His indecision was brought to an end by General Johnston. Discovering that the force in his front, near "Seven Pines," on the southern bank of the Chickahominy, was only a portion of the Federal army, General Johnston determined to attack it. This resolution was not in consequence of the freshet in the Chickahominy, as has been supposed, prompting Johnston to attack while the Federal army was cut in two, as it were. His resolution, he states, had already been taken, and was, with or without reference to the rains, that of a good soldier. General Johnston struck at General McClellan on the last day of May, just at the moment, it appears, when the Federal commander designed commencing his last advance upon the city. The battle which took place was one of the most desperate and bloody of the war. Both sides fought with obstinate courage, and neither gained a decisive advantage. On the Confederate right, near "Seven Pines," the Federal line was broken and forced back; but, on the left, at Fair Oaks Station, the Confederates, in turn, were repulsed. Night fell upon a field where neither side could claim the victory. The most that could be claimed by the Southerners was that McClellan had received a severe check; and they sustained a great misfortune in the wound received by General Johnston. He was struck by a fragment of shell while superintending the attack at Fair Oaks, and the nature of his wound rendered it impossible for him to retain command of the army. He therefore retired from the command, and repaired to Richmond, where he remained for a long time an invalid, wholly unable to continue in service in the field.
This untoward event rendered it necessary to find a new commander for the army without loss of time. General Lee had returned some time before from the South, and to him all eyes were turned. He had had no opportunity to display his abilities upon a conspicuous theatre—the sole command he had been intrusted with, that in trans-Alleghany Virginia, could scarcely be called a real command—and he owed his elevation now to the place vacated by General Johnston, rather to his services performed in the old army of the United States, than to any thing he had effected in the war of the Confederacy. The confidence of the Virginia people in his great abilities had never wavered, and there is no reason to suppose that the Confederate authorities were backward in conceding his merits as a soldier. Whatever may have been the considerations leading to his appointment, he was assigned on the 3d day of June to the command of the army, and thus the Virginians assembled to defend the capital of their State found themselves under the command of the most illustrious of their own countrymen.
LEE ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND—HIS FAMILY AT THE WHITE HOUSE.
Lee had up to this time effected, as we have shown, almost nothing in the progress of the war. Intrusted with no command, and employed only in organizing the forces, or superintending the construction of defences, he had failed to achieve any of those successes in the field which constitute the glory of the soldier. He might possess the great abilities which his friends and admirers claimed for him, but he was yet to show the world at large that he did really possess them.
The decisive moment had now arrived which was to test him. He was placed in command of the largest and most important army in the Confederacy, and to him was intrusted the defence of the capital not only of Virginia, but of the South. If Richmond were to fall, the Confederate Congress, executive, and heads of departments, would all be fugitives. The evacuation of Virginia might or might not follow, but, in the very commencement of the conflict, the enemy would achieve an immense advantage. Recognition by the European powers would be hopeless in such an event, and the wandering and fugitive government of the Confederacy would excite only contempt.
Such were the circumstances under which General Lee assumed command of the "Army of Northern Virginia," as it was soon afterward styled. The date of his assignment to duty was June 3, 1862—three days after General Johnston had retired in consequence of his wound. Thirty days afterward the great campaign around Richmond had been decided, and to the narrative of what followed the appointment of Lee we shall at once proceed, after giving a few words to another subject connected with his family.
When General Lee left "Washington to repair to Richmond," he removed the ladies of his family from Arlington to the "White House" on the Pamunkey, near the spot where that river unites with the Mattapony to form the York River. This estate, like the Arlington property, had come into possession of General Lee through his wife, and as Arlington was exposed to the enemy, the ladies had taken refuge here, with the hope that they would be safe from intrusion or danger. The result was unfortunate. The White House was a favorable "base" for the Federal army, and intelligence one day reached Mrs. Lee and her family that the enemy were approaching. The ladies therefore hastened from the place to a point of greater safety, and before her departure Mrs. Lee is said to have affixed to the door a paper containing the following words:
"Northern soldiers who profess to reverence Washington, forbear to desecrate the home of his first married life, the property of his wife, now owned by her descendants.
"A GRAND-DAUGHTER OF MRS. WASHINGTON."
When the Federal forces took possession of the place, a Northern officer, it is said, wrote beneath this:
"A Northern officer has protected your property, in sight of the enemy, and at the request of your overseer."
The resolute spirit of Mrs. Lee is indicated by an incident which followed. She took refuge with her daughters in a friend's house near Richmond, and, when a Federal officer was sent to search the house, handed to him a paper addressed to "the general in command," in which she wrote:
"Sir: I have patiently and humbly submitted to the search of my house, by men under your command, who are satisfied that there is nothing here which they want. All the plate and other valuables have long since been removed to Richmond, and are now beyond the reach of any Northern marauders who may wish for their possession.
"WIFE OF ROBERT LEE, GENERAL C.S.A."
The ladies finally repaired for safety to the city of Richmond, and the White House was burned either before or when General McClellan retreated. The place was not without historic interest, as the scene of Washington's first interview with Martha Custis, who afterward became his wife. He was married either at St. Peter's Church near by, or in the house which originally stood on the site of the one now destroyed by the Federal forces. Its historic associations thus failed to protect the White House, and, like Arlington, it fell a sacrifice to the pitiless hand of war.
From this species of digression we come back to the narrative of public events, and the history of the great series of battles which were to make the banks of the Chickahominy historic ground. On taking command, Lee had assiduously addressed himself to the task of increasing the efficiency of the army: riding incessantly to and fro, he had inspected with his own eyes the condition of the troops; officers of the commissary, quartermaster, and ordnance departments were held to a strict accountability; and, in a short time, the army was in a high state of efficiency.
"What was the amount of the Confederate force under command of Lee?" it may be asked. The present writer is unable to state this number with any thing like exactness. The official record, if in existence, is not accessible, and the matter must be left to conjecture. It is tolerably certain, however, that, even after the arrival of Jackson, the army numbered less than seventy-five thousand. Officers of high rank and character state the whole force to have been sixty or seventy thousand only.
It will thus be seen that the Federal army was larger than the Confederate; but this was comparatively an unimportant fact. The event was decided rather by generalship than the numbers of the combatants.
LEE RESOLVES TO ATTACK.
General Lee assumed command of the army on the 3d of June. A week afterward, Jackson finished the great campaign of the Valley, by defeating Generals Fremont and Shields at Port Republic.
Such had been the important services performed by the famous "Stonewall Jackson," who was to become the "right arm" of Lee in the greater campaigns of the future. Retreating, after the defeat of General Banks, and passing through Strasburg, just as Fremont from the west, and the twenty thousand men of General McDowell from the east, rushed to intercept him, Jackson had sullenly fallen back up the Valley, with all his captured stores and prisoners, and at Cross Keys and Port Republic had achieved a complete victory over his two adversaries. Fremont was checked by Ewell, who then hastened across to take part in the attack on Shields. The result was a Federal defeat and retreat down the Valley. Jackson was free to move in any direction; and his army could unite with that at Richmond for a decisive attack upon General McClellan.
The attack in question had speedily been resolved on by Lee. Any further advance of the Federal army would bring it up to the very earthworks in the suburbs of the city; and, unless the Confederate authorities proposed to undergo a siege, it was necessary to check the further advance of the enemy by a general attack.
How to attack to the best advantage was now the question. The position of General McClellan's army has been briefly stated. Advancing up the Peninsula, he had reached and passed the Chickahominy, and was in sight of Richmond. To this stream, the natural line of defence of the city on the north and east, numerous roads diverged from the capital, including the York River Railroad, of which the Federal commander made such excellent use; and General McClellan had thrown his left wing across the stream, advancing to a point on the railroad four or five miles from the city. Here he had erected heavy defences to protect that wing until the right wing crossed in turn. The tangled thickets of the White-oak Swamp, on his left flank, were a natural defence; but he had added to these obstacles, as we have stated, by felling trees, and guarding every approach by redoubts. In these, heavy artillery kept watch against an approaching enemy; and any attempt to attack from that quarter seemed certain to result in repulse. In front, toward Seven Pines, the chance of success was equally doubtful. The excellent works of the Federal commander bristled with artillery, and were heavily manned. It seemed thus absolutely necessary to discover some other point of assault; and, as the Federal right beyond the Chickahominy was the only point left, it was determined to attack, if possible, in that quarter.
An important question was first, however, to be decided, the character of the defences, if any, on General McClellan's right, in the direction of Old Church and Cold Harbor. A reconnoissance in force was necessary to acquire this information, and General Lee accordingly directed General Stuart, commanding the cavalry of the army, to proceed with a portion of his command to the vicinity of Old Church, in the Federal rear, and gain all the information possible of their position and defences.
