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A VISIT TO GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE.
BY LT.-COL. GEO. T. DENISON, JR.
March, 1870, being in Richmond, scenery is wild and romantic, and much
Virginia, and having in my pocket a more interesting than by the travelled road. letter of introduction to General Lee, I de- Along the whole route there was not one cided to take the opportunity of seeing the tavern or place of public entertainment, great soldier who, during four years of un- and I was obliged to get my meals at exampled difficulties and hardships, upheld farm-houses on the way. I was most hosthe fortunes of his country against over- pitably treated and was not allowed to pay whelming odds.
for the accommodation. After walking some I had watched his campaigns with the twenty-five miles from Lynchburg, I came closest care; had sympathized with his cause to the Blue Ridge Mountains, through from the beginning; had rejoiced at his vic- which the James River forces its way through tories; and had deeply regretted the sad a deep gorge. For some miles further, betermination of his military career at the fore reaching Balcony Falls, the scenery is surrender of Appomattox: and I, therefore, most striking. The mountains tower up on naturally had a strong desire to see and con- each side, while the river, narrowed in its verse with him.
channel, rushes onwards, broken into foam Finding that one could go either by rail by the rocks over which it passes. or by canal packet-boat as far as Lynch- After leaving Balcony Falls the canal folburg, I chose the latter means of transport, lows the valley of the North River, a broad as it was a method of travelling I had heard fertile tract of comparatively level land. of but had never experienced. The canal | The farms here seem in better condition follows the valley of the James River, and than nearer Richmond. Shortly after getting the scenery between Richmond and Lynch- into the valley of the North River, finding burg, although not wild, is nevertheless pic-night coming on, and being still some twelve turesque and varied. From time to time or fourteen miles from Lexington, I
exwe passed what had been fine plantations, plained my position to a gentleman who but there seemed a general air of ruin and was standing by the river side watching his desolation along the whole route. Every two little children fishing, and asked him few miles we saw the ruins of mills that had the nearest hotel or tavern. He said there been burnt during the war—their broken was none nearer than Lexington, and inwalls and chimnies, blackened and crumb- vited me to stay with him over night. I ling, giving a melancholy aspect to the cheerfully assented, and was most hospitably
and kindly entertained by my host and his The packet-boat arrived at Lynchburg amiable lady. After breakfast next mornabout six a. m., and as it did not leave there ing, I went on my way, my host sending with until seven in the evening, I determined to me his servant on horseback, and also prowalk on to Lexington, which is about forty- viding me with a mount in order to put me six miles further up in the valley of Vir- across the Buffalo Creek ford some four ginia
. I followed the tow.path of the canal miles from his house. We rode to the ford, as it skirted the river, along which the crossed it, the water being almost up to the
saddles, and after landing me safely on the versation turned upon the war, and although far side my guide took leave of me, and I General Lee was usually reticent on the tramped on again, arriving in Lexington subject, he was kind enough to converse about mid-day.
freely with me in reference to the seven Lexington is a lively little town of some days' battles before Richmond, and the 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants, is prettily situ- march of Stonewall Jackson from the Valley ated and possesses some fine buildings and to his aid at Gaines' Mill. I had published private residences. Here are established two a military work in which I referred to public schools or colleges—one the Lexing these operations, following the published ton Military Institute, being the Military histories, and had fallen into an error comInstitute of the State of Virginia; the other, mon to them all. I had sent the genWashington College, immortalized by its eral a copy of the book, and he noticing connection with Robert E. Lee, and by the error, with great courtesy took the being the scene of his last labours and trouble of explaining the operation to me. death.
As it differs somewhat from the received acThe President's house, in which the gen- counts, particularly with reference to the eral lived, is a plain square brick house, object of the Battle of Mechanicsville, I with a verandah on three sides, the hall in shall give a short resumé of a campaign the middle with rooms on each side of it. without doubt one of the most brilliant operA small picket-fence separates the lawn from ations in the history of war. the square or green upon which the build- In the spring of 1862 the Federals had ings front. To the north of the general's made preparations on an extensive scale for house are the residences of other professors, a combined advance of several armies on then the college itself and beyond it again Richmond. McClellan had arranged a plan the Military Institute.
This latter was of campaign upon what the Northern press burned during the war by the Northern called the "anaconda” principle, by which troops under General Hunter but has been the Southern armies were to be crushed out rebuilt since, and has a large attendance of of existence by the tightening of the coils students, who, in their handsome grey mil- he was winding around them. McClellan itary uniforms, are to be seen strolling about himself with the main army, with his base at the town.
Fortress Monroe and afterwards at White Shortly after arriving I delivered my letter House, was besieging Richmond from the of introduction. The general, who had re- east-his lines advanced to within sight of its ceived a letter from his nephew General spires and capitol. General McDowell was Fitzhugh Lee informing him of my intend in command of a large army round Freded visit, was expecting me, and received me ericksburg and was advancing from the north, with great kindness. He asked me, no purposing to unite his left wing with McClelboat or stage having arrived at that lan's right; while Banks was moving up the time, how I came, and seemed surprised Shenandoah Valley to unite with Fremont when he heard I had walked from Lynch- who was coming from the north-west: burg, saying “it was characteristic of the combined, they were to march on Richmond English,” mentioning that about a month from that direction.
before he had been visited by two young Stonewall Jackson
, by a series of the most
Englishmen, who had walked from Staunton brilliant operations, defeated Milroy and to Lexington, and from there on to the Nat- afterwards Banks and drove the latter and ural Bridge.
his army in utter confusion and rout across After discussing various topics the con- | the Potomac into Maryland.
