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.
XXI. Across the Blue Ridge again
Lee moved his army to the old encampment on the banks of the Opequan which it had occupied after the retreat from
Sharpsburg, in September, 1862, and here a few days were spent in resting.
We have, in the journal of a foreign officer, an outline of Lee's personal appearance at this time, and, as we are not diverted from these characteristic details at the moment by the narrative of great events, this account of Lee, given by the officer in question--Colonel Freemantle, of the British Army--is laid before the reader:
"General Lee is, almost without exception, the handsomest man of his age I ever saw. He is tall, broad-shouldered, very well made, well set up--a thorough soldier in appearance--and his manners are most courteous, and full of dignity. He is a perfect gentleman in every respect. I imagine no man has so few enemies, or is so universally esteemed. Throughout the South, all agree in pronouncing him as near perfection as man can be. He has none of the small vices, such as smoking, drinking, chewing, or swearing; and his bitterest enemy never accused him of any of the greater ones. He generally wears a well-worn, long gray jacket, a high black-felt hat, and blue trousers, tucked into his Wellington boots. I never saw him carry arms, and the only marks of his military rank are the three stars on his collar. He rides a handsome horse, which is extremely well governed. He himself is very neat in his dress and person, and in the most arduous marches he always looks smart and clean.... It is understood that General Lee is a religious man, though not so demonstrative in that respect as Jackson, and, unlike his late brother-in-arms, he is a member of the Church of England. His only faults, so far as I can learn, arise from his excessive amiability."
This personal description is entirely correct, except that the word "jacket" conveys a somewhat erroneous idea of Lee's undress uniform coat, and his hat was generally gray. Otherwise, the sketch is exactly accurate, and is here presented as the unprejudiced description and estimate of a foreign gentleman, who had no inducement, such as might be attributed to a Southern writer, to overcolor his portrait. Such, in personal appearance, was the leader of the Southern army--a plain soldier, in a plain dress, without arms, with slight indications of rank, courteous, full of dignity, a "perfect gentleman," and with no fault save an "excessive amiability." The figure is attractive to the eye--it excited the admiration of a foreign officer, and remains in many memories now, when the sound of battle is hushed, and the great leader, in turn, has finished his life-battle and lain down in peace.
The movements of the two armies were soon resumed, and we shall briefly follow those movements, which led the adversaries back to the Rappahannock.
Lee appears to have conceived the design, after crossing the Potomac at
Williamsport, to pass the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge, and thus place himself in the path of
General Meade if he crossed east of the mountain, or threaten
Washington. This appears from his own statement. "Owing," he says, "to the swollen condition of _the Shenandoah River, the plan of operations which had been contemplated when we recrossed the Potomac could not be put in execution_". The points fixed upon by Lee for passing the mountain were probably Snicker's and Ashby's Gaps, opposite Berryville and Millwood. The rains had, however, made the river, in these places, unfordable. On the 17th and 18th days of July, less than a week after Lee's crossing at Williamsport, General Meade passed the Potomac above Leesburg, and Lee moved his army in the direction of Chester Gap, near Front Royal, toward Culpepper.
The new movements were almost identically the same as the old, when General McClellan advanced, in November, 1862, and the adoption of the same plans by General Meade involves a high compliment to his predecessor. He acted with even more energy. As Lee's head of column was defiling toward Chester Gap, beyond Front Royal, General Meade struck at it through Manassas Gap, directly on its flank, and an action followed which promised at one time to become serious. The enemy was, however, repulsed, and the Southern column continued its way across the mountain. The rest of the army followed, and descended into Culpepper, from which position, when Longstreet was detached to the west, Lee retired, taking post behind the Rapidan. General Meade thereupon followed, and occupied Culpepper, his advance being about half-way between Culpepper Court-House and the river.
Such was the position of the two armies in the first days of October, when Lee, weary, it seemed, of inactivity, set out to flank and fight his adversary.