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Chapter 24: echo of Seven days, North and South.

  • Confederates hopeful, but not overconfident
  • -- the cost to the North -- McClellan sacrificed -- General Pope and his methods -- he “finds” Jackson at Cedar Mountain -- a glance trans -- Allegheny -- well -- conceived Federal programme -- General Bragg's unpopularity -- to the Ohio and back -- would-be critics -- flashes illumine the clouds -- Kentucky Misrepresented.
    The result of the “Seven days” was to produce a profound joyousness in the South, which lightened even those deep shadows from the sorrows that had fallen upon individuals; to raise the spirits of the whole people and to send into every heart that loved the cause a glow of confident pride in the southern soldier-chastened somewhat by present sorrow and tempered, perhaps, by the lessons of the past-that nothing in their after misfortunes could quench.

    But while it taught the people this, the victory taught the Government that no energy could be too great — no watchfulness misplaced, in preparing for the heavy blows of the northern government at all times, and at any point, to carry out its pet scheme of reducing the southern Capital.

    The blatant triumph that had followed other victories and the secure apathy of the southern government, had alike been swept away by that terrific surge of battle, rolled back harmlessly, only when on the point of overwhelming us; and in their stead came the deepseated resolve to act in the present, even while they dreamed in the future.

    In the North, a hoarse roar of rage went up. The good behavior of their troops and the great ability of their general-unquestioned even by the men who had steadily fought and doggedly driven him before them — were both lost sight of in the wild wail that went up over — the cost!

    Millions upon millions had been spent in equipping the grand army-all wasted now in that futile effort to conquer the Rebel Capital --offered as a burnt offering to the avenging War God; and only the blood of its thousands to manure the fields in front of the coveted city!

    There was a howl of malediction against the only general so far tried — who had proved himself a tactician in anything but name; and [208] as part of its policy the northern government shamelessly sacrificed McClellan, while it could not but unhesitatingly acknowledge his merit.

    Unlike the South, the North throughout the whole war bent its every energy toward concentrating the most useful elements among its many parties. Seeming to bend to the will of each; propitiating all popular elements and utilizing all able ones; listening patiently to the mouthing of demagogues and the vituperation of the press; distributing its contracts so as to make every dollar of patronage tell; and handling the great engine, Wall street, in masterly style-the Washington government simply collected and sifted the varied mass of opinion and material — to form from it a composite amalgam-policy that proved its only salvation. Through every change in that policy-through every gradation of animus that affected the complexion of the war — the masses of the North really believed they were fighting for the Constitution — for the flag, and for the Union!

    Whether they were so tightly blindfolded as not yet to see their error, is no question to be discussed here.

    No sooner had the howl gone up through the North, against the General who-spite of refused re-enforcements, jealousy and intrigue behind his back, and the terrible enemy before him-had saved his army, than the Government responded to it. Large numbers of men were sent from Harrison's Landing to Acquia Creek; the Federal forces at Warrentown, Alexandria and Fredericksburg were mobilized and strengthened; and the baton of command was wrenched from the hand of McClellan to be placed in that of Major-General John Pope!

    The history of this new popular hero, to this time, may be summed up by saying that he had been captain of Topographical Engineers; and that the books of that bureau showed he had prosecuted his labors with perhaps less economy than efficiency.

    Rapidly promoted for unknown reasons in the western armies, the public hit upon him as the right man at last; and the complaisant Government said: “Lo! The man is here!” and made him generalin-chief of the Army of Virginia.

    From the command of Pope dates a new era in the war. No longer a temperate struggle for authority, it became one for conquest and annihilation. He boldly threw off the mask that had hitherto [209] concealed its uglier features, and commenced a systematic course of pillage and petty plundering-backed by a series of curiously bombastic and windy orders.

    Calmly to read these wonderful effusions-dated from “Headquarters in the saddle” --by the light of his real deeds, one could only conceive that General Pope coveted that niche in history filled by Thackeray's O'Grady Gahagan; and that much of his reading had been confined to the pleasant rambles of Gulliver and the doughty deeds of Trenck and Munchausen.

    To sober second thought, the sole reason for his advancement might seem his wonderful power as a braggart. He blustered and bragged until the North was bullied into admiration; and his sounding boasts that he had “only seen the backs of his enemies,” and that he had “gone to look for the rebel, Jackson” --were really taken to mean what they said. When Pope did at last “find the rebel, Jackson,” the hopeful public over the Potomac began to believe that their truculent pet might have simply paraphrased Falstaff, and cried-

    Lying and thieving have blown me up like a bladder!

    For Jackson gave the bladder a single prick, and lo! it collapsed.

