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THE SPRING OF 1863 FOUND THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC AND THE Army of Northern Virginia still facing each other across the Rappahannock. Hooker, “Fighting Joe,” had distinguished himself as a corps commander at the Antietam. He was not the next senior and had intrigued against his chief. He owed his present advancement to Lincoln, who knew him to be a good fighter and hoped the best of him as a commander. The obvious course, to restore McClellan again, was politically impossible and would have weakened the President’s authority. At the end of January, when he was appointed, Hooker found the Federal Army in a sorry plight, which his own previous discontent had fomented. More than three thousand officers and eighty thousand men were either deserters or absent with or without leave. Blows like Fredericksburg are hard to sustain. It was not till April that reorganisation was complete; reinforcements had poured in, and the absentees had returned from their Christmas at home. He was now at the head of over a hundred and thirty thousand men, rested and revived, splendidly equipped, and organised in six army corps. He formed besides a cavalry corps ten thousand strong, and he felt himself able to declare that he led “the finest army on the planet.”

In meeting the offensive, which he knew must come, Lee was gravely hampered by President Davis’s policy of the strict defensive and the dispersal of the Confederate troops to cover a number of places. The continued pressure of the war rendered the defence of the ports of Wilmington and Charleston in South Carolina of vital importance, though only blockade-runners could enter them. They and the railways connecting them with Richmond were threatened in the President’s eyes by the somewhat near presence of Federal forces which had been landed in March 1862 at New Bern, in North Carolina, and others which had advanced to Suffolk in the estuary of the James River and only seventy-five miles from Richmond. These parties, owing to the nature of the ground near the coast, had been dealt with by local forces. But Lee, also bearing in mind the difficulty of feeding his troops near the Rappahannock, sent first one, then a second and a third detachment, under Longstreet, to deal with them. It was one of Lee’s mistakes. Longstreet, who was always striving for an independent command, unnecessarily sat down to besiege Suffolk. Thus Lee’s nine divisions were reduced by three, and two of his four cavalry brigades were south of the James to gather forage. His infantry was less than half and his cavalry a quarter of the forces he had to encounter. He therefore abandoned the idea of an offensive into Pennsylvania by way of the Shenandoah valley, which he had had in mind, and awaited events.

Hooker’s preponderance enabled him to act with two armies. His plan was, first, a fortnight in advance of the main move, to send his cavalry round Lee’s left by the upper fords of the Rappahannock; then to turn Lee’s left with three corps, while the two others, under General John Sedgwick, crossed the river below Lee’s right at Fredericksburg. Even then he had another corps in reserve. He expected that Lee would be forced to abandon his lines and retreat, in which case he meant to follow him up by the direct road to Richmond. In the middle of April these movements began. The Federal cavalry corps, under a second-rate commander, General George Stoneman, was delayed by floods, and only crossed the Upper Rappahannock simultaneously with the right column of the main army.

At first all went well with Hooker. His three army corps, about seventy thousand strong, crossed the Rappahannock, and, on the morning of April 30, its tributary the Rapidan. As they marched eastward they took in flank and rear the fortified line which Lee had formed. The Confederates guarding United States Ford on the Rappahannock had to retire, and the reserve Federal corps passed over unmolested. By the night of the 30th a Federal army of ninety thousand men was concentrated at or near Chancellorsville behind all these defences. The Federal cavalry, in enormous, though not as it proved overwhelming strength, were already moving towards the Virginia Central Railway, forty-five miles in rear of Lee’s army, and one of his main lines of supply, which it was their mission not only to cut but to destroy. At the same time General Sedgwick, commanding the two corps opposite Fredericksburg, crossed the river and deployed to attack Jackson’s three divisions under General Jubal A. Early, which held the old trenches of the former battle.

Lee was thus taken in pincers by two armies, each capable of fighting a major battle with him, while at the same time his rear was ravaged and his communications assailed. The advance of either Federal Army would render his position untenable, and their junction or simultaneous action in a single battle must destroy him. Nothing more hopeless on the map than his position on the night of the 30th can be imagined, and it is this which raises the event which followed from a military to an historic level.

The great commander and his trusty lieutenant remained crouched but confident amid this tremendous encirclement. Beset upon both flanks by hostile armies which were for the moment disconnected, and unable to retreat without yielding vital positions, Lee naturally sought to hold off one assailant while striking at the other. Which to choose? Jackson was for falling upon Sedgwick and driving him into the river; but Lee knew that nothing less than the defeat of the main Union army would save him. Hooker had taken command in person of this mighty array, and Lee, as soon as he learned where he was, left only a division to delay Sedgwick and marched at once to attack him. Meanwhile “Jeb” Stuart manœuvred against Stoneman’s cavalry over a wide front to such good purpose that though he was outnumbered by four to one he was able to render perfect service to Lee, while the Federal cavalry General, Stoneman, played no part in the battle.


