WITH LEE IN VIRGINIA
A Story Of The American Civil War.
by G.A. Henty
Chapter 17. Chancellorsville.
The news of the fight between the sheriff's posse and the band at Lynch's Creek was telegraphed to the Richmond papers by their local agent upon the day after it occurred. The report said that Captain Wingfield, a young officer who had frequently distinguished himself, had followed the traces of a gang, one of whom was a notorious criminal who had evaded the pursuit of the law and escaped from that section fifteen years ago, and had, under an assumed name, been acting as overseer at Mrs. Wingfield's estate of the Orangery. These men had carried off a negress belonging to Mrs. Wingfield, and had taken her down South. Captain Wingfield, having obtained the assistance of the sheriff with a posse of determined men, rode to the place which served as headquarters for the gang. Upon being summoned to surrender the men opened a fire upon the sheriff and his posse. A sharp fight ensued, in which the sheriff was killed and one of his men wounded; while the four members of the gang were either killed or taken prisoners. It was reported that a person occupying a position as a planter in the neighborhood of Richmond is connected with this gang.
The reporter had obtained his news from Vincent, who had purposely refrained from mentioning the names of those who had fallen. He had already had a conversation with the wounded prisoner. The latter had declared that he had simply acted in the affair as he had been paid to do by the man he knew in Richmond as Pearson, who told him that he wanted him to aid in carrying off a slave woman, who was really his property, but had been fraudulently taken from him. He had heard him say that there was another interested in the affair, who had his own reasons for getting the woman out of the way, and had paid handsomely for the job. Who that other was Pearson had never mentioned.
Vincent saw that he had no absolute evidence against Jackson, and therefore purposely suppressed the fact that Pearson was among the killed in hopes that the paragraph would so alarm Jackson that he would at once decamp. His anticipations were entirely justified; for upon the day of his return to Richmond he saw a notice in the paper that the Cedars, with its field hands, houses, and all belonging to it, was for sale. He proceeded at once to the estate agent, and learned from him that Jackson had come in two days before and had informed him that sudden and important business had called him away, and that he was starting at once for New York, where his presence was urgently required, and that he should attempt to get through the lines immediately. He had asked him what he thought the property and slaves would fetch. Being acquainted with the estate, he had given him a rough estimate, and had, upon Jackson's giving him full power to sell, advanced him two-thirds of the sum. Jackson had apparently started at once; indeed, he had told him that he should take the next train as far North as he could get.
Vincent received the news with great satisfaction. He had little doubt that Jackson had really made down to the South, and that he would try to cross the lines there, his statement that he intended to go direct North being merely intended to throw his pursuers off his track should a warrant be issued against him. However, it mattered little which way Jackson had gone, so that he had left the State.
There was little chance of his ever returning; for even when he learned that his confederate in the business had been killed in the fight, he could not be certain that the prisoner who had been taken was not aware of the share he had in the business.
A fortnight later Vincent went down into Georgia and brought back Lucy Kingston for a visit to his mother. She had already received a letter from her father in reply to one she had written after reaching her aunt's protection, saying how delighted he was to hear that she had crossed the lines, for that he had suffered the greatest anxiety concerning her, and had continually reproached himself for not sending her away sooner. He said that he was much pleased with her engagement to Captain Wingfield, whom he did not know personally, but of whom he heard the most favorable reports from various Virginian gentlemen to whom he had spoken since the receipt of her letter.
Lucy remained at Richmond until the beginning of March, when Vincent took her home to Georgia again, and a week after his return rejoined the army on the Rappahannock. Every effort had been made by the Confederate authorities to raise the army of General Lee to a point that would enable him to cope with the tremendous force the enemy were collecting for the ensuing campaign. The drain of men was now telling terribly, and Lee had at the utmost 40,000 to oppose the 160,000 collected under General Hooker.
The first fight of the campaign had already taken place when Vincent rejoined the army. A body of 3,000 Federal cavalry had crossed the river on the 17th of March at Kelley's Ford, but had been met by General Fitz Lee with about 800 cavalry, and after a long and stubborn conflict had been driven back with heavy loss across the river. It was not until the middle of April that the enemy began to move in earnest. Every ford was watched by Stuart's cavalry, and the frequent attempts made by the Federal horse to push across to obtain information were always defeated.
