"We must now prepare for harder blows and harder work."1 In that spirit Lee faced the enemy after his return to Virginia. Unchanged in bearing or in determination as far as any one could see,2 he wrestled again with the food shortage that had been one of the chief reasons for the invasion of Pennsylvania. Weakened by 23,000 men, he was back in a devastated country and was forced to rely once again on Northrop for the army's food. Because of this, he realized that he might be compelled to retreat nearer to Richmond,3 but he was not willing to relinquish the initiative to General Meade if he could take it himself. For he still held that the offensive-defensive was the true strategic policy of the South, even if prolonged invasion of the North was impossible.4
As soon as the army settled down on the Rapidan, Lee undertook from his headquarters on the fine plantation of Erasmus Taylor5 to bring the army up to offensive strength again. His p163 first results were encouraging. The return of stragglers and of lightly wounded and the arrival of 3000 men loaned him temporarily from the army of Major General Samuel Jones raised Lee's effective strength to 58,000 by August 10,6 for all of whom the resourceful Colonel Gorgas soon provided arms to replace those lost at Gettysburg and on the retreat.7 Although there were among the conscripts further desertions that Lee sought vigorously to check,8 rest continued to raise the morale of the troops.9 But the limitations of man-power were soon apparent. Mr. Davis had to admit that he saw no prospect of increasing the army to its former strength;10 the soldiers were almost barefooted;11 the supply of rations was menacingly short; the railroads were scarcely able to haul what the commissaries found;12 the equipment of the cavalry was in embarrassing disrepair13 and the horses received so little grain that they recovered slowly.14 Soon Jones's troops had to be ordered back to him,15 and the ranks were further reduced by a series of furloughs Lee thought it prudent to grant.16 The inflow of conscripts and of returning wounded did little more than offset this. The end of August found the army stronger by only 2600 than it had been on the 10th.17
Thus circumstanced, Lee could not take the offensive, though he hoped soon to be able to do so. Nor was it certain that a march against Meade was the best contribution the Army of Northern Virginia could make at the time to the general strategy of the South. On August 24, at a time when there were some indications of a possible advance by the enemy,18 President Davis asked Lee to come to Richmond to discuss with him a new and p164 menacing situation,19 in the development of which he had greatly missed Lee's counsel.20 Lee left Longstreet in charge and went immediately to the capital, where he remained with one or two days' intermission, until September 7.21 He discussed with the President the means of preventing desertion22 and of procuring more corn for the animals attached to the army,23 and he had to advise on a large and critical problem of general strategy. The strong army with which Grant had captured Vicksburg, while holding off Johnston, was being unwisely dispersed by the Federal administration and gave no immediate concern; but in Tennessee, where conditions had been fairly stable for many months, the enemy under Rosecrans had forced Bragg in July to abandon Tullahoma and to fall back on Chattanooga. That able Federal commander was now manoeuvring to force his opponent from the city. Buckner was facing Burnside at Knoxville, with every prospect that the Confederates would be compelled to evacuate that place, also. If Knoxville and Chattanooga were yielded up, the Confederates would lose the most direct line of communication between Virginia and the Mississippi valley. That was not all. When Vicksburg had surrendered, the Confederacy had been cut in half. If the enemy were to follow this by breaking Bragg's front and marching through Georgia, the eastern half of the Southern republic would itself be split in twain, and nothing would be left the government at Richmond except the two Carolinas and that part of Virginia below the Rappahannock, a fragment that could not long survive.24 Even this area was threatened, not only from the north but from the coast as well. Charleston, S. C., was under formal siege. Battery Wagner had fallen, Fort Sumter was a mass of defiant ruins, the city had been bombarded. The Federal blockade had tightened everywhere. At Wilmington alone did the fast British merchantmen find a ready port for the munitions shipped to the Confederate Government, p165 and at Wilmington there was a menace of land operations that would flank the defenses of Cape Fear River.25
In this crisis, the darkest the embattled South had yet known, what course held out the strongest promise of relief? That was the question President Davis discussed in long, private conferences with the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, whose strict conception of the subordination of the military arm to the civil government kept him from offering suggestions regarding other armies than his own, except when his views were sought by the President or by the Secretary of War. Lee did not believe the danger to Wilmington imminent enough to justify the government in weakening its scanty forces elsewhere.26 Charleston he trusted the enemy would never get,27 though he found the administration apprehensive of its safety and anxious to send troops there to strengthen General Beauregard. The main choice, as Lee saw it, then, lay between attacking Meade and attacking Rosecrans. Which should be done? As Bragg could not take the offensive without additional troops, should he give ground or should he be reinforced from the Army of Northern Virginia, with all the consequent risks to Richmond? Longstreet had long been anxious to go to Tennessee and to co-operate in an attempt to drive Rosecrans from that state;28 Lee's inclination was to assume the offensive against Meade. The President, it seems, at first leaned so strongly to this view that Lee ordered the army to be made ready for an advance, on the assurance of the quartermaster-general that sufficient corn would be forthcoming for the horses.29 On September 2, however, the Federals entered Knoxville, the enemy's movement against Chattanooga developed, and the situation became so alarming that Davis concluded he must reinforce both Beauregard and Bragg from the Army of Northern Virginia. With some misgivings30 but, as Davis has recorded, "with commendable zeal for the public welfare and characteristic self-denial,"31 Lee acquiesced in the movement of two brigades to Charleston, S. C., and in the dispatch of the rest of one corps to Tennessee. The President was anxious that Lee assume command p166 on that front himself,32 but left the question open while Lee hurried back to the Rapidan on September 733 to prepare the troops for movement. Lee had decided to designate the First Corps, less Pickett's division, for the adventure in the West, and as he found Longstreet most anxious to go,34 he was confirmed in his opinion that it would be best to remain personally in Virginia, to detach Longstreet, and to leave the direction of affairs in Tennessee to officers familiar with the troops.35
The plan was that Longstreet should proceed by way of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to the vicinity of Chattanooga, join with Bragg in an attack on Rosecrans, and return promptly to the Army of Northern Virginia.36 The troop movement was to be made as quietly as possible, and Longstreet's destination was to be kept a secret. Believing that Rosecrans was manoeuvring to effect the evacuation of Chattanooga, as in reality he was, Lee urged that he be attacked without delay.37 Within twenty-four hours after he reached Orange, Lee had McLaws's and Hood's divisions of Longstreet's famous veterans on the road.38 Pickett was to follow. When Longstreet came to headquarters to say farewell, Lee bade him God-speed. "Now, General," he said, "you must beat those people out in the West."
