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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. III
p218
Chapter XIII

Lee as a Diplomatist

(THE WINTER OF 1863‑64)

The first three months of 1864 were spent in a routine similar in many particulars to that which Lee had taken up after Burnside's "Mud March" in the winter of 1862‑63. From his headquarters in a wood on the southern slope of Clark's Mountain,1 Lee rode daily with Major Venable or Major Marshall or both2 to study some part of his long line of twenty miles.3 As far as practicable, he kept the infantry in sheltered camps and entrusted picketing to the cavalry. This was not easy. When forage was at its lowest some of the mounted regiments had to ride forty miles to their posts, but there seemed no other way of protecting the front. Large units of infantry could not be posted at each ford because it would weaken the army too greatly. Small forces, Lee reasoned, could easily be cut off.4

On February 6 the Federals crossed in strength at Norton's Ford, remained all day and returned that night to the north bank5 — a mere demonstration, Lee thought, "only intended to see where we were and whether they could injure us."6 On February 22, Lee went to Richmond to confer with the President on the military outlook,7 and while there, breakfasting at the White House, was given a lecture on strategy by an Alabama senator. He "smiled blandly the while," Mrs. Chesnut noted in her diary, "though he did permit himself a mild sneer at the wise civilians in Congress who refrained from trying the battlefield in person, but from afar dictated the movements of armies."8 Lee spent p219 much time with the President and with General Bragg, who had come to Richmond to act as Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mr. Davis' adviser. The visit was interrupted on February 29 by the news that General Kilpatrick and Colonel Ulric Dahlgren had launched a long-expected raid on Richmond.9 Lee passed up the railroad only a few hours before Dahlgren struck it, and once again he narrowly escaped capture.10 He immediately organized an expedition into Madison County to meet a diversion incident to the main raid, but this served no other purpose than to expose the men, unsheltered, to freezing weather and to a snowstorm.11 Dahlgren and Kilpatrick were repulsed at the Richmond defenses, and Dahlgren himself was later killed in King and Queen County. On his body was found an address to his soldiers, directing that the prisoners in Richmond be released, that the city be burned, and that President Davis and his Cabinet be killed. This paper created an immense stir and, later in the spring, prompted General Lee to make formal inquiry of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Meade as to the authenticity of the document.12

These were the only operations of importance in northern and central Virginia until Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant opened the Wilderness campaign in May, 1864. Numerous warnings from the lower Peninsula of an expedition against Richmond caused Lee to urge the further p220 strengthening of the defenses of that city and of Petersburg.13 He speculated, also, whether this new, anticipated advance on the capital would precede or follow the opening of the campaign in northern Virginia.14 An abortive advance in North Carolina was made on New Berne, February 1‑2, at the instance of General R. F. Hoke and with the approval of Lee.15 After this failure, Lee was anxious to recall Hoke,16 but that officer justified delay by the brilliant capture of Plymouth on April 20, with approximately 2500 prisoners,17 for which exploit he was promoted major general.18

Insignificant as were these affairs compared with the great battles of the preceding years, there was abundant work for General Lee at headquarters — work as difficult as that of open campaigning, work that called for qualities the lack of which has made many an able field commander a mere name in dusty reports. Lee the strategist had to be Lee the diplomatist. Many of the best officers were dead, notably Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jackson and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pender. Others had been incapacitated or had sustained crippling wounds. Some had heart-burnings and a sense of failure. Lack of promotion rankled the spirits of not a few. In the artillery, Gettysburg had shown that certain of the older men were incompetent and by their seniority were blocking the promotion of younger, more scientific gunners. There were in some cases distinct problems of difficult personality or dangerous dislikes. All these were aggravated by a long, cold winter of idleness. It was Lee's task to remove the incompetent, to promote the deserving, to humble the arrogant, to soothe the sensibilities of the disappointed, and to prepare the command once again for the cruel exactions of what might be the decisive campaign. The means he employed to these ends are worthy of examination in some detail.

The assignment of new officers to brigade and divisional command had been under way since the close of the Gettysburg campaign. p221 The most important position to fill had been that of a successor to General Pender. On August 1, Lee had recommended Brigadier General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Cadmus M. Wilcox, whom he described as "one of the oldest brigadiers in the service, a highly capable officer" who deserved promotion.19 To succeed Pettigrew, he had chosen W. W. Kirkland, who had been colonel of the Twenty-first North Carolina, in Hoke's brigade;20 and in the place of the fallen Semmes he had selected Goode Bryan, colonel of the Sixteenth Georgia, Wofford's brigade.21 Perrin had been given McGowan's old brigade, temporarily;22 John Pegram had been assigned to that formerly led by William Smith.23 In the absence of Rooney Lee, the able John R. Chambliss was named to head his command,24 and in March, 1864, Brigadier General N. H. Harris was designated to handle the brigade of Carnot Posey, who had died on November 13, 1863, of wounds received at Bristoe Station.25 All these promotions were made without arousing many open jealousies. The only exception of consequence was Colonel Edward A. O'Neal of the Twenty-sixth Alabama. After Rodes's promotion to Major General, a new commander for his brigade had been necessary, and Lee had recommended O'Neal, then the senior colonel.26 For some reason, O'Neal's commission had been delayed, but he had been in charge of the brigade at Gettysburg, where, on the first day, he had not distinguished himself.27 Lee did not censure O'Neal or bring him before a court of inquiry, but quietly recommended three other Alabama colonels in preference to him. Colonel Cullen A. Battle was chosen. This much incensed O'Neal, who subsequently applied for the transfer of his regiment to the army under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Polk.28 That, however, was not the end of the matter. In the spring of 1864, Senator James Phelan of Alabama — the same gentleman who had lectured Lee on strategy at the White House — protested to Mr. Davis that injustice had been done Colonel O'Neal, and Davis forwarded the papers to Lee. Lee prepared a detailed answer, in which he stated that if the military situation permitted, he would like a court of inquiry in the case. Then he went on: p222 "I concur with the Honble. Mr. Phelan that Col. O'Neal is a most true, brave, and gallant officer. Still I believed that Cols. Gordon, Morgan and Battle gave promise of making better brigade commanders, and therefore recommended them before him. The regiment of Colonel O'Neal . . . has been transferred. . . . I am unable to compare his qualifications with those of the officers of the Alabama regiments mentioned by Mr. Phelan, and . . . cannot say whether he is the best commander that can be selected for a brigade composed of those regiments. If he is, I should be gratified at his promotion."29 Later on, when O'Neal's troops returned to Virginia and a brigade's commission for him reached headquarters, Lee sent it back with endorsement of another officer and the simple comment, "Since my first letter to His Excellency I have seen Colonel O'Neal and have made more particular inquiries into his capacity to command the brigade and I cannot recommend him to the command."30

