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.
II. Lee flanks General Meade
In prosecution of the plan determined upon, General Lee, on the morning of the 9th of October, crossed the Rapidan at the fords above Orange Court-House, with the corps of Ewell and A.P. Hill, and directed his march toward Madison Court-House.
Stuart moved with
Hampton's cavalry division on the right of the advancing column--General Fitz Lee having been left with his division to guard the front on the Rapidan--and General Imboden, commanding west of the Blue Ridge, was ordered by Lee to "advance down the Valley, and guard the gaps of the mountains on our left."
We have said that Lee's design was to bring
General Meade to battle. It is proper to state this distinctly, as some writers have attributed to him in the campaign, as his real object, the design of manoeuvring his adversary out of Culpepper, and pushing him back to the Federal frontier. His own words are perfectly plain. He set out "with the design," he declares, "of _bringing on an engagement with the Federal army_"--that is to say, of _fighting_ General Meade, not simply forcing him to fall back. His opponent, it seems, was not averse to accepting battle; indeed, from expressions attributed to him, he appears to have ardently desired it, in case he could secure an advantageous position for receiving the Southern attack. It is desirable that this readiness in both commanders to fight should be kept in view. The fact adds largely to the interest of this brief "campaign of manoeuvres," in which the army, falling back, like that advancing, sought battle.
To proceed to the narrative, which will deal in large measure with the operations of the cavalry--that arm of the service, as we have said, having borne the chief share of the fighting, and achieved the only successes. Stuart moved out on the right of the infantry, which marched directly toward Madison Court-House, and near the village of James City, directly west of Culpepper Court-House, drove in the cavalry and infantry outposts of General Kilpatrick on the main body beyond the village. Continuous skirmishing ensued throughout the rest of the day--Stuart's object being to occupy the enemy, and divert attention from the infantry movement in his rear. In this he seems to have fully succeeded. Lee passed Madison Court-House, and moving, as he says, "by circuitous and concealed roads," reached the vicinity of Griffinsburg, on what is called the Sperryville Road, northwest of Culpepper Court-House. A glance at the map will show the relative positions of the two armies at this moment. General Meade lay around Culpepper Court-House, with his advance about half-way between that place and the Rapidan, and Lee had attained a position which gave him fair hopes of intercepting his adversary's retreat. That retreat must be over the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad; but from Griffinsburg to Manassas was no farther than from Culpepper Court-House to the same point. If the Federal army fell back, as Lee anticipated, it would be a question of speed between the retreating and pursuing columns; and, as the narrative will show, the race was close--a few hours lost making the difference between success and failure in Lee's movement.
On the morning of the 10th while the infantry were still near Griffinsburg, General Stuart moved promptly down upon Culpepper Court-House, driving the enemy from their large camps near Stonehouse Mountain. These were elaborately provided with luxuries of every description, and there were many indications of the fact that the troops had expected to winter there. No serious fighting occurred. A regiment of infantry was charged and dispersed by the Jefferson Company of Captain Baylor, and Stuart then proceeded rapidly to Culpepper Court-House, where the Federal cavalry, forming the rear-guard of the army, awaited him.
General Meade was already moving in the direction of the Rappahannock. The presence of the Southern army near Griffinsburg had become known to him; he was at no loss to understand Lee's object; and, leaving his cavalry to cover his rear, he moved toward the river. As Stuart attacked the Federal horse posted on the hills east of the village, the roar of cannon on his right, steadily drawing nearer, indicated that General Fitz Lee was forcing the enemy in that direction to fall back. Stuart was now in high spirits, and indulged in hearty laughter, although the enemy's shells were bursting around him.
"Ride back to General Lee," he said to an officer of his staff, "and tell him we are forcing the enemy back on the Rappahannock, and I think I hear Fitz Lee's guns toward the Rapidan."
The officer obeyed, and found General Lee at his headquarters, which consisted of one or two tents, with a battle-flag set up in front, on the highway, near Griffinsburg. He was conversing with General Ewell, and the contrast between the two soldiers was striking. Ewell was thin, cadaverous, and supported himself upon a crutch, for he had not yet recovered from the wound received at Manassas. General Lee, on the contrary, was erect, ruddy, robust, and exhibited indications of health and vigor in every detail of his person. When Stuart's message was delivered to him, he bowed with that grave courtesy which he exhibited alike toward the highest and the lowest soldier in his army, and said: "Thank you. Tell General Stuart to continue to press them back toward the river."
