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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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Vol. II
p58
Chapter VII

An Anxious Fortnight Ends in a Memorable Ride

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jackson was a hundred miles from Richmond when he started in pursuit of Banks; Johnston was only half an hour's ride away. Following the repulse of the Federal gunboats at Drewry's Bluff on May 15, Johnston decided to bring the greater part of his army across the Chickahominy River both to give it safety and to cover the land defenses being constructed on the north side of the James opposite the cliff where the garrison of Drewry's Bluff had fought so valiantly against the Galena and her sister-ships. The Chickahominy's course is roughly parallel to that of the James for many miles and its upper stretch is only some five miles north of Richmond. At the point where the river is nearest to Richmond, it is crossed by the Virginia Central Railroad, the main line of communication with the Shenandoah Valley. A little farther westward lies the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. As it was necessary to guard these railways, Johnston put part of one division north of the Chickahominy. The right flank of his main force he gradually drew in until on May 22 it was across the Charles City Road, about five miles from the corporate limits of Richmond. Thence his line ran generally northward to the vicinity of the Chickahominy. His left was close to the Fairfield race-course, almost within the northeastern suburbs of the city,1 but his outposts were north of the Chickahominy as far as Mechanicsville. McClellan, advancing cautiously, was known to have two corps of his army at Cold Harbor, about eight miles northeast of Richmond and was believed to be preparing to extend his right flank to form a ready junction with McDowell, whenever that officer moved southward from Fredericksburg. The rest of McClellan's army, on the 22d, was crossing the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge, fifteen miles p59 east of Richmond, and was advancing up the Williamsburg road.


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Approximate situation in front of Richmond, about May 22, 1862,
showing defensive disposition of Johnston's army and the approach of McClellan.

If Johnston had to withdraw his left, he would expose the railroads but he would find good cover for his troops on the high hills overlooking the Chickahominy on the side nearest Richmond. If he retired his right, however, it would have had to move across a flat country and could find no cover except scattered woods and an incomplete line of earthworks that had been thrown up, chiefly after Lee's return from Savannah.2 It was a line so dangerously close to Richmond that the sound of a heavy action would almost certainly be heard in Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.President Davis's office. Should the Confederate line break in a rout, two hours' pursuit would bring the Federals into the streets of Richmond.

p60 Close as Johnston was to Richmond, he had shown no intention of giving battle, and had not informed the President when he intended doing so. Soon after he crossed the Chickahominy, Davis and Lee rode out to his headquarters in order that the President might be apprized of the situation. The General was absent at the time, visiting his troops, but he returned and spent the evening with his guests. It was not a satisfactory conference. Johnston was reticent and seemed to have no definite plan, though the three talked together until too late for the President to return that night. The next morning, as Davis and Lee rode back toward Richmond, the President spoke of their discussion. Loath as Lee was to criticise a fellow-soldier, he was compelled to confess that he had been able to draw only one inference from Johnston's remarks: Johnston apparently planned to improve his position as best he could and would wait to attack the enemy at some favorable opportunity.3

Subsequently, Lee asked Johnston to come to Richmond to review the situation with the President, but Johnston did not answer.4 Three days later, on May 21, Lee again wrote to ask a report in the name of Mr. Davis and renewed his suggestion that Johnston communicate in person with the chief executive.5 Now, on the 22d, the President and Lee rode out to Mechanicsville, where they found a disheartening lack of organization.6 "My conclusion," Davis wrote Johnston, after this ride, "was, that if, as reported to be probable, General Franklin, with a division, was in that vicinity he might easily have advanced over the turnpike toward if not to Richmond."7 It was difficult for Davis and doubly difficult for Lee to assist in a defense concerning which the field-commander did not see fit to advise them.

