Book I:—the war on the Rapidan.
HE year 1863 was destined to have a decisive influence over the results of the war, which had been prosecuted for nearly two years. This was the prevailing impression on both sides, and each party was preparing with equal determination for new sacrifices.
Although the Federals
had gained some territory from their adversaries during the year which had just closed, they had paid dearly for these acquisitions, and the latter months of that year had been marked by so many disastrous checks to them that the restoration of the Union
by force of arms seemed to be farther off than ever.
It was idle to rely upon the resources of the North
, upon its stubbornness, or the strength which would accrue to it by the Emancipation Proclamation
; there was good reason to doubt of its success when the results obtained came to be compared with the efforts they had cost.
At the East
the month of December alone had seen the Army of the Potomac exhaust its strength in vain against the redoubts of Fredericksburg
, whilst Sherman
, on the Mississippi
, experienced a bloody check before Vicksburg
; finally, at the centre, the last day of the year had been marked by the sad battle of Murfreesboroa, so desperately fought and yet so undecided.
The Confederacy, as we have shown at the close of the preceding volume, seemed to gather strength in the midst of these
attacks so frequently repulsed, and it was reasonable to believe that the North
would be tired out before the South
It will be seen how the perseverance of the free States and the courage of their soldiers succeeded at last in conquering adverse fortune in the course of that year.
But, before narrating the decisive events of the month of July which marked the decline of the Confederate
power, we shall yet have to record more than one check to the Federal
We will begin by following into new conflicts the two large armies which we have left fronting each other in Virginia
, separated by the Rappahannock
, and which are about to measure strength once more on the banks of that river before going to seek another battlefield in Pennsylvania
We shall then return to the operations of which the Mississippi
was the theatre during the first six months of 1863.
These operations, which were initiated by the Federals
in the midst of extraordinary difficulties and terminated by the capitulation of Vicksburg
, are so well linked together that we should be loath to interrupt their recital.
This will occupy a part of this volume.
It was on the 26th of January that General Hooker
assumed command of the Army of the Potomac.
The President of the republic had not entrusted him with this command without some anxiety.
The manner in which he had criticised his superior officers caused Mr. Lincoln
to fear that he might not be able to secure that passive obedience from his new subordinates which is so essential to success, and of which he had himself failed to set an example.
, whom he had never spared, was secretly hostile to him. But at that time he appeared to be the only man capable of shouldering Burnside
's heavy legacy; and, after giving him some good advice,1
left him all the freedom of action which he needed.
After what we have already said, the reader may form an idea of the difficulties of the task imposed upon him. It is well known in what manner this army was discouraged and demoralized: out of eighty-two thousand soldiers and nearly three thousand officers who were not present for duty, more than one half of them had obtained
leave of absence through irregular methods;2
the service of the outposts was neglected; the bonds of discipline were being loosened; gloom, home-sickness, and a disposition to criticise were becoming daily more and more prevalent among that large body of troops lying torpid amid the mire and rime of the clayish slopes of Stafford county
But the discouragement which was creeping into the hearts of all was less due to the remembrance of honorable defeats than to the paucity of confidence inspired by the leaders.
Consequently, the mere name of Hooker
was sufficient to arrest the progress of the evil, and the measures which he adopted for the purpose of suppressing it were soon productive of the best results.
The Army of the Potomac resumed all its former habits with that promptness which is the characteristic of troops among whom education has developed the intelligence of the soldier.
The strictest orders were issued to prevent desertions to the interior, and to punish those who were guilty of that crime.
Assisted by the President
got rid of this scourge, more fatal to an army than the most fearful epidemic.
Deserters frequently made their escape in citizens' clothes, which their relations sent them or which were sold to them by the inhabitants of the country.
All packages coming from the North
were strictly scrutinized.
Provost-marshals apprehended the farmers who, to their misfortune, resided in the vicinity of the army, and who, driven by want in consequence of the war or yielding to the threats of deserters, became either willingly or by force the accomplices of their flight.
On the other hand, intimidation and clemency were both used to induce the culprits to return to their ranks.
A proclamation of the President
, issued on the 10th of March, held out a promise of complete amnesty to all those who should rejoin their regiments before the 1st of April, and at the same time Mr. Lincoln
relinquished his right to review the sentences of courts-martial in favor of army commanders.
According to the testimony of a competent writer on such matters, General de Trobriand
, this measure produced an effect as prompt as it was salutary.
It put an end
to the long proceedings and appeals to Washington
, which Mr. Lincoln
's humanity always terminated by a commutation of penalty.
The sentences of courts-martial, approved without delay by General Hooker
, were immediately executed, and the spectacle of a small number of deserters shot to death in the presence of the troops was sufficient to restrain those who might lave been tempted to follow in their footsteps.
At the same time, the officers were brought to a sense of their duty and the respect due to their chiefs by a few severe examples.
, fully aware that it was necessary to keep an account of the causes which might mitigate the crime of a portion of the fugitives, established a system of regular leaves of absence,3
securing to the most deserving the means of revisiting their families for a few days.
At that season, all military operations being impracticable, such a system was not attended with any inconvenience.
All the regiments were carefully inspected; those favorably reported upon were awarded each the privilege of granting leaves of absence to two officers and one soldier out of fifty.
These leaves of absence were generally for ten or fifteen days, and as soon as they had expired the same favor was extended to other officers and soldiers.
The organization of grand divisions
, a heavy and useless machinery invented by Burnside
, was abolished, and a return was quietly made to that of army corps, which, six in number,4
contained each from fifteen to twenty-two thousand men. The three divisions of cavalry, which had hitherto been attached each to one of the three great commands, were united into one single corps and placed under the command of General Stoneman
Under the management of this excellent officer the Federal
cavalry made rapid progress, and was soon in a condition to undertake, in its turn, those great expeditions into the heart of the enemy's country which until then had only been attempted by their adversaries.
Finally, in order to neutralize the fatal effects
of inaction, Hooker
ordered regimental, brigade, and division drills to take place whenever the rigor of winter permitted.
Considerable changes were also made in the composition of the army and the personnel
of its chiefs.
On the 10th of February the Ninth corps, which had been under Burnside
during the preceding summer, was removed from the banks of the Rappahannock
, and the largest portion of it was sent to Suffolk
, a place which the Confederates
were preparing to attack in considerable force.
Two new corps, the Eleventh and Twelfth, took its place.
The Eleventh, formed of the three divisions of Devens
, and Carl Schurz
, passed for a German corps, but out of the twelve or thirteen thousand men composing it scarcely six thousand really belonged to that nationality: it is true that a large number of the other seven thousand were of the same origin, and even yet spoke German
These troops had made the campaign of Manassas
's army, under Sigel
But in the month of March, 1863, the latter, having taken an unlimited leave of absence, was replaced by Howard
who had recovered from the serious wound which had cost him an arm at the battle of Fair Oaks
The Twelfth, composed only of the two divisions of Williams
, was Banks
' old corps, at the head of which Mansfield
was killed in September, 1862; it was now commanded by Slocum
These troops had passed the autumn in the Valley of Virginia
, where, at the beginning of 1863, they were replaced by new levies.
were adopted for the soldiers of each corps, varying in color according to the division to which those who wore them belonged.
These badges not only prevented much confusion in battle, but likewise developed a salutary emulation among the soldiers, who found themselves thus united by one common symbol, and the army corps constituted during the remainder of the war a grand military unity.
, who had always distinguished himself by his bravery, was placed in command of the Third corps in place of Stoneman
, who commanded the Fifth, a very able officer and an excellent organizer, was selected by Hooker
as chief of the general staff
, while Meade
, who had
particularly distinguished himself at Fredericksburg
, took his place.
The Sixth corps was taken away from Smith
, who was too great a friend of McClellan
not to be made to suffer disgrace, and was given to Sedgwick
, a brave and good manoeuvrer, although somewhat slow.
Finally, one of the most important branches of the general staff
, that of inspection, was reorganized and considerably increased.
While the army was regaining confidence and courage for the hard battles it was about to fight, its effective force was not only augmented by the return of deserters, but also by the addition of some ten thousand men. Unfortunately, there were in its ranks nearly twenty-three thousand men whose term of service expired in the month of May.
These consisted of thirty-three New York regiments and two from Maine
, which, out of a total of 20,842 men, numbered 16,472 who had enlisted for two years at the breaking out of hostilities in April, 1861; also eight regiments of Pennsylvania
, mustered into service for nine months only by the call for troops which followed Pope
's disaster in August, 1862, and which numbered 6421 officers and men under arms.
The soldiers appertaining to the first category, trained up to the hardships of war by two years of campaigning, were about to leave a great void in the Army of the Potomac, but the law was explicit: they were to be set free on the 1st of May, 1863,
and if the Federal
general desired to make use of them, he had to fight before that time.
A large number of these soldiers were undoubtedly disposed to re-enlist, but they wanted to avail themselves of the expiration of their term of service in order, first of all, to enjoy a little vacation, and then to obtain the bounties by re-enlistment which were offered both by the States and the government to the newly-enlisted recruits.
The Confederate army had no need of recuperation from the shock of