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



THE Confederate administration, in the summer of 1864, decided to continue the fatal policy of defending Richmond, For more than a year Lee had persisted in pointing out the certainty of defeat, if his small band should be compelled to withstand the Federal hosts in the trenches around the Capital of the Confederacy. Lee’s withdrawal to the base of the Blue Ridge in July, 1864, would very probably have enabled him to destroy Grant’s army. The bravest men of that army were destroyed and its spirit was completely broken by the campaign in the Wilderness. Grant himself suffered a reaction, and began the policy of playing around the ends of Lee’s fortifications.* His flank attacks during the autumn and winter were costly failures. His own intrenchments were impregnable against Confederate assaults and he drew his resources from sea-going vessels near the head of tidewater. Lee could not get at him. Grant had the patience to wait three-fourths of a year, until starvation forced Lee’s heroes to submit. General Francis A. Walker bears this testimony concerning Grant’s new policy and the lack of spirit in the Federal army:

Unfortunately, this change of purpose did not take place until
the numbers, and even more the morale, of the troops had been so far
reduced that the flanking movements became, in the main, ineffectual from the want of vigour in attack at critical moments, when a little of the fire which had been exhibited in the great assaults of May would have crowned a well-conceived enterprise with victory. That fire for the time had burned itself out; and on more than one occasion during the months of July and August the troops of the Army of the Potomac, after an all-day or all-night march, which placed them in a position of advantage, failed to show a trace of that enthusiasm and élan which had characterised the earlier days of the campaign.—Life of Hancock, pp. 246–7.

[Note] * On July 27, Grant sent this despatch to Meade: “I do not want Hancock to attack intrenched lines.“

A growing party in the North seemed to echo the sentiment of the chief Federal army, that the war of invasion had proved a failure. When Mr. Lincoln sought to secure half a million additional soldiers to throw into the breach, a great clamour of protest was sent up by the Northern press. Just after the battle of Cold Harbor, gold in New York went up to 2.52, and the hopes of the war-advocates, according to Horace Greeley, went down to the depths of a most profound despair. The Republican party, on June 7, renominated Mr. Lincoln for the Presidency, but the unrest of the succeeding weeks led the Democratic party to conceive the sanguine hope of defeating him. On August 29, the latter brought forward as standard-bearer, General George B. McClellan. The second plank in the Democratic platform declared,

that after four years of failure to restore the Union bythe experiment of war, during which, under the pretence of a military necessity of a war power higher than the Constitution^ the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired; justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities.

The third plank denounced as revolutionary “the direct interference of the military authority of the United States in the recent elections held in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware.“ The fifth ran as follows:

Resolved, That the shameful disregard of the administration to its duty in respect to our fellow-citizens who now are, and long have been, prisoners of war, in a suffering condition, deserves the severest reprobation, on the score alike of public policy and common humanity.

Under the stress of failure in the field, Lincoln and Grant had been driven to the desperate expedient of refusing to exchange prisoners of war. They desired to retain all Confederate captives in order to make permanent reductions in the Southern armies. In consequence there was great suffering among the overcrowded prison-pens in the South. Federal prisoners had to share the meagre food of the Confederates in the field, and since this was often only a daily handful of commeal, the Federal captives very naturally complained of hunger. In order to conceal from the Northern public their policy of non-exchange, the Federal authorities refused to receive captive Federal soldiers when the Confederate commissioner, Judge Ould, offered to hand them over without equivalent. Moreover, the Federal administration inflicted upon Confederate soldiers in Northern prison-pens the direful pangs of hunger and cold in a land of plenty. This plan of retaliation resulted in the death of a far higher percentage of Confederates held in bonds than was the case among Federal prisoners in the South.

The Army of Northern Virginia had virtually won peace and perhaps independence in the Wilderness campaign, when Confederate reverses in Alabama and Georgia changed the despair of the North into a determination to continue the war of aggression. In the early days of July, 1864, J. E. Johnston was withdrawing his army across the Chattahoochee River from the presence of Sherman’s forces. From July 20 until September, Hood was losing the game of war in front of Atlanta. On August 23, Farragut had complete possession of the bay and fort of Mobile. In the autumn, Hood was breaking his army to pieces in Tennessee while Sherman was making an unopposed march, torch in hand, from Atlanta to Savannah. The early winter found the Federal fleet closing in upon Fort Fisher, on the Carolina coast, the last seaport connecting the Confederacy with foreign countries. During all these reverses, wherein the control of rivers and sea permitted the Federal forces gradually to reduce the territorial limits of the Confederacy, Lee and his grim veterans stood before Richmond and Petersburg with courage steadfast and unmoveable. Grant’s army was the real garrison; his strong works alone prevented Lee from driving him into the sea. The Southern sentiment which demanded the defence of the Capital, kept the Army of Northern Virginia away from the mountain slopes and ridges where the only chance for victory still remained.

Beauregard’s heroic defence of Petersburg during four days of assault was succeeded by the Sunday quietade of June 19. Lee spent the morning in prayer at church, while. his men were throwing up earthworks. Both armies were intrenching. Lee faced eastward on the southern side of the Appomattox. He was ready to hold Petersburg, the key to the Richmond defences. Beauregard stood with his left resting on the Appomattox; to his right was the First Corps under Anderson, while beyond Anderson to the southward A. P. Hill’s corps formed the Confederate right wing. Pickett’s division occupied the line across the angle between the Appomattox and the James rivers. The fortifications on the northern bank of the James were manned by batteries and local troops under Ewell. More than thirty miles in length was this line of frowning redoubts, connected by extended breastworks, strengthened by mortar batteries and field-works of every description. Abatis and bushy entanglements were constructed in front of these defences. Even stronger were Grant’s fortifications. Bomb-proofs and parapets manifested his intention to dwell under the earth until regular siege operations should reduce the beleaguered city. Near the close of the month of June, 1864, when these siege operations began, Grant’s force aggregated more than one hundred and seven thousand men. The Confederate defenders of Petersburg and Richmond were about fifty-four thousand in number.

