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.
IV. The Fight at Buckland
Lee rode forward to the field upon which General Hill had sustained his bloody repulse, and Hill--depressed and mortified at the mishap--endeavored to explain the _contretemps_ and vindicate himself from censure. Lee is said to have listened in silence, as they rode among the dead bodies, and to have at length replied, gravely and sadly: "Well, well, general, bury these poor men, and let us say no more about it."
He had issued orders that the troops should cease the pursuit, and riding on the next morning, with General Stuart, to the summit of a hill overlooking Broad Run, dismounted, and held a brief conversation with the commander of his cavalry, looking intently, as he spoke, in the direction of Manassas. His demeanor was that of a person who is far from pleased with the course of events, and the word _glum_ best describes his expression. The safe retreat of
General Meade, with the heavy blow struck by him in retiring, was indeed enough to account for this ill-humor. The campaign was altogether a failure, since General Meade's position at
Centreville was unassailable; and, if he were only driven therefrom, he had but to retire to the defences at
Washington. Lee accordingly gave Stuart directions to follow up the enemy in the direction of Centreville, and, ordering the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to be torn up back to the Rappahannock, put his infantry in motion, and marched back toward Culpepper.
We shall now briefly follow the movements of the cavalry. Stuart advanced to Manassas, following up the Federal rear, and hastening their retreat across
Bull Run beyond. He then left Fitz Lee's division near Manassas in the Federal front, and moving, with
Hampton's division, to the left toward Groveton, passed the Little Catharpin, proceeded thence through the beautiful autumn forest toward Frying Pan, and there found and attacked, with his command dismounted and acting as sharp-shooters, the Second Corps of the Federal army. This sudden appearance of Southern troops on the flank of Centreville, is said to have caused great excitement there, as it was not known that the force was not General Lee's army. The fact was soon apparent, however, that it was merely a cavalry attack. The Federal infantry advanced, whereupon Stuart retired; and the adventurous Southern horsemen moved back in the direction of Warrenton.
They were not to rejoin Lee's army, however, before a final conflict with the Federal cavalry; and the circumstances of this conflict were as dramatic and picturesque as the _ruse de guerre_ of Young in Culpepper, and the midnight adventure of Stuart near Auburn. The bold assault on the Second Corps seemed to have excited the ire of the Federal commander, and he promptly sent forward a considerable body of his cavalry, under General Kilpatrick, to pursue Stuart, and if possible come up with and defeat him.
Stuart was near the village of Buckland, on the road to Warrenton, when intelligence of the approach of the Federal cavalry reached him. The movement which followed was suggested by General Fitz Lee. He proposed that Stuart should retire toward Warrenton with Hampton's division, while he, with his own division, remained on the enemy's left flank. Then, at a given signal, Stuart was to face about; he, General Fitz Lee, would attack them in flank; when their rout would probably ensue. This plan was carried out to the letter. General Kilpatrick, who seems to have been confident of his ability to drive Stuart before him, pressed forward on the Warrenton road, closely following up his adversary, when the sudden boom of artillery from General Fitz Lee gave the signal. Stuart wheeled at the signal, and made a headlong charge upon his pursuers. Fitz Lee came in at the same moment and attacked them in flank; and the result was that General Kilpatrick's entire command was routed, and retreated in confusion, Stuart pursuing, as he wrote, "from within three miles of Warrenton to Buckland, the horses at full speed the whole distance." So terminated an incident afterward known among the troopers of Stuart by the jocose title of "The Buckland Races," and the Southern cavalry retired without further molestation behind the Rappahannock.
The cooeperation of General Imboden in the campaign should not be passed over. That officer, whose special duty had been to guard the gaps in the Blue Ridge, advanced from Berryville to Charlestown, attacked the Federal garrison at the latter place, drove them in disorder toward
Harper's Ferry, and carried back with him four or five hundred prisoners. The enemy followed him closely, and he was forced to fight them off at every step. He succeeded, however, in returning in safety, having performed more than the duty expected of him.
Lee was now behind the Rappahannock, and it remained to be seen what course General Meade would pursue--whether he would remain near Centreville, or strive to regain his lost ground.
All doubt was soon terminated by the approach of the Federal army, which, marching from Centreville on October 19th, and repairing the railroad as it advanced, reached the Rappahannock on the 7th of November. Lee's army at this time was in camp toward Culpepper Court-House, with advanced forces in front of Kelly's Ford and the railroad bridge. General Meade acted with vigor. On his arrival he promptly sent a force across at Kelly's Ford; the Southern troops occupying the rifle-pits there were driven off, with the loss of many prisoners; and an attack near the railroad bridge had still more unfortunate results for General Lee. A portion of Early's division had been posted in the abandoned Federal works, on the north bank at this point, and these were now attacked, and, after a fierce resistance, completely routed. Nearly the whole command was captured--the remnant barely escaping--and, the way having thus been cleared, General Meade threw his army across into Culpepper.
General Lee retired before him with a heavy heart and a deep melancholy, which, in spite of his great control over himself, was visible in his countenance. The infantry-fighting of the campaign had begun, and ended in disaster for him. In the thirty days he had lost at least two thousand men, and was back again in his old camps, having achieved absolutely nothing.