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XIII the final campaign. March—April 9, 1865.

I. The circle of the hunt.

The time has now come when it is no longer possible to consider the Army of the Potomac apart from that colossal combination of force that, pressing from all sides on the structure of the Confederacy, finally bore it to the ground.

That this army cannot rightly be viewed independently of the co-operative forces throughout the general theatre of war, is made apparent by the single fact that during the winter months succeeding the close of the campaign of 1864, so far from its being any longer a desirable object to capture Petersburg and Richmond, Grant's efforts were mainly directed to restraining the Confederates from voluntarily giving up to him those strongholds that, having been for four years the prize so eagerly coveted, were now the possession most of all to be shunned. How this was and must have been so, will become manifest from a brief glance at the relations which the gigantic vigor of Sherman had established between his own army and the opposing forces in Virginia.

The communications on which Lee's army depended, not only for the maintenance of its interior lines with the remaining forces of the Confederacy in the Southwest, but for its supplies of food and ammunition, ran through the Carolinas [566] and the seaboard States and radiated over the great productive territory of the central zone.

By the capture of Atlanta, gained in the midsummer of 1864, Sherman grasped one of the main ganglia of the Southern railroad system. This was a loss terrible indeed to the Confederates, and narrowing the sphere of their activity and their means of intercommunication, yet not so deadly but that they might still, by the judicious use of such force as they had, oppose a menacing front and greatly prolong the war.

But whatever opportunity was then afforded the Confederates of thus acting, was thrown away, with that species of madness with which the gods are said to inspire those whom they would destroy, when Hood, at this time in command of the Confederate army of the West, quitting his proper defensive, was directed to make his ill-judged and disastrous aggressive movement into Tennessee. What would have been a thorn in the side of an inferior man, was to Sherman an opportunity, and with one of those inspirations such as are possible only to military minds of the first order, he determined to offer a counter to Hood's initiative by laying hold of and advancing along those interior lines voluntarily abandoned to him by his antagonist. Sherman's march assumes the aspect of a great swinging movement, the pivot of which was the army before Petersburg. But it was a swinging movement described on a radius of half a continent—one of those colossal enterprises whereof there are few exemplars in military history, and which fill up the measure of the imagination with the shapes of all that is vast and grandiose in war.

From Atlanta Sherman advanced, destroying the Southern railroads, foundries, mills, workshops, and warehouses, to Savannah on the sea. That city was reached the 21st of December, after a march of above three hundred miles, in four-and-twenty days. It was now open to General Grant to unite Sherman's army with the army before Petersburg either by water or by an advance of Sherman through the seaboard States. The latter course was determined on as the more decisive in its character, and its execution begun on the 1st [567] of February, 1865, when Sherman crossed the Savannah into South Carolina.

When Hood's crushing defeat by Thomas before Nashville had made an end of the campaign that Mr. Davis had projected as the means of throwing Sherman back out of Georgia in a ‘Moscow retreat,’ and when it was seen that Sherman, heading his columns northward towards Virginia, approached like an irresistible fate, sweeping a wide swathe of desolation through the centre of the South, the Richmond authorities, awaking to a sense of their fatal folly and goaded by the clamors of an alarmed and frenzied people, sought a measure of amelioration for the shattered fortunes of the Confederacy by the reappointment of General Johnston to the command of the forces opposing Sherman.

But it was already too late. Johnston did all he could; and all he did was judicious: but he could only stay for a time a result seen to be inevitable. Withdrawing the garrisons of the seaboard cities, and uniting thereto the corps lately under Beauregard and the remnants of Hood's army, which with much address he succeeded in bringing to a junction with the troops confronting Sherman, he prepared to oppose such a resistance as was possible to the onward march of his formidable antagonist. Johnston had on paper a numerous army; but, in effect, it was not, all told, above twenty thousand strong; while the troops were in such condition of morale as may be imagined of men who had already been driven through two States into the forests of North Carolina. In this state of facts it was vain for Johnston to attempt an aggressive policy, unless indeed he should find an opportunity of striking a blow at a detached fragment. But his antagonist carried too much art into his dispositions of his columns of march to present such an opening, and the one stroke at Bentonville (a partial and unimportant success), was all the offensive essayed by Johnston.

The Confederate commander was, moreover, in a trying dilemma: in order to keep open the Danville line, by which a junction of the forces of Lee and Johnston might be made, it [568] was necessary for him to constantly refuse his left and manoeuvre by his right. But this was to uncover the path by which Sherman might advance to unite with Grant. As this result, however, could not long be prevented, Johnston chose the former course and fell back in the direction of Raleigh, which was a judicious measure, since a junction of the two Confederate armies was now the governing desideratum. Pressing forward his advance, Sherman, the 23d of March, reached Goldsborough, North Carolina, where he united with the Federal columns that had moved out from Newbern and Wilmington. His course to Petersburg was then clear—the distance a hundred and fifty miles in a northerly direction. No immediate start, however, was made from Goldsborough, as well for the reason that his army had to be refitted as that General Grant feared if Sherman should then move any further on his way, Lee would abandon Petersburg and Richmond. This, as I have already intimated, was the thing now least desired, for the conditions were not such as to permit of an effective pursuit, and Grant, like Phocion, desired to have an army fitted for a long race—a race, the goal of which was the destruction of his adversary.

While from the direction of the south Sherman thus drew from the mountains to the sea a wall of bayonets that imprisoned the enemy between himself and the Army of the Potomac, Grant directed Sheridan to make a new raid, with a view to severing all the remaining communications of the Confederates—a necessary step in that plan of encircling and enclosing Lee which the lieutenant-general had devised as the preliminary to his premeditated blow.

Moving from Winchester the 27th of February, Sheridan galloped up the Valley of Virginia. With his superb column of ten thousand sabres, he little recked of any enemy he was likely to encounter. Early, indeed, still hovered about the Valley that had been so fatal to him; but what of force remained with him was but the shreds and patches of an army, numbering, perhaps, twenty-five hundred men. Foiling by his [569] rapid advance an attempt to destroy the bridge over the

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