At length, probably on May 24, General Johnston came into Richmond and doubtless had an interview with Mr. Davis,8 but apparently he did not explain his plan. The same day the enemy occupied Mechanicsville,9 only five miles from Richmond, and p61 an admirable position from which to form a junction with McDowell when the latter came down from the north. There was nothing to stop him from doing so. For Johnston had ordered Anderson back from the line of the Rappahannock. At that very time, also, Johnston was preparing to abandon the Virginia Central Railroad west of Hanover Junction. Branch's brigade from Gordonsville had already come down and was stationed at Hanover Courthouse in an exposed position.10 Everything indicated the loss of northern Virginia and the early junction of the two Federal forces, immediately in front of Richmond, with a strength not much below 150,000. To oppose them, Johnston would not have more than 72,000 after Anderson's troops from the Rappahannock had formally united with him. Only one of three things could save Richmond — a miracle, a successful attack by Johnston on McClellan before McDowell could arrive, or the failure of McDowell to advance.


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JEFFERSON DAVIS, PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA

After the painting in the Westmoreland Club, Richmond.

Impatient at Johnston's failure to make any movement or to confide his plan, despite their recent interview, Davis expressed to Lee his deep dissatisfaction. The President's concern was so manifest, and the possible effects of a continued misunderstanding were so serious that Lee once more volunteered to act as a peace-maker. "General Johnston," he said to Davis, "should of course advise you of what he expects or proposes to do. Let me go and see him, and defer this discussion until I return." Riding out to Johnston's headquarters, Lee must have had a more satisfactory interview with Johnston than on his previous visit in the company of the President, for he brought back news that Johnston intended on the 29th to attack that part of the Federal army north of the Chickahominy.11

At last the prospect of an offensive against McClellan! And with it the news of an event that might add vastly to its success. Rumor had been bringing reports of battles in the valley, behind the screen of Jackson's secret manoeuvres, but there had been nothing definite and nothing official. Now, on the 26th, came a messenger with dispatches from Jackson. The very first word p62 of the letter to the adjutant general was an assurance of a victory, for the paper was dated at Winchester, which had been eighteen miles behind Banks's lines at last reports:

"General S. Cooper:

"During the last three days God has blessed our arms with brilliant success. On Friday [23d] the Federals at Front Royal were routed, and one section of artillery, in addition to many prisoners, captured. On Saturday Banks's main column, while retreating from Strasburg to Winchester, was pierced, the rear part retreating towards Strasburg. On Sunday the other part was routed at this place. At last accounts Brig. Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George H. Steuart was pursuing with cavalry and artillery and capturing the fugitives. A large amount of medical, ordnance, and other stores have fallen into our hands.

T. J. Jackson,                                              
Major-General, Commanding."12

Faith in the eccentric Jackson had been vindicated. The often-urged, much-debated attack on Banks had been delivered. Private messages that followed Jackson's telegram described a rout indeed, with Banks's scattered troops driven back to the Potomac. Northern papers, smuggled across the lines, made no attempt to conceal the magnitude of the defeat.13

What would be the effect? On the answer might hang the outcome of the battle that Johnston was preparing in front of Richmond. "Whatever movement you make against Banks," Lee had written Jackson on May 16, "do it speedily, and if successful drive him back toward the Potomac, and create the impression, as far as practicable, that you design threatening that line."14 Jackson had executed the first part of this plan and could be counted on to spread the fear of a farther advance. His returning messenger carried Lee's suggestion that Jackson demonstrate with vigor.15 Would McDowell ignore that warning? Would Johnston's plan to strike on the 29th be thwarted by a southward advance of the p63 Federals? If so, Jackson's movement might simply have eliminated Banks temporarily as a factor in the situation. But if the threat on the Potomac halted or delayed McDowell's advance, until Johnston could drive against McClellan, then a victory at Richmond might break up the whole stupendous combination against the capital. So much depended on Johnston's proposed offensive that every nerve of the Confederacy was strained to reinforce him. The War Department and General Lee labored feverishly to place Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Huger in supporting distance of Johnston, to expedite the movement of two regiments under General Ripley, who had been ordered from Charleston on May 23, and to hurry northward units of Holmes's force in North Carolina that Lee now determined to bring to Richmond at the risk of a possible advance by Burnside.16

