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
LEE'S LAST CAMPAIGNS AND LAST DAYS.
X. End of the Campaign of 1864
Throughout the months of August and September, Lee continued to be attacked at various points along his entire front, but succeeded in repulsing every assault. General Grant's design may be said, in general terms, to have been a steady extension of his left toward the Confederate communications west of Petersburg, while taking the chances, by attacks north of James River, to break through in that quarter and seize upon Richmond. It is probable that his hopes of effecting the last-mentioned object were small; but operations in that direction promised the more probable result of causing Lee to weaken his right, and thus uncover the Southside Railroad.
An indecisive attack on the north of James River was followed, toward the end of August, by a heavy advance, to seize upon the Weldon Railroad near Petersburg. In this General Grant succeeded, an event clearly foreseen by Lee, who had long before informed the authorities that he could not hold this road. General Grant followed up this success by sending heavy forces to seize Reams's Station, on the same road, farther south, and afterward to destroy it to Hicksford--which, however, effected less favorable results, Lee meeting and defeating both forces after obstinate engagements, in which the Federal troops lost heavily, and were compelled to retreat.
These varying successes did not, however, materially affect the general result. The Federal left gradually reached farther and farther westward, until finally it had passed the Vaughan, Squirrel Level, and other roads, running south-westward from Petersburg, and in October was established on the left bank of Hatcher's Run, which unites with Gravelly Run to form the Rowanty. It was now obvious that a further extension of the Federal left would probably enable General Grant to seize upon the Southside Railroad. An energetic attempt was speedily made by him to effect this important object, to which it is said he attached great importance from its anticipated bearing on the approaching presidential election.
On the 27th of October a heavy column was thrown across Hatcher's Run, in the vicinity of Burgess's Mill, on the Boydton Road, and an obstinate attack was made on Lee's lines there with the view of breaking through to the Southside Road. In this, however, General Grant did not succeed. His column was met in front and flank by
Generals Hampton--who here lost his brave son, Preston--and W.H.F. Lee, with dismounted sharp-shooters; infantry was hastened to the threatened point by General Lee, and, after an obstinate struggle, the Federal force was driven back. General Lee reporting that General Mahone charged and "broke three lines of battle."
[Footnote 1: _Dispatch of Lee, October_ 28, 1864.--It was the habit of General Lee, throughout the last campaign of the war, to send to Richmond, from time to time, brief dispatches announcing whatever occurred along the lines; and these, in the absence of official reports of these occurrences on the Confederate side, are valuable records of the progress of affairs. These brief summaries are reliable from the absence of all exaggeration, but cannot be depended upon by the historian, for a very singular reason, namely, that almost invariably the Confederate successes are understated. On the present occasion, the Federal loss in prisoners near Burgess's Mill and east of Richmond--where General Grant had attacked at the same time to effect a diversion--are put down by General Lee at eight hundred, whereas thirteen hundred and sixty-five were received at Richmond.
Lee's dispatch of October 28th is here given, as a specimen of these brief military reports.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
_October_ 28, 1864.
_Hon. Secretary of War_:
General Hill reports that the attack of General Heth upon the enemy on the Boydton Plank-road, mentioned in my dispatch last evening, was made by three brigades under General Mahone in front, and
General Hampton in the rear. Mahone captured four hundred prisoners, three stand of colors, and six pieces of artillery. The latter could not be brought off, the enemy having possession of the bridge.
In the attack subsequently made by the enemy General Mahone broke three lines of battle, and during the night the enemy retreated from the Boydton Road, leaving his wounded and more than two hundred and fifty dead on the field.
About nine o'clock P.M. a small force assaulted and took possession of our works on the Baxter Road, in front of Petersburg, but were soon driven out.
On the Williamsburg Road General Field captured upward of four hundred prisoners and seven stand of colors. The enemy left a number of dead in front of our works, and to-day retreated to his former position.
With this repulse of the Federal forces terminated active operations of importance for the year; and but one other attempt was made, during the winter, to gain ground on the left. This took place early in February, and resulted in failure like the former--the Confederates losing, however, the brave General John Pegram.
The presidential election at the North had been decided in favor of
Mr. Lincoln--General McClellan and Mr. Pendleton, the supposed advocates of peace, suffering defeat. The significance of this fact was unmistakable. It was now seen that unless the Confederates fought their way to independence, there was no hope of a favorable termination of the war, and this conclusion was courageously faced by General Lee. The outlook for the coming year was far from encouraging; the resources of the Confederacy were steadily being reduced; her coasts were blockaded; her armies were diminishing; discouragement seemed slowly to be invading every heart--but, in the midst of this general foreboding, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia retained an august composure; and, conversing with one of the Southern Senators, said, "For myself, I intend to die sword in hand."
That his sense of duty did not afterward permit him to do so, was perhaps one of the bitterest pangs of his whole life.