Grove and Robertson’s Tavern; his advanced pickets stood on guard only three miles from the bivouac of Warren’s corps. Lee set up his tent with Hill near Verdiersville in a roadside grove. He dwelt thus with his central column on the plank road. Farther to Hill’s right and rear was Longstreet. Twelve miles he marched from Gordonsville on May 4, and darkness found him at Brock’s Bridge on the Catharpin road. Lee’s troops were well in hand for the tiger-spring of the morrow. At eight o’clock in the evening he sent a courier to Ewell with orders to move forward at the dawning of May 5, and expressed the strong desire “to bring him [the enemy] to battle now as soon as possible.”

A great chorus of forest birds greets the coming of the dawn of the fifth day of May as Lee sits to eat the scanty morning meal. His face beams with cheerfulness; he is communicative beyond his wont. He passes pleasant jests at the expense of the staff. He openly gives expression to surprise that Grant has pushed himself into the same position occupied by Hooker just a year before, and he breathes the hope that the result may prove even more disastrous to Grant. In such an issue to the combat he declares his perfect confidence. He then mounts horse and gallops to the head of Hill’s column on the plank road. Just behind his own advanced pickets he rides when the skirmish opens with Grant’s cavalry at Parker’s store. Far to the right front he can hear the carbines of his own troopers, and across the woods from the left comes the brisk rattle of Ewell’s sharpshooters. An occasional heavy gun sends its deep echo rolling backward from the line of Confederate advance. Lee is ready to strike with his centre and left,—but his own right wing is yet far afield. Ewell leads the advance on the morning of May 5 along the turnpike. But Longstreet has not yet reported his presence on the right, and at 8 A.M. Lee instructs Ewell (left wing) to regulate his march by Hill (centre), whose progress along the plank road may be marked by the firing at the head of Hill’s column. At the same time Lee prefers not “to bring on a general engagement” before the arrival of Longstreet. A general battle he means to have, but his plan now contemplates brisk skirmishing to hold the Federal army in its present position until he can swing his centre and right wing against Grant’s advanced corps.

Ewell advances slowly in readiness for action. Johnson’s division leads the column and Jones’s brigade marches to the front. The Federal pickets fall back before the vigour of Jones until the latter, at 11 A.M., catches sight of Warren’s column crossing the turnpike and pressing southward on the Germanna road. Jones is greatly in advance of Hill, and his attack has brought him face to face with Grant’s regular line of battle. At the same hour to Ewell comes Lee’s repetition of the order “no general engagement“ until Longstreet shall reach the field. From his central position with Hill, Lee holds his two columns in check, waiting for the First Corps. The Confederate soldiers are like war-dogs straining at the leash, eager for battle with their old antagonists.

In advance of the main column on the plank road, Lee, Hill, and Stuart ride forward beyond Parker’s store and pause under the trees in the edge of an old field. Grant’s skirmishers break like a blue cloud from the grove of pines to the eastward; but the line of grey-jackets leaps forward to the charge. In the very forefront along the plank road Poague pushes his guns. The yells of the Confederates and the roll of their musketry tell Lee that a stronger line must press forward, and now he sends Heth’s division to hold the crest of the ridge in the edge of the forest. Just as Heth moves to the front, the music of regular battle comes from the left; the crash of rifle-volleys, the deep roar of a few scattered batteries, the occasional report of a Parrott gun, and the stirring cadence of the Confederate yell, warn Lee that Ewell has found Grant’s full line of battle. The sun is already sloping his course toward the west—and still Longstreet tarries.

If we recall the hour of noon on Ewell’s front, we find him ordering the adventurous Jones to “fall back slowly if pressed.” This is Ewell’s obedience to Lee’s injunctions against general battle. Therefore Jones withdraws the heavy guns which stand in front with his skirmishers. This retirement of artillery in the turnpike invites Griffin’s division of Warren’s corps into strong attack upon the Confederate brigade. The line of Jones is broken and driven back over the dead body of the brave briga-dier. But Ewell will retire no farther. He gives the word and the brigades of Dartiel and Gordon rush forward to pour a musketry fire into Griffin’s front and flanks. Griffin’s column is crushed; still onward press the Confederates through the undergrowth until they catch the flank of the two Federal divisions of Crawford and Wadsworth. These have become entangled in the forest and speedily go down before the Southern woodsmen. Four Federal guns and several hundred Federal prisoners become Ewell’s spoil. At close range each line of battle begins to make its position strong with breastworks of logs and earth. Sedgwick has brought his corps into touch with Warren’s right. Ewell stands blocking the advance of both the Fifth and Sixth Federal Corps, The entire Confederate left wing is deployed in line across the turnpike facing Warren and Sedgwick, who hold the Germanna road. In Ewell’s centre stands Johnson; the left is held by Early, while the right division under Rodes extends itself southward through the tangled forest to touch elbows with the left of Hill’s corps.

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


From the plank road where Lee’s eye keeps watch, arises the roar of desperate battle about the hour when Ewell is counting his prisoners and making stronger his line. Heth has led the attack from Lee’s centre; he has struck Warren’s head of column under Crawford and has driven it back; as Crawford recoiled toward the turnpike his line was caught in flank by Ewell’s charge. But Getty of Sedgwick’s corps reaches the junction of the plank and Brock roads, and agaitist Getty rushes Heth’s line of battle. It would seem that Grant has not expected battle in tlie Wilderness. His order of march for the morning of the fifth of May has bidden Hancock advance to Shady Grove Church, has ordered Warren to bring the Fifth Corps as far as Parker’s store, and Sedgwick must lead the Sixth to Wilderness Tavern. The huge serpent thus seeks to crawl forward and thrust its head outside of the Wilderness. At 11 A.M. Hancock finds himself at Todd’s Tavern, southward from the plank road; a gap of ten miles he has left between the Second Corps and the Fifth and Sixth which are now compelled to halt and face the thunderbolts of war moving eastward on the parallel roadways. At 11 A.M. Hancock turns his face back over his morning pathway, and hastens to aid Getty in the defence of the Brock road. But it is 2 P.M. before Hancock’s head of column begins to assist Getty in the work of erecting fortifications along the Brock road, facing Lee on the plank road.

That space of three hours from eleven until two o’clock marks the passing of a rare opportunity. “What can delay General Longstreet?” The crimson flush is on Lee’s brow and every vein is swollen with the hot blood of battle. The Confederate commander rides up and down his line, his quiet dignity scarce conceals the anxious eagerness of the moment as he longs for the First Corps. With those ten thousand men he might rush between the divided wings of Grant’s army and in this tangle of narrow pathways hold one portion at bay while he makes assault upon the other. But Longstreet comes not. Far to Lee’s right, beyond the plank road he plods along, misses the way and retraces his steps, and reaches not the field of war.