Chancellorsville stands on the edge of a wild region of forest and tangled scrub which still deserves the name of Wilderness. Roads or paths cut through this alone rendered movement possible. On May 1 Hooker, having brought up all his troops, ordered a general advance eastward along the Turnpike and the Plank road. His numerous cavalry were breaking up the Virginia Central Railway at Louisa Court House, thirty miles to the southward. He had three balloons and numerous signal stations, and even a field electric telegraph for communication with Sedgwick. But the mist of the morning lay in fog-banks over the valley of the Rappahannock. The balloons and signal stations could see nothing, and the electric telegraph broke down. As he advanced into the Wilderness he met large enemy forces, who began at once to attack him. These were Stonewall Jackson’s corps, handled with its general’s usual vigour. Now “Fighting Joe,” so famous as a subordinate, bent under the strain of supreme command. He had expected that his well-executed strategy would compel Lee to retreat. He now conceived himself about to be attacked by the whole Confederate Army. He turned at once and fell back upon the entrenched line he had already prudently prepared before Chancellorsville. It was late in the afternoon of the 1st when the advancing Confederates, emerging from the woodland, came within sight of this formidable position with its masses of troops. All the time Sedgwick, at Fredericksburg, receiving no orders by the electric telegraph, and, baffled by Early’s brave show on the fatal heights, already dyed with Union blood, although he heard the firing, made no effort. How did he know that Longstreet might not have arrived, as would indeed have been only proper? Thus the night set in.

Lee and Jackson sat together, and knew that they had one day before them. Unless they could beat Hooker at odds of two to one during May 2 they would be attacked front and rear by overwhelming forces. Frontal attack was impossible. Their only chance was to divide their small army and swing round Hooker’s right. Search had been made for a road or track for such a movement; and in the small hours one of Jackson’s staff officers reported that there was a private road used for hauling wood and ore to a furnace which would serve. Jackson at once proposed to lead his whole corps along it, and Lee after a moment’s reflection assented. This meant that Jackson with twenty-six thousand men would march round Hooker’s right to attack him, while Lee faced nearly eighty thousand Federals with seventeen thousand.

At 4 AM Jackson was on the march. It seemed vital that his movement should be unperceived, but an unexpected gap in the forest revealed about eight o’clock to the Federal troops at Hazel Grove a long column moving towards the right of their wide front. This exposure actually helped the Confederate manœuvre. Two divisions of General Daniel E. Sickles’s corps advanced after some delay to strike at these processionists and find out their purpose. They came into contact with Jackson’s rearguard, who fought stubbornly, and then vanished in the woods. The two divisions, now joined by Sickles himself, feeling they had a retreating enemy before them, pushed on hopefully, and Sickles thought he had cut the Confederate Army in twain. This was indeed true. Lee and Jackson were now separated, and only victory could reunite them. Had Hooker set his army in motion against Lee he must have driven Lee ever farther from Jackson and ever nearer to Sedgwick, who had now at length forced the heights of Fredericksburg, and, little more than eight miles away, was, with thirty thousand men, driving Early back upon Lee’s rear. But Hooker, convinced that he was safe within his fortifications and that his strategy was successful, made no move, while the hours slipped away. It was six o’clock in the evening before Jackson reached the end of his march. He had not only turned Hooker’s flank, but was actually in rear of his right-hand corps. He deployed into line, facing Lee about four miles away on the other side of the Federal Army. The surprise was complete. The soldiers of the Eleventh Federal Corps were eating their supper and playing cards behind their defences when suddenly there burst from the forest at their backs the Confederate line of battle. In one hour the Eleventh Corps, attacked by superior forces in this battle, although as a whole their army was two to one, was dashed into rout and ruin.

Night was falling, but Jackson saw supreme opportunity before him. He was within half a mile of the road leading to United States Ford, the sole line of retreat for Hooker’s whole army, and between him and this deadly thrust no organised force intervened. He selected the point which he must gain by night and hold to the death at dawn. The prize was nothing less than the destruction of the main Federal Army. They must either overwhelm him the next day or starve between the Wilderness and his cannon. All this he saw. He rode forward with a handful of officers along the Plank road to the skirmish line to see what he could of the ground. He had often risked his life in this way, and now the forfeit was claimed. As he returned, his own men, Carolinians proud to die at his command, mistaking in the darkness the small party for hostile cavalry, fired a volley. Three bullets pierced the General’s left arm and shoulder. He fell from his horse, and when, after an agonising passage, he reached the field hospital he was too much weakened by loss of blood to concentrate his mind. His staff officer, who was to lead A. P. Hill’s division to the vital point, had been killed by the same volley. Hill, on whom the command devolved, hastening forward after vainly questioning his swooning chief, was almost immediately himself wounded. It was some hours before Stuart, from the cavalry, could be brought to the scene. No one knew Jackson’s plan, and he was now unconscious. Thus on small agate points do the balances of the world turn.

