General Lee in the Wilderness campaign.
Uniform of the Maryland Guard, C. B. A. |
During the winter of 1863-64 General Lee
's headquarters were near Orange Court House
They were marked by the same bare simplicity and absence of military form and display which always characterized them.
Three or four tents of ordinary size, situated on the steep hillside, made the winter home of himself and his personal staff.
It was without sentinels or guards.
He used during the winter every exertion for filling up the thin ranks of his army and for obtaining the necessary supplies for his men. There were times in which the situation seemed to be critical in regard to the commissariat.
The supplies of meat were brought mainly from the States south of Virginia
, and on some days the Army of Northern Virginia had not more than twenty-four hours rations ahead.
On one occasion the general received by mail an anonymous communication from a private soldier containing a very small slice of salt pork, carefully packed between two oak chips, and accompanied by a letter saying that this was the daily ration of meat, and that the writer having found it impossible to live on it had been, though he was a gentleman, reduced by the cravings of hunger to the necessity of stealing.
The incident gave the commanding general
great pain and anxiety, and led to some strong interviews and correspondence with the Commissary Department.
During the winter General Lee
neglected no interest of his soldiers.
He consulted with their chaplains and attended their meetings, in which plans for the promotion of special religious services among the men were discussed and adopted.
While he was accessible at all times, and rarely had even one orderly before his tent, General Lee
had certain wishes which his aides-de-camp knew well they must conform to. They did not allow any friend of soldiers condemned by court-martial (when once the decree of the court had been confirmed by him) to reach his tent for personal appeal, asking reprieve or remission of sentence.
He said that with the great responsibilities resting on him he could not bear the pain and distress of such applications, and to grant them when the judge advocate-general
had attested the fairness and justice of the court's decision would be a serious injury to the proper discipline of the army.
Written complaints of officers as to injustice done them in regard to promotion he would sometimes turn over to an aide-de-camp, with the old-fashioned phrase, “ ‘Suage him, Colonel
, ’ suage him” ; meaning thereby that a kind letter should be written in reply.
But he disliked exceedingly that such disappointed men should be allowed to reach his tent and make complaints in person.
On one occasion during the winter an officer came with a grievance and would not be satisfied without an interview with the commanding general
He went to the general's tent and remained some time.
Immediately upon his departure General Lee
came to the adjutant's tent with flushed face, and said warmly, “Why did you permit that man to come to my tent and make me show my temper?”
The views which prevail with many as to the gentle temper of the great soldier, derived from observing him in domestic and social life, in fondling of children, or in kind expostulation with erring youths, are not altogether correct.
No man could see the flush come over that grand forehead and the temple veins swell on occasions of great trial of patience and doubt that Lee
had the high, strong temper of a Washington, and habitually under the same strong control.
Cruelty he hated.
In that same early spring of 1864 I saw him stop when in full gallop to the front (on report of a demonstration of the enemy against his lines) to denounce scathingly and threaten with condign punishment a soldier who was brutally beating an artillery horse.
The quiet camp-life at Orange
had been broken in upon for a brief season in November by Meade
's Mine-Run campaign
In this General Lee
, finding that Meade
failed to attack the Confederate
lines, made arrangements on the night of December 1st to bring on a general battle on the next morning by throwing two divisions against the Federal
left, held by Warren
's corps, which had been found by a close cavalry reconnoissance to present a fair occasion for successful attack.
He had hoped to deal a severe blow to Meade
's army, and felt very keenly his failure to carry out his designs.
When he discovered that Meade
had withdrawn, he exclaimed in the presence of his generals, “I am too old to command this army; we should never have permitted these people to get away.”
Some who were standing by felt that in his heart he was sighing for that great “right arm” which he threw around Hooker
Both armies returned quietly to winter quarters and rested until May 4th, when Lee
marched out in the early morning to meet the Federal
army which had moved under its new commander, at midnight on the 3d, to turn his right flank.
He took with him Ewell
's corps (less two brigades which had been detached for duty elsewhere during the winter) and two divisions of Hill
's corps — with artillery and cavalry — leaving Longstreet
with two divisions at Gordonsville
's being absent below Richmond
's third division and Anderson
's division of Hill
's corps, on the Rapidan heights
, to follow him on the next day.
