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.
IX. Circumstances leading to the Invasion of Pennsylvania
The defeat of
General Hooker at Chancellorsville was the turning-point of the war, and for the first time there was apparently a possibility of inducing the Federal Government to relinquish its opposition to the establishment of a separate authority in the South. The idea of the formation of a Southern Confederacy, distinct from the old Union, had, up to this time, been repudiated by the authorities at
Washington as a thing utterly out of the question; but the defeat of the Federal arms in the two great battles of the Rappahannock had caused the most determined opponents of separation to doubt whether the South could be coerced to return to the Union; and, what was equally or more important, the proclamations of
President Lincoln, declaring the slaves of the South free, and placing the United States virtually under martial law, aroused a violent clamor from the great Democratic party of the North, who loudly asserted that all constitutional liberty was disappearing.
This combination of non-success in military affairs and usurpation by the Government emboldened the advocates of peace to speak out plainly, and utter their protest against the continuance of the struggle, which they declared had only resulted in the prostration of all the liberties of the country. Journals and periodicals, violently denunciatory of the course pursued by the Government, all at once made their appearance in New York and elsewhere. A peace convention was called to meet in Philadelphia. Mr. Vallandigham, nominee of the Democratic party for Governor of Ohio, eloquently denounced the whole policy of endeavoring to subjugate the sovereign States of the South; and Judge Curtis, of Boston, formerly Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, published a pamphlet in which the Federal President was stigmatized as a usurper and tyrant. "I do not see," wrote Judge Curtis, "that it depends upon the Executive decree whether a servile war shall be invoked to help twenty millions of the white race to assert the rightful authority of the Constitution and laws of their country over those who refuse to obey them. But I do see that this proclamation" (emancipating the Southern slaves) "asserts the power of the Executive to make such a decree! I do not perceive how it is that my neighbors and myself, residing remote from armies and their operations, and where all the laws of the land may be enforced by constitutional means, should be subjected to the possibility of arrest and imprisonment and trial before a military commission, and punishment at its discretion, for offences unknown to the law--a possibility to be converted into a fact at the mere will of the President, or of some subordinate officer, clothed by him with this power. But I do perceive that this Executive power is asserted.... It must be obvious to the meanest capacity that, if the President of the United States has an _implied_ constitutional right, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, in time of war, to disregard any one positive prohibition of the Constitution, or to exercise any one power not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, because in his judgment he may thereby 'best subdue the enemy,' he has the same right, for the same reason, to disregard each and every provision of the Constitution, and to exercise all power _needful in his opinion_ to enable him 'best to subdue the enemy.' ... The time has certainly come when the people of the United States _must_ understand and _must_ apply those great rules of civil liberty which have been arrived at by the self-devoted efforts of thought and action of their ancestors during seven hundred years of struggle against arbitrary power."
So far had reached the thunder of Lee's guns at Chancellorsville. Their roar seemed to have awakened throughout the entire North the great party hitherto lulled to slumber by the plea of "military necessity," or paralyzed by the very extent of the Executive usurpation which they saw, but had not had heart to oppose. On all sides the advocates of peace on the basis of separation were heard raising their importunate voices; and in the North the hearts of the people began to thrill with the anticipation of a speedy termination of the bloody and exhausting struggle. The occasion was embraced by
Mr. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederate States, to propose negotiations. This able gentleman wrote from Georgia on the 12th of June to President Davis, offering to go to Washington and sound the authorities there on the subject of peace. He believed that the moment was propitious, and wished to act before further military movements were undertaken--especially before any further projects of invasion by Lee--which would tend, he thought, to silence the peace party at the North, and again arouse the war spirit. The letter of Mr. Stephens was written on the 12th of June, and President Davis responded by telegraph a few days afterward, requesting Mr. Stephens to come to Richmond. He reached that city on the 22d or 23d of June, but by that time Lee's vanguard was entering Maryland, and Gettysburg speedily followed, which terminated all hopes of peace.
The plan of moving the Southern army northward, with the view of invading the Federal territory, seems to have been the result of many circumstances. The country was elated with the two great victories of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and the people were clamorous for active operations against an enemy who seemed powerless to stand the pressure of Southern steel. The army, which had been largely augmented by the return of absentees to its ranks, new levies, and the recall of Longstreet's two divisions from Suffolk, shared the general enthusiasm; and thus a very heavy pressure was brought to bear upon the authorities and on General Lee, in favor of a forward movement, which, it was supposed, would terminate in a signal victory and a treaty of peace.
Lee yielded to this view of things rather than urged it. He was not opposed to an offensive policy, and seems, indeed, to have shared the opinion of Jackson that "the Scipio Africanus policy" was the best for the South. His theory from the beginning of the war had been, that the true policy of the South was to keep the enemy as far as possible from the interior, fighting on the frontier or on Federal soil, if possible. That of the South would there thus be protected from the ravages of the enemy, and the further advantage would accrue, that the Confederate capital, Richmond, would at all times be safe from danger. This was an important consideration, as events subsequently showed. As long as the enemy were held at arm's-length, north of the Rappahannock, Richmond, with her net-work of railroads connecting with every part of the South, was safe, and the Government, undisturbed in their capital, remained a power in the eyes of the world. But, with an enemy enveloping the city, and threatening her lines of communication, the tenure of the place by the Government was uncertain. When General Grant finally thus enveloped the city, and laid hold upon the railroads, Lee's army was defeated, and the Government became fugitive, which alone would have struck a mortal blow to its prestige and authority.
It was to arrive at these results, which his sagacity discerned, that Lee always advocated such movements as would throw back the enemy, and drive him, if possible, from the soil of Virginia. Another important consideration was the question of supplies. These were at all times deficient in the Confederate armies, and it was obviously the best policy to protect as much territory, from which supplies might be drawn, as possible. More than ever before, these supplies were now needed; and when General Lee sent, in May or June, a requisition for rations to Richmond, the commissary-general is said to have endorsed upon the paper, "If General Lee wishes rations, let him seek them in Pennsylvania."
The considerations here stated were the main inducements for that great movement northward which followed the battle of Chancellorsville. The army and country were enthusiastic; the Government rather followed than led; and, throughout the month of May, Lee was busily engaged in organizing and equipping his forces for the decisive advance. Experience had now dictated many alterations and improvements in the army. It was divided into three _corps d'armee_, each consisting of three divisions, and commanded by an officer with the rank of lieutenant-general. Longstreet remained at the head of his former corps, Ewell succeeded Jackson in command of "Jackson's old corps," and A.P. Hill was assigned to a third corps made up of portions of the two others. The infantry was thus rearranged in a manner to increase greatly its efficiency, and the artillery arm was entirely reorganized. The old system of assigning one or more batteries or battalions to each division or corps was done away with, and the artillery of the army was made a distinct command, and placed under General W.N. Pendleton, a brave and energetic officer, who was thenceforward Lee's "chief of artillery." The last arm, the cavalry, was also increased in efficiency; and, on the last day of May, General Lee had the satisfaction of finding himself in command of a well-equipped and admirably-officered army of sixty-eight thousand three hundred and fifty-two bayonets, and nearly ten thousand cavalry and artillery--in all, about eighty thousand men. Never before had the Southern army had present for duty, as fighting men, so large a number, except just before the battles on the Chickahominy. There was, however, this great difference between the army then and at this time: in those first months of 1862, it was made up largely of raw troops who had never heard the discharge of a musket in their lives: while now, in May, 1863 the bulk of the army consisted of Lee's veterans, men who had followed him through the fire of Manassas,
Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and
Chancellorsville, and could be counted on to effect any thing
not absolutely beyond human power. General Longstreet,
conversing after the war with a gentleman of the North, declared
as much. The army at that time, he said, was in a condition to
undertake any thing.