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Cold Harbour

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THESE were the moves of the following two weeks. Six days, from the day of the Bloody Angle to the eighteenth of May, the two armies stayed as they were, save for slight, shifting, wary movements, as of two opposed Indians in the brush. On the eighteenth, the blue attacked — again the salient. Ewell, with thirty guns, broke and scattered the assault. On the nineteenth, the "sidling" process recommenced. On this day Ewell came into contact with the Federal left, and in the engagement that ensued both sides lost heavily. The night of the twentieth, the Army of the Potomac, Hancock leading, started for the North Anna. The morning of the twenty-first, the Army of Northern Virginia struck, by the Telegraph Road, for the same stream. It had the inner line, and it got there first. At noon the twenty-second it began to cross the river. That night Lee and his men rested on the southern bank. Morning of the twenty-third showed on the opposite shore the head of the blue column.

The blue crossed at Jericho Ford, and by the Chesterfield Bridge, not without conflict and trouble. It won over, but over in two distinctly separated wings, and that which separated them was Robert Edward Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Here was now another V, the point now upon the river, unassailable, the sides entrenched, the blue army split in twain. Followed two days of unavailing attempts to find a way to crush the V. Then, on the night of the twenty-sixth, the blue, having fairly effectively hidden its intention, "sidled" again. The Army of the Potomac left the North Anna, taking the road for the Pamunkey which it crossed at Hanover. The V at once became a column and followed.

The two antagonists were now approaching old and famed war grounds. On the twenty-eighth, grey cavalry and blue cavalry — Sheridan against Fitz Lee and Wade Hampton — crashed together at Hawes's Shop. That night Army of the Potomac, Army of Northern Virginia, watched each the other's camp-fires on the banks of the Totopotomoy. In the morning Grant started for the Chickahominy, but when he reached Cold Harbour it was to find Lee between him and the river.

Two days the two foes rested. There had been giant marching through giant heat, constant watching, much fighting. The country that was difficult in the days of McClellan was not less so in the days of Grant. Marsh and swamp and thicket and hidden roads, and now all desolate from years of war. . . The first of June passed, the second of June passed, with skirmishes and engagements that once the country would have stood a-tiptoe to hear of. Now they were nothing. The third of June the battle of Cold Harbour crashed into history... .

The dawn came up, crowned with pale violets, majestical and still. Upon the old woods, the old marshes, hung a mist, cool and silvery. There came a sweet cry of birds in the grey tree-tops. Lee's long grey lines, concave to the foe, stretched from Alexander's Bridge on the Chickahominy to the upper Totopotomoy. On the low earthworks hung the gossamers, dewy bright. Grant held the Sydnor's Sawmill, Bethesda Church, and Old Cold Harbour line, roughly paralleling the other. But he was north of Lee; Lee was again between him and Richmond — Richmond so near now, so very near! Richmond was there before him — no room now for "swinging past," and the lion was there, too, in the path.

Grant attacked in column. Deep and narrow-fronted, he thrust against the grey earthworks like a giant mill-race rather than a wide ocean, like one solid catapult rather than a mailed fist at every door. Twenty deep, the Second and Sixth Corps poured into the depression that was the grey centre. Second and Sixth came on with a shout, and the grey answered with a shout and with every musket and cannon. Following the Second and Sixth the Eighteenth, phalanxed, dashed itself against a salient held by Kershaw. . . . The battle of Cold Harbour was the briefest, the direst! Death swung a scythe against the three corps. They were in the gulf of the grey, and Fate came upon them from three sides. In effect, it was all over in a very few minutes. . . . The shattered three corps fell back to what cover they could find. Here they fired ineffectively from this shelter and from that. Before them, between them and the Army of Northern Virginia, stretched the plain of their dead and dying, and both lay upon it like leaves in autumn. Orders came that the three corps should again attack. The more advanced commands obeyed by opening fire from behind what shelter they had found or could contrive, but there was no other movement. Put out a hand and the wind began to whistle and the air over that plain to grow dark with lead! Grant sent a third order. Corps of Hancock, Smith, and Wright to advance to the charge along the whole line. Corps commanders repeated the order to division commanders; division commanders repeated it to the brigadiers, but that was all. The three corps stood still. Statements, differing as to wording but tallying in meaning, travelled from grade to grade, back to Headquarters. "It is totally impossible, and the men know it. They are not to be blamed."

