The Strategy of Robert E. Lee
By J. J. Bowen
Note: John Joseph Bowen (Joe; 1839–1912) enlisted as a private in the 1st Company of Richmond Howitzers in April 1861. Originally organized by Thomas Jefferson's grandson, George Wythe Randolph (1818–1867), in November 1859 to assist in the capture of John Brown at Harper's Ferry, the 1st Company after its muster into Confederate service accompanied the Army of Northern Virginia through all its major engagements. The 1st Company was still with Lee during his retreat to Appomattox, although its commander, Captain Edward S. McCarthy (d. 1864), was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor. After the war Joe Bowen entered business and eventually settled in Portland, Oregon.
|II||WHY THE CONFEDERATES DID NOT TAKE WASHINGTON|
|III||BULL RUN IN RICHMOND|
|V||THE QUARREL ABOUT JOHNSTON'S RANK|
|VI||“WITHIN HEARING OF THE ENEMY'S GUNS”|
|VII||THE RELATIONS BETWEEN DAVIS AND LEE|
|VIII||MANASSAS TO SEVEN PINES|
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1862
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1863
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1864
|I||FROM THE RAPIDAN TO THE JAMES|
|II||THE SIEGE OF RICHMOND|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
[Illustrations open in new windows]
Portrait of Robert E. Lee
Portrait of J. J. Bowen
Portrait of Robert E. Lee
Portrait of Joseph E. Johnston
Portrait of G. P. T. Beauregard
Portrait of Lee and His Horse “Traveller”
Portrait of Jefferson Davis
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln
Portrait of Thomas J. Jackson
Portrait of Robert E. Lee
Portrait of George G. Meade
Portrait of James Longstreet
Portrait of R. S. Ewell
Portrait of John B. Hood
Portrait of Carl Schurz
Portrait of Wade Hampton
Portrait of U. S. Grant
Portrait of J. E. B. Stuart
Portrait of William T. Sherman
Portrait of John C. Fremont
Portrait of John C. Breckinridge
Valentine's Recumbent Figure of Lee
According to the authorities, both armies were ready to run, but McDowell's got the start.
The Confederate army comprised many old, well-drilled organizations,—such as the Washington Artillery, of New Orleans; the 1st regiment, from Richmond, and many others,—while the Federal army was the regular U.S. army in its artillery,—a very important feature,—and it comprised also some regular cavalry and infantry.
Infantry, other than the regular, was made up of the three-month men, who were fairly well trained. It is true they were raw as far as actual fighting was concerned, but the same may be said of the regular army at the present time.
If the Confederate army was ready to run, there was no indication of it on the front; men were chasing shells for relics and went at a double quick, when the order came, to the fight on the left.
It was a point made at the time at the North that just as the Confederate troops were about to break and flee the Federal troops anticipated them by doing so, being struck into this precipitation by the arrival upon their flank of the Shenandoah forces, . . . errors that have been repeated by a number of writers and by an ambitious but superficial French author. The battle of Manassas was like any other battle, progression and development from the deliberate counter-employment of the military resources in hand, affected by incidents as always, but of a kind very different from those referred to. My line of battle, which twice had not only resisted the enemy's attacks, but had taken the offensive and driven him back in disorder, was becoming momentarily stronger from the arrival, at last, of the reinforcements provided for; and if the enemy had remained on the field till the arrival of Ewell and Holmes, they would have been so strongly outflanked that many who escaped would have been destroyed or captured.
There is abundant evidence of the fact that both armies fought well.
From Beauregard's report of the battle:
It was now between half past two and three o'clock; a scorching sun increased the oppression of the troops exhausted from incessant fighting,—many of them having been engaged since morning.
Fearing lest the Federal offensive should secure too firm a grip, and knowing the fatal result that might spring from any grave infraction of my line, I determined to make another effort for the recovery of the plateau, and ordered a charge of the entire line of battle, including the reserves, which at this crisis I myself led into action.
The movement was made in such keeping and dash that the whole plateau was swept clear of the enemy, . . . leaving in our possession the most of Ricketts' and Griffin's batteries, the men of which were mostly shot down where they bravely stood by their guns.
Bee and Bartow, who met the initial attack, were both killed, and their four regiments lost 658 men. They were driven back half a mile, but recovered it and fought steadily all day.
Captain J. B. Fry, assistant adjutant general on McDowell's staff, says:
On the plateau Beauregard says the disadvantage of his smooth bore guns was reduced by shortness of range.
The short range was due to the Federal advance, and the several struggles for the plateau were at close quarters and gallant on both sides.
No matter how well troops fight, they are sure to be beaten if badly handled by their officers, and that was the trouble with the Federal army.
Had a prompt, energetic general been in command when, on the 20th, his order of battle was settled upon, the division under Tyler would have been deployed in front of Stone Bridge as soon after nightfall as darkness could veil the march, and the divisions under Hunter and Heintzelman, following, would have been stretched along the lateral roads in bivouac so as to be prepared to cross Sudley's Ford and put in a good day's work on the morrow.
McDowell's army posted as it should have been, a march at daylight would have brought the column to the Henry House before seven o'clock, dislodged Evans, busied with Tyler's display at the bridge without a chance to fight, and brought the three divisions united in gallant style a long the turnpike,with little burning of powder. Thus prepared and organized, the compact battle order of 20,000 men would have been a fearful array against Beauregard's fragmentary left, and by the events as they passed would have assured McDowell of victory hours before Kirby Smith and Elzey, of the Army of the Shenandoah, arrived upon the field.
Instead of this disposition the turning column had to march twelve miles, starting at midnight. This was a pretty trying prelude to an all day's fight under a July sun.
Captain Fry, McDowell's chief of staff, says:
He (McDowell) reached the scene of the a ctual conflict somewhat earlier than Beauregard, and seeing the enemy driven across the valley of Young's Branch, and behind the Warrenton turnpike, at once sent a swift courier to Tyler with orders to press the attack at Stone Bridge.
Tyler acknowledged he received this order at eleven o'clock. It was Tyler's division upon which McDowell relied for the decisive fighting of the day.
He knew the march of the turning column would be fatiguing, and when by a sturdy fight it had cleared the turnpike for the advance of Tyler's division, it had in fact done more than its fair share of the work. But Tyler did not attempt to force the passage of Stone Bridge, which after eight o'clock was defended by only four companies of infantry, though he admitted that by the plan of battle, when Hunter and Heintzelman had attacked the enemy in the vicinity of the bridge, he was to force the passage of Bull Run at that point, and attack the enemy in flank.
Soon after McDowell's arrival at the front Burnside rode up to him and said his brigade had borne the battle, that it was out of ammunition, and that he wanted permission to withdraw, refit, and fill cartridge boxes. McDowell, in the excitement of the occasion, gave reluctant consent, ad the brigade, which certainly had done nobly, marched to the rear, stacked arms, and took no further part in the fight.
The batteries of Ricketts and Griffin, by their fine discipline, wonderful daring, and matchless skill, were the prime features in the fight. The battle was not lost till they were lost. When in their advanced position, just after the infantry supports had been driven in over the slope, a fatal mistake occurred. A regiment came out of the woods on Griffin's right, and as he was in the act of opening upon it with canister he was deterred by the assurance of Major Barry, chief of artillery, that it was a regiment sent by Heintzelman to support the battery. A moment more, and the doubtful regiment proved its identity by a deadly volley, and, as Griffin states in his report, every cannoneer was cut down, and a large number of horses killed, leaving the battery (which was without support except in name) perfectly helpless. The effect upon Ricketts was equally fatal. He, desperately wounded, and Ramsey, his lieutenant, killed, lay in the wreck of the battery.
After the arrival of Howard's brigade, McDowell, for the last time, pressed up the slope to the plateau, forced back the Confederate line, and regained possession of the Henry and Robinson Houses, and of the lost batteries.
But there were no longer cannoneers to man or horses to move the guns that had done so much. By the arrival upon this part of the field of his own reserves and Kirby Smith's brigade of Johnston's army, about half past three, Beauregard extended his left to outflank McDowell's shattered, shortened and disconnected lines, and the Federals left the field about half past four.
Until then they had fought wonderfully well for raw troops. There were no fresh forces on the field to support or encourage them, and the men seemed to be seized simultaneously by the conviction that it was no use to do anything more, and they might as well start home.
McDowell's defeat was due to his faulty disposition on the night of the 20th, the failure of Tyler to force the crossing at Stone Bridge, and Major Barry's mistake. The raw troops were not to blame for any of these things. After the battle some of the commands lost cohesion, and the men drifted to Washington where their camps were located.
For this they may be censured, but not for the real disaster,—the loss of the battle. Any troops would have lost it under the circumstances.
IT is needless to say there was great rejoicing in Richmond over the victory; but the city was already a military camp, and there was a mingled feeling of disappointment among the soldiers who had not been in the battle for fear the war had ended without glory for them.
Furloughs were granted lavishly; the city was full of officers from the army, and much discussion of the battle ensued. At first it was considered a complete and decisive victory, and Beauregard was hailed as the young Napoleon. It was not long, however, before it dawned on the ingenious mind of some one that Washington ought to have been captured, and this illusion spread until it is probably the accepted opinion of the world to-day.
General Upton, in his plea for a regular army of large proportions, says that Washington was saved from capture by the “indecision of a band of insurgents.” It would be difficult, however, to establish indecision where there was no diversity of opinion, and it is easy to show there was none. Longstreet, in his “Manassas to Appomattox,” written long after the event, appears to have caught the infection also.
Beauregard's mistake was in failing to ride promptly after his five o'clock order and handling his column while in action. As events actually occurred, he would have been in overwhelming numbers against McDowell's reserve and supply depot. His adversary, so taken by surprise, would not have been difficult to conquer.
. . . Supplies of subsistence, ammunition, and forage, passed as we marched through the enemy's camp toward Centerville, seemed ample to carry the Confederate army on to Washington. . . .
. . Through the abandoned camps of the Federals we found their pots and kettles over the fire, with food cooking; quarters of beef hanging on the trees, and wagons by the roadside loaded, some with bread and general provisions, others with ammunition. When within artillery range of the retreating column passing through Centerville, the infantry was deployed on the side of the road, under cover of the forest, so as to give room for the batteries ordered into action to open, Bonham's brigade on the left, the others on the right.
As the guns were about to open there came a message that the enemy, instead of being in precipitate retreat, was marching around to attack the Confederate right. With this report came orders, or reports of orders, for the brigades to return to their positions behind the Run. I denounced the report as absurd, claimed to know a retreat such as was before me, and ordered that the batteries open fire, when Major Whiting, of General Johnston's staff, rising in his stirrups, said, “In the name of General Johnston, I order that the batteries shall not open.” I enquired, “Did General Johnston send you to communicate that order?” Whiting replied, “No; but I take the responsibility to give it.” I claimed the privilege of responsibility under the circumstances, and when in the act of renewing the order to fire, General Bonham rode to my side and asked that the batteries should not open. As the ranking officer present, this settled the question. By that time, too, it was near night.
I do not know what Longstreet saw, but our battery was the battery attached to Bonham's brigade. We did not get anywhere near Centerville, saw no retreating column, and no pots and kettles, provisions nor wagons.
The infantry was faced to the right because it was rumored the enemy was on that flank; but the battery remained in column in the road. After a wait of short duration we returned to our position behind the Run.
But even if the attack had been made, the probabilities are that it would have failed, for Captain Fry says that McDowell had at Centerville Miles's division, Richardson's brigade, three regiments of Runyon's division, and Hunt's, Tidball's, Ayres', and Green's regular batteries, and one or two fragments of batteries, making in all about twenty guns.
If, as Longstreet says in speaking about the battle on the left, “before the loss of his artillery he (McDowell) was the Samson of the fight,” it is tolerably clear that he would have met a warm reception at Centerville.
Then the idea of relying on what could be picked up on the road in the way of supplies and ammunition is absurd.
Captain Fry says that one reason McDowell decided m the retreat from Centerville was that he was short of provisions.
Johnston says in his report of the battle:At twenty minutes before five, when the retreat of the enemy toward Centerville began, I sent orders to Brigadier General Bonham by Lieutenant Colonel Lay of his staff, who happened to be with me, to march with his own and Longstreet's brigade (which were nearest Bull Run and the stone bridge) by the quickest route to the turnpike, and form them across it to intercept the retreat of the Federal troops.
But he found so little appearance of rout in those troops as to make the execution of his instructions seem impracticable, so the two brigades returned to their camps.
Davis says:He (Beauregard) stated that because of false alarms which reached him he had ordered the troops referred to (Elzey's and Early's) from the left to the right of our line, so as to be in position to repel the reported movement of the enemy against that flank.
So that instead of Beauregard's riding with his five-o'clock order, he was busy with his dispositions to repel the reported advance of the enemy on his right flank.
Nor was there any subsequent intention of advancing on Washington.
General Johnston says:Having left the field after ten o'clock and ridden in the dark slowly, it was about half past eleven when I found the President and General Beauregard together in the latter's headquarters at Manassas. We three conversed an hour or more without referring to pursuit or advance on Washington. . . .
And one conference he, the President, had with me that day (the 22d) proved conclusively that he had no thought of sending an army against Washington, for in it he offered me the command in West Virginia.
Mr. Davis says:On the night of the 22d I had a second conference with Generals Johnston and Beauregard. All the revelations of the day were of the most satisfactory character as to the completeness of the victory. . . .
. . . The generals, like myself, were all content with what had been done. I propounded to them the enquiry as to what it was practicable to do. Both generals opposed an advance, alleging unpreparedness and the certainty of resistance, not only from troops at Washington, but from Patterson's army.
Davis concludes: “Thus it was, and so far as I know, for the reasons stated above, that an advance to the south bank of the Potomac was not contemplated as the immediate sequence of the victory at Manassas.”
And so a sufficient answer to the question “Why the Confederates did not take Washington?” is “Because they never thought of it.” It was not in the program. That is a good and sufficient reason, as cities are not captured unintentionally.
Another reason is that it was impregnable to any force the Confederates could bring against it.
Cameron telegraphed to New York:Our works on the south bank of the Potomac are impregnable, being well manned with reinforcements. The capital is safe.
The capture of Washington was not even discussed in the army at that time, nor for that matter at any subsequent time.
In addition to the balky and sometimes insubordinate conduct of Johnston and Beauregard in the field they had their adherents in Congress, and these gave the administration no end of trouble. In fact the battle of Bull Run inaugurated a conflict in Richmond that contributed not a little to the downfall of the Confederacy.
The first manifestation of trouble was over the absurd , idea that Washington could have been captured; and as it was not captured, somebody blundered.
It surely could not be Beauregard, the young Napoleon, nor Johnston who came, like Blücher, to his aid; so it must be Davis, who arrived on the field just as the battle ended, and in time to restrain the impetuous generals.
Mr. Davis says:When the smoke of battle had lifted from the field of Manassas, and the rejoicing over the victory had spread over the land and spent its exuberance, some who, like Job's warhorse, “sniffed the battle from afar,” but in whom the likeness there ceased, censoriously asked why the fruits of the victory had not been gathered by the capture of Washington.
Then some indiscreet friends of the generals commanding in that battle, instead of the easier task of justification, chose the harder one of exculpation for the inferred failure. This ill-advised zeal, combined, perhaps, with malice against me, induced the allegation that the President had prevented the generals from making an immediate and vigorous pursuit of the routed enemy. This, as the other stories had been, was left to the correction which time, it was hoped, would bring; the sooner, because it was expected to be refuted by the reports of the commanding generals with whom I had conferred on that subject immediately after the battle. After considerable time had elapsed, it was reported to me that a member of Congress, who had served on that occasion as a volunteer aid to General Beauregard, had stated in the House of Representatives that I had prevented the pursuit of the enemy after his defeat at Manassas.
This gave to the rumor such official character and dignity as seemed to me to entitle it to notice not heretofore given. Wherefore I addressed General Johnston the following inquiry, which, though restricted to the allegation, was of such a tenor as left it to his option to state all the facts connected with the slander, if he should choose to do me that justice, or should see the public interest involved in the correction, which, as stated in my letter to him, was that which gave it, in my estimation, its claim to consideration, and had caused me to address him on the subject:
RICHMOND, VA., NOVEMBER3, 1861.
GENERAL J. E. JOHNSTON,
Commanding Department of the Potomac.
SIR: Reports have been and are being widely circulated that I prevented General Beauregard from pursuing the enemy after the battle of Manassas, and had subsequently restrained him from advancing upon Washington city.
Though such statements may have been made merely for my injury, and in that view might be postponed to a more convenient season, they have served to create distrust, to excite disappointment, and must embarrass the administration in its further efforts to reinforce the armies of the Potomac, and generally to provide for the public defense. For these public considerations I call upon you, as the commanding general, and as a party to all the conferences held by me on July 21st and 22d, to say whether I obstructed the pursuit of the enemy after the victory of Manassas, or have ever objected to an advance or other active operations which it was feasible for the army to undertake.
Very respectfully yours, &c.,
November 10, 1861.
To HIS EXCELLENCY,
SIR: I have the honor to receive your letter of the 3d instant, in which you call upon me as the commanding general, and as a party to all the conferences held by you on the 21st and 22d of July, to say whether you obstructed the pursuit after the victory of Manassas, or have ever objected to an advance or other active operations which it was feasible for the army to undertake.
To the first question I reply, No; the pursuit was “obstructed” by the enemy's troops at Centerville, as I have stated in my official report. In that report I have also said why no advance was made upon the enemy's capital, as follows: The apparent freshness of the United States troops at Centerville, which checked our pursuit; the strong forces occupying the works near Georgetown, Arlington, and Alexandria; the certainty, too, that General Patterson, if needed, would reach Washington with his army of more than thirty thousand men sooner than we could; and the condition and inadequate means of the army in ammunition, provisions, and transportation prevented any serious thought of advance upon the capital.
To the second inquiry I reply that it has never been feasible for the army to advance farther than it has done to the line of Fairfax C. H., with its advanced posts at Munson's and Mason's Hills. After a conference at Fairfax C. H. with the three senior general officers you announced it to be impracticable to give the army the strength which those officers considered necessary to enable it to assume the offensive. Upon which I drew it back to its present position.
Your obt. svt.,
J. E. JOHNSTON.
It will be seen that Johnston admits that Davis did not hold him back from Washington immediately after Bull Run, but that several months afterward he refused to give him the men to capture that city,—and hence it was not captured.
Davis wrote to Beauregard:
RICHMOND, VA., OCTOBER 30, 1861.
GENERAL BEAUREGARD, Manassas, Va.
SIR: Yesterday my attention was called to various newspaper publications, purporting to have been sent from Manassas, and to be a synopsis of your report of the battle of July 21st last, in which it is represented that you have been overruled by me in your plan for a battle with the enemy, south of the Potomac, for the capture of Baltimore and Washington, and the liberation of Maryland. I inquired for your long expected report, and to-day it has been submitted for my inspection.
With much surprise I find that the newspaper statements were sustained by the text of the report. I was surprised, because if we differ in opinion as to the measures and purposes of contemplated campaigns, such facts could have no proper place in the report of a battle; further, because it seemed to be an attempt to exalt yourself at my expense; and, especially, because no such plan as that described was submitted to me. . . .
Very respectfully yours,
BEAUREGARD'S report was:
GEN'L S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond.
. . . I proposed that General Johnston should unite, as soon as possible, the bulk of the Army of the Shenandoah with that of the Potomac, then under my command, leaving only sufficient force to garrison his strong works at Winchester, and to guard the five defensive passes of the Blue Ridge, and thus hold Patterson in check At the same time General Holmes was to march hither with all his command not essential for the defense of the position at Acquia Creek. These junctions having been, made at Manassas, an immediate impetuous attack of our combined armies upon McDowell was to follow, as soon as he approached my advanced position in and around Fairfax C. H., with the inevitable result, as I submitted, of his complete defeat and the destruction and capture of his army. Tins accomplished, the Army of the Shenandoah, under General Johnston, increased with a part of my forces and rejoined, as he returned, by the detachments left to hold the mountain passes, was to march back rapidly into the Valley, fall upon and crush Patterson with a superior force, wheresoever he might be found.
This, I confidently intimated, could be done within fifteen days after General Johnston should march from Winchester to Manassas. Meanwhile I was to occupy the enemy's works on this side of the Potomac, if, as I anticipated, he had been so routed as to enable me to enter them with him; or if not, to retire again for a time within the line of Bull Run with my main force.
Patterson having been virtually destroyed, then General Johnston would reinforce General Garnett sufficiently to make him superior to General McClellan, his opponent, and able to defeat that officer.
This done, General Garnett was to form an immediate junction with General Johnston, who was forthwith to cross the Potomac into Maryland with his whole force, rouse the people as he advanced to the recovery of their political rights and the defense of their homes and families from an offensive invader, and then march to the investment of Washington, in the rear, while I resumed the offensive in front.
This plan of operation, you are aware, was not acceptable at the time, from considerations which appeared so weighty as more than to counterbalance the proposed advantages.
He says nothing in his report of being restrained from capturing Washington as an immediate sequence of the battle of Manassas, but wanted everybody to know that he could have captured it before the battle, and that, as Davis failed to avail himself of his plan, Washington and Baltimore were not captured; and Maryland was not liberated.
It will be seen that both generals magnanimously admit that Davis did not restrain them from capturing Washington immediately after the battle; but they both (would have captured it, one before and the other after the battle, if Davis had in one case approved of an absurd plan, and in the other provided troops that he could not arm.
Beauregard refused to make any change in his report, so Congress did it,—that is, left out the “plan.”
Beauregard's plan may appear to the military critics involved and complicated, but with the coöperation of the enemy it would have been perfectly practical. Patterson would have obligingly allowed Johnston to detach a part of his 11,000 men to hold Winchester and the five passes of the Blue Ridge, and then, with the remainder of his army, join Beauregard at Manassas. He would not have molested the little detachments at Winchester and the mountain passes.
The “immediate and impetuous” attack on McDowell would certainly not have been objectionable to that officer, and no doubt he would have delighted in the “complete defeat and the destruction and capture of his army.”
Then General Johnston would have been received on his return to the Valley with open arms by his old friend Patterson, who would have been “crushed” on schedule time. Being “virtually destroyed,” he would not have objected—in fact could not—to the reinforcement of Garnett and the destruction of McClellan, though at that time Garnett was in rapid retreat before McClellan, and was a few days later killed and his small force dispersed. McClellan beaten and disposed of, Garnett's junction with Johnston would have been easy, and the crossing of the Potomac by the combined armies, a pleasant excursion.
Once in Maryland the hunger for political rights would have been different from what it was when we tried it in 1862 and 1863, and the brave Marylanders, to oblige Beauregard, would have sung “Maryland, My Maryland,” while Johnston invested Washington in rear, and Beauregard in front.
Thus the Federal armies would have been disposed of, Washington and Baltimore captured, Maryland liberated, and Beauregard another and greater Napoleon.
Elaborate and complicated plans on schedule time never had any terrors for Beauregard.
Before the battle of Manassas he suggested that Johnston should leave the railroad thirty-five miles from Manassas, and fall on McDowell's rear, while he, on hearing his guns, would attack in front.
The result would have been as Johnston says:
McDowell would have disposed of me in two hours and could then have turned his attention to Beauregard, who would have been coming up.
THE armies of Johnston and Beauregard were combined after the battle, and Johnston was in command, but things did not run smoothly between the generals, nor between them and the Richmond authorities. Only three days after the battle Johnston wrote to the War Department:
Lieutenant Colonel Maury reported to me this morning as assistant adjutant general, being assigned to that place by General Lee. I had already selected Major Rhett . . . and can admit the power of no officer of the army to annul my order on the subject, nor can I admit the claim of any officer to the command of the forces, being myself the ranking general of the Confederate army.
Davis indorsed this letter “Insubordinate,” and the quarrel over Johnston's rank ensued.
In one of his lengthy letters he says:
The effect of the course pursued is this: It transfers me from the position of first in rank to that of fourth. . . . It is plain that this is a blow aimed at me alone. . . . It seeks to tarnish my fame, as a soldier and as a man, earned by more than thirty years of laborious and perilous service. I had but this, the scars of many wounds all honestly taken in my front and in the front of battle, and my father's Revolutionary sword. It was delivered to me from his venerable hand, without a stain of dishonor. The blade is still unblemished, etc., etc.
I have just received and read your letter of the 12th inst. The language is, as you say, unusual, its arguments and statements utterly one-sided, and its insinuations as unfounded as they are unbecoming.
Beauregard gave almost as much trouble.
Differences led, as Mrs. Davis says in her “Memoirs,” “to an estrangement between Beauregard and the authorities at Richmond, which apparently widened as the war progressed.”
Both generals were spoiled by the battle.
The administration was already unpopular. Mr, Hunter, of Virginia, quit the cabinet for fear, his enemies said, that identification with the administration might jeopardize his chances for the next presidential term.
Beauregard loomed up also as presidential “timber.”
BEAUREGARD wrote to the editor of the Richmond Whig:
(Within hearing of the enemy's guns),
November 3, 1861.
To THE EDITOR: My attention has been called to an unfortunate controversy now going on relative to the publication of a synopsis of my report of the battle of Manassas. None can regret more than I do this publication, which was made without my knowledge or authority. The President is the sole judge of when and what parts of the reports of a commanding officer should be made public. I, individually, do not object to delaying its publication as long as the War Department should think it necessary or proper for the success of our cause. Meanwhile, I entreat my friends not to trouble themselves about refuting the slanders and calumnies aimed at me. Alcibiades on a certain occasion resorted to a singular method to occupy the minds of his traducers; let, then, that synopsis answer the same purpose for me in this instance.
If certain minds cannot understand the difference between patriotism, the highest civic virtue, and office seeking, the lowest civic occupation, I pity them from the bottom of my heart.. Suffice it to say that I prefer the respect and esteem of my countrymen to the admiration and envy of the world. I hope for the sake of our cause and country to be able, with the assistance of a kind Providence, to answer my calumniators with new victories over our natural enemies; but I have nothing to ask of the country, the Government, nor my friends, except to afford me all the aid they can in the great struggle we are now engaged upon.
I am not and never expect to be a candidate for any civic office in the gift of the people or the Executive. The acme of my ambition is, after having cast my mite in the defense of our sacred cause, and assisted to the best of my ability in securing our rights and independence as a nation, to retire to private life (my means permitting), never again to leave my home unless to fight anew the battles of my country.
Respectfully Your most obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD.
“Within hearing of the enemy's guns” is a good” second to Pope's “Headquarters in the saddle.”
Mrs. Davis says:
Now for the first time there appeared to be an organized party in opposition to the administration.
This might have been weakened by daily social intercourse and, habituated as we were to giving numerous entertainments of an official character, we should gladly have kept up the custom; but during every entertainment, without exception, either the death of a relation was announced to a guest, or a disaster to the Confederacy was telegraphed to the President. He was a nervous dyspeptic by habit . . . He said he could do either one duty or the other, give entertainments or administer the Government, and he fancied he was expected to perform the latter service in preference! And so we ceased to entertain except at formal receptions, or informal dinners and breakfasts given to as many as Mr. Davis's health permitted us to invite. In the evening he was too exhausted to receive visitors.
The Examiner sent forth a wail of regret over the parsimony of the administration. It touched feelingly upon the deprivation of the young people of Richmond in not being received in the evening, the assumption of ̴superior dignity of the satraps,” etc., etc.
This became a fierce growl as it contemplated the awful contingency of the “President's getting rich on his savings.” . . . So, little by little, Congress became alienated, or at least a large portion of them, with a few of the military men.
The President let the conviction gnaw at his vitals in silence. He used to say with a sigh: “If we succeed, we shall hear nothing of the malcontents; if we do not, then I shall be held accountable by the majority of friends as well as of foes. I will do my best, and God will give me strength to bear whatever comes to me.”
An historian, speaking of Davis, says:
His temperament was obstinate and domineering.
He soon made all branches of the Government subservient to his will, although there were both a Congress and a Supreme Court. He was the State.
And this unfortunate disposition alienated from him some of the ablest men of the South, men who were ardent supporters of the independence of their section, and whose self-sacrificing spirit could not be challenged.
The general impression that Davis was to blame for the alienation of some of the ablest men, including Beauregard and Johnston, and that he was “domineering and obstinate,” has no foundation in fact.
To the contrary, he was most considerate of the feelings of those with whom he was associated in the Government, and with the generals in the field, as the correspondence between them abundantly demonstrates.
THE relations between Davis and Lee were of the most intimate and friendly character throughout the war, a fact no doubt due to the difference between the “able men alienated” and Lee, who remained loyal to Davis even after the absurd act of Congress, passed after the war had practically ended, empowering Lee to ignore Davis and resurrect the Confederacy.
After the war Davis wrote to the War Department at Washington for some papers, and the officer who forwarded them wrote:
The official records when published will not add to, but greatly detract from, General Johnston's reputation. I can hardly conceive how you could so long have borne with the snarly tone of his letters, which he wrote at all times, and on all pretexts.
Davis was not a tactful man like Lincoln, and therefore could not handle the opposition in the same masterly manner.
That he was conscious of this early in the war is shown by the following extract from one of his letters of the 16th of May, 1862, to Mrs. Davis:
. . . I have no political wish beyond the success of our cause, no personal desire but to be relieved from further connection with office.
He was an idealist, while Lincoln was the embodiment of common sense.
Dr. Craven, post surgeon at Fortress Monroe, says in his diary:
No. 8 . . . Mr. Davis is remarkable for the kindliness of his nature and fidelity to friends. Of none of God's creations does he seem to speak unkindly, and the same fault found with Mr. Lincoln,—unwillingness to sanction the military severities essential to maintain discipline,—is the fault I have heard most strongly urged against Mr. Davis. . . .
There were moments, while speaking on religious subjects, in which Mr. Davis impressed me more than any professor of Christianity I ever heard. . . .
General Morris Schaff, in the Atlantic, April, 1908, says:
There must have been a great personal charm in Jefferson Davis notwithstanding his rather austerely courtly address; and it has occurred to me that in it, next to the almost irresistible influence of marriage ties, may be found the explanation of the fact that a number of Northern men, his personal friends, like Huse of Massachusetts, Cooper of New York, Ives of Connecticut, Gorges and Collins of Pennsylvania, broke the natural bonds of home and blood and fought for the Confederacy. A Southern friend who visited him at Beauvoir a few years before he died referred to this rare trait of his nature, and went on to describe his home, shaded by pines and live oaks, with their drapery of swaying moss, and he told me of the way his broad porch overlooked the still and peaceful waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I wonder if, as his eye rested out on that stretch of sea where now and then a solitary pelican winged heavily into view, he thought of his cadet days on the banks of the Hudson and contrasted their peace with the dead hopes of his old age. He was a great. . . .
COLONEL MOSBY, in his “Stuart's Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign,” says:
I dined with General Lee at his headquarters, near Petersburg, about six weeks before the surrender. He told me then that he had been opposed to General Johnston's withdrawing to the Peninsula, and had written to him while he was on the Rapidan, advising him to move back toward the Potomac. He thought that if he had done this, McClellan would have been recalled to the defense of Washington.
Thus early in the game did Lee realize that the only hope of Confederate success lay in keeping the army out of the last ditch, and that the only way in which that could be done was to threaten Washington.
But Johnston did not heed Lee's advice.
His usual mania for retreat had seized him, though McClellan was hibernating, torpid, and had no thought of molesting him.
Davis became alarmed at the loss of guns and subsistence stores in case of a hasty retreat.
RICHMOND, VA., February 28, 1862.
GENERAL J. E. JOHNSTON: . . . The heavy guns at Manassas and Evansport, needed elsewhere, and reported to be useless in their present position, would necessarily be abandoned in a hasty retreat. I regret that you find it impossible to move them.
The subsistence stores should, when removed, be placed in position to answer your future wants.
. . . I need not urge on your consideration the value to our country of arms and munitions of war; you know the difficulty with which we have obtained our small supply; that to furnish heavy artillery to advanced posts we have exhausted the supplies here which were designed for the armament of the city defenses. Whatever can be, should be done to avoid the loss of these guns.
. . . Recent disasters have depressed the weak, and are depriving us of the aid of the wavering. Traitors show the tendencies heretofore concealed, and the selfish grow clamorous for local and personal interests. At such an hour the wisdom of the trained and the steadiness of the brave possess a double value. The military paradox that impossibilities must be rendered possible had never better occasion for its application. . . .
Very truly and respectfully yours,
He writes again on the 6th urging him to save the ordnance stores, etc.
Johnston began to extricate the troops from winter quarters on the 7th, and after much confusion got them on the retreat on the 9th.
On the 10th of March, Davis, unadvised of Johnston's retreat, telegraphed to him:Further assurance given me this day that you shall be promptly reinforced, so as to enable you to maintain your position and resume first policy when the roads will permit.
The first policy was to be aggressive.
Davis and McClellan thought the roads were not good enough for an advance, but Johnston thought they would do very well for a retreat.
Davis received no official notice of the retreat until the 15th.
He writes to Johnston under that date:. . . It is true I have had many and alarming reports of great destruction of ammunition, camp equipage, and provisions, indicating precipitate retreat; but having heard of no cause for such a sudden movement, I was at a loss to believe it.
General Early, speaking of the needless loss due to a hurried and foolish retreat, says:A very large amount of stores and provisions had been abandoned for want of transportation, and among the stores was a very large quantity of clothing, blankets, etc., which had been provided by the States south of Virginia for their own troops. . . .
The loss of stores at this point, and at White Plains, on the Manassas Gap railroad, where a large amount of meat had been salted and stored, was a very serious one to us.. . .
Johnston halted on the south bank of the Rappahannock in a position of great strength.
Early in April McClellan and his army of about 100,000 men landed on the lower peninsula. Johnston moved down to Yorktown and the line of the Warwick river to opposite him. But, as usual, he promptly advised a retreat.
RICHMOND, VA, May 1, 1862.
GENERAL J. E. JOHNSTON,
Accepting your conclusion that you must soon retire, arrangements are commenced for the abandonment of the Navy Yard, and the removal of public property both from Norfolk and this Peninsula.
Your announcement to-day that you would withdraw tomorrow night takes us by surprise, and must involve enormous losses, including unfinished gun-boats. Will the safety of your army allow more time?
But Johnston did not value gunboats as McClellan did, and withdrew his army from the lines of the Warwick river on the night of the 3d.
He checked McClellan's advance at Williamsburg; then fell back on Richmond.
Lee, who was military adviser to the President, wrote to Jackson, who was in command in the Shenandoah Valley:I cannot pretend at this distance to direct operations depending on circumstances unknown to me, and requiring the exercise of direction and judgment as to time and execution.
Jackson replied:Now, it appears to me, is the golden opportunity for striking a blow. Until I hear from you I will watch an opportunity for attacking one exposed point.
Lee could not furnish, the reinforcements that Jackson intimated he would like, but he gave him a free hand in the Valley.