On the Brock road Hancock makes ready his corps for battle. Behind the first line of breastworks he piles up logs to form a second intrenchment, and behind the left centre of this second defence he erects a third. In front of Hancock’s threefold fortress, Heth’s men build at first only a slight defence across the turnpike. The Confederate line is in horseshoe shape behind the crest of a slight elevation in the midst of a dense growth of young trees. Beyond this line a strong body of skirmishers advance, and in the open forest, three hundred yards from the Brock road, they await the approach of Hancock. Wilcox has sent brigades to strengthen Heth’s flanks, and to keep in touch with the right of Ewell’s corps. Poague’s battalion of heavy guns is planted in the front on the roadway. The other cannon of the corps cannot reach the scene and are silent in the rear.

At 4.30 P.M. Hancock advances two divisions to strengthen the attack of Getty’s division in the centre. Two-thirds of Gibbon’s division and one-half of Owen’s division also lend their aid. On Hancock’s right, Wadsworth’s division seeks Hill’s flank. More than four Federal divisions engage in actual conflict with Hill’s two divisions, and other Federal troops threaten an advance. The forest is at once ablaze with the flame of musketry. The roar of deadly combat resounds through the dark woods where the two lines of riflemen, less than one hundred feet apart, fire into each other’s faces. Hill’s men, behind the crest of the slight elevation, can hear the moaning of the leaden hail that cuts off the forest of saplings four and five feet above their heads. They lie flat upon the ground and with deliberate aim scatter havoc among the men in blue. As the night falls upon the grim wrestlers in this inferno, they can aim only at the flashing of the opposing muskets. The fierce yells and the business-like cheerfulness of the Confederates tell of the bravery and grim battle-ardour of these ragged and hungry heroes.*

[Note] * Frank Wilkeson, a private Federal soldier, discovered a line of sentinels in the rear of Grant’s troops, charged with the duty of keeping the Federal soldiers in the fight. It seems that many of the men who were serving under Grant for bounty-money had strong desire to escape from the battle. Wilkeson states that the sentinels, or guards, “seemed to be posted in the rear of the battle-lines for the express purpose of intercepting the flight of cowards. At the time it struck me as a quaint idea to picket the rear of an army which was fighting a desperate battle.”—Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac. Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

While nearly one-half of Grant’s army thus vainly strives to break through Hill’s two little divisions, Lee sends swift message to Ewell to move forward and capture the Wilderness Tavern ridge ahd thus cut off Grant from the Rapidan. Ewell assumes the aggressive and sends two brigades against the centre of Sedgwick’s corps and stands ready to follow up the charge. But Sedgwick has made himself impregnable behind a fortress of logs, and Ewell withholds his men. In Hill’s centre a counter-charge by Heth makes capture of Rickett’s battery, but the guns are lost again. Hill’s right is pushed by Wilcox around Hancock’s left flank, and two Federal brigades are routed from their position. Hancock makes “repeated and desperate assaults,” writes Lee, but Hill’s line is unyielding, while the Confederate cavalry on the right drives back Sheridan’s advanced horsemen. A heavy tribute in blood has Lee exacted from Grant and as deep darkness covers the weird and dismal field of wounds and death Lee can send despatch to Richmond that all is yet well: “By the blessing of God we maintained our positron against every effort until night, when the contest closed.“

The tardy Longstreet has made only a twelve-mile advance eastward during the entire day of May 5, and halts at Richard’s shop on the Cat harpin road, miles away from Lee’s field of action. At 8 P.M. Lee sends a courier to bid Longstreet make a night-march, and at the same time promises Hill that his men shall be relieved at the coming of the dawn, and he sends Ewell the order to make early assault on May 6 with the left wing of the Confederate army. Lee seeks rest upon the bare ground among his weary, hungry veterans. His plans are laid to push Ewell, Longstreet, and Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps in full oflfensive battle against both flanks of Grant’s army. Hill’s soldiers sleep on the ground where they have fought; little food passes their lips. They take no care to strengthen the slight irregular breastworks, for Longstreet’s men are under orders to march and take Hill’s position. One hour after midnight, Longstreet’s corps breaks camp and follows the special guide toward the battle-ground. As the forest birds again announce the dawn, Ewell opens fierce fire along the Confederate left wing before 5 A.M. Lee has taken up again the part of the aggressor. Warren and Sedgwick make reply to Ewell, and then from left to right along the entire Confederate line the musketry battle begins its deadly work.

During the night Burnside has led his twenty thousand across the Rapidan and Grant orders his entire army to make assault “along the whole line” at five o’clock in the morning. Hancock leads one-half the Federal army against Lee’s right, and Burnside moves forward to pierce the Confederate centre.

Before the dawn is the hour set by Lee for Longstreet’s arrival. Hill expects to be withdrawn, and is not prepared for battle; but Hancock’s assault upon Hill’s front is met with obstinate courage; Hill’s centre does not yield. Wadsworth’s fresh division strikes Hill’s left flank; Hancock’s brigades swarm around to Hill’s right and the Confederate line is rolled up and driven backward. Desperately the men of Hill contend for their field, delivering a fierce fire as they retreat. Close and savage is the fight, but Lee’s right wing is broken. One hour after the first shot. Hill has been forced upon Poague’s battalion of artillery, that stands defiant near the roadway. Hancock dares not pass Poague’s grape and canister. Just behind the guns is Lee on horseback. “Why does not Longstreet come?” he continually says to his staff as he rides to and fro to rally the brigades of Hill’s corps.

From the Confederate left wing come the sounds of heavy battle. Ewell has made his log-works to bristle with cannon and heaps disaster upon every assault by Warren and Sedgwick. But at last Lee’s counter-stroke against Hancock’s assault is prepared. In closed ranks and in double column, advancing in a long trot down the plank road rushes Longstreet’s corps, Field’s division on the left, side by side with Kershaw’s division on the right.

Already is the sun beaming upon the awful game of death; the forest wears the smile of the springtide; the birds in the tree-tops are singing while the tempest of wrath breaks below. The thunder of Poague’s guns shakes the very earth. Lee rides forward to meet the head of Field’s division. “What boys are these?” he asks. “Texas boys,” is the quick reply from the brigade that once followed Hood but is now led by Gregg. The light of battle is shining in his deep, luminous eyes as he calls out, “My Texas boys, you must charge.” The Confederates go fairly wild when they see before them the grey-bearded man with the grey slouch hat. The voices of the eight hundred Texans are hoarse with joy, and their blood catches fire as they hear Lee himself give the order to charge. Ragged caps fly into the air as the veterans rend the sky with their wild yell. Then the line of battle is formed, they advance beyond the batteries against Hancock. Immediately behind the line rides Lee to direct the charge in person. “Charge, boys,” is Lee’s deep, thrilling call as he advances into the thickest of the fight. Suddenly the men divine his desperate purpose and they begin to shout, “Go back, General Lee—Marse Robert go back.” Then the artillerymen whom Lee has passed respond with the answering call, “Come back, come back, General Lee.” Lee rides onward, waving his old grey hat, but the very heavens are rent with the cry, “Lee to the rear! Lee to the rear!” A tall, lank, ragged Texas sergeant moves from the ranks, seizes the bridle-rein and turns Traveller’s head to the rear. A look of disappointment crosses the face of General Lee, but he yields. A last earthly salute the entire line wave to their leader and forward they sweep to meet the advancing foe. At the same time a part of Poague’s battalion moves forward with cannon. ̶Good-bye,, boys!” cry the advancing gunners to the comrades left behind. At the head of the return-charge dash the Texans. They are the heroes of Cold Harbor, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Round Top. At the very head of the Federal column massed in the plank road the brigade flings itself. The ceaseless fury of the Federal fire is pouring into front and flanks. To right of them, to left of them, in front of them, muskets and cannon volley and thunder, but into the jaws of death charge the eight hundred. A circle of fire envelops the band, but already the Federal column staggers. Benning and Anderson with their Georgians, and Law leading his Alabamians, crash forward against the encircling host. The forest rings with yells; the roar of battle becomes terrific. Half of the Texas brigade fall within ten minutes. But the tide of Federal success has been turned backward by the gallant men who have shown their willingness to meet death and to spare their beloved leader.

Lee’s countef-stroke is continued. Three guns are thrown forward with the infantry on the highway. Field deploys to the left and Kershaw to the right of the road. The conflict sweeps to and fro in the tangled woods and marshes. The crisis in the battle of the Wilderness has come.*

[Note] * Lee waits behind his field -battery for the arrivalof Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps. The fight is raging in his front; the guns of Ewell are calling across from the turnpike that all is well on the left wing. An engineer is sent to find an opening for a flank attack against Hancock’s left. At this moment of anxiety a courier—a mere lad—dashes up to General Lee with a message from Anderson. The courier’s small pony is panting like a hunted deer. Lee reads the message and turns to look upon the tired pony. “Young man,” he says, “you should have some feeling for your horse; dismount and rest him.” Lee thereupon draws forth from the bag attached to his saddle a buttered biscuit, and half of this with his own hand he gives to the courier’s pony.

Now Anderson comes to give strength to Lee’s onset. Hill’s men return to the front. At 10 A.M. Longstreet moves four brigades under Mahone by the right flank. They find a covered way in an unfinished railroad that brings them against the left end of Hancock’s line. They fall upon his flank and rear and roll up his regimients “like a wet blanket,“ as Hancock himself declared. At 11 A.M. Lee pushes his entire force against Hancock’s front and flank in impetuous charge. Hancock’s brigades are forced backward and broken into fragments. Wadsworth’s division, on Hancock’s right, is scattered in dire disorder. Twelve o’clock finds Grant’s entire left wing defeated and disorganised. “Down the plank road from Hancock’s centre,” says General Francis A. Walker, “a stream of broken men was pouring to the rear, giving the onlooker the impression that everything had gone to pieces.”

Like a lion of war, Longstreet is closing in upon Grant’s routed host. Not even the attack of the tardy Burnside can retrieve the Federal disaster.

The blaze of muskets has ignited the dried leaves and the smoke obscures the noonday glow. Longstreet’s regiments are ablaze with the ardour of battle. The gallant Georgian places himself at the head of Kershaw’s division and arrays it in line across the plank road. In hot pursuit of Hancock he moves rapidly toward the eastward, nor does he note the fact that his four flanking brigades have made pause in line, facing the plank roadway. Their loaded muskets are pointing northward to command the very avenue upon which Longstreet rides. They mistake the latter for a Federal officer and in full volley they fire upon the general and his staff. The brave brigadier Jenkins falls dead and Longstreet is disabled. The Confederate advance is checked. Another Bull Run rout is averted from the Federal army only by the fall of Longstreet in the moment of victory. Lee hastens to the front and seeks to straighten out his line of battle. The hour of four o’clock has struck when the order is given to charge through forest, flame, and smoke upon the Brock road. Before this hour Burnside has raised a storm against the Confederate centre but Hill’s troops already have tamed the fury of the Ninth Corps. As Burnside becomes quiet in the centre, Lee makes ready to deliver assault against both flanks of the Federal army. Ewell sends Early and Gordon to envelop Sedgwick’s right flank at the very hour when Lee urges his right wing to the charge against Hancock’s triple wall of defence. The forest has communicated its fire to the front line of Federal logs. Forward rush the divisions of Field and Anderson. They pour in a hot musketry fire, but Hancock’s second line is bristling with heavy guns and their canister sweeps the field. Up to the very breastwork on Hancock’s left the Confederates advance; a gap is made and disorder reigns among the Federal defenders, who turn in flight. The Confederate flag is planted in triumph on Hancock’s first intrenchment. But his second and third walls are impregnable. The Federal artillery compels the Confederates to loosen their grasp on Hancock’s fortress.

The sun is yet above the horizon, and Gordon is ready for the charge against Grant’s extreme right. Two Confederate brigades beyond the turnpike are facing southward; their bayonets are pointing directly along Grant’s line of battle. They advance to the music of the far-resounding yell. Sedgwick’s right brigade is engaged in the busy work of piling log upon log, but the men lay down the axe and the spade, and join their brigadier as prisoners of war. The second brigade is likewise rolled up and broken and a second brigadier is captured. Darkness falls upon Gordon in possession of a mile of Grant’s rifle-pits, six hundred prisoners, and Generals Shaler and Seymour. The dense thickets have disordered the Confederate line and Gordon halts. The Sixth Corps spends the night in drawing back its front and right to a line of defence entirely new along the Germanna road. “Had there been daylight,” writes Grant, “the enemy could have injured us very much in the confusion that prevailed.̶

The awful struggle in the tangled forest has closed with Lee pressing the attack against Grant’s right and left. As this second day fades into darkness the Army of the Potomac is struggling in a purely defensive contest, and holds its position behind three heavy walls of log-work on the left and draws back its right wing behind a second freshly constructed intrenchment. At the same time Grant is urging Burnside to place himself behind strong works in the Federal centre.

When Grant looks through the thickets on the morning of the seventh of May he beholds Lee’s breastworks crowned with heavy guns and has no desire to renew the battle. Likewise, Lee sees the strength of Grant’s intrenchments, and does not attack. A cavalry battle is in progress this day to the southward, where Fitz Lee on the Brock road, and Hampton on the Catharpin road, oppose the troopers of Sheridan.

If the casualties suffered in battle are an indication of success or failure, we may place the seventeen thousand disabled Federal soldiers in contrast with the probable Confederate loss of less than half that number.