Stuart fought a fine battle during the night, and on May 3, with wild shouts of “Remember Jackson!” the infuriated Confederates assaulted the Federal line. They drove it back. They captured Hazel Grove. They joined hands again with Lee. But the chance of the night was gone for ever. Hooker now had masses of men covering his line of retreat to the ford. He now thought of nothing but retreat. He did not even keep Lee occupied upon his front. He was morally beaten on the 2nd, and during the battle of the 3rd a solid shot hitting the pillar of a house by which he stood stunned him, which was perhaps a merciful stroke.

Lee now turned on Sedgwick, whose position south of the river was one of great peril. He had fought hard during the whole of the 3rd , and found himself on the 4th with the river at his back and only twenty thousand effective men, attacked by Lee, with at least twenty-five thousand. But the Confederate soldiers were exhausted by their superhuman exertions. Sedgwick, though beaten and mauled, managed to escape by his pontoons at Fredericksburg. Here he was soon joined by the Commander-in-Chief and the rest of the magnificent army which nine days before had seemed to have certain success in their path, but now stood baffled and humbled at their starting-point. They were still twice as numerous as their opponents. They had lost 17,000 men out of 130,000 and the Confederates 12,500 out of 60,000.

Chancellorsville was the finest battle which Lee and Jackson fought together. Their combination had become perfect. “Such an executive officer,” said Lee, “the sun never shone on. Straight as the needle to the pole, he advances to the execution of my purpose.” “I would follow General Lee blindfold” is a remark attributed to Jackson. Now all was over. “Could I have directed events,” wrote Lee, ascribing the glory to his stricken comrade, “I should have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.” Jackson lingered for a week. His arm was amputated. Pneumonia supervened. On the 10th he was told to prepare for death, to which he consented with surprise and fortitude. “Very good, very good; it is all right.” Finally, after some hours, quietly and clearly: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” His loss was a mortal blow to Lee and to the cause of the South.


Nevertheless in these months the scales of war seemed to turn against the Union. A wave of discouragement swept across the North. Desertion was rife in the Federal ranks. Conscription, called “the draft,” was violently resisted in many states. Many troops had to be withdrawn from the front to enforce the law. Many hundreds of lives were lost in New York City in the draft riots. Clement L. Vallandigham, the leader of the peace party, or “Copperheads” as they were called, after a particularly poisonous snake, declared in Congress, “You have not conquered the South; you never will. Money you have expended without limit, blood poured out like water. . . . Defeat, death, taxation, and sepulchres . . . these are your only trophies.” The legislatures of Indiana and Illinois threatened to acknowledge the Confederacy. “Everybody feels,” wrote Medill, the editor of the Chicago Tribune, and a close friend of the President’s, “that the war is drawing to a disastrous and disgraceful termination. Money cannot be supplied much longer to a beaten democracy and homesick army.” It was indeed the darkest hour. But the heart of Lincoln did not fail him.

Problems on the seas and across the ocean also perplexed and agitated the North. The small Confederate Navy was active and successful in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Atlantic coast. On the high seas Confederate commerce-raiders, built in Britain, were taking a heavy toll of Northern shipping. The most famous of them, the Alabama, had stolen out of the river Mersey in June 1862. She sailed under a false name, and in spite of the protests of the American Minister in London. After a glorious career, lasting eleven months, she was brought to bay by a Federal cruiser in the English Channel. A gallant engagement was fought off Cherbourg. It was witnessed by a number of French artists, one of whom, Manet, has left a remarkable painting of the scene. The Alabama was outgunned and sunk. The Federal Government pressed Britain hard for compensation for the damage done by the Southern raiders. Negotiations were long and disputatious. They were not concluded until six years after the end of the war, when Gladstone’s Government agreed to pay the United States fifteen million dollars.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1863 anxiety grew in Washington because of the building in the British yard which had launched the Alabama of two new ironclad Confederate warships. They were fitted with nine-inch rifled guns and formidable underwater rams, thus combining the offensive merits of the Merrimac and the Monitor. These ships were known as the Laird rams, after their builders. The American Minister bombarded the Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, with demands that the Laird rams must not be allowed to escape as the Alabama had done. Russell eventually realised that the construction of such vessels by a neutral would set a bad precedent which might work to Britain’s disadvantage in future wars. In September he ordered their seizure. Thus was closed the last of the war-time diplomatic crises between Britain and the Union.