He then smiled, and added, with that accent of sedate humor which at times characterized him: "But tell him, too, to spare his horses--to spare his horses. It is not necessary to send so many messages."
He turned as he spoke to General Ewell, and, pointing to the officer who had come from Stuart, and another who had arrived just before him, said, with lurking humor: "I think these two young gentlemen make _eight_ messengers sent me by General Stuart!"
He then said to Ewell: "You may as well move on with your troops, I suppose, general;" and soon afterward the infantry began to advance.
Stuart was meanwhile engaged in an obstinate combat with the Federal cavalry near Brandy, in the immediate vicinity of Fleetwood Hill, the scene of the great fight in June. The stand made by the enemy was resolute, but the arrival of General Fitz Lee decided the event. That officer had crossed the Rapidan and driven General Buford before him. The result now was that, while Stuart was pressing the enemy in his front, General Buford came down on Stuart's rear, and Fitz Lee on the rear of Buford. The scene which ensued was a grand commingling of the tragic and serio-comic. Every thing was mingled in wild confusion, but the day remained with the Southern cavalry, who, at nightfall, had pressed their opponents back toward the river, which the Federal army crossed that night, blowing up the railroad bridge behind them.
Such was the first act of the bustling drama. At the approach of Lee, General Meade had vanished from Culpepper, and so well arranged was the whole movement, in spite of its rapidity, that scarce an empty box was left behind. Lee's aim to bring his adversary to battle south of the Rappahannock had thus failed; but the attempt was renewed by a continuation of the flanking movement toward Warrenton Springs, "with the design," Lee says, "of reaching the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, north of the river, and interrupting the retreat of the enemy." Unfortunately, however, for this project, which required of all things rapidity of movement, it was found necessary to remain nearly all day on the 11th near Culpepper Court-House, to supply the army with provisions. It was not until the 12th that the army again moved. Stuart preceded it, and after a brisk skirmish drove the enemy from Warrenton Springs--advancing in person in front of his column as it charged through the river and up the hill beyond, where a considerable body of Federal marksmen were put to flight. The cavalry then pressed on toward Warrenton, and the infantry, who had witnessed their prowess and cheered them heartily, followed on the same road. The race between Lee and General Meade was in full progress.
It was destined to become complicated, and an error committed by General Meade came very near exposing him to serious danger. It appears that, after retreating across the Rappahannock, the Federal commander began to entertain doubt whether the movement had not been hasty, and would not justly subject him to the charge of yielding to sudden panic. Influenced apparently by this sentiment, he now ordered three corps of the Federal army, with a division of cavalry, back to Culpepper; and this, the main body, accordingly crossed back, leaving but one corps north of the river. Such was now the very peculiar situation of the two armies. General Lee was moving steadily in the direction of Warrenton to cut off his adversary from Manassas, and that adversary was moving back into Culpepper to hunt up Lee there. The comedy of errors was soon terminated, but not so soon as it otherwise would have been but for a _ruse de guerre_ played by Generals Rosser and Young. General Rosser had been left by Stuart near Brandy, with about two hundred horsemen and one gun; and, when the three infantry corps and the cavalry division of General Meade moved forward from the river, they encountered this obstacle. Insignificant as was his force. General Rosser so manoeuvred it as to produce the impression that it was considerable; and, though forced, of course, to fall back, he did so fighting at every step. Assistance reached him just at dusk in the shape of a brigade of cavalry, from above the court-house under General Young, the same officer whose charge at the Fleetwood fight had had so important a bearing upon the result there. Young now formed line with his men dismounted, and, advancing with a confident air, opened fire upon the Federal army. The darkness proved friendly, and, taking advantage of it, General Young kindled fires along a front of more than a mile, ordered his band to play, and must have caused the enemy to doubt whether Lee was not still in large force near Culpepper Court-House. They accordingly went into camp to await the return of daylight, when at midnight a fast-riding courier came with orders from General Meade.
These orders were urgent, and directed the Federal troops to recross the river with all haste. General Lee, it was now ascertained, had left an insignificant force in Culpepper, and, with nearly his whole army, was moving rapidly toward Warrenton to cut off his adversary.