Lee in Battle

Curious independent testimony to a state of affairs between Lee and Longetreet just before the surrender, precisely similar to what Longstreet depicts at Gettysburg, is furnished by Captain Hanson in Harper's Magazine, though I confess that I cannot quite adjust it to Longstreet's own narrative. The captain involuntarily overheard a conversation between the two generals. 'I must have slept an hour at least when again I was awakened by the loud, almost fierce tones of General Lee, saying, "I tell you, General Longstreet, I will strike that man [Grant] a blow in the morning." General Longstreet again recounted the difficulties, ending as before, "General, you know you have only to give the order and the attack will be made, but I must tell you that I think it a useless waste of brave lives." And that excellent critic Colonel T. L. Livermore proposed to solve the difficult question, why Lee did not earlier abandon Petersburg, by accepting Davis's suggestion that the general's too combative temperament made him reluctant to retire from an enemy.

The most heroic picture that is left us of Lee highwrought by the excitement of battle and determined to fight to the end, is the account, received by Henderson from a reliable eyewitness, of the chief's decision to remain north of the Potomac after Antietam. General after general rode up to the commander's headquarters, all with the same tale of discouragement and counsel of retreat. Hood was quite unmanned. 'My God!' cried Lee to him, with unwonted vehemence, 'where is the splendid division you had this morning?' 'They are lying on the field where you sent them,' answered Hood. Even Jackson did not venture to suggest anything but withdrawal. There were a few moments of oppressive silence. Then Lee rose erect in his stirrups and said, 'Gentlemen, we will not cross the Potomac tonight. You will go to your respective commands, strengthen your lines, send two officers from each brigade towards the ford to collect your stragglers and bring them up. Many have come in. I have had the proper steps taken to collect all the men who are in the rear. If McClellan wants to fight in the morning, I will give him battle. Go!' They went; and in this case, at least, Lee's glorious audacity was justified; for he proved to all the world that McClellan did not dare attack him again.

However Lee's judgment may have been affected by the excitement of battle, it made little alteration in his bearing or manner. Fremantle tells us that the general's dress was always neat and clean, and adds, 'I observed this during the three days fight at Gettysburg, when every one else looked and was extremely dirty.' Stress of conflict sometimes seems to alter men's natures. Odd stories are told in the war books of officers quite saintly in common converse who in battle would swear like reprobates. Conversely, it is said of the great Condé that in his daily dealings with his soldiers his tongue was incredibly rough, but the moment he got under fire he addressed everybody about him with exquisite politeness. Lee's politeness was always exquisite. It was only very, very rarely that some untoward incident stirred either his temper or his speech. 'Probably no man ever commanded an army and, at the same time, so entirely commanded himself as Lee,' says the coolblooded Alexander. 'This morning [after Chancellorsville] was almost the only occasion on which I ever saw him out of humor.'

Nor was it only a question of mere politeness. Lee was as tender and sympathetic to man and beast in the fury of combat, in the chaos of defeat, as he could have been in his own domain at Arlington. After the great charge on the third day at Gettysburg, an officer rode up to him lashing an unwilling horse. 'Don't whip him, captain, don't whip him,' protested the general. 'I have just such another foolish beast myself, and whipping doesn't do any good.' And as the tumult of disaster increased, the sympathy took larger forms of magnanimity than mere prevention of cruelty to animals. There was no faultfinding, no shifting of perhaps deserved blame to others, nothing but calmness, comfort, cheerfulness, confidence. 'All will come right in the end; we'll talk of it afterwards; but in the mean time all good men must rally,'—'Never mind, General. All this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it the best way you can.'

So, with incomparable patience, tact, and energy, the great soldier held his army together after defeat and kept it in a temper and condition which went far to justify Meade's reluctance to follow up his success. Only, to complete the picture, one should turn to General Imboden's brief sketch, taken after the work was done and natural human exhaustion and despair claimed some little right over even a hero's nerve and brain. It must be remembered that this was a man fifty-six years old. Towards midnight Lee rode up to Imboden's command. 'When he approached and saw us, he spoke, reined up his hone and endeavored to dismount. The effort to do so betrayed so much physical exhaustion that I stepped forward to assist him, but before I reached him, he had alighted. He threw his arm across his saddle to rest himself and fixing his eyes upon the ground, leaned in silence upon his equally weary horse; the two formed a striking group, as motionless as a statue. After some expressions as to Pickett's charge, etc., he added in a tone almost of agony, "Too had l Too bad! Oh, too had!"

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