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
IN FRONT OF RICHMOND.
II. Johnston is wounded
The army thus threatening the city which had become the capital of the Confederacy was large and excellently equipped. It numbered in all, according to General McClellan's report, one hundred and fifty-six thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight men, of whom one hundred and fifteen thousand one hundred and two were effective troops--that is to say, present and ready for duty as fighting-men in the field.
Results of such magnitude' were expected from this great army, that all the resources of the Federal Government had been taxed to bring it to the highest possible state of efficiency. The artillery was numerous, and of the most approved description; small-arms of the best patterns and workmanship were profusely supplied; the ammunition was of the finest quality, and almost inexhaustible in quantity; and the rations for the subsistence of the troops, which were equally excellent and abundant, were brought up in an unfailing stream from the White House, in General McClellan's rear, over the York River Railroad, which ran straight to his army.
Such was the admirable condition of the large force under command of General McClellan. It would be difficult to imagine an army better prepared for active operations; and the position which it held had been well selected. The left of the army was protected by the wellnigh impassable morass of the White-oak Swamp, and all the approaches from the direction of Richmond were obstructed by the natural difficulties of the ground, which had been rendered still more forbidding by an abattis of felled trees and earthworks of the best description. Unless the right of McClellan, on the northern bank of the Chickahominy, were turned by the Confederates, his communications with his base at the White House and the safety of his army were assured. And even the apparently improbable contingency of such an assault on his right had been provided for. Other bodies of Federal troops had advanced into Virginia to cooeperate with the main force on the Peninsula.
General McDowell, the able soldier who had nearly defeated the Confederates at Manassas, was at Fredericksburg with a force of about forty thousand men, which were to advance southward without loss of time and unite with General McClellan's right. This would completely insure the communications of his army from interruption; and it was no doubt expected that Generals
Banks would cooeperate in the movement also. Fremont was to advance from Northwestern Virginia, driving before him the small Confederate force, under Jackson, in the Valley; and
General Banks, then at
Winchester, was to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains, and, posting his forces along the Manassas Railroad, guard the approaches to Washington when McDowell advanced from Fredericksburg to the aid of General McClellan. Thus Richmond would be half encircled by Federal armies. General McClellan, if permitted by the Confederates to carry out his plan of operations, would soon be in command of about two hundred thousand men, and with this force it was anticipated he would certainly be able to capture Richmond.
Such was the Federal programme of the war in Virginia. It promised great results, and ought, it would seem, to have succeeded. The Confederate forces in Virginia did not number in all one hundred thousand men; and it is now apparent that, without the able strategy of Johnston, Lee, and Jackson, General McClellan would have been in possession of Richmond before the summer.
Prompt action was thus necessary on the part of the sagacious soldier commanding the army at Richmond, and directing operations throughout the theatre of action in Virginia. The officer in question was
General Joseph E. Johnston, a Virginian by birth, who had first held
General Patterson in check in the
Shenandoah Valley, and then hastened to the assistance of
General Beauregard at Manassas, where, in right of his superior rank, he took command. Before the enemy's design to advance up the Peninsula had been developed, Johnston had made a masterly retreat from Manassas. Reappearing with his force of about forty thousand men on the Peninsula, he had obstinately opposed McClellan, and only retired when he was compelled by numbers to do so, with the resolution, however, of fighting a decisive battle on the Chickahominy. In face, figure, and character, General Johnston was thoroughly the soldier. Above the medium height, with an erect figure, in a close-fitting uniform buttoned to the chin; with a ruddy face, decorated with close-cut gray side-whiskers, mustache, and tuft on the chin; reserved in manner, brief of speech, without impulses of any description, it seemed, General Johnston's appearance and bearing were military to stiffness; and he was popularly compared to "a gamecock," ready for battle at any moment. As a soldier, his reputation was deservedly high; to unshrinking personal courage he added a far-reaching capacity for the conduct of great operations. Throughout his career he enjoyed a profound public appreciation of his abilities as a commander, and was universally respected as a gentleman and a patriot.
General Johnston, surveying the whole field in Virginia, and penetrating, it would seem, the designs of the enemy, had hastened to direct General Jackson, commanding in the Valley, to begin offensive operations, and, by threatening the Federal force there--with Washington in perspective--relieve the heavy pressure upon the main arena. Jackson carried out these instructions with the vigor which marked all his operations. In March he advanced down the Valley in the direction of Winchester, and, coming upon a considerable force of the enemy at Kernstown, made a vigorous assault upon them; a heavy engagement ensued, and, though Jackson was defeated and compelled to retreat, a very large Federal force was retained in the Valley to protect that important region. A more decisive diversion soon followed. Jackson advanced in May upon
General Banks, then at Strasburg, drove him from that point to and across the Potomac; and such was the apprehension felt at Washington, that
President Lincoln ordered General McDowell, then at Fredericksburg with about forty thousand men, to send twenty thousand across the mountains to Strasburg in order to pursue or cut off Jackson.
Thus the whole Federal programme in Virginia was thrown into confusion. General Banks, after the fight at Kernstown, was kept in the Valley. After Jackson's second attack upon him, when
General Banks was driven across the Potomac and Washington threatened, General McDowell was directed to send half his army to operate against Jackson. Thus General McClellan, waiting at Richmond for McDowell to join him, did not move; with a portion of his army on one side of the stream, and the remainder on the other side, he remained inactive, hesitating and unwilling, as any good soldier would have been, to commence the decisive assault.
His indecision was brought to an end by General Johnston. Discovering that the force in his front, near "Seven Pines," on the southern bank of the Chickahominy, was only a portion of the Federal army, General Johnston determined to attack it. This resolution was not in consequence of the freshet in the Chickahominy, as has been supposed, prompting Johnston to attack while the Federal army was cut in two, as it were. His resolution, he states, had already been taken, and was, with or without reference to the rains, that of a good soldier. General Johnston struck at General McClellan on the last day of May, just at the moment, it appears, when the Federal commander designed commencing his last advance upon the city. The battle which took place was one of the most desperate and bloody of the war. Both sides fought with obstinate courage, and neither gained a decisive advantage. On the Confederate right, near "Seven Pines," the Federal line was broken and forced back; but, on the left, at Fair Oaks Station, the Confederates, in turn, were repulsed. Night fell upon a field where neither side could claim the victory. The most that could be claimed by the Southerners was that McClellan had received a severe check; and they sustained a great misfortune in the wound received by General Johnston. He was struck by a fragment of shell while superintending the attack at Fair Oaks, and the nature of his wound rendered it impossible for him to retain command of the army. He therefore retired from the command, and repaired to Richmond, where he remained for a long time an invalid, wholly unable to continue in service in the field.
This untoward event rendered it necessary to find a new commander for the army without loss of time. General Lee had returned some time before from the South, and to him all eyes were turned. He had had no opportunity to display his abilities upon a conspicuous theatre--the sole command he had been intrusted with, that in trans-Alleghany Virginia, could scarcely be called a real command--and he owed his elevation now to the place vacated by General Johnston, rather to his services performed in the old army of the United States, than to any thing he had effected in the war of the Confederacy. The confidence of the Virginia people in his great abilities had never wavered, and there is no reason to suppose that the Confederate authorities were backward in conceding his merits as a soldier. Whatever may have been the considerations leading to his appointment, he was assigned on the 3d day of June to the command of the army, and thus the Virginians assembled to defend the capital of their State found themselves under the command of the most illustrious of their own countrymen.