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8-08-2015, 23:35

The Year Ends Badly

BYTHE END of August of 1862, both Union and Confederacy were dissatisfied with their respective situations, and both, in their separate ways, decided to intensify the conflict. The war was already eating ever deeper into the fabric of society, and there were the inevitable divided counsels, those few on either side who would give it up as a bad job or lost cause, those few whose primary loyalty was in fact to the other point of view, and the many who thought the war must be prosecuted even more vigorously to bring it to a successful conclusion. These latter were of course now firmly in control. In the North, recruiting was still proceeding satisfactorily on a voluntary basis; thirty-five new regiments joined the Army of the Potomac alone after Second Bull Run. But political leaders in Washington were increasingly conscious of internal dissension, and especially of the possibility of foreign intervention on the side of the Confederacy, and indeed the crisis posed by that latter threat was reached about this time. England or France or both might well accord full recognition to the South, and if they did, the war would be as good as lost. It was a situation of extraordinary complexity; in Britain, the government professed to be friendly to the Union, but certainly acted as if it were not. Confederate vessels were equipped more or less openly, Confederate agents bought supplies to be shipped through the blockade, and the American ambassador, Charles Francis Adams, had his repeated protests casually if politely shrugged off. Ironically, the British middle and laboring classes, the ones actually hurt by the war and the shortages of cotton and other imports, tended to be strongly for the Union; it was the upper classes with their aristocratic ideas who felt akin to the Confederacy. But in mid-nineteenth-century England, they still exerted a totally disproportionate influence on national policy, and by now they openly discussed whether or not the time had come for intervention. Not that they were in favor of slavery, but then all those strange Americans kept insisting the war was not about slavery: it was about some peculiar constitutional wrangle that only Americans seemed to understand. Indeed, if the war were openly about the abolition of slavery, then Britain might have to rethink its attitudes; after all, Britain had taken the lead, at great expense, in the suppression of the Atlantic slave trade at the start of the century, and had recently outlawed slavery in the British Empire. They might want to support their Confederate cousins, but not if they were overtly seen to be fighting to preserve human slavery. As for Napoleon III, across the Channel, well, there was a man who would fish in any troubled waters. He was quite ready to recognize the Confederacy as soon as Britain would go along with him. Indeed, his readiness was one reason why Britain was a bit reluctant. Anyone who was going to dine with Napoleon III wanted to have a very longhandled spoon; Britain had gone to the Crimea with him, and had not enjoyed the experience. He might be able to charm Queen Victoria, but the man was really a trickster, variable as the wind, totally untrustworthy, and really not a gentleman, after all. Abraham Lincoln was conscious of all this, but his mind moved in far deeper currents than Napoleon Ill's, or even Lord Palmerston's and Lord Russell's. In the middle of 1862 he was going through a very profound evolution in his view of the war and its causes. Before the war, and before his election, he had been capable of holding mutually contradictory views about slavery and the Union. In the great "House Divided" speech he had asserted that slavery and freedom were incompatible, and that, ultimately, the Union would endure and slavery would disappear. Yet in his election campaign, and after his assumption of the presidency, he repeatedly disavowed any intention of legislative action, or indeed any other kind, against slavery as it then existed in the South. When hostilities began, he still professed this view, and several times, he rescinded orders from commanders such as John C. Fremont and General David Hunter freeing slaves in areas under their control. Through the first year of the war he walked a tightrope between those Radical Republicans who insisted on war against slavery to the knife, and men such as McClellan, who insisted that the fight was not against slavery at all, and to say it was would fracture the war support in the North. But Lincoln had now seen the war, almost at first hand. He had visited the hospitals, seen the wounded and the dying, knew the agony being inflicted on the country by this war, and as he walked the floor in the dark of the nights, he became more and more convinced that slavery must go. It was not simply a political problem, an inconvenience, a stumbling block to settlement. It was a moral evil, and a country that refused to acknowledge that had no right to claim to be what the United States claimed to be. Lincoln was a very wily politician, but he was also a man of profound intelligence, and the clarity of his thought shows through all of his writings. So, reluctantly and painfully, he reached the necessary conclusion: slavery must go. Had it been possible to do so, he would have gotten rid of it by other means than war, and for some time he pushed legislative schemes for gradual, compensated emancipation; it was, after all, far easier and less costly to buy slaves' freedom than it was to free them by force, and throughout early 1862 he made efforts in this direction, largely without success. As late as the end of August, in response to an editorial by Horace Greeley in the New York Tribune, he still asserted that he was primarily interested in preserving the Union, and would do so by freeing all, any, or none of the slaves, whichever led most effectively to that larger aim. That was his public, and oft-proclaimed, position. But slowly, painfully, he came to agree with Greeley; the nation could not "put down the Rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause. ..." He was thus at last thrown back on emancipation, necessarily by force, as a