A History of the Civil War, 1861-1865/Chapter III
AN unfortunate political appointment of the President’s was that of Simon Cameron as Secretary of War. Unequal as he was to the task of conducting a great war, he managed his Department as if it were a political machine. He had two competent subordinates whose work was efficient; yet Cameron left behind him, where his own hand could be traced, a continuous line of peculation. Contracts mounting up to enormous sums were repeatedly awarded to his political followers as a reward for past services, or in anticipation of future work. He paid exorbitant prices, gave commissions, accepted inferior goods. Early in the autumn Lincoln became aware of the defects of his Secretary and undoubtedly held the view set down in Nicolay’s “private paper, Conversation with the President, October 2, 1861”: “Cameron utterly ignorant and regardless of the course of things and probable result. Selfish and openly discourteous to the President. Obnoxious to the country. Incapable either of organizing details or conceiving and executing general plans.” “We are going to destruction,” wrote Senator Grimes to Senator Fessenden, “as fast as imbecility, corruption and the wheels of time can carry us.” Imitating Frémont, Cameron, in order to turn the public mind from his maladministration, made an appeal to the rising tide of anti-slavery sentiment. In his report to the President of December 1, he made the suggestion, in terms which could be construed as strongly recommending the measure, that the slaves should be armed, and when employed as soldiers should be freed. Without submitting the report to Lincoln, he had it mailed to the postmasters of the chief cities with instructions to hand it to the press as soon as the President’s message was read in Congress. When this act came to his knowledge, Lincoln ordered that the copies which had been sent out should be recalled by telegraph and that the report should be modified to accord with his own policy in regard to slavery.
On January 11, 1862, the President sent Cameron a curt note dismissing him from the position of Secretary of War and nominating him as Minister to Russia. There was reason enough for the change. The inefficiency of his administration, the belief of the country that it was corrupt, the insubordinate act in the matter of the report,—all combined undoubtedly to lead the President to his decision. He then appointed Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. Stanton, in his private correspondence during the summer of 1861, had written freely of “the painful imbecility of Lincoln” and the impotence of his administration, and as he was neither politic nor reserved, he had undoubtedly been equally outspoken in conversation with his friends and acquaintances in Washington, where he was then living. If Lincoln had cared to listen to Washington gossip, he might have heard many tales of this sort, but if any actually reached his ears as he was considering the appointment of Stanton, they certainly counted as nothing against his growing conviction that, in respect of local origin, previous party association and inherent ability, this Democratic lawyer from Pennsylvania was the man for the place. The appointment was acceptable to Seward and Chase, to Congress and to the country, for Stanton had gained the confidence of all by his sturdy patriotism when a member of Buchanan’s cabinet; it proved as admirable a choice as Cameron’s was unfortunate. Stanton made a great war minister, bringing to his task an indomitable spirit, overpowering energy and hatred of all sorts of corruption.“I feel that one clear victory at home,” wrote Adams to Seward on January 10, 1862, “might perhaps save us a foreign war.” Soon after his letter reached Washington, his wish was gratified.
Commanding two important gateways to the southwestern part of the Confederacy were Fort Henry on the Tennessee river and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, the two rivers here being but eleven miles apart. Flag-officer Foote and General Ulysses S. Grant thought the capture of Henry feasible, and asked Halleck, the commander of the Department with headquarters in St. Louis, for permission to make the attempt. This was given by telegraph on January 30, and, two days later, detailed instructions were sent by post to Grant. Next day he and Foote started from Cairo with four iron-clad and three wooden gunboats and a number of transports carrying the advance troops of the expedition. Four days later Foote poured into Fort Henry a destructive fire which, though responded to with “unabated activity,” resulted in the Confederate flag being hauled down after an hour and a quarter’s “very severe and closely contested action.” The coöperation of the Army in the attack was “prevented by the excessively muddy roads and high stage of water.” “Fort Henry is ours,” telegraphed Grant to Halleck on February 6. “I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th.”
Albert Sidney Johnston, the departmental commander of the Confederate Army, esteemed by Jefferson Davis the ablest of Southern generals, was dismayed at the fall of Fort Henry and determined “to fight for Nashville at Donelson,” assigning to this enterprise the better part of his army.
Heavy rains made the roads temporarily impassable for artillery and wagons; moreover, Grant desired the coöperation of the gunboats which were detained for needed repairs; hence he was unable to fulfil his promise to the letter; but, having sent the gunboats and some of the troops round by water, he left Fort Henry on the morning of February 12 with his main force and marched across country toward Donelson, arriving in front of the enemy about noon. Here he began the investment of the fort and, amid constant skirmishing, extended it next day “on the flanks of the enemy.” On February 14, Foote attacked with his gunboats, hoping for a repetition of the success at Fort Henry. The same courage and determination were in evidence, but the conditions were different and fortune adverse. He proved no match for the Confederate batteries, two of the iron-clads were rendered unmanageable, “drifting helplessly down the river,” and the other two, badly damaged, soon followed. Foote had been wounded; the Navy was for the moment out of the contest. “I concluded,” wrote Grant, “to make the investment of Fort Donelson as perfect as possible, and partially fortify and await repairs to the gunboats.” That night the disappointment of the Union troops was aggravated by physical discomfort. When they had left Fort Henry, the weather was warm and springlike; many of them had left blankets and overcoats behind; next day a driving north wind brought a storm of sleet and snow, which, continuing through two nights, tried the patience and endurance of the men, who were without tents and who could not risk fires because of the proximity of the enemy.
Cast down by the fall of Fort Henry, the Confederate generals were now elated at the repulse of the gunboats which had not cost them a single man or gun, but, after observing the arrival of reënforcements for Grant, they were satisfied that he would soon be able to beleaguer the fort completely, and that to save the garrison, they must cut their way through the besiegers and recover the road to Nashville. They determined to make the attempt early the next morning.
Reënforcements had increased Grant’s army to 27,000. McClernand’s division was on the right, holding the Nashville road; Lew Wallace’s was in the centre and C. F. Smith’s on the left.
Extending beyond the earthwork of Fort Donelson was a winding line of intrenchments nearly two miles in length, protected at certain points with abatis. These intrenchments were occupied by the Confederates, whose total force was 21,000. At five o’clock on the morning of February 15, they fell upon McClernand, who, after a stubborn resistance to superior numbers, was obliged to fall back in some confusion. The fugitives who crowded up the hill in the rear of Lew Wallace’s line brought “unmistakable signs of disaster.… A mounted officer galloped down the road shouting ‘;We are cut to pieces.’” The Confederates had gained possession of the Nashville road, but were too broken and exhausted by the severe battle to retreat in order over a road covered with snow and ice. Nor were all the men provided with rations; nor had certain other precautions been taken that are generally deemed indispensable for a retreat in the face of the enemy.
Early that morning Foote had requested Grant to come to his flag-ship for a consultation, he himself being too badly injured to leave the boat. Having complied with this request, the commanding general of the Union army was not in the field when the Confederates attacked; on going ashore after his conference with Foote, he met a Captain of his staff “white with fear … for the safety of the national troops.” He rode back with the utmost speed over the four or five miles of icy roads.
Here was a critical moment in Grant’s life. The war had given him an opportunity to mend a broken career; should he fail in this supreme hour, another chance might never come to him and his unfortunate absence during the morning’s battle would certainly be misconstrued.
Anyone used to affairs knows that there are times when, after a bad beginning everything seems to go awry, perplexity reigns and no remedy appears; when ordinary men are bewildered and know not what to do. All at once the Master appears, takes in the situation, cheers up his associates, gives a succession of orders and the difficulty is unravelled; failure gives way to success. Such was the case on the field of Donelson. Grant arrived; out of confusion came order; determination out of despair. When he learned of the disaster to his right wing, his face flushed slightly and he crushed some papers in his hand; but, saluting McClernand and Wallace, he said in his usual quiet voice, “Gentlemen, the position on the right must be retaken.” Then galloping towards his left, he stopped somewhere to send a despatch to Foote, requesting his assistance. While on the way he heard some of the men say that “the enemy had come out with knapsacks and haversacks filled with rations.” This was evidence to him that the sortie of the Confederates amounted to nothing less than an attempt to escape from the fort and he said to the staff officer who was riding with him: “Some of our men are pretty badly demoralized, but the enemy must be more so, for he has attempted to force his way out but has fallen back; the one who attacks first now will be victorious. Call out to the men as we pass, ‘;Fill your cartridge boxes quick and get into line; the enemy is trying to escape, and he must not be permitted to do so.’” Wherever Grant appeared confidence followed in his train. He rode quickly to Smith’s headquarters and ordered him to charge, assuring him that he would have only a thin line to contend with. Through abatis which looked too thick for a rabbit to get through, Smith led the charge with unusual energy and courage, carried the advanced works of the enemy and “effected a lodgement in his intrenchments,” securing “a key to his position.” After the order to Smith, Grant commanded McClernand and Wallace to charge; they advanced with vigor and recovered their position of the morning, regaining possession of the Nashville road. There was now no way of escape for the Confederates from Fort Donelson except by the river and by a road that had been submerged by the river’s overflow. Grant made arrangements for an assault at daybreak the next morning. Hardly a doubt of its success could exist.
Inside the fort the general discouragement that prevailed led the Confederate generals to the same opinion. The two ranking officers turned over the command to Buckner. One of them escaped with a number of his troops in two small steamboats that had just arrived with reënforcements; the other crossed the river in a skiff. The cavalry rode out over the submerged road finding the water “about saddle-skirt deep.”
At an early hour next morning [February 16] Grant received a note from Buckner proposing to capitulate and suggesting an armistice until noon. To this he made his famous reply: “Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner was compelled to accept what he called “the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms.” Grant, in his despatch to Halleck of that day, said that he had taken “12,000 to 15,000 prisoners, 20,000 stand of arms, 48 pieces of artillery, 17 heavy guns, from 2000 to 4000 horses, and large quantities of commissary stores.”
“Judged by its moral and strategical results,” wrote Ropes, “the capture of Fort Donelson was one of the turning points of the war.” It caused the evacuation of Nashville and resulted in a Union advance of more than two hundred miles of territory before the enemy could rally or reorganize. It set at rest all doubts, if any still existed, of the permanent position of Kentucky in the civil conflict and it deprived the Confederates of a large part of Tennessee, a fruitful ground for recruits and supplies. “The people were terrified and some of the troops were disheartened,” wrote Albert Sidney Johnston to Davis. “The blow was most disastrous and almost without remedy.” When the Governor of Tennessee proclaimed that the troops must evacuate Nashville and adjourned the legislature to Memphis, panic seized upon the people, and disorder, turbulence and rapine ensued.
The magnitude of the victory was fully appreciated at the North. “The underpinning of the rebellion seems to be knocked out from under it,” wrote Chase. “The almost universal feeling is that the rebellion is knocked on the head,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes. The capture of Fort Donelson was regarded in England as a victory of high importance, and greatly helped the cause of the North.
The victory was due to Grant. The more clearly one studies this campaign, the more firmly is one convinced that the great general longed for by the North had appeared. His quickness to guess the enemy’s design and the predicament in which they stood; his rapidity in forming a plan and putting its several elements in operation; his ability to conceal his disappointment and alarm at the disaster to his right wing and his grim determination to snatch some advantage from it: here surely we must recognize the stamp of military genius. It is true that when he gave the order to charge the enemy he could not be certain of a complete success and that he would have liked the aid of the gunboats. It may be, as Ropes has suggested, that he only did the obvious thing; but how many generals in the Northern Army at that time would have acted as he did and turned a defeat into so complete a victory? After Smith had carried the trench and the position on the right had been recovered, Grant must have expected demoralization to follow in the enemy’s ranks; finally Buckner’s note left no room for doubt. In his reply, which by an allusion to the initials of his name made him known henceforward as Unconditional Surrender Grant, he showed that in the hour of success he would exact the whole loaf: this attitude amid the amenities of our civil war was the mark of a masterful character. Five days after the surrender he wrote to his close friend, E. B. Washburne: “Our volunteers fought a battle that would figure well with many of those fought in Europe where large standing armies are maintained. I feel very grateful to you for having placed me in the position to have had the honor of commanding such an army and at such a time. I only trust that I have not nor will not disappoint you.”
