Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Famous Warriors:
 John Paul Jones


 Napoleon I


 Oliver Hazard Perry

 Von Moltke


 Robert Edward Lee

 William Tecumseh Sherman

 Ulysses Simpson Grant

 Read More Articles About: Famous Warriors

Robert Edward Lee

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Wolseley, the English general, regarded Robert E. Lee the greatest of American generals. Lee was neither an enthusiast or fanatic. He believed when he took up the sword in hostility against the Federal Government that he was doing his duty and he was willing to abide by the consequences, be what they might. He was a kind-hearted, dignified, and Christian gentleman. His bravery was unquestioned. From the very outset of his military career, which began under General Scott in the Mexican War, he displayed that zeal and intrepidity which won for him praise and promotion. His high character and self-sacrifice in the interest of the cause which he believed to be just, gained the sincere admiration of even his former foes, while the calm dignity with which he met adversity and submitted to the inevitable, aroused Northern sympathy and Southern pride. "In person," says McCabe, "General Lee was strikingly hand-some. He was tall in stature and possessed one of the most perfectly proportioned figures the writer ever saw. He was so perfectly proportioned and so graceful in motion that walking seemed to be no exertion to him. His features were handsome and his expression commanding, yet kind and winning. In his manner he was quiet and modest, but thoroughly self-possessed. His whole bearing seemed to me to merit the expression of 'antique heroism' applied to him by a foreign writer.

He was courteous and kind to all, and at the height of his power the humblest private in his army approached him with an absolute certainty of a cordial reception. He was devotedly loved by his friends, and personally he had no enemies. He was strong in his friendships, and slow to condemn any one. In the midst of the fierce passions of war, his moderation was most remarkable. He was absolutely free from bitterness of feeling, and always spoke of his adversaries with kindness and respect. He possessed the most perfect command over his temper, and it is said that he was never seen angry. An oath never passed his lips, and he used neither tobacco nor liquors." Lee made a long, desperate, and brilliant, but unequal, struggle and viewed as a master of defensive warfare, ranks second to no warrior in the world.