In making these and all other promotions, Lee was mindful not only of valor and leadership displayed on the field, but of discipline maintained in camp and on the march. He came one day upon a cavalry brigade halted in a lane adjoining a field of ripe watermelons. All the troopers except those of one regiment were dismounted and were devouring the melons. Lee sent for the colonel of the regiment that had not been allowed to enter the field. Why, he asked blandly, were not those men helping themselves to the melons that were so abundant? "My men, General," the colonel answered, "are not allowed to disobey your orders concerning pillaging." Lee said no more and rode on. As it happened, several of the colonels of that brigade had been recommended for promotion. When the time came to make the award, Lee gave it to the colonel who had obeyed orders.31 Equal stress he always placed upon the temperance of those who were considered for high command. "I cannot," he said, "place in control of others one who cannot control himself."32

The promotions in the artillery caused much concern and called for the full measure of Lee's diplomacy. He seems to have been p223 guided largely by the judgment of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pendleton, who prepared a full and lengthy memorandum on the qualifications of the various corps chiefs and battalion commanders.33 In carrying out Pendleton's recommendations, Lee took good care that older officers like Colonel J. B. Walton of the First Corps should not have their sensibilities offended by transfers,34 and he was willing to forego the personal convenience of retaining as capable an assistant as Colonel A. L. Long on his staff in order that Long might have higher rank and the Second Corps the advantage of his services as its chief of artillery.35

Lee was much embarrassed in many cases by the policy of the administration which yielded to the demand that brigade officers should come from the same states as their troops. Governor Vance of North Carolina, who visited the army in March, 1864, and made a number of speeches that Lee enjoyed greatly,36 was particularly insistent that his state be "recognized." To satisfy him, Lee put the North Carolina cavalry under General L. S. Baker, removed a Virginia brigadier from the command of a mixed brigade of North Carolinians and Virginians, named a Maryland officer of the old army, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George H. Steuart, in his place, and transferred General Iverson from a North Carolina to a Louisiana brigade. When Robert Ransom and Pender had been made major generals, North Carolinians succeeded to their brigades, and when Pettigrew died, Kirkland, of the same state, as already noted, was given his troops.37 To maintain capable leadership while respecting state pride was an unending problem with Lee.

Holding to good men with the same care he exhibited in promoting the capable,38 Lee dealt considerably with those who were incapacitated or of weak physique. He felt that an invalid corps should be organized such officers, both that they might be employed and also that their absence might not be injurious to their command or prevent the promotion of capable subordinates.39

p224 The case of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ewell did not fall precisely in this category, but there was much doubt in Lee's mind whether that stout-hearted soldier could endure the hardships of open campaigning. In January, 1864, when some question was raised as to the physical ability of General Ewell to keep the field, he asked Lee's opinion regarding an application for an easier post. The answer Lee wrote was characteristic: "I cannot take upon myself to decide in this matter," he said. "You are the proper person, on consultation with your medical advisers. I do not know how much ought to be attributed to long absence from the field, general debility, or the result of your injury, but I was in constant fear during the last campaign that you would sink under your duties or destroy yourself. In either event injury might have resulted. I last spring asked for your appointment provided you were able to take the field. You now know from experience what you have to undergo, and can best judge of your ability to endure it. I fear we cannot anticipate less labor than formerly. Wishing you every happiness, and that you may be able to serve the country to the last . . ."40 Ewell decided to stick it out, and Lee did his utmost not to overtax his powers of endurance. In February, 1864, when Lee went to Richmond for consultation with the President, he had to leave General Ewell in command, as senior lieutenant general, but he tried to arrange the duties so as to impose the least discomfort on him. At Lee's instance, Major Venable wrote Ewell, "He [General Lee] directs me to say that General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Chilton will remain here in the office, and is instructed to consult with you on all matters of importance connected with the army. Should it become necessary, General Lee desires you either to move up to Orange Courthouse or to remove the office to your quarters, as you may think best."41

With the indifferent, Lee tried exhortation or satire, and the inexperienced he ceaselessly sought to train in their duties.42 When he had to remove an incompetent man, he did so as tactfully and quietly as possible. Not once during the whole war did he initiate court-martial proceedings against an officer, and p225 only in the rarest instances did he call for courts of inquiry. One such case occurred after the New Berne operations of January-February, 1864. On complaint that General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Seth M. Barton had failed to do his expected part, Lee forwarded the information to President Davis, with the statement that he hoped the explanation of General Barton would be satisfactory.43 When the reports failed to clear Barton, Lee promptly asked that a court be convened.44