Halleck and McClellan were too good theoretical soldiers not to understand that Donelson was a signal victory and they treated Grant in a manner that savors of professional jealousy. “General Grant left his command without any authority and went to Nashville,” telegraphed Halleck to McClellan. “I can get no returns, no reports, no information of any kind from him. Satisfied with his victory, he sits down and enjoys it without any regard to the future. I am worn-out and tired with this neglect and inefficiency.” “Do not hesitate to arrest Grant at once if the good of the service requires it,” was McClellan’s reply, “and place C. F. Smith in command.” Next day Halleck telegraphed: “A rumor has just reached me that since the taking of Fort Donelson General Grant has resumed his former bad habits [habits of drink].… I do not deem it advisable to arrest him at present but have placed General Smith in command of the expedition up the Tennessee.” These despatches were a cruel injustice to Grant. Since his victory his conduct had been proper, discreet and orderly.
Important as was the taking of Donelson, the full fruits of the victory were not garnered forthwith. Celerity was needed and Grant was the one general of the North who had shown that he could move quickly and fight an army effectively. If, instead of being unjustly criticised by Halleck, he had received the consideration that was his due and had been recommended for the active command, he could undoubtedly, if keeping himself at his best level of personal efficiency, have maintained the permanent occupation of Kentucky and Tennessee and taken Vicksburg and Chattanooga, thereby cutting off from the Confederacy a region that was considerably productive of troops and supplies.
The gloom at Richmond reflected the real dimensions of the disaster. On February 22, six days after the fall of Donelson, the provisional gave way to the permanent government of the Confederate States and Davis was inaugurated President for a term of six years. Amid the profound depression, “at the darkest hour of our struggle,” as he phrased it, Davis, pale and emaciated from illness and grief, delivered his inaugural address, in the course of which he admitted that “we have recently met with serious disasters.” Adversity drove the Confederates to extreme acts. Six days after his inauguration, Davis, by authority of an Act of Congress passed in secret session, proclaimed martial law in the city of Richmond and the adjoining country for ten miles around and declared the suspension therein of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Seven weeks later, in response to his recommendation, a rigorous Conscription act was passed.Oh, for a Grant in command of the Army of the Potomac to take quick advantage of this demoralization in the capital of the Confederacy! And indeed it seemed for the moment as if McClellan would be spurred to action, as is evident from two of his despatches to Halleck of February 20: “If the force in West can take Nashville or even hold its own for the present, I hope to have Richmond and Norfolk in from three to four weeks.” “The rebels hold firm at Manassas. In less than two weeks I shall move the Army of the Potomac, and hope to be in Richmond soon after you are in Nashville.” On February 24, Nashville was occupied by the Union troops. McClellan had a wonderful opportunity. In command of 150,000 men superior so far as the average raw material of the rank and file is concerned to the armies of most European countries, with roads to traverse no worse than many of those in the south of Italy over which the Sardinian army had marched in 1860,—roads no more difficult of passage than were the roads in Tennessee, on which the Union troops had marched and were still marching to good purpose—he should unquestionably have struck at Joseph E. Johnston at Manassas. He had three men to the enemy’s one and, though the outcome of a great battle may never be predicted with certainty, especially one with a McClellan pitted against a Joseph E. Johnston, nevertheless the chances were decidedly with the Union Army. Moreover Johnston was about to retire from Manassas. He began his preparations on February 22, started the movement itself on March 7 and four days later had his army safely on the south bank of the Rappahannock river. Here had been an excellent opportunity “for inflicting damage,” to use McClellan’s own words, on a large army that was withdrawing “in the face of a powerful adversary.”Let us now return to Grant during the days following the capture of Fort Donelson. In a private letter to Washburne of March 22, he gave an account of his misunderstanding with Halleck. “After getting into Donelson,” he wrote, “General Halleck did not hear from me for near two weeks. It was about the same time before I heard from him. I was writing every day and sometimes as often as three times a day. Reported every move and change, the condition of my troops, etc. Not getting these, General Halleck very justly became dissatisfied, and was, as I have since learned, sending me daily reprimands. Not receiving them, they lost their sting. When one did reach me, not seeing the justice of it, I retorted and asked to be relieved. Three telegrams passed in this way, each time ending by my requesting to be relieved. All is now understood however and I feel assured that General Halleck is fully satisfied. In fact he wrote me a letter saying that I could not be relieved, and otherwise quite complimentary.” But in his article in the Century Magazine (February, 1885) and in his Personal Memoirs, both written after he had seen the whole correspondence, he criticised Halleck severely. Halleck, however, at this time had the confidence of the War Department in Washington and had been appointed to the sole command of the United States forces in the West; on March 13, he restored Grant to the active command of the Army of the Tennessee from which he had been temporarily suspended. In 1884 Grant wrote: “My opinion was and still is that immediately after the fall of Fort Donelson the way was opened to the National forces all over the Southwest without much resistance. If one general who would have taken the responsibility had been in command of all the troops west of the Alleghanies, he could have marched to Chattanooga, Corinth, Memphis and Vicksburg with the troops we then had, and as volunteering was going on rapidly over the North there would soon have been force enough at all these centres to operate offensively against any body of the enemy that might be found near them.” As a matter of fact when, after the inexcusable snubbing he had received from Halleck, Grant was again placed at the head of his army, he had an opportunity for action which, if he had availed himself of it to the best of his ability would, by common consent of government and people, have pointed to him unmistakably as the one man for this work.
During the last days of March, Grant’s headquarters were at Savannah. He had five divisions in camp at Pittsburg Landing, nine miles higher up and on the west side of the Tennessee river, the side toward the enemy; and also Lew Wallace’s division at Crump’s Landing five miles below Pittsburg Landing and on the same side of the river. General Buell, in command of the Army of the Ohio, about 36,000 strong, was marching toward Savannah to join Grant in an offensive movement against the Confederates, who were at or near Corinth.
Albert Sidney Johnston, grieved as he was over the disaster at Donelson, was always cheered by the support and friendship of Jefferson Davis, who wrote to him, “My confidence in you has never wavered.” Beauregard, then the idol of the South, had been persuaded to leave Virginia and go to the Southwest to the aid of Johnston in the hope that, by his personal popularity, he might succeed in arousing the people to resist the invasion of their territory. Through the exertions of these two, an army of 40,000 was collected at Corinth. “What the people want,” said Johnston, “is a battle and a victory”; and he hoped to crush Grant before Buell could join him. Leaving Corinth on April 3, with the idea of surprising the Union forces, he expected to make the attack two days later, but owing to a number of delays, was unable to deliver the blow until the early morning of Sunday, April 6.
On the eve of this battle, called Shiloh, Grant’s remarkable faculty of divining the enemy’s movements, displayed at Donelson and later during his military career, seemed to be utterly in abeyance. Grant never studied the opposing commander with the thoroughness of Lee, and this time he failed to guess that desperation would drive Johnston to the offensive. He had made up his mind that the enemy would await his attack and so obstinate was he in this belief as to ignore certain unmistakable signs of a projected movement. On the day before the attack (April 5) he telegraphed to Halleck: “The main force of the enemy is at Corinth.” “I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place.” At three o’clock that afternoon, he said to a Colonel of Buell’s army, “there will be no fight at Pittsburg Landing; we will have to go to Corinth where the rebels are fortified.” At this hour Johnston’s advanced corps was two miles from the Union camp and the rest of his 40,000 within supporting distance.
William T. Sherman, who, in addition to his own division had general command of three others at Pittsburg Landing, was even more careless than Grant, for he was in close contact with the evidence; he had, however, received no order to throw up intrenchments, although Halleck had directed Grant to fortify his position. While “the utility of hasty intrenchments on the field of battle was not yet appreciated,” it is remarkable that with an enemy estimated at from 60,000 to 80,000 and, located according to their own guess, not farther than twenty-three miles away, generals as resourceful as Grant and Sherman did not put their soldiers to work with the pick and spade. “At a later period of the war,” wrote Sherman, “we could have rendered this position impregnable in one night.”
Sherman, “restless, ardent and enterprising” felt the enemy more than once; on the afternoon of Friday, April 4, he made a reconnaissance and captured ten prisoners, who said they were the advance-guard of an army commanded by Beauregard that was marching to attack the Union camp; one, who was mortally wounded, told the colonel of an Ohio regiment that the army was 50,000 strong and would certainly attack within twelve hours; of this Sherman was promptly informed. Pickets of this Ohio regiment called the attention of their Captain to “the rabbits and squirrels that were running into the lines”; they saw a body of cavalry and a large infantry force in line: these and other facts were reported to Sherman who, clinging stubbornly to his own conception of the situation, refused to regard them as indicating anything more formidable than a reconnaissance in force. Beauregard will not attack, he said. I know him and his habit of mind well. He will never leave his own base of supplies to attack the Union army at its base. On Saturday, April 5, he sent this word to Grant: “The enemy has cavalry in our front and I think there are two regiments of infantry and one battery of artillery about two miles out.” “The enemy is saucy but got the worst of it yesterday and will not press our pickets far.… I do not apprehend anything like an attack on our position.” At this moment one corps of the Confederate Army “was deployed in line of battle, not two miles from his camp, and the other three corps were in supporting distance.”
If Beauregard had been in command, Sherman’s conjecture would not have been far wrong. He had agreed to the attack on the Union force but, when it proved impossible to make it on the Saturday, he feared that the skirmish of the day before, the drum-beat and bugle calls had given them a sufficient warning, and that they would be found intrenched “to the eyes” and ready for an attack; he accordingly advised that the Confederate Army be withdrawn to Corinth. Two of the corps commanders differed with him and Johnston closed the discussion with: “We shall attack at daylight to-morrow. I would fight them if they were a million.” Even if Sherman had realized that Johnston was in command, he, like Grant, would have had no idea of the desperate energy that was pushing him forward.
An incident will show the proximity of the armies. Hearing the drum-beat at the hour of tattoo, Beauregard ordered it suppressed when, after investigation, his staff officer informed him that the drumming was in the Union camp.
After the downpour of Friday and that midnight’s violent storm, the sun rose on Sunday in a cloudless sky. From student to student of military campaigns went the word, “the sun of Austerlitz.” Johnston in the bracing air shared the exultation, declaring, “To-night we will water our horses in the Tennessee river.” Better informed than Grant and Sherman, he knew the exact position of the Union Army and planned to turn their left, cut off their retreat to the Tennessee river and compel their surrender. While taking his coffee at 5:14, he heard the first gun, the prelude to a vigorous attack that surprised Grant, Sherman and nearly all their officers and men. A major of an Ohio regiment was still in bed; officers’ servants and company cooks were preparing breakfast; at least one sutler had opened his shop; “the sentinels were pacing their beats, the details for brigade guard and fatigue duty were marching to their posts.” All at once the regular order of the day was changed to haste and confusion. Between seven and eight o’clock the camp of the Sixth division was carried. “The surprise was complete,” wrote Johnston’s aide-de-camp. “Colors, arms, stores and ammunition were abandoned. The breakfasts of the men were on the table, the officers’ baggage and apparel left in the tents.”
