A LIFE OF GEN. ROBERT E. LEE.
BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE.
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language."
"Human virtue should be equal to human calamity." LEE. 1876
LEE'S EARLY LIFE.
XI. Lee's Advance into Western Virginia
General Lee nowhere appears, as we have seen, in these first great movements and conflicts. He was without any specific command, and remained at Richmond, engaged in placing that city in a state of defence. The works which he constructed proved subsequently of great importance to the city, and a Northern officer writes of Lee: "While the fortifications of Richmond stand, his name will evoke admiration; the art of war is unacquainted with any defence so admirable."
Lee's first appearance in the war, as commander of troops in the field, took place in the fall of
1861, when he was sent to operate against the forces under General Rosecrans in the fastnesses of Western Virginia. This indecisive and unimportant movement has been the subject of various comment; the official reports were burned in the conflagration at Richmond, or captured, and the elaborate plans drawn up by Lee of his intended movement against General Reynolds, at Cheat Mountain, have in the same manner disappeared. Under these circumstances, and as the present writer had no personal knowledge of the subject, it seems best to simply quote the brief statement which follows. It is derived from an officer of high rank and character, whose statement is only second in value to that of General Lee himself:
"After General Garnett's death, General Lee was sent by the President to ascertain what could be done in the trans-Alleghany region, and to endeavor to harmonize our movements, etc., in that part of the State. He was not ordered to take command of the troops, nor did he do so, during the whole time he was there.
"Soon after his arrival he came to the decided conclusion that _that_ was not the line from which to make an offensive movement. The country, although not hostile, was not friendly; supplies could not be obtained; the enemy had possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, from which, and the Ohio River as a base, he could operate with great advantage against us, and our only chance was to drive him from the railroad, take possession, and use it ourselves. We had not the means of doing this, and consequently could only try to hold as much country as possible, and occupy as large a force of the enemy as could be kept in front of us. The movement against Cheat Mountain, which failed, was undertaken with a view of causing the enemy to contract his lines, and enable us to unite the troops under Generals Jackson (of Georgia) and Loring. After the failure of this movement on our part, General Rosecrans, feeling secure, strengthened his lines in that part of the country, and went with a part of his forces to the Kanawha, driving our forces across the Gauley. General Lee then went to that line of operations, to endeavor to unite the troops under Generals Floyd and Wise, and stop the movements under Rosecrans. General Loring, with a part of his force from Valley Mountain, joined the forces at Sewell Mountain. Rosecrans's movement was stopped, and, the season for operations in that country being over, General Lee was ordered to Richmond, and soon afterward sent to South Carolina, to meet the movement of the enemy from Port Royal, etc. He remained in South Carolina until shortly before the commencement of the campaign before Richmond, in 1862."
The months spent by General Lee in superintending the coast defences of South Carolina and Georgia, present nothing of interest, and we shall therefore pass to the spring of 1862, when he returned to Richmond. His services as engineer had been highly appreciated by the people of the South, and a writer of the period said: "The time will yet come when his superior abilities will be vindicated, both to his own renown and the glory of his country." The time was now at hand when these abilities, if the individual possessed them, were to have an opportunity to display themselves.