- 03 Aug 2021 13:20
August 4, Tuesday
Minor fighting continues in Virginia: there is yet another skirmish at Brandy Station, plus action near Amissville and Fairfax Court House. The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac are back at their approximate starting points, and Meade doesn’t pursue, ending the sixty days of marching and fighting which have comprised the Gettysburg campaign.
Meade has at least received from Washington the accolade that has been withheld so long, though the gesture still is not from Lincoln. “Take it altogether,” Halleck writes, “your short campaign has proved your superior generalship, and you merit, as you will receive, the confidence of the government and the gratitude of your country.” But Meade has already disclaimed such praise from other sources. “The papers are making a great deal too much fuss about me,” he writes home. “I claim no extraordinary merit for this last battle, and would prefer waiting a little while to see what my career is to be before making any pretensions.... I never claimed a victory,” he explains, “though I state that Lee was defeated in his efforts to destroy my army.” Thin-skinned and testy as he is, he finds it hard to abide the pricks he receives from his superiors. He doubts, indeed, whether he is “sufficiently phlegmatic” for the leadership of an army which he now perceives is commanded from Washington, and he confides to his wife that he would esteem it the best of favors if Lincoln would replace him with someone else. Who that someone might be he doesn’t say, but he can scarcely recommend any of his present subordinates, whose lack of energy he deplores. Most of all, he misses his fellow Pennsylvanians, the dead Reynolds and the convalescing Hancock.
With nine of his best generals gone for good, and eight more out with wounds of various depth and gavity, Lee has even greater cause for sadness. Just now, though, his energies are mainly confined to refitting his army, preparing it for a continuation of the struggle he sought to end with one hard blow, and incidentally in putting down a spirit of contention among his hot-tempered subordinates as to where the blame for the recent defeat should go. Few are as frank as Ewell, who presently tells a friend that “it took a dozen blunders to lose Gettysburg and [I] committed a good many of them,” or as selfless as Longstreet, who writes to a kinsman shortly after the battle: “As General Lee is our commander, he should have the support and influence that we can give him. If the blame, if there is any, can be shifted from him to me, I shall help him and our cause by taking it. I desire, therefore, that all the responsibility that can be put upon me shall go there, and shall remain there.” Others are quick to point out just where they think the blame should rest—Pickett, for instance, whose report is highly critical of the other units involved in the charge tradition will give his name to. Lee returns the document to him with the suggestion that it be destroyed, together with all copies. “You and your men have covered yourselves with glory,” he tells him, “but we have the enemy to fight and must carefully, at this critical moment, guard against dissensions which the reflections in your report would create.... I hope all will yet be well.”
On the James River a reconnaissance by Federal army and navy units lasts four days. Elsewhere action includes at the mouth of Vincent’s Creek, South Carolina; at Burlington, West Virginia; as well as a Federal reconnaissance near Rock Island Ferry, Tennessee.
For four days Federal naval guns have bombarded Battery Wagner in Charleston Harbor.
The truce between General Rosecrans and his superiors in Washington, produced by his success at Tullahoma, lasted only three days. On July 7th, General Rosecrans was stung by a gratuitous communication from the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton: “Lee’s army overthrown; Grant victorious. You and your noble army now have the chance to give the finishing blow to the rebellion. Will you neglect the chance?” Rosecrans’ reply was immediate and scathing. “You do not appear to observe the fact that this noble army”—the sarcastic use of Stanton’s own words cannot have escaped the Secretary’s attention—“has driven the rebels from Middle Tennessee. I beg in behalf of this army that the War Department may not overlook so great an event because it was not written in letters of blood.”
That set the tone for the communications that followed; Stanton remains insistent, Rosecrans adamant. Again, Rosecrans refuses to move until he is ready. As usual, he has his reasons, and they are not frivolous. He is being asked to pursue Bragg into mountainous country and across a great river. It will be hard to supply his army in such terrain and at such a distance from his Nashville base. The railroad that must carry his rations and ammunition was partially wrecked and needed repairs. Moreover, Rosecrans feels that if he is to thrust deep into enemy country, he must have protection on his flanks. He regards General Joseph E. Johnston, whose army has been driven by Grant into Mississippi, as a threat to his right; Rosecrans proposed that Grant be ordered to watch Johnston. The response was a single, curt sentence from Halleck: “Grant’s movements at present have no connection with you.”
Rosecrans’ superiors do, however, share his concern about his left flank. In Knoxville, just a little more than 100 miles to the northeast of Chattanooga, the Confederates had stationed a small force under Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner. General Bragg has already summoned Buckner to Chattanooga, and he is on his way with half his forces. But there is another, more compelling reason for Washington officials to worry about northeastern Tennessee. The region around Knoxville has concerned President Lincoln since the earliest days of the war. Although it is in Confederate hands, its population—mainly small farmers with little enthusiasm for slavery—is strongly Unionist. These people[are] hunted by rebel authorities, [are] persecuted and driven to caves, imprisoned, starved, tortured, put to death. It [is] a sacred duty of the government to go to the rescue of these people.” That duty has been delegated to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, who presided last December over the disastrous Federal attack on Fredericksburg. Relieved of the command of the 114,000-man Army of the Potomac, in March he was given command of the 24,000-man Army of the Ohio, stationed near Cincinnati. his job is to drive across northern Tennessee and run the Confederates out of Knoxville, meanwhile protecting the left flank of Rosecrans’ army. Burnside was preparing to move when his IX Corps was taken from him to assist in the siege of Vicksburg; he was awaiting its return before advancing, although the force opposing him was even smaller than his reduced army. Halleck now has to goad two generals instead of only one. “Burnside has been frequently urged to move forward and cover your left,” he says in a testy telegram to Rosecrans. “I do not know what he is doing. He seems tied fast to Cincinnati.”
At last Halleck loses patience. Today he sends an unequivocal message to Rosecrans: “Your forces must move forward without further delay. You will daily report the movement of each corps until you cross the Tennessee River.” A similar notice is sent to Burnside. Rosecrans, incredulous, requests confirmation. The orders,” replies Halleck, “are peremptory.”
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.