On the 27th of April General Hooker's preparations were complete. His plan of action was that 20,000 men should cross the river near the old battlefield of Fredericksburg, and thus lead the Confederates to believe that this was the point of attack. The main body were, however, to cross at Kelley's Ford, many miles higher up the river, and to march down toward Fredericksburg. The other force was then to recross, march up the river, cross at Kelley's Ford, and follow and join the main army. At the same time the Federal cavalry, which was very numerous and well-organized, was, under
General Stoneman, to strike down through the country toward Richmond, and thus cut the Confederate communication with their capital, and so prevent Longstreet's division, which was lying near Richmond, from rejoining Lee.
The passage of the river was effected at the two fords without resistance on the 29th of April, and upon the same day the cavalry column marched south. General Lee directed a portion of his cavalry under General Fitz Lee to harass and delay this column as much as possible. Although he had with him but a few hundred men, he succeeded in doing good service in cutting off detached bodies of the enemy, capturing many officers and men, and so demoralizing the invaders that, after pushing on as far as the James River, Stoneman had to retreat in great haste across the Rapidan River.
Hooker having crossed the river, marched on to Chancellorsville, where he set to to entrench himself, having sent word to General Sedgwick, who commanded the force that had crossed near Fredericksburg, to recross, push round, and join as soon as possible. Chancellorsville was a large brick mansion standing in the midst of fields surrounded by extensive forests. The country was known as the Wilderness. Within a range of many miles there were only a few scattered houses, and dense thickets and pine-woods covered the whole country. Two narrow roads passed through the woods, crossing each other at Chancellorsville; two other roads led to the fords known as Ely's Ford and the United States Ford. As soon as he reached Chancellorsville Hooker set his troops to work cutting down trees and throwing up earthworks for infantry and redoubts for artillery, erecting a double line of defenses. On these he mounted upward of a hundred pieces of artillery, commanding the narrow roads by which an enemy must approach, for the thickets were in many places so dense as to render it impossible for troops to force their way through them.
When Sedgwick crossed the river, Lee drew up his army to oppose him; but finding that no more troops crossed, and that Sedgwick did not advance, he soon came to the conclusion that this was not the point at which the enemy intended to attack, and in twenty-four hours one of Stuart's horsemen brought the news that Hooker had crossed the Rappahannock at Kelley's Ford and the Rapidan at Ely's Ford. Lee at once left one division to face General Sedgwick, and ordered the three others to join General Anderson, who with 8,000 men had fallen back before Hooker's advance, and taken his post at Tabernacle Church, about halfway between Fredericksburg and Tabernacle. Lee himself rode forward at once and joined Anderson.
Jackson led the force from Fredericksburg, and pressed the enemy back toward Chancellorsville until he approached the tremendous lines of fortifications, and then fell back to communicate with Lee. That night a council of war was held, and it was agreed that an attack upon the front of the enemy's position was absolutely impossible. Hooker himself was so positive that his position was impregnable that he issued a general order of congratulation to his troops, saying that "the enemy must now ingloriously fly or give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him."
Jackson then suggested that he should work right round the Wilderness in front of the enemy's position, march down until well on its flank, and attack it there, where they would be unprepared for an assault. The movement was one of extraordinary peril. Lee would be left with but one division in face of an immensely superior force; Jackson would have to perform an arduous march exposed to an attack by the whole force of the enemy; and both might be destroyed separately without being able to render the slightest assistance to each other. At daybreak on the 2d of May Jackson mustered his troops for the advance. He had in the course of the night caught a severe cold. In the hasty march he had left his blankets behind him. One of his staff threw a heavy cape over him as he lay on the wet ground. During the night Jackson woke, and thinking that the young officer might himself be suffering from the want of his cape, rose quietly, spread the cape over him, and lay down without it. The consequence was a severe cold, which terminated in an attack of pneumonia that, occurring at a time when he was enfeebled by his wounds, resulted in his death. If he had not thrown that cape over the officer it is probable that he would have survived his wounds.
At daybreak the column commenced its march. It had to traverse a narrow and unfrequented road through dense thickets, occasionally crossing ground in sight of the enemy, and at the end to attack a tremendous position held by immensely superior forces. Stuart with his cavalry moved on the flank of the column whenever the ground was open, so as to conceal the march of the infantry from the enemy. As the rear of the column passed a spot called the Furnace, the enemy suddenly advanced and cut off the 23d Georgia, who were in the rear of the column, and captured the whole regiment with the exception of a score of men. At this point the road turned almost directly away from Chancellorsville, and the enemy believed that the column was in full retreat, and had not the least idea of its real object.
So hour after hour the troops pressed on until they reached the turnpike road passing east and west through Chancellorsville, which now lay exactly between them and the point that they had left in the morning. Jackson's design was to advance upon this line of road, to extend his troops to the left and then to swing round, cut the enemy's retreat to the fords, and capture them all. Hooker had already been joined by two of Sedgwick's army corps, and had now six army corps at Chancellorsville, while Jackson's force consisted of 22,000 men. Lee remained with 13,000 at Tabernacle. The latter general had not been attacked, but had continued to make demonstrations against the Federal left, occupying their attention and preventing them from discovering how large a portion of his force had left him.
It was at five o'clock in the evening that Jackson's troops, having gained their position, advanced to the attack. In front of them lay
Howard's division of the Federals, intrenched in strong earthworks covered by felled trees; but the enemy were altogether unsuspicious of danger, and it was not until with tumultuous cheers the Confederates dashed through the trees and attacked the entrenchment that they had any suspicion of their presence. They ran to their arms, but it was too late. The Confederates rushed through the obstacles, climbed the earthworks, and carried those in front of them, capturing 700 prisoners and five guns. The rest of the Federal troops here, throwing away
muskets and guns, fled in wild confusion. Steadily the Confederates pressed on, driving the enemy before them, and capturing position after position, until the whole right wing of the Federal army was routed and disorganized. For three hours the Confederates continued their march without a check; but owing to the denseness of the wood, and the necessity of keeping the troops in line, the advance was slow, and night fell before the movement could be completed. One more hour of daylight and the whole Federal army would have been cut off and captured, but by eight o'clock the darkness in the forest was so complete that all movement had to be stopped.
Half an hour later one of the saddest incidents of the war took place. General Jackson with a few of his staff wont forward to reconnoiter. As he returned toward his lines, his troops in the dark mistook them for a reconnoitering party of the enemy and fired, killing or wounding the whole of them, General Jackson receiving three balls. The enemy, who were but a hundred yards distant, at once opened a tremendous fire with grape toward the spot, and it was some time before Jackson could be carried off the field. The news that their beloved general was wounded was for some time kept from the troops; but a whisper gradually spread, and the grief of his soldiers was unbounded, for rather would they have suffered a disastrous defeat than that
Stonewall Jackson should have fallen.
General Stuart assumed the command, General Hill, who was second in command, having, with many other officers, been wounded by the tremendous storm of grape and canister that the Federals poured through the wood when they anticipated an attack. At daybreak the troops again moved forward in three lines, Stuart placing his thirty guns on a slight ridge, where they could sweep the lines of the Federal defenses. Three times the position was won and lost; but the Confederates fought with such fury and resolution, shouting each time they charged the Federal ranks "Remember Jackson," that the enemy gradually gave way, and by ten o'clock Chancellorsville itself was taken, the Federals being driven back into the forest between the houses and the river.
Lee had early in the morning begun to advance from his side to the attack, but just as he was moving forward the news came that Sedgwick had recrossed at Fredericksburg, captured a portion of the Confederate force there, and was advancing to join Hooker. He at once sent two of his three little divisions to join the Confederates who were opposing Sedgwick's advance, while with the three or four thousand men remaining to him, he all day made feigned attacks upon the enemy's position, occupying their attention there, and preventing them from sending reinforcements to the troops engaged with Stuart. At night he himself hurried away, took the command of the troops opposed to Sedgwick, attacked him vigorously at daybreak, and drove him with heavy loss back across the river. The next day he marched back with his force to join in the final attack upon the Federals; but when the troops of Stuart and Lee moved forward they encountered no opposition. Hooker had begun to carry his troops across the river on the night he was hurled back out of Chancellorsville, and the rest of his troops had crossed on the two following nights.