Confederate supplies were drawn from the South over three railroads. The Weldon road on Lee’s right flank was exposed to the first Federal assaults. The Southside (Lynchburg) and the Danville roads were in the rear of the Confederate works. Grant’s first movement in the new game was to send forth from his long fortress three corps d’armée against the Weldon railway.

On the morning of June 21, the Second Corps, followed by the Sixth, moved across the Jerusalem plank road and took position on the left of the Federal Fifth Corps. Grant was seeking to execute a great wheeling movement to envelop Lee’s right wing, south of Petersburg. Birney’s corps (Second) formed the centre of the wheeling column; the Sixth was on Birney’s left. On the same day Wilson’s six thousand horsemen were sent southward to strike the railroad still farther away from Lee’s lines.

The morning of June 22 found Lee on his extreme right in the midst of the tangled wilderness. He was soon able to discern the approach of Grant’s forces. A. P. Hill was ordered to bring three brigades southward as far* as the Johnson House. The Sixth Corps on the Federal left was tardy in its advance, and the gap was growing wider between the Sixth and the Second. Hill’s brigades under Mahone rushed into this gap. They dashed through the pine forests with a fierce yell to assail the left flank of the Second Corps. The Federal line was thrown into confusion and driven back, and Mahone carried off four guns and seventeen hundred prisoners. The Second Corps then hid itself behind heavy works. The attempt to push the Sixth Corps forward to the railroad on June 23 resulted in the loss of five hundred Federal prisoners.

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


June 22 found Wilson’s cavalry tearing up the railroad track at Reams’s Station. From that point they marched westward to the Southside road to meet W. H. F. Lee’s division of horsemen. On the 23d, Wilson attacked Lee with vigour only to be repulsed. The 24th dawned upon Wilson in retreat. At Staunton River bridge, the local militia turned him backward to seek Petersburg. Lee’s troopers were in close pursuit. Hampton came from his victory over Sheridan at Trevilian’s to render aid to Lee. At Reams’s Station, Mahone with two brigades of infantry stood across Wilson’s route, while Fitz Lee’s horsemen assailed his rear. Wilson’s troops were scattered in wild flight; they left behind them a long supply-train, thirteen guns, and one thousand captured negroes.*

[Note] * Wilson’s raid was characterised by private pillage. Among the articles recaptured from him were family carriages, books, looking-glasses, and female garments of every sort. In Wilson’s headquarters’ waggon was found the silver communion-service belonging to St. John’s Church of Lunenburg County, Virginia.

Lee now sought to break Grant’s grasp by sending Early to threaten Washington. On July 5, Early led ten thousand men across the Potomac at Shepherdstown. Three days later he was moving eastward over South Mountain. Consternation reigned among the twenty thousand troops in the Washington defences. Exaggerated reports of Early’s numbers were sent broadcast throughout the North. Federal troops were hastened southward from Baltimore. The Nineteenth Corps, en route from New Orleans to Grant’s army, was turned aside to Washington. Grant was ordered to withdraw his Sixth Corps from his left on the Jerusalem plank road to man the forts in front of the Federal Capital. On July 9, Early visited utter defeat upon Lew Wallace’s six thousand on the eastern bank of the Monocacy near Frederick. The intrepid Confederates continued their bold advance. July 11 brought Early to the very gates of the city. During the entire day of July 12, his little band stood in threatening attitude before the frowning guns of Washington. The two Federal corps from the field were just at hand. It was not possible for Early’s small force to capture and hold the city. He withdrew across the Potomac to Leesburg, and July 22 found him in the lower valley at Strasburg. His expedition led to the organisation of a large army under Sheridan for the defence of Washington. The immense numbers of men furnished to the Federal administration by the bounty system enabled them to give Sheridan a distinct force, while Grant was left in his bomb-proofs on the James.*

[Note] * On July 20, Grant sent the following to Stanton: “I must enter my protest against States sending recruiting agents into the Southern States for the purpose of filling their quotas. The negroes brought within our lines are rightfully recruits for the U.S. Service, and should not go to benefit any particular State. It is simply allowing Massachusetts (I mention Massachusetts because I see the order of the Governor of that State for establishing recruiting agencies in the South, and see no such order from any other State authority) to fill her quota by paying an amount of money to recruits the United States have already got.”

In the same connection, S. S. Cox made this statement: “Delaware . . . had in 1860, eighteen hundred slaves, and the enlisting agents have mostly sold them out to this humanitarian government for soldiers, costing $150 apiece in Delaware and selling for $1000 in New York. Surely Delaware will soon be free!”

On July 22, Brigadier-General Cutler, from his outlook on the Jerusalem road, sent the following to Mr. Lincoln:

. . . For the first time since the war commenced I confess that I am seriously apprehensive for the result, not from any lack of confidence in the army or its commanders, but because I am almost certain that you will not get the necessary number of men of the right sort, and in season, under the late call, and if you do not, and the struggle goes on through the autumn without decisive results, it requires no prophet to fortell the consequences. I take it for granted that a large proportion of the new men are to be substitutes furnished by those able- tQ do so. They will get the cheapest they can. . . .