Robert Edward Lee descended from a race of states-men and warriors. The ancestry of the family, established through Richard Lee, an Englishman of the Cavalier stock, who emigrated to America and settled in Virginia while that colony still paid allegiance to Charles I of England, has been traced back to the fourteenth century to Johns de Lee. Richard Lee of the County of Shropshire, England, came to the new world as secretary of the Virginia colony and member of the King's privy council. His descendant, Robert E. Lee, was born January 19, 1807, at Stratford, Westmoreland County, Virginia. His father was Colonel Henry Lee, who won distinction during the Revolutionary War and who was subsequently Governor of Virginia. The latter was the son of Richard Lee, whose paternal grand-father, of the same name, was the founder of the family in America. Robert Lee's mother was Matilda Lee, a daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee, and a sister of Richard Henry Lee, who in 1776 offered in the Continental Congress the famous resolution which was the precursor to the Declaration of' Independence. Robert Lee was born in the old homestead which had served the family from generation to generation. His boyhood life was passed in Northern Neck, part of the time amid scenes of war in 1814. While the second war with England was in progress British ships were ravaging Virginia coast cities. He was at that time seven years old, and the stirring events happening so near his home left an indellible impression upon his young mind. At the age of eighteen he entered the military academy at West Point. He was a model student, and one of exemplary habits, as is attested by the fact that during his entire course of four years he never received a demerit for misconduct, an unusual thing in the annals of the institution. July 4, 1829, he graduated from the academy with highest honors, and became by brevet a second lieutenant in the corps of topographical engineers. For several years he was engaged with work in connection with the Atlantic coast defenses. When he had been three years in the service, the young lieutenant was married to Miss Mary Custis, the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis and granddaughter of Martha Washington. Seven children, three sons and four daughters, resulted from this union. In after years during the struggle between the North and South, the first and second of these sons, George Washington Custis and William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, were Major-Generals in the Confederate army, while the third son, Robert Edward Lee, Jr., entered the service as a private and was later promoted to a staff appointment. Soon after his marriage, young Lieutenant Lee was appointed assistant astronomer for the demarkation of the boundary line between Ohio and Michigan, and subsequently, in 1836, the war depart-, ment, pleased with the young officer's efficiency, bestowed upon him the rank of first lieutenant. Later he was appointed captain of engineers. In 1844 he became a member of the board of visitors at West Point, and the next year was selected as member of the board of engineers of the military academy. At the outbreak of the Mexican War, Captain Lee was confronted with the prospect of his initiation into the grim reality of war, and his first experience in the making of history, upon whose pages his name was destined to appear so conspicuously, under circumstances then undreamed of, came at Vera Cruz. Lee was assigned to the Central Army in the invasion of Mexico as chief engineer, which position he held under General Scott, throughout the whole campaign. He assumed his duties with the army March 10, 1847. On that day the work of investing the City of Vera Cruz was commenced, and it devolved upon Captain Lee to enact the important rôle of adviser to his superiors in the matter of engineering the siege which terminated in a few days with the surrender of the town and castle. That this speedy result was in a measure due to Lee's advice and instrumentality is acknowledged by General Scott in his memoirs, in which he says, "I am compelled to make special mention of Captain Lee. This officer greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Vera Cruz." During the days that followed, while the American army was marching against the City of Mexico, Lee gave further signal proof of his courage and skill by reconnoisances which proved of great value to his superiors. His vigilance and thorough attainments in military engineering enabled the American forces to avoid many dangerous traps set by their adversaries along the road to the capital, which had been strongly fortified. In recognition of his services, Scott had appointed Lee a member of his personal staff. While the movement toward the City of Mexico was in progress, a fierce battle was fought at Cerro Gordo, April 18th. The success that attended the Americans at this point was largely due to Leer who, with a reconnoitering party discovered a way through a deep and tortuous mountain passage by which light artillery batteries could be mounted on the heights of Cerro Gordo in such a manner as to place the forces of the enemy posted there at the mercy of Scott. The accomplishment of this feat and the resultant defeat of the defenders of the place was rewarded by brevetting him as a major. It is related that during one of his perilous scouting expeditions, Lee found himself within the ranks of the enemy. Unwittingly he had gone too far and had a narrow escape from being discovered. He concealed himself under a fallen tree and remained there while Mexican soldiers passed in dangerous proximity. He was compelled to remain in his hiding place until darkness fell when his safe escape became possible. Again at Churubusco and at Contreras he distinguished himself and as a consequence once more received pro-motion, this time being advanced to brevet lieutenant-colonel. Lee, conducting Ransom's Brigade, had been detached from Scott's forces to assist Cadwallader's Brigade in the attack on Contreras. At 3 o'clock in the morning of August 19th while the actual attack was being made by Cadwallader's troops from a point of vantage, Lee contrived an ingenious move which threw the enemy off its guard and enabled Cadwallader to effect the capture of the town in seventeen minutes. Lee led Ransom's Brigade across a deep ravine in front to distract the enemy, but after crossing, turned the intended feint to good effect by advancing within range of the enemy's works and pouring a destructive volley into the opposing ranks. After the battle at Molinos del Rey and Churubusco, preliminary to the siege of the City of Mexico, in which Lee conducted himself with characteristic gallantry, he came with Scott upon the field of Chapultepec. Here, while the city was being invested, he was wounded September 13th, but remained by the side of General Scott until, weak from loss of blood and exhausted from the loss of two nights' sleep at the batteries, he fainted and was carried to the rear. Referring to Lee's military science and bravery, which had contributed to the series of American victories, even to the fall of the capital city, General Scott wrote: "Lee is the greatest military genius in America."