The troublesome case of Brigadier General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William E. Jones illustrated how Lee always endeavored to minimize in the Army of Northern Virginia, by diplomacy and effort, the personal differences that arose almost as frequently as in the Army of Tennessee but created far less scandal. He always saw to it that the army's soiled linen was washed in camp, not in public. Jones was a professional soldier of undoubted competence and had succeeded Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Stuart in command of the First Virginia Cavalry. Subsequently he became head of the "Laurel Brigade," which contained many of Ashby's famous troopers. He was accounted the best outpost officer in the army, but he had an unfortunate habit of parading his grievances and won the unhappy name of "Grumbler" Jones. Between him and Stuart, two antagonistic natures, there developed differences that were hopelessly irreconcilable. Jones offered his resignation before the Gettysburg campaign, but Lee withheld it. Subsequently, Stuart brought Jones to a court-martial. Lee sought to transfer him to an infantry brigade to save his services to the army, but when the court-martial findings were confirmed, Lee solved the difficulty and saved Jones's feelings by sending him to southwest Virginia.45 Colonel Thomas L. Rosser was promoted brigadier general as his successor.46

Another Jones caused Lee some vexing hours — Major General Samuel Jones, commanding in southwest Virginia. Jones was a high-minded, generous gentleman in every sense, and he had admittedly a difficult line to defend, but he had so little success in dealing with the repeated raids of Federal cavalry that the people in that section of Virginia became dissatisfied with him. Lee defended him for many months, but concluded at length p226 that a man who could not make better use of his forces should be transferred somewhere else. When his judgment became fixed, he proceeded directly and without equivocation. Jones was sent to Charleston, S. C., and Major General John C. Breckinridge, former Vice-President of the United States, was named in his stead.47 Before appointing Breckinridge, Davis was urged by some of his friends to name Custis Lee to the place. The President was fully satisfied of Custis's qualifications and offered him the post, but Custis was not anxious to have it, and his father was disinclined to put an inexperienced staff officer in command of so important a district.48 Lee was proud of the achievements of his sons and nephews,49 but sedulously avoided anything that smacked of nepotism. He refused to take Robert on his staff,50 and when he read that several officers of his name and blood were sponsoring a ball at Charlottesville, he wrote, "There are too many Lees on the committee. I like all to be present at battles, but can excuse them at balls."51


[image ALT: zzz]
GENERAL LEE
WITH CERTAIN OFFICERS OF HIS PERSONAL STAFF
AND OF THE GENERAL STAFF
OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA
After a photograph in the Confederate Museum, Richmond, Va.

Lee's troubles with the Joneses were small compared with those that came to light when the First Corps prepared to rejoin the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1864. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet's high hopes of great achievements in Tennessee had been shattered. Although he retained his full measure of self-assurance in dealing with Lee, he did not distinguish himself after Chickamauga. His disappointment led him to consider retiring, both as commander of the forces in east Tennessee and as head of the First Corps. The War Department had asked Lee if he would consider changing Ewell for Longstreet, but Lee opposed Longstreet's resignation and declined to make an exchange of corps in the belief that both were more effective as they were then organized.52 Having no one to succeed Longstreet who possessed that officer's p227 ability in the field, he was willing to endure his peculiarities for the good of the cause.53 The contagion of strife in the Army of Tennessee and Longstreet's own bitterness demoralized his command. When he returned to Virginia, to await the opening of the spring campaign of 1864, he had three of his generals, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McLaws, J. B. Robertson, and E. M. Law, under arrest or under charges. The cases of Robertson and McLaws did not come under Lee's jurisdiction, as their alleged offenses occurred in another department. Robertson was suspended for misconduct, according to Longstreet's version,54 and McLaws, found guilty on one minor charge, was ordered off duty for sixty days, but the findings of the court-martial were disapproved by the President, and the officer was restored to field service.55 He did not return, however, to the Army of Northern Virginia, and when he was subsequently ordered to do so, Lee requested that he be sent elsewhere.56 That was one of Lee's methods of dealing with men who had failed. So long as they remained with Taylor, he made the best of them. If they were relieved of command for any reason, and better men took their places, he usually saw to it that they were not again given assignments beyond their capacity. As for General Law, the first charges against him were not entertained by President Davis,57 but when Law appeared again for duty, Longstreet ordered his rearrest and made representations of such misbehavior by Law in destroying an official record that General Lee acquiesced in Longstreet's recommendation of a court-martial.58 Mr. Davis, however, reprimanded Longstreet for ordering the second arrest, whereupon Longstreet became incensed and threatened once more to resign unless the charges against Law were examined. The President did not yield and, so far as the evidence shows, Lee did nothing further. Law served with the army during part of the spring operations of 1864 until he was wounded at Cold Harbor. Subsequently he was transferred to South Carolina.59 Longstreet fell into complete disfavor with the administration p228 as a result of these affairs, and received one of the sharpest censures delivered during the war for making some inquiry as to why General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Field had been promoted. He was told that his remarks were highly insubordinate and that his inquiry was a direct reflection upon the executive. That was the end of Longstreet's brief rôle as a confidential adviser of the Secretary of War, except in one instance.60