Everywhere, on the morning of May 27, the question was the same — What news of McDowell? Had he started across the Rappahannock? He had four days' march ahead of him and that, of course, would prevent him from arriving in front of Richmond before Johnston attacked McClellan on the 29th. At the same time, the line of McDowell's advance would lie in rear of Johnston's assaulting columns. Consequently, if McDowell were close at hand by the day set for the battle, the risk to the numerically inferior Confederate force would be too great for it to assume the offensive. It was raining hard at Richmond, and that was encouraging. A heavy downfall north of the city would inevitably slow up McDowell's advance.

Before noon, the worst possible news reached Johnston's headquarters in a telegram from General Anderson, whose force was strung out on a road leading from Hanover Junction to Richmond: Anderson's videttes, covering his rear, reported that McDowell had started to march on Richmond! The main Federal column was already six miles south of Fredericksburg and the advanced guard was at Guiney's, less than forty miles from Richmond.17 Had Lee been mistaken in his strategy? Had Jackson's demonstration been in vain?

Later in the day, this grim question seemed to be answered by p64 what the Confederates regarded as an ominous happening. A strong Federal force struck Branch's brigade at Hanover Courthouse during the afternoon and forced it back.18 The Southern strategists reasoned that McClellan was extending his right flank to meet McDowell. With Hanover Courthouse in Federal hands, the gap between McDowell's advanced guard and McClellan's right was reduced to less than twenty-five miles. Cavalry contact might readily be established the next day, May 28. The outlook seemed almost hopeless.

Thick clouds obscured the sky on the morning of the 28th. The rain continued to pour down. The traditional "long spell in May" had seen a succession of heavy storms, broken only by a day or two of sunshine. The worst of it was now brewing. The Chickahominy, whose sluggish waters ran through a wide, low valley, was higher than it had been in twenty years.19 In Richmond, curiously enough, panic had died away. Not knowing the weakness of the reinforcements that had been brought up, the people believed the army ample for the defense of the city.20 Quietly they went about the work of cleaning and preparing the hospitals for the army of wounded they expected after the battle that every one knew the Confederates would have to fight within a day or two.21 Even an order for the removal of the government archives22 created no new apprehension.

Lee spent the morning in final efforts to bring up the troops hurrying northward from the Carolinas. Johnston was satisfied that McDowell was approaching.23 There seemed nothing to do except to prepare for the inevitable — and either to strike McClellan, as planned, in the desperate hope of defeating him decisively before McDowell could come up, or else to draw in the lines for a stubborn defense against overpowering odds. Huger, Holmes, and Ripley might bring up the total force to 80,000, perhaps to 85,000, but what could they do against an estimated 150,000 Federals with superior artillery?

Night brought no news to Richmond, though couriers were hurrying about on the lines and long conferences were being p65 held. On the morning of the 29th, the day of the promised Confederate attack, nervous thousands listened and strained their ears but heard no sound of battle. Did contrary wind and a heavy atmosphere drown the roar of the guns, or had there been some hitch, some unexplained change of plans, when a day's delay in attacking McClellan might mean ruin?

Davis hurried through his office-work and took the road to Mechanicsville. Lee could not remain behind. To sit in the office, to listen and hear nothing, to wait and know nothing, to be an adviser when he yearned to be a participant, was a more terrific ordeal than even he could endure. It would be worse, by far, than his experience on the 21st of the previous July, when Johnston and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard had been fighting at Manassas, and President Davis had hastened away on a special train, leaving him there in Richmond in suspense and regret. He must do something. Quickly he ordered his horse and went out, probably to Johnston's headquarters.

