Albert Deane Richardson.

A personal history of Ulysses S. Grant: illustrated by thirty-two engravings ... online

. (page 31 of 48)
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Army could not feel in its untried commander.

Grant was at Culpepper Court-House, just north of the
the scene of Hooker's disastrous failure at Chancellorville,
and a few miles from the ground of Bumside's bloody re-
pulse at Fredericksburg. His army was much larger than
Lee's, but it was an army so accustomed to defeat that it
fought with the mechanical sturdiness of manhood and mili-
tary drill rather than the fiery zeal of predestined victory.

He had determined to move toward Richmond — seventy
miles, by the direct or land route — across a heavily-tim-
bered country, broken by many streams running at right
angles with his line of march, and easily held against a su-
perior force. Every mile of progress, too, would make the
obtaining of supplies harder for him and easier for Lee.

The line of the James River was in many respects more
favorable, but President Lincoln had always believed this
the better route, and Grant adopted it because it would en-
able him to cover Washington, and was the more direct and
convenient from the point where he found the army. Had
he abandoned Culpepper and gone around to the mouth of
the James, it would have left the capital open to Lee for a
month, and even if no disaster had followed, the seeming
retreat could not have failed to dispirit his troops. Still,
he was not altogether sanguine of success, and told his
staff and Meade and Butler that in case of failure he should
ultimately cross the Jame^ and attack Richmond from the

On the evening of Tuesday, May third, Meade issued or-
ders to strike tents, and sent forward the pontoon trains to
lay bridges at Ely's Ford and Germania Ford. While

Digitized by



Thb Abmy onoe more in Motion.


Culpepper was noisy with rumbling wheels, clattering hoofs,
and tramping feet, Grant, Bawlins, and Washbume sat in
the head-quarters tent until two in the morning, talking of
history, literature, and politics. Then they rolled them-
selves in their blankets. The troops started at midnight,
marching silently by the light of the stars.

Next morning, the citizens were surprised to find the


army gone. The General and his staff breakfasted, and gal-
^ loped away from the deserted village. At Germania they
found the splendid soldiers of Warren and Sedgwick
streaming over the Rapidan, in long lines of blue, tipped
iRrith shining bayonets and garlanded with starry flags. At
Ely's, Hancock's men were crossing, followed by the enor-
mous supply train of four thousand wagons. Before night

Digitized by


400 Battle op the Wilderness Begins. [isei.

the anny was soutli of the river, encamped on the historic
field of Chancellorville and around the house to which
Stonewall Jackson was borne, mortally wounded.

At nine o'clock, all lights were put out. Grant, who had
feared that the enemy might dispute his passage or fall upon
his train, regarded the safe crossing as a great success, and
now hoped to find a clear road. His immediate design was
to get between the rebel capital and the rebel army, and he
had hopes even of crushing that army in one decisive battle.
*' It was my intention," says his final report, "to fight Lee
between Culpepper and Richmond if Tie would standi

Lee not only stood but he came. Early on Wednesday,
from a high mountain station, his signal officers had notified
him that the Union columns were moving. He started
on the instant to strike their line of march at a right angle.
Grant was facing south ; at dark Lee coming in from the
westward, was close upon the national camps in the
Wilderness — a great desolate region of worn-out and aban-
doned tobacco fields — broken table-land, covered with
scraggy oak, sassafras, hazel, and pine. It is intersected
by narrow roads and deep ravines, and covered with under-
growth so dense that a man on foot penetrates it with diffi-
culty, and can see only a few feet before him.

Grant did not mean to fight in this "darkling wood,"
but early on Thursday morning* an orderly came back with
intelligence that Warren had encountered the enemy.

Meade. — '' Then the rebels have left a division here to
fool us while they concentrate toward the North Anna."

Shortly after came a dispatch from Sheridan's cavalry
who were scouring the front.

Meade. — ''They think Lee intends to fight us here."

Grant. — "Very well ; let him be attacked vigorously
wherever he appears."

The struggle was soon ''vigorous" enough. Artillery
could hardly be used in that tangled forest, and infantry
had to move in by the compass, but it was soon engaged in
the deadliest fighting.

« Maj fifth.

Digitized by VjOOQIC

1864.] Terrible but Indecisive Conflict. 401

Meade planted his head-quarters flag just out of range
upon a knoll covered with dry pines, and pitched his tents
back in a little open space overlooking an old quartz mill at
the foot of a hill.