On the 8th of May Jackson defeated Milroy and Schenk at McDowell.
On the 17th of May Lincoln ordered McDowell at Fredericksburg to march to McClellan, and ordered McClellan to extend his right accordingly. On the 23d of May he visited McDowell to perfect arrangements for this march.
That same day, the 23d, Jackson defeated Banks at Front Royal.
The next day, the 24th, Lincoln countermanded his order for McDowell's march, and ordered him to send 20,000 men to capture Jackson.
On Sunday, the 25th, at daybreak Jackson routed Banks at Winchester, and chased him across the Potomac.
Banks wrote:There never were more grateful hearts in the same number of men than when midday of the 26th we stood on the opposite shore.
Lincoln and Stanton were now dreadfully alarmed for the safety of Washington.
Stanton telegraphed to the governors of the States:Intelligence from various quarters leaves no doubt that the enemy in great force are marching on Washington. You will please organize and forward immediately all the militia and volunteer force in your State.
Lincoln seized the railroad; even the New York Seventh was brought out.
He dispatched to McClellan:I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond, or give up the job and come to the defense of Washington.
Stanton wrote:Our condition is one of considerable danger, as we are stripped to supply the Army of the Potomac and now have the enemy here.
So that Jackson, with 17,000 men, gave Washington its first scare and prevented 30,000 men in the Valley, and 40,000 at Fredericksburg, from reinforcing McClellan.
Mr. Davis says:Seeing no preparation for keeping the enemy at a distance, and kept in ignorance of any plan for such purpose, I sent for General R. E. Lee, then at Richmond in general charge of army operations, and told him why and how I was dissatisfied with the condition of affairs.
Lee called on Johnston, and said Johnston proposed to attack McClellan on the next Thursday; but he did not. On the 31st of May, Johnston did attack. Assuming that high water in the Chickahominy would wash McClellan's bridges away and in no way interfere with the movements of his own army, he attacked the left of McClellan's army that was on the Richmond side of the swamp.
The result was exactly the reverse of his expectations. McClellan's bridges were not washed away, and here is what General Rhodes says of his advance over one of the creeks he had to cross:The progress of the brigade was delayed by the washing away of the bridges, which forced the men to wade in water waist deep, and a large number were entirely submerged. . . .
The ground was covered with thick undergrowth, and the soil very marshy. It was with great difficulty that either horses or men could get over it, guided as they were only by the firing in front. Only five companies of the 5th Alabama emerged from the woods under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry.
Johnston had some success, captured some guns and prisoners, but with a loss of 7000 of the best soldiers the Confederacy ever had.
The battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines, was a mistake in conception and a botch in execution. The enemy was comfortably entrenched, while our men had to flounder through swamps and tangled underbrush.
Davis was as helpless as a child. On the 3d of June he wrote to Mrs. Davis:If the Mississippi troops lying in camp when not retreating under Beauregard were at home, they would probably keep a section of the river free for our use, and closed against Yankee gunboats.
It is hard to see incompetency losing opportunity, and wasting hard gotten means, but harder still to bear is the knowledge that there is no available remedy.
The West Point fetish was strong in the army.
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1862
ON June I, 1862, Lee was placed in command of the army, Johnston having been wounded in his battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks).
Davis says:Our army was in line in front of Richmond, but without intrenchments. General Lee immediately constructed earthworks. They were necessarily feeble because of our deficiency in tools. It seemed to be the intention of the enemy to assail Richmond by regular approaches, which our numerical inferiority and want of proper utensils made it improbable that we should be able to resist.
The day after General Lee assumed command, I was riding out to the army and I found him in a house in consultation with a number of his general officers. Their tone was despondent, and one especially pointed out the inevitable consequences of the enemy's advance by throwing out boyaux and constructing successive parallels.
I think it will be admitted that when Lee took command of the army in the backyards of Richmond prospects were far from flattering.
Besides fighting the battle of Bull Run and a few minor engagements terminating with the ill-conceived and badly executed battle of Seven Pines, the army had done nothing but retreat. Disasters in the southwest were only relieved by an occasional dispatch from Beauregard announcing a “brilliant retreat.” If Lee remained in his intrenchments the city would be McClellan's by gradual approaches and big guns.
In Napoleon's famous “Supper of Beaucaire,” his first literary work of ability, he writes as follows:It is an axiom of military science that the army which remains behind its intrenchments is beaten; experience and theory agree on this point.
As the brilliant idea of abandoning Richmond had not occurred to Lee, his only alternative was to seize the initiative. He would call Jackson from the Valley; but before doing this he would give Washington a scare. He sent two brigades to reinforce Jackson, ordering him at the same time to move quickly to Ashland, then down the north bank of the Chickahominy. The news as to the reinforcement reached Washington and Mc Clellan about the same time. Lincoln withheld troops from McClellan for the defense of Washington, and McClellan thought Lee had more men than he had any use for.
On the 26th Lee, after leaving 30,000 men under Magruder for the defense of Richmond, crossed the Chickahominy at the upper bridges. A. P. Hill attacked the enemy at Beaver Dam,–McClellan's extreme right,–and was repulsed with considerable loss; but on the next day, the 27th, Lee beat McClellan in the great battle of Gaines's Mill.
Longstreet says:It was a little after 2 p.m. when A. P. Hill put all his force into action and pressed his battle with a great zeal and courage, but he was alone. . . .
Speaking of the final charge after sunset, which swept the Federal line from the field, Longstreet says:The position was too strong to doubt that it was only the thinning fire as the battle progressed that made it assailable; besides, the repulse of A. P. Hill's repeated, desperate assaults forcibly testified to the fact. It was, nevertheless, a splendid charge, by peerless soldiers.
Five thousand prisoners were turned over to General Lee's provost guard, a number of batteries and many thousand small arms to the Ordnance Department by my command.
The Confederate commanders, except A. P. Hill, claimed credit for the first breach in General Porter's lines, but the solid ranks of prisoners delivered to the general provost guard, and the several batteries captured and turned over to the Ordnance Department, show the breach to have been made by the columns of Anderson, Pickett, and Hood's two regiments.
The troops of the gallant A. P. Hill, that did as much and as effective fighting as any, received little of the credit properly due them. It was their long and steady fight that thinned the Federal ranks and caused them so to foul their guns that they were out of order when the final struggle came. . . .
McClellan dispatched to the Secretary of War from Savage station:I now know the full history of the day. On this side of the river (the right bank) we repulsed several strong attacks; on the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that soldiers could accomplish, but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, even after I brought my last reserves into action. The loss on both sides is terrible. . . . The sad remnants of my men behave as men. . . . I have lost this battle because my force was too small. . . . I feel too earnestly to-night. I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now, the game is lost. If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you nor to any other person in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.
Lincoln replied:Save your army at all events; will send reinforcements as fast as we can. . . . If you have had a drawn battle or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy's not being in Washington. We protected Washington and the enemy concentrated on you. Had we stripped Washington he would have been upon us before the troops could have gotten to you. 12.20 a.m., June 28.
Joe Johnston wrote to Beauregard, August 4, 1862:I am not sure you are right in regarding the success of McClellan's “strategic movement” as evidence of skill. It seems to me to be due rather to our having lost two days immediately after the principal fight, that of Friday (Gaines's Mill, June 27) and many hours afterward, especially on Tuesday (Malvern Hill, July 1). I was told that the action on that day commenced about 6 o'clock p.m., but one and one-half or two miles from the field of Monday's engagement. It is said, too, that a large portion of our army was idle on each of those days.
The battle of Malvern Hill (Tuesday) was but fifteen or twenty miles from the middle of McClellan's position on the Chickahominy. The result of that action terminated the pursuit. It seems to me the “partial results” were due to a want of the “bulldog tenacity” you give us credit for.
If the enemy had been pressed vigorously on Saturday and Sunday (January 28–29), he must have been ruined, could never have fixed himself securely on James river. He left his position on the Chickahominy without our knowledge, because the wide interval by which he escaped was not observed by cavalry as it should have been. . . . I must confess that the advantages gained by what is termed the Seven Days' fighting are not very evident to me.
Lee explains in the following report why McClellan escaped. The reason would occur to any one who knows the Chickahominy country. Johnston ought to have known it after his disastrous experience at Seven Pines.
Lee in his report said:Under ordinary circumstances the Federal army should have been destroyed. Its escape was due to the causes already stated. Prominent among these is the want of correct and timely information. This fact, attributable chiefly to the character of the country, enabled General McClellan skillfully to conceal his retreat, and to add much to the obstructions with which nature had beset the way of our pursuing column.
Lee did not know after the battle of Gaines's Mill whether McClellan would fall back on his base on the Pamunkey or whether he would seek a new one on the James, or, in fact, whether he would retreat at all or not.
McClellan held the country in his rear. It was wooded and swampy, and with a strong rear-guard he easily masked his movements. His gunboats also commanded the James river.
Johnston appears to have thought there was no fighting except at Gaines's Mill, Frazier's Farm, and Malvern Hill, whereas it was a continuous fight all the way.
General Franklin says:My experience during the period generally known as the “Seven Days” was with the Sixth and Second corps. During the whole time between June 26 and July 2 there was not a night in which the men did not march almost continually, nor a day on which there was not a fight.
Major General McCall, who was taken prisoner, in his report of the battle of Frazier's Farm, says:Soon after this a most determined charge was made on Randol's battery by a full brigade advancing in wedge shape, without order, but in perfect recklessness. Somewhat similiar charges had been previously made on Cooper's and Kern's batteries by single regiments without success, they having recoiled before the storm of canister hurled against them. A like result was anticipated in Randol's battery, and the 4th regiment was requested not to fire until the battery had done with them. Its gallant commander did not doubt his ability to repel the attack, and his guns did indeed mow down the advancing host, but still the gaps were closed and the enemy came in on a run to the very muzzles of the guns.
It was a perfect torrent of men, and they were in his battery before the guns could be removed, and the enemy, rushing past, drove the greater part of the 4th regiment before them. I had ridden into the regiment and endeavored to check them, but with only partial success.
But General Johnston thought he ought to have been reinstated in command when he recovered from his wound.
Mrs. Davis says:Upon General Johnston's recovery from the wound he received at Seven Pines he had been assigned, on November 24, 1862, to the command of a geographical department, including the States of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. Mrs. Johnston and I were very intimate friends, and the day before his departure I went to see them. General Johnston seemed ill and dispirited. In answer to a hope expressed by me that he would have a brilliant campaign, he said, “I might, if I had Lee's chances with the Army of Northern Virginia,” from which I inferred he was very averse to leaving Virginia.
Lord Wolseley published a friendly criticism of Lee in Macmillan's Magazine, upon which a Northern writer in the Century Magazine of June, 1887, comments. In will serve to show that Lee's reputation has suffered more at the hands of his friends than at those of his foes.
The comment is as follows:. . . . Lord Wolseley has cultivated the belief that Lee's strategy and tactics were always “everything that could be desired up to the moment of victory, but there his action seemed to stop abruptly.” True, the Confederates were not Titans. They seemed never to be wound up for more than a week or more of hard marching on scant rations, followed by two or three days of continuous battle, usually against superior numbers, which left them at the end without fresh reserves. After a terrible and exhausting victory a longing for rest seemed to overcome them. General Lee could not furnish physical strength to his men from his own sinews, but he did know how to fight them to a shadow and then how to keep them going on something that from the other side of the line looked like very thin hope. Once, as Lord Wolseley recollects, but with vagueness as to its events, there were seven days of continuous fighting near Richmond. Lee, with sublime daring, dashed his columns time and again upon McClellan's superior but separated forces. His losses were frightful, but the bravery and energy displayed by his troops were tremendous. . . .
Longstreet says:Passing in critical review the events of the campaign, they fail to display a flaw as it was projected by the Confederate chief.
McClellan is criticised for not attacking Magruder.
Davis says:I pointed out to him (Lee) that our force and intrenched line between that left wing (of the Union Army) and Richmond was too weak for a protracted resistance, and if McClellan was the man I took him for . . . as soon as he found that the bulk of our army was on the north side of the Chickahominy, he would not stop to try conclusions there, but would immediately move upon his objective point, the city of Richmond.
Lee replied:If you will hold him as long as you can at the intrenchments and then fall back on the detached works around the city, I will be upon the enemy's heels before he gets there.
Lee had evidently considered an attack on Magruder and was prepared for it.
Lieut. Col. G. F. R. Henderson, in his “Life of Stonewall Jackson,” says:McClellan forgot that in war it is impossible for a general to be absolutely certain. It is sufficient, according to Napoleon, if the odds in his favor are three to two; and if he cannot discover from the attitude of his enemy what the odds are, he is unfitted for supreme command.
The “attitude” that Lee was in the habit of assuming was the very thing that impressed his enemy with the idea that his army was about twice as large as it really was.
If Napoleon could determine the strength of his enemy by his “attitude,” it is clear that he had no Lees to deal with.
Then Napoleon was never in the Chickahominy swamp.
Moreover, in reporting to the Directory, he habitually underestimated his own forces, and exaggerated those of the enemy,—just as McClellan did.
McClellan erred in overestimating the strength of Lee's army. Whether he ought to have known it or not depends, not on any cut and dried rule of Napoleon's, but on conditions and environments.
When he heard that Lee had sent troops North, he telegraphed to the President:If 10,000 or 15,000 men have left Richmond to reinforce Jackson, it illustrates their strength and confidence.
This interpretation was certainly more probable than any other, and generals, like other people, must base their policy on probabilities rather than improbabilities.
The Confederacy was young and fresh at that time, and troops were coming up from the South. McClellan had no means of determining how many were coming, and Allan Pinkerton, McClellan's chief of secret service, estimated Lee's army at 180,000 men.
If McClellan had divined that Lee, instead of sending troops to the Valley to reinforce Jackson, was calling Jackson to Richmond to reinforce himself, he would have been little less than a seer.
Lee took command of the army on the 1st of June. Mr. Davis says the tone of the general officers was despondent.
McClellan's splendid army of 100,000 men was in sight of Richmond. On July 2 that army had been driven to Harrison's Landing, and was under shelter of its gunboats.
When Lee assumed the offensive he should have had, according to Napoleon's figures of three to two, 150,000 men. Instead he had 80,000.
Lee said in his report:The siege of Richmond was raised, and the object of a campaign, which had been prosecuted after months of preparation at an enormous expenditure of men and money, completely frustrated.
More than 10,000 prisoners, including officers of high rank, 52 pieces of artillery, and upward of 35,000 stands of small arms were captured. The stores and supplies of every description that fell into our hands were great in amount and volume, but small in comparison with those destroyed by the enemy.
Davis wrote to Mrs. Davis on the 6th of July:. . . Our success has been so remarkable that we should be grateful. . . .
“Our success” was not accomplished without heavy loss and a bad repulse at Malvern Hill. That position was one of extraordinary strength. The flanks rested on ground that was impregnable and defended by gunboats. The front was accessible only by narrow roads through swamps and woods, and the hill itself offered positions for all McClellan's powerful artillery, including his siege guns.
The only excuse for the attack is that no opportunity for striking a defeated and retreating enemy should be neglected.
But contrast the conditions when Lee assumed command with those one month afterward, and “our success” was not only “remarkable” but well-nigh miraculous.
Of the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, General Franklin says:They had been soldiers less than a year, yet their conduct could not have been more soldierly had they seen ten years of service. No such material for soldiers was ever in the field before. . . .
The same can be said of the Army of Northern Virginia. Both armies were composed of the best fighting material of their respective sections.
Both armies were at their best.
Lincoln called for 300,000 three years' men.
Seward explained that reinforcements were necessary to follow up the “recent successes of the Federal arms.”
But the Northern people soon found that McClellan had been defeated and driven to the shelter of his gun-boats on the James.
There was a panic in Wall Street and gloom everywhere.
LEE had disposed of one puzzle only to be confronted by another, and while he was considering it the army, after its floundering campaign in the woods and swamps of the Peninsula, got a few days of needed rest.
Looking down the river he saw McClellan, with 90,000 men, only a day's march from Richmond. He was safe there with his gunboats, and said, it is reported, that “there ought to be a gunboat in every family.”
Looking north he saw the bloodthirsty Pope, with 43,000 men, occupying the line of the Rappahannock river, threatening the railroad at Gordonsville.
McClellan at Harrison's Landing was calling for reinforcements to resume the offensive, and Pope issued the following order of the day, which was calculated to scare Lee or any other man:
I have come to you from the west, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found. . . . I presume I have been called here to pursue the same course and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. . . . I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases which I am sorry to find so much in vogue with you. I hear constantly of “taking strong positions and holding them,” of “lines of retreat,” and of “bases of supplies.” Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponent and leave our own to take care of themselves.
Let us look before us and not behind. Success and glory arc in the advance; disaster and shame lurk in the rear.
The army narrowly escaped a spanking.
Lee now had a problem on hand that would have taxed the ability of Napoleon. If he remained at Richmond it meant a siege by an army of at least 150,000 men, and Lee did not like sieges. He did not fancy the defensive, so there was nothing to do but take the initiative against Pope.
He thought the move would threaten Washington and draw McClellan away from Richmond. Accordingly, on the 13th of July he ordered Jackson with his own and Ewell's division to Gordonsville. Then he sent A. P. Hill and his division, and ordered Jackson to move on the enemy, while he remained with Longstreet's corps, Hill's and Anderson's divisions of infantry, and Stuart's cavalry, to watch McClellan, who still had 90,000 men in a day's march of Richmond.
Jackson's move had the desired effect. On the 3d of August Halleck telegraphed to McClellan:It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Acquia Creek. You will take immediate action to this effect.
McClellan sent this telegram in reply to General Halleck:Your telegram has caused me the greatest pain I ever experienced, for I am convinced that the order to withdraw this army to Acquia Creek will prove disastrous to our cause. I fear it will be a fatal blow. . . .
This army is now in excellent discipline and condition. . . . With the assistance of our gunboats I consider our communication as now secure. . . . Here, directly in front of this army, is the heart of the rebellion. It is here that all our resources should be collected to strike the blow which will determine the fate of the nation. All points of secondary importance ought to be abandoned, and every available man brought here; a decided victory here and the military strength of the rebellion is crushed. It matters not what partial reverses we may meet elsewhere. Here is the true defense of Washington. It is here on the banks of the James that the fate of the Union should be decided. . . . I entreat that this order be rescinded.
Halleck's reply was:The order of the withdrawal will not be rescinded. You will be expected to execute it with all possible promptness.
On the 5th of August, Hooker drove the Confederate detachments from Malvern Hill, and McClellan wired to Halleck from that point:This is a very advantageous position to cover an advance on Richmond, and only fourteen and three-quarter miles distant, and I feel confident that with reinforcements I could march this army there in five days.
Halleck promptly replied to this communication:I have no reinforcements to send you.
On the 9th of August Jackson defeated Banks at Cedar Run. Banks being largely reinforced, Jackson, after resting on the field two days and sending his accustomed dispatch, “God blessed our army with another victory,” fell back on Gordonsville.
Halleck, fearing that Pope and Burnside would be destroyed and Washington captured, wired to McClellan:There must be no further delay in your movements. That which has already occurred was entirely unexpected and must be satisfactorily explained.
On the 13th of August Lee ordered Longstreet and two brigades under Hood to Gordonsville, and he himself followed on the 15th.
This left about 30,000 troops in Richmond, while McClellan had 81,000 at Harrison's Landing.
Halleck telegraphed to McClellan that the enemy was fighting Pope, and that it was necessary to get troops in front of Washington as soon as possible. McClellan went to Fortress Monroe to beg Halleck to allow him to relieve Pope by attacking Richmond. Halleck answered at 1.40 a.m., August 14: “There is no change of plans! You will send up your troops as rapidly as possible,” and then went to bed.
Lee, becoming convinced that he had nothing to fear from McClellan, ordered Stuart with the greater part of his cavalry and R. H. Anderson with his division to join him at Gordonsville. The divisions of D. H. Hill and McLaws followed, but they were not in time to participate in the operations against Pope.
On the 24th of August McClellan reported at Acquia Creek.
Lee started Jackson with 25,000 men on the 25th of August on a forced march to the rear of Pope's army. He took nothing but ammunition wagons, marched twenty-five miles the first day to Salem, passed through White Plains, Thoroughfare Gap, and Gainesville, and on the morning of the 26th was at Bristow Station on the Orange and Alexandria railroad.
He was now between Pope and Washington. He captured two railroad trains at Bristow, and an eight-gun battery, horses, provisions, and Pope's depot of supplies at Manassas. As his men had scant rations on the march, Pope's good things were highly appreciated.
On the afternoon of the same day Lee followed Jackson with Longstreet's command, less one division left on the Rappahannock.
On the 27th McClellan reported at Alexandria.
That night Pope ordered the concentration of his army a t Manassas. In his order to McDowell he said: “If you will move promptly and rapidly, we will bag the whole crowd.”
But Jackson, not wishing to be bagged, moved to a position near Bull Run, and hid in an old railroad cut and the woods, to await the arrival of Longstreet, who was hurrying to his aid.
Pope thought Jackson was in a bad fix and would run away as soon as he could. He put his columns in motion to catch him, and their marches and countermarches puzzled Jackson and led to the battle of the 28th.
Of it Longstreet says:As King's division of McDowell's corps was marching by (on the road to Centerville) Jackson thought to come out from his lurking-place to learn the meaning of the march. The direction of the move again impressed him that Pope was retreating, and that his escape to the north side of Bull Run would put his army in a position of safety before Lee could join him.
It was late, the sun had set, but Jackson was moved to prompt action, as the only means of holding Pope for Lee's arrival. He was in plain view of the white smoke of the rifles of my infantry as they climbed over the Bull Run mountains, seven miles away, and in hearing of our artillery as the boom of the big guns, resounding along the rock-faced cliffs, gathered volume to offer salutations and greetings for the union of comrades and commands. He changed the front of his right division, and, noting the movement of Siegel's troops along the Newmarket road, called out Ewell with his brigades under Lawton and Trimble, and in addition to the artillery of these commands used the horse artillery of Pelham. As formed, the new line was broadside against the turnpike, its left a little way from Groveton.
The ground upon which the action occurred had been passed an hour before by the division commander, General Hatch, who saw no indication of the presence of a foe. As the division marched, the column was made up of the brigades of Hatch, Gibbon, Doubleday, and Patrick. The action fell against the brigade commanded by General Gibbon, who, taking it for a cavalry annoyance to cover retreat, opened against it, and essayed aggressive fight, till he found himself engaged against a formidable force of infantry and artillery. He was assisted by part of Doubleday's brigade, and asked for other assistance, which failed to reach him till night came and ended the contest. His fight was desperate and courageous against odds, but he held it and his line till dark. . . . General Doubleday joined the fight with his brigade, and reported his loss nearly half the troops engaged. General Gibbon called it “a surprise.” And well he might, after his division commander had just passed over the route and failed to find any indication of the lurking foe. General Jackson reported, “The conflict here was firm and sanguinary.” He failed to give his number lost, but acknowledges his severe loss in the division commanders, General Ewell losing a leg, and Taliaferro severely wounded. During the night the Federal commander reported to his subordinates that McDowell had “ intercepted the retreat of Jackson,” and ordered concentration of the army against him; whereas it was, of course, Jackson who had intercepted McDowell's march. He seems to have been under the impression that he was about to capture Jackson, and inclined to lead his subordinates to the same opinion.
Of the time, Major Edward Pye reported: “We were sent forward toward evening to pursue the enemy, who were said to be retreating. Found the enemy, but did not see them retreat. A deadly fire from three sides welcomed and drove us back.”
Jackson was asleep in a fence comer, having been up all the previous night, when the scouts reported the march of King's column. He sprang up and ran for his horse, buckling his sword on as he went and shouting hurried orders for the attack to his aids. He thought Pope was trying to give Lee the slip as he did on the Rapidan.
Pope, afraid that Jackson would escape, ordered Siegel to attack early on the morning of the 29th and bring him to a stand.
From Hill's report:The enemy prepared for a last and determined attempt. Their serried masses, overwhelming superiority of numbers, and bold bearing made the chances of victory to tremble in the balance; my own division exhausted by seven hours of unremitted fighting, hardly one round of ammunition per man remaining, and weakened in all things except its unconquerable spirit.
Casting about for help, fortunately it was here reported to me that the brigades of Generals Lawton and Early were nearby, and, sending to them, they promptly moved to my front at the most opportune moment, and this last charge met the disastrous fate that had befallen those preceding.
Jackson's fight was desperate against heavy odds. Longstreet arrived and was in position by noon, and Lee desired him to turn the Federal left and so relieve the heavy pressure against Jackson. But Longstreet was balky and advised a reconnaissance.
When his troops fell back from the reconnaissance, it looked like a retreat. On the morning of the 30th Pope wired to Washington that “the enemy was retreating to the mountains.” He reported:General Hooker estimates the loss of the enemy as at least two to one, and General Kearney as at least three to one.
He did not know that Longstreet had come up. That afternoon he attacked in heavy force, but the battle of Second Manassas ended in his defeat.
That night he, and not Jackson, was retreating.
Franklin says that when he reached the Warrenton turnpike, about six o'clock, he found it “filled with fleeing men, artillery, and wagons, all leaving the field in a panic. It was a scene of terrible confusion.
General Porter wrote to General McClellan as follows:I was whipped, as was the whole army, badly. . . . I have had no dinner nor supper to-day, and no chance for any tomorrow.
August 29, 1862, 2:30 p.m.
What news from direction of Manassas? What news generally?
This was to McClellan, who had no news, but plenty of advice.
August 29, 1862, 2.45 p.m.
I am clear that one of two courses should be adopted: first, to concentrate all our available forces to open communication with Pope; second, to leave Pope to get out of his scrape and at once use all our means to make the capital perfectly safe. . . .
GEO. B. MCCLELLAN,
CENTERVILLE, August 31, 1862.
Our troops are all here and in position, though much used up and worn out. . . . I should like to know whether you feel secure about Washington, should this army be destroyed.
Halleck writes to McClellan:I think you had better place Sumner's corps as it arrives near the fortification and particularly at the Chain-bridge. . . . Use Tyler's and Cox's brigades and the new troops for the same purpose, if you need them.
Rhodes says:McClellan did not “regard Washington as safe against the rebels.” “If I can quietly slip over there,” he said, in a letter to his wife, “I will send your silver off.”
. . . In view of the great danger to Washington, the general-in-chief asked Dix at Fort Monroe to send as rapidly as possible to the capital as large a part of the remainder of Keyes's corps as could be spared, and ? urged Burnside to hasten forward his troops.
A number of gunboats were ordered up the river, and anchored at different points in proximity to the city, and a war steamer was brought to the Navy Yard.
All the clerks and employees of the civil departments and all employees in the public buildings were called to arms for the defense of the capital. The sale of spirituous liquors at retail within the District of Columbia was prohibited. Excitement and alarm held undisputed sway.
I know of no adverse criticism of Lee in this campaign. Even Longstreet is complimentary. He says:Jackson's march to Bristow and Manassas Junction was hazardous, or seemed so, but in view of his peculiar talent for such work (the captured dispatch of General Pope giving information of his affairs) and Lee's skill, it seemed the only way open for progressive maneuver. The strength of the move lay in the time it gave us to make issue before all the Army of the Potomac could unite with the army of General Pope. His (Lee's) game of hide and seek about Bull Run, Centerville, and Manassas Plains was grand.
Lee's original plan was to catch Pope napping on the Rapidan; but Pope was informed of it by a captured letter from Lee to Stuart, and immediately fell back be-hind the Rappahannock.
Lee was looking on from Clark's mountain, and said to Longstreet: “General, we little thought the enemy would turn his back upon us thus early in the campaign.”
Lee crossed the Rapidan and tried to pass the Rappahannock to fall upon Pope before he could receive reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac, but Pope's artillery, heavy rains, and a high river prevented him.
In the sparring along the Rappahannock Pope did very well, but Lee's unconventional strategy and Jackson's queer antics decided the campaign against him.
There is much of the usual cheap criticism of Pope,—what he ought to have done, and so on. No doubt he would have done those things if he had known as much as the critics knew, after the event, regarding Lee's intentions and movements. It was highly probable that Jackson had made a raid on Manassas similar to that made by Stuart around McClellan's army at Richmond, and was retiring.
Rhodes says, referring to Lee:An ordinary general might have been satisfied with the capture of stores and the alarm created in Washington. . . .
So thought Pope. He made his disposition on that probability, rather than on the improbability that Jack-son had gone into hiding to wait for Lee.
When he sent his dispatch of the 30th he was still of the opinion that Jackson was retreating.
Longstreet says:He was misled by reports of his officers and others to believe that the Confederates were in retreat, and planned his movements upon false premises.
In generalship Pope probably did as well as any man would have done under the peculiar circumstances of the campaign, and as for dislodging the Army of Northern Virginia from position, Grant failed to do that at Spottsylvania and Cold Harbor, though he had greater odds in his favor than Pope had.
Lee captured 30 guns, many thousand small arms, 7,000 prisoners, and 2,000 wounded, besides Jackson's captures at Manassas and Bristow.
Pope's aggregate on the 28th was 70,000 men; Lee's, 49,000. Pope's losses were 15,000 men, and Lee's, 10,000.
Lee was now where he had advised Johnston to stay,—in position to threaten Washington. But it cost him about 30,000 men to get there. Add the 7,000 that Johnston lost at Seven Pines and the ordnance, clothes, and stores of subsistence lost by his retreats, and the conclusion is inevitable that he blundered in not trying, at any rate, to follow Lee's advice.
LONGSTREET says it was Lee's “deliberate and urgent advice to President Davis to join him and be prepared to make a proposal for peace and independence from the head of a conquering army.” This is one of Longstreet's many dreams.
So far from wishing Davis to join him Lee wrote to him as follows:
HEADQUARTERS NEAR FREDERICKTOWN, MD.,
September 9, 1862.
His EXCELLENCY, PRESIDENT DAVIS.
MR. PRESIDENT: I have just received your letter of the 7th instant, from Rapidan, informing me of your intention to come on to Leesburg. While I should feel the greatest satisfaction in having an interview with you and in consulting you upon all subjects of interest, I cannot but feel great uneasiness for your safety, should you undertake to reach me. You will not only encounter the hardships and fatigues of a very disagreeable journey, but also run the risk of capture by the enemy.
I send my aide-de-camp. Major Taylor, back to explain to you the difficulties and dangers of the journey, which I cannot recommend you to undertake. I am endeavoring to break up the line through Leesburg, which is no longer safe, and turn everything off from Culpeper Court House toward Winchester.
. . . I must therefore advise you do not make an attempt that I cannot but regard as hazardous.
I have the honor to be, with high respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
Davis abandoned the idea of going to Lee before he received his letter. Lee's real reason for the campaign he states clearly in the following letter, and his account of the condition of the army proves that he did not expect to achieve Confederate independence.
HEADQUARTERS, ALEXANDRIA AND LEESBURG ROAD,
NEAR DRAINESVILLE, September 3, 1862.
HIS EXCELLENCY, PRESIDENT DAVIS.
MR. PRESIDENT: . . . After the enemy had disappeared from the vicinity of Fairfax Court House and taken the road to Alexandria and Washington, I did not think it would be advantageous to follow him farther. I had no intention of attacking him in his fortifications and am not prepared to invest them. If I possessed the necessary munitions, I should be unable to supply provisions for the troops. I therefore determined, while threatening the approaches to Washington, to draw the troops into Loudoun, where forage and some provisions can be procured, menace their possession of the Shenandoah Valley, and, if found practicable, to cross into Maryland. The purpose, if discovered, will have the effect of carrying the enemy north of the Potomac, and if prevented will not result in much evil.
The army is not properly equipped for an invasion of the enemy's territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men are poorly provided with clothing and in thousands of instances are destitute of shoes. Still, we cannot afford to be idle, and, though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipment, must endeavor to harass if we cannot destroy them. I am aware that the movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider success impossible, and shall endeavor to guard it from loss. As long as the army of the enemy is employed on this frontier I have no fears for the safety of Richmond.
. . . What occasions most concern is the fear of getting out of ammunition. I beg you will instruct the Ordnance Department to spare no pains in manufacturing a sufficient amount of the best kind. . . . If the Quartermaster's Department can furnish any shoes, it would be the greatest relief. We have entered upon September, and the nights are becoming cool.
I have the honor to be, with high respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
There is not a word in this letter referring to the probability or possibility of conquering Confederate independence, or of any definite end other than to harass the enemy and keep him on the northern frontier.
It had cost Lee dearly to get his army out of the last ditch at Richmond, and if he remained idle it would be but a little time before the Army of the Potomac would be trying to put him back in it.
Longstreet says:Riding together before we reached Frederick, the sound of artillery fire came from the direction of Point of Rocks and Harper's Ferry, from which General Lee inferred that the enemy was concentrating forces from the Valley, for defense of Harper's Ferry, and proposed to me to organize forces to surround and capture the works and garrison. I thought it a venture not worth the game, and suggested, as we were in the enemy's country and presence, that he would be advised of any move that we made in a few hours after it was set on foot; that the Union army, though beaten, was not disorganized; that we knew a number of their officers who could put it in order and march against us, if they found us exposed, and make serious trouble before the capture could be accomplished; that our men were worn by very severe and protracted service and in need of repose; that as long as we had them in hand we were masters of the situation, but dispersed into many fragments our strength must be greatly reduced. As the subject was not continued, I supposed that it was a mere expression of passing thought until the day after we reached Frederick, upon going over to headquarters, I found the front of the general's tent closed and tied. Upon inquiring of a member of the staff, I was told that he was inside with General Jackson. As I had not been called, I turned to go away, when General Lee, recognizing my voice, called me in. The plan had been arranged. . . .
According to Longstreet, the capture of Harper's Ferry was optional and ought not to have been attempted.
The following reasons will explain why it was necessary.
Lee wrote to Davis from Frederick, September 9:I shall move in the direction I originally intended, toward Hagerstown and Chambersburg, for the purpose of opening communication through the Valley in order to procure sufficient supplies of flour.
Both Long and Taylor of Lee's staff say that when he got to Frederick he thought Harper's Ferry had been abandoned, as it should have been. As it was still garrisoned by 11,000 men, it was not safe to leave it on his new line of communication, and that is, of course, sufficient reason, even if there had been no other, for taking it.
Longstreet says that in the Gettysburg campaign it was left alone. But it was not exactly left alone.
Early's operations cleared the Valley of the enemy, and the garrison at Harper's Ferry crossed over to Maryland Heights.
Colonel Mosby says:. . . One benefit of Stuart's crossing at Seneca was that it practically eliminated French's corps in the campaign, and put it on the defensive, to guard the line of the Potomac and the rear of Meade's army. It had been the garrison,—11,000,—at Harper's Ferry, but, when that place was abandoned, it was added to Meade's command. But Stuart's appearance created such a sensation that Meade sent 4,000 men to guard the canal and 7,000 were kept at Frederick. They were no more help to Meade in the battle than if they had stayed above the clouds on Maryland Heights. . . .
