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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
p329
Chapter XIX

Merciful Rain and Another March

(SPOTSYLVANIA, MAY 13‑22, 1864)

The rain that had drenched the struggling shoulders of the Army of Northern Virginia on the day of the grapple for the Bloody Angle seemed a mercy on the morning of May 13. It had, to be sure, contributed to prevent the recovery of four of the captured Confederate guns that the enemy was said to have left in the salient on the 12th,1 but now it gave the weary army rest. As the downpour swelled the streams and filled the roads with water, the outposts could relax, and the men who sat by the fires in the deep woods had assurance that, for the hour at least, their lives were their own.

The desperate character of the previous day's fighting was more apparent now that the scene could be surveyed when it was free of smoke and mist. Many amazing stories were told of what had happened, among them that two great forest trees had been hewn down by minié balls. Lee was loath to believe this, when he heard it from a member of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ewell's staff. "Captain," he said to his informant, "can you show us those trees?" Later on, when the site was accessible, the officer led him to it. One of the trees was an oak with a diameter of twenty-two inches, chipped away to an unsustaining splinter, as if beavers had gnawed it. The other was only two inches smaller across the centre.2 Had not the survivors been nearby in the woods, it would have seemed incredible that men had held their ground in such a fire as felled those trees.

The blessed rain continued with a few intermissions until May 17 — four full days after the end of the battle of the Bloody Angle.3 Large-scale operations were at a standstill. For the soldiers in the ranks, the needed rest was continued; to Lee, "rest" was a euphemism. p330 He still rose at 3 A.M. daily and, for long hours of toil, was so busy in correcting the confusion caused by the protracted operations that he was glad to snatch a few minutes' sleep on a plank with one end raised on a rail.4

Consolidating the decimated brigades of Johnson's old division, Lee named John B. Gordon major general, with rank from the date of his great struggle to recover the Bloody Angle.5 Until Lee could decide on a new commander of the cavalry corps, for there could be no successor to the unique Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Stuart, he directed the separate divisions to report directly to army headquarters;6 and because he was well satisfied with the manner in which the divisions of the First Corps were being handled, he requested the cancellation of orders issued by the War Department for the return of Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McLaws to his old command.7 Making such temporary arrangements as he could for the brigades whose leaders had been killed or wounded, he exerted himself to keep the morale of the army from weakening under strain.8 By assuming the blame for the capture of the Bloody Angle, he avoided all recrimination over the loss of Johnson's division, precisely as he had for the failure at Gettysburg.9 The cause of the disaster, he said, was the withdrawal of the artillery from the salient, and he was responsible for this because he had permitted himself to be misled by false reports of a new movement on the part of the enemy.10

Lee taught Hill a most important lesson on May 15, when he shifted Anderson from the left to the right of the line to cover Snell's Bridge, across the Po on the road to Richmond.11 To secure this position it was necessary to clear a commanding hill in front of the lines. Wright's brigade of the Third Corps was assigned to this task, but was mishandled. Harrison had to be sent in, and some needless casualties had to be sustained before the manoeuvre to the right could be completed. Lee himself went to the scene and joined General Hill in rear of a nearby church. Hill, p331 who had not yet assumed command, was furious at Wright's blundering tactics and vowed he would have a court of inquiry. In answer to him, without premeditation, Lee made a statement that sums up, more perfectly than any other utterance of his whole career, his theory of handling the untrained officers on whom he was forced so largely to rely: "These men are not an army," he said, in his simple, earnest way; "they are citizens defending their country. General Wright is not a soldier; he's a lawyer. I cannot do many things that I could do with a trained army. The soldiers know their duties better than the general officers do, and they have fought magnificently. Sometimes I would like to mask troops and then deploy them, but if I were to give the proper order, the general officers would not understand it; so I have to make the best of what I have and lose much time in making dispositions. You understand all this, but if you humiliated General Wright, the people of Georgia would not understand. Besides, whom would you put in his place? You'll have to do what I do: When a man makes a mistake, I call him to my tent, talk to him, and use the authority of my position to make him do the right thing the next time."12