“About 8 A.M.,” wrote Sherman in his report of April 10, “I saw the glistening bayonets of heavy masses of infantry to our left front … and became satisfied for the first time that the enemy designed a determined attack on our whole camp.” Recovering from his surprise, wasting not a moment in vain regret, Sherman plunged into the contest, making his presence felt by command and example. In the thick of the fight he had three horses killed under him and was himself twice wounded. History may accept with only slight reservation Halleck’s report sent a week later from Pittsburg Landing. “It is the unanimous opinion here,” he wrote, “that General Sherman saved the fortune of the day.” He was ably supported by McClernand and the other division commanders, but, by ten o’clock, sherman’s and McClernand’s camps with their supplies had been taken. As the Union soldiers were outflanked they fell back until, at the close of the day, they occupied, if McClernand’s division may be taken as an example of those who had not been captured or fled, their eighth position.
The Union force of 36,000 resisted in this manner the Confederate of 40,000. Johnston’s troops were almost entirely raw. Twenty-five of Grant’s sixty-three regiments had fought at Donelson. The stragglers and the skulkers from the Union Army were a large number. Many of the green regiments broke and ran at the sudden onset, but the soldiers who stood to their colors and supported the strenuous efforts of Sherman showed a high degree of physical and moral courage.
The Grant of Shiloh was not the Grant of Donelson; nevertheless he worked hard to retrieve, as best he might, the mistake occasioned by his careless disregard of the enemy. At six o’clock, while eating his breakfast at Savannah, he received word from a private on detached duty at headquarters that artillery firing was heard in the direction of Pittsburg Landing. Leaving the table at once, he wrote an order to General Nelson, who commanded the advance of Buell’s Army, and who had arrived the day before, to move his division to Pittsburg, and then took steamer himself for the same place, stopping on the way at Crump’s Landing to tell Lew Wallace to hold his 6500 in readiness to march to the scene of action. Arriving at Pittsburg at about eight, he went to the front, and at once sent the order to Lew Wallace to come to the assistance of his army. The military critics say that Grant counted for little or nothing in the conduct of the battle. The layman, unable to dissociate him from his earlier and later career, feels that during his frequent visits and verbal injunctions to his division commanders, his coolness and deportment of a courageous soldier must have helped them in their efforts to maintain confidence among their hard-pressed soldiers. At noon Grant “became very anxious.” He sent word to Lew Wallace to hasten forward and despatched this entreaty to: “Commanding officer advance forces (Buell’s army), near Pittsburg: The appearance of fresh troops in the field now would have a powerful effect, both by inspiring our men and disheartening the enemy. If you will get upon the field, leaving all your baggage on the east bank of the river, it will be more to our advantage and possibly save the day to us. The rebel forces are estimated at over 100,000 men.” This despatch was received by Buell himself, who had arrived at Savannah the evening previous and was now proceeding up the river by steamboat.
Elated at their first success, the Confederates pressed forward with vigor encouraged by Johnston, who kept well to the front. An assault seemed necessary to occupy an important ridge for the turning of the Union left. He led the charge, escaping harm during the hottest of the fight but, as the Union soldiers retired from the crest, they kept up a desultory fire and one of their minié-balls severed an artery in his leg. The blood flowed freely; in ten or fifteen minutes he was dead. Had his surgeon, who had attended him during most of the morning, still been with him, he would have been saved, but during the advance they passed a large number of wounded, many of them Union men, and Johnston ordered his surgeon to stop, saying, “These men were our enemies a moment ago; they are our prisoners now. Take care of them.” Johnston’s death happened at half-past two in the afternoon; then Beauregard assumed command with his headquarters at Shiloh Church, a log cabin where Sherman’s had been the night previous. A lull in the battle ensued, but presently the struggle was renewed with fury. The Sixth Union division had made a remarkable fight, contesting the ground as they fell back; but, surrounded, their general, to save a useless sacrifice, surrendered with 2200 men.
This was at half past five. A last desperate effort was made by the Confederates to turn the Union left and get possession of the Landing. It was necessary to carry a hill guarded by a battery of rifled guns and by two Union gunboats which opened fire with shot and shell on the Confederate forces. “Grant sat on his horse quiet, thoughtful, almost stolid. Somebody said to him, ‘;Does not the prospect begin to look gloomy?’ ‘;Not at all,’ was the quiet reply. ‘;They can’t force our lines around these batteries to-night—it is too late. Delay counts everything with us. Tomorrow we shall attack them with fresh troops, and drive them, of course.’” Although Lew Wallace had failed to reach Pittsburg, help other than nightfall was at hand. The energetic Nelson and his division were hastening forward from Savannah. After three miles of good road they had to proceed through a black mud swamp and then through a forest where the subsiding waters left but indistinct traces of the way; they could hear the roar of cannon and, as they drew nearer, the volleys of musketry. While yet two miles away, a courier, riding at full speed, reined up at the head of the column with this word from the general, “Hurry up or all will be lost; the enemy is driving our men.” On reaching the east bank of the river a brigade crossed in boats, climbed the bank a hundred feet in height and, in obedience to the orders of Grant and Buell, both “cool and calm,” formed in support of the batteries. “An advance was immediately made upon the point of attack,” wrote Grant, April 10, “and the enemy soon driven back.” Darkness was close at hand. Beauregard sent orders to his troops to cease fighting and to sleep on their arms.
The contest had lasted more than twelve hours and was a Confederate victory, inasmuch as the Union troops were driven back from a mile and a half to two miles and lost Shiloh Church, the point which, as Grant wrote, “was the key to our position.” But the victory did not meet the expectations of Johnston, who had hoped to capture the Union Army or at any rate to drive it from the field in complete rout. At the time of his death he must have felt that his hopes were in a fair way to be realized. For the demoralization of a part of Grant’s army began with the sudden attack and continued to the end of the day, greatly impressing Nelson as he crossed the river in the late afternoon. “I found cowering under the river bank,” he wrote on April 10, “from 7000 to 10,000 men, frantic with fright and utterly demoralized, who received my gallant division with cries, ‘;We are whipped; cut to pieces.’” “The battle of Sunday,” wrote Henry Stone, “was like an old-fashioned country wrestling-match, where each combatant uses any method he chooses, or can bring to bear, to force his adversary to the ground.”
Next day, Monday, April 7,20,000 of Buell’s well-disciplined soldiers, Lew Wallace’s 6500, and such troops of the four divisions that had borne the brunt of Sunday’s battle as could be brought into line, attacked Beauregard under orders from Grant and Buell and, largely out-numbering him, drove him, after eight hours’ fighting, from the field, recovering the lost positions. Beauregard’s army, badly demoralized, retreated to Corinth. Bragg, who had commanded the second corps in the battle, wrote to him on April 8, during the retreat: “Our condition is horrible. Troops utterly disorganized and demoralized. Road almost impassable. No provisions and no forage.… The enemy up to daylight, had not pursued.”
Like most victories of our Civil War, whether Confederate or Union, no effective pursuit was made. Grant himself and his army, except Lew Wallace’s division, were too fatigued for immediate active service and he did not exercise the authority over Buell’s army for which he had the warrant from Halleck. Any later pursuit was rendered impossible by Halleck’s instructions and by his project of joining the army in person and taking over the command.
The Union casualties during the two days were 13,047; the Confederate, 10,694. Never before had a battle of such magnitude been fought on this continent. The Confederates failed to repair the disaster of Donelson; on the other hand, Grant might have crushed Johnston had he anticipated the attack. His lack of correct information is evident from his despatch to Halleck two days after the battle, saying that he had been attacked by one hundred and sixty-two regiments, which was a much larger number than he had actually to contend with.
It was a battle between men from the Southwest and Northwest and these sections went into deep mourning over their dead and wounded. The hilarity in Chicago at Donelson gave place to grief over Shiloh. Private letters from soldiers to their homes in the Western States told of the useless slaughter and aroused a feeling of indignation toward Grant. The press and members of Congress faithfully reflected this sentiment. Washburne in the House and John Sherman in the Senate alone defended him. “There is much feeling against Grant,” wrote the Senator to his brother the General, “and I try to defend him but with little success.” All sorts of charges were made against him. Stanton telegraphed to Halleck at Pittsburg Landing, “The President desires to know … whether any neglect or misconduct of General Grant or any other officer contributed to the casualties that befell our forces on Sunday.” Halleck, in his immediate answer, was evasive; and in his despatch of May 2, as printed, there is a tantalizing ellipsis, but, so far as I have been able to discover, there is no evidence in the printed record of misconduct on the part of Grant. It was the tragedy of his career that whenever he was at fault, the popular judgment harked back to his early record in the regular army and charged his shortcoming to intemperance in drink. A large number in the North believed this to be the cause of his recklessness at Shiloh and exerted a strong pressure on the President for his removal. A. K. McClure related that, carried along as he was by the overwhelming “tide of popular sentiment” and backed by “the almost universal conviction of the President’s friends,” he urged this course upon Lincoln. Late one night, in a private interview of two hours at the White House, during which he did most of the talking, McClure advocated with earnestness the removal of Grant as necessary for the President to retain the confidence of the country. “When I had said everything that could be said from my standpoint,” McClure proceeded with his story, “we lapsed into silence. Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then … said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget, ‘;I can’t spare this man; he fights.’” In his private letter to Washburne, Grant is pathetic and at the same time obstinate in his determination to defend his conduct if the battle and his procedure anterior to the Confederate assault. “To say,” he wrote, “that I have not been distressed at these attacks upon me would be false, for I have a father, mother, wife and children, who read them and are distressed by them and I necessarily share with them in it. Then, too, all subject to my orders read these charges and it is calculated to weaken their confidence in me and weaken my ability to render efficient service in our present cause.… Those people who expect a field of battle to be maintained for a whole day with about thirty thousand troops, most of them entirely raw, against fifty thousand, as was the case at Pittsburg Landing while waiting for reënforcements to come up, without loss of life, know little of war.… Looking back at the past I can not see for the life of me any important point that could be corrected.”
General Halleck arrived at Pittsburg Landing on April 11; he did not displace Grant until the 30th, when, on reorganizing the army, he deprived him of any actual command of troops, but made him second to himself. Grant chafed at this, asked more than once to relieved from duty under Halleck and then decided to quit this semblance of active service, saying to General Sherman: “You know that I am in the way here. I have stood it as long as I can endure it no longer.” Sherman, with whom had begun that fast friendship which endured throughout Grant’s whole life, urged him to stay. If you go away, he said, events will go right along and you will be left out, while, if you remain, some happy accident will restore you to favor and your true place. Grant acted upon this reasonable counsel and staid with the army.
This conversation followed the occupation of Corinth by the Union troops. Halleck had concentrated a force of 100,000, with which he moved slowly and cautiously upon Corinth, intrenching at every halt so that Sherman described the advance as one “with pick and shovel.” He forced the evacuation of Corinth, a place of strategic importance, and worth having, but the crushing of Beauregard’s army, which was possible, would have been a far more profitable achievement.The navy at the outbreak of the war was small and many of the ships were on distant cruises where orders to return were long in reaching them. Through the indefatigable exertions of the Secretary, Gideon Welles, and his chosen assistant, Gustavus V. Fox, and the purchase and charter of merchant steamers, a navy was improvised which was powerful enough to maintain a reasonably effective blockade. Bases for the blockading fleet and for other naval and military operations were needed and Hatteras Inlet, Port Royal and Roanoke Island were successively captured by joint naval and army expeditions. “The English,” wrote Adams from London, “must abide by the blockade if it really be one. They will set it aside if they can pick a good flaw in it.” Ever present to the English and American mind was the cotton crop of 1861, which England and France wanted and which the South was eager to exchange for cannon, rifles, munitions of war, iron in many forms and general merchandise. The bar to this trade was the blockade, which to be binding must be effective. One day in March, 1862, the blockade at Norfolk was broken, which gave rise to the apprehension lest it should be raised at all the Atlantic ports.
Until 1858, the navies of the world were wooden vessels, but, in that year, the French applied armor-plating to the steam frigate La Gloire, whereupon the British admiralty speedily constructed the 9200-ton iron steamship, Warrior. Probable though it was that an immense change was imminent in naval construction, the United States Navy department was slow to make a venture in the direction indicated. Richmond was in advance of Washington. As early as May 8, 1861, the Confederate Secretary of the Navy wrote, “I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the first necessity;” and in July, he gave an order to raise the steam frigate Merrimac (one of the ships partially burned and sunk when the Gosport navy-yard was destroyed) and convert her into an ironclad: this was accomplished as rapidly as could be expected under the imperfect manufacturing and mechanical conditions in the South.
By an act of August 3, 1861, the United States Congress constituted a naval board; four days later the Navy Department advertised for plans and offers of iron-clad steamboats “of light draught suitable to navigate the shallow rivers and harbors of the Confederate States.” John Ericsson submitted a plan which was rejected but, on the persuasion of a friend, he went to Washington and demonstrated “to the entire satisfaction of the board” that his “design was thoroughly practical and based on sound theory.” His proposal was accepted and Secretary Welles told him to begin the construction forthwith without awaiting the execution of the formal contract, inasmuch as the knowledge of the progress on the Merrimac had impressed the naval people with the necessity for speed. Ericsson’s ironclad was the Monitor; her keel was laid on October 25, 1861; she was launched on January 30, 1862, and on March 6 left New York for Fort Monroe.
On Saturday, March 8, a fine day with a calm sea, the blockading fleet in Hampton Roads were on their usual watch; off Newport News the frigate Congress of fifty guns and the sloop of-war Cumberland of twenty-four, both sailing vessels, swung lazily at anchor. Soon after noon a monster, resembling “a huge half-submerged crocodile,” belching out smoke was descried coming from the direction of Norfolk. No such ship had ever before been seen in American waters; few, if any, of the Union men had ever looked upon her like elsewhere, but all knew at once that she was the Merrimac. The Congress and the Cumberland cleared their decks for action. The Merrimac opened with her bow gun on the Congress, received a broadside and gave one in return. The Cumberland and the shore batteries fired at the monster and their balls rebounded from her iron sides as if they had been of india rubber. Passing the Congress, the Merrimac steered directly for the Cumberland, brought her guns to bear upon the Union sloop-of-war, killing and wounding men at every shot, and, steaming on under full headway, rammed the Cumberland, opening “her side wide enough to drive in a horse and cart.” Water poured into the hold; “the ship canted to port,” the masts swaying wildly. She delivered a parting shot and sank “with the American flag at the peak.” This action had lasted thirty minutes. Seeing the fate of her sister ship, the Congress slipped her anchor, set her jib and top-sails and, assisted by a tug, ran ashore, hoping in the shoal water to escape the Merrimac, which drew twenty-two feet. But she did not get beyond the Confederate range of fire. The Merrimac raked her “fore and aft with shells.” Being now on fire she hauled down her colors and hoisted a white flag. A misunderstanding that ensued with regard to her surrender led to the Merrimac firing hot shot into the Congress; this completed her destruction.
As soon as the Merrimac was sighted, the frigate Minnesota left her anchorage at Fort Monroe and steamed toward Newport News to the support of the Congress and the Cumberland. She ran aground and, as there still remained two hours of daylight she was apparently at the mercy of the ironclad, but the pilots were afraid to attempt the channel at ebbtide. The Merrimac therefore returned to Sewell’s Point and anchored, to await the light of next day when the commander expected to return to destroy the Minnesota and the rest of the fleet at Fort Monroe.
That night there was consternation in the Union fleet and among the Union troops in Fort Monroe and at Newport News. The stately wooden frigates, in the morning deemed powerful men-of-war, had been proved absolutely useless to cope with this new engine of destruction. The following day in Washington, a Sunday, was one of profound disquietude. Seward, Chase, Stanton and Welles hastened to the White House to confer with the President, who was much perturbed. “Stanton,” wrote Hay in his Diary, “was fearfully stampeded. He said they would capture our fleet, take Fort Monroe, be in Washington before night.” The President and Stanton “went repeatedly to the window and looked down the Potomac—the view being uninterrupted for miles—to see if the Merrimac was not coming to Washington.” The despatches from the War Department that day reflect the general excitement and apprehension. The capability of the Merrimac for future performance was much exaggerated, but one consideration could not rationally be ignored. She had broken the blockade at Norfolk and might do as much at other ports. During the excited meeting at the White House, Welles said to the President and his advisers: “The Monitor is now in Hampton Roads. I have confidence in her power to resist and, I hope, to overcome the Merrimac.”
The Monitor had been towed from New York and, despite a gale and stormy passage, had reached Hampton Roads on the Saturday evening at nine. Thence, in obedience to further orders, she proceeded two and a half hours later to a point alongside the Minnesota. At daylight on March 9, the Confederates saw a “craft such as the eyes of a seaman never looked upon before—an immense shingle floating on the water, with a gigantic cheese box rising from its centre: no sails, no wheels, no smoke-stack, no guns:” they knew it was the Monitor. At eight o’clock the Merrimac bore down upon the Minnesota and opened fire on her. The Monitor, which was commanded by Lieut. John L. Worden, steered directly for the Merrimac, “laid herself right alongside” and opened fire. The Monitor was of 776 tons burden, drew only ten and a half feet and had two 11-inch Dahlgren guns fired from a revolving turret; the Merrimac was a ship of 3500 tons carrying ten cannon. It was said that a pigmy strove against a giant; David had come out to encounter Goliath.
Then, for nearly four hours ensued a fierce artillery duel at close range; the distance between the two vessels varied from half a mile to a few yards. “Gun after gun was fired by the Monitor” without result except to draw broadsides from the Merrimac, which apparently had “no more effect than so many pebble stones thrown by a child.” At one time Lieutenant Jones, who was in command of the Merrimac, inquired, “Why are you not firing, Mr. Eggleston?” “Why, our powder is very precious,” was the reply, “and after two hours’ incessant firing, I find that I can do her about as much damage by snapping my thumb at her every two minutes and a half.” Jones determined then to ram the Monitor as the Cumberland had been rammed the previous day. But the engines and boilers of the Merrimac were defective; her speed was only five knots; she was unwieldy and her iron prow had been twisted off and lost in her encounter with the Cumberland. Opportunity offering, however, she made for her antagonist at full speed, but the Monitor being easily handled, got out of her way, receiving only a glancing blow. “She gave us a tremendous thump,” wrote the Chief Engineer, “but did not injure us in the least.” The Merrimac got the worse of the collision, springing a leak; she had, also wrote Jones, “received a shot which came near disabling the machinery.” But Worden was hurt. In the pilot house, which was constructed of iron logs in the manner of a log cabin, he used a look-out chink to direct the movements of his vessel. A shell struck and exploded just outside, severely injuring his eyes and leading him to believe that the pilot house was seriously damaged. He “gave orders to put the helm to starboard and sheer off.” Jones, either because he thought the Monitor had given up the contest or because his own boat was leaking badly, steered towards Norfolk and the struggle was over. The Monitor was uninjured and in condition to engage the Merrimac if she appeared on the morrow. But the Merrimac was too badly damaged for further operations; she had to dock for repairs and did not reënter Hampton Roads until a month later.
“Captain Ericsson,” wrote the Chief Engineer of the Monitor from Hampton Roads on the day of the fight, “I congratulate you upon your great success. Thousands have this day blessed you. I have heard whole crews cheer you. Every man feels that you have saved this place to the nation by furnishing us with the means to whip an iron-clad frigate that was, until our arrival, having it all her own way with our most powerful vessels.”
This momentous encounter demonstrated that the naval ships of the future must be iron-clad. The “wooden walls of England” were no longer her security.
The performance of the Monitor on Sunday did not entirely dispel the apprehensions in Washington and throughout the country, occasioned by the destructive work of the Merrimac on Saturday. McClellan had decided to transport his army to Fort Monroe and, using that as his base, advance on Richmond by the Peninsula between the York and James rivers. But this movement required the control of the sea in Hampton Roads and at Fort Monroe by the Union Navy and this was rendered dubious by “the possibility of the Merrimac appearing again.” He therefore asked Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Fox [March 12], who was still at Fort Monroe, “Can I rely on the Monitor to keep the Merrimac in check so that I can make Fort Monroe a base of operations?” Fox replied: “The Monitor is more than a match for the Merrimac, but she might be disabled in the next encounter. I cannot advise so great dependence upon her.” Meigs, still alarmed, wrote from Washington [March 13]: “I would not trust this city to the strength of a single screw bolt in the Monitor’s new machinery. If one breaks, the Merrimac beats her.” As late as March 15, Welles confessed, “There is a degree of apprehension in regard to the armored steamer Merrimac which it is difficult to allay.”
The Merrimac made two more appearances in Hampton Roads, the first one on April 11, when she directed the capture of three merchant vessels by a Confederate armed steamer and a gunboat. The Monitor was on the watch, but neither ventured to attack the other. Her second appearance was on May 8, when, in the words of her commander, she “stood directly for the enemy for the purpose of engaging him,” but the Monitor and her consorts would not give battle. Secretary Chase, who with the President and Secretary of War was at Fort Monroe on a brief visit, wrote this account of the incident: “The Merrimac came on slowly and in a little while there was a clear sheet of water between her and the Monitor. Then the great rebel terror paused—then turned back—and having finally attained what she considered a safe position, became stationery again.” On May 11, as a consequence of the evacuation of Norfolk by the Confederates due to McClellan’s advance, she was fired and, “after burning fiercely for upward of an hour, blew up.”The opportune appearance of the Monitor was a piece of good fortune for the Navy Department, but her construction was due to its foresight. Nevertheless, her restraint of the Merrimac was in the nature of defensive warfare, whilst the conditions of the war required offensive work on the part of the Union forces. In this the Navy now bore its share under the leadership of a man of sixty who had been in the naval service from boyhood up, had thirsted for fame but had not achieved it. This was Farragut, whose opportunity had now come. From Washington he wrote to his home, “I am to have a flag in the Gulf and the rest depends upon myself.”