    Resting his wearied and shattered troops only long enough to get them again into fighting trim, General Lee prepared to check the third great advance upon Manassas. Working on the inner line and being thus better able to concentrate his strength, he left only enough troops around Richmond to delay any advance of McClellan from the Peninsula; and, before the end of July, sent Stonewall Jackson — with Ewell's, A. P. Hill's, and his own old division under General Charles S. Winder, in all about 10,000 men — to frustrate the flatulent designs of the gong-sounding commander, whose Chinese warfare was echoing so loudly from the frontier.

    Cautious, rapid and tireless as ever, Jackson advanced into Culpeper county; and on the 9th of August gave the gong-sounder his first lesson on the field of Cedar Mountain. Throwing a portion of his force under Early on the enemy's flank and bringing Ewell and, later, Winder against his front, Jackson forced him from his position after a bloody fight, which the advance of A. P. Hill turned into a complete victory.

    Cedar Mountain was a sharp and well-contested fight; but the [210] Confederates inflicted a loss five times their own, held the field, and captured a number of prisoners and guns. General Winder led his troops gallantly to the charge, but just at the moment of collision he was struck and mortally wounded by a shell. And the unstained spirit of the gallant son of Maryland winged its flight, ere the shouts of victory could cheer it on its way!

    The Washington government at once ordered the remains of Mc- Clellan's army to General Pope; and massing with them Burnside's army at Fredericksburg and the vicinity, strained every nerve to aid his successful advance.

    But here we may digress for the moment, to take a bird's-eye view of matters of grave moment passing in distant quarters of the Confederacy.

    While victory had perched upon Confederate banners in Virginia, a heavy cloud was gathering over the West; threatening to burst and sweep ruin and destruction over the whole trans-Alleghany region. Not dispirited by the reverses in Virginia, the northern government remitted nothing of its designs upon the West, but rather pushed them toward more rapid completion. These designs were to hold the State of Kentucky by the army under Buell, wrest from the South the possession of Tennessee and Alabama--as a base for attack upon Georgia and cutting through to the seaboard; and to push the army under Grant down through Mississippi to the Gulf. These movements would not only weaken the Confederacy, by diverting so many men, ill to be spared, to watch the various columns; but would, moreover, wrest from it the great grain-producing and cattle-grazing sections from which the armies were mainly fed. Simultaneously with these a heavy force was to be massed under McClernand in Ohio, to sweep down the Mississippi; while the weak show of Confederate force in the states west of the river was to be crushed before it could make head.

    Such was the Federal programme; well conceived and backed by every appliance of means, men and material. To meet it we had but a small numerical force to defend an extensive and varied tract; and at the Capital grave fears began to prevail that the overpowering numbers and points of attack would crush the little armies we could muster there.

    Nor was the feeling of the people rendered more easy by their [211] confidence in the general to whom the defense of this invaluable section was entrusted. General Braxton Bragg-however causeless and unjust their dictum may have been — had never been popular with the southern masses. They regarded him as a bloodthirsty martinet, and listened too credulously to all silly stories of his weakness and severity that were current, in the army and out. Influenced rather by prejudice than by any real knowledge of the man, they believed him vain, arrogant and weak; denying him credit for whatever real administrative ability that he possessed. The painful result of his command was later emphasized by the pessimists, to justify their incredulity as to his executive powers.

    Besides, many people believed that General Bragg was a pet-if not a creature of Mr, Davis; and that he was thrust into a position that others deserved far more, when he succeeded Beauregard in command of the army of the West.

    The latter officer had, after the evacuation of Corinth, been compelled to retire by ill health; and Bragg was soon sent to take his place, with the understanding in the minds of the people that Kentucky was to be the theater of active operations, and that a programme of aggression-rather than of defense — was to be carried out, as suggested by Beauregard.

    General Bragg entered upon his command with a show of great vigor-falling into General Beauregard's views that a diversion toward Ohio, threatening Cincinnati, would leave the main army free to march upon Louisville before re-enforcements could reach Buell. With this view General Kirby Smith, with all the troops that could be spared-ill clad, badly equipped, and with no commissariat-was pushed forward toward the Ohio. On the 29th of August-while our victorious cannon were still echoing over the field of the second Manassas-he met and defeated the enemy at Richmond; pressed on to Lexington, and thence to a point in easy reach of Cincinnati-at that moment not only the great granary and storehouse of the Federal armies of the West, but their depot and arsenal as well; her wharves crowded with transports, quartermasters' steamers and unfinished gunboats, and her warehouses bursting with commissary and ordnance stores.

    When the news of Smith's triumphant march to the very gates of Cincinnati reached Richmond, it was universally believed that the [212] city would be captured, or laid in ashes; and thinking men saw great results in the delay such destruction would cause to the advance of the enemy into the heart of their territory.