"If I live," Longstreet quotes himself as having answered, "but I would not give a single man of my command for a fruitless victory."
Lee assured him, in parting, that the President was prepared to follow up a success,39 and as Longstreet rode off, Lee turned back to his own problem. He was left to direct an army that was now reduced to 46,000 officers and men,40 an army that seemed strangely different without the familiar divisions of the First Corps. Fortunately, everything had been quiet during Lee's absence in Richmond41 except for the escape of General Averell p167 after a mischievous raid in western Virginia.42 Partly because the men were at leisure, and partly to remind them that the Army of Northern Virginia still had might, Lee staged a picturesque review of the Second Corps on September 9, and one of Hill's troops two days later. As on the historic eve of the battle of Brandy Station, he rode the full length of the line and then, surrounded by his staff officers and a company of ladies, he watched the men march past. "By their steady and firm step and soldierly bearing," one participant recorded, they showed "that they were not disheartened, but ready to go wherever their trusted and beloved commander might point the way."43
Despite the stimulation of these reviews, the course of events in Tennessee made Lee fear that Longstreet might not arrive in time to be of help.44 Before the First Corps reached Richmond news came that Bragg had been forced to evacuate Chattanooga and had retreated to the Chickamauga River. The same day, September 9, a powerful Federal column compelled the capitulation of the Confederate troops holding Cumberland Gap where the Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee borders meet.45 This closed the Virginia-Tennessee Railroad and necessitated the movement of Longstreet's corps by the difficult route through Atlanta.46 There were, besides, vexatious discussions as to the particular units Longstreet should take with him.47 At length he set out from Richmond, with affectionate assurance to Lee that if he could nothing in Tennessee, he would ask to be sent back to Virginia.48 Longstreet was confident enough, and expectant of new honors, for there were broad hints from the War Department that he would be named to succeed Bragg,49 but Lee was apprehensive, especially as the news of the transfer of the corps, which was to have been a military secret, became generally known, to his deep disgust.50 Lee could only urge speed and greater speed in attacking Rosecrans.51
p168 There were reasons for concern, also, on the line of the Rapidan. The activity of the Federal cavalry indicated that an attack might be brewing.52 General Sam Jones, alarmed by the capture of Cumberland Gap, began to call on Lee for reinforcements.53 Deliberately keeping up a bold front,54 Lee sent back all his surplus supplies to Gordonsville, in anticipation of an enforced withdrawal.55 He had already cautioned Davis to strengthen the Richmond fortifications and to expedite the erection of arsenals farther inland.56 Similarly, he advocated haste in the completion of the railroad that was to link Danville, Va., with Greensboro, N. C. With the Virginia and Tennessee already severed, and the enemy threatening the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, a new line of rail communication was necessary. Otherwise, the Army of Northern Virginia might no longer be able to draw supplies from the South.57 And that would mean ruin.
Then, in a dark hour, the telegraph clicked off the announcement — as glorious as it was unexpected — that Bragg with Longstreet's help had struck Rosecrans at Chickamauga on September 19‑20 and had thrown him in retreat on Chattanooga. A new crisis had been passed. Hope rose in every Southern heart. If the victory could be followed up, the whole gloomy prospect of the war might be transformed. Lee immediately announced the success to his troops58 and wrote his warm congratulations to Longstreet. "My whole heart and soul," he said, "have been with you and your brave corps in your late battle. It was natural to hear of Longstreet and [D. H.] Hill charging side by side, and pleasing to find the armies of the East and West vying with each other in valor and devotion to their country. A complete and glorious victory must ensue under such circumstances. . . . Finish the work before you, my dear general, and return to me. I want you badly and you cannot get back too soon."59
p169 But after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Fortune's smiles on the South always quickly turned to frowns. Jubilation over Chickamauga lasted only a few days. Then it was found that what had happened so often in Virginia had been repeated in the West: The Army of Tennessee had exhausted itself in winning a battle and did not follow up its success. Rosecrans withdrew in safety to Chattanooga, and the Confederates were slow to follow. Disquieting reports arrived of friction between the dyspeptic Bragg and his high-spirited subordinates. Longstreet's self-confidence began to evaporate, and he called loudly for the leadership of which he was later so critical in his review of Gettysburg. "Can't you send us General Lee?" he pleaded with the Secretary of War. . . . "We need some such great mind as General Lee's. . . ."60 General Leonidas Polk wrote directly to Lee, asking him to come West and reap the fruits of victory.61 Lee was a long time in receiving this letter and then tactfully avoided a criticism of Bragg,62 but he was conscious of the shortcomings of that officer and fearful that he would lose his advantage by laying siege to Chattanooga. His own view was that Bragg should cross the Tennessee River below the town, attack Rosecrans's communications, and compel a retreat.63
While Bragg's movements were still in doubt, Lee received reports from spies on September 28 that the XI and XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac had been withdrawn and had been sent to reinforce Rosecrans.64 The time of the departure of the two corps was given as of September 25, but Meade's army still appeared so strong that it was October 1 before Lee was satisfied that Meade had been forced to part with these units.65 Meantime, however, Lee notified the President of the suspected movement and urged that Bragg act before the reinforcements reached his adversary.66
Until he learned that the Federals were weakened, Lee had been bluffing Meade, while himself expecting an attack, and he p170 had been scouring Virginia for reinforcements.67 Now that the odds against him had been reduced, as he thought, by about 12,000,68 Lee began to consider the advisability of seizing the initiative once more. There were ample arguments against such a course. The ranks were thin and the men were poorly clad and worse shod. Lee himself was far from well. About September 20 he began to have violent pains in the back which were attributed at various times to lumbago, to sciatica, or to rheumatism.69 Although they were not so diagnosed, they probably were the first positive symptoms of angina pectoris, the results of the strains of the summer on a heart weakened by his illness in the spring.70 In the light of his experience at Gettysburg with the defects of the reorganized army, it was dangerous for him to take the field in poor physical condition, because he might be called upon to direct operations in person. But there were strong reasons why, in his opinion, an advance was desirable, even though the nights already were chilly and the forests along the Rapidan were flying the warning colors of approaching winter. A movement against Meade would certainly prevent the detachment of additional troops to the West. That was the all-important consideration. If, furthermore, Meade could be driven back to the Potomac and held there during the winter, northern Virginia would be spared the distresses of Federal occupation, the railroads would be more nearly safe from raiders, and the campaign of 1864 would open where Lee would have ample ground for manoeuvre without exposing Richmond.71 As the condition of the horses was somewhat improved, his belief in the strategic p171 wisdom of an offensive-defensive led him once again to take risks for the sake of possible gains.