The day was intensely hot In close, stifling ravines, in
jungles of interlacing branches and vines, Death held high
carnival. Every advance was into an ambush, where our
soldiers found the rebels on their knees, awaiting them.
Many received only trivial wounds from flattened bullets,
which glanced from the trees ; but thousands were struck in
Itmgs or stomach, and out of the dark forest began to flow
interminable processions, bearing bleeding forms, upon
blankets and stretchers.

By 2 p. M. the entire army was engaged. Under a tree
upon the knoll sat Grant, smoking, whittling, and talking
quietly. Near him, stood Meade* — ^tall, slender, and stoop-
ing, wearing spectacles, and looking more the scholar than
the soldier — ^answering dispatches and issuing orders. A
rumor came back that the skillful and gallant Hancock was
repulsed, and our entire left wing giving way.

*'I don't believe it," insisted Grant, cutting at a root
with his knife. " There must be some mistake about it."

But flnding it impossible to stay in the rear, the chief
galloped forward to where the battle raged, and rode to and
fro, consulting with officers, but giving no orders except
general ones to Meade.

Darkness closed upon an unfinished battle. Both armies
liad shown the utmost determination ; both had lost and won
much ground over and over again. Lee telegraphed to
Richmond, in his usual moderate vein : —

'^Bj the blessing of God we maintaiDed oar position against every
effort, nntil night, when the conflict closed. We have to monrn the loss
of manj brave officers and men.''

Grant sent no dispatches, but ordered a general attack
at half-past three the next morning. At midnight in his

* In the pages following I speak of the Army of the^ Potomac sometimes a£
«* Meade's" and sometimes as "Grant's."

Digitized by


402 Second Day — Lee's Narbow Escape. P^*^

guarded tent he was awakened by an orderly with a dis-
patch from Meade, saying that at half-past three our men
could not distinguish each other from the rebels, and sug-
gesting six o'clock as a better hour.

Grant (drowsily). — '' Very well, let it be at six."

A Staff Officer. — "Why, General, the sun is an hour
and a half high at six o'clock !"

Grant (rising and walking to get awake). — "True, that
will be too late. Instruct Meade to delay the attack until a
quarter-past four— not a minute later. It is of great imxK>r-
tance that we should begin the battle."

Friday* dawned. Lee, with the same desire to secure
for his soldiers the moral effect of the offensive, had likewise
ordered a general assault the moment it should be light
enough. The result was that Union troops fired the first gun
on our left and center, and rebels the first on our right.

The cloudless day was excessively hot. Both armies
had intrenched. Grant's line faced westward, Sedgwick
holding the right, Warren the center, and Hancock the left

Before nine A. m., Hancock impetuously drove the ene-
my for two miles, almost overrunning Lee's head-quarters.
Had he pressed right on he would inevitably have cut the
rebel army in twain, and ended the campaign then and there.
But in that dense forest he was out of reach of his supports,
his flanks were in danger, and he paused to readjust his line.

Lee, seeing that he faltered, placed himself at the head
of a Texan division, to lead a charge ancj retrieve his des-
perate fortunes. The rebels refused to t)udge a step with
their favorite chief thus periling his life, but after he had
taken his proper place in the rear, they pushed forward
with new-born energy, and drove back the Union coltmrn.

Already, James S. Wadsworth, a leading citizen of New
York and a most gallant major-general of volunteers, had
had two horses killed under him ; and now he fell, shot
through the head. Burnside's corps arrived, after a rapid
march, and took a position between Warren and Hancock.
The rebels, also, were strengthened by Longstreet's wrps, :

* Majr sixth. J

Digitized by VjOOQIC

IS64.] Grant Whittles and Smokes. 403

the advance reaching the ground in season to help drive
Hancock back, and the rest during the forenoon.

There was desperate lighting from morning until night.
''It was the longest day I ever passed," says one of the
spectators. Grant, who was in military nndress, without
sash or sword, spent it chiefly at Meade' s head-quarters on the
knoll, sitting quietly at the foot of a stunted tree, still whit-
tling, but when the prospect grew darkest, letting the fire
go out and chewing his cigar instead of smoking. There
was grave canse for anxiety, but as each new rumor of dis-
aster came, he invariably declared ths^t he did not believe
it. He said to a jonmalist : —

" It has been my experience that though the Southerners
fight desperately at first, yet when we hang on for a day or
two we whip them awfully."

In the afternoon the rebels concentrated, and began a
vigorous charge to overwhelm Hancock. But at that mo-
ment Longstreet ai^d his staff, who had just reached the
field, galloped down the road. The confederates, taking
them for Union cavalry, fired upon them. Longstreet re-
ceived a wound in the neck and shoulder, which kept him
out of the field for nearly a year. The confusion caused by
his fall delayed the attack until the Union line was strength-
ened, and easily checked it. Hancock's escape was almost
as narrow as Lee's had been in the morning.

Warren, Bumside, and Sedgwick likewise did superb
fighting through the day, with alternate good and ill for-
tune. One regiment rushed out of the woods toward head-
quarters, in dire confusion. Grant sprang upon his horse
and dashed forward to see what was the matter. It proved
that a sudden panic had seized them, and they had become
separated from their brigade.

The General directed an aide to have the bridge upon
which Bumside' s corps had crossed the Bapidan taken up
and brought forward. To a suggestion that it might yet be
needed, he answered : —

''One bridge and the ford will be amply sufllcient to
cross all the men left, if we should have to fall back !"

At four p. M., during another fierce assault upon our

Digitized by


404 ^ Talk before the Camp Fire. ps6i

intrenclied lines, the woods took fire. The smoke and
flames blowing in the faces of our men, compelled them to
faU back, and the rebels rushed forward and occupied their
works. After the smoke subsided, our troops retook them,
capturing many prisoners.

Even darkness did not bring quiet. The confederate
General Gordon, flinging his division upon our right flank,
captured two brigades, and created a panic hitherto un-
equaled. Surgeons fled from their hospitals in the old
quartz mill, and soldiers came running back to head-quar-
ters, declaring that all was lost. It was the most alarming
moment of the campaign ; but Sedgwick cheeked the onset,
and restored the line.

Before midnight came yet another alarm, caused by mus-
ketry and terrific yells from thousands of throats. Quarter-
masters began to strike tents. The General said : —

'*They have broken through Warren's line. I don't
know but we shall have to get out of this."

It proved a voice and nothing more. Gordon, exi)ect-
ing an attack where his line was extremely weak, had
ordered the yells, to give an exaggerated idea of its

After midnight, a' correspondent who accompanied head-
quarters sat by the camp fire, unable to sleep, and wonder-
ing sadly if he had followed the chief to the Army of the
Potomac only to chronicle his ruin. Looking up, he saw
Grant, sitting on the other side of the blaze, his hat slouch-
ing so low, and the collar of his blue overcoat standing so
high, that most of his face was hidden. He, too, was
buried in thought. Through the long, trying day his
serenity had appeared unshaken, but, now that he was
alone, nervous shiftings of^ one leg over the other, and
worn, haggard looks, showed how deeply he was moved at
the dreadful and seemingly fruitless shedding of blood.

Still he would not admit, in the profoundest recesses of
his heart, that there was any danger of failure. He ex-
pressed regrets to his friend at the appalling loss of life,
but said that as Lee could choose his own ground, we
must fight him wherever we found him— often at gr&t

Digitized by


1864.] A Leader toukd at Last. 405

disadvantage, "but with absolate certainty of destroying him
at last. After talking until two o'clock, he went to his cot.

The battle of the Wilderness was over, and we had
barely held' our own. Careless lookers-on doubted whether
there were more men in the hospitals or on the field. But,
the Union casualties actually footed up far less than it was
at first expected. The rebels had fought with dauntless
courage and tenacity. But in vain was their valor, in vain
the skill of their chief. They might, indeed, check the Army
of the Potomac, but never more were they to drive it back.
It had found a leader at last !

During these anxious days, Frank B. Carpenter, the
artist, painting "the Signing of the Proclamation," at the
White House, asked the Chief Magistrate :—

"How does Grant impress you as compared with other
leading generals ?"

" The great thing about him," answered the President,
"is cool persistency of purpose. He is not easily excited,
and he has the grip of a bull dog. WTien Tie once gets his
teeth iUj Twthing can shake him offy

Lincoln afterward said that any previous commander
of the Army of the Potomac would have fallen back across
the Rapidan, at the end of such a conflict.

At Washington on that Friday night there was gravest
apprehension. The Government having no dispatches from
the General, was in complete ignorance of the result of the
battle, and even of the whereabouts of the army. Among
other rumors it was reported that the rebel trooper, Stuart,
was making a raid, cutting off Grant's communications. At
the request of Lincoln and Stanton, Dana, the Assistant
Secretary of War, started for the front at midnight by a
sx)ecial train, to report the situation. After he reached
Alexandria, a telegram called him back to the War Office,
where he found the worn President and secretary still sitting.

Lincoln. — "We are afraid to have you go to-night.
The danger of your capture is too great."

Dana.—" Then TU go home to bed. Good night."

Lincoln (hesitatingly). — "Are you afraid to make the

Digitized by



Dana. — **0h, no. I have a good escort, and two of
Sedgwick's oflScers, who know every ford of the Rapidan,
and every foot of the country."

Lincoln (to Stanton). — ''Then, I guess, we'd better let
him go."

Dana pushed forward, and though encountering swarms
of stragglers, and all sorts of rumors, rode up to head-
quarters at noon on Saturday, and found Grant and Meade,
not only safe, but at their mid-day lunch of sandwiches.
He remained at the front until the end of the campaign.

Our old friend Cadwallader yearned to supply the
North with news, and to make a hit for the New York
Herald^ which he now served. So he started across the
country, carrying two huge sacks of letters from head-
quarters, and his own dispatches which contained the
names of many thousands of wounded copied from the
hospital lists. At midnight, riding through the forest south
of the Rappahannock, unaware of any enemy within miles
of him, he was suddenly hit upon the head by the butt-end
of a musket and knocked off his steed. The guerrillas
had him ! Next morning, however, they encountered a little
Union force near Fredericksburg. During the skirmish, by
the gift of horse, saddle, bridle, and two hundred dollars in
greenbacks, Cadwallader induced the sergeant who had him
in charge to look one way while he walked off the other.

After a day of starvation in the woods, and a voyage
on the Potomac upon an improvised raft, he was picked up
by a Union gun-boat, and reached Washington on Sunday
night. He had given unwitting comfort to the enemy.
The Richmond papers published copious extracts from his
lists of killed and wounded, to show how " Grant the Bat-
cher" was slaughtering his own soldiers.

Digitized by


1864] "Not a Retreating Man." 407



During all Saturday the two annies confronted each
other, both too much bruised and shattered to attack. They
spent the day in removing the suflTering and burying the
peaceful sleepers, who lay in masses of mingled gray and
blue. The soldiers on both sides were sobered, and the
most profane forgot their oaths.

Grant was sending back his wounded to Fredericksburg,
and opening roads on his front. The smoke of his cigar was
seen on every part of the field, but the smoker was more
taciturn than usual.

In the rebel lines it was believed that our army was fall-
ing back. Gordon said to Lee : —

" I think there is no doubt but that Grant is retreating."

"You are mistaken," replied the confederate chief,
earnestly, "quite mistaken. Grant is not retreating: he
is not a retreating man.^^

Forward, not back, was the word ! After dark, the tents
. were struck, and Grant and Meade, with their staffs and es-
corts, started along a narrow road, lined with thousands of
Hancock* s sleeping men. At the sound of tramping hoofs,
drowsy soldiers rubbed their eyes and asked : —

"What's thaU"

Others, recognizing the chief, answered : —

"That's Grant *on to Richmond.' "

This waked up the troops. They were not to fall back
this time, but actually to go on 1 The welcome news was
received with a chorus of cheers which, passing from regi
ment to regiment, accompanied the cavalcade for a mile and
a half, till the ears of all the riders ached.

Grant.—" Well, we are at least revenging ourselves on
the rebels for their yells of last night."

Digitized by


408 Sheridan Ordered to March. p864.

Throngh the darkness he rode at a brisk gallop, and
twice his party ran into hostile pickets, and shots were ex-
changed. During a halt our pickets asked one of the head-
quarters' party : —

" Where are you going f '


'* Then you will have a skrimmage."


"Well, nothing, except that there are fifty thousand
rebels in front of you, as Sheridan has found out."

Reaching Todd's tavern, a dilapidated cross-road hos-
tlery in the Wilderness, two hours after midnight, the Gren-
eral and staff rolled themselves in their blankets and slept
on the bar-room floor until daylight.* Then they again
moved forward and established head-quarters near Meade
at "Piney Branch Church," in a pleasant grove. While
they breakfasted under a tree, up rode Sheridan. Grant
directed him to start on a raid against Lee's communica-
tions with Richmond. He received his orders, touched his
hat with a bright smile, leaped upon his horse, and galloped
gayly away.

The General had ordered the whole army forward. Had
it moved promptly it would have reached Spottsylvania be-
fore Lee, and interposed between him and Richmond, forcing
him to fight for his communications. It had to march only
twelve miles, but was delayed by various causes to the sore
disappointment of the chief.

Meanwhile Lee, divining Grant's plan, had already sent
his engineers to open roads and prepare fortifications ; and
while the Union rear-guard was firing its last gun at the
Wilderness, its advance came upon Lee's troops in front
of his new works, three miles from Spottsylvania.

Fighting began at nine A. m., and lasted through the
day. The enemy was driven back, but not until the delay
had enabled him to complete his strong works.

Monday was devoted chiefiy to maneuvering, though
there was some heavy fighting. Sedgwick on the front of

* Sunday, ICfij eighth.

Digitized by VjOOQIC

1864.] Sedgwick is Killed. 409

his corps, seeing his men dodge at occasional ballets from
sharp-shooters, said langhingly : —

" Pooh, men, don't duck ; they couldn't hit an elephant
at that distance."

As he spoke a bullet pierced his brain, and the veteran
fell dead, wearing his usual calm smile. He was perhaps
the best soldier in the Army of the Potomac. Grant re-
garded his loss greater in a mere military view than the
destruction of an entire division would have been.

Hundreds of fugitives were pouring into Washington.
Pour runaway colonels even were taken to the War Depart-
ment in irons, and the air was thick with rumors that
Grant was in full retreat. This afternoon, however, receiv-
ing a dispatch from Meade, the President issued the fol-
lowing : —


" EnoDgh is known of the army operations within the last five days to
clium oar especial gratitude to God. While what remains nndone demands
oar most sincere prayers to and reliance apon Him (withoat whom all human
effort is vain), I recommend that all patriots, at their homes, in their places
of pahlic worship, and wherever they may be, unite in common thanksgiving
and prayer to Almighty God."

On Tuesday morning* Meade's line was six miles long.
The day saw hard fighting in deep ravines, in dense pine
forests, and in pleasant sun-bathed fields. Once the woods
took fire, and a number of wounded were burned to death.

Just before dark under a thundering cannonade a charge
was made by our entire line. Several rebel works were
carried. A Vermont brigade captured an important one,
but found itself without supports. The moment Grant
heard of it he directed : — «

** Pile in the men and hold the work."

But before this could be done the brigade had been

Our forces failed to break the enemy's main line, but
brought back more than a thousand prisoners. Little by
little the Union troops were gaining upon the rebels. Grant

* May tenth.

Digitized by VjOOQIC

410 "Fight it Out ok this Line." ps^*-

kept with him his heavy siege trains for attacking Rich-
' mond, and replied to all desponding questions :—" We are
going through ; there is no doubt about it."

On Wednesday morning,* after an early breakfast,
Washburne, about starting for Washington, stood with the
General and staff while his escort was getting ready.

Washburne. — " What word have you to send ?"

Grant. — '* None I think, except that we are fighting
away here."

Washburne. — *' Hadn't you better send Stanton just a
scratch of the pen V

Grant. — ' ' Perhaps so.' '

He stepped into his tent, and, without a moment's re-
flection, dashed off a note, apparently not even reading it
after it was written : —

^^ We have now ended the sixth day of very hard fighting. The result,
^ to this time, is much in our favor. Our losses have been heavy, as well as
those of the enemy. I think the loss of the enemy mast be greater. We
have taken over five thousand prisoners in battle, while he has taken from
us but few, except stragglers. I propose to fight it out on thU line^ if it taicM
all summer. ^^

At ten that night Washburne delivered the note. Stan-
ton forwarded it to Dix, " whose duty it was to deal infor-
mation which the War Department cut for him," and Dix
sent it to the, press of the country. It relieved the general
suspense, and the italicized sentence was received with great
enthusiasm. It gave expression to the popular desire to
fight right through to victory, regardless of the cost.

Wednesday was spent in skirmishing and maneuvering.
Thursday* brought a long and desperate battle. Late on
the previous night, which was very dark and stormy, Han-
cock had massed his corps near the rebel left. At dawn he
made a charge in the dense woods. On coming in sight of

Online LibraryAlbert Deane RichardsonA personal history of Ulysses S. Grant: illustrated by thirty-two engravings ... → online text (page 31 of 48)