September 13, 1862: Special Order No. 191

George B. McClellan throughout his life up until 1862 had been a very fortunate man.  Born into a family of wealth and prestige, he had gone through the Mexican War without a scratch and had been incredibly successful in civilian life, becoming president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad at the age of 34.  In 1861 he had benefited from overwhelming numbers and lacklustre opposition in West Virginia, leading to Union victories which catapulted him to become General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Then 1862 arrived and McClellan’s good fortune seemed to desert him.  His delay in launching a general union offensive caused Lincoln to remove him as General-in-Chief, in effect demoting him to simply being the commander of the Army of the Potomac.  His luck also seemed to go astray during his disastrous Peninsula Campaign, where his inordinate caution and meager battlefield generalship threw away a golden opportunity to seize Richmond and perhaps end the war.

After the crushing of Pope’s Army of Virginia at Second Bull Run, Lincoln reluctantly placed McClellan back in command to fight against Lee in his invasion of Maryland.  Now McClellan was lethargically following parts of Lee’s army, McClellan seemingly gun-shy after his defeat at the hands of Lee in the Peninsula Campaign.

On September 13, 1862 McClellan’s good fortune reappeared in a dramatic fashion.  At approximately 10:00 AM that day Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana volunteers found a copy of an order from Robert E. Lee wrapped around three cigars.  The order was dated September 9, 1862 and was designated Special Order No. 191.  The order presumably was lost by a staff officer of D. H. Hill’s division which had been camping on the ground  previously.  The order was a movement order which detailed how Lee had divided up his army for the Maryland campaign.  The order was quickly sent up the chain of command to McClellan.

McClellan was exultant.  With this order he knew how Lee had divided his command and where the separate pieces of the Army of Northern Virginia were marching.   “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”, he prophetically told his old friend General John Gibbon.  He telegraphed Lincoln:

The PRESDT,

I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform, but with God’s blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be  severely punished for it. The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the  rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Catoctin. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel that I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to co-operate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln. Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well, and with God’s blessing will accomplish it.

Geo. B. McClellan

Here is the text of Special Order No. 191: (more…)

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Theodore Roosevelt on Robert E. Lee

 

 

THE WHITE HOUSE,

WASHINGTON, D.C.

January 16, 1907

To the HON. HILARY A. HERBERT, chairman,
CHIEF JUSTICE SETH SHEPHERD, GENERAL MARCUS J. WRIGHT,
JUDGE CHARLES B. HOWRY, MR. WILLIAM A. GORDON,
MR. THOMAS NELSON PAGE, PRESIDENT EDWIN ALDERMAN,
MR. JOSEPH WILMER, and others of the
Committee of Arrangement for the Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary
of the Birth of General Robert E. Lee.

Gentlemen:

I regret that it is not in my power to be with you at your celebration. I join with you in honoring the life and career of that great soldier and high-minded citizen whose fame is now a matter of pride
to all our countrymen. Terrible though the destruction of the Civil War was, awful though it was that such a conflict should occur betweenbrothers, it is yet a matter for gratitude on the part
of all Americans that this, alone among contests of like magnitude, should have left to both sides as a priceless heritage the memory of the mighty men and the glorious deeds that the iron days
brought forth. The courage and steadfast endurance, the lofty fealty to the right as it was given to each man to see the right, whether he wore the gray or whether he wore the blue, now make the
memories of the valiant feats, alike of those who served under Grant and of those who served under Lee, precious to all good Americans. General Lee has left us the memory, not merely of his extraordinary skill as a general, his dauntless courage and high leadership in campaign and battle, but also of that serene greatness of soul characteristic of those who most readily recognize the obligations of civic duty. Once the war was over he instantly under took the task of healing and binding up the wounds of his countrymen, in the true spirit of those who feel malice toward none and charity toward all; in that spirit which from the throes of the Civil War brought forth the real and indissoluble Union of to-day. It was eminently fitting that this great man, this war-worn veteran of a mighty struggle, who, at its close, simply and quietly undertook his duty as a plain, every-day citizen, bent only upon helping his people in the paths of peace and tranquillity, should turn his attention toward educational work; toward bringing up in fit fashion theyounger generation, the sons of those who had proved their faith by their endeavor in the heroicdays.

