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.
X. Lee's Plans and Objects
The great game of chess was now about to commence, and, taking an illustration from that game, General Lee is reported to have said that he believed he would "swap queens," that is, advance and attempt to capture the city of Washington, leaving General Hooker at liberty, if he chose so to do, to seize in turn upon Richmond. What the result of so singular a manoeuvre would have been, it is impossible to say; it would certainly have proved one of the strangest incidents of a war fruitful in varied and shifting events.
Such a plan of operations, however, if ever seriously contemplated by Lee, was speedily abandoned. He nowhere makes mention of any such design in his published reports, and he probably spoke of it only in jest. His real aim in the great movement now about to commence, is stated with brevity and reserve--then absolutely necessary--but also with sufficient clearness, in his official report. The position of the enemy opposite Fredericksburg was, he says, such as to render an attack upon him injudicious. It was, therefore, desirable to manoeuvre him out of it--force him to return toward Maryland--and thus free the country of his forces. A further result was expected from this movement. The lower
Shenandoah Valley was occupied by the enemy under General Milroy, who, with his headquarters at
Winchester, harassed the whole region, which he ruled with a rod of iron. With the withdrawal of the Federal army under General Hooker, and before the advance of the Confederates, General Milroy would also disappear, and the fertile fields of the Valley be relieved. The whole force of the enemy would thus, says Lee, "be compelled to leave Virginia, and possibly to draw to its support troops designed to operate against other parts of the country." He adds: "In this way it was supposed that the enemy's plan of campaign for the summer would be broken up, and part of the season of active operations be consumed in the formation of new combinations and the preparations that they would require. In addition to these advantages, it was hoped that other valuable results might be attained by military success," that is to say, by a battle which Lee intended to fight when circumstances were favorable. That he expected to fight, not merely to manoeuvre the enemy from Virginia, is apparent from another sentence of the report. "It was thought," he says, "that the corresponding movements on the part of the enemy, to which those contemplated by us would probably give rise, might _offer a fair opportunity to strike a blow at the army therein, commanded by General Hooker_" the word "therein" referring to the region "north of the Potomac." In the phrase, "other valuable results which might be attained by military success," the reference is plainly to the termination of the contest by a treaty of peace, based upon the independence of the South.
These sentences, taken from the only publication ever made by Lee on the subject of the Gettysburg campaign, express guardedly, but distinctly, his designs. He aimed to draw General Hooker north of the Potomac, clear the Valley, induce the enemy to send troops in other quarters to the assistance of the main Federal army, and, when the moment came, attack General Hooker, defeat him if possible, and thus end the war. That a decisive defeat of the Federal forces at that time in Maryland or Pennsylvania, would have virtually put an end to the contest, there seems good reason to believe. Following the Southern victories of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, a third bloody disaster would, in all human probability, have broken the resolution of the Federal authorities. With Lee thundering at the gates of Washington or Philadelphia, and with the peace party encouraged to loud and importunate protest, it is not probable that the war would have continued. Intelligent persons in the North are said to have so declared, since the war, and the declaration seems based upon good sense.
Before passing from this necessary preface to the narrative of events, it is proper to add that, in the contemplated battle with General Hooker, when he had drawn him north of the Potomac, Lee did not intend to assume a _tactical offensive_, but to force the Federal commander, if possible, to make the attack. [Footnote: "It had not been intended to fight a general battle at such a distance from our base, unless attacked by the enemy."--_Lee's Report_] From this resolution he was afterward induced by circumstances to depart, and the result is known.
What is above written will convey to the reader a clear conception of Lee's views and intentions in undertaking his last great offensive campaign; and we now proceed to the narrative of the movements of the two armies, and the battle of Gettysburg.