The initiative in the field now passed to Lee, who resolved to carry out his long-planned invasion of Pennsylvania. But Vicksburg, on the Mississippi, was in dire straits, and unless Joseph E. Johnston could be largely reinforced its fall was imminent. A proposal was made to stand on the defensive in Virginia, to send Lee himself with Longstreet’s two divisions to the Mississippi, and other troops to Middle Tennessee to defeat the covering forces under Rosecrans south of Nashville and threaten the commercial cities of Louisville and Cincinnati, perhaps forcing Grant to abandon his campaign against Vicksburg. Lee refused point-blank to go. Squarely he put the issue before the Council of War: the risk had to be taken of losing Mississippi or Virginia. His view prevailed, and on May 26, three weeks after Chancellorsville, the invasion of Pennsylvania was sanctioned. The Army of Northern Virginia was reorganised in three corps of three divisions each, commanded by Longstreet, Richard S. Ewell, and A. P. Hill. Lee’s object in 1863, as in the previous year, was to force the Army of the Potomac to fight under conditions in which defeat would spell annihilation. In this he saw the sole hope of winning Southern independence.

The movement commenced on June 3. Longstreet concentrated his corps at Culpeper, and behind it the other two corps passed into the Shenandoah valley, marching straight for the Potomac. Longstreet meanwhile moved up on the east of the Blue Ridge with his front and flank screened by Stuart’s cavalry, eventually entering the valley behind the other two corps through the northern “Gaps.” On the 9th, before the movement was well under way, there was an indecisive cavalry battle at Brandy Station, in which the Federal cavalry, under their new commander, Alfred Pleasanton, regained their morale.

At first the campaign went well for Lee. Ewell on the 10th left Culpeper for the valley, and, marching with a speed worthy of “Stonewall” Jackson, cleared the Federal garrisons out of Winchester and Martinsburg, capturing four thousand prisoners and twenty-eight guns, and on the 15th was crossing the Potomac. He established his corps at Hagerstown, where it waited for a week, till the corps in the rear was ready to cross, and his cavalry brigade pushed on to Chambersburg, in Pennsylvania, to collect and send back supplies. On the 22nd he was ordered to advance farther into Pennsylvania and capture Harrisburg, a hundred miles north of Washington, if it “came within his means.”

On the 27th Ewell reached Carlisle, and his outposts next day were within four miles of Harrisburg. The other two Confederate corps were at Chambersburg. As far as Chambersburg Lee had been following the Cumberland valley, with his right flank shielded by the South Mountain range, and as yet he knew nothing of Hooker’s movements. He accepted Stuart’s plan of making a raid through the mountains and joining Ewell in Pennsylvania. Stuart, who started on the 25th, believed that Hooker was still in his encampments on the east side of the mountains, and expected to be able to ride through his camp areas and cross the Potomac near Leesburg. But Hooker had broken up his camps and was marching that same morning for the Potomac. Stuart had to make a third ride round the Federal rear, crossed the Potomac within twenty miles of Washington, failed to make contact with Ewell’s right division, and only rejoined Lee with his men and horses utterly exhausted on the afternoon of July 2. Thus for a whole week Lee had been deprived of the “eyes” of his army; and much had happened meanwhile.

As soon as Lee began his movement to the north Hooker proposed to march on Richmond. But Lincoln forbade him, and rightly pointed out that not Richmond but Lee’s army was his proper objective. In thus deciding the President did what Lee had expected. After crossing the Potomac Hooker made his headquarters near Frederick, where he covered Washington and threatened Lee’s line of communications. Halleck and Stanton had agreed after Chancellorsville that Hooker must not be in command of the army in the next battle. When therefore the General, denied the use of the Harpers Ferry garrison, tendered his resignation it was promptly accepted. Early in the morning of June 28 General George G. Meade, commander of the Fifth Corps, who was now appointed to the chief command, decided to move his whole army by forced marches northwards to the Susquehanna to prevent Lee from crossing that river, and at the same time to cover Baltimore and Washington. Meade was a safe, dogged commander, with no political affiliations. He could be relied upon to avoid acts of folly, and also anything brilliant. Expecting that Lee would come south from the Susquehanna to attack Baltimore, he now prepared to meet him on the line of Pipe Creek, ten miles beyond Westminster.

Lee had been greatly perplexed by Stuart’s failure to report, but, having implicit confidence in him, had concluded that Hooker must still be south of the Potomac. On learning the truth during the 28th he ordered a concentration at Cashtown, close to the eastern foot of South Mountain. He did not hurry, and “the march was conducted with a view to the comfort of the troops.” At the outset of the campaign he had been in agreement with Longstreet that the strategy should be offensive and the tactics defensive, and he had no intention of fighting a battle except under favourable conditions. But chance ruled otherwise.