Throughout the month of July, Grant was preparing to make a direct advance upon Petersburg beneath the surface of the earth. In front of the Cemetery, the Confederate works on the crest of the hill were known as the Elliott Salient. The rifle-pits of Burnside’s corps (Ninth) were only one hundred yards distant from this salient. In Burnside’s rear the ground made a rapid descent to a deep ravine. The Pennsylvania miners under Burnside began to dig a tunnel at the base of the slope. They completed a passageway, about five hundred and ten feet in length, and then excavated lateral galleries. July 28 saw eight thousand pounds of powder, ready for the match, placed directly beneath some of Pegram’s guns and Elliott’s Carolinians. Through the ghastly avenue to be produced by the explosion of the mine. Grant expected to send three corps, composing more than one-half of his army, with orders to seize Petersburg.

To assist Burnside in the proposed assault. Grant attempted a little game of strategy. On July 27, he sent Sheridan’s cavalry and the Second Corps, once again commanded by Hancock, across the James River to assail the Confederate defences at Chaffin’s, and to capture Richmond by a sudden onset of the Federal horsemen. If this plan should fail. Grant expected that the expedition would at least call Lee’s forces to the northern bank of the James, and leave Petersburg exposed to Burnside’s attack. Hancock advanced from Deep Bottom, drove back Kershaw’s division, and captured four Parrott guns, only to find a strong Confederate line of battle behind Bailey’s Creek. July 29 found five of Lee’s divisions with his cavalry, after swift marching, between Hancock and Richmond, Pickett remained between the James and the Appomattox, and only three divisions were left to defend Petersburg. Thirteen thousand infantrymen and artillerymen were ready to receive Burnside on the morning of July 30, while the bulk of Lee’s army was twenty miles away on the northern bank of the James.

Meade feared to order Burnside forward without the assistance of Hancock. Grant therefore withdrew one-half of the Second Corps, and gave up the direct assault against Richmond. At the dawn of July 30, the mine was fired and Elliott’s brigade was partially destroyed. A broad gateway was opened into Petersburg, and not a Confederate soldier stood directly between Burnside and the city. Eighty-one heavy guns and mortars, and more than eighty field guns began to concentrate their fire on the adjacent portions of the Confederate works.

The explosion itself sent terror into the Federal column of assault, and they recoiled in confusion. Twenty minutes sufficed to shake off the initial fright, and then the Second brigade of the First division slowly ascended the slope and sheltered themselves in the yawning crater, which was one hundred and thirty-five feet in length and thirty feet deep. The Cemetery was just before them on the hill undefended; but the attacking column lingered in the chasm. The brigade ordered to support the assault advanced and likewise sought shelter in the pit. The entire assaulting division remained here in a confused mass; their officers could not move them forward in the face of the scattering Confederate musketry fire that grew louder and louder on both flanks. Haskell, the Carolinian, hastened forward his light battery and from the plank road and its vicinity poured in the fire ofhis guns. Hampden Chamberlayne, sick with fever, rushed from the hospital to render gallant service with his cannon. Wright and Langhome, under cover of the pines to the Confederate left, raked with canister the ground between the crater and Burnside’s corps.

The Confederate gunners stood gallantly to their work under the fierce fire from Grant’s artillery. Two additional Federal divisions were led to the hill’s crest, but most of the men crept into the crater, which now presented the appearance of an overturned bee-hive. “Do you mean to say your officers and men will not obey your orders to advance?” wrote Meade to Burnside. “I mean to say that it is very hard to advance to the crest,” was Burnside’s reply. At eight o’clock Burnside’s negro division was pushed forward over the white men in the crater, but they at once sought shelter in the adjacent rifle-pits. A division of the Tenth Corps followed. The timid assailants were gradually gathering courage from the presence of numbers to make an advance on Cemetery Hill.

In this crisis Lee arrived from beyond the Appomattox. He had withdrawn two of Hill’s brigades from the extreme Confederate right, and Mahone was now throwing them into the breach. Pegram’s guns were rolling rapidly to the place of danger. The Confederates moved along the covered way from the plank road to the ravine in front of the crater. Weisiger’s Virginians made a gallant dash toward the chasm. The negro division fled in terror, and leaped into the pit; most of the other Federal troops were forced into the same deep abyss. Wright’s Georgians came to Weisiger’s aid. The Confederate works were recaptured shortly after noonday. The crater became a place of indescribable suffering and death for the entrapped Federal soldiers, until the survivors surrendered at discretion. Grant had massed sixty-five thousand men for the grand assault, but the lack of vigour, and even the timidity of his officers and men, resulted in a failure and the loss of nearly five thousand men.*

In the opening days of August, Sheridan took control of Federal operations in the valley of Virginia; the Sixth Corps and the cavalry of Torbert and Wilson were sent to strengthen his army. Lee sent Kershaw’s division and Fitz Lee’s horsemen to render support to General Early. Grant therefore conceived the plan of again assaulting the Confederate works on the northern bank of the James. On August 14, Hancock led the Second and the Tenth Corps and Gregg’s cavalry against Lee’s line, only to suffer defeat. General Francis A. Walker speaks thus of Hancock’s movement:

It should frankly be confessed that the troops on our side engaged behaved with little spirit. . . . When it is added that the two brigades most in fault were the Irish brigade and that which had been so long and gloriously commanded by Brooke, it will appear to what a condition the army had been reduced by three months of desperate fighting.

With the loss of one thousand men Hancock withdrew to Petersburg in order to take part in another disastrous assault against the Weldon railroad.