General Hooker issued a pompous order to his troop after getting across the river, to the effect that the movement had met with the complete success he had anticipated from it; but the truth soon leaked out. General Sedgwick's force had lost 6,000 men, Hooker's own command fully 20,000 more; but splendid as the success was, it was dearly purchased by the Confederates at the price of the life of
Stonewall Jackson. His arm was amputated the day after the battle; he lived for a week, and died not so much from the effect of his wounds as from the pneumonia, the result of his exposure to the heavy dew on the night preceding his march through the Wilderness.
During the two days' fighting Vincent Wingfield had discharged his duties upon General Stuart's staff. On the first day the work had been slight, for General Stuart, with the cannon, remained in the rear, while Jackson's infantry attacked and carried the Federal retrenchments. Upon the second day, however, when Stuart assumed the command, Vincent's duties had been onerous and dangerous in the extreme. He was constantly carrying orders from one part of the field to the other, amid such a shower of shot and shell that it seemed marvelous that any one could exist within it. To his great grief Wildfire was killed under him, but he himself escaped without a scratch. When he came afterward to try to describe the battle to those at home he could give no account of it.
"To me," he said, "it was simply a chaos of noise and confusion. Of what was going on I knew nothing. The din was appalling. The roar of the shells, the hum of grape and canister, the whistle of bullets, the shouts of the men, formed a mighty roar that seemed to render thinking impossible. Showers of leaves fell incessantly, great boughs of trees were shorn away, and trees themselves sometimes came crashing down as a trunk was struck full by a shell. The undergrowth had caught fire, and the thick smoke, mingled with that of the battle, rendered it difficult to see or to breathe. I had but one thought, that of making my way through the trees, of finding the corps to which I was sent, of delivering my message, and finding the general again. No, I don't think I had much thought of danger, the whole thing was somehow so tremendous that one had no thought whatever for one's self. It was a sort of terrible dream, in which one was possessed of the single idea to get to a certain place. It was not till at last we swept across the open ground down to the house, that I seemed to take any distinct notice of what was going on around me. Then, for the first time, the exulting shouts of the men, and the long lines advancing at the double, woke me up to the fact that we had gained one of the most wonderful victories in history, and had driven an army of four or five times our own strength from a position that they believed they had made impregnable."
The defeat of Hooker for a time put a stop to any further advance against Richmond from the North. The Federal troops, whose term of service was up, returned home, and it was months before all the efforts of the authorities of Washington could place the army in a condition to make a renewed advance. But the Confederates had also suffered heavily. A third of the force with which Jackson had attacked had fallen, and their loss could not be replaced, as the Confederates were forced to send every one they could raise to the assistance of the armies in the West, where
Generals Banks and Grant were carrying on operations with great success against them. The important town of Vicksburg, which commanded the navigation of the Mississippi, was besieged, and after a resistance lasting for some months, surrendered, with its garrison of 25,000 men, on the 3d of July, and the Federal gunboats were thus able to penetrate by the Mississippi and its confluents into the heart of the Confederacy.
Shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville, Vincent was appointed to the command of a squadron of cavalry that was detached from Stuart's force and sent down to Richmond to guard the capital from any raids by bodies of Federal cavalry. It had been two or three times menaced by flying bodies of horsemen, and during the cavalry advance before the battle of Chancellorsville small parties had penetrated to within three miles of the city, cutting all the telegraph wires, pulling up rails, and causing the greatest terror. Vincent was not sorry for the change. It took him away from the great theater of the war, but after Chancellorsville he felt no eager desire to take part in future battles. His duties would keep him near his home, and would give ample scope for the display of watchfulness, dash, and energy. Consequently he took no part in the campaign that commenced in the first week in June.
Tired of standing always on the defensive, the Confederate authorities determined to carry out the stop that had been so warmly advocated by Jackson earlier in the war, and which might at that time have brought it to a successful termination. They decided to carry the war into the enemy's country. By the most strenuous efforts Lee's army was raised to 75,000 men, divided into three great army corps, commanded by Longstreet, Ewell, and Hill. Striking first into Western Virginia, they drove the Federals from
Winchester, and chased them from the State with the loss of nearly 4,000 prisoners and 30 guns. Then they entered Maryland and Pennsylvania, and concentrating at Gettysburg they met the Northern army under
Meade, who had succeeded Hooker. Although great numbers of the Confederates had seen their homes wasted and their property wantonly destroyed, they preserved the most perfect order in their march through the North, and the Federals themselves testify to the admirable behavior of the troops, and to the manner in which they abstained from plundering or inflicting annoyance upon the inhabitants.