Along with these troublesome questions of promotion and discipline, Lee had to discharge during the winter of 1863‑64 the continuous duty of soothing the sensibilities of officers whose minds the weariness of war was disturbing. Nor did this task end with the inactive season. Rather did it increase as the twilight of the Confederacy approached. Even at headquarters he had to mollify some aggrieved officers. Lee never had an adequate personal staff. As an engineer he had not been accustomed to having many assistants, and as the responsible head of an army of declining strength he was unwilling to set a bad example by taking a large number of officers from the combat units. Chilton, Long, Venable, Marshall, and Taylor, five clerks,61 an indefatigable quartermaster in the person of Major Harman,62 Bernard Lynch, the mess steward,63 and Perry, who had remained as Lee's body-servant for a short time after he was emancipated after the Custis will64 — these were his whole personal entourage from highest to humblest. After Long was promoted chief of artillery of the Second Corps, Lee did not fill his place. His personal staff work fell on four men, and an undue part of it on Major Taylor, the great ambition of whose life was to satisfy the General.65 There were moments of unhappiness in the dealings of the older man with the rapid, efficient young assistant adjutant general, but Lee would usually relieve these by a kindly inquiry or by a friendly chat in a headquarters tent.66 "The Tycoon," as his staff officers sometimes irreverently styled Lee,67 generally used only Major Marshall and Major Venable in the field except during action, and then he pressed into service all of his aides and p229 the officers of the general staff attached to his headquarters. Major Taylor was left in charge of the "paper-work," though whenever opportunity offered, he continued to indulge himself in daring feats on the field of battle. Colonel Chilton remained titular chief of staff, but either because he was not suited for the post, or else because Lee was his own principal staff officer, Chilton gradually turned over the duties of that office to Taylor and acted as inspector general. The arrangement was not wholly satisfactory and least of all to Chilton, who was thoroughly devoted to the Southern cause. In March, 1864, following some failure on the part of the Senate to commission him at an acceptable date as brigadier general, he asked to be relieved that he might accept appointment with the adjutant general.68 When Chilton decided to leave, Lee wrote him a friendly, tactful letter, regretting his departure and praising his service, but saying frankly that he believed he would be of more general service with General Cooper than with him. "I shall always feel great interest in your welfare and success," he wrote, "and trust that in your future sphere of action, your zeal, energy, and intelligence will be as conspicuous as in your former."69 Lee occasionally used other staff officers for short periods of emergency, but he chose no successor to Chilton and during the winter of 1863‑64 merely divided the ever-increasing duties among the three who were constantly with him.

He was exacting of his staff officers and in the feeling that they must join with him in subordinating self to duty, he gave them few furloughs and no promotion that was not awarded by act of Congress. They had the greatest respect for him, but did not share the general awe of the army for his presence. They knew that he was a hard taskmaster and that his temper was strong, though usually controlled, and they avoided him when his wrath was aroused or when he was sick and rendered irritable by inability to move about. At such times they dealt with him chiefly through Major Venable, whose age, dignity, and station placed him more nearly on even terms with the General.70 Except for p230 occasional misunderstandings, Lee's tact and fairness and the loyalty of his aides combined to assure harmony. No general ever had more devoted service than he received from his personal assistants, but surely no officer of like rank ever fought a campaign comparable to that of 1864 with only three men on his staff, and not one of the three a professional soldier.

Precise justice, like that of Washington, and consideration for the rights and sensibilities as individuals were Lee's first rules in dealing with his officers. He always gave them the benefit of the doubt. He never praised them except when he was sure they deserved it, but he never rebuked them unless he was certain they merited it. His attitude toward General W. N. Pendleton was typical. The chief of artillery, a minister in private life, had a good sense of organization, was a capable reconnaissance officer, and had a sharp eye for artillery positions, but he was not efficient in combat. His behavior in the affair on the Potomac after the Sharpsburg operations had been much criticised. At least one outspoken artillerist had said that Pendleton was "Lee's weakness . . . like the elephant we have him and we don't know what on earth to do with him. . . ."71 Lee had known Pendleton since their West Point days and had personal attachment for him, coupled with the respect he always had for a clergyman. He cannot have been wholly satisfied with Pendleton, however, because he never gave him real control of the artillery in action and generally left him in charge of the reserve only. During the entire course of the war he never recommended Pendleton for promotion, and when Davis proposed in 1864 to give him a corps in the Army of Tennessee, Lee politely said he "could not select him to command a corps in this army." He added: "I do not mean to say by that he is not competent, but from what I have seen of him I do not know that he is."72 In the autumn of 1863, Pendleton forwarded Lee a letter in which he mentioned some question that had been raised as to his handling of the artillery defense of Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign. Lee evidently had his own doubts on the subject, but he saw no gain from agitating them, and in his answer he did what he p231 could to dismiss the matter. "I think," said he, "the report of my dissatisfaction at your conduct is given upon small grounds, the statement apparently of your courier, upon whom I turned my back. I must acknowledge I have no recollection of the circumstances, or of anything upon which it could have been based. The guns were withdrawn from the heights of Fredericksburg under general instructions given by me. It is difficult now to say, with the after-knowledge of events, whether these instructions could, at the time, have been better executed, or whether if all the guns had remained in position, as you state there was not enough infantry supports [sic] for those retained, more might not have been captured."73 If that satisfied Pendleton, it did not give the lie to history.

Somewhat similar was the case of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Heth. That officer, whom Lee personally esteemed very highly, had been the most unfortunate of Lee's subordinates during the campaigns of 1863. His whole division had been wrongly blamed for the failure on the third day at Gettysburg; to him had fallen the difficult task of covering the rear when the army had recrossed at Falling Waters; and at Bristoe Station the two brigades that had been uselessly slaughtered were of his command. A. P. Hill very manfully took full blame for Bristoe Station and exculpated Heth for Gettysburg and Falling Waters,74 but there must have been whisperings in the army that Heth was incompetent. When he went to Richmond during the winter, he sought introductions, perhaps with an eye to putting the facts in their true light before the military committees of Congress. Lee gave him a letter to Senator R. M. T. Hunter, in which he reviewed the circumstances leading to Heth's promotion and said: "At Gettysburg . . . General Heth [was wounded] in the battle of the first day, when he steadily drove the enemy before him. He was unable to take further part in the battles around Gettysburg, but resumed command of his division on the march from Pennsylvania. At Bristoe his division was again engaged and according to the report of Genl. Hill, who was present, performed its duty. I have given you a part of Genl. Heth's military history and refer you to the official reports of the battles named to show you that he is worthy p232 of your attention."75 That was all — just, friendly, and precise, even to saying that, "according to the report of Genl. Hill," Heth had not been to blame at Bristoe. Not having been present himself, Lee would not vouch for more.