Early's operations moved the garrison to the Maryland side, and Stuart's put it on guard in Meade's rear.
Longstreet says:All the Confederates had to do was to hold the army in hand and draw the enemy to a good field. . . . The Confederates, if held in hand and refreshed a little, could have made their grandest success.
There is no reason why the success would have been any “grander” than the success at Manassas. The same reason that Lee gives for not following Pope would have been even stronger for not following McClellan, for his line of communication would have been longer and in fact impossible.
Then Lee had no such good reason for fighting at Antietam or on Longstreet's “good field” as he had for fighting Second Manassas, where he fought to break up the combination against Richmond.
Longstreet says:If the Southern army had been carefully held in hand, refreshed by easy marches and comfortable supplies, the proclamation (of emancipation) could not have found its place in history.
On the other hand, the Southern President would have been in Maryland at the head of his army, with his manifesto of peace and independence.
If the army had been held in hand it would hardly have done more in Maryland with 60,000 men than it did at Richmond with 80,000, and that was a victory at Gaines's Mill and a repulse at Malvern Hill.
As for the proclamation, Lincoln repeatedly declared it was a war measure pure and simple, and designed exclusively to weaken the South and strengthen the North, so that it would have been more necessary in defeat than in victory.
It is true Lincoln was holding the proclamation for a victory; but a repetition of Gaines's Mill and Malvern Hill would hardly have prevented him from issuing it, especially as he claimed a victory at Malvern Hill.
When McClellan became possessed of the “lost order” acquainting him with Lee's plans,—the scattering of his columns to capture Harper's Ferry and to oppose his approach,—he dispatched to Mr. Lincoln:
Sept. 13, 1862, 12 m.
(Received 2.35 a.m., Sept. 14.)
To THE PRESIDENT: I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform, but with God's blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he will be severely punished for it. The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success, if the plans of the rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Catactin. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap, if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel that I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to cooperate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln. Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well and with God's blessing will accomplish it.
GEO. B. MCCLELLAN.
This must have been very comforting in view of the state of the public mind in the North.
Rhodes says:The feeling in the North approached consternation. That Lee should threaten Washington and Baltimore, then Harrisburg and Philadelphia, while Bragg threatened Louisville and Cincinnati, was piling up a menace that shook the nerves of the coolest men.
. . . The dispatches from Governor Curtin at Harrisburg manifest concern for that capital; he called out 50,000 militia for the defense of the State. The words which came from Philadelphia were such as the citizens of a wealthy city utter in time of panic.
S. H. Gay wrote from New York city: “There is the deepest anxiety here, and a most ominous state of affairs.”
Though McClellan telegraphed to Lincoln on the 13th, “ The army is in motion as rapidly as possible,” and “I have all the plans of the rebels and will catch them in their own trap,” he did not progress very rapidly. Lee sent D. H. Hill to the mountain gaps, and McClellan had to fight to get through.
On the 17th, however, he did catch the rebels in their own trap.
Colonel Douglass, aide-de-camp on Jackson's staff, gives the following account of the battle:. . . The first onset, early on the morning of the 17th, told what the day would be. The impatient Hooker, with the divisions of Meade, Doubleday, and Ricketts, struck the first blow, and Jackson's old division caught it and struck back again. Between such foes the battle soon waxed hot. Step by step and marking each step with dead, the thin Confederate line was pushed back to the wood around the Dunker church. Here Lawton, Starke (commanding in place of Jones, already wounded), and D. H. Hill, with part of his division, engaged Meade. And now in turn the Federals halted and fell back, and left their dead by the Dunker church. Next Mansfield entered the fight, and beat with resistless might on Jackson's people. The battle here grew angry and bloody. Starke was killed, Lawton wounded, and nearly all their general and field officers had fallen; the sullen Confederate line again fell back, killing Mansfield and wounding Hooker, Crawford, and Hartsuff.
And now D. H. Hill led in the rest of his division; Hood also took part to the right and left, front and rear, of the Dunker church. The Federal line was again driven back, while artillery added its din to the incessant rattle of musketry. Then Sumner, with the fresh division of Sedgwick, re-formed the Federal line and renewed the offensive. Hood was driven back, and Hill partly; the Dunker Church was passed, the field south of it entered, and the Confederate left turned. Just then McLaws, hurrying from Harper's Ferry, came upon the field, and hurled his men against the victorious Sedgwick. He drove Sedgwick back into the Dunker wood, and beyond it, into the open ground. Farther to our right the pendulum of battle had been swinging to and fro, with D. H. Hill and R. H. Anderson hammering away at French and Richardson, until the sunken road became historic as “Bloody Lane.” Richardson was mortally wounded, and Hancock assumed command of his division.
For a while there was a lull in the storm. It was early in the day, but hours are fearfully long in battle. About noon Franklin, with Slocum and W. F. Smith, marched upon the field to join the unequal contest. Smith tried his luck and was repulsed. Sumner then ordered a halt. Jackson's fight was over, and a strange silence reigned around Dunker Church.
General Lee had not visited the left that day. As usual he trusted to Jackson to fight his own battle, and work out salvation in his own way. How well he did it, against the ablest and fiercest of McClellan's lieutenants, history has told.
During all this time Longstreet, stripped of his troops,—sent to the help of Jackson,—held the right almost alone, with his eye on the center. He was now called into active work on his own front, for there were no unfought troops in Lee's army at Sharpsburg; every soldier on that field tasted battle.
General Burnside, with his corps of fourteen thou-sand men, had been lying all day beyond the bridge which now bears his name. Ordered to cross at eight o'clock, he managed to get over at one, and by three was ready to advance. He moved against the hill which D. R. Jones held with his little division of 2500 men. Longstreet was watching this advance. Jackson was at General Lee's headquarters on a knoll in rear of Sharpsburg. A. P. Hill was coming, but had not arrived, and it was apparent that Burnside must be stayed, if at all, with artillery.
I saw Burnside's heavy line move up the hill, and the earth seemed to tremble beneath their tread. It was a splendid and fearful sight, but for them to beat back Jones's feeble line was scarcely war. The artillery tore, but did not stay them. They pressed forward until Sharpsburg was uncovered, and Lee's line of retreat was at their mercy. But then, just then, A. P. Hill, picturesque in his red battleshirt, with three of his brigades, 2500 men, who had marched that day seventeen miles from Harper's Ferry and had waded the Potomac, appeared upon the scene. Tired and footsore, the men forgot their woes in that supreme moment, and, with no breathing time, braced themselves to meet the coming shock. They met it and stayed it. The blue line staggered and hesitated, and, hesitating, was lost. At the critical moment A. P. Hill was always at his strongest. Quickly advancing his battle-flags, his line moved forward, Jones's troops rallied on him, and in the din of musketry and artillery, on either flank the Federals broke over the field. Hill did not wait for his other brigades, but held the vantage gained until Burnside was driven back to the Antietam and under the shelter of heavy guns. The day was done. Again A. P. Hill, as at Manassas, Harper's Ferry, and elsewhere, had struck with the right hand of Mars. No wonder that both Lee and Jackson, when, in the delirium of their last moments on earth, they stood again to battle, saw the form of A. P. Hill leading his column on; but it is a wonder and a shame that the grave of this valiant Virginian in Hollywood cemetery has not a stone to mark it and keep it from oblivion.
The battle at Sharpsburg was the result of unforeseen circumstances and not of deliberate purpose. It was one of the bloodiest of the war, and a defeat for both armies. The prestige of the day was with Lee, but when on the night of the 18th he recrossed into Virginia, although, as the Comte de Paris says, he left not a single trophy of his nocturnal retreat in the hands of the enemy, he left the prestige of the result with McClellan.
From Lee's report of the battle:This great battle was fought by less than 40,000 men on our side, all of whom had undergone the greatest labor and hardship in the field and on the march. Nothing could surpass the determined valor with which they met the large army of the enemy, fully supplied and equipped, and the result reflects the highest credit on the officers and men.
Lee carried 60,000 men to Maryland; McClellan, 67,000. In addition to McClellan's army there were 12,000 men at Harper's Ferry.
It will be seen that Lee was short 20,000 men at Antietam. They had been lost in the engagements at South Mountain, Crampton's Gap, Maryland Heights, and on the long marches, which were continuous and distressing.
From General McLaws's report:The entire command was very much fatigued. The brigades of Generals Kershaw and Barksdale had been engaged on Maryland Heights on the 12th, 13th, and 14th, and on the 15th had been marched from the Heights to the line of battle, up the Valley, formed to oppose that of the enemy below Crampton's Gap. Those of Generals Cobb, Semmes, and Mahone (Colonel Parsham) had been engaged and badly crippled at Crampton's Gap, and all the others had been guarding important points under very trying circumstances.
A large number had no provisions, and a great portion had not had time nor opportunity to cook what they had. All the troops had been without sleep the previous night, except while waiting in line for the wagon trains to pass over the pontoon bridge at Harper's Ferry.
McClellan lost 11,657 men, and Lee's loss, including the fighting at the mountain gaps and Harper's Ferry, was about 12,000.
Lee captured at Harper's Ferry 11,000 infantry, three companies of cavalry, six companies of artillery, forty-nine pieces of artillery, twenty-four mountain howitzers, and 11,000 small arms.
So far as the battle itself is concerned, there is nothing but favorable criticism of Lee's generalship.
Nearly all critics agree with Rhodes, who says:While Lee's strategy and in some measure his tactics have been censured by Longstreet, the layman will be prone to agree with Allen that the conduct of the battle of Antietam itself by Lee and his principal subordinates seems absolutely above criticism. . . .
From “Ropes' Civil War”: “Of General Lee's management of the battle there is nothing but praise to be said. . . .”
McClellan has been censured for not renewing the attack on the 18th. He says in his report:The night, however, brought grave responsibilities—whether to renew the attack on the 18th, or to defer it, even with the risk of the enemy's retirement, was the question before me. After a night of anxious deliberation and a full and careful survey of the situation and condition of our army, the strength and position of the enemy, I concluded that the success of an attack on the 18th was uncertain.
At that moment,—Virginia lost, Washington men-aced, Maryland invaded,—the national cause could afford no risk of defeat. One battle lost and almost all would have been lost. Lee's army might then have marched, as it pleased, on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York.
But other reasons influenced him too. It was the bloodiest one-day fight of the war, and his army and his nerves were badly shaken. He says:The troops generally were greatly overcome by the fatigue and exhaustion of the severe and continuous fighting on the 17th. They required rest and refreshment. One division of Sumner's and all Hooker's corps on the right had, after fighting most valiantly for several hours, been overpowered by numbers, driven back in great disorder, and much scattered, so that they were for the time somewhat demoralized.
Some of the new troops on the left, although many of them fought well during the battle and are entitled to great credit, were, at the close of the action, driven back and their morale impaired.
On the morning of the 18th General Burnside requested that another division be sent to assist him in holding his position on the far side of the Antietam, giving the impression that if he were attacked again that morning he would not be able to make a very vigorous resistance. . . .
McClellan's discretion contrasts strongly with Lee's recklessness in fighting 87,000 men with less than 40,000 tired ones, and in standing all day on the 18th in line of battle.
The diary of Gideon Wells says that at the cabinet meeting June 17, 1863, Lincoln spoke of a poem mythologically describing McClellan as a monkey fighting the rebellion in the shape of a serpent. The joke was that McClellan kept calling for “more tail—more tail,” which Jupiter furnished.
Palfrey says of McClellan:When the Confederacy was young and fresh and rich, and its armies were numerous, he fought a good, wary, damaging, respectable fight against it.
But Jupiter gave to Grant “more tail” than he gave to McClellan.
If Malvern Hill was a Federal victory, then Antietam was a Confederate victory. At Malvern Hill McClellan commanded the invading army—at Antietam Lee commanded it. Lee's repulse at Malvern Hill was not more decided than McClellan's at Antietam, nor was it as bloody.
McClellan retreated in disorder on the night of the battle, and subsequently by the back door water route to Washington. Lee remained in line the day after the battle, and then retired in order to Virginia. As usual, Longstreet alleges that failure of the campaign was due to the fact that Lee did not take his advice, and Lee's worshipers discover a mare's nest to account for it.
One of them, who was on his staff, says:What a fatality was there for General Lee! What an advantage to the Federal commander to be instantly made aware of the division of his adversary's army, the wide separation of his columns, and to have the detail of his plan laid bare. There is no parallel to it in history.
There is nothing to show that the “lost order” accelerated McClellan's advance. General Pleasonton, who made the first battle, that at Turner's Pass on the 14th, had not heard of it.
Anyhow it cuts no figure in the results of the campaign. Under the most favorable circumstances Lee could only have driven McClellan from Longstreet's “good field.”
His loss would have been as great, or greater, than it was at Antietam, and he would have been too weak to push him from the strong positions in his rear and lay siege to Washington. In fact if he had not lost a man he could not have laid siege to Washington, for he was not equipped nor provisioned for it.
The trouble with Lee's worshipers is that they are always making excuses for his failure to accomplish impossibilities foreign to his strategy. At Antietam it is the “lost order”; at Gettysburg, Stuart.
The world takes no heed of their excuses, and so the failures which originated in their minds are largely responsible for erroneous historical estimates of Lee.
Lee was not a provincial Southerner. He had been in the United States army all his life, and his home was at Washington. He realized from the first what he had to contend with. He knew that his resources in men and material would not enable him to conquer independence on northern soil. Therefore his only alternative was to prolong the war until the North should get tired of it; and to prolong it, it was necessary to keep the Army of the Potomac as far away from Richmond as possible, and the only way in which that could be done was to threaten Washington. All his strategy, involving desperate movements and battles, was designed to accomplish this one object and nothing more. His correspondence, the condition of the army, and the conduct of his campaigns show conclusively the singleness of his purpose.
The same staff officer says:It looks as if the good Lord had ordained that we should not succeed. . . .
To me it is as if He who controls the destinies of men and of nations had said: You people of the South shall be sorely tried; but the blame is not yours, and therefore to you shall fall the honors,—genius, skill, courage, fortitude, endurance, readiness for self-sacrifice, prowess in battle, and victory against great odds. But this great experiment to demonstrate man's capacity for self-government, with its cornerstone of universal freedom, must continue with undivided front, and therefore I decree to the other side determination, persistency, numbers, unlimited resources, and ultimate success. . . .
Here we have the “good Lord” as umpire of the game. He slaps the North on the back and awards the gate money, and then bestows the usual taffy on the South.
It does seem that if the “good Lord” had had any-thing to do with the war He would have been at least as merciful as are the umpires in the prize ring, and would have stopped it before any one was killed.
Out of puffery, quackery, cant, and hypocrisy grows the absurdity that the practical, common-sense, dollar-worshiping people of the North squandered billions of dollars on the “man's capacity for self-government” humbuggery and negro emancipation.
Man had been demonstrating his capacity, or rather his incapacity, for self-government ever since the man with the arquebus shot a hole in the knight's armor; otherwise there would have been no war.
Then there was a parallel to the “lost order” episode, except in the matter of result. At Antietam they were nil, while at Metaurus in 207 B.C. they decided the fate of the world.
Creasy says:. . . Meanwhile Hasdrubal had raised the siege of Placentia, and was advancing toward Ariminum on the Adriatic, and driving before him the Roman army under Porcius. Nor when the Consul Livius had come up, and united the second and third armies of the North, could he make head against the invaders. The Romans still fell back before Hasdrubal, beyond Ariminum, beyond the Metaurus, and as far as the little town of Sena, to the southeast of that river. Hasdrubal was not unrnindful of the necessity of acting in concert with his brother. He sent messengers to Hannibal to announce his march, and to propose that they should unite their armies in South Umbria, and then wheel around against Rome. Those messengers traversed the quarter part of Italy in safety; but, when close to the object of their mission, were captured by a Roman detachment; and Hasdrubal's letter, detailing his whole plan of the campaign, was laid, not in his brother's hands, but in those of the comrnande~ of the Roman armies of the South. Nero saw at once the full importance of the crisis. The two sons of Hamilcar were now within two hundred miles of each other, and if Rome was to be saved, the brothers must never meet alive. . . .
This letter enabled Nero to destroy Hasdrubal and his army in the battle of Metaurus.
Creasy says:. . . In the true spirit of that savage brutality which deformed the Roman national character, Nero ordered Hasdrubal's head to be flung in his brother's camp. Eleven years had passed since Hannibal had gazed on those features.
The sons of Hamilcar had then planned their system of warfare against Rome, which they had brought so nearly to successful accomplishment. Year after year had Hannibal been struggling in Italy, in the hopes of one day hailing the arrival of him whom he had left in Spain, and of seeing his brother's eye flash with affection and pride at the junction of their irresistible hosts. He now saw that eye glazed in death, and in the agony of his heart the great Carthaginian groaned aloud that he recognized his country's destiny.
IN December, 1862, Lee's army of 78,000 men was in winter quarters at Fredericksburg, and Burnside's, of 113,000, at Falmouth on the opposite side of the Rappahannock river. Burnside's position was a false one from which to launch an “On to Richmond” campaign.
The ground of Lee's right was not inviting, and on his left was the Wilderness. The water route was not popular after McClellan's failure, so Burnside concluded to cross directly in his front, take possession of Fredericksburg, and attack Lee in the strongest position he ever held.
Lee held the river front of the town with a strong picket line that gave Burnside considerable trouble, but he finally dislodged it with a furious artillery fire that sent the bricks flying in Fredericksburg.
The battle itself was a rather one-sided affair,—easy for Lee.
Rhodes says of it:. . . The order to be ready came early in the morning, the 13th; the word of attack was received by noon. The Union soldiers advanced over the plain between the town and the stone wall, ground which Longstreet's superintendent of artillery said: “We cover so well that we will comb it as with a fine-tooth comb. A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.” The canal interfered with their deployment, and the fire was therefore the more destructive. But generals and soldiers had their orders, and forward they went. No higher courage could be shown. Intelligent as brave, they felt their effort hopeless, yet did their very best to carry the stone wall. Hancock led a charge of 5,000 and lost two out of every five of his veterans, of whom one hundred and fifty-six were commissioned officers, “able and tried commanders.” “Six times did the enemy,” wrote Lee, “notwithstanding the havoc caused by our batteries, press on with great determination to within one hundred yards of the foot of the hill, but here encountering the deadly fire of our infantry, his columns were broken.” “Oh, great God!” cried Couch, “see how our men, our poor fellows, are falling! It is only murder now!” “Fighting Joe Hooker,” who until that day had never seen fighting enough, felt that he could make no more impression upon the Confederate works than upon “the side of a mountain of rock.”
Putting spurs to his horse, he rode across the river and begged Burnside to desist from further attack. The commander was obstinate, and declared that the work of assault must go on. Humphreys, “the knight without reproach or fear,” then led a bayonet charge of 4,500 troops, who had never been in battle before. The stone wall was a sheet of flame. . . . In brief time over a thousand men were killed and wounded. The column turned. The regiments retired slowly, and in good order, many of the soldiers “singing and hurrahing.”
The next day Burnside was wild with grief. “Oh, those men! those men over there!” he said, pointing across the river where lay the dead and wounded, “I am thinking of them all the time.”
Brevet Brigadier General Ames, U.S.V., says of it:On Saturday, December 13, our brigade had been held in reserve; but late in the day we were hurried to the battle only to see a field full of flying men and the sun low in the west shining red through columns of smoke, six deserted field-pieces on a slight rise of ground in front of us, and a cheering column of troops in regular march disappearing on our left. But the day was then over and the battle lost, and our line felt hardly bullets enough to draw blood before darkness put an end to the uproar of all hostile sounds, save desultory shell-firing. For an hour or two afterward shells from Marye's Heights traced bright lines across the black sky with their burning fuses. Then, by command, we sank down in our lines, to get what sleep the soggy ground and the danger might allow us.
Experience had taught us (hat when the silent line of fire from the shells had flashed across the sky and disappeared behind us the scream and explosion that followed were harmless, but still it required some effort to overcome the discomfort of the damp ground, and the flash and report of bursting shells, and to drop quietly asleep at an order. We finally slept, but we were roused before midnight, and formed into line with whispered commands, and then filed to the right, and reaching the highways, marched away from the town. There were many dead horses at exposed points of our turning and many more dead men. Here stood a low brick house, with an open door in its gable end, from which shone a light, and into which we peered when passing. Inside sat a woman, gaunt and hard-featured, with crazy hair and a Meg Merrilies face, still sitting by a smoking candle, though it was nearly two hours past midnight. But what woman could sleep, though never so masculine and tough of fiber, alone in a house between two hostile armies,–two corpses lying across her doorstep, and within, almost at her feet, four more! So, with wild eyes and face lighted by her smoky candle, she stared across the dead barrier into the darkness outside, with the look of one who heard and saw not, and to whom all sounds were a terror.
We formed in two lines–the right of each resting near and in front of this small brick house, and the left extending into the field at right angles with the highway. Here we again bivouacked, finding room for our beds with no little difficulty, because of the shattered forms of those who were here taking their last long sleep. We rose early. The heavy fog was penetrating and chilly, and the damp turf was no warm mattress to tempt us to a morning nap. So we shook off sloth from our moistened bodies willingly, and rolling up the gray blankets, set about breakfast. The bivouac breakfast is a nearer approach to its civilized congener than the bivouac bed. Coffee can be made hot and good in blackened tins; pork can be properly frizzled only on a stick over an open fire; hard tack is a better, sweeter morsel than the average American house-wife has yet achieved with her saleratus, sour milk, “empt'in's,' and what-not; and a pipe—who can estimate what that little implement has done for mankind? Certainly none better than those who have sought its solace after the bivouac breakfast that succeeds a bivouac bed, in December.
We now began to take note through the misty veil of the wreck of men and horses cumbering the ground about us, and a slight lifting of the gray fog showed us the story of yesterday's repeated assaults and repeated failures. When our pipes were exhausted we got up to inspect and criticise the situation. Just here was the wreck of a fence, which seemed to have been the high tide mark of our advance wave of battle. The fence was a barrier which, slight as it was, had turned back the already wavering and mutilated lines of assault Almost an army lay about us and scattered back over the plain toward the town. Not only corpses, but many of the badly wounded, hardly distinguishable from the dead, were here too. To die, groveling on the ground or fallen in the mire, is dreadful indeed. The pallid faces, and the clammy hands clenching their muskets, looked ghastly by the foglight. The new, bright blue overcoats only made the sight the ghastlier.
About eighty yards in front the plowed field was bounded by a stone wall, and behind the wall were men in gray uniforms moving carelessly about. This picture is one of the most distinct memories of the war,—the men in gray behind this wall, talking, laughing, cooking, cleaning muskets, clicking locks–there they were!—Lee's soldiers!—the Army of Northern Virginia! We were so absurdly near this host of yesterday's victors that we seemed wholly in their hands and a part of their great mass; cut off and remote from the Federal army, and almost within the lines of the enemy,—prisoners, of course. That was the immediate impression, as we stupidly gazed in the first moment of the awkward discovery.
But the sharp whistle of a bullet sounded in our ears, and a rebel's face peered through the puff of smoke, as he removed the rifle from his shoulder; then rapidly half a dozen more bullets whistled by us, and the warning sent us all to earth.
The enemy riddled every moving thing in sight; horses tied to the wheels of a broken gun-carriage behind us; pigs that incautiously came grunting from across the road; even chickens were brought down with an accuracy of aim that told of a fatally short range, and of a better practice than it would have been wise for our numbers to face. They applauded their own success with a hilarity we could hardly share in, as their chicken shooting was across our backs, leaving us no extra room for turning.
Lee's loss was 5377 men; and Burnside's, 12,653, the flower of his army.
There was gloom in the North. Joseph Medill, of the Chicago Times, wrote to Colfax:Our people all have the blues. The feeling of utter hopelessness is stronger than at any time since the war began. The terrible bloody defeat of our brave army at Fredericksburg leaves us almost without hope!
Meigs wrote to Burnside:As day after day has gone my heart has sunk, and I see greater peril to our nationality in the present condition of affairs than at any time during the struggle.
Criticism of Lee is confined to his failure to attack Burnside after his repulse, and there is an absurd story that Jackson asked the army surgeon how many white bandages he could furnish for the men to wear in a night attack.
The review of Lord Wolseley's friendly criticism of Lee by a Northern soldier, already referred to, says:Equally remarkable for visionary confidence is Lord Wolseley's next question, “What commander could wish to have his foe in a tighter place than Burnside was in after his disastrous attack upon Lee at Fredericksburg?” Lee has explained in his reports, in effect, that he was so much pleased with the tight boot Burnside was wearing, so long as Burnside was the aggressor, that he had no thought of exchanging footgear with the enemy, as he surely would have done if he had attacked Burnside within range of the Union cannon on Stafford Heights, across the river. So secure was Burnside at the town that when it was proposed, on deciding to recross the river, to keep hands on Fredericksburg, the council of officers believed that 10,000 men was a sufficient force for the service.
From Lee's report:. . . The attack of the 13th had been so easily repulsed and by so small a part of our army that it was not supposed the enemy would limit his efforts to an attempt which, in view of the magnitude of his preparations and the extent of his force, seemed to be comparatively insignificant. Believing therefore that he would attack us, it was not deemed expedient to lose the advantage of our position and expose the troops to the fire of his inaccessible batteries beyond the river by advancing against him. . . .
Burnside's attacking columns were repulsed, but his lines at Fredericksburg were intact; and on Stafford Heights, overlooking Fredericksburg from the opposite shore of a narrow river, and commanding every foot of approach, were 147 siege and heavy field guns. They were beyond the reach of Lee's artillery. Only 50,000 men of Burnside's army had been engaged. The charge that Lee neglected pursuit when possible is without any foundation in fact He had followed McClellan's retreat as energetically as the nature of the country permitted, and was repulsed at Malvern Hill under fire of McClellan's gunboats. At Second Manassas there was no opportunity to pursue, as it was too dose to Washington.
Lord Wolseley of course would have made no such criticism, if he had known anything about the topography of the field.
Burnside did not commit such an awful blunder at Fredericksburg as he is charged with. Standing at Falmouth he saw no easy way to Richmond. A flank movement meant an extended line of communication and possible trouble from heavy rains or snows at that season. Lee's line across the river could be quickly and easily reached, and success there would have made serious trouble for him and given Burnside an advantageous position from which to operate against Richmond, there being no strong defensive line between the two places. Then, too, at the worst, he could only suffer a repulse, as his guns on Stafford Heights would protect him from a counter attack.
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1863
After the battle of Fredericksburg and Burnside's “mud march” the armies settled back into winter quarters.
Longstreet was ordered south of the James river, as supplies of subsistence were more easily obtained there, and he would be in position to oppose troops that might be sent from the North to reinforce the army operating in that quarter against Richmond.
General “Fighting” Joe Hooker had superseded Burnside in the command of the Army of the Potomac. The day after was appointed Lincoln wrote to him as follows:. . . There are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. . . . I think that during General Burnside's command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. . . . Only those generals who gain successes can set up as dictators. What I ask of you now is military success and I will risk the dictatorship. . . .
Lincoln thought the job was in pretty good hands as it was.
We have already seen that Falmouth was a false position from which to operate against Richmond; but as McClellan had made a failure of the water route, and Burnside of his direct attack. Hooker's only alternative was a flank movement. A move on Lee's right flank was not promising of success, so Hooker determined to cross the river at the upper fords and strike Lee's left and rear.
It was April—“the fields were green and the skies were blue.” Hooker sent Stoneman with 10,000 cavalry to operate on Lee's line of communication, and to mask the march of his main column up the river. He ordered Sedgwick to cross it below and hold Lee as long as possible at Fredericksburg in order that he might have time to strike and crush him. Both columns commenced crossing the river on the 29th and encountered no resistance.
On the 30th Stoneman encountered Stuart's cavalry on the Spottsylvania road, but was unable to report whether or not there were infantry and artillery in that direction. This was Hooker's first trouble.
He halted and made his headquarters at Chancellorsville.
That night,—the 30th,—he issued the following general order:It is with heartfelt satisfaction that the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously flee, or come out from behind his breastworks and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.
Talking boastfully, he said to some of his officers:The rebel army is now the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac. They may as well pack up their haversacks and make for Richmond, and I shall be after them.
General Schurz says of this order:. . . They (the officers and men) indeed hoped that the Army of the Potomac, 130,000 strong, would prove able to beat Lee's army, only 60,000 strong. But it jarred upon their feelings, as well as their good sense, to hear their commanding general gasconade so boastfully of having the enemy in the hollow of his hand,—that enemy being Robert E. Lee, at the head of the best infantry in the world.
Hooker believed that he surprised Lee in his movement across the river and thought he had made a move on the chess-board that was decisive,—that Lee would have to attack him in strong position or retreat, and according to the rules of the game such was the case. Joe Johnston or Beauregard in Lee's position would have retreated, but Lee did not intend to retreat, nor had Hooker stolen a march on him.
While the army was in winter quarters at Fredericksburg, and after Burnside's “mud march,” Lee went to Richmond on a visit. Longstreet was left in command. He says:. . . Long and close study of the field from the Potomac to the James river, and the experience of former campaigns, made it dear that the Army of the Potomac had been drawn into a false position, and it became manifest that there were but two moves left open for its spring campaign,—first, by crossing the upper fords of the Rappahannock; secondly, by detaching forces to the south of the James, and by that route moving against Richmond.
To guard against the former, I laid out lines for field works and rifle pits, covering all approaches by the upper fords as far as the roads leading to the United States Ford. From that point the line broke to the rear, crossing the plank road and extending back half a mile to command the road from Chancellorsville to Spottsylvania Court House. When the lines for these works were well marked, I was ordered, with the divisions of Hood and Pickett and Bearing's and Henry's artillery battalions, to the south side near Petersburg, to be in position to meet the latter move, leaving the divisions of McLaws and R. H. Anderson to finish the work on the line of defense. . . .
General Colston, who commanded one of Jackson's brigades, published the following in the Century Magazine:The assertion that Hooker's move upon Chancellorsville was a surprise to General Lee is a great mistake. Every day Lee had information of Hooker's movements. The following letter, sent by Lee to Jackson and by the latter to me, has never been out of my possession since. It shows the remarkable intuition which enabled General Lee on so many occasions to foresee and penetrate the intentions of his antagonist. In this case a demonstration had been made on our extreme right at Port Royal, and without waiting for orders I had gone with a brigade and battery to meet it. I reported the facts to General Jackson, and it is my letter to him to which General Lee refers:
HEADQUARTERS A.N.VA., April 23, 1863.
LIEUT. GEN. T. J. JACKSON,
General: I have received General Colston's letter of 8.30 o'clock to-day, which you forwarded to me. I think from the account given me by Lieut. Col. Smith of the Engineers, who was at Port Royal yesterday, of the enemy's operations there the day and night previous, that his present purpose is to draw our troops in that direction while he attempts a passage elsewhere. I would not then send down more troops than are actually necessary. I will notify Generals McLaws and Anderson to be on the alert, for I think that if a real attempt is made to cross the river it will be above Fredericksburg.
R. E. LEE,
The back of the letter was endorsed by Jackson,
“Respectfully referred to General Colston for his guidance.” It was also marked “Confidential,” and both the front and the back of the envelope were marked “Private,” so that not even my adjutant general should open it in case of my absence.
General Long, of Lee's staff, says:. . . Lee's whole cavalry force, consisting of two brigades,“Fitz Lee's and W. H. F. Lee's,”under the immediate command of Stuart, was mainly employed in guarding the fords of the upper Rappahannock. Hooker had no sooner commenced his movement than it was reported by Stuart to General Lee. . . .
From Lee's report:At 5.30 a.m., April 28, the enemy crossed the Rappahannock in boats near Fredericksburg, and driving off the pickets on the river, proceeded to lay a pontoon bridge a short distance below Deep Run. Later in the afternoon another bridge was constructed about a mile below the first A considerable force crossed on these bridges during the day and was massed out of view under the high bank of the river. . . .
No demonstration was made opposite any other part of our lines at Fredericksburg, and the strength of the force that had crossed, and its apparent indisposition to attack, indicated that the principal effort of the enemy would be made in some other quarter. This impression was confirmed by the intelligence received from General Stuart that a large body of the infantry and artillery was passing up the river. During the forenoon of the 29th that officer reported that the enemy had crossed in force near Kelly's Ford on the preceding evening. Later in the day he announced that a heavy column was moving from Kelly's toward Germana Ford on the Rapidan and another to Ely's Ford on the same river. The routes they were pursuing after crossing the Rapidan converge near Chancellorsville, whence several roads lead to the rear of our position at Fredericksburg.
. . . The enemy in our front near Fredericksburg continued inactive and it was now apparent that the main attack would be made upon our rear and flank.
Hooker is severely censured for halting at Chancellorsville on the 30th instead of marching to the open ground around Fredericksburg. But here is what Lee's report says of his preparations on the 29th to oppose him:On the night of the 29th General Anderson was directed to proceed toward Chancellorsville and dispose Wright's brigade and the troops from the Bark Mill Ford to cover these roads. Arriving at Chancellorsville about midnight, he found the commands of Generals Mahone and Posey already there, having been withdrawn from Bark Mill Ford, with the exception of a small guard.
Learning that the enemy had crossed the Rapidan and were approaching in strong force, General Anderson retired early on the morning of the 30th to the intersection of the Mine and Plank roads near Tabernacle church, and began to entrench himself. The enemy's cavalry skirmished with his rear-guard as he left Chancellorsville, but being vigorously repulsed by Mahone's brigade, offered no farther resistance to his march. Mahone was placed on the old turnpike, Wright and Posey on the plank road.
Capt. James Power Smith, assistant adjutant general, aide-de-camp to General Jackson, says:. . . The divisions of Anderson and McLaws had been sent from Fredericksburg to meet Hooker's advance from Chancellorsville; Anderson on Wednesday (29th), McLaws (except Barksdale's brigade) on Thursday. . . .
So if Hooker had advanced he would have run up against Anderson and McLaws, with Lee's whole army in supporting distance.
On the next day, May 1, Hooker did advance with the Second, Fifth, Twelfth, and Third Corps. Of this advance Lee says in his report:. . . Jackson's troops followed Anderson's on the plank road. Colonel Alexander's battalion of artillery accompanied the advance. The enemy was soon en-countered on both roads and heavy skirmishing with infantry and artillery ensued, our troops pressing forward steadily. A strong attack on General McLaws was repulsed with spirit by Semmes' brigade, and General Wright, by directions of General Anderson, converging to the left of the Plank road, marched by way of the unfinished railroad from Fredericksburg to Gordonsville and turned the enemy's right. His whole line thereupon retreated rapidly, vigorously pursued by our troops until they arrived in about a mile of Chancellorsville. Here the enemy assumed a position of great material strength, surrounded on all sides by a dense forest filled with tangled undergrowth, in the midst of which breastworks of logs had been constructed, with trees felled in front so as to form an almost impenetrable abatis. His artillery swept the few narrow roads by which his position could be approached from the front, and commanded the adjacent woods. . . .
