Their value in the war between the States, 1861-1861, and how fiercely they were fought for.
In reasoning from cause to effect we must not conclude that accident was the reason why great battles were more than once fought over the same fields during the great civil war in this country.
Examining carefully for the cause, we arrive at the conclusion that such points must have had within them some special value, and an analysis of this, deducts the conclusion that these places were ‘Strategic Points.’
There are several objective points, in the Old Dominion, over whose bosom the pendulum of war oscillated for four cruel years, where the contending armies crashed, that had in them this strategic value, and the fact that battles were fought more than once on these fields proves that the armies did not collide upon them by accident.
was a battle-field of accident.
been in touch with Lee
, and the Confederate
commander furnished with the information the cavalry are supposed to acquire, it is now considered more than doubtful that this little Pennsylvania
town would have assumed conspicuous prominence in American history.
But strategic points is the subject of this paper, and it will be best to treat them in the order of their dates.
's selection of Bull Run
as his line defence showed his wisdom as an engineer.
His outposts extended from Leesburg
, through Drainesville, Fairfax
and Wolf Run
Shoals, to Acquia creek
, with reserves at Centreville
This was in the early summer of 1861.
was organizing the Grand Army
around a splendid nucleus of regulars.
This army was not for the defence of Washington
solely, but also for aggressive purposes.
There was a supreme authority in the Federal States
which became director general, which gave orders to commanders and moved armies.
This power was public clamor, and all through the four
years of carnage this influence was dominant.
moved out of Washington
under its orders.
's line at Fredericksburg
under its arbitrary demand.
moved upon the Army of Northern Virginia at Mine Run
at the dictation of this same power.
But pardon this digression, and go back to strategic points.
moved out of Washington
with the Grand Army
, and developing Beauregard
's outposts, soon pressed them back upon the reserves and precipitated the indecisive battle, 18th of July, 1861.
Pausing then, McDowell
took advantage of his information to study the situation and plan accordingly.
, finding his force inadequate, appealed to Johnston
, then at Winchester
, for assistance.
His prompt response is too well known to detail here; how Bee
died; how Kirby Smith
, coming into line almost on the run upon McDowell
's flank, and ‘Jackson
standing like a stone wall,’ snatched victory from defeat, and turned the triumph of the foe into an utter rout.
The plains of Manassas
drank in the best blood of the South
, but victory laid her crown of immortelles upon ‘the banner of the stars and bars.’
, heretofore an insignificant railroad crossing, became the base of the Confederate army.
Roads, both dirt and rail, radiated and crossed here, and its strategic worth, and the fierceness for which its possession was contended, demonstrated its value.
had been paralyzed before Richmond
, a year later, a new and powerful Federal army was being massed in Northern Virginia
, causing concern to the Confederate government.
To check further advance, Lee
transported his army from its intrenchments before Richmond
, first to the line of the Rapidan
, then to the banks of the Rappahannock
The summer rains had swollen the river, and thus gave the Federal
commander a strong position.
The fords were unavailable, and Pope
held the key to the situation.
But the genius of Lee
could not be neutralized by an obstacle like the roaring Rappahannock
He sent the energetic and phenomenal Jackson
to secure Manassas
Silently and steadily the Stonewall
corps tramped by a circuitous route, and before the Federal
commander was aware of his absence from his front, Lee
's great lieutenant had seized Manassas
vast stores of food, clothing, and ammunition.
These were utilized to the extent of Jackson
's ability, the excess given to the flames.
He knew that Pope
would resent this poaching upon his preserves, so after applying the torch he moved from the Junction
to the neighborhood of the old battle-field, where a year before he had won his title and his spurs.
He wanted elbow room, space to manoeuvre, and as he had to call upon Pope
, he determined to select his own battle-ground.
The desperate battles of the 28th, 29th and 30th of August testify of Pope
's anxiety to retain and Lee
's determination to wrest from him this stragetic point.
Forty-nine thousand and seventy-seven worn but superb Confederates, after days of battle, defeated Pope
's army, which, with McClellan
's reinforcements, numbered 120,000, and forced them back into the works around Washington
Thus the stragetic value of Manassas
, drinking to satiety the blood of brave men, assumed conspicuous prominence in American annals.
In the late spring of 1862 McClellan
with an army of 115,000 men. His immense works are monuments to his genius as an engineer.
Of the points fortified by him Cold Harbor was the key to his right.