On June 30 a brigade of Hill’s corps advanced eight miles from Cashtown to Gettysburg, partly to look for shoes, partly to reconnoitre a place through which Ewell’s corps might be moving next day. Gettysburg was found in the hands of some Federal cavalry, which had just entered. The Confederate brigade thereupon turned back without ascertaining the strength of the hostile force. Buford, the Federal cavalry commander, who bore the Christian names of Napoleon B., seems to have been the first man in either army to appreciate the strategical importance of Gettysburg, the meeting-place of some dozen roads from all points of the compass. He moved his division to the west of the town, where he found a strong position behind a stream, and called upon the commander of the First Corps to come to his aid with all speed. The First Corps was followed by the Eleventh Corps.

On July 1 severe fighting began with the leading Confederate troops, and presently Ewell, coming down from the north-east, struck in upon the Federal flank, driving the Eleventh Corps through Gettysburg to seek shelter on higher ground three miles southwards, well named Cemetery Ridge. On this first day of battle fifty thousand men had been engaged, and four Confederate divisions had defeated and seriously injured two Federal corps. It now became a race between Lee and Meade, who could concentrate his forces first. Neither Lee nor Meade wished to fight decisively at this moment or on this ground; but they were both drawn into the greatest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Lee could not extricate himself and his supply trains without fighting Meade’s army to a standstill, and Meade was equally committed to a field he thought ill-chosen.


Lee wished to open the second day of the battle with an attack by Ewell and Hill on Cemetery Ridge, which he rightly regarded as the key to the Federal position. He was deterred by their objections. Longstreet, when he arrived, argued at length for a manœuvre round Meade’s left to place Lee’s army between Meade and Washington. Such a movement in the absence of Stuart’s cavalry would certainly have been reckless, and it is not easy to see how Lee could have provisioned his army in such a position. Finally Lee formally ordered Longstreet to attack the Federal left at dawn. Longstreet who entirely disapproved of the rôle assigned to him, did not come into action till four in the afternoon. While he waited for an additional brigade two corps joined the Union Army. Lee, who imagined that the Federal left rested upon the Emmetsburg road, expected that Longstreet’s advance up this road would roll up the Federal line from left to right. But at this point the Federal corps commander, Sickles, had taken up an advanced position on his own authority, and his flank was not the end of the Federal line. When this was discovered Longstreet obstinately refused to depart from the strict letter of his orders, though he knew that Lee was not aware of the true position. All that he achieved after several hours’ fierce fighting was to force Sickles back to Meade’s main line. On this day the greater part of Hill’s corps took no part in the battle. Ewell, who was to have attacked the north end of the ridge as soon as he heard Longstreet’s guns, did not get into action till 6 PM. There were no signs of any co-ordination of attacks on the Confederate side on July 2. Although Lee had failed to make his will prevail, and the Confederate attacks had been unconnected, the losses of the Federal Army were terrible, and Meade at the Council of War that night was narrowly dissuaded from ordering a general retreat.

The third day began. Lee still bid high for victory. He resolved to launch fifteen thousand men, sustained by the fire of a hundred and twenty-five guns, against Meade’s left centre, at the point where one of Hill’s brigades had pierced the day before. Ewell’s corps would at the same time attack from the north, and if the assault under General George E. Pickett broke the Federal line the whole Confederate Army would fall on. Again the attack was ordered for the earliest possible hour. It was the Federals however who opened the third day by recapturing in the grey of the dawn some of the trenches vacated the previous evening, and after hard fighting drove the Confederates before noon entirely off Culp’s Hill. Exhausted by this, Ewell made no further movement. Longstreet was still arguing vehemently in favour of a wide turning movement round Meade’s left. The heavy losses which his corps had suffered on the 2nd made this more difficult than ever.

The morning passed in utter silence. It was not till one in the afternoon that the Confederates began the heaviest bombardment yet known. Longstreet, unable to rally himself to a plan he deemed disastrous, left it to the artillery commander, Alexander, to give the signal to Pickett. At half-past two the Confederate ammunition, dragged all the way from Richmond in tented wagons, was running short. “Come quick,” Alexander said to Pickett, “or my ammunition will not support you properly.” “General,” said Pickett to Longstreet, who stood sombre and mute, “shall I advance?” By an intense effort Longstreet bowed his head in assent. Pickett saluted and set forty-two regiments against the Union centre. We see to-day, upon this battlefield so piously preserved by North and South, and where many of the guns still stand in their firing stations, the bare, slight slopes up which this grand infantry charge was made. In splendid array, all their battle flags flying, the forlorn assault marched on. But, like the Old Guard on the evening of Waterloo, they faced odds and metal beyond the virtue of mortals. The Federal rifled artillery paused till they were within seven hundred yards; then they opened again with a roar and cut lanes in the steadfastly advancing ranks. On they went, without flinching or disorder; then the deadly sound, like tearing paper, as Lee once described it, rose under and presently above the cannonade. But Pickett’s division still drove forward, and at trench, stone wall, or rail fence closed with far larger numbers of men, who, if not so lively as themselves, were at least ready to die for their cause. All three brigadiers in Pickett’s division fell killed or mortally wounded. General L. A. Armistead with a few hundred men actually entered the Union centre, and the spot where he died with his hand on a captured cannon is to-day revered by the manhood of the United States.