Grant’s early order of May 7 commanded Meade to make ready for a night-march to Spotsylvania Court-House. Hancock was to hold his ground while Warren led the Fifth Corps southward along the Brock road, and Sedgwick moved eastward to Chancellorsville and thence to Piney Branch Church. Burnside was sent eastward to Chancellorsville and thence southward. Two Federal corps thus drew back from before the face of Lee toward the east, while two remained in his front.

All day long both Grant and Meade were troubled with anxious fear of an attack from the Confederate army. The new purpose formed in Grant’s mind found expression the following day in a despatch to Washington: “My efforts will be to form a junction with General Butler as early as possible, and be prepared to meet any enemy interposing. . . . My exact route to the James River I have not yet definitely marked out.” We hear no longer the command to Meade to seek Lee’s army as his objective point! Grant had enough of Lee’s army. He now turned toward Butler on the distant James. Early on the morning of May 7, Lee ordered a roadway cut through the forest directly southward from the plank road. He anticipated Grant’s movement from the latter’s failure to renew the battle. The cavalry soon brought word that Grant’s trains were moving. Ewell sent a forceto reconnoitre the Federal right and found the Germanna road deserted. Grant was withdrawing from his defences, and behind him he left his dead and some of his wounded to care for themselves.

At the coming of darkness Lee issued the order to Anderson to lead Longstreet’s corps along the new forest roadway toward Spotsylvania Court-House. Ewell was next ordered to begin the night-march while Hill remained to guard the Confederate rear. Anderson’s corps began to march at 11 P.M. of May 7. The Wilderness was illuminated by the blaze of the burning leaves. Rapidly the Confederate column moved southward, and an hour before the dawn they lay down to rest in a grove near Spotsylvania Court-House. Lee held EwelFs corps at Parker’s store, and early on the morning of May 8 advanced to support Anderson.*

[Note] * Grant’s withdrawal eastward led Lee to suppose that the Federal army was retiring to Fredericksburg. Lee therefore left Early with Hill’s corps near Todd’s Tavern to hold the attention of Grant’s rear until he could swing Anderson and Ewell around to strike Grant’s flank or his head of column. Lee’s movement was executed with skill and vigour. Grant himself remained behind with Hancock’s corps to watch Early. Until noonday and afterwards he was sending to the front detailed specifications for the advance of his army beyond Spotsylvania to the James River! At 1 P. M. he learned that Warren’s corps had received a disastrous check at the Court-House, and that he must halt to deliver battle against Confederate intrenchments. Lee’s advanced corps had won the race for position and held the coveted field of defensive battle on Spotsylvania Ridge.

During the previous night Fitz Lee held his dismounted men on the. Brock road to resist the advance of Warren. Trees were felled, attacks were delivered, and obstinate resistance was offered to the Federal advance. The sun of May 8 arose upon Warren still distant from the goal, while Anderson, after a more circuitous journey, was arrayed across the Federal pathway. After sunrise, Anderson marched one mile northward from the Court-House to assist the cavalry in stemming the Federal tide of war. Upon a pine-covered ridge, Anderson threw up hasty works composed of logs and rails. The Confederates wore a grim smile behind their defences as they saw Warren’s corps advancing to the assault to meet disaster in front of their unerring rifles.* Lee’s First Corps held the Court-House cross-road and the onset of Grant’s advance corps failed to take the position.

[Note] * Stuart was there. For the last time the ascending sun glanced upon that plumed hat in the presence of the Army of Northern Virginia. Amid the storm of bullets, Stuart wore his old, sweet smile, and cheered the riflemen by commending the accuracy of their aim and the rapidity of their fire. His shout of gratification was mingled with theirs when they beheld Warren’s corps recoiling from the deadly fire that blazed along the ridge’s crest.

The two armies were shaping their course south-eastward across the swamps and sluggish streams that feed the upper York River. Between the Po and the Ny rivers lies the Spotsylvania Ridge. Lee’s swifter marching during the night enabled him to array his line of battle across this peninsular ridge, with his guns pointing northward face to face with Grant’s head of column. In ignorance of this fact, Grant remained in dalliance with Early at Todd’s Tavern, and permitted Lee to make a more speedy concentration of his entire army at Spotsylvania. At 5 P.M. on May 8, Lee arrived with Ewell’s corps, after a double passage of the Po, and at sunset the First and Second Confederate corps were in position across the Brock road ready to receive the assault of the Fifth and Sixth Federal corps under Sedgwick. As darkness fell, the second Federal attack was repulsed and Ewell advanced northwarda half-mile in a counter-charge on the right of the roadway. In the darkness, the Confederates began to throw up intrenchments in front of Sedgwick’s breastworks.*

[Note] * On the evening of May 8, Ewell’s corps formed Lee’s right wing and Anderson’s corps his left. The division of Rodes rested its left on the Brock road, while Edward Johnson’s division was drawn out to the right of Rodes. Gordon held his division in reserve. The half-mile advance brought Ewell’s corps northward beyond Anderson’s corps. Lee’s entire right wing faced westward while his left wing faced northward, both guarding the approach of the Brock road from the north-west.

The early morning of May 9, saw Lee riding along Ewell’s line. Through the pine-tree groves it wound its way almost northward toward Sedgwick’s flank. Johnson’s division on the extreme right was extended through the forest, across ravines and marshes, beyond the Harrison and McCool farm-houses, to command the open ground that slopes eastward to the Ny River. At Rodes’s right brigade the line bent outward in a salient, and near the centre of Johnson’s position an acute angle in the line was formed by bending back his right brigade to face the Ny. This was the apex of the famous salient of the battle of May 12.

The works erected during the night were slight and irregular. Lee thought the position untenable, but Ewell called attention to the high open point on the ridge defended by Johnson’s salient. From that elevation hostile cannon might sweep the entire region between the rivers. Lee, therefore, ordered his heavy guns into position behind the defences and commanded the chief engineer to mark off a second line behind the advanced right wing, to be held by Gordon’s division.

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


Far behind at Todd’s Tavern on the Brock road, most of Hancock’s corps tarried throughout the eighth day of May. Early and Hampton thus held the tail of the serpent, while Anderson and Ewell were hammering his head. On the morning of the 9th, Grant sent Sheridan on a raid toward Richmond, and thus gave Lee longer time to concentrate his entire army at Spotsylvania. On this same day the head of Early’s corps reached the Court-House just in time to check the advance of Burnside across the Ny from the eastward. The latter had marched far afield and was moving on the Fredericksburg road to strike Lee’s right and rear. Early established his guns in a north and south line along the ridge and visited confusion upon Burnside. The left of the Third Confederate Corps was then extended to unite with Ewell’s right, and the great salient was thus completed. The western face was held by Ewell and the eastern face by Ewell and Early. Lee’s right wing formed nearly a right angle with his centre and left. At the angle, the Confederate line was pushed out northward in the shape of an acorn, one mile in length and a half-mile in width. The Confederate soldiers called this excrescence “The Mule Shoe.” The gallant Confederate artillerymen were ready to sweep with canister every approach toward the elevation where Johnson’s division held the apex of the salient.

