Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 21.djvu/77

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Petersburg, and in the latter part of the month came to City Point, where he conferred with Grant. Sherman would be ready as soon as spring hardened the roads, to join his army with Grant's and make a combined attack on Lee, or he could act independently on Lee's line of communication at Burkeville Junction. One of these things he was sure to do. Johnston's small army could do no more than impede Sherman's march. Lee was too weak to drive Grant from his front, and to remain where he was was to give his only line of retreat and supply to Sherman, and thus to be ground to pieces between the upper and nether mill-stones of his adversaries. The only hope was to leave the Petersburg lines, unite with Johnston, and strike a decisive blow at Sherman before Grant could come to his assistance. This, of course, involved the evacuation of the Con- federate capital, an event which Lee had long foreseen and advised. For some reason the authorities at Richmond determined to postpone its abandonment to the last. Whether the Confederacy, under the circumstances, could have survived, at any time during the last two years of the war, the loss of Richmond, with the tremendous political and military consequences which must follow, is a question upon which it is now idle to speculate.


General Lee resolved to fry a bold stroke to revive the failing for- tunes of the Confederacy. His design was, if possible, to destroy Grant's left wing, or failing in that, to make him so contract his left as not to embarrass the passage of the Confederate column South on its way to join Johnston's army near Greensboro. He resolved to attack Grant's line at Fort Steadman, which was near the Appo- mattox, about two miles distant from Petersburg. Here the works of the two armies were about 150 yards apart, and the picket lines less than one-half that distance. This point gained, it was believed it would be easy to seize three forts on high ground that commanded Fort Steadman and the enemy's retrenchments on the right and left of it, and thus have a vantage ground from which to destroy Grant's left wing. Three columns of infantry were to follow the assaulting party and capture these forts, and a division of infantry moving by its flank was to follow the storming columns, and when halted and fronted was to move down Grant's lines to his left, being successfully joined by the troops in Lee's trenches as their fronts were cleared.