But where were the reserves to carry through this superb effort? Where were the simultaneous attacks to grip and rock the entire front? Lee at Gettysburg no more than Napoleon at Waterloo could win dominance. The victorious stormers were killed or captured; the rest walked home across the corpses which encumbered the plain amid a remorseless artillery fire. Less than a third came back. Lee met them on his horse Traveller with the only explanation, which they would not accept, “It is all my fault.” Longstreet, in memoirs written long afterwards, has left on record a sentence which is his best defence: “As I rode back to the line of batteries, expecting an immediate counter-stroke, the shot and shell ploughed the ground around my horse, and an involuntary appeal went up that one of them would remove me from scenes of such awful responsibility.”

But there was no counter-stroke. The Battle of Gettysburg was at an end. Twenty-three thousand Federals and over twenty thousand Confederates had been smitten by lead or steel. As after the Antietam, Lee confronted his foe on the morrow and offered to fight again. But no one knew better that it was decisive. With every personal resource he gathered up his army. An immense wagon train of wounded were jolted, springless, over sixteen miles of crumpled road. “Carry me back to old Virginia.” “For God’s sake kill me.” On the night of the 4th Lee began his retreat. Meade let him go. The energy for pursuit had been expended in the battle. The Potomac was found in flood; Lee’s pontoon bridge had been partially destroyed by a raid from the city of Frederick. For a week the Confederates stood at bay behind entrenchments with their backs to an unfordable river. Longstreet would have stayed to court attack; but Lee measured the event. Meade did not appear till the 12th, and his attack was planned for the 14th. When that morning came, Lee, after a cruel night march, was safe on the other side of the river. He carried with him his wounded and his prisoners. He had lost only two guns, and the war.

The Washington Government were extremely discontented with Meade’s inactivity; and not without reason. Napoleon might have made Lee’s final attack, but he certainly would not have made Meade’s impotent pursuit. Lincoln promoted Meade only to the rank of Major-General for his good service at Gettysburg. Lee wended his way back by the Shenandoah valley to his old stations behind the Rappahannock and the Rapidan. The South had shot its bolt.

Up to a certain point the Gettysburg campaign was admirably conducted by Lee, and some of its objects were achieved; but the defeat with which it ended far more than counterbalanced these. The irreparable loss of twenty-eight thousand men in the whole operation out of an army of seventy-five thousand forbade any further attempts to win Southern independence by a victory on Northern soil. Lee believed that his own army was invincible, and after Chancellorsville he had begun to regard the Army of the Potomac almost with contempt. He failed to distinguish between bad troops and good troops badly led. It was not the army but its commander that had been beaten on the Rappahannock. It may well be that had Hooker been allowed to retain his command Lee might have defeated him a second time. Fortune, which had befriended him at Chancellorsville, now turned against him. Stuart’s long absence left him blind as to the enemy’s movements at the most critical stage of the campaign, and it was during his absence that he made the fatal mistake of moving to the east side of the mountains. Lee’s military genius did not shine. He was disconcerted by Stuart’s silence, he was “off his balance,” and his subordinates became conscious of this mood. Above all he had not Jackson at his side. Longstreet’s recalcitrance had ruined all chance of success at Gettysburg. On Longstreet the South laid the heavy blame.

There was no other battle in the East in 1863, and the armies were left for the winter facing each other on the Rapidan.


We must now turn to the West, where great battles were fought, and many fell. But since a decisive victory by Lee’s army would have enabled him to march where he pleased, and to hold New York and every great city of the Atlantic coast to ransom or surrender, this secondary though spacious theatre need not be precisely lighted. From the West, it is true, the eventual thrust came which split and devastated the South. But its importance in 1862 and 1863 lay chiefly in the advance of Grant to the supreme unified command of the Union armies. The objective was the clearance or barrage of the Mississippi. In April 1862 Admiral Farragut, a Southerner, who adhered to the Union, had become prominent at the head of the Federal Navy. In April, with a fleet of all kinds of vessels, partly armoured or naked, he had run past the forts guarding the approaches to New Orleans, the largest city and the commercial capital of the Confederacy, which fell next day. He had then continued the ascent of the river, and reached Vicksburg on May 18. Finding no Federal troops at hand to support him, he retired to run the batteries again on June 25, and join hands with the Federal flotilla at Memphis. It was therefore known by the end of 1862 that the Confederate batteries could not stop the Union ships. As for the torpedoes, a new word, of which there was then much talk, Farragut was to say, “Damn the torpedoes!” and be justified. Thenceforward the Union flotillas could move up and down the great river, through its entire course, by paying a toll. This was a substantial aid to the Federal Army on either bank. Here in the Mississippi valley was almost a separate war. The Western states of the Confederacy claimed a great measure of autonomy from Jefferson Davis and his Government at Richmond, while clamouring for its help. At Washington the Western theatre was viewed in much the same way as was the Eastern front by the Allied and associated Powers in the First World War. It was secondary, but also indispensable. It was not the path to victory, but unless it was pursued victory would be long delayed.