On returning North Colonel Lee was appointed Superintendent of West Point Academy, September 1, 1852, and for the next three years devoted himself to the duties devolving upon him in his new capacity. April 1, 1855, to accept the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of the Second Cavalry Regiment, having received his commission with the full rank, Lee resigned from West Point. The same year his regiment was dispatched to Texas to put down Indian uprisings, and for the next four years Lee was engaged in dangerous and arduous contention with the hostile aborigines. He returned on leave of absence to Washington in 1859 in time to take command of the body of militia, which, on the 18th of October routed John Brown and his band of fellow conspirators from their stronghold at Harper's Ferry. This was the insignificant prelude to the Civil War.

Lee had returned to Texas, and was there in the early part of 1861, when the great crisis was approaching. He had carefully watched with varying emotions the political horoscope of the country, but had taken no part in its evolutions. Had Virginia remained with the Union Lee must have remained also, for next to his State his country was his dearest idol. But when Virginia seceded, though the Lieutenant-Generalship of the Federal army might have been his; though it cost the severing of ties with the Union army, cemented by twenty-five years of continuous service, marking a distinguished career when the test came he stood with his State. As he replied to Montgomery Blair, who was authorized to offer him command of the Federal army if he should stay with the Union : "Mr. Blair, I look upon secession as Anarchy. If I owned 4,000,000 slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native State?" When implored by his friend, General Scott, not to desert the North, he declared, "I am compelled to. I cannot consult my own feelings in this matter."

The resignation from the Federal service was forth-coming, April 20, 1861. It was written from Arlington, Va., whither Lee had gone, and accompanying it a letter to General Scott, in which he said : "Save in defense of my State I never desire again to draw my sword." The resignation was at once accepted, and three days later his commission as commander of all the forces in Virginia was confirmed by the State Legislature. General Lee immediately undertook the work of organizing and mobilizing the State volunteer troops.

