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.
VII. Lee and his Men
General Lee and his army passed the brilliant days of autumn in the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah. This region is famous for its salubrity and the beauty of its scenery. The mountain winds are pure and invigorating, and the forests, which in the season of autumn assume all the colors of the rainbow, inspire the mind with the most agreeable sensations. The region, in fact, is known as the "Garden of Virginia," and the benign influence of their surroundings was soon seen on the faces of the troops.
A Northern writer, who saw them at
Sharpsburg, describes them as "ragged, hungry, and in all ways miserable;" but their forlorn condition, as to clothing and supplies of every description, made no perceptible difference in their demeanor now. In their camps along the banks of the picturesque little stream called the Opequan, which, rising south of
Winchester, wanders through beautiful fields and forests to empty into the Potomac, the troops laughed, jested, sang rude camp-ballads, and exhibited a joyous indifference to their privations and hardships, which said much for their courage and endurance. Those who carefully considered the appearance and demeanor of the men at that time, saw that much could be effected with such tough material, and had another opportunity to witness, under circumstances calculated to test it, the careless indifference, to the past as well as the future, peculiar alike to soldiers and children. These men, who had passed through a campaign of hard marches and nearly incessant battles, seemed to have forgotten all their troubles and sufferings. The immense strain upon their energies had left them apparently as fresh and efficient as when the campaign begun. There was no want of rebound; rather an excessive elasticity and readiness to undertake new movements. They had plainly acquired confidence in themselves, rightly regarding the event of the battle of Sharpsburg, where they were so largely outnumbered, as highly honorable to them, and they had acquired still greater confidence in the officers who commanded them.
We shall hereafter speak more particularly of the sentiment of the troops toward General Lee at this period of his connection with the army. The great events of the war continually modified the relations between him and his men; as they came to know him better and better, he steadily rose in their admiration and regard. At this time--the autumn of 1862--it may be said that the troops had already begun to love their leader, and had bestowed upon him as an army commander their implicit confidence.
Without this confidence on the part of his men, a general can effect little; with it, he may accomplish almost any thing. The common soldier is a child, and feels that the directing authority is above him; that he should look upon that authority with respect and confidence is the first necessity of effecting military organization. Lee had already inspired the troops with this sentiment, and it was mainly the secret of his often astounding successes afterward. The men universally felt that their commander was equal to any and every emergency. Such a repute cannot be usurped. Troops measure their leaders with instinctive acumen, and a very astonishing accuracy. They form their opinions for themselves on the merits of the question; and Lee had already impressed the army with a profound admiration for his soldiership. From this to the sentiment of personal affection the transition was easy; and the kindness, consideration, and simplicity of the man, made all love him. Throughout the campaign, Lee had not been heard to utter one harsh word; a patient forbearance and kindness had been constantly exhibited in all his dealings with officers and men; he was always in front, indifferent plainly to personal danger, and the men looked now with admiring eyes and a feeling of ever-increasing affection on the erect, soldierly figure in the plain uniform, with scarce any indication of rank, and the calm face, with its expression of grave dignity and composure, which remained unchanged equally on the march and in battle. It may be said that, when he assumed command of the army before Richmond, the troops had taken him on trust; now they had come to love him, and when he appeared the camps buzzed, the men ran to the road, called out to each other: "There goes Mas' Robert!" or "Old Uncle Robert!" and cheers followed him as he rode by.