Still again, about this time, during the course of a ride directly in rear of the lines, a six-gun Federal battery opened on Lee and the staff officers with him. One shell, striking the ground nearby, ricochetted over the heads of the party. "Our horses," Major H. B. McClellan wrote, "soon became excited and quickened their pace until it became a gallop. This did not suit General Lee. Traveller was curbed and punished into a walk, when the General remarked that he did not wish to have the appearance of being nervous under fire in the presence of his men."13

In reality, Lee need have had no concern on this score, for the spirit of the men, in the words of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pendleton, was "wonderful." He added: "Everything is braved and borne not only with resolute determination but with the most cheerful good humor."14 Colonel Taylor admitted that the loss of guns at the p332 Bloody Angle hurt the pride of the army, "but," he hastened to write, "we are determined to make our next success all the greater to make amends for this disaster. Our men are in good heart and condition, our confidence, certainly mine, unimpaired. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant is beating his head against a wall."15 For himself, Lee could only say, "I grieve over the loss of our gallant officers and men, and miss their aid and sympathy. . . . Praise be to God for having sustained us so far."

The gaunt spectre of want was repulsed temporarily during these days of rest. When the Federal cavalry raids had interrupted communications with the South, Colonel Northrop, grumbling much over the loss of provisions at Beaver Dam, had protested that he could not feed the army ten days longer unless the railroads were repaired.16 Lee appealed to the nearby farmers and must have received some help from them,17 for on the 14th he still had three days' rations on hand.18 The next morning both the Central and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac were running normally.19 The supplies that were now laid down at his advanced bases, Lee distributed in larger quantities, to the great satisfaction of the men. As he stopped at a bivouac fire and inquired how the mess was faring, one cheery veteran answered that he feared the army would grow fat and lazy, because they were getting two-thirds of a pound of meat daily, though their raton during the winter had been only a quarter of a pound.20

Yet these heartening incidents could not change the gravity of the situation. Casualties to date, though never fully reported, must have been well in excess of 15,000, and not a single regiment had arrived, except Johnston's brigade on May 6,21 to make good the losses. General Grant was believed to be receiving large reinforcements.22 If the Army of Northern Virginia was to continue to stand between the Federals and Richmond, it must be strengthened. But how and whence? Lee had read on the 12th that the X and XVIII Union Corps had been recalled from the south Atlantic p333 seaboard and had been sent to Butler, and he had asked the President if Confederate troops could not be brought from that territory. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mr. Davis had answered regretfully that he had already stripped the coast states and knew of no organized units from which he could draw, except perhaps a few in Florida.23

There were fourteen brigades, large and small, in the defenses of Richmond, Drewry's Bluff, and Petersburg, with one brigade of cavalry and an abundance of artillery;24 but Sheridan's cavalry was just below Malvern Hill, undefeated,25 Butler was pressing on toward Drewry's Bluff from the south side of the James,26 and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Kautz's cavalry was now on a raid against the Richmond and Danville Railroad.27 Breckinridge had two brigades and on battalion of infantry in the Valley of Virginia and had called to him the cadet corps of the Virginia Military Institute, which Lee had held for just such an emergency. All that Lee thought he could get at the time was Hoke's old brigade, which had reached the Richmond line from North Carolina,28 and even this was denied him for the moment.

President Davis, whose courage was never higher and was head was never clearer than in this dark crisis, did not believe it was safe to release any troops from around Richmond until Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard had launched against Butler an attack that Davis and Bragg were urging him to deliver. General Beauregard, for his part, was developing a succession of sketchy plans whereby Lee should withdraw to the Chickahominy and reinforce him in routing Butler, after which happy consummation Beauregard's army was to join with Lee's in crushing Grant.29 The administration did not look with favor on these proposals and, so far as the records show, did not present them in detail for Lee's consideration. "I dare not promise anything now," Davis told Lee. "If possible, [I] will sustain you in your unequal struggle, so long and nobly maintained."30 He suggested that Lee summon to him the troops in the Shenandoah Valley, but Lee considered this too risky.31 With a single protest against the detachment of any p334 cavalry,32 Lee accepted the inevitable and continued to face Grant with his diminished forces.