means of stating once and for all, as clearly and unambiguously as possible, not only what the war was about, but what the United States was about. Finally he took his thoughts to the cabinet, only to be rudely surprised. It was not that they disagreed with him on the overall principle, but they believed that the timing was impossibly bad. The Union, after all, looked as if it were losing the war. To announce emancipation of slavery under such conditions would be received very badly, at home and abroad; it would look like a last spiteful attempt to undermine the South by touching off a slave revolt. Lincoln held that spite was the farthest thing from his mind, but he accepted the argument. But then, if the Union should be granted a real victory, he would act. The view from Richmond was different. When Jefferson Davis met his congressional colleagues, at the same time as Lincoln and Greeley were exchanging their views, he could point to the Confederacy's having survived its greatest peril. True, New Orleans had been lost, but the Federals had now stalled along the Mississippi, and above all, the threat to Richmond posed by the Peninsula campaign had been not merely averted, but crushed ignominiously. If that were not enough, Southern arms had gloriously trounced the enemy in northern Virginia as well. The South had but to persevere until its inevitable triumph. But perseverance came at a price; the South had already brought in conscription for men from eighteen to thirty-five, and in September it raised the age to forty-five; there were enough exemptions that resisters immediately raised the cry that the whole effort made "a rich man's war but a poor man's fight." There was fierce opposition in Congress to Davis's attempts to create a centralized government, in part because Davis was not a very good political player, in part because opposition to a central government was what the whole Confederacy was about anyway. Under the pressure of continued war, and in face of the stubborn intractibility of the Northern government—who would have thought they could fight?—the Confederacy began to rethink its defensive strategy. Let us, said some of the politicians, carry the war to the North. Let us liberate Kentucky, let us invade Mar/land. We have shown they cannot beat us, but let us now place the weight of war on them. Political fulminations do not often make for sound military advice, but it happened that the Confederate military leadership more or less agreed, at this juncture, with the men in Richmond. General Lee wished to retain the initiative he had so dramatically asserted at Second Bull Run. He needed to replenish his supplies, he wished to provide some relief for the fought-over territory of northern Virginia, and he even looked to the possibility that a successful raid into the North would bring the foreign recognition the Confederacy still hoped to attain. So he too thought that much might be gained by moving northward. Could he have sat in on conferences in Washington, he might have been even more hopeful. General George McClellan, now back in command of the Federal troops in the East, and all that nonsense of the Army of Virginia done away with, was working diligently to rebuild his command; publicly he put on a good show, and said he hoped he could save Washington; but quietly he sent his wife away with the family heirlooms. His corps commanders spent their days trying to readjust to the reconstituted regime, something of a problem for them, as the McClellan clique felt it had a few scores to settle, and there were a great many recriminations about who had failed to support whom during the Second Manassas campaign. Still, the Army of the Potomac was nothing if not resilient, and under the hand of the great organizer it began once again to look like a real army; the new regiments came in, more troops came back from exile on the Peninsula, and the poor infantry squared their shoulders and took heart yet once again. Just in time. On September 4, with Stuart's cavalry screening it to the east, the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac and invaded the North. The bands played "Maryland, My Maryland" while the soldiers took up their march into new country. Lee detached Jackson and his corps to pick off the garrison upriver at Harpers Ferry, went himself to Frederick, and then sent Longstreet farther north toward the Pennsylvania line. When the reports of these moves reached Washington, the government nearly panicked. McClellan performed his usual mathematical miracles, and decided he was faced by 120,000 men, and outnumbered; in fact, he had 85,000 men to Lee's 55,000. Halleck bombarded him with notes about the necessity of saving the capital, and under these pressures, McClellan gathered up his army and slowly began to move northwestward toward Lee. He reached Frederick on the 13th, to find to his relief that Lee was gone. The Confederates had slipped west, behind the Catoctin Mountains, a roll of low hills just past Frederick. At Frederick, McClellan got a present. Until then he had received highly contradictory reports of the Rebels: they were starving, they were well-fed; they were ragged and scared, they were full of fight; they were few in numbers, they were as the leaves of the trees. Being McClellan, he was always disposed to believe the most painful of these stories, but now he got some hard intelligence. Two soldiers found, wrapped around a bunch of cigars, a copy of Lee's Special Order No. 191, written four days before, in which he had spelled out his entire plan of campaign and the dispositions of his army. McClellan was exultant, and he remarked to one of his officers that with this paper, "if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be content to go home." To President Lincoln he promised, "Will send trophies." Lee soon knew that his plans were compromised, but with his army spread out from Harpers Ferry north to Hagerstown, there was not much he could do about it. He ordered his men to hold Turner's and Crampton's Gaps, the two most accessible passes through the Catoctins, recalled Longstreet, and urged Jackson to finish off Harpers Ferry as quickly as possible. The Federal garrison there, in an indefensible situation, surrendered