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[180] forced back into Virginia with a depleted army and a discouraged heart; the Confederate forces had recently been overpowered in Tennessee and defeated by sheer weight of numbers and excellence of the equipment of the enemy in many other parts of the South; immense Union armies, splendidly equipped and fully rationed, getting reinforcements daily, and preparing for aggressive war, occupied a large portion of Northern Virginia, and were slowly advancing southward, holding in covert the wasted, yet valiant Army of Northern Virginia.

Richmond at this time was uneasy; even the most sanguine could see through a haze of bitterness and almost of despair one certain end in sight—the ultimate downfall of the Confederacy. Yet brave ones kept their hearts with diligence, and soldiers with half rations and bloody, shoeless feet, paced nightly in their sentinel duties around the beloved city on the James, ready to give their lives at any moment for the protection of the dear ones who were in an agony of terror within the city's streets.

It was known that exaggerated reports as to the condition of the prisoners of war held in Richmond, had gone abroad, and that public feeling throughout the North, bitter and hostile all the time, had been unduly excited under the pressure of a false and misstated condition of the Confederate prisons. It was known to the Confederate government and the citizens of Richmond, that an expedition might at any time be undertaken with the avowed purpose of liberating the Northern prisoners in Richmond and turning them loose in the streets of the city to an orgy and carnival of crime. Indeed, it had been known that in January of 1864, an expedition had been sent out from Fortress Monroe to accomplish this purpose. Another had been sent from the Army of the Potomac, but both had, in some way, miscarried. Reports, some false, some only too true, concerning advancing lines of the enemy, were read in the Confederate newspapers every day. Tales of wholesale destruction and military carnage were the usual reports of the newspapers. The Richmond people were expectant to hear the details any hour of some harrowing wholesale tragedy; and, fearful of the worst of all evils, the women and the helpless of the city waited complacent in their bitterness, knowing not what a day might bring forth.

Late in February, it was learned that the Federal General Custer, with 1500 horse, had crossed the Rapidan on a feint to the west of the Confederate Army, while Kilpatrick, starting a day later, moved

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