At Gettysburg there was three days' fighting. In the first a portion only of the forces were engaged, the Federals being defeated and 5,000 of their men taken prisoners. Upon the second the Confederates attacked the Northerners, who were posted in an extremely strong position, but were repulsed with heavy loss. The following day they renewed the attack, but after tremendous fighting again failed to carry the height. Both parties were utterly exhausted. Lee drew up his troops the next day, and invited an attack from the Federals; but contented with the success they had gained they maintained their position, and the Confederates then fell back, Stuart's cavalry protecting the immense trains of wagons loaded with the stores and ammunition captured in Pennsylvania.
But little attempt was made by the Northerners to interfere with their retreat. On reaching the Potomac they found that a sudden rise had rendered the fords impassable. Intrenchments and batteries were thrown up, and for a week the Confederate army held the lines, expecting an attack from the enemy, who had approached within two miles; but the Federal generals were too well satisfied with having gained a success when acting on the defensive in a strong position to risk a defeat in attacking the position of the Confederates, and their forces remained impassive until pontoon bridges were thrown across the river, and the Confederate army, with their vast baggage train, had again crossed into Virginia. The campaign had cost the Northern army 23,000 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, besides a considerable number of guns. The Confederates lost only two guns, left behind in the mud, and 1,500 prisoners, but their loss in killed and wounded at Gettysburg exceeded 10,000 men. Even the most sanguine among the ranks of the Confederacy were now conscious that the position was a desperate one. The Federal armies seemed to spring from the ground. Strict discipline had taken the place of the disorder and insubordination that had first prevailed in their ranks. The armies were splendidly equipped. They were able to obtain any amount of the finest guns, rifles, and ammunition of war from the workshops of Europe; while the Confederates, cut off from the world, had to rely solely upon the makeshift factories they had set up, and upon the guns and stores they captured from the enemy.
The Northerners had now, as a blow to the power of the South, abolished
slavery, and were raising regiments of negroes from among the free blacks of the North, and from the slaves they took from their owners wherever their armies penetrated the Southern States. Most of the Confederate ports had been either captured or were so strictly blockaded that it was next to impossible for the blockade-runner to get in or out, while the capture of the forts on the Mississippi enabled them to use the Federal flotillas of gunboats to the greatest advantage, and to carry their armies into the center of the Confederacy.
Still, there was no talk whatever of surrender on the part of the South, and, indeed, the decree abolishing slavery, and still more the action of the North in raising black regiments, excited the bitterest feeling of animosity and hatred. The determination to fight to the last, whatever came of it, animated every white man in the Southern States, and, although deeply disappointed with the failure of Lee's invasion of the North, the only result was to incite them to greater exertions and sacrifices. In the North an act authorizing conscription was passed in 1863, but the attempt to carry it into force caused a serious riot in New York, which was only suppressed after many lives had been lost and the city placed under martial law.
While the guns of Gettysburg were still thundering, a Federal army of 18,000 men under General Gillmore, assisted by the fleet, had laid siege to Charleston. It was obstinately attacked and defended. The siege continued until the 5th of September, when Fort Wagner was captured; but all attempts to take Fort Sumter and the town of
Charleston itself failed, although the city suffered greatly from the bombardment. In Tennessee there was severe fighting in the autumn, and two desperate battles were fought at Chickamauga on the 19th and 20th of September, General Bragg, who commanded the Confederate army there, being reinforced by Longstreet's veterans from the army of Virginia. After desperate fighting the Federals were defeated, and thirty-six guns and vast quantities of arms captured by the Confederates. The fruits of the victory, however, were very slight, as General Bragg refused to allow Longstreet to pursue, and so to convert the Federal retreat into a rout, and the consequence was that this victory was more than balanced by a heavy defeat inflicted upon them in November at Chattanooga by
Sherman and Grant. At this battle General Longstreet's division was not present.
