"General Burnside wishes to cross the Rappahannock with his army, but his grand division commanders all oppose the movement. If in such a difficulty as this you do not help, you fail me precisely in the point for which I sought your assistance. You know what General Burnside's plan is, and it is my wish that you go with him to the ground, examine it as far as practicable, confer with the officers, getting their judgment and ascertaining their temper; in a word, gather all the elements for forming a judgment of your own, and then tell General Burnside that you do approve, or that you do not approve, his plan. Your military skill is useless to me if you will not do this."
Halleck's moral and official courage, however, failed the President in this emergency. He declined to give his military opinion, and asked to be relieved from further duties as general-in-chief. This left Mr. Lincoln no option, and still having need of the advice of his general-in-chief on other questions, he indorsed on his own letter, "withdrawn because considered harsh by General Halleck." The complication, however, continued to grow worse, and the correspondence more strained. Burnside declared that the country had lost confidence in both the Secretary of War and the general-in-chief; also, that his own generals were unanimously opposed to again crossing the Rappahannock. Halleck, on the contrary, urged another crossing, but that it must be made on Burnside's own decision, plan, and responsibility. Upon this the President, on January 8, 1863, again wrote Burnside:
"I understand General Halleck has sent you a letter of which this is a copy. I approve this letter. I deplore the want of concurrence with you in opinion by your general officers, but I do not see the remedy. Be cautious, and do not understand that the government or country is driving you. I do not yet see how I could profit by changing the command of the Army of the Potomac; and if I did, I should not wish to do it by accepting the resignation of your commission."
Once more Burnside issued orders against which his generals protested, and which a storm turned into the fruitless and impossible "mud march" before he reached the intended crossings of the Rappahannock. Finally, on January 23, Burnside presented to the President the alternative of either approving an order dismissing about a dozen generals, or accepting his own resignation, and Mr. Lincoln once more had before him the difficult task of finding a new commander for the Army of the Potomac. On January 25, 1863, the President relieved Burnside and assigned Major-General Joseph Hooker to duty as his successor; and in explanation of his action wrote him the following characteristic letter:
"I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside's command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it; and now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories."
Perhaps the most remarkable thing in this letter is the evidence it gives how completely the genius of President Lincoln had by this, the middle of his presidential term, risen to the full height of his great national duties and responsibilities. From beginning to end it speaks the language and breathes the spirit of the great ruler, secure in popular confidence and official authority, equal to the great emergencies that successively rose before him. Upon General Hooker its courteous praise and frank rebuke, its generous trust and distinct note of fatherly warning, made a profound impression. He strove worthily to redeem his past indiscretions by devoting himself with great zeal and energy to improving the discipline and morale of his army, recalling its absentees, and restoring its spirit by increased drill and renewed activity. He kept the President well informed of what he was doing, and early in April submitted a plan of campaign on which Mr. Lincoln indorsed, on the eleventh of that month:
"My opinion is that just now, with the enemy directly ahead of us, there is no eligible route for us into Richmond; and consequently a question of preference between the Rappahannock route and the James River route is a contest about nothing. Hence, our prime object is the enemy's army in front of us, and is not with or about Richmond at all, unless it be incidental to the main object."
Having raised his effective force to about one hundred and thirty thousand men, and learning that Lee's army was weakened by detachments to perhaps half that number, Hooker, near the end of the month, prepared and executed a bold movement which for a while was attended with encouraging progress. Sending General Sedgwick with three army corps to make a strong demonstration and crossing below Fredericksburg, Hooker with his remaining four corps made a somewhat long and circuitous march by which he crossed both the Rappahannock and the Rapidan above the town without serious opposition, and on the evening of April 30 had his four corps at Chancellorsville, south of the Rappahannock, from whence he could advance against the rear of the enemy. But his advantage of position was neutralized by the difficulties of the ground. He was in the dense and tangled forest known as the Wilderness, and the decision and energy of his brilliant and successful advance were suddenly succeeded by a spirit of hesitation and delay in which the evident and acknowledged chances of victory were gradually lost. The enemy found time to rally from his surprise and astonishment, to gather a strong line of defense, and finally, to organize a counter flank movement under Stonewall Jackson, which fell upon the rear of the Union right and created a panic in the Eleventh Corps. Sedgwick's force had crossed below and taken Fredericksburg; but the divided Union army could not effect a junction; and the fighting from May 1 to May 4 finally ended by the withdrawal of both sections of the Union army north of the Rappahannock. The losses suffered by the Union and the Confederate forces were about equal, but the prestige of another brilliant victory fell to General Lee, seriously balanced, however, by the death of Stonewall Jackson, who was accidentally killed by the fire of his own men.
In addition to his evident very unusual diminution of vigor and will, Hooker had received a personal injury on the third, which for some hours rendered him incapable of command; and he said in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War:
"When I returned from Chancellorsville I felt that I had fought no battle; in fact, I had more men than I could use, and I fought no general battle for the reason that I could not get my men in position to do so probably not more than three or three and a half corps on the right were engaged in the fight."
Hooker's defeat at Chancellorsville had not been so great a disaster as that of Burnside at Fredericksburg; and while his influence was greatly impaired, his usefulness did not immediately cease. The President and the Secretary of War still had faith in him. The average opinion of his qualities has been tersely expressed by one of his critics, who wrote: "As an inferior he planned badly and fought well; as a chief he planned well and fought badly." The course of war soon changed, so that he was obliged to follow rather than permitted to lead the developments of a new campaign.
The brilliant victories gained by Lee inspired the Confederate authorities and leaders with a greatly exaggerated hope of the ultimate success of the rebellion. It was during the summer of 1863 that the Confederate armies reached, perhaps, their highest numerical strength and greatest degree of efficiency. Both the long dreamed of possibility of achieving Southern independence and the newly flushed military ardor of officers and men, elated by what seemed to them an unbroken record of successes on the Virginia battle-fields moved General Lee to the bold hazard of a second invasion of the North. Early in June, Hooker gave it as his opinion that Lee intended to move against Washington, and asked whether in that case he should attack the Confederate rear. To this Lincoln answered on the fifth of that month:
"In case you find Lee coming to the north of the Rappahannock, I would by no means cross to the south of it. If he should leave a rear force at Fredericksburg tempting you to fall upon it, it would fight in intrenchments and have you at disadvantage, and so, man for man, worst you at that point, while his main force would in some way be getting an advantage of you northward. In one word, I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other."
Five days later, Hooker, having become convinced that a large part of Lee's army was in motion toward the Shenandoah valley, proposed the daring plan of a quick and direct march to capture Richmond. But the President immediately telegraphed him a convincing objection:
"If left to me, I would not go south of the Rappahannock upon Lee's moving north of it. If you had Richmond invested to-day, you would not be able to take it in twenty days; meanwhile, your communications, and with them your army, would be ruined. I think Lee's army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. If he comes toward the upper Potomac, follow on his flank and on his inside track, shortening your lines while he lengthens his. Fight him, too, when opportunity offers. If he stays where he is, fret him and fret him."
The movement northward of Lee's army, effectually masked for some days by frequent cavalry skirmishes, now became evident to the Washington authorities. On June 14, Lincoln telegraphed Hooker:
"So far as we can make out here, the enemy have Milroy surrounded at Winchester, and Tyler at Martinsburg If they could hold out a few days, could you help them? If the head of Lee's army is at Martinsburg, and the tail of it on the plank road between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere. Could you not break him?"
While Lee, without halting, crossed the Potomac above Harper's Ferry, and continued his northward march into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Hooker prudently followed on the "inside track" as Mr. Lincoln had suggested, interposing the Union army effectually to guard Washington and Baltimore. But at this point a long-standing irritation and jealousy between Hooker and Halleck became so acute that on the general-in-chief's refusing a comparatively minor request, Hooker asked to be relieved from command. The President, deeming divided counsel at so critical a juncture more hazardous than a change of command, took Hooker at his word, and appointed General George G. Meade as his successor.
Meade had, since Chancellorsville, been as caustic a critic of Hooker as Hooker was of Burnside at and after Fredericksburg. But all spirit of insubordination vanished in the exciting stress of a pursuing campaign and the new and retiring leaders of the Army of the Potomac exchanged compliments in General Orders with high chivalric courtesy, while the army continued its northward march with undiminished ardor and unbroken step. When Meade crossed the Pennsylvania line, Lee was already far ahead, threatening Harrisburg. The Confederate invasion spread terror and loss among farms and villages, and created almost a panic in the great cities. Under the President's call for one hundred thousand six months' militia six of the adjoining States were sending hurried and improvised forces to the banks of the Susquehanna, under the command of General Couch. Lee, finding that stream too well guarded, turned his course directly east, which, with Meade marching to the north, brought the opposing armies into inevitable contact and collision at the town of Gettysburg.
Meade had both expected and carefully prepared to receive the attack and fight a defensive battle on the line of Pipe Creek. But when, on the afternoon of July 1, 1863, the advance detachments of each army met and engaged in a fierce conflict for the possession of the town, Meade, on learning the nature of the fight, and the situation of the ground, instantly decided to accept it, and ordering forward his whole force, made it the principal and most decisive battle-field of the whole war.
The Union troops made a violent and stubborn effort to hold the town of Gettysburg; but the early Confederate arrivals, taking position in a half-circle on the west, north, and east, drove them through and out of it. The seeming reverse proved an advantage. Half a mile to the south it enabled the Union detachments to seize and establish themselves on Cemetery Ridge and Hill. This, with several rocky elevations, and a crest of boulders making a curve to the east at the northern end, was in itself almost a natural fortress, and with the intrenchments thrown up by the expert veterans, soon became nearly impregnable. Beyond a wide valley to the west, and parallel with it, lay Seminary Ridge, on which the Confederate army established itself with equal rapidity. Lee had also hoped to fight a defensive battle; but thus suddenly arrested in his eastward march in a hostile country, could not afford to stand still and wait.
On the morning of July 2, both commanding generals were in the field. After careful studies and consultations Lee ordered an attack on both the extreme right and extreme left of the Union position, meeting some success in the former, but a complete repulse in the latter. That night, Meade's council of war, coinciding with his own judgment, resolved to stand and fight it out; while Lee, against the advice of Longstreet, his ablest general, with equal decision determined to risk the chance of a final and determined attack.
It was Meade who began the conflict at dawn on the morning of July 3, but only long enough to retake and hold the intrenchments on his extreme right, which he had lost the evening before; then for some hours an ominous lull and silence fell over the whole battle-field. But these were hours of stern preparation At midday a furious cannonade began from one hundred and thirty Confederate guns on Seminary Ridge, which was answered with promptness and spirit by about seventy Union guns from the crests and among the boulders of Cemetery Ridge; and the deafening roar of artillery lasted for about an hour, at the end of which time the Union guns ceased firing and were allowed to cool, and to be made ready to meet the assault that was sure to come. There followed a period of waiting almost painful to officers and men, in its intense expectancy; and then across the broad, undulating, and highly cultivated valley swept the long attacking line of seventeen thousand rebel infantry, the very flower of the Confederate army. But it was a hopeless charge. Thinned, almost mowed down by the grape-shot of the Union batteries and the deadly aim of the Union riflemen behind their rocks and intrenchments the Confederate assault wavered, hesitated, struggled on, and finally melted away before the destructive fire. A few rebel battle-flags reached the crest, only, however, to fall, and their bearers and supporters to be made prisoners. The Confederate dream of taking Philadelphia and dictating peace and separation in Independence Hall was over forever.
It is doubtful whether Lee immediately realized the full measure of his defeat, or Meade the magnitude of his victory. The terrible losses of the battle of Gettysburg—over three thousand killed, fourteen thousand wounded, and five thousand captured or missing of the Union army; and twenty-six hundred killed, twelve thousand wounded, and five thousand missing of the Confederates—largely occupied the thoughts and labors of both sides during the national holiday which followed. It was a surprise to Meade that on the morning of July 5 the Confederate army had disappeared, retreating as rapidly as might be to the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry. Unable immediately to cross because the Potomac was swollen by heavy rains, and Meade having followed and arrived in Lee's front on July 10, President Lincoln had the liveliest hopes that Meade would again attack and capture or destroy the Confederate army. Generous praise for his victory, and repeated and urgent suggestions to renew his attack and end the rebellion, had gone to Meade from the President and General Halleck. But Meade hesitated, and his council of war objected; and on the night of July 13 Lee recrossed the Potomac in retreat. When he heard the news, Mr. Lincoln sat down and wrote a letter of criticism and disappointment which reflects the intensity of his feeling at the escape of Lee:
"The case, summarily stated, is this: You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg, and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours. He retreated and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him till, by slow degrees, you were again upon him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg, while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit, and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him.... Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect [that] you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it."
Clearly as Mr. Lincoln had sketched and deeply as he felt Meade's fault of omission, so quick was the President's spirit of forgiveness, and so thankful was he for the measure of success which had been gained, that he never signed or sent the letter.
Two memorable events are forever linked with the Gettysburg victory: the surrender of Vicksburg to Grant on the same fourth of July, described in the next chapter, and the dedication of the Gettysburg battle-field as a national cemetery for Union soldiers, on November 19, 1863, on which occasion President Lincoln crowned that imposing ceremonial with an address of such literary force, brevity, and beauty, that critics have assigned it a high rank among the world's historic orations. He said:
"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
"But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Having safely crossed the Potomac, the Confederate army continued its retreat without halting to the familiar camps in central Virginia it had so long and valiantly defended. Meade followed with alert but prudent vigilance, but did not again find such chances as he lost on the fourth of July, or while the swollen waters of the Potomac held his enemy as in a trap. During the ensuing autumn months there went on between the opposing generals an unceasing game of strategy, a succession of moves and counter-moves in which the opposing commanders handled their great armies with the same consumate skill with which the expert fencing-master uses his foil, but in which neither could break through the other's guard. Repeated minor encounters took place which, in other wars, would have rated as heavy battles; but the weeks lengthened into months without decisive results, and when the opposing armies finally went into winter quarters in December, 1863, they again confronted each other across the Rapidan in Virginia, not very far south of where they lay in the winter of 1861.
Buell and Bragg—Perryville—Rosecrans and Murfreesboro—Grant's Vicksburg Experiments—Grant's May Battles—Siege and Surrender of Vicksburg—Lincoln to Grant—Rosecrans's March to Chattanooga—Battle of Chickamauga—Grant at Chattanooga—Battle of Chattanooga—Burnside at Knoxville—Burnside Repulses Longstreet
From the Virginia campaigns of 1863 we must return to the Western campaigns of the same year, or, to be more precise, beginning with the middle of 1862. When, in July of that year, Halleck was called to Washington to become general-in-chief, the principal plan he left behind was that Buell, with the bulk of the forces which had captured Corinth, should move from that place eastward to occupy eastern Tennessee. Buell, however, progressed so leisurely that before he reached Chattanooga the Confederate General Bragg, by a swift northward movement, advanced into eastern Kentucky, enacted the farce of appointing a Confederate governor for that State, and so threatened Louisville that Buell was compelled abruptly to abandon his eastward march and, turning to the north, run a neck-and-neck race to save Louisville from rebel occupation. Successful in this, Buell immediately turned and, pursuing the now retreating forces of Bragg, brought them to bay at Perryville, where, on October 8, was fought a considerable battle from which Bragg immediately retreated out of Kentucky.
While on one hand Bragg had suffered defeat, he had on the other caused Buell to give up all idea of moving into East Tennessee, an object on which the President had specially and repeatedly insisted. When Halleck specifically ordered Buell to resume and execute that plan, Buell urged such objections, and intimated such unwillingness, that on October 24, 1862, he was relieved from command, and General Rosecrans was appointed to succeed him. Rosecrans neglected the East Tennessee orders as heedlessly as Buell had done; but, reorganizing the Army of the Cumberland and strengthening his communications, marched against Bragg, who had gone into winter quarters at Murfreesboro. The severe engagement of that name, fought on December 31, 1862, and the three succeeding days of the new year, between forces numbering about forty-three thousand on each side, was tactically a drawn battle, but its results rendered it an important Union victory, compelling Bragg to retreat; though, for reasons which he never satisfactorily explained, Rosecrans failed for six months to follow up his evident advantages.
The transfer of Halleck from the West to Washington in the summer of 1862, left Grant in command of the district of West Tennessee. But Buell's eastward expedition left him so few movable troops that during the summer and most of the autumn he was able to accomplish little except to defend his department by the repulse of the enemy at Iuka in September, and at Corinth early in October, Rosecrans being in local command at both places. It was for these successes that Rosecrans was chosen to succeed Buell.
Grant had doubtless given much of his enforced leisure to studying the great problem of opening the Mississippi, a task which was thus left in his own hands, but for which, as yet, he found neither a theoretical solution, nor possessed an army sufficiently strong to begin practical work. Under the most favorable aspects, it was a formidable undertaking. Union gunboats had full control of the great river from Cairo as far south as Vicksburg; and Farragut's fleet commanded it from New Orleans as far north as Port Hudson. But the intervening link of two hundred miles between these places was in as complete possession of the Confederates, giving the rebellion uninterrupted access to the immense resources in men and supplies of the trans-Mississippi country, and effectually barring the free navigation of the river. Both the cities named were strongly fortified, but Vicksburg, on the east bank, by its natural situation on a bluff two hundred feet high, rising almost out of the stream, was unassailable from the river front. Farragut had, indeed, in midsummer passed up and down before it with little damage from its fire; but, in return, his own guns could no more do harm to its batteries than they could have bombarded a fortress in the clouds.
When, by the middle of November, 1862, Grant was able to reunite sufficient reinforcements, he started on a campaign directly southward toward Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and sent Sherman, with an expedition from Memphis, down the river to the mouth of the Yazoo, hoping to unite these forces against Vicksburg. But before Grant reached Grenada his railroad communications were cut by a Confederate raid, and his great depot of supplies at Holly Springs captured and burned, leaving him for two weeks without other provisions than such as he could gather by foraging. The costly lesson proved a valuable experience to him, which he soon put to use. Sherman's expedition also met disaster. Landing at Milliken's Bend, on the west bank of the Mississippi, he ventured a daring storming assault from the east bank of the Yazoo at Haines's Bluff, ten miles north of Vicksburg, but met a bloody repulse.
Having abandoned his railroad advance, Grant next joined Sherman at Milliken's Bend in January, 1863, where also Admiral Porter, with a river squadron of seventy vessels, eleven of them ironclads, was added to his force. For the next three months Grant kept his large army and flotilla busy with four different experiments to gain a practicable advance toward Vicksburg, until his fifth highly novel and, to other minds, seemingly reckless and impossible plan secured him a brilliant success and results of immense military advantage. One experiment was to cut a canal across the tongue of land opposite Vicksburg, through which the flotilla might pass out of range of the Vicksburg guns. A second was to force the gunboats and transports up the tortuous and swampy Yazoo to find a landing far north of Haines's Bluff. A third was for the flotilla to enter through Yazoo Pass and Cold Water River, two hundred miles above, and descend the Yazoo to a hoped-for landing. Still a fourth project was to cut a canal into Lake Providence west of the Mississippi, seventy miles above, find a practicable waterway through two hundred miles of bayous and rivers, and establish communication with Banks and Farragut, who were engaged in an effort to capture Port Hudson.
The time, the patience, the infinite labor, and enormous expense of these several projects were utterly wasted. Early in April, Grant began an entirely new plan, which was opposed by all his ablest generals, and, tested by the accepted rules of military science, looked like a headlong venture of rash desperation. During the month of April he caused Admiral Porter to prepare fifteen or twenty vessels—ironclads, steam transports, and provision barges—and run them boldly by night past the Vicksburg and, later, past the Grand Gulf batteries, which the admiral happily accomplished with very little loss. Meanwhile, the general, by a very circuitous route of seventy miles, marched an army of thirty-five thousand down the west bank of the Mississippi and, with Porter's vessels and transports, crossed them to the east side of the river at Bruinsburg. From this point, with an improvised train of country vehicles to carry his ammunition, and living meanwhile entirely upon the country, as he had learned to do in his baffled Grenada expedition, he made one of the most rapid and brilliant campaigns in military history. In the first twenty days of May he marched one hundred and eighty miles, and fought five winning battles—respectively Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion's Hill, and Big Black River—in each of which he brought his practically united force against the enemy's separated detachments, capturing altogether eighty-eight guns and over six thousand prisoners, and shutting up the Confederate General Pemberton in Vicksburg. By a rigorous siege of six weeks he then compelled his antagonist to surrender the strongly fortified city with one hundred and seventy-two cannon, and his army of nearly thirty thousand men. On the fourth of July, 1863, the day after Meade's crushing defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, the surrender took place, citizens and Confederate soldiers doubtless rejoicing that the old national holiday gave them escape from their caves and bomb-proofs, and full Yankee rations to still their long-endured hunger.
The splendid victory of Grant brought about a quick and important echo. About the time that the Union army closed around Vicksburg, General Banks, on the lower Mississippi, began a close investment and siege of Port Hudson, which he pushed with determined tenacity. When the rebel garrison heard the artillery salutes which were fired by order of Banks to celebrate the surrender of Vicksburg, and the rebel commander was informed of Pemberton's disaster, he also gave up the defense, and on July 9 surrendered Port Hudson with six thousand prisoners and fifty-one guns.
Great national rejoicing followed this double success of the Union arms on the Mississippi, which, added to Gettysburg, formed the turning tide in the war of the rebellion; and no one was more elated over these Western victories, which fully restored the free navigation of the Mississippi, than President Lincoln. Like that of the whole country, his patience had been severely tried by the long and ineffectual experiments of Grant. But from first to last Mr. Lincoln had given him firm and undeviating confidence and support. He not only gave the general quick promotion, but crowned the official reward with the following generous letter:
"My Dear General: I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did—march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition and the like could succeed. When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks, and when you turned northward, east of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong."
It has already been mentioned that General Rosecrans after winning the battle of Murfreesboro at the beginning of 1863, remained inactive at that place nearly six months, though, of course, constantly busy recruiting his army, gathering supplies, and warding off several troublesome Confederate cavalry raids. The defeated General Bragg retreated only to Shelbyville, ten miles south of the battle-field he had been obliged to give up, and the military frontier thus divided Tennessee between the contestants. Against repeated prompting and urging from Washington, Rosecrans continued to find real or imaginary excuses for delay until midsummer, when, as if suddenly awaking from a long lethargy, he made a bold advance and, by a nine days' campaign of skilful strategy, forced Bragg into a retreat that stopped only at Chattanooga, south of the Tennessee River, which, with the surrounding mountains, made it the strategical center and military key to the heart of Georgia and the South. This march of Rosecrans, ending the day before the Vicksburg surrender, again gave the Union forces full possession of middle Tennessee down to its southern boundary.
The march completed, and the enemy thus successfully manoeuvered out of the State, Rosecrans once more came to a halt, and made no further movement for six weeks. The President and General Halleck were already out of patience with Rosecrans for his long previous delay. Bragg's retreat to Chattanooga was such a gratifying and encouraging supplement to the victories of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, that they felt the Confederate army should not be allowed to rest, recruit, and fortify the important gateway to the heart of the Southern Confederacy, and early in August sent Rosecrans peremptory orders to advance. This direction seemed the more opportune and necessary, since Burnside had organized a special Union force in eastern Kentucky, and was about starting on a direct campaign into East Tennessee.
Finally, obeying this explicit injunction, Rosecrans took the initiative in the middle of August by a vigorous southward movement. Threatening Chattanooga from the north, he marched instead around the left flank of Bragg's army, boldly crossing the Cumberland Mountains, the Tennessee River, and two mountain ranges beyond. Bragg, seriously alarmed lest Rosecrans should seize the railroad communications behind him, hastily evacuated Chattanooga, but not with the intention of flight, as Rosecrans erroneously believed and reported. When, on September 9, the left of Rosecrans's army marched into Chattanooga without firing a shot, the Union detachments were so widely scattered in separating mountain valleys, in pursuit of Bragg's imaginary retreat, that Bragg believed he saw his chance to crush them in detail before they could unite.
With this resolve, Bragg turned upon his antagonist but his effort at quick concentration was delayed by the natural difficulties of the ground. By September 19, both armies were well gathered on opposite sides of Chickamauga Creek, eight miles southeast of Chattanooga; each commander being as yet, however, little informed of the other's position and strength. Bragg had over seventy-one thousand men; Rosecrans, fifty-seven thousand. The conflict was finally begun, rather by accident than design, and on that day and the twentieth was fought the battle of Chickamauga, one of the severest encounters of the whole war. Developing itself without clear knowledge on either side, it became a moving conflict, Bragg constantly extending his attack toward his right, and Rosecrans meeting the onset with prompt shifting toward his left.
In this changing contest Rosecrans's army underwent an alarming crisis on the second day of the battle. A mistake or miscarriage of orders opened a gap of two brigades in his line, which the enemy quickly found, and through which the Confederate battalions rushed with an energy that swept away the whole Union right in a disorderly retreat. Rosecrans himself was caught in the panic, and, believing the day irretrievably lost, hastened back to Chattanooga to report the disaster and collect what he might of his flying army. The hopeless prospect, however, soon changed. General Thomas, second in command, and originally in charge of the center, had been sent by Rosecrans to the extreme left, and had, while the right was giving way, successfully repulsed the enemy in his front. He had been so fortunate as to secure a strong position on the head of a ridge, around which he gathered such remnants of the beaten detachments as he could collect, amounting to about half the Union army, and here, from two o'clock in the afternoon until dark, he held his semicircular line against repeated assaults of the enemy, with a heroic valor that earned him the sobriquet of "The Rock of Chickamauga." At night, Thomas retired, under orders, to Rossville, half way to Chattanooga.
The President was of course greatly disappointed when Rosecrans telegraphed that he had met a serious disaster, but this disappointment was mitigated by the quickly following news of the magnificent defense and the successful stand made by General Thomas at the close of the battle. Mr. Lincoln immediately wrote in a note to Halleck:
"I think it very important for General Rosecrans to hold his position at or about Chattanooga, because, if held, from that place to Cleveland, both inclusive, it keeps all Tennessee clear of the enemy, and also breaks one of his most important railroad lines.... If he can only maintain this position, without more, this rebellion can only eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals."
And to Rosecrans he telegraphed directly, bidding him be of good cheer, and adding: "We shall do our utmost to assist you." To this end the administration took instant and energetic measures. On the night of September 23, the President, General Halleck, several members of the cabinet, and leading army and railroad officials met in an improvised council at the War Department, and issued emergency orders under which two army corps from the Army of the Potomac, numbering twenty thousand men in all, with their arms and equipments ready for the field, the whole under command of General Hooker, were transported from their camps on the Rapidan by railway to Nashville and the Tennessee River in the next eight days. Burnside, who had arrived at Knoxville early in September, was urged by repeated messages to join Rosecrans, and other reinforcements were already on the way from Memphis and Vicksburg.
All this help, however, was not instantly available. Before it could arrive Rosecrans felt obliged to draw together within the fortifications of Chattanooga, while Bragg quickly closed about him, and, by practically blockading Rosecrans's river communication, placed him in a state of siege. In a few weeks the limited supplies brought the Union army face to face with famine. It having become evident that Rosecrans was incapable of extricating it from its peril, he was relieved and the command given to Thomas, while the three western departments were consolidated under General Grant, and he was ordered personally to proceed to Chattanooga, which place he reached on October 22.
Before his arrival, General W.F. Smith had devised and prepared an ingenious plan to regain control of river communication. Under the orders of Grant, Smith successfully executed it, and full rations soon restored vigor and confidence to the Union troops. The considerable reinforcements under Hooker and Sherman coming up, put the besieging enemy on the defensive, and active preparations were begun, which resulted in the famous battle and overwhelming Union victory of Chattanooga on November 23, 24, and 25, 1863.
The city of Chattanooga lies on the southeastern bank of the Tennessee River. Back of the city, Chattanooga valley forms a level plain about two miles in width to Missionary Ridge, a narrow mountain range five hundred feet high, generally parallel to the course of the Tennessee, extending far to the southwest. The Confederates had fortified the upper end of Missionary Ridge to a length of five to seven miles opposite the city, lining its long crest with about thirty guns, amply supported by infantry. This formidable barrier was still further strengthened by two lines of rifle-pits, one at the base of Missionary Ridge next to the city, and another with advanced pickets still nearer Chattanooga Northward, the enemy strongly held the end of Missionary Ridge where the railroad tunnel passes through it; southward, they held the yet stronger point of Lookout Mountain, whose rocky base turns the course of the Tennessee River in a short bend to the north.
Grant's plan in rough outline was, that Sherman, with the Army of the Tennessee, should storm the northern end of Missionary Ridge at the railroad tunnel; Hooker, stationed at Wauhatchie, thirteen miles to the southwest with his two corps from the Army of the Potomac, should advance toward the city, storming the point of Lookout Mountain on his way; and Thomas, in the city, attack the direct front of Missionary Ridge. The actual beginning slightly varied this program, with a change of corps and divisions, but the detail is not worth noting.
Beginning on the night of November 23, Sherman crossed his command over the Tennessee, and on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth gained the northern end of Missionary Ridge, driving the enemy before him as far as the railroad tunnel. Here, however, he found a deep gap in the ridge, previously unknown to him, which barred his further progress. That same afternoon Hooker's troops worked their way through mist and fog up the rugged sides of Lookout Mountain, winning the brilliant success which has become famous as the "battle above the clouds." That same afternoon, also, two divisions of the center, under the eyes of Grant and Thomas, pushed forward the Union line about a mile, seizing and fortifying a hill called Orchard Knob, capturing Bragg's first line of rifle-pits and several hundred prisoners.
So far, everything had occurred to inspirit the Union troops and discourage the enemy. But the main incident was yet to come, on the afternoon of November 25. All the forenoon of that day Grant waited eagerly to see Sherman making progress along the north end of Missionary Ridge, not knowing that he had met an impassable valley. Grant's patience was equally tried at hearing no news from Hooker, though that general had successfully reached Missionary Ridge, and was ascending the gap near Rossville.
At three o'clock in the afternoon Grant at length gave Thomas the order to advance. Eleven Union brigades rushed forward with orders to take the enemy's rifle-pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, and then halt to reform. But such was the ease of this first capture, such the eagerness of the men who had been waiting all day for the moment of action, that, after but a slight pause, without orders, and moved by a common impulse, they swept on and up the steep and rocky face of Missionary Ridge, heedless of the enemy's fire from rifle and cannon at the top, until in fifty-five minutes after leaving their positions they almost simultaneously broke over the crest of the ridge in six different places, capturing the batteries and making prisoners of the supporting infantry, who, surprised and bewildered by the daring escalade, made little or no further resistance. Bragg's official report soundly berates the conduct of his men, apparently forgetting the heavy loss they had inflicted on their assailants but regardless of which the Union veterans mounted to victory in an almost miraculous exaltation of patriotic heroism.
Bragg's Confederate army was not only beaten, but hopelessly demoralized by the fiery Union assault, and fled in panic and retreat. Grant kept up a vigorous pursuit to a distance of twenty miles, which he ceased in order to send an immediate strong reinforcement under Sherman to relieve Burnside, besieged by the Confederate General Longstreet at Knoxville. But before this help arrived, Burnside had repulsed Longstreet who, promptly informed of the Chattanooga disaster, retreated in the direction of Virginia. Not being pursued, however, this general again wintered in East Tennessee; and for the same reason, the beaten army of Bragg halted in its retreat from Missionary Ridge at Dalton, where it also went into winter quarters. The battle of Chattanooga had opened the great central gateway to the south, but the rebel army, still determined and formidable, yet lay in its path, only twenty-eight miles away.
Grant Lieutenant-General—Interview with Lincoln—Grant Visits Sherman—Plan of Campaigns—Lincoln to Grant—From the Wilderness to Cold Harbor—The Move to City Point—Siege of Petersburg—Early Menaces Washington—Lincoln under Fire—Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley
The army rank of lieutenant-general had, before the Civil War, been conferred only twice on American commanders; on Washington, for service in the War of Independence, and on Scott, for his conquest of Mexico. As a reward for the victories of Donelson, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, Congress passed, and the President signed in February, 1864, an act to revive that grade. Calling Grant to Washington, the President met him for the first time at a public reception at the Executive Mansion on March 8, when the famous general was received with all the manifestations of interest and enthusiasm possible in a social state ceremonial. On the following day, at one o'clock, the general's formal investiture with his new rank and authority took place in the presence of Mr. Lincoln, the cabinet, and a few other officials.
"General Grant," said the President, "the nation's appreciation of what you have done, and its reliance upon you for what remains to do in the existing great struggle, are now presented, with this commission constituting you Lieutenant-General in the Army of the United States. With this high honor devolves upon you, also, a corresponding responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need to add that with what I here speak for the nation, goes my own hearty personal concurrence."
General Grant's reply was modest and also very brief:
"Mr. President, I accept this commission with gratitude for the high honor conferred. With the aid of the noble armies that have fought on so many fields for our common country, it will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectations. I feel the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving on me; and I know that if they are met, it will be due to those armies, and above all to the favor of that Providence which leads both nations and men."
In the informal conversation which followed, General Grant inquired what special service was expected of him; to which the President replied that the country wanted him to take Richmond; and being asked if he could do so, replied that he could if he had the troops, which he was assured would be furnished him. On the following day, Grant went to the Army of the Potomac, where Meade received him with frank courtesy, generously suggesting that he was ready to yield the command to any one Grant might prefer. Grant, however, informed Meade that he desired to make no change; and, returning to Washington, started west without a moment's loss of time. On March 12, 1864, formal orders of the War Department placed Grant in command of all the armies of the United States, while Halleck, relieved from that duty, was retained at Washington as the President's chief of staff.
Grant frankly confesses in his "Memoirs" that when he started east it was with a firm determination to accept no appointment requiring him to leave the West; but "when I got to Washington and saw the situation, it was plain that here was the point for the commanding general to be." His short visit had removed several false impressions, and future experience was to cure him of many more.
When Grant again met Sherman in the West, he outlined to that general, who had become his most intimate and trusted brother officer, the very simple and definite military policy which was to be followed during the year 1864. There were to be but two leading campaigns. Sherman, starting from Chattanooga, full master of his own movements, was to lead the combined western forces against the Confederate army under Johnston, the successor of Bragg. Grant would personally conduct the campaign in the East against Richmond, or rather against the rebel army under Lee. Meade would be left in immediate command of the Army of the Potomac, to execute the personal daily directions of Grant. The two Confederate armies were eight hundred miles apart, and should either give way, it was to be followed without halt or delay to battle or surrender, to prevent its junction with the other. Scattered as a large portion of the Union forces were in garrisons and detachments at widely separated points, there were, of course, many details to be arranged, and a few expeditions already in progress; but these were of minor importance, and for contributory, rather than main objects, and need not here be described.
Returning promptly to Washington, Grant established his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, at Culpepper, and for about a month actively pushed his military preparations. He seems at first to have been impressed with a dread that the President might wish to influence or control his plans. But the few interviews between them removed the suspicion which reckless newspaper accusation had raised; and all doubt on this point vanished, when, on the last day of April, Mr. Lincoln sent him the following explicit letter:
"Not expecting to see you again before the spring campaign opens, I wish to express in this way my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plan I neither know nor seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster or capture of our men in great numbers shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it. And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain you."
Grant's immediate reply confessed the groundlessness of his apprehensions:
"From my first entrance into the volunteer service of the country to the present day, I have never had cause of complaint—have never expressed or implied a complaint against the administration, or the Secretary of War, for throwing any embarrassment in the way of my vigorously prosecuting what appeared to me my duty. Indeed, since the promotion which placed me in command of all the armies, and in view of the great responsibility and importance of success, I have been astonished at the readiness with which everything asked for has been yielded, without even an explanation being asked. Should my success be less than I desire and expect, the least I can say is, the fault is not with you."
The Union army under Grant, one hundred and twenty-two thousand strong, on April 30, was encamped north of the Rapidan River. The Confederate army under Lee, numbering sixty-two thousand, lay south of that stream. Nearly three years before, these opposing armies had fought their first battle of Bull Run, only a comparatively short distance north of where they now confronted each other. Campaign and battle between them had surged far to the north and to the south, but neither could as yet claim over the other any considerable gain of ground or of final advantage in the conflict. Broadly speaking, relative advance and retreat, as well as relative loss and gain of battle-fields substantially balanced each other. Severe as had been their struggles in the past, a more arduous trial of strength was before them. Grant had two to one in numbers; Lee the advantage of a defensive campaign. He could retire toward cumulative reserves, and into prepared fortifications; knew almost by heart every road, hill, and forest of Virginia; had for his friendly scout every white inhabitant. Perhaps his greatest element of strength lay in the conscious pride of the Confederate army that through all fluctuations of success and failure, it had for three years effectually barred the way of the Army of the Potomac to Richmond. But to offset this there now menaced it what was before absent in every encounter, the grim, unflinching will of the new Union commander.
General Grant devised no plan of complicated strategy for the problem before him, but proposed to solve it by plain, hard, persistent fighting. He would endeavor to crush the army of Lee before it could reach Richmond or unite with the army of Johnston; or, failing in that, he would shut it up in that stronghold and reduce it by a siege. With this in view, he instructed Meade at the very outset: "Lee's army will be your objective point. Where Lee goes, there you will go, also." Everything being ready, on the night of May 4, Meade threw five bridges across the Rapidan, and before the following night the whole Union army, with its trains, was across the stream moving southward by the left flank, past the right flank of the Confederates.
Sudden as was the advance, it did not escape the vigilant observation of Lee, who instantly threw his force against the flanks of the Union columns, and for two days there raged in that difficult, broken, and tangled region known as the Wilderness, a furious battle of detachments along a line five miles in length. Thickets, swamps, and ravines, rendered intelligent direction and concerted manoeuvering impossible, and furious and bloody as was the conflict, its results were indecisive. No enemy appearing on the seventh, Grant boldly started to Spottsylvania Court House, only, however, to find the Confederates ahead of him; and on the eighth and ninth these turned their position, already strong by nature, into an impregnable intrenched camp. Grant assaulted their works on the tenth, fiercely, but unsuccessfully. There followed one day of inactivity, during which Grant wrote his report, only claiming that after six days of hard fighting and heavy losses "the result up to this time is much in our favor"; but expressing, in the phrase which immediately became celebrated, his firm resolution to "fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."
On May 12, 1864, Grant ordered a yet more determined attack, in which, with fearful carnage on both sides, the Union forces finally stormed the earthworks which have become known as the "bloody angle." But finding that other and more formidable intrenchments still resisted his entrance to the Confederate camp, Grant once more moved by the left flank past his enemy toward Richmond. Lee followed with equal swiftness along the interior lines. Days passed in an intermitting, and about equally matched contest of strategy and fighting. The difference was that Grant was always advancing and Lee always retiring. On May 26, Grant reported to Washington:
"Lee's army is really whipped. The prisoners we now take show it, and the action of his army shows it unmistakably. A battle with them outside of intrenchments cannot be had. Our men feel that they have gained the morale over the enemy, and attack him with confidence. I may be mistaken, but I feel that our success over Lee's army is already assured."
That same night, Grant's advance crossed the Pamunkey River at Hanover Town, and during another week, with a succession of marching, flanking, and fighting. Grant pushed the Union army forward to Cold Harbor. Here Lee's intrenched army was again between him and Richmond, and on June 3, Grant ordered another determined attack in front, to break through that constantly resisting barrier. But a disastrous repulse was the consequence. Its effect upon the campaign is best given in Grant's own letter, written to Washington on June 5:
"My idea from the start has been to beat Lee's army, if possible, north of Richmond; then, after destroying his lines of communication on the north side of the James River, to transfer the army to the south side and besiege Lee in Richmond, or follow him south if he should retreat. I now find, after over thirty days of trial, the enemy deems it of the first importance to run no risks with the armies they now have. They act purely on the defensive behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive immediately in front of them, and where, in case of repulse, they can instantly retire behind them. Without a greater sacrifice of human life than I am willing to make, all cannot be accomplished that I had designed outside of the city."
During the week succeeding the severe repulse at Cold Harbor, which closed what may be summed up as Grant's campaign against Richmond, he made his preparations to enter upon the second element of his general plan, which may be most distinctively denominated the siege of Petersburg, though, in fuller phraseology, it might be called the siege of Petersburg and Richmond combined. But the amplification is not essential; for though the operation and the siege-works embraced both cities, Petersburg was the vital and vulnerable point. When Petersburg fell, Richmond fell of necessity. The reason was, that Lee's army, inclosed within the combined fortifications, could only be fed by the use of three railroads centering at Petersburg; one from the southeast, one from the south, and one with general access from the southwest. Between these, two plank roads added a partial means of supply. Thus far, Grant's active campaign, though failing to destroy Lee's army, had nevertheless driven it into Richmond, and obviously his next step was either to dislodge it, or compel it to surrender.
Cold Harbor was about ten miles from Richmond, and that city was inclosed on the Washington side by two circles of fortifications devised with the best engineering skill. On June 13, Grant threw forward an army corps across the Chickahominy, deceiving Lee into the belief that he was making a real direct advance upon the city; and so skilfully concealed his intention that by midnight of the sixteenth he had moved the whole Union army with its artillery and trains about twenty miles directly south and across the James River, on a pontoon bridge over two thousand feet long, to City Point. General Butler, with an expedition from Fortress Monroe, moving early in May, had been ordered to capture Petersburg; and though he failed in this, he had nevertheless seized and held City Point, and Grant thus effected an immediate junction with Butler's force of thirty-two thousand. Butler's second attempt to seize Petersburg while Grant was marching to join him also failed, and Grant, unwilling to make any needless sacrifice, now limited his operations to the processes of a regular siege.
This involved a complete change of method. The campaign against Richmond, from the crossing of the Rapidan and battle of the Wilderness, to Cold Harbor, and the change of base to City Point, occupied a period of about six weeks of almost constant swift marching and hard fighting. The siege of Petersburg was destined to involve more than nine months of mingled engineering and fighting. The Confederate army forming the combined garrisons of Richmond and Petersburg numbered about seventy thousand. The army under Grant, though in its six weeks' campaign it had lost over sixty thousand in killed, wounded, and missing, was again raised by the reinforcements sent to it, and by its junction with Butler, to a total of about one hundred and fifty thousand. With this superiority of numbers, Grant pursued the policy of alternately threatening the defenses of Lee, sometimes south, sometimes north of the James River, and at every favorable opportunity pushing his siege-works westward in order to gradually gain and command the three railroads and two plank roads that brought the bulk of absolutely necessary food and supplies to the Confederate armies and the inhabitants of Petersburg and Richmond. It is estimated that this gradual westward extension of Grant's lines, redoubts, and trenches, when added to those threatening Richmond and Petersburg on the east, finally reached a total development of about forty miles. The catastrophe came when Lee's army grew insufficient to man his defensive line along this entire length, and Grant, finding the weakened places, eventually broke through it, compelling the Confederate general and army to evacuate and abandon both cities and seek safety in flight.
The central military drama, the first two distinctive acts of which are outlined above, had during this long period a running accompaniment of constant under-plot and shifting and exciting episodes. The Shenandoah River, rising northwest of Richmond, but flowing in a general northeast course to join the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, gives its name to a valley twenty to thirty miles wide, highly fertile and cultivated, and having throughout its length a fine turnpike, which in ante-railroad days was an active commercial highway between North and South. Bordered on the west by the rugged Alleghany Mountains, and on the east by the single outlying range called the Blue Ridge, it formed a protected military lane or avenue, having vital relation to the strategy of campaigns on the open Atlantic slopes of central Virginia. The Shenandoah valley had thus played a not unimportant part in almost every military operation of the war, from the first battle of Bull Run to the final defense of Richmond.
The plans of General Grant did not neglect so essential a feature of his task. While he was fighting his way toward the Confederate capital, his instructions contemplated the possession and occupation of the Shenandoah valley as part of the system which should isolate and eventually besiege Richmond. But this part of his plan underwent many fluctuations. He had scarcely reached City Point when he became aware that General Lee, equally alive to the advantages of the Shenandoah valley, had dispatched General Early with seventeen thousand men on a flying expedition up that convenient natural sally-port, which was for the moment undefended.
Early made such speed that he crossed the Potomac during the first week of July, made a devastating raid through Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, threatened Baltimore, and turning sharply to the south, was, on the eleventh of the month, actually at the outskirts of Washington city, meditating its assault and capture. Only the opportune arrival of the Sixth Army Corps under General Wright, on the afternoon of that day, sent hurriedly by Grant from City Point, saved the Federal capital from occupation and perhaps destruction by the enemy.
Certain writers have represented the government as panic-stricken during the two days that this menace lasted; but neither Mr. Lincoln, nor Secretary Stanton, nor General Halleck, whom it has been even more the fashion to abuse, lacked coolness or energy in the emergency. Indeed, the President's personal unconcern was such as to give his associates much uneasiness. On the tenth, he rode out as was his usual custom during the summer months, to spend the night at the Soldiers' Home, in the suburbs; but Secretary Stanton, learning that Early was advancing in heavy force, sent after him to compel his return to the city; and twice afterward, intent on watching the fighting which took place near Fort Stevens, he exposed his tall form to the gaze and bullets of the enemy in a manner to call forth earnest remonstrance from those near him.
The succeeding military events in the Shenandoah valley must here be summed up in the brief statement that General Sheridan, being placed in command of the Middle Military Division and given an army of thirty or forty thousand men, finally drove back the Confederate detachments upon Richmond, in a series of brilliant victories, and so devastated the southern end of the valley as to render it untenable for either army; and by the destruction of the James River Canal and the Virginia Central Railroad, succeeded in practically carrying out Grant's intention of effectually closing the avenue of supplies to Richmond from the northwest.
Sherman's Meridian Expedition—Capture of Atlanta—Hood Supersedes Johnston—Hood's Invasion of Tennessee—Franklin and Nashville—Sherman's March to the Sea—Capture of Savannah—Sherman to Lincoln—Lincoln to Sherman—Sherman's March through the Carolinas—The Burning of Charleston and Columbia—Arrival at Goldsboro—Junction with Schofield—Visit to Grant
While Grant was making his marches, fighting his battles, and carrying on his siege operations in Virginia, Sherman in the West was performing the task assigned to him by his chief, to pursue, destroy, or capture the principal western Confederate army, now commanded by General Johnston. The forces which under Bragg had been defeated in the previous autumn at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, had halted as soon as pursuit ceased, and remained in winter quarters at and about Dalton, only twenty-eight or thirty miles on the railroad southeast of Chattanooga where their new commander, Johnston, had, in the spring of 1864, about sixty-eight thousand men with which to oppose the Union advance.
A few preliminary campaigns and expeditions in the West need not here be detailed, as they were not decisive. One, however, led by Sherman himself from Vicksburg to Meridian, must be mentioned, since, during the month of February, it destroyed about one hundred miles of the several railroads centering at the latter place, and rendered the whole railroad system of Mississippi practically useless to the Confederates, thus contributing essentially to the success of his future operations.
Sherman prepared himself by uniting at Chattanooga the best material of the three Union armies, that of the Cumberland, that of the Tennessee, and that of the Ohio, forming a force of nearly one hundred thousand men with two hundred and fifty-four guns. They were seasoned veterans, whom three years of campaigning had taught how to endure every privation, and avail themselves of every resource. They were provided with every essential supply, but carried with them not a pound of useless baggage or impedimenta that could retard the rapidity of their movements.
Sherman had received no specific instructions from Grant, except to fight the enemy and damage the war resources of the South; but the situation before him clearly indicated the city of Atlanta, Georgia, as his first objective, and as his necessary route, the railroad leading thither from Chattanooga. It was obviously a difficult line of approach, for it traversed a belt of the Alleghanies forty miles in width, and in addition to the natural obstacles they presented, the Confederate commander, anticipating his movement, had prepared elaborate defensive works at the several most available points.
As agreed upon with Grant, Sherman began his march on May 5, 1864, the day following that on which Grant entered upon his Wilderness campaign in Virginia. These pages do not afford space to describe his progress. It is enough to say that with his double numbers he pursued the policy of making strong demonstrations in front, with effective flank movements to threaten the railroad in the Confederate rear, by which means he forced back the enemy successively from point to point, until by the middle of July he was in the vicinity of Atlanta, having during his advance made only one serious front attack, in which he met a costly repulse. His progress was by no means one of mere strategical manoeuver. Sherman says that during the month of May, across nearly one hundred miles of as difficult country as was ever fought over by civilized armies, the fighting was continuous, almost daily, among trees and bushes, on ground where one could rarely see one hundred yards ahead.
However skilful and meritorious may have been the retreat into which Johnston had been forced, it was so unwelcome to the Richmond authorities, and damaging to the Confederate cause, that about the middle of July, Jefferson Davis relieved him, and appointed one of his corps commanders, General J.B. Hood, in his place; whose personal qualities and free criticism of his superior led them to expect a change from a defensive to an aggressive campaign. Responding to this expectation, Hood almost immediately took the offensive, and made vigorous attacks on the Union positions, but met disastrous repulse, and found himself fully occupied in guarding the defenses of Atlanta. For some weeks each army tried ineffectual methods to seize the other's railroad communications. But toward the end of August, Sherman's flank movements gained such a hold of the Macon railroad at Jonesboro, twenty-five miles south of Atlanta, as to endanger Hood's security; and when, in addition, a detachment sent to dislodge Sherman was defeated, Hood had no alternative but to order an evacuation. On September 3, Sherman telegraphed to Washington:
"Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.... Since May 5 we have been in one constant battle or skirmish, and need rest."
The fall of Atlanta was a heavy blow to the Confederates. They had, during the war, transformed it into a city of mills, foundries, and workshops, from which they drew supplies, ammunition, and equipments, and upon which they depended largely for the manufacture and repair of arms. But perhaps even more important than the military damage to the South resulting from its capture, was its effect upon Northern politics. Until then the presidential campaign in progress throughout the free States was thought by many to involve fluctuating chances under the heavy losses and apparently slow progress of both eastern and western armies. But the capture of Atlanta instantly infused new zeal and confidence among the Union voters, and from that time onward, the reelection of Mr. Lincoln was placed beyond reasonable doubt.
Sherman personally entered the city on September 8, and took prompt measures to turn it into a purely military post. He occupied only the inner line of its formidable defenses, but so strengthened them as to make the place practically impregnable. He proceeded at once to remove all its non-combatant inhabitants with their effects, arranging a truce with Hood under which he furnished transportation to the south for all those whose sympathies were with the Confederate cause, and sent to the north those who preferred that destination. Hood raised a great outcry against what he called such barbarity and cruelty, but Sherman replied that war is war, and if the rebel families wanted peace they and their relatives must stop fighting.
"God will judge us in due time, and he will pronounce whether it be more humane to fight with a town full of women, and the families of a brave people at our back, or to remove them in time to places of safety among their own friends and people."
Up to his occupation of Atlanta, Sherman's further plans had neither been arranged by Grant nor determined by himself, and for a while remained somewhat undecided. For the time being, he was perfectly secure in the new stronghold he had captured and completed. But his supplies depended upon a line of about one hundred and twenty miles of railroad from Atlanta to Chattanooga, and very near one hundred and fifty miles more from Chattanooga to Nashville. Hood, held at bay at Lovejoy's Station, was not strong enough to venture a direct attack or undertake a siege, but chose the more feasible policy of operating systematically against Sherman's long line of communications. In the course of some weeks both sides grew weary of the mere waste of time and military strength consumed in attacking and defending railroad stations, and interrupting and reestablishing the regularities of provision trains. Toward the end of September, Jefferson Davis visited Hood, and in rearranging some army assignments, united Hood's and an adjoining Confederate department under the command of Beauregard; partly with a view to adding the counsels of the latter to the always energetic and bold, but sometimes rash, military judgment of Hood.
Between these two Hood's eccentric and futile operations against Sherman's communications were gradually shaded off into a plan for a Confederate invasion of Tennessee. Sherman, on his part, finally matured his judgment that instead of losing a thousand men a month merely defending the railroad, without other advantage, he would divide his army, send back a portion of it under the command of General Thomas to defend the State of Tennessee against the impending invasion; and, abandoning the whole line of railroad from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and cutting entirely loose from his base of supplies, march with the remainder to the sea; living upon the country, and "making the interior of Georgia feel the weight of war." Grant did not immediately fall in with Sherman's suggestion; and Sherman prudently waited until the Confederate plan of invading Tennessee became further developed. It turned out as he hoped and expected. Having gradually ceased his raids upon the railroad, Hood, by the end of October, moved westward to Tuscumbia on the Tennessee River, where he gathered an army of about thirty-five thousand, to which a cavalry force under Forrest of ten thousand more was soon added.
Under Beauregard's orders to assume the offensive, he began a rapid march northward, and for a time with a promise of cutting off some advanced Union detachments. We need not follow the fortunes of this campaign further than to state that the Confederate invasion of Tennessee ended in disastrous failure. It was severely checked at the battle of Franklin on November 30; and when, in spite of this reverse, Hood pushed forward and set his army down before Nashville as if for attack or siege, the Union army, concentrated and reinforced to about fifty-five thousand, was ready. A severe storm of rain and sleet held the confronting armies in forced immobility for a week; but on the morning of December 15, 1864, General Thomas moved forward to an attack in which on that and the following day he inflicted so terrible a defeat upon his adversary, that the Confederate army not only retreated in rout and panic, but soon literally went to pieces in disorganization, and disappeared as a military entity from the western conflict.
Long before this, Sherman had started on his famous march to the sea. His explanations to Grant were so convincing, that the general-in-chief, on November 2, telegraphed him: "Go on as you propose." In anticipation of this permission, he had been preparing himself ever since Hood left him a clear path by starting westward on his campaign of invasion. From Atlanta, he sent back his sick and wounded and surplus stores to Chattanooga, withdrew the garrisons, burned the bridges, broke up the railroad, and destroyed the mills, foundries, shops and public buildings in Atlanta. With sixty thousand of his best soldiers, and sixty-five guns, he started on November 15 on his march of three hundred miles to the Atlantic. They carried with them twenty days' supplies of provisions, five days' supply of forage, and two hundred rounds of ammunition, of which each man carried forty rounds.
With perfect confidence in their leader, with perfect trust in each others' valor, endurance and good comradeship, in the fine weather of the Southern autumn, and singing the inspiring melody of "John Brown's Body," Sherman's army began its "marching through Georgia" as gaily as if it were starting on a holiday. And, indeed, it may almost be said such was their experience in comparison with the hardships of war which many of these veterans had seen in their varied campaigning. They marched as nearly as might be in four parallel columns abreast, making an average of about fifteen miles a day. Kilpatrick's admirable cavalry kept their front and flanks free from the improvised militia and irregular troopers of the enemy. Carefully organized foraging parties brought in their daily supply of miscellaneous provisions—corn, meat, poultry, and sweet potatoes, of which the season had yielded an abundant harvest along their route.
The Confederate authorities issued excited proclamations and orders, calling on the people to "fly to arms," and to "assail the invader in front, flank, and rear, by night and by day." But no rising occurred that in any way checked the constant progress of the march. The Southern whites were, of course, silent and sullen, but the negroes received the Yankees with demonstrations of welcome and good will, and in spite of Sherman's efforts, followed in such numbers as to embarrass his progress. As he proceeded, he destroyed the railroads by filling up cuts, burning ties, heating the rails red hot and twisting them around trees and into irreparable spirals. Threatening the principal cities to the right and left, he marched skilfully between and past them.
He reached the outer defenses of Savannah on December 10, easily driving before him about ten thousand of the enemy. On December 13, he stormed Fort McAllister, and communicated with the Union fleet through Ossabaw Sound, reporting to Washington that his march had been most agreeable, that he had not lost a wagon on the trip, that he had utterly destroyed over two hundred miles of rails, and consumed stores and provisions that were essential to Lee's and Hood's armies. With pardonable exultation General Sherman telegraphed to President Lincoln on December 22:
"I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition. Also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton."
He had reason to be gratified with the warm acknowledgment which President Lincoln wrote him in the following letter:
"MY DEAR GENERAL SHERMAN: Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that 'nothing risked, nothing gained,' I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours, for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is, indeed, a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole—Hood's army—it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safe if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your whole army, officers and men."
It was again General Sherman who planned and decided the next step of the campaign. Grant sent him orders to fortify a strong post, leave his artillery and cavalry, and bring his infantry by sea to unite with the Army of the Potomac before Petersburg. Greatly to Sherman's satisfaction, this order was soon revoked, and he was informed that Grant wished "the whole matter of your future actions should be left entirely to your own discretion." In Sherman's mind, the next steps to be taken were "as clear as daylight." The progress of the war in the West could now be described step by step, and its condition and probable course be estimated with sound judgment. The opening of the Mississippi River in the previous year had cut off from the rebellion the vast resources west of the great river. Sherman's Meridian campaign in February had rendered useless the railroads of the State of Mississippi. The capture of Atlanta and the march to the sea had ruined the railroads of Georgia, cutting off another huge slice of Confederate resources. The battles of Franklin and Nashville had practically annihilated the principal Confederate army in the West. Sherman now proposed to Grant that he would subject the two Carolinas to the same process, by marching his army through the heart of them from Savannah to Raleigh.
"The game is then up with Lee," he confidently added, "unless he comes out of Richmond, avoids you, and fights me, in which case I should reckon on your being on his heels.... If you feel confident that you can whip Lee outside of his intrenchments, I feel equally confident that I can handle him in the open country."
Grant promptly adopted the plan, and by formal orders directed Sherman to execute it. Several minor western expeditions were organized to contribute to its success. The Union fleet on the coast was held in readiness to cooeperate as far as possible with Sherman's advance, and to afford him a new base of supply, if, at some suitable point he should desire to establish communications with it. When, in the middle of January, 1865, a naval expedition captured Fort Fisher at the mouth of Cape Fear River, an army corps under General Schofield was brought east from Thomas's Army of the Tennessee, and sent by sea to the North Carolina coast to penetrate into the interior and form a junction with Sherman when he should arrive.
Having had five weeks for rest and preparation, Sherman began the third stage of his campaign on February 1, with a total of sixty thousand men, provisions for twenty days, forage for seven, and a full supply of ammunition for a great battle. This new undertaking proved a task of much greater difficulty and severer hardship than his march to the sea. Instead of the genial autumn weather, the army had now to face the wintry storms that blew in from the neighboring coast. Instead of the dry Georgia uplands, his route lay across a low sandy country cut by rivers with branches at right angles to his line of march, and bordered by broad and miry swamps. But this was an extraordinary army, which faced exposure, labor and peril with a determination akin to contempt. Here were swamps and water-courses to be waded waist deep; endless miles of corduroy road to be laid and relaid as course after course sank into the mud under the heavy army wagons; frequent head-water channels of rivers to be bridged; the lines of railroad along their route to be torn up and rendered incapable of repair; food to be gathered by foraging; keeping up, meanwhile a daily average of ten or twelve miles of marching. Under such conditions, Sherman's army made a mid-winter march of four hundred and twenty-five miles in fifty days, crossing five navigable rivers, occupying three important cities, and rendering the whole railroad system of South Carolina useless to the enemy.
The ten to fifteen thousand Confederates with which General Hardee had evacuated Savannah and retreated to Charleston could, of course, oppose no serious opposition to Sherman's march. On the contrary, when Sherman reached Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, on February 16, Hardee evacuated Charleston, which had been defended for four long years against every attack of a most powerful Union fleet, and where the most ingenious siege-works and desperate storming assault had failed to wrest Fort Wagner from the enemy. But though Charleston fell without a battle, and was occupied by the Union troops on the eighteenth, the destructive hand of war was at last heavily laid upon her. The Confederate government pertinaciously adhered to the policy of burning accumulations of cotton to prevent it falling into Union hands; and the supply gathered in Charleston to be sent abroad by blockade runners, having been set on fire by the evacuating Confederate officials, the flames not only spread to the adjoining buildings, but grew into a great conflagration that left the heart of the city a waste of blackened walls to illustrate the folly of the first secession ordinance. Columbia, the capital, underwent the same fate, to even a broader extent. Here the cotton had been piled in a narrow street, and when the torch was applied by similar Confederate orders, the rising wind easily floated the blazing flakes to the near roofs of buildings. On the night following Sherman's entrance the wind rose to a gale, and neither the efforts of the citizens, nor the ready help of Sherman's soldiers were able to check the destruction. Confederate writers long nursed the accusation that it was the Union army which burned the city as a deliberate act of vengeance. Contrary proof is furnished by the orders of Sherman, leaving for the sufferers a generous supply of food, as well as by the careful investigation by the mixed commission on American and British claims, under the treaty of Washington.