After the failure of the river expedition in December 1862 Grant reassembled his army on the right bank of the Mississippi. Vicksburg was still his first aim, but the floods of the Yazoo basin prevented at this season all operations except by water. Having by numerous feints deceived the Confederate General, Pemberton, who with a field army was defending Vicksburg, Grant successfully ferried forty-five thousand men across the Mississippi below the Grand Gulf batteries thirty-six miles down-stream from Vicksburg. He surprised and drove back Pemberton’s troops, and on May 3 established himself at Grand Gulf, in a safe position on the uplands, with his left flank protected by the wide Black River, and in touch with the Federal flotillas. Here he was joined four days later by his third corps, under Sherman. He now began a cautious movement towards Vicksburg and the railway which joined it to the town of Jackson. General Joseph E. Johnston, reinforced too late by President Davis, was hurried, ill though he was, to the scene. His only thought now was to extricate Pemberton’s army. He ordered that General to march at once to join him before Grant could interpose his three corps between them. Pemberton resolved to disobey this order. He conceived that a movement across Grant’s communications with Grand Gulf would compel a Federal retreat. He not only disobeyed, he miscalculated; for Grant, like McClellan before Richmond in 1862, with his command of the rivers, was not dependent upon any one particular base. Dropping his links with Grand Gulf, he pressed Johnston back with his right hand, and then turned on Pemberton in great superiority. After a considerable battle at Champion’s Hill, in which over six thousand men fell, Pemberton was driven back into Vicksburg. With the aid of the flotilla the Union General opened a new base north of the city, and after two attempts to storm its defences, one of which cost him four thousand men, commenced a regular siege. Large reinforcements presently raised his army to over seventy thousand men. Johnston, with twenty-four thousand, could do nothing to relieve Pemberton. Vicksburg was starved into surrender, and its Confederate garrison and field army, more than thirty thousand strong, capitulated on July 4, at the very moment of Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg. Five days later Port Hudson, in Louisiana, also reduced by famine, surrendered with seven thousand men to General Banks, and the whole course of the Mississippi was at last in Federal hands. “The Father of Waters,” said Lincoln, “again goes unvexed to the sea.” These were stunning blows to the South.


The main fury of the war was now transferred to the West. Until the fall of Vicksburg was certain the highly competent Rosecrans, with about sixty thousand men, forming the Union Army of the Cumberland, was content from the scene of his success at Murfreesboro to watch Bragg, who stood across the railway line between him and Chattanooga. This city and railway centre, protected by the deep and wide Tennessee River on the north and the high ridges of the Appalachian Mountains, a western chain of the Alleghenies, on the south, was the key not only to the mastery of the Mississippi valley, but to the invasion of prosperous, powerful, and hitherto inviolate Georgia. The waiting period was marked by fierce Confederate cavalry raids to break up the railways behind the Union army, and by Federal counter-strokes against important ironworks and munitions factories in the southern part of Tennessee. In these the Confederates had the advantage. But when Rosecrans, at the end of June, advanced along the railway to Chattanooga, and Burnside, with another army of forty thousand men, a hundred miles to the east, struck at Knoxville, great and far-reaching operations were afoot. Burnside captured Knoxville, cutting one of the sinew railways of the Confederacy. Rosecrans manœuvred Bragg out of all his defensive lines astride the Nashville-Chattanooga railway, and by September 4 gained Chattanooga without a battle.

Until this moment Rosecrans had shown high strategic skill. He now made the disastrous mistake of supposing that the resolute, agile army in his front was cowed. Bragg, who was one of the worst generals, hated by his lieutenants, and nearly always taking the wrong decision, was none the less a substantial fighter. South of Chattanooga the mountain ridges spread out like the fingers of a hand. Bragg lay quiet at Lafayette with an army now reinforced to sixty thousand men. By September 12 Rosecrans realised the appalling fact that his three corps were spread on a sixty-mile front, and that Bragg lay in their midst three times as strong as any one of them. Bragg, overbearing and ill-served, missed this opportunity, which Lee or Jackson would have made decisive for the whole of the West. Rosecrans recoiled, and concentrated towards Chattanooga; but he was too late, even against Bragg, to escape a battle on ground and under conditions far from his choice.