While Hancock was wasting his strength at Deep Bottom, the Fifth Corpswas exchanging the monotony of trench-life for the excitement of a movement against Lee’s right flank. On August 18, Warren led this corps from the Jerusalem plank road as far as the Globe Tavern on the Weldon railroad. He then moved along the railway toward Petersburg until Heth with two brigades struck him on the left flank, and killed and captured nearly a thousand Federal soldiers. On the 19th, A. P. Hill confronted Warren with two divisions. Heth assailed the left of the Federal corps while Mahone thrust his brigades against Warren’s right flank. The Federal loss was two thousand nine hundred men. Warren threw up strong works near the Gurley House, and on the 21st Hill assaulted him but was repulsed with loss.

[Note] * A great despairing outcry arose in the North. Goldwent up to 2. go. The New York Herald called for the sending of an embassy to the Confederate Government “to see if this dreadful war cannot be ended in a mutually satisfactory treaty of peace.”

On the same day Hancock led two divisions beyond Warren to the southward and began to tear up the railway track. August 24 found him in bivouac with Gregg’s cavalry within some old intrenchments at Reams’s Station. A. P. Hill made a swift movement, with eight brigades aided by Hampton’s cavalry, against Hancock’s isolated works. Pegram secured an enfilade and reverse fire with his eight guns at half-musket range. His terrific hail of iron was followed by Heth’s charge. Most of Hancock’s men were seized with panic and broke away in flight; their works were taken and nine guns, twelve colours, more than three thousand stand of small arms, and twenty-one hundred and fifty prisoners, became Confederate spoil. Hill’s loss was seven hundred and twenty men. It was only the desperate fighting of Hancock himself at the head of a small band of courageous men that prevented the rout and capture of his entire corps. Francis A. Walker, of Hancock’s staff, ascribes this Federal defeat chiefly to “The weakened spirit of our [Hancock’s] men.”*

[Note] * Walker states further that Hancock “had seen his troops fail in their attempts to carry the intrenched positions of the enemy, but he had never before had the mortification of seeing them driven, and his lines and guns taken, as on this occasion; and never before had he seen his men fail to respond to the utmost when he called upon them personally for a supreme effort; nor had he ever before ridden toward the enemy, followed by a beggarly array of a few hundred stragglers who had been gathered together and pushed toward the enemy. He could no longer conceal from himself that his once mighty corps retained but the shadow of its former strength and vigour. . . . ‘I do not care to die [cried Hancock], but I pray God I may never leave this field.’ The agony of that day never passed away from the proud soldier.“

Grant’s losses in the month of August reached the total of about eight thousand men; Lee’s casualties during the same time numbered about two thousand. Nevertheless, Grant continued his blows at both Confederate flanks, his chief effort being directed toward the extension of the Federal left in order to seize Lee’s lines of communication with the South.

The closing days of September saw the Federal Tenth and Eighteenth corps advancing to assail the Confederate defences north of the James, only to offer in sacrifice about two thousand three hundred men. Lee’s loss was likewise heavy. In connection with this movement. Grant sent four divisions to seize the Confederate right flank. Hill threw two divisions against the flank of the assaulting column; the Federal loss was more than two thousand. General Parke, commander of the Federal Ninth Corps, explains the disaster as follows: “The large amount of raw material in the ranks has greatly diminished the efficiency of the corps.“

When the month of October was nearly past. Grant made one last desperate effort to win a success in order to strengthen Lincoln in the approaching election. He sent a column of thirty-two thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry to turn Lee’s right at Hatcher’s Run, fourteen miles southwest of Petersburg. Hancock was ordered to lead his corps westward along the Vaughan road across Hatcher’s Run, until he should seize the Boydton plank road. He was then to move eastward again, recross Hatcher’s Run and seize the Southside railroad in the rear of Lee’s right wing. The Fifth and the Ninth corps with Gregg’s cavalry were moved to the Federal left to support Hancock. On the morning of October 27, the great host began the march. The Ninth Corps advanced against the right extremity of Lee’s intrenchments, only to find the grey-clad riflemen alert and still possessed of an accurate aim. The Ninth Corps, therefore, halted and placed itself behind earthworks.

Hancock passed across Hatcher’s Run and secured the Boydton plank road. Hill’s grim veterans under Heth stood ready on the eastern bank of the Run and Hancock paused. A division of the Fifth Corps crossed the stream to lend aid to Hancock, but many of the Federal regiments lost their way and went astray in the wilderness. The entire Federal force was now astride Hatcher’s Run, with its left wing separated into detached bands and entangled in the dense forest. Heth followed the usual tactical method. He sent Mahone’s division westward across the Run and thrust them into the gap between the Second and the Fifth corps and made a fierce attack against Hancock’s right flank. Hampton fell upon Hancock’s left. Hancock’s numbers speedily regained their lost ground. During the night Grant withdrew the entire Federal force and left as Hill’s spoil six guns and seven hundred prisoners. Hancock left part of his wounded on the field. Although Grant’s entire loss amounted to seventeen hundred and sixty-one men, yet he telegraphed to Stanton at the close of the day (October 27): “. . . Our casualties have been light—probably less than two hundred. . . . We lost no prisoners except the usual stragglers, who are always picked up.”

On the same day, Longstreet celebrated his return to the field by visiting a loss of more than one thousand upon Butler’s brigades who were attempting to creep through the White Oak Swamp into the Richmond defences.