He found no battle in progress but he heard news that meant as much as victory, news that would have thrown an army on its knees in the middle ages with a cry of "Miracle, miracle!" Young Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jeb Stuart had put a cavalry outpost close to McDowell on the previous day, and late in the night he had reported that McDowell, hurrying southward to join McClellan, had halted his columns in the road on the 28th and then had turned them around and had marched back to Fredericksburg! It seemed incredible, but Stuart vouched for it.24

There might be speculation as to the reasons for this astounding deliverance, but what was more reasonable than to suppose that the victory at Winchester, the rout of Banks, and Jackson's intelligent discharge of his orders to threaten the line of the Potomac had led the Washington government to order McDowell closer to Washington? Lee had believed that a successful attack on Banks would "relieve pressure" on Fredericksburg, and that p66 had been the chief reason he had so often urged Jackson forward amid a thousand difficulties. And now the "relief" had come when it might be the salvation of the Confederacy. It was not Lee's nature to exult or to count personal performance, least of all in comparison with that of other men, but as he stood, an observer in the midst of actors, he could have reflected that Johnston might fight the battle, but that he had made the victory possible with the stout aid of Jackson.25

The great news that McDowell was marching away from Richmond, instead of toward it, had led Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.G. W. Smith to argue on the night of the 28th-29th for a change of plan, on the ground that the Federal flank north of the Chickahominy rested on a very strong natural barrier, Beaver Dam Creek, which it was not desirable to attempt to storm if there was no immediate necessity of striking McClellan in the expectation that he was about to be reinforced by McDowell. The question had been argued at length, and a decision had been reached to call off the battle and to regroup the forces for an attack south of the river.26 That was why Lee found no action under way.

Lee rode back to the city that afternoon27 but he had been in the tense atmosphere of approaching conflict and he could no longer restrain himself. He must have an active part in the defense of Virginia, no matter what his rôle. Rather the command of a brigade, a regiment, even service as a voluntary aide on Johnston's staff, without authority, than inaction behind office walls. So, on the morning of May 30, though entirely uninformed as to when Johnston proposed to attack on the south side of the Chickahominy, he sent Colonel A. L. Long, his military secretary, out to Johnston's headquarters with a personal message. He had no desire, he bade Long tell the general, of interfering with his command but he would be glad to serve in the field in any capacity during the coming action.28

While waiting for an answer, restlessness overcame him. There p67 had been some confusion whether McClellan's flank extended to the Virginia Central Railroad north of Richmond. Unable to perform any better service, Lee determined to ride out Brook road and reconnoitre. Accompanied by a few members of his staff, he went to the crossing of the Telegraph road over the Chickahominy, talked with a few officers he met there, and satisfied himself that the Federals had moved their advance guard eastward, back from the railroad.29 Then he trotted homeward — with what thoughts, one wonders. The war had been on for thirteen months, and during all that time he had not fought a battle for his country! Was he doomed to remain always a headquarters general? Had his long preparation brought him only to this?

Back in Richmond, in the anxious twilight, he dispatched a report to Johnston of what he had found. Presently Long came in, bringing a polite, indefinite answer to his message: Johnston would be happy to have him ride out to the field, and, meantime, would Lee send him all the reinforcements he could collect?30 Johnston did not tell Long, nor did Long learn from any other source, when the battle for Richmond would open. Still uncertainty; still suspense! That evening there was thunder in the heavens and the heaviest storm that had been visited on the territory around Richmond during the whole of the drenching spring,31 but no sound of conflict came from the east or the northeast. It was simply another dark, anxious night, with nothing to indicate that on the morrow a bloody milestone was to be set in the career of the anxious soldier who doubtless ended the day on his knees in his gloomy room at the Spotswood Hotel.