The country generally seemed to share the opinion of the army. There was exhibited, even at this early period of the war, by the people at large, a very great admiration and affection for General Lee. While in the
Shenandoah Valley, where Jackson was beloved almost beyond expression, Lee had evidences of the position which he occupied in the eyes of the people, which must have been extremely gratifying to him. Gray-haired men came to his camp and uttered prayers for his health and happiness as the great leader of the South; aged ladies greeted him with faltering expressions full of deep feeling and pathetic earnestness; and, wherever he went, young girls and children received him with their brightest smiles. The august fame of the great soldier, who has now passed away, no doubt renders these memories of personal interviews with him dear to many. Even the most trifling incidents are cherished and kept fresh by repetition; and the writer of these pages recalls at the moment one of these trifles, which may possibly interest some readers. There stood and still stands an ancient and hospitable homestead on the south bank of the Opequan, the hearts of whose inmates, one and all, were ardently with the South in her struggle. Soon after Sharpsburg, General Lee one day visited the old manor-house crowning the grassy hill and overshadowed by great oaks; Generals Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart, accompanied him, and the reception which he met with, though we cannot describe it, was such as would have satisfied the most exacting. The children came to him and held out their small hands, the ladies divided their attention between him and the beloved "hero of the Valley," Jackson; and the lady of the manor could only express her sense of the great honor of receiving such company, by declaring, with a smile, that the dinner resembled the famous _breakfast at Tillietudlem_ in
Scott's "Old Mortality." General Lee highly enjoyed this, and seemed disposed to laugh when the curious fact was pointed out to him that he had seated himself at table in a chair with an open-winged _United States eagle_ delineated upon its back. The result of this visit, it appeared afterward, was a sentiment of great regard and affection for the general personally by all at the old country-house. Old and young were charmed by his grave sweetness and mild courtesy, and doubtless he inspired the same sentiment in other places.
His headquarters were at this time in a field some miles from Winchester. An Englishman, who visited him there, described the general and his surroundings with accuracy, and, from the account printed in _Blackwood's Magazine_, we quote the following sentences:
"In visiting the headquarters of the Confederate generals, but particularly those of General Lee, any one accustomed to see European armies in the field cannot fail to be struck with the great absence of all the 'pomp and circumstance of war' in and around their encampments. Lee's headquarters consisted of about seven or eight pole-tents, pitched with their backs to a stake fence, upon a piece of ground so rocky that it was unpleasant to ride over it, its only recommendation being a little stream of good water which flowed close by the general's tent. In front of the tents were some three four-wheeled wagons, drawn up without any regularity, and a number of horses roamed loose about the field. The servants, who were, of course, slaves, and the mounted soldiers, called 'couriers,' who always accompany each general of division in the field, were unprovided with tents, and slept in or under the wagons. Wagons, tents, and some of the horses, were marked 'U.S.,' showing that part of that huge debt in the North has gone to furnishing even the Confederate generals with camp equipments. No guard or sentries were to be seen in the vicinity; no crowd of aides-de-camp loitering about, making themselves agreeable to visitors, and endeavoring to save their generals from receiving those who had no particular business. A large farm-house stands close by, which, in any other army, would have been the general's residence _pro tem_., but, as no liberties are allowed to be taken with personal property in Lee's army, he is particular in setting a good example himself. His staff are crowded together, two or three in a tent; none are allowed to carry more baggage than a small box each, and his own kit is but very little larger. Every one who approaches him does so with marked respect, although there is none of that bowing and flourishing of forage caps which occurs in the presence of European generals; and, while all honor him, and place implicit faith in his courage and ability, those with whom he is most intimate feel for him the affection of sons to a father. Old General Scott was correct in saying that, when Lee joined the Southern cause, it was worth as much as the accession of twenty thousand men to the 'rebels.' Since then every injury that it was possible to inflict, the Northerners have heaped upon him. Notwithstanding all these personal losses, however, when speaking of the Yankees, he neither evinced any bitterness of feeling, nor gave utterance to a single violent expression, but alluded to many of his former friends and companions among them in the kindest terms. He spoke as a man proud of the victories won by his country, and confident of ultimate success, under the blessing of the Almighty, whom he glorified for past successes, and whose aid he invoked for all future operations."
The writer adds that the troops "regarded him in the light of infallible love," and had "a fixed and unshakable faith in all he did--a calm confidence of victory when serving under him." The peculiarly interesting part of this foreign testimony, however, is that in which the writer speaks of General Lee's religious sentiment, of his gratitude for past mercies, and prayers for the assistance of the Almighty in the hours of conflict still to come. This point we shall return to, endeavoring to give it that prominence which it deserves. At present we shall leave the subject of General Lee, in his private and personal character, and proceed to narrate the last campaign of the year 1862.