STUART'S "RIDE AROUND McCLELLAN."
General James E.B. Stuart, who now made his first prominent appearance upon the theatre of the war, was a Virginian by birth, and not yet thirty years of age. Resigning his commission of lieutenant in the United States Cavalry at the beginning of the war, he had joined Johnston in the Valley, and impressed that officer with a high opinion of his abilities as a cavalry officer; proceeded thence to Manassas, where he charged and broke a company of "Zouave" infantry; protected the rear of the army when Johnston retired to the Rappahannock, and bore an active part in the conflict on the Peninsula. In person he was of medium height; his frame was broad and powerful; he wore a heavy brown beard flowing upon his breast, a huge mustache of the same color, the ends curling upward; and the blue eyes, flashing beneath a "piled-up" forehead, had at times the dazzling brilliancy attributed to the eyes of the eagle. Fond of movement, adventure, bright colors, and all the pomp and pageantry of war, Stuart had entered on the struggle with ardor, and enjoyed it as the huntsman enjoys the chase. Young, ardent, ambitious, as brave as steel, ready with jest or laughter, with his banjo-player following him, going into the hottest battles humming a song, this young Virginian was, in truth, an original character, and impressed powerfully all who approached him. One who knew him well wrote: "Every thing striking, brilliant, and picturesque, seemed to centre in him. The war seemed to be to Stuart a splendid and exciting game, in which his blood coursed joyously, and his immensely strong physical organization found an arena for the display of all its faculties. The affluent life of the man craved those perils and hardships which flush the pulses and make the heart beat fast. He swung himself into the saddle at the sound of the bugle as the hunter springs on horseback; and at such moments his cheeks glowed and his huge mustache curled with enjoyment. The romance and poetry of the hard trade of arms seemed first to be inaugurated when this joyous cavalier, with his floating plume and splendid laughter, appeared upon the great arena of the war in Virginia." Precise people shook their heads, and called him frivolous, undervaluing his great ability. Those best capable of judging him were of a different opinion. Johnston wrote to him from the west: "How can I eat or sleep in peace without you upon the outpost?" Jackson said, when he fell at Chancellorsville: "Go back to General Stuart, and tell him to act upon his own judgment, and do what he thinks best, I have implicit confidence in him." Lee said, when he was killed at Yellow Tavern: "I can scarcely think of him without weeping." And the brave General Sedgwick, of the United States Army, said: "Stuart is the best cavalry officer ever foaled in North America!"
In the summer of 1862, when we present him to the reader, Stuart had as yet achieved little fame in his profession, but he was burning to distinguish himself. He responded ardently, therefore, to the order of Lee, and was soon ready with a picked force of about fifteen hundred cavalry, under some of his best officers. Among them were Colonels William H.F. Lee and Fitz-Hugh Lee—the first a son of General Lee, a graduate of West Point, and an officer of distinction afterward; the second, a son of Smith Lee, brother of the general, and famous subsequently in the most brilliant scenes of the war as the gay and gallant "General Fitz Lee," of the cavalry. With his picked force, officered by the two Lees, and other excellent lieutenants, Stuart set out on his adventurous expedition to Old Church. He effected more than he anticipated, and performed a daring feat of arms in addition. Driving the outposts from Hanover Court-House, he charged and broke a force of Federal cavalry near Old Church; pushed on to the York River Railroad, which he crossed, burning or capturing all Federal stores met with, including enormous wagon-camps; and then, finding the way back barred against him, and the Federal army on the alert, he continued his march with rapidity, passed entirely around General McClellan's army, and, building a bridge over the Chickahominy, safely reentered the Confederate lines just as a large force made its appearance in his rear. The temporary bridge was destroyed, however, and Stuart hastened to report to his superiors. His information was important. General McClellan's right and rear were unprotected by works of any strength. If the Confederate general desired to attack in that quarter, there was nothing to prevent.
The results of Stuart's famous "ride around McClellan," as the people called it, determined General Lee to make the attack on the north bank of the stream, if he had not already so decided. It was necessary now to bring Jackson's forces from the Valley without delay, and almost equally important to mask the movement from General McClellan. To this end a very simple ruse was adopted. On the 11th of June, Whiting's division was embarked on the cars of the Danville Railroad at Richmond, and moved across the river to a point near Belle Isle, where at that moment a considerable number of Federal prisoners were about to be released and sent down James River. Here the train, loaded with Confederate troops, remained for some time, and the secret was discovered by the released prisoners. General Lee was reenforcing Jackson, in order that the latter might march on Washington. Such was the report carried to General McClellan, and it seems to have really deceived him. [Footnote: "I have no doubt Jackson has been reenforced from here."—General McClellan to President Lincoln, June 20th.] Whiting's division reached Lynchburg, and was thence moved by railway to Charlottesville—Jackson marched and countermarched with an elaborate pretence of advancing down the Valley—at last, one morning, the astute Confederate, who kept his own counsels, had disappeared; he was marching rapidly to join Lee on the Chickahominy. Not even his own soldiers knew what direction they were taking. They were forbidden by general order to inquire even the names of the towns they passed through; directed to reply "I don't know" to every question; and it is said that when Jackson demanded the name and regiment of a soldier robbing a cherry-tree, he could extract from the man no reply but "I don't know."
Jackson advanced with rapidity, and, on the 25th of June, was near Ashland. Here he left his forces, and rode on rapidly to Richmond. Passing unrecognized through the streets, after night, he went on to General Lee's headquarters, at a house on the "Nine-mile road," leading from the New Bridge road toward Fair Oaks Station; and here took place the first interview, since the commencement of the war, between Lee and Jackson.
What each thought of the other will be shown in the course of this narrative. We shall proceed now with the history of the great series of battles for which Jackson's appearance was the signal.
ON THE CHICKAHOMINY.
THE TWO ARMIES.
The Chickahominy, whose banks were now to be the scene of a bitter and determined conflict between the great adversaries, is a sluggish and winding stream, which, rising above Richmond, describes a curve around it, and empties its waters into the James, far below the city. Its banks are swampy, and thickly clothed with forest or underwood. From the nature of these banks, which scarcely rise in many places above the level of the water, the least freshet produces an overflow, and the stream, generally narrow and insignificant, becomes a sort of lake, covering the low grounds to the bases of the wooded bluffs extending upon each side. Numerous bridges cross the stream, from Bottom's Bridge, below the York River Railroad, to Meadow Bridge, north of the city. Of these, the Mechanicsville Bridge, about four miles from the city, and the New Bridge, about nine miles, were points of the greatest importance.
General McClellan's position has been repeatedly referred to. He had crossed a portion of his army east of Richmond, and advanced to within four or five miles of the city. The remainder, meanwhile, lay on the north bank of the stream, and swept round, in a sort of crescent, to the vicinity of Mechanicsville, where it had been anticipated General McDowell would unite with it, thereby covering its right flank, and protecting the communications with the Federal base at the White House. That this disposition of the Federal troops was faulty, in face of adversaries like Johnston and Lee, there could be no doubt. But General McClellan was the victim, it seems, of the shifting and vacillating policy of the authorities at Washington. With the arrival of the forty thousand men under McDowell, his position would have been a safe one. General McDowell did not arrive; and this unprotected right flank—left unprotected from the fact that McDowell's presence was counted on—became the point of the Confederate attack.
The amount of blame, if any, justly attributable to General McClellan, first for his inactivity, and then for his defeat by Lee, cannot be referred to here, save in a few brief sentences. A sort of feud seems to have arisen between himself and General Halleck, the commander-in-chief, stationed at Washington; and General Halleck then and afterward appears to have regarded McClellan as a soldier without decision or broad generalship. And yet McClellan does not seem to have merited the censure he received. He called persistently for reinforcements, remaining inactive meanwhile, because he estimated the Confederate army before him at two hundred thousand men, and was unwilling to assail this force, under command of soldiers like Johnston and Lee, until his own force seemed adequate to the undertaking. Another consideration was, the Confederate position in front of the powerful earthworks of the city. These works would double the Confederate strength in case of battle in front of them; and, believing himself already outnumbered, the Federal commander was naturally loath to deliver battle until reenforced. The faulty disposition of his army, divided by a stream crossed by few bridges, has been accounted for in like manner—he so disposed the troops, expecting reenforcements. But Jackson's energy delayed these. Washington was in danger, it was supposed, and General McDowell did not come. It thus happened that General McClellan awaited attack instead of making it, and that his army was so posted as to expose him to the greatest peril.
