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Mills, in rear of Hill's line at Cold Harbour, Gen. Early received verbal orders from Gen. Lee to hold the corps, with two of the battalions of artillery attached to it, in readiness to move to the Shenandoah Valley. Subsequently written instructions were given Early by Gen. Lee, by which he was directed to move, with the force designated, for the Valley, by the way of Louisa Court-House and Charlottesville, and through Brown's or Swift Run Gap in the Blue Ridge, as he might find most advisable; to strike Hunter's force in the rear, and, if possible, destroy it; then to move down the Valley, cross the Potomac near Leesburg in Loudon County, or at or above Harper's Ferry, as he might find most practicable, and threaten Washington City. He was further directed to communicate with Gen. Breckenridge, who would cooperate with him in the attack on Hunter and the expedition into Maryland.'
At this time the Second Corps numbered a little over 8,000 muskets, for duty. It had been on active and arduous service in the field for forty days, and had been engaged in all the great battles from the Wilderness to Cold Harbour, sustaining very heavy losses at Spottsylvania Court-House, where it lost a great part of an entire division, including its commander, Major-General Johnson, who was made prisoner. Of the Brigadier-Generals with it at the commencement of the campaign, only one remained in command of his brigade. Two (Gordon and Ramseur) had been made MajorGenerals; one (G. H. Steuart) had been captured; four (Pegram, Hays, J. A. Walker, and R. D. Johnston) had been severely wounded; and four (Stafford, J. M. Jones, Daniel, and Doles) had been killed in action.
With this small but veteran force Gen. Early made rapid time to Lynchburg, arriving there on the 17th June, luckily anticipating Hunter's movement, and manning the defences of the city be
march, so fatal to his enterprise, Gen. Early attributes to the fact that "indulgence in petty acts of malignity and outrage upon private citizens was more congenial to his nature than bold operations in the field.” He had defeated Jones' small force at Piedmont, about ten miles from Staunton, on the 5th, and united with Crook on the 8th; yet he did not arrive in front of Lynchburg until near night on the 17th June. The route from Staunton to Lynchburg by which he moved, which was by Lexington, Buchanan, the
Peaks of Otter, and Liberty, is about one hundred miles in distance. It is true McCausland had delayed his progress by keeping constantly in his front, but an energetic advance would have brushed away McCausland's small force, and Lynchburg, with all its manufacturing establishments and stores, would have fallen before assistance arrived. Subsequently, when Gen. Early passed over the greater part of the route pursued by the enemy towards Lynchburg, he found abundant evidences to verify his theory of the occasions of his delay. His own pen has described the atrocities which attended Hunter's march, with military bluntness and without any effort at rhetorical efforts. “Houses,” he writes, "had been burned, and helpless women and children left without shelter. The country had been stripped of provisions, and many families left without a morsel to eat. Furniture and bedding had been cut to pieces, and old men and women and children robbed of all the clothing they had except that on their backs. Ladies' trunks had been rifled, and their dresses torn to pieces, in mere wantonness. Even the negro girls had lost their little finery. We now had renewed evidences of the outrages committed by Hunter's orders in burning and plundering private houses. We saw the ruins of a number of houses to which the torch had been applied by his orders. At Lexington he had burned the Military Institute, with all its contents, including its library and scientific apparatus; and Washington College had been plundered, and the statue of Washington stolen. The residence of Ex-Governor Letcher at that place had been burned by orders, and but a few minutes given Mrs. Letcher and her family to leave the house. In the same county a most excellent Christian gentleman, a Mr. Creigh, had been hung, because, on a former occasion, he had killed a straggling and marauding Federal soldier while in the act of insulting and outraging the ladies of his family. These are but some of the outrages committed by Hunter or his orders, and I will not insult the memory of the ancient barbarians of the North by calling them 'acts of vandalism.?”
These outrages were deplorable enough in a general sense. But they diverted and embarrassed Hunter's march; they cheated him of the grand, important result of his enterprise ; and they secured to the Confederates the narrow chance of time that saved Lynchburg, with its stores, foundries and factories, so necessary to the army at Richmond. Hunter did not even make an attack, to contest fortune or to cover defeat; finding Lynchburg no easy and unresisting prey, as he had imagined, he resolved to retreat; and in the night of the 19th June, be withdrew from the front of the city, directing his retreat through the mountains of Western Virginia, where there was no possibility of intercepting him, and where a stern-chase by infantry would probably be ineffective. This devious line of retreat opened the Shenandoah Valley to Early; and now, joined by Breckinridge, he prepared for the second step of the campaign in the direction of Washington City.
The force he collected for this high and daring enterprise conisted of about 10,000 infantry, and about 2,000 mounted men for duty in the cavalry. Heading rapidly for the Potomac, by way of Lexington and Winchester, he crossed that boundary of the Confederacy, and defeating Wallace at Monocacy with Gordon's division, he appeared, on the 11th July, in front of Washington with his wearied little army. It was stated in Northern newspapers that if Early had been one day sooner he would have entered the Federal capital almost without resistance. But on the 9th July he was fighting at Monocacy, thirty-five miles from Washington, a force which he could not leave in his rear; and after disposing of that force, and moving as rapidly as possible, he did not arrive in front of the fortifications until after noon of the 11th, when his troops were so exhausted that he was sure he could not carry more than one-third of them into action. His little army had been seriously diminished by rapid marching, which had broken down a number of the men who were barefooted, or weakened by previous exposure; and he scarcely had more than 8,000 muskets in front of Washington. But he had forty pieces of excellent artillery.
In the evening a consultation of officers was held. The necessity was plain of doing something immediately, as the probability was that the passes of the South Mountain and the fords of the upper Potomac would soon be closed against Gen. Early's retreat into Virginia. It was unanimously determined to make an assault on the enemy's works at daylight next morning. But during the night, information came that dashed all the expectations of the morrow; and it was ascertained by a dispatch from Gen. Bradley
Johnson, from near Baltimore, that two corps had arrived from Grant's army to defend Washington, and were already in the works. The next morning “retreat” was the order; and Gen. Early was compelled to give up all hopes of capturing Washington, after he had arrived in sight of the dome of the capitol, and given the Federal authorities one of the most terrible frights of the war. Of this abandonment of the great object of the campaign, just at the moment when it seemed about to be attained, Gen. Early writes: “I had made a march, over the circuitous route by Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Salem, down the Valley, and through the passes of the South Mountain, which, notwithstanding the delays in dealing with Hunter's, Sigel's, and Wallace's forces, is, for its length and rapidity, I believe without a parallel in this or any other modern war—the unopposed marauding excursion of the freebooter Sherman through Georgia not excepted. My small force had been thrown up to the very walls of the Federal capital, north of a river which could not be forded at any point within forty miles, and with a heavy force and the South Mountain in my rear, the passes through which mountain could be held by a small number of troops. A glance at the map, when it is recollected that the Potomac is a wide river, and navigable to Washington for the largest vessels, will cause the intelligent reader to wonder, not why I failed to take Washington, but why I had the audacity to approach it as I did, with the small force under my command."
On his return to Virginia, Gen. Early remained in the vicinity of Winchester. Here he established his encampment, and occupied his time and his troops in marching and countermarching; in making short raids into Maryland ; in sending one avengeful one on horse to destroy Chambersburg; and in puzzling and trifling with his bewildered opponent, Sheridan. Gen. Lee still entertained the idea of relieving the Richmond lines by a campaign in the Valley, and Kershaw's division was sent to reinforce Early ; but it was afterwards withdrawn, leaving the latter commander with not more than 8,500 muskets fit for duty, and about 1,700 mounted men. The odds were fearful. Sheridan had at least 10,000 of the finest cavalry that had yet been trained in the war, and three corps of infantry, which Gen. Early estimates at 35,000 men. The Confederate commander led a forlorn hope against an army greater than that which Gen. Lee had at Richmond. The
disproportion of numbers was suggestive only of disasters; and they came thick and fast.
The first disastrous day was the 19th September, when the battle of Winchester was fought. The first heavy gun was fired at the first dawn. From that moment until night did Early's little army contend with and repulse the ever-renewed and onwardpressing Federal hosts. The Confederate heroism of that day was never surpassed. It was only when the immense column of cavalry came like a torrent upon the left flank and swept it away, that the Confederate lines were broken. At night, Gen. Early's army retreated through Winchester, having left many of its soldiers on the field, and nearly as many Federal dead and wounded as it had numbered altogether when the fight began. It was a dearly-bought victory for Sheridan; but for Early the disaster was never retrieved.
Fisher's Hill followed, three days after--a rout without a battle. A month after, on the 19th October, unable to remain quiet on account of the failure of quartermaster and commissary stores, and impatient to wipe out the disgrace of the last defeats, Gen. Early assumed the offensive from Fisher's Hill. By an attack at daylight, bold and brilliant in its conception and execution, he forced the passage of Cedar Creek at three points, pierced the camps of the enemy, surprised and routed two corps, capturing camps and camp equipage, many prisoners, and much artillery. But his little army was unequal to its successes. Reduced by battle and straggling, demoralized by plunder, thinking the work of the day already done, it fell short of a great victory; and Sheridan, with the Sixth Corps, and what remained organized of the other two, came down in wrath upon the feeble band, and routed it disastrously. It was certainly a strange and unfortunate omission of Gen. Early not to have followed up the success of the morning ;* but there must have been considerable demoralization among the troops to account for their feeble resistance and readiness to retreat at the close of the day.
“It was," says Gen. Early, “the case of a glorious victory given up by my own troops after they had won it, and it is to be accounted for on the ground of the partial demoralization caused by the plunder of the enemy's camps, and from the fact that the men
* See account of this battle in Life of Maj.-Gen. J. B. Gordon.