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Zzzplans to raise the siege.

From the 8th to the 21st of May, in this campaign, owing to the sickness of General A. P. Hill, Major-General Early, by assignment of Lee, commanded his corps. But Hill returning to duty, Early had scarce gone back to his own division when Ewell, who had become an invalid from the loss of his leg at Second Manassas, became disqualified for field duty, and Early succeeded to his place. Soon after Cold Harbor, Lee communicated to Early that he was maturing plans for offensive operations against Grant, and desired him to take the initiative with his corps. ‘We must destroy,’ he said, ‘this army of Grant's before he gets to James river. If he gets there it will become a siege, and then it will become a mere question of time.’ But while Grant was slipping off to Petersburg a new danger now threatened Lee in his rear; for war in the Valley again lifted its angry head. [294]

On the 15th of May Breckinridge had sharply repulsed Sigel's column at New Market, the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute making a gallant charge, to the admiration of both armies, and capturing guns from veterans, at a loss to themselves of one to every five killed or wounded. Breckinridge had hastened with his slender division to join Lee at Cold Harbor, and after that battle had been fought, wheeled right about to meet the same force which, reinforced, and now commanded by Major-General David Hunter, was marching up the Valley from Harrisonburg, with 8,500 men. On June 5th Hunter had defeated and slain the gallant cavalry general, W. E. Jones, at Piedmont in Augusta. Three days later, June 8th, Crook and Averill had joined him at Staunton with 10,000 men, and now with this united force, 18,500 strong, he was marching on four parallel roads to Lynchburg.

Meantime Major-General Sheridan had been sent by Grant with a corps of cavalry on June 7th to destroy the Central (now Chesapeake and Ohio Railway), and Grant, expecting him to meet Hunter at Charlottesville, they were to return together to the Army of the Potomac. Neither of these commanders met at the tryst, for on June 11th Hampton had intercepted Sheridan at Trevilians with Fitz Lee's and Butler's Divisions, and after the bloodiest cavalry battle of the war, Sheridan had retired all the way to the White-House on the York river; Hampton, victorious, had returned to Lee, and Lynchburg, for the time being, had by him been saved. But Hunter was still marching on, and on June 12th was within forty miles of Lynchburg, at Lexington, Va., where he burned the Virginia Military Institute and Governor Letcher's home, and sacked Washington College.

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