There is no need to dwell on General Lee s record as a soldier. The son of Light Horse Harry Lee of the Revolution, he came naturally by his aptitude for arms and command. His campaigns
put him in the foremost rank of the great captains of all time. But his signal valor and address inwar are no more remarkable than the spirit in which he turned to the work of peace once the war was over. The circumstances were such that most men, even of high character, felt bitter and vindictive or depressed and spiritless, but General Lee s heroic temper was not warped nor his great soul cast down. He stood that hardest of all strains, the strain of bearing himself well through the gray evening of failure ; and therefore out of what seemed failure he helped to build the wonderful and mighty triumph of our national life, in which all his countrymen, North and South, share. Immediately after the close of hostilities he announced, with a clear sightedness which at that time few indeed of any section possessed, that the interests of the Southern States were the same as those of the United States ;  that the prosperity of the South would rise or fall with the welfare of the whole country; and that the duty of its citizens appeared too plain to admit of doubt. He urged that all should unite in honest effort to obliterate the effects of war and restore the blessings of peace; that they should remain in the country, strive for harmony and good feeling, and devote their abilities to the interests of their people and the healing of dissensions. To every one who applied to him this was the advice he gave.  Although absolutely without means, he refused all offers of pecuniary aid, and all positions of emolument, although many such, at a high salary, were
offered him. He declined to go abroad, saying that he sought only “a place to earn honest bread while engaged in some useful work.” This statement brought him the offer of the presidency of
Washington College, a little institution in Lexington, Va., which had grown out of a modest foundation known as Liberty Hall Academy. Washington had endowed this academy with one hundred shares of stock that had been given to him by the State of Virginia, which he had accepted only on condition that he might with them endow some educational institution. To the institution which Washington helped to found in such a spirit, Lee, in the same fine spirit, gave his services. He accepted the position of president at a salary of $1,500 a year, inorder, as he stated, that he might do some good to the youth of the South. He applied himself to his new work with the same singleness of mind which he had shown in leading the Army of Northern Virginia. All the time by word and deed he was striving for the restoration of real peace, of real harmony, never uttering a word of bitterness nor allowing a word of bitterness uttered in his presence to go unchecked. From the close of the war to the time of his death all his great powers were devoted to two objects: to the reconciliation of all his countrymen with one another, and to fitting the youth of the South for the duties of a lofty and broad-minded citizenship.

Such is the career that you gather to honor; and I hope that you will take advantage of the one hundredth anniversary of General Lee s birth by appealing to all our people, in every section of this
country, to commemorate his life and deeds by the establishment, at some great representative educational institution of the South, of a permanent memorial, that will serve the youth of the comingyears, as he, in the closing years of his life, served those who so sorely needed what he so freely gave.

Sincerely yours,

THEODORE ROOSEVELT.

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Robert E. Lee’s Greatest Victory

 

He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward.

Benjamin H. Hill on Robert E. Lee

 

 

“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before.

The congregation freezes. Those who have been ready to go forward and kneel at the communion rail remain fixed in their pews. The minister stands in his place stunned and motionless. The black man slowly lowers his body, kneeling at the communion rail.

After what seems an interminable amount of time, an older white man rises. His hair snowy white, head up, and eyes proud, he walks quietly up the isle to the chancel rail.

So with silent dignity and self-possession, the white man kneels down to take communion along the same rail with the black man.

Lee has said that he has rejoiced that slavery is dead. But this action indicates that those were not idle words meant to placate a Northern audience. Here among his people, he leads wordlessly through example. The other communicants slowly move forward to the altar with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation. In the end, America would defy the cruel chain of history besetting nations torn apart by Civil War.”

From “April 1865:  the Month that Saved America(more…)

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April 9, 1865: Palm Sunday at Appomatox

 

 

It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.

Grant recalled the surrender:

APPOMATTOX C. H., VA.,
Ap l 19th, 1865.

GEN. R. E. LEE,
Comd’g C. S. A.
GEN: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.
Very respectfully,
U. S. GRANT,
Lt. Gen.

When I put my pen to the paper I did not know the first word that I should make use of in writing the terms. I only knew what was in my mind, and I wished to express it clearly, so that there could be no mistaking it. As I wrote on, the thought occurred to me that the officers had their own private horses and effects, which were important to them, but of no value to us; also that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to call upon them to deliver their side arms.

No conversation, not one word, passed between General Lee and myself, either about private property, side arms, or kindred subjects. He appeared to have no objections to the terms first proposed; or if he had a point to make against them he wished to wait until they were in writing to make it. When he read over that part of the terms about side arms, horses and private property of the officers, he remarked, with some feeling, I thought, that this would have a happy effect upon his army.