On the 14th, while the rain was still falling and the roads were almost beyond travel by the most venturesome, the Union forces evacuated the tip of the Bloody Angle.33 That day and the next and on the 16th there were confused movements and feints on the enemy's part, with a suggestion that Grant was preparing to move southward, but with no renewal of the general offensive.34 Lee was concerned, almost depressed, at his inability to ascertain the inwardness of these manoeuvres. "Ah, Major," he said to H. B. McClellan, who had been assistant adjutant general of the cavalry corps, "if my poor friend Stuart were here I should know all about what those people are doing."35

Then, perhaps unexpectedly, there came the sunshine of good news almost at the very time the clouds broke away in brighter weather.36 On the 15th, at New Market, Breckinridge met Sigel and with the assistance of the battalion from the Virginia Military Institute, which fought with a valor that would have added lustre to Saint Cyr,a he drove the invaders down the Valley. It was a rout reminiscent of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jackson's operations of two years previously. Lee was immensely pleased that the upper Valley was cleared and that, at a single blow, one of the most serious threats against his flank had been relieved. He hastened to send his congratulations to Breckinridge and urged him to pursue the enemy into Maryland, or, if that was not practicable, to join the Army of Northern Virginia at once.37 An advance into Maryland he considered more fruitful of potential results, but if that was beyond Breckinridge's strength, then he hoped to have at least temporary reinforcement by two brigades of infantry.

Scarcely had the soldiers realized the importance of the success in the Valley than the telegraph and the Richmond newspapers38 p335 reported an even finer victory: On the 16th, Beauregard attacked Butler below Drewry's Bluff and hurled him back to Bermuda Hundred Neck, where, in General Grant's expressive phrase, he was "as completely shut off from further operations directly against Richmond as if [he] had been in a bottle strongly corked."39 This created a situation that was to play so large a part in subsequent operations that it is sketched on page 336.


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Sketch illustrating how Butler's Army of the James was "bottled" in Bermuda Neck, May 16, 1864.

Butler's predicament is readily seen. So long as he remained in Bermuda Neck, while Beauregard's line was a "cork," his powers of doing mischief were small. More than that, as the mouth of the "bottle" was only four miles wide, a very small force of infantry, supported by ample artillery, would suffice to hold him there. Lee, being confident of this, at once asked that some of Beauregard's troops be sent to him.40 He saw in Butler's distress the one opportunity, in all the Southland, of giving his army substantial reinforcements.

Almost simultaneously with the news of Beauregard's success came reports that Sheridan's raid against Richmond had ended, that Kautz had given up his attacks on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, and that Crook and Averell had started back into western Virginia from their operations against the Virginia and Tennessee.41 As if by a miracle, the widespread offensives that had attended the opening of the campaign had resolved themselves into the major thrust of Grant against Richmond, with the "bottled" Butler a continuing nuisance but not an immediate danger. Finally, on the 18th, as if to give a final dramatic climax to the changed situation, an attempted general assault through the Bloody Angle was broken up so quickly and so easily that the army scarcely realized General Grant had planned another 12th of May.42

Relieved though he was by the repulse of this assault and by p336 the failure of all the minor offensives in Virginia, Lee was not for a moment misled as to the magnitude of the danger that still confronted him. He knew, by the evening of the 18th, that Breckinridge had decided against an advance down the Shenandoah Valley and was preparing to entrain for Hanover Junction p337 with 2400 infantry,43 but he had as yet no assurance that any of the troops from the Richmond-Drewry's Bluff line would be sent him. In a lengthy confidential dispatch to the President on the 18th, Lee thus summarized his view of the situation: "[Grant's] position is strongly entrenched, and we cannot attack it with any prospect of success without great loss of men which I wish to avoid if possible. The enemy's artillery is superior in weight of metal and range to our own, and my object has been to engage him when in motion and under circumstances that will not cause us to suffer from this disadvantage. I think by this means he has suffered considerably in the several past combats, and that his progress has thus far been arrested. I shall continue to strike him wherever opportunity presents itself, but nothing at present indicates any purpose on his part to advance. Neither the strength of our army nor the condition of our animals will admit of any extensive movement with a view to drawing the enemy from his position. I think he is now waiting for reenforcements. . . . Other reports represent that General Grant . . . has been assured . . . that he shall have all that he requires. . . . The importance of this campaign to the administration of Mr. Lincoln and to General Grant leaves no doubt that every effort and every sacrifice will be made to secure its success. A Washington telegram . . . states that it is reported that the 10th and 18th army corps now south of the James will be called to General Grant, as they are not strong enough to take Richmond, and too strong to be kept idle. The recent success of General Beauregard may induce the fulfilment of this report, if the idea was not previously entertained. It is also stated that the troops from General Sheridan's Dept. under General Smith . . . have been ordered back, it may be to join Genl Sheridan or to be brought East. The defensive position of Genl. Johnston which I doubt not is justified by his situation, may enable the enemy to detach a portion of the force opposed to him for service here. I trust that no effort will be spared to prevent this, or should it occur, to give timely notice of it. From all these sources General Grant can, and if permitted will repair the losses of the late battles, and be as strong as when he began operation. I deem it my duty to present the actual, and what I consider the p338 probable situation of affairs to your Excellency, in order that your judgment may be guided in devising the means of opposing the force that is being arrayed against us. I doubt not that you will be able to suggest the best means to be taken, and that all the emergency calls for will be done as far as it is in your power."44 Later in the day, Lee summarized these representations by telegraph and again gave the warning that more than once had induced the President to send him troops even when Richmond had seemed to be threatened: "The question," he said, "is whether we shall fight the battle here or around Richmond. If the troops are obliged to be retained at Richmond I may be forced back."45

Abundant evidence with forthcoming on May 19 of the determination Lee credited in these dispatches to his stubborn adversary. On the Confederate right the enemy seemed as strong as ever, but on the left, which Ewell had held alone since Anderson had been shifted on the 14‑15, there were indications that the enemy might be withdrawing. This suggested the possibility that the Union troops opposite the Confederate left were being moved to the other flank. The turning movement that Lee had been suspecting since May 15 might have under way.

To ascertain the facts, Lee ordered Ewell to demonstrate during the afternoon in front of his lines, but Ewell asked to be allowed to undertake a circuitous manoeuvre that would put him in rear of the Federal right flank. Lee gave the permission and, as usual, left the details to Ewell. Not long after the Second Corps had started, Lee found to his consternation that Ewell had sent back his artillery because of the badness of the roads.46 Realizing that this was inviting disaster,47 Lee sought to extend Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Early's left to cover Ewell's front. Very soon rapid firing announced that Ewell had encountered the foe. As his object was merely to discover whether Grant had abandoned that part of the front, Ewell prepared to withdraw, but before he could do so the Federals attacked him with much vigor. Happily, General Hampton, who had screened Ewell's operation, had carried a battery of his horse artillery along with him, and he quickly disposed this to check the enemy. The onrush of the Federals was, however, so vigorous p339 that General Ramseur became fearful that Ewell's 6000 would be routed. Without waiting for orders, he delivered a vigorous counterattack with his brigade. When forced to suspend this, because both his flanks were in danger of envelopment, Ramseur fell back some 200 yards. In a short time the troops on the left of Rodes's division gave way, and Ramseur had to retire to the position from which he had started his counteroffensive. There Pegram's brigade came up on his left and rectified the line, which Ramseur was able to hold until nightfall. The corps then returned as it had come, and without molestation, but it left about 900 killed, wounded, and missing in the enemy's lines — a heavy price to pay for the information that the enemy had not denuded his right.48 The affair was badly managed except for the gallant action of Ramseur and Pegram, and it probably raised anew in the mind of General Lee a doubt as to the physical ability of General Ewell to handle his troops when quick decision and prompt action were required in the face of a vigilant, aggressive foe.

Grant, in any case, had not moved. That was the situation at dark on the 19th. Whether he had slipped away during the night, or would march the next day, or would use his reinforcements for a new attack on the Spotsylvania line, was still undetermined on the morning of May 20. There was, however, encouragement for Lee in a telegram received from Mr. Davis early in the day. The President announced that he had ordered Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pickett's division and Hoke's brigade to march to Lee, though Beauregard was loath to give up the troops and was still contending that Lee should fall back to the line of the Chickahominy for a better concentration of the defending forces.49 Wherever and whenever Grant moved, Lee would have five more brigades to employ against him. "Am fully alive," he telegraphed the President, "to the importance of concentration and being near base. The latter consideration may impel me to fall back eventually. Will do so at once if deemed best. My letters gave you my views. The troops promised will be p340 advantageous in either event. I have posted Breckinridge at [Hanover] Junction to guard communication, whence he can speedily return to Valley if necessary. . . ."50

Scarcely had this message been dispatched than signs multiplied of an impending southward movement by the Federals. Lee at once transferred the Texas brigade to the south of the Po to protect some guns he placed there to cover the crossing;51 and when he advised Ewell of the indications of a Federal shift, he urged him to strike the enemy's rear if he found an opening.52 This was in accordance with the broad strategic policy Lee had kept in mind since the beginning of the campaign — to resume the offensive if he could catch the enemy in motion. By evening, he was so well satisfied Grant was changing position that he told General Ewell to move to the right at daylight the next morning unless some good reason developed for not doing so.53

Before 9 A.M. on May 21, General Lee knew that the enemy was moving toward Bowling Green and Milford. He had already concluded that Grant's new base would be at Port Royal, on the Rappahannock River,54 and he now had Ewell's corps in position along the Po, prepared to move at the tap of a drum.55 The rest of the army was made ready to leave the Spotsylvania lines as soon as the Federals disappeared from in front of Early and of Anderson, who held the left and the centre, respectively, after Ewell moved from the vicinity of the Bloody Angle.56


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Sketch showing how the Pamunkey River covered Grant's advance of May, 1864, toward Richmond.
But where should the army seek to interpose itself between Grant and Richmond? That was the question Lee had to answer. Obviously the enemy had the lead — how much of a lead, it was impossible for Confederate headquarters to say with assurance, though the cavalry was sending in reports through the signal stations every fifteen minutes.57 Obviously, too, Grant would p341 make for Richmond as fast as he could, and he must be met as far from the city as possible. A siege of the capital must, if possible, be avoided. For the moment, that part of the Federal host moving by way of Bowling Green was behind the Mattapony, safe from attack. If Grant kept beyond that river for any considerable distance, Lee realized that he might not be able to meet him again until the Army of the Potomac was south of the Pamunkey.58 The reason for this was purely geographical, and will be apparent from the sketch of the course of the two rivers shown on the next page.

The advance on Richmond, in short, might readily be from the northeast, especially as the Federal command of the sea made it possible for Grant to establish a base at any point on any of the rivers, to the very head of navigation. At the same time, one Federal column was certainly on the Milford road, whence it could move to attack Richmond from the north, via Hanover Junction, and, in doing so, could sever communication with the Valley by seizing the Central Railroad.

Which would it be — an advance from the northeast or from the north? Lee could not say, as yet, but he decided very quickly to move back to the North Anna River. If the enemy struck from the north, he would have a river line from which to defend Hanover Junction and the Central Railroad. In case the enemy continued down the Mattapony, the Army of Northern Virginia could easily move from the North Anna to a new position behind the Pamunkey.59 There was but one objection to making his stand on the North Anna: It was only twenty-three miles from Richmond — dangerously close. Lee would have preferred to bring north of the river the troops at Hanover Junction, and to give battle as far from Richmond as possible. But he reasoned that if he tried to operate between Spotsylvania and the North Anna, or followed the enemy eastward, some part of Grant's force might slip by and get between him and Richmond.60 The North Anna was the nearest position of strength that he could take up and p342 be sure that his adversary would not easily slip around his flank. His solicitude for Richmond, rather than his wishes, shaped his strategy.61

Hanover Junction it was, then! He telegraphed instructions for the waiting troops to remain there and to defend the place against raiders.62 The wagon trains he started southward by roads west of those on which the army was to move.63 Not long after noon, Ewell was put in motion for Mud Tavern and the Telegraph p343 road,64 on the way to the Junction. Orders were given General Early to sweep his front and, if he found that the enemy had departed, to prepare to march.65 Similar directions went to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Field.66

Lee himself moved his headquarters to the Southworth house, on the right bank of the Po, and there he remained, somewhat impatiently, to hear the outcome of the reconnaissance north of that river. While he waited, General Hill rode up and reported. Prompted no doubt by the feeling that he should not place upon another the responsibility of directing his corps in a new and perhaps critical movement, he informed his chief that he was well enough to take up his duties again. Lee at once restored him to command and ordered Early to resume the leadership of his division under Ewell.67

Early was of opinion that only skirmishers were in his front, but they resisted so vigorously a reconnaissance by General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wilcox that two brigades were sent after them and were soon engaged in a stiff fight. A very violent storm came up as the action progressed, but it did not halt Wilcox's veterans, who advanced some distance.68 Field, too, encountered some opposition on his sector. He was so slow in getting away that he provoked a sharp message from Lee: "Unless we can drive those people out, or find out whether they are all gone," Lee wrote Anderson, "we are detained here to our disadvantage."69 Soon, however, Anderson was convinced that only a rearguard remained on the line, and he followed Ewell.70

p344 As the evening drew on, several of Lee's general officers joined him at the Southworth house for instructions. Hill was there, and Early. Anderson lingered for a while, and Rooney Lee came up. To all of them Lee gave his final verbal orders. He told Hill to withdraw his last units at 9 P.M. from the bloody Spotsylvania line, unless the enemy left before that time. The Third Corps was then to move by roads west of and parallel to the route Ewell and Anderson were to pursue.71 When Early asked if he should guard the right bank of the Mattapony, Lee informed him that Hancock had been at Milford since morning, that he had possession of the hills on the south side of the river, and that he had fortified them.

One by one, their orders understood, the officers rode off. Lee remained alone with his staff and a few guides who had been assigned him that day by reason of their familiarity with the roads of the nearby counties. Presently, with no more ceremony than if he were departing for an evening ride, Lee said to his companions, "Come, gentlemen." Mounting silently, he touched the reins of Traveller and turned his head southward.72

The great battles of Spotsylvania were now at an end. How many they had been and how desperate! Each year of the war, from the time Lee had taken command of the Army of Northern Virginia, the course of the conflict had brought him into Spotsylvania, and not once had he been defeated there. In Fredericksburg stood the wall from which the incautious Burnside had been bloodily repulsed; across the county ran the narrow, mysterious roads over which the Second Corps had hurried to the flank of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hooker's host; in a shell-torn thicket, no stone marked the spot where Jackson had fallen. Still bare in the woods near Hamilton's Crossing was the site on which Lee had planned the invasion of Pennsylvania. But never again were the thickets to echo the wild rebel yell. To the thousands of shallow graves in the forests none were to be added. The barricades might rot and the trenches wash away. The trumpet vine might climb the gaunt, scarred trees, and the honeysuckle cover the ruin of the shell-swept p345 homes. Spotsylvania's sacrifices were complete. No more was to be exacted of her. The fields and the forests that had witnessed the high noon of the Confederacy were to be spared the night of a waning cause.


The Author's Notes:

1 O. R., 36, part 1, p1073; 7 S. H. S. P., 535‑38.

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2 Wilcox's MS. report, 41; O. R., 36, part 1, p1093; 33 S. H. S. P., 18‑19.

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3 Pendleton, 332; 2 Meade, 195; C. A. Dana in O. R., 36, part 1, pp69‑72.

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4 Lieutenant R. J. Washington in G. W. Beale, 142.

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5 O. R., 36, part 3, p814; 14 S. H. S. P., 533.

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6 O. R., 36, part 2, p1001. Taylor's General Lee, 250. Irvine Walker (op. cit., 173) stated that Lee offered the general command of the cavalry to Major General R. H. Anderson, but that Anderson declined. The writer has not found any confirmation of this in any other authority.

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7 Lee's Dispatches, 182.

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8 Cf. O. R., 51, part 2, p925.

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9 See supra, p146.

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10 33 S. H. S. P., 24.

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11 O. R., 36, part 1, p1057.

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12 Colonel William H. Palmer to the writer, June 25, 1920. Colonel Palmer, on whose memory Lee's words were indelibly imprinted, thought that this occurred on May 18. Lee to Davis, May 15, 1864 (Lee's Dispatches, 181‑82), makes it almost certain that the incident occurred on the 15th. The late Richard E. Cunningham had the same story from Colonel Palmer and made a detailed memorandum of it, which he generously gave the writer.

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13 H. B. McClellan MSS.

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14 Pendleton, May 17, 1864, op. cit., 332.

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15 Taylor MSS., May 15, 1864.

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16 2 R. W. C. D., 208.

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17 Cf. O. R., 37, part 1, p737; ibid., 51, part 2, p926.

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18 Lee's Dispatches, 177‑78.

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19 2 R. W. C. D., 211. These two lines probably were restored on the 13th.

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20 H. B. McClellan MSS.

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21 14 S. H. S. P., 523.

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22 Cf. Lee's Dispatches, 187.

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23 O. R., 51, part 2, p922.

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24 O. R., 36, part 2, pp207‑10.

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25 O. R., 36, part 1, p792; ibid., 51, part 2, p941.

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26 O. R., 36, part 1, p20.

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27 O. R., 36, part 1, p21.

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28 O. R., 51, part 2, p925.

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29 O. R., 36, part 2, pp1021, 1024.

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30 O. R., 51, part 2, pp926, 933.

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31 O. R., 51, part 2, p929; Lee's Dispatches, 180.

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32 O. R., 51, part 2, p937.

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33 14 S. H. S. P., 533.

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34 O. R., 36, part 2, pp1011, 1012, 1015, 1030; ibid., 51, part 2, pp929, 933; Lee's Dispatches, 181‑82. Cf. 2 Meade, 195, letter of May 15: "I think we have gained decided advantage over the enemy; nevertheless, he confronts us still, and, owing to the strong positions he occupies, and the works he is all the time throwing up, the task of overcoming him is a very difficult one, taxing all our energies."

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35 H. B. McClellan MSS.

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36 May 17; O. R., 36, part 1, p72.

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37 O. R., 37, part 1, pp737‑38. For Lee's brief instructions to Breckinridge, whom he left largely to exercise his sound discretion, so long as that officer was in the Valley, see ibid.712, 713, 722, 728.

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38 O. R., 36, part 2, p1015.

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39 O. R., 36, part 1, p20. For the reports, see O. R., 36, part 2, p196 ff. The victory would have been far more nearly complete but for the failure of General W. H. C. Whiting, who was wrongly accused of being drunk but who was guilty of gross mishandling of his troops. See Walter Harrison, 126‑27; O. R., 36, part 2, p1026; ibid., part 3, pp811, 822, 824‑25, 845.

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40 Lee's Dispatches, 187.

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41 O. R., 36, part 1, pp21, 23, 792.

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42 O. R., 36, part 1, pp1046, 1073, 1087; ibid., part 2, p1019; 33 S. H. S. P., 332‑33; Alexander, 527‑28. Cf. 2 Meade, 197: ". . . on advancing, we found the enemy so strongly entrenched that even Grant thought it useless to knock our heads against a brick wall, and directed a suspension of the attack."

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43 O. R., 51, part 2, p943; Lee's Dispatches, 189.

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44 Lee's Dispatches, 183‑86.

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45 Lee's Dispatches, 186‑87.

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46 O. R., 36, part 1, p1088.

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47 14 S. H. S. P., 533; O. R., 36, part 1, p1046.

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48 O. R., 36, part 1, pp1073, 1082‑83; 14 S. H. S. P., 533; Taylor's General Lee, 243; Alexander, 528.

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49 O. R., 51, part 2, p945. For the movement of these units from the south to the north side of the James, and for the re-disposition of those left on the Richmond and Drewry's Bluff sectors, see O. R., 36, part 2, p1022; ibid., part 3, pp799, 807; ibid., 51, part 2, pp947, 948, 951; 2 Davis, 514.

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50 Lee's Dispatches, 188‑89.

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51 O. R., 36, part 3, p801.

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52 O. R., 36, part 3, p801.

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53 O. R., 36, part 3, p801.

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54 Even before final orders to that effect had been given by General Grant, Lee reasoned that this would be done (O. R., 36, part 3, p77).

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55 O. R., 36, part 1, p1058.

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56 O. R., 36, part 1, p1058.

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57 R. L. T. Beale, 120. The II Corps, which led the Union advance, received instructions to move at 2 A.M. on the morning of May 21. At the instance of General Hancock the orders were changed to permit him to start at dark on the 20th, in order to pass the Confederate signal stations before daylight. Hancock was somewhat delayed in getting off, because of the slow arrival of the cavalry. He did not state the exact hour of departure in his report (O. R., 36, part 1, pp340‑41), but the corps headquarters memoranda (ibid., 362) indicate that the column got under way at 11 P.M. Grant, in short, commenced to move only six hours before Lee began to conform, and this despite the (p341)fact that he was operating in a wooded country, where concealment should have been easy. It does not seem to have been pointed out by critics of the campaign, but General Grant may properly have been censurable for sending off so large a part of his cavalry under General Sheridan that he was unable to keep his march from being observed by Confederate spies and outposts.

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58 O. R., 36, part 3, p812.

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59 Pendleton, 335.

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60 Pendleton, 335.

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61 Cf. infra, p349.

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62 O. R., 36, part 3, p815.

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63 The route was New Market, Chilesburg, and Island Ford (O. R., 36, part 1, p1056).

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64 There is some confusion as to the hour of Ewell's departure. Hotchkiss stated (3 C. M. H., 458) that Ewell left about noon, but he was certainly wrong in saying that Lee rode off at that hour with him, unless he mistook Lee's departure for the Southworth house as his start for the North Anna. The dispatches in O. R., 36, part 3, pp814‑15, though not conclusive, indicate that Lee was some distance from Spotsylvania during the afternoon. Early stated (op. cit., 359) that Ewell left "on the afternoon of the 21st." Ewell himself (O. R., 36, part 1, p1074) gave no hour for the movement. Anderson (ibid., 1058) established nothing more than that his corps, preceded by Ewell, began its march "in the afternoon." The sequence of events in the text is believed to be substantially correct.

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65 O. R., 36, part 3, pp814‑15.

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66 Ibid.

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67 O. R., 36, part 3, p814; Early, 358. Hill probably should have waited several days longer, for his handling of his troops on the line to which the army was hurrying was not that of a man physically at his best.

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68 Wilcox's MS. report, 42‑43.

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69 O. R., 36, part 3, pp814‑15.

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70 Anderson was certainly on the march before 6:40 P.M., as evidenced by a dispatch in O. R., 36, part 3, p824. That dispatch, wrongly dated May 22, manifestly was written May 21.

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71 O. R., 36, part 1, p1058.

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72 Cooke, 400; E. C. Moncure: Reminiscences of the Civil War (cited hereafter as Moncure), p1.


Thayer's Note:

a For the battalion from the Virginia Military Institute in the battle of New Market, see this detailed section of VMI's website.


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