Hancock followed the Brock road on May 9 to take position on Grant’s extreme right. He sent three divisions across the Po to press against Lee’s left and rear. Grant proposed to assail Lee’s peninsula from the north and from the east and from the west.

Under cover of darkness Lee made ready his counter-stroke. Across the Po below the Court-House he moved Heth’s division. At the dawn of the 10th, Heth fell upon the flank and rear of Hancock’s force, just as Hancock was seeking to obey Grant’s order to withdraw his men to the northern bank of the Po. Grant seems to have become nervous in attempting the mild manoeuvre of an assault against Lee’s left flank, for he hastily recalled the column in order to mass his forces in front of the Confederate intrenchments. Amid the thick-grown pines, Heth visited fearful loss upon Barlow’s division. Through an inferno of burning woods he hastened Hancock’s retreat across the Po and rejoiced over the capture of one of Hancock’s heavy guns.

On May 10, Grant began to storm the Confederate works. At 11 A.M., a strong force rushed against Lee’s left wing. Field’s division wrapped their defences in the flame of musketry and cannon fire, and the Federal soldiers poured out their blood in vain. At three in the afternoon the men in blue uniform made a second dash against the wooded crest where the guns and muskets of Lee’s First Corps were hurling a tornado of death through the wilderness of. stunted cedars. After the repulse, the Confederates leaped over their works to collect the muskets and ammunition of Grant’s defeated and fallen men. These were distributed along the line until each Confederate soldier was armed with more than one loaded rifle. The sun drew near the hour of setting. Hancock was united with Warren and in long heavy lines the two corps dashed themselves against Lee’s thin left wing. But Hancock’s front line went down before the multiplied fire of Field’s division. Gallantly onward rushed the second Federal line over the breastwork of the Texas brigade. Like tigers fought the fragment of the eight hundred. With bayonets and with clubbed muskets they struggled hand to hand and yielded not. The adjoining brigade turned upon the flank of the foe and Grant’s assault was rendered fruitless.

At the same hour another assault was raging against the western face of the salient. Sedgwick sent Upton’s brigade to charge Ewell’s centre. In four lines Upton advanced. He broke through Doles’s brigade and swept him from the Confederate works. Daniel and Steuart unleashed their brigades against Upton’s flanks. Battle and Johnson assailed him in front; and still the gallant Upton continued the struggle. Gordon and Walker struck heavy blows against the Federal flanks and Upton was forced back with heavy loss. Ewell’s terrific firing had meanwhile repulsed the reinforcements pressing forward to the aid of Upton.

The Confederate right wing facing eastward under Early did not escape attack on this day of general assault.* Several lines from Burnside’s corps essayed to seize the roadway at the Court-House. But the guns of Cutts and Pegram speedily drove Burnside to seek shelter.

[Note] * “To assault ‘all along the line,’ as was so often done in the summer of 1864, is the very abdication of leadership.”—FRANCIS A. WALKER.

This day of Federal sacrifice was followed by a day of rain and skirmishing. On May 10, Grant wired thus to Halleck: “Send to Belle Plain all the infantry you can rake and scrape.” On May 11, he despatched to Washington the well-known boast that he would “fight it out on this line if it takes all summer” and added to this the following: “The arrival of reinforcements here will be very encouraging to the men, and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible and in as great numbers.”*

[Note] * Francis A. Walker says in connection with this crisis in the Federal movement: “The partition of authority between Grant and Meade had worked badly from the first, as it was destined to do through the remainder of the campaign.“

On May 11, Lee marked great commotion in the Federal army. Burnside turned his head of column northward across the Ny, and then marched back again to sit down before the Court-House. Far up the Po opposite Lee’s left marched a Federal brigade. Hancock withdrew a division from the Federal right. Lee interpreted this restlessness as the sign of a withdrawal from the field. He ordered all artillery “difficult of access” on the Confederate line to be withdrawn and held in readiness for the march. In obedience to this command Long drew back through the narrow winding roadway the guns from the Mule Shoe salient. Johnson’s division was left to guard the apex with muskets alone and two pieces of artillery. At midnight Johnson reported the massing of troops in his front and asked for the return of the guns.”*

[Note] * Lee was not informed. Ewell ordered the guns to return at daybreak.

Through the heavy mist at the dawn of May 12, Hancock’s corps rushed forward to envelop the apex of the salient. Johnson’s division was alert, but musketry fire alone could not shake the masses of the Second Corps.† Over the log-works they swarmed. Johnson’s division of twenty-eight hundred was made captive. The Confederate batteries rushed forward at a gallop, and reached the salient just in time to become Federal spoil. Twenty cannon and a troop of banners fell into Hancock’s hands, along with Generals Johnson and Steuart. Hancock’s corps filled up the inner angle of the salient, and his line began to sweep down within the Mule Shoe from point to heel. Lane’s Confederate brigade poured in a galling fire from the eastern face and Hancock’s left wing recoiled. Across the base of the salient Gordon formed his line; so dense was the fog and smoke of battle that Hancock’sposition was defined only by the sound of his muskets and the direction of the bullets. Lee spurred his horse toward the place of strife and found Gordon arraying his men for the charge. Lee quietly took his position to lead the division. “This is no place for General Lee,” said Gordon in stage-whisper. The soldiers heard the words and began to shout, “General Lee to the rear.” “These men are Georgians and Virginians; they have never failed you; they will not fail you now,” cried the impetuous Gordon to his commander, A ragged soldier stepped from the ranks and turned Traveller’s head toward the rear. The cry of “Lee to the rear” rang out again and again, and then it changed to the battle-slogan as the line advanced. Like a primitive bee-hunter, Gordon followed the course of the leaden messengers back to their origin. The din of battle swelled into a roar when Gordon met Hancock amid the dense growth of pines. The Federal left was thrust backward and Gordon set his flag above the eastern face of the salient.

[Note] * On account of the dampness many of the Confederate rifles refused to fire; this fact imparted greater courage to the assailants.

Ewell urged Ramseur’s brigade against Hancock’s right flank. From Early’s corps came two brigades under Harris and McGowan. Lee rode forward to lead Harris’s Mississippians into the deadly breach, but again was heard the protest “General Lee, go to the rear.” “Lee to the rear” was the battle-cry of this line that repulsed Hancock’s right wing. Severe losses had befallen Hancock and he was driven out side the salient. The Federal troops now held the outer trenches at the apex and along the western face of the Mule Shoe. Two Federal divisions from the Sixth Corps advanced to support Hancock’s line along this western portion of the angle. Three Confederate brigades occupied the corresponding inner trenches.* Across the pile of logs for twenty hours the murderous struggle continued hand-to-hand, until this place of battle was baptized in the life-current from the veins of heroes as the Bloody Angle.