Saturday morning, May 31, dull and cloudy,32 found Lee still restless. No commanding duties held him at his office. Huger's troops were across James River, in good position to be used by Johnston when and where they were needed. Holmes had been ordered to Richmond.33 Ripley had arrived from South Carolina.34 All the troops from in front of Fredericksburg had joined Johnston. Chances had been taken that the minor fronts might be penetrated. To Loring, who was calling for troops in western p68 Virginia, word was sent that no reinforcements were available and that he must make the best defense in his power.35 The concentration of every unit that could be brought to Richmond in time for the battle had either been effected or was so nearly completed that the rest was routine. A last-minute call was sent Pemberton in South Carolina for two regiments to replace some of the men soon to fall.36 This final bit of business transacted, an irresistible desire to see what was happening on the front of the opposing armies led Lee to take horse and ride out with some of his lieutenants to Johnston's headquarters. These had been moved from the Harrison house on the Williamsburg road, near the junction of the Darbytown road, and had been established about three miles from the city on the Nine Mile road, a thoroughfare that led to the enemy's main position east of Richmond and south of the Chickahominy.

Learning that Johnston had gone forward, Lee went on to the point where the New Bridge road turned off to the left from the Nine Mile road. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Magruder's headquarters were there, and his men were in line of battle across the road ahead. Here, in a house on the right, slightly off the highway, Lee found General Johnston. There was a tenseness in the air. Officers were coming and going. Johnston was preoccupied. A general movement evidently was afoot. That obvious fact Johnston must have announced to Lee. He may have added that he was disposing his troops anew for an attack on the Federals supposed to be around Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, two miles ahead, but he did not explain his plan in detail or tell Lee when the battle was to open.

Noon passed. Presently, from the southeast, came the intermittent mutter of heavy guns and, very faintly, after 3 o'clock, a sound that Lee's ear took to be the sound of musketry. But, no, Johnston explained; it could only be an artillery duel. He did not elaborate and Lee did not argue. Ere long, orders reached the troops waiting at the forks of the road, the word of command was passed, and Whiting's men hurried down the road that led toward the enemy. And still, as if in subdued accompaniment to the feet of the soldiers, Lee heard that strange, indefinite sound from the south.

p69 Now a familiar mounted figure turned into the lane from the road. It was the President. A moment later — either by chance or with intent to avoid an embarrassing meeting37 — Johnston rode away across the field, in the direction of Whiting's march. Lee went out to meet Mr. Davis. The President's first question was what the musketry-fire meant. Had he heard it? Lee asked. Assuredly, Davis answered — what was on? Lee explained that he had thought it was musketry, but had been assured by Johnston that only artillery was in action. Together the two walked to the rear of the house and listened. There was now no mistaking the sound, faint though it was. Either a heavy skirmish or a battle was in progress somewhere down the way where the Nine Mile road turned to Fair Oaks Station on the Richmond and York River Railroad, above the homely settlement of Seven Pines.

Davis, always a soldier at heart, could never resist the impulse to ride to the sound of firing, and with a few words he returned to his horse and started forward. Equally anxious, Lee rode with him. It was now late afternoon, with every promise of an early twilight in that wooded country. If a battle was being fought, night would soon end it, one way or another. They went down the road for nearly a mile, with a thick wood on their right and open ground on their left. Then, beyond a lane leading off toward the Chickahominy, they found a heavy tangle of timber on their left also. Close by was a field on which a crop of oats was growing. The troops they had followed up the road, Whiting's and Pettigrew's brigades, had left the road near this point and had deployed on the left, driving back the Federal pickets to an unseen line that was assumed to run almost perpendicular to the railroad.


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Situation of the opposing forces at Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), afternoon of May 31, 1862,
as understood by Lee upon his arrival on the field of battle.