Recruiting went on all over the State, and Lee soon found himself in command of a large force. The first engagement of the war was at Great Bethel, June 10, 1861. While of small importance, it still served to in-spire the people of the South with confidence and enthusiasm., for in this battle, 1,800 infantry and six pieces of artillery, poorly entrenched, defeated a body of 5,000 troops well supplied with artillery. It was the first test of strength between the combatants, and had success attended the Southern arms at the same ratio for one year, the result of the war would have been exactly opposite to what it was. One of the first moves of General Lee was to send troops to Western Virginia, where the enemy were mobilizing so rapidly along the Ohio River that, unless action was taken to counterbalance the movement, that portion of the State would speedily become irretrievably Federal. About 5,000 infantry, a few hundred cavalry, and several batteries of artillery were assembled at Beverley before July 1st, and the command was given to Brigadier-General R. S. Garnett, who had been serving as General Lee's Adjutant-General. Soon afterward this force was defeated by Federal troops under McClellan, and Garnett himself was killed. This disaster was preceded by smaller defeats, and followed by a series of others. On September 10th Brigadier-General Floyd was badly beaten at Carnifex Ferry by Rosecrans, who had succeeded McClellan in Western Virginia, and General Lee was ordered to take command of the army in that region. He took with him reinforcements which, added to Garnett's troops, gave him an army of 6,000 men. By August 10th Lee had reached the neighborhood of Cheat Mountain, and found that formidable position strongly fortified, and therefore determined to employ strategy in dislodging the enemy. Part of the Federal army held the post known as Elk Water, the rest held the pass at the second of the three summits of the mountain. Lee arranged for a combined attack upon the enemy at both these positions. The weather was extremely cold, and the difficulties of the troops in reaching the positions assigned to. them were great. Elk Water was surrounded, and Colonel Rust, who had gained a position in the rear of the fortifications on Cheat Mountain, was. to give the signal for the combined attack, but found the enemy's works stronger than had been reported, and abandoned his part of the general plan. Rust's failure rendered the attack on Elk Water useless, and Lee withdrew all his troops. For this he was severely criticised, but it was plain that the capture of Elk Water would have availed nothing, while Cheat Mountain was left to the Federals. Leaving a small force to watch the Federals, Lee hastened with 15,000 men to the relief of Floyd and Wise, against whom the combined forces of Rosecrans and Cox were advancing. The adversaries met at Sewell Mountain and remained confronting each other for nearly two weeks, each expecting the other to attack. Finally, October 6th, Rosecrans broke camp in the night and retreated westward. Owing to the terrible condition of the roads no attempt at pursuit was made. Three days before this, 4,000 Federals moved out from Cheat Mountain, and attacked General Henry R. Jackson, who had been left by Lee with 2,500 men to hold the Federals in check. So advantageously had General Lee posted this force that the Federals were repulsed with 26o killed and wounded, while the Confederates lost but 6 killed and 31 wounded. This conflict, known as the battle of Green Brier, closed the campaign in Western Virginia. Lee was now directed to proceed to Charleston and take command of the Coast Department. Fort Hatteras and the works in Port Royal Harbor had been captured by the Federals, and the interior was threatened. Without the aid of a navy it was impossible to dislodge the enemy from the positions they had occupied, but Lee during the winter fortified exposed points along the coast. How skillfully he performed this task was subsequently demonstrated by the futile efforts of the Federals to make any headway in this quarter. By the spring of 1862 the Confederate cause had suffered in so many directions that dissatisfaction against the military authorities was engendered. It was desired that the military affairs of the Confederacy should be no longer conducted by a civilian, but by a soldier, and in response to the general demand the Con-federate Congress fixed upon General Lee as the man for the place. President Davis procured the passage of an act creating the office of Commanding-General, and promptly appointed Lee to the position. Lee entered upon his new duties March 13, 1862. Davis' action created some surprise, but his course was amply vindicated by the increased vigor which Lee infused into all the military movements of the Confederacy. Lee retained this position but a few months, when he was called to a moire active field of usefulness than that of directing the movements of the armies at long range from Richmond. James D. McCabe, Jr., in his exhaustive work on the life and campaigns of Lee, holds that the victory of Manassas was the greatest misfortune that could have befallen the South, as it gave the Confederates a mistaken idea that the North had received a mortal wound. This delusion was disastrous in its effects, and owing to the general impression that the war was already practically won it became difficult to secure fresh volunteers, and soon defeats began to follow one another with alarming regularity. The Peninsular campaign had for three months, beginning with March, 1862, proven a series of disappointments to the Confederate authorities, when, in view of the critical condition of affairs, President Davis determined to place General Lee at the head of the army of Northern Virginia. Though still retaining his position as Commanding General, he was ordered to enter upon this new task without delay, which he did June 3, 1862. His first and most immediate care was to put the army in condition for an effective campaign. By June 20th he had brought the strength of the army of Northern Virginia up to 70,000 men. Lee was fully impressed with the danger of allowing McClellan to approach Richmond, and it was in accordance with this that he issued his orders for the campaign