[Note] * Mississippi under Harris held the place of honour in this conflict. In close support stood South Carolina, led by McGowan, and North Carolina under Ramseur. These three brigades held the inner trenches of the western face of the salient. From the apex at their right, an enfilading Federal fire swept along their line. Just across the heap of logs in the outer trenches stood the Federal divisions, four lines deep.

The three brigades must hold this key-point in the Confederate archway. Lee had not another man to place in the imperilled centre, for Grant was hurling the whole Army of the Potomac against him “all along the line.” The Fifth and a part of the Sixth Corps were charging Lee’s left, and Burnside was storming the right. But cannon crowned the Confederate lines, and the story of Grant’s assaults was again written in the blood of his own soldiers. A division of the Fifth Corps was sent to aid Hancock. Ravines and forests outside the salient were filled up with Federal regiments; batteries were planted to fire over the works; mortars dropped their shot among the beleaguered Confederates. Cannon were dragged up to thrust their muzzles across the top of the intrenchments. And yet the three brigades stood bravely to their work.

On each side of the fortification, men climbed to the top and fired
into the faces of the foe. They grappled and dragged one another
across the logs. Over the works and through the crevices were
bayonets thrust. A cold, drenching rain fell upon the vnrestlers;
both trenches were partly filled with water and seemed to run with
blood. The heaps of dead and dying were more than once removed
to leave fighting room for the living. Large standing trees behind
the lines were cut oflf by musket-balls.

Throughout the day the roar of battle was continuous in this field of blood. The brigades ordered forward by Grant to support the assault suffered more, perhaps, than the Federal force in the trenches. The Confederate fire was so keen that it split the blades of grass around the approaching foe. (A Federal officer speaks of the “Minies moaning in a furious concert as they picked out victims by the score.”)

Under the cover of darkness Hancock’s line of toilers in the ditch was relieved by men who took their place. (All were relieved except the 37th Mass. regiment. ) As these Federal soldiers withdrew they dropped to the ground from exhaustion. But the three Confederate brigades were not relieved. Lee could not spare the men. Without food, or drink, or rest, or covering, beneath the falling rain, they stood in the bloody trenches and loaded and fired throughout the watches of the night.

Gordon’s men were toiling to erect a breastwork across the base of the salient. At the early dawn of May 13, the wearied Confederates were withdrawn from the angle. Lee’s wings were bound together by this stronger second line. In spite of Confederate losses by capture on this fearful day, Grant’s disabled men were so numerous that the casualties on both sides stood in number about the same,—seven thousand. Twenty-two brigades in all were thrown against Lee’s centre at the salient, only to meet disaster.

From May 13 to May 18, Grant “manœuvred and waited for reinforcements,” notwithstanding his previous words to Meade, “I never manœuvre.” About twenty-five thousand men came to his aid. The Confederates rested and satisfied their hunger from the captured Federal haversacks. Real coffee boiled in new Federal tin cups, with foreign sugar, gave additional vigour to Lee’s veterans. The evening of May 12 brought the news of J. E. B. Stuart’s heroic death the previous day in front of Richmond. On May 20, Lee made this official announcement of the sad event:

Among the gallant soldiers who have fallen in this war, General Stuart was second to none in valour, in zeal, and in unflinching devotion to his country. His achievements form a conspicuous part of the history of this army, with which his name and services will be forever associated. To military capacity of a high order, and to the nobler virtues of the soldier, he added the brighter graces of a pure life, guided and sustained by the Christian’s faith and hope. The mysterious hand of an all-wise God has removed him from the scene of his usefulness and fame. His grateful countrymen will mourn his loss and cherish his memory. To his comrades in arms he has left the proud recollections of his deeds and the inspiring influence of his example.

May 17 brought unwelcome messages to Grant. Halleck telegraphed the following: “Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg. He will do nothing but run. Never did anything else.” At New Market, in the Valley of Virginia, on May 15, Sigel had suffered defeat at the hand of John C. Breckinridge with the loss of six Federal guns and nearly nine hundred men.* The information also came to Grant that May 16 had closed on Butler fast in the huge bottle formed by the James and Appomattox rivers. Beauregard held the cork of the bottle and Butler could neither advance nor retreat.

[Note] * Sigel’s force numbered six thousand five hundred men and twenty-eight guns. Breckinridge had about four thousand five hundred men, including the artillery under William McLaughlin and the horsemen of J. D. Imboden. McLaughlin’s eight guns with the horse-artillery tamed the spirit of the Federal soldiery; Imboden placed his cavalry on SigeVs flank and the Confederate infantry advanced to drive Sigel down the valley. The corps of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, mere boys in age, advanced with the steadiness of veterans side by side with the 62d Virginia regiment, and captured a blazing battery from the centre of Sigel’s line.

On the morning of May 18, Grant massed his Second and Sixth Corps and sent them to storm the salient. Lee’s heavy guns were ready along the new base-line. Spherical case and canister from twenty-nine guns broke the Federal host of twelve thousand before they came within rifle-range. At the same hour Burnside fell back from his attack against Lee’s right wing. The Army of the Potomac was slowly drifting toward its own left. Grant was looking for weak points in Lee’s line, but at every assault the Confederate breastworks fairly bristled with cannon and Grant drew back. On May 19, Ewell was sent around the Federal right to ascertain Grant’s position. He found severe battle, and was repulsed with the loss of nine hundred men. But Grant was held back one entire day from his march southward. The night of May 20 found Hancock leading Grant’s advance south-eastward to the Fredericksburg railroad. The chapter of Federal losses on the Spotsylvania field recounts the fall and capture of nearly eighteen thousand men. Over thirty-seven thousand was the total number of disabled in the Army of the Potomac from the Rapidan to Spotsylvania. About one-third of that number measured the reduction in Lee’s effective strength. At noonday, May 21 , Ewell led the advance towards Hanover Junction beyond the North Anna River. The forenoon of the 22d brought Ewell’s head of column to the Junction. Noonday marked the passage of Anderson’s column across the Anna bridge while the morning of May 23 found the Third Corps, again under Hill, on the southern bank of the stream. Lee did not possess the strength to strike Grant’s flank in the latter’s circuitous march. He preferred to follow the shorter pathway and to block Grant’s journey southward.* Pickett and Breckinridge with nine thousand muskets awaited Lee’s approach at the Junction. Noonday of May 23 found the Army of Northern Virginia looking out northward from rude intrenchments to mark the approach of Grant’s columns beyond the river.

