John Esten Cooke.

A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee online

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advancing; Lee's army, in tatters, and almost without supplies,
presented a very uninviting appearance to recruits, and few joined his
standard, the population in general remaining hostile or neutral.

The condition of the army was indeed forlorn. It was worn down by
marching and fighting; the men had scarcely shoes upon their feet;
and, above the tattered figures, flaunting their rags in the sunshine,
were seen gaunt and begrimed faces, in which could be read little of
the "romance of war." The army was in no condition to undertake
an invasion; "lacking much of the material of war, feeble in
transportation, poorly provided with clothing, and thousands of them
destitute of shoes," is Lee's description of his troops. Such was the
condition of the better portion of the force; on the opposite side of
the Potomac, scattered along the hills, could be seen a weary, ragged,
hungry, and confused multitude, who had dragged along in rear of the
rest, unable to keep up, and whose miserable appearance said little
for the prospects of the army to which they belonged.

From these and other causes resulted the general apathy of the
Marylanders, and Lee soon discovered that he must look solely to his
own men for success in his future movements. He faced that conviction
courageously; and, without uttering a word of comment, or indulging in
any species of crimination against the people of Maryland, resolutely
commenced his movements looking to the capture of Harper's Ferry and
the invasion of Pennsylvania.[1]

[Footnote 1: The reader will perceive that the intent to _invade_
Pennsylvania is repeatedly attributed in these pages to General Lee.
His own expression is, "by _threatening_ Pennsylvania, to induce
the enemy," etc. That he designed invasion, aided by the recruits
anticipated in Maryland, seems unquestionable; since, even after
discovering the lukewarmness of the people there by the fact that few
joined his standard, he still advanced to Hagerstown, but a step from
the Pennsylvania line. These facts have induced the present writer to
attribute the design of actual invasion to Lee with entire confidence;
and all the circumstances seem to him to support that hypothesis.]

The promises of his address had been kept. No one had been forced to
follow the Southern flag; and now, when the people turned their backs
upon it, closing the doors of the houses in the faces of the Southern
troops, they remained unmolested. Lee had thus given a practical proof
of the sincerity of his character. He had promised nothing which he
had not performed; and in Maryland, as afterward in Pennsylvania,
in 1863, he remained firm against the temptation to adopt the harsh
course generally pursued by the commanders of invading armies. He
seems to have proceeded on the principle that good faith is as
essential in public affairs as in private, and to have resolved that,
in any event, whether of victory or disaster, his enemies should not
have it in their power to say that he broke his plighted word, or
acted in a manner unbecoming a Christian gentleman.

Prompt action was now necessary. The remnants of General Pope's army,
greatly scattered and disorganized by the severe battle of Manassas,
had been rapidly reformed and brought into order again, and to this
force was added a large number of new troops, hurried forward from the
Northern States to Washington. This new army was not to be commanded
by General Pope, who had been weighed and found wanting in ability to
contend with Lee. The force was intrusted to General McClellan, in
spite of his unpopularity with the Federal authorities; and the urgent
manner in which he had been called upon to take the head of affairs
and protect the Federal capital, is the most eloquent of all
commentaries upon the position which he held in the eyes of the
country and the army. It was felt, indeed, by all that the Federal
ship was rolling in the storm, and an experienced pilot was necessary
for her guidance. General McClellan was accordingly directed, after
General Pope's defeat, to take command of every thing, and see to the
safety of Washington; and, finding himself at length at the head of an
army of about one hundred thousand men, he proceeded, after the manner
of a good soldier, to protect the Federal capital by advancing into
upper Maryland in pursuit of Lee.



General Lee was already moving to the accomplishment of his designs,
the capture of Harper's Ferry, and an advance into the Cumberland

His plan to attain the first-mentioned object was simple, and promised
to be successful. Jackson was to march around by way of "Williamsport
and Martinsburg," and thus approach from the south. A force was
meanwhile to seize upon and occupy the Maryland Heights, a lofty
spot of the mountain across the Potomac, north of the Ferry. In like
manner, another body of troops was to cross the Potomac, east of the
Blue Ridge, and occupy the Loudon Heights, looking down upon Harper's
Ferry from the east. By this arrangement the retreat of the enemy
would be completely cut off in every direction. Harper's Ferry must
be captured, and, having effected that result, the whole Confederate
force, detached for the purpose, was to follow the main body of this
army in the direction of Hagerstown, to take part in the proposed
invasion of Pennsylvania.

This excellent plan failed, as will be seen, from no fault of the
great soldier who devised it, but in consequence of unforeseen
obstacles, and especially of one of those singular incidents which
occasionally reverse the best-laid schemes and abruptly turn aside the
currents of history.

Jackson and the commanders coöperating with him moved on September
10th. General Lee then with his main body crossed the South Mountain,
taking the direction of Hagerstown. Meanwhile, General McClellan had
advanced cautiously and slowly, withheld by incessant dispatches from
Washington, warning him not to move in such a manner as to expose that
city to danger. Such danger existed only in the imaginations of the
authorities, as the army in advancing extended its front from the
Potomac to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. General McClellan,
nevertheless, moved with very great precaution, feeling his way, step
by step, like a man in the dark, when on reaching Frederick City,
which the Confederates had just evacuated, good fortune suddenly came
to his assistance. This good fortune was the discovery of a copy of
General Lee's orders of march for the army, in which his whole plan
was revealed. General McClellan had therein the unmistakable evidence
of his opponent's intentions, and from that moment his advance was as
rapid as before it had been deliberate.

The result of this fortunate discovery was speedily seen. General Lee,
while moving steadily toward Hagerstown, was suddenly compelled to
turn his attention to the mountain-passes in his rear. It had not been
the intention of Lee to oppose the passage of the enemy through the
South Mountain, as he desired to draw General McClellan as far as
possible from his base, but the delay in the fall of Harper's
Ferry now made this necessary. It was essential to defend the
mountain-defiles in order to insure the safety of the Confederate
troops at Harper's Ferry; and Lee accordingly directed General
D.H. Hill to oppose the passage of the enemy at Boonsboro Gap, and
Longstreet was sent from Hagerstown to support him.

An obstinate struggle now ensued for the possession of the main South
Mountain Gap, near Boonsboro, and the roar of Jackson's artillery from
Harper's Ferry must have prompted the assailants to determined efforts
to force the passage. The battle continued until night (September
14th), and resulted in heavy loss on both sides, the brave General
Reno, of the United States army, among others, losing his life.
Darkness put an end to the action, the Federal forces not having
succeeded in passing the Gap; but, learning that a column of the enemy
had crossed below and threatened him with an attack in flank, General
Lee determined to retire in the direction of Sharpsburg, where Jackson
and the forces coöperating with him could join the main body of the
army. This movement was effected without difficulty, and Lee notices
the skill and efficiency of General Fitz Lee in covering the rear with
his cavalry. The Federal army failed to press forward as rapidly as
it is now obvious it should have done. The head of the column did
not appear west of the mountain until eight o'clock in the morning
(September 15th), and, nearly at the same moment ("the attack began at
dawn; in about two hours the garrison surrendered," says General Lee),
Harper's Ferry yielded to Jackson.

Fast-riding couriers brought the welcome intelligence of Jackson's
success to General Lee, as the latter was approaching Sharpsburg,
and official information speedily came that the result had been
the capture of more than eleven thousand men, thirteen thousand
small-arms, and seventy-three cannon. It was probably this large
number of men and amount of military stores falling into the hands of
the Confederates which afterward induced the opinion that Lee's sole
design in invading Maryland had been the reduction of Harper's Ferry.

General McClellan had thus failed, in spite of every effort which he
had made, to relieve Harper's Ferry,[1] and no other course remained
now but to follow Lee and bring him to battle. The Federal army
accordingly moved on the track of its adversary, and, on the afternoon
of the same day (September 15th), found itself in sight of Lee's
forces drawn up on the western side of Antietam Creek, near the
village of Sharpsburg.

[Footnote 1: All along the march he had fired signal-guns to inform
the officer in command at Harper's Ferry of his approach.]

At last the great opponents were in face of each other, and a battle,
it was obvious, could not long be delayed.



General Lee had once more sustained a serious check from the skill and
soldiership of the officer who had conducted the successful retreat of
the Federal army from the Chickahominy to James River.

The defeat and dispersion of the army of General Pope on the last day
of August seemed to have opened Pennsylvania to the Confederates. On
the 15th of September, a fortnight afterward, General McClellan, at
the head of a new army, raised in large measure by the magic of his
name, had pursued the victorious Confederate, checked his further
advance, and, forcing him to abandon his designs of invasion, brought
him to bay a hundred miles from the capital. This was generalship,
it would seem, in the true acceptation of the term, and McClellan,
harassed and hampered by the authorities, who looked but coldly upon
him, could say, with Coriolanus, "Alone I did it."

Lee was thus compelled to give up his movement in the direction of
Pennsylvania, and concentrate his army to receive the assault of
General McClellan. Jackson, marching with his customary promptness,
joined him with a portion of the detached force on the next day
(September 16th), and almost immediately those thunders which prelude
the great struggles of history began.

General Lee had drawn up his army on the high ground west of the
Antietam, a narrow and winding stream which flows, through fields
dotted with homesteads and clumps of fruit and forest trees, to the
Potomac. Longstreet's corps was posted on the right of the road from
Sharpsburg to Boonsboro, his right flank guarded by the waters of the
stream, which here bends westward; on the left of the Boonsboro road
D.H. Hill's command was stationed; two brigades under General Hood
were drawn up on Hill's left; and when Jackson arrived Lee directed
him to post his command on the left of Hood, his right resting on the
Hagerstown road, and his left extending backward obliquely toward the
Potomac, here making a large bend, where Stuart with his cavalry and
horse-artillery occupied the ground to the river's bank.

This arrangement of his troops was extremely judicious, as the sequel
proved. It was probable that General McClellan would direct his main
attack against the Confederate left, with the view of turning that
flank and hemming in the Southern army, or driving it into the river.
By retiring Jackson's left, Lee provided for this contingency, and it
will be seen that the design attributed by him to his adversary was
that determined upon.

General McClellan occupied the ground on the eastern bank of the
Antietam. He had evidently massed his forces opposite the Confederate
left, but a heavy order of battle stood opposite the centre and right
of Lee, where bridges crossed the stream.

The respective numbers of the adversaries can be stated with accuracy.
"Our forces at the battle of Antietam," said General McClellan, when
before the committee of investigation afterward, "were, total in
action, eighty-seven thousand one hundred and sixty-four."

General Lee says in his report: "This great battle was fought by less
than forty thousand men on our side."

Colonel Walter H. Taylor, a gentleman of the highest character, and
formerly adjutant-general of the army, makes the Confederate numbers
somewhat less. In a memorandum before the writer, he says:

Our strength at Sharpsburg. I think this is correct:

Jackson _(including A.P. Hill_) 10,000

Longstreet 12,000

D.H. Hill and Walker 7,000
Effective infantry 29,000

Cavalry and artillery 8,000
Total of all arms 37,000

This disproportion was very great, amounting, as it did, to more than
two for one. But this was unavoidable. The Southern army had been worn
out by their long marching and fighting. Portions of the command were
scattered all over the roads of Northern Virginia, wearily dragging
their half-clothed limbs and shoeless feet toward Winchester, whither
they were directed to repair. This was the explanation of the fact
that, in spite of the ardent desire of the whole army to participate
in the great movement northward, Lee had in line of battle at
Sharpsburg "less than forty thousand men."

General McClellan made a demonstration against his adversary on the
evening of the 16th, before the day of the main struggle. He threw his
right, commanded by General Hooker, across the Antietam at a point out
of range of fire from the Confederates, and made a vigorous attack
on Jackson's two divisions lying near the Hagerstown road running
northward, and thus parallel with Lee's line of battle. A brief
engagement took place in the vicinity of the "Dunker Church," in a
fringe of woods west of the road, but it was too late to effect any
thing of importance; night fell, and the engagement ceased. General
Hooker retaining his position on the west side of the stream.

The opposing lines then remained at rest, waiting for the morning
which all now saw would witness the commencement of the more serious



The battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, for it is known by both names,
began at early dawn on the 17th of September.

General McClellan had obviously determined to direct his main assault
against the Confederate left, a movement which General Lee had
foreseen and provided for,[1] and at dawn commenced a rapid fire of
artillery upon that portion of the Confederate line. Under cover
of this fire, General Hooker then advanced his infantry and made
a headlong assault upon Jackson's line, with the obvious view of
crushing that wing of Lee's army, or driving it back on Sharpsburg and
the river. The Federal force making this attack, or advancing promptly
to support it, consisted of the corps of Generals Hooker, Mansfield,
and Sumner, and numbered, according to General Sumner, forty thousand
men, of whom eighteen thousand belonged to General Hooker's corps.

[Footnote 1: "In anticipation of a movement to turn the line of
Antietam, Hood's two brigades had been transferred from the right to
the left," etc. - _Lee_.]

Jackson's whole force was four thousand men. Of the truth of this
statement of the respective forces, proof is here given:

"I have always believed," said General Sumner afterward, before the
war committee, "that, instead of sending these troops into that action
in driblets, had General McClellan authorized me to march _there forty
thousand men_ on the left flank of the enemy," etc.

"Hooker formed his corps of _eighteen thousand_ men," etc., says Mr.
Swinton, the able and candid Northern historian of the war.

Jackson's force is shown by the Confederate official reports. His
corps consisted of Ewell's division and "Jackson's old division."
General Jones, commanding the latter, reported: "The division at the
beginning of the fight numbered not over one thousand six hundred
men." Early, commanding Ewell's division,[1] reported the three
brigades to number:

Lawton's 1,150

Hayes's 550

Walker's 700


"Old Division," as above 1,600

Jackson's corps 4,000

[Footnote 1: After General Lawton was disabled.]

This was the entire force carried by General Jackson into the fight,
and these four thousand men, as the reader will perceive, bore the
brunt of the first great assault of General McClellan.

Just as the light broadened in the east above the crest of mountains
rising in rear of the Federal lines. General Hooker made his assault.
His aim was plainly to drive the force in his front across the
Hagerstown road and back on the Potomac, and in this he seemed
about to succeed. Jackson had placed in front Ewell's division of
twenty-four hundred men. This force received General Hooker's charge,
and a furious struggle followed, in which the division was nearly
destroyed. A glance at the casualties will show this. They were
remarkable. General Lawton, division commander, was wounded and
carried from the field; Colonel Douglas, brigade commander, was
killed; Colonel Walker, also commanding brigade, was disabled;
Lawton's brigade lost five hundred and fifty-four killed and wounded
out of eleven hundred and fifty, and five out of six regimental
commanders. Hayes's brigade lost three hundred and twenty-three out of
five hundred and fifty, and all the regimental commanders. Walker's
brigade lost two hundred and twenty-eight out of less than seven
hundred, and three out of four regimental commanders; and, of the
staff-officers of the division, scarcely one remained.

In an hour after dawn, this heavy slaughter had been effected in
Ewell's division, and the detailed statement which we have given will
best show the stubborn resistance offered by the Southern troops.
Still, they were unable to hold their ground, and fell back at last
in disorder before General Hooker, who pressed forward to seize the
Hagerstown road and crush the whole Confederate left. He was met,
however, by Jackson's Old Division of sixteen hundred men, who had
been held in reserve; and General Lee hastened to the point threatened
Hood's two small brigades, one of which. General Hood states, numbered
but eight hundred and sixty-four men. With this force Jackson now met
the advancing column of General Hooker, delivering a heavy fire
from the woods upon the Federal forces. In face of this fire they
hesitated, and Hood made a vigorous charge, General Stuart opening at
the same time a cross-fire on the enemy with his horse-artillery. The
combined fire increased their disorganization, and it now turned into
disorder. Jackson seized the moment, as always, throwing forward his
whole line, and the enemy were first checked, and then driven back in
confusion, the Confederates pursuing and cheering.

The first struggle had thus resulted in favor of the
Confederates - with about six thousand they had repulsed eighteen
thousand - and it was obvious to General McClellan that, without
reinforcements, his right could not hold its ground. He accordingly,
just at sunrise, sent General Mansfield's corps to the aid of General
Hooker, and at nine o'clock General Sumner's corps was added, making
in all forty thousand men.

The appearance of affairs at this moment was discouraging to the
Federal commander. His heavy assaulting column had been forced back
with great slaughter; General Hooker had been wounded and borne
from the field; General Mansfield, while forming his line, had been
mortally wounded; and now, at nine o'clock, when the corps of General
Sumner arrived, the prospect was depressing. Of the condition of the
Federal forces, General Sumner's own statement conveys a very distinct
conception: "On going upon the field," said General Sumner, before the
war committee, "I found that General Hooker's corps had been dispersed
and routed. I passed him some distance in the rear, where he had been
carried wounded, but I saw nothing of his corps at all, as I
was advancing with my command on the field. I sent one of my
staff-officers to find where they were, and General Ricketts, the only
officer we could find, stated that he could not raise three hundred
men of the corps." General Mansfield's corps also had been checked,
and now "began to waver and break."

Such had been the result of the great Federal assault, and it was
highly creditable to the Confederate arms. With a comparatively
insignificant force, Jackson had received the attack of the entire
Federal right wing, and had not only repulsed, but nearly broken to
pieces, the large force in his front.

The arrival of General Sumner, however, completely changed the face of
affairs, and, as his fresh troops advanced, those which had been so
roughly handled by Jackson had an opportunity to reform. This was
rapidly effected, and, having marshalled his troops, General Sumner,
an officer of great dash and courage, made a vigorous charge. From
this moment the battle began to rage with new fury. General Lee had
sent to the left the brigades of Colquitt, Ripley, and McRae, and with
these, the troops of Hood, and his own shattered division, Jackson
presented a stubborn front, but his loss was heavy. General Starke,
of the Old Division, was killed; the brigade, regimental, and company
officers fell almost without an exception, and the brigades dwindled
to mere handfuls.

Under the great pressure, Jackson was at length forced back. One of
General Sumner's divisions drove the right of the Confederates beyond
the Hagerstown road, and, at this moment the long struggle seemed
ended; the great wrestle in which the adversaries had so long
staggered to and fro, advancing and retreating in turn, seemed at last
virtually decided in favor of the Federal arms.

This was undoubtedly the turning-point of the battle of Sharpsburg,
and General Lee had witnessed the conflict upon his left with great
anxiety. It was impossible, however, to send thither more troops than
he had already sent. As will be seen in a moment, both his centre
and right were extremely weak. A.P. Hill and General McLaws had not
arrived from Harper's Ferry. Thus the left had been reënforced to the
full extent of Lee's ability, and now that portion of his line seemed
about to be crushed.

Fortunately, however, General McLaws, who had been delayed longer than
was expected by General Lee, at last arrived, and was hurried to the
left. It was ten o'clock, and in that one hour the fighting of an
entire day seemed to have been concentrated. Jackson was holding his
ground with difficulty when the divisions of McLaws and Walker were
sent to him. As soon as they reached the field, they were thrown into
action, and General Lee had the satisfaction of witnessing a new order
of things. The advance - it might rather be called the onward rush - of
the Federal line was checked. Jackson's weary men took fresh heart;
that great commander promptly assumed the offensive, and, advancing
his whole line, drove the enemy before him until he reoccupied the
ground from which General Sumner had forced him to retire.

From the ground thus occupied, the Federal forces were unable to
dislodge him, and the great struggle of "the left at Sharpsburg" was
over. It had begun at dawn and was decided by ten or eleven o'clock,
and the troops on both sides had fought as resolutely as in any other
action of the war. The event had been decided by the pertinacity of
the Southern troops, and by the prompt movement of reënforcements by

Online LibraryJohn Esten CookeA Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee → online text (page 10 of 42)