on June 24th. Jackson had succeeded in preventing a conjunction of the forces of McClellan and McDowell, and had rendered Shields and Fremont useless for the balance of the campaign, and Lee now determined to bring Jackson to the Chickahominy to be ready for the struggle in defense of the Southern capital. At the same time the report was caused to reach the Federals that Jackson was preparing for a new campaign, thus inducing the troops intended to reinforce McClellan to remain in Northern Virginia. While these preparations of the Southern forces were going on McClellan was eagerly watching for some sign which might disclose their intentions. He finally decided, on June 25th, to advance. The attack was made on the Confederate position on the Williamsburg road, but the assault was repulsed, and the Southern line remained unbroken. McClellan's army, in the face of the tactics employed by Lee, had gradually changed from an army of invasion, superior in numbers, to an army acting on the defensive and expecting attack. On June 27th the Federal line was located on a range of hills extending from Chickahominy to Cold Harbor, and behind Powhite Creek, a small marshy stream, running through a densely wooded country. The right rested in the rear of Cold Harbor, and was posted in the woods and clearings. The left rested on a wooded bluff rising abruptly from a deep ravine, leading to the Chickahominy. General Lee's great plan had now been perfected, each of the divisions, having occupied the positions assigned to them. At half past 2 o'clock the attack began at Cold Harbor, and soon the whole Confederate line, being advanced, assailed the Federal position in repeated fierce charges. Again and again they were beaten back, only to renew the struggle with greater ardor. As the afternoon was drawing to a close no perceptible impression had yet been made by the Confederates, and the indications were that the day was to be a victorious one for the Federals. At a critical juncture the army of Jackson arrived, and the attack was once more renewed along the whole line. Without going into details of the savage conflict which now ensued, the key point of the enemy's line was finally broken by Hood's brigade, upon which General Lee threw forward his entire force, and swept the enemy with irresistible fury to the Chickahominy. Darkness was already falling when the Confederates halted on the ground they had so gallantly captured. That night General Lee sent the news of the victory to President Davis, and concluded with the words : "We sleep on the field, and shall renew the contest in the morning." The losses on both sides had been heavy. According to the best reports the Union forces lost nearly 7,000 men, and the Southern army about 8,000. The following day the Federal army began a retreat, with Confederate divisions in pursuit. On June 30th, during the pursuit, General Lee, with Longstreet's division, fought a sharp battle on Frazier's farm, which resulted in another victory for the Con-federates, who captured many prisoners, fourteen pieces of artillery, and several stands of small arms. It was now General Lee's desire to bring on a general battle with McClellan, and July 1st found the entire Confederate army encamped on the battlefield of Frazier's farm. It was no longer possible to prevent McClellan from reaching the James River, for the advance guard was already there; the artillery and baggage trains were in the rear of Malvern Hill, and communication had been established with the gunboats. The Federal army was concentrated in a strong position, with the left and center on Malvern Hill. In front of this position was open ground, varying in width from a quarter to half a mile. Advancing to the attack, and before reaching this open ground, the Confederates had to traverse a wooded and swampy country, upon which the Federal batteries and the gunboats from the river kept up an incessant fire. It was near the close of the afternoon before the entire Confederate line was formed for the attack. This was one of the most fiercely contested battles of the war, and fortune seemed to favor first one side and then the other, until night mercifully descended and stopped the slaughter. By morning McClellan had withdrawn his forces, and was on the road to Harrison's landing and Westover. The Confederate loss at Malvern Hill was 5,000, and that of the Federals is said to have been even greater. General Lee at once dispatched the cavalry in pursuit of McClellan, and the gallant General Stuart pressed vigorously upon the enemy's rear. Skirmishes were frequent, and a number of prisoners were captured. For several days each side maneuvered in the expectation of another battle, until July 8th, when General Lee decided to return to the vicinity of Richmond. Practically, the campaign was a success for the South. The siege of Richmond had been raised, and the enemy driven from the strong positions they had occupied. During this campaign 19,533 men were killed, wounded, or disappeared. McClellan reported the Federal loss at 1,582 killed, 7,709 wounded, and 5,958 missing. In an eloquent address Lee thanked his troops for their heroic conduct in the Peninsular campaign. In order to keep McClellan stationary, or if possible to cause him to withdraw, Lee sent forty-three guns to Coggin's Point, opposite Harrison's landing, and the expedition reached its place late on the night of July 21st. The Federal shipping lay within a mile of the Southern shore, and the glimmering lights on the ships and on the shore, where the Federal camp lay in profound slumber, offered excellent marks for the Con-federate gunners. The bombardment began at mid-night. The fire was returned by the gunboats, and the duel continued until the Confederates had exhausted their ammunition, when they withdrew. The next day McClellan sent a force across the river and occupied Cog-gin's Point. By August 5th they again occupied Malvern, and General Lee, with the divisions of Longstreet and McLaws, and that of Ripley, at once moved against the intrepid foe. After some skirmishing, McClellan again withdrew. The evacuation of Harrison's landing was commenced August 16th, and was finished two days later. Satisfied that McClellan was going for good, General Lee marched upon the Rapidan.