By noon even Grant, who rarely knew when he was beaten, knew that he was beaten here. The firing sank away. "The dead and dying lay in front of the Confederate lines in triangles, of which the apexes were the bravest men who came nearest to the breastworks under the withering, deadly fire." Dead and wounded and missing, ten thousand men in blue felt the full force of that hour. Stubborn to the end, it was two days before Grant would send a flag of truce and ask permission to bury his dead and gather the wounded who had not raved themselves to death. "Cold Harbour!" he said, much later in his life; "Cold Harbour is, I think, the only battle I ever fought that I would not fight over again under the circumstances!"

"In the opinion of a majority of its survivors," comments a Federal general, "the battle of Cold Harbour never should have been fought. It was the dreary, dismal, bloody, ineffective close of the Lieutenant-General's first campaign with the Army of the Potomac, and corresponded in all its essential features with what had preceded it. The wide and winding path through the tangled Wilderness and the pines of Spottsylvania, which that army had cut from the Rapidan to the Chickahominy, had been strewn with the bodies of thousands of brave men, the majority of them wearing the Union blue."

The Campaign of the Thirty Days was ended. Fifty-four thousand men was the loss of the blue; something over half that number the loss of the grey. Eighty thousand men lay dead, or writhing in war-hospitals, or sat bowed in war-prisons. From the Atlantic to the Far West the current of human being in these States was troubled. There grew a sickness of feeling. The sun seemed to warm less strongly and the moon to shine less calmly. As always in war, the best and bravest from the first were taking flight; many and many of the good and brave were left, but they began to be conscious of a loneliness. "All, all are gone —the old, familiar faces!" And over the land sounded the mourning of homes — the mourning of the mothers and daughters of men. In the South life sank a minor third. The chords resounded still, but the wrists that struck were growing weak. Largo . . . Largo.

For a week Army of Northern Virginia, Army of the Potomac, stood opposed on the old lines. They entrenched and entrenched, working by night; they made much and deadly use of sharpshooters, they engaged in artillery duels, in alarums and excursions. On both sides life in the trenches was very frightful. They were so crowded, and the sharpshooters would not let you sleep. The water was bad, and little of it, and on the grey side, at least, there was hunger. The sun in heaven burned like a fiery furnace. Far and wide, through the tangled country, lay the unburied bodies of men and horses. Sickness appeared, — malaria, dysentery. Hour after hour, day after day, you lay in the quivering heat, in the unshaded trench. Put out arm or head — some sharpshooter's finger pulled a trigger.

In these days there began in the Valley of Virginia a movement of vandalism under Hunter who had succeeded Sigel. On the fifth of June, Lee sent thither Breckinridge with a small force. On the twelfth, with his calm, reasoned audacity, acting under the shadow of Grant's continually reinforced army, he detached Jubal Early, sent him with Stonewall Jackson's old Second Corps, by way of Charlottesville to the old hunting-grounds of the Second Corps, to the Valley of Virginia.

The night of the twelfth of June, Grant lifted his tents and pushed to the eastward away from Richmond, then to the south, to Wilcox Landing below Malvern Hill, on the James. Here, where the river was seven hundred yards in width, fifty feet in depth, he built a very great bridge of boats, and here the Army of the Potomac crossed to the south side of the James. Grant turned his face toward Petersburg, twenty miles from Richmond.

The forces of the North were now where McClellan had wished to place them, using the great waterway of the Chesapeake and the James, something more than two years ago. They were in a position to mate. The Federal Government had worked the problem by the Rule of False.

At dawn of the thirteenth, Lee left the lines of Cold Harbour and, passing the Chickahominy, bivouacked that night between White Oak Swamp and Malvern Hill. The next day and the next the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the James by pontoon at Drewry's Bluff, and pressed south to the Appomattox and the old town of Petersburg. Here was Beauregard, and here, on the fifteenth, Butler, by Grant's orders, had launched an attack from Bermuda Hundred, heroically repulsed by the small grey force at Petersburg. Now on the sixteenth and the seventeenth came Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, entering the lines of Petersburg while drum and fife played "Dixie." Of the Army of the Potomac the Second and Ninth Corps were up and in position, the Fifth upon the road. Face to face again were Hector and Achilles, Army of Northern Virginia, Army of the Potomac, but the first again held the inner line. South of Richmond as north of Richmond, Grant found Lee between him and Richmond.

There was a garden behind the kinsman's house in Richmond. Cleave and Judith, coming from the house, found it empty this afternoon save for its roses and its birds. A high wall, ivy-covered, cloistered it from the street. Beneath the tulip tree was a bench and they sat themselves down here. He leaned his head back against the bark and closed his eyes. It was several days before the lifting of the warring pieces across the river. With the Second Corps he was on his way to the Valley. "I did not know," he said, "that I was so tired. I have not slept for two nights."

"Sleep now. I will sit here, just as quietly —"

He smiled. "It is very likely that I would do that, is it not ? " Bending his head, he took her hands and pressed his forehead upon them. " Judith — Judith — Judith —"

The birds sang, the roses bloomed. From the south came a dull booming, the cannon of Beauregard and of Butler, distant, continuous, like surf on breakers. The two paid it no especial attention.

Life had been set now for a long while to such an accompaniment. There was something at least as old as strife, and that was love; as old and as strong and as perpetually renewed.

The shadows lengthened on the grass. There came a sound of bugles blowing. The lovers turned and clung and kissed, then in the violet light their hands fell apart. Cleave rose. "They are singing, `Come away!' he said.

There were stars in a wreath now upon the collar of his coat. She touched them, smiling through tears. "General Cleave... . It comes late but it comes well.... Oh, my general, my general!"

"Little enough of the Stonewall Brigade remains," he said. "For the most part what was not killed and was not captured at Spottsylvania has been gathered into Terry's brigade, and goes, too, to the Valley. But the Sixty-fifth goes with me and the Golden Brigade. The Golden Brigade cares for me because I am Warwick Cary's kinsman."

"Not alone for that," she said, "but for that also . . . Oh, my father — my father!"

From the street outside the garden wall came a sound of marching feet. Above the ivy showed, passing, the bayonet points. It was sunset and the west was crimson. Swallows circled above the house and the gold cups of the tulip tree. The marching feet went on, and the gleaming bayonet points. There came a flag, half visible above the ivy, silken, powder-darkened, battle-scarred. Cleave raised his hand in salute. The flag went by, the sound of the marching feet continued. High in the tree, against the rosy sky, a bird with a lyric throat began to sing, piercing sweet and clear.

"Judith," said Cleave, "before I go, there is a thing I want to tell you. Two days ago I was riding by A. P. Hill's lines. There was a marshy place, on the edge of which the men were raising a breast-work. Judith, I am certain that I saw Stafford. He has done as I did — done what was and is the simple, the natural thing to do. Whether under his own name or another, he is there, heaping breast-works as a private soldier."

"He could not do as you did! You went clear and clean, and he—"

"I do not know that there is ever any sharp line of difference.

It is a matter of degree. I have come," said Cleave simply, "to understand myself less and other people more. I did not show that I recognized him, for I could not tell if he would wish it . . . I thought that you should know. It is not a time now for enmities."

" God knows that that is true," said Judith, weeping.

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