A last point is to be noted in vindication of this able soldier. Finding, at the very last moment, that he could expect no further assistance from the President or General Halleck, he resolved promptly to withdraw his exposed right wing and change his base of operations to James River, where at least his communications would be safe. This, it seems, had been determined upon just before the Confederate attack; or, if he had not then decided, General McClellan soon determined upon that plan.
To pass now to the Confederate side, where all was ready for the great movement. General Lee's army lay in front of Richmond, exactly corresponding with the front of General McClellan. The divisions of Magruder and Huger, supported by those of Longstreet and D.H. Hill, were opposite McClellan's left, on the Williamsburg and York River roads, directly east of the city. From Magruder's left, extended the division of General A.P. Hill, reaching thence up the river toward Mechanicsville; and a brigade, under General Branch lay on Hill's left near the point where the Brook Turnpike crosses the Chickahominy north of Richmond. The approaches from the east, northeast, and north, were thus carefully guarded. As the Confederates held the interior line, the whole force could be rapidly concentrated, and was thoroughly in hand, both for offensive or defensive movements.
The army thus held in Lee's grasp, and about to assail its great Federal adversary, was composed of the best portion of the Southern population. The rank and file was largely made up of men of education and high social position. And this resulted from the character of the struggle. The war was a war of invasion on the part of the North; and the ardent and high-spirited youth of the entire South threw themselves into it with enthusiasm. The heirs of ancient families and great wealth served as privates. Personal pride, love of country, indignation at the thought that a hostile section had sent an army to reduce them to submission, combined to draw into the Confederate ranks the flower of the Southern youth, and all the best fighting material. Deficient in discipline, and "hard to manage," this force was yet of the most efficient character. It could be counted on for hard work, and especially for offensive operations. And the officers placed over it shared its character.
Among these, General A.P. Hill, a Virginian by birth, was soon to be conspicuous as commander of the "Light Division," and representative of the spirit and dash and enthusiasm of the army. Under forty years of age, with a slender figure, a heavily-bearded face, dark eyes, a composed and unassuming bearing, characterized when off duty by a quiet cordiality, he was personally popular with all who approached him, and greatly beloved, both as man and commander. His chief merit as a soldier was his dash and impetus in the charge. A braver heart never beat in human breast; throughout the war he retained the respect and admiration of the army and the country; and a strange fact in relation to this eminent soldier is, that his name was uttered by both Jackson and Lee as they expired.
Associated with him in the battles of the Chickahominy, and to the end, was the able and resolute Longstreet—an officer of low and powerful stature, with a heavy, brown beard reaching to his breast, a manner marked by unalterable composure, and a countenance whose expression of phlegmatic tranquillity never varied in the hottest hours of battle. Longstreet was as famous for his bull-dog obstinacy, as Hill for his dash and enthusiasm. General Lee styled him his "old war-horse," and depended upon him, as will be seen, in some of the most critical operations of the war.
Of the young and ardent Virginian, General Magruder, the brave and resolute North-Carolinian, D.H. Hill, and other officers who subsequently acquired great reputations in the army, we have no space at present to speak. All were to cooeperate in the assault on General McClellan, and do their part.
On the night of the 25th of June, all was ready for the important movement, and the troops rested on their arms, ready for the coming battle.
LEE'S PLAN OF ASSAULT.
General Lee had been hitherto regarded as a soldier of too great caution, but his plan for the assault on General McClellan indicated the possession of a nerve approaching audacity.
Fully comprehending his enemy's strength and position, and aware that a large portion of the Federal army had crossed the Chickahominy, and was directly in his front, he had resolved to pass to the north bank of the stream with the bulk of his force, leaving only about twenty-five thousand men to protect the city, and deliver battle where defeat would prove ruinous. This plan indicated nothing less than audacity, as we have already said; but, like the audacity of the flank movement at Chancellorsville afterward, and the daring march, in disregard of General Hooker, to Pennsylvania in 1864, it was founded on profound military insight, and indicated the qualities of a great soldier.
Lee's design was to attack the Federal right wing with a part of his force, while Jackson, advancing still farther to the left, came in on their communications with the White House, and assailed them on their right and rear. Meanwhile Richmond was to be protected by General Magruder with his twenty-five thousand men, on the south bank; if McClellan fell back down the Peninsula, this force was to cross and unite with the rest; thus the Federal army would be driven from all its positions, and the fate of the whole campaign against Richmond would be decided.
Lee's general order directing the movement of the troops is here given. It possesses interest as a clear and detailed statement of his intended operations; and it will be seen that what was resolved on by the commander in his tent, his able subordinates translated detail by detail, with unimportant modifications, into action, under his eyes in the field:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
June 24, 1862.
GENERAL ORDERS No. 75.
I. General Jackson's command will proceed to-morrow from Ashland toward the Slash Church, and encamp at some convenient point west of the Central Railroad. Branch's brigade, of A.P. Hill's division, will also, to-morrow evening, take position on the Chickahominy, near Half Sink. At three o'clock Thursday morning, 26th instant, General Jackson will advance on the road leading to Pale Green Church, communicating his march to General Branch, who will immediately cross the Chickahominy, and take the road leading to Mechanicsville. As soon as the movements of these columns are discovered, General A.P. Hill, with the rest of his division, will cross the Chickahominy near Meadow Bridge, and move direct upon Mechanicsville. To aid his advance, the heavy batteries on the Chickahominy will at the proper time open upon the batteries at Mechanicsville. The enemy being driven from Mechanicsville, and the passage across the bridge opened, General Longstreet, with his division and that of General D.H. Hill, will cross the Chickahominy at or near that point—General D.H. Hill moving to the support of General Jackson, and General Longstreet supporting General A.P. Hill—the four divisions keeping in communication with each other, and moving in echelon on separate roads, if practicable; the left division in advance, with skirmishers and sharp-shooters extending in their front, will sweep down the Chickahominy and endeavor to drive the enemy from his position above New Bridge; General Jackson, bearing well to his left, turning Beaver Dam Creek, and taking the direction toward Cold Harbor. They will then press forward toward York River Railroad, closing upon the enemy's rear and forcing him down the Chickahominy. Any advance of the enemy toward Richmond will be prevented by vigorously following his rear, and crippling and arresting his progress.
II. The divisions under Generals Huger and Magruder will hold their positions in front of the enemy against attack, and make such demonstrations, Thursday, as to discover his operations. Should opportunity offer, the feint will be converted into a real attack; and, should an abandonment of his intrenchments by the enemy be discovered, he will be closely pursued.
III. The Third Virginia cavalry will observe the Charles City road. The Fifth Virginia, the First North Carolina, and the Hampton Legion cavalry will observe the Darbytown, Varina, and Osborne roads. Should a movement of the enemy, down the Chickahominy, be discovered, they will close upon his flank, and endeavor to arrest his march.
IV. General Stuart, with the First, Fourth, and Ninth Virginia cavalry, the cavalry of Cobb's Legion, and the Jeff Davis Legion, will cross the Chickahominy, to-morrow, and take position to the left of General Jackson's line of march. The main body will be held in reserve, with scouts well extended to the front and left. General Stuart will keep General Jackson informed of the movements of the enemy on his left, and will cooeperate with him in his advance. The Sixteenth Virginia cavalry, Colonel Davis, will remain on the Nine-mile road.
V. General Ransom's brigade, of General Holmes's command, will be placed in reserve on the Williamsburg road, by General Huger, to whom he will report for orders.
VI. Commanders of divisions will cause their commands to be provided with three days' cooked rations. The necessary ambulances and ordinance-trains will be ready to accompany the divisions, and receive orders from their respective commanders. Officers in charge of all trains will invariably remain with them. Batteries and wagons will keep on the right of the road. The Chief-Engineer, Major Stevens, will assign engineer officers to each division, whose duty it will be to make provision for overcoming all difficulties to the progress of the troops. The staff-departments will give the necessary instructions to facilitate the movements herein directed.
By command of General LEE: R.H. CHILTON, A.A. General.
This order speaks for itself, and indicates Lee's plan of battle in all its details. Further comment is unnecessary; and we proceed to narrate the events which followed. In doing so, we shall strive to present a clear and intelligible account of what occurred, rather than to indulge in the warlike splendors of style which characterized the "army correspondents" of the journals during the war. Such a treatment of the subject is left to others, who write under the influence of partisan afflatus, rather than with the judicious moderation of the historian. Nor are battles themselves the subjects of greatest interest to the thoughtful student. The combinations devised by great commanders are of more interest than the actual struggles. We have therefore dwelt at greater length upon the plans of Generals Lee and McClellan than we shall dwell upon the actual fighting of their armies.
THE BATTLE OF THE CHICKAHOMINY.
On the morning of the 26th of June, 1862, all was ready for the great encounter of arms between the Confederates and the Federal forces on the Chickahominy. General Jackson had been delayed on his march from the mountains, and had not yet arrived; but it was known that he was near, and would soon make his appearance; and, in the afternoon, General Lee accordingly directed that the movement should commence. At the word, General A.P. Hill moved from his camps to Meadow Bridge, north of Richmond; crossed the Chickahominy there, and moved rapidly on Mechanicsville, where a small Federal force, behind intrenchments, guarded the head of the bridge. This force was not a serious obstacle, and Hill soon disposed of it. He attacked the Federal works, stormed them after a brief struggle, and drove the force which had occupied them back toward Beaver Dam Creek, below. The Mechanicsville bridge was thus cleared; and, in compliance with his orders from Lee, General Longstreet hastened to throw his division across. Hill had meanwhile pressed forward on the track of the retreating enemy, and, a mile or two below, found himself in front of a much more serious obstruction than that encountered at the bridge, namely, the formidable position held by the enemy on Beaver Dam Creek.
The ground here is of a peculiar character, and admirably adapted for a defensive position against an enemy advancing from above. On the opposite side of a narrow valley, through which runs Beaver Dam Creek, rises a bold, almost precipitous, bluff, and the road which the Confederates were compelled to take bends abruptly to the right when near the stream, thus exposing the flank of the assaulting party to a fire from the bluff. As Hill's column pushed forward to attack this position, it was met by a determined fire of artillery and small-arms from the crest beyond the stream, where a large force of riflemen, in pits, were posted, with infantry supports. Before this artillery-fire, raking his flanks and doing heavy execution, Hill was compelled to fall back. It was impossible to cross the stream in face of the fusillade and cannon. The attack ended after dark with the withdrawal of the Confederates; but at dawn Hill resumed the struggle, attempting to cross at another point, lower down the stream. This attempt was in progress when the Federal troops were seen rapidly falling back from their strong position; and intelligence soon came that this was in consequence of the arrival of Jackson, who had passed around the Federal right flank above, and forced them to retire toward the main body of the Federal army below.
No time was now lost. The memorable 27th of June had dawned clear and cloudless, and the brilliant sunshine gave promise of a day on which no interference of the elements would check the bloody work to be performed. Hill advanced steadily on the track of the retiring Federal forces, who had left evidences of their precipitate retreat all along the road, and, about noon, came in front of the very powerful position of the main body of the enemy, near Cold Harbor.
General McClellan had drawn up his forces on a ridge along the southern bank of Powhite Creek, a small water-course which, flowing from the northeast, empties below New Bridge into the Chickahominy. His left, nearest the Chickahominy, was protected by a deep ravine in front, which he had filled with sharp-shooters; and his right rested upon elevated ground, near the locality known as Maghee's House. In front, the whole line of battle, which described a curve backward to cover the bridges in rear, was protected by difficult approaches. The ground was either swampy, or covered with tangled undergrowth, or both. The ridge held by the Federal forces had been hastily fortified by breastworks of felled trees and earth, behind which the long lines of infantry, supported by numerous artillery, awaited the attack.
The amount of the Federal force has been variously stated. The impression of the Confederates differed from the subsequent statements of Federal writers. "The principal part of the Federal army," says General Lee, in his report, "was now on the north side of the Chickahominy." The force has been placed by Northern writers at only thirty, or at most thirty-five thousand. If this was the whole number of troops engaged, from first to last, in the battle, the fact is highly creditable to the Federal arms, as the struggle was long doubtful. No doubt the exact truth will some day be put upon record, and justice will be done to both the adversaries.
The Federal force was commanded by the brave and able General Fitz-John Porter, with General Morell commanding his right, General Sykes his left, and General McCall forming a second line. Slocum's division, and the brigades of Generals French and Meagher, afterward reenforced Porter, who now prepared, with great coolness, for the Confederate attack.
The moment had come. A.P. Hill, pressing forward rapidly, with Longstreet's division on the right, reached Cold Harbor, in front of the Federal centre, about noon. Hill immediately attacked, and an engagement of the most obstinate character ensued. General Lee, accompanied by General Longstreet, had ridden from his headquarters, on the Nine-mile road, to the scene of action, and now witnessed in person the fighting of the troops, who charged under his eye, closing in in a nearly hand-to-hand conflict with the enemy. This was, no doubt, the first occasion on which a considerable portion of the men had seen him—certainly in battle—and that air of supreme calmness which always characterized him in action must have made a deep impression upon them. He was clad simply, and wore scarcely any badges of rank. A felt hat drooped low over the broad forehead, and the eyes beneath were calm and unclouded. Add a voice of measured calmness, the air of immovable composure which marked the erect military figure, evidently at home in the saddle, and the reader will have a correct conception of General Lee's personal appearance in the first of the great battles of his career.
Hill attacked with that dash and obstinacy which from this time forward characterized him, but succeeded in making no impression on the Federal line. In every assault he was repulsed with heavy loss. The Federal artillery, which was handled with skill and coolness, did great execution upon his column, as it rushed forward, and the infantry behind their works stood firm in spite of the most determined efforts to drive them from the ridge. Three of Hill's regiments reached the crest, and fought hand to hand over the breastworks, but they were speedily repulsed and driven from the crest, and, after two hours' hard fighting, Hill found that he had lost heavily and effected nothing.
It was now past two o'clock in the afternoon, and General Lee listened with anxiety for the sound of guns from the left, which would herald the approach of General Jackson. Nothing was heard from that quarter, however, and affairs were growing critical. The Confederate attack had been repulsed—the Federal position seemed impregnable—and "it became apparent," says General Lee, "that the enemy were gradually gaining ground." Under these circumstances, General McClellan might adopt either one of the two courses both alike dangerous to the Confederates. He might cross a heavy force to the assistance of General Porter, thus enabling that officer to assume the offensive; or, finding Lee thus checked, he might advance on Magruder, crush the small force under him, and seize on Richmond, which would be at his mercy. It was thus necessary to act without delay, while awaiting the appearance of Jackson. General Lee, accordingly, directed General Longstreet, who had taken position to the right of Cold Harbor, to make a feint against the Federal left, and thus relieve the pressure on Hill. Longstreet proceeded with promptness to obey the order; advanced in face of a heavy fire, and with a cross-fire of artillery raking his right from over the Chickahominy, and made the feint which had been ordered by General Lee. It effected nothing; and, to attain the desired result, it was found necessary to turn the feint into a real attack. This Longstreet proceeded to do, first dispersing with a single volley a force of cavalry which had the temerity to charge his infantry. As he advanced and attacked the powerful position before him, the roar of guns, succeeded by loud cheers, was heard on the left of Lee's line.
Jackson had arrived and thrown his troops into action without delay. He then rode forward to Cold Harbor, where General Lee awaited him, and the two soldiers shook hands in the midst of tumultuous cheering from the troops, who had received intelligence that Jackson's corps had joined them. The contrast between the two men was extremely striking. We have presented a brief sketch of Lee's personal appearance upon the occasion—of the grave commander-in-chief, with his erect and graceful seat in the saddle, his imposing dignity of demeanor, and his calm and measured tones, as deliberate as though he were in a drawing-room. Jackson was a very different personage. He was clad in a dingy old coat, wore a discolored cadet-cap, tilted almost upon his nose, and rode a rawboned horse, with short stirrups, which raised his knees in the most ungraceful manner. Neither in his face nor figure was there the least indication of the great faculties of the man, and a more awkward-looking personage it would be impossible to imagine. In his hand he held a lemon, which he sucked from time to time, and his demeanor was abstracted and absent.
As Jackson approached, Lee rode toward him and greeted him with a cordial pressure of the hand.
"Ah, general," said Lee, "I am very glad to see you. I hoped to be with you before!"
Jackson made a twitching movement of his head, and replied in a few words, rather jerked from the lips than deliberately uttered.
Lee had paused, and now listened attentively to the long roll of musketry from the woods, where Hill and Longstreet were engaged; then to the still more incessant and angry roar from the direction of Jackson's own troops, who had closed in upon the Federal forces.
"That fire is very heavy," said Lee. "Do you think your men can stand it?"
Jackson listened for a moment, with his head bent toward one shoulder, as was customary with him, for he was deaf, he said, in one ear, "and could not hear out of the other," and replied briefly:
"They can stand almost any thing! They can stand that!"
He then, after receiving General Lee's instructions, immediately saluted and returned to his corps—Lee remaining still at Cold Harbor, which was opposite the Federal centre.
The arrival of Jackson changed in a moment the aspect of affairs in every part of the field. Whitney's division of his command took position on Longstreet's left; the command of General D.H. Hill, on the extreme right of the whole line, and Ewell's division, with part of Jackson's old division, supported A.P. Hill. No sooner had these dispositions been made, than General Lee ordered an attack along the whole line. It was now five or six o'clock, and the sun was sinking. From that moment until night came, the battle raged with a fury unsurpassed in any subsequent engagement of the war. The Texan troops, under General Hood, especially distinguished themselves. These, followed by their comrades, charged the Federal left on the bluff, and, in spite of a desperate resistance, carried the position. "The enemy were driven," says General Lee, "from the ravine to the first line of breastworks, over which one impetuous column dashed, up to the intrenchments on the crest." Here the Federal artillery was captured, their line driven from the hill, and in other parts of the field a similar success followed the attack. As night fell, their line gave way in all parts, and the remnants of General Porter's command retreated to the bridges over the Chickahominy.
The first important passage of arms between General McClellan and General Lee—and it may be added the really decisive one—had terminated in a great success on the side of the Confederates.
The battle of Cold Harbor—or, as General Lee styles it in his report, the "battle of the Chickahominy"—was the decisive struggle between the great adversaries, and determined the fate of General McClellan's campaign against Richmond.
This view is not held by writers on the Northern side, who represent the battle in question as only the first of a series of engagements, all of pretty nearly equal importance, and mere incidents attending General McClellan's change of base to the shores of the James River. Such a theory seems unfounded. If the battle at Cold Harbor had resulted in a Federal victory, General McClellan would have advanced straight on Richmond, and the capture of the city would inevitably have followed. But at Cold Harbor he sustained a decisive defeat. His whole campaign was reversed, and came to naught, from the events occurring between noon and nightfall on the 27th of June. The result of that obstinate encounter was not a Federal success, leading to the fall of Richmond, but a Federal defeat, which led to the retreat to the James River, and the failure of the whole campaign against the Confederate capital.
It is conceded that General McClellan really intended to change his base; but after the battle of Cold Harbor every thing had changed. He no longer had under him a high-spirited army, moving to take up a stronger position, but a weary and dispirited multitude of human beings, hurrying along to gain the shelter of the gunboats on the James River, with the enemy pursuing closely, and worrying them at every step. To the condition of the Federal army one of their own officers testifies, and his expressions are so strong as wellnigh to move the susceptibilities of an opponent. "We were ordered to retreat," says General Hooker, "and it was like the retreat of a whipped army. We retreated like a parcel of sheep; everybody on the road at the same time; and a few shots from the rebels would have panic-stricken the whole command."
[Footnote 1: Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, part i., p. 580.]
Such was the condition of that great army which had fought so bravely, standing firm so long against the headlong assaults of the flower of the Southern troops. It was the battle at Cold Harbor which had produced this state of things, thereby really deciding the result of the campaign. To attribute to that action, therefore, no more importance than attached to the engagements on the retreat to James River, seems in opposition to the truth of history.
We shall present only a general narrative of the famous retreat which reflected the highest credit upon General McClellan, and will remain his greatest glory. He, at least, was too good a soldier not to understand that the battle of the 27th was a decisive one. He determined to retreat, without risking another action, to the banks of the James River, where the Federal gunboats would render a second attack from the Confederates a hazardous undertaking; and, "on the evening of the 27th of June," as he says in his official report, "assembled the corps commanders at his headquarters, and informed them of his plan, its reasons, and his choice of route, and method of execution." Orders were then issued to General Keyes to move with his corps across the White-Oak Swamp Bridge, and, taking up a position with his artillery on the opposite side, cover the passage of the rest of the troops; the trains and supplies at Savage Station, on the York River Railroad, were directed to be withdrawn; and the corps commanders were ordered to move with such provisions, munitions, and sick, as they could transport, on the direct road to Harrison's Landing.
These orders were promptly carried out. Before dawn on the 29th the Federal army took up the line of march, and the great retrograde movement was successfully begun. An immense obstacle to its success lay in the character of the country through which it was necessary to pass. White Oak Swamp is an extensive morass, similar to that skirting the banks of the Chickahominy, and the passage through it is over narrow, winding, and difficult roads, which furnish the worst possible pathways for wagons, artillery, or even troops. It was necessary, however, to use these highways or none, and General McClellan resolutely entered upon his critical movement.
General Lee was yet in doubt as to his opponent's designs, and the fact is highly creditable to General McClellan. A portion of the Federal army still remained on the left bank of the Chickahominy, and it might be the intention of McClellan to push forward reenforcements from the Peninsula, fight a second battle for the protection of his great mass of supplies at the White House, or, crossing his whole army to the left bank of the Chickahominy by the lower bridges, retreat down the Peninsula by the same road followed in advancing. All that General Lee could do, under these circumstances, was to remain near Cold Harbor with his main body, send a force toward the York River road, on the eastern bank of the Chickahominy, to check any Federal attempt to cross there, and await further developments.
It was not until the morning of the 29th that General McClellan's designs became apparent. It was then ascertained that he had commenced moving toward James River with his entire army, and Lee issued prompt orders for the pursuit. While a portion of the Confederate army followed closely upon the enemy's rear, other bodies were directed to move by the Williamsburg and Charles City roads, and intercept him, or assail his flanks. If these movements were promptly made, and no unnecessary delay took place, it was expected that the Federal army would be brought to bay in the White-Oak Swamp, and a final victory be achieved by the Confederates.
These complicated movements were soon in full progress, and at various points on the line of retreat fierce fighting ensued. General Magruder, advancing to Savage Station, an important depot of Federal stores, on the York River Railroad, encountered on the 29th, the powerful Federal rear-guard, which fought obstinately until night, when it retired. Next day Generals Longstreet and A.P. Hill had pushed down the Long Bridge road, and on the next day (June 30th) came on the retreating column which was vigorously engaged. From the character of the ground, little, however, was effected. The enemy fought with obstinate courage, and repulsed every assault. The battle raged until after nightfall, when the Federal army continued to retreat.
These actions were the most important, and in both the Confederates had failed to effect any important results.
Even Jackson, who had been delayed, by the destruction of the Chickahominy bridges, in crossing to the south bank from the vicinity of Cold Harbor, and had followed in rear of the rest of the army, found himself checked by General McClellan's admirable disposition for the protection of his rear. Jackson made every effort to strike a decisive blow at the Federal rear in the White-Oak Swamp, but he found a bridge in his front destroyed, the enemy holding the opposite side in strong force, and, when he endeavored to force a passage, the determined fire from their artillery rendered it impossible for him to do so. General McClellan had thus foiled the generalship of Lee, and the hard fighting of Stonewall Jackson. His excellent military judgement had defeated every attempt made to crush him. On the 1st of July he had successfully passed the terrible swamp, in spite of all his enemies, and his army was drawn up on the wellnigh impregnable heights of Malvern Hill.
A last struggle took place at Malvern Hill, and the Confederate assault failed at all points. Owing to the wooded nature of the ground, and the absence of accurate information in regard to it, the attack was made under very great difficulties and effected nothing. The Federal troops resisted courageously, and inflicted heavy loss upon the assailing force, which advanced to the muzzles of the Federal cannon, but did not carry the heights; and at nightfall the battle ceased, the Confederates having suffered a severe repulse.
On the next morning, General McClellan had disappeared toward Harrison's Landing, to which he conducted his army safely, without further molestation, and the long and bitter struggle was over.
RICHMOND IN DANGER—LEE'S VIEWS.
We have presented a sufficiently full narrative of the great battles of the Chickahominy to enable the reader to form his own opinion of the events, and the capacity of the two leaders who directed them. Full justice has been sought to be done to the eminent military abilities of General McClellan, and the writer is not conscious that he has done more than justice to General Lee.
Lee has not escaped criticism, and was blamed by many persons for not putting an end to the Federal army on the retreat through White-Oak Swamp. To this criticism, it may be said in reply, that putting an end to nearly or quite one hundred thousand men is a difficult undertaking; and that in one instance, at least, the failure of one of his subordinates in arriving promptly, reversed his plans at the most critical moment of the struggle. General Lee himself, however, states the main cause of failure: "Under ordinary circumstances," he says, "the Federal army should have been destroyed. Its escape is due to the causes already stated. Prominent among them is the want of timely and correct information. This fact, attributed chiefly to the character of the country, enabled General McClellan skilfully to conceal his retreat, and to add much to the obstruction with which Nature had beset the way of our pursuing columns. But regret that more was not accomplished, gives way to gratitude to the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe for the results achieved."
The reader will form his own opinion whether Lee was or was not to blame for this want of accurate information, which would seem, however, to be justly attributable to the War Department at Richmond, rather than to an officer who had been assigned to command only three or four weeks before. Other criticisms of Lee referred to his main plan of operations, and the danger to which he exposed Richmond by leaving only twenty-five thousand men in front of it, when he began his movement against General McClellan's right wing, beyond the Chickahominy. General Magruder, who commanded this force of twenty-five thousand men left to guard the capital, expressed afterward, in his official report, his views of the danger to which the city had been exposed. He wrote:
"From the time at which the enemy withdrew his forces to this side of the Chickahominy, and destroyed the bridges, to the moment of his evacuation, that is, from Friday night until Saturday morning, I considered the situation of our army as extremely critical and perilous. The larger portion of it was on the opposite side of the Chickahominy. The bridges had been all destroyed; but one was rebuilt—the New Bridge—which was commanded fully by the enemy's guns from Goulding's; and there were but twenty-five thousand men between his army of one hundred thousand and Richmond.... Had McClellan massed his whole force in column, and advanced it against any point of our line of battle, as was done at Austerlitz under similar circumstances by the greatest captain of any age, though the head of his column would have suffered greatly, its momentum would have insured him success, and the occupation of our works about Richmond, and consequently the city, might have been his reward. His failure to do so is the best evidence that our wise commander fully understood the character of his opponent."
To this portion of General Magruder's report General Lee appended the following "Remarks" in forwarding it:
"General Magruder is under a misapprehension as to the separation of troops operating on the north side of the Chickahominy from those under himself and General Huger on the south side. He refers to this subject on pages 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, of his report.
"The troops on the two sides of the river were only separated until we succeeded in occupying the position near what is known as New Bridge, which occurred before twelve o'clock M. on Friday, June 27th, and before the attack on the enemy at Gaines's Mill.
"From the time we reached the position referred to, I regarded communication between the two wings of our army as reestablished.
"The bridge referred to, and another about three-quarters of a mile above, were ordered to be repaired before noon on Friday, and the New Bridge was sufficiently rebuilt to be passed by artillery on Friday night, and the one above it was used for the passage of wagons, ambulances, and troops, early on Saturday morning.
"Besides this, all other bridges above New Bridge, and all the fords above that point, were open to us."
To this General Magruder subsequently responded as follows:
"New Bridge was finished on Friday evening, the 27th, instead of Saturday, 28th of June.
"I wrote from memory in reference to the time of its being finished.
"It was reported to me that the bridge three-quarters of a mile above was attempted to be crossed by troops (I think Ransom's brigade), on Saturday morning, from the south to the north side, but that, finding the bridge or the approach to it difficult, they came down and crossed at New Bridge on the same morning.
"My statement in regard to these bridges was not intended as a criticism on General Lee's plan, but to show the position of the troops, with a view to the proper understanding of my report, and to prove that the enemy might have reasonably entertained a design, after concentrating his troops, to march on Richmond."
We shall not detain the reader by entering upon a full discussion of the interesting question here raised. General Lee, as his observations on General Magruder's report show, did not regard Richmond as exposed to serious danger, and was confident of his ability to recross the Chickahominy and go to its succor in the event of an attack on the city by General McClellan. Had this prompt recrossing of the stream here, even, been impracticable, it may still be a question whether General Lee did not, in his movement against the Federal right wing with the bulk of his army, follow the dictates of sound generalship. In war, something must be risked, and occasions arise which render it necessary to disregard general maxims. It is one of the first principles of military science that a commander should always keep open his line of retreat; but the moment may come when his best policy is to burn the bridges behind him. Of Lee's movement against General McClellan's right, it may be said that it was based on the broadest good sense and the best generalship. The situation of affairs rendered an attack in some quarter essential to the safety of the capital, which was about to be hemmed in on all sides. To attack the left of General McClellan, promised small results. It had been tried and had failed; his right alone remained. It was possible, certainly, that he would mass his army, and, crushing Magruder, march into Richmond; but it was not probable that he would make the attempt. The Federal commander was known to be a soldier disposed to caution rather than audacity. The small amount of force under General Magruder was a secret which he could not be expected to know. That General Lee took these facts into consideration, as General Magruder intimates, may or may not have been the fact; and the whole discussion may be fairly summed up, perhaps, by saying that success vindicated the course adopted. "Success, after all, is the test of merit," said the brave Albert Sydney Johnston, and Talleyrand compressed much sound reasoning in the pithy maxim, "Nothing succeeds like success."
On the 2d of July the campaign was over, and General McClellan must have felt, in spite of his hopeful general orders to the troops, and dispatches to his Government, that the great struggle for Richmond had virtually ended. A week before, he had occupied a position within a few miles of the city, with a numerous army in the highest spirits, and of thorough efficiency. Now, he lay on the banks of James River, thirty miles away from the capital, and his army was worn out by the tremendous ordeal it had passed through, and completely discouraged. We have not dwelt upon the horrors of the retreat, and the state of the army, which Northern writers painted at the time in the gloomiest colors. For the moment, it was no longer the splendid war-engine it had been, and was again afterward. Nothing could be done with it, and General McClellan knew the fact. Without fresh troops, a renewed advance upon Richmond was a mere dream.
No further attack was made by General Lee, who remained for some days inactive in the hot forests of Charles City. His reasons for refraining from a new assault on General McClellan are summed up in one or two sentences of his report: "The Federal commander," he says, "immediately began to fortify his position, which was one of great natural strength, flanked on each side by a creek, and the approach to his front commanded by the heavy guns of his shipping, in addition to those mounted in his intrenchments. It was deemed inexpedient to attack him, and in view of the condition of our troops, who had been marching and fighting almost incessantly for seven days under the most trying circumstances, it was determined to withdraw, in order to afford them the repose of which they stood so much in need."
On the 8th of July, General Lee accordingly directed his march back toward Richmond, and the troops went into camp and rested.
LEE AND McCLELLAN—THEIR IDENTITY OF OPINION.
General Lee had thus, at the outset of his career, as commander of the Confederate army, saved the capital by a blow at the enemy as sudden as it was resistless. The class of persons who are never satisfied, and delight in fault-finding under all circumstances, declared that a great general would have crushed the enemy on their retreat; these certainly were in a minority; the people at large greeted Lee as the author of a great deliverance worked out for them, and, on his return to Richmond, he was received with every mark of gratitude and honor. He accepted this public ovation with the moderation and dignity which characterized his demeanor afterward, under all circumstances, either of victory or defeat. It was almost impossible to discover in his bearing at this time, as on other great occasions, any evidences whatever of elation. Success, like disaster, seemed to find him calm, collected, and as nearly unimpressible as is possible for a human being.
The character of the man led him to look upon success or failure with this supreme composure, which nothing seemed able to shake; but in July, 1862, he probably understood that the Confederate States were still as far as ever from having achieved the objects of the war. General McClellan had been defeated in battle, but the great resources of the United States Government would enable it promptly to put other and larger armies in the field. Even the defeated army was still numerous and dangerous, for it consisted, according to McClellan's report, of nearly or quite ninety thousand men; and the wise brain of its commander had devised a plan of future operations which promised far greater results than the advance on Richmond from the Chickahominy.
We shall touch, in passing, on this interesting subject, but shall first ask the reader's attention to a communication addressed, by General McClellan, at this time to President Lincoln. It is one of those papers which belong to history, and should be placed upon record. It not only throws the clearest light on the character and views of General Lee's great adversary, but expresses with admirable lucidity the sentiments of a large portion of the Federal people at the time. The President had invited a statement of General McClellan's views on the conduct of the war, and on July 7th, in the very midst of the scenes of disaster at Harrison's Landing, McClellan wrote these statesmanlike words:
"This rebellion has assumed the character of a war; as such it should be regarded, and it should be conducted upon the highest principles know to Christian civilization. It should not be a war looking to the subjugation of the people of any State in any event. It should not be at all a war upon population, but against armed forces and political organization. Neither confiscation of property, political executions, territorial organizations of States, nor forcible abolition of slavery, should be contemplated for a moment. In prosecuting the war all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected, subject only to the necessity of military operations. All private property taken for military use should be paid or receipted for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited, and offensive demeanor by the military toward citizens promptly rebuked. Military arrests should not be tolerated, except in places where active hostilities exist, and oaths not required by enactments constitutionally made should be neither demanded nor received. Military government should be confined to the preservation of public order and the protection of political right. Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master, except for repressing disorder, as in other cases. Slaves contraband under the Act of Congress, seeking military protection, should receive it. The right of the Government to appropriate permanently to its own service claims to slave-labor should be asserted, and the right of the owner to compensation therefor should be recognized.
"This principle might be extended upon grounds of military necessity and security to all the slaves of a particular State, thus working manumission in such State; and in Missouri, perhaps in Western Virginia also, and possibly even in Maryland, the expediency of such a measure is only a question of time.
"A system of policy thus constitutional, and pervaded by the influences of Christianity and freedom, would receive the support of almost all truly loyal men, would deeply impress the rebel masses and all foreign nations, and it might be humbly hoped that it would commend itself to the favor of the Almighty.
"Unless the principles governing the future conduct of our struggle shall be made known and approved, the effort to obtain requisite forces will be almost hopeless. A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present armies.
"The policy of the Government must be supported by concentrations of military power. The national forces should not be dispersed in expeditions, posts of occupation, and numerous armies; but should be mainly collected into masses, and brought to bear upon the armies of the Confederate States. Those armies thoroughly defeated, the political structure which they support would soon cease to exist.
"In carrying out any system of policy which you may form, you will require a commander-in-chief of the army—one who possesses your confidence, understands your views, and who is competent to execute your orders, by directing the military forces of the nation to the accomplishment of the objects by you proposed. I do not ask that place for myself. I am willing to serve you in such positions as you may assign me, and I will do so as faithfully as ever subordinate served superior. I may be on the brink of eternity, and, as I hope forgiveness from my Maker, I have written this letter with sincerity toward you, and from love for my country."
This noble and earnest exposition of his opinion, upon the proper mode of conducting the war, will reflect honor upon General McClellan when his military achievements are forgotten. It discusses the situation of affairs, both from the political and military point of view, in a spirit of the broadest statesmanship, and with the acumen of a great soldier. That it had no effect, is the clearest indication upon which the war was thenceforward to be conducted.
The removal of General McClellan, as holding views opposed to the party in power, is said to have resulted from this communication. It certainly placed him in open antagonism to General Halleck, the Federal Secretary of War, and, as this antagonism had a direct effect upon even connected with the subject of our memoir, we shall briefly relate now it was now displayed.
Defeated on the Chickahominy, and seeing little to encourage an advance, on the left bank of the James, upon Richmond, General McClellan proposed to cross that river and operate against the capital and its communications, near Petersburg. The proof of McClellan's desire to undertake this movement, which afterward proved so successful under General Grant, is found in a memorandum, by General Halleck himself, of what took place on a visit paid by him to McClellan, at Harrison's Landing, on July 25, 1862.
"I stated to him," says General Halleck, "that the object of my visit was to ascertain from him his views and wishes in regard to future operations. He said that he proposed to cross the James River at that point, attack Petersburg, and cut off the enemy's communications by that route South, making no further demonstration for the present against Richmond. I stated to him very frankly my views in regard to the manner and impracticability of the plan;" and nothing further, it seems, was said of this highly "impracticable" plan of operations. It became practicable afterward under General Grant; McClellan was not permitted to essay it in July, 1862, from the fact that it had been resolved to relieve him from command, or from General Halleck's inability to perceive its good sense.
General Lee's views upon this subject coincided completely with those of General McClellan. He expressed at this time, to those in his confidence, the opinion that Richmond could be assailed to greater advantage from the South, as a movement of the enemy in that direction would menace her communications with the Gulf States; and events subsequently proved the soundness of this view. Attacks from all other quarters failed, including a repetition by General Grant of McClellan's attempt from the side of the Chickahominy. When General Grant carried out his predecessor's plan of assailing the city from the direction of Petersburg, he succeeded in putting an end to the war.
THE WAR ADVANCES NORTHWARD
General Lee remained in front of Richmond, watching General McClellan, but intelligence soon reached him from the upper Rappahannock that another army was advancing in that quarter, and had already occupied the county of Culpepper, with the obvious intention of capturing Gordonsville, the point of junction of the Orange and Alexandria and Virginia Central Railroads, and advancing thence upon Richmond.
The great defeat on the Chickahominy had only inspired the Federal authorities with new energy. Three hundred thousand new troops were called for, large bounties were held out as an inducement to enlistment, negro-slaves in regions occupied by the United States armies were directed to be enrolled as troops, and military commanders were authorized to seize upon whatever was "necessary or convenient for their commands," without compensation to the owners. This indicated the policy upon which it was now intended to conduct the war, and the army occupying Culpepper proceeded to carry out the new policy in every particular.
This force consisted of the troops which had served under Generals Banks, McDowell, and Fremont—a necleus—and reenforcements from the army of McClellan, together with the troops under General Burnside, were hastening to unite with the newly-formed army. It was styled the "Army of Virginia," and was placed under command of Major-General John Pope, who had hitherto served in the West. General Pope had procured the command, it is said, by impressing the authorities with a high opinion of his energy and activity. In these qualities, General McClellan was supposed to be deficient; and the new commander, coming from a region where the war was conducted on a different plan, it was said, would be able to infuse new life into the languid movements in Virginia. General Pope had taken special pains to allay the fears of the Federal authorities for the safety of Washington. He intended to "lie off on the flanks" of Lee's army, he said, and render it impossible for the rebels to advance upon the capital while he occupied that threatening position. When asked if, with an army like General McClellan's, he would find any difficulty in marching through the South to New Orleans, General Pope replied without hesitation, "I should suppose not."
This confident view of things seems to have procured General Pope his appointment, and it will soon be seen that he proceeded to conduct military operations upon principles very different from those announced by General McClellan. War, as carried on by General Pope, was to be war a l'outrance. General McClellan had written: "The war should not be at all a war upon population, but against armed forces ... all private property, taken for military use, should be paid for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited, and offensive demeanor by the military toward citizens promptly rebuked." The new commander intended to act upon a very different principle, and to show that he possessed more activity and resolution than his predecessor.
General Pope's assumption of the command was signalized by much pomp and animated general orders. He arrived in a train decked out with streamers, and issued an order in which he said to the troops: "I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases which I am sorry to find much in vogue among you. I hear constantly of taking strong positions and holding them, of lines of retreat and bases of supplies. Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position which a soldier should desire to occupy is the one from which he can most easily advance upon the enemy. Let us study the probable line of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of itself. Let us look before, and not behind. Disaster and shame look in the rear." The result, as will be seen, furnished a grotesque commentary upon that portion of General Pope's order which we have italicized. In an address to the army, he added further: "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 beat him when found—where policy has been attack, and not defence. I presume I have been called here to pursue the same system."
Such was the tenor of General Pope's orders on assuming command—orders which were either intended seriously as an announcement of his real intentions, or as a blind to persuade the Confederates that his force was large.
Unfortunately for the region in which he now came to operate, General Pope did not confine himself to these flourishes of rhetoric. He proceeded to inaugurate a military policy in vivid contrast to General McClellan's. His "expatriation orders" directed that all male citizens disloyal to the United States should be immediately arrested; the oath of allegiance to the United States Government should be proffered them, and, "if they furnished sufficient security for its observance," they should be set free again. If they refused the oath, they should be sent beyond the Federal lines; and, if afterward found within his lines, they should be treated as spies, "and shot, their property to be seized and applied to the public use." All communication with persons living within the Southern lines was forbidden; such communication should subject the individual guilty of it to be treated as a spy. Lastly, General Pope's subordinates were directed to arrest prominent citizens, and hold them as hostages for the good behavior of the population. If his soldiers were "bushwhacked"—that is to say, attacked on their foraging expeditions—the prominent citizens thus held as hostages were to suffer death.
It is obvious that war carried on upon such principles is rapine. General Pope ventured, however, upon the new programme; and a foreign periodical, commenting upon the result, declared that this commander had prosecuted hostilities against the South "in a way that cast mankind two centuries back toward barbarism." We shall not pause to view the great outrages committed by the Federal troops in Culpepper. They have received thus much comment rather to introduce the following communication to the Federal authorities, from General Lee, than to record what is known now to the Old World as well as the New. Profoundly outraged and indignant at these cruel and oppressive acts, General Lee, by direction of the Confederate authorities, addressed, on the 2d of August, the following note to General Halleck:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE C.S., /
NEAR RICHMOND, VA., August 2, 1862.;
To the General commanding the U.S. Army, Washington:
GENERAL: In obedience to the order of his Excellency, the President of the Confederate States, I have the honor to make you the following communication:
On the 22d of July last a cartel for a general exchange of prisoners was signed by Major-General John A. Dix, on behalf of the United States, and by Major-General D.H. Hill, on the part of this government. By the terms of that cartel it is stipulated that all prisoners of war hereafter taken shall be discharged on parole until exchanged. Scarcely had the cartel been signed, when the military authorities of the United States commenced a practice changing the character of the war, from such as becomes civilized nations, into a campaign of indiscriminate robbery and murder.
A general order issued by the Secretary of War of the United States, in the city of Washington, on the very day that the cartel was signed in Virginia, directs the military commanders of the United States to take the property of our people, for the convenience and use of the army, without compensation.
A general order issued by Major-General Pope, on the 23d of July last, the day after the date of the cartel, directs the murder of our peaceful citizens as spies, if found quietly tilling their farms in his rear, even outside of his lines.
And one of his brigadier-generals, Steinwehr, has seized innocent and peaceful inhabitants, to be held as hostages, to the end that they may be murdered in cold blood if any of his soldiers are killed by some unknown persons whom he designates as "bushwhackers." Some of the military authorities seem to suppose that their end will be better attained by a savage war in which no quarter is to be given, and no age or sex is to be spared, than by such hostilities as are alone recognized to be lawful in modern times. We find ourselves driven by our enemies by steady progress toward a practice which we abhor, and which we are vainly struggling to avoid.
Under these circumstances, this Government has issued the accompanying general order, which I am directed by the President to transmit to you, recognizing Major-General Pope and his commissioned officers to be in the position which they have chosen for themselves—that of robbers and murderers, and not that of public enemies, entitled, if captured, to be treated as prisoners of war. The President also instructs me to inform you that we renounce our right of retaliation on the innocent, and will continue to treat the private soldiers of General Pope's army as prisoners of war; but if, after notice to your Government that they confine repressive measures to the punishment of commissioned officers who are willing to participate in these crimes, the savage practices threatened in the orders alluded to be persisted in, we shall reluctantly be forced to the last resort of accepting the war on the terms chosen by our enemies, until the voice of an outraged humanity shall compel a respect for the recognized usages of war. While the President considers that the facts referred to would justify a refusal on our part to execute the cartel by which we have agreed to liberate an excess of prisoners of war in our hands, a sacred regard for plighted faith, which shrinks from the semblance of breaking a promise, precludes a resort to such an extremity, nor is it his desire to extend to any other forces of the United States the punishment merited by General Pope and such commissioned officers as choose to participate in the execution of his infamous order.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R.E. LEE, General commanding.
This communication requires no comment. It had the desired effect, although General Halleck returned it as couched in language too insulting to be received. On the 15th of August, the United States War Department so far disapproved of General Pope's orders as to direct that "no officer or soldier might, without proper authority, leave his colors or ranks to take private property, or to enter a private house for the purpose, under penalty of death."
General Pope had promptly advanced, and his army lay in Culpepper, the right reaching toward the Blue Ridge, and the left extending nearly to the Rapidan.
The campaign now became a contest of brains between Lee and the Federal authorities. Their obvious aim was to leave him in doubt whether a new advance was intended under McClellan from James River, or the real movement was to be against Richmond from the North. Under these circumstances, General Lee remained with the bulk of his army in front of Richmond; but, on the 13th of July, sent Jackson with two divisions in the direction of Gordonsville. The game of wits had thus begun, and General Lee moved cautiously, looking in both directions, toward James River and the Upper Rappahannock. As yet the real design of the enemy was undeveloped. The movement of General Pope might or might not be a real advance. But General McClellan remained inactive, and, on the 27th of July, A.P. Hill's division was sent up to reenforce Jackson—while, at the same time, General D.H. Hill, commanding a force on the south bank of the James River, was directed to make demonstrations against McClellan's communications by opening fire on his transports.
The moment approached now when the game between the two adversaries was to be decided. On the 2d of August, Jackson assumed the offensive, by attacking the enemy at Orange Court-House; and, on the 5th, General McClellan made a prompt demonstration to prevent Lee from sending him further reinforcements. A large Federal force advanced to Malvern Hill, and was drawn up there in line of battle, with every indication on the part of General McClellan of an intention to advance anew upon Richmond. Lee promptly went to meet him, and a slight engagement ensued on Curl's Neck. But, on the next morning, the Federal army had disappeared, and the whole movement was seen to have been a feint.
This state of indecision continued until nearly the middle of August. An incident then occurred which clearly indicated the enemy's intentions. General Burnside was known to have reached Hampton Roads from the Southern coast with a considerable force, and the direction which his flotilla now took would show the design of the Federal authorities. If a new advance was intended from the James, the flotilla would ascend that river; if General Pope's army was looked to for the real movement, General Burnside would go in that direction. The secret was discovered by the afterward celebrated Colonel John S. Mosby, then a private, and just returned, by way of Fortress Monroe, from prison in Washington. He ascertained, when he disembarked, that Burnside's flotilla was about to move toward the Rappahannock, and, aware of the importance of the information, hastened to communicate it to General Lee. He was admitted, at the headquarters of the latter near Richmond, to a private interview, and when General Lee had finished his conversation with the plain-looking individual, then almost unknown, he was in possession of the information necessary to determine his plans. The Rappahannock, and not the James, was seen to be the theatre of the coming campaign, and General Lee's whole attention was now directed to that quarter.
Jackson had already struck an important blow there, cooeperating vigorously, as was habitual with him, in the general plan of action. General McClellan had endeavored by a feint to hold Lee at Richmond. By a battle now, Jackson hastened the retreat of the army under McClellan from James River. With his three divisions, Jackson crossed the Rapidan, and, on the 9th of August, attacked the advance force of General Pope at Cedar Mountain. The struggle was obstinate, and at one time Jackson's left was driven back, but the action terminated at nightfall in the retreat of the Federal forces, and the Confederate commander remained in possession of the field. He was too weak, however, to hold his position against the main body of the Federal army, which was known to be approaching; he accordingly recrossed the Rapidan to the vicinity of Gordonsville, and here he was soon afterward joined by General Lee, with the great bulk of the Confederate army.
Such were the events which succeeded the battles of the Chickahominy, transferring hostilities to a new theatre, and inaugurating the great campaigns of the summer and autumn of 1862 in Northern Virginia and Maryland.
LEE ADVANCES FROM THE RAPIDAN.
General Lee, it will thus be seen, had proceeded in his military manoeuvres with the utmost caution, determined to give his adversaries no advantage, and remain in front of the capital until it was free from all danger. But for the daring assault upon General McClellan, on the Chickahominy, his critics would no doubt have charged him with weakness and indecision now; but, under any circumstances, it is certain that he would have proceeded in the same manner, conducting operations in the method which his judgment approved.
At length the necessity of caution had disappeared. General Burnside had gone to reenforce General Pope, and a portion of McClellan's army was believed to have followed. "It therefore seemed," says General Lee, "that active operations on the James were no longer contemplated," and he wisely concluded that "the most effectual way to relieve Richmond from any danger of attack from that quarter would be to reenforce General Jackson, and advance upon General Pope." In commenting upon these words, an able writer of the North exclaims: "Veracious prophecy, showing that insight which is one of the highest marks of generalship!" The movement, indeed, was the right proceeding, as the event showed; and good generalship may be defined to be the power of seeing what is the proper course, and the decision of character which leads to its adoption.
General Lee exhibited throughout his career this mingled good judgment and daring, and his cautious inactivity was now succeeded by one of those offensive movements which, if we may judge him, by his subsequent career, seemed to be the natural bent of his character. With the bulk of his army, he marched in the direction of General Pope; the rest were speedily ordered to follow, and active operations began for driving the newly-formed Federal "Army of Virginia" back toward Washington.
We have presented Lee's order for the attack on General McClellan, and here quote his order of march for the advance against General Pope, together with a note addressed to Stuart, commanding his cavalry, for that officer's guidance.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
August 19, 1862.
SPECIAL ORDER No. 185.
I. General Longstreet's command, constituting the right wing of the army, will cross the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford, and move in the direction of Culpepper Court-House. General Jackson's command, constituting the left wing, will cross at Summerville Ford, and move in the same direction, keeping on the left of General Longstreet. General Anderson's division will cross at Summerville Ford, follow the route of General Jackson, and act in reserve. The battalion of light artillery, under Colonel S.D. Lee, will take the same route. The cavalry, under General Stuart, will cross at Morton's Ford, pursue the route by Stevensburg to Rappahannock Station, destroy the railroad bridge, cut the enemy's communications, telegraph line, and, operating toward Culpepper Court-House, will take position on General Longstreet's right.
II. The commanders of each wing will designate the reserve for their commands. Medical and ammunition wagons will alone follow the troops across the Rapidan. The baggage and supply trains will be parked under their respective officers, in secure positions on the south side, so as not to embarrass the different roads.