When Hooker wanted to get out of the Wilderness, Lee held the “few narrow roads”; and when Lee wanted to get in, Hooker held them.
Hooker, on revisiting Chancellorsville after the war, said:. . . Here, on this open ground, I intended to fight my battle. But the trouble was to get my army on it, as the banks of the stream are, as you see, rugged and precipitous, and the few fords were strongly fortified and guarded by the enemy.
By making a powerful demonstration in front of and below the town of Fredericksburg with a part of my army, I was able, unobserved, to withdraw the remainder, and, marching nearly thirty miles up the stream, to cross the Rappahannock and the Rapidan unopposed, and in four days' time to arrive at Chancellorsville, within five miles of this coveted ground. And all this without General Lee's having discovered that I had left my position in his front. So far I regarded my movement as a great success.
On the morning of the fifth day my army was astir, and was put in motion on three lines through the tangled forest (the Wilderness) which covers the whole country around Chancellorsville, and in three hours' time I would have been in position on these crests, and in possession of Banks's Ford, in short and easy communication with the other wing of my army. But at midnight of that morning General Lee moved out with his whole army, and by sunrise had firm possession of Banks's Ford, had thrown up this line of breastworks which you can still follow with the eye, and had it bristling with cannon from one end to the other. Before I had proceeded two miles the heads of my columns, while still upon the narrow roads in these interminable forests, where it was impossible to maneuver my forces, were met by Jackson with a full two-thirds of the entire Confederate army. I had no alternative but to turn back, as I had only a fragment of my command in hand, and take up the position about Chancellorsville which I had occupied during the night, as I was being rapidly out-flanked upon my right, the enemy having open ground on which to operate.
And here again my reputation has been attacked because I did not undertake to accomplish an impossibility, but turned back at this point; and every history of the war that has been written has soundly berated me because I did not fight here in the forest with my hands tied behind me, and allow my army to be sacrificed. I have always believed that impartial history would vindicate my conduct in this emergency. . . .
Sir Edward Bruce Hamley in his work, “The Operations of War Explained and Illustrated,” says:To bring an army from the order of march to the order of battle is a work of time, therefore it may, in most cases, be checked by a force deployed in order of battle, only a little superior to the heads of the advancing columns. And the uses to be made of this circumstance are manifold; it is not too much to say that, rightly employed, it is the most effective weapon in the military armory.
While Lee was blocking Hooker's exit from the Wilderness, he was feeling him in every other direction, in order to locate his lines definitely.
General Howard, who must be something of a poet, says:. . . In my youth my brother and I had a favorite spot in an upper field of my father's farm from which we were accustomed, after the first symptoms of a coming storm, to watch the operations of the contending winds; the sudden gusts and whirlwinds; the sidling swallows excitedly seeking shelter; the swift and swifter, black and blacker clouds, ever rising higher and pushing their angry fronts toward us. As we listened we heard the low rumbling from afar; as the storm came nearer, the woods bent forward and shook fiercely their thick branches, the lightning zigzagged in flashes, and the deep-bassed thunder echoed more loudly, till there was scarcely an interval between its ominous crashing discharges. In some such manner came on that battle of May 2 to the watchers at Dowdall's Tavern and Talley's f arm-house.
The first distant symptom occurred the evening of May 1. Then was heard the sudden crack of rifle-shooting. It began with Steinwehr's skirmishers, and then passed on to Schurz. Schimmelpfennig pushed out a brigade straight forward toward the southwest and received a sudden fire of artillery from the intruders. They left him and pushed on.
It was “a rolling reconnaissance” evidently to determine, for Lee's and Jackson's information, the position of our flank. . . .
On the night of May 1 Longstreet was on the south side of the James river, eighty or one hundred miles away, with Hood's and Pickett's divisions, which were among the best in the army. Early was at Fredericksburg with about 9,000 men to hold Sedgwick, who had 22,000. Lee with Jackson and about 34,000 men faced Hooker and his 90,000 on the main Chancellorsville line.
Wellington, who told Blücher at Waterloo that he would do anything to help him except divide his army, which was against his principles, would hardly have approved of this example in long division. We can imagine his surprise, could he have been present on the evening of the 2d when Lee stood on Hooker's front with 12,000 men, and Jackson on his right rear with 22,000.
Lee's army, present, was less than 45,000 men, in three detachments in the immediate vicinity of Hooker's army of 130,000. Such a disposition would not keep long, and so Jackson had marched from Lee with orders to attack before night on the 2d. Lee claimed Hooker's attention while Jackson was marching and fighting.
Of Jackson's attack General Howard says:. . . With as little noise as possible, a little after 5 p.m., the steady advance of the enemy began. Its first lively effects, like a cloud of dust driven before a coming shower, appeared in the startled rabbits, squirrels, quail, and other game, flying wildly hither and thither in evident terror, and escaping, where possible, into adjacent clearings.
The foremost men of Doles's brigade took about half an hour to strike our advance picket on the pike. This picket, of course, created no delay. Fifteen minutes later he reached our skirmishers, who seem to have resisted effectively for a few minutes, for it required a main line to dislodge them. Doles says, concerning the next check he received, “After a resistance of about ten minutes we drove him (Devens) from his positions on the left and carried his battery of two guns, caissons, and horses.”
This was the fire which Steinwehr and I heard shortly after our return from Barlow. Somebody's guns thundered away for a few short minutes, and then came the fitful rattle of musketry; and before I could again get into the saddle there arose the ceaseless roar of the terrible storm.
I sent out my chief of staff, Colonel Asmussen, who was the first officer to mount,—“The firing is in front of Devens; go and see if all is in order on the extreme right.” He instantly turned and galloped away. I mounted and set off for a prominent place in rear of Schurz's line, so as to change front to the northwest of every brigade southeast of the point of attack, if the attack extended beyond Devens's right flank; for it was divined at once that the enemy was now west of him. I could see numbers of our men—not the few stragglers that always fly like the chaff at the first breeze, but scores of them—rushing into the opening, some with arms and some without, running or falling before they got behind the cover of Devens's reserves, and before General Schurz's waiting masses could deploy or charge. The noise and the smoke filled the air with excitement, and to add to it Dieckrnann's guns and caissons, with battery men scattered, rolled and tumbled like runaway wagons and carts in a thronged city. The guns and the masses of the right brigade struck the second line of Devens before McLean's front had given way, and, quicker than it could be told, with all the fury of the wildest hail-storm, everything, every sort of organization that lay in the path of the mad current of panic-stricken men, had to give way and be broken into fragments. . . .
. . . Let us pause here a moment and follow Doles, who led the enemy's attack. He states that, after his first successful charge, “the command moved forward at the double-quick to assault the enemy, who had taken up a strong position on the crest of a hill in the open field.” This position was the one on Hawkin's farm where Devens's and Schurz's reserves began their fight. But wave after wave of Confederate infantry came upon them, and even their left flank was unprotected the instant the runaways had passed it by. To our sorrow, we, who had eagerly observed their bravery, saw them also give way, and the hill and crest on Hawkin's farm were quickly in the hands of the men in gray.
Doles, who must have been a cool man to see so clearly amid the screeching shells and all the hot excitement of battle, says again: “He” (meaning our forces from Schimmelpfennig's and Buschbeck's brigades, and perhaps part of McLean's, who had faced about and had not yet given away) “made a stubborn resistance from behind a wattling fence on a hill covered thickly with pine.”
Among the stubborn fighters at this place was Major Jere Williams. The enemy was drawing near him. His men fired with coolness and deliberation. His right rested among scrubby bushes and saplings, while his left was in comparatively open ground. The fire of the enemy as he approached was murderous, and almost whole platoons of our men were falling; yet they held their ground. He waited, rapidly firing, till not more than thirty paces intervened, and then ordered the retreat. Out of three hundred and thirty-three men and sixteen commissioned officers in the regiment (Twenty-fifth Ohio), one hundred and thirty, including five officers, were killed or wounded.
General Schurz writes of the attack:. . . At last the storm broke loose. I was with some of my staff at corps-headquarters, waiting for General Howard to return, our horses ready at hand. It was about twenty minutes past five when a number of deer and rabbits came bounding out of the woods bordering the opening of Hawkin's farm on the west. The animals had been started from their lairs by Jackson's advance. Ordinarily such an appearance of game would have been greeted by soldiers in the field with outbreaks of great hilarity. There was hardly anything of the kind this time. It was as if the men had instinctively understood the meaning of the occurrence. A little while later there burst forth, where Gilsa stood, a heavy roar of artillery, a continuous rattling of musketry, and the savage screech of the “ rebel yell,” and then happened what every man of common sense might have foreseen. Our two cannon standing in the road threw several rapid discharges into the dense masses of the enemy before them and then limbered up and tried to escape. But the rebel infantry were already upon them, shot down the horses, and captured the pieces. Gilsa's two regiments, formed at right angle with the turnpike, were at once covered with a hail of bullets. They discharged three rounds—it is a wonder they discharged as many—and then, being fired into from front and from both flanks at close quarters, they had either to surrender or beat a hasty retreat. They retreated through the woods, leaving many dead and wounded on the field. Some of Gilsa's men rallied behind a reserve regiment of the First division, the 75th Ohio, whose commander, Colonel Riley, had been sensible and quick to change front, and without orders advanced to help Gilsa. But they were promptly assailed in front and flank by several rebel regiments and completely wrecked, Colonel Riley being killed and the adjutant wounded. Meanwhile the enemy had also pounced upon the regiments of the First division, which were deployed in the turnpike. These regiments, hemmed in on the narrow road between dense thickets, and attacked on three sides, many of the men being shot through their backs, were not able to fight at all. They were simply telescoped and driven down the turnpike in utter confusion.
General Schurz censured Hooker and Howard severely for the surprise of the Eleventh corps. He was apparently certain that his position would be attacked in flank and rear, and as it turned out he was right. But he was alarmed by the strong demonstrations against the right wing of the army, and did not stop to think that they would have been as necessary to cover a retreat as to mask a flank movement. Hooker and Howard comprehended this, and as a retreat was more probable than a flank attack, they declined to hazard the change of front suggested by Schurz.
The possibility of a flank attack did not escape Hooker's attention, as the following dispatch shows:
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
May 2, 1863, 9.30 a.m.
MAJOR-GENERALS SLOCUM AND HOWARD: I am directed by the major-general commanding to say that the disposition you have made of your corps has been with a view to a front attack by the enemy. If he should throw himself upon your flank, he wishes you to examine the ground and determine upon the position you will take in that event, in order that you may be prepared for him in whatever direction he advances. He suggests that you have heavy reserves well in hand to meet this contingency. The right of your line does not appear to be strong enough. No artificial defenses worth naming have been thrown up, and there appears to be a scarcity of troops at that point, and not, in the general's opinion, as favorably posted as might be. We have good reason to suppose that the enemy is moving t o our right. Please advance your pickets as far as may be safe, in order to obtain timely information of their approach.
J. H. VAN ALEN,
Brigadier General and Aide-de-camp.
But as the day wore away developments favored the theory of retreat.
General Howard says:. . . Jackson's movement, with a stronger indication of battle, began at sunrise, Rodes, Colston, and A. P. Hill in order following the old road by the Catherine Furnace, there shoving off farther south to get beyond the sight of our men; then sweeping around by a private road, well known to them, up to the Orange plank; and thence on, perhaps a mile farther, through the wild forest till the old turnpike was found and crossed.
The Catherine Furnace, nearly opposite Sickles's right and two and a half miles distant, gave an open reach and fully exposed the moving columns to view. Except at that point the entire Confederate force was completely covered by woods and by Stuart's busy and noisy cavalry.
About sunrise at Dowdall's I heard cheering. It was a hearty sound, with too much bass in it for that of the enemy's charge. It was occasioned by General Hooker, with Colonel Comstock and a few staff officers, riding along slowly and inspecting the lines. General Sickles says of this: “It is impossible to pass over without mention the irrepressible enthusiasm of the troops for Major General Hooker, which was evinced in hearty and prolonged cheers as he rode along the lines of the Third, Eleventh, and Twelfth corps.”
I was ready, mounted, and with my officers joined the ever increasing cavalcade. Hooker observed the troops in position; Barlow, who filled the cross trenches an hour later, had not yet come out of the front line, so that my reserves just at that time were small. He noticed the breastworks, unusually well built by Schurz and Devens. He passed to the extreme right, and then returned by the shortest route. As he looked over the barricades, while receiving the salutes and cheers of the men, he said to me, “How strong! How strong!”
I still had much extension, so that there were gaps along Schurz's and Devens's fronts. Colonel Comstock spoke to me in his quiet way: “General, do dose in those spaces!”
I said, “The woods are thick and entangled; will anybody come through there?”
“Oh, they may!”
His suggestion was heeded.
During the forenoon General Sickles discovered Jackson's moving column. It was passing toward Orange Court House, so everybody said. Sickles forwarded all reports to General Hooker, who had now returned to Chancellorsville. He tried to divine Jackson's purpose.
About midday Sickles received General Hooker's orders to advance south cautiously. Soon after, perhaps by 2 p.m., there was a stronger apprehension of a conflict, for there was a sharp skirmish in the direction of Catherine Furnace. The rattle of musketry followed; then in a little time was heard the booming of cannon. I sent the news to every division and said, “Be ready.” Slocum went forward to the aid of Sickles, and Hancock was behind him with support Next, the enemy was re-ported to be in full retreat. General Hooker so telegraphed to Sedgwick; Captain Moore, of his staff, who had gone out with Birney to see the attack upon Jack-son, came hurriedly to me with an order from General Hooker for my reserve brigade,—Barlow's. .—.—. My aide had now returned from Sickles, near the Furnace, and reported in substance that he (Sickles) was glad to receive the help; that he was about to make a grand attack, having been for some time driving the enemy, and expected soon a brilliant result; that he desired to place my reinforcements upon his right flank in the forward movement. Such was the state of things when, through Captain Moore, General Hooker directed to Sickles's attack, at the Furnace, all my general infantry reserves, consisting of Barlow's stanch brigade. . . .
Hooker had become so well satisfied that Lee was retreating,—and no doubt his opinion was that of his officers, with the possible exception of Schurz,—that he took troops from Howard to strengthen Sickles's fight with Jackson's rear-guard at the Furnace; and as late as 4.10 p.m., when Johnson was forming for the attack, he telegraphed to Sedgwick:Capture Fredericksburg with everything in it, and vigorously pursue the enemy. We know that the enemy is fleeing to save his trains. Two of Sickles's divisions are amongst them.
The conditions under which the Eleventh corps met disaster are frankly and correctly stated by General Howard in the Century Magazine. He says:. . . Twenty-three years ago in my report to General Hooker I wrote the following:Now, as to the causes of this disaster to my corps1st. Though constantly threatened and apprised of the moving of the enemy, yet the woods were so dense that he was able to mass a large force, whose exact whereabouts neither patrols, reconnaissances, nor scouts ascertained. He succeeded in forming a column opposite to and outflanking my right.
2d. By the panic produced by the enemy's reserve fire, regiments and artillery were thrown suddenly upon those in position.
3d. The absence of General Barlow's brigade, which I had previously located in reserve and en echelon with Colonel von Gilsa's, so as to cover his right flank. This was the only general reserve I had.
Stonewall Jackson was victorious. Even his enemies praise him; but, providentially for us, it was the last battle which he waged against the American Union. For, in bold planning, in energy of execution which he had the power to diffuse, in indefatigable activity and moral ascendency, Jackson stood head and shoulders above his confreres, and after his death General Lee could not replace him.
Jackson is criticised because he did not go on and on, after routing Howard's corps, and rout all the other corps in Hooker's army. This kind of criticism is very common, the critics forgetting that even a thunderbolt will stop somewhere. General Colston gives a few reasons for the halt. He says:The Federal writers have wondered why Jackson's corps did not complete its work on the evening of May 2d. They do not realize the condition of our troops after their successful charge on Howard. We had forced our way through brush so dense that the troops were nearly stripped of their uniforms. Brigades, regiments, and companies had become so mixed that they could not be handled; besides which the darkness of evening was so intensified by the shade of the dense woods that nothing could be seen a few yards off. The halt at that time was not a mistake, but a necessity. So far from intending to stop, Jackson was hurrying A. P. Hill's division to the front to take the place of Rodes's and mine, and to continue the attack, when he was wounded; A. P. Hill was also wounded soon afterward, and the advance of his troops in the narrow road on which alone they could move was checked by the shell and canister of twelve napoleon guns, from an elevation within five hundred yards. The slaughter and confusion were greatly increased by this terrible fire in the darkness of the night, so that the pause in the attack was one of those fatalities of war that no skill or foresight can prevent.
Jackson moved his army of 22,000 men fifteen miles over the narrow roads of the wilderness in the immediate presence of the enemy. It was a good day's work. Sir Edward Bruce Hamley in his work, “The Operations of War Explained and Illustrated,” says:. . . To bring an army from the order of march to the order of battle is a work of time. . . .
Colonel Hamley would probably have allowed half a day for this, and another half for the battle, so it is not much of an exaggeration to say that when Jackson halted his men, or rather when they stopped going, he had crowded two days' work into one, and that one was to be followed in a few hours by the great battle of the 3d.
Of it General Schurz says:. . . The next morning, Sunday, May 3, found the Army of the Potomac, about 90,000 men of it, under General Hooker's immediate command, strongly intrenched in the vicinity of the Chancellor House, and about 22,000 men, under General Sedgwick, near Fredericksburg, moving up to attack General Lee in his rear. Never did Lee's genius shine more brightly than in the actions that followed.
He proved himself, with his 60,000 men against nearly double that number, a perfect master of that supreme art of the military leader,—to oppose with superior forces at every point of decisive importance. First he flung Jackson's old corps, now under command of General Jeb Stuart, against some of Hooker's breastworks in the center, carrying one line of intrenchments after another by furious assaults. Then hearing that Sedgwick had taken Marye's Heights and was advancing from Fredericksburg, he detached from his front against Hooker a part of his force large enough to overmatch Sedgwick and drive that general across the Rappahannock. Then he hurried back the divisions that had worsted Sedgwick, to make his own force superior to Hooker's at the point where he wished to strike.
Early probably thought that as he had lost his position and exposed the rear of the army to Sedgwick's large force, Lee would also fall back on the Richmond road. This was a natural supposition, as he probably did not know how badly Hooker had been worsted. But his mistake was of such a serious character that Lee rode with the troops to oppose Sedgwick, and Hooker got safely over the river.
Hooker was determined to make the best of the campaign, and so issued the following order:
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
May 6, 1863.
The major-general commanding tenders to this army his congratulations in its achievements of the last seven days. . . . By your celerity and secrecy of movement our advance and passage of the river was undisputed, and on our withdrawal not a rebel ventured to follow. . . .
By command of Major-General Hooker.
Assistant Adjutant General.
Lincoln, however, extended no congratulations, for we find in “The Diary of Gideon Wells” the following entry:
June 20, 1863.
. . . The President said if Hooker had been killed by the shot that knocked over the pillar that stunned him, we should have been successful.
Sumner said he knew Hooker to be a blasphemous wretch. At Chancellorsville he exclaimed, “The enemy are in my power, and God Almighty cannot deprive me of them.”
That was all cabinet meeting talk.
Sumner condemned Hooker because of his blasphemy, and Lincoln, because he failed to substantiate it.
Hooker is severely criticised for not making better use of his superior numbers in the Sunday battle.
Mr. Samuel P. Bates, who accompanied him when he visited Chancellorsville, says:I ventured to ask why he did not attack when he found that the enemy had weakened his forces in the immediate front and sent them away to meet Sedgwick. “ That,” said he, “would seem to have been the reasonable thing to do. But we were in this impenetrable thicket. All the roads and openings leading through it the enemy immediately fortified strongly, and planted thickly his artillery commanding all the avenues, so that with reduced numbers he could easily hold his lines, shutting me in, and it became utterly impossible to maneuver my forces. My army was not beaten. Only a part of it had been engaged. The First corps, commanded by Reynolds, whom I regarded as the ablest officer under me, was fresh, and ready and eager to be brought into action, as was my whole army. But I had been fully convinced of the futility of attacking fortified positions, and I was determined not to sacrifice my men needlessly, though it should be at the expense of my reputation as a fighting officer. We had already had enough grievous experience in that line. I made frequent demonstrations to induce the enemy to attack me, but he would not accept my challenge. Accordingly, when the eight days' rations with which my army started out were exhausted, I retired across the river. Before doing so I sent orders to General Sedgwick to hold his position near Banks's Ford, on the south side of the stream, and I would bring my whole army to his support; but the order failed to reach him until he had already recrossed the river. Could I have had my army on the open grounds at that point where I could have maneuvered it properly, I felt assured that I could have gained a decisive victory. But this, my last chance, was frustrated.”
General Pleasonton did not think much of the battle. He says that both Lee and Hooker failed in what they attempted. He thinks that both attempted to end the war at Chancellorsville. The reason they did not end it, he says, was because great victories are only won by great generals.
But Lee was not trying to end the war; he was trying to prolong it, and he did. Then, if any man was to blame for Hooker's defeat, Pleasonton was the man. He was completely outgeneraled by Stuart.
It may be that the defeats of McClellan, Pope, and Hooker were more complimentary than otherwise to those officers, for if a general should always anticipate improbable and apparently impossible movements of his opponents, and maneuver accordingly, he would be adjudged insane; and that is just what they would have had to do in order to avoid defeat.
Colonel Mosby says of the battle:Considering the numerical inferiority of the Southern army and the fact that it took the offensive and drove its antagonist out of big intrenchments and over the river it had just triumphantly crossed, I consider it the boldest deed of arms and the most wonderful achievement in the history of war.
But on the next page Colonel Mosby says:At Austerlitz the Allies attempted to do the same thing that Jackson did and met a great disaster. But General Lee knew that he did not have Napoleon to deal with. . . .
If Napoleon had been in a Wilderness at Austerlitz, and the Allies had been Confederate infantry commanded by a Lee, with a Jackson and a Stuart to execute his orders, he might have fared just about as Hooker did. Lee, seconded by his ubiquitous lieutenants, Jackson and Stuart, won an incomparable victory; not through Hooker's incapacity, but because, as General Schurz so generously says, “. . . He proved himself a perfect master of that supreme art of the military leader,—to oppose with superior forces at every point of decisive importance.” . . .
And as General Schurz says, “. . . Never did Lee's genius shine more brightly. . . . than at Chancellorsville.”
My impression was, and is, that General Lee standing under his trenches would have been stronger against Hooker than he was against Burnside, and that he would have grown stronger every hour of delay, while Hooker would have grown weaker in morale and in the confidence of his plans and the confidence of his troops. . . . By the time that the divisions of Pickett and Hood could have joined Lee, General Hooker would have found that he must march to the attack or make a retreat without a battle. The Confederates would then have had opportunity, and have been in condition, so to follow Hooker as to have compelled his retirement to Washington.
. . . The battle as a pitched and independent affair was brilliant, and, if the war was for glory, could be called successful; but besides putting the cause upon the hazard of a die, it was crippling of resources of future progress, while the wait for a few days would have given time for concentration and opportunities against Hooker more effective than were experienced with Burnside at Fredericksburg. . . .
Burnside crossed the river in Lee's front, while Hooker crossed on his flank, and was in position to operate against his line of communication. Lee says in his report that there were roads leading from Chancellorsville to the rear of his army.
Lee said he could not afford to await the pleasure of the Army of the Potomac. His strategy was designed always to keep that army busily employed in the defense of Washington. Chancellorsville enabled him to do that in 1863 just as Seven Days did in 1862. Seven Days got his army out of the last ditch, and Chancellorsville kept it out. It “compelled Hooker's retirement to Washington” in much less time than Longstreet's plan would have done, even if it had been successful, which in all probability it would not have been.
“Putting the cause on the hazard of a die” was nothing new. Lee did that all through the war. The cause was desperate and called for heroic operations.
Nor was Chancellorsville more “crippling in resources than other battles,” and Lee captured 5,000 prisoners, exclusive of wounded, 13 pieces of artillery, 19,500 stand of arms, and 17 colors. His loss was 10,000, while Hooker's was 16,845.
Chancellorsville is usually accepted as General Lee's most brilliant achievement, and considered as an independent affair, it was certainly grand.
Yes, and considered as a part of the campaign of 1863 it was grander, as it enabled Lee to throw Hooker from Virginia into Pennsylvania. None of Lee's operations were “independent affairs.” They were all designed with one end in view, and that was the prolongation of the war.
There is a romantic story of Lee and Jackson sitting on cracker boxes on the night of the 1st, and it is said by some that Jackson proposed the flank movement. The “cracker box” story does very well to “point a moral or adorn a tale,” but it is fair to assume that the Chancellorsville net had been spread for Hooker long before the cracker box appeared on the scene, and that every thread of it had been carefully gone over. Von Moltke began, in 1867, to make plans for the war with France and completed them in the early part of 1869; and Lee in the following letter says that “ every movement of an army must be well considered and properly ordered.” And it is a fair historical inference that he did not wait for the cracker boxes.
LEXINGTON, VA., Oct 28, 1867.
DR. A. T. BLEDSOE,
Office Southern Review,
My dear Sir: In reply to your inquiry, I must acknowledge that I had not read the article on Chancellorsville in the last number of the Southern Review, nor have I read any of the books published on either side since the termination of hostilities. I have as yet felt no desire to review any recollections of those events, and have been satisfied with the knowledge I possessed of what transpired. I have, however, learned from others that the various authors of the life of Jackson award to him the credit of the success gained by the Army of Northern Virginia when he was present, and describe the movements of his corps or command as independent of the general plan of operations and undertaken at his own suggestion and upon his own responsibility.
I have the greatest reluctance to do anything that might be considered detracting from his well deserved fame, for I believe no one was more convinced of his worth or appreciated him more highly than myself; yet your knowledge of military affairs, if you have none of the events themselves, will teach you that this could not have been so.
Every movement of an army must be well considered and properly ordered, and every one who knew General Jackson must know that he was too good a soldier to violate this fundamental principle. In the operations around Chancellorsville I overtook General Jackson, who had been placed in command of the advance, as the skirmishers of the two armies met, advanced with the troops to the Federal line of defenses, and was on the field until their whole army recrossed the Rappahannock. There is no question as to who was responsible for the operations of the Confederates, or to whom any failure would have been charged. What I have said is for your own information. . . .
I am, with great respect, your friend and servant,
R. E. LEE.
Lee no doubt planned the flank movement as he did the whole battle, and Jackson executed it. The plan was bold and desperate, the execution rapid and glorious, and to Lee and Jackson the honors have been awarded. Stuart has received little credit; but to shield that column, actually in contact with the enemy, with his “busy and noisy cavalry,” and finally lead it to a position from which it could fall like a thunderbolt on the enemy was the work of no ordinary cavalryman, but rather of one of a triumvirate of military geniuses that made of Chancellorsville an unparalleled victory.
General Schurz pays Stuart the following very pretty compliment:
. . . On the 11th we had a day's truce between the two armies for the purpose of caring for the wounded and burying the dead. Confederate and Union officers met on the battle-field of Cedar Mountain and exchanged polite compliments. The famous cavalry general, “ Jeb Stuart,” a figure of martial elegance, was one of the Confederate generals. I am sorry I did not have any conversation with him, for I could not help feeling myself attracted by that handsome young enemy looking so gay and so brave. . . .
If business had been as dead in the North as it was in the South, Chancellorsville might have ended the war. But business was booming. Fortunes were being rapidly made, and as money is the panacea for all the ills that flesh is heir to, Chancellorsville grieved the North less than any previous defeat, and so it was “On with the dance.”
THE books written by Lee's generals, staff, and biographers make it appear that he planned the Gettysburg campaign to conquer Confederate independence at Gettysburg, and that Confederate independence was possible at Gettysburg.
As he did not accomplish the alleged object, these authors and historians, who naturally inferred that their books were the best authority, have made of the campaign the fatal failure, and of the battle the grand decisive battle, of the war.
We shall see that beyond the employment of his usual strategy, designed as ever to limit the activity of the Army of the Potomac to the defense of Washington, Lee had no plan.
We shall see that he had no idea of conquering Confederate independence at Gettysburg, and that Confederate independence at Gettysburg was impossible.
We shall see that the campaign was not a failure, and that the battle was not a decisive battle, but a mere accidental incident of a successful campaign.
Lee with 70,000 men in the North did not conquer Confederate independence in July, 1863. Neither did Lincoln subdue the Confederacy with 70,000 men in the South in July, 1863. It took him nearly two years longer to do it with nearly a million men in the South, and more war craft than ever engaged in any war.
Among other errors that contribute to the exaggerated importance of the battle of Gettysburg is the idea that it marked the “turning point,” the “high tide of the rebellion.” This mistaken view is due to the fact that Lee's victories were brilliant, and gained on the most conspicuous field,—that between Washington and Richmond,—and therefore obscured the Federal successes elsewhere.
Two years after the war commenced, March 5, 1861, with the firing on Sumter, the Federals had taken Norfolk and New Orleans, and held the Mississippi from source to mouth, except at Vicksburg. Kentucky and Missouri were held by Federal forces, and Tennessee had been made almost untenable by Grant's operations and the navy on the Tennessee river. Fort Pulaski had fallen, and with it went, practically, Savannah. The North had the largest navy afloat; the South, none worthy of the name. The Northern navy held the southern ports almost in complete blockade. It held the coast to the Rio Grande, and dominated all the rivers.
The fortunes of the Confederacy waned everywhere from the first, except in Virginia, and the “turning point” there came in the Wilderness when Lee found himself so weak, comparatively, that he was compelled to renounce his hitherto aggressive policy, and act entirely on the defensive.
This condition was decisive, and would have existed just the same if Lee had defeated Meade at Gettysburg, or had there been no Gettysburg. Gettysburg was not a decisive battle in immediate effect, or in its influence on subsequent conditions; nor does it rank as a Confederate disaster with the surrender of Vicksburg and Pemberton's army, which was made while Lee and Meade confronted each other at Gettysburg. Vicksburg was the loss of an army with artillery and infantry arms, so precious to the Confederacy, and of a valuable strategic point, while Gettysburg was simply a repulse.
General Joe Johnston was in command of the geographical department embracing Vicksburg, and was empowered to use the entire resources at his command to save it.
On the 15th of June he telegraphed to the War Department from Jackson, Mississippi:
I consider saving Vicksburg hopeless.
The Secretary replied:
Your telegram grieves and alarms us. Vicksburg must not be lost, at least without a struggle. The interest and honor of the Confederacy forbid it. I rely on you still to avert the loss. If better resource does not offer, you must hazard attack. It may be made in concert with the garrison, if practicable, but otherwise without. By day or night as you think best.
On the 21st the Secretary wires as follows:
Only my convictions of almost imperative necessity for action induces the official dispatch I have just sent you. On every ground I have great deference for your judgment and military genius, but I feel it right to share, if need be to take, the responsibility and leave you free to follow the most desperate course the occasion may demand. Rely upon it, the eyes and hopes of the whole Confederacy are upon you, with the full confidence that you will act, and with the sentiment that it were better to fall nobly daring than, through prudence even, to be inactive. I look to attack in the last resort, but rely on your resources of generalship to suggest less desperate modes of relief.
There was no such anxiety as this over Gettysburg.
The object of the Gettysburg campaign we have in Lee's own words. It is explicitly stated in the following letter to Mr. Seddon, Secretary of War:
CULPEPER COURT HOUSE, June 8, 1863.
As far as I can judge there is nothing to be gained by this army's remaining quietly on the defensive, which it must, unless it can be reinforced. I am aware there is difficulty and hazard in taking the aggressive with so large an army in its front intrenched behind a river where it cannot be advantageously attacked. Unless it can be drawn out in a position to be assailed, it will take its own time to prepare and strengthen itself to renew its advance upon Richmond and force this army back within the intrenchments of that city. This may be the result in any event; still I think it worth the trial to prevent such a catastrophe. Still, if the Department thinks it better to remain on the defensive and guard, as far as possible, all avenues of approach and wait the time of the enemy, I am ready to adopt this course. You have, therefore, only to inform me.
So far from expecting to conquer Confederate independence at Gettysburg, Lee was not sure that he would not be forced within the intrenchments at Richmond, even if he received reinforcements. It was to avert “such a catastrophe” that he ordered the forward movement.
Of this General Hunt says:
These operations indicate on the part of General Lee either a contempt for his opponent, or a belief that the chronic terror of the War Department for the safety of Washington could be safely relied upon to paralyze his movements, or both. On no other hypothesis can we account for his stretching his army from Fredericksburg to Williamsport, with his enemy concentrated on one flank and on the shortest road to Richmond.
Again General Hunt says:
On June 10, he (General Hooker), learning that Lee was in motion and that there were but few troops at Richmond, proposed an immediate march on that place, from which, after capturing it, he could send the disposable part of his force to any threatened point north of the Potomac; and he was informed that Lee's army and not Richmond was his “true objective.”
The following dispatch from Lincoln to Hooker is the one to which Hunt refers sarcastically:
. . . I think Lee's army is your true objective point. If he comes toward the upper Potomac, follow on his flank. . . .
Had he (Hooker) taken Richmond, Peck's large force at Suffolk and Keyes's 10,000 men on the Peninsula might have been utilized, and Hooker's whole army set free for operations against Lee.
It was not now a question of “swapping queens.” Washington was safe, being well fortified and sufficiently garrisoned, or with available troops within reach, without drawing on Hooker; and to take Richmond and scatter the Confederate government was the surest way to ruin Lee's army, “his true objective.”
The same day, June 10, Hooker proposed to march on Richmond, Mr. Seddon replied to Lee's letter, concurring in his views. He considered aggressive action necessary, “that all attendant risks and sacrifices must be incurred,” and adds: “I have not hesitated, in cooperating with your plans, to leave this city almost defenseless.”
Lee did not hold Hooker in contempt. He commanded too large an army to be contemptible. But he realized, as he had from the first, that if he should be thrown on the defensive it would be the beginning of the end. The movement was desperate; the alternative, suicide.
Hooker obeyed Lincoln's instructions and marched along on Lee's flank. Ewell cleared the Valley of Milroy's forces and crossed the Potomac June 15. Old Virginia was devastated, the rail fences had been burned and the grass was short, while in Maryland and Pennsylvania there were “fresh fields and pastures new.” Ewell met no opposition, and no doubt he and his men had the time of their lives while gathering up “unconsidered trifles” in the way of supplies, cattle, etc., etc., so badly needed by their friends in Virginia.
