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 INVADES MARYLAND.
XII. The Year of Battles
The stormy year 1862 had terminated, thus, in a great Confederate success. In its arduous campaigns, following each other in rapid succession, General Lee had directed the movements of the main great army, and the result of the year's fighting was to gain him that high military reputation which his subsequent movements only consolidated and increased.
A rapid glance at the events of the year in their general outlines will indicate the merit due the Southern commander. The Federal plan of invasion in the spring had been extremely formidable. Virginia was to be pierced by no less than four armies--from the northwest, the
Shenandoah Valley, the Potomac, and the Peninsula--the whole force to converge upon Richmond, the "heart of the rebellion." Of these, the army of General McClellan was the largest and most threatening. It advanced, with little opposition, until it reached the Chickahominy, crossed, and lay in sight of Richmond. The great force of one hundred and fifty thousand men was about to make the decisive assault, when Lee attacked it, and the battle which ensued drove the Federal army to a point thirty miles from the city, with such loss as to render hopeless any further attempt to assail the capital.
Such was the first act of the drama; the rest speedily followed. A new army was raised promptly by the Federal authorities, and a formidable advance was made against Richmond again, this time from the direction of Alexandria. Lee was watching General McClellan when intelligence of the new movement reached him. Remaining, with a portion of his troops, near Richmond, he sent Jackson to the Rapidan. The battle of Cedar Mountain resulted in the repulse of
General Pope's vanguard; and, discovering at last that the real danger lay in the direction of Culpepper, Lee moved thither, drove back General Pope, flanked him, and, in the severe battle of Manassas, routed his army, which was forced to retire upon Washington.
Two armies had thus been driven from the soil of Virginia, and the Confederate commander had moved into Maryland, in order to draw the enemy thither, and, if practicable, transfer the war to the heart of Pennsylvania. Unforeseen circumstances had defeated the latter of these objects. The concentration on Sharpsburg was rendered necessary; an obstinately-fought battle ensued there; and, not defeated, but forced to abandon further movements toward Pennsylvania, Lee had retired into Virginia, where he remained facing his adversary. This was the first failure of Lee up to that point in the campaigns of the year; and an attentive consideration of the circumstances will show that the result was not fairly attributable to any error which he had committed. Events beyond his control had shaped his action, and directed all his movements; and it will remain a question whether the extrication of his small force from its difficult position did not better prove Lee's generalship than the victory at Manassas.
The subsequent operations of the opposing armies indicated clearly that the Southern forces were still in excellent fighting condition; and the movements of Lee, during the advance of General McClellan toward Warrenton, were highly honorable to his military ability. With a force much smaller than that of his adversary, he greatly embarrassed and impeded the Federal advance; confronted them on the Upper Rappahannock, completely checking their forward movement in that direction; and, when they moved rapidly to Fredericksburg, crossed the Rapidan promptly, reappearing in their front on the range of hills opposite that city. The battle which followed compensated for the failure of the Maryland campaign and the drawn battle of Sharpsburg.
General Burnside had attacked, and sustained decisive defeat. The stormy year, so filled with great events and arduous encounters, had thus wound up with a pitched battle, in which the enemy suffered a bloody repulse; and the best commentary on the decisive character of this last struggle of the year, was the fault found with General Lee for not destroying his adversary.
In less than six months Lee had thus fought four great pitched battles--all victories to his arms, with the exception of Sharpsburg, which was neither a victory nor a defeat. The result was thus highly encouraging to the South; and, had the Army of Northern Virginia had its ranks filled up, as the ranks of the Northern armies were, the events of the year 1862 would have laid the foundation of assured success. An inquiry into the causes of failure in this particular is not necessary to the subject of the volume before the reader. It is only necessary to state the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia, defending what all conceded to be the territory on which the decisive struggle must take place, was never sufficiently numerous to follow up the victories achieved by it. At the battles of the Chickahominy the army numbered at most about seventy-five thousand; at the second Manassas, about fifty thousand; at Sharpsburg, less than forty thousand; and at Fredericksburg, about fifty thousand. In the following year, it will be seen that these latter numbers were at first but little exceeded, and, as the months passed on, that they dwindled more and more, until, in April, 1865, the whole force in line of battle at Petersburg was scarcely more than thirty thousand men.
Such had been the number of the troops under command of Lee in 1862. The reader has been informed of the number of the Federal force opposed to him. This was one hundred and fifty thousand on the Chickahominy, of whom one hundred and fifteen thousand were effective; about one hundred thousand, it would seem, under General Pope, at the second battle of Manassas; eighty-seven thousand actually engaged at the battle of Sharpsburg; and at Fredericksburg from one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty thousand.
These numbers are stated on the authority of Federal officers or historians, and Lee's force on the authority of his own reports, or of gentlemen of high character, in a situation to speak with accuracy. Of the truth of the statements the writer of these pages can have no doubt; and, if the fighting powers of the Northern and Southern troops be estimated as equal, the fair conclusion must be arrived at that Lee surpassed his adversaries in generalship.
The result, at least, of the year's fighting, had been extremely encouraging to the South, and after the battle of Fredericksburg no attempts were made to prosecute hostilities during the remainder of the year. The scheme of crossing above Fredericksburg proved a _fiasco_, beginning and ending in a day. Thereafter all movements ceased, and the two armies awaited the return of spring for further operations.