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.
III. A Race between Two Armies
The game of hide-and-seek--to change the figure--was now in full progress, and nothing more dramatic could be conceived of than the relative positions of the two armies.
At midnight, on Monday, October 12th, Lee's army was near Warrenton Springs, ready to advance in the morning upon Warrenton, while three of the four corps under
General Meade were half-way between the Rappahannock and Culpepper Court-House, expecting battle there. Thus a choice of two courses was presented to the Federal commander: to order back his main force, and rapidly retreat toward Manassas, or move the Fourth Corps to support it, and place his whole army directly in Lee's rear. The occasion demanded instant decision. Every hour now counted. But, unfortunately for General Meade, he was still in the dark as to the actual amount of Lee's force in Culpepper. The movement toward Warrenton might be a mere _ruse_. The great master of the art of war to whom he was opposed might have laid this trap for him--have counted upon his falling into the snare--and, while a portion of the Southern force was engaged in Culpepper, might design an attack with the rest upon the Federal right flank or rear. In fact, the situation of affairs was so anomalous and puzzling that Lee might design almost any thing, and succeed in crushing his adversary.
The real state of the case was, that Lee designed nothing of this description, having had no intimation whatever of General Meade's new movement back toward Culpepper. He was advancing toward Warrenton, under the impression that his adversary was retreating, and aimed to come up with him somewhere near that place and bring him to battle. Upon this theory his opponent now acted by promptly ordering back his three corps to the north bank of the Rappahannock. They began to march soon after midnight; recrossed the river near the railroad; and on the morning of the 13th hastened forward by rapid marches to pass the dangerous point near Warrenton, toward which Lee was also moving with his infantry.
In this race every advantage seemed to be on the side of Lee. The three Federal corps had fully twice as far to march as the Southern forces. Lee was concentrating near Warrenton, while they were far in the rear; and, if the Confederates moved with only half the rapidity of their adversaries, they were certain to intercept them, and compel them either to surrender or cut their way through.
These comments--tedious, perhaps--are necessary to the comprehension of the singular "situation." We proceed now with the narrative. Stuart had pushed on past Warrenton with his cavalry, toward the Orange Railroad, when, on the night of the 13th, he met with one of those adventures which were thickly strewed throughout his romantic career. He was near Auburn, just at nightfall, when, as his rear-guard closed up, information reached him from that quarter that the Federal army was passing directly in his rear. Nearly at the same moment intelligence arrived that another column of the enemy, consisting, like the first, of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, was moving across his front.
Stuart was now in an actual trap, and his situation was perilous in the extreme. He was enclosed between two moving walls of enemies, and, if discovered, his fate seemed sealed. But one course was left him: to preserve, if possible, complete silence in his command; to lie _perdu_ in the wood, and await the occurrence of some fortunate event to extricate him from his highly-embarrassing situation. He accordingly issued stringent orders to the men that no noise of any description should be made, and not a word be uttered; and there was little necessity to repeat this command. The troopers remained silent and motionless in the saddle throughout the night, ready at any instant to move at the order; and thus passed the long hours of darkness--the Southern horsemen as silent as phantoms; the Federal columns passing rapidly, with the roll of artillery-wheels, the tramp of cavalry-horses, and the shuffling sound of feet, on both sides of the command--the column moving in rear of Stuart being distant but two or three hundred yards.
This romantic incident was destined to terminate fortunately for Stuart, who, having dispatched scouts to steal through the Federal column, and announce his situation to General Lee, prepared to seize upon the first opportunity to release his command from its imminent peril. The opportunity came at dawn. The Federal rear, under General Caldwell, had bivouacked near, and had just kindled fires to cook their breakfast, when, from the valley beneath the hill on which the troops had halted, Stuart opened suddenly upon them with his Horse-Artillery, and, as he says in his report, knocked over coffee-pots and other utensils at the moment when the men least expected it. He then advanced his sharp-shooters and directed a rapid fire upon the disordered troops; and, under cover of this fire, wheeled to the left and emerged safely toward Warrenton. The army greeted him with cheers, and he was himself in the highest spirits. He had certainly good reason for this joy, for he had just grazed destruction.
As Stuart's artillery opened, the sound was taken up toward Warrenton, where Ewell, in obedience to Lee's orders, had attacked the Federal column. Nothing resulted, however, from this assault: General Meade had concentrated his army, and was hastening toward Manassas. All now depended again upon the celerity of Lee's movements in pursuit. He had lost many hours at Warrenton, where "another halt was made," he says, "to supply the troops with provisions." Thus, on the morning of the 14th he was as far from intercepting General Meade as before; and all now depended upon the movements of Hill, who, while Ewell moved toward Greenwich, had been sent by way of New Baltimore to come in on the Federal line of retreat at Bristoe Station, near Manassas. In spite, however, of his excellent soldiership and habitual promptness, Hill did not arrive in time. He made the detour prescribed by Lee, passed New Baltimore, and hastened on toward Bristoe, where, on approaching that point, he found only the rear-guard of the Federal army--the whole force, with this exception, having crossed Broad Run, and hastened on toward Manassas. Hill's arrival had thus been tardy: it would have been fortunate for him if he had not arrived at all. Seeing the Federal column under General Warren hastening along the railroad to pass Broad Run, he ordered a prompt attack, and Cooke's brigade led the charge. The result was unfortunate for the Confederates. General Warren, seeing his peril, had promptly disposed his line behind the railroad embankment at the spot, where, protected by this impromptu breastwork, the men rested their guns upon the iron rails and poured a destructive fire upon the Southerners rushing down the open slope in front. By this fire General Cooke was severely wounded and fell, and his brigade lost a considerable part of its numbers. Before a new attack could be made, General Warren hastily withdrew, carrying off with him in triumph a number of prisoners, and five pieces of artillery, captured on the banks of the run. Before his retreat could be again interrupted, he was safe on the opposite side of the stream, and lost no time in hurrying forward to join the main body, which was retreating on
General Meade had thus completely foiled his adversary. Lee had set out with the intention of bringing the Federal commander to battle; had not succeeded in doing so, owing to the rapidity of his retreat; had come up only with his rear-guard, under circumstances which seemed to seal the fate of that detached force, and the small rear-guard had repulsed him completely, capturing prisoners and artillery from him, and retiring in triumph. Such had been the issue of the campaign; all the success had been on the side of General Meade. He is said to have declared that "it was like pulling out his eye-teeth not to have had a fight;" but something resembling _bona-fide_ fighting had occurred on the banks of Broad Run, and the victory was clearly on the side of the Federal troops.
To turn to General Lee, it would be an interesting question to discuss whether he really desired to _intercept_ General Meade, if there were any data upon which to base a decision. The writer hazards the observation that it seems doubtful whether this was Lee's intention. He had a high opinion of General Meade, and is said to have declared of that commander, that he "gave him" (Lee) "as much trouble as any of them." Lee was thus opposed to a soldier whose ability he respected, and it appears doubtful whether he desired to move so rapidly as to expose his own communications to interruption by his adversary. This view seems to derive support from the apparently unnecessary delays at Culpepper Court-House and Warrenton. There was certainly no good reason why, under ordinary circumstances, an army so accustomed to rapid marches as the Army of Northern Virginia should not have been able to reach Warrenton from the neighborhood of Culpepper Court-House in less than _four days._ "We were _compelled_ to halt," Lee writes of the delay at Culpepper; but of that at Warrenton he simply says, "Another halt was made." Whether these views have, or have not foundation, the reader must judge. We shall aim, in a few pages, to conclude our account of this interesting campaign.