The advance into Pennsylvania created consternation in Harrisburg, Pittsburg, and Philadelphia; and Lee was in hopes that Lincoln would call troops from the South, especially from Vicksburg,—which is another proof that he did not expect to conquer Confederate independence at Gettysburg. But Lincoln met the emergency by assembling thirty regiments of Pennsylvania militia and nineteen regiments from New York, with cavalry and artillery at Harrisburg.
On the 19th of June, Lee, who was at Berryville, Va., wrote to Ewell, who was at Hagerstown, Md.:
I very much regret that you have not the benefit of your whole corps, for, with that north of the Potomac, should we be able to detain General Hooker's army from following you, you would be able to accomplish as much unmolested as the whole army could perform with General Hooker in its front. If your advance causes Hooker to cross the Potomac, or separate his army in any way, Longstreet can follow you.
When Lee wrote this letter it is evident he did not know whether or not he would cross the river at all, and he certainly did not expect Ewell, even if he had his whole corps with him, to conquer Confederate independence. His whole object, as he says, was to “detain” Hooker; and he was not particular as to how or where he did it. No doubt he would have been content to winter up there. But his army was divided, and to divide an army in the presence of a larger army, especially when a part of it is to operate in the territory of a powerful enemy, is a hazardous operation; but to keep it divided for any considerable time is to invite disaster. Conditions were of an uncertain character, and rather than have them continue so, Lee determined to put an end to them, by uniting his army in Pennsylvania, knowing that such a move would compel Hooker to make a corresponding one. Hence, in a letter to Davis written at Williamsport, June 25, he said:
I have not sufficient troops to maintain my communications and have to abandon them. I think I can throw General Hooker's army across the Potomac and draw troops from the South, embarrassing their plans of campaign in a measure, if I do nothing else, and have to return. I still hope all things will end well for us at Vicksburg.
The same day he writes again:
. . . So strong is my conviction of the necessity of activity on our part in military affairs that you will excuse my adverting to the subject again, notwithstanding what I have said in my previous letter to-day. It seems to me that we cannot afford to keep our troops waiting movements of the enemy, but should so employ our forces as to give occupation to his at points of our selection. . . .
There is nothing in these letters to indicate that he expects to bag Confederate independence at Gettysburg. He abandons his line of communication and carries with him what ammunition he expects to use, certainly not enough for battles and a siege of Washington. He was not in pursuit of the ignis fatuus of Confederate independence at Gettysburg—he did not expect to end the war there or anywhere. His purpose was exactly the reverse,—it was to protract the war. For in its prolongation lay the only hope of Confederate independence.
The campaign was a failure in the estimation of Lee's staff and biographers, not through any fault of Lee's but because Stuart took the cavalry on an unauthorized raid around Meade's army, leaving “Lee in Pennsylvania,” as Colonel Taylor expresses it, “a giant with his eyes put out.”
Speaking of Stuart at Gettysburg, Colonel Taylor says:
. . . No report had reached General Lee from General Stuart, who was ordered to give notice of the movements of the Federal army, should it cross the Potomac; and as nothing had been heard from him, General Lee naturally concluded that the enemy had not yet left Virginia. . . . Great was his surprise and annoyance therefore when on the 28th he received information from one of his scouts to the effect that the Federal army had crossed the Potomac and was approaching South Mountain. How materially different his plans would have been had he been kept informed of the movements of his adversaries will never be known. . . .
Lee's reports agree with the books of his staff as to his ignorance of the movements of the enemy, but they probably have the same authors.
Colonel Taylor says:
. . . General Lee could not bear to be annoyed with the consideration of these matters of routine. . . . When the staff was first organized a large batch of these papers was submitted to him every morning. . . . This went on for a short time, and then he called me to him and said that he would have to put me back in the office. I knew what he meant and I acted accordingly. He wished relief from such annoyance; he had real work to do and wished to be rid of these matters of detail.
Longstreet tells of the scout in his report. He says:
. . . On the night of the 28th one of my scouts came in with the information that the enemy had passed the Potomac and was probably in pursuit of us. The scout was sent to general headquarters with the suggestion that the army concentrate east of the mountain and bear down to meet the enemy.
Yet Longstreet says in his book that he opposed aggressive action in Pennsylvania.
The startling report of the scout, according to Longstreet and Lee's staff, caused a radical change of plans. But Colonel Mosby proves that the scout reported at Greenwood on the 30th, and not at Chambersburg on the 28th, and that the alleged change of plans was ordered on the 27th.
Nor was it a change of plan at all—it was simply an order for concentration.
Lee refused to see the scout, which is good evidence that he knew the enemy had crossed the river. He left cavalry in observation of the Army of the Potomac, and his signal corps had a favorable country in which to operate.
But if he had had neither he would have known where the Army of the Potomac was, because its place was between him and Washington.
General Hunt says:
. . . General Hooker's instructions were to keep always in view the safety of Washington and Harper's Ferry, and this necessarily subordinated his operations to those of the enemy. . . .
Lee knew this—it was what he based his strategy on.
Lee was disappointed in not finding Stuart at or near Chambersburg, and his staff exaggerated the incident in order to relieve him of responsibility for their fancied failure of the campaign. They were so zealous that they failed to see that they were exposing their idol to a charge of incompetency, for, as Colonel Mosby says, and as any one of common sense would say: “. . . If General Lee did not know when he first arrived at Chambersburg, and if Longstreet did not know that Hooker had crossed the Potomac, then neither was fit to command an army, nor an army corps. . . .”
While at Chambersburg Lee knew where the Army of the Potomac was, and that is why, on the 27th, he recalled Ewell from York. He intended to concentrate his army at Cashtown, as his order and the following letter show:
GREENWOOD, July 1, 1863.
BRIG. GEN. I. D. IMBODEN.
GENERAL: I have received your letter of 7 a.m. yesterday from Mercersburg. . . . Upon arriving at Chambersburg to-day I desire you to relieve General Pickett, who will then move forward to this place. . . . My headquarters for the present will be at Cashtown, east of the mountain.
Lee wanted to be where he could invite attack on his front, or fall upon any force that might move against his line of communication,—such a move as that contemplated by Hooker when he asked Halleck for the Harper's Ferry garrison.
Cashtown was clearly indicated.
Meade did not hear of Ewell's countermarch until the 1st, because Stuart had cut the wires; but as soon as he got the news he issued a general order for his army to withdraw to the line of Pipe Creek.
Neither Lee nor Meade had any use for Gettysburg. Lee held it on the 24th of June with Gordon's division, and gave it up. Meade held it on the 30th with Buford's cavalry, and was going to give it up the next day. The only interest the Confederates manifested in the place was because they thought it a good town for shoes. Pettigrew's brigade marched there from Cashtown on the 30th in search of shoes' but instead found Buford's cavalry. Gordon's men were there a week before, and no doubt got all the shoes that would fit.
But A. P. Hill, who was at Cashtown, bright and early on the morning of the 1st sent Heth's and Pender's divisions and two battalions of artillery out toward Gettysburg. He said he wanted to “find out what was in his front.” About the same time Reynolds, who had three corps at Emmitsburg, was marching toward Gettysburg. He was not expecting a fight, because he thought at that time that Lee was marching north.
Heth struck Buford about three miles from Gettysburg. Buford fought his cavalry dismounted and notified Reynolds. In this way the battle of the first day was precipitated.
Colonel Mosby says that Hill marched from Cashtown without orders, not to “find out what was in his front,” but to hunt a fight; and he is probably correct, for Hill was lonesome without a fight. Then he was absolutely devoid of discretion. More than once he led his men to certain slaughter, and fell himself at Petersburg as the curtain was falling on the last act of the war drama. And so Colonel Mosby makes Hill “responsible for bringing upon us the dies irae, dies illa.”
But it was well known throughout the army that Lee was annoyed at not finding Stuart at or near Chambersburg. Colonel Mosby proves that it was impossible for him to be there, but Lee had little respect for impossibilities.
What Lee wanted with Stuart at Chambersburg was not to tell him that Hooker had crossed the river, for he knew that, but to put him between the two armies; and if Stuart had been there, Pleasonton would have been in his front, and the cavalry operations would have prevented Hill from going to Gettysburg. So while the collision was due to Hill's indiscretion, that indiscretion would have been impossible if Stuart had been present.
If Stuart had not cut Meade's wires, there would have been no Gettysburg, because the order of withdrawal would have been issued sooner, and would have caught Reynolds before he left camp on the morning of the 1st. If Hill had not felt that he needed a fight,—or if Stuart had been between the two armies,—there would have been no Gettysburg. So Gettysburg was an accidental incident of the campaign.
The real gravamen of the charge that Lee's friends make against Stuart, and that Colonel Mosby urges against Hill, is that the battle of the 1st in Colonel Mosby's words, “. . . compelled Lee to stay at Gettysburg and fight a battle under duress, or retreat, or at least appear to retreat. . . .”
We shall see later on that that was not the reason Lee continued fighting at Gettysburg.
He had a much better reason.
The battle of the first day ended with Lee's tired troops in possession of the field, and the enemy strongly posted with reinforcements on Culp's Hill.
General Gordon thought the battle ought to have been made decisive. He says:
. . . From the situation plainly to be seen on the first afternoon, and from the facts that afterward came to light as to the positions of different corps of General Meade's army, it seems certain that if the Confederates had simply moved forward, following up the advantage gained, and striking the separated Union commands in succession, the victory would have been Lee's instead of Meade's. . . .”
That is, if the Confederates had taken Culp's Hill, and Meade had obligingly marched his separated commands up so that Lee could beat them in detail, the victory might have been Lee's instead of Meade's. But it is not by any means certain that the Confederates could have carried Culp's Hill; it appeared doubtful.
General Hunt says:
Ewell's absent division did not arrive until near sunset, when the Twelfth Federal corps and Stannard's Vermont brigade were up also, and the Third corps arriving. In fact an assault by the Confederates was not practicable before 5:30 p.m.; and after that the position was perfectly secure. For the first time that day the Federals had the advantage of position, and sufficient troops and artillery to occupy it, and General Ewell would not have been justified in attacking without positive orders of General Lee, who was present and wisely abstained from giving them. . . .
But if Lee had carried Culp's Hill, Meade, instead of marching his separated commands up to have them beaten in detail, would have ordered them to concentration in strong position on the line of Pipe Creek, as was his original intention.
General Hunt says:
When Meade learned that Ewell had withdrawn from the Susquehanna he issued a circular order to Corps commanders:If the enemy assume the offensive, and attack, it is my intention, after holding them in check sufficiently long to withdraw trains and other impedimenta, to withdraw the army from its present position and form a line of battle with the left resting in the neighborhood of Middleburg and the right at Manchester, the general direction being that of Pipe Creek.
Of this position General Hunt says:
From Westminster, which is on the Paris ridge, the eastern boundary of the valley of the Monocacy, good roads led in every direction and gave the place the same strategic value for Meade that Gettysburg did for Lee. The new line could not be turned by Lee without imminent danger to his own army, nor could he afford to advance upon Washington or Baltimore, leaving the Army of the Potomac intact behind and so near him. That would be to invite the fate of Burgoyne. . . .
. . . Without magazines, or assured communications, Lee would have to scatter his army more or less, in order to subsist it, and so expose it to Meade's; or else keep it united, and so starve it, and Meade could compel the latter alternative by simple demonstrations.
There would be but two courses for Lee, either to attack Meade in his chosen position or retreat without a battle. . . .
In case of defeat Meade's line of retreat would be comparatively short, and easily covered, whilst Lee's would be for two marches through an open country before he could gain the mountain passes. . . .
Lee had defeated McClellan at Richmond, Pope at Manassas, Burnside at Fredericksburg, and Hooker at Chancellorsville; but in every case they had fallen back to strong positions,—McClellan at Harrison's Landing, Pope on the south bank of the Potomac, and Hooker and Burnside on the north bank of the Rappahannock. And they were all in position to resist attack. If Meade had been defeated, there was nothing to prevent him from doing what his predecessors had so often done with the same army.
Lee said he carried into Pennsylvania what ammunition he thought he would need. As he did not get any more he would hardly have had enough to take Culp's Hill and demolish all Meade's separated columns as they marched up. In fact, he was short of ammunition after the 3d day, and did not get any more until July 10, when he was standing at bay on the river, waiting for it to fall so that he could get back into Virginia. What little he got then came over in rowboats.
Then his 70,000 men, after demolishing Meade's 90,000 or 100,000, would have been reduced to, say, 50,000, for a siege of Washington, with the 49 regiments that were at Harrisburg behind the intrenchments with the garrison already there. Then, as Vicksburg fell on the 4th, Grant could have spared, say, 50,000 to save Washington. They could have reached Lee's rear in three or four days.
General Gordon says:
Calmly reviewing the indisputable facts which made the situation at Gettysburg and in the Wilderness strikingly similar, and considering them from a purely military and worldly standpoint, I should utter my profoundest conviction were I to say: “Had Jackson been there, the Confederacy had not died.”
But Lee was “there.” Hearing the guns when he arrived at Cashtown, he rode rapidly on to Gettysburg and arrived just as the battle ended. He did not think it advisable to order an attack on Culp's Hill, and no doubt Jackson would have agreed with him, as he was far more discreet than Lee.
The battle of the first day at Gettysburg was something like Jackson's battle at Cedar Mountain. There he routed the enemy from the field, occupied it two days, then fell back toward Gordonsville. He did not feel it incumbent upon him to fight another battle, for the enemy was reinforced, just as he was at Gettysburg.
Had Jackson, Hannibal, Napoleon, and Joshua “been there,” the Confederacy “had died” just the same.
Longstreet says that on the afternoon of the first day he rode to Lee's headquarters, and after surveying the enemy rallying his forces on Cemetery Ridge, and satisfying himself of the strength of the position, he said to Lee: “We could not call the enemy to position better suited to our plans. All we have to do is to file round his left and secure good ground between him and his capital.”
“This,” Longstreet continues, “when said, was thought to be the opinion of my commander as much as my own. I was not a little surprised therefore at his impatience as, striking the air with his closed hand, he said: ‘If he is there to-morrow, I will attack him.’ . . . That he was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the first, and he labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.”
Lee was no doubt as much surprised at Longstreet's plan as Longstreet was at Lee's reception of it.
Lee knew before he reached Gettysburg that whatever he did had to be done at once—that time was the essence of the occasion—as the following from Longstreet's book will show:
At Cashtown General Lee found General Hill had halted his division, under R. H. Anderson, and his reserve artillery. He had General Anderson called, who subsequently wrote me of the interview as follows: “About twelve o'clock I received a message notifying me that General Lee desired to see me. I found him intently listening to the fire of the guns and very much disturbed and distressed. At length he said, more to himself than to me: ‘I cannot think what has become of Stuart. I ought to have heard from him long before now. He may have met with disaster, but I hope not. In the absence of reports from him I am in ignorance as to what we have in front of us. It may be the whole Federal army, or it may be only a detachment. If it is the whole Federal force we must fight a battle here. If we do not gain a victory those defiles and gorges we passed this morning will shelter us from disaster’.”
He realized that if he was to fight, the sooner the better, also that he must keep his back up against those defiles and gorges; and therefore he was prompt in rejecting Longstreet's proposal.
Longstreet contends that his flank movement would have called Meade to aggressive battle with the Confederates on good ground of their own selection. But it is hardly probable that Meade would have remained passive while Lee filed around his left in search of Longstreet's “good ground.” He might have preferred to fall back to good ground himself, just as Lee fell back after the Wilderness in response to Grant's flank movement; or he might have decided to attack while Lee was executing a difficult movement and unmasking those “defiles and gorges,” for even if he had been repulsed he could have fallen back as his army had done on several similar occasions, and just as Lee did after his repulse.
Or suppose Meade had permitted Lee to file around his left and occupy in peace and quiet Longstreet's “good ground between him and his capital.” How comfortable Lee would have been, seventy miles north of Washington, with a limited supply of ammunition, and “those defiles and gorges” exposed to the enemy.
General Hunt says of Longstreet's plan:
It had not been General Lee's intention to deliver a battle so far from his base unless attacked, but he now found himself, by the mere force of circumstances, committed to one. If it must take place, the sooner the better. . . . Longstreet indeed urged General Lee instead of attacking to turn General Meade's left, and by interposing between him and Washington, and threatening his communications, to force him to attack the Confederate army in position; but General Lee probably saw that Meade would be under no such necessity; would have no great difficulty in obtaining supplies, and disregarding the clamor from Washington, could play a waiting game which it would be impossible for Lee to maintain in the open country. He could not advance on Baltimore or Washington with Meade in his rear, nor could his army subsist in a hostile region which would soon swarm with additional enemies. His communication could be cut, for his recommendation to assemble even a small army at Culpeper to cover them had not been complied with. A battle was a necessity to Lee, and a defeat would be more disastrous to Meade, and less so to himself, at Gettysburg than at any point east of it. With the defiles of the South Mountain range close in his rear, which could be easily held by a small force, a safe retreat through the Cumberland Valley was assured, so that his army, once through these passes, would be practically on the bank of the Potomac, at a point already prepared for crossing. Any position east of Gettysburg would deprive him of these advantages. It is more probable that General Lee was influenced by cool calculation of this nature than by hot blood, or that the opening success of a chance battle had thrown him off his balance.
Meade was on the lookout. He dispatched Halleck:
July 2, 1863, 3 p.m. If not attacked, and can get any positive information of the position of the enemy which will justify me in so doing, I shall attack. If I find it hazardous to do so, or am satisfied the enemy is endeavoring to move to my rear and interpose between me and Washington, I shall fall back on my supplies at Westminster.
Longstreet elaborately defends his proposed flank movement. He cites General Grant at Petersburg and Von Moltke at Metz, but fails to note that General Grant had three times as many men as Lee, and Von Moltke about twice as many as the French, whereas Lee at Gettysburg was materially inferior in numbers, equipment, etc., to Meade. Then, neither Grant's nor Moltke's lines of communication were threatened, in fact they were absolutely secure, while Lee's, such as they were, were in imminent danger.
Longstreet quotes a contributor to Blackwood's Magazine, who had evidently been deluded by reading his book:
“ If,” said he (Lee) on many occasions, “I had taken General Longstreet's advice on the eve of the second day of the battle of Gettysburg, and filed off the left corps of my army behind the right corps, in the direction of Washington and Baltimore, along the Emmitsburg road, the Confederates would to-day be a free people.”
If Lee ever said this or anything like it, it must have been during a fit of aberration.
I wrote to Gen. Fitz Lee while he was in Cuba, regarding this alleged admission, and he replied:
November 5, 1900. Longstreet did not get on the field with his troops until the second day's fight. The two armies were in such close proximity then that it could not be possible to turn Meade's left flank, because our transportation would have been in danger of capture and our lines of communication with Virginia cut off. It was not, however, a practicable move at any time.
The Count of Paris is prolific in alternatives at Lee's disposal, but it is only necessary to name his preference. It is: “He, Lee, has the choice to retire into the gaps of South Mountain in order to compel Meade to come after him.” He says that this would have been the best plan, “because by preserving the strategic offensive, Lee would then secure all the advantages of the tactical defensive.”
But Meade might have objected to being compelled to follow Lee into any traps. He might have preferred to leave Lee in the gaps, for it would only have been a question of time when he would have been bottled up by Meade's reinforcements, which were being rushed from every direction.
Then General Lee says in his report of the time:
At the same time we were unable to await an attack, as the country was unfavorable for collecting sup plies in the presence of an enemy who could restrain our foraging parties by holding the mountain passes with local and other troops.
On the 12th of July he wrote to Davis from Williamsport:
But for the power the enemy possesses of accumulating troops I should be willing to await his attack.
The battle of the first has been underrated by historians. It lasted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and was one of the most stubbornly contested battles of the war. The loss on both sides was heavy, and Meade's greater than on the third day. Heth's and Pender's divisions were badly used up, and would have been driven back to Cashtown had not Rodes, who was marching for concentration, hearing the guns, changed his direction and come to their aid. Even then the battle was doubtful until Early, following Rodes, came in on the Federal right and rear.
From Lee's report:
More than 5000 prisoners, exclusive of wounded, 3 pieces of artillery, and some colors were captured. Among the prisoners were two brigadier generals, one of whom was badly wounded. Our own loss was heavy, including a number of officers, among whom were Major General Heth slightly, and Brigadier General Scales of Pender's division severely, wounded. . . .
Meade sustained a heavy loss in the death of General Reynolds, and Lee lost General Archer, who was captured.
The battle of the first did commit Meade to Gettysburg. The intelligence that he had been defeated and had retreated, leaving his dead and wounded on the field, would have thrown the North into convulsions. Then there was a strong sentiment both in the army and the country which favored the restoration of McClellan. Powerful influences urged it on Lincoln, and while he stemmed the tide, he might not have been able to do it if Meade had fallen back on Westminster.
But Lee, after burying his dead and removing his wounded, could have drawn his lines in to Cashtown without producing the slightest effect in the South; and there was, of course, no man in the Confederate army that could take his place. And so he had no such reasons as Meade had for staying at Gettysburg.
When Lee passed through Cashtown he did not know whether he had the Army of the Potomac in his front or only a detachment; but when he reached Gettysburg and saw the enemy retreating he knew it was a detachment, because he knew that the Confederates present could not have routed the Army of the Potomac from the field. Any ordinary commander under the circumstances,—an unexpected victory calculated to encourage him and depress his opponent, who had only a detachment present,—would have determined to fight it out. And so Lee did not have to be “compelled” to fight at Gettysburg. Both sound military sense and his inclination, which was always to fight if he had half a chance, impelled him.
Of the time General Hunt says:
. . . Early on the morning of July 2 when nearly all the Confederate army had reached Gettysburg or its immediate vicinity, a large portion of the Army of the Potomac was still on the road. The Second corps and Sykes, with two divisions of the Fifth, arrived about 7 a.m., Crawford's division not joining until noon; Lockwood's brigade, two regiments from Baltimore, at eight; De Trobrians's and Burling's brigades of the Third corps, from Emmitsburg, at nine, and the artillery Reserve and its large ammunition train from Tarrytown at 10.30 a.m. Sedgwick's Sixth corps, the largest in the army, after a long night march from Manchester, reached Rock Creek at 4 p.m. . . .
Now at this time, the morning of the 2d, it is clear that Stuart's absence had accidentally given Lee the advantage over Meade.
He had won a considerable victory and had his army concentrated while Meade's was scattered.
It is true that Gettysburg was the result of Stuart's absence, but he was not responsible for the conduct of the battle; and its conduct is all that there is to regret in the entire campaign.
Lee knew that Meade would decide immediately whether or not he would hold the ridge, and if he decided to hold it he would order his marching columns to Gettysburg. Every hour would add fortifications and reinforcements to a naturally strong position, therefore the sooner he attacked in the morning the better.
Lee's plan of battle was for Longstreet to attack Meade's left, and for Ewell to act in concert by a demonstration on his right to be developed into an attack if opportunity offered.
But Longstreet was not ready to attack until 5 p.m., when Lee must have known that the whole Army of the Potomac was on the ridge, and that the advantage fortune had thrown in his way had vanished. If he could have resisted his temptation to fight anyhow, he might have withdrawn to Cashtown, with a tactical disposition to take advantage of any mistake Meade might make if he pursued. And even if he had continued the retreat, the objects of the campaign would have been secured just as they were. But the enemy was in sight, the hunt was up, and Hood advanced to the attack. He was severely wounded by the artillery fire and General Law succeeded to the command of the division. He says:
. . . Advancing rapidly across the valley . . . all the time under a heavy fire from the batteries, our front line struck the enemy's skirmishers posted along the further edge of the valley. Brushing these quickly away, we soon came upon their first line of battle running along the lower slopes of the hills known as Devil's Den, to our left of Round Top, and separated from the latter by Plum Run valley. The fighting soon became close and severe. Exposed to the artillery fire from the heights in front and on our left, as well as to the musketry of the infantry, it required all the steadfastness and courage of the veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia, whose spirits were never higher than then, to face the storm. With rapidly thinning ranks the gray line swept on until the blue line in front wavered, broke, and seemed to dissolve in the woods and rocks on the mountain side.
The advance continued steadily, the center of the division moving directly upon the guns on the hill adjoining Devil's Den on the north, from which we had been suffering so severely. In order to secure my right flank I extended it well upon the side of Round Top. . . . Thus disposed, the division continued to move foward, encountering as it ascended to the battery on the spur and the heights to the right and left of it a most determined resistance from the Federal troops, who seemed to be continually reinforced. The ground was rough and difficult, which rendered an orderly advance impossible. Sometimes the Federals would hold one side of the huge boulders on the slope until the Confederates occupied the other side.
In some cases my men, with reckless daring, mounted to the top of the large rocks in order to get a better view and to deliver their fire with better effect. One of them, Sergeant Barbee of the Texas brigade, having reached a rock a little in advance of the line, stood erect on the top of it, loading and firing as coolly as if unconscious of danger, while the air around him was fairly swarming with bullets. He soon fell helpless from several wounds, but he held the rock till the litter bearers carried him off.
In less than an hour from the time we advanced to the attack the hill by Devil's Den, opposite our center, was taken with three pieces of artillery that had occupied it. The remaining piece was run down the opposite slope by the gunners and escaped. . . .
Up to this time I had seen nothing of McLaws's division, which was to have extended our left, and to have moved to the attack at the same time. I therefore halted my line. . . .
. . . I rode to McLaws, found him ready for his opportunity, and Barksdale chafing in his wait for the order to seize the battery in his front. Kershaw's brigade advanced and struck near the angle of the enemy's line where his forces were gathering strength . . . Mc Laws ordered Barksdale in. With glorious bearing he sprang to his work, overriding obstacles and danger. Without a pause to deliver a shot, he had the battery. Kershaw, joined by Semmes's brigade, responded, and Hood's men, feeling the impulsion of relief, resumed their bold fight, and presently the enemy's line was broken through its length. But his well seasoned troops knew how to utilize the advantages of their ground and put back their dreadful fire from rocks, depressions, and stone fences, as they went to shelter about Little Round Top. That point had not been occupied by the enemy, nor marked as an important feature of the field. The broken ranks sought shelter under its rocks and denies as birds fly to cover. . . .
. . . The fighting had by this time become tremendous, and brave men and officers were stricken by hundreds. Posey and Wilcox dislodged the forces about the Brick House. General Sickles was desperately wounded! General Willard was dead! General Sernmes of McLaws's division was mortally wounded! Our left relieved, the brigades of Anderson's division moved on with Barksdale, passed the swale, and moved up the slope. Caldwell's division, and presently those of Ayers and Barnes of the Fifth corps, met and held our strongest battle. While thus engaged General Sykes succeeded in putting Weed's and Vincent's brigades and Hazlett's batteries on the summit of Little Round Top, but presently we reached Caldwell's division, broke it off, and pushed it from the field. Of his brigade commanders Zook was killed, Brook and Cross were wounded, the latter mortally. On our side, Barksdale was down, dying, and G. T. Anderson wounded. General Hancock reported sixty per cent. of his men lost. We had carried Devil's Den, were at the Round Top and the Wheat Field, but Ayers's division of regulars and Barnes's division were holding us in equal battle.
. . . By a fortunate strike upon Ayers's flank we broke his line, and pushed him and Barnes so closely that they were obliged to use most strenuous efforts to get away without losing in prisoners, as well as their killed and wounded.
We gained the Wheat Field, and were so close upon the gorge that our artillery could no longer sustain their fire into it. We were on Little Round Top, grappling for the crowning point. The brigade commanders there, Vincent and Weed, were killed, also the battery commanders, Hazlett and others; but their troops were holding to their work as firmly as the mighty boulders that helped them.
General Hunt says:
The breaking of the Peach Orchard angle exposed the flanks of the batteries on its crests, which retired firing, in order to cover the retreat of the infantry. Many guns of different batteries had to be abandoned because of the destruction of horses and men; many were hauled off by hand; all the batteries lost heavily. Bigelow's Ninth Massachusetts made a stand close by the Trostle House in the corner of the field through which he had retired fighting with prolonges fixed. Although much cut up, he was directed by McGilvery to hold that point at all hazards until a line of artillery could be formed in front of the wood beyond Plum Run. This line was formed by collecting the serviceable batteries and fragments of batteries that were brought off, with which and Dow's Maine battery fresh from the reserve the pursuit was checked. Finally some twenty-five guns formed a solid mass, which unsupported by infantry held this part of the line, aided Humphreys' movements, and covered by its fire the abandoned guns on the field until they could be brought off, as all were, except perhaps one. When, after fully accomplishing its purpose, all that was left of Bigelow's battery was withdrawn. It was closely pursued by Humphreys' 21st Mississippi, the only Confederate regiment which succeeded in crossing the Run. His men had entered the battery and fought hand to hand with the cannoneers; one was killed whilst trying to spike a gun, and another knocked down with a handspike whilst endeavoring to drag off a prisoner. Of the four battery officers one was killed, another mortally, and a third, Captain Bigelow, severely wounded. Of seven sergeants, two were killed and four wounded; or a total of twenty-eight men, including two missing; and eighty out of eighty-eight horses were killed or wounded.
. . . General Meade thought that the Confederate army was working on my part of the field. He led some regiments of the Twelfth corps and posted them against us, called a division of Newton's corps first from beyond Hancock's, and sent Crawford's division, the last of the Fifth corps, splitting through the gorge, forming solid lines, in places behind stone fences, and making steady battle, as veterans fresh in action know so well how to make. While Meade's lines were growing, my men were dropping; we had no others to call to their aid, and the weight against us was too heavy to carry. . . . No other part of our army had engaged! My 17,000 against the Army of the Potomac! The sun was down and with it went down the severe battle. . . .
He fought troops that were much farther from the battle-field on the night of the first than he was, otherwise his 17,000 might have been enough. Had he displayed the same zeal and energy that they did, he would have occupied Little Round Top without the loss of a man. He says it was the “citadel of the field,” and, if so, should have given him victory.
General Hunt says:
. . . General Longstreet was ordered to form the divisions of Hood and McLaws, on Anderson's right, so as to envelop our left and drive it in. These divisions were only three miles off at daylight, and moved early, but there was great delay in forming them for battle, owing principally to the absence of Law's brigade, for which it would have been well to substitute Anderson's fresh division, which could have been replaced by Pettigrew's, then in reserve. There seems to have been no good reason why the attack should not have been made by 8 or 9 a.m., at latest, when the Federal Third corps was not all up, nor Crawford's division, nor the artillery reserves, nor the Sixth corps, and our lines still very incomplete. . . .
Ewell on the left had orders only to make a diversion in Longstreet's favor, to be converted into attack, if opportunity offered. He looked for the opportunity till about sundown, then made an attack, which, like Longstreet's, met with some success, and might have met with more, had not the Federal troops had all day in which to strengthen their position.
The following excerpt is from a review of Longstreet's book, in the “Journal of the Royal United Service Institution,” October, 1897:
. . . But there is a mass of evidence which goes to show that General Lee considered Longstreet responsible, and this evidence the latter has certainly not refuted. . . . Longstreet is content with the assertion that until eleven o'clock he had received no definite orders to attack. But it was never Lee's practice to issue definite orders to his corps commanders. He was accustomed to explain his general intentions, and to leave the execution in their hands, and if on this occasion he departed from his usual custom, it was because Longstreet declined to move without explicit orders to that effect. . . . He was aware that Lee was anxious to attack as early as possible; he was aware that an early attack was essential to success; he was aware how the commander-in-chief desired his divisions should be placed; and yet, until he received a definite order to advance, did absolutely nothing. He made no attempt to reconnoiter his line of march, to bring his troops into position, or to initiate the attack in accordance with the expressed wishes of his superior. . . .
On the afternoon of the 1st Lee said to Longstreet, “If he is there to-morrow, I will attack him.” That was enough. Any loyal, zealous, energetic commander would have had his troops on the front that night. He would not have waited for morning nor orders. Longstreet was not in the battle of the 1st, his troops were fresh, and Lee naturally depended on him for the next day's battle.
LONGSTREET published an account of the battle in 1878, and quotes as follows from a letter he received from General Hood in 1875:
General Lee was seemingly anxious you should attack that morning. You thought it better to await the arrival of Pickett's division— at that time still in rear—in order to make the attack, and you said to me subsequently: “The general is a little nervous this morning; he wishes me to make the attack. I do not wish to do so without Pickett. I never like to go into battle with one boot off.”
Longstreet was balky, just as he was at Second Manassas when Lee desired him to attack when he arrived on the field. In his account of the battle of the 2d he attempts to show that his proposed flank movement, which had been so unceremoniously turned down by Lee the day before, was “in the air.”
He says: “General Hood appealed again and again for the move to the right, but, to give more confidence to his attack, he was reminded that the move to the right had been carefully considered by our chief and rejected in favor of his present orders.”
General Hood's letter, from which Longstreet quotes, is published in full in General Hood's “Advance and Retreat.” In it he explains as follows his proposed move, and it will be seen that it was entirely different from the move that had been “carefully considered by our chief.”
The instructions I received were to place my division across the Emmitsburg road, form line of battle, and attack. Before reaching this road, however, I had sent forward some of my picked Texas scouts to ascertain the position of the enemy's extreme left flank. They soon reported to me that it rested upon Round Top mountain; that the country was open, and that I could march through an open woodland pasture around Round Top, and assault the enemy in flank and rear; that their wagon trains were parked in rear of their line and were badly exposed to our attack in that direction. As soon as I arrived upon the Emmitsburg road I placed one or two batteries in position and opened fire. A reply from the enemy's guns soon developed his position. His left rested on or near Round Top, with line bending back and again forward, forming as it were a concave line, as approached by the Ernmitsburg road.
A considerable body of troops was posted in front of their main line between the Emmitsburg road and Round Top. This force was in line of battle upon an eminence near a peach orchard. I found that in making the attack according to orders, viz., up the Emmitsburg road, I should have first to encounter and drive off this advanced line of battle; secondly, at the base and along the slope of the mountain, to confront immense boulders of stone, so massed together as to form narrow openings which would break our ranks and cause the men to scatter while climbing up the rocky precipices. I found, moreover, that my division would be exposed to a heavy fire from the main line of the enemy in position on the crest of the high range, of which Round Top was the extreme left, and, by reason of the concavity of the enemy's main line, that we would be subject to a destructive fire in flank and rear as well as in front, and deemed it at most an impossibility to clamber along the boulders of this steep and rugged mountain, and under this number of cross fires put the enemy to flight. I knew if the feat was accomplished it must be at a most fearful sacrifice of as brave and gallant soldiers as ever engaged in battle. The reconnaissance of my Texas scouts and the development of the Federal lines were effected in a very short space of time; in truth, shorter than I have taken to recall and jot down these facts, although the scenes and events of that day are as clear to my mind as if the great battle had been fought yesterday. I was in possession of these important facts so shortly after reaching the Emmitsburg road that I considered it my duty to report to you at once my opinion that it was unwise to attack up the Emmitsburg road as ordered, and to urge you to allow me to turn Round Top and attack the enemy in flank and rear.