on the morning of the 15th after a remarkably inept effort. Meanwhile, on the 14th, McClellan's advanced corps pushed its way through the gaps of the Catoctins. All the pieces were coming together for a major passage of arms. Lee's first thought, once the mountain passes were lost, was to retreat back south, but when he heard from Jackson that Harpers Ferry had fallen, and that the first of Jackson's divisions was already on its way to join the main army, he decided to stand and fight. He chose his position around the little town of Sharpsburg, nine miles north of Harpers Ferry. His troops were placed in a roughly north-south line, a chord across several lazy bends of the Potomac, the southern end of the line along low heights fronting a shallow little stream called Antietam Creek. The position was reasonably strong, but Lee's troops were few, and the only line of either reinforcement or retreat was a small ford across the Potomac, called Boteler's Ford, near the southern end of the line. When he decided to fight, he had a mere 19,000 men in hand, and his entire strength, as his several detachments came in, was still only 40,000 men. McClellan had at least 90,000. The Federals closed up toward the Confederates on the 15th, but McClellan did not act. On the 16th he still did not act, but spent the day instead making plans and letting his troops do some skirmishing to feel out the land. The Federals held the high ground east of Antietam Creek, and thus had good artillery positions, but they did not make too much use of them. Nor did McClellan make much of a plan. He seems to have intended attacks upon both flanks of the Confederate line, followed by a push through the center, but his orders were so uncertain that the timing, the major axis of the attack, the coordination, and all the other things a commander ought to do were left to someone else, or, as it happened, to no one. McClellan himself had not actually been present at one single battle in the Seven Days, and he might as well have not been present at Antietam. In fact, he was hardly even a spectator at his own battle; his headquarters was out of sight of the battlefield, and having spent the 16th thoroughly confusing his commanders about his intentions, he then left them to make the best of what they could on the day of the battle. Once again the corps commanders were left to fight their own, separate, struggles. They did that with a will. At seven on the morning of the 17th, Fighting Joe Hooker's I Corps slammed into the Confederate left, held by some of Jackson's newly arrived men. Three divisions strong, the Federals came on in the classic American infantry formation—two up and one in support—and drove the Rebels through the North Woods and back around a little church called the Dunkard Church. But then Jeb Stuart hit them in the flank with artillery, and a brutal counterattack by John Bell Hood's Texans stopped them in their tracks. As I Corps melted away, General Joseph Mansfield led his new XII Corps up in support. With raw troops, Mansfield led from the front, and was immediately shot down, horse and rider, and carried off the field, to die the next day. The fight surged back and forth through a field of standing corn until the corn was all gone, replaced by the grim harvest of Union attack and Confederate counterattack, a dozen charges across that deadly field. Hooker was wounded soon after Mansfield; his corps passed to the senior division commander, George Meade, and while Meade tried to pull things together, and Mansfield's division commanders tried to press home, the Federal attack lost direction and force. The focus shifted to the left. Bull Sumner now led the II Corps in. His first division, John Sedgwick's, he sent forward in column, without pausing for reconnaissance. The Confederates smashed it from three sides and drove it from the field with heavy losses, exposing the flank of Hooker's and Mansfield's attacks and regaining what they had earlier yielded. Sumner's other two divisions fared slightly better. They came on in echelon to the left, and hit very nearly the left center of Lee's whole line. The Condeferates here, D. H. Hill's men, held a little sunken path that came to be known as Bloody Lane, and the Federals repeatedly advanced against it over open ground, while gradually the dead and wounded on both sides piled up, and still the Rebels would not go back. Finally, the Federals got some guns up where they could sweep along the lane, and grudgingly the Confederates gave way, slowly at first and then in something of a rush. It was only midmorning, and so ferocious had the attacks been that Lee had not one reserve formation left. His men were completely fought out, used up, mere handfuls of survivors left standing around the stripped poles that had held their colors. If only the thing were finished well now, George McClellan would hold the title deeds to the Army of Northern Virginia. With the Confederate center broken at Bloody Lane, General William Franklin's VI Corps arrived on the scene, ready to go in and finish the affair. Instead, a shaken Sumner, reeling from his rough handling, asserted his seniority and told Franklin not to advance. At a loss, Franklin appealed to McClellan, who supported Sumner. The precious moments slipped by. Meanwhile, at the southern end of the line, Ambrose Burnside was preparing to take his whole wing of the army across Antietam Creek. He thought he commanded Franklin, and that VI Corps was going to clear his flank for him, while he gave the immediate task of carrying the stone bridge across the creek to Jacob Cox's IX Corps. A little preliminary reconnaissance would have shown the Federals that the stream could be waded; instead they tried to storm the bridge, which, at right angles to the approaches and swept by fire, presented horrible difficulties to an attack. Two tries were blown away before a third rush carried it at about one in the afternoon. While this was going on, other elements of IX Corps finally discovered how shallow the stream was, and began getting across, climbing the low height of the creek, and pressing back the thin Confederate line there. At last, by mid-afternoon, Burnside had his crossing secured, and his corps