At this time General Pope had just taken charge of the newly created Federal army of Virginia, and among the many general orders issued by him, he says in one of them, "I have come from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary, whose policy has been attack and not defence." Yet within a few weeks General Lee compelled the boastful Pope to perform the very act which, according to his proclamation, was so repugnant to him. Pope was sadly beaten at Cedar Run by Jackson's army August 8th, and eight days later Lee arrived at Gordonsville and joined General Longstreet. The army at once began an advance on the Rapidan. Lee personally made a reconnoissance of the enemy's lines, and decided to lose no time in attacking. But Pope became alarmed, and sought safety beyond the Rappahannock. Under Lee's direction, Jackson and Stuart continued to harry his forces and seize his wagon trains. On August 30th the second battle of Manassas was fought, and proved one of Lee's most signal victories.

The last battle of Lee's campaign in Northern Virginia was the conflict of Ox Hill, near Germantown, on September 1st. The Federal army had taken up a strong position, but when the attack came at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, in the midst of a shower, the resistless charges of the Confederates could not be withstood, and after withdrawing that night, Pope, on the following day, re-treated with his whole army to Alexandria and thence to Washington. The Confederate loss in this campaign from the Rappahannock to the Potomac was, in all branches of the army; 9,112. The Federal losses, according to McCabe, exceeded 30,000, including eight generals, and over 2,000 prisoners.. This was the end of a brilliant campaign, worthy in every respect of the illustrious soldier who conducted it. Lee now determined to invade Maryland. There were many indications that Maryland would have joined in the rebellion had not the strong hand of the Federal Government quickly disarmed the State. By September 7th the entire army had crossed the Potomac, and found lodgment in the enemy's country, and on the same day arrived at Frederick. The army was received as a host of friends and in return the citizens were treated with the greatest consideration by. the soldiers. Lee issued a proclamation, offering to help the State throw off the yoke of the Federal Government, and also opened recruiting offices. Results were not, however, flattering. September 10th General Jack-son was detached by Lee to capture Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg, a task which was successfully carried out. It was not Lee's plan in entering Maryland to march upon either Baltimore or Washington, but to draw McClellan away to the Cumberland Valley. His plan was, in part, successful. The army of McClellan and Pope was consolidated under McClellan, and he started from Washington, September 5th, with 87,000 men. On the loth Lee left Frederick, passed South Mountain, and marched toward Boonsboro. Two days later McClellan entered Frederick, drove out the Confederate cavalry, which had been left there to watch the enemy, and on the following day had the good luck to find the confidential order of the campaign, issued by Lee to D. H. Hill. The document had in some manner been lost, and had been picked up and turned over to McClellan, to whom it was of inestimable value, giving him as it did the greatest advantage one commander can have over another that of accurately knowing the plans of the enemy. McClellan's first move was to attack Hill's division at South Mountain, at the same time being able, owing to his knowledge of Lee's plan, to move against and defeat other detachments of the Confederates. When South Mountain became untenable after a battle, which involved heavy losses on both sides, the troops hastened to join Lee at Sharpsburg, where he was now concentrating his army. McClellan advanced on Sharpsburg, and found the Confederates in position on the west bank of Antietam Creek. Lee's army composed at this time about 33,000 men, with which he was to oppose the recently equipped army of over 8o,000 of the enemy.