The "leaks" from Richmond during Longstreet's southward movement prompted Lee to proceed with much secrecy in making his plans. Apparently he did not even notify the President of his intentions, though the fact that he would advance and the probable time of his start were known even to clerks in the War Department.72 Meade was north of Culpeper on a ridge that would serve as well for defense as for attack73 and had two corps extended to the Rapidan.74 In this position the enemy could not be assailed to advantage by a frontal attack. Hence Lee determined to manoeuvre him from his position and to thrust at him when he found a favorable opening. This would necessitate a roundabout march, at a distance from the enemy, if the movement was to be a surprise. To cover his advance, Lee directed General Imboden to move up the Shenandoah Valley and to protect the flank of the army by occupying the mountain passes.75 Then Lee divided his cavalry, which had been reorganized into two divisions under Wade Hampton and Fitz Lee, respectively.76 Fitz Lee was to remain on the Rapidan to cover the army's rear until Meade retreated. Hampton's division, led by Stuart, was to move on the right of the column.77 Supplies were to be sent up the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to Culpeper, as soon as the road was opened by Meade's withdrawal.
When the time for the advance arrived, Lee's "rheumatism" in the back was so severe that he could not mount a horse, but he determined not to delay operations on that account. The two corps of Ewell and Hill crossed the upper Rapidan on October 9 and made their way through the hills toward Madison Courthouse, which was reached on the 10th.78 The appearance of Federal cavalry in front of Stuart that day showed that the movement had been discovered and that Lee could not hope to catch Meade off his guard.79 Lee, who was riding in a wagon,80 was not surprised when Union horse was encountered, because an injudicious p172 announcement that he would cross the Rapidan had appeared in one of the Richmond newspapers.81
Stuart easily disposed of the prying cavalry outposts on October 10,82 and cleared the road for the advance of the infantry toward Culpeper on the 11th. When the army reached Stone House Mountain,83 •five miles from that town, Lee learned that Meade had evacuated his position and had put the Rappahannock between him and his pursuers. All his stores had either been removed or destroyed.84 It was necessary, therefore, to undertake a new turning movement to reach the Federals. Before this could be started the army had to be rationed, a process that had to wait on the arrival of the railroad trains, because the country, stripped bare by the invaders, could furnish nothing.85
While the hungry columns rested by the roadside, Lee rode into Culpeper. His back was better and he could keep on his horse, though every motion gave him pain.86 When he reached the town, the old men, the cripples, the women and the children turned out to greet him. As they thronged about him, one petticoated super-patriot informed the General that during the occupation of the place by the enemy certain young ladies of Culpeper had gone to General Sedgwick's headquarters and had been entertained there with band music, "Yankee band music." Some of those who were accused of this act of near-treason were in the crowd, and while they doubtless would have been glad to scratch out the eyes of the informer, they trembled as Lee put on an air of mock severity. He teased them with a dark look for a moment and then he said: "I know General Sedgwick very well. It is just like him to be so kindly and considerate, and to have his band there to entertain them. So, young ladies, if the music is good, go and hear it as often as you can, and enjoy yourself. You p173 will find that General Sedgwick will have none but agreeable gentlemen about him."87 That settled it: youth was vindicated. The fate of the super-patriot, after Lee's departure, is not in the record.
Meantime, on the 11th, the cavalrymen were having a most exciting day. Stuart had flushed the Federal horse early in the morning and had been pursuing with his wonted dash. Every few hours he sent back to Lee to report his situation, for he had learned his lesson in Pennsylvania and did not intend to permit himself to get out of touch with the commanding general again. Late in the afternoon, when Lee had left Culpeper and had established camp for the night on the road near the village of Griffinsburg, one of Stuart's staff officers rode up with the news that Fitz Lee had encountered Federal cavalry units and was driving them northward from the line of the Rapidan in the direction of Brandy Station, while Stuart himself was pressing another column back toward the Rappahannock.
General Lee was with Ewell when this message arrived, and he received it, said the officer who brought the report, "with that grave courtesy which he exhibited alike toward the highest and the lowest soldier in his army."
"Thank you," he said. "Tell General Stuart to continue to press them back toward the river."
Then he smiled and added: "But tell him, too, to spare his horses — to spare his horses. It is not necessary to send so many messages."
Turning to Ewell, he said of the staff officer and of another who had preceded him only a few minutes, "I think these two gentlemen make eight messengers sent me by General Stuart."88
Stuart, in obedience to this kindly hint, may have spared his horses in sending more reports to Lee, but he did not withhold the spur in following the enemy. True to his expectation, Fitz Lee joined him near the scene of their famous cavalry action of June 9, and together they fought a second battle of Brandy Station, almost as interesting as the first because of the soldierly co-ordination of horse artillery, cavalry, sharpshooters, and dismounted p174 cavalry. By nightfall they had driven the enemy over the Rappahannock.89
Lee's task on the morning of October 12 was to outflank Meade and to intercept him on his retreat up the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. In its essentials the problem was analogous to the one he had solved successfully fourteen months previously by sending Jackson around Pope's rear. Now, however, he could not hope to repeat this manoeuvre on a large scale, because of the weakness of the army and of the transport; but he was willing to undertake a shorter turning movement, in the hope of forcing Meade into a position where the Federals could be attacked advantageously.
The only roads available to Lee for this purpose led to Warrenton, so he chose that town as his immediate objective. Dividing the army into columns of corps, Lee set out from the vicinity of Culpeper early on the morning of October 12, his front and right flank covered by Stuart's cavalry. Ewell's corps was to move by way of Jeffersonton and Sulphur Springs. Hill was to take the longer, better-protected route via Woodville, Sperryville, Washington, Amissville, and Waterloo Bridge — a winding way, but one for which there was no substitute.90
Routes of Ewell's (Second) and A. P. Hill's (Third) corps from Culpeper to Warrenton, Oct. 12‑13, 1863.
While the cavalry skirmished on a wide front with the enemy, Ewell's infantry, which Lee accompanied in person, marched undisturbed by Rixeyville to Jeffersonton. Although thousands of men were barefooted91 they did not complain or straggle. With their faces to the north, they were as confident as ever. As the column approached Jeffersonton, the village where Lee had given Jackson his orders for the march around Pope, the cavalry encountered a Federal outpost, scattered behind hills, fences, and the wall of the cemetery. The Eleventh Virginia was dismounted and was sent forward, but it was not strong enough for the task. Lee thereupon ordered Stuart to deploy a regiment on either p176 side of Jeffersonton and to force the enemy out. In a few minutes there was a sharp clash, then the Federals gave way and scattered, with Stuart's men hunting them down in fast pursuit.92
From Jeffersonton the Warrenton road turns to the northeast, crosses a ridge and descends to the valley of the upper Rappahannock at Warrenton Sulphur Springs, the scene of Early's anxious adventure that August night in 1862 when the rising waters cut him off on the left bank of the stream from the supporting troops of Jackson.93 When the advance reached the familiar ground around the ford, it discovered the enemy on guard, with dismounted cavalry in rifle pits and with some artillery in position. Stuart at once advanced his own dismounted men, and Lee's former military secretary, General A. L. Long, brought up a battery from the Second Corps artillery, of which he was now chief. The Federal gunners were quickly driven off, but when the Twelfth Virginia Cavalry rode up to the bridge, it found the planking removed and came under a hot fire from sharpshooters. Without hesitating, the Twelfth turned about, made its way to the ford below the bridge and dashed across. The Federal rearguard at once withdrew, the cavalrymen replaced the planking, and two divisions of infantry, passing quickly over, once again stood north of the Rappahannock. It was now nearly dark, and Lee called a halt.94
Early on the morning of October 13 the remaining troops of Ewell's corps crossed at Sulphur Springs and moved on Warrenton. Their march was not rapid, because Lee knew that Hill had a longer route to pursue, and he did not desire to be in the presence of the enemy until the two corps were reunited. It was afternoon when he reached Warrenton, where Hill joined him p177 about dark, too late to undertake a farther advance that day, especially as the entire army had to be rationed from the wagon train, now that Lee no longer was in touch with the railroad.95
During the day Lee had received messages from Stuart through Fitz Lee, announcing that enemy troops were still at Warrenton Junction, but were burning stores. Before nightfall a courier arrived with a dispatch, dated 3:45 P.M., in which Stuart stated that a Federal wagon train was moving from Warrenton Junction as if following infantry toward Warrenton. Stuart's note indicated that he was close to the enemy. He said, in particular, that he would dispatch further information very soon, as one of his officers was making a reconnaissance at that moment.96 Then, curiously enough, the flow of messages stopped. As the day ended and the troops went into bivouac around Warrenton, Lee became apprehensive and waited long after his usual hour of retirement for further news. Had Stuart been cut off? Was the enemy approaching Warrenton?
About 1 o'clock a staff officer came to Lee's tent and announced that a spy in Stuart's service, Goode by name, had arrived with a strange tale. Lee went out to the campfire to hear what the man had to report. Goode was much concerned: Stuart, he said, had found the enemy moving northward along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and had started back with two brigades of cavalry toward Auburn, on the way to Warrenton. As Stuart had approached Auburn he had discovered another heavy Federal column moving northward past Auburn toward Greenwich. Stuart had taken his men out of the road and had hidden them in a wood behind a hill north of Catlett's Station-Auburn-Warrenton road; but he was between two forces of the enemy and p178 might be discovered at any time. He had sent Goode to inform General Lee of his plight and to ask that a force be sent to make an artillery demonstration west of the Auburn-Greenwich road. If this were done, Stuart might open with his own artillery and create so much consternation among the Federals that he could effect his escape. On the map, Goode pointed out the situation as follows:
Position of Stuart's cavalry, night of Oct. 13‑14, 1863, showing the lines of march of the Federal columns.