Accordingly, I despatched a staff officer bearing to you my request to be allowed to make the proposed movement on account of the above stated reasons. Your reply was quickly received: “General Lee's orders are to attack up the Emmitsburg road.” I sent another officer to say that I feared nothing could be accomplished by such an attack, and renewed my request to turn Round Top. Again your answer was: “General Lee's orders are to attack up the Emmitsburg road.” During this interim I had continued the use of the batteries upon the enemy and had become more and more convinced that the Federal line extended to Round Top, and that I could not reasonably hope to accomplish much by the attack as ordered. In fact, it seemed to me the enemy occupied a position by nature so strong—I may say impregnable—that, independently of their flank fire, they could easily repel our attack by merely throwing and rolling stones down the mountain side as we approached. A third time I despatched one of my staff to explain fully in regard to the situation, and suggested that you had better come and look for yourself. I selected in this instance my adjutant general, Col. Harry Sellers, whom you know to be not only an officer of great courage, but also of marked ability. Colonel Sellers returned with the same message: “General Lee's orders are to attack up the Emmitsburg road.” Almost simultaneously Colonel Fair fax of your staff rode up and repeated the above order. After this urgent protest against entering the battle at Gettysburg, according to instruction, which protest is the first and only one I ever made during my entire military career, I ordered my line to advance and make the assault.
The move to the right that had been “carefully considered by our chief” was an impossible strategic movement, involving a march of the whole army on a prospecting expedition for good ground between the enemy and his capital; while that proposed by Hood was a simple tactical movement. Then from Longstreet's account of the reception his plan received from “our chief,” it does not appear that it was carefully considered or that it was considered at all.
Neither is it by any means certain that Hood's proposed move would have been a success. He did not have the Wilderness to shield his march. Meade would have discovered it at once and would have met him with superior numbers. Then the whole of the artillery reserve was back there with those wagons, and as the country was open Hood would have met with a very warm reception. Either Longstreet did not approve of Hood's tactics, or else he was sulky because of Lee's rejection of his plan. No other interpretation is possible, because he knew he had discretion as to tactics. In fact at Second Manassas he substituted his own tactics for those ordered by Lee for the relief of Jackson, and brags of it in his book.
The battles of the 1st and 2d, while not decisive of anything, were, on the whole, Confederate successes. On both days Meade had been driven from the open field and his army had suffered severely.
Mr. Rhodes says of its condition:
The feeling among the officers in Meade's camp that night (2d) was one of gloom. On the first day of the battle the First and Eleventh corps had been almost annihilated. On the second day the Fifth and part of the Second had been badly shattered, the Third in the words of its commander, who had succeeded Sickles, was “used up and not in good condition to fight.” The loss of the army had been 20,000 men. Only the Sixth and Twelfth corps were fresh.
So Lee's decision to continue the battle was not altogether due to his “uncontrollable combativeness.”
The general plan for the 3d was a simultaneous assault front and flank. Longstreet's corps was to attack the center, and the Second corps the right. One division of the 3d corps was at Longstreet's disposal.
Colonel Long, chief of artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia, says:
. . . General Lee determined to attack on the third day Meade's front where there was a depression through which the Emmitsburg road passes. The decision here indicated was reached at a conference held during the morning on the field in front of and within cannon shot of Round Top, there being present Generals Lee, Long-street, A. P. Hill, and H. Heth, Col. A. L. Long and Major Venable. The plan of attack was discussed, and it was decided that General Pickett should lead the assaulting column, to be supported by the divisions of McLaws and Hood, and such other force as A. P. Hill could spare from his command. The only objection offered was by General Longstreet, who remarked that the guns on Little Round Top might be brought to bear on his right. This objection was answered by Colonel Long, who said that the guns on Round Top could be suppressed by our batteries. This point being settled, the attack was ordered and General Longstreet was directed to carry it out.
It was most extraordinary that Colonel Long should have made such a statement, and still more so that Lee and Longstreet should have credited it, for both of them and every artilleryman in the army were painfully aware of the superiority of the Federal artillery. Both generals frequently referred to the heavier metal and superior ammunition of the enemy's artillery, of which there was no end.
In the Army of the Potomac were fifty-one brigades of infantry, eight brigades of cavalry, and three hundred and seventy guns. The artillery appointments were so superior that our officers sometimes felt humiliated when posted to unequal combat with their better metal and munitions. . . .
The Second corps did not wait for Longstreet, but attacked early in the morning and was repulsed. Lee's plans had gone awry through Longstreet's delay, just as on the 2d. The advantages of a simultaneous attack were lost, and Meade had several hours in which to strengthen his center.
Longstreet, however, did get his artillery in position about one o'clock.
General Hunt, Meade's chief of artillery, says:
. . . Here a magnificent display greeted my eyes. Our whole front for two miles was covered by batteries already in line, or going into position. They stretched apparently in one unbroken mass from opposite the town to the Peach Orchard, which bounded the view to the left, the ridges of which were planted thick with cannon. Never before had such a sight been witnessed on this continent, and rarely, if ever, abroad. What did it mean? It might possibly be to hold their line while the infantry was sent to aid Ewell, or to guard against a counterstroke from us; but it most probably meant an assault on our center, to be preceded by a cannonade in order to crush our batteries and shake our infantry, at least to cause us to exhaust our ammunition in reply, so that the assaulting column might pass in good condition over the half mile of open ground beyond our effective musketry fire.
Colonel Alexander, chief of artillery of the First corps, received the following note from General Longstreet:
COLONEL: If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy, or greatly demoralize him, so as to make our effort pretty certain, I would prefer that you would not advise General Pickett to make the charge.
Colonel Alexander says:
This note rather startled me. If that assault was to be made on General Lee's judgment it was all right, but I did not want it made on mine. I wrote to General Longstreet to the following effect: “General: I will only be able to judge the effect of our fire on the enemy by his return fire, for his infantry is but little exposed to view, and the smoke will obscure the field. If, as I infer from your note, there is any alternative to the attack, it should be carefully considered before opening our fire, for it will take all the ammunition we have left to test this one thoroughly; and if the result is unfavorable we will have none left for another effort; and even if this is entirely successful, it can only be so at a very bloody cost.” To this presently came the following reply: “Colonel: The intention is to advance the infantry if the artillery has the desired effect of driving the enemy off, or having other effect such as to war-rant us in making the attack.”
Both Longstreet's notes assumed discretion, yet in his book he says:
The order was imperative. The Confederate commander had fixed his heart upon it.
. . . I hardly knew whether this left me discretion or not, but at any rate it seemed decided that the artillery must open. I felt that if we went that far we could not draw back, but that the infantry must go too. Gen. A. R. Wright, of Hill's corps, was with me, looking at the position, when these notes were received, and we discussed them together. Wright said: “It is not so hard to go there as it looks; I was nearly there with my brigade yesterday. The trouble is to stay there. The whole Yankee army is there in a bunch.”
Alexander then rode over to Pickett and found him sanguine. He then wrote to Longstreet:
When our artillery fire is at its best, I will order Pickett to charge.
So that, instead of General Lee's “intentions” being carried out, the attack was to be ordered when the artillery fire was at its best.
. . . Before the cannonade opened I had made up my mind to give Pickett the order to advance within fifteen or twenty minutes after it began. But when I looked at the full development of the enemy's batteries, and knew that his infantry was generally well protected from our fire by stone walls and swells of the ground, I could not bring myself to give the word. It seemed madness to launch infantry into that fire, with nearly three quarters of a mile to go at midday under a July sun. I let the fifteen minutes pass, twenty and twenty-five, hoping vainly for something to turn up. Then I wrote to Pickett: “If you are coming at all you must come at once, or I cannot give you proper support; but the enemy's fire has not slackened at all, at least eighteen guns are still firing from the cemetery alone.” . . .
Here Alexander is urging Pickett to attack simply because his ammunition is running low. Colonel Long's promise to suppress the batteries on Round Top and General Lee's intention to attack only in case they were suppressed are entirely lost sight of.
General Hunt says:
. . . Thence I rode to the artillery reserve to order fresh batteries and ammunition to be sent to the ridge. . . . I now rode on the ridge to inspect the batteries. The infantry were lying down on its reverse slope near the crest in open ranks waiting events. . . . Our fire was deliberate, but on inspecting the chests I found that the ammunition was running low, and hastened to General Meade to advise its immediate cessation, and preparation for the assault which would certainly follow. . . .
. . . Suddenly the enemy's fire began to slacken, and the guns in the cemetery limbered up and vacated the position. Then I wrote to Pickett urgently: “For God's sake come quick. The eighteen guns are gone. Come quick, or my ammunition won't let me support you.” Then he said: “If he does not run fresh batteries in there in five minutes, this is our fight.” . . .
Any artillery driver in the army would have known that the guns were going out to make room for fresh ones. Hunt would have had a hundred guns in the cemetery if he had had position for them.
Edmund Rice, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S.A., says:
From the opposite ridge, three-fourths of a mile away, a line of skirmishers sprang lightly forward out of the woods, and with intervals well kept moved rapidly down into the open fields, closely followed by a line of battle, then by another, and by yet a third. Both sides watched this never-to-be-forgotten scene,—the grandeur of attack of so many thousand men. Gibbon's division, which was to stand the brunt of the assault, looked with admiration on the different lines of Confederates, marching forward with easy, swinging step, and the men were heard to exclaim: “Here they come!” “Here they come!” Here comes the infantry!” Soon little puffs of smoke issued from the skirmish line, as it came dashing forward, firing in reply to our own skirmishers in the plain below, and with this faint rattle of musketry the stillness was broken; never hesitating for an instant, but driving our men before it, or knocking them over by a biting fire as they rose up to run in, their skirmish line reached the fences of the Emmitsburg road. This was Pickett's advance, which carried a front of five hundred yards or more. . . .
Meanwhile the infantry had no sooner debouched on the plain than all the enemy's line which had been nearly silent broke out again with all its batteries. The eighteen guns were back in the cemetery, and a storm of shells began bursting over and among our infantry. . . .
Meanwhile the enemy advanced and McGilvery opened a destructive oblique fire, reinforced by that of Rittenhouse's six rifle guns from Round Top, which were served with remarkable accuracy, enfilading Pickett's lines. The steady fire from McGilvery and Rittenhouse on their right caused Pickett's men to drift in the opposite direction, so that the weight of the assault fell upon the position occupied by Hazard's batteries. . . . The enemy advanced magnificently, unshaken by the shot and shell which tore through their ranks from the front and from our left. . . . When our canister fire and musketry was opened upon them it occasioned disorder, but they still advanced gallantly until they reached the stone wall, behind which our troops lay. Here ensued a desperate conflict, the enemy succeeding in passing the wall and entering our lines, causing great destruction of life, especially among the batteries.
General Hunt says:
. . . The losses in the batteries of the Second corps were very heavy. Roty and Cushing were killed and Woodruff mortally wounded at their guns. . . . So great was the destruction of men and horses that Cushing's and Woodruff's United States, and Brown's and Arnold's Rhode Island batteries, were consolidated to make two serviceable ones.
The attacking column,—consisting of Pickett's division, Heth's, commanded by Pettigrew, and Wilcox's brigade of Anderson's division,—numbered 15,000. Heth's division soon fell back in disorder. Pender's division, which had advanced, fell back; and Wilcox, seeing that the attack was hopeless, failed to advance. General Lee intended that Hood and McLaws should participate in the attack; and Anderson, commanding one of Hill's divisions, was at Longstreet's call, but he used none of these troops in the attack.
General Webb, who commanded the brigade in front of Pickett, says:
. . . The enemy advanced steadily to the fence, driving out a portion of the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers. General Armistead passed over the fence, with probably over a hundred of his command and with several battle flags. . . .
From the report of Colonel Aylett, commanding Armistead's brigade of Pickett's divisions:
. . . The brigade moved across the open field for more than half a mile, receiving, as it came in range, fire of shell, grape, canister, and musketry, which rapidly thinned its ranks; still it pushed on until the first line of the enemy, strongly posted behind a stone wall, was broken and driven from its position, leaving in our hands a number of pieces of artillery. By this time the troops on our right and left were broken and driven back, and the brigade was exposed to a severe musketry fire from the front and both flanks and an enfilading artillery fire from a rocky hill some distance to the right. No supports coming up, the position was untenable, and we were compelled to retire, leaving more than two-thirds of our bravest and best killed or wounded on the field. . . . This report would fail in completeness and in the rendition of justice to signal valor and heroic behavior were it omitted to notice particularly the gallant conduct of our brigade commander, L. A. Armistead. Conspicuous to all, fifty yards in advance of his brigade, waving his hat upon his sword, he led his men upon the enemy, with a steady bearing which inspired all breasts with enthusiasm and courage, and won the admiration of every beholder. Far in advance of all, he led the attack till he scaled the works of the enemy and fell wounded in their hands, but not until he had driven them from their position and seen his colors planted over their fortifications. . . .
Our artillery fire was a blunder. Hunt says it was more dangerous behind the ridge than on its crest. In other words, it did some damage at Meade's headquarters and among the trains; but it did not help Pickett. It divulged the point of attack, and was a waste of ammunition that might have proved fatal. Our experience from Bull Run to Petersburg taught that artillery fire, unless at men on their feet or at batteries in the open, is practically harmless.
“It was a most terrific and appalling cannonade,” said Hancock. But it did little damage. The Union soldiers lay under the protection of stone walls, swells of the ground, and earthworks, and the projectiles of the enemy passed over their heads, sweeping the open ground in their rear.
General Schurz thought that Meade should have ordered a counter attack—he calls it the “lost opportunity.” A question of this nature must always remain an open one, because in actual battle almost anything may happen; but if General Schurz had been on our side, he would not have been so sanguine. There was nothing in the behavior of our men that indicated expectation or fear of a counter attack. Even Pickett's men that were left came in leisurely, and would have been well pleased to reciprocate the reception they had received. Of the whole of our corps (Longstreet's) only Pickett's division of less than 5,000 had suffered to any considerable extent in the attack. We would have had more guns against Meade than he had against Pickett, for like McClellan at Malvern Hill we had positions and good open ground in front, and with canister at short range our guns were as good as Meade's.
General Hunt says:
The advance of the Confederate brigades to cover Pickett's retreat showed that the enemy's line opposite Cemetery Ridge was occupied by infantry. Our own line on the ridge was in more or less disorder as the result of the conflict, and in no condition to advance a sufficient force for a counter assault. The largest bodies of organized troops available were on the left, and General Meade now proceeded to Round Top and pushed out skirmishers to feel the enemy in its front. An advance to the Plum Run line of the troops behind it would have brought them directly in front of the numerous batteries which crowned the Emmitsburg Ridge, commanding that line and all the intervening ground; a further advance, to the attack, would have brought them under additional heavy flank fires. McCandless's brigade, supported by Nevin's, was, however, pushed forward, under cover of the woods, which protected them from the fire of all these batteries; it crossed the Wheat Field, cleared the woods, and had an encounter with a portion of Benning's brigade, which was retiring. Hood's and McLaws' divisions were falling back under Longstreet's orders to their strong position, resting on Peach Orchard and covering Hill's line. It needs but a moment's examination of the official map to see that our troops on the left were locked up. As to the center, Pickett's and Pettigrew's assaulting divisions had f[or]med no part of A. P. Hill's line, which was practically intact. The idea that there must have been “a gap of at least a mile” in that line, made by throwing forward these divisions, and that a prompt advance from Cemetery Ridge would have given us the line itself, or at least the artillery in front of it, was a delusion. A prompt counter-charge after a combat between two small bodies of men is one thing; the change from the defensive to the offensive of an army, after an engagement at a single point, is quite another. This was not a “Waterloo defeat,” with a fresh army to follow it up, and to have made such a change to the offensive, on the assumption that Lee had made no provision against a reverse, would have been rash in the extreme. An advance of twenty thousand men from Cemetery Ridge in the face of the hundred and forty guns then in position would have been stark madness; an immediate advance from any point, in force, was simply impracticable, and before due preparation could have been made for a change to the offensive, the favorable moment—had any resulted from the repulse—would have passed away.
General Lee now abandoned the attempt to dislodge Meade; intrenched a line from Oak Hill to Peach Orchard; started all his impedimenta to the Potomac in advance, and followed with his army on the night of July 4, via Fairfield. This compelled Meade to take the circuitous routes through the lower passes; and the strategic advantage to Lee and disadvantages to Meade of Gettysburg were made manifest. General Meade has been accused of slowness in the pursuit. This charge is not well founded; he lost no time in commencing nor vigor in pushing it.
On the morning of the 4th he ordered French, at Frederick, to seize and hold the lower passes, and put all the cavalry, except Gregg's and McIntosh's brigades, in motion to harass the enemy's anticipated retreat and to destroy his trains and bridges at Williamsport. It stormed heavily that day, and the care of the wounded and burial of the dead proceeded, whilst the enemy's line was being reconnoitered. So soon on the 5th as it was certain that Lee was retreating, Gregg was started in pursuit on the Chambersburg pike, and the infantry,—now reduced to a little over 47,000 effectives, short of ammunition and supplies,—by the lower passes. The Sixth corps taking the Hagerstown road, Sedgwick reported the Fairfield pass fortified, a large force present, and that a fight could be had; upon which, on the 6th, Meade halted the rest of the infantry and ordered two corps to his support, but soon learning that although the pass could be carried it would cause too much delay, he resumed the march, leaving McIntosh and a brigade of the Sixth corps to follow the enemy through the Fairfield pass.
On the evening of the 4th Kilpatrick had a sharp encounter with the enemy in Monterey pass, and this was followed by daily cavalry combats on the different routes, in which much damage was done to trains and many captures of wagons, caissons, and prisoners effected. On the 5th French destroyed the pontoon bridge at Falling Waters. On the 6th Buford attacked at Williamsport and Kilpatrick toward Hagerstown, on his right, but as Imboden's train guard was strong, Stuart was up, and Longstreet close by, they had to withdraw. The enemy proceeded to construct a new bridge, and intrench a strong line covering Williamsport and Falling Waters. There were heavy rains on the 7th and 8th but the infantry corps reached Middletown on the morning of the 9th, received supplies, crossed the mountains that day, and at its close the right was at Boonsboro, and the left at Rohrersville, on the road to Hagerstown and Williamsport. The river was now greatly swollen and unfordable, and Halleck on the 10th advised Meade to postpone a general battle until his army was concentrated and his reinforcements up; but Meade, fully alive to the importance of striking Lee before he could cross the Potomac, advanced on that day and the 11th; and on the 12th pushed forward reconnaissances to feel the enemy.
After a partial examination, made by himself and his chiefs of staff, and of engineers, which showed that its flanks could not be turned, and that the line, so far as seen by them, presented no vulnerable points, he determined to make a demonstration in force on the next morning, the 13th, supported by the whole army, and to attack if a prospect of success offered. On assembling his corps commanders, however, he found their opinion so adverse that he postponed it for further examination, after which he issued the order for the next day, the 14th. On advancing that morning, it was found that the enemy had abandoned his line and crossed the river, partly by fording, and partly by a new bridge. A careful survey of the enemy's intrenched line after it was abandoned justified the opinion of the corps commanders against an attack, as it showed that an assault would have been disastrous to us. It proved also that Meade in overriding that opinion did not shrink from a great responsibility, notwithstanding his own recent experience at Gettysburg, when all the enemy's attacks on even partially intrenched lines had failed. If he erred on this occasion, it was on the side of temerity. . . .
But the hopes and expectations excited by the victory of Gettysburg were as unreasonable as the fears that had preceded it; and great was the disappointment that followed the “escape” of Lee's army. It was promptly manifested, too, and in a manner which indicates how harshly and unjustly the Army of the Potomac and its commanders were usually judged and treated; and what trials the latter had to undergo whilst subjected to the meddling and hectoring of a distant superior, himself but too often the mere mouthpiece of an irresponsible clique, from which they were not freed until the general-in-chief accompanied it to the field.
That same day, before it was possible that all the circumstances could be known, three telegraphic dispatches passed between the respective headquarters. First, Halleck to Meade: “I need hardly say to you that the escape of Lee's army without another battle has created great dissatisfaction in the mind of the President, and it will require an active and energetic pursuit on your part to remove the impression that it has not been sufficiently active heretofore.” Second, Meade to Halleck: “Having performed my duty conscientiously and to the best of my ability, the censure of the President (conveyed in your dispatch of 1 p.m. to-day) is in my judgment so undeserved that I feel compelled most respectfully to ask to be relieved immediately from the command of the army.” Third, Halleck to Meade: “July 14. My telegram stating the disappointment of the President at the escape of Lee's army was not intended as a censure, but a stimulus to an active pursuit. It is not deemed a sufficient cause for your application to be relieved.”
The command of the Army of the Potomac the first three years of the war was a “job,” as Lincoln called it, that was not sought by the officers of that army. The army carried Washington,—the old man of the sea,—on its back; and the commanders had to shoulder not only their own blunders, but those of Lincoln and Halleck.
An officer who held a “responsible and confidential position at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac and in the War Department” writes in the Century for November, 1886: “Lincoln apparently yielded to the views of those in charge of the military department of affairs, and therefore Halleck confidentially inquired of Reynolds if he was prepared to accept the command. Reynolds replied that he expected to obey all lawful orders coming to his hands, but as the communication seemed to imply the possession of an option in himself, he deemed it his duty to say frankly that he could not accept the command in a voluntary sense, unless a liberty of action should be guaranteed to him considerably beyond any which he had reason to expect.
The command of the army had been refused by Reynolds, Hooker had thrown it up in disgust, and at the eleventh hour it was thrust upon Meade. Hunt says: “He spent the day (28) in ascertaining the position of his army.”
July 1, when he was ordering the scattered columns to concentration on Pipe Creek, the battle of the first day was raging. When he heard of it he rode to Gettysburg, arriving, as Rhodes says, “at one in the morning, pale, tired-looking, hollow-eyed, and worn out from want of sleep, anxiety, and responsibility.” He found Reynolds killed, the battle lost, and himself committed to new ground. He did not know but that Lee would attack in full force at daylight, and did know that his own marching columns would be late. At this moment Meade was the grandest figure on the Union side of the war; but we hear less of him than we do of Lincoln's Gettysburg address.
Pickett's charge is generally considered “the battle of Gettysburg,” whereas it was only an incident of the battle, just as Malvern Hill was an incident of the Seven Days' battles. The critical moment at Gettysburg was not when Pickett made his charge, nor on the afternoon of the 1st, but it was on the morning of the 2d.
The attack on the afternoon of the 2d was impetuous and desperate, and if it had been timed in the early morning when a good part of Meade's army was on the road, when his lines were incomplete and Little Round Top unoccupied, there is little doubt that Lee would have won the battle.
Lee was of course conscious of Longstreet's mismanagement and probably had it in mind when writing as follows in his letter of resignation shortly after Gettysburg: “In addition, I sensibly feel the growing failure of my bodily strength. I have not yet recovered from the attack I experienced last spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making personal supervision ox the operations in the field which I feel to be necessary. I am so dull that in making use of the eyes of others I am frequently misled.
The “Official Records” give the returns of the Army of Northern Virginia on the 31st of May, 1863: Infantry 59,457, cavalry 10,292, artillery 4,702, total 74,451. Ewell's losses in the Valley and Stuart's in Pennsylvania must have reduced Lee's strength at Gettysburg to less than 70,000 men. The same authority gives the strength of the Army of the Potomac June 30, 1863, just before the battle as 104,256, and the losses as: Army of the Potomac; Killed, 3,155; Wounded, 14,529; Missing, 5,365; Total, 23,049. Army of Northern Virginia: Killed, 2,592; Wounded, 12,709; Missing, 5,150; Total, 20,451.
Lee says in his report: “It is not yet in my power to give a correct statement of our casualties, which were severe, including many brave men, and an unusual proportion of distinguished and valuable officers. Among them I regret to mention the following general officers: Major Generals Hood, Pender, and Trimble severely, and Heth slightly, wounded. General Pender has since died. . . . Brigadier Generals Barksdale and Garnett were killed, and Brigadier General Semmes was mortally wounded. . . . Brigadier Generals Kemper, Armistead, Scales, G. T. Anderson, Hampton, J. M. Jones, and Jenkins were also wounded. Brigadier General Archer was taken prisoner. General Pettigrew, though wounded at Gettysburg, continued in command until he was mortally wounded near Falling Waters. . . .
Lee took desperate chances in the battle of Chancellorsville rather than fall back on Richmond. In his letter of June 8 to Mr. Seddon already quoted, he states clearly the object of the campaign: “Unless it (the Army of the Potomac) can be drawn out in a position to be assailed it will take its own time to strengthen itself to renew its advances upon Richmond and force this army back within the intrenchment of that city.” It was “to prevent such a catastrophe” that he took the still further desperate chances of stretching his army from Fredericksburg to Williamsport, with Hooker practically between him and defenseless Richmond.
In this letter to Mr. Seddon we have the object of the campaign clearly stated in Lee's own words, and the following letter of July 12 to President Davis, written when he was standing on the Potomac waiting for it to fall so that he could recross into Virginia, shows that he considered the object of the campaign fully accomplished:
Mr. President: I have nothing of moment to add to what I have said in my letter of the 10th. So far everything goes well. The army is in good condition, and occupies a strong position, covering the Potomac from Williamsport to Falling Waters. . . . The river has now fallen to four feet, and a bridge, which is being constructed, I hope will be passable to-morrow. Should the river continue to subside, our communication with the south bank will be opened by to-morrow. Had the late unexpected rise not occurred, there would have been no cause for anxiety, as it would have been in my power to recross the Potomac on my first reaching it, without molestation. Everything would have been accomplished that could have been reasonably expected, the Army of the Potomac would have been thrown north of that river, the forces invading the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia diminished, their plan of the present campaign broken up, and before new arrangements could have been made for its resumption, the summer would have ended. I still trust that a kind Providence will cause all things to work together for our good.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
His Excellency Jefferson Davis,
President Confederate States.
In his letter to Davis he says that “had the late unexpected rise not occurred, there would have been no cause for anxiety, as it would have been in my power to recross the Potomac on my first reaching it, without molestation. Everything would have been accomplished that could have been reasonably expected.” As he crossed the river the next day unmolested everything was accomplished that could have been reasonably expected.
After Lee's return to Virginia he wrote to a relative as follows: “I knew that crossing the Potomac would draw them off, and if we could only have been strong enough we should have detained them. But God willed otherwise, and I fear we shall soon have them all back. The army did all it could. I fear I require of it impossibilities, but it responded to the call nobly and cheerfully, and though it did not win a victory, it conquered a success.
The campaign of 1862 enabled Lee to get his army out of the last ditch at Richmond. The campaign of 1863 enabled him to keep it out. Therefore the army as Lee says “conquered a success,” and the campaign accomplished everything that could have been reasonably expected, or for that matter unreasonably expected. Nor were other results of the campaign inconsiderable. Ewell defeated and drove the enemy from the valley, capturing 4000 prisoners, 25 cannon, 11 standards, 250 wagons, 400 horses, and a large quantity of stores and small arms. He and Stuart also secured great quantities of supplies in Pennsylvania, which were all badly: needed by the Confederate army. Virginia was relieved for a time of the presence of the devastating armies, so that altogether the campaign was not a failure, but one of Lee's grandest successes.
IN the last months of 1863 there was a campaign of strategy which ended in Meade's retreat from Mine Run, to which point he had advanced in light marching order in the hope of surprising Lee. Instead, he found Lee strongly intrenched and prepared. He hesitated, and Lee decided to attack on the 2d of December; but Meade retreated. Lee pursued, but Meade escaped.
Now General Grant appeared upon the scene. He was commander-in-chief, not only of the Army of the Potomac, but of all the armies of the United States. He came up from the Southwest where his successes had been of great material value, but had been easily attained. He always had superior numbers, always encountered inferior commanders, and always had the cooperation of the navy. The whole Vicksburg campaign, Donelson, and Chattanooga cost him only 15,351 men, whereas he lost in the single battle of the Wilderness 17,666 men, and in the campaign 69,326, or four times his loss in obtaining all his successes in the Southwest. The fact is that with the exception of Shiloh, where he was surprised and worsted by Johnston, and discredited by the testimony of Buell and other officers, he had never seen any fighting of any consequence. He says of Chattanooga: “. . . The victory at Chattanooga was won against great odds, considering the advantage the enemy had of position, and was accomplished more easily than was expected by reason of Bragg's making several grave mistakes: first, in sending away his ablest corps commander with over 20,000 troops; second, in sending away a division of troops on the eve of battle; third, in placing so much of a force on the plain in front of his impregnable position. . . .
So the victory was not won by superior generalship or by hard fighting, but was due to Bragg's stupid blunders.
The impregnable position Grant speaks of,—the crest of the ridge,—was won by a wonderful charge. Grant asked Thomas by whose order the troops moved. “By their own, I fancy,” he replied.
Now the fact is that ridge was easy. Bragg was like a coon in the top of a tree with branches down to the ground and easy to climb. The troops went without orders because it was easy—the proof is that in the whole battle, including the wonderful charge, Grant's total loss was only 5815 men. The charge must have been well-nigh bloodless.
At Chattanooga Grant had 60,000 men against Bragg's 40,000; yet he says the victory was won against great odds.
His greatest success,—that of Vicksburg,—was easy. His entire loss, including the five battles or skirmishes in May, was only 7536, which is conclusive proof that he met with little resistance.
In his book, among a hundred other misrepresentations, he says: “. . . In the east the opposing forces stood in substantially the same relations toward each other as three years before, or when the war began. . . . No substantial advantage had been gained by either side.” . . .
We shall see how utterly devoid of truth this statement is.
When Lee confronted McClellan at Richmond he had 80,000 men against McClellan's 100,000, and his army was fairly well clad and provisioned.
Colonel Taylor says:
The official records show that General Grant had something over 140,000 men on the 1st of May, 1864, with which to commence his campaign against General Lee, of which number 120,000 were actually put into battle; while General Lee had, with which to oppose this vast host, less than 65,000, including the command of General Longstreet that had now returned to him after the campaign in Tennessee. These figures are not exaggerated in the least. Let him who doubts search the official records. (See “Report of the Secretary of War to the First Session of the 39th Congress,” vol. 1, 1865–1866, pp. 3–5, 55.) General Badeau gives the strength of the army opposing General Lee as 119,981.
None of Grant's predecessors had authority over a man outside of their lines, but Grant had unlimited authority.
. . . As a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or to act in support of it, the Ninth army corps, over 20,000 strong, under General Burnside, had been rendezvoused at Annapolis, Md. This was an admirable position for such a reinforcement. The corps could be brought at the last moment as a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or it could be thrown on the seacoast south of Norfolk in Virginia or North Carolina, to operate against Richmond from that direction. . . .
IN FIELD, CULPEPER C. H.,
April 9, 1864.
MAJ. GEN. GEO. G. MEADE, commanding Army of the Potomac: . . . Gilmore will join Butler with about 10,000 men from North Carolina. Butler can reduce his garrison so as to take 23,000 men into the field directly to his front. The force will be commanded by Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith. With Smith and Gilmore, Butler will seize City Point and operate against Richmond from the south side of the river. . . .
U. S. GRANT,
. . . My general plan was to concentrate all the force possible against the Confederate armies in the field. There were but two such, as we have seen, east of the Mississippi and facing north. The Army of Northern Virginia, Gen. Robert E. Lee commanding, was on the south bank of the Rapidan river, confronting the Army of the Potomac; the second, under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was at Dalton, Georgia, opposed to Sherman, who was still at Chattanooga. . . . Accordingly, I arranged for a simultaneous movement all along the line. Sherman was to move from Chattanooga, Johnston's army and Atlanta being his objective points. Crook, commanding in West Virginia, was to move from the mouth of the Gauley river with a cavalry force and some artillery, the Virginia and Tennessee railroad to be his objective. Either the enemy would have to keep a large force to protect their communications or see them destroyed, and a large amount of forage and provisions, which they so much needed, fall into our hands. Sigel was in command in the Valley of Virginia. He was to advance up the Valley, covering the north from an invasion through that channel as well while advancing as by remaining near Harper's Ferry. Every mile he advanced also gave us stores on which Lee relied. Butler was to advance by the James river, having Richmond and Petersburg as his objectives.
The Army of the Potomac was a grand army. Grant had nothing to do with its creation. It was handed over to him organized, disciplined, and more lavishly supplied than any army the world had ever seen. He had never seen such an army.
He says of it:
There never was a corps better organized than was the quartermaster's corps with the Army of the Potomac in 1864. . . . To overcome all difficulties the chief quartermaster, Gen. Rufus Ingalls, had marked on each wagon the corps badge, with the division color, and the number of the brigade. At a glance the particular brigade to which any wagon belonged could be told. The wagons were also marked to denote the contents; if ammunition, whether for artillery or infantry; if forage, whether grain or hay; if rations, whether bread, pork, beans, rice, sugar, coffee, or whatever it might be. Empty wagons were never allowed to follow the army or stay in camp. As soon as a wagon was empty it would return to the base of supply for a load of precisely the same article that had been taken from it. . . .
Speaking of the field telegraph service, he says:
Nothing could be more complete than the organization and discipline of this body of brave and intelligent men. Insulated wires, insulated so that they would transmit messages in a storm, on the ground, or under water, were wound upon reels making about two hundred pounds weight of wire to each reel. . . . The mules thus loaded were assigned to brigades, and always kept with the commands they were assigned to. . . . The moment the troops were put into position to go into camp, all the men connected with this branch of service would proceed to put up their wires. A mule loaded with a coil of wire would be led to the rear of the near-est flank of the brigade he belonged to, and would be led in a line parallel thereto, while one man would hold an end of the wire and uncoil it as the mule was led off. . . . This would be done in the rear of every brigade at the same time. The end of all the wires would then be joined, making a continuous wire in the rear of the whole army. . . . Before leaving Spottsylvania I sent back to the defenses of Washington over one hundred pieces of artillery, with horses and caissons. This relieved the roads over which we were to march of more than two hundred six-horse teams, and still left us more artillery than could be advantageously used. In fact, before reaching the James river, I again reduced the ar-tillery with the army largely. . . .
Then, too, Grant practically commanded the navy that held the coast and every river in the Confederacy. What a tremendous array against two little worn-out Confederate armies, the condition of which is shown by the following letters:
HEADQUARTERS, January 2, 1864.
HIS EXCELLENCY, JEFFERSON DAVIS,
President Confederate States,
MR. PRESIDENT: . . . We are now issuing to the troops a fourth of a pound of salt meat and have only three days' supply at that rate. . . .
I am, with great respect, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
January 18, 1864.
Quartermaster General, Richmond.
GENERAL: The want of shoes and blankets in this army continues to cause much suffering, and to impair its efficiency. In one regiment, I am informed, there are only fifty men with serviceable shoes, and a brigade that recently went on picket was compelled to leave several hundred men in camp who were unable to bear the exposure, being destitute of shoes and blankets. . . .
