When, at a given signal, the great armies of the Union
moved forward in May, 1864, an observer from any other than a Confederate standpoint would have predicted that the end was near at hand.
The Confederacy had exhausted its resources of men. The aged, in whom the fires of patriotism had not been quenched by the snows of years, and the youth of the country, who took their places in the ranks on attaining their military majority at the age of eighteen, were the only recruits that could be hoped for. Yet the foe was met at all points and paid for every inch of ground its price in blood.
But blood might flow and men might fall—blood was a cheap commodity in that campaign, and for every man that fell two could be brought up to take his place.
With us, the gaps in the ranks could only be filled by shortening the lines.
The Army of Northern Virginia—weak in numbers, but strong in courage, endurance, confidence in itself and in its great commander—grappled with its giant adversary from the Wilderness
, from Spotsylvania
to the North Anna
, from the North Anna
to Cold Harbor, from Cold Harbor to Petersburg
Sustaining the shock of battle against fearful odds, and inflicting a loss more than equaling its own members, it ended the campaign with its flag still flying defiantly and its Capital safe.
But its own ranks had been decimated, and the thin and daily attenuating line that confronted the great and ever-increasing Federal army around Richmond
seemed far too frail to resist the tremendous pressure upon it. Like finely tempered steel it might bend and spring back with dangerous force in the recoil, but it must break at last.