[Note] * Lee remarked to Jed Hotchkiss on the journey to Hanover; “We wish no more salients.“

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


In the centre, commanding the telegraph road stood the First Corps behind heavy guns. Lee’s right was held by the Second Corps, and his left by the Third. Farther up the stream the corps of Warren found passage and threatened the Confederate left flank. Hill sent Wilcox at 6 P.M. to drive Warren back, but Warren manifested much strength, and as darkness fell both sides began to build fortifications.

Sunrise of the 24th brought Lee to his left wing, to mark the advantage gained by Warren. His wrath was aroused. The crimson flush mounted high on neck and forehead. The eyes were as a flame of fire. The courtly manner was stiffened into reserve. The words of questioning fell like a scathing rebuke: “General Hill, why did you let these people cross the river? Why did you not drive them back as General Jackson would have done?”

Since Hill had already drawn back the left wing, Lee retired his right from the river, and allowed his centre to rest on the North Anna at Ox Ford. The Confederate army was drawn up in form like a wedge with the point thrust against the river. Grant pushed his Fifth and Sixth Corps over-stream to face southward and Hancock’s corps crossed below and faced northward. Burnside sought passage in the Federal centre, but suffered loss from Lee’s guns on the river’s edge. Grant’s army was cut in twain on the point of the Confederate wedge. If either Federal wing should bring assistance to the other, the Federal force must make a double passage of the river.*

[Note] * At this juncture Lee was seized with sickness. During the previous twenty days he rested little. Not until ten or eleven at
night did he seek his blanket, and three o’clock each morning found
him at breakfast by candle-light, and then to the front to spend
eighteen hours along the line of battle. His iron frame yielded at
last, but he still retained his command. As he lay in his tent he
cried out in impatience: “We must strike them! We must never
let them pass us again! We must strike them!”

The morning of May 27 dawned upon the vacant Federal encampment. Grant had again sought the northern bank of the river and was heading his columns south-eastward. He had received a complete checkmate and had failed to cut the Central railroad. Lee was disappointed that greater results did not follow the separation of Grant’s two wings. But his combative spirit never wavered, and at a swift pace the Confederates started on the home-stretch. Directly southward between the Central and Fredericksburg railways, Lee moved the Second Corps now under Early. The First Corps marched around to Lee’s right via Ashland. A journey of twenty-four miles in thirty hours brought the Confederates into line of battle facing north-eastward on the central ridge between the Totopotomoy and Beaver Dam creeks. Grant kept close to the northern bank of the Pamunkey and sought to cross that stream and seize Richmond. Fitz Lee’s cavalry retarded Grant’s progress until the entire Confederate army stood athwart Grant’s pathway on May 28. Grant moved his army south of the Pamunkey, but Lee’s front was formidable, and Grant halted to await reinforcements from Butler. On May 30, W. F. Smith’s corps reached the White House on the lower Pamunkey and marched to give strength to Grant’s left wing.*

[Note] * Lee’s sickness continued during these critical da3rs. For the first time in the campaign he spent the night under the roof of a house near Atlee’s Station. His determined will kept him at the front each day.

From Beauregard’s army, south of Richmond, Lee asked reinforcements. Since May 20, Beauregard had beset the Richmond officials with proposals for a game in grand strategy. Grant and Butler occupied outside lines, while Beauregard and Lee held the inner defensive lines. Let Lee fall back to the Chickahominy and draw Grant after him, was Beauregard’s suggestion. A portion of Lee’s force might hold Grant at bay while the other portion brought aid to Beauregard. After the capture of Butler, Beauregard would move northward and stand by the side of Lee to receive the capitulation of Grant in the swamps of the Chickahominy. Whatever the merits of the scheme, Lee steadfastly maintained that continual battle must be offered to Grant. When at length he reached the immediate vicinity of the Capital, he asked Beauregard to lend assistance. But Beauregard seemed unwilling now to play at strategy. He telegraphed to Richmond: “War Dept. must determine when and what troops to order from here.” Lee’s reply to Beauregard is this: “If you cannot determine what troops you can spare, the Department cannot. The result of your delay will be disaster. Butler’s troops will be with Grant to-morrow.”

Grant withdrew from Lee’s front and once again moved by the left flank towards Cold Harbor. On May 31, Hoke’s division from Beauregard confronted the Federal advance on the old battle-ground of 1862. Lee extended his right to give support, and the afternoon of June 1 witnessed severe battle on the roadway between Old and New Cold Harbor. A Federal charge broke through Lee’s right wing and carried away five hundred captives. But Grant paid the tribute of twelve hundred men.

During the hot sultry night of June 1. Grant withdrew his own right wing and moved it by the left beyond the Cold Harbor road. Lee met this change of position by sending Hill and Breckinridge to defend his own right flank. Lee’s right wing on Turkey Hill now defended the passage of the Chickahominy at Grapevine Bridge. The heat of the second day of June brought weariness and thirst to the men of both armies. The dust from marching columns hovered over the field in dense clouds. The pangs of hunger oppressed the Confederates as they took their places behind the earthworks.* In Lee’s centre, Anderson’s (Longstreet’s) corps and Hoke’s division were arrayed across the roadway between New and Old Cold Harbor, facing eastward. Beyond Hoke’s right, to the southward, Breckinridge and Hill extended the Confederate line to the Chickahominy. Fitz Lee patrolled the region between that stream and the James River. Looking northward from Lee’s centre, one might see Ewell’s corps under Early standing at Anderson’s left hand. Heth’s division of Hill’s corps defended the extreme Confederate left.

[Note] * Many of the Confederate troops, according to GeorgeC. Eggleston of the artillery, had received only two issues of rations since leaving the Junction. One issue contained three hard biscuits and a meagre slice of pork to each man. Two days after this issue, one cracker was apportioned to each soldier. Upon this allowance the Confederates entered the battle of Cold Harbor.

In the afternoon of June 2, Lee assumed the offensive. He ordered Early to assail Grant’s right flank and sweep down in front of the Confederate line of battle. Early found Grant’s right wing intrenched behind impregnable works. The opportunity was offered to Grant to fight in open ground For such an opportunity he expressed a great desire in his despatches to Washington. But he came not forth from his fortress to deliver battle against Early. The latter built strong breastworks in front of Grant’s right and awaited the coming of the morning.

At 4.30 on the morning of June 3, Grant sent his army to the assault all along the line, six miles in length. The Confederate works were full of salient angles, and Lee’s heavy guns secured a cross-fire at short range against nearly every one of the attacking brigades. The Confederate riflemen took deliberate aim. Hunger had maddened Lee’s veterans and they multiplied their shots with fearful swiftness. The rifle-pits seemed to speak with tongues of flame. No man and no body of men could stand in front of that fire and live. Grant’s vast host could only rush forward to die before the Confederate marksmen.

Hancock’s corps assailed Lee’s right in double line of attack with supports in rear. A salient in front became Federal prey. A fierce counter-stroke by Breckinridge drove the assailants in flight, and the enfilading fire of the Confederate artillery stretched three thousand of Hancock’s men upon the field. A like tragic fate met the Federal corps which attacked Lee’s centre and left. The front lines of Grant’s assault were almost destroyed within ten minutes, and the rest sought shelter.

At nine o’clock Meade sent Grant’s order to his subordinates to renew the attack. Hancock refused to give the order to his men. W. F. Smith, commanding the Eighteenth Corps, writes this sentence: “That order I refused to obey.” Major-General M. T. McMahon, Chief-of-staff, Sixth Federal Corps, states that a second and a third command to attack came from Grant. The order, says McMahon,

came to the corps headquarters, was transmitted to the division headquarters, and to the brigades and the regiments without comment. To move that army farther, except by regular approaches, was a simple and absolute impossibility, known to be such by every officer and man of the three corps engaged. The order was obeyed by simply renewing the fire from the men as they lay in position.

In the battles of June 1 and June 3, Grant’s loss was about ten thousand men. Most of these fell in the grand assault of the last day. From the time of crossing the Pamunkey to June 12, Grant’s casualties numbered over fourteen thousand men; three thousand sick soldiers sent North makes a ghastly aggregate of over seventeen thousand. Lee’s loss was small.*

[Note] * The wounded left upon the field after the assault of June 3 were all Federal soldiers. Unspeakable sufiFering abounded. Not until June 5 did Grant seek to relieve his men, and then only by making the strange proposition to Lee “that, hereafter, when no battle is raging, either party be authorised to send to any point between the pickets or skirmish-lines unarmed men bearing litters to pick up their dead or wounded, without being fired upon by the other party.” Lee suggested that Grant should follow the regular method of asking a truce. When Grant finally determined to act in accordance with the usual mode his wounded men were dead. He then sought to lay upon Lee the blame for the delay. General Francis A. Walker writes on this point as follows: “If it be asked why so simple a duty of humanity as the rescue of the wounded and burial of the dead had been thus neglected, it is answered that it was due to an unnecessary scruple on the part of the Union Commander-in-chief. Grant delayed sending a flag of truce to General Lee for this purpose because it would amount to an admission that he had been beaten on the 3d of June. It now seems incredible that he should for a moment have supposed that any other view could be taken of that action.”

Grant ordered his army to approach Lee’s lines by constructing regular approaches as in a siege. His professed object was to restrain Lee from sending troops against Hunter who was prosecuting a campaign with the torch in the Valley of Virginia. In this purpose Grant did not succeed. Lee assumed the offensive on a wider field than the Wilderness. Two attacks were delivered by Early against Grant’s right and rear on June 6 and 7, but strong fortifications held him in check. June 10 found Lee despatching Breckinridge toward the Valley. On June 12, Hampton crossed the path of Sheridan at Trevilian’s and checked his advance against Lynchburg. The evening of June 12 marked Lee’s order to Early to lead the Second Corps in search of Hunter. He commanded Early to march afterwards across the Potomac to threaten Washington. Not long did Lee wait to hear of the swift-footed march of Early to Lynchburg. There he confronted Hunter who came fresh from the burning and pillage of collegiate buildings and private dwelling-houses in the Valley. In dismay, Hunter turned himself westward through the mountains while Early sought the Federal Capital.

Under cover of the night of June 12, Grant moved his army across the Chickahominy toward the James. His campaign had been a disastrous failure. He had sought to reach Richmond from the northward. He was compelled to unite his army with Butler’s shattered force, and to assail Petersburg in order to secure a way of advance from the southward. Moreover, the Federal army was broken in spirit. Its morale was gone. The next few daysbrought Grant’s men nerveless and cautious into the presence of Confederate intrenchments.*

[Note] * General F. A. Walker thus writes of the bravest and strongest body of troops in Grant’s army, the Second Corps: “As the corps turned southward from Cold Harbor to take its part in the second act of the great campaign of 1864, the historian is bound to confess that something of its pristine virtue had departed under the terrific blows that had been showered upon it in the series of fierce encounters which have been recited. Its casualties had averaged more than four hundred a day for the whole period since it crossed the Rapidan. . . . Moreover, the confidence of the troops in their leaders had been severely shaken. They had again and again been ordered to attacks which the very privates in the ranks knew to be hopeless from the start; they had seen the fatal policy of ‘assaults all along the line’ persisted in even after the most ghastly failures; and they had almost ceased to expect victory when they went into battle. The lamentable story of Petersburg can not be understood without reference to facts like these.”—Life of Hancock, pp. 228, 229.

Lee met Grant’s movement by sending Hoke’s division to Petersburg on the morning of June 13. Anderson and Hill were moved to the right and covered the approaches toward Richmond by establishing a line of battle from White Oak Swamp to Malvern Hill. Lee had less than thirty thousand men north of the James. Grant veiled his passage of the river behind a cloud of cavalry supported by his Fifth Corps. Smith’s corps was hastened forward to aid Butler in the capture of Petersburg. Hancock followed in the track of Smith.

On the morning of June 16, Lee transfierred the divisions of Field and Pickett to the southern bank of the James. On the 17th, they drove Butler from a part of Beauregard’s old line near Bermuda. The spirit of Lee’s entire army is set forth in the following despatch from Lee: “We tried very hard to stop Pickett’s men from capturing the breastworks of the enemy, but could n’t do it.”

As soon as Lee made himself certain that Grant would not assail Richmond from the northern bank of the James, he threw his columns across the river. The evening of June 18 found Lee conjoined with Beauregard, ready to visit slaughter upon the armies of Grant and Butler. Between the 15th and the 1 8th of June, ten thousand additional names disappeared from the Federal rolls as the result of daily assaults against Beauregard’s intrenchments. During these four days, Beauregard made a gallant defence against more than half of Grant’s army, with a Confederate force of only about ten thousand men. Between the Rapidan and the James, Grant’s losses reached the number of fifty-four thousand nine hundred and twenty-six. This ghastly aggregate of sixty-five thousand disabled men between the Rapidan and Petersburg was counterbalanced by Federal reinforcements to the number of fifty-five thousand men.

The Army of Northern Virginia still retained its old elasticity and vigour. Lee’s losses amounted to about twenty thousand. The spirit of the soldiers was yet buoyant. The old yell had gathered additional fierceness; the men went into battle with all their former dash and impetuosity. Perhaps not one in Lee’s heroic band held a doubt as to the ultimate success of the Confederacy. After the bloody repulse which these heroes visited upon the Federal assault of June 18. Grant wrote thus to Meade: “Now we will rest the men and use the spade for their protection until a new vein can be struck.”


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