Before they knew it, Lee and Davis were under a hot fire, in a scene of the greatest confusion.38 To their left, hidden Federal batteries, almost in rear of the Confederate forces farther down the road, were pouring a regular and well-paced fire into charging ranks that floundered over fallen logs and through the bushes, vainly seeking the Federal infantry. On the right, beyond a belt of woods, another column was engaged. The clouds hung p71 low; the smoke was everywhere. Already the wounded were limping to the rear; the line on the left was making little or no progress. Johnston was somewhere down the road in the thickest of the fire; Smith, who commanded that wing of the army, had also gone ahead; the Secretary of War, other Cabinet officers, and a few members of Congress were galloping about. Nobody seemed to know anything except that the enemy was strong and resisting hotly, and that, away on the right, an even more desperate action was in progress. It was apparent that unless the Federal flank on the left of the Nine Mile road was turned and the batteries in that locality silenced, Whiting's troops would sustain a bloody repulse. Lee was merely an observer and could not act, even in such an emergency, but Davis made a hurried reconnaissance and sent off one messenger and then another to find General Magruder and to direct him to throw a Confederate brigade beyond the Federal right, up a path in the woods. Magruder, like the others, was in the battle. Search for him was vain. Davis was starting in person to look for him when a returning courier reported that he had located General Richard Griffith, one of Magruder's brigadiers, and had delivered the message to him.39

It was beginning to get dark. From the right, through the woods and over a little field, the left of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hood's Texas brigade of Smith's division was coming forward to support the troops beyond the Nine Mile road.40 Griffith's men were being assembled for the advance on the left. But it was too late. Before the flanking column could start, Whiting's troops began to stream back from the thickets. They had not been able to reach the Federal line in the woods. Dusk made it almost impossible to distinguish blue coat from gray. Further effort would be a waste of life. Davis suspended Griffith's movement.

The Federal fire continued. The troops waited to see if it would be followed by a counter-attack. Presently up rode Postmaster-General Reagan, a Texan, who had come to the battlefield to cheer Hood's men in action. He had been farther to the southward and had found General Johnston in great danger, in a most exposed position. Davis, he instantly observed, was taking p72 like chances needlessly. He protested warmly against the President's remaining where a bullet might strike him down at any minute. Davis refused to leave. And now a courier passed by from the left, with the news that General Wade Hampton had been shot. On his heels rode another mounted messenger who told them — they gasped as they heard it — that General Johnston had been wounded, some thought fatally.

Darkness, a joined battle, crowded confusion, a multitude of wounded and the army left without the one man who knew all the dispositions: Was the story of Shiloh to be repeated, when a mortal injury to another Johnston had lost the South a great victory, as all Southerners believed?

Before Lee and Davis had time to think of the possible effects of this loss, up the road came litter-bearers bringing General Johnston, conscious, but in so much pain from two serious wounds that he had not been able to stand the jostling of the ambulance in which he had first been placed. Gone on the instant was the coolness that Davis had felt. With warm, friendly words he expressed his deep regret and his hope that Johnston would soon be able to take the field again. Lee, of course, cherishing no malice for Johnston's petulance and secretiveness, saw only the friend of his youth, the companion of happier days, stricken and helpless, and his warm affection went out to him.

It was a desperate hour and it promised a desperate tomorrow. Fortunately, the enemy had suffered heavily and was quite content to leave the issue as it was. No counter-charge was pressed through the woods where the dead lay among the blood-soaked logs, under the shattered trees and in the underbrush that was reddened as if with the touch of autumn. The broken regiments reformed beyond and across the road and prepared to sleep on their arms, in exhaustion so complete that even the groans of the wounded and the ghostly creaking of the ambulances would not awaken them.

And now General Smith had come up. From him, for the first time, Davis and Lee learned as much as he knew of the battle they had witnessed but had not understood. Johnston, they were told, had expected by a sudden attack to overwhelm that part of McClellan's army on the south side of the Chickahominy at p73 a time when he believed the rise in the waters of that river would prevent the dispatch of Federal reinforcements from the ample divisions north of that whimsical stream. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. H. Hill, with four brigades, was to have advanced down the Williamsburg road and was to have opened the battle, with Huger on the Charles City road to turn the left of the enemy. Smith had understood that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet was to have moved down the Nine Mile road to form on Hill's left, but, he explained, in some manner unknown to him, Longstreet had gone over to the Williamsburg road and had attacked there. Smith's own command, General Johnston had told him, was to occupy the extreme Confederate left, to serve as a support for Longstreet, if needed, and to watch against a possible movement by the Unionists from across the Chickahominy. For reasons that Smith did not know, the opening of the action had been long delayed. Then heavy fighting had broken out on the right and Longstreet had called for help, Smith said; Federal troops had unexpectedly arrived from the north of the Chickahominy, and the greater part of Smith's troops, under Whiting, had been brought up and thrown into action. Whiting, Smith concluded, had been heavily engaged. Did Davis know anything of the battle on the right? Had he received any word from Longstreet later than a message sent to Johnston at 4 o'clock?41