I am, with great respect,
Your obt. svt.,
R. E. LEE,
HEADQUARTERS, April 12, 1864.
MR. PRESIDENT: My anxiety for provisions for the army is so great that I cannot refrain from expressing it to your Excellency. I cannot see how we can operate with our present supplies. . . . We have rations for the troops to-day and to-morrow. . . .
I am, with great respect,
Your obt. svt,
R. E. LEE,
HEADQUARTERS, April 16, 1864.
GEN. BRAXTON BRAGG:
GENERAL: I have received your letter of the 13th, enclosing copy of a communication from Colonel Gorgas, in reference to the large proportion of artillery with this army. I have never found it too large in battle, and it has generally been opposed by about three hundred pieces of the enemy, of larger caliber, longer range, and with more effective ammunition. If, however, its equipment overtaxes the means of the Ordnance Department, or, as you suggest, its supply of horses cannot be kept up, that decides the question, and no argument on the subject is necessary. . . .
R. E. LEE,
Grant had a ̴substantial advantage” in not having to write such letters as these. In the history of the 5th Massachusetts there is a letter from which the following is taken:
. . . To-day I was up to Brandy Station. You can form no idea of the bustle and confusion at this depot when the army is getting ready to move. It looked to me as if a thousand or more wagons were waiting to load, and there were immense piles of ammunition and all kinds of ordnance stores, etc., etc., and piles of boxes of hard bread as high as two and three-story houses. It reminded me some of a wharf in New York, with twelve or fifteen ships loading and unloading. . . .
Gen. Morris Schaff, assistant to the chief of ordnance of the Army of the Potomac, says:
. . . While I do not wish to encumber the narrative with a burden of figures, yet it may interest the reader to know that we had in the Army of the Potomac, the morning we set off on the great campaign, 4300 wagons and 835 ambulances. There were 34,981 artillery, cavalry, and ambulance horses, and 22,528 mules, making an aggregate of 57,419 animals. The strength of the Army of the Potomac was between ninety-nine and one hundred thousand men. Burnside, who caught up with us the second day of the Wilderness, brought with him about twenty thousand more. . . .
The fact is that a substantial advantage,—more than that, a decisive advantage,—had been gained by the Army of the Potomac before Grant came to Virginia, as the following letter shows:
ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
October 19, 1863.
HON. JAS. A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.
SIR: If General Meade is disposed to remain quiet where he is, it is my intention, provided the army could be supplied with clothing again, to advance and threaten his position. Nothing prevented my continuing in his front but the destitute condition of the men, thousands of whom are barefooted, a greater number partly shod, and nearly all without overcoats, blankets, or warm clothing. . . .
Your obt. svt.,
R E. LEE.
This means, of course, that Lee was deprived of the only advantage he ever had, that of threatening Washington. It was the turning point in the war, and was reached before Grant came to Virginia, as the date of this letter shows.
Grant crossed the Rapidan without opposition. Lee thought he might repeat the miracle of Chancellorsville and determined to hazard an attack. On the morning of the 5th of May he advanced in two columns, Ewell on the Orange Court House road, and Hill on the Plank Road. Ewell soon struck the enemy's outposts and, while forming his line of battle, Jones's brigade in making a change of position was attacked by a large Federal force, which advanced through the dense undergrowth. General Jones was killed, with a loss of several hundred of his men. The next fight was about 4 p.m., when the Federals attacked the Confederate position and were repulsed. The next morning Hill was heavily attacked, Heth and Wilcox being driven back and thrown into confusion. Things were looking very blue for the Confederates when Longstreet came swinging down the plank road in double column at a double-quick. The Texans led, 800 strong, and half of them went down, but the battle was restored and the enemy driven to his position of the previous night. Longstreet now advanced three brigades against the enemy's right flank, and he himself attacked in front. Hancock was badly beaten and thrown back toward the Brock road, which Lee desired to secure, but just at the critical moment Longstreet was wounded by his own men. The resulting disorder and delay enabled the enemy to form a strong line of breastworks built of logs.
About 4 p.m. Lee attacked. The battle raged furiously, the woods on fire. The Confederates broke into the Federal breastworks in places but were quickly driven out. This attack ended the battle. The game was blocked, and Grant on the night of the 7th resumed his march toward Spottsylvania. Warren led the Federal army, and Anderson the Confederate. Stuart worried Warren and enabled Anderson to reach Spottsylvania ahead of him. Both armies intrenched and nothing of importance happened on the 9th, but on the 10th Grant sent Hancock, Warren, and Burnside against Lee's left center. The first charge was made about 10 a.m., another about 3 p.m., but both were repulsed with the slaughter that Grant became familiar with in Virginia. About 5 p.m. another, more reckless than the others, was made and repulsed with terrible loss, while the Confederates suffered very little. Ewell's left was also assaulted late in the day, and his line, held by Dole's brigade, broken; but Daniel, Stewart, and Gordon came to the rescue, and the Federals were driven out with great loss.
That Grant was surprised and scared by the resistance he encountered is manifest in the following dispatch to Washington:
May 10. The enemy hold our front in very strong force and evince a strong determination to interpose between us and Richmond to the last. I shall take no backward step. . . . We can maintain ourselves at least and in the end beat Lee's army, I believe. Send to Belle Plain all the infantry you can rake and scrape. With present position of the armies, ten thousand men can be spared from the defenses of Washington, besides all the troops that have reached there since Burnside's departure.
He thinks he can “maintain” himself at least and in the end beat Lee's army, provided he gets all the infantry “you can rake and scrape.”
NEAR SPOTTSYLVANIA, C. H.,
May 11, 1864, 8.30 a.m.
MAJ. GEN. HALLECK,
Chief of staff, Washington, D.C.
We have now ended the 6th day of very hard fighting. The result up to this time is much in our favor. But our losses have been heavy, as well as those of the enemy. We have lost up to this time eleven general officers killed, wounded, and missing, and probably 20,000 men. . . . I propose to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer. 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. . . . I am satisfied the enemy is very shaky, and are only kept up to the mark by the greatest exertion on the part of their officers, and by keeping them intrenched in every position they take.
This is the celebrated “Fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer” letter, but as any one can see it is above all else a plea for help.
He wanted reinforcements “to encourage the army,” though “the result up to this time is much in our favor.” He is “satisfied the enemy is very shaky,” but he wants reinforcements “as fast as possible and in as great numbers.” It is not true that the Confederate officers made any special effort to keep the men “up to the mark.”
Lee was now in an unenviable position. Outnumbered two to one, he held a line of no natural strength. Both flanks were open to attack and if his opponent had been a strategist the war would have ended at Spottsylvania instead of at Appomattox. Lee was on his guard against a flank movement, and ordered two batteries out of an angle on Ewell's front, as it would have been difficult to extricate them in an emergency. Johnson's division occupied the angle, and on the night of the 11th he became alarmed at the enemy's movements in his front and sent couriers to Lee requesting the return of the guns. They were ordered back, but before they got into position Hancock, at daylight on the 12th, overwhelmed Johnson and caught the guns harmless in the road. The Federal troops poured into the breach. They came en masse. Lee rushed Gordon's, Rodes's, and Ramseur's divisions, and some of Long's artillery in to stop the advance, and wanted to lead the troops, but he was turned back by the men.
Of the fight that ensued G. N. Galloway, historian of the Sixth corps, says:
Just as the day was breaking, Barlow's and Birney's divisions of Hancock's corps pressed forward upon the unsuspecting foe, and leaping the works, after a hand to hand conflict with the bewildered enemy in which guns were used as clubs, possessed themselves of the intrenchments. . . . The rain was falling in torrents, and held the country about in obscurity. . . . Under cover of the smoke-laden rain the enemy was pushing large bodies of troops forward, determined at all hazards to regain the ground. . . . The smoke, which was dense at first, was intensified by each discharge of artillery to such an extent that the accuracy of our aim became very uncertain, but nevertheless we kept up the fire in the supposed direction of the enemy. Meanwhile they were crawling forward under cover of the smoke, until, reaching a certain point, and raising their usual yell, they charged gallantly up to the very muzzles of our pieces, and reoccupied the angle. Upon reaching the works, the Confederates for a few moments had the advantage, and made good use of their rifles. Our men went down by the score; all the artillery horses were down; the gallant Upton was the only mounted officer in sight. Hat in hand, he cheered his men, and begged them to hold “this point.” All his staff had been killed, wounded, or dismounted. At this moment, and while the open ground in rear of the works was choked with troops, a section of Battery C, 5th U.S. artillery, was brought into action and increased the carnage by opening at short range with double charges of canister. This staggered the apparently exultant enemy. These guns were run up by hand close to the angle, fired again and again, and were only abandoned when all the drivers and cannoneers had fallen. . . . In a few moments the two brass pieces of the 5th artillery, cut and hacked by the bullets of both antagonists, lay unworked with their muzzles projecting over the enemy's works and their wheels half sunk in the mud. Between the lines, and near at hand, lay the horses of these guns completely riddled. The dead and wounded were torn to pieces by the canister as it swept the ground where they had fallen. . . . Our losses were frightful. . . . About midnight, after twenty hours of constant fighting, Lee withdrew from the conflict, leaving the angle in our possession.
Lee withdrew after he had effectually checked the advance of the enemy, and established a strong line a little way in rear of the angle.
It will be noticed that the historian says “the open ground in rear of the works was choked with troops.” That was Grant's method of fighting,—main strength and awkwardness. While the open ground in rear of the works was choked with troops Lee was alarmed for the safety of his left, for word kept coming up the line: “All right on the center, look out on the left.” After ten o'clock in the morning Lee had every man he could get on the center and could not have spared a man to reinforce his left.
Senator Grimes wrote on the 18th of May: “Thus far we have won no victory. We have suffered a terrible loss in killed and wounded (nearly 50,000) and Lee is in an impregnable position. . . .”
Grant's “fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer” letter produced the desired effect, as he received 40,000 reinforcements.
On the 20th of May he started for Hanover Junction, but Lee was there ahead of him. The North Anna river was Lee's line of defense. Warren on the right and Hancock on the left crossed the river. Burnside tried to cross at a point intermediate between Warren and Hancock, but was driven back. Grant was now in the position Lincoln advised Hooker against when he said: “I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other.”
Hancock and Warren had been worsted in the fighting, and Burnside had been prevented from crossing at all. “Grant,” write Nicolay and Hay, “was completely checkmated.” Yet he sent the following dispatch:
QUARLES MILL, VA.MAJOR GENERAL HALLECK,
May 26, 1864.
. . . Lee's army is whipped . . . A battle with them outside intrenchments cannot be had.
U. S. GRANT,
On the same night, the 26th, he withdrew Warren and Hancock back across the river, otherwise he might have had a fight with the Confederates outside of the breastworks.Grant now marched down the North Anna to the Pamunkey and crossed that river on the 28th.
His next effort to beat Lee was to be made at Cold Harbor. The fight began on the afternoon of the 1st of June by an attack on Kershaw's and Hoke's divisions. The Confederates were driven in, but fell back only a little way and checked the advance of the enemy. The 2d was passed by both armies in preparation for the coming battle, of which we have the following accounts.
General McMahon, U.S.V., chief of staff to General Wright, Sixth corps, says:
Before daylight (2d June) the Army of the Potomac stood together once more almost within sight of the spires of Richmond, and on the very ground where, under McClellan, they had defended the passage of the river they were now endeavoring to force. . . . Every one felt that this was to be the final struggle. No further flanking marches were possible. Richmond was dead in front. No further wheeling of corps from right to left by the rear, no further dusty marches possible on that line even if it “took all summer.” The general attack was fixed for the afternoon of the 2d, and all preparations had been made when the order was countermanded and the attack postponed until half-past four the following morning. Promptly at the hour named on the 3d of June the men moved from the slight cover of the rifle-pits, thrown up during the night, with steady, determined advance, and there rang out suddenly on the summer air such a crash of artillery and musketry as is seldom heard in war. No great portion of the advance could be seen from any particular point, but those of the three corps that passed through the clearings were feeling the fire terribly. Not much return was made at first from our infantry, although the fire of our batteries was incessant. The time of actual advance was not over eight minutes. In that little period more men fell bleeding as they advanced than in any other like period of time throughout the war. A strange and terrible feature of this battle was that as the three gallant corps moved on, each was enfiladed while receiving the full force of the enemy's direct fire in front. The enemy's shell and shot were plunging through Hancock's battalions from his right. From the left a similarly destructive fire was poured in upon Smith, and from both flanks on the Sixth corps in the center.
At some points the slashings and obstructions in the enemy's front were reached. Barlow, of Hancock's corps, drove the enemy from an advance position, but was himself driven out by the fire of their second line. R. O. Tyler's brigade (the Corcoran Legion) of the same corps swept over an advance work, capturing several hundred prisoners. One officer alone, the colonel of the 164th New York (James P. McMahon), seizing the colors of his regiment from the dying color-bearer as he fell, succeeded in reaching the parapet of the enemy's main works, where he planted his colors and fell dead near the ditch, bleeding from many wounds. Seven other colonels of Hancock's command died within those few minutes. No troops could stand against such a fire, and the order to lie down was given all along the line. At points where no shelter was afforded the men were withdrawn to such cover as could be found, and the battle of Cold Harbor, as to its result at least, was over. Each corps commander reported and complained to General Meade that the other corps commanders, right or left, as the case might be, failed to protect him from enfilading fire by silencing batteries in their respective fronts; Smith, that he could go no farther until Wright advanced upon his left; Hancock, that it was useless for him to attempt a further advance until Wright advanced upon his right; Wright, that it was impossible for him to move until Smith and Hancock advanced to his support on the right and left to shield him from the enemy's enfilade. Shortly after midday came the order to suspend for the present all further operations, and directing corps commanders to intrench, “including their advance positions,” and directing also that reconnaissances be made, “with a view to moving against the enemy's works by regular approaches.”
The field in front of us, after the repulse of the main attack, was indeed a sad sight. I remember at one point a mute and pathetic evidence of sterling valor. The 2d Connecticut Heavy Artillery, a new regiment eighteen hundred strong, had joined us but a few days before the battle. Its uniform was bright and fresh, therefore its dead were easily distinguished where they lay. They marked in a dotted line an obtuse angle, covering a wide front, with its apex toward the enemy, and there upon his face, still in death, with his head to the works, lay the colonel, the brave and genial Col. Elisha S. Kellogg.
When night came on, the groans and moaning of the wounded, all our own, who were lying between the lines, were heartrending. Some were brought in by volunteers from our intrenchments, but many remained for three days uncared for beneath the hot summer suns and the unrefreshing dews of the sultry summer nights. The men in the works grew impatient, yet it was against orders and was almost certain death to go beyond our earthworks. An impression prevails in the popular mind, and with some reason perhaps, that a commander who sends a flag of truce asking permission to bury his dead and bring in his wounded has lost the field of battle. Hence the reluctance upon our part to ask a flag of truce. In effect it was done at last on the evening of the third day after the battle, when, for the most part, the wounded needed no further care, and our dead had to be buried almost where they fell.
The work of intrenching could only be done at night. The fire of sharpshooters was incessant, and no man upon all that line could stand erect and live an instant. This condition of things continued for twelve days and nights; sharpshooters' fire from both sides went on all day; all night the zigzags and parallels nearer to the enemy's works were being constructed. In none of its marches by day or night did that army suffer more than during those twelve days. Rations and ammunition were brought forward from parallel to parallel through the zigzag trenches, and in some instances where regiments whose term of service had expired were ordered home, they had to leave the field crawling on hands and knees through the trenches to the rear. At nine o'clock every night the enemy opened fire with artillery and musketry along his whole line. This was undoubtedly done under suspicion that the Army of the Potomac had seen the hopelessness of the task before it and would withdraw in the night-time for another movement by the flank, and, if engaged in such a movement, would be thrown into confusion by this threat of a night attack However, no advance was made by the enemy.
Another strange order came about this time. It opened with a preamble that inasmuch as the enemy had without provocation repeatedly opened fire during the night upon our lines, therefore, at midnight of that day, the corps commanders were directed to open fire from all their batteries generally upon the enemy's position and continue it until daylight. This was coupled with the proviso that if in the opinion of a corps commander the fire would provoke a return from the enemy which would inflict severe damage upon his troops, then he was exempted from the operation of the order. The commanders of the three corps holding the front communicated with one another by telegraph with this result: Smith was satisfied that the fire which he would provoke would inflict upon him disproportionate damage. Hancock for the same reason did not intend to open fire unless the fire provoked by the other corps reached his lines. Wright adopted the same rules of action. Twelve o'clock came and the summer night continued undisturbed. . . .
General Law describes the battle in his front at the point of attack on the afternoon of the 1st:
The line here had been straightened, leaving the old line, a salient, open to the enemy. Our troops were under arms and waiting when with misty light of open morning the scattering fire of our pickets announced the beginning of the attack. As the assaulting column swept over the old works a loud cheer was given, and it rushed on into the marshy ground in the angle. Its front covered little more than the line of my own brigade of less than a thousand men; but line followed line until the space enclosed in the old salient became a mass of writhing humanity upon which our artillery and musketry played with cruel effect. . . . On reaching the trenches I found the men in fine spirits, laughing and talking as they fired. Then, too, I could see more plainly the terrible havoc made in the ranks of the assaulting column. I had seen the dreadful carnage in front of Marye's Hill at Fredericksburg, and on the old railroad cut which Jackson's men held at Second Manassas, but I had seen nothing to exceed this. It was not war, it was murder. When the fight ended more than a thousand men lay in front of our works, either killed or too badly wounded to leave the field. The loss of my command was fifteen or twenty, mostly wounded about the head or shoulders, myself among the number. . . . The result of the action. in the center, which has been described, presents a fair picture of the result along the line-a grand advance, a desperate struggle, a bloody and crushing repulse.
COLD HARBOR, June 5, 1864.
MAJOR GENERAL HALLECK,
Chief of staff of the Army,
. . . I now find, after over thirty days of trial, the enemy deems it of the first importance to run no risk with the armies they now have. They act purely on the defensive, behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive immediately in front of them, and where, in case of repulse, they can instantly retire behind them.
U. S. GRANT,
This dispatch must have been a great surprise to Lincoln, because Grant says in his “Memoirs” that “ Lee's army was the first great object—with the capture of his army Richmond would necessarily follow.” Lincoln had also declared that Lee's army was the “true objective.” Lee's army was Grant's “true objective,” and, strange to say, the “true objective” did not come out of its breastworks to attack Grant in his. Lincoln probably thought that as Grant had started out in quest of the “true objective” and had all the advantage in initiative and everything else, and an army twice as large as the “true objective,” he would not expect any favors of the “true objective.” That he was in his breastworks is proven by the following excerpt from his memoirs:
It may be as well here as elsewhere to state two things connected with all the movements of the Army of the Potomac; first, in every change of position, or halt for the night, whether confronting the enemy or not, the moment arms were stacked the men intrenched! themselves. . . . It was wonderful how quickly they could in this way construct defenses of considerable strength. . . .
June 3, 1864, 12.30 p.m.
MAJOR GENERAL MEADE,
Commanding A. P.
The opinion of corps commanders not being sanquine of success in case an assault is ordered, you may direct a suspension of farther advance for the present. Hold our most advanced positions and strengthen them. Whilst on the defensive our line may be contracted from the right if practicable. . . .
Wright and Hancock should be ready to assault in case the enemy should break through General Smith's lines, and all should be ready to resist an assault.
U. S. GRANT,
On the 26th of May Lee's army was “whipped,” and would not fight out of its intrenchments; and on the 3d of June, eight days later, Grant is on the defensive behind breastworks against that army. So it looks very much as if the dispatch of the 26th of May was as applicable to his own army as to Lee's.
Grant was now in an awkward position, but the James river that saved McClellan from destruction in 1862 offered him the means of escape and an opportunity to capture Petersburg.
On the 12th he commenced the movement and on the 16th had crossed the James river.
On the 14th of June he telegraphed to Halleck:
The enemy show no signs yet of having brought troops to the south side of Richmond. I will have Petersburg secured, if possible, before they get there in much force. . . .
Some of Grant's admirers say that he outgeneraled Lee in getting away and across the river. It was a very easy thing to do. The country in Grant's rear and the James river were in his possession. The country was flat and wooded, and there was no possible way for Lee to know that he was moving on Petersburg. The first intimation came from Beauregard, who was in command at Petersburg; but even then Lee could not take the chances. He had to be certain that the move across the river was a bona fide one before he could uncover Richmond on the north side. Grant's army was large enough to leave a strong rear-guard in his elaborate fortifications, so that there was no appearance of change on Lee's front until the movement was completed. Grant's “fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer” came to an inglorious end at Cold Harbor before the summer had fairly commenced.
It is said that the hurling of his men against Lee in chosen and fortified positions was unnecessary, as the roads in number and in direction lent themselves to the operation of turning either flank of the Confederate army. . . .
“. . . To assault all along the line,” writes General Walker, “as was so often done in the summer of 1864, is the very abdication of leadership.” See “Life of General Hancock.”
. . . The loss of Grant from May 4 to June 12 in the campaign from the Rapidan to the James was 54,929, a number nearly equal to Lee's whole army at the commencement of the Union advance; that of the Confederates is not known, but it was certainly very much less. Nor do the bare figures tell the whole story. Of this enormous loss the flower of the Army of the Potomac contributed a disproportionate share. Fighting against such odds of position and strategy, the high-spirited and capable officers were in the thick of danger, and of the rank and file the veterans were always at the front; they were the forlorn hope. The bounty jumpers and mercenaries skulked to the rear. The morale of the soldiers was much lower than on the day when, in high spirits, they had crossed the Rapidan. The confidence in Grant of many of the officers and of most of the men had been shaken. In the judgment of many military critics, Grant had not been equal to his opportunities, had not made the best use of his advantages, and had secured no gain commensurate with his loss.
H. Thurston Peck, in his “Twenty years of the Republic,” says:
Placed at the head of the Army of the Potomac, he fought the useless and bloody battle of the Wilderness, that name of horror, from which he was forced back with a loss of 20,000 men. At Spottsylvania he made three desperate frontal attacks upon a strongly fortified position, with no result except a lavish loss of life. Then came the crowning blunder of Cold Harbor, when again the Confederates' intrenchments were assaulted from the front, and when within an hour 12,000 Union soldiers fell. In was here that Grant, unmoved by the frightful loss of life, ordered a third charge, and the army remained motionless, refusing to obey. Even Grant himself in after years spoke of Cold Harbor with remorse. In this one campaign, which earned for him the title of “The Butcher,” he lost more men than Lee had in his entire army. . . .
The lines at Petersburg were held by Beauregard with 2500 men. On the 15th Grant's advance, 16,000 strong, came up at 9 a.m., but did not attack until 7 p.m. Beauregard lost about one and a half miles of intrenchments and sixteen guns. Hancock came up at night. During the night Beauregard built a temporary line, throwing out the part that had been captured. The next morning he had 14,000 men against Hancock's 48,000. Hancock captured four of Beauregard's redans. On the 17th he captured another redan, four guns, and 600 prisoners, and the Confederates recaptured one redan and 1000 prisoners. The Fifth corps and one division of the Sixth now came up. At night Beauregard withdrew to a line that had been in preparation forty-eight hours. At 4 a.m. on the 18th the Second, Fifth, and Ninth corps attacked, with the Sixth in reserve. The whole Army of the Potomac was up, while reinforcements on the way to Beauregard were only 12,000 and were from three to five hours away. Meade's orders were to “assault by all the corps with their whole force, and at all hazards and as soon as possible.”
. . . Grant and Meade were now on the ground, and on June 16, 17, and 18 ordered successive assaults, which failed to take Petersburg, and resulted in a loss of about 10,000 men. Owing to the much greater number of the Union soldiers, the attempt on the first two days was feasible; but the work, according to one of Grant's staff, was not “equal to our previous fighting, owing to our heavy loss in superior officers.”. . .
On the 19th Grant ordered the army to rest under cover.
The Army of the Potomac was worn out. The continual fighting for forty-five days at a disadvantage and without success, and the frequent marches by night, had exhausted and disheartened the men. . . . Indeed, a reconstruction and reorganization of the Army were necessary; these were made during the many weeks of inaction from June 18 to the spring of 1865, covered by the siege of Petersburg, which now commenced. . . .
Senator Grimes wrote:
June 19. Grant's campaign is regarded by military critics as being thus far a failure. He has lost a vast number of men, and is compelled to abandon his attempt to capture Richmond on the North side and cross the James river. The question is asked significantly, “Why did he not take his army south of the James river at once, and thus save seventy-five thousand men?”
On the 21st Grant sent the Second and the Sixth corps to extend his left, and Wilson, with 6000 cavalry, to destroy the Weldon, and to cut the Southside and Danville railroads. Lee attacked and defeated the two corps, and captured 1740 prisoners, four guns, a large quantity of small arms, and eight flags. Wilson fared still worse. His trains were fired and abandoned and his artillery and a large number of prisoners captured. He was glad to get back to the Union lines, with the remnant of his command hotly pursued by the Confederate cavalry.
On the 2d of July Congress passed a resolution requesting the President to appoint a day of “humiliation and prayer,” that the people may “confess and repent of their manifold sins, implore the compassion and forgiveness of the Almighty, that, if consistent with His will, the existing rebellion may be suppressed,” and “implore Him as the Supreme Ruler of the world not to destroy us as a people.” The President “cordially” concurred, and the first Thursday in August was the appointed day.
From “Chattanooga to Petersburg,” by General “Baldy” Smith:
July 10. In a confidential conversation with General Grant I tried to show him the blunders of the late campaign of the Army of the Potomac, and the terrible waste of life that had resulted from what I considered a want of generalship in its present commander. Among other instances, I referred to the fearful slaughter at Cold Harbor on the 3d of June. General Grant went into the discussion, defending General Meade stoutly, but finally acknowledged, to use his own words, “that there had been a butchery at Cold Harbor, but that he had said nothing about it because it could do no good.”
Hardly any one now, I think, would speak of this campaign and its blunders as Meade's; they were Grant's. Neither is it clear why Smith, July 10, 1864, should have imputed the responsibility for them to Meade, unless he was hitting Grant over Meade's shoulders.
Lee's ruling passion was strong in death, and so he ordered Early to threaten Washington.
If Early had profited by the moment of constemation, he could have gone into Washington early on July 11. He says there were only 20,400 men in the defenses, nearly all raw troops.
If Early had been alone, no doubt he could have gone in and put up at Willard's. But as he had a tired army strung out on the roads it would have taken time to change from the line of march to the line of battle, and two divisions of the Sixth corps arrived from City Point at noon, long before Early could have made his disposition for attack.
Lee's tangible reason for sending Early to threaten Washington was to induce Grant to repeat Cold Harbor. He said: “It is so repugnant to Grant's principles and practice to send troops from him that I had hoped, before resorting to it, he would have preferred attacking me.”
Another Cold Harbor at that time might have resulted in the triumph of the peace party, and Lee was mindful of the necessity of doing anything “honorable to aid that party.”
The fact is that Early had no thought of taking Washington, and made no disposition of his forces with that intention, nor was Washington at that or any other time in danger of capture.
Despondency and discouragement are words which portray the state of feeling at the North during the month of July, 1864, and the closer one's knowledge of affairs the gloomier was his view; but the salient facts put into every one's mind the pertinent question. Who shall revive the withered hopes that bloomed on the opening of Grant's campaign? See New York World, July 12. Yet this journal was fair in its treatment of Grant.
Referring to Grant's dispatch to Sherman in which he said, “I shall make a desperate effort to get a position which will hold the enemy without the necessity of so many men,” Lincoln telegraphed to Grant on the 17th of July: “Pressed as we are, by lapse of time, I am glad to hear you say this; and yet I do hope you may find a way that the effort shall not be desperate in the loss of men.”
The next day he called for 500,000 men, and ordered a draft after September 5 for the unfilled quotas.
In the latter part of July, Lieut. Col. Henry Pleasants, of the 48th Pennsylvania regiment, conceived the idea of blowing up a Confederate salient that was only about 500 feet from his position. By the 23d his mine was completed and charged with 8000 pounds of powder. On the 28th Grant sent Hancock and Sherman with the second corps and two divisions of cavalry to the north of the river to cause Lee to send troops to oppose them. Hancock had orders to return secretly in the night by the 29th.
The mine was exploded on the morning of the 30th. The Confederate line was blown up, leaving a hole, or crater as it is called, 135 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. Two hundred Confederates were killed. Burnside's troops were massed immediately in front of the crater, then the Ninth and the Eighteenth corps; Hancock with the Second corps was to support the attack. The Confederate force holding the lines at Petersburg was 13,000, while Grant had 65,000 for the assault. The assault was led by Ledlie's division of the Ninth corps, followed by Ferrero's negro division. Some idea of the demoralization Grant had wrought in the Army of the Potomac may be had from the following receipts from articles written by soldiers of Ledlie's division who were in the crater:
George L. Kilmer, of the Ninth corps, in the Century, September, 1887, says:
First, there was a feeling that the soldiers had been pushed persistently into slaughter pens from the Wilderness down, and needlessly sacrificed by such methods. Second, there was a determination to rebel against further slapdash assaults. . . .
Major William H. Powell, of the Ninth corps, in the Century, September, 1887:
. . . With the notable exception of Gen. Robert B. Potter, not a division commander was in the crater or connecting lines, nor was there a corps commander on the immediate scene of action. . . .
There was no means of getting food or water to them (the men), for which they were suffering. The midsummer sun shone upon their heads until waves of moisture produced by the exhalations from this mass slowly arose in perceptible horizontal layers; wounded men died there begging piteously for a drink of water, a drop of which was not to be had, for the men had long since drained their canteens. Soldiers extended their tongues to dampen their parched lips until they seemed to hang from their mouths like those of thirsty dogs, and yet they were kept waiting in those almost boiling cauldrons, suffering with thirst and worse, and with their all night preparations and their fearful morning work. . . .
Previous to this last movement I had again left the crater and gone to General Ledlie, and had urged him to try to have something done to the right and left of the crater, saying that every man who got into the trenches to the right or left of it used them as a means of escape to the crater, and the enemy was re-occupying them as fast as our men left. All the satisfaction I received was an order to go back and tell the brigade commanders to get their men out and press forward to Cemetery Hill. This talk and these orders, coming from a commander sitting in a bomb-proof inside the Union lines was disgusting. . . .
George L. Kilmer says:
. . . Then the colored troops broke and scattered, and pandemonium reigned. The bravest lost heart, and the men who distrusted the negroes vented their feelings freely. Some colored men came into the crater, and there they found worse fate than death in the charges. It was believed among the whites that the enemy would give no quarter to negroes or to the whites taken with them, and so to be shut up with blacks in the crater was equal to a doom of death. . . .
Major Powell says:
. . . It was now evident that the enemy did not fear a demonstration from any other quarter, as they began to collect troops for a decisive assault. On observing this, I left the crater and reported to General Ledlie, whom I found seated in a bomb-proof with General Ferrero, that some means ought to be devised for withdrawing the mass of men from the crater, without exposing them to the terrible fire which was kept up by the enemy; that if some picks and shovels could be found, the men in an hour could open a covered way by which they could be withdrawn; that the enemy was making every preparation for a determined assault on the crater, and, disorganized as the troops were, they could make no permanent resistance. Not one implement of any kind could be found; instead, the proposition was received with disfavor.
About 2 p.m. the Confederates charged and put an end to the suffering. They found nearly 2000 men alive and dead in the crater.
The military court censured Ledlie, Burnside, Wilcox, Ferrero, and Colonel Bliss, and expressed their judgment to the effect that in the absence of the commanding general the whole force should have been under the command of one officer.
But the commanding general was not absent. At 10 a.m. Grant telegraphed to Halleck that he was just from the front. He had left his cowardly generals in bomb-proofs and his men in the crater, and ridden leisurely to his comfortable headquarters at City Point.
There is little or no evidence, so far as I know, exhibiting the dejection of Grant at the failure of the high hopes and expectations which filled his soul when he crossed the Rapidan. His sturdy disposition and strong will, the determination that he must succeed, prevented probably the admission to himself of failure, and even if they had not, his stolid countenance would have concealed it. Yet two circumstances seem to indicate that the bitterness of disappointment was his share. In was commonly believed in the army that his misfortunes had driven him again to drink, and on this account and others, Butler, with crafty method, acquired a hold on him which prevented him from acting for the best interests of the service.
. . . The intense gloom displayed itself in two forms, in eagerness for peace and in dissatisfaction with Lincoln. “I know,” wrote Greeley to Lincoln, August 9, “that nine-tenths of the American people, North and South, are anxious for peace, peace on almost any terms, and utterly sick of human slaughter and devastation. . . . I beg you, implore you, to inaugurate or invite proposals for peace forthwith. And in case peace cannot now be made, consent to an armistice for one year, each party to retain unmolested all it now holds, but the rebel ports to be opened. Meantime let a national convention be held, and there will surely be no more war at all events.”
. . . Thomas A. Scott, who was always ready to help efficiently the government in a time of trouble, and who now offered the services of himself and his railroad, telegraphed from Philadelphia to Stanton: “The apathy in the public mind is fearful. In might well be doubted whether men in sufficient numbers and money in a sufficient amount would be forthcoming to complete the work of conquering the South.”
Among many absurdities in Grant's “Memoirs” is the following:
Criticism has been made by writers on the campaign from the Rapidan to the James river that all the loss of life could have been obviated by moving the army there on transports. Richmond was fortified and intrenched so perfectly that one man inside to defend was more than equal to five outside besieging or assaulting. To get possession of Lee's army was the first great object. With the capture of his army, Richmond would necessarily follow. It was better to fight him outside of his stronghold than in it. If the Army of the Potomac had been moved bodily to the James river by water, Lee could have moved a part of his forces back to Richmond, called Beauregard from the South to reinforce it, and with the balance moved on to Washington. Then, too, I ordered a move, simultaneously with that of the Army of the Potomac, up the James river by a formidable army already collected at the mouth of the river. . . .
Lee's strategy all through the war was designed to keep his army out of “his stronghold,” because he knew he did not have men enough, and could not get supplies enough, to hold it.
McClellan moved his army by water to the White House on the Pamunkey river in 1862, and no attempt to take Washington was made. At his best Lee never attempted to take Washington, for it, too, was fortified, and stronger than Richmond ever was. It is not likely he would have attempted it when the Confederacy was on its last legs and a “formidable army moving up the James river.”
Grant had three alternatives. First, he could trans-port his army to City Point by water. Second, he could march by his left flank to that point, avoiding battle unless attacked, in which event he would have had what he so much desired,—the enemy in the open. Third, he could move directly on Lee's army, with his object to get possession of it and end the war. He chose the third alternative. He made no mistake. It was sound military sense, for there was no reason to suppose that the Army of Northern Virginia in its worn and tattered condition could longer resist the magnificent Army of the Potomac, double its strength in numbers. This, then, was Grant's real reason for his direct march on Lee. He thought, and had every reason to think, he could beat Lee in a pitched battle and end the war.
