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.
XII. The March to Gettysburg
This attempt of the enemy to penetrate his designs had not induced General Lee to interrupt the movement of his infantry toward the
Shenandoah Valley. The Federal corps sent across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, still remained facing General Hill; and, two days after the Fleetwood fight. General Hooker moved up the river with his main body, advancing the Third Corps to a point near Beverley's Ford. But these movements were disregarded by Lee. On the same day Ewell's corps moved rapidly toward Chester Gap, passed through that defile in the mountain, pushed on by way of Front Royal, and reached
Winchester on the evening of the 13th, having in three days marched seventy miles.
The position of the Southern army now exposed it to very serious danger, and at first sight seemed to indicate a deficiency of soldiership in the general commanding it. In face of an enemy whose force was at least equal to his own,[Footnote: General Hooker stated his "effective" at this time to have been diminished to eighty thousand infantry.] Lee had extended his line until it stretched over a distance of about one hundred miles. When Ewell came in sight of Winchester, Hill was still opposite Fredericksburg, and Longstreet half-way between the two in Culpepper. Between the middle and rear corps was interposed the Rapidan River, and between the middle and advanced corps the Blue Ridge Mountains. General Hooker's army was on the north bank of the Rappahannock, well in hand, and comparatively massed, and the situation of Lee's army seemed excellent for the success of a sudden blow at it.
It seems that the propriety of attacking the Southern army while thus _in transitu_, suggested itself both to General Hooker and to
President Lincoln, but they differed as to the point and object of the attack. In anticipation of Lee's movement, General Hooker had written to the President, probably suggesting a counter-movement across the Rappahannock, somewhere near Fredericksburg, to threaten Richmond, and thus check Lee's advance. This, however.
President Lincoln refused to sanction.
"In case you find Lee coming to the north of the Rappahannock," President Lincoln wrote to General Hooker, "I would by no means cross to the south of it. I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, _like an ox jumped half over a fence, and liable to be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other_"
Five days afterward the President wrote: "I think Lee's army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. If he comes toward the Upper Potomac, fight him when opportunity offers. If he stays where he is, _fret him and fret him_."
When intelligence now reached
Washington that the head of Lee's column was approaching the Upper Potomac, while the rear was south of the Rappahannock, the President wrote to General Hooker: "_If the head of Lee's army is at
Martinsburg, and the tail of it on the plank road_ between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the _animal must be very slim somewhere--could you not break him?_"
General Hooker did not seem to be able to determine upon a decisive course of action, in spite of the tempting opening presented to him by Lee. It would seem that nothing could have been plainer than the good policy of an attack upon Hill at Fredericksburg, which would certainly have checked Lee's movement by recalling Longstreet from Culpepper, and Ewell from the Valley. But this bold operation did not appear to commend itself to the Federal authorities. Instead of reenforcing the corps sent across at Fredericksburg and attacking Hill, General Hooker withdrew the corps, on the 13th, to the north bank of the river, got his forces together, and began to fall back toward Manassas, and even remained in ignorance, it seems, of all connected with his adversary's movements. Even as late as the 17th of June, his chief-of-staff,
General Butterfield, wrote to one of his officers; "Try and hunt up somebody from Pennsylvania who knows something, and has a cool enough head to judge what is the actual state of affairs there with regard to the enemy. _My impression is, that Lee's movement on the Upper Potomac is a cover for a cavalry-raid on the south side of the river.... We cannot go boggling around until we know what we are going after._"
Such was the first result of Lee's daring movement to transfer military operations to the region north of the Potomac. A Northern historian has discerned in his plan of campaign an amount of boldness which "seemed to imply a great contempt for his opponent." This is perhaps a somewhat exaggerated statement of the case. Without "boldness" a commander is but half a soldier, and it may be declared that a certain amount of that quality is absolutely essential to successful military operations. But the question is, Did Lee expose himself, by these movements of his army, to probable disaster, if his adversary--equal to the occasion--struck at his flank? A failure of the campaign of invasion would probably have resulted from such an attack either upon Hill at Fredericksburg, or upon Longstreet in Culpepper, inasmuch as Ewell's column, in that event, must have fallen back. But a _defeat_ of the combined forces of Hill and Longstreet, who were within supporting distance of each other, was not an event which General Hooker could count upon with any degree of certainty. The two corps numbered nearly fifty thousand men--that is to say, two-thirds of the Southern army; General Hooker's whole force was but about eighty thousand; and it was not probable that the eighty thousand would be able to rout the fifty thousand, when at Chancellorsville less than this last number of Southerners had defeated one hundred and twenty thousand.
There seems little reason to doubt that General Lee took this view of the subject, and relied on Hill and Longstreet to unite and repulse any attack upon them, while Ewell's great "raiding column" drove forward into the heart of the enemy's territory. That the movement was bold, there can certainly be no question; that it was a reckless and hazardous operation, depending for its success, in Lee's eyes, solely on the supposed inefficiency of General Hooker, does not appear. These comments delay the narrative, but the subject is fruitful in suggestion. It may be pardoned a Southern writer if he lingers over this last great offensive movement of the Southern army. The last, it was also one of the greatest and most brilliant. The war, therefore, was to enter upon its second stage, in which the South was to simply maintain the defensive. But Lee was terminating the first stage of the contest by one of those great campaigns which project events and personages in bold relief from the broad canvas, and illumine the pages of history.
Events were now in rapid progress. Ewell's column--the sharp head of the Southern spear--reached Winchester on the 13th of June, and Rodes, who had been detached at Front Royal to drive the enemy from Berryville, reached the last-named village on the same day when the force there retreated to Winchester. On the next morning Early's division attacked the forces of Milroy at Winchester, stormed and captured their "Star Fort," on a hill near the place, and so complete was the rout of the enemy that their commander, General Milroy, had scarcely time to escape, with a handful of his men, in the direction of the Potomac.
For this disaster the unfortunate officer was harshly criticised by General Hooker, who wrote to his Government, "In my opinion, Milroy's men will fight better _under a soldier_."
After thus clearing the country around Winchester, Ewell advanced rapidly on Martinsburg, where he took a number of prisoners and some artillery. The captures in two days had been more than four thousand prisoners and twenty-nine cannon, with four hundred horses and a large amount of stores. Ewell continued then to advance, and, entering Maryland, sent a portion of his cavalry, under General Imboden, westward, to destroy the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and another body, under General Jenkins, in advance, toward Chambersburg. Meanwhile, the rest of the army was moving to join him. Hill, finding that the enemy had disappeared from his front near Fredericksburg, hastened to march from that vicinity, and was sent forward by Lee, on the track of Ewell, passing in rear of Longstreet, who had remained in Culpepper. The latter was now directed by Lee to move along the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, and, by occupying Ashby's and Snicker's Gaps, protect the flank of the column in the Valley from attack--a work in which Stuart's cavalry, thrown out toward the enemy, assisted.
Such was the posture of affairs when General Hooker's chief-of-staff became so much puzzled, and described the Federal army as "boggling around," and not knowing "what they were going after." Lee's whole movement, it appears, was regarded as a feint to "cover a cavalry-raid on the south side of the river"--a strange conclusion, it would seem, in reference to a movement of such magnitude. It now became absolutely necessary that Lee's designs should be unmasked, if possible; and to effect this object Stuart's cavalry force, covering the southern flank, east of the Blue Ridge, must be driven back. This was undertaken in a deliberate manner. Three corps of cavalry, with a division of infantry and a full supply of artillery, were sent forward from the vicinity of Manassas, to drive Stuart in on all the roads leading to the mountain. A fierce struggle followed, in which Stuart, who knew the importance of his position, fought the great force opposed to him from every hill and knoll. But he was forced back steadily, in spite of a determined resistance, and at Upperville a hand-to-hand sabre-fight wound up the movement, in which the Federal cavalry was checked, when Stuart fell back toward Paris, crowned the mountain-side with his cannon, and awaited a final attack. This was not, however, made. Night approaching, the Federal force fell back toward Manassas, and on the next morning Stuart followed them, on the same road over which he had so rapidly retreated, beyond Middleburg.
Lee paid little attention to these operations on his flank east of the mountains, but proceeded steadily, in personal command of his infantry, in the direction of the Cumberland Valley. Ewell was moving rapidly toward
Harrisburg, with orders to "take" that place "if he deemed his force adequate," General Jenkins, commanding cavalry, preceding the advance of his infantry. He had thus pierced the enemy's territory, and it was necessary promptly to support him. Hill and Longstreet were accordingly directed to pass the Potomac at Shepherdstown and
Williamsport. The columns united at
Hagerstown, and on the 27th of June entered Chambersburg.
[Footnote 1: This statement of Lee's orders is derived by the writer from Lieutenant-General Ewell.]
General Hooker had followed, crossing the Potomac, opposite Leesburg, at about the moment when Lee's rear was passing from Maryland into Pennsylvania. The direction of the Federal march was toward Frederick, from which point General Hooker could move in either one of two directions--either across the mountain toward Boonsboro, which would throw him upon Lee's communications, or northward to Westminster, or Gettysburg, which would lead to an open collision with the invading army in a pitched battle.
At this juncture of affairs, just as the Federal army was concentrating near Frederick, General Hooker, at his own request, was relieved from command. The occasion of this unexpected event seems to have been a difference of opinion between himself and
General Halleck, the Federal general-in-chief, on the question whether the fortifications at
Harper's Ferry should or should not be abandoned. The point at issue would appear to have been unimportant, but ill feeling seems to have arisen: General Hooker resented the action of the authorities, and requested to be relieved; his request was complied with, and his place was filled by Major-General George G. Meade.
[Illustration: Map--Sketch of the Country Around GETTYSBURG.]
General Meade, an officer of excellent soldiership, and enjoying the repute of modesty and dignity, assumed command of the Federal army, and proceeded rapidly in pursuit of Lee. The design of moving directly across the South Mountain on Lee's communications, if ever entertained by him, was abandoned. The outcry from Pennsylvania drew him perforce. Ewell, with one division, had penetrated to Carlisle; and Early, with another division, was at York; everywhere the horses, cattle, and supplies of the country, had been seized upon for the use of the troops; and General Meade was loudly called upon to go to the assistance of the people thus exposed to the terrible rebels. His movements were rapid. Assuming command on June 28th, he began to move on the 29th, and on the 30th was approaching the town of Gettysburg.
[Footnote 1: The movements of the Federal commander were probably hastened by the capture, about this time at Hagerstown, of a dispatch from President Davis to General Lee. Lee, it seems, had suggested that
General Beauregard should be sent to make a demonstration in the direction of Culpepper, and by thus appearing to threaten Washington, embarrass the movements of the Northern army. To this suggestion the President is said to have replied that he had no troops to make such a movement; and General Meade had thus the proof before him that Washington was in no danger. The Confederacy was thus truly unfortunate again, as in September, 1862, when a similar incident came to the relief of General McClellan.]