Davis had no information, and, as Smith was the senior major-general on the field, the President asked him what his plans were. Smith, who was manifestly under heavy nervous strain, naturally could not answer on such short notice. He could make no decision, he said, until he could ascertain how the battle had gone on the front of D. H. Hill and Longstreet, from neither of whom he had heard. It might be necessary, he said, to withdraw closer to Richmond and form a new line. He might, on the other hand, be able to hold his ground. Davis suggested that if he remained where he was, the Federals might fall back during the p74 night and thereby give the Confederates the moral effect of a victory. Smith could only reply that he would not retire unless compelled to do so. If the outcome of the action on the right had not been more serious than on his own part of the line, he saw no reason for retreating.42

There was no more to be said. After a few minutes, Davis bade farewell to Smith and turned his horse's head back up the Nine Mile road toward Richmond. Lee went with him. Along the deeply trampled highway, past the woods where the reserves were sleeping, and on by the endless line of ambulances,43 bound the same way as themselves, the two rode in darkness. They must have talked, of course, of the frightfully mismanaged battle they had witnessed, and the forthright Davis must have commented on Smith's manifest confusion, on the lack of staff-work, and on the strange misunderstanding of Longstreet's route. Then, perhaps, the two riders lapsed into silence, each pondering his duty in the confused situation that existed. At length, Davis uttered the few and simple words that were to change the whole course of the war in Virginia. "General Lee," he said, in effect, "I shall assign you to the command of this army. Make your preparations as soon as you reach your quarters. I shall send you the order when we get to Richmond."44


The Author's Notes:

1 O. R., 11, part 3, p533.

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2 Taylor's General Lee, 46.

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3Davis, 101‑2. The date of this interview is not given by Davis. It must have been between May 15 and 17.

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4 O. R., 11, part 3, p526.

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5 O. R., 11, part 3, p530.

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6 O. R., 11, part 3, p536. T. R. R. Cobb (28 S. H. S. P., 292) gave the date as the 23d, but he must have been mistaken unless there were two such journeys on successive days.

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7 O. R., 11, part 3, p536.

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8 O. R., 11, part 3, p541.

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9 O. R., 11, part 1, p651.

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10 O. R., 11, part 3, pp535, 537, 540, 543, 544.

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11Davis, 120. Mr. Davis gave no date, but his mention of "Thursday" makes it plain that he referred to the attack projected for May 29. As he probably had seen Johnston on the 24th and as he would not have sent him an envoy the very next day, it seems likely that the 26th was the date of Lee's visit.

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12 O. R., 12, part 1, p701. The dispatch bore date of May 26, 1862.

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13Davis, 107‑9; Baltimore American, May 26, 1862, p1, col. 1; Philadelphia Inquirer, May 26, 1862, p1, col. 3; New York Tribune, May 26, 1862,º p1.

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14 O. R., 12, part 3, p893.

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15 1 Henderson, 345.

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16 O. R., 14, 518, 519; O. R., 11, part 3, pp547, 552, 555, 559. Lee had already ordered Anderson's brigade to Virginia from Holmes. Cf. supra, p36.

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17 G. W. Smith, 146‑47.

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18 O. R., 11, part 1, pp33‑34, 679; part 3, p196.

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19 O. R., 11, part 1, p31; part 3, p193.

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20 1 R. W. C. D., 128.

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21 Mrs. McGuire, 118.

