General Lee's offensive policy in the campaign of 1864.
It is a very popular error to speak of General Lee
as acting on the defensive in the campaign of 1864, and of his “retreating” before General Grant
The truth is that from the day Grant
crossed the Rapidan
until (after losing nearly twice as many men as Lee
had) he sat down to the siege of Petersburg
— a position which he could have occupied at first without firing a gun or losing a man — Lee
never made a move except to meet and fight the enemy, and that on the whole campaign he craved nothing so much as “an open field and a fair fight.”
He again and again expressed himself to that effect, and always said that if the enemy were allowed to besiege Richmond
the result would be a mere question of time.
The following letter to one of his corps commanders brings out clearly his views and purposes.
If General Grant
had not crossed the James
and advanced on Petersburg
would have attacked him in his works, and have tried on him the same tactics which proved so successful against McClellan
Of course no one can now tell certainly what the result would have been, but General Lee
and his ragged veterans were confident of a splendid victory.
The letter, however, speaks for itself: