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
CHANCELLORSVILLE AND GETTYSBURG.
I. Advance of General Hooker
Lee remained throughout the winter at his headquarters in the woods south of Fredericksburg, watching the Northern army, which continued to occupy the country north of the city, with the
Potomac River as their base of supplies.
With the coming of spring, it was obviously the intention of the Federal authorities to again essay the crossing of the Rappahannock at some point either above or below Fredericksburg; and as the movement above was less difficult, and promised more decisive results, it was seen by General Lee that this would probably be the quarter from which he might expect an attack. General Stuart, a soldier of sound judgment, said, during the winter, "The next battle will take place at Chancellorsville," and the position of Lee's troops seemed to indicate that this was also his own opinion. His right remained still "opposite Fredericksburg," barring the direct approach to Richmond, but his left extended up the Rappahannock beyond Chancellorsville, and all the fords were vigilantly guarded to prevent a sudden flank movement by the enemy in that direction. As will be seen, the anticipations of Lee were to be fully realized. The heavy blow aimed at him, in the first days of spring, was to come from the quarter in which he had expected it.
The Federal army was now under command of General Joseph Hooker, an officer of dash, energy, excellent administrative capacity, and, Northern writers add, extremely prone to "self-assertion." General Hooker had harshly criticised the military operations both of General McClellan on the Chickahominy, and of
General Burnside at Fredericksburg, and so strong an impression had these strictures made upon the minds of the authorities, that they came to the determination of intrusting the command of the army to the officer who made them, doubtless concluding that his own success would prove greater than that of his predecessors. This opinion seemed borne out by the first proceedings of General Hooker. He set to work energetically to reorganize and increase the efficiency of the army, did away with
General Burnside's defective "grand division" arrangement, consolidated the cavalry into an effective corps, enforced strict discipline among officers and men alike, and at the beginning of spring had brought his army to a high state of efficiency. His confident tone inspired the men; the depression resulting from the great disaster at Fredericksburg was succeeded by a spirit of buoyant hope, and the army was once more that great war-engine, ready for any undertaking, which it had been under McClellan.
It numbered, according to one Federal statement, one hundred and fifty-nine thousand three hundred men; but according to another, which appears more reliable, one hundred and twenty thousand infantry and artillery, and twelve thousand cavalry; in all, one hundred and thirty-two thousand troops. The army of General Lee was considerably smaller. Two divisions of Longstreet's corps had been sent to Suffolk, south of
James River, to obtain supplies in that region, and this force was not present at the battle of Chancellorsville. The actual numbers under Lee's command will appear from the following statement of Colonel Walter H. Taylor, assistant adjutant-general of the army:
Our strength at Chancellorsville: Anderson and McLaws........................... 13,000 Jackson (Hill, Rodes, and Trimble)............ 21,000 Early (Fredericksburg)........................ 6,000 _______ 40,000 Cavalry and artillery......................... 7,000 _______ Total of all arms............................. 47,000
As the Federal infantry numbered one hundred and twenty thousand, according to the smallest estimate of Federal authorities, and Lee's infantry forty thousand, the Northern force was precisely three times as large as the Southern.
[Illustration: Map--Battle of Chancellorsville.]
General Hooker had already proved himself an excellent administrative officer, and his plan of campaign against Lee seemed to show that he also possessed generalship of a high order. He had determined to pass the Rappahannock above Fredericksburg, turn Lee's flank, and thus force him to deliver battle under this disadvantage, or retire upon Richmond. The safe passage of the stream was the first great object, and General Hooker's dispositions to effect this were highly judicious. A force of about twenty thousand men was to pass the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, and thus produce upon Lee the impression that the Federal army was about to renew the attempt in which they had failed under General Burnside. While General Lee's attention was engaged by the force thus threatening his right, the main body of the Northern army was to cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan above Chancellorsville, and, sweeping down rapidly upon the Confederate left flank, take up a strong position between Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. The column which had crossed at the latter point to engage the attention of the Confederate commander, was then to recross to the northern bank, move rapidly to the upper fords, which the advance of the main body would by that time have uncovered; and, a second time crossing to the southern bank, unite with the rest. Thus the whole Federal army would be concentrated on the southern bank of the Rappahannock, and General Lee would be compelled to leave his camps on the hills of the Massaponnax, and fight upon ground dictated by his adversary. If he did not thus accept battle, but one other course was left. He must fall back in the direction of Richmond, to prevent his adversary from attacking his rear, and capturing or destroying his army.
In order to insure the success of this promising plan of attack, a strong column of well-mounted cavalry was to cross in advance of the army and strike for the railroads in Lee's rear, connecting him with Richmond and the Southwest. Thus flanked or cut off, and with all his communications destroyed, it seemed probable that General Lee would suffer decisive defeat, and that the Federal army would march in triumph to the capture of the Confederate capital.
This plan was certainly excellent, and seemed sure to succeed. It was, however, open to some criticism, as the event showed. General Hooker was detaching, in the beginning of the movement, his whole cavalry force for a distant operation, and dividing his army by the _ruse_ at Fredericksburg, in face of an adversary not likely to permit that great error to escape him. While advancing thus, apparently to the certain destruction of Lee, General Hooker was leaving a vulnerable point in his own armor. Lee would probably discover that point, and aim to pierce his opponent there. At most, General Hooker was wrapping in huge folds the sword of Lee, not remembering that there was danger to the _cordon_ as well as to the weapon.
Such was the plan which General Hooker had devised to bring back that success of the Federal arms in the spring of 1863 which had attended them in the early spring of 1862. At this latter period a heavy cloud rested upon the Confederate cause. Donaldson and
Roanoke Island, Fort Macon, and the city of
New Orleans, had then fallen; at Elkhorn, Kernstown, Newbern, and other places, the Federal forces had achieved important successes. These had been followed, however, by the Southern victories on the Chickahominy, at Manassas, and at Fredericksburg. Near this last-named spot now, where the year had wound up with so mortifying a Federal failure, General Hooker hoped to reverse events, and recover the Federal glories of the preceding spring.
Operations began as early as the middle of March, when
General Averill, with about three thousand cavalry, crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford, above its junction with the Rapidan, and made a determined attack upon nearly eight hundred horsemen there, under General Fitz Lee, with the view of passing through Culpepper, crossing the Rapidan, and cutting Lee's communications in the direction of Gordonsville. The obstinate stand of General Fitz Lee's small force, however, defeated this object, and General Averill was forced to retreat beyond the Rappahannock again with considerable loss, and abandon his expedition. In this engagement fell Major John Pelham, who had been styled in Lee's first report of the battle of Fredericksburg "the gallant Pelham," and whose brave stand on the
Port Royal road had drawn from Lee the exclamation, "It is glorious to see such courage in one so young." Pelham was, in spite of his youth, an artillerist of the first order of excellence, and his loss was a serious one, in spite of his inferior rank.
After this action every thing remained quiet until toward the end of April--General Lee continuing to hold the same position with his right at Fredericksburg, his left at the fords near Chancellorsville, and his cavalry, under Stuart, guarding the banks of the Rappahannock in Culpepper. On the 27th of April, General Hooker began his forward movement, by advancing three corps of his army--the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth--to the banks of the river, near Kelly's Ford; and, on the next day, this force was joined by three additional corps--the First, Third, and Sixth--and the whole, on Wednesday (the 29th), crossed the river without difficulty. That this movement was a surprise to Lee, as has been supposed by some persons, is a mistake. Stuart was an extremely vigilant picket-officer, and both he and General Lee were in the habit of sending accomplished scouts to watch any movements in the Federal camps. As soon as these movements--which, in a large army, cannot be concealed--took place, information was always promptly brought, and it was not possible that General Hooker could move three large army corps toward the Rappahannock, as he did on April 27th, without early knowledge on the part of his adversary of so important a circumstance.
As the Federal infantry thus advanced, the large cavalry force began also to move through Culpepper toward the Central Railroad in Lee's rear. This column was commanded by
General Stoneman, formerly a subordinate officer in Lee's old cavalry regiment in the United States Army; and, as
General Stoneman's operations were entirely separate from those of the infantry, and not of much importance, we shall here dismiss them in a few words. He proceeded rapidly across Culpepper, harassed in his march by a small body of horse, under General William H.F. Lee; reached the Central Railroad at Trevillian's, below Gordonsville, and tore up a portion of it; passed on to James River, ravaging the country, and attempted the destruction of the
Columbia Aqueduct, but did not succeed in so doing; when, hearing probably of the unforeseen result at Chancellorsville, he hastened back to the Rapidan, pursued and harassed as in his advance, and, crossing, regained the Federal lines beyond the Rappahannock.
To return to the movements of the main Federal force, under the personal command of General Hooker. This advanced rapidly across the angle between the two rivers, with no obstruction but that offered by the cavalry under Stuart, and on Thursday, April 30th, had crossed the Rapidan at Germanna and Ely's Fords, and was steadily concentrating around Chancellorsville. At the same time the Second Corps, under General Couch, was preparing to cross at United States Ford, a few miles distant; and General Sedgwick, commanding the detached force at Fredericksburg, having crossed and threatened Lee, in obedience to orders, now began passing back to the northern bank again, in order to march up and join the main body. Thus all things seemed in train to succeed on the side of the Federal army. General Hooker was over with about one hundred thousand men--twenty thousand additional troops would soon join him. Lee's army seemed scattered, and not "in hand" to oppose him; and there was some ground for the ebullition of joy attributed to General Hooker, as he saw his great force massing steadily in the vicinity of Chancellorsville. To those around him he exclaimed: "The rebel army is now the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac. They may as well pack up their haversacks and make for Richmond, and I shall be after them!"
In a congratulatory order to his troops, he declared that they occupied now a position so strong that "the enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defences and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him."
Such were the joyful anticipations of General Hooker, who seems to have regarded the campaign as virtually ended by the successful passage of the river. His expressions and his general order would seem to indicate an irrepressible joy, but it is doubtful if the skilful soldiers under him shared this somewhat juvenile enthusiasm. The gray cavalier at Fredericksburg was not reported to be retiring, as was expected. On the contrary, the Southern troops seemed to be moving forward with the design of accepting battle.
Lee had determined promptly upon that course as soon as Stuart sent him information of the enemy's movements. Chancellorsville was at once seen to be the point for which General Hooker was aiming, and Lee's dispositions were made for confronting him there and fighting a pitched battle. The brigades of Posey and Mahone, of Anderson's Division, had been in front of Banks's and Ely's Fords, and this force of about eight thousand men was promptly ordered to fall back on Chancellorsville. At the same time Wright's brigade was sent up to reenforce this column; but the enemy continuing to advance in great force, General Anderson, commanding the whole, fell back from Chancellorsville to Tabernacle Church, on the road to Fredericksburg, where he was joined on the next day by Jackson, whom Lee had sent forward to his assistance.
The _ruse_ at Fredericksburg had not long deceived the Confederate commander. General Sedgwick, with three corps, in all about twenty-two thousand men, had crossed just below Fredericksburg on the 29th, and Lee had promptly directed General Jackson to oppose him there. Line of battle was accordingly formed in the enemy's front beyond Hamilton's Crossing; but as, neither on that day nor the next, any further advance was made by General Sedgwick, the whole movement was seen to be a feint to cover the real operations above. Lee accordingly turned his attention in the direction of Chancellorsville. Jackson, as we have related, was sent up to reenforce General Anderson, and Lee followed with the rest of the army, with the exception of about six thousand men, under General Early, whom he left to defend the crossing at Fredericksburg.
Such were the positions of the opposing forces on the 1st day of
May. Each commander had displayed excellent generalship in the
preliminary movements preceding the actual fighting. At last,
however, the opposing lines were facing each other, and the real
struggle was about to begin.