When the signal gun from the left of the Confederate
fortifications announced the assault upon McClellan
's lines, the brunt of the attack was upon his right.
Fierce assaults followed and some of the strongholds yielded, but Cold Harbor, naturally strong and intensified by splendid works, resisted fiercely.
Southern blood flowed like water, but as long as this point held out, McClellan
maintained his right in tact.
sent imperative order to storm the works, and though fourteen heavy field guns and three lines of battles hurled shot, shell and bullets upon them, the gallant Hood
with his splendid Texans finally carried the fort by storm, and doubled McClellan
's right back upon his centre.
, Ellerson's Mills, Cold Harbor, Gaines' Mill
, Frazer's Farm, Savage Station, and White Oak Swamp
were torn from McClellan
's group, and these names blazoned in martial glory upon the star crossed flag, while McClellan
's beaten army sought protection under the guns of the Federal fleet in James river
A lapse of two years brings us back to historic Cold Harbor.
The war had now progressed more than three years. Other commanders had failed and public clamor was demanding better results for the money and blood so liberally and lavishly spent in the Old Dominion.
was summoned from his successes in the West
, and the government assigned him this terrible task.
Unlimited resources were placed at his disposal; when he broke camp early in May, 1864, 141, 160 splendidly equipped and veteran soldiers followed his standard.
Against this host Lee
could oppose but 52,625 ill-fed and poorly-clad, yet superb troops.
Then followed the Spotsylvania, the North Anna
, written in the blood of thousands of brave men. A month of almost incessant battle followed, the two armies gravitating toward Richmond
In June, in the course of these side movements, Cold Harbor was again reached, but circumstances and positions reversed.
now held the entrenchments and acted on the defensive.
massed his army for the assault.
Up to this time the genius of the great Confederate commander had everywhere matched the enormous preponderance of the enemy.
made three desperate assaults on Lee
's works; the attack was made in the forenoon.
Each attack was repelled with appalling slaughter.
So terrific had been the Confederate
fire that in one hour Grant
's losses had amounted to more than 13,000, while he inflicted a loss of but 1,200 upon Lee
History records General Grant
as a man of great determination and tenacity.
He was unwilling to yield his point, so determined was he to renew the assault in the afternoon.
The order for attack descended in proper gradation from the lieutenant-general down to regimental commanders; but when the bugles sounded the onset, there was no forward movement, and the immoble lines of the army of the Potomac thus silently rebuked its commander for his butchery.
Its inactive attitude spoke plainer than words:‘Show us a possibility and no troops will more loyally and promptly respond, but to again hurl us against certain defeat and direful slaughter, we must refuse to obey.’
Thus for the second time Cold Harbor became the scene of the fiercest of conflicts, and established its value as a strategic point.
It is worthy of note to mention the great disparity of numbers
engaged, and how, in the two battles, conditions were reversed.
In the battles of Richmond
's army numbered 115,102 men, and, in this engagement, fought on the defensive Cold Harbor, next to Malvern Hill
—the strongest position in his line.
's forces were 69,762, and in this, as in others of the Richmond
battles, were the aggressors, yet he wrested this stronghold by one of the most daring assaults history records.
In the second battle of Cold Harbor
conditions were reversed— Lee
was behind the defenses, his army about 49,000.
was to attack with 140,000 men. He hurled his immense weight upon Lee
, but with no effect, except to destroy his men. This leads up to the inquiry, ‘Was either the better soldier?’
The spring of 1863 found Lee
's army at Fredericksburg
watching his powerful antagonist across the Rappahannock
had been detached for service near Suffolk
, and the Army of Northern Virginia thus weakened.
had succeeded Burnside
in command of the Army of the Potomac.
New hopes inspired the Federal
was jubilant; he announced to the world ‘the finest army on the planet’ was about to exterminate its enemies.
So sure was he of this, he dispatched to General Hallock
‘The rebel army is now the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac.’
's plan of direct assault, he divided his army of 132,000 men; 40,000 under Sedgwick
crossed the Rappahannock
on pontoons below Fredericksburg
and threatened Lee
's right; with the remainder Hooker
crossed the upper fords and menaced the Confederate
's army numbered 57,117.
Matters to others than his master mind would have seemed gravely critical.
with 9,000 muskets to hold his works behind Fredericksburg
, with the remainder he moved out to give battle to Hooker
Before developing the Federal
battle line, for the protection of his flank and rear, he detached Wilcox
with 6,000 men to guard the fords behind him.