The importance of the Mississippi river had been appreciated from the first. If the North could get possession of it, the Confederate States would be cut in twain and the rich supplies from the West could not reach the East. New Orleans, one hundred miles from its mouths, commanded the lower part of the river and was moreover the chief commercial city of the South: its capture would be a damaging blow to the Confederacy. Gustavus V. Fox, the assistant Secretary of the Navy, though drawn from civil life by Welles, had been in the Navy eighteen years, and afterwards commanded mail steamers, acquiring the practical knowledge wherewith to support his fertile thought. Fox now conceived a plan for accomplishing the desired object. The main defences of New Orleans were two strong fortifications, St. Philip and Jackson, situated on opposite sides of the river about seventy-five miles below the city. Fox proposed that an armed fleet should run by these forts, after which, as the navigation of the river was not difficult, the great city would be at their mercy. He won the approval of his chief and the two broached the plan in conference with the President, McClellan and Commander David D. Porter, who had been engaged in the blockade of the southwest pass of the Mississippi. Porter suggested that the naval fleet be accompanied by a mortar flotilla which should reduce the forts before the passage was made. The Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, whom McClellan designated to represent him in the adjustment of the details, agreed emphatically with Porter’s suggestion, writing, “To pass these works merely with a fleet and appear before New Orleans is a raid, no capture.” In spite of his high opinion of Porter, Fox stuck to his original plan and thus the matter stood when the commander of the expedition was decided upon. Welles and Fox selected Farragut for the command, basing their choice on Porter’s knowledge of the man due to an intimate personal acquaintance from his youth up. Farragut was summoned to Washington, where he learned from Fox the object of the expedition, the number of vessels he should command and the plan of attack. He entered into the affair with enthusiasm, had no doubt that the fleet could run by the forts, but had little faith in the bombardment by the mortar flotilla, which would occasion delay, but, as it seemed to have been decided upon, he was willing to give it a trial. I expect, he said, to restore New Orleans to the Government or never come back. Welles’s letter of instructions was far from possessing the definiteness of Fox’s verbal explanation to Farragut; it stated in a general way that he should “reduce the defenses which guard the approaches to New Orleans” before he should “appear off that city.”
While at Ship Island, the base of operations, about a hundred miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, Farragut wrote to Welles that the capture of Donelson and the surrender of Nashville had caused fear and demoralization in New Orleans. “There could not be a better time,” he added “for the blow to be struck by us and you may depend upon its being done the moment the mortar boats arrive.”
By the middle of April, Farragut with six ships and twelve gunboats and Porter with a mortar flotilla of nineteen schooners and six armed steamships for guard and towing service, were before Forts Jackson and St. Philip. On April 18, the bombardment of Fort Jackson by the mortar boats began and continued for two days, inflicting considerable damage, but not sufficient to compel the Confederates to entertain the idea of surrender. At ten o’clock in the morning of April 20, while the bombardment was at its height, Farragut signalled from his flag-ship, the Hartford, that he wished a conference with the commanding officers of his fleet. All who were not engaged in active work came. Porter, who commanded the mortar flotilla subject to Farragut, was unable to be present, but sent a communication in which he advised against running by the forts; “We should first capture the forts,” he said, “and then we may easily take New Orleans”; but if “we run the forts we should leave an enemy in our rear.” Some of the commanders agreed with Porter. As Farragut had promised Fox, he had given the bombardment by the mortar boats a trial; but, as forty-eight hours’ firing had failed to reduce the forts, he reverted to his original plan which, at the end of the conference, he put into a general order. “The flag-officer,” he wrote, “having heard all the opinions expressed by the different commanders, is of the opinion that whatever is to be done will have to be done quickly” and that “the forts should be run.” With all possible celerity, he proceeded to execute his plan. On the night after the conference, he sent a force to remove an obstruction in his way opposite Fort Jackson, a “chain which crossed the river, supported by eight hulks, which were strongly moored.” Not all that he intended was accomplished, but enough was done to enable his ships to pass up the river.
Farragut needed all his nerve and resolution. His trusted friend Porter, a man of conspicuous naval capacity, did not believe in his plan. His instructions from the Secretary of the Navy were ambiguous. If he failed, he would be regarded as a foolhardy Captain who had run counter to the orthodox principles of naval strategy in breasting a current of three and a half miles an hour, in front of strong fortifications and in the face of the enemy’s fire-rafts and gunboats. During the next days and nights of anxiety, however,—though he neglected no precaution and availed himself of every condition in his favor,—he moved straight towards his goal. By April 23, his arrangements were completed. “In the afternoon,” he wrote, “I visited each ship in order to know positively that each commander understood my orders for the attack and to see that all was in readiness. I had looked to their efficiency before. Everyone appeared to understand their orders well and looked forward to the conflict with firmness but with anxiety.… At about five minutes of 2 o’clock A.M. April 24 signal was made to get under way.” “At once was heard in every direction the clank-clank of the chains as the seamen hove the anchors to the bows.” An hour and a half was consumed in getting all the vessels under way. During the days of preparation, Porter had kept up the bombardment from his mortar boats, and now aided the movement by pouring “a terrific fire of shells” into Fort Jackson, the first to be passed. As the fleet advanced, they fired at the forts which briskly returned the fire. “The passing of the forts, Jackson and St. Philip,” wrote Farragut next day “was one of the most awful sights and events I ever saw or expect to experience. The smoke was so dense that it was only now and then you could see anything but the flash of the cannon and the fire-ships on rafts.” The fire-rafts were immense flatboats piled loosely with wood twenty feet high and saturated with tar and resin, from which the flames rose a hundred feet into the air. In the effort to avoid one of these, Farragut’s flag-ship, the Hartford, was run ashore, but a tug pushed the fire-raft alongside “and in a moment the Hartford was one blaze all along the port side half way up to the main and mizzen tops.” Thinking it was all over with them, Farragut exclaimed, “My God is it to end in this way!” But the fire department poured streams of water on the flames and put them out; at the same time the Hartford backed off and got clear of the raft. She was then opposite Fort St. Philip. The fierce fight continued and, at this time, if not before, the Confederate gunboats and two iron-clad rams took part in the contest; but most of these were destroyed. “At length the fire slackened,” wrote Farragut, “the smoke cleared off and we saw, to our surprise, that we were above the forts.” “We had a rough time of it,” was his word to Porter, “but thank God the number of killed and wounded was very small considering.”
Thirteen of his little fleet were now assembled above the forts; four were missing, but only one had been sunk. Leaving two gunboats to protect the landing of the troops who were part of the expedition, he proceeded up the river to New Orleans, seeing on the way ships laden with burning cotton floating down-stream and other signs of the destruction of property,—all evidence of the panic which had seized upon the city. During the morning of April 25, he reached the Chalmette batteries, three miles below the city and, by a vigorous attack, silenced them in thirty minutes. His despatch is headed, “At anchor off New Orleans;” the town was at his mercy. “The levee,” he wrote, “was one scene of desolation; ships, steamers, cotton, coal, etc., were all in one common blaze.” As he had divined, the passage of the forts compelled the evacuation of New Orleans by the Confederate military force and its surrender, and furthermore, since the enemy’s communications were now severed, the surrender of the forts. On April 29, he sent this despatch to the Secretary of the Navy, “Our flag waves over both Forts Jackson and St. Philip and at New Orleans over the custom-house.” The passage of the forts and the possession of the Mississippi river made the way clear for General Butler and his troops to reach New Orleans by boat. On May 1, Farragut formally turned over to him the city.
After any successful achievement, nothing is so grateful as the appreciation of experts; this Farragut received. From Fox came, “Having studied up the localities and defenses in conceiving this attack, I can fully appreciate the magnificent execution which has rendered your name immortal.” And from Captain Mahan: “The conquest of New Orleans and of its defenses … was wholly the work of the United States Navy.… It was a triumph won over formidable difficulties by a mobile force, skillfully directed and gallantly fought.”
It was “the crowning stroke of adverse fortune” wrote later the Confederate Secretary of War. A less just estimate was formed generally at the North, where the victory was not considered so great a one as the capture of Fort Donelson. At all events the two victories had this important point in common, that each had brought forward a great commander possessed of original thought and the nerve and energy to carry it into execution. A naval victory is none the less striking than one by the army, once the reason of the lesser casualties is comprehended; and the cool Northern attitude may have been due to the apparent ease with which a very difficult task was accomplished.
The capture of New Orleans, a city of 168,000, the chief commercial port and the largest city of the South, a place well known in Europe as an important trading point, made Emperor Napoleon III waver from his intention to recognize the Confederate States; and it caused Palmerston to abandon for the moment a project which he may have had constantly in mind of joining with the Emperor in taking steps toward the breaking of the blockade.
On April 7, General John Pope and Flag-officer Foote captured Island No. 10, an important fort on the Mississippi river. The occupation of Corinth compelled the evacuation of Fort Pillow, which opened the river below. In a battle off Memphis [June 6], the Union gunboats defeated the Confederate, securing the occupation of that city. Only the strongholds of Vicksburg and Port Hudson remained to the Confederacy wherewith to dispute the control of the Mississippi river.McClellan, who had failed to take advantage of the demoralization in Richmond after the fall of Donelson, was further delayed by the performance of the Merrimac, but, on the assurance that the Navy Department would hold the iron-clad in check by the Monitor and other war vessels, he proceeded to the execution of his plan—a plan over which he and the President had differed from the first. The President desired the advance to be made directly overland, while McClellan proposed to go by water to Fort Monroe and advance on Richmond up the Peninsula. It was evident from the discussion that good service could not be had from the General unless the strategy as well as the active command were left to him; Lincoln therefore yielded. But lacking sufficient confidence in McClellan to give him supreme authority, the President relieved him of the command of all military departments except the Potomac [March 11] and directed the organization of the army into four corps, naming the corps commanders himself. Through a misunderstanding with McClellan as to the force necessary to cover Washington, he withheld from him McDowell’s corps of 35,000 men in order to insure the safety of the capital. He had previously detached from the Army of the Potomac a division of 10,000 and sent it to Frmont who had, owing to the pressure of the radicals upon Lincoln, been unfortunately intrusted with a command in the Shenandoah mountains. It is difficult now to see any way out of the unlucky situation in so far as the command of the Army of the Potomac was concerned. No general in sight was fitted to replace McClellan, who possessed in an eminent degree the love and confidence of his soldiers; moreover Lincoln still held to the belief that when once in the field he would accomplish important results.
During April, 1862, McClellan with 100,000 men was besieging Yorktown; the Confederates were reorganizing their army and strengthening their fortifications about Richmond. On April 6, the President telegraphed to McClellan, “I think you better break the enemy’s line at once,” a suggestion which the General received with contempt, writing to his wife, “I was much tempted to reply that he had better come and do it himself.” Three days later the President wrote to him in great kindness: “Once more let me tell you it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this.” Suggestion and entreaty were of no avail. “Glorious news comes borne on every wind but the South Wind,” wrote Hay to Nicolay [April 9].… “The little Napoleon [McClellan] sits trembling before the handful of men at Yorktown, afraid either to fight or run. Stanton feels devilish about it. He would like to remove him if he thought it would do.” “No one but McClellan,” wrote Joseph E. Johnston to Lee, “would have hesitated to attack.” It is the mature judgment of almost all military authorities that, outnumbering the Confederates as he did three to one, he could at this time have broken their line from the York river to the James and have reached his position on the Chickahominy a month earlier than he did. He missed his opportunity. By April 17, the Confederates at Yorktown numbered 53,000, and Johnston himself was in command. From this time on, nothing but scientific siege operations was feasible and, as McClellan was a capable engineer, these were undoubtedly as good as could have been devised. On May 3, Johnston evacuated Yorktown; he was followed on the retreat by the Union forces who brought on a battle at Williamsburg resulting in their defeat. On May 21, McClellan was in camp on the Chickahominy, seven to twelve miles from Richmond; he had in the meantime received a reënforcement by water of Franklin’s division of McDowell’s corps and the promise of the rest of this body, 35,000 to 40,000 strong, who were now opposite Fredericksburg preparatory to joining him by an overland march.
Shortly previous to this, directly after the destruction of the Merrimac, an advance of the Monitor and a number of gunboats up the James alarmed Richmond. Fearing the fate of New Orleans, people packed their trunks and crowded the railroad trains in their flight from the city. The government archives were packed for removal to Lynchburg and Columbia. The families of the Confederate cabinet officers fled to their homes and Davis sent his wife and children to Raleigh. He himself received baptism at his house and the rite of confirmation in St. Paul’s Church; he appointed by proclamation a day for solemn prayer. The Richmond Examiner, a bitter critic of Davis’s acts, spoke of him as “standing in a corner telling his beads and relying on a miracle to save the country.” Had McClellan realized the importance of celerity as did Grant and Farragut, he would have made an attack upon Richmond in coöperation with the Navy. He had a good chance to take it but in case of failure he had behind him the authority of the President who had written to him that he must strike a blow.