Then, after a little further conversation, General Lee remarked to me again that their army was organized a little differently from the army of the United States (still maintaining by implication that we were two countries); that in their army the cavalrymen and artillerists owned their own horses; and he asked if he was to understand that the men who so owned their horses were to be permitted to retain them. I told him that as the terms were written they would not; that only the officers were permitted to take their private property. He then, after reading over the terms a second time, remarked that that was clear.

I then said to him that I thought this would be about the last battle of the war—I sincerely hoped so; and I said further I took it that most of the men in the ranks were small farmers. The whole country had been so raided by the two armies that it was doubtful whether they would be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they were then riding. The United States did not want them and I would, therefore, instruct the officers I left behind to receive the paroles of his troops to let every man of the Confederate army who claimed to own a horse or mule take the animal to his home. Lee remarked again that this would have a happy effect.

He then sat down and wrote out the following letter:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 9, 1865.

GENERAL:—I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
R. E. LEE, General.

LIEUT.-GENERAL U. S. GRANT.

While duplicates of the two letters were being made, the Union generals present were severally present to General Lee.

The much talked of surrendering of Lee’s sword and my handing it back, this and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance. The word sword or side arms was not mentioned by either of us until I wrote it in the terms. There was no premeditation, and it did not occur to me until the moment I wrote it down. If I had happened to omit it, and General Lee had called my attention to it, I should have put it in the terms precisely as I acceded to the provision about the soldiers retaining their horses.

General Lee, after all was completed and before taking his leave, remarked that his army was in a very bad condition for want of food, and that they were without forage; that his men had been living for some days on parched corn exclusively, and that he would have to ask me for rations and forage. I told him “certainly,” and asked for how many men he wanted rations. His answer was “about twenty-five thousand;” and I authorized him to send his own commissary and quartermaster to Appomattox Station, two or three miles away, where he could have, out of the trains we had stopped, all the provisions wanted. As for forage, we had ourselves depended almost entirely upon the country for that.

Grant in his memoirs wrote, When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag.”

Lee so appreciated the generosity of the terms of surrender given by Grant, that for the remainder of his life he would never allow a word of denigration about Grant to be spoken in his presence.

(Grant) rode on toward his headquarters tent, which had been found at last, along with his baggage, and pitched nearby. He had not gone far before someone asked if he did not consider the news of Lee’s surrender worth passing on to the War Department. Reining his horse in, he dismounted and sat on a large stone by the roadside to compose the telegram Lincoln would receive that night. By the time he remounted to ride on, salutes were beginning to roar from Union batteries roundabout, and he sent word to have them stopped, not only because he feared the warlike racket might cause trouble between the victors and the vanquished, both of them still with weapons in their hands, but also because he considered it unfitting. “The war is over,” he told his staff. “The rebels are our countrymen again.”

Shelby Foote, The Civil War:  A Narrative, volume III

(more…)

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February 25, 1865: Lee Will Not Give Up the Texas Brigade

 

 

 

..”Attention Texas Brigade” was rung upon the morning air, by Gen. Gregg, “the eyes of General Lee are upon you, forward, march.” Scarce had we moved a step, when Gen. Lee, in front of the whole command, raised himself in his stirrups, uncovered his grey hairs, and with an earnest, yet anxious voice, exclaimed above the din and confusion of the hour, “Texans always move them.”
…never before in my lifetime or since, did I ever witness such a scene as was enacted when Lee pronounced these words, with the appealing look that he gave. A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around, and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heart-felt tears. Leonard Gee, a courier to Gen. Gregg, and riding  by my side, with tears coursing down his cheeks and yells issuing from his throat exclaimed, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.”

 

Private Robert Campell, 5th Texas Infantry

The fighting erupted early on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness.  Grant assumed that Hill’s corps had been fought out on the first day and could be overrun with a strong attack.  At 5:00 AM Hancock attacked with three divisions, with two in support.  By 6:00 AM Hill’s corps was in full retreat and disaster loomed for Lee.  At that time the 800 man Texas Brigade, perhaps the elite fighting unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Longstreet’s corps arrived and saved the day.  Longstreet launched a two division counterattack up the Orange Plank Road, with the Texans, who suffered 650 casualties, leading the attack on the north side of the Road.