Lee went back into his tent to consider what had best be done to relieve Stuart. While there he could plainly hear Goode's voice, as the spy chatted with staff officers around the camp fire. There was a standing order in the army against the discussion of confidential matters by spies with any one but the officer to whom they were sent. Goode's apparent disdain of this very necessary regulation angered Lee. Going to the door of the tent he said in a loud, wrathful voice that he did not want his scouts to be talking in camp. Scarcely had he turned back when Major Venable entered and told him that Goode was fairly trembling at the General's rebuke. The man had not been talking incautiously, Venable said, but had simply been trying to explain where the p179 artillery could be placed to save Stuart from discovery. Lee repented instantly of his stern treatment of the faithful Goode. Going out to him, he gave orders that a supper with hot coffee should be prepared for the man, and he was not content with his amends until he had placed Goode on his own camp stool in the headquarters mess tent and had seen him well supplied with food.97
This done, Lee ordered General Ewell to make the desired diversion at dawn, and prepared the army for a general advance against Bristoe on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. About daylight there came the sound of a brief cannonade from the direction of Ewell's approach, followed quickly by a more distant salvo, evidently from Stuart's guns.98 Soon Stuart himself rode up to Lee and reported triumphantly that he had broken through the enemy's lines and had escaped with negligible loss. He had spent an anxious night, he said. His troopers had been compelled to remain in the saddle. At the bridle of each animal hitched to the wagons and to the guns, a dismounted cavalryman had stood to stifle every impatient neigh of the horses and each inquisitive bray of the mules. Once, during the long vigil, some of Stuart's officers had proposed that they abandon the guns and the train and cut their way out, but Stuart had refused. His own judgment had forced him to reject another idea with which his imaginative mind had toyed — to move out into the road, to turn the enemy's wagon train westward in the darkness, and to fall in as if the two lean brigades in gray were part of the Federal army. When daylight had come a fog had obscured the ground, and as soon as he had heard Ewell's guns he had opened with his own batteries against Federal infantry who had leisurely been boiling coffee, in a most tantalizing manner, within sight of the hungry Confederates. Then he had rushed off.99
p180 From Stuart's report it was apparent that part of the Army of the Potomac was close at hand, but as the enemy had direct roads there was little prospect that Meade would soon be overtaken. The army set out for Bristoe, however, in high spirits — Hill by way of New Baltimore and Greenwich, Ewell by Auburn and Greenwich.100 The march was long and the pace was fast.101 Lee was stirred by the zeal of the men, and when he came to write of the advance, he told the President, "I think the sublimest sight of the war was the cheerfulness and alacrity exhibited by this army in the pursuit of the enemy under all the trials and privations to which it was exposed."102 A North Carolina soldier in Hill's corps attributed the speed of the march to less lofty motives than pure patriotism. According to him, on reaching Greenwich, "we found the camp fires of the enemy still burning and evident signs of their departure in haste. . . . Guns, knapsacks, blankets, etc., strewn along the road showed that the enemy was moving in rapid retreat, and prisoners sent in every few minutes confirmed our opinion that they were fleeing in haste. It was almost like boys chasing a hare. Though the march was very rapid, not a straggler left the ranks of our regiment, every man seeming in earnest and confident in the belief" — then he admitted the real reason — "that we would soon overtake and capture a portion of the Federal army before us with their wagon trains."103 Shoes for bare feet, blankets for shivering shoulders, sutlers' delicacies for hungry stomachs — these were the spurs that hurried the regiments on.
At Greenwich, Ewell gave Hill the direct road to Bristoe Station, and as he was familiar from boyhood with the ground,104 he conducted his own corps forward by farm roads •a mile and more to the right of Hill's line of advance. Lee rode with Ewell at the head of the Second Corps, accompanied by General Pendleton.105 p181 About mid-afternoon, as he approached the railroad, Lee was greeted with a heavy outburst of firing on the left, infantry and artillery — Hill evidently engaged hotly with the enemy. Proceeding at once across country to ascertain the nature of the engagement, Lee did not arrive until the action was over. Then he learned the grim details of as badly managed a battle as had ever been fought under the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
This is what happened: As his corps approached Bristoe Station, where Jackson had reached the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in August, 1862, A. P. Hill observed a large force of the enemy on the near side and many more troops on the far side of Broad Run, a fordable little stream that courses from north to south until it reaches the railway, and then turns to the east. As Hill's advance was from the west, the stretch of Broad Run above the railroad was almost directly in his front. He accordingly deployed Heth's division facing the stream, with the intention of crossing at once and pursuing the enemy.106 Only two brigades had been put in position — Cooke's on the right and Kirkland's on the left — when they received orders to attack immediately. The enemy across the run was moving hurriedly off at the time, and Poague's battalion was being advanced to shell the column.107
Just as Cooke started forward, a sharp fire broke out on his right, from the direction of the railroad cut, which ran from southwest to northeast. Throwing forward two companies to feel out the enemy, Cooke halted and sent word to Heth of his predicament; but as Anderson's division was coming up, Hill felt that he could repulse any troops on Heth's flank, and he sent peremptory orders for Cooke to advance at once across the run, whither all the Federals in sight had now fled.108
"Well," said Cooke, who had shown his fibre when he had stood almost unsupported at Sharpsburg, "I will advance, and if they flank me, I will face my men about and cut my way out."109
Scarcely had he started than the whole of the railroad embankment on his right began to blaze with musketry. The embankment p182 formed an ideal breastwork, and behind it, on rising ground, Federal artillery was soon visible.