The army of Virginia had a long rest after their return from Gettysburg, and it was not until November that the campaign was renewed. Meade advanced, a few minor skirmishes took place, and then, when he reached the Wilderness, the scene of Hooker's defeat, where Lee was prepared to give battle, he fell back again across the Rappahannock.
The year had been an unfortunate one for the Confederates. They had lost Vicksburg, and the defeat at Chattanooga had led to the whole State of Tennessee falling into the hands of the Federals, while against these losses there was no counterbalancing success to be reckoned.
In the spring of 1864 both parties prepared to the utmost for the struggle. General Grant, an officer who had shown in the campaign in the West that he possessed considerable military ability, united with immense firmness and determination of purpose, was chosen as the new commander-in-chief of the whole military force of the North. It was a mighty army, vast in numbers, lavishly provided with all materials of war. The official documents show that on the 1st of May the total military forces of the North amounted to 662,000 men. Of these the force available for the advance against Richmond numbered 284,630 men. This included the
army of the Potomac, that of the James River, and the army in the
Shenandoah Valley--the whole of whom were in readiness to move forward against Richmond at the orders of Grant.
To oppose these General Lee had less than 53,000 men, including the garrison of Richmond and the troops in North Carolina. Those stationed in the seaport towns numbered in all another 20,000, so that if every available soldier had been brought up Lee could have opposed a total of but 83,000 men against the 284,000 invaders.
In the West the numbers were more equally balanced. General Sherman, who commanded the army of invasion there, had under his orders 230,000 men, but as more than half this force was required to protect the long lines of communication and to keep down the conquered States, he was able to bring into the field for offensive operations 99,000 men, who were faced by the Confederate army under Johnston of 58,000 men. Grant's scheme was, that while the armies of the North were, under his own command, to march against Richmond, the army of the West was to invade Georgia and march upon Atlanta.
His plan of action was simple, and was afterward stated by himself to be as follows: "I determined first to use the greatest number of troops practicable against the main force of the enemy, preventing him from using the same force at different seasons against first one and then another of our armies, and the possibility of repose for refitting and producing necessary supplies for carrying on resistance. Second, to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources until, by mere attrition if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but submission."
This was a terrible programme, and involved an expenditure of life far beyond anything that had taken place. Grant's plan, in fact, was to fight and to keep on fighting, regardless of his own losses, until at last the Confederate army, whose losses could not be replaced, melted away. It was a strategy that few generals have dared to practice, fewer still to acknowledge.
On the 4th of May the great army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan and advanced toward Chancellorsville. Lee moved two divisions of his army to oppose them. Next morning the battle began at daybreak on the old ground where Lee had defeated Hooker the year before. All day long the division of Ewell supported the attack of the army corps of Sedgwick and
Hancock. Along a front of six miles, in the midst of the thick forest, the battle raged the whole of the day. The Confederates, in spite of the utmost efforts of the Northerners, although reinforced in the afternoon by the army corps of
General Burnside, held their position, and when night put an end to the conflict the invaders had not gained a foot of ground.
As soon as the first gleam of light appeared in the morning the battle recommenced. The Federal generals, Sedgwick,
Warren, and Hancock, with Burnside in reserve, fell upon Hill and Ewell. Both sides had thrown up earthworks and felled trees as a protection during the night. At first the Confederates gained the advantage; but a portion of Burnside's corps was brought up and restored the battle, while on the left flank of the Federals Hancock had attacked with such vigor that the Confederates opposed to him were driven back.
At the crisis of the battle, Longstreet, who had marched all night, appeared upon the ground, drove back Hancock's men, and was on the point of aiding the Confederates in a decisive attack upon the enemy, when, riding rapidly forward into the wood to reconnoiter, he was, like Jackson, struck down by the fire of his own men. He was carried to the rear desperately, and it was feared for a time mortally wounded, and his loss paralyzed the movement which he had prepared. Nevertheless during the whole day the fight went on with varying success, sometimes one side obtaining a slight advantage, the other then regaining the ground they had lost.