formed for a final push that would finish off the reeling enemy. The blue infantry wheeled to the right, faced northwest, and began pushing into Sharpsburg. At this climactic moment, who should arrive but the troops of A. P. Hill, just come panting up the road from Harpers Ferry and Boteler's Ford. Totally unexpected, they crashed into Burnside's exposed left flank, and sent his men tumbling back to the banks of Antietam Creek, where they desperately hung on. The battle stabilized once again. Stabilized and ended. Both sides were exhausted, men dead, wounded, lost, dazed; officers without their commands, commands without their officers. It had been a day of immense slaughter, the bloodiest single day of the entire war. Federal casualties were more than 12,000, Confederate nearly 14,000—15 percent of the Union army and a staggering 22 percent of the Confederate. McClellan claimed a victory, but after that, he did nothing to exploit it. Indeed, on the 18th Lee sat in his reconstituted lines, as if daring McClellan to try again, but the Union commander did not accept the gauge. Instead, he left his opponent strictly alone, in spite of the arrival of fresh cavalry and two unused corps. That night, Lee put his trains on the road, and withdrew over his one thin line of retreat, Boteler's Ford. The next day, he was back in Virginia, and George McClellan had missed the best chance the Army of the Potomac would ever have to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee, safely back in Virginia, was not disheartened by the results of his foray. He had never intended to remain in Maryland, though he would have exploited a clear victory had the opportunity offered. But for him it had been merely a raid, he had bought time for the Confederacy, and his army, much thinner though it now was, certainly did not feel it had suffered a defeat at Sharpsburg, or Antietam, as the North was calling it. Not only had they sustained themselves on the battlefield, they had captured or destroyed many supplies, and taken many prisoners at Harpers Ferry. All in all, it had not been a bad bit of work. In this assessment, the Confederates neglected the effect of even a partial victory on the North. Northern commentators did not know that Lee was only raiding; they knew instead that he had at last been defeated and chased back into Virginia. Less than perfect though it was, this was still a victory, and hailed as such throughout the North. Its most peculiar effect was on McClellan. As was now customary, he believed that he and he alone had saved the country. The country proved singularly ungrateful. Within a very short time, as men had enough perspective to examine the event, there were calls for his dismissal. Not only that, but Abraham Lincoln used the opportunity of Antietam to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation; two days later he suspended habeas corpus, a traditional legal protection of those who for one reason or another might oppose government policies; in this case, it was denied to anyone trying to prevent Federal recruiting. To McClellan, essentially a peace Democrat, this was using his own victory against him, and he was bitter in his denunciations of those in Washington who were trying to create a social revolution. McClellan went so far as to canvass senior commanders in the Army of the Potomac; some, like Fitz John Porter, agreed with his views. Most did not. McClellan had proclaimed that the army would not stand for emancipation, and as the fall days went by, and the army drilled and did nothing, it became ever more obvious that a general so out of step with his political superiors could not last. Through October he and the War Department skirmished extensively, McClellan claiming he could not move until his broken-down cavalry was recovered, Stanton asking how his cavalry had broken down when it had been sitting in camp for five weeks, and so on. Few men ever got the better of Edwin Stanton in a telegraph duel. Finally, despairing of moving his commander, Lincoln removed him instead. On November 7, he was ordered to turn his command over to Ambrose E. Burnside. McClellan found he was thoroughly out of step. Not only did the army accept emancipation—as one soldier wrote home, the army would accept anything that would help beat the Rebels—but the Union at large did as well. There was some sense that the proclamation was flawed by its application, for as the London Times sarcastically put it, Lincoln had freed the slaves where he had no power to do so, in the Confederacy, and had not done so where he did have the power, namely, in the North. As usual the British political classes misunderstood the situation. The proclamation was issued under Lincoln's war powers, against those areas in rebellion; he in fact had no legal means of freeing slaves in the North. Many ordinary Britons regarded emancipation as an extremely favorable step, and from that time on, there was less and less talk of intervention for the South. Far more important, men and women in the Union recognized first the necessity and then ultimately the justice of the move. In spite of emancipation, suspension of habeas corpus, and then the removal of McClellan, the Republicans handily survived the November elections. The country remained committed to the war effort—a good thing, for there was little to cheer about for the remainder of the year. All through the summer and fall of 1862, Union commanders in the Mississippi area had failed to do anything significant, and golden opportunities had gone begging. Admiral Farragut, after taking New Orleans, had steamed up the river all the way to Vicksburg, and had actually bombarded that then ill-defended city for two months, from late May to late July. The troops that might have taken it for him were employed elsewhere, however, by General Butler patrolling the streets of New Orleans, or by General Halleck marching an inch a day toward Corinth, Mississippi. Finally, Halleck went off to Washington. Upon his departure, the western theater was again split into two commands. Grant got the western part of it, including western Tennessee and the Mississippi River area, and his army was dispersed to garrison this already reclaimed territory. The eastern