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22 O. R., 11, part 3, p557.

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23 O. R., 11, part 3, p555.

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24 Johnston's Narrative, 131‑32. McDowell, in reality, had begun to reduce force on May 25, in order to guard the approaches to Washington from the valley, in accordance with orders from Washington (O. R., 11, part 1, pp30, 32‑33, 35; part 3, p190; O. R., 12, part 3, pp229 ff.). The movement on the 27th was simply a scout to determine whether Anderson had retreated toward Richmond or had moved to support Jackson (O. R., 12, part 3, p253). McClellan was assured that reinforcements would be sent him as soon as Jackson was defeated (O. R., 11, part 3, p194).

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25 The evidence as to Lee's movements on the 29th is far from satisfactory. The little that is known of them rests on a dispatch by the correspondent of The Memphis Appeal, bearing that date, and reproduced in The National Intelligencer of June 16, 1862, p2, col. 2. This dispatch raises some rather confusing questions, but as it is not contradicted, the writer has accepted it as evidence. Davis's failure to mention Lee's presence with him makes it likely that the two went out separately.

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26 G. W. Smith, 149 ff.

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27 National Intelligencer, June 16, 1862, p2, col. 2.

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28 Long, 158.

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29 O. R., 11, part 3, p560.

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30 Long, 158‑59.

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31 Longstreet, 88.

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32 Miss Brock, 133.

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33 O. R., 11, part 3, p559.

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34 Cf. O. R., 11, part 3, p563.

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35 O. R., 12, part 3, pp901, 903.

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36 O. R., 14, 528.

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37 E. P. Alexander: Military Memoirs of a Confederate (cited hereafter as Alexander), 92; 2 Davis, 122.

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38 N. A. Davis: The Campaign from Texas to Maryland . . ., 39.

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39Davis, 123.

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40 G. W. Smith, 180.

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41 All this, of course, is controverted, but whether Longstreet was out of place, and whether the main fault lay with him or Huger in his slow crossing of Gillies's Creek, are questions that have no place in a biography of Lee. Smith's views were given in op. cit., 158 ff. and his statement of his explanation to the President appeared in ibid., 181. A later résumé of Smith's version of the controversy will be found in 2 B. and L., 220 ff. Longstreet's account is in op. cit., 85 ff. Johnston's Narrative, 132 ff., displayed much reticence regarding the engagement and mentioned very briefly the misunderstandings that arose.

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42 G. W. Smith, 181‑82.

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43 Mrs. Burton Harrison, op. cit., 82‑83, presented a graphic description of the arrival of the wounded in Richmond.

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44 The narratives of Lee's movements on this historic day in his career are so uncertain and contradictory that the writer has had to weigh probabilities and reconcile differences. The principal sources are: 2 Davis, 122 ff., 130; G. W. Smith, 159 ff.; Marshall, 57; Long, 159; Taylor's Four Years, 4; Johnston's Narrative, 138; Alexander, 75 ff., particularly, 92n; Reagan, 140‑42; N. A. Davis, 39. The best critical account of the battle is Alexander's. Smith's report is in O. R., 11, part 1, pp989 ff. The chief point of difficulty in the narrative is the unavoidable assumption that, though Lee was with Johnston most of the day, Johnston told him little or nothing about the impending battle. The writer has taken almost at its face value Davis's statement (2 Davis, 122), apropos of the unexplained firing he and Lee had heard while they were at the New Bridge fork of the Nine Mile road: "It is scarcely necessary to add that neither of us had been advised of a design to attack the enemy that day." Johnston must surely have told Lee something, but his singular unwillingness to discuss his plans with his superiors, and Lee's reticence in questioning a field commander over whom he had no direct authority, account for a silence that would otherwise be unbelievable. A very good account of the battle, as seen by a man in the ranks, is given in a letter from Newton Walker to Reverend Robert Lamb, June 9, 1862, MS. kindly lent the writer by Miss Josephine Sizer of Richmond.


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