On the morning of the 5th General Lee
, though generally reticent at table on military affairs, spoke very cheerfully of the situation, having learned that Grant
was crossing at Germanna Ford and
moving into the Wilderness
He expressed his pleasure that the Federal
general had not profited by General Hooker
's Wilderness experiences, and that he seemed inclined to throw away to some extent the immense advantage which his great superiority in numbers in every arm of the service gave him. On the 5th Ewell
marched on the old turnpike, and Hill
on the Plank
road, and the cavalry on a road still farther to the right into the Wilderness
rode with Hill
at the head of his column.
He was at the front in the skirmish at Parker's Store
and moved with the advance to the field on the edge of the forest which became the scene of the great conflict on the Plank
Riding on in advance of the troops, the party, consisting of Generals Lee
, and Stuart
and their staff-officers, dismounted and sat under the shade of the trees, when a party of the enemy's skirmishers deployed from a grove of old-field pines on the left, thus revealing the close proximity of Grant
's forces, and the ease of concealing movements in the Wilderness
's troops were soon up and in line, and then began on the Plank
road a fierce struggle, nearly simultaneously with that of Ewell
's forces on the old turnpike.
Thus was inaugurated a contest of many battles, in which the almost daily deadly firing did not cease for eleven long months.
's and Wilcox
's divisions, under Lee
's eye, maintained themselves well against the heavy assault of the Federal
forces which greatly outnumbered them; Ewell
's corps did good work on the old turnpike in its contest with Warren
's corps, and Rosser
's cavalry on the right had driven Wilson
slept on the field not far from his line of battle, sending orders to Longstreet
to make a night march and reach the front by daybreak on the 6th.
On that morning serious disaster seemed imminent.
did not arrive in time to reenforce Lee
's line of battle in the position it held at the close of the engagement of the preceding evening.
's well-planned attack on our right forced the two Confederate divisions from their position, and it seemed at one moment that they would sweep the field.
gave orders to get his wagon trains ready for a movement in retreat, and sent an aide to quicken the march of Longstreet
's two divisions.
These came soon, a little after sunrise, at double-quick, in parallel columns, down the Plank
was in the midst of Hill
's sullenly retreating troops, aiding in rallying them, and restoring confidence and order, when Longstreet
's men came gallantly in and reformed the line of battle under his eye. Lee
's presence at the front aroused his men to great enthusiasm.
He was a superb figure as he sat on his spirited gray with the light of battle on his face.
His presence was an inspiration.
The retreating columns turned their faces bravely to the front once more, and the fresh divisions went forward under his eye with splendid spirit.
It was on this occasion that the men of the Texas
brigade (always favorites of the general), discovering that he was riding with them into the charge, shouted to him that they would not go on unless he went back.
The battle line was restored early in the morning.
Soon afterward, Anderson
's division, which had been left on the Rapidan heights
, arrived on the ground; and a successful assault, which carried everything before it, was made on Grant
The Federal troops were driven back, with heavy loss, to their intrenchments on the Brock
's wounding, and the necessary delay in the change of commanders,1
caused loss of time in attacking them in this position.
An attack made in the afternoon failed, after some partial successes, to gain possession of the Federal
The rumor which
mentions in his “Memoirs,” and to which he seems to have given credence, that “Lee
's men were in confusion after this attack, and that his efforts failed to restore order,” was without foundation in fact.
On the same afternoon, of the 6th, a successful flank assault was made by Gordon
, with three brigades of Ewell
's corps, the results of which were not so great as hoped for, because night put a stop to his further successful rolling up of Sedgwick
The Wilderness fighting closed with the night of the 6th of May.
's grand tactics in these two days of battle had been a superb exhibition of military genius and skill in executing his plan of throwing his little army boldly against his opponent, where his great inferiority in numbers would place him at the least disadvantage; where manoeuvring of large
bodies was most difficult, and where superiority in cavalry and artillery counted almost for nothing.
The failure to push rapidly the successful movement in which Longstreet
was wounded was a serious disappointment to General Lee
I believe his daring spirit conceived the signal defeat of Grant
's army, and the driving it back across the Rapidan
, as a possibility within his immediate grasp.