The battle began at 4 o'clock on the afternoon of September 16th, continued until dark, and was resumed with greater vigor the following morning. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon the Federal forces had broken the Con-federate center and crossed the creek, when the sudden arrival of A. P. Hill's division turned the scale, forced back the troops of McClellan and recovered the lost ground, so that the day closed as it had begun, except for over 20,000 killed and wounded soldiers scattered over the field, of which the Confederates had lost about 8,000. During the following day both armies remained inactive, Lee not being strong enough to, assume the offensive, and McClellan waiting for fresh troops, which were on the way from Washington. On the night of the 18th, having nothing to gain by remaining, Lee decided to retire into Virginia. The crossing of the Potomac was made by the entire army without mishap. A correspondent of the New York Tribune expressed the disappointment of McClellan over the masterly retreat which Lee had effected as follows : "He leaves us the debris of his late camps, two disabled pieces of artillery, a few hundred stragglers, 2,000 wounded, and as many unburied dead. Not a sound field-piece, caisson, ambulance, or wagon; not a tent, box of stores, or a pound of ammunition. He takes with him the supplies gathered in Maryland, and the rich spoils of Harper's Ferry." General Porter was sent in pursuit of the Confederates, but succeeded only in meeting a small force under Pendleton, which he scattered, capturing four pieces of artillery. When Lee learned of it he sent A. P. Hill back with a division, and on the 20th drove the Federals into the river, almost annihilating Porter's command. McClellan remained north of the Potomac, and Lee with-drew to the vicinity of Winchester. During the several weeks of rest which followed McClellan prepared for another attempt against the Southern capital. Lee had also reorganized his army, and had received reinforcements to the number of 30,000, when hostilities again opened in October. The army of McClellan now numbered 1 10,000 men. McClellan hesitated whether to move directly upon Lee by way of the Shenandoah Valley or to enter Virginia east of the Blue Ridge, and endeavor to place his great force between Lee and Richmond. He finally decided upon the latter course. As soon as McClellan set out on this project, Lee put his army in motion. On November 7th McClellan was suddenly, through political animosity, removed from command, and the army of the Potomac was given to Burn-side. The Federal army was at this time at Warrentown, and on November 15th Burnside began the march on Fredericksburg. By the 20th the entire army was before the town, but Lee who had early surmised the plans of the enemy, had reinforced the town, and with his whole army occupied the heights back of the city. Burnside's plan was to cross the Rappahannock for the attack on Fredericksburg on five pontoon bridges. The work of building the floating bridge was commenced after mid-night December 11th. It was detected and stopped by Southern sharpshooters. Although there were no Con-federate troops in Fredericksburg itself, Burnside now began to bombard the town across the river, in spite of the fact that he had given no notice and that it was filled with women and children. On the 13th, having gotten some regiments across the river in boats, the bridges were completed and the attack on the Confederate positions began. From noon until dark the battle raged, and six desperate assaults were made upon the heights, but with-out success. The entire Federal army was employed in the assaults, while but 25,000 of Lee's troops were engaged, the balance of the army being spectators. The casualties of that terrible day were: Federal losses, 12,321 killed, wounded, or missing; Confederate losses were 4,201 killed, and a few prisoners. On the night of the 15th, during a storm, Burnside recrossed the river and retired, having failed in his effort against Fredericksburg. Soon after this Lee's army went into winter quarters along the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg to Port Royal. January 19th Burnside made another attempt upon the army around Fredericksburg. A violent storm and the formidable preparations made by Lee to receive him, caused Burnside to abandon the plan. March 30, 1863, Lee announced to the Government that the spring campaign had opened, and that he might have the army on the move at any day. Hooker had now succeeded Burnside in command of the army of the Potomac. Lee was convinced that Hooker would attack him as soon as the roads became passable. This danger found him in a weak condition, for Longstreet, with 24,000 men, had been taken from him and sent south of the James River, leaving Lee less than 50,000 men. He urgently demanded reinforcements or the return of Longstreet, but was not heeded. Lee made the best dispositions possible, and waited for the enemy. On the night of April 30th, when nearing the enemy's lines, Hooker was in high spirits, and exclaimed in talking with his officers "The Rebel army is now the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac. They may as well pack up their haversacks and make for Richmond. I shall be after them." Just beyond Chancellorsville was a ridge of considerable value to either army, owing to its elevation. On the morning