portion of the command went to Don Carlos Buell, and he was ordered to move east into northern Alabama, eventually to take Chattanooga; he started the move readily enough, but then found himself alone in the wilderness, his supply lines overstretched, and his rear areas and communications constantly cut up by guerrillas. As Buell was indisposed to live freely off the country, he was soon forced by this indirect pressure to give up any real offensive action. So the summer went by inconsequentially. The Confederates too had their problems, and as usual in the west, they revolved around who commanded what. In the early summer, as Halleck had advanced upon Corinth, General Beauregard had conducted a very clever delaying action, and had retreated before the overwhelming Union forces with great skill. A clever retreat was not appreciated in Richmond, however, where Beauregard was already in disfavor after losing at Shiloh. So instead of being praised for what he accomplished, Beauregard was criticized for what he did not accomplish, and he responded by resigning his command, for reason, he said, of poor health. He was replaced by Braxton Bragg. Bragg was something of a stormy petrel, an intelligent, useful man, who was always hampered both by ill health and ill temper, one of those men who, giving of the best themselves, were never able to elicit the best from others. Indeed, his greatest defect was an almost complete inability to get along with his fellow commanders; to the detriment of the Confederacy, his greatest asset was his almost equally unconditional support by Jefferson Davis. Placed in command in the west, Bragg went off to counter Buell's movement toward Chattanooga, which he did effectively by marching northward and invading Kentucky. Meanwhile, he left General John C. Pemberton to defend Vicksburg and the Mississippi River against Grant. This was a daunting task, made worse by the fact that Pemberton had little with which to work, received confused and contradictory orders from Bragg and from Richmond, and was further hampered by a divided command structure. Some of his troops were commanded by Sterling Price in Arkansas, but neither Price nor Pemberton was entirely sure who commanded what or whom. About the only clear instruction given Pemberton was, "Do not get shut up and besieged." That was at least no immediate problem, as Grant found it extraordinarily difficult to get close enough to Vicksburg even to consider a siege. First of all, he had to worry about Confederate river rams being built on the Yazoo River; the Navy was alarmed about them, and Halleck kept pestering Grant to do something about it. Next, he had to chase Confederate forces under Earl Van Dorn, essentially Pemberton's field commander, around Corinth. Then, after Van Dorn had been beaten there but had managed to escape, Grant could at last turn his attention to Vicksburg. It still took him weeks to get Halleck's grudging permission to move, but finally he made his first bid on the Confederate stronghold. Grant's plan was fairly straightforward. With 40,000 men he himself would advance south along the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad. Meanwhile, his second-in-command, General Sherman, would take another 32,000 men by boat down the Mississippi River itself to attack the city directly. Grant, on foot, started first, and by late November he had crossed the Tennessee line into Mississippi. He set up a major supply depot at Holly Springs and continued south. Sherman, organizing his river transport with the help of the navy, was not ready to leave Memphis until the third week of December. Meanwhile, Pemberton had concentrated his scattered forces for the defense of Vicksburg, and eventually managed to pull together about 12,000 men around the city. That was not a major force, but Vicksburg, situated on a high bluff and surrounded by low-lying swamps and bayous, was an incredibly difficult target in its own right. Nature had done for it far more than the Confederates were able to do. Pemberton gave to Van Dorn the task of holding up Grant, and this he performed admirably. Not strong enough to face Grant openly, he decided to hit his communications, and for this he cut loose with his own cavalry and that of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Maneuvering around Grant's army, he hit the supply depot at Holly Springs, and burned everything he could not carry off. Then his troopers went on a spree, tearing up about sixty miles of railroad track north of the depot, and leaving Grant to live in thin country without much hope of resupply. Sherman fared even worse, on two counts. First, he got his troops down to Vicksburg all right, the Navy as always doing its excellent work, but then when he disembarked to move on the city, he found his approach blocked by strong Confederate fortifications at Chickasaw Bluffs, ten miles north of the city. Though Sherman outnumbered the defenders two and a half to one, the position was all but impregnable, well fortified and approach lines all channeled by the terrain and well covered by the enemy. He had a try anyway, which cost him 1,800 casualties to the Confederates' 200, a fair measure of the impossibility of the task. His second problem was General John A. McClernand, an Illinois political general who, while all this was going on, had talked Halleck into giving him command of an expedition down the Mississippi. He arrived in the aftermath of Chickasaw Bluffs, took command of Sherman and his troops, and all on his own took them off to capture Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post, up the Arkansas River. Fort Hindman was almost completely useless in the larger scheme of things, but it was a lot easier to capture than Vicksburg. Disappointed and disgusted, Grant then went back to Memphis, to think it all over before starting again. Grant's failure to take Vicksburg was not the only difficulty besetting Union arms in the west by the end of the year. In eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, Buell and Bragg engaged in a tiring game of march and countermarch that finally ended on the bloody fields outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Ordered by the War Department to march on