While Grant was thus pouring out the blood of the new bounty-paid recruits on the banks of the James and the Appomattox, he was at the same time attempting to incite Sheridan up the Valley of Virginia in order to seize Lee’s lines of communication at Lynchburg. On August 7 the Federal cavalry leader was placed in charge of a large force, and sent against Early at Winchester. Since his advance against Washington that Confederate officer had been the source of much apprehension in Maryland and Pennsylvania. He had sent a detachment of horsemen to set fire to Chambersburg* in retaliation for Hunter’s bonfires in the Valley of Virginia. The latter retired to Harper’s Ferry, and there maintained his position for more than a month.

[Note] * The burning of Chambersburg did not receive Lee’s approving sanction.

During these August days, Early checked the traffic on the canal and on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and constantly threatened to cross the Potomac beyond Martinsburg. On September 1, Sheridan had about fifty-six thousand six hundred men. Sheridan finally led forward about forty-eight thousand foot and horse to assail Early’s band of little more than thirteen thousand. At Winchester on September 19, Early was forced from the field, and eventually compelled to retire up the valley. Sheridan used the torch even more recklessly than Hunter; houses, mills, barns, and farming implements were reduced to ashes, with the gathered harvests of corn, grass, and wheat. Early followed Sheridan again to Cedar Creek, where the latter was contemplating a removal of his force to Petersburg. Early could count under his banner only eight thousand five hundred muskets, and less than four thousand cavalry and artillery. In the early morning of October 19, this small band dashed upon the flank and the rear of the city of tents occupied by the Federal soldiery outnumbering them four to one. Sheridan’s army was driven in rout. Early hesitated and the vigour of the pursuit was abated. The Federal regiments paused and formed line of battle. Afterward Sheridan himself reached the field and his men drove Early up the valley. But Early’s purpose was largely accomplished. He restrained Sheridan from sending reinforcements to Grant, and continued to show a bold front in the upper valley.

In the opening days of December, Grant recalled the Sixth Corps from the valley to the James. Lee met this movement by summoning the Second Corps away from Early’s field to man the trenches before Petersburg. Sheridan’s great flanking force of fifty-six thousand had failed to cut the Central railway or to seize Lee’s depot of supplies at Lynchburg. The Federal losses in Sheridan’s Valley campaign reached the ghastly aggregate of seventeen thousand!

The defeat of Hood on December 16, left Lee’s army as the only force of any magnitude in the Southern Confederacy. Sherman’s seizure of Savannah on December 21 placed Lee between two great Federal hosts whose base of supply was the Atlantic Ocean. The spirit of the Confederate commander and of his men seemed to rise higher as the terrors of war were thickening about them. There was great lack of harmony in the councils of the Confederate government. A party in the Congress, hostile to President Davis, led by Wigfall and Foote, grew more bitter in their denunciations of the administration. The friends and the critics of Beauregard, Bragg, and J. E. Johnston were prosecuting a great war of recrimination. Some of the Cotton States were threatening to make terms with the Federal administration, unless President Davis should send troops to defend their thresholds. Governor Vance asked for a corps from Lee’s army to resist the assaults against Wilmington, on the ground that this seaport was of as great value to the Confederacy as was Richmond.

The Conscription Act, calling into the field all males between the ages of eighteen and fifty, was denounced as unconstitutional. Governor Brown of Georgia refused to obey the statute. President Davis was termed a despot because he sought to enforce the law. Property-holders in large numbers succeeded in evading the call and remained at home. Moreover, Vice-President Stephens began to loom up as the leader of a peace party, which increased the clamour against Davis. From the beginning the Confederate President was too sanguine of success. He played his cards as the head of a perfected system of statesmanship. He never seemed to recognise his imperative duty to secure every possible advantage in order to win the game. A man of lofty patriotism, of unfailing integrity and of spotless purity, Mr. Davis supposed that the Confederacy would attain a position of permanency through the ordinary and regular operations of his system of administration. He never recognised the military necessity of destroying the Army of the Potomac by mobilising the forces of the South, and now that army was about to destroy him.

It must be remembered, however, that strong State jealousies stood in the way of mobilising a great Confederate army in Virginia or in Tennessee. This same cause was strongly operative in the winter of 1864 in weakening Lee’s army. Nearly all the men who left his ranks went back to the Cotton States. To the honour of Virginia be it said, that as she did not in the outset seek war, so at the close she did not seek peace while war was possible. Her General Assembly expressed confidence in the administration of President Davis, and pledged him unto the very end all the men and resources of the Commonwealth.

With unconquerable spirit, Lee stood like the strong man he was in the midst of all these difficulties. He kept, the peace with all the warring factions. None of them dared to assail him who was the personal friend and idol of the grim grey-jackets who manned the Petersburg trenches. The newspapers would perhaps have subjected Lee to criticism if they had not feared his popularity. To the Hon. B. H. Hill of Georgia, Lee made these remarks:

We made a great mistake, Mr. Hill, in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. . . . In the beginning we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies and all our best generals to edit the newspapers. As you know, I have planned some campaigns and quite a number of battles. I have given the work all the care and thought I could, and sometimes, when my plans were completed, as far as I could see they seemed to be perfect. But when I have fought them through I have discovered defects, and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the defects in advance. When it was all over I found by reading a newspaper that these best editor-generals saw all the defects plainly from the start. Unfortunately, they did not communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late.

I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy, and do all I can to win our independence. I am willing to serve in any capacity to which the authorities may assign me. I have done the best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I should wish. I am willing to yield my place to these best generals, and I will do my best for the cause in editing a newspaper.

On August 23, Lee wrote as follows:

. . . Without some increase of strength, I cannot see how we are to escape the natural military consequences of the enemy’s numerical superiority.

