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.
XI. The Cavalry-fight at Fleetwood
Lee began his movement northward on the 3d day of June, just one month after the battle of Chancellorsville. From this moment to the time when his army was concentrated in the vicinity of Gettysburg, his operations were rapid and energetic, but with a cautious regard to the movements of the enemy.
Pursuing his design of manoeuvring the Federal army out of Virginia, without coming to action, Lee first sent forward one division of Longstreet's corps in the direction of Culpepper, another then followed, and, on the 4th and 5th of June, Ewell's entire corps was sent in the same direction--A.P. Hill remaining behind on the south bank of the Rappahannock, near Fredericksburg, to watch the enemy there, and bar the road to Richmond. These movements became speedily known to General Hooker, whose army lay north of the river near that point, and on the 5th he laid a pontoon just below Fredericksburg, and crossed about a corps to the south bank, opposite Hill. This threatening demonstration, however, was not suffered by Lee to arrest his own movements. Seeing that the presence of the enemy there was "intended for the purpose of observation rather than attack," and only aimed to check his operations, he continued the withdrawal of his troops, by way of Culpepper, in the direction of the
A brilliant pageant, succeeded by a dramatic and stirring incident, was now to prelude the march of Lee into the enemy's territory. On the 8th of June, the day of the arrival of Lee's head of column in Culpepper, a review of Stuart's cavalry took place in a field east of the court-house. The review was a picturesque affair. General Lee was present, sitting his horse, motionless, on a little knoll--the erect figure half concealed by the short cavalry-cape falling from his shoulders, and the grave face overshadowed by the broad gray hat--while above him, from a lofty pole, waved the folds of a large Confederate flag. The long column of about eight thousand cavalry was first drawn up in line, and afterward passed in front of Lee at a gallop--Stuart and his staff-officers leading the charge with sabres at tierce point, a species of military display highly attractive to the gallant and joyous young commander. The men then charged in mimic battle the guns of the "Stuart Horse-Artillery," which were posted upon an adjoining hill; and, as the column of cavalry approached, the artillerists received them with a thunderous discharge of blank ammunition, which rolled like the roar of actual battle among the surrounding hills. This sham-fight was kept up for some time, and no doubt puzzled the enemy on the opposite shore of the Rappahannock. On the next morning--either in consequence of a design formed before the review, or to ascertain what this discharge of artillery meant--two divisions of Federal cavalry, supported by two brigades of "picked infantry," were sent across the river at Kelly's and Beverley's Fords, east of the court-house, to beat up the quarters of Stuart and find what was going on in the Southern camps.
The most extensive cavalry-fight, probably, of the whole war, followed. One of Stuart's brigades, near Beverley's Ford, was nearly surprised and resolutely attacked at daylight by Buford's division, which succeeded in forcing back the brigade a short distance toward the high range called Fleetwood Hill, in the rear. From this eminence, where his headquarters were established, Stuart went to the front at a swift gallop, opened a determined fire of artillery and sharp-shooters upon the advancing enemy, and sent Hampton's division to attack them on their left. Meanwhile, however, the enemy were executing a rapid and dangerous movement against Stuart's, rear. General Gregg, commanding the second Federal cavalry division, crossed at Kelly's Ford below, passed the force left in that quarter, and came in directly on Stuart's rear, behind Fleetwood Hill. In the midst of the hard fight in front, Stuart was called now to defend his rear. He hastened to do so by falling back and meeting the enemy now charging the hill. The attack was repulsed, and the enemy's artillery charged in turn by the Southerners. This was captured and recaptured two or three times, but at last remained in the hands of Stuart.
General Gregg now swung round his right, and prepared to advance along the eastern slope of the hill. Stuart had, however, posted his artillery there, and, as the Federal line began to move, arrested it with a sudden and destructive fire of shell. At the same time a portion of Hampton's division, under the brave Georgian, General P.M.B. Young, was ordered to charge the enemy. The assault was promptly made with the sabre, unaided by carbine or pistol fire, and Young cut down or routed the force in front of him, which dispersed in disorder toward the river. The dangerous assault on the rear of Fleetwood Hill was thus repulsed, and the advance of the enemy on the left, near the river, met with the same ill success. General W.H.F. Lee, son of the commanding general, gallantly charged them in that quarter, and drove them back to the Rappahannock, receiving a severe wound, which long confined him to his bed. Hampton had followed the retreating enemy on the right, under the fire of Stuart's guns from Fleetwood Hill; and by nightfall the whole force had recrossed the Rappahannock, leaving several hundred dead and wounded upon the field. [Footnote: The Southern loss was also considerable. Colonel Williams was killed, Generals Lee and Butler severely wounded--the latter losing his foot--and General Stuart's staff had been peculiarly unfortunate. Of the small group of officers, Captain Farley was killed, Captain White wounded, and Lieutenant Goldsborough captured. The Federal force sustained a great loss in the death of the gallant Colonel Davis, of the Eighth New-York Cavalry, and other officers.]
This reconnoissance in force--the Federal numbers probably amounting to fifteen thousand--had no other result than the discovery of the fact that Lee had infantry in Culpepper. Finding that the event of the fight was critical, General Lee had moved a body of infantry in the direction of the field of action, and the gleam of the bayonets was seen by the enemy. The infantry was not, however, engaged on either side, unless the Federal infantry participated in the initial skirmish near Beverley's Ford, and General Lee's numbers and position were not discovered.
We have dwelt with some detail upon this cavalry combat, which was an animated affair, the hand-to-hand encounter of nearly twenty thousand horsemen throughout a whole day. General Stuart was censured at the time for allowing himself to be "surprised," and a ball at Culpepper Court-House, at which some of his officers were present several days before, was pointed to as the origin of this surprise. The charge was wholly unjust, Stuart not having attended the ball. Nor was there any truth in the further statement that "his headquarters were captured" in consequence of his negligence. His tents on Fleetwood Hill were all sent to the rear soon after daylight; nothing whatever was found there but a section of the horse-artillery, who fought the charging cavalry with sabres and sponge-staffs over the guns; that Fleetwood Hill was at one time in the hands of the enemy, was due not to Stuart's negligence, but to the numbers and excellent soldiership of General Gregg, who made the flank and rear attack while Stuart was breasting that in front.
These detached statements, which may seem unduly minute, are made in justice to a brave soldier, who can no longer defend himself.