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
ON THE CHICKAHOMINY.
II. Lee's Plan of Assault
General Lee had been hitherto regarded as a soldier of too great caution, but his plan for the assault on General McClellan indicated the possession of a nerve approaching audacity.
Fully comprehending his enemy's strength and position, and aware that a large portion of the Federal army had crossed the Chickahominy, and was directly in his front, he had resolved to pass to the north bank of the stream with the bulk of his force, leaving only about twenty-five thousand men to protect the city, and deliver battle where defeat would prove ruinous. This plan indicated nothing less than audacity, as we have already said; but, like the audacity of the flank movement at Chancellorsville afterward, and the daring march, in disregard of General Hooker, to Pennsylvania in 1864, it was founded on profound military insight, and indicated the qualities of a great soldier.
Lee's design was to attack the Federal right wing with a part of his force, while Jackson, advancing still farther to the left, came in on their communications with the White House, and assailed them on their right and rear. Meanwhile Richmond was to be protected by General Magruder with his twenty-five thousand men, on the south bank; if McClellan fell back down the Peninsula, this force was to cross and unite with the rest; thus the Federal army would be driven from all its positions, and the fate of the whole campaign against Richmond would be decided.
Lee's general order directing the movement of the troops is here given. It possesses interest as a clear and detailed statement of his intended operations; and it will be seen that what was resolved on by the commander in his tent, his able subordinates translated detail by detail, with unimportant modifications, into action, under his eyes in the field:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
_June_ 24, 1862.
GENERAL ORDERS No. 75.
I. General Jackson's command will proceed to-morrow from Ashland toward the Slash Church, and encamp at some convenient point west of the Central Railroad. Branch's brigade, of A.P. Hill's division, will also, to-morrow evening, take position on the Chickahominy, near Half Sink. At three o'clock Thursday morning, 26th instant, General Jackson will advance on the road leading to Pale Green Church, communicating his march to General Branch, who will immediately cross the Chickahominy, and take the road leading to Mechanicsville. As soon as the movements of these columns are discovered, General A.P. Hill, with the rest of his division, will cross the Chickahominy near Meadow Bridge, and move direct upon Mechanicsville. To aid his advance, the heavy batteries on the Chickahominy will at the proper time open upon the batteries at Mechanicsville. The enemy being driven from Mechanicsville, and the passage across the bridge opened, General Longstreet, with his division and that of General D.H. Hill, will cross the Chickahominy at or near that point--General D.H. Hill moving to the support of General Jackson, and General Longstreet supporting General A.P. Hill--the four divisions keeping in communication with each other, and moving in _echelon_ on separate roads, if practicable; the left division in advance, with skirmishers and sharp-shooters extending in their front, will sweep down the Chickahominy and endeavor to drive the enemy from his position above New Bridge; General Jackson, bearing well to his left, turning Beaver Dam Creek, and taking the direction toward Cold Harbor. They will then press forward toward York River Railroad, closing upon the enemy's rear and forcing him down the Chickahominy. Any advance of the enemy toward Richmond will be prevented by vigorously following his rear, and crippling and arresting his progress.
II. The divisions under Generals Huger and Magruder will hold their positions in front of the enemy against attack, and make such demonstrations, Thursday, as to discover his operations. Should opportunity offer, the feint will be converted into a real attack; and, should an abandonment of his intrenchments by the enemy be discovered, he will be closely pursued.
III. The Third Virginia cavalry will observe the Charles City road. The Fifth Virginia, the First North Carolina, and the Hampton Legion cavalry will observe the Darbytown, Varina, and Osborne roads. Should a movement of the enemy, down the Chickahominy, be discovered, they will close upon his flank, and endeavor to arrest his march.
IV. General Stuart, with the First, Fourth, and Ninth Virginia cavalry, the cavalry of Cobb's Legion, and the Jeff Davis Legion, will cross the Chickahominy, to-morrow, and take position to the left of General Jackson's line of march. The main body will be held in reserve, with scouts well extended to the front and left. General Stuart will keep General Jackson informed of the movements of the enemy on his left, and will cooeperate with him in his advance. The Sixteenth Virginia cavalry, Colonel Davis, will remain on the Nine-mile road.
V. General Ransom's brigade, of General Holmes's command, will be placed in reserve on the Williamsburg road, by General Huger, to whom he will report for orders.
VI. Commanders of divisions will cause their commands to be provided with three days' cooked rations. The necessary ambulances and ordinance-trains will be ready to accompany the divisions, and receive orders from their respective commanders. Officers in charge of all trains will invariably remain with them. Batteries and wagons will keep on the right of the road. The Chief-Engineer, Major Stevens, will assign engineer officers to each division, whose duty it will be to make provision for overcoming all difficulties to the progress of the troops. The staff-departments will give the necessary instructions to facilitate the movements herein directed.
By command of General LEE: R.H. CHILTON, _A.A. General_.
This order speaks for itself, and indicates Lee's plan of battle in all its details. Further comment is unnecessary; and we proceed to narrate the events which followed. In doing so, we shall strive to present a clear and intelligible account of what occurred, rather than to indulge in the warlike splendors of style which characterized the "army correspondents" of the journals during the war. Such a treatment of the subject is left to others, who write under the influence of partisan afflatus, rather than with the judicious moderation of the historian. Nor are battles themselves the subjects of greatest interest to the thoughtful student. The combinations devised by great commanders are of more interest than the actual struggles. We have therefore dwelt at greater length upon the plans of Generals Lee and McClellan than we shall dwell upon the actual fighting of their armies.