September 2 found him making an urgent call for all the able-bodied white men in the South, and on September 20 he asked for negro recruits to manage all the waggon trains and to throw up fortifications. In reply to his wife’s remonstrance concerning his own unceasing toil and watchfulness, on September 18, he wrote these words:

. . . What care can a man give to himself in time of war? It is from no desire of exposure or hazard that I live in a tent, but from necessity. I must be where I can speedily at all times attend to the duties of my position, and be near or accessible to the officers with whom I have to act. I have been offered rooms in the houses of our citizens, but I could not turn the dwellings of my kind hosts into a barrack, where officers, couriers, distressed women, etc., would be entering day and night.

Lee’s energies were directed toward the solution of the problems created by the attempted conscription, by the commissariat, and by the enemy. Throughout September and October he was asking for more troops. He called attention to the scarcity of horses. He spoke of “the discouragement of our people and the great material loss that would follow the fall of Richmond” as outweighing every possible sacrifice. He lived on sweet potatoes, cornbread, and buttermilk, while he pressed every agency to secure food for his starving veterans. When he crossed to the southern bank of the Appomattox early in November, he sent his aide, W. H. Taylor, to select a dwelling-place.

I, of course, selected a place, [says Taylor,] where I thought he would be comfortable, although I firmly believe he concluded that I was thinking more of myself than of him. I took possession of a vacant house, and had his room prepared with a cheerful fire, and everything made as cosy as possible. It was entirely too pleasant for him, for he is never so uncomfortable as when comfortable.

Winter poured down its snows and its sleet upon Lee’s shelterless men in the trenches. Some of them burrowed into the earth. Most of them shivered over the feeble fires kept burning along the lines. Scanty and thin were the garments of these heroes. Most of them were clad in mere rags. Gaunt famine oppressed them every hour. One quarter of a pound of rancid bacon and a little meal was the daily portion assigned to each man by the rules of the War Department. But even this allowance failed when the railroads broke down and left the bacon and the flour and the meal piled up beside the track in Georgia and the Carolinas. One-sixth of this daily ration was the allotment for a considerable time, and very often the supply of bacon failed entirely. At the close of the year. Grant had one hundred and ten thousand men. Lee had sixty-six thousand on his rolls, but this included men on detached duty, leaving him barely forty thousand soldiers to defend the trenches that were then stretched out forty miles in length from the Chickahominy to Hatcher’s Run.

With dauntless hearts these gaunt-faced men endured the almost ceaseless roar of Grant’s mortar-batteries. The frozen fingers of Lee’s army of sharpshooters clutched the musket-barrel with an aim so steady that Grant’s men scarcely ever lifted their heads from their bomb-proofs. An eye-witness thus describes Lee himself:

His cheeks were ruddy, and his eye had that clear light which indicates the presence of the calm, self-poised will. But his hair had grown grey, like his beard and mustache, which were worn short and well trimmed. His dress, as always, was a plain and serviceable grey uniform, with no indications of rank save the stars on the collar. Cavalry boots reached nearly to his knees, and he seldom wore any weapon. A broad-brimmed, grey-felt hat rested low upon the forehead; and the movements of this soldierly figure were as firm, measured, and imposing as ever. It was impossible to discern in General Lee any evidences of impaired strength, or any trace of the wearing hardships through which he had passed. He seemed made of iron, and would remain in his saddle all day, and then at his desk half the night, without apparently feeling any fatigue.

On November 30, Lee wrote thus to his wife: “I . . . am glad to learn your supply of socks is so large. If two or three hundred would send an equal number we should have a sufficiency. I will endeavour to have them distributed to the most needy.” December 17 found him thanking her for a box with hat, gloves, and socks, and also for a barrel of apples. On January 10 he was able to bestow some apples on three little girls who brought him their donation of eggs, pickles, and pop-corn. On the next day he wrote Secretary Seddon that his army possessed suppHes for only two days. At that time meal was rated at eighty dollars a bushel, and flour at one thousand dollars a barrel in Confederate currency!

In February, Lee was appointed generalissimo of all the Confederate forces in the field. Sherman was just then starting northward through the Carolinas to effect a junction with Grant. Fort Fisher had fallen on January 18. The failure of A. H. Stephens’s vain dream of peace in the Hampton Roads conference with Lincoln on February 3 nerved the Confederacy to greater efforts than before. A fair supply of meat and meal was brought to the army. Lee devised the plan of withdrawing behind the Staunton (Roanoke) River within reach of the Confederate troops in the Carolinas. But the policy of defending Richmond to the last was forced upon him, and without a murmur his men faced Grant for the final struggle.

On February 5, 6, and 7, Grant sent a large force to seize the Confederate works at Hatcher’s Run. Three Confederate divisions drove them back. Evans’s division made a charge with the old Confederate spirit and broke the line formed by the Federal Fifth Corps. In these operations the gallant John Pegram was slain. Lee’s heroes were still ready for obstinate battle and a continued watch of three days and nights in the midst of the severest weather of the winter.

Under these circumstances, [wrote Lee,] heightened byassaults and fire of the enemy, some of the men had been without meat for three days, and all were suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail, and sleet. . . . The physicah strength of the men, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment.

On February 9, Lee issued his first general order as Commander-in-chief. The substance of the order ran as follows:

Deeply impressed with the difficulties and responsibilities of the position, and humbly invoking the guidance of Almighty God, I rely for success upon the courage and fortitude of the army, sustained by the patriotism and firmness of the people, confident that their united efforts, under the blessing of Heaven, will secure peace and independence.

February 14 marked Lee’s publication of a second order in which he said of his soldiers:

The choice between war and abject submission is before them.

To such a proposal, brave men with arms in their hands can have but one answer. They cannot barter manhood for peace, nor the right of self-government for life or property.