This action by the Texan Brigade, and similar actions on many other fields, caused Lee to treasure the unit as his shock troops.  This caused Lee to deny a request by the Governor of Texas in February of 1865.  The request and the denial are contained in this letter from Jefferson Davis to the Governor of  Texas: (more…)

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November 26, 1863: Mine Run Campaign

Mine_Run_Campaign

The Mine Run Campaign which began on November 26, 1863 illustrates that Major General George Gordon Meade, although he would later prove effective as, in effect, Grant’s chief of staff after Grant came East and took de facto command of the Army of the Potomac, was completely outclassed in generalship by Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg notwithstanding.  Meade with 81,000 men, had a golden opportunity to inflict a severe defeat on Lee, who only had 48,000 men with Longstreet’s Corps stuck besieging Knoxville in Tennessee.

Meade’s plan was to conduct a lightning march through the Wilderness, the tangle of forest and shrub where Hooker had been defeated at Chancellorsville and where the first battle of the Overland Campaign would be fought in 1864.

Delays crossing the Rapidan on November 25,  allowed Lee time to slow the Union advance at Payne’s Farm on November 26.  Withdrawing behind Mine Run creek, Lee fortified his position.  Meade planned an assault on Lee’s position but cooler heads prevailed and Meade withdrew during the night on December 1-2.  This chagrined Lee who had been preparing his own attack for December 2.  This ended the Virginia campaign of 1863, a campaign that was barren of results for the Union after the big victory of Gettysburg.  Here is Lee’s official report on the Mine Run Campaign: (more…)

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Your Turn

“We made a great mistake, Mr. Hill, in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do it will prove to be a fatal mistake.”

“What mistake is that, general?”

“Why, sir, in the beginning we appointed all our worst generals to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.  As you know, I have planned some campaigns and quite a number of battles.  I have given the work all the care and thought I could, and sometimes, when my plans were completed, as far as I could see, they seemed to be perfect.  But when I have fought them through, I have discovered defects and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the defects in advance.  When it was all over, I found by reading a newspaper that these best editor generals saw all the defects plainly from the start.  Unfortunately, they did not communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late.”  Then, after a pause, he added, with a beautiful, grave expression I can never forget:  “I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy, and do all I can to win our independence.  I am willing to serve in any capacity to which the authorities may assign me.  I have done the best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I could wish.  I am willing to yield my place to these best generals, and I will do my best for the cause in editing a newspaper.”

Georgia Senator Benjamin H. Hill relating a conversation with General Robert E. Lee

Okay all you armchair generals!  Go here to see if you could have done better than Lee at Gettysburg.

Published in: on July 9, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Benjamin H. Hill on Robert E. Lee

 

An interesting character in his own right, a Confederate senator from Georgia during the Civil War and a powerhouse in Georgia politics his entire life, Benjamin H. Hill in a speech in 1874  uttered this statement on Robert E. Lee that captures that very great man perfectly:

 

“When the future historian shall come to survey the character of Lee he will find it rising like a huge mountain above the undulating plane of humanity, and he must lift his eyes high toward heaven to catch its summit. He possessed every virtue of other great commanders without their vices. He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward. He was obedient to authority as a servant, and royal in authority as a true king. He was gentle as a woman in life; modest and pure as a virgin in thought; watchful as a Roman vestal in duty; submissive to law as Socrates; and grand in battle as Achilles.”

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May 2, 1863: Jackson Flanks Hooker

  When the blue-coated
Unprepared ranks of Howard saw that storm,
Heralded by wild rabbits and frightened deer,
Burst on them yelling, out of the whispering woods,
They could not face it.  Some men died where they stood,
The storm passed over the rest.  It was Jackson’s storm,
It was his old trick of war, for the last time played.
He must have known it.  He loosed it and drove it on,
Hearing the long yell shake like an Indian cry
Through the dense black oaks, the clumps of second-growth pine,
And the red flags reel ahead through the underbrush.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

The plan having been made for the flank attack against Hooker, it remained for Jackson to execute it.  For a very long day he and his corps marched along the front of Hooker’s massive army’s front and into the rear of the right of his army.  Numerous reports came to Hooker from Union units reporting movement by a large number of Confederates to their front.  Hooker, now firmly ensconced in the pleasant land of wishful thinking, chose to interpret these reports as evidence that Lee was retreating.  Hooker had his army sit idle that day, the day when he could have crushed Lee with overwhelming numbers.

Chancellorsville_May2

Lee described Jackson’s march in his official report of the battle on September 21, 1863: (more…)

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Palm Sunday One Hundred and Forty-Eight Years Ago

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox. (more…)

Published in: on March 24, 2013 at 5:25 am  Comments (2)  
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