of May 1st, Hooker at-tempted to occupy this ridge, which was defended by a weak Confederate force. He was all but victorious when General Jackson, with several brigades, arrived and saved the day. Hooker retired to Chancellorsville, and General Lee immediately decided to attack him. This great battle, in which the gallant General Jackson received his death-wounds was fought May 2d and 3d, and at 10 o'clock on the latter date the Confederate flag floated over Chancellorsville. Hooker soon after vanished with his army as had his predecessors. While the army of Northern Virginia had thus been successful, the Confederate armies in the West and Southwest had been steadily beaten. Lee at this juncture again. prepared to invade the North. The movement began in June, and the first clash came June 9th at Beverley's ford, and simultaneously at Kelley's ford. In both the Confederates were successful. Having crossed the Potomac, Lee arrived June 29th at Middleton, only to learn that the Federal army was about to move over the mountains to assail his communications. This necessitated new dispositions, which brought about the wonderful and sanguinary battle of Gettysburg, July 1st, 2d, and 3d, and was the only real disaster that had thus far overtaken Lee's army. The Confederates lost 20,000, and the Federals 23,000. On the night of July 4th Lee began to retreat. July 7th his army was on the banks of the swollen Potomac. He was compelled to wait until the 13th, when the river was fordable. Having retired to Culpeper, Lee having no hope of being able to resume operations during the fall, granted furloughs on an extensive scale, and the withdrawal of Longstreet's corps for duty in Tennessee left the army in September in a defensive state. As Meade's army advanced into Northern Virginia, Lee took up a strong position on the Rapidan. Skirmishes and minor combats were of daily occurrence, but Lee skillfully avoided a general battle with Meade, his forces being too small to give any hope of success. He went into winter quarters behind the Rapidan, the right wing resting on Morton's ford, and the left was strongly intrenched along the left bank of Mine Run Creek. The lower fords of the Rapidan were left uncovered. On learning this Meade determined to make another effort to destroy Lee and his army. An examination of Lee's lines, however, convinced him that they were impregnable, and the effort was abandoned. The army remained in winter quarters until the opening of the momentous campaign of 1864, which was to decide the great struggle. Longstreet's corps returned May 1st, but even including this, Lee's army numbered less than 50,000 men, and the facts that he could secure no reinforcements and would doubtless soon be called upon to confront the great army of General Grant, who had now been given full command of the Federal armies, caused the Southern Commander no little anxiety. It was evident that the concluding struggle of the war would be made in Virginia. The first great battle of the campaign was that of the Wilderness, the story of which, together with the other battles of this memorable campaign, is told in the narrative of Grant. Through all of the obstacles and vicissitudes that beset him, Lee patiently and valiantly held on, although poorly supported during much of the time by those whose cause he fought. New-year's day of 1865 witnessed a sad and pitiful spectacle in the devoted army of General Lee. On every hand he was threatened with ruin, and with him the cause of the South. Food was scarce, the army was literally starving, and disease and death lurked every-where. The last effort to rally the waning confidence of the people was the elevation of Lee to Commander-in-Chief of all the armies of the Confederacy. Lee was practically the only man in the South in whom the populace had not lost faith. But the time for both hope and faith was passing. Grant was daily drawing more and more closely the coils which he had cast about the South. The surrender of Richmond and Petersburg necessarily served as a prelude to the surrender of Lee. Retreating after the fall of Richmond, which was evacuated April 2d, after the desperate fighting and the great sacrifice of blood that had been made to save it, Lee was pursued and assailed from every side; he was finally completely hemmed in at Farmville, April 7th, when Grant at once opened negotiations for the surrender of the Confederate army. It was effected April 9th, when Lee signed the final agreement at the village of Appomattox Court House. This was the end of the war. Peace was restored, Lee, the last mainstay of the Southern cause, had been vanquished, but he had fought valiantly, and in accordance with his conscience. He maintained to the last moment that he was still capable of resisting, but surrendered in the interest of peace.

After the surrender Lee remained quietly at his home in Richmond, where he was visited by thousands, who called to express their admiration of his abilities as a warrior. Federal officers passing North after the war called on him to shake his hand, and they were received with dignified kindness. On October 12, 1870, at Lexington, General Lee died after a brief illness, which came upon him suddenly in the form of nervous prostration. Not only the South, but the whole nation mourned his death, for his ability and worth was everywhere recognized,

Home | More Articles | Email: