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.
VI. Lee and McClellan--their Identity of Opinion
General Lee had thus, at the outset of his career, as commander of the Confederate army, saved the capital by a blow at the enemy as sudden as it was resistless. The class of persons who are never satisfied, and delight in fault-finding under all circumstances, declared that a great general would have crushed the enemy on their retreat; these certainly were in a minority; the people at large greeted Lee as the author of a great deliverance worked out for them, and, on his return to Richmond, he was received with every mark of gratitude and honor. He accepted this public ovation with the moderation and dignity which characterized his demeanor afterward, under all circumstances, either of victory or defeat. It was almost impossible to discover in his bearing at this time, as on other great occasions, any evidences whatever of elation. Success, like disaster, seemed to find him calm, collected, and as nearly unimpressible as is possible for a human being.
The character of the man led him to look upon success or failure with this supreme composure, which nothing seemed able to shake; but in July, 1862, he probably understood that the
Confederate States were still as far as ever from having achieved the objects of the war. General McClellan had been defeated in battle, but the great resources of the United States Government would enable it promptly to put other and larger armies in the field. Even the defeated army was still numerous and dangerous, for it consisted, according to McClellan's report, of nearly or quite ninety thousand men; and the wise brain of its commander had devised a plan of future operations which promised far greater results than the advance on Richmond from the Chickahominy.
We shall touch, in passing, on this interesting subject, but shall first ask the reader's attention to a communication addressed, by General McClellan, at this time to
President Lincoln. It is one of those papers which belong to history, and should be placed upon record. It not only throws the clearest light on the character and views of General Lee's great adversary, but expresses with admirable lucidity the sentiments of a large portion of the Federal people at the time. The President had invited a statement of General McClellan's views on the conduct of the war, and on July 7th, in the very midst of the scenes of disaster at Harrison's Landing, McClellan wrote these statesmanlike words:
"This rebellion has assumed the character of a war; as such it should be regarded, and it should be conducted upon the highest principles know to Christian civilization. It should not be a war looking to the subjugation of the people of any State in any event. It should not be at all a war upon population, but against armed forces and political organization. Neither confiscation of property, political executions, territorial organizations of States, nor forcible abolition of
slavery, should be contemplated for a moment. In prosecuting the war all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected, subject only to the necessity of military operations. All private property taken for military use should be paid or receipted for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited, and offensive demeanor by the military toward citizens promptly rebuked. Military arrests should not be tolerated, except in places where active hostilities exist, and oaths not required by enactments constitutionally made should be neither demanded nor received. Military government should be confined to the preservation of public order and the protection of political right. Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master, except for repressing disorder, as in other cases. Slaves contraband under the Act of Congress, seeking military protection, should receive it. The right of the Government to appropriate permanently to its own service claims to slave-labor should be asserted, and the right of the owner to compensation therefor should be recognized.
"This principle might be extended upon grounds of military necessity and security to all the slaves of a particular State, thus working manumission in such State; and in Missouri, perhaps in Western Virginia also, and possibly even in Maryland, the expediency of such a measure is only a question of time.
"A system of policy thus constitutional, and pervaded by the influences of Christianity and freedom, would receive the support of almost all truly loyal men, would deeply impress the rebel masses and all foreign nations, and it might be humbly hoped that it would commend itself to the favor of the Almighty.
"Unless the principles governing the future conduct of our struggle shall be made known and approved, the effort to obtain requisite forces will be almost hopeless. A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present armies.
"The policy of the Government must be supported by concentrations of military power. The national forces should not be dispersed in expeditions, posts of occupation, and numerous armies; but should be mainly collected into masses, and brought to bear upon the armies of the Confederate States. Those armies thoroughly defeated, the political structure which they support would soon cease to exist.
"In carrying out any system of policy which you may form, you will require a commander-in-chief of the army--one who possesses your confidence, understands your views, and who is competent to execute your orders, by directing the military forces of the nation to the accomplishment of the objects by you proposed. I do not ask that place for myself. I am willing to serve you in such positions as you may assign me, and I will do so as faithfully as ever subordinate served superior. I may be on the brink of eternity, and, as I hope forgiveness from my Maker, I have written this letter with sincerity toward you, and from love for my country."
This noble and earnest exposition of his opinion, upon the proper mode of conducting the war, will reflect honor upon General McClellan when his military achievements are forgotten. It discusses the situation of affairs, both from the political and military point of view, in a spirit of the broadest statesmanship, and with the acumen of a great soldier. That it had no effect, is the clearest indication upon which the war was thenceforward to be conducted.
The removal of General McClellan, as holding views opposed to the party in power, is said to have resulted from this communication. It certainly placed him in open antagonism to
General Halleck, the Federal Secretary of War, and, as this antagonism had a direct effect upon even connected with the subject of our memoir, we shall briefly relate now it was now displayed.
Defeated on the Chickahominy, and seeing little to encourage an advance, on the left bank of the James, upon Richmond, General McClellan proposed to cross that river and operate against the capital and its communications, near Petersburg. The proof of McClellan's desire to undertake this movement, which afterward proved so successful under General Grant, is found in a memorandum, by
General Halleck himself, of what took place on a visit paid by him to McClellan, at Harrison's Landing, on July 25, 1862.
"I stated to him," says
General Halleck, "that the object of my visit was to ascertain from him his views and wishes in regard to future operations. He said that he proposed to cross the James River at that point, attack Petersburg, and cut off the enemy's communications by that route South, making no further demonstration for the present against Richmond. I stated to him very frankly my views in regard to the manner and impracticability of the plan;" and nothing further, it seems, was said of this highly "impracticable" plan of operations. It became practicable afterward under General Grant; McClellan was not permitted to essay it in July, 1862, from the fact that it had been resolved to relieve him from command, or from
General Halleck's inability to perceive its good sense.
General Lee's views upon this subject coincided completely with those of General McClellan. He expressed at this time, to those in his confidence, the opinion that Richmond could be assailed to greater advantage from the South, as a movement of the enemy in that direction would menace her communications with the Gulf States; and events subsequently proved the soundness of this view. Attacks from all other quarters failed, including a repetition by General Grant of McClellan's attempt from the side of the Chickahominy. When General Grant carried out his predecessor's plan of assailing the city from the direction of Petersburg, he succeeded in putting an end to the war.