Just as evening was closing in a Georgia brigade, with two other regiments, made a detour, and fell furiously upon two brigades of the enemy, and drove them back in headlong rout for a mile and a half, capturing their two generals and many prisoners. The artillery, as on the previous day, had been little used on either side, the work being done at short range with the rifle, the loss being much heavier among the thick masses of the Northerners than in the thinner lines of the Confederates. Grant had failed in his efforts to turn Lee's right and to accomplish his direct advance; he therefore changed his base and moved his army round toward Spotsylvania.
Lee soon perceived his object, and succeeded in carrying his army to Spotsylvania before the Federals reached it.
On the afternoon of Monday, the 9th, there was heavy fighting and on the 10th another pitched battle took place. This time the ground was more open, and the artillery was employed with terrible effect on both sides. It ended, however, as the previous battles had done, by the Confederates holding their ground.
Upon the next day there was but little fighting. In the night the Federals moved quietly through the wood, and at daybreak four divisions fell upon Johnston's division of Ewell's corps, took them completely by surprise, and captured the greater part of them.
But Lee's veterans soon recovered from their surprise and maintained their position until noon. Then the whole Federal army advanced, and the battle raged till nightfall terminated the struggle, leaving Lee in possession of the whole line he had held, with the exception of the ground lost in the morning.
For the next six days the armies faced each other, worn out by incessant fighting, and prevented from moving by the heavy rain which fell incessantly. They were now able to reckon up the losses. The Federals found that they had lost, in killed, wounded, or missing, nearly 30,000 men; while Lee's army was diminished by about 12,000.
While these mighty battles had been raging the Federal cavalry under
Sheridan had advanced rapidly forward, and, after several skirmishes with Stuart's cavalry, penetrated within the outer intrenchments round Richmond. Here Stuart with two regiments of cavalry charged them and drove them back, but the gallant Confederate officer received a wound that before night proved fatal. His loss was a terrible blow to the Confederacy, although his successor in the command of the cavalry,
General Wade Hampton, was also an officer of the highest merit.
In the meantime General Butler, who had at
Fort Monroe under his command two corps of infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and a fleet of gunboats and transports, was threatening Richmond from the east. Shipping his men on board the transports he steamed up the James River, under convoy of the fleet, and landed on a neck of land known as Bermuda Hundred. To oppose him all the troops from North Carolina had been brought up, the whole force amounting to 19,000 men, under the command of General
Beauregard. Butler, after various futile movements, was driven back again to his intrenched camp at Bermuda Hundred, where he was virtually besieged by Beauregard with 10,000 men, the rest of that general's force being sent up to reinforce Lee.
In western Virginia, Breckenridge, with 3,500 men, was called upon to hold in check
Sigel, with 15,000 men. Advancing to Staunton, Breckenridge was joined by the pupils of the military college at Lexington, 250 in number, lads of from 14 to 17 years of age. He came upon Sigel on the line of march, and attacked him at once. The Federal general placed a battery in a wood and opened fire with grape. The commander of the Lexington boys ordered them to charge, and, gallantly rushing in through the heavy fire, they charged in among the guns, killed the artillerymen, drove back the infantry supports, and bayoneted their colonel. The Federals now retired down the valley to Strasburg, and Breckenridge was able to send a portion of his force to aid Lee in his great struggle.
After his six days' pause in front of Lee's position at Spotsylvania, Grant abandoned his plan of forcing his way through Lee's army to Richmond, and endeavored to outflank it; but Lee again divined his object, and moved round and still faced him. After various movements the armies again stood face to face upon the old battle-grounds on the Chickahominy. On the 3d of June the battle commenced at half-past four in the morning. Hancock at first gained an advantage, but Hill's division dashed down upon him and drove him back with great slaughter; while no advantage was gained by them in other parts of the field. The Federal loss on this day was 13,000, and the troops were so dispirited that they refused to renew the battle in the afternoon.
Grant then determined to alter his plan altogether, and sending imperative orders to Butler to obtain possession of Petersburg, embarked Smith's corps in transports, and moved with the rest of his army to join that general there. Smith's corps entered the James River, landed, and marched against Petersburg. Beauregard had at Petersburg only two infantry and two cavalry regiments under General Wise, while a single brigade fronted Butler at Bermuda Hundred. With this handful of men he was called upon to defend Petersburg and to keep Butler bottled up in Bermuda Hundred until help could reach him from Lee. He telegraphed to Richmond for all the assistance that could be sent to him, and was reinforced by a brigade, which arrived just in time, for Smith had already captured a portion of the intrenchments, but was now driven out.
The next day Beauregard was attacked both by Smith's and Hancock's corps, which had now arrived. With 8,000 men he kept at bay the assaults of two whole army corps, having in the meantime sent orders to Gracie, the officer in command of the brigade before Butler, to leave a few sentries there to deceive that general, and to march with the rest of his force to his aid. It arrived at a critical moment. Overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, many of the Confederates had left their posts, and Breckenridge was in vain trying to rally them when Gracie's brigade came up. The position was reoccupied and the battle continued.
At noon Burnside with his corps arrived and joined the assailants; while Butler, discovering at last that the troops in front of him were withdrawn, moved out and barred the road against reinforcements from Richmond. Nevertheless the Confederates held their ground all the afternoon and until eleven o'clock at night, when the assault ceased.
At midnight Beauregard withdrew his troops from the defenses that they were too few to hold, and set them to work to throw up fresh intrenchments on a shorter line behind. All night the men worked with their bayonets, canteens, and any tools that came to hand.
It was well for them that the enemy were so exhausted that it was noon before they were ready to advance again, for by this time help was at hand. Anderson, who had succeeded to the command of Longstreet's corps, and was leading the van of Lee's army, forced his way through Butler's troops and drove him back into the Bermuda Hundred, and leaving one brigade to watch him marched with another into Petersburg just as the attack was recommenced. Thus reinforced Beauregard successfully defeated all the assaults of the enemy until night fell. Another Federal army corps came up before morning, and the assault was again renewed, but the defenders, who had strengthened their defenses during the night, drove their assailants back with terrible loss. The whole of Lee's army now arrived, and the rest of Grant's army also came up, and that general found that after all his movements his way to Richmond was barred as before. He was indeed in a far worse position than when he had crossed the Rapidan, for the morale of his army was much injured by the repeated repulses and terrible losses it had sustained. The new recruits that had been sent to fill up the gaps were far inferior troops to those with which he had commenced the campaign. To send forward such men against the fortifications of Petersburg manned by Lee's veteran troops was to court defeat, and he therefore began to throw up works for a regular siege.
Fighting went on incessantly between the outposts, but only one great attempt was made during the early months of the siege to capture the Confederate position. The miners drove a gallery under the works, and then drove other galleries right and left under them. These were charged with eight thousand pounds of powder. When all was ready, masses of troops were brought up to take advantage of the confusion which would be caused by the explosion, and a division of black troops were to lead the assault. At a quarter to five in the morning of the 30th of July the great mine was exploded, blowing two guns, a battery, and its defenders into the air, and forming a huge pit two hundred feet long and sixty feet wide. Lee and Beauregard hurried to the scene, checked the panic that prevailed, brought up troops, and before the great Federal columns approached the breach the Confederates were ready to receive them. The assault was made with little vigor, the approaches to the breach were obstructed by abattis, and instead of rushing forward in a solid mass they occupied the great pit, and contented themselves with firing over the edge of the crater, where regiments and divisions were huddled together. But the Confederate batteries were now manned, and from the works on either side of the breach, and from behind, they swept the approaches, and threw shell among the crowded mass. The black division was now brought up, and entered the crater, but only added to the confusion, There was no officer of sufficient authority among the crowded mass there to assume the supreme command. No assistance could be sent to them, for the arrival of fresh troops would but have added to the confusion. All day the conflict went on, the Federals lining the edge of the crater, and exchanging a heavy musketry fire with the Confederate infantry, while the mass below suffered terribly from the artillery fire. When night closed the survivors of the great column that had marched forward in the morning, confident that victory was assured to them, and that the explosion would lay Petersburg open to capture, made their retreat, the Confederates, however, taking a considerable number of prisoners. The Federal loss in killed, wounded and captured was admitted by them to be 4,000; the Confederate accounts put it down at 6,000.
After this terrible repulse it was a long time before Grant again renewed active operations, but during the months that ensued his troops suffered very heavily from the effects of fever, heightened by the discouragement they felt at their want of success, and at the tremendous losses they had suffered since they entered Virginia on their forward march to Richmond.