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Carolina could be easily detached from her duty to her confederates,
that it seems there were some who presumed upon it for important
purposes. Soon after the failure of the Fortress Monroe or Hamp-
ton Roads Conference, I was visited by Governor Graham (whose
death we so recently deplore), who was then a Senator of the Con-
federate States. After giving all the particulars of that Conference
which had not appeared in the papers, and the prevailing impressions
of Congressional circles about Richmond, etc., he informed me that
a number of leading gentlemen there, despairing of obtaining peace
through Mr. Davis, and believing the end inevitable and not distant,



Address Delivered by Governor Z. B. Vance. 519

had requested him to visit me and urge me as Governor of North
CaroHna, to take steps for making separate terms with Mr. Lincoln
and thus inaugurate the conclusion. That he had agreed to lay their
request before me without promising to add his personal advice
thereto. I asked who these gentlemen were, and with some reluct
ance he gave me their names, chiefly Senators and Representatives
in the Confederate Congress. I asked why these gentlemen did not
begin negotiations for their own States with the enemy, and if they
would come out in the papers with this request to me. He said they
cou/d not take the initiative, they were so surrounded at home, and
some trammeled by pledj^es, etc., as to render it impossible! I de-
clined the proposition, of course, and asked him to say to those gen-
tlemen, with my compliments, that in the mountains where I was
raised, when a man was whipped he had to do his own hollowing ;
that the technical word "enough," could not be cried by proxy.
This piece of secret history will serve to show that there was a faint-
ness of heart and a smiting together of knees in other parts of the
South outside of North Carolina.*

And now, having briefly alluded to the part which North Caro-

* Note. — Since the synopsis of this was published, I have received a let-
ter from an esteemed friend in Hillsboro, North Carolina, who says he had
a conversation with Governor Graham on the same subject, and that his
recollection is that the proposition made to me was that I should take steps-
to withdraw the North Carolina troops from General Lee's army, which
would force him to surrender and thus end the war. It may be that my
friend's recollection is correct. I am quite sure, however, that substantially
I was requested to take separate and independent action to end the contest,
and I do not regard the difference between my friend's statement and my
own as very material.

I have also been surprised to learn that this statement was construed by
many as a personal reflection, both on Governor Graham and the gentlemen
who entrusted him with the message. Surely nothing could have been fur-
ther from my intention. It was understood at Richmond, as I learned, that
Mr. Davis neither could nor would negotiate any treaty which involved the
destruction of his own government and as General Lee would only hold
out a few days or weeks longer, it was deemed important by those gentle-
men to undertake action by the States separately. I was only indignant
that those, who were so lively in the beginning of the fight and reflected so
severely on North Carolina for her tardiness, should undertake to make her
the scape-goat of defeat. I did not regard it as a treacherous or dishonor-
able proposition, but as one which would have put our State in a false posi-
tion, if accepted by me.



520 Southern Historical Society Fapers.

lina played in the bloody drama, permit me to close by commendino
most heartily the purposes of this society, and congratulating you
on its progress. There are among us unnatural sons of the soil, who
being enlightened by the knowledge-inspiring sweets of Federal
flesh-pots denounce your labors as evincing a purpose to keep alive
the fires of sectional bitterness, and feed a spirit of ill-faith toward
our presentjduties. Again, there are others in our midst, timid souls,
abounding in those good intentions which are said to constitute the
paving stones of a certain nether locality, who say they /ear these
charges are just, or at least our action looks that way, and had better
cease for that reason. I cannot agree with either. I am sure such
imputations are libellous. The preservation of the truth — especially
the truth of history — challenges the interest of all mankind. To set
forth the real dteds which we and our associates enacted and the real
issues before us as the only proper motives which incited to their per-
formance, is a solemn duty we owe to ourselves and to posterity. It
is especially due' to our own posterity — to those who are to succeed us
as citizens of the United States under a peculiar and most compli-
cated system of government. The light which our conflict will afford
them in grappling with many difficulties of the future, will be as a
lamp to their feet, if our story be truly told; but if falsely related, it
would prove a delusion and a snare. False history must teach false
lessons. And false indeed would have been the verdict of the muse
had it been inspired alone by the bitter rantings and partisan war
cries of one side ; and that side, too, making history, or trying to
make history, for the purpose of keeping itself in power. But after
a season, bold and representative men begin gradually to creep into
the national Legislature and other positions where their voices may
be heard. Your society, by a happy inspiration, is formed and
begins the work. Both sides now make statements ; contention
arises, and from its fiery heats, so alarming to the timid, comes forth
the precious gems of truth, pure and glorified, whose lessons like the
leaves of the tree of life, are for the healing of the nations. Surely,
there is in our story food to satisfy the reflective and to fire the hearts
of the brave for many generations; how that written constitutions,
which men are sworn to support, are yet as feathers in the gale be-
fore the fierce passions excited by interest, sectional hatred, and
religious bigotry; and that the only hope of freedom is, after all,
when her anchors take hold deep down in the hearts of men ; how
that a simple agricultural people, unused to war, without manufac-



Address Delivered by Governor Z. B. Vance. 521

tures, without ships, shut out from all the world and supposed to be
effeminated and degenerated by African slavery, yet waged a four
years' contest against four times their numbers, and ten times their
means, supplementing all their necessities, and improvising all their
material almost out of the dreary wastes of chaos ; how that their
generals wrought out campaigns not discreditable to the genius of
Hannibal, Caius, Julius, Marlboro, and Napoleon; whilst their gently
nurtured soldiers fought and marched and endured with the courage
of the Grecian phalanx, the steadiness of the Roman Legion, and
the endurance of the British Line — and all because the Southern
people had preserved the lofty souls and gallant spirits of their an-
cestry; had treasured up the traditions of chivalry and personal
honor which their fathers had bequeathed them as the highest glory
of a race, instead of the heaping together of dollars; the great lesson
which this age is striving to forget, that States will be as their men
are, that men will be as their souls are, sordid or lofty as they are
taught. And if there be any man among us. North or South, who
feels that the truth of this cruel war should not be known ; or that it
is dangerous to honor that courage and patriotism which extend ta
the giving of life in its support, in any cause which a Christian sol-
dier could maintain; or that unfaithfulness to present duty is bred
from a reverencing of the memory of those who died to preserve
their faith ; with such I have no desire to harmonize, the good
opinion of all such I can afford to despise. We know that the glo-
rious profession of arms is of the highest importance to a State ; and
a skill to wield the sword and the manhood to fight battles are cardi-
nal elements of successful civilization. All peace and mental culti-
vation produce effeminate Greeks of the lower Empire. All war
and physical development produce the Goth and the Hun. But
when the martial and the civil spirit are judiciously combined, the
highest types of human progress are brought forth.



Note. — It is but justice to state here that the idea of. obtaining supplies
in the way mentioned on pages 512 and 515, was suggested to me by Gen-
eral J. G. Martin, then Adjutant-General of the State. It was his practical
ability which shaped the outline of the scheme, though he had returned to
active service in the Confederate army before its fruits were reaped.

Z. B. V.



522 Southern Historical Society Papers.



The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg — Address of Colonel C.
S Venable (formerly of General R. E. Lee's Staff), of the University of
Virginia, before the Virginia Division f the Army of Northern Virginia,
at their Annual Meeting, held in the Virginia State Capitol, at Richmond,
Thursday Evening, October 30th, 1873.

[This address ought ere this to have been put in our records, and
would have been but for the delay of the distinguished and busy
author to furnish the MS., and the subsequent pressure upon our
pages. Our readers will recognize it as a valuable and interesting
contribution to our history.]

Comrades afid Friends :

Warmly appreciating the kindness and good will of the Execu-
tive Committee in extending to me the honor of an invitation to
address you on this occasion, and recognizing the duty of every Con-
federate soldier in Virginia to do his part in the promotion of the
objects of this Association, I am here in obedience to your call.
Fellow-soldiers, we are not here to mourn over that which we failed
to accomplish ; to indulge in vain regrets of the past ; to repine be-
cause, in accepting the stern arbitrament of arms, we have lost; nor
merely to make vain-glorious boast of victories achieved and deeds
of valor done. But we are met together as citizens of Virginia, as
American freemen (a title won for us by the valor and wisdom of our
forefathers), with a full sense of our responsibilities in the present and
in the future which lies before us, to renew the friendships formed in
that time of trial and of danger, when at the call of our grand old
Mother we stood shoulder to shoulder in her defence. More than
this: we are met to preserve to Virginia— to the South and to America
— the true records of the valor, the constancy and heroic lortitude of
the men who fought on field and flood under the banner of the
Southern Cross. With this view, I have thought it not inappro-
priate on this occasion to give a brief outline ol some facts and inci-
dents of the campaign of the Army of Northern Virginia from the
Wilderness to Petersburg, which may be of some little use as a
memoir to some future seeker after historic truth. I am aware that
in this I am in danger of repeating much tiiat has been told by dif-
ferent biographers and historians; but my desire is to give correct!\-
some incidents of which I was an eye-witness in that wonderful cam
paign, and to state in brief outline, some facts — accurate contempo
rary knowledge of which I had the opportunity of obtaining — and to



The Cam'paign from the Wilderness to Petersburg. 523

present these in their proper connection with the statements of high
Federal authorities. These incidents will enable us, in some measure,
to appreciate that self-sacrificing devotion to duty which character-
ized our great leader, and will serve to show how worthy the men of
that army, which he loved so well, were of his confidence and leader-
ship. And here let me say that no man but a craven, unworthy of
the name of American freeman, whether he fought with us or against
us — whether his birthplace be in the States of the South or in the
States of the North — would desire to obliterate a single page or erase
a single line of the fair record of their glorious deeds.

When General Lee set out from Orange Courthouse on the morn-
ing of the 4th of May to meet the Army of the Potomac, which
moved at midnight of the 3d of May from Culpeper, he took with
him Ewell's corps (diminished by General Robert Johnston's North
Carolina brigade, then at Hanover Courthouse, and Hoke's North
Carolina brigade of Early's division, which was in North Carolina),
and Heth's and Wilcox's divisions of A. P. Hill's corps, leaving
Anderson's division of Hill's corps on the Rapidan Heights, with
orders to follow the next day, and ordering Longstreet to follow on
with his two divisions (Kershaw's and Field's) from Gordonsville.
So, on May 5th, General Lee had less than twenty-six thousand in-
fantry in hand. He resolved to throw his heads of columns on the
old turnpike road and the plank road, and his cavalry on the Cathar-
pin road on his right, against General Grant's troops, then marching
through the Wilderness to turn our position at Orange Courthouse.
This was a movement of startling boldness when we consider the
tremendous odds. General Grant's forces at the beginning of the
campaign have been given as more than one hundred and forty
thousand of all arms, or about one hundred and twenty thousand in-
fantry, and all of these, except Burnside's corps of twenty thousand,
were across the river with him on the 5th. General Lee had less
than fifty-two thousand men of all arms, or forty-two thousand infan-
try — fifteen thousand of which, under Longstreet and Anderson, a
days' march from him, and the two North Carolina brigades, under
Johnston and Hoke, which reached him, the one on the 6th of May,
and the other on the 21st of May — at Spotsylvania Courthouse.
And here in the beginning was revealed one great point in General
Lee's bold strategy, and that was his profound confidence in the
steady valor of his troops, and in their ability to maintain themselves
successfully against very heavy odds — a confidence justified by his
past experience and by the results of this campaign. He himself



524 Southern Historical Society Papers.

rode with General A. P. Hill at the head of his column. The ad-
vance of the enemy was met at Parker's store and soon brushed
away, and the march continued to the Wilderness. Here Hill's
troops came in contact with the enemy's infantry and the fight began.
This battle on the plank road was fought immediately under the eye
of the Commanding-General. The troops, inspired by his presence,
maintained the unequal fight with great courage and steadiness.
Once only there was some wavering, which was immediately checked.
The odds were very heavy against these two divisions (Heth's and
Wilcox's), which were together about ten thousand strong. The
battle first began with Getty's Federal division, which was soon re-
inforced by the Second corps, under General Hancock. Hancock
had orders, with his corps and Getty's division of the Sixth corps,
to drive Hill back to Parker's store. This he tried to accomplish,
but his repeated and desperate assaults were repulsed. Before night
Wadsworth's division and a brigade from Warren's corps were sent
to help Hancock, thus making a force of more than forty thousand
men, which was hurled at these devoted ten thousand until 8 o'clock
P. M., in unavailing efforts to drive them from their position.

Ewell's corps, less than sixteen thousand strong, had repulsed War-
ren's corps on the old turnpike, inflicting a loss of three thousand
men or more and two pieces of artillery. Rosser, on our right, with
his cavalry brigade, had driven back largely superior numbers of
Wilson's cavalry division on the Catharpin road. These initial
operations turned Grant's forces from the wide sweeping marches
which they had begun, to immediate and urgent business in the Wil-
derness.. The army which he had set out to destroy had come up in
the most daring manner and presented itself in his pathway. That
General Lee's bold strategy was very unexpected to the enemy, is well
illustrated by the fact recorded by Swinton, the Federal historian,
that when the advance of Warren's corps struck the head of
Ewell's column, on the morning of the 5th, General Meade said
to those around him, "They have left a division to fool us here,
while they concentrate and prepare a position on the North
Anna; and what I want is to prevent these fellows from getting
back to Mine Run." Mine Run was to that General, doubtless,
a source of unpleasant reminiscences of the previous campaign.
General Lee soon sent a message to Longstreet to make a night
march and bring up his two divisions at davbreak on the 6th. He
himself slept on the field, taking his headquarters a few hundred
yards from the line of battle of the day. It was his intention to re-



The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petershurg. 525

lieve Hill's two divisions with Longstreet's, and throw them farther
to the left, to fill up a part of the great unoccupied interval between
the plank road and Ewell's right, near the old turnpike, or use them
on his right, as the occasion might demand. It was unfortunate that
any of these troops should have become aware they were to be re-
lieved by Longstreet. It is certain that owing to this impression,
Wilcox's division, on the right, was not in condition to receive Han-
cock's attack at early dawn on the morning of the 6th, by which
they were driven back in considerable confusion. In fact, some of
the brigades of Wilcox's division came back in disorder, but sullenly
and without panic, entirely across the plank road, where General Lee
and the gallant Hill in person helped to rally them. The assertion,
made by several writers, that Hill's troops were driven back a mile
and a half, is a most serious mistake. The right of his line was
thrown back several hundred yards, but a portion of the troops still
maintained their position. The danger, however, was great, and
General Lee sent his trusted Adjutant, Colonel W. H. Taylor, back to
Parker's store, to get the trains ready for a movement to the rear,
He sent an aid also to hasten the march of Longstreet's divisions.
These came the last mile and a half at a double-quick, in parallel col-
umns, along the plank-road. General Longstreet rode forward with
that imperturbable coolness which always characterized him in times
of perilous action, and began to put them in position on the right and
left of the road. His men came to the front of disordered battle with
a steadiness unexampled, even among veterans, and with an elan
which presaged restoration of our battle and certain victory. When
they arrived the bullets of the enemy on our right flank had begun
to sweep the field in the rear of the artillery pits on the left of the
road where General Lee was giving directions and assisting General
Hill in rallying and reforming his troops. It was here that the inci-
dent of Lee's charge with Gregg's Texas brigade occurred. The
Texans cheered lustily as their line of battle, coming up in splendid
style, passed by Wilcox's disordered columns, and swept across our
artillery pit and its adjacent breastwork. Much moved by the greet-
ing of these brave men and their magnificent behavior. General Lee
spurred his horse through an opening in the trenches and followed
close on their line as it moved rapidly forward. The men did not
perceive that he was going with them until they had advanced some
distance in the charge ; when they did, there came from the entire
line, as it rushed on, the cry, "Go back. General Lee! go back ! "
Some historians like to put this in less homely words, but the brave



.526 Southern Historical Society Papers.

Texans did not pick their phrases. "We won't go on unless you
go back ! " A sergeant seized his bridle rein. The gallant General
Gregg (who laid down his life on the 9th October, almost in General
Lee's presence, in a desperate charge of his brigade on the enemy's
lines in the rear of Fort Harrison), turning his horse towards Gen-
eral Lee remonstrated with him. Just then I called his attention
to General Longstreet, whom he had been seeking, and who sat on
his horse on a knoll to the right of the Texans, directing the attack of
his divisions. He yielded with evident reluctance to the entreaties
of his men and rode up to Longstreet' s position. With the first op-
portunity I informed General Longstreet of what had just happened,
and he, with affectionate bluntness, urged General Lee to go farther
back. I need not say the Texans went forward in their charge and
did well their duty. They were eight hundred strong, and lost half
their number kilLd and wounded on that bloody day. The battle
was soon restored, and the enemy driven back to their position of
the night before. Wilcox's and Heth's divisions were placed in line
a short distance to the left of the plank road. General Lee's imme-
diate presence had done much to restore confidence to these brave
men and to inspire the troops who came up with the determination
to win at all hazards. A short time afterwards General Anderson's
division arrived from Orange Courthouse. The well known flank
attack was then planned and put into execution, by which Long-
street put in, from his own and Anderson's divisions, three
brigades on the right flank of the enemy, rolled it up in the usual
manner, uncovering his own front, thus completely defeating Han-
c.'jck's force and sending it reeling back on the Brock road. The
story of this and of Longstreet' s unfortunate wounding is familiar to
all. His glorious success and splendid action on the field had chal-
lenged the admiration of all. As an evidence of the spirit of the
men on this occasion, the Mississippi brigade of Heth's division,
commanded by the gallant Colonel Stone, though the division was
placed further to the left, out of the heat of battle, preferred to re-
main on the right, under heavy fire, and fought gallantly throughout
the day under Longstreet.

When General Grant commenced his change ot base and turning
operation on the evening of the 7th, General Lee, with firm reliance
on the ability of a small body of his troops to hold heavy odds in
check until he could bring a.ssistance, sent Anderson, who had been
promoted to the command of Longstreet' s two divisions, to confront
his columns at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Stuart, too, threw his cav-



The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg. 527

airy across Grant's line of march on the Brock road. The enemy's
cavalry (division) failing to dislodge Stuart, gave up the accomplish-
ment of that work to the Fifth corps (Warren's). When Anderson ar-
rived at Spotsylvania Courthouse, he found the cavalry ( Fitz. Lee's
division) at the Courthouse, maintaining gallantly an unequal fight with
the Fifth corps and Torbert's cavalry division. Torbert was checked
on his right, and Stuart, with the assistance ot several brigades of
infantry sent to him by Anderson, soon created in the enemy what
Swinton describes as "an excited and nervous condition of mind
and a tendency to stampede " — ascribed by him, however, to want of
rest and Wilderness experience. Stuart stopped their advance, and
they fell to entrenching of their own accord. The conduct and
skill of Stuart in this fight on the 8th, on which so much depended,
always met the warm approval of the Commanding-General, and he
spoke of it, with grateful remembrance, in the days of March, 1865,
when disasters began to crowd upon us. Let us lay this laurel on
the tomb of him who so soon afterwards rendered up his life leading,
with heroic courage, his mere handful of wearied men against Sheri-
dan's overwhelming numbers. That General Grant did not push up
other troops to Warren's assistance, to enable him to drive these two
divisions (now perhaps not more than eight thousand strong) from
his front is attributable to the fact that he detained Hancock (the
nearest supporting corps ) to meet an anticipated attack iVom General
Lee on his rear. That General Lee, with his small force, reduced by
two days' heavy fighting, should check this great body of one hun-
dred and twenty thousand infantry (reduced by Wildernes expe-
rience), and at the same time threaten its rear and cause the Federal
commander to send to Washington for reinforcements, is a thing
almost unparalleled in the history of war. On General Lee's
arrival with Ewell's corps in the afternoon, after a second repulse of
tiie enemy, the line of Spotsylvania was taken up. That a part of
the line was weak on Rodes's right and General Edward Johnson's



Online LibrarySouthern Historical Society. cnSouthern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) → online text (page 55 of 61)