Just as he struck Hooker
's line, he detached Jackson
with about 24,000 men, to place himself upon Hooker
's right and rear.
Silently and swiftly the old foot cavalry of the Stonewall
corps traversed the secret by-paths of the wilderness, and late in the afternoon of the 3d of May he stealthily approached the unsuspecting Federals.
With a rush and a roar the Stonewall
corps broke cover, and with one crash of musketry, then with the bayonet, swept the works.
's Eleventh corps was just partaking of its evening meal when the storm swept upon it. Hooker
's left wing was thrown into utter rout and rushed in confusion upon the centre.
Night alone saved it from destruction.
But details are too volumnious.
The world knows of Hooker
's terrible punishment and defeat.
, with one-third of Hooker
's forces, crushed the Federal
army and threw it beyond the Rappahannock
Just one year later, on a balmy day in early May, 1864, Grant
broke camp at Culpeper
with the finest army ever organized upon the Western Continent
Without hinderance he placed 141,160 soldiers on the south bank of the Rapidan
, and threw himself across Lee
's road to Richmond
It must have been apparent to the eye of the most ordinary soldier in Grant
's army that his commander had blundered.
He saw at a glance how impossible to manoeuvre 141,000 men in the dense jungles and scrubs of the wilderness.
Therefore it is not to be wondered that the genius of the great Confederate chieftain mastered the situation.
He broke cover with 52,626 ragged but veteran troops, and not waiting to be attacked, moved at once upon Grant
's battle line and for three days fiercely assailed his overwhelming antagonist.
Finding it impossible to make any impression upon Lee
's line, the night of the third day's fight the Federal
commander silently moved his army by the left flank, trusting with the morning sun to envelope the right and rear of Lee
's depleted army.
The genius of Lee
seemed to have been inspired, for by some means he divined his adversary's plans and moved parallel to him, and as Grant
changed from flank to front and moved forward, the battered but defiant Army of Northern Virginia was before him.
Thence followed the fierce battles around Spotsylvania
, North Anna
and Cold Harbor.
So ended the terrible Battle of the Wilderness
On nearly the same ground Lee
had fought two years before, and now the first captain in the Federal
army was sent with the finest army to crush Lee
, yet he failed, and Chancellorsville
and the Wilderness
became famous in history as stragetic spots.
Here in each battle genius and unsurpassed courage more than matched numbers and splendid appointments.
Thus, in succession, Manassas
, Cold Harbor, and Chancellorsville
and the Wilderness
, heretofore unknown, became luminous in history, and the terrific battle fought on these fields demonstrated their value as strategic points.
Less only in the number of troops engaged, Winchester
, in the lower Valley, became conspicuous in Confederate annals as a strategic point.
Early in 1861 Johnston
recognized its value and so held it. Later Jackson
made a vigorous attack on Shields
for its recovery, but for paucity of numbers and exhaustion of his troops from rapid and severe marching would have wrested it from Federal grasp.
In the spring of 1862 this same Stonewall made a sudden rush upon Banks
and drove him from the town and across the Potomac
So greatly did the Federal
government appreciate its worth that two armies were dispatched, one under McDowell
, and the other under Freemont from Franklin
, each largely superior to Jackson
, to drive him from Winchester
Again the town became headquarters for Federal occupation of the Valley district, and again after Second Manassas
On the retirement of Lee
's army to Fredericksburg
in the fall of 1862, again the town became the Federal
headquarters for that section of Virginia
, in the order of Lee
's combinations, Ewell
burst through the gaps of the Blue mountains
, and suddenly swooping down upon the little city, threw Milroy
and the remnant of his garrison across the Potomac
again fell to the Federal
General Jubal Early
once again wrested it from the troops of the United States
and again forced back, Federal occupation followed, and once more partial success almost
put it again in his possession.
Thence to the close of the war, it remained in possession of the Federal
No other place of similar importance so often changed hands as did the little city of Winchester
; and while not contended for by so large forces as the other points mentioned, yet the frequency with which its occupation was fought for, testifies its value in the estimation, both of the Confederate
and Federal forces.
The places enumerated are points, which should the blasting misfortunes of war ever oscillate over the Old Dominion again, will become the scenes of similar battles.
Let us trust no more in the history of this country, this curse shall ever again come upon this fair land, and pray that ‘men may learn to war no more.’