Then it dawned on the Confederates that while they had been intent on pursuing the troops across the run, another Federal force had advanced up the railroad and had taken position where it could sweep Heth's flank. It was as fine a trap as could have been devised by a month's engineering. Cooke's brigade, of course, could do nothing but retreat forthwith or else pivot on its right and attack the enemy behind the railway embankment. As Cooke was badly wounded, almost at the first fire, his senior colonel made a quick choice and ordered the charge. Kirkland conformed, swung his left around, and made for the enemy in the cut. He, too, was wounded, but his men kept on. They reached the embankment and plunged over it, only to be driven back speedily or captured. Cooke's men gallantly approached the embankment but came under a heavy enfilade and failed to reach p183 their objective. The two brigades fell back and in doing so uncovered a Confederate battery that had been placed, unknown to them, on the right of the road in rear of Cooke.110 The enemy promptly advanced and seized four of the guns, which he hauled off. Walker's brigade, which had gone across the run, made a quick return and attempted to recover the lost artillery, but it was too late.111
Manoeuvres of three brigades of Heth's division, Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia,
Within forty minutes — before Anderson's division could get in position on Heth's right, and ere the Second Corps reached the field of action — the battle was ended and night was falling. Two Confederate corps had been within striking distance and so disposed that if Hill's attack had been delayed even half an hour, the Federals moving along the railroad could have been roughly handled and perhaps cut off. As it was, two brigades had borne the brunt of the action. Both had been wrecked. Cooke's fine regiments had lost 700, and Kirkland's 602.112 In the Twenty-seventh North Carolina, which had been most severely exposed to direct and to enfilading fire, the casualties numbered 290 in an effective strength of 416, and all except three of the thirty-six officers were killed, wounded, or captured.113 The total losses reached 1361.114
The army was indignant. "There was no earthly excuse for it," Colonel Walter Taylor protested, "as all our troops were well in hand, and much stronger than the enemy."115 Said Sloan, "A worse managed affair than this fight . . . did not take place during the war."116 When the reports reached President Davis, he endorsed on Hill's, "There was a want of vigilance."117 Lee said little, but the next morning, when he went over the ground, and listened as Hill sorrowfully told his story and manfully took all the blame upon himself,118 his look was glum and disappointed,119 and he silenced Hill with words that were, for him, the worst of rebukes: "Well, well, General, bury these poor men and let us say no more about it."120
p184 During that same morning of October 15, the cavalry reported that the enemy had retreated beyond Bull Run and was entrenching there.121 Should Lee follow? He was confident that if he did so he could turn Meade's position and either force him north of the Potomac or compel him to take refuge in the fortifications around Washington.122 But the army, of course, was not strong enough to besiege Washington, and if it attempted to hold Meade on the Potomac, or close to that stream, it would be compelled either to march into Loudoun or draw a line close to Bull Run. There was perhaps enough food in Loudoun to supply the army temporarily, but the roads into that country were rough with stones, and the October nights would be cold. The quartermaster's corps had not issued enough shoes before the advance. The men's footgear was in wretched condition.123 If he could avoid the necessity, Lee was anxious to save his soldiers from new hardships. Besides, a move farther northward would carry the army to such a distance from Richmond that it could not be available in case the Confederate capital were attacked from the east.124 Remaining where he was, in front of Manassas Junction, seemed to Lee as difficult as advancing into Loudoun, except for the exposure of the troops. He could draw no provisions from the naked country roundabout, and though he was on the railroad, it could not supply him. Meade had destroyed the bridge over the Rappahannock and had blown up one of its piers. This could not be repaired in time to serve the army. Everything would have to be hauled by wagon from the rail-end on the south side of the river.125
Were the possible benefits worth these risks and hardships? Lee was disposed to answer in the negative,126 but while he was p185 debating, he began the destruction of the railroad in order that Meade could not utilize it in pursuing the army back to the Rappahannock.127 For this work of tearing up the railway, Lee employed, among other troops, Lane's North Carolina brigade, which had long specialized in this art under the tutelage of "Stonewall" Jackson.128 The rails were first detached from the cross ties. Then the ties were dug from the road bed and were piled in square pens at convenient intervals. Thereupon the rails were placed on top the pens, which were then set afire. When the centre of the rails became red hot and the ends began to sag, soldiers would take the rails, run with them to the nearest tree, post, or telegraph pole, and quickly wind them around the upright. The rails thus twisted were called "iron neckties" and, of course, could not be relaid.129 This work, begun on the 15th, was continued the next day, while wrecking detachments destroyed the nearby bridges.130 On the 16th a heavy autumnal rain saturated the ground and swelled the streams.131 The army could hardly have moved had Lee desired it to do so; and had he found it necessary to put the shivering men on the march, Lee could not have led them, for his condition, which was now pronounced lumbago, was so painful that he was confined to his tent.132
Satisfied on the 17th that he could accomplish little by staying in Meade's front,133 Lee started the army back toward the Rappahannock on October 18, and left the cavalry to watch the enemy.134 He was not certain how soon Meade might attempt to follow him135 and, to retard the enemy, he continued to destroy the railroad southward until he reached a point from which he believed it would be possible to transport the much-needed rails to the south bank.136 The march was depressing because of the devastation of the country. "Never," wrote Walter Taylor, "have I witnessed as sad a picture as Prince William County now presents. 'Tis desolation made desolate indeed. As far as the eye can reach on every side, there is one vast, barren wilderness; not a fence, not an acre cultivated, not a living object visible; and but p186 for here and there a standing chimney, on the ruins of what was once a handsome and happy home, one would imagine that man was never here and that the country was an entirely new one and without any virtue save its vast extent."137 "Not a living thing," another officer exclaimed, "save a few partridges and other small birds! No horse or cow, no hog or sheep, no dog or cat, — of course, no man, woman, or child!"138
By noon of the 18th the army reached the Rappahannock, for its march was swift; but because of the slowness of the engineers, the pontoon was not ready, and the tired columns had to wait.139 Seeing near the river a farmhouse that had been spared, probably because some Federal commander had maintained his headquarters there, Lee rode up to look at it. He was shocked at the deliberate vandalism he beheld there. "Not a soul remained," the faithful Pendleton chronicled. "Drills, however, and ploughs of most valuable kinds had been piled together in the yard by the Yankees and burned; wagons, carts, and an elegant carriage had been cut to pieces and smashed up with axes; and the negro cabins were in general reduced to ashes."140
p187 At length the pontoons were in place, the bridge was laid, and Lee crossed to the south bank with half the army. The other forces followed the next morning.141 The whole movement was completed without interruption, except for the action that won the alluring name of the "Buckland Races." This affair was on October 19. The Confederate cavalry, which had been on picket duty in the vicinity of Bull Run, had fallen back in two columns, one toward Warrenton under Stuart and the other toward Bristoe under Fitz Lee. Stuart made a stand on Broad Run in the vicinity of Buckland and was holding off the enemy when he received a dispatch from Fitz Lee stating that he was on his way to support Stuart. If Stuart fell back down the Warrenton road, Fitz Lee said he could himself assail the Federals' flank and perhaps rout them. Stuart promptly retired until he reached Chestnut Hill, •about two and a half miles above Warrenton. Hearing then the guns of Fitz Lee, he turned on Kilpatrick's cavalry, who correctly assumed they were in a trap and retreated in great haste, pursued by Stuart. Not until Buckland was reached did Stuart halt the chase. The fact that fleeing Federals and following Confederates were so close together on the stretch of •seven miles gave the contest the nature of a race. Hence the name bestowed on the action.142 Lee was much pleased with the affair, which yielded prisoners and much booty, but he promptly forbade Stuart to undertake a raid to the Potomac during the temporary demoralization of the enemy.143
While the "Buckland Races" gave a saving touch of humor to the withdrawal, they did not relieve the expedition of failure. Lee had asked, in effect, whether the offensive could be resumed, and the answer, all too plain, was that it could not be with the limited forces he had, and with his matériel as poor as it then was. If he could get more men — or even more shoes and feed for his horses — it might be different; but without these, for hunger or for plenty, for worse or for better, the Army of Northern Virginia must remain temporarily on the defensive, in a stricken land.