    Meantime, General Bragg had entered Kentucky from Chattanooga, with an army re-enforced and better equipped than had been seen in that section since the war began. Once more cheering reports came to Richmond that the Confederates were in full march for the enemy; that any moment might bring news of the crushing of Buell before re-enforcements, or fresh supplies, could reach him. Great was the disappointment, therefore, when news really came of the withdrawal of southern troops from before Cincinnati; and that all action of Bragg's forces would be postponed until Smith's junction with him.

    Intense anxiety reigned at the Capital, enlivened only by the fitful report of the fight at Munfordville-inflicting heavy loss upon both sides, but not productive of any result; for, after the victory, Bragg allowed Buell to escape from his front and retire at his will toward the Ohio. That a Confederate army, at least equal in all respects, save perhaps numbers, to that of the enemy, should thus allow him to escape was then inexplicable to the people; and, as far as I have learned, it is so still.

    There is no critic so censorious as the self-appointed one; no god so inexorable as the people's voice. General Bragg's last hold upon the southern masses-military and civil — was lost now.

    The fight at Munfordville occurred on the 17th of September, but it was not until the 4th of the next month that the junction with Smith was effected at Frankfort. Then followed a Federal advance upon that town, which proved a mere diversion; but it produced the effect of deceiving General Bragg and of causing him to divide his forces. Hardee's and Buckner's divisions were sent to Perryville; and they with Cheatham's — who joined them by a forced marchbore the brunt of the battle of Perryville on the 8th of October. Notwithstanding the great disparity of numbers, the vim of the “barefooted boys” prevailed against the veterans of Buell's army, under General G. W. Thomas. They gained a decided advantage over three times their number, but once again what was a mere success might have been a crushing defeat, had Bragg's whole army been massed at Perryville. [213]

    It is neither within the scope nor the purpose of this chapter to give more than a bare skeleton of events, or to discuss the delicate points of strategy; but it was a great dash to the hopes of the entire people that what might have been a crushing blow to Buell-freeing three states from Federal occupation-resulted only in the retreat of the Confederates from Kentucky.

    For, whatever may have been the cause, or the necessity for the movement, the army was hastily withdrawn. Supplies were burned; disabled carriages and abandoned arms marked the retreat; and the terror-stricken people who had, a few weeks before, dismissed the southern banners with vivas and blessings to certain victory, now saw that same army, to their dismay and sorrow, filing sadly and wearily toward the border.

    Almost equally as astonished as their retreating enemy, the Federals pressed on in pursuit, hot and close; and it was only the ability and dash with which General Wheeler covered the retreat of the army-laden as it was with captured arms and munitions, and encumbered with crowds of women and children, who dared not stay behind — that saved it from destruction on that disastrous road from Perryville to Cumberland Gap.

    Loud, deep and bitter were the comments of the people when the full news of the Kentucky campaign reached them. Unpopular as the name of Bragg had been before, it was now mentioned often with execration; and the reverses of his universally-condemned favorite reacted upon the popularity of Mr. Davis as well. Without understanding the details of the campaign, and with no patience to listen to the excuses of his few defenders, the public voice was unanimous in denunciation of the plan and conduct of the whole movement; and it arraigned the President for the fault of his inferior, calling him to trial before a jury that daily was becoming more biased and more bitter against him.

    Like all the gloomy pages of Confederate history, the Kentucky campaign was illumined by flashes of brilliance, dash and enduring courage, surpassed by no theater of the war. Disastrous as it was in result, it fixed more firmly than ever the high reputation of Kirby Smith; it wreathed the names of Buckner, Hardee, Cheatham and Adams with fresh bays; and it gave to Joseph Wheeler a record that the people of that country will long remember. [214]

    In the events first preceding the disaster, too, as well as in his independent raid during July, John H. Morgan had added additional luster to his rising star, that was only to culminate in his exploits of the next year. These were the brighter gleams; but the whole picture was, indeed, a somber one; and there can be no wonder at the people's anger and distrust when they looked upon it. For it showed a vast and rich territory, teeming with those supplies needed most, yielded up to the full uses of the enemy; a people one with the South at heart given over to oppression of an alien soldiery and unable to co-operate with their own long days to come; and across the face of the somber picture was drawn the track of the blood of hundreds of brave men; sacrificed-needlessly, the people said-and in a manner stupid, if not barbarous.

    A grave injustice had been done the people of Kentucky, because of their conduct during the retreat. Baseless charges of their cowardice and treachery had been bandied about in the mouths of the unreflecting; the many had been made to suffer for the baseness of the few; and the shield of the state had been tarnished because of an inaction her people could not avoid.

    Crushed, bound and deserted, as they were — with their only reliance fading away from their eyes, and a bitter and triumphant enemy in hot pursuit at their very doors — it would have been worse than folly — it would have been suicide! had the people on the line of that retreat offered a blatant sympathy. Utterly useless to others it must have been-and even more ruinous to themselves!

    And this is the verdict of that Justice who, though slow of foot, fails not to overtake Truth, in her own good time.

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