One thing remarkable in the position of the
Confederate lines in these engagements is worthy of note, namely, the large gap between Ewell
's right and Longstreet
I had occasion, on being sent with orders to General Ewell
on the 6th, to ride across this lonesome interval of half a mile or more, and to meet or see no one, except two Federal soldiers, who had found it easier to desert to the front than to the rear.
The quiet on the 7th told Lee
would move on around his left.
did move, the Confederate
general, with that firm reliance upon the steadfast courage of his men in fighting against odds which had never failed him, and in the consequent ability of a small body of his troops to hold superior forces in check until he could come to their support, sent Anderson
's two divisions to support Stuart
's cavalry in holding Spotsylvania Court House until he could come up with the rest of his army.
This mutual confidence between the general and his men was a striking feature of the campaign, and, indeed, a prime necessity for any possibility of success.
sent troops to occupy Spotsylvania Court House, but retained Hancock
's corps to guard against the contingency of another attack from Lee
in the Wilderness
had evidently won the respect of his foes when, with his smaller force, reduced by two days hard fighting, he could employ one part of his infantry to aid in checking the movement of the Army of the Potomac on Spotsylvania Court House, and at the same time threaten its rear in the Wilderness
Meanwhile General Grant
was sending to Washington
sent an aide-de-camp with Anderson
under orders to keep him constantly advised, and, following with the main body of his army, took up his position on the Spotsylvania lines
in the afternoon of the 8th.
again found himself in a position which required hard fighting and in which he could not use to great advantage his superiority in numbers and equipment.
campaign of twelve days was marked by almost daily combats.
It was General Lee
's habit in those days of physical and mental trial to retire about 10 or 11 at night, to rise at 3 A. M., breakfast by candle-light, and return to the front, spending the entire day on the lines.
The 9th of May was spent by both armies mainly in strengthening their positions by throwing up intrenchments.
The day was marked, however, by the death of General Sedgwick
, who was killed by a Confederate sharp-shooter.
He was much liked and respected by his old West Point
comrades in the Confederate army, and his death was a real sorrow to them.
Early on the morning of the 10th Hancock
's corps made an effort to pass around Lee
's left wing and gain a position on his flank and rear.
This was repulsed by Early
, commanding Hill
's corps (Hill
being ill). Almost simultaneously came fierce assaults on Lee
's left wing, which were repulsed with terrible slaughter.
These were renewed again in the afternoon with the same result.
The heaviest assault was made at 5 o'clock by Hancock
, and again repulsed; again reorganized and hurled at Lee
's lines only to meet with a still more bloody reception.
In one of these attacks a small portion of the Confederate
line was taken, but held for a short time only by the assailants.
It was pitiful to see and hear the bravest of these brave men who had got up nearest to the Confederate
lines as they lay the next day groaning with the pangs of thirst and pains of death, when to relieve them was impossible, on account of the active sharp-shooting of the Federal
One fair-haired New York youth lay thus twenty-four hours near the Confederate
intrenchments before he was relieved from his sufferings by death, every effort to bring him in having been rendered unavailing by the sharp fire which his would-be rescuers met at the hands of his comrades, ignorant of their kind intentions.
About the same hour at which these last assaults were made, there was a heavy attack by the Sixth Corps on Ewell
's front, near Lee
's headquarters for the day, about 200 yards in rear of Doles
's brigade, which captured and held a portion of the lines for a short time.
This attack was repulsed and the line recaptured by Gordon
, the men and officers, as in the Wilderness
, again beseeching Lee
to go to the rear, and shouting their promises to retake the line if he would only go back.
The 11th of May was a comparatively quiet day, as there were no regular assaults on the Confederate
But on that day the gallant J. E. B. Stuart
met his death in an engagement with
, whom he had followed up from Spotsylvania
and boldly attacked with greatly inferior numbers near Richmond
's loss was greatly mourned by General Lee
who prized him highly both as a skillful soldier of splendid courage and energy, and a hearty, joyous, loving friend.