1 Lee to Margaret Stuart, July 26, 1863; Jones, L. and L., 283.
2 R. E. Lee, Jr., 103; Mosby's Memoirs, 374. Cf. G. M. Neese: Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery (cited hereafter as Neese), 204: "General R. E. Lee passed our camp today; he rode along the road unaccompanied by any one and seemed as unconcerned as an old farmer going to his daily toil."
4 Cf. Lee to Davis, Aug. 22, 1863, "As soon as I can get the vacancies in the army filled, and the horses and men recruited a little, if General Meade does not move, I wish to attack him" (O. R., 29, part 2, p661). Cf. same to same, Aug. 24, 1863, ibid., 664. Scheibert, op. cit., 76, quoted Lee "after Gettysburg" as saying to him, "I see clearly that it is no longer possible for us to achieve peace by taking the offensive; in this civil war, the more we conquer, the more we stir up hatred; that is why, as far as possible, I am confining myself to the defensive and sparing my men." Maurice (op. cit., 216), doubtless on the authority of Scheibert, affirmed that delay became Lee's main object after Gettysburg and fortification his favorite method. But there is overwhelming evidence to show that the statement to Scheibert could not have been made until some months after the close of the Gettysburg operation, unless it was simply to describe the policy Lee was following for a brief period.
5 R. E. Lee, Jr., 109; Sorrel, 179. Lee recorded the unfailing hospitality of the Taylors and remarked that though he had paid Mrs. Taylor two visits for the purpose of prevailing upon her to desist from sending him food and dainties, she continued to do so.
9 Long MS., Sept. 5, 1863: "Our army has been greatly benefitted by a month's quiet and rest. Our ranks have been continually filling. Our discipline and drill is now better than it has ever been." Welch (op. cit., 75) noted that in 1862, when men were sent to the hospital, they were expected to die, but that they received excellent treatment in 1863.
11 Welch, 77.
18 R. E. Lee, Jr., 110.
21 R. E. Lee, Jr., op. cit., 110, dated from Orange, on Sept. 4, a letter in which the General described briefly an inspection of the enemy's position from Clark's Mountain on Sept. 3. As Jones (2 R. W. C. D., 32) stated that Lee was in Richmond Sept. 3 and 4, it seemed probable that the letter in R. E. Lee, Jr., was misdated, but a check of the original, kindly made by Mrs. Hanson Ely, confirmed Sept. 4 as the correct date.
24 H. M. Cist: The Army of the Cumberland, 168 ff.; 1 Grant's Memoirs, 578 ff.; 1 Sherman's Memoirs, 344 ff.; R. S. Henry: The Story of the Confederacy (cited hereafter as Henry), 290 ff., 306 ff.
28 Annals of the War, 443‑44; Longstreet, 433.
31 2 Davis, 428.
34 Longstreet was so desirous of trying his hand in Tennessee that he offered to take the troops near Richmond, to assume Bragg's command, and to turn over his corps to that officer (O. R., 29, part 2, p699).
39 Longstreet, 437.
41 Pendleton, 301.
43 Morgan, 170. Cf. Jones, L. and L., 283; Pendleton, 302; McHenry Howard: Recollections, 227; Worsham, 179‑81; R. E. Lee, Jr., 106‑7; Grayjackets, 229.
45 2 Davis, 427, 428 n.
49 Colonel John W. Fairfax to James Longstreet, April 16, 1898, Fairfax MSS.
59 O. R., 29, part 2, p749. Lee's gratification over Chickamauga was marred by the report that General Hood and General W. T. Wofford of Longstreet's corps had been killed. This report was later proved to be unfounded (O. R., 29, part 2, p753), but for the time it caused Lee great distress. "I am gradually losing my best men," he said, "— Jackson, Pender, Hood" (O. R., 29, part 2, p743; 2 Gulf States Historical Magazine, 292‑93).
62 2 Polk, 276‑77.
63 Jones, L. and L., 284.
67 O. R., 29, part 2, pp727, 739, 742, 748, 749, 750, 752, 758; ibid., 51, part 2, p769; R. E. Lee, Jr., 110. Meade had contemplated an advance and had been satisfied he could drive Lee back, but had not felt that he could follow Lee to the Richmond defenses with the forces he had (2 Meade, 142).
68 O. R., 29, part 2, p769. Actually the reduction had been around 16,300 (O. R., 29, part 1, p148). Meade still had 80,700 effectives (O. R., 29, part 1, p226), and Lee had less than 50,000 (O. R., 29, part 2, p764). Long (op. cit., 303‑4) was wrong in saying that Lee had nearly 60,000 and that the two armies were nearer an equality than they had previously been.
70 For a discussion of the nature of General Lee's illness, see vol. IV, Appendix.
71 Lee filed only a preliminary reticent report of the Bristoe campaign. His correspondence of the period is scanty. His principal reason for undertaking the campaign is given only in a letter of Oct. 26, 1863, to Longstreet in which he said he had made "a move upon General Meade to prevent his detaching reinforcements to Rosecrans" (O. R., 52, part 2, p549). The other reasons are, of course, readily inferred from the general military situation.
72 Cf. 2 R. W. C. D., 62.
81 O. R., 29, part 1, pp405‑6. As a matter of fact, the Federals did not learn of Lee's movement from the press but by direct observation of the front he had occupied. His departure from the Rapidan had been reported to Meade a few hours after it had occurred, but Meade had not been sure whether it presaged a retreat or a turning-movement (O. R., 29, part 1, p276).