Chattanooga, as part of Lincoln's oft-expressed wish to relieve the Unionists of east Tennessee, Buell had gotten as far as northern Alabama before being stymied by raids along his lines of communications. From there he felt compelled to move northward to Columbia and Nashville, to reopen his lines. But while he did this, Braxton Bragg stole a march on him. Bragg was able to move farther and faster through friendly country than Buell was through hostile, and the Confederate general reached Chattanooga in late July, as Buell was moving north through the central part of the state. Bragg concluded that the best way to counter the Union moves was to seize the offensive, and he thought big. At Chattanooga he collected 30,000 men. To his northeast, at Knoxville, was General Edmund Kirby Smith with another 10,000. With these two forces operating in conjunction, and offering mutual support, Bragg proposed to cross all of Tennessee, invade Kentucky, occupy Louisville, and interdict Union traffic even on the Ohio River. He might even get as far as Cincinnati, in Ohio, thus carrying the war in the west to the heart of the Union. Alternatively, having wrenched Kentucky back into the Confederacy where it belonged, he might turn southwest and destroy Grant. Lee's army was at that time about to invade Maryland, and who could tell which of these blows might be the fatal one, or how many it would take to break the Federal war spirit? It was a daring conception, but it offered glittering rewards. It all began well. Kirby Smith moved out of Knoxville in mid- August, and within a fortnight he had reached Lexington, Kentucky, making ten miles a day against almost no opposition. Bragg left Chattanooga at the end of August, and headed straight north across Tennessee. A hundred miles to his west, Buell was running for Nashville. Buell's subordinate, George H. Thomas, wanted to concentrate and fight at Murfreesboro, but Buell, conscious of his supply lines, kept going north. The two armies thus moved up their respective sides of an isosceles triangle, and by the middle of September, they were opposite each other, and only thirty miles apart, Bragg at Glasgow, Kentucky, with 30,000 men, and Buell at Bowling Green with 45,000. Bragg went a little farther north, as far as Munfordville, with Buell following him. There he offered battle, but Buell declined, so he moved out toward Louisville. The North was now in an uproar. Militia were called out in the Lakes states, raw recruits were drilling and digging trenches all over the Midwest, the War Department was sending troops hither and yon, and telegraphing Buell every few hours to do something. It was chaos for a while. Unfortunately for the Confederates, things then began to fall apart. Kirby Smith might have joined with Bragg, but he was an independent commander, and his assessment was that Bragg really did not need his assistance, so he stayed around Lexington. And Bragg himself began to think he was out on a long limb. Starting out, he had received the usual assurances that Kentucky was just pining for a sight of Confederate gray, and that the entire state would welcome him with open arms. But when he got there, Kentuckians wanted to have nothing to do with him, and he found his army traveling in hostile country, which, as Buell could have told him, was a difficult thing to do. The two armies finally bumped into each other as both were search- ing for water. Ironically, neither general had anything to do with the battle. Bragg was off installing a Confederate governor of Kentucky, and Buell did not realize his troops were fighting a battle until it was all over. Nevertheless, the Battle of Perryville became the main clash of the Civil War in the state of Kentucky, with 3,400 Confederate casualties and 4,200 Union, a fierce afternoon's work for the small parts of both armies that were engaged in it. That was typical of this strange campaign in which neither general really wanted to fight. The armies marched great distances over Tennessee and Kentucky, foraging as they went and causing a flutter of fear or excitement. Once or twice, virtually by accident, they came together, and on some little rolling hills that otherwise were as peaceful as anything on earth, men screamed and struggled and killed each other for an afternoon. Then they buried their dead and picked up their wounded, or left them to the care of the local civilians, and moved on again as if nothing had really happened. And nothing really had, except for a few hundred young men and their families, whose lives were changed forever by a bullet shot by a man who would never know them, and who probably would have liked them had they met under different circumstances. Bragg, realizing he was now outnumbered, took a long circuitous route back to Chattanooga, and Buell was quite delighted to let him go. By the end of November, the Union army was back in Nashville, the Confederate in Chattanooga, and everyone would have been happy to remain there. Neither Washington nor Richmond was that happy, however. The Confederate government, disappointed in its great hopes, appointed Joseph E. Johnston as overall commander in the west, and directed him to coordinate Pemberton, Bragg, and Kirby Smith, a belated attempt to bring order to its western command structure. Bragg, thoroughly at odds with his corps commanders, but retaining the confidence of Jefferson Davis, remained in field command. In Washington the War Department had already had enough of Don Carlos Buell; in fact, in the middle of the campaign it had sent orders to George H. Thomas, telling him to assume command. Thomas had refused, replying that Buell was planning to fight immediately, and that the campaign was going as well as could be expected. But when Buell let Bragg march away totally unhindered after Perryville, Washington's patience ran out. The Union army in Tennessee got a new commander, William S. Rosecrans. Since by now everyone knew Buell, and no one knew Rosecrans, the change was greeted with general enthusiasm. Rosecrans was rather a peculiar character, even for a war full of them. He was a competent soldier, with a good eye for organization and administration. Unlike his opposite number, Bragg, he was friendly and