At Chickamauga, across the border of Georgia, on September 18 Bragg fell upon his enemy. Longstreet, from Virginia, with two divisions and artillery, had reached him, together with other heavy reinforcements, so that he had the rare fortune for a Confederate General of the weight of numbers behind him. Seventy thousand Confederates attacked fifty-five thousand Federals. The two days’ battle was fought with desperate valour on both sides. Bragg tried persistently to turn the Federal left and cut Rosecrans from Chattanooga, but when this wing of the Union Army, commanded by General George H. Thomas, had drawn to its aid troops from the centre and right, Longstreet, with twenty thousand Virginian veterans, assaulted the denuded parts of the Union front, and drove two-thirds of Rosecrans’ army, with himself and the corps commanders, except Thomas, in ruin from the field. Longstreet begged Bragg to put all his spare weight behind a left-handed punch; but the Commander-in-Chief was set upon his first idea. He continued to butt into Thomas, who had built overnight breastworks of logs and railway iron in the woodland. Night closed upon a scene of carnage surpassed only by Gettysburg. Thomas, “the rock of Chickamauga,” extricated himself and his corps and joined the rest of the Federal Army in Chattanooga.

The casualties in this battle were frightful. Sixteen thousand Federals and over twenty thousand Confederates were killed, wounded, or missing. The Confederates, who had captured forty guns and the battlefield, and who for the moment had broken the enemy’s power, had gained the victory. It might have been Ramillies, or Waterloo, or even Tannenberg. It was Malplaquet.

Bragg now blockaded and almost surrounded Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga. He held the two heights which dominated Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. For a time he barred all supplies by the Tennessee River. In early October it looked as if the Army of the Cumberland would be starved into surrender. Meanwhile the position of Burnside at Knoxville, against whom Longstreet had been sent, appeared no less deadly.

The Washington Government now began to lean heavily upon General Ulysses Grant. His faults and weaknesses were apparent; but so also was his stature. On the Union side, baffled, bewildered, disappointed, weary of bloodshed and expense, Grant now began to loom vast and solid through a red fog. Victory had followed him from Fort Donelson to Vicksburg. Here were large rebel surrenders—troops, cannon, territory. Who else could show the like? On October 16 Grant was given command of the departments of the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers, with his lieutenant, Sherman, under him at the head of the Army of Tennessee.

Rosecrans was dismissed. He had lost a great battle, and under the Washington administration no General survived defeat. He had however played a distinguished part in the West, and his military record was clean. Long before Chickamauga he had lost favour with Halleck. That poor figure, who stood at the portals of the grim politics of these days, who sought to tell the armies what the politicians wanted and the politicians as much as they could understand of the military needs, showed his measure clearly when in February 1863 he wrote to Grant and Rosecrans that the vacant Major-Generalship would be given to whoever won the first notable success. Grant left his letter unanswered. Rosecrans wrote in stern rebuke that “a patriot and a man of honour should require no additional incentive to make him do his duty.” Thus when he tripped he fell on stony ground.

By a series of intricate measures Grant freed the Tennessee River, stormed both Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, and drove Bragg and the Confederate Army in thorough disorder away from Chattanooga. At the same time he relieved Burnside at Knoxville. The frontiers of the Confederacy rolled southwards in another long lap. Vicksburg had cut it in two along the line of the Mississippi. Chattanooga cut the eastern half again along the range of the Alleghenies. By December 1863 the Confederates were driven back into Georgia, and the whole Mississippi valley was recovered for the Union. All these convulsive events might have taken a different grip if President Davis had made Lee Supreme Commander of the Confederate Army after Chancellorsville, or, better still, in 1862, and if he had devoted his authority and fine qualities wholly to the task of rallying behind the chief General the loyal, indomitable, but woefully particularist energies of the South. By the end of 1863 all illusions had vanished. The South knew they had lost the war, and would be conquered and flattened. It is one of the enduring glories of the American nation that this made no difference to the Confederate resistance. In the North, where success was certain, they could afford to have bitter division. On the beaten side the departure of hope left only the resolve to perish arms in hand. Better the complete destruction of the whole generation and the devastation of their enormous land, better that every farm should be burned, every city bombarded, every fighting man killed, than that history should record that they had yielded. Any man can be trampled down by superior force, and death, in whatever shape it comes, is only death, which comes to all. It might seem incredible when we survey the military consequences of 1863 that the torments of war should have been prolonged through the whole of 1864 and into 1865. “Kill us if you can; destroy all we have,” cried the South. “As you will,” replied the steadfast majority of the North.

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