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
LAST CAMPAIGNS OF THE YEAR 1863.
I. The Cavalry of Lee's Army
In a work of the present description, the writer has a choice between two courses. He may either record the events of the war in all quarters of the country, as bearing more or less upon his narrative, or may confine himself to the life of the individual who is the immediate subject of his volume. Of these two courses, the writer prefers the latter for many reasons. To present a narrative of military transactions in all portions of the South would expand this volume to undue proportions; and there is the further objection that these occurrences are familiar to all. It might be necessary, in writing for persons ignorant of the events of the great conflict, to omit nothing; but this ignorance does, not probably exist in the case of the readers of these pages; and the writer will continue, as heretofore, to confine himself to the main subject, only noting incidentally such prominent events in other quarters as affected Lee's movements.
One such event was the fall of Vicksburg, which post surrendered at the same moment with the defeat at Gettysburg, rendering thereafter impossible all movements of invasion; and another was the advance of General Rosecrans toward Atlanta, which resulted, in the month of September, in a Southern victory at Chickamauga.
The immediate effect of the Federal demonstration toward Chattanooga had been to detach Longstreet's corps from General Lee's army, for service under General Bragg.
General Meade's force is said to have also been somewhat lessened by detachments sent to enforce the draft in New York; and these circumstances had, in the first days of October, reduced both armies in Virginia to a less force than they had numbered in the past campaign. General Meade, however, presented a bold front to his adversary, and, with his headquarters near Culpepper Court-House, kept close watch upon Lee, whose army lay along the south bank of the Rapidan.
For some weeks no military movements took place, and an occasional cavalry skirmish between the troopers of the two armies was all which broke the monotony of the autumn days. This inactivity, however, was now about to terminate. Lee had resolved to attempt a flank movement around General Meade's right, with the view of bringing him to battle; and a brief campaign ensued, which, if indecisive, and reflecting little glory upon the infantry, was fruitful in romantic incidents and highly creditable to the cavalry of the Southern army.
In following the movements, and describing the operations of the main body of the army--the infantry--we have necessarily been compelled to pass over, to a great extent, the services of the cavalry in the past campaign. These had, nevertheless, been great--no arm of the service had exhibited greater efficiency; and, but for the fact that in all armies the brunt of battle falls upon the foot-soldiers, it might be added that the services of the cavalry had been as important as those of the infantry. Stuart was now in command of a force varying from five to eight thousand sabres, and among his troopers were some of the best fighting-men of the South. The cavalry had always been the favorite arm with the Southern youth; it had drawn to itself, as privates in the ranks, thousands of young men of collegiate education, great wealth, and the highest social position; and this force was officered, in Virginia, by such resolute commanders as
Wade Hampton, Fitz Lee, William H.F. Lee, Rosser, Jones, Wickham, Young, Munford, and many others. Under these leaders, and assisted by the hard-fighting "Stuart Horse-Artillery" under Pelham and his successors, the cavalry had borne their full share in the hard marches and combats of the army. On the Chickahominy; in the march to Manassas, and the battles in Maryland; in the operations on the Rappahannock, and the incessant fighting of the campaign to Gettysburg, Stuart and his troopers had vindicated their claim to the first honors of arms; and, if these services were not duly estimated by the infantry of the army, the fact was mainly attributable to the circumstance that the fighting of the cavalry had been done at a distance upon the outposts, far more than in the pitched battles, where, in modern times, from the improved and destructive character of artillery, playing havoc with horses, the cavalry arm can achieve little, and is not risked. The actual losses in Stuart's command left, however, no doubt of the obstinate soldiership of officers and men. Since the opening of the year he had lost
General Hampton, cut down in a hand-to-hand sabre-fight at Gettysburg; General W.H.F. Lee, shot in the fight at Fleetwood; Colonels Frank Hampton and Williams, killed in the same action; Colonel Butler, torn by a shell; Major Pelham, Chief of Artillery, killed while leading a charge; [Footnote: In this enumeration the writer mentions only such names as occur at the moment to his memory. A careful examination of the records of the cavalry would probably furnish the names of ten times as many, equally brave and unfortunate.] about six officers of his personal staff either killed, wounded, or captured; and in the Gettysburg campaign he had lost nearly one-third of his entire command. Of its value to the army, the infantry might have their doubts, but General Lee had none. Stuart and his horsemen had been the eyes and ears of the Army of Northern Virginia; had fought incessantly as well as observed the enemy; and Lee never committed the injustice of undervaluing this indispensable arm, which, if his official commendation of its operations under Stuart is to be believed, was only second in importance in his estimation to the infantry itself.
The army continued, nevertheless, to amuse itself at the expense of the cavalry, and either asserted or intimated, on every favorable occasion, that the _real fighting_ was done by themselves. This flattering assumption might be natural under the circumstances, but it was now about to be shown to be wholly unfounded. A campaign was at hand in which the cavalry were to turn the tables upon their jocose critics, and silence them; where the infantry were doomed to failure in nearly all which they attempted, and the troopers were to do the greater part of the fighting and achieve the only successes.
To the narrative of this brief and romantic episode of the war we now proceed. General Lee's aim was to pass around the right flank of his adversary, and bring him to battle; and, although the promptness of General Meade's movements defeated the last-named object nearly completely, the manoeuvres of the two armies form a highly-interesting study. The eminent soldiers commanding the forces played a veritable game of chess with each other. There was little hard fighting, but more scientific manoeuvring than is generally displayed in a campaign. The brains of Lee and Meade, rather than the two armies, were matched against each other; and the conflict of ideas proved more interesting than the actual fighting.