87 Long, 306, on the authority of General Henry J. Hunt.
88 Cooke, 346‑47. Cooke was one of the officers.
90 O. R., 29, part 1, pp406, 410, 444. Probably because he did not wish to disclose his line of advance to an enemy whom he might have to meet again on the same terrain, Lee nowhere mentioned in his report the line of Hill's advance. Neither Hill nor any of his subordinates filed any report of operations prior to Oct. 14, but it is possible to reconstruct Hill's route from J. F. J. Caldwell's History of . . . McGowan's Brigade (cited hereafter as History of McGowan's Brigade), 114, and from the report of General Irvin Gregg who noted (O. R., 29, part 1, p366) that the 1st Maine Infantry encountered infantry, believed to be Hill's, between Amissville and Gaines's Crossroads. There are several references to a crossing at Waterloo Bridge.
Thayer's Note: The official website of the Secretary of State of the state of Maine, in its page on the 1st Maine Infantry Regiment, states that it was mustered out of service in August 1861, two years before this encounter. Not being a Civil War expert, I can only record the discrepancy, which pits the official records of the State of Maine against Freeman's reference to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
94 O. R., 29, part 1, pp406, 410, 417‑18, 445; Long, 306‑7; H. B. McClellan, 385‑86. The position of the Army of Northern Virginia was unknown to General Meade during the day of Oct. 12. After crossing the Rappahannock he suspected that Lee might still be at Culpeper, awaiting battle, and sent back three corps and a division of cavalry toward Brandy Station (O. R., 29, part 1, p10; ibid., part 2, pp296, 297). This left him only the I and III Corps north of the river. It was contended by Long (op. cit., 307), and by others who drew their information from his book, that this situation presented an opportunity that Lee lost. Actually, however, the two corps of the Army of Northern Virginia were so far apart that Lee could not have struck Meade north of the Rappahannock on the 12th, even if he had known of the division of Meade's forces, which was not ordered until 10:30 A.M. As soon as Meade heard of the arrival of Lee at Sulphur Springs, he directed the troops on the south bank to return at once. This order was issued at 9:15 P.M. (O. R., 29, part 2, p298), and was executed promptly.
95 O. R., 29, part 2, p410; History of McGowan's Brigade, 114. The late junction with Hill is undoubtedly the explanation of the slow advance on the 13th, which has mystified some of Lee's biographers. Cooker (op. cit., pp354‑55) was so much surprised at Lee's slowness that he expressed doubts whether Lee had really desired to intercept Meade. Fitz Lee (op. cit., 315‑16) contended that if Lee had advanced •five miles beyond Warrenton to Auburn or •fourteen miles farther to Bristoe, he could have caught Meade on the move. In explanation of the omission from Lee's report of all mention of Hill's movement to Warrenton, it should be noted that Lee was much averse to the publication of his reports, which President Davis in some instances had given to the press. Writing to the Secretary of War, April 30, 1864, Lee said that these publications should be avoided as he would have been very glad to receive such information regarding the enemy as the published correspondence between the War Department and General Joseph E. Johnston gave the Federals (O. R., 33, 1330‑31. Cf. O. R., 11, part 3, p636).
97 Venable's account in Long, 309‑10.
98 History of McGowan's Brigade, 115.
99 O. R., 29, part 1, pp447‑48; Long, 308; McCabe, 418; Cooke, 351 ff.; H. B. McClellan, 387 ff. The Federal reports will be found in O. R., 29, part 1, pp238 ff. General Stuart and apparently all other Confederate narrators of this amusing episode assumed that the Federals were moving northward from Auburn to Greenwich all through the night, but it is apparent from the report of Brigadier General Henry Prince (O. R., 29, part 1, p314), that his division, which formed the rearguard of the III Corps, reached Greenwich at 3 A.M. The II Corps did not follow him on that road but halted at Auburn for daylight and then turned into the road to Catlett's Station, as explained in Warren's report (O. R., 29, part 1, pp237‑38). Caldwell's division crossed Cedar Run after 2 A.M. and took position facing Warrenton, with its rear to Stuart. Had Stuart reconnoitred, (p180)he would have found the right flank of this division close at hand. By passing beyond it he could have crossed the Auburn-Greenwich road and could have gone on to Warrenton before daylight. The darkness was, however, a dangerous obstacle to any such adventure as this, and Stuart's decision to wait until daylight doubtless was the correct one. The map that accompanied Warren's report, printed in O. R., 29, part 1, p1018, makes plain Stuart's error in assuming that troops were marching up the Auburn-Greenwich road all night.
101 History of McGowan's Brigade, 115.
103 2 N. C. Regts., 440.
105 Pendleton, 394.
109 2 N. C. Regts., 441.
110 James A. Graham Papers, 162.
113 2 N. C. Regts., 443.
115 Taylor's Four Years, 116.
116 Sloan, 74.
119 W. W. Chamberlaine, 83; Cooke, 356.
120 Long, 311. The Confederates all reported that it was the III Corps they had chased across the run. Cf. Hill in O. R., 29, part 1, p426. As a matter of fact, the retiring (p184)corps was the V (cf. O. R., 29, part 1, p277). The defending force along the railway cut was the II Corps, of which Webb's and Hays's divisions received the weight of the attack. The losses in the II Corps, including the few casualties that morning at Auburn, were 546 (O. R., 29, part 1, p250). For the small part played in the action by Anderson's division of Hill's Corps, see O. R., 29, part 1, p429. Wilcox's troops had not come up when the battle was fought. The commanding officers of the Second Corps filed no reports, but Early, op. cit., 304, gave a curious account of the slow and confused advance of his division.
128 2 N. C. Regts., 479.
129 2 N. C. Regts., 479, 663; Taylor MSS., Oct. 17, 1863.
131 Ibid., p407.
132 Pendleton, 304.
137 Taylor MSS., Oct. 25, 1863.
138 Pendleton, 304.
139 Taylor MSS., Oct. 25, 1863.
141 Taylor MSS., Oct. 25, 1863.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Robert E. Lee
(This Week in the Civil War)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 1 Oct 13