On the 12th, before dawn, came Hancock
's famous assault on a weak salient in Ewell
's front — the sole appreciable success in attack of all the hard fighting by the Federal
troops since they crossed the Rapidan
The threatening attitude of Hancock
's attacking column, as indicated by the noise of the preparations going on in front of the salient during the night, had not been communicated to General Lee
The announcement of the disaster was the first news which came to him of this movement of the enemy.
He galloped forward in the darkness of the morning and learned the extent of it from those engaged in rallying the remnants of Edward Johnson
's division and in making arrangements to check Hancock
The occasion aroused all the combative energies of his soldier nature, and he rode forward with his columns toward the captured angle.
His generals expostulated with him, and his men cried him back shouting their promises to retake the lines.
The advance of Hancock
's troops, after his successful assault, was checked by the brigades of Hill
's corps, under Early
, which held the lines on. the right of the salient, and by Ewell
's troops on the left of it.
A line of battle was formed making the base of the triangle of the salient, and the work on the retrenchment (which had been begun the day before as a new line to remedy this weak point in the lines) was pushed rapidly forward.
During the day General Lee
sent three brigades and a number of batteries of artillery to reenforce Rodes
's division, on which fell the main task of holding the enemy in check and recovering, if practicable, the salient and the eighteen pieces of Confederate artillery which lay silent between the opposing lines (having arrived too late in the morning for effective use against Hancock
's assault). In that narrow space of the salient captured before dawn raged the fiercest battle of the war. Lee
's position during the day was near Early
's lines, where he observed, from time to time, the movements of the Federal
troops in aid of Hancock
's attack, and counter-movements of Early
He was with the artillery when it broke Burnside
was present dictating notes and orders in the midst of his guns.
At one time he rode at the head of Harris
's Mississippi brigade, which by his orders I was guiding down in column to the assistance of Rodes
The men marched steadily on until they noticed that Lee
at their head was riding across a space swept by the artillery fire of the enemy.
Then were renewed the same protesting shouts of “Go back, General Lee
,” and the same promises to do their duty.
The firing in the battle of the salient did not cease until far into the night.
had been compelled to retire behind the lines which he had captured, holding them as breastworks for the protection of his troops.
The Confederate front at the close covered four of the eighteen pieces of artillery.
's retrenchment in rear of our battle-line (which rendered the salient a useless capture) had been completed.
The wearied and worn Confederate battalions were withdrawn to this line late at night, but the four recovered guns, after being dragged off, were left hopelessly stuck in a swamp outside of the new lines, and became Hancock
's trophies after all. General Grant
did not leave Hancock
unaided in this fight, having sent the Sixth and Fifth corps to his support.
He expected much from Burnside
also, but Early
's counter-movements in part prevented the realization of these hopes.
I have gone into some detail in this brief sketch of the battle of the salient, because, as perhaps the fiercest struggle of the war, it is illustrative of the valor of the troops on both sides.
On the 18th an attack was made on Early
's left and easily repulsed, though some of the assailants reached the breastworks.
On the 19th Ewell
was sent to the north side of the Ny
to threaten Grant
He met some Federal reenforcements, and, being without artillery (finding the ground impracticable for it), he regained his position on the south side of that stream with some loss.
's cavalry brigade and battery of horse artillery proved of great assistance in his withdrawal from his hazardous position.
The battles of Spotsylvania Court House closed with the 19th of May.
It gives a clearer idea of the nature of this tremendous contest to group by
days and count its various combats from the beginning of the campaign: On May 5th, three; on May 6th, four; on May 8th, two; on May 10th, five; on May 12th, repeated assaults during twenty
hours in salient and two combats on another part of the line; May 18th, one; May 19th, one.
It is no wonder that on these fields the Confederate
ordnance officers gathered more than 120,000 pounds of lead, which was recast in bullets and did work again before the campaign of 1864 was closed.
, discovering that Grant
had set out on the 20th of May on his flanking movement southward, immediately marched so as to throw his army between the Federal
forces and Richmond
He crossed the North Anna
on the 21st. General Grant
arrived on the 23d.
would gladly have compelled battle in his position there.
He was anxious now to strike a telling blow, as he was
convinced that General Grant
's men were dispirited by the bloody repulses of their repeated attacks on our lines.
had drawn Pickett
to him. But in the midst of the operations on the North Anna
he succumbed to sickness, against which he had struggled for some days.