While McClellan dallied before Richmond, Robert E. Lee planned, and Stonewall Jackson conducted, a series of manœuvres in the course of which, playing on Lincoln’s anxiety for Washington, they succeeded in bringing to naught the plan for the reënforcement by McDowell of the Army of the Potomac. On May 8, Jackson defeated a detachment of Frémont’s, sending this word to Richmond, “God blessed our arms with victory.” Having bigger game in sight than Frémont’s army, he retraced his steps for the purpose of co-operating with Ewell in an attack upon Banks in the Shenandoah Valley; when he made this junction he had 17,000 men.
An index of Jackson’s character is to be found in two of the books he had constantly with him, the Bible and Napoleon’s Maxims of War. He interpreted the Bible literally and was guided by its precepts. Piety pervaded his being; religion was the affair of every moment; he prayed frequently for divine guidance in the most trivial affairs of life. But for his strategy he had recourse not to Joshua but to Napoleon. He read and re-read these Maxims so that he had for the theory of his profession, the best of masters. The result of his study was seen in the Shenandoah campaign, which was truly Napoleonic. Celerity and secrecy were his watch-words. He sometimes marched with his whole army thirty miles in twenty-four hours and his infantry became known as “Jackson’s foot cavalry.” Himself apparently incapable of fatigue, he seemed to think that everybody should equal his endurance. “After a sleepless night, a long march, hard fighting, he would say to his officers, ‘;We must push on—we must push on!’” Moreover, he converted his cavalry into mounted riflemen. “To mystify, mislead and surprise” was his precept; “to hurl overwhelming numbers at the point where the enemy least expects attack” was his practice.
On May 23, he swooped upon a detachment of Banks’s force at Front Royal and put it to rout, capturing a large part of it. Banks himself was then at Strasburg with 6800; but next day, fearing that his retreat would be cut off, he “ran a race” with Jackson to Winchester. The pursuit was hot, but the fighting of his rear-guard prevented his capture, and he reached Winchester first. During these two days, however, Jackson had produced big results. The War Department in Washington received despatch after despatch from the theatre of operations, each more alarming than the last. Reënforcements were ordered to Banks from Baltimore; Harper’s Ferry sent him a portion of its garrison.
Until May 24, the faulty disposition of the Union forces was largely due to orders from the War Department, coming in Stanton’s name. Now the President tried his hand at strategy. He directed Frëmont to move into the Shenandoah Valley to a point in Jackson’s rear. He suspended the order which had been given to McDowell to unite with McClellan and instructed him to send 20,000 men to the Shenandoah Valley to assist Frémont in the capture of Jackson; or, if Frémont should be late, he suggested that McDowell’s force alone would be sufficient to accomplish the object.
At daybreak, on Sunday, May 25, Jackson routed Banks at Winchester, gave hot pursuit to the “mass of disordered fugitives,” was at one time on the point of destroying the entire force and finally drove them across the Potomac river. “There were never more grateful hearts in the same number of men,” wrote Banks, “than when at midday of the 26th we stood on the opposite shore.”
The despatches sent to Washington on the Sunday came chiefly from panic-stricken men and greatly alarmed the President and Secretary of War. The main objective, which on Saturday had been the capture of Jackson’s army, was now mixed with fear for the safety of the capital. “Intelligence from various quarters leaves no doubt that the enemy in great force are marching on Washington,” telegraphed Stanton to the several governors of the Northern States. “You will please organize and forward all the militia and volunteer force in your State.” This despatch and the response to it reflecting the alarm at the capital, caused wild excitement at the North which was afterwards spoken of in Massachusetts as “the great scare,” elsewhere as “the great stampede.” The militia and home guards of many of the States were called out; a number of regiments, among them the Seventh New York, were hurried to Baltimore and to Harper’s Ferry; it was called the “Third uprising of the North.” The President took military possession of all the railroads in the country. “I think the time is near,” said Lincoln in a despatch to McClellan, “when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defense of Washington.” Part of McDowell’s force was recalled to the capital city. “Our condition is one of considerable danger,” wrote Stanton, “as we are stripped to supply the Army of the Potomac and now have the enemy here.”
By May 26, the President and Secretary of War deemed Washington secure. In fact, the capital had at no time been in danger. Lee and Jackson had no further design than to threaten it and so cause the President to withhold the reënforcements intended for McClellan. The result fully realized their expectation. But now Jackson himself was in danger. Hearing of the movements for his capture, he began on May 30 a rapid retreat. “Through the blessing of an ever kind Providence,” he wrote, “I passed Strasburg before the Federal armies effected the contemplated junction in my rear.” By June 1, his safety was practically assured. Followed by the Union troops, he was successful in two engagements with them, after which they desisted from pursuit.
Jackson, so Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson wrote, fell “as it were from the skies into the midst of his astonished foes, struck right and left before they could combine and defeated in detail every detachment which crossed his path.” With an effective force of but 17,000 men he had within the space of a month won five battles, taken rich spoil and many prisoners, given Washington a scare and prevented 40,000 men from joining the Union Army before Richmond.
McClellan seemed to be aware that, while Jackson was making havoc in the Shenandoah Valley, he should embrace the opportunity to strike at Johnston. On May 25, he telegraphed to the President, “The time is very near when I shall attack Richmond.” McClellan had an army of 100,000; Johnston had 63,000. Yet it is doubtful if McClellan would really have taken the initiative. He never reached his “ideal completeness of preparation”; while he overestimated the enemy’s force, he, at the same time, depreciated the energy of the Confederate commander. “Richmond papers,” he telegraphed on May 27, “urge Johnston to attack now he has us away from gunboats. I think he is too able for that.”
Johnston had exact intelligence of the positions, movements and numbers of the Union armies; he knew that McClellan had three corps on the north side of the Chickahominy river and two on the side toward Richmond, and that the purposed reënforcement of the Army of the Potomac by McDowell had been abandoned. He therefore resolved to strike on May 31 at the two corps nearest to Richmond. On the night of the 30th, there was a heavy rain turning the treacherous and already high Chickahominy into a torrent and increasing the danger of the divided Union Army and the eagerness of Johnston to give battle, despite the roads deep with mud and the consequent difficulty of moving his artillery. At some time after midday, he attacked the two corps with vigor, drove them back and came near inflicting on them a crushing defeat [Battle of Fair Oaks or Seven Pines]. But General Sumner saved the day. Receiving the order from McClellan to be ready to move at a moment’s notice but, comprehending the danger better than his chief and construing the order freely, he at once marched his two divisions to his two bridges, halted and anxiously awaited further commands. Word at last came to cross the river. Sumner’s corps went over the swaying and tossing bridges and preserved the Union left wing from rout. The Southern Army suffered a grievous loss in the severe wounding of General Johnston, who was knocked from his horse by the fragment of a shell near the end of the fight, and borne unconscious from the field.
On the next day the battle was renewed. The Confederates were driven back and some of the Union troops pushed forward to within four miles of Richmond. These were from the left wing; receiving no orders to advance farther, they fell back to the lines they had occupied before the battle. The action of the two days may be summed up as a partial success of Johnston and in the end a repulse of the Confederates.
For nearly a month, the Union Army lay quietly in camp on the Chickahominy. Their line of pickets ran to within six miles of the city, and the sentinels guarding the Mechanicsville bridge could read on the guide post, “To Richmond 4.5 miles.” McClellan’s soldiers could see the spires of Richmond, hear the church bells and even the clocks striking the hour. The Confederate outposts were within musket range; the people of Richmond could see the reflection of the Union camp fires and at times could hear the enemy’s bugle calls. The heavy rains continued and the Chickahominy became a flood. Movements of artillery were difficult. The Union camps were in a swamp and much illness was caused by the damp and malarious atmosphere and by the soldiers drinking the water of the marshes. For this reason, there was from June 1 to 20 a perceptible lowering of the morale of the army. McClellan begged for reënforcements and in response obtained 21,000 men who came to him by the water route. By the middle of June the weather was fine and the roads dry. It looked as if the offensive movement, so often promised by McClellan, would at last be made. Having brought all of his corps but one over to the south side of the river, he probably intended to move by gradual approaches within shelling distance of Richmond, shell the city and possibly attempt to carry it by assault. “McClellan’s plan to take Richmond by a siege,” wrote Longstreet, “was wise enough and it would have been a success if the Confederates had consented to such a programme.”
On account of Johnston’s disability, Robert E. Lee was placed in command of the Army of Northern Virginia (as it became known shortly afterwards). Johnston had been a capable commander, but Lee at once began to show that genius for leadership which distinguished him throughout the war. Furthermore, he had none of the arrogance that sometimes accompanies great military parts. He got on well with everybody and it was especially important that complete harmony should exist between himself and Jefferson Davis and Jackson. Johnston had quarreled with his President and their correspondence bristled with controversy; but no one could quarrel with Lee who, in his magnanimity and deference to his fellow workers, resembled Lincoln. When Stonewall Jackson, who had been eager for reënforcement, heard of Lee’s appointment, he said to a friend, “Well, Madam, I am reinforced at last.”
Lee had a talent for organization equal to that of McClellan. In reading the orders, the despatches, the history of the army at this time, one seems to feel that he infused a new energy into the management of affairs. Making a careful survey of the position of his army, he directed that it be at once strongly fortified. He had some difficulty in overcoming the aversion to manual labor which obtained among the Southern soldiers, but his constant personal superintendence and his pleasing authoritative manner accomplished wonders; soon his defensive works were well under way. At the same time he was becoming better acquainted with his officers and winning their respect, for he was unremitting in industry and rode over his lines nearly every day. He decided that an assault upon McClellan’s left wing, the corps on the south side of the river, was “injudicious if not impracticable”; it would be, to use Davis’s words, “putting the breasts of our men in antagonism to the enemy’s heaps of earth.” On the other hand information gained by his cavalry and a personal reconnaissance of the Union position north of the Chickahominy led him to form the plan of striking at the Union force on that side of the river. He reënforced Jackson, who was still in the Shenandoah Valley, and asked him to move toward Richmond in order to join in the attack. Jackson, leaving his army fifty miles away, with orders to continue their swift and stealthy march, rode rapidly to Richmond, where at midday on June 23 he met Lee, Longstreet, D. H. Hill and A. P. Hill in council. Lee set forth his plan of battle and assigned to each of his generals the part he should play. Jackson said that he would be ready to begin his attack on the morning of the 26th.
Fitz-John Porter, commanding the Fifth corps, held the Union position on the north side of the Chickahominy [the right wing] where he protected the line of communication with the base of supplies at White House. At him and his communications Lee struck.
Through unavoidable delays, Jackson was half a day late. A. P. Hill waited until three o’clock in the afternoon of June 26 for Jackson to perform his part; then fearing longer delay, he crossed the river and came directly in front of Porter, bringing on a battle in which the Confederates met with a bloody repulse.
McClellan went to Porter’s headquarters in the afternoon or early evening, while the battle was still on. They knew that the attack had come from Lee’s immediate command and also that Jackson was near, would unite with the other Confederate forces and probably give battle on the morrow. On returning to his own headquarters on the south side of the river, McClellan made up his mind that Porter’s position was untenable and ordered him to withdraw to ground that had been selected east of Gaines’s Mill, where he could protect the bridges across the Chickahominy, which connected the Union right and left wings and were indispensable should a further retreat become necessary. Porter received this word at about two o’clock in the morning and at daylight began the movement, which was executed without serious molestation and in perfect order. He sent word by Barnard, the chief engineer of the army, who had conducted him to the new position, that he needed additional troops. This request, although of the utmost importance, as matters turned out, never reached McClellan. Barnard came to headquarters about nine or ten in the morning “and being informed that the commanding general was reposing” made no attempt to see him. Different from the habit of most generals when a morning battle is imminent, McClellan was not stirring at an early hour; nevertheless it is remarkable that Barnard, having apparently no special duty elsewhere, did not await his general’s convenience to impart Porter’s reasonable request. Conditions were different on the Confederate side. Jackson had neither rest nor sleep but, reviewing his preparations, “paced his chamber in anxious thought, wrestling with God” in prayer.
On this Friday, June 27, was fought the battle of Gaines’s Mill. Porter, who had under him at the commencement of the battle but 25,000 men contended against Jackson, Longstreet and the two Hills whose combined forces amounted to 57,000. Lee was in immediate command. In their first onset the Confederates met with a stubborn resistance and were driven back. At two o’clock in the afternoon, Porter called for reënforcements and McClellan, who did not visit the field of battle that day but remained at the headquarters on the south side of the Chickahominy, sent a division of 9000 men to his support. “Cool and collected as on parade,” his tactics seemingly without defect even in the heat of the contest, Fitz-John Porter was everywhere inciting his officers and men to supreme efforts; he succeeded in repelling the assaults of nearly double his numbers, directed by the genius of Lee and Stonewall Jackson and led by the courage and determination of the Hills and Longstreet. Higher praise no general can receive than that which Lee and Jackson unconsciously gave Porter in their reports. “The principal part of the Federal army was now on the north side of the Chickahominy,” wrote Lee; both speak of the “superior force of the enemy.” All accounts agree as to the discipline and bravery of the soldiers of both armies. The impetuous attack of the Confederates may be described in the words that Jackson used of one of his regiments as an “almost matchless display of daring and valor”; he well characterized the defence as “stubborn resistance” and “sullen obstinacy.” George G. Meade and John F. Reynolds, commanders of brigades, made their mark that day.
From Lee’s statement, “the principal part of the Federal army was now on the north side of the Chickahominy,” the inference is clear that, had he been in McClellan’s place, he would have had it there. McClellan’s error was due to his overestimate of the Confederate force. Relying upon the report of the Chief of the Secret Service corps, he believed it to be 180,000, of whom 70,000 were attacking Porter, while 110,000 lay behind intrenchments between him and Richmond. As matter of fact, 57,000 were assailing Porter, while about 30,000 held the earthworks protecting Richmond: these last led McClellan and his corps commanders into a gross exaggeration of their number by attacking their pickets from time to time and by frequently opening fire on their works with artillery. McClellan’s timid tactics are revealed in his hesitation in reënforcing Porter. He loved Porter and would have rejoiced without a spark of envy to see him win a glorious victory. His despatches show how anxious he was to give him efficient support; and purely military considerations should have induced him to send large reënforcements to Porter’s aid. His telegram to the Secretary of War at the close of the day that he was “attacked by greatly superior numbers in all directions on this side” (the Richmond side of the Chickahominy) remains an ineffaceable record of his misapprehension.
Skilful though the leader, brave though the men, 34,000 without intrenchments, with barriers only erected along a small portion of their front, could not finally prevail against 57,000 equally brave and as skilfully led. The end came at about seven o’clock. Lee and Jackson ordered a general assault; the Confederates broke the Union line, captured many cannon and forced Porter’s troops back to the woods on the bank of the Chickahominy. Two brigades of Sumner’s corps, who had been tardily sent to the support of their comrades, efficiently covered the retreat of the exhausted and shattered regiments who withdrew dejectedly to the south side of the river.
In his despatches during the battle, McClellan does not betray panic. At five o’clock he thought Porter might hold his own until dark and three hours later his confidence was only a little shaken; but by midnight he had reached a state of demoralization, which revealed itself in his famous Savage Station despatch to the Secretary of War. “I now know the full history of the day,” he wrote. “On this side of the river (the right bank) we repulsed several strong attacks. On the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that soldiers could accomplish but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, even after I brought my last reserves into action. The loss on both sides is terrible.… The sad remnants of my men behave as men.… I have lost this battle because my force was too small.… I feel too earnestly to-night. I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now the game is lost. If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.”
The news was a terrible blow to the President. His finely equipped army costing such a tale of treasure and labor, had gone forth with high hope of conquest and bearing, so it seemed, the fate of the Union, on its shoulders; now it was defeated and in serious danger of destruction or capture. This calamity the head of the nation must face, and he failed not. Overlooking the spirit of insubordination in his general’s despatch, he sent him a reply as wise as it was gentle. With equal forbearance and circumspection he offered the most charitable explanation possible of the disaster. “Save your army at all events,” he wrote. “Will send reinforcements as fast as we can.… I feel any misfortune to you and your army quite as keenly as you feel it yourself. If you have had a drawn battle or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy not being in Washington. We protected Washington and the enemy concentrated on you. Had we stripped Washington he would have been upon us before the troops could have gotten to you.… It is the nature of the case and neither you nor the government are to blame.”
As the battle of Gaines’s Mill ended the offensive attitude of the Army of the Potomac, some general considerations will here be in place. Nearly all writers agree that McClellan should have strongly reënforced Porter, who in that event could have held his own until night when he could have made an orderly retreat; he might even have won the battle. If McClellan had known of Lee’s division of the Confederate force, he would of course have followed the plan of the military critics. Nevertheless there is no doubt that his judgment was bad on the basis of such information as he possessed; this may be affirmed after conceding that by no possible means could he have gained the correct knowledge of the enemy which Lee had of the Union forces. “If I were mindful only of my own glory,” wrote Frederick the Great, “I would choose always to make war in my own country, for there every man is a spy and the enemy can make no movement of which I am not informed.” This advantage was Lee’s; but in addition he understood McClellan. Only in dealing with a timed commander would he have so divided his force. When Lee was planning the campaign Davis said, “If McClellan is the man I take him for … as soon as he finds that the bulk of our army is on the north side of the Chickahominy, he will not stop to try conclusions with it there but will immediately move upon his objective point, the city of Richmond.” Lee replied, “If you will hold him as long as you can at the intrenchment and then fall back on the detached works around the city I will be upon the enemy’s heels before he gets there.” No doubt Lee would have been as good as his word, but McClellan neither reënforced Porter properly, nor did he take advantage of his general’s gallant fight to advance on Richmond. The despatches between McClellan and his officers on the south side of the river during the day of the battle show that they were paralyzed, so far as an offensive movement was concerned, by vigorous demonstrations of the troops guarding the Confederate capital. Some writers have thought that while Porter was engaged with the larger Confederate force, McClellan could easily have gone into Richmond; but as Lee’s entire army was now fully equal in number to McClellan’s, it is difficult to regard such a movement as other than extremely hazardous. The reënforcement of Porter was more prudent; moreover, to take toll from the Army of Northern Virginia, was, as Lincoln perceived, quite as effective offensive work as the capture of Richmond.
No speculation is necessary to explain why the Confederates were successful. Their victory was due to the greater ability of Lee and Jackson. Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson, in his enthusiasm over Jackson’s Valley campaign, wrote, The brains of Lee and Jackson did more for the Confederacy than 200,000 soldiers for the Union. Although this remark need not be taken literally, the germ of the truth is in it. They greatly excelled their adversary both in strategy and tactics. McClellan was never on the battle-field, not through a lack of physical courage, since, in making reconnaissances, he was cool under fire, but because he could not endure the sight of blood. “Jackson,” wrote Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson, rode “along the line of battle with as much composure as if the hail of bullets was no more than summer rain.” Lee loved the fight and yearned to be in it. His own son, as well as President Davis and other friends, remonstrated with him for exposing himself to danger, and once, when he was for leading a charge himself, his men cried out, “General Lee to the rear!” “It is well war is so terrible,” he once said; “we should grow too fond of it.”
The match between Lee and Jackson on one side and McClellan on the other was unequal, and McClellan of course went down. Into the dispute between him and Lincoln’s friends touching the withdrawal of troops from his command and the alleged failure properly to reënforce him we need not go further than to refer to one point which the General made. But for an unwise order of the Secretary of War, there would have been troops enough for all. Emboldened by the Union successes, he stopped recruiting on April 3, at a time when it was not difficult to get men and when the impulse to volunteer should not have been checked. But no matter how many troops had been given to McClellan, he could not have handled them in such a manner as to get the better of Lee and Jackson. It is certain that Lincoln and Stanton desired his success as ardently as he did himself.
Although McClellan could not manage 100,000 men on the offensive, he made a masterly retreat. He was able to carry out Lincoln’s injunction, “Save your army,” when a lesser man might have lost it. Lee expected to capture or destroy the Union force, but failed to divine McClellan’s plan until too late to frustrate it. Convinced as he was that the retreat would be down the Peninsula, he neglected to interfere immediately with the movement for a change of base to the James river, which McClellan had determined on making should his communications with White House be severed. On the night of Gaines’s Mill, he gave the necessary orders to his corps commanders, who began their preparations next morning and wrought the whole day without molestation. Six hundred tons of ammunition, food, forage, medical and other supplies were the daily requirements of this army and the change of base in presence of a victorious foe of equal number was attended with great difficulty and could not have been made had not the United States had the command of the sea. By sunrise of June 29, the Confederates discovered that the Union Army had fled toward the James river, and they started in immediate pursuit, bringing on a fight at Savage’s Station in which they were repulsed. Next day was fought the stubborn battle of Glendale or Frayser’s Farm, in which neither side prevailed, although the Union troops continued their retreat in good order. It was thought that, if Jackson had come up at the time he was expected, a portion of McClellan’s army would have been destroyed or captured.
The morning of July 1 found the whole Union Army posted on Malvern Hill, a strong position near the James river. By noon the Confederates appeared and attacked with bravery but were mowed down by the fire of the splendid artillery and the efficiently directed infantry of the Union Army. Porter was in the fight and his generalship was of a high order. The Confederates were repulsed at all points with a loss double that of the Federals. McClellan was not with his fighting troops in any one of the battles during the retreat, but was doing engineer’s work in preparing the position for the next day. In the Seven Days’ Battles, as the fighting is called from June 25 to July 1 inclusive, McClellan’s loss was 15,849, Lee’s 20,614. Lee’s was naturally the greater as he fought constantly on the offensive, but the victory was his, as he had driven the enemy away from Richmond. In these seven days Lee’s soldiers began to love him and to acquire a belief that he was invincible, a belief which lasted almost to the very end of the war.
Next day after Malvern Hill, McClellan with his army retired to Harrison’s Landing, a safe position on the James river, where he might have the help of gunboats and where the navy ensured him constant communication with the North. But from being in sight of the steeples of Richmond, he was now twenty to twenty-five miles away. His Peninsular campaign had been a failure. McClellan, wrote Meade privately of his friend six months later, “was always waiting to have everything just as he wanted before he would attack, and before he could get things arranged as he wanted them, the enemy pounced on him and thwarted all his plans.… Such a general will never command success, though he may avoid disaster.”
On July 8, Lee fell back to his old quarters in the vicinity of Richmond. “Our success,” he wrote to his wife, “has not been so great or complete as we could have desired, but God knows what is best for us.” Nevertheless all conditions united to brighten the hopes of the South. To the work of conscription which was urged with vigor, a response seemed assured that would show the enthusiasm of the people to have been quickened by their army’s success.
- Montgomery Meigs, Quartermaster-General, and Thomas A. Scott, Assistant-Secretary.
- Nicolay, 178.
- Nov. 13, III, 574.
- “The expunged part was published by some of the newspapers that had received it and was reproduced in the Congressional Globe (Dec. 12) by Representative Eliot of Massachusetts.” Horace White, 172.
- III; V, 179; N. & H.; Warden; Forbes, I; M. B. Field; Gorham I; Horace White, 172; Welles’s Diary, I, 127.
- Foote’s report, O. R., VII, 123.
- O. R., VII, 124.
- O. R., VII, 259.
- Grant’s report, O. R., VII, 159.
- Foote, O. R., VII, 166.
- O. R., VII, 159.
- Wallace, O. R., VII, 237.
- Grant, I, 306.
- This is the despatch: “If all the gunboats that can will immediately make their appearance to the enemy, it may secure us a victory. Otherwise all may be defeated. A terrible conflict ensued in my absence, which has demoralized a portion of my command and I think the enemy is much more so. If the gunboats do not show themselves, it will reassure the enemy and still further demoralize our troops. I must order a charge to save appearances. I do not expect the gunboats to go into action but to make appearance and throw a few shells at long range.” O. R., VII, 618.
- Grant, I, 307.
- McPherson, O. R., VII, 163.
- See III, 592.
- O. R., VII, 161.
- Forrest, O. R., VII, 295.
- O. R., VII, 625.
- Ropes, II, 34.
- March 18, O. R., VII, 259.
- Reports and statements of Forrest, Floyd, and one other in O. R., VII, 427–432; Wyeth, Forrest, 73; John Wooldridge, Nashville, 193.
- III, 598.
- The gunboats took no part in the battle of Feb. 15.
- Ropes, II, 36.
- Grant’s private letters, 4.
- McClellan was still in command of all of the armies of the United States.
- March 3, 4, O. R., VII, 679–682.
- There had been Union victories besides Henry and Donelson, III, 581.
- April 16.
- O. R., VII, 640.
- He recovered from his illness about the middle of January, 1862.
- Edward Dicey, III, 604.
- O. R., V, 51. Authorities: O. R., V, VII, X, Pt. II; B. & L., I; Grant, I; III; Ropes, II; Grant’s private letters; Life of General Rawlins, J. H. Wilson MS., kindly lent to me by General Wilson. Since the use that I made of the MS. this book has been published. Neal Pub. Co., 1916; N. & H., V; Bruce Milt. Hist. Soc., VII; Swinton; T. L. Livermore; Hosmer’s Appeal; Johnston; McClellan; Webb. For a characterization of Grant, III, 594.
- Grant’s private letters, 8.
- March 11; assumed command March 13.
- This was the army of Donelson with reënforcements. The title was not formally given until April 21.
- Grant, 317.
- O. R., X, Pt. II, 365.
- This was in January after the “crushing disaster” [Beauregard’s words] of Mill Spring, Ky., when General George H. Thomas defeated the Confederates. It was before Donelson.
- Twenty-two miles from Pittsburg Landing.
- O. R., X. Pt. I, 89, Pt. II, 94.
- Ibid., 331.
- Henry Stone, Milt. Hist. Soc. VII, 52.
- McClernand’s was not under him.
- Wagner, Ropes, II, 97.
- Grant, O. R., X, Pt. II, 93.
- W. Sherman, I, 229.
- Henry Stone, Milt. Hist. Soc., VII, 51.
- Dawes, Milt. Hist. Soc., VII, 115 et seq.
- O. R., X, Pt. II, 93.
- Henry Stone, Milt. Hist. Soc., VII, 52.
- He was second in command.
- W. P. Johnston, B. & L., I, 555.
- Dawes, Milt. Hist. Soc., VII, 136; Roman, Beauregard, I, 277.
- B. & L., I, 556.
- Dawes, Milt. Hist. Soc., VII, 138 et seq.
- O. R., X, Pt. I, 403.
- Ibid., 249. The hours given by men engaged in battle are naturally not exact. A coordination of them from several honest reports is impossible. It is certain that Sherman knew that a mighty battle was on before the camp of the Sixth division was captured.
- O. R., X, Pt. I, 98.
- I bid., Pt. II, 119.
- Ropes, 76; Stone, Milt. Hist. Soc., VII, 74.
- McPherson, O. R., X, Pt. I, 181.
- O. R., X, Pt. II, 95.
- B. & L., I, 565; letter of V. Warner to H. St. George Tucker, furnished me by Mr. Tucker.
- Whitelaw Reid, who heard the conversation, I, 375.
- O. R., X, Pt. I, 332. The general was probably Buell.
- O. R., X, Pt. I, 333.
- Grant, 338.
- O. R., X, Pt. I, 324.
- Milt. Hist. Soc., VII, 95.
- O. R., X, Pt. II, 398.
- T. L. Livermore, 79.
- Sherman Letters, 147.
- Apr. 23, O. R., X, Pt. I, 98.
- I bid.
- The Official Records are so voluminous that any general remark must be made with the reservation in the text. J. H. Wilson in his Life of General Rawlins, M.S., wrote “Grant was entirely guiltless of anything to his discredit.”
- See III, 595.
- III, 627.
- May 14, Grant’s private letters, 10.
- W. Sherman, I, 255.
- O. R., XVII, Pt. II, 83.
- Authorities: O. R., X, Pts. I, II; Milt. Hist. Soc., VII; B. & L., I; Ropes; Grant; W. Sherman; III; N. & H.; Swinton; Hosmer’s Appeal.
- III, 489, 581.
- Forbes, I, 235.
- B. & L., I, 631.
- April 20, 1861, III, 364.
- B. & L., I, 730.
- Ibid., 731.
- B. & L., 698, 712; O. R., N., VII, 21.
- O. R. N., VII, 23.
- J. Hay, I, 54.
- Welles’s Diary, I, 65.
- Welles’s Diary, I, 63.
- O. R. N., VII, 53.
- O. R. N., VII, 11.
- B. & L., I, 702.
- O. R. N., VII, 26.
- Ibid., 59.
- B. & L., I, 727.
- O. R. N., VII, 27.
- Authorities: The Correspondence and several reports in O. R. N. VII; B. & L., I; III; Welles’s Diary; J. Hay; Swinton; Chesnut. Other Confederate vessels and gunboats, Union frigates and tugs, Confederate and Union shore batteries had a part in this contest but, as their action did not seem to me material, I have omitted the mention of them in the narrative to avoid burdening it with too much detail.
- O. R. N., VII, 99, 100, 101, 127, 220, 335, 336, 337, 342, 387; Warden, 428; N. & H., V. In December, the Monitor foundered off Cape Hatteras.
- Dec. 21, 1861. N. & H., V, 257.
- O. R. N., XVIII, 23.
- N. & H., V, 257.
- O. R. N., XVIII, 8.
- March 5, O. R. N., XVIII, 47.
- Fort Jackson was one half mile below Fort St. Philip and nearer the mortar boats.
- That is, of the fleet under Farragut’s immediate command. Only one of the commanders of the mortar flotilla came and he “was laughingly told that the signal was not intended for me.” O. R. N., XVIII, 143.
- O. R. N., XVIII, 146.
- Ibid., 160.
- O. R. N., XVIII, 156.
- Mahan’s Farragut, 151.
- B. & L., II, 60.
- O. R. N., XVIII, 154.
- B. & L., II, 64; O. R. N., XVIII, 142.
- O. R. N., XVIII, 142, 154; 37 were killed, 147 wounded. B. &. L., II, 73.
- O. R. N., XVIII, 158.
- Ibid., 148.
- Ibid., 245.
- Mahan’s Farragut, 172.
- O. R., IV, II, 281.
- See Captain Mahan’s striking comparison between New Orleans and Vicksburg. Mahan’s Farragut, 137.
- O. R. N., XVIII; B. & L., II; Mahan’s Farragut; Mahan’s Gulf; N. & H., V; III; Chesnut.
- O. R., XI, Pt. I, 14, the line between the York and James rivers.
- McClellan, 308.
- O. R., XI, Pt. I, 15.
- J. Hay, I, 57.
- Apr. 22, O. R., XI, Pt. III, 456.
- The Monitor and gunboats were repulsed in their attack on the batteries at Drewry’s Bluff, eight miles below Richmond [May 15].
- Lee at this time was military adviser to President Davis.
- He carried these two, and one other, Webster’s Dictionary, in his haversack.
- “Read and re-read,” said Napoleon, “the eighty-eight campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Gustavus, Turenne, Eugéne and Frederick. Take them as your models, for it is the only means of becoming a great leader and of mastering the secrets of the art of war. Your intelligence, enlightened by such study, will then reject methods contrary to those adopted by these great men.”—Lieut. Col. Henderson, I, 504.
- Lieut.-Col. Henderson, I, 308, 518, 519, 539.
- O. R., XII, Pt. I, 551.
- IV, 19; General Meade, I, 269.
- Lieut-Col. Henderson, I, 516.
- McDowell’s corps, after Franklin’s division had been sent to McClellan, is variously given at 35,000 or 40,000. Authorities: O. R., XI, Pt. I, III, XII, Pt. I, III; IV; Ropes, II; Lieut.-Col. Henderson, I; B. & L., II; McClellan; N. & H., V; Johnston; C. E. Norton, I, 253; See Correspondence between Lincoln and Carl Schurz, O. R., XII, Pt. III, 379, 398; General Meade, I, 270.
- IV, 23, 24.
- IV, and authorities cited, 23 et seq.
- Lieut.-Col. Henderson, II, 2; O. R., XI, Pt. III, 233. General Meade I, 276.
- B. & L., II, 404; see General Meade, I, 275.
- This was previously when Lee was appointed military adviser to Davis.
- A corps commander named by McClellan on the authorization of the President May 9. O. R., XI, Pt. III, 154.
- O. R., XI, Pt. I, 118. “To sleep all night through beseemeth not one … to whom peoples are entrusted and so many cares belong.” Iliad II. On this same day, however, McClellan telegraphed to his wife that he had had “no sleep for two nights.”—McClellan, 442.
- Dabney, 439, 440. Jackson was 38, McClellan 36.
- Or the Chickahominy.
- T. L. Livermore, 82. I reckon Slocum’s division as 9000.
- Francis A. Walker, 62.
- O. R., XI, Pt. II, 492, 556. Jackson said “superior numbers.” See also Chesnut, 197.
- 8 P.M. O. R., XI, Pt. III, 266.
- IV, 43, 44 with authorities cited.
- Lieut.-Col. Henderson, I, 497.
- IV, 36.
- Lieut.-Col. Henderson, I, 502.
- Ibid., 539.
- Fitzhugh Lee, 260; 294; Long, 338; O. R., XI, Pt. III, 632.
- III, 636; see General Meade, I, 268.
- “A retreat is the most exhausting of military movements. It is costly in men, ‘;more so,’ says Napoleon, ‘;than two battles.’” Lieut-.Col. Henderson, I, 534.
- Lieut.-Col. Henderson, II, 37.
- Dabney, 466; Allan, 121; Ropes, II, 195; Lieut.-Col. Henderson, 59 et seq.
- Sometimes used for the Union troops.
- T. L. Livermore, 86. There was a skirmish in front of Seven Pines on June 25.
- General Meade, I, 345.
- Lee’s Recollections, 75.
- Authorities: O. R., XI, Pts. I, II, III, IV; Lieut.-Col. Henderson, II; Ropes, II; B. & L., II; McClellan; Allan; N. & H., V; Long; Fitzhugh Lee; Johnston; Chesnut; Hosmer’s Appeal; Lee’s Recollections.