During the winter of 1863‑64, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Early served for a time in the Shenandoah Valley.76 He was well-disciplined and devoted but a better strategist than a tactician. At Malvern Hill he had lost himself in the woods and at Bristoe Station he had floundered about. Few, however, were more censorious or more outspoken in criticism of other officers. While directing the operations of General Imboden in the Valley, he so often disparaged that officer that Imboden, in desperation, appealed for a court of inquiry. Early endorsed the application with the statement that Imboden's command was poor in discipline and that he would not like to have to rely on it in an emergency. The papers in due course reached General Lee. He had already heard Early's complaints of Imboden and was inclined to believe them well-founded,77 but he did not think any good could result from airing the deficiencies of the troops, so he indorsed the papers simply: "General Imboden has been informed by letter today that I do not think a court of inquiry advantageous." Each of the disputants might take that as he pleased: Lee would have none of such a controversy.

In his official reports, Lee was equally careful to respect the sensibilities of his subordinates. The preparation of these documents, which was entrusted to Major Marshall, was rarely undertaken until all the subsidiary reports had been received. Marshall had first to reconcile all discrepancies by personal interviews and then he had to complete a rough draft. Lee went over every line of this with a sharp pencil and a sharper eye, eliminating any superfluous word and softening most of the asperities. "He weighed every sentence I wrote," Marshall stated, "frequently making minute verbal alterations, and questioned me closely as to the evidence on which I based all statements which he did not know to be correct."78 This method made his reports more p233 nearly accurate than almost any others written on the military operations of the War between the States, but it robbed them of so much of their dramatic interest that Charles Carter Lee, his eldest brother, protested humorously. The government, he said, employed the General to do the fighting but should retain himself to write the reports. "We could then combine," he said, "and be irresistible."79 On March 8, 1863,80 General Lee had sent in the report on the Seven Days; that on Fredericksburg was signed April 10, 1863,81 that covering Second Manassas bore date of June 8, 1863,82 and that dealing with Sharpsburg was forwarded August 19, 1863.83 All these he designed to form a continuous narrative.84 As the report on Gettysburg involved far more questions of personal inefficiency than any of the others, he took infinite pains to make it historically valid without reflecting needlessly on any one. He struck out, as already noted, Marshall's caustic references to Stuart's responsibility for the confusion after the army entered Pennsylvania, he made no criticism of Ewell or of Longstreet, and when he completed the paper, January 20, 1864,85 there was not a phrase in it to arouse jealousies or to injure the morale of the army. His rule in preparing his reports was to state facts without personal censure, and sometimes, as in the report on Chancellorsville, it was only when he omitted praise that criticism could be implied.86

As he was in these reports, so he was in his dealings with all his officers, and not in serious matters only. He took every opportunity of showing them small acts of kindness. Especially if an officer was visited in camp by his wife, Lee saw to it that they had evidence of his good will. When the campaign was about to open in 1864, he issued the usual order of "Women to the rear," but as the enemy showed no signs of moving, the wives of some of the officers lingered unduly. One day, when Lee went aboard a train at Orange Courthouse, he found Captain A. R. H. Ranson p234 with Mrs. Ranson. He stopped and said, "Captain Ranson, I wish you to introduce me to Mrs. Ranson."

The young woman arose instantly and began, "Oh, General Lee, I disregarded your order. It was my doing, not my husband's, and I beg of you to forgive both of us."

"Pray do not disturb yourself," Lee said. "My order was not intended for you at all. It was intended only for your husband. I intend to get a good deal of work out of him this summer, and he cannot do his work unless his horses are in condition. Every evening for some weeks, about nightfall, I have observed that he mounted his horse behind his camp and galloped off to Orange Courthouse, three miles away, and every morning he came galloping back about sunrise. Now you know this is not good for the horses. By the time I should need his services they would be worn out, and I was obliged to put a stop to it."

Then he sat down by her and talked so agreeably that he made her forget her concern, "but," said Ranson, in recounting the story, "there was in General Lee's little joke a reproof and warning to me, and although my wife's fears were relieved, he let me know that he had his eye on me, and that he knew more of my movements than had been supposed."87 Lee observed, in fact, the conduct of many an officer who did not realize that he was studying him, and in this way he acquired a surprisingly complete knowledge of the capacity of even his colonels. During the Mine Run operations, when he received a report of a strong demonstration on his right flank, his first question was, "Who commands the regiment?" He knew the answer would tell him what to expect.88

Finding one day that Colonel Hilary P. Jones had lost his gauntlets, Lee gave him a pair of his own;89 when he received a proposal to reorganize the Society of the Cincinnati, he opposed it on the ground that it might arouse jealousies;90 a statement that the officers were not receiving their pay with regularity led him to make prompt representation to the President91 — there were scores of such incidents. And there were cases, also, where Lee's p235 humor found expression. He was always threatening to marry off his bachelor generals to girls of his acquaintance. The more indifferent the individual to feminine charms, the more insistent Lee was — at least to the young women — that the officer accept the happy bondage of matrimony. General Edward Johnson was, at the time, a serious gallant, but Lee insisted that General Early was a far more acceptable suitor. To his cousin Margaret Stuart he wrote, "General Early has just returned from a visit home, and is handsomer than ever. He looks high in his new garments, and the black plume in his beaver gives him the air of a gay cavalier" — a description that will be illuminated by any picture of Early.92

But when the occasion required, Lee gave remembered counsel or administered unforgettable rebukes. If possible, he was tactful and considerate in this. During the winter a report reached headquarters that the enemy was moving on the extreme right of the Confederate front. Colonel Marshall was at once dispatched to that sector to inform General Ewell and to make proper dispositions. Marshall found that Ewell had already heard the rumor and had discovered it to be without foundation. Naturally, Marshall said nothing about a change in the Confederate front. When he returned and stated the facts, Lee made no protest, but that evening at dinner he called to Marshall from the opposite end of the table. "Major Marshall," said he, "did you know General Twiggs?"

Marshall answered that he knew him only by his reputation in the Mexican War.