But justice to them requires a sterner admonition to those who have abandoned their comrades in the hour of peril.

He offered pardon to returning deserters and then said:

Our resources, wisely and vigorously employed, are ample; and with a brave army, sustained by a determined and united people, success with God’s assistance cannot be doubtful.

With reference to the scheme brought before the Confederate Congress to employ negroes as soldiers, Lee wrote thus, on February 18:

I think the measure not only expedient but necessary. Theenemy will certainly use them against us if he can get possession of them. . . . I do not think that our white population can supply the necessities of a long war without overtaxing its capacity, and imposing great suffering upon our people; and I believe we should provide resources for a protracted struggle—not merely for a battle or campaign. . . . In my opinion, the negroes, under proper circumstances, will make efficient soldiers. . . . I think those who are employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise, in my opinion, to require them to serve as slaves.

On February 19, while Sherman was approaching Charlotte, North Carolina, Lee wrote this:

It is necessary to bring out all our strength, and, I fear,to unite our armies, as separately they do not seem able to make head against the enemy. . . . Provisions must be accumulated in Virginia, and every man in all the States must be brought off. I fear it may be necessary to abandon all our cities, and preparation should be made for this contingency.

February 24 found this letter on its way from Lee to Governor Vance of North Carolina:

The state of despondency that now prevails among our people is
producing a bad effect upon the troops. Desertions are becoming very frequent, and there is good reason to believe that they are occasioned to a considerable extent by letters written to the soldiers by their friends at home. In the last two weeks several hundred have deserted from Hill’s corps, and as the divisions from which the greatest number of desertions have taken place are composed chiefly of troops from North Carolina, they furnish a corresponding proportion of deserters. I think some good can be accomplished by the efforts of influential citizens to change public sentiment, and cheer the spirits of the people. It has been discovered that despondent persons represent to their friends in the army that our cause is hopeless, and that they had better provide for themselves. They state that the number of deserters is so large in the several counties that there is no danger to be apprehended from the home-guard. The deserters generally take their arms with them. The greater number are from regiments from the western part of the State. So far as the despondency of the people occasions this sad condition of affairs, I know of no other means of removing it than by the counsel and exhortation of prominent citizens. If they would explain to the people that the cause is not hopeless, that the situation of affairs, though critical, is so to the enemy as well as ourselves, that he has drawn his troops from every other quarter to accomplish his designs against Richmond, and that his defeat now would result in leaving nearly our whole territory open to us; that this great result can be accomplished if all will work diligently, and that his successes are far less valuable in fact than in appearance,—I think our sorely tried people would be induced to make one more effort to bear their sufferings a little longer, and regain some of the spirit that marked the first two years of the war.

On March 9, Lee sent these words of commendation to the gallant Vance:

I . . . return you my sincere thanks for your zealous efforts in behalf of the army and the cause. I have read with pleasure and attention your proclamation and appeal to the people, as also extracts from your addresses. I trust you will infuse into your fellow-citizens the spirit of resolution and patriotism which inspires your own action. . . .

Early in March, Lee and Davis decided that the former should lead his army to Danville and unite, with J. E. Johnston’s eighteen thousand in battle against Sherman’s ninety thousand men before. Grant could reach North Carolina. In order to check the extension of Grant’s left wing toward the Southside and Danville railroads, Lee proposed to assault the central works in the Federal line near the Appomattox. Gordon arrayed the Second Corps in front of Petersburg with his left resting on the river. Other troops stood ready to lend their aid. One-half of Lee’s army was thus massed against a Federal redoubt on the southern side of the Appomattox, known as Fort Stedman. Just before the dawn of March 25, Gordon’s storming party rushed from the Confederate intrenchments across the intervening space of one hundred and fifty yards, and captured the fort with three adjacent batteries. The attack had been delayed by the tardiness of the supporting detachment from Longstreet’s corps, and the approach of daylight found the plan only half executed. Gordon made vain attempts to lay his hands on the forts to the right and to the left of Stedman. But the supporting Confederate forces did not advance. The Federal artillery, from a more commanding position, raked his lines, and the Federal infantry swarmed in to overwhelni the attacking column. Lee’s loss amounted to three thousand men. Two thousand men was the measure of the injury inflicted upon Grant.

On March 27, with Sherman at Goldsborough, Grant began to make slow advances with his host of one hundred and twenty-four thousand seven hundred men. Thirteen thousand of these formed his cavalry. Lee’s total force of all three arms was reduced in size to about forty-five thousand men. Fitz Lee’s corps of cavalry numbered less than five thousand, and the failure of forage had reduced the horses to the condition of walking phantoms.

Grant first sent Butler’s old army under Ord toward his own left flank. On the 29th, Sheridan’s troopers were despatched to Dinwiddie Court-House, and the Federal Second and Fifth corps moved across Hatcher’s Run and advanced north-eastward against Lee’s right flank along the Boydton and Quakerroads. Hill’s line looked dangerous, and Grant’s forces did not attack the Confederate works. Lee swiftly moved his cavalry and Pickett’s division from his left to his right. The evening of March 30 closed upon ten thousand infantry and cavalry arrayed under Pickett at Five Forks, four miles west of the extremity of Lee’s intrenchments. In connection with Pickett’s movement against Sheridan, Lee in person moved three brigades out of his works on the morning of the 31st, and the fierce rush of his men drove Warren’s corps in confusion behind Gravelly Run. Pickett pressed Sheridan backward to the Court-House, but found himself near the Federal infantry, and withdrew to Five Forks. There, in his isolated position, Pickett was outflanked and defeated by Sheridan’s cavalry and Warren’s corps on April 1. On the morning of April 2, the Federal Sixth Corps broke Lee’s thin line at a point about four miles southwest of Petersburg, and the brave A. P. Hill was numbered with the Confederate dead. The Confederate soldiers in isolated bands continued to fight with desperate valour, and Grant lost heavily; but Federal numbers won their way through Lee’s line. Lee himself looked upon the disaster with the utmost composure in his demeanour. He raised his grey hat with the same old courteous salute to every approaching officer. As he rode back toward Petersburg, he quietly remarked to an aide, “This is a bad business. Colonel.” Soon again he spoke to this effect: “It has happened as I told them at Richmond it would happen. The line has been stretched until it has broken.”