As he lay in his tent he would say, in his impatience, “We must strike them!”
“We must never let them pass us again!”
“We must strike them!”
He had reports brought to him constantly from the field.
But Lee ill in his tent was not Lee
at the front.
He was much disappointed in not securing larger results from the attack which prevented the junction of Hancock's and Warren's columns after they had crossed the North Anna
On May 26th Grant
withdrew his army from its rather critical position on the south side of the North Anna
, and moved again to the east, down the Pamunkey
, which he crossed on the 28th, to find Lee
confronting him on the Totopotomoy
had received reenforcements from Washington
, and had drawn Smith
's corps from Butler
in Bermuda Hundred
This corps reached him at Cold Harbor on June 1st.
On the 30th the Confederate forces were in line of battle, with the left at Atlee's Station confronting the Federal
was still sick, and occupied a house at night for the first time during the campaign.
As one of his trusted lieutenants has well said: “In fact, nothing but his own determined will kept him in the field; and it was then rendered more evident than ever that he was the head and front, the very life and soul of his army.”
declined general battle and drew eastward; and after several lesser combats, with no serious results, the two armies confronted one another on the 3d of June at Cold Harbor.
In these days Lee
had drawn to himself Hoke
's division from Beauregard
, and had been reenforced by Finegan
's Florida brigade and Keitt
's South Carolina regiment.
The days from May 30th to June 2d were anxious ones for General Lee
For while General Grant
had easy and safe communication with Petersburg
and Bermuda Hundred
, and commanded all the Federal
troops north and south of Richmond
, he commanded only the Army of Northern Virginia and was compelled to communicate his “suggestions” to General Beauregard
through General Bragg
and the War Department at Richmond
This marred greatly the unity, secrecy, and celerity of action so absolutely essential to success.
That he considered this separation of commands, and the consequent circuitous mode of communication with its uncertain results, a very grave matter is plain from the telegrams which he sent at this time.
had telegraphed from Chester
(half-way between Richmond
), on May 30th, 5:15 P. M., as follows:
War Department must determine when and what troops to order from here.
I send to General Bragg all information I obtain relative to movement of enemy's troops in front.
This called forth the following telegrams:3
The battle of the 3d of June was a general assault by Grant
along a front nearly six miles in length, and a complete and bloody repulse at all points, except at one weak salient on Breckinridge
's line, which the brave assailants occupied
A call for reenforcements. |
for a short time only to be beaten back in a bloody hand-to-hand conflict on the works.
The Federal losses were naturally, under the circumstances, very large, and those of the Confederates
The dead and dying lay in front of the Confederate
lines in triangles, of which the apexes were the bravest men who came nearest to the breastworks under the withering, deadly fire.
The battle lasted little more than one brief hour, beginning between 5 and 6 A. M. The Federal troops spent the remainder of the day in strengthening their own lines in which they rested quietly.
's troops were in high spirits.
, on the 6th and 7th of June, made two efforts to attack Grant
's forces on his right flank and rear, but found him thoroughly protected with intrenchments.
On the 12th General Hampton
and turned him back from his march to the James River
lay in his lines until the night of June 12th.
On that night he moved rapidly across the peninsula.
The overland campaign north of the James
was at an end.
Except in the temporary driving back of Lee
's right on the morning of May 6th before the arrival of Longstreet
's divisions, the brief occupation of Rodes
's front on May 10th, Hancock
's morning assault on May 12th, and a few minor events, tho campaign had been one series of severe and bloody repulses of Federal attacks.
The campaign on the Confederate
side was an illustration of Lee
's genius, skill, and boldness, and as well of the steadiness, courage, and constancy of his greatly outnumbered forces, and of their sublime faith in their great commander.
After the battle of Cold Harbor
felt strong enough to send Breckinridge
toward the valley to meet Hunter
's expedition, and on the 13th to detach Early
with the Second Corps, now numbering some eight thousand muskets and twenty-four pieces of artillery, to join Breckinridge
; he also restored Hoke
's division to Beauregard
set out for the James
threw a corps of observation between him and Richmond
moved his troops rapidly in order to capture Petersburg
by a coup de main. Smith
's corps was in front of the advanced lines of Petersburg
on the morning of the 15th.