"General Twiggs," said Lee, "had a way of instilling instruction that was very effective, and no one ever forgot a lesson taught by him. When he went to Mexico he had a number of young officers connected with his staff who were without experience but very zealous and desirous to do their duty thoroughly. Sometimes they undertook General Twiggs's orders, and would fail to do what he told them to do, or would not do it as the general had ordered it to be done. If General Twiggs remarked upon such liberties being taken with his orders, these gentlemen were always ready to show that they were right and that General p236 Twiggs was wrong. The general bore this without complaint or rebuke for some time, but one day a young officer came to report his execution of an order General Twiggs had given him, and reported that when he had reached the place where the thing ordered by General Twiggs was to be done, he had found the circumstances so entirely different from what General Twiggs had supposed that he thought that the general would not have given the order had he known the fact, and was proceeding to satisfy General Twiggs that what the young officer had done was the best under the circumstances. But General Twiggs interrupted him by saying, 'Captain, I know that you can prove that you are right, and that my order was wrong; in fact, you gentlemen are always right, but for God's sake do wrong sometimes.' "

Marshall commented: "Although General Lee was satisfied with what I had done on this occasion, he wished to impress the lesson of a literal obedience to orders on my mind, and you may be sure that I never forgot it, when it was possible to refer any doubtful matter back to him for further instructions."93

Lee would restrain the vehemence of his subordinates in the same manner. Out reconnoitring one day with a very partisan officer, Lee was shocked when the man exclaimed that he wished all the enemy were dead. "How can you say that, General?" Lee exclaimed. "Now, I wish that they were all at home attending to their own business, and leaving us to do the same." After Appomattox, he confided to a friend that had never seen a day when he did not pray for the enemy.94 General Henry A. Wise was the only man, it would appear, who ever had the temerity to joke with Lee on the subject of his prayers. In 1862, Lee had jestingly informed Wise that he had received a complaint that Wise's troops had been guilty of depredation, but he could hardly credit it because his informant had said that Wise had cursed him. Wise is said to have replied, "Well, General Lee, if you will do the praying for the Army of Northern Virginia, I'll be damned if I will not do the swearing."95

p237 In dealing with laggard officers, and with those who sought to get him to express unfriendly opinions, Lee was usually tactful. Once, later in the war, when an officer's slowness had permitted the Federals to escape, Lee remarked drily, "General, I have sometimes to admonish General Stuart or General Gordon against being too fast. I shall never have occasion to find that fault with you." On another occasion, when an officer tried to make him criticise another general by pointing out his shortcomings, Lee would only say, "Well, sir, if that is your opinion of General Blank, I can only say that you differ very widely from the General himself."96

But Lee set limits to his tact. He had a habit, when in camp, of occasionally writing down reflections that somewhat echo Marcus Aurelius, who seems to have been one of Lee's favorite authors. Among these maxims, found in his field valise after his death, was one to this effect: "Private and public life are subject to the same rules; and truth and manliness are two qualities that will carry you through this world much better than policy, or tact, or expediency, or any other word that was ever devised to conceal a deviation from a straight line."97 To that rule he held. The same Captain Ranson, whose wife had failed to obey the order to go to the rear, had known General Lee before the war, and was once invited to share with the General the contents of a basket of food that had been sent him. Ranson was late in arriving and in answer to a message that Lee was waiting for him, hurriedly put in an appearance. "Captain Ranson," said Lee gravely, "do you think it right to keep us all waiting in this way?" Ranson tried to apologize and, later in the evening when a bottle of Madeira was passed around, made some feeble joke about the incongruity of drinking such wine from tin cups. His table companions received his jest in cold silence, but Lee remarked that the wine had come from an old lady, a friend of his in Petersburg, and that he was afraid she would not relish the joke. Ranson subsided. "I felt," he confessed later, "as if I would be glad if the earth would open and swallow me up."98

Lee was particularly sensitive to greediness, and in dealing with p238 it he was not diplomatic. Once, when a corps commander and one of his aides dined with the commander, Lee had on the table a dish of bacon and greens and a solitary slice of beef that some one had sent him. The lieutenant general, when asked what he would have, asked for the vegetables, but when Lee put the same question to the aide, he said he would have some beef. Lee gave him the slice. A little later, Lee chanced to have dinner with the same lieutenant general, who had provided a roast of beef. When his host inquired what he cared to eat, Lee turned smilingly to the same greedy aide: "I will thank you for a piece of that beef, if Captain S[image ALT: an underscored blank] does not want all of it."99

A more vigorous forthrightness is reported to have been displayed after the army had moved to the Richmond line, during the summer of 1864, when Lee happened to meet near the front an officer who was always careful to keep to the rear. "Good morning, General," Lee is alleged to have said, with undisguised sarcasm, "Are you not afraid to trust yourself so far from the city, and to come where all this firing and danger is?"

"Oh, General," said the officer, "I am somewhere upon the lines every day."

"Indeed," said Lee, "I am very glad to learn it, sir. Good morning, General," and he is said to have turned away with something closely akin to scorn.100

Once again, during the Spotsylvania campaign, a general of infantry hotly berated the cavalry for permitting Sheridan to break through and destroy a food depot. "And they have captured my cow," he complained, "and I have no milk for my coffee. If I were in command of this army, I would notify General Grant that, inasmuch as he had sent his cavalry to the rear and destroyed our rations, I should not give his prisoners whom we hold a morsel of food, and if he wanted to save them from starvation, he would have to send rations here to them!" Lee passed at that moment. The officer repeated what he had said. Turning impatiently to him, but making no pause as he walked, Lee broke forth: "The prisoners that we have here, General [image ALT: an underscored blank], are my prisoners; they are not General Grant's prisoners, and as long as p239 I have any rations at all I shall divide them with my prisoners."101

Except in the case of Longstreet, Lee was usually less disposed to employ his tact in dealing with professional soldiers than with civilians who had taken up arms. He had always been frank with Jackson and he was occasionally plainspoken with Stuart. Among Stuart's scouts was a daring young man, Channing Smith, a kinsman of Governor William Smith of Virginia, successor to Governor Letcher. The chief of the cavalry corps carried on a correspondence with Governor Smith, and sent him, on occasion, reports in which he recounted with praise the exploits of Channing Smith and some of his other scouts. Governor Smith thoughtlessly let parts of these letters be printed. When they came under Lee's eye, he pointed to this paragraph in an early dispatch to Stuart: "From some letters of yours to Governor Smith published in the papers, I consider the lives of Stringfellow, Channing Smith and others greatly jeopardized. They will be watched for, and if caught, hardly dealt by. You had better recall them and replace them by others. I do not consider that I can make my official letters to the department public without the authority and permission of the Secretary of War, or furnish copies to others."102 The rebuke was as positive as it was delicate.