loquacious, and often kept his staff up most of the night chatting about the affairs of the world. He was a Catholic, something of a rarity in the generals' ranks of those days, and he kept a spiritual adviser with him. But he was a little unstable, and given to excitement to the point of incoherence under stress. He had done reasonably well in detached subordinate commands; how he would fare as an independent commander, with the full weight of responsibility, remained to be seen. It was now early December, and the winter rains were coming on. But neither side was quite willing to call a halt yet. Bragg sent cavalry forces off to harass the Union armies, Forrest to pester Grant and John Hunt Morgan—officially a brigadier general but in spirit closer to a cavalier of the English Civil War, at least to those who admired him — to bother Rosecrans. Halleck wanted Rosecrans to advance immediately against Bragg, but it took the new general several weeks to get his army properly organized and supplied, and then by Christmas he was ready to move out. On the 26th he moved southeast from Nashville, heading toward Bragg's army thirty miles away at Murfreesboro. Bragg had moved up here with 38,000 men, in two corps under Polk and Hardee, and he proposed to give battle. Rosecrans, with 45,000 in three corps, Thomas, T. L. Crittenden, and Alexander McCook—the highest ranking of seventeen "Fighting McCooks" from Ohio, all brothers or first cousins—moved along the muddy roads through heavy rains, using his cavalry as flank guards, stalled by effective rearguard cavalry work by the Confederates, and not knowing exactly what he might bump into. On the night of the 30th, his troops bivouacked in the fields and scrub south of the Nashville Turnpike, about a mile west of a meandering stream called Stones River. He was only two miles from Murfreesboro, but in that two miles was Bragg's army, drawn up in battle line straddling the creek. Expecting to be attacked on the 30th, Bragg had settled for a rather awkward position, accepting the stream cutting through his battle line for the advantage of holding low but dominant hills at the north, or right, end of his line. But as the Federals were slow, he changed his mind, and decided he would himself attack early on the morning of the 31st. To do this he reversed his order of battle, and moved two divisions of Hardee's corps from his right around to his left flank. One of the divisions was Patrick Cleburne's, among the hardest hitters of the Confederate army. Come dawn, these men and John P. McCown's division would flank and then roll up the Federal line. Rosecrans planned to do pretty much the same thing: he was going to lead with his left, expecting to flank and roll up the Confederate line at its other end. Unfortunately for the Federals, the Confederate attack beat them to the punch. The Union units on the left flank were still receiving their orders and getting formed for their own attack when the storm hit the other end of the blue line. This rapidly degenerated into a soldiers' battle. The terrain was covered with low cedar scrub, with clearings here and there in it. Nothing stopped infantry moving and firing, but it was very difficult for commanders to maintain any kind of control, or keep a clear picture of the progress of the battle. The Confederates drove hard, breaking up one regiment after another—one division was driven three miles before it re-formed—but these were seasoned soldiers now, and they simply stood to it, little knots in the scrub, here a company under a smart sergeant, there a gun section under a brigadier general. The Rebels kept on, and they drove hard, and they made ground; then they came to Sheridan's division of McCook, and he not only held them, he bought time with a nasty little counterattack before he too was pushed away. By late morning, the Union line was bent back into a horseshoe, but it was still full of fight. In mid-afternoon, Hardee fought out, Polk took up the attack, and hit what was now the Union left flank. By now, Bragg figured, his opponent was thoroughly mixed up, and this ought to finish him off. He was wrong. Hastily reorganized and redeployed Union regiments shot the heart out of Polk's assault, and the battle sputtered out with the Confederates still not certain of their victory. That night Rosecrans held a council of war: Should they fight on, or give it up and retreat? The most dramatic account of this, which is probably somewhat prejudiced, has Thomas deciding it by saying, "I know of no better place to die than right here." Whoever said what, they chose to stay. On the other side, Bragg thought he had already won his victory, so other than reporting the fact to Richmond, he did little. Morning showed his error; the Federals were still there. Aside from some cavalry skirmishing, neither side accomplished much. On January 2, Bragg issued orders for an attack. Launched against strong Union artillery, it achieved little beyond heavy casualties for the attacking infantry. That night Bragg recognized facts; he set his army in retreat. As Rosecrans later summed up the affair, paraphrasing Shakespeare, "Bragg is a good dog, but Hold Fast is a better." The dubious but hard-won victory was well received in the North, and especially in the Northwest, home of most of the soldiers. At that stage, the North desperately needed some good news, for the Army of the Potomac had just suffered another brutal defeat at the hands of Robert E. Lee. The choice of Ambrose Burnside to replace McClellan in command of the Army of the Potomac was met with dismay, not least by Burnside himself, who protested his unfitness for the task. His chief recommendation seems to have been that Lincoln rather liked him, and was totally at a loss whom to turn to; Stanton is reputed to have told the President, "Well, you have made your choice of idiots; now you can expect news of a terrible disaster!" Burnside had done reasonably well in earlier, subordinate, commands, and most of the senior officers preferred him to the other likely choice, Joseph Hooker. So Burnside it was, and the new general went forth to do battle with Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. In November, when Burnside took over, Lee had