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Campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor.

Grant had carried into the Wilderness a well-officered and thoroughly-equipped army of 141,000 men, to which Lee had opposed a bare 50,000.1 Despite these odds, Lee had four times forced his antagonist to change that line of operations on which he emphatically declared he “proposed to fight it out if it took all summer.” He had sent him reeling and dripping with blood from the jungles of the Wilderness, though foiled himself of decisive victory by a capricious fortune, which struck down his trusted lieutenant in the very act of dealing the blow, which his chief, in a true inspiration of genius, had swiftly determined to deliver; barring the way again with fierce and wary caution, after a grim wrestle of twelve days and twelve nights, he had marked the glad alacrity with which the general, who but a few weeks before had interrupted the prudent Meade with the remark, “Oh, I never manoeuvre,” now turned his back on the blood-stained thickets of Spotsylvania, and by “manoeuvring towards his left” 2 sought the passage of the North Anna — seeking it only to find, after crossing the right and left wings of his army, that his wary antagonist, who, unlike himself, did not disdain to manoeuvre, had, by a rare tactical movement, inserted a wedge of gray tipped with steel, riving his army in sunder, forcing him to recross the river, and for the third time abandon his line of attack. Then it was that the Federal commander, urged, mayhap, to the venture by the needs of a great political party, whose silent [261] clamors for substantial victory smote more sharply on his inner ear than did the piteous wail which rose from countless Northern homes for the 45,000 brave men whose bodies lay putrefying in the tangled Golgotha from Rapidan to North Anna — urged by these clamors, or else goaded into unreasoning fury by the patient readiness of his adversary, ordered up 16,000 of Butler's men from south of the James, and at break of day on June the 3d assaulted Lee's entire front — resolute to burst through the slender, adamantine barrier, which alone stayed the mighty tide of conquest, that threatened to roll onward until it mingled with the waves of Western victory, which were even then roaring through the passes of Alatoona — resolute, yet, like Lord Angelo, “slipping grossly,” through “heat of blood and lack of tempered judgment,” for the slender barrier yielded not, but when subsided the dreadful flood, which for a few brief moments had foamed in crimson fury round the embattled slopes of Cold Harbor, there was left him but the wreck of a noble army, which in sullen despair refused longer to obey his orders.3

1 Stanton's Report, 1865-66; General Early's able article in Southern Historical Papers, vol. II, July, 1876; Lee's letter to General David Hunter, U. S. A.; Lee's letter (October 4th, 1867), to Colonel C. A. White; Swinton, Army of the Potomac, p. 413.

2 “The 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th (of May) were consumed in manoeuvring and awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from Washington.” --Grant's Report of Campaign. At this time Lee had not been reinforced by a single man.

3 Swinton, Army of the Potomac, p. 487; Draper, vol. III, p. 387.

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