The first brigade of Hoke
's division reached Beauregard
on the evening of the 15th.
On the night of the 15th Lee
tented on the south side of the James
, near Drewry's Bluff
,, On the 16th and 17th, his troops coming up, he superintended personally the recapture of Beauregard
's Bermuda Hundred
line, which he found to be held very feebly by the forces of General Butler
, who had taken possession of them on the withdrawal of Bushrod Johnson
's division by Beauregard
on the 16th.
On the 17th a very pretty thing occurred, in these lines, of which I was an eye-witness, and which evinced the high spirit of Lee
's men, especially of a division which had been with him throughout the campaign, beginning at the Wilderness
, namely, Field
's division of Longstreet
After the left of Beauregard
's evacuated line had been taken up, there remained a portion the approach to which was more formidable.
The order had been issued to General Anderson
commanding the corps to retake this portion of the lines by a joint assault of Pickett
's and Field
Soon afterward the engineers, upon a careful reconnoissance, decided that a good line could be occupied without the loss of life which might result from this recapture.
The order to attack was therefore withdrawn by General Lee
This rescinding order reached Field
but did not reach Pickett
's division began its assault under the first order.
The men of Field
's division, hearing the firing and seeing Pickett
's men engaged, leaped from their trenches,--first the men, then the officers and flag-bearers,--rushed forward and were soon in the formidable
trenches, which were found to be held by a very small force.
On the 15th, 16th, and 17th battle raged along the lines of intrenchments and forts east of Petersburg
, between Grant
's forces and Beauregard
's troops, who made a splendid defense against enormous odds.
About dark on the 17th grave disaster to the Confederates
seemed imminent, when Gracie
's brigade of Alabamians, just returned from Chaffin's Bluff on the north side of the James
, gallantly leaped over the works and drove the assailants back, capturing a thousand or more prisoners.
, too, on his part of the lines, had easily repulsed Smith
This battle raged until near midnight. Meantime Beauregard
's engineers were preparing an interior line, to which his wearied troops fell back during the night.
A renewal of the attack on the lines held by the Confederate
troops on the night of the 17th had been ordered by Grant
along his whole front for an early hour on the 18th.
But the withdrawal of the Confederates
to interior lines necessarily caused delay, and, when the attack was made at noon, Lee
and two of his divisions, Kershaw
's and Field
's, had reached the Petersburg lines
The attack made no impression on the lines, which were held until the evacuation on April 2d, 1865.
To some military critics General Lee
seemed not to have taken in the full force of Beauregard
's urgent telegrams in those critical days of June.
But it must be remembered how easy it was for General Grant
to make a forced march on Richmond
from the north side of the James
, accompanied by a strong feint on the Petersburg lines
Then, too, any strategist will see that Petersburg
, cut off from Richmond
by an enemy holding the railroad between the two cities (or holding an intrenched line so near it as to make its use hazardous), would not have been a very desirable possession.
The fact is, that the defense of Richmond
against an enemy so superior in numbers to the defending army, and in possession of the James River
to City Point
as a great water-way to its base of supplies, was surrounded with immense difficulties.
And, in fact, in sending back Hoke
's division to Beauregard
, and in approving that general's withdrawing of Bushrod Johnson
's division from the Bermuda Hundred
line to Petersburg
thereby sent him more reenforcements by far than he sent to Rodes
on the 12th of May at Spotsylvania
, when that general was holding the base of the salient against Hancock
Besides this, Lee
had already detached Breckinridge
's division and Early
's corps to meet Hunter
And, after all, the result showed that Lee
's reliance on his men to hold in check attacking forces greatly superior in numbers did not fail him in this instance; that he was bold to audacity was a characteristic of his military genius.
The campaign of 1864 now became the siege of Petersburg
On the night of June 18th Hunter
retreated rapidly from before Lynchburg
toward western Virginia
, and Early
, after a brief pursuit, marched into Maryland
, and on July 11th his advance was before the outer defenses of Washington.
A shell at headquarters. |