about 85,000 men, as good as he was ever to do, and was encamped in a wide arc from Brandy Station on the Rappahannock north and west all the way to Winchester. He had now definitively organized his army into corps, with Jackson and Longstreet, both promoted to lieutenant general, as his corps commanders. Stuart commanded his cavalry, and had just celebrated the season by another ride around McClellan's army, one of the last nails in McClellan's coffin. Burnside had 120,000 men, plus several thousand more detailed to guard Washington, which he could use if absolutely necessary. When he took over, the army was concentrated north of the Rappahannock, near the right end of Lee's positions. The new general realized he had to act; that was why he was there. And McClellan's complaints to the contrary, the Army of the Potomac was in fine condition, well equipped and supplied, rested and reorganized, and lazing away the last of the good fall weather. Burnside decided he would feint to his right, toward Lee's center, then rapidly countermarch to his left and force a crossing of the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg. This would open the route to Richmond, and force Lee to scramble to defend the Confederate capital. Only one thing was needed: there must be pontoon bridges available, so the Fredericksburg crossing could proceed while the enemy was still at a disadvantage. Halleck, Lincoln, and Stanton were all a bit skeptical; few people so far had stolen a march on Lee. But since they could think of nothing better, they agreed. All went according to plan at first. After marching back and forth, Burnside's leading corps, under Sumner, arrived at Falmouth on the north bank of the Rappahannock on November 17. But there were no pontoons there to meet them. It was raining; the river was rising. Sumner wanted to push across, secure the town, and grab the high ground behind it. Burnside grew cautious, and decided to wait. A week later, the pontoons finally arrived, on November 25. Unfortunately, Longstreet had gotten there on the 21st, so the chance for an unopposed crossing was gone. There was still some small opportunity, though. To meet the threat, which had indeed surprised him, not by its direction but by its rapidity, Lee had split his army even wider apart than it was before, and Burnside might have moved back upstream and caught Jackson isolated from Longstreet. Instead, he chose to pursue his original objective of getting on toward Richmond. So he continued to prepare for his crossing, and, to compound his difficulties, he lost more time waiting for more bridges to arrive. By the time they were there, so was Jackson, and thus, when he finally made his crossing, he faced the full strength of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Rappahannock at Fredericksburg was about 250 yards wide. There were low hills on the north side of the river, suitable for the placing of batteries. The town of Fredericksburg, a substantial place, ran along the south bank for about a mile and a quarter, and extended in from the river perhaps half a mile. Running irregularly along behind and beyond it was a range of hills, called Marye's Heights right in back of the town itself. On these the Confederates took up their position, Longstreet on the left and Jackson, when he came in, on the right. Their line was almost eight miles long, with guns emplaced, rifle pits and trenches dug, interlocking lanes of fire, all that one could desire for a defensive battle. Burnside had organized his army into three "grand divisions," under Sumner, Franklin, and Hooker. He intended that Sumner should attack on his right, through the town itself and against Longstreet, and Franklin on his left, downriver and against Jackson. Hooker was in reserve. The crossing began on the night of the 10th, and Franklin made it with little difficulty. Sumner ran into trouble, a Mississippi brigade determined to hold the town, and it was the night of the 12th before he finally cleared them out, got his bridges built, and his corps across. Burnside's orders for the 13th were, in effect, to take the heights. Franklin opened at mid-morning with a furious assault by Meade's division that actually broke Jackson's first line. The Federals came storming up out of the river bottom as if there were no tomorrow, which indeed was all too true, and drove determinedly ahead. But the gray lines were just too strong, and too well defended, and by early afternoon, Franklin's corps was fought out. Jackson launched a shortlived counterattack, but the Federal guns from across the river shot it to pieces. Meanwhile, Sumner organized his troops as they marched through the now burning town, and on the clear space between it and Marye's Heights, they formed up, regiment after regiment, colors uncased, lines dressed, musket barrels twinkling as the morning fog lifted off the river bottom, all the brilliant panoply of war. The Confederates in their trenches were unstinting in their admiration, and looked to their cartridge boxes. At last all was ready, and about eleven o'clock off they stepped, French's division, then Hancock's, then Howard's, then Sturgis's. In three hours the Confederates broke them all, and sent them in succession back the way they had come, those who could go back. The front below Marye's Heights gradually clogged with the dead, the wounded, the broken, the horrible wreckage of those fine divisions. Rebel guns grew too hot to touch, some ammunition ran out, and still there was no end of targets. Burnside ordered Franklin to try again, and Franklin ignored him; he then ordered Hooker to take up where Sumner left off, and Hooker did so, protesting as he went against a useless sacrifice of his corps. At the height of the battle, Lee turned to his staff and said, "It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we might grow too fond of it," a remark usually taken as evidence of his humanity, but open to other interpretation. By nightfall the battle subsided: the butcher's bill, 5,300 Confederate, 12,700 killed or wounded Federals. Burnside wanted to try again, but his generals refused to support him. Thus the disaster Stanton had predicted.

 

 

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