Numbers of wounded passed him, some stretched on litters, which men wearing the red badge of the ambulance corps were bearing to the rear, others limping along bleeding from hurts more or less serious. To the badly wounded Lee uttered words of sympathy and kindness; to those but slightly injured, he said: "Come, bind up your wound and take a musket," adding "my friend," as was his habit.
An evidence of his composure and absence of flurry was presented by a slight incident. An officer near him was striking his horse violently for becoming frightened and unruly at the bursting of a shell, when General Lee, seeing that the horse was terrified and the punishment would do no good, said, in tones of friendly remonstrance: "Don't whip him, captain, don't whip him. I've got just such a foolish horse myself, and whipping does no good."
Meanwhile the men continued to stream back, pursued still by that triumphant roar of the enemy's artillery which swept the whole valley and slope of Seminary Ridge with shot and shell. Lee was everywhere encouraging them, and they responded by taking off their hats and cheering him—even the wounded joining in this ceremony. Although exposing himself with entire indifference to the heavy fire, he advised Colonel Freemantle, as that officer states, to shelter himself, saying: "This has been a sad day for us, colonel, a sad day. But we can't expect always to gain victories."
As he was thus riding about in the fringe of woods, General Wilcox, who, about the time of Pickett's repulse, had advanced and speedily been thrown back with loss, rode up and said, almost sobbing as he spoke, that his brigade was nearly destroyed. Lee held out his hand to him as he was speaking, and, grasping the hand of his subordinate in a friendly manner, replied with great gentleness and kindness: "Never mind, general, all this has been my fault. It is I who have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it in the best way you can."
This supreme calmness and composure in the commander-in-chief rapidly communicated itself to the troops, who soon got together again, and lay down quietly in line of battle in the fringe of woods along the crest of the ridge, where Lee placed them as they came up. In front of them the guns used in the great cannonade were still in position, and Lee was evidently making every preparation in his power for the highly probable event of an instant assault upon him in his disordered condition, by the enemy. It was obvious that the situation of affairs at the moment was such as to render such an attack highly perilous to the Southern troops—and a sudden cheering which was now heard running along the lines of the enemy on the opposite heights, seemed clearly to indicate that their forces were moving. Every preparation possible under the circumstances was made to meet the anticipated assault; the repulsed troops of Pickett, like the rest of the army, were ready and even eager for of the attack—but it did not come. The cheering was afterward ascertained to have been simply the greeting of the men to some one of their officers as he rode along the lines; and night fell without any attempt on the Federal side to improve their success.
That success was indeed sufficient, and little would have been gained, and perhaps much perilled, by a counter-attack. Lee was not defeated, but he had not succeeded. General Meade could, with propriety, refrain from an attack. The battle of Gettysburg had been a Federal victory.
Thus had ended the last great conflict of arms on Northern soil—in a decisive if not a crushing repulse of the Southern arms. The chain of events has been so closely followed in the foregoing pages, and the movements of the two armies have been described with such detail, that any further comment or illustration is unnecessary. The opposing armies had been handled with skill and energy, the men had never fought better, and the result seems to have been decided rather by an occult decree of Providence than by any other circumstance. The numbers on each side were nearly the same, or differed so slightly that, in view of past conflicts, fought with much greater odds in favor of the one side, they might be regarded as equal. The Southern army when it approached Gettysburg numbered sixty-seven thousand bayonets, and the cavalry and artillery probably made the entire force about eighty thousand. General Meade's statement is that his own force was about one hundred thousand. The Federal loss was twenty-three thousand one hundred and ninety. The Southern losses were also severe, but cannot be ascertained. They must have amounted, however, to at least as large a number, even larger, perhaps, as an attacking army always suffers more heavily than one that is attacked.
What is certain, however, is that the Southern army, if diminished in numbers and strength, was still unshaken.
LEE'S RETREAT ACROSS THE POTOMAC.
Lee commenced his retreat in the direction of the Potomac on the night of the 4th of July. That the movement did not begin earlier is the best proof of the continued efficiency of his army and his own willingness to accept battle if the enemy were inclined to offer it.
After the failure of the attack on the Federal centre, he had withdrawn Ewell from his position southeast of Gettysburg, and, forming a continuous line of battle on Seminary Ridge, awaited the anticipated assault of General Meade. What the result of such an assault would have been it is impossible to say, but the theory that an attack would have terminated in the certain rout of the Southern army has nothing whatever to support it. The morale of Lee's army was untouched. The men, instead of being discouraged by the tremendous conflicts of the preceding days, were irate, defiant, and ready to resume the struggle. Foreign officers, present at the time, testify fully upon this point, describing the demeanor of the troops as all that could be desired in soldiers; and General Longstreet afterward stated that, with his two divisions under Hood and McLaws, and his powerful artillery, he was confident, had the enemy attacked, of inflicting upon them a blow as heavy as that which they had inflicted upon Pickett. The testimony of General Meade himself fully corroborates these statements. When giving his evidence afterward before the war committee, he said:
"My opinion is, now, that General Lee evacuated that position, not from the fear that he would be dislodged from it by any active operations on my part, but that he was fearful that a force would be sent to Harper's Ferry to cut off his communications.... That was what caused him to retire."
When asked the question, "Did you discover, after the battle of Gettysburg, any symptoms of demoralization in Lee's army?" General Meade replied, "No, sir; I saw nothing of that kind."
[Footnote 1: Report of Committee on Conduct of War, Part I., page 337.]
There was indeed no good reason why General Lee should feel any extreme solicitude for the safety of his army, which, after all its losses, still numbered more than fifty thousand troops; and, with that force of veteran combatants, experience told him, he could count upon holding at bay almost any force which the enemy could bring against him. At Chancellorsville, with a less number, he had nearly routed a larger army than General Meade's. If the morale of the men remained unbroken, he had the right to feel secure now; and we have shown that the troops were as full of fight as ever. The exclamations of the ragged infantry, overheard by Colonel Freemantle, expressed the sentiment of the whole army. Recoiling from the fatal charge on Cemetery Hill, and still followed by the terrible fire, they had heart to shout defiantly: "We've not lost confidence in the old man! This day's work won't do him no harm! Uncle Robert will get us into Washington yet—you bet he will!"
Lee's reasons for retiring toward the Potomac were unconnected with the morale of his army. "The difficulty of procuring supplies," he says, "rendered it impossible to continue longer where we were." What he especially needed was ammunition, his supply of which had been nearly exhausted by the three days' fighting, and it was impossible to count upon new supplies of these essential stores now that the enemy were in a condition to interrupt his communications in the direction of Harper's Ferry and Williamsport. The danger to which the army was thus exposed was soon shown not to have been overrated. General Meade promptly sent a force to occupy Harper's Ferry, and a body of his cavalry, hastening across the South Mountain, reached the Potomac near Falling Waters, where they destroyed a pontoon bridge laid there for the passage of the Southern army.
Lee accordingly resolved to retire, and, after remaining in line of battle on Seminary Ridge throughout the evening and night of the 3d and the whole of the 4th, during which time he was busy burying his dead, began to withdraw, by the Fairfield and Chambersburg roads, on the night of this latter day. The movement was deliberate, and without marks of haste, the rear-guard not leaving the vicinity of Gettysburg until the morning of the 5th. Those who looked upon the Southern army at this time can testify that the spirit of the troops was unsubdued. They had been severely checked, but there every thing had ended. Weary, covered with dust, with wounds whose bandages were soaked in blood, the men tramped on in excellent spirits, and were plainly ready to take position at the first word from Lee, and meet any attack of the enemy with a nerve as perfect as when they had advanced.
For the reasons stated by himself, General Meade did not attack. He had secured substantial victory by awaiting Lee's assault on strong ground, and was unwilling now to risk a disaster, such as he had inflicted, by attacking Lee in position. The enthusiasm of the authorities at Washington was not shared by the cool commander of the Federal army. He perfectly well understood the real strength and condition of his adversary, and seems never to have had any intention of striking at him unless a change of circumstances gave him some better prospect of success than he could see at that time.
The retrograde movement of the Southern army now began, Lee's trains retiring by way of Chambersburg, and his infantry over the Fairfield road, in the direction of Hagerstown. General Meade at first moved directly on the track of his enemy. The design of a "stern chase" was, however, speedily abandoned by the Federal commander, who changed the direction of his march and moved southward toward Frederick. When near that point he crossed the South Mountain, went toward Sharpsburg, and on the 12th of July found himself in front of the Southern army near Williamsport, where Lee had formed line of battle to receive his adversary's attack.
The deliberate character of General Meade's movements sufficiently indicates the disinclination he felt to place himself directly in his opponent's front, and thus receive the full weight of his attack. There is reason, indeed, to believe that nothing could better have suited the views of General Meade than for Lee to have passed the Potomac before his arrival—which event would have signified the entire abandonment of the campaign of invasion, leaving victory on the side of the Federal army. But the elements seemed to conspire to bring on a second struggle, despite the reluctance of both commanders. The recent rains had swollen the Potomac to such a degree as to render it unfordable, and, as the pontoon near Williamsport had been destroyed by the Federal cavalry, Lee was brought to bay on the north bank of the river, where, on the 12th, as we have said, General Meade found him in line of battle.
Lee's demeanor, at this critical moment, was perfectly undisturbed, and exhibited no traces whatever of anxiety, though he must have felt much. In his rear was a swollen river, and in his front an adversary who had been reenforced with a considerable body of troops, and now largely outnumbered him. In the event of battle and defeat, the situation of the Southern army must be perilous in the extreme. Nothing would seem to be left it, in that event, but surrender, or dispersion among the western mountains, where the detached bodies would be hunted down in detail and destroyed or captured. Confidence in himself and his men remained, however, with General Lee, and, with his line extending from near Hagerstown to a point east of Williamsport, he calmly awaited the falling of the river, resolved, doubtless, if in the mean time the enemy attacked him, to fight to the last gasp for the preservation of his army.
No attack was made by General Meade, who, arriving in front of Lee on the 12th, did no more, on that day, than feel along the Southern lines for a point to assault. On the next day he assembled a council of war, and laid the question before them, whether or not it were advisable to make an assault. The votes of the officers were almost unanimously against it, as Lee's position seemed strong and the spirit of his army defiant; and the day passed without any attempt of the Federal army to dislodge its adversary.
While General Meade was thus hesitating, Lee was acting. A portion of the pontoon destroyed by the enemy was recovered, new boats were built, and a practicable bridge was completed, near Falling Waters, by the evening of the 13th. The river had also commenced falling, and by this time was fordable near Williamsport. Toward dawn on the 14th the army commenced moving, in the midst of a violent rain-storm, across the river at both points, and Lee, sitting his horse upon the river's bank, superintended the operation, as was his habit on occasions of emergency. Loss of rest and fatigue, with that feeling of suspense unavoidable under the circumstances, had impaired the energies of even his superb physical constitution. As the bulk of the rear-guard of the army safely passed over the shaky bridge, which Lee had looked at with some anxiety as it swayed to and fro, lashed by the current, he uttered a sigh of relief, and a great weight seemed taken from his shoulders. Seeing his fatigue and exhaustion. General Stuart gave him some coffee; he drank it with avidity, and declared, as he handed back the cup, that nothing had ever refreshed him so much.
When General Meade, who is said to have resolved on an attack, in spite of the opposition of his officers, looked, on the morning of the 14th, toward the position held on the previous evening by the Southern army, he saw that the works were deserted. The Army of Northern Virginia had vanished from the hills on which it had been posted, and was at that moment crossing the Potomac. Pressing on its track toward Falling Waters, the Federal cavalry came up with the rear, and in the skirmish which ensued fell the brave Pettigrew, who had supported Pickett in the great charge at Gettysburg, where he had waved his hat in front of his men, and, in spite of a painful wound, done all in his power to rally his troops. With this exception, and a few captures resulting from accident, the army sustained no losses. The movement across the Potomac had been effected, in face of the whole Federal army, as successfully as though that army had been a hundred miles distant.
[Footnote 1: Upon this point different statements were subsequently made by Generals Lee and Meade, and Lee's reply to the statements of his opponent is here given:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
July 21, 1863.
General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General C.S.A., Richmond, Va.:
GENERAL: I have seen in Northern papers what purported to be an official dispatch from General Meade, stating that he had captured a brigade of Infantry, two pieces of artillery, two caissons, and a large number of small-arms, as this army retired to the south bank of the Potomac, on the 13th and 14th inst.
This dispatch has been copied into the Richmond papers, and, as its official character may cause it to be believed, I desire to state that it is incorrect. The enemy did not capture any organized body of men on that occasion, but only stragglers, and such as were left asleep on the road, exhausted by the fatigue and exposure of one of the most inclement nights I have ever known at this season of the year. It rained without cessation, rendering the road by which our troops marched to the bridge at Falling Waters very difficult to pass, and causing so much delay that the last of the troops did not cross the river at the bridge until 1 P.M. on the 14th. While the column was thus detained on the road a number of men, worn down by fatigue, lay down in barns, and by the roadside, and though officers were sent back to arouse them, as the troops moved on, the darkness and rain prevented them from finding all, and many were in this way left behind. Two guns were left on the road. The horses that drew them became exhausted, and the officers went forward to procure others. When they returned, the rear of the column had passed the guns so far that it was deemed unsafe to send back for them, and they were thus lost. No arms, cannon, or prisoners, were taken by the enemy in battle, but only such as were left behind under the circumstances I have described. The number of stragglers thus lost I am unable to state with accuracy, but it is greatly exaggerated in the dispatch referred to.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R.E. LEE, General.
The solicitude here exhibited by the Southern commander, that the actual facts should be recorded, is natural, and displayed Lee's spirit of soldiership. He was unwilling that his old army should appear in the light of a routed column, retreating in disorder, with loss of men and munitions, when they lost neither.]
ACROSS THE BLUE RIDGE AGAIN.
Lee moved his army to the old encampment on the banks of the Opequan which it had occupied after the retreat from Sharpsburg, in September, 1862, and here a few days were spent in resting.
We have, in the journal of a foreign officer, an outline of Lee's personal appearance at this time, and, as we are not diverted from these characteristic details at the moment by the narrative of great events, this account of Lee, given by the officer in question—Colonel Freemantle, of the British Army—is laid before the reader:
"General Lee is, almost without exception, the handsomest man of his age I ever saw. He is tall, broad-shouldered, very well made, well set up—a thorough soldier in appearance—and his manners are most courteous, and full of dignity. He is a perfect gentleman in every respect. I imagine no man has so few enemies, or is so universally esteemed. Throughout the South, all agree in pronouncing him as near perfection as man can be. He has none of the small vices, such as smoking, drinking, chewing, or swearing; and his bitterest enemy never accused him of any of the greater ones. He generally wears a well-worn, long gray jacket, a high black-felt hat, and blue trousers, tucked into his Wellington boots. I never saw him carry arms, and the only marks of his military rank are the three stars on his collar. He rides a handsome horse, which is extremely well governed. He himself is very neat in his dress and person, and in the most arduous marches he always looks smart and clean.... It is understood that General Lee is a religious man, though not so demonstrative in that respect as Jackson, and, unlike his late brother-in-arms, he is a member of the Church of England. His only faults, so far as I can learn, arise from his excessive amiability."
This personal description is entirely correct, except that the word "jacket" conveys a somewhat erroneous idea of Lee's undress uniform coat, and his hat was generally gray. Otherwise, the sketch is exactly accurate, and is here presented as the unprejudiced description and estimate of a foreign gentleman, who had no inducement, such as might be attributed to a Southern writer, to overcolor his portrait. Such, in personal appearance, was the leader of the Southern army—a plain soldier, in a plain dress, without arms, with slight indications of rank, courteous, full of dignity, a "perfect gentleman," and with no fault save an "excessive amiability." The figure is attractive to the eye—it excited the admiration of a foreign officer, and remains in many memories now, when the sound of battle is hushed, and the great leader, in turn, has finished his life-battle and lain down in peace.
The movements of the two armies were soon resumed, and we shall briefly follow those movements, which led the adversaries back to the Rappahannock.
Lee appears to have conceived the design, after crossing the Potomac at Williamsport, to pass the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge, and thus place himself in the path of General Meade if he crossed east of the mountain, or threaten Washington. This appears from his own statement. "Owing," he says, "to the swollen condition of the Shenandoah River, the plan of operations which had been contemplated when we recrossed the Potomac could not be put in execution". The points fixed upon by Lee for passing the mountain were probably Snicker's and Ashby's Gaps, opposite Berryville and Millwood. The rains had, however, made the river, in these places, unfordable. On the 17th and 18th days of July, less than a week after Lee's crossing at Williamsport, General Meade passed the Potomac above Leesburg, and Lee moved his army in the direction of Chester Gap, near Front Royal, toward Culpepper.
The new movements were almost identically the same as the old, when General McClellan advanced, in November, 1862, and the adoption of the same plans by General Meade involves a high compliment to his predecessor. He acted with even more energy. As Lee's head of column was defiling toward Chester Gap, beyond Front Royal, General Meade struck at it through Manassas Gap, directly on its flank, and an action followed which promised at one time to become serious. The enemy was, however, repulsed, and the Southern column continued its way across the mountain. The rest of the army followed, and descended into Culpepper, from which position, when Longstreet was detached to the west, Lee retired, taking post behind the Rapidan.
General Meade thereupon followed, and occupied Culpepper, his advance being about half-way between Culpepper Court-House and the river.
Such was the position of the two armies in the first days of October, when Lee, weary, it seemed, of inactivity, set out to flank and fight his adversary.
LAST CAMPAIGNS OF THE YEAR 1863.
THE CAVALRY OF LEE'S ARMY.
In a work of the present description, the writer has a choice between two courses. He may either record the events of the war in all quarters of the country, as bearing more or less upon his narrative, or may confine himself to the life of the individual who is the immediate subject of his volume. Of these two courses, the writer prefers the latter for many reasons. To present a narrative of military transactions in all portions of the South would expand this volume to undue proportions; and there is the further objection that these occurrences are familiar to all. It might be necessary, in writing for persons ignorant of the events of the great conflict, to omit nothing; but this ignorance does, not probably exist in the case of the readers of these pages; and the writer will continue, as heretofore, to confine himself to the main subject, only noting incidentally such prominent events in other quarters as affected Lee's movements.
One such event was the fall of Vicksburg, which post surrendered at the same moment with the defeat at Gettysburg, rendering thereafter impossible all movements of invasion; and another was the advance of General Rosecrans toward Atlanta, which resulted, in the month of September, in a Southern victory at Chickamauga.
The immediate effect of the Federal demonstration toward Chattanooga had been to detach Longstreet's corps from General Lee's army, for service under General Bragg. General Meade's force is said to have also been somewhat lessened by detachments sent to enforce the draft in New York; and these circumstances had, in the first days of October, reduced both armies in Virginia to a less force than they had numbered in the past campaign. General Meade, however, presented a bold front to his adversary, and, with his headquarters near Culpepper Court-House, kept close watch upon Lee, whose army lay along the south bank of the Rapidan.
For some weeks no military movements took place, and an occasional cavalry skirmish between the troopers of the two armies was all which broke the monotony of the autumn days. This inactivity, however, was now about to terminate. Lee had resolved to attempt a flank movement around General Meade's right, with the view of bringing him to battle; and a brief campaign ensued, which, if indecisive, and reflecting little glory upon the infantry, was fruitful in romantic incidents and highly creditable to the cavalry of the Southern army.
In following the movements, and describing the operations of the main body of the army—the infantry—we have necessarily been compelled to pass over, to a great extent, the services of the cavalry in the past campaign. These had, nevertheless, been great—no arm of the service had exhibited greater efficiency; and, but for the fact that in all armies the brunt of battle falls upon the foot-soldiers, it might be added that the services of the cavalry had been as important as those of the infantry. Stuart was now in command of a force varying from five to eight thousand sabres, and among his troopers were some of the best fighting-men of the South. The cavalry had always been the favorite arm with the Southern youth; it had drawn to itself, as privates in the ranks, thousands of young men of collegiate education, great wealth, and the highest social position; and this force was officered, in Virginia, by such resolute commanders as Wade Hampton, Fitz Lee, William H.F. Lee, Rosser, Jones, Wickham, Young, Munford, and many others. Under these leaders, and assisted by the hard-fighting "Stuart Horse-Artillery" under Pelham and his successors, the cavalry had borne their full share in the hard marches and combats of the army. On the Chickahominy; in the march to Manassas, and the battles in Maryland; in the operations on the Rappahannock, and the incessant fighting of the campaign to Gettysburg, Stuart and his troopers had vindicated their claim to the first honors of arms; and, if these services were not duly estimated by the infantry of the army, the fact was mainly attributable to the circumstance that the fighting of the cavalry had been done at a distance upon the outposts, far more than in the pitched battles, where, in modern times, from the improved and destructive character of artillery, playing havoc with horses, the cavalry arm can achieve little, and is not risked. The actual losses in Stuart's command left, however, no doubt of the obstinate soldiership of officers and men. Since the opening of the year he had lost General Hampton, cut down in a hand-to-hand sabre-fight at Gettysburg; General W.H.F. Lee, shot in the fight at Fleetwood; Colonels Frank Hampton and Williams, killed in the same action; Colonel Butler, torn by a shell; Major Pelham, Chief of Artillery, killed while leading a charge; [Footnote: In this enumeration the writer mentions only such names as occur at the moment to his memory. A careful examination of the records of the cavalry would probably furnish the names of ten times as many, equally brave and unfortunate.] about six officers of his personal staff either killed, wounded, or captured; and in the Gettysburg campaign he had lost nearly one-third of his entire command. Of its value to the army, the infantry might have their doubts, but General Lee had none. Stuart and his horsemen had been the eyes and ears of the Army of Northern Virginia; had fought incessantly as well as observed the enemy; and Lee never committed the injustice of undervaluing this indispensable arm, which, if his official commendation of its operations under Stuart is to be believed, was only second in importance in his estimation to the infantry itself.
The army continued, nevertheless, to amuse itself at the expense of the cavalry, and either asserted or intimated, on every favorable occasion, that the real fighting was done by themselves. This flattering assumption might be natural under the circumstances, but it was now about to be shown to be wholly unfounded. A campaign was at hand in which the cavalry were to turn the tables upon their jocose critics, and silence them; where the infantry were doomed to failure in nearly all which they attempted, and the troopers were to do the greater part of the fighting and achieve the only successes.
To the narrative of this brief and romantic episode of the war we now proceed. General Lee's aim was to pass around the right flank of his adversary, and bring him to battle; and, although the promptness of General Meade's movements defeated the last-named object nearly completely, the manoeuvres of the two armies form a highly-interesting study. The eminent soldiers commanding the forces played a veritable game of chess with each other. There was little hard fighting, but more scientific manoeuvring than is generally displayed in a campaign. The brains of Lee and Meade, rather than the two armies, were matched against each other; and the conflict of ideas proved more interesting than the actual fighting.
LEE FLANKS GENERAL MEADE.
In prosecution of the plan determined upon, General Lee, on the morning of the 9th of October, crossed the Rapidan at the fords above Orange Court-House, with the corps of Ewell and A.P. Hill, and directed his march toward Madison Court-House.
Stuart moved with Hampton's cavalry division on the right of the advancing column—General Fitz Lee having been left with his division to guard the front on the Rapidan—and General Imboden, commanding west of the Blue Ridge, was ordered by Lee to "advance down the Valley, and guard the gaps of the mountains on our left."
We have said that Lee's design was to bring General Meade to battle. It is proper to state this distinctly, as some writers have attributed to him in the campaign, as his real object, the design of manoeuvring his adversary out of Culpepper, and pushing him back to the Federal frontier. His own words are perfectly plain. He set out "with the design," he declares, "of bringing on an engagement with the Federal army"—that is to say, of fighting General Meade, not simply forcing him to fall back. His opponent, it seems, was not averse to accepting battle; indeed, from expressions attributed to him, he appears to have ardently desired it, in case he could secure an advantageous position for receiving the Southern attack. It is desirable that this readiness in both commanders to fight should be kept in view. The fact adds largely to the interest of this brief "campaign of manoeuvres," in which the army, falling back, like that advancing, sought battle.
To proceed to the narrative, which will deal in large measure with the operations of the cavalry—that arm of the service, as we have said, having borne the chief share of the fighting, and achieved the only successes. Stuart moved out on the right of the infantry, which marched directly toward Madison Court-House, and near the village of James City, directly west of Culpepper Court-House, drove in the cavalry and infantry outposts of General Kilpatrick on the main body beyond the village. Continuous skirmishing ensued throughout the rest of the day—Stuart's object being to occupy the enemy, and divert attention from the infantry movement in his rear. In this he seems to have fully succeeded. Lee passed Madison Court-House, and moving, as he says, "by circuitous and concealed roads," reached the vicinity of Griffinsburg, on what is called the Sperryville Road, northwest of Culpepper Court-House. A glance at the map will show the relative positions of the two armies at this moment. General Meade lay around Culpepper Court-House, with his advance about half-way between that place and the Rapidan, and Lee had attained a position which gave him fair hopes of intercepting his adversary's retreat. That retreat must be over the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad; but from Griffinsburg to Manassas was no farther than from Culpepper Court-House to the same point. If the Federal army fell back, as Lee anticipated, it would be a question of speed between the retreating and pursuing columns; and, as the narrative will show, the race was close—a few hours lost making the difference between success and failure in Lee's movement.
On the morning of the 10th while the infantry were still near Griffinsburg, General Stuart moved promptly down upon Culpepper Court-House, driving the enemy from their large camps near Stonehouse Mountain. These were elaborately provided with luxuries of every description, and there were many indications of the fact that the troops had expected to winter there. No serious fighting occurred. A regiment of infantry was charged and dispersed by the Jefferson Company of Captain Baylor, and Stuart then proceeded rapidly to Culpepper Court-House, where the Federal cavalry, forming the rear-guard of the army, awaited him.
General Meade was already moving in the direction of the Rappahannock. The presence of the Southern army near Griffinsburg had become known to him; he was at no loss to understand Lee's object; and, leaving his cavalry to cover his rear, he moved toward the river. As Stuart attacked the Federal horse posted on the hills east of the village, the roar of cannon on his right, steadily drawing nearer, indicated that General Fitz Lee was forcing the enemy in that direction to fall back. Stuart was now in high spirits, and indulged in hearty laughter, although the enemy's shells were bursting around him.
"Ride back to General Lee," he said to an officer of his staff, "and tell him we are forcing the enemy back on the Rappahannock, and I think I hear Fitz Lee's guns toward the Rapidan."
The officer obeyed, and found General Lee at his headquarters, which consisted of one or two tents, with a battle-flag set up in front, on the highway, near Griffinsburg. He was conversing with General Ewell, and the contrast between the two soldiers was striking. Ewell was thin, cadaverous, and supported himself upon a crutch, for he had not yet recovered from the wound received at Manassas. General Lee, on the contrary, was erect, ruddy, robust, and exhibited indications of health and vigor in every detail of his person. When Stuart's message was delivered to him, he bowed with that grave courtesy which he exhibited alike toward the highest and the lowest soldier in his army, and said: "Thank you. Tell General Stuart to continue to press them back toward the river."
He then smiled, and added, with that accent of sedate humor which at times characterized him: "But tell him, too, to spare his horses—to spare his horses. It is not necessary to send so many messages."
He turned as he spoke to General Ewell, and, pointing to the officer who had come from Stuart, and another who had arrived just before him, said, with lurking humor: "I think these two young gentlemen make eight messengers sent me by General Stuart!"
He then said to Ewell: "You may as well move on with your troops, I suppose, general;" and soon afterward the infantry began to advance.
Stuart was meanwhile engaged in an obstinate combat with the Federal cavalry near Brandy, in the immediate vicinity of Fleetwood Hill, the scene of the great fight in June. The stand made by the enemy was resolute, but the arrival of General Fitz Lee decided the event. That officer had crossed the Rapidan and driven General Buford before him. The result now was that, while Stuart was pressing the enemy in his front, General Buford came down on Stuart's rear, and Fitz Lee on the rear of Buford. The scene which ensued was a grand commingling of the tragic and serio-comic. Every thing was mingled in wild confusion, but the day remained with the Southern cavalry, who, at nightfall, had pressed their opponents back toward the river, which the Federal army crossed that night, blowing up the railroad bridge behind them.
Such was the first act of the bustling drama. At the approach of Lee, General Meade had vanished from Culpepper, and so well arranged was the whole movement, in spite of its rapidity, that scarce an empty box was left behind. Lee's aim to bring his adversary to battle south of the Rappahannock had thus failed; but the attempt was renewed by a continuation of the flanking movement toward Warrenton Springs, "with the design," Lee says, "of reaching the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, north of the river, and interrupting the retreat of the enemy." Unfortunately, however, for this project, which required of all things rapidity of movement, it was found necessary to remain nearly all day on the 11th near Culpepper Court-House, to supply the army with provisions. It was not until the 12th that the army again moved. Stuart preceded it, and after a brisk skirmish drove the enemy from Warrenton Springs—advancing in person in front of his column as it charged through the river and up the hill beyond, where a considerable body of Federal marksmen were put to flight. The cavalry then pressed on toward Warrenton, and the infantry, who had witnessed their prowess and cheered them heartily, followed on the same road. The race between Lee and General Meade was in full progress.
It was destined to become complicated, and an error committed by General Meade came very near exposing him to serious danger. It appears that, after retreating across the Rappahannock, the Federal commander began to entertain doubt whether the movement had not been hasty, and would not justly subject him to the charge of yielding to sudden panic. Influenced apparently by this sentiment, he now ordered three corps of the Federal army, with a division of cavalry, back to Culpepper; and this, the main body, accordingly crossed back, leaving but one corps north of the river. Such was now the very peculiar situation of the two armies. General Lee was moving steadily in the direction of Warrenton to cut off his adversary from Manassas, and that adversary was moving back into Culpepper to hunt up Lee there. The comedy of errors was soon terminated, but not so soon as it otherwise would have been but for a ruse de guerre played by Generals Rosser and Young. General Rosser had been left by Stuart near Brandy, with about two hundred horsemen and one gun; and, when the three infantry corps and the cavalry division of General Meade moved forward from the river, they encountered this obstacle. Insignificant as was his force. General Rosser so manoeuvred it as to produce the impression that it was considerable; and, though forced, of course, to fall back, he did so fighting at every step. Assistance reached him just at dusk in the shape of a brigade of cavalry, from above the court-house under General Young, the same officer whose charge at the Fleetwood fight had had so important a bearing upon the result there. Young now formed line with his men dismounted, and, advancing with a confident air, opened fire upon the Federal army. The darkness proved friendly, and, taking advantage of it, General Young kindled fires along a front of more than a mile, ordered his band to play, and must have caused the enemy to doubt whether Lee was not still in large force near Culpepper Court-House. They accordingly went into camp to await the return of daylight, when at midnight a fast-riding courier came with orders from General Meade.
These orders were urgent, and directed the Federal troops to recross the river with all haste. General Lee, it was now ascertained, had left an insignificant force in Culpepper, and, with nearly his whole army, was moving rapidly toward Warrenton to cut off his adversary.
A RACE BETWEEN TWO ARMIES.
The game of hide-and-seek—to change the figure—was now in full progress, and nothing more dramatic could be conceived of than the relative positions of the two armies.
At midnight, on Monday, October 12th, Lee's army was near Warrenton Springs, ready to advance in the morning upon Warrenton, while three of the four corps under General Meade were half-way between the Rappahannock and Culpepper Court-House, expecting battle there. Thus a choice of two courses was presented to the Federal commander: to order back his main force, and rapidly retreat toward Manassas, or move the Fourth Corps to support it, and place his whole army directly in Lee's rear. The occasion demanded instant decision. Every hour now counted. But, unfortunately for General Meade, he was still in the dark as to the actual amount of Lee's force in Culpepper. The movement toward Warrenton might be a mere ruse. The great master of the art of war to whom he was opposed might have laid this trap for him—have counted upon his falling into the snare—and, while a portion of the Southern force was engaged in Culpepper, might design an attack with the rest upon the Federal right flank or rear. In fact, the situation of affairs was so anomalous and puzzling that Lee might design almost any thing, and succeed in crushing his adversary.
The real state of the case was, that Lee designed nothing of this description, having had no intimation whatever of General Meade's new movement back toward Culpepper. He was advancing toward Warrenton, under the impression that his adversary was retreating, and aimed to come up with him somewhere near that place and bring him to battle. Upon this theory his opponent now acted by promptly ordering back his three corps to the north bank of the Rappahannock. They began to march soon after midnight; recrossed the river near the railroad; and on the morning of the 13th hastened forward by rapid marches to pass the dangerous point near Warrenton, toward which Lee was also moving with his infantry.
In this race every advantage seemed to be on the side of Lee. The three Federal corps had fully twice as far to march as the Southern forces. Lee was concentrating near Warrenton, while they were far in the rear; and, if the Confederates moved with only half the rapidity of their adversaries, they were certain to intercept them, and compel them either to surrender or cut their way through.
These comments—tedious, perhaps—are necessary to the comprehension of the singular "situation." We proceed now with the narrative. Stuart had pushed on past Warrenton with his cavalry, toward the Orange Railroad, when, on the night of the 13th, he met with one of those adventures which were thickly strewed throughout his romantic career. He was near Auburn, just at nightfall, when, as his rear-guard closed up, information reached him from that quarter that the Federal army was passing directly in his rear. Nearly at the same moment intelligence arrived that another column of the enemy, consisting, like the first, of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, was moving across his front.
Stuart was now in an actual trap, and his situation was perilous in the extreme. He was enclosed between two moving walls of enemies, and, if discovered, his fate seemed sealed. But one course was left him: to preserve, if possible, complete silence in his command; to lie perdu in the wood, and await the occurrence of some fortunate event to extricate him from his highly-embarrassing situation. He accordingly issued stringent orders to the men that no noise of any description should be made, and not a word be uttered; and there was little necessity to repeat this command. The troopers remained silent and motionless in the saddle throughout the night, ready at any instant to move at the order; and thus passed the long hours of darkness—the Southern horsemen as silent as phantoms; the Federal columns passing rapidly, with the roll of artillery-wheels, the tramp of cavalry-horses, and the shuffling sound of feet, on both sides of the command—the column moving in rear of Stuart being distant but two or three hundred yards.
This romantic incident was destined to terminate fortunately for Stuart, who, having dispatched scouts to steal through the Federal column, and announce his situation to General Lee, prepared to seize upon the first opportunity to release his command from its imminent peril. The opportunity came at dawn. The Federal rear, under General Caldwell, had bivouacked near, and had just kindled fires to cook their breakfast, when, from the valley beneath the hill on which the troops had halted, Stuart opened suddenly upon them with his Horse-Artillery, and, as he says in his report, knocked over coffee-pots and other utensils at the moment when the men least expected it. He then advanced his sharp-shooters and directed a rapid fire upon the disordered troops; and, under cover of this fire, wheeled to the left and emerged safely toward Warrenton. The army greeted him with cheers, and he was himself in the highest spirits. He had certainly good reason for this joy, for he had just grazed destruction.
As Stuart's artillery opened, the sound was taken up toward Warrenton, where Ewell, in obedience to Lee's orders, had attacked the Federal column. Nothing resulted, however, from this assault: General Meade had concentrated his army, and was hastening toward Manassas. All now depended again upon the celerity of Lee's movements in pursuit. He had lost many hours at Warrenton, where "another halt was made," he says, "to supply the troops with provisions." Thus, on the morning of the 14th he was as far from intercepting General Meade as before; and all now depended upon the movements of Hill, who, while Ewell moved toward Greenwich, had been sent by way of New Baltimore to come in on the Federal line of retreat at Bristoe Station, near Manassas. In spite, however, of his excellent soldiership and habitual promptness, Hill did not arrive in time. He made the detour prescribed by Lee, passed New Baltimore, and hastened on toward Bristoe, where, on approaching that point, he found only the rear-guard of the Federal army—the whole force, with this exception, having crossed Broad Run, and hastened on toward Manassas. Hill's arrival had thus been tardy: it would have been fortunate for him if he had not arrived at all. Seeing the Federal column under General Warren hastening along the railroad to pass Broad Run, he ordered a prompt attack, and Cooke's brigade led the charge. The result was unfortunate for the Confederates. General Warren, seeing his peril, had promptly disposed his line behind the railroad embankment at the spot, where, protected by this impromptu breastwork, the men rested their guns upon the iron rails and poured a destructive fire upon the Southerners rushing down the open slope in front. By this fire General Cooke was severely wounded and fell, and his brigade lost a considerable part of its numbers. Before a new attack could be made, General Warren hastily withdrew, carrying off with him in triumph a number of prisoners, and five pieces of artillery, captured on the banks of the run. Before his retreat could be again interrupted, he was safe on the opposite side of the stream, and lost no time in hurrying forward to join the main body, which was retreating on Centreville.
General Meade had thus completely foiled his adversary. Lee had set out with the intention of bringing the Federal commander to battle; had not succeeded in doing so, owing to the rapidity of his retreat; had come up only with his rear-guard, under circumstances which seemed to seal the fate of that detached force, and the small rear-guard had repulsed him completely, capturing prisoners and artillery from him, and retiring in triumph. Such had been the issue of the campaign; all the success had been on the side of General Meade. He is said to have declared that "it was like pulling out his eye-teeth not to have had a fight;" but something resembling bona-fide fighting had occurred on the banks of Broad Run, and the victory was clearly on the side of the Federal troops.
To turn to General Lee, it would be an interesting question to discuss whether he really desired to intercept General Meade, if there were any data upon which to base a decision. The writer hazards the observation that it seems doubtful whether this was Lee's intention. He had a high opinion of General Meade, and is said to have declared of that commander, that he "gave him" (Lee) "as much trouble as any of them." Lee was thus opposed to a soldier whose ability he respected, and it appears doubtful whether he desired to move so rapidly as to expose his own communications to interruption by his adversary. This view seems to derive support from the apparently unnecessary delays at Culpepper Court-House and Warrenton. There was certainly no good reason why, under ordinary circumstances, an army so accustomed to rapid marches as the Army of Northern Virginia should not have been able to reach Warrenton from the neighborhood of Culpepper Court-House in less than four days. "We were compelled to halt," Lee writes of the delay at Culpepper; but of that at Warrenton he simply says, "Another halt was made." Whether these views have, or have not foundation, the reader must judge. We shall aim, in a few pages, to conclude our account of this interesting campaign.
THE FIGHT AT BUCKLAND.
Lee rode forward to the field upon which General Hill had sustained his bloody repulse, and Hill—depressed and mortified at the mishap—endeavored to explain the contretemps and vindicate himself from censure. Lee is said to have listened in silence, as they rode among the dead bodies, and to have at length replied, gravely and sadly: "Well, well, general, bury these poor men, and let us say no more about it."
He had issued orders that the troops should cease the pursuit, and riding on the next morning, with General Stuart, to the summit of a hill overlooking Broad Run, dismounted, and held a brief conversation with the commander of his cavalry, looking intently, as he spoke, in the direction of Manassas. His demeanor was that of a person who is far from pleased with the course of events, and the word glum best describes his expression. The safe retreat of General Meade, with the heavy blow struck by him in retiring, was indeed enough to account for this ill-humor. The campaign was altogether a failure, since General Meade's position at Centreville was unassailable; and, if he were only driven therefrom, he had but to retire to the defences at Washington. Lee accordingly gave Stuart directions to follow up the enemy in the direction of Centreville, and, ordering the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to be torn up back to the Rappahannock, put his infantry in motion, and marched back toward Culpepper.
We shall now briefly follow the movements of the cavalry. Stuart advanced to Manassas, following up the Federal rear, and hastening their retreat across Bull Run beyond. He then left Fitz Lee's division near Manassas in the Federal front, and moving, with Hampton's division, to the left toward Groveton, passed the Little Catharpin, proceeded thence through the beautiful autumn forest toward Frying Pan, and there found and attacked, with his command dismounted and acting as sharp-shooters, the Second Corps of the Federal army. This sudden appearance of Southern troops on the flank of Centreville, is said to have caused great excitement there, as it was not known that the force was not General Lee's army. The fact was soon apparent, however, that it was merely a cavalry attack. The Federal infantry advanced, whereupon Stuart retired; and the adventurous Southern horsemen moved back in the direction of Warrenton.
They were not to rejoin Lee's army, however, before a final conflict with the Federal cavalry; and the circumstances of this conflict were as dramatic and picturesque as the ruse de guerre of Young in Culpepper, and the midnight adventure of Stuart near Auburn. The bold assault on the Second Corps seemed to have excited the ire of the Federal commander, and he promptly sent forward a considerable body of his cavalry, under General Kilpatrick, to pursue Stuart, and if possible come up with and defeat him.
Stuart was near the village of Buckland, on the road to Warrenton, when intelligence of the approach of the Federal cavalry reached him. The movement which followed was suggested by General Fitz Lee. He proposed that Stuart should retire toward Warrenton with Hampton's division, while he, with his own division, remained on the enemy's left flank. Then, at a given signal, Stuart was to face about; he, General Fitz Lee, would attack them in flank; when their rout would probably ensue. This plan was carried out to the letter. General Kilpatrick, who seems to have been confident of his ability to drive Stuart before him, pressed forward on the Warrenton road, closely following up his adversary, when the sudden boom of artillery from General Fitz Lee gave the signal. Stuart wheeled at the signal, and made a headlong charge upon his pursuers. Fitz Lee came in at the same moment and attacked them in flank; and the result was that General Kilpatrick's entire command was routed, and retreated in confusion, Stuart pursuing, as he wrote, "from within three miles of Warrenton to Buckland, the horses at full speed the whole distance." So terminated an incident afterward known among the troopers of Stuart by the jocose title of "The Buckland Races," and the Southern cavalry retired without further molestation behind the Rappahannock.
The cooeperation of General Imboden in the campaign should not be passed over. That officer, whose special duty had been to guard the gaps in the Blue Ridge, advanced from Berryville to Charlestown, attacked the Federal garrison at the latter place, drove them in disorder toward Harper's Ferry, and carried back with him four or five hundred prisoners. The enemy followed him closely, and he was forced to fight them off at every step. He succeeded, however, in returning in safety, having performed more than the duty expected of him.
Lee was now behind the Rappahannock, and it remained to be seen what course General Meade would pursue—whether he would remain near Centreville, or strive to regain his lost ground.
All doubt was soon terminated by the approach of the Federal army, which, marching from Centreville on October 19th, and repairing the railroad as it advanced, reached the Rappahannock on the 7th of November. Lee's army at this time was in camp toward Culpepper Court-House, with advanced forces in front of Kelly's Ford and the railroad bridge. General Meade acted with vigor. On his arrival he promptly sent a force across at Kelly's Ford; the Southern troops occupying the rifle-pits there were driven off, with the loss of many prisoners; and an attack near the railroad bridge had still more unfortunate results for General Lee. A portion of Early's division had been posted in the abandoned Federal works, on the north bank at this point, and these were now attacked, and, after a fierce resistance, completely routed. Nearly the whole command was captured—the remnant barely escaping—and, the way having thus been cleared, General Meade threw his army across into Culpepper.
General Lee retired before him with a heavy heart and a deep melancholy, which, in spite of his great control over himself, was visible in his countenance. The infantry-fighting of the campaign had begun, and ended in disaster for him. In the thirty days he had lost at least two thousand men, and was back again in his old camps, having achieved absolutely nothing.
THE ADVANCE TO MINE RUN.
November of the bloody year 1863 had come; and it seemed not unreasonable to anticipate that a twelvemonth, marked by such incessant fighting at Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Salem Church, Winchester, Gettysburg, Front Royal, Bristoe, and along the Rappahannock, would now terminate in peace, permitting the combatants on both sides, worn out by their arduous work, to go into winter-quarters, and recuperate their energies for the operations of the ensuing spring.
But General Meade had otherwise determined. He had resolved to try a last advance, in spite of the inclement weather; and Lee's anticipations of a season of rest and refreshment for his troops, undisturbed by hostile demonstrations on the part of the enemy, were destined speedily to be disappointed. The Southern army had gone regularly into winter-quarters, south of the Rapidan, and the men were felicitating themselves upon the prospect of an uninterrupted season of leisure and enjoyment in their rude cabins, built in sheltered nooks, or under their breadths of canvas raised upon logs, and fitted with rough but comfortable chimneys, built of notched pine-saplings, when suddenly intelligence was brought by scouts that the Federal army was in motion. The fact reversed all their hopes of rest, and song, and laughter, by the good log-fires. The musket was taken from its place on the rude walls, the cartridge-box assumed, and the army was once more ready for battle—as gay, hopeful, and resolved, as in the first days of spring.
General Meade had, indeed, resolved that the year should not end without another blow at his adversary, and the brief campaign, known as the "Advance to Mine Run," followed. It was the least favorable of all seasons for active operations; but the Federal commander is vindicated from the charge of bad soldiership by two circumstances which very properly had great weight with him. The first was, the extreme impatience of the Northern authorities and people at the small results of the bloody fighting of the year. Gettysburg had seemed to them a complete defeat of Lee, since he had retreated thereafter without loss of time to Virginia; and yet three months afterward the defeated commander had advanced upon and forced back his victorious adversary. That such should be the result of the year's campaigning seemed absurd to the North. A clamorous appeal was made to the authorities to order another advance; and this general sentiment is said to have been shared by General Meade, who had declared himself bitterly disappointed at missing a battle with Lee in October. A stronger argument in favor of active operations lay in the situation, at the moment, of the Southern army. Lee, anticipating no further fighting during the remainder of the year, opposed the enemy on the Rapidan with only one of his two corps—that of Ewell; while the other—that of Hill—was thrown back, in detached divisions, at various points on the Orange and the Virginia Central Railroads, for the purpose of subsistence during the winter. This fact, becoming known to General Meade, dictated, it is said, his plan of operations. An advance seemed to promise, from the position of the Southern forces, a decisive success. Ewell's right extended no farther than Morton's Ford, on the Rapidan, and thus the various fords down to Chancellorsville were open. If General Meade could cross suddenly, and by a rapid march interpose between Ewell and the scattered divisions of Hill far in rear, it appeared not unreasonable to conclude that Lee's army would be completely disrupted, and that the two corps, one after another, might be crushed by the Federal army.
This plan, which is given on the authority of Northern writers, exhibited good soldiership, and, if Lee were to be caught unawares, promised to succeed. Without further comment we shall now proceed to the narrative of this brief movement, which, indecisive as it was in its results, was not uninteresting, and may prove as attractive to the military student as other operations more imposing and accompanied by bloodier fighting.
General Meade began to move toward the Rapidan on November 26th, and every exertion was made by him to advance with such secrecy and rapidity as to give him the advantage of a surprise. In this, however, he was disappointed. No sooner had his orders been issued, and the correspondent movements begun, than the accomplished scouts of Stuart hurried across the Rapidan with the intelligence. Stuart, whose headquarters were in a hollow of the hills near Orange, and not far from General Lee's, promptly communicated in person to the commander-in-chief this important information, and Lee dispatched immediately an order to General A.P. Hill, in rear, to march at once and form a junction with Ewell in the vicinity of Verdierville. The latter officer was directed to retire from his advanced position upon the Rapidan, which exposed him to an attack on his right flank and rear, and to fall back and take post behind the small stream called Mine Run.
In following with a critical eye the operations of General Lee, the military student must be struck particularly by one circumstance, that in all his movements he seemed to proceed less according to the nice technicalities of the art of war, than in accordance with the dictates of a broad and comprehensive good sense. It may be said that, in choosing position, he always chose the right and never the wrong one; and the choice of Mine Run now as a defensive line was a proof of this. The run is a small water-course which, rising south of the great highway between Orange and Chancellorsville, flows due northward amid woods and between hills to the Rapidan, into which it empties itself a few miles above Germanna, General Meade's main place of crossing. This stream is the natural defence of the right flank of an army posted between Orange and the Rapidan. It is also the natural and obvious line upon which to receive the attack of a force marching from below toward Gordonsville. Behind Mine Run, therefore, just east of the little village of Verdierville, General Lee directed his two corps to concentrate; and at the word, the men, lounging but now carelessly in winter-quarters, sprung to arms, "fell in," and with burnished muskets took up the line of march.
We have spoken of the promptness with which the movement was made, and it may almost be said that General Meade had scarcely broken up his camps north of the Rapidan, when Lee was in motion to go and meet him. On the night of the 26th, Stuart, whose cavalry was posted opposite the lower fords, pushed forward in person, and bivouacked under some pines just below Verdierville; and before daylight General Lee was also in the saddle, and at sunrise had reached the same point. The night had been severely cold, for winter had set in in earnest; but General Lee, always robust and careless of weather, walked down, without wrapping, and wearing only his plain gray uniform, to Stuart's impromptu headquarters under the pines, where, beside a great fire, and without other covering than his army-blanket, the commander of the cavalry had slept since midnight.
As Lee approached, Stuart came forward, and Lee said, admiringly, "What a hardy soldier!"
They consulted, Stuart walking back with General Lee, and receiving his orders. He then promptly mounted, and hastened to the front, where, taking command of his cavalry, he formed it in front of the advancing enemy, and with artillery and dismounted sharp-shooters, offered every possible impediment to their advance.
General Meade made the passage of the Rapidan without difficulty; and, as his expedition was unencumbered with wagons, advanced rapidly. The only serious obstruction to his march was made by Johnson's division of Ewell's corps, which had been thrown out beyond the run, toward the river. Upon this force the Federal Third Corps, under General French, suddenly blundered, by taking the wrong road, it is said, and an active engagement followed, which resulted in favor of the Southerners. The verdict of Lee's troops afterward was, that the enemy fought badly; but General French probably desired nothing better than to shake off this hornets'-nest into which he had stumbled, and to reach, in the time prescribed by General Meade, the point of Federal concentration near Robertson's Tavern.
Toward that point the Northern forces now converged from the various crossings of the river; and Stuart continued to reconnoitre and feel them along the entire front, fighting obstinately, and falling back only when compelled to do so. Every step was thus contested with sharp-shooters and the Horse-Artillery, from far below to above New-Hope Church. The Federal infantry, however, continued steadily to press forward, forcing back the cavalry, and on the 27th General Meade was in face of Mine Run.
Lee was ready. Hill had promptly marched, and his corps was coming into position on the right of Ewell. Receiving intelligence of the enemy's movement only upon the preceding day, Lee had seemed to move the divisions of Hill, far back toward Charlottesville, as by the wave of his hand. The army was concentrated; the line of defence occupied; and General Meade's attempt to surprise his adversary, by interposing between his widely-separated wings, had resulted in decisive failure. If he fought now, the battle must be one of army against army; and, what was worst of all, it was Lee who held all the advantages of position.
We have spoken of Mine Run: it is a strong defensive position, on its right bank and on its left. Flowing generally between hills, and with densely-wooded banks, it is difficult to cross from either side in face of an opposing force; and it was Lee's good fortune to occupy the attitude of the party to be assailed. He seemed to feel that he had nothing to fear, and was in excellent spirits, as were the men; an eye-witness describes them as "gay, lively, laughing, magnificent." In front of his left wing he had already erected works; his centre and right were as yet undefended, but the task of strengthening the line at these points was rapidly prosecuted. Lee superintended in person the establishment of his order of battle, and it was plain to those who saw him thus engaged that the department of military engineering was a favorite one with him. Riding along the western bank of the water-course, a large part of which was densely clothed in oak, chestnut, and hickory, he selected, with the quick eye of the trained engineer, the best position for his line—promptly moved it when it had been established on bad ground—pointed out the positions for artillery; and, as he thus rode slowly along, the works which he had directed seemed to spring up behind him as though by magic. As the troops of Hill came up and halted in the wood, the men seized axes, attacked the large trees, which soon fell in every direction, and the heavy logs were dragged without loss of time to the prescribed line, where they were piled upon each other in double walls, which were filled in rapidly with earth; and thus, in an inconceivably short space of time the men had defences breast-high which would turn a cannon-shot. In front, for some distance, too, the timber had been felled and an abatis thus formed. A few hours after the arrival of the troops on the line marked out by Lee, they were rooted behind excellent breastworks, with forest, stream, and abatis in front, to delay the assailing force under the fire of small-arms and cannon.
This account of the movements of the army, and the preparations made to receive General Meade's attack, may appear of undue length and minuteness of detail, in view of the fact that no battle ensued. But the volume before the reader is not so much a history of the battles of Virginia, which have often been described, as an attempt to delineate the military and personal character of General Lee, which displayed itself often more strikingly in indecisive events than in those whose results attract the attention of the world. It was the vigorous brain, indeed, of the great soldier, that made events indecisive—warding off, by military acumen and ability, the disaster with which he was threatened. At Mine Run, Lee's quick eye for position, and masterly handling of his forces, completely checkmated an adversary who had advanced to deliver decisive battle. With felled trees, breastworks, and a crawling stream, Lee reversed all the calculations of the commander of the Federal army.
From the 27th of November to the night of the 1st of December, General Meade moved to and fro in front of the formidable works of his adversary, feeling them with skirmishers and artillery, and essaying vainly to find some joint in the armor through which to pierce. There was none. Lee had inaugurated that great system of breastworks which afterward did him such good service in his long campaign with General Grant. A feature of the military art unknown to Jomini had thus its birth in the woods of America; and this fact, if there were naught else of interest in the campaign, would communicate to the Mine-Run affair the utmost interest.
General Meade, it seems, was bitterly opposed to foregoing an attack. In spite of the powerful position of his adversary, he ordered an assault, it is said; but this did not take place, in consequence, it would appear, of the reluctance of General Warren to charge the Confederate right. This seemed so strong that the men considered it hopeless. When the order was communicated to them, each one wrote his name on a scrap of paper and pinned it to his breast, that his corpse might be recognized, and, if possible, conveyed to his friends. This was ominous of failure: General Warren suspended the attack; and General Meade, it is said, acquiesced in his decision. He declared, it is related, that he could carry the position with a loss of thirty thousand men; but, as that idea was frightful, there seemed nothing to do but retreat.
Lee seemed to realize the embarrassment of his adversary, and was in excellent heart throughout the whole affair. Riding to and fro along his line among his "merry men"—and they had never appeared in finer spirits, or with greater confidence in their commander—he addressed encouraging words to them, exposed himself with entire indifference to the shelling, and seemed perfectly confident of the result. It was on this occasion that, finding a party of his ragged soldiers devoutly kneeling in one of the little glades behind the breastworks, and holding a praying-meeting in the midst of bursting shells, he dismounted, took off his hat, and remained silently and devoutly listening until the earnest prayer was concluded. A great revival was then going on in the army, and thousands were becoming professors of religion. The fact may seem strange to those who have regarded Lee as only a West-Pointer and soldier, looking, like all soldiers, to military success; but the religious enthusiasm of his men in this autumn of 1863 probably gave him greater joy than any successes achieved over his Federal adversary. Those who saw him on the lines at Mine Run will remember the composed satisfaction of his countenance. An eye-witness recalls his mild face, as he rode along, accompanied by "Hill, in his drooping hat, simple and cordial; Early, laughing; Ewell, pale and haggard, but with a smile de bon coeur" [Footnote: Journal of a staff-officer.] He was thus attended, sitting his horse upon a hill near the left of his line, when a staff officer rode up and informed him that the enemy were making a heavy demonstration against his extreme right.
"Infantry or cavalry?" he asked, with great calmness.
"Infantry, I think, general, from the appearance of the guns. General Wilcox thinks so, and has sent a regiment of sharp-shooters to meet them."
"Who commands the regiment?" asked General Lee; and it was to introduce this question that this trifle has been mentioned. Lee knew his army man by man almost, and could judge of the probable result of the movement here announced to him by the name of the officer in command.
Finding that General Meade would not probably venture to assail him. Lee determined, on the night of December 1st, to attack his adversary on the next morning. His mildness on this night yielded to soldierly ardor, and he exclaimed:
"They must be attacked! they must be attacked!"
His plan is said to have contemplated a movement of his right wing against the Federal left flank, for which the ground afforded great advantages. All was ready for such a movement, and the orders are said to have been issued, when, as the dawn broke over the hills, the Federal camps were seen to be deserted. General Meade had abandoned his campaign, and was in full retreat toward the Rapidan.
The army immediately moved in pursuit, with Lee leading the column. The disappearance of the enemy was an astounding event to them, and they could scarcely realize it. An entertaining illustration of this fact is found in the journal of a staff-officer, who was sent with an order to General Hampton. "In looking for him," says the writer, "I got far to our right, and in a hollow of the woods found a grand guard of the Eleventh Cavalry, with pickets and videttes out, gravely sitting their horses, and watching the wood-roads for the advance of an enemy who was then retreating across Ely's Ford!" Stuart was pressing their rear with his cavalry, while the infantry were steadily advancing. But the pursuit was vain. General Meade had disappeared like a phantom, and was beyond pursuit, to the extreme regret and disappointment of General Lee, who halted his troops, in great discouragement, at Parker's Store.
"Tell General Stuart," he said, with an air of deep melancholy, to an officer whom he saw passing, "that I had received his dispatch when he turned into the Brock Road, and have halted my infantry here, not wishing to march them unnecessarily."
Even at that early hour all chance of effective pursuit was lost. General Meade, without wagons, and not even with the weight of the rations brought over, which the men had consumed, had moved with the rapidity of cavalry, and was already crossing the river far below. He was afterward asked by a gentleman of Culpepper whether in crossing the Rapidan he designed a real advance.
"Certainly," he is reported by the gentleman in question to have replied, "I meant to go to Richmond if I could, but Lee's position was so strong that to storm it would have cost me thirty thousand men. I could not remain without a battle—the weather was so cold that my sentinels froze to death on post."
The pursuit was speedily abandoned by General Lee as entirely impracticable, and the men were marched back between the burning woods, set on fire by the Federal campfires. The spectacle was imposing—the numerous fires, burning outerward in the carpet of thick leaves, formed picturesque rings of flame resembling brilliant necklaces; and, as the flames reached the tall trees, wrapped to the summit in dry vines, these would blaze aloft like gigantic torches—true "torches of war"—let fall by the Federal commander in his hasty retrograde.
Twenty-four hours afterward the larger part of General Lee's army were back in their winter-quarters. In less than a week the Mine-Run campaign had begun and ended. The movement of General Meade might have been compared to that of the King of France and his forty thousand men in the song; but the campaign was not ill devised, was rather the dictate of sound military judgment. All that defeated it was the extreme promptness of Lee, the excellent choice of position, and the beginning of that great system of impromptu breastworks which afterward became so powerful an engine against General Grant.
LEE IN THE AUTUMN AND WINTER OF 1863.
General Lee's headquarters remained, throughout the autumn and winter of 1863, in a wood on the southern slope of the spur called Clarke's Mountain, a few miles east of Orange Court-House.
Here his tents had been pitched, in a cleared space amid pines and cedars; and the ingenuity of the "couriers," as messengers and orderlies were called in the Southern army, had fashioned alleys and walks leading to the various tents, the tent of the commanding general occupying the centre. Of the gentlemen of General Lee's staff we have not considered it necessary to speak; but it may here be said that it was composed of officers of great efficiency and of the most courteous manners, from Colonel Taylor, the indefatigable adjutant-general, to the youngest and least prominent member of the friendly group. Among these able assistants of the commander-in-chief were Colonel Marshall, of Maryland, a gentleman of distinguished intellect; Colonel Peyton, who had entered the battle of Manassas as a private in the ranks, but, on the evening of that day, for courage and efficiency, occupied the place of a commissioned officer on Beauregard's staff; and others whose names were comparatively unknown to the army, but whose part in the conduct of affairs, under direction of Lee, was most important.
With the gentlemen of his staff General Lee lived on terms of the most kindly regard. He was a strict disciplinarian, and abhorred the theory that a commissioned officer, from considerations of rank, should hold himself above the private soldiers; but there was certainly no fault of this description to be found at army headquarters, and the general and his staff worked together in harmonious cooeperation. The respect felt for him by gentlemen who saw him at all hours, and under none of the guise of ceremony, was probably greater than that experienced by the community who looked upon him from a distance. That distant perspective, hiding little weaknesses, and revealing only the great proportions of a human being, is said to be essential generally to the heroic sublime. No man, it has been said, can be great to those always near him; but in the case of General Lee this was far from being the fact. He seemed greater and nobler, day by day, as he was better and more intimately known; and upon this point we shall quote the words of the brave John B. Gordon, one of his most trusted lieutenants:
"It has been my fortune in life," says General Gordon, "from circumstances, to have come in contact with some whom the world pronounced great—some of the earth's celebrated and distinguished; but I declare it here to-day, that of any mortal man whom it has ever been my privilege to approach, he was the greatest; and I assert here, that, grand as might be your conception of the man before, he arose in incomparable majesty on more familiar acquaintance. This can be affirmed of few men who have ever lived or died, and of no other man whom it has ever been my fortune to approach. Like Niagara, the more you gazed, the more its grandeur grew upon you, the more its majesty expanded and filled your spirit with a full satisfaction that left a perfect delight without the slightest feeling of oppression. Grandly majestic and dignified in all his deportment, he was genial as the sunlight of this beautiful day; and not a ray of that cordial social intercourse but brought warmth to the heart as it did light to the understanding."
Upon this point, General Breckinridge, too, bears his testimony: "During the last year of that unfortunate struggle," he says, "it was my good fortune to spend a great deal of time with him. I was almost constantly by his side, and it was during the two months immediately preceding the fall of Richmond that I came to know and fully understand the true nobility of his character. In all those long vigils, he was considerate and kind, gentle, firm, and self-poised. I can give no better idea of the impression it made upon me, than to say it inspired me with an ardent love of the man and a profound veneration of his character. It was so massive and noble, so grand in its proportions, that all men must admire its heroism and gallantry, yet so gentle and tender that a woman might adopt and claim it as her own."
We beg the reader to observe that in these two tributes to the worth of the great soldier, his distinguished associates dwell with peculiar emphasis upon the charms of private intercourse with him, and bear their testimony to the fact that to know him better was to love and admire him more and more. The fact is easily explained. There was in this human being's character naught that was insincere, assumed, or pretentious. It was a great and massive soul—as gentle, too, and tender, as a woman's or a child's—that lay beneath the reserved exterior, and made the soldier more beloved as its qualities were better known. Other men reveal their weaknesses on nearer acquaintance—Lee only revealed his greatness; and he was more and more loved and admired.
The justice of these comments will be recognized by all who had personal intercourse with the illustrious soldier; and, in this autumn and winter of 1863, his army, lying around him along the Rapidan, began to form that more intimate acquaintance which uniformly resulted in profound admiration for the man. In the great campaigns of the two past years the gray soldier had shared their hardships, and never relaxed his fatherly care for all their wants; he had led them in battle, exposing his own person with entire indifference; had never exposed them when it was possible to avoid it; and on every occasion had demanded, often with disagreeable persistence from the civil authorities, that the wants of his veterans should be supplied if all else was neglected. These facts were now known to the troops, and made Lee immensely popular. From the highest officers to the humblest private soldiers he was universally respected and beloved. The whole army seemed to feel that, in the plainly-clad soldier, sleeping, like themselves, under canvas, in the woods of Orange, they had a guiding and protecting head, ever studious of their well-being, jealous of their hard-earned fame, and ready, both as friend and commander, to represent them and claim their due.
We have spoken of the great revival of religion which at this time took place in the army. The touching spectacle was presented of bearded veterans, who had charged in a score of combats, kneeling devoutly under the rustic roofs of evergreens, built for religious gatherings, and praying to the God of battles who had so long protected them. A commander-in-chief of the old European school might have ridiculed these emotional assemblages, or, at best, passed them without notice, as freaks in which he disdained to take part. Lee, on the contrary, greeted the religious enthusiasm of his troops with undisguised pleasure. He went among them, conversed with the chaplains, assisted the good work by every means in his power; and no ordained minister of the Gospel could have exhibited a simpler, sincerer, or more heartfelt delight than himself at the general extension of religious feeling throughout the army. We have related how, in talking with army-chaplains, his cheeks flushed and his eyes filled with tears at the good tidings. He begged them to pray for him too, as no less needing their pious intercession; and in making the request he was, as always, simple and sincere. Unaccustomed to exhibit his feelings upon this, the profoundest and most sacred of subjects, he was yet penetrated to his inmost soul by a sense of his own weakness and dependence on divine support; and, indeed, it may be questioned whether any other element of the great soldier's character was so deep-seated and controlling as his spirit of love to God. It took, in the eyes of the world, the form of a love of duty; but with Lee the word duty was but another name for the will of the Almighty; and to discover and perform this was, first and last, the sole aim of his life.
We elaborate this point before passing to the last great campaign of the war, since, to understand Lee in those last days, it is absolutely necessary to keep in view this utter subjection of the man's heart to the sense of an overruling Providence—that Providence which "shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will." We shall be called upon to delineate the soldier meeting adverse circumstances and disaster at every turn with an imperial calmness and a resolution that never shook; and, up to a certain point, this noble composure may be attributed to the stubborn courage of the man's nature. There came in due time, however, a moment of trial when military courage simply was of no avail—when that human being never lived, who, looking to earthly support alone, would not have lost heart and given up the contest. Lee did not, in this hour of conclusive trial, either lose heart or give up the struggle; and the world, not understanding the phenomenon, gazed at him with wonder. Few were aware of the true explanation of his utter serenity when all things were crumbling around him, and when he knew that they were crumbling. The stout heart of the soldier who will not yield to fate was in his breast; but he had a still stronger sentiment than manly courage to support him—the consciousness that he was doing his duty, and that God watched over him, and would make all things work together for good to those who loved Him.
As yet that last great wrestle of the opposing armies lay in the future. The veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia defended the line of the Rapidan, and the gray commander-in-chief, in his tent on Clarke's Mountain, serenely awaited the further movements of the enemy. During the long months of winter he was busily engaged, as usual, in official correspondence, in looking to the welfare of his men, and in preparations for the coming campaign. He often rode among the camps, and the familiar figure in the well-known hat, cape, and gray uniform, mounted upon the powerful iron-gray—the famous "Traveller," who survived to bear his master after the war—was everywhere greeted by the ragged veterans with cheers and marks of the highest respect and regard. At times his rides were extended to the banks of the Rapidan, and, in passing, he would stop at the headquarters of General Stuart, or other officers. On these occasions he had always some good-humored speech for all, not overlooking the youngest officer; but he shone in the most amiable light, perhaps, in conversing with some old private soldier, gray-haired like himself. At such moments the general's countenance was a pleasant spectacle. A kindly smile lit up the clear eyes, and moved the lips half-concealed by the grizzled mustache. The bonhomie of this smile was irresistible, and the aged private soldier, in his poor, tattered fighting-jacket, was made to feel by it that his commander-in-chief regarded him as a friend and comrade.
We dwell at too great length, perhaps, upon these slight personal traits of the soldier, but all relating to such a human being is interesting, and worthy of record. To the writer, indeed, this is the most attractive phase of his subject. The analysis and description of campaigns and battles is an unattractive task to him; but the personal delineation of a good and great man, even in his lesser and more familiar traits, is a pleasing relief—a portion of his subject upon which he delights to linger. What the writer here tries to draw, he looked upon with his own eyes, the figure of a great, calm soldier, with kindly sweetness and dignity, but, above all, a charming sincerity and simplicity in every movement, accent, and expression. Entirely free from the trappings of high command, and with nothing to distinguish him from any other soldier save the well-worn stars on the collar of his uniform-coat, the commander-in-chief was recognizable at the very first glance, and no less the simple and kindly gentleman. His old soldiers remember him as he appeared on many battle-fields, and will describe his martial seat in the saddle as he advanced with the advancing lines. But they will speak of him with even greater pleasure as he appeared in the winters of 1862 and 1863, on the Rappahannock and the Rapidan—a gray and simple soldier, riding among them and smiling kindly as his eyes fell upon their tattered uniforms and familiar faces.
LEE'S LAST CAMPAIGNS AND LAST DAYS.
GENERAL GRANT CROSSES THE RAPIDAN.
In the first days of May, 1864, began the immense campaign which was to terminate only with the fall of the Confederacy.
For this, which was regarded as the decisive trial of strength, the Federal authorities had made elaborate preparations. New levies were raised by draft to fill up the ranks of the depleted forces; great masses of war material were accumulated at the central depots at Washington, and the Government summoned from the West an officer of high reputation to conduct hostilities on what was more plainly than ever before seen to be the theatre of decisive conflict—Virginia. The officer in question was General Ulysses S. Grant, who had received the repute of eminent military ability by his operations in the West; he was now commissioned lieutenant-general, and President Lincoln assigned him to the command of "all the armies of the United States," at that time estimated to number one million men.
General Grant promptly accepted the trust confided to him, and, relinquishing to Major-General Sherman the command of the Western forces, proceeded to Culpepper and assumed personal command of the Army of the Potomac, although nominally that army remained under command of General Meade. The spring campaign was preceded, in February, by two movements of the Federal forces: one the advance of General B.F. Butler up the Peninsula to the Chickahominy, where for a few hours he threatened Richmond, only to retire hastily when opposed by a few local troops; the other the expedition of General Kilpatrick with a body of cavalry, from the Rapidan toward Richmond, with the view of releasing the Federal prisoners there. This failed completely, like the expedition up the Peninsula. General Kilpatrick, after threatening the city, rapidly retreated, and a portion of his command, under Colonel Dahlgren, was pursued, and a large portion killed, including their commander. It is to be hoped, for the honor of human nature, that Colonel Dahlgren's designs were different from those which are attributed to him on what seems unassailable proof. Papers found upon his body contained minute directions for releasing the prisoners and giving up the city to them, and for putting to death the Confederate President and his Cabinet.
To return to the more important events on the Rapidan. General Grant assumed the direction of the Army of the Potomac under most favorable auspices. Other commanders—especially General McClellan—had labored under painful disadvantages, from the absence of cooeperation and good feeling on the part of the authorities. The new leader entered upon the great struggle under very different circumstances. Personally and politically acceptable to the Government, he received their hearty cooeperation: all power was placed in his hands; he was enabled to concentrate in Virginia the best troops, in large numbers; and the character of this force seemed to promise him assured victory. General McClellan and others had commanded troops comparatively raw, and were opposed by Confederate armies in the full flush of anticipated success. General Grant had now under him an army of veterans, and the enemy he was opposed to had, month by month, lost strength. Under these circumstances it seemed that he ought to succeed in crushing his adversary.
The Federal army present and ready for duty May 1, 1864, numbered one hundred and forty-one thousand one hundred and sixty-six men. That of General Lee numbered fifty-two thousand six hundred and twenty-six. Colonel Taylor, adjutant-general of the Army, states the strictly effective at a little less, viz.:
Ewell 13,000 Hill 17,000 Longstreet 10,000
Infantry 40,000 Cavalry and artillery 10,000
The two statements do not materially differ, and require no discussion. The force at Lee's command was a little over one-third of General Grant's; and, if it be true that the latter commander continued to receive reenforcements between the 1st and 4th days of May, when he crossed the Rapidan, Lee's force was probably less than one-third of his adversary's.
Longstreet, it will be seen, had been brought back from the West, but the Confederates labored under an even more serious disadvantage than want of sufficient force. Lee's army, small as it was, was wretchedly supplied. Half the men were in rags, and, worse still, were but one-fourth fed. Against this suicidal policy, in reference to an army upon which depended the fate of the South, General Lee had protested in vain. Whether from fault in the authorities or from circumstances over which they could exercise no control, adequate supplies of food did not reach the army; and, when it marched to meet the enemy, in the first days of May, the men were gaunt, half-fed, and in no condition to enter upon so arduous a campaign. There was naught to be done, however, but to fight on to the end. Upon the Army of Northern Virginia, depleted by casualties, and unprovided with the commonest necessaries, depended the fate of the struggle. Generals Grant and Lee fully realized that fact; and the Federal commander had the acumen to perceive that the conflict was to be long and determined. He indulged no anticipations of an early or easy success. His plan, as stated in his official report, was "to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if by nothing else, there should be nothing left of him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our common country to the Constitution and the laws." The frightful cost in blood of this policy of hammering continuously and thus wearing away his adversary's strength by mere attrition, did or did not occur to General Grant. In either case he is not justly to be blamed.
It was the only policy which promised to result in Federal success. Pitched battles had been tried for nearly three years, and in victory or in defeat the Southern army seemed equally unshaken and dangerous. This fact was now felt and acknowledged even by its enemies. "Lee's army," said a Northern writer, referring to it at this time, "is an army of veterans: it is an instrument sharpened to a perfect edge. You turn its flanks—well, its flanks are made to be turned. This effects little or nothing. All that we reckon as gained, therefore, is the loss of life inflicted on the enemy." With an army thus trained in many combats, and hardened against misfortune, defeat in one or a dozen battles decided nothing. General Grant seems to have understood this, and to have resolutely adopted the programme of "attrition"—coldly estimating that, even if he lost ten men to General Lee's one, he could better endure that loss, and could afford it, if thereby he "crushed the rebellion."
The military theory of the Federal commander having thus been set forth in his own words, it remains to notice his programme for the approaching campaign. He had hesitated between two plans—"one to cross the Rapidan below Lee, moving by his right flank; the other above, moving by his left." The last was abandoned, from the difficulty of keeping open communication with any base of supplies, and the latter adopted. General Grant determined to "fight Lee between Culpepper and Richmond, if he would stand;" to advance straight upon the city and invest it from the north and west, thereby cutting its communications in three directions; and then, crossing the James River above the city, form a junction with the left of Major-General Butler, who, moving with about thirty thousand men from Fortress Monroe, at the moment when the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan, was to occupy City Point, advance thence up the south side of James River, and reach a position where the two armies might thus unite.