He admits his disappointment. He admits that he expected “to get possession of Lee's army” in the following dispatch:
COLD HARBOR, June 5, 1864.
MAJOR GENERAL HALLECK,
Chief of Staff of the Army.
. . . Without a greater sacrifice of human life than I am willing to make, all cannot be accomplished that I had designed. . . .
U. S. GRANT,
Grant had hoped to destroy or defeat totally Lee's army north of Richmond, and, failing to do either, had decided to transfer his troops to the south of the James, and from that quarter besiege the Confederates in their capital. . . .
When Grant crossed the Rapidan he expected to gain a decisive victory and end the war. In that he made a most disastrous failure, so when he comes to write his report he says: “Second, to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our common country to the constitution and the laws of the land.”
It will be seen that he substitutes for the original object, the “capture of Lee's army,” attrition, which had become a condition in his army at any rate before it was a theory in his reports.
The campaign of 1864 was the last of Lee's campaigns, the end of the war, and of his career.
Steam and electricity had accelerated military operations, and consequently all modern wars have been of short duration; but Lee in his last campaign, though overwhelmed with numbers and resources, succeeded in prolonging the war another year, making it the longest of modem wars.
Any one who studies the campaign of 1864 will be puzzled. He will not know whether to pronounce Lee the greatest general that ever lived, or Grant the poorest.
Lee's staff officers, Fitz Lee, and other friends of Lee wrote books in which they charged Longstreet with being slow at Gettysburg and in the Wilderness; so when Longstreet came to write his book he was not content to confine himself to a refutation of these charges, but furiously assailed their authors and General Lee himself. His criticisms of Lee are intemperate and in some cases ridiculous; but they and the stupidity of the books of Lee's staff officers and generals, together with the fact that he failed to conquer Confederate independence in the Maryland or Pennsylvania campaign, cause historians to form an estimate of him of which the following quotation from Rhodes is a fair example:
His victories on his own soil were extraordinary; but if we compare his campaigns of invasion with those bf Napoleon, we shall see how far he fell short when he undertook operations in an unfriendly country, although the troops that followed him were in fighting qualities unsurpassed. “Except in equipment,” writes General Alexander, “I think a better army, better nerved up to its work, never marched upon a battle-field.” With such soldiers, if Lee had been as great a general as Napoleon, Gettysburg had been an Austerlitz, Washington and the Union had fallen. . . .
Creasy, in his “Decisive Battles of the World,” says:
. . . The strength of the army under the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo was 49,608 infantry, 12,402 cavalry, and 5645 artillerymen with 156 guns. But of this total of 67,655 men scarcely 24,000 were British, a circumstance of very serious importance, if Napoleon's own estimate of the relative value of the troops of different nations is to be taken. In the Emperor's own words, speaking of this campaign: “A French soldier would not be equal to more than one English soldier, but he would not be afraid to meet two Dutchmen, Prussians, or soldiers of the Confederation.” There were about 6000 men of the old German Legion with the Duke; these were veteran troops, and of good quality. Of the rest of the army the Hanoverians and Brunswickers proved themselves worthy of confidence and praise. But the Nassauers, Dutch, and Belgians were almost worthless; and not a few of them were justly suspected of a strong wish to fight, if they fought at all, under the French eagles rather than against them. . . .
Napoleon's army at Waterloo consisted of 48,950 infantry, 15,765 cavalry, 7232 artillerymen, being a total of 71,947 men, and 246 guns. They were the flower of the National forces of France; and of all the numerous gallant armies which that martial land has poured forth, never was one braver, or better disciplined, or better led than the host that took up its position at Waterloo on the morning of the 18th of June, 1815. . . .
Napoleon, according to his own statement, had the advantage over Wellington in numbers, while Lee was at least 22,200 men weaker than Meade. Napoleon's arms, ammunition, equipment, etc., were fully equal to or superior to Wellington's, as France was the great military nation of the age, while Lee's were very much inferior to Meade's. Meade's position at Gettysburg was far stronger than Wellington's at Waterloo. Napoleon's line of communication was safe; Lee's in imminent peril. So that before arriving at the conclusion that had Lee been a Napoleon, “Gettysburg had been an Austerlitz, Washington and the Union had fallen,” it would be well to inquire why Napoleon did not make an Austerlitz of Waterloo.
Napoleon lost his army and himself. His retreat was the most disgraceful and disastrous on record.
Of it Colonel Lemonnier-Delaposse says:
What a hideous spectacle! The mountain torrent, that uproots and whirls along with it every momentary obstacle, is a feeble image of that heap of men, of horses, of equipages, rushing one upon another; gathering before the least obstacle which dams up their way for a few seconds, only to form a mass which overthrows everything in the path which it forces for itself. Woe to him whose footing failed in that deluge! He was crushed, trampled to death! . . .
We drew near Beaumont, when suddenly a regiment of horse was seen debouching from a wood on our left. The column that we followed shouted out, “The Prussians! The Prussians!” and galloped off in utter disorder. The troops that thus alarmed them were not a tenth part of their number, and were in reality our own 8th Hussars, who wore green uniforms. But the panic had been brought even this far from the battle-field and the disorganized column galloped into Beaumont, which was already crowded with our infantry. . . .
Being still anxious to procure some food for the general and ourselves, even if it were but a loaf of ammunition bread, I left the house and rode into the town. I saw pillage going on in every direction; open caissons, stripped and half broken, blocked up the streets. The pavement was covered with plundered and torn baggage. Pillagers and runaways, such were all the comrades I met with. Disgusted at them, I strove, sword in hand, to stop one of the plunderers; but more active than I, he gave me a bayonet stab in my left arm, in which I fortunately caught his thrust, which had been aimed full at my body. He disappeared among the crowd through which I could not force my horse. My spirit of discipline had made me forget that in such circumstances the soldier is a mere wild beast. But to be wounded by a fellow countryman after having passed unharmed through all the perils of Quatre Bras and Waterloo! This did seem hard indeed. . . .
Lee stood in front of Meade all day on the 4th, and then retreated slowly to the Potomac, where he confronted him until the 13th.
Lee never expected to capture Washington and conquer Confederate independence. We have it in his own words:
HEADQUARTERS ORANGE COUNTY,
February 3, 1864.
HIS EXCELLENCY JEFFERSON DAVIS,
President Confederate States.
MR. PRESIDENT: The approach of spring causes me to consider with great anxiety the probable action of the enemy's army and the possible operations of ours in the ensuing campaign. If we could take the initiative and fall upon them unexpectedly, we might derange their plans and embarrass them the whole summer. . . . If I could draw Longstreet secretly and rapidly to me, I might succeed in forcing General Meade back to Washington, and exciting sufficient apprehension at least for their position to weaken any movement against ours. . . . We are not in condition, and never have been, in my opinion, to invade the enemy's country with a prospect of permanent benefit. But we can alarm and embarrass him to some extent, and thus prevent him from undertaking anything of magnitude against us. . . .
I am, with great respect, Your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.
This letter also shows that if Lee had been strong enough he would have repeated his strategy of 1862 and 1863, and would have prolonged the war another year.
. . . Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally dose would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation. . . .
“Frederick the Great,” says Carlyle, “always got to know his man, after fighting him a month or two, and took liberties with him or did not take them accordingly.” The same thing has been said of Lee, but without reason. Lee took liberties with Lincoln's generals before he had fought them a month or two, because he knew that they carried Washington, “the old man of the sea,” on their backs.
Rhodes, in speaking of Lee's operations against Pope, says: “He devised a plan contrary, the military critics say, ‘to the recognized principles of strategy’.’ Macaulay expresses the same idea regarding Peterborough's generalship in Spain.
Sir Edward Hamley says:
Nothing is more common than to find in writings on military matters reference to the “rules of war,” and assertions such as that some general “violated every principle of war,” or that some other general owed his success to “knowing when to dispense with the rules of war.” It would be difficult to say what these rules are, or in what code they are embodied. . .ـ. Jomini expresses virtually the same view.
. . . Clausewitz has declared that the theory of the art of war is valuable just in so far as it assists to guide a man through the vast labyrinth of military experience, and to prepare his mind to be ready to act for itself under the emergencies of actual war; but he adds, it must renounce all pretensions to accompany him on to the field of battle. . . .
From all of which it would appear that there are no “rules of war” nor “recognized principles of strategy,” and that even the theory of the art of war should be left at home, and brains and energy substituted.
Lee's apparent recklessness and his disregard of the “rules of war” and “recognized principles of strategy” are easily accounted for.
He realized from the first that the only hope of success was in prolonging the war, and that the only way to prolong it was to threaten Washington.
If he had lost Richmond, he could not have threatened Washington. Not only that, but the Army of the Potomac would have been relieved of the defense of Washington, and would have been free to operate against the armies in the South.
Then, too, Lee's army, deprived of the support of Richmond and Virginia, would have grown weaker every day. Therefore, his whole object during the entire war was to keep the Army of the Potomac away from Richmond; and in doing that he had to resort to strategy which appeared reckless in the extreme, but which was nevertheless absolutely necessary.
Now, if we consider in addition his natural disposition, we can easily account for all his reckless strategy and tactics.
Longstreet says of it:
As a commander he was much of the Wellington “up and at ’em” style. He found it hard, the enemy in sight, to withhold his blows. . . . When the hunt was up, his combativeness was overruling.
The absurd fear that he would capture Washington was his main stay. But for it the war would have been fought on other lines. Some of the scares of the Washington authorities were really ludicrous.
In General Hooker's testimony on the conduct of the war he says:
I may here state that while at Fairfax Court House my cavalry was reinforced by that of Major General Stahel. The latter numbered 6100 sabres, and had been engaged in picketing a line from Occoguan river to Goose creek. This line was concentric to, and a portion of it within, the line held by my army.
The force opposed to them was Mosby's guerillas, numbering about 200 (Mosby says 30); and, if the reports of the newspapers were to be believed, this whole party was killed two or three times during the winter.
From the time I took command of the Army of the Potomac there was no evidence that any force of the enemy, other than that above named, was within one hundred miles of Washington; and yet the planks on the chain bridge were taken up at night during the greater part of the winter and spring.
Mosby was perched in the mountains, and Washington was as scared of him as an old hen would have been had he been a chicken hawk.
But the old Merrimac gave them the scare of their lives.
. . . The next morning, in Washington, Seward, Chase, Stanton, and Wells hastened to the White House to confer with the President. . . . Stanton was especially excited. “I have no doubt,” he said, “that the monster is at this moment on her way to Washington.” Looking out of the window, which commanded a view of the Potomac for many miles, he continued, “Not unlikely we shall have from one of her guns a shell or cannon ball in the White House before we leave this room.” . . .
. . . Niebuhr, after referring to the military “blunders” of Mithridates, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Pyrrhus, and Hannibal, uses these remarkable words: “The Duke of Wellington is, I believe, the only general in whose conduct of war we cannot discover any important mistakes.” . . .
Artemus Ward, in explaining the failure of an enterprise, said,: “I tried to do too much—and did it.” So it was with Mithridates, Frederick, Napoleon, Pyrrhus, Hannibal, and Lee. In Lee's Maryland campaign he might have been content to let Antietam go. The capture of Harper's Ferry alone would have been a splendid climax of the glorious campaign which had raised the siege of Richmond, driven Pope into Washington, and thrown McClellan's splendid army from the James river to Maryland, and prolonged the war a year. The Gettysburg campaign commenced with the miracle of Chancellorsville, followed by the miracle of throwing Hooker's army from Fredericksburg to Pennsylvania. It prolonged the war another year, and Lee could have contented himself with the victory of the first day as the grand climax of the campaign.
Jackson was probably as pugnacious as Lee, but he had the will power to suppress his inclinations.
God blessed our arms with victory at McDowell yesterday.
Through the blessing of an ever kind Providence I passed Strasburg before the Federal armies under General Shields and Fremont effected the contemplated junction in my rear.
Jackson could thank God for helping him run away as heartily as for a victory.
Creasy says, speaking of Napoleon's opinion of Hannibal:
. . . Napoleon said at St. Helena that Caesar was a great soldier, but he had Roman veterans against the barbarian Gauls; Alexander was a great soldier, but he conquered the Persian hordes with the trained troops of Greece; while Hannibal created an army from heterogeneous material, and led it successfully against the trained veterans of Rome. He therefore considered Hannibal the greatest military genius of ancient times. He places Frederick the Great first in rank of modem generals, because he held out for seven years against the armies of Austria, Russia, France, and Sweden. It will be seen that Napoleon formed his estimate of soldiers largely on the odds against them, rather than on success in the abstract. . . .
It is doubtful if any general ever fought under such disadvantages as Lee. Always inferior in numbers, arms, ammunition, supplies of subsistence and transportation, he had six rivers on his flank all in possession of the enemy's powerful navy, which accomplished more in the subjugation of the Confederacy than did the armies. But for the James river McClellan's army would have been destroyed in 1862; and had there been no James, Pamunkey, and York rivers, and no Chesapeake bay, Grant would have found himself in an awkward position in 1864.
After Gettysburg, in September, Longstreet was ordered to Tennessee. He wrote to Lee as follows:
If I did not think our move a necessary one, my regrets at leaving you would be distressing to me, as it seems to be with the officers and men of my command. Believing it to be necessary, I hope to accept it and my other personal inconveniences cheerfully and hopefully. All that we have to be proud of has been accomplished under your eye and under your orders. Our affections for you are stronger, if it is possible for them to be stronger, than our admiration for you.
This was written of course before Longstreet wrote his book, and it would be better for his reputation if he had never written anything else.
From Harper's Weekly:
As we have several times pointed out, there was no a priori ground for supposing that Mr. Roosevelt, being the son of a Southern woman, would share the antipathy with which Southerners used to be regarded by some of the Northern abolitionists; while, as a matter of fact, he has made no secret of his admiration for the incomparable gallantry displayed by the Confederates in their struggle for separate political existence. He has recorded in print his conviction that ROBERT E. LEE was the greatest military genius ever produced by the English-speaking race. In other words, the President has ranked the Confederate commander-in-chief above Cromwell, Marlborough, and Wellington, whom he would place in the same category with Grant. The circumstance that Grant beat Lee in the end no more proves the former to have been the greater general than the superiority of Scipio Africanus to Hannibal is shown by the outcome of the battle of Zama, or than that of Wellington to Napoleon is attested by the latter's defeat at Waterloo.
“Twice,” says Arnold, “has there been witnessed the struggle of the highest individual genius against the resources and institutions of a great nation; and in both cases the nation has been victorious. For seventeen years Hamibal strove against Rome; for sixteen years Napoleon strove against England; the efforts of the first ended at Zama, those of the second at Waterloo.”
Now we may add a third. Lee strove against the United States, and his effort ended at Appomattox. Hannibal, Napoleaon, and Lee, the greatest military geniuses, all suffered defeat in the end, because even genius itself is not proof against main strength and awkwardness.
CITY POINT was an ideal base. At the confluence of the James and the Appomattox, just below Richmond and Petersburg,—a harbor which accommodated Grant's fleet, a forest of masts,—within a few hours of Fortress Monroe, Baltimore, Washington, and New York, it was, with all navigable waters in possession of the United States navy, absolutely safe against a power with no navy. But its superlative preeminence lay in the fact that it was within easy reach of the arteries, the railroads, that were vital to Lee's army and Richmond.
Nicolay and Hay say:
. . . Grant was every day pushing his formidable left wing nearer the only roads by which Lee could escape; Thomas was threatening the Confederate communication with Tennessee; Sheridan was moving for the last time up the Valley of the Shenandoah to abolish Early; while from the South the redoubtable column of Sherman,—the men who had taken Vicksburg, who had scaled the heights of Chattanooga, and having marched through Georgia had left Savannah loyal and Charleston evacuated,—were moving Northward with the steady pace and irresistible progress of a tragic fate. . . .
As Grant extended his left wing Lee extended his right until his “stronghold,” as Grant called it, was thirty miles long and across two rivers, and so weak that in places in the woods where it could not be seen it was held with a picket line.
Nicolay and Hay say of the Army of the Potomac:
. . . It was a great army; it was the result of all the power and wisdom of the Government . . .
To oppose this “great army” Lee had about 50,000 men, and they were deserting by the hundred every night, partly because of hunger, but more generally be-cause their homes in the South were now in the enemy's lines, and they were anxious as to the fate of their families at the hands of the negroes and such barbarians as Sherman.
An idea of the condition of Lee's army may be had from the following correspondence:
ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
September 2, 1864.
HIS EXCELLENCY JEFFERSON DAVIS,
President Confederate States.
As matters now stand we have no troops available to meet movements of the enemy, or strike when opportunity presents, without taking them from the trenches and exposing some point. The enemy's position enables him to move his troops to the right or left without our knowledge until he has reached the point at which he aims, and we are then compelled to hurry our men to meet him, incurring the risk of being too late to check his progress, and the additional risk of the advantage he may derive from their absence. This was fully illustrated in the late demonstration north of the James river, which called troops from our line there, who, if present, might have prevented the occupation of the Weldon railroad. These rapid and distant movements also fatigue and exhaust our men, greatly impairing their efficiency in battle. . . . Our ranks are constantly diminishing by battle and disease, and few recruits are received. The consequences are inevitable, and I feel confident that the time has come when no man capable of bearing arms should be excused.
R. E. LEE,
F. G. Ruffin, Subsistence Department, C. S. A., says:
. . . On the 5th of December, 1864, I brought the condition of things to the attention of the Secretary of War, appending a statement of the subsistence on hand, which showed that we had nine days' rations for General Lee's army. I quoted General Lee's letter to the commissary general, that day received, in which he stated his men were deserting on account of short rations. But no action was taken. On December 14, nine days afterward, General Lee telegraphed to Mr. Davis that his army was without meat. Fortunately disaster was momentarily averted by the timely arrival of supplies at Wilmington.
General Lee sent the following telegram to the Secretary of War, the Hon. James A. Seddon:
ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
January I I, 1865.
There is nothing within reach of this army to be impressed. The country is swept clean. Our only reliance is on the railroad. We have but two days' supplies. . . .
R. E. LEE,
On the 15th of January a combined naval and land force captured Force Fisher and closed the port of Wilmington. For nearly three years after all other ports were dosed an occasional blockade runner, loaded with cotton, got away from Wilmington, and one occasionally got in with supplies of subsistence, arms, and munitions of war. The loss of Wilmington was a greater disaster than the loss of Vicksburg or Atlanta, for, little as the commerce was, it was vital to the Confederacy.
General Lee issued the following circular:
ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
January 25, 1865.
To arm and equip an additional force of cavalry then in need of carbines, revolvers, pistols, saddles, and other accouterments of mounted men. . . . I therefore urge all persons not in the service to deliver promptly to some of the officers designated below such arms and equipment (especially those suitable for cavalry) as they have, and to report to those officers the names of such persons as neglect to surrender those in their possession. . . .
R. E. LEE,
. . . It was my belief that while the enemy could more recruits, they were losing at least a regiment taking it throughout the entire army, by desertions alone. Then by casualties of war, sickness, and other natural causes their losses were much heavier. It was a mere question of arithmetic to calculate how long they could hold out while that rate of depletion was going on. Of course long before their army would be thus reduced to nothing, the army which we had in the field would have been able to capture theirs. . . .
Notwithstanding Grant was assured of success in the spring, he was anxious for immediate peace and it was through his influence that Lincoln came to Fortress Monroe to meet the Confederate Commission in the Hampton Roads Conference.
From the message, in cipher, of President Lincoln to the House of Representatives on the Hampton Roads Conference:
The following telegram, received at Washington at 4.25 a.m., February 2, 1865, from City Point, Va., February 1, 1865:To Hon. E. M. Stanton,
Secretary of War.
Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially, to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and Union. I have not felt at liberty to express even views of my own, or to account for my reticence. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression to any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and I do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this dispatch, if not all three now within our lines. . . .
U. S. GRANT,
This dispatch of General Grant changed my purpose, and accordingly I telegraphed to him and the Secretary of War as follows:
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON,
February 2, 1865.
To LIEUTENANT GENERAL GRANT,
City Point, Va.
Say to the gentlemen that I will meet them personally at Fortress Monroe as soon as I can get there. (Sent in cipher 9 a.m.)
Grant was tired of “the job.” Unlike Lee, he never had any love for a military life. Finance was more congenial, but he was not as lucky in Wall street as he had been in the field.
The Hampton Roads conference was the result of two visits of Mr. Francis P. Blair, the “Warwick” of the Republican party, to Richmond. His object was to oppose the French occupation of Mexico, and in that way end the Lincoln war. While disclaiming any authority, he gave Mr. Davis to understand that the Washington Government was in accord with his plan. Accordingly, Judge Campbell, Mr. Stephens, and Mr. Hunter were designated to attend the conference, which amounted to nothing.
. . . He (Lincoln) persisted in asserting that he could not enter into any agreement upon this subject, nor upon any other matters of that sort, with parties in arms against the Government. Mr. Hunter interposed, and, in illustration of the propriety of the Executive entering into agreements with persons in arms against the acknowledged rightful authority referred to, repeated instances of this character between Charles I, of England, and the people in arms against him. Mr. Lincoln in reply to this said: “I do not profess to be posted in history. On all such matters I will turn you over to Seward. All I distinctly remember about the case of Charles I is that he lost his head in the end.”
Mr. Davis was very much disappointed, and thought that Mr. Lincoln had been influenced by the fall of Fort Fisher.
When Stephens returned from the Hampton Roads conference Davis called a public meeting at the African church. Stephens says of Davis's speech:
The occasion and the effect of his speech, as well as the circumstances under which it was made, caused the minds of not a few to revert to like appeals by Rienzi and Demosthenes. While it was well calculated to awaken associations and suggest comparisons of that sort, it, nevertheless, by the character of its policy, equally reminded me of the famous charge of the “Six Hundred” at Balaklava, of which some one—I forget who—in witnessing it, said, in substance: “It is brilliant; it is grand; but it is not war.” However much I admired the heroism of the sentiments expressed, yet in his general views of policy to be pursued in the then situation I could not concur. I saw nothing to prevent Sherman himself from proceeding right on to Richmond and attacking Lee in rear, to say nothing of any movements by Grant, who then had an army in front, of not much, if any, under 200,000 men. Lee's forces were not over one-fourth that number. Sherman's army when united with Schofield's and Terry's, which were joining him from Wilmington, North Carolina, would be swelled to near 100,000. . . . When the program of action, thus indicated by Mr. Davis in our interviews as well as in his message and the speech referred to, was clearly resolved upon, I then, for the first time, in view of all the surroundings, considered the cause as utterly hopeless. . . .
Stephens refused to speak at the African church meeting and also at one in the Capitol Square a few days later. He says:
I declined because I could not undertake to impress upon the minds of the people the idea that they could do what I believed to be impossible, or to inspire in them hopes which I did not believe could ever be realized. . . . It was then I withdrew from Richmond. . . . I left Richmond in no ill humor with Mr. Davis. (9th of February.)
Stephens was solitary and alone in his opinion. The Government, the soldiers in the army, and the people in Richmond were firmly of the opinion that the war would go on indefinitely and ultimately result in independence. It was an unaccountable hallucination.
ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
February 8, 1865.
HON. JAS. A. SEDDON, SECRETARY OF WAR,
SIR: All the disposable force of the right wing of the army has been operating against the enemy beyond Hatcher's Run since Sunday. Yesterday, the most inclement day of the winter, they had to be retained in line of battle, having been in the same condition the two previous days and nights. I regret to be obliged to state that under these circumstances, heightened by assaults 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. I have directed Colonel Cole, chief commissary, who reports he has not a pound of meat at his disposal, to visit Richmond and see if nothing can be done. If some change is not made and the Commissary Department reorganized, I apprehend dire results. . . . Our cavalry has to be dispersed for want of forage. Fitz Lee's and Lomax's divisions are scattered because supplies cannot be transported where their services are required. I had to bring W. F. Lee's division forty miles Sunday night to get him in position. . . .
R. E. LEE,
HEADQUARTERS, PETERSBURG,HON. J. C. BRECKINRIDGE,
February 22, 1865.
Secretary of War, Richmond.
. . . The cavalry and artillery of the army are still scattered for want of provender, and our supply and ammunition trains, which ought to be with the army in case of a sudden movement, are absent collecting supplies in West Virginia and North Carolina. You will see to what straits we are reduced. But I trust to work out.
With great respect, Your obt. servant,
R. E. LEE,
March 17, 1865.
HON. J. C. BRECKINRIDGE.
Secretary of War. Richmond.
. . . Now I do not see how I can sustain even our small force of cavalry around Richmond. I have had this morning to send Gen. W. H. F. Lee's division back to Stoney Creek, whence I had called it in the last few days, because I cannot provide it with forage. . . .
R. E. LEE,
There was at least one pleasant incident in the siege of Richmond.
Nicolay and Hay say:
We may assume that it was the anticipated important military events rather than the presence of Capt. Robert T. Lincoln at Grant's headquarters which induced the general on the 20th of March, 1865, to invite the President and Mrs. Lincoln to make a visit to the camp near Richmond; and on the 22d they and their younger son, Thomas, nicknamed “Tad,” proceeded in the steamer River Queen from Washington to City Point, where General Grant with his family and staff were occupying a pretty group of huts on the bank of the James river, overlooking the harbor, which was full of vessels of all classes, both war and merchant, with wharves and ware houses on an extensive scale. Here, making his home on the steamer that brought him, the president remained ten days, enjoying what was probably the most satisfactory relaxation in which he had been able to indulge during his whole presidential service. . . .
City Point was not only an ideal base, but a convenient pleaaure resort for Mr. Lincoln and his family.
GENERAL LONG says:
. . . The success of the Federal army in breaking the lines of Petersburg had rendered the retreat of the Confederate force imperative. An effort to hold Richmond, with every line of communication with the South broken or in imminent peril, would have been madness. But by abandoning his works and concentrating his army, which still amounted to about 30,000 men, General Lee might retire to some natural stronghold in the interior, where the defensible features of the country would enable him to oppose Grant's formidable host until he could rally strength to strike an effective blow. . . .
Lee was not strong enough to hold Grant with a rear-guard, so his only hope was to make a run for it, and that is what he attempted. Lee had four broken-down half-starved horses to a gun; Grant, six splendid well-fed ones.
Mrs. Mary A. Fontaine, describing the burning of Richmond, says:
May 7. I was just trying to describe the scenes on the 3d of April. About eight o'clock, after some thirty cavalrymen had taken possession of Richmond, hoisted their flag, etc., the artillery came dashing up Broad street; positively the fat horses came trotting up that heavy hill, dragging the cannon as though they were light carriages. The trappings were gay, and I commenced to realize the fearful odds against which our gallant little army had contended. . . .
If these “fearful odds” were so apparent to a woman, it does appear that Davis and Lee should have taken them into consideration.
Then Lee was encumbered with his wagon train, while Grant could leave his to follow. Grant's overwhelming force and superior mobility enabled him not only to pound Lee's flank and rear, but to march around him and intrench in his front. Sheridan, with his 13,000 mounted riflemen, easily rode ahead and intrenched on his line of retreat. Thirteen thousand breech-loaders were more than a match for Lee's army, wasted as it was; but the infantry was also up in time to oppose a continuation of the retreat.
Then if Lee had reached General Long's “natural stronghold in the interior” with the remnants of his 30,000 men, he would have found himself surrounded by Federal armies.
. . . I expected, with Sherman coming up from the South, Meade south of Petersburg and around Richmond, and Thomas's command in Tennessee with depots of supplies established in the eastern part of that state, to move from the direction of Washington or the Valley towards Lynchburg. We would then have Lee so surrounded that his supplies would be cut off entirely, making it impossible for him to support his army.
These armies could have surrounded Lee in General Long's “natural stronghold” as well as at Richmond, and with better results, because at Richmond Lee could get ammunition at any rate, whereas in General Long's “natural stronghold” it would have been impossible. Neither could he have gotten supplies, because natural strongholds never produce them—they have to be brought in from the outside.
Nicolay and Hay say:
. . . General Lee after the first shock of the breaking of his lines soon recovered his usual sang-froid, and bent all his energies to saving his army and leading it out of its untenable position on the James to a point from which he could affect a junction with Johnston in North Carolina. . . . Even in the ruin of the Confederacy, when the organized revolt which he had sustained so long, with the bayonets of his soldiers, was crashing about his ears, he was able still to cradle himself in the illusion that it was only a campaign that had failed; that he might withdraw his troops, form a junction with Johnston, and continue the war indefinitely in another field. Whatever we may think of his judgment, it is impossible not to admire the coolness of a general, who, in the midst of irremediable disaster such as encompassed Lee on the afternoon of the 2d of April, could write such a letter as he wrote to Jefferson Davis under date of three o'clock. He began it by a quiet and calm discussion of the question of negro recruitment; promised to give his attention to the business of finding suitable officers for the black regiments; hoped the appeal Mr. Davis had made to the governors would have a good effect; and altogether wrote as if years of struggle and effort were before him and his chief. He then went on to narrate the story of the day's catastrophe and to give his plans for the future. He closed by apologizing for “writing such a hurried letter to your Excellency” on the ground that he was “in the presence of the enemy, endeavoring to resist his advance.” At nightfall his preparations were completed. He mounted his horse and riding out of the town dismounted at the mouth of the road leading to Amelia Court House, the first point of rendezvous where he had directed supplies to be sent, and standing beside his horse, the bridle reins in his hand, he watched his troops file noiselessly by in the darkness. . . .
A junction with Johnston was as impossible as a retreat to General Long's “stronghold,” and even if it had been accomplished, the result would have been equally disastrous. Johnston and Lee, with their little half-starved armies, would have been between the hosts of Grant and Sherman, and without supplies or ammunition.
General Gibbon wrote from Appomattox:
. . . We have had to supply Lee's army with rations, they being entirely without any. As for the poor horses and mules, many of them will die for want of forage. They look terribly thin and worn down. Some of the men have had nothing to eat for three days but parched corn, and I cannot help respecting men who have fought so long and so well in support of their opinions, however wrong I may think them. . . .
General Johnston, writing in his “Narrative of Military Operations” of his conference with Dr. Davis at Greensboro, N.C., after the surrender of Lee, says:
. . . Being desired by the President to do it, we compared the military forces of the two parties to the war. Ours, an army of about 20,000 infantry and artillery, and 5000 mounted troops; those of the United States, three armies that could be combined against ours, which was insignificant compared with either Grant's of 180,000 men, Sherman's of 110,000 at least, and Canby's of 60,000, odds of seventeen or eighteen to one, which in a few weeks could be more than doubled. I represented that, under such circumstances, it would be the greatest of human crimes for us to attempt to continue this war; for, having neither money nor credit, nor arms but those in the hands of our soldiers, nor ammunition but that in their cartridge boxes, nor shops for repairing arms or fixing ammunition, the effect of our keeping the field would be, not to harm the enemy, but to complete the devastation of our country and the ruin of its people. . . .
Of Mr. Davis, General Basil W. Duke writes as follows, and this was of course after the surrender of Lee and Joe Johnston:
. . . At Abbeville, South Carolina, Mr. Davis held a conference with the officers in command of the troops composing his escort, which he himself characterized as a “Council of War.” . . . I had never seen Mr. Davis look better or show to better advantage. He seemed in excellent spirits and humor; and the union of dignity, graceful affability, and decision which made his manner usually so striking was very marked in his reception of us. After some conversation of a general nature, he said: “It is time that we adopt some definite plan upon which the further prosecution of our struggle shall be conducted. I have summoned you for consultation. I feel that I ought to do nothing now without the advice of my military chiefs.” He smiled rather archly as he used this expression, and we could not help thinking that such a term addressed to a handful of brigadiers, commanding altogether about three thousand men, by one who had been so recently master of legions, was a pleasantry: yet he said it in a way that made it a compliment.
After we had each given at his request a statement of the equipment and condition of our respective commands, Mr. Davis proceeded to declare his conviction that the cause was not lost any more than hope of American liberty was gone amid the sorest trials and most disheartening reverses of the Revolutionary struggle; but that energy, courage, and constancy might yet save all. “Even,” he said, “if the troops now with me be all that I can for the present rely on, three thousand brave men are enough for a nucleus around which the whole people will rally when the panic which now afflicts them has passed away.”
He then asked that we should make suggestions in regard to the future conduct of the war. We looked at one another in amazement, and with a feeling alike to trepidation, for we hardly knew how we should give expression to views diametrically opposed to those he uttered. Our respect for Mr. Davis approached veneration, and notwithstanding the total dissent we felt and were obliged to announce to the program he had indicated, that respect was rather increased than diminished by what he said. I do not remember who spoke first, but we all expressed the same opinion. We told him frankly that the events of the last four days had removed from our minds all idea or hope that a prolongation of the contest was possible. The people were not panic-stricken, but broken down and worn out. We said that an attempt to continue the war after all means of supporting warfare were gone would be a cruel injustice to the people of the South. We would be compelled to live in a country already impoverished, and would invite its further devastation. We urged that we would be doing a wrong to our men if we persuaded them to such a course, for if they persisted in a conflict so hopeless they would be treated as brigands and would forfeit all chance of returning to their homes.
He asked why then were we in the field? We answered we were desirous of affording him an opportunity of escaping the degradation of capture, and perhaps a fate that would be direr to the people than even to himself, in still more embittering the feeling between the North and the South. We said we would ask our men to follow us until his safety was assured, and would risk them in battle for that purpose, but would not fire another shot in an effort to continue hostilities. He declared abruptly that he would listen to no suggestion which regarded only his own safety. He appealed eloquently to every sentiment and reminiscence that night be supposed to move a Southern soldier, and urged us to accept his views. We remained silent, for our convictions were unshaken; we felt responsibility for the men who had so heroically followed us; and the painful point had been reached when to speak again in opposition to all that he had urged would have approached altercation. For some minutes not a word was spoken. Then Mr. Davis arose and ejaculated bitterly that all was indeed lost. He had become very pallid, and he walked so feebly as he proceeded to leave the room that General Breckinridge stepped hastily up and offered his arm.
Of all the hallucinations of the Confederate leaders, the most miraculous of all was that they could retreat from Richmond and continue the war indefinitely. To account for it, we must abandon the theory of free agency and accept something like the following ideas from Dr. Draper's “Intellectual Development of Europe”: . . . He sees that a Supreme power has been using him for unknown ends, that he was brought into the world without his own knowledge, and is departing from it against his own will. . . .
And Shakespeare says: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
If Davis and Lee were actors, and the Supreme power an evil power, stage manager, and prompter, we can understand the attempted retreat.
It is well to remember, however, that Lee was not a statesman, nor a man of affairs. He was a soldier pure and simple, and, like the “good knight” Bayard, “ sans peur et sans reproche.”
Washington and Lee University • Lexington, VA 24450 • (540) 458-8400