a great portion of McDowell's army under north from Richmond to Hanover Junction, Shields was marching from the east against thence by the Virginia Central through his line of communications, while Fremont Gordonsville to Charlottesville, and thence was also threatening them from the west, he by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to made a series of forced marches and threw Lynchburg. It will be seen that a train himself between them at Port Republic on might leave Richmond by the southern road, the Shenandoah river, There, making a run to Lynchburg, and thence proceed by skilful use of the bridge across the river, he the northern road through Gordonsville and first defeated Fremont on the west, then Hanover Junction and come down upon rapidly marching his army across the bridge, Richmond from the north. This peculiarity routed Shields on the east and drove them was turned to the fullest advantage by Genboth by divergent roads in a northerly direc- Lee in masking his designs from the Fedtion.
erals. By these operations the armies of Banks Three brigades under Whiting, Hood, and and Fremont, as well as a portion of Lawton were unostentatiously detailed for McDowell's, were defeated and for the time duty in the valley, and despatched by the paralyzed, and McClellan alone remained South Side road to Lynchburg. Their stores with a powerful army threatening Richmond. and baggage were all ordered to be sent to
McClellan's army was so large that General the valley, and it quietly leaked out that a Lee could not hope to defeat it unless rein- large army under Jackson was about to inforced by Jackson, and at the same time it vade Maryland and attack Washington. was clear that if the Federal Government Officers from Maryland made applications to discovered that Jackson was withdrawn from be attached to this force in order that they the valley, not only would they at once be might have an opportunity of seeing their delivered from all fear for their own capital friends in the campaign which was expected which would enable them safely to throw to come off in their native State. General McDowell's army into the scale, but Banks Lee, on being applied to, transferred a numand Fremont would have had the valley ber of Marylanders to this force in order that open to them with all its stores, its roads, they might have this opportunity of seeing and its important strategical advantages, and their relatives. While he by this means dewould have been in a position to cut off the ceived his own army and his own officers as communications of Richmond with the west. to his designs, the movement of all these The importance of absolute secrecy in this troops to Lynchburg served another most withdrawal of Jackson's army is manifest, as important end. General Jackson had taken well as the necessity of deceiving the enemy a number of prisoners in the battles around into the belief that the contrary course had Port Republic, and they were sent by rail been determined upon.
from Lynchburg to Richmond at the same The means employed by Generals Lee and time as the 7,000 men under Whiting, Hood Jackson to mask their designs are well worth and Lawton were going in the opposite direcrepeating. Lynchburg is about 100 miles tion; so of course the road seemed blocked west of Richmond on the James river, and with troops moving to the valley. These there are two lines of railway by which troops prisoners on reaching Richmond immecan be moved from one place to the other diately made application for exchange or -one on the south side of the James river by for permission to return on parole. A
A the Danville road to its junction with the number of the officers were allowed to go, South Side Railroad and then by the latter and they, as might naturally be expected, line to Lynchburg; the other starting due carried the news to Washington of what they
The Confederate soldiers they a lesson which would cure his audacity had passed on the railway after arriving at When Colonel Munford received the instrucLynchburg were sent on, the first portion tions we have mentioned, he called for Mr. marching to Staunton to join Jackson, while William Gilmer, of Albemarle, a gentleman the remainder were at once pushed on by of infinite spirit and humour, who was servthe northern road through Gordonsville and ing with his young kinsman as an amateur back to Ashlands station by the very line by trooper, and gave him his cue. He silently which Jackson's army was moving on to left the village, but presently returned in very unite with Lee.
different fashion as an orderly with despatches Arrangements were made with great care from General Jackson and from Staunton. in the valley to deceive Fremont and cause With an ostentatious clanking of spurs and him to fear an attack rather than the witho sabre he ascended to Colonel Munford's drawal of the troops opposed to him. All quarters and knocked in a hurried manner. transit up and down was effectually checked 'Come in,' said the gallant colonel, and by the cavalry outposts, who pressed the what answer do you bring, orderly, from Federals so closely as to lead them to believe General Jackson ? At this word the Yankee that they were well supported. Jackson also officers in the adjoining chamber were heard ordered that, as much as possible, all com- steathily approaching the partition for the munication between the cavalry in the purpose of eavesdropping, "Why,' said Giladvance and infantry supporting should be mer, 'the general laughed at the demand for restricted in order that no rumours could be the surrender of the wounded prisoners. He spread.
had no notion of it.' 'Do you bring any Colonel Munford, who commanded the good news?' asked the colonel. "Glorious cavalry, was ordered to take every step to fos- news !' he answered, 'the road from Staunton ter the belief that the army was about to this way is chock full of soldiers, cannon and resume the offensive. Professor Dabney, waggons come to reinforce Jackson in the in his “Life of Stonewall Jackson," gives one march down the valley. There is General amusing instance of Col. Munford's measures Whiting, General Hood, General Lawton to deceive the enemy:
and General I-don't-know-who. I never saw “As the advance of the Confederates so many soldiers and cannon together in my pressed towards Fremont they met, twelve life. People say there are thirty thousand miles north of Harrisonburg, a Federal flag of them. After a few such questions and of truce in the hands of a major followed by answers, framed for the edification of the a 'long train of surgeons and ambulances the eavesdroppers, Colonel Munford disbringing a demand for the release of their missed him and he descended to fill the hotel wounded men. Colonel Munford had re- and the town with his glorious news.
The quired the train to pause at his outposts, whole place was speedily in a blaze of joy and had brought the major with one surgeon and excitement. Citizens came to offer to his quarters at Harrisonburg where he supplies for the approaching hosts, and bulentertained them with military courtesy until locks, flour and bacon were about to be coltheir request was answered by the command lected for them in delighted haste. After ing general. He found them full of boasts leaving his guests to digest their contraband and arrogance; they said that the answer to news for several hours Colonel Munