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[566] a plot to liberate our prisoners on Belle Isle, near Richmond, and, by their aid, burn that city, taking the lives of Davis and his Cabinet! That these papers were Rebel forgeries, and the meditated arson and murder a Rebel invention, intended to “ fire the Southern heart,” and justify murder by a pretense of retaliation, seems no longer doubtful; while that the Confederate authorities authorized the placing of several barrels of gunpowder under Libby prison, so as to blow some thousands of Union captives into fragments in case of a successful attack, is entirely beyond dispute.

It is not impossible that Richmond might have been taken at this time, had Kilpatrick kept his men together, and taken the hazards of a sudden, sanguinary, persistent assault; but it could not have been held two days; so that its capture would have been of small importance. Had lie been directed simply to destroy the railroads as thoroughly as he could, while Butler, moving by steam, had rushed on Richmond with 20,000 men, well provided with artillery, the chances of durable success would have been far better. Butler had, in fact, attempted1 to surprise Richmond by a forced march, some weeks earlier; but the design had miscarried, through the escape by bribery of a culprit from prison, who gave the alarm to the enemy, and enabled them to obstruct the roads beyond Bottom's bridge. Butler's infantry, on this expedition, marched 80 miles within 56 hours; his cavalry 150 miles in 50 hours.

All being at length in readiness, Gen. Meade's army, masking its intention by a feint on Lee's left, crossed2 the Rapidan on his right, at Germania and Ely's fords: Warren leading at Germania, followed by Sedgwick, and pushing straight into “ the Wilderness;” Hancock crossing at Ely's ford, and moving on Chancellorsville, followed by the trains of the whole army. Burnside followed next day.

The Wilderness is a considerable tract of broken table-land, stretching southward from the Rapidan nearly to Spottsylvania Court House, seamed with ravines and densely covered with dwarfish timber and bushes, diversified by very few clearings, but crossed by three or four good roads, the best of them centering on Fredericksburg, and by a multiplicity of narrow cart-tracks, used in peace only by wood-cutters. (It is a mineral region, and its timber has been repeatedly swept off as fuel for miners.) In this tangled labyrinth, numbers, artillery and cavalry, are of small account; local knowledge, advantage of position, and command of roads, everything.

Lee's army, alert and vigilant, was just west of it; the roads diverged, fan-like, on that side: it was Grant's obvious interest to get through this chapparal as quickly and with as little fighting as possible: it was Lee's business not to let him. Hence, the moment our movement was developed, the Rebel army, which had been looking north across the Rapidan, was faced to the right and moved rapidly down parallel with our advance, forming line of battle some six miles east of its strong defenses on Mine run, which proffered a safe refuge in case of disaster. Lee, like Meade, had reorganized his army in three corps;

1 Feb. 6-9.

2 May 4.

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