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.
XIII. Lee in Pennsylvania
Lee, in personal command of the corps of Hill and Longstreet, had meanwhile moved on steadily in the direction of the Susquehanna, and, reaching Chambersburg on the 27th of June, "made preparations to advance upon
At Chambersburg he issued an order to the troops, which should find a place in every biography of this great soldier. The course pursued by many of the Federal commanders in Virginia had been merciless and atrocious beyond words.
General Pope had ravaged the counties north of the Rappahannock, especially the county of Culpepper, in a manner which reduced that smiling region wellnigh to a waste; General Milroy, with his headquarters at
Winchester, had so cruelly oppressed the people of the surrounding country as to make them execrate the very mention of his name; and the excesses committed by the troops of these officers, with the knowledge and permission of their commanders, had been such, said a foreign writer, as to "cast mankind two centuries back toward barbarism."
Now, the tables were turned, and the world looked for a sudden and merciless retaliation on the part of the Southerners. Lee was in Pennsylvania, at the head of an army thirsting to revenge the accumulated wrongs against their helpless families. At a word from him the fertile territory of the North would be made to feel the iron pressure of military rule, proceeding on the theory that retaliation is a just principle to adopt toward an enemy. Fire, slaughter, and outrage, would have burst upon Pennsylvania, and the black flag, which had been virtually raised by Generals
Pope and Milroy, would have flaunted now in the air at the head of the Southern army.
Instead of permitting this disgraceful oppression of non-combatants, Lee issued, at Chambersburg, the following general order to his troops:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
CHAMBERSBURG, PA., _June_ 27, 1863.
The commanding general has observed with much satisfaction the conduct of the troops on the march, and confidently anticipates results commensurate with the high spirit they have manifested. No troops could have displayed greater fortitude, or better performed the arduous marches of the past ten days. Their conduct in other respects has, with few exceptions, been in keeping with their character as soldiers, and entitles them to approbation and praise.
There have, however, been instances of forgetfulness, on the part of some, that they have in keeping the yet unsullied reputation of the army, and that the duties exacted of us by civilization and Christianity are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than in our own.
The commanding general considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army, and, through it, our whole people, than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages on the innocent and defenceless, and the wanton destruction of private property, that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country. Such proceedings not only disgrace the perpetrators, and all connected with them, but are subversive of the discipline and efficiency of the army, and destructive of the ends of our present movements. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemy, without offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain.
The commanding general, therefore, earnestly exhorts the troops to abstain, with most scrupulous care, from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property; and he enjoins upon all officers to arrest and bring to summary punishment all who shall in any way offend against the orders on this subject.
R.E. LEE, _General_.
The noble maxims and truly Christian spirit of this paper will remain the undying glory of Lee. Under what had been surely a bitter provocation, he retained the calmness and forbearance of a great soul, saying to his army: "The duties exacted of us by civilization and Christianity are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than in our own.... No greater disgrace could befall the army, and through it our whole people, than the perpetration of outrage upon the innocent and defenceless.... We make war only upon armed men, and cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain."
Such were the utterances of Lee, resembling those we might attribute to the ideal Christian warrior; and, indeed, it was such a spirit that lay under the plain uniform of the great Virginian. What he ordered was enforced, and no one was disturbed in his person or property. Of this statement many proofs could be given. A Pennsylvania farmer said to a Northern correspondent, in reference to the Southern troops: "I must say they acted like gentlemen, and, their cause aside, I would rather have forty thousand rebels quartered on my premises than one thousand Union troops." From the journal of Colonel Freemantle, an English officer accompanying the Southern army, we take these sentences:
"In passing through Greencastle we found all the houses and windows shut up, the natives in their Sunday clothes, standing at their doors regarding the troops in a very unfriendly manner. I saw no straggling into the houses, nor were any of the inhabitants disturbed or annoyed by the soldiers. Sentries were placed at the doors of many of the best houses, to prevent any officer or soldier from getting in on any pretence.... I entered Chambersburg at 6 P.M.... Sentries were placed at the doors of all the principal houses, and the town was cleared of all but the military passing through or on duty.... No officer or soldier under the rank of a general is allowed in Chambersburg without a special order from General Lee, which he is very chary of giving, and I hear of officers of rank being refused this pass.... I went into Chambersburg again, and witnessed the singularly good behavior of the troops toward the citizens. I heard soldiers saying to one another that they did not like being in a town in which they were very naturally detested. To any one who has seen, as I have, the ravages of the Northern troops in Southern towns, this forbearance seems most commendable and surprising."
A Northern correspondent said of the course pursued by General Jenkins, in command of Ewell's cavalry: "By way of giving the devil his due, it must be said that, although there were over sixty acres of wheat and eighty acres of corn and oats in the same field, he protected it most carefully, and picketed his horses so that it could not be injured. No fences were wantonly destroyed, poultry was not disturbed, nor did he compliment our blooded cattle so much as to test the quality of their steak and roast."
Of the feeling of the troops these few words from the letter of an officer written to one of his family will convey an idea: "I felt when I first came here that I would like to revenge myself upon these people for the devastation they have brought upon our own beautiful home--that home where we could have lived so happily, and that we loved so much, from which their vandalism has driven you and my helpless little ones. But, though I had such severe wrongs and grievances to redress, and such great cause for revenge, yet, when I got among these people, I could not find it in my heart to molest them."
Such was the treatment of the people of Pennsylvania by the Southern troops in obedience to the order of the commander-in-chief. Lee in person set the example. A Southern journal made the sarcastic statement that he became irate at the robbing of cherry-trees; and, if he saw the _top rail_ of a fence lying upon the ground as he rode by, would dismount and replace it with his own hands.