As Lee continued his slow return, the shells from the advancing Federal batteries began to burst about him.

He turned his head over his right shoulder, [says an eye-witness,] his cheeks became flushed and a sudden flash of the eye showed with what reluctance he retired before the fire directed upon him. No other course was left him, however, and he continued to ride slowly toward his inner line—a low earthwork in the suburbs of the city—where a small force was drawn up, ardent, hopeful, defiant, and saluting the shells now bursting above them with cheers and laughter. It was plain that the fighting spirit of the ragged troops remained unbroken; and the shout of welcome with which they received Lee indicated their unwavering confidence in him, despite the untoward condition of affairs.

Under cover of the gathering darkness, on April 2, Lee turned the head of his army toward Amelia Court House along the banks of the Appomattox. The Confederate government officials passed over the railroad to Danville, and thence to Charlotte. The soldiers on the march regained the buoyancy of the early days of the war. They were

in excellent spirits, [says a participant in the retreat,] probably from the highly agreeable contrast of the budding April woods with the squalid trenches, and the long-unfelt joy of an unfettered march through the fields of spring. General Lee shared this hopeful feeling in a very remarkable degree. His expression was animated and buoyant, his seat in the saddle erect and commanding, and he seemed to look forward to assured success in the critical movement which he had undertaken.

On April 5, most of the Confederate troops reached Amelia. Contrary to Lee’s expectation, the supply of food found here was insufficient for his army.* Sheridan was between Lee and Danville and his caution was so great that he placed his eighteen thousand Federal troops behind strong intrenchments. If they had possessed food, Lee’s veterans would probably have pushed their way through Sheridan’s line to Danville. Lee’s estimate of the situation was thus recorded:

Not finding the supplies ordered to be placed at Amelia Court House, nearly twenty-four hours were lost in endeavouring to collect in the country subsistence for men and horses. The delay was fatal and could not be retrieved.

[Note] * The officials of the commissary department have stated that no order was received by them with reference to the concentration of supplies at Amelia Court House. See Southern Historical Papers.

The night of April 5 marked Lee’s advance toward Farmville. On the following day Sheridan’s cavalry and the Federal Sixth Corps, marching on Lee’s left flank, thrust themselves into gaps left open in the Confederate columns by the passage of the stream called Sailor’s Creek. The Confederate artillery was not available and the flank assaults resulted in disaster to Lee. The Federal Second Corps fell upon Gordon’s rearguard and captured many prisoners. Lee’s losses reached the aggregate of nearly eight thousand men with Generals Ewell, G. W. Custis Lee, Kershaw, Dubose, Corse, and Hunton. Bread and meat were found at Farmville. Since leaving Petersburg the chief article of food was parched corn! Four miles beyond Farmville, Lee formed line of battle on April 7, and visited disaster on the Federal Second Corps and Crook’s cavalry. The evening of April 8 saw Sheridan in control of Appomattox Station between Lee and Lynchburg. Large masses of the Federal infantry added strength to Sheridan’s position, and Lee’s little band of wearied and half-starved heroes was between the two wings of Grant’s great host. “On the morning of the 9th,” Lee wrote, “according to the reports of the ordnance officers, there were 7892 organised infantry with arms, . .  . the artillery reduced to 63 pieces . . . [and] the cavalry . . . did not exceed 2100 effective men. The enemy was more than five times our numbers.”* Two days before, Lee had received from his corpscommanders the suggestion that he should surrender. With a flash of the eye he cried, “Surrender! I have too many good fighting men for that.” On the morning of the 9th when he found Grant’s infantry in his front, a great sadness fell upon Lee as he said: “There is nothing left but to go to General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” The soldier-spirit within him longed for the soldier’s death. “How easily I could get rid of this, and be at rest,” he said. “I have only to ride along the line and all will be over. But it is our duty to live. What will become of the women and children of the South, if we are not here to protect them.” His sadness was lighted up with a faint touch of humour at his own personal display when he arrayed himself in a new Confederate uniform and rode to the McLean house to hand over his army to Grant. The latter manifested no spirit of exultation; he courteously yielded the horses to the Confederate privates who owned them, and apportioned provisions to Lee’s army from the captured Confederate railway train.

[Note] * After the surrender, stragglers came up until the number of prisoners paroled reached the aggregate of twenty-eight thousand.

Among the Confederate soldiers themselves there had been scarcely a thought of surrender. When they saw their beloved leader riding back from the place of negotiation, their grief was wellnigh unspeakable. They halted his horse and gathered in clusters about him. Tears were running down every cheek as the grim, ragged veterans came up to wring his hand. Only sobs were heard or prayers uttered in broken words calling down the benedictions of heaven upon Lee. The tears in his own eyes formed his answer to the agony of his men. He could only say in a tone that trembled with sorrow, “Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more.“ On April 10, 1865, he issued to his immortal band the following address:

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but, feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged.

You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. Lee, General.

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



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