The self-mastery, and the unfailing consideration displayed toward the fiery men about General Lee, had its effect upon others. As his officers found him quick to reward merit and slow to blame, always just and always generous, ready to instruct the inexperienced and to trust the capable, there developed among them a respect for his character as great as their admiration for his military skill. Slowly he came in their minds not only to represent their cause, but to incarnate it and to idealize it. Proud as was the name of the Army of Northern Virginia, they almost ceased to say that they belonged to that host and spoke of themselves as serving in "Lee's army." And by that more personal name, with all the tribute to Lee that it implied, they usually styled the army in familiar conversation till it had become only the glamorous memory of their waning years.


The Author's Notes:

1 Cooke, 371. It was one of Lee's idiosyncrasies. Taylor wrote to his sweetheart, "to suffer any amount of discomfort and inconvenience sooner than to change a camp once established" (Taylor MSS., Oct. 25, 1863).

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2 Taylor's General Lee, 221.

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3 Hotchkiss in 3 C. M. H., 428‑29.

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4 O. R., 33, 1089.

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5 O. R., 32, part 2, 141, 1148, 1169‑70; Taylor MSS., Feb. 6‑8, 1864, Lee's Dispatches, 136.

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6 Lee to Mrs. Lee, Feb. 14, 1864; Fitz Lee, 323.

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7 Taylor MSS., Feb. 21, 1864.

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8 Mrs. Chesnut, 292.

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9 Taylor MSS., March 4, 1864; O. R., 29, part 2, p832.

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10 Taylor MSS., March 4, 1864. He found that General Ewell had been miles away when the raid began, that Chilton was out of touch with the situation, and that the order to meet the enemy's advance had been judiciously issued by the faithful Taylor. For the reports of Dahlgren's raid, see O. R., 33, 169 ff.; for Lee's correspondence regarding it, ibid., 33, 1200, 1205, and O. R., 51, part 2, p823; for the advance on Frederickshall, Long, 318‑19; for the operations of the Confederate cavalry, H. B. McClellan, 399, G. W. Beale, 128 ff.; for the feeling in Richmond, Mrs. McGuire, 255, Miss Brock, 283; 2 R. W. C. D., 164; for an interesting account of the enemy's movements in Hanover County, C. S. Anderson in Locomotive Engineering, January, 1898, p6 ff.; for a brief general account, 2 Davis, 306‑7; and for an excellent, more extended narrative, G. Watson James in 39 S. H. S. P., 71.

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11 Taylor MSS., March 4, 1864; O. R., 33, 1205. The Federal force participating in this demonstration was the VI Corps, which went to Madison Courthouse, and Custer's cavalry, which penetrated almost to Charlottesville but did not succeed in destroying the railroad bridge over the Rivanna (O. R., 33, 169).

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12 Taylor's Four Years, 123. E. A. Pollard in his Third Year of the War, 243‑44n gave convincing evidence that the address was found on Dahlgren, though probably a rough draft. Meade forwarded Lee a statement from General Kilpatrick repudiating the incendiary paragraphs, but Meade privately admitted to his wife, "I regret to say Kilpatrick's reputation, and collateral evidence in my possession, rather go against this theory." Meade stoutly went on: "However, I was determined my skirts should be clear, so I promptly disavowed having ever authorized, sanctioned or approved any act not required by military necessity, and in accordance with the usages of war" (2 Meade, 190‑91).

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13 O. R., 29, part 2, pp719, 750, 778‑79, 849; ibid., 33, 1081, 1126‑27, 1131, 1273; ibid., 51, part 2, pp810‑11, 816, 861, 875‑76, 879; Lee's Dispatches, 158‑59; 2 R. W. C. D., 145; Jessie A. Marshall: Private and Official Correspondence of B. F. Butler, 3, 373.

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14 Lee's Dispatches, 140 ff.

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15 O. R., 33, pp47 ff., 1062, 1099, 1102, 1104; O. R., 51, part 2, p817; R. E. Lee to Jefferson Davis, MS., Jan. 2, 1864, Duke Univ. MSS.

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16 O. R., 33, 1278.

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17 O. R., 33, 296 ff.; O. R., 51, part 2, p870.

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18 O. R., 51, part 2, p874.

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19 Lee's Dispatches, 115‑16.

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20 O. R., 29, part 2, p701.

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21 O. R., 29, part 2, p702.

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22 O. R., 29, part 2, p739.

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23 O. R., 29, part 2, p783.

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24 O. R., 51, part 2, p817.

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25 O. R., 33, 1027.

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26 Lee's Dispatches, 49.

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27 See supra, p77.

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28 O. R., 33, 1133‑34.

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29 Lee to Davis, April 6, 1863; Lee's Dispatches, 146‑48.

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30 Lee to Davis, June 11, 1864; Lee's Dispatches, 225.

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31 General T. L. Rosser: "General Robert E. Lee" in Frank Leslie's Popular Magazine (cited hereafter as Rosser), vol. 43, p13.

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32 Jones, 170.

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33 O. R., 29, part 2, p839; Pendleton, 309.

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34 O. R., 32, part 2, p566; ibid., part 3, p595.

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35 Long, 303; Long MSS.

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36 James A. Graham Papers, 184.

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37 O. R., 29, part 2, pp723‑24. Cf. Lee's Dispatches, 119‑22, 127‑29.

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38 See Lee's unwillingness to part with General Wofford, O. R., 29, part 2, p711, and with General Edward Johnson, Lee's Dispatches, 164.

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39 Lee to Davis, Nov. 29, 1863, O. R., 29, part 2, p854.

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40 O. R., 29, part 2, pp1095‑96.

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41 O. R., 29, part 2, pp1192‑93. For another interesting example of Lee's considerate dealing with officers who had become partially disabled for field duty, see 7 S. H. S. P., 162.

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42 For an excellent statement of his rule on this point, see infra, p331.

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43 Lee's Dispatches, 136.

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44 O. R., 33, 1186‑87.

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45 O. R., 29, part 2, pp771‑79. Jones was later killed in action (3 C. M. H., 618).

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46 O. R., 29, part 2, p788.

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47 O. R., 29, part 2, pp767;º O. R., 33, 1086, 1106, 1124, 1172‑73, 1196, 1211, 1255; O. R., 51, part 2, pp813‑14, 816.

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48 In General Lee's only published reference to the matter he speaks of the tender to Custis of the "Valley command" (Jones, L. and L., 303). The facts are set forth by President Davis in 11 S. H. S. P., 563. General Echols' version is in ibid., 453. The circumstances, which were not generally known, gave rise to the myth that when Davis was considering the dispatch of Lee to Dalton, he proposed to name Custis his successor with the Army of Northern Virginia (cf. Jones, 183).

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49 Cf. supra, vol. II, p305‑6; Lee to Mrs. Lee, after a visit from some of his nephews in the autumn of 1863: "As soon as I was alone I committed them in a fervent prayer to the care and guidance of our Heavenly Father" (White, 335).

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50 R. E. Lee, Jr., 119‑20.

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51 R. E. Lee, Jr., 121.

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52 O. R., 33, 1074‑75.

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53 Longstreet's grievance was aggravated by the fact that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.E. Kirby Smith was promoted over him, Feb. 19, 1864, to the full rank of general (Longstreet, 524‑25).

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54 Longstreet, 548. The Official Records do not show the disposition of his case. For Longstreet's return to Virginia, see infra, p266.

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55 O. R., 31, part 1, p506.

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56 Lee's Dispatches, 182, cf. 80‑83.

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57 O. R., 33, 1291.

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58 O. R., 31, part 1, p473.

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59 O. R., 31, part 1, pp468, 470, 473, 473‑74; Longstreet, 517 ff., 548‑49; Lee's Dispatches, 304; 7 C. M. H., 422 ff.; 14 S. H. S. P., 548.

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60 O. R., 32, part 3, p738. See infra, p260.

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61 Taylor MSS., April 18, 1864.

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62 Taylor MSS., March 8, 1864.

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63 Known as "Bryan" to all at headquarters, Taylor's Four Years, 221.

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64 Jones, L. and L., 286; Fitz Lee, 237.

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65 Taylor MSS., Aug. 8, 1863.

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66 Taylor MSS., Jan. 28, Feb. 21, March 20, 1864.

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67 Taylor MSS., Nov. 14, 1863.

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68 Taylor MSS., Feb. 21, March 4, March 20, March 23, 1864.

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69 R. E. Lee to R. H. Chilton, March 24, 1864; Chilton Papers.

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70 H. B. McClellan MSS. Major McClellan served on Lee's staff for some time after the death of General Stuart. See vol. I, p642.

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71 Ham Chamberlayne, Virginian, 134.

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72 Lee's Dispatches, 242.

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73 O. R., 29, part 2, pp724‑25.

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74 O. R., 51, part 2, p811.

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75 R. E. Lee to R. M. T. Hunter, Jan. 22, 1864; MS. in the possession of Julien H. Hill of Richmond, placed at the author's disposal through the kind offices of the late Richard E. Cunningham, of Richmond.

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76 Cf. O. R., 33, 1091.

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77 O. R., 33, 1086.

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78 Marshall, 178 ff.

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79 Fitz Lee, 18.

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80 O. R., 11, part 2, p489. Cf. O. R., 21, 1113‑14 for Lee's statement of his reasons why the reports were delayed.

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81 O. R., 21, 550.

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82 O. R., 12, part 2, p551.

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83 O. R., 19, part 1, p144.

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84 Ibid., and O. R., 29, part 2, pp747‑48.

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85 O. R., 27, part 2, p312.

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86 This report contained no direct criticism of McLaws's behavior at Salem Church but it did not mention that officer among those whose acts Lee commended.

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87 A. R. H. Ranson: "General Lee as I Knew Him" in Harper's Magazine, vol. 122, p329.

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88 Cooke, 368.

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89 Letter of V. M. Fleming to the writer, Dec. 16, 1927.

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90 Lee's Dispatches, 160‑61.

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91 O. R., 29, part 2, p769.

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92 R. E. Lee to Margaret Stuart, March 20, 1864; Jones, L. and L., 301.

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93 23 S. H. S. P., 207‑8.

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94 Jones, 196; see also Grayjackets, 103.

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95 This is the version in B. H. Wise, 318‑19. In 2 B. and L., 276‑77, the circumstances are somewhat differently related and Wise is credited with saying: "General Lee, you certainly play Washington to perfection, and your whole life is a constant reproach to me. Now I am perfectly willing that Jackson and yourself shall do the praying for the whole Army of Northern Virginia; but in Heaven's name, let me do the cussin' for one small brigade."

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96 D. H. Maury, 238.

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97 Jones, 145.

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98 Ranson, Harper's Magazine, vol. 122, p328.

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99 D. H. Maury, 236‑37.

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100 D. H. Maury, 237. General Maury got this story second-hand. It may not be authentic.

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101 Rosser, loc. cit., 15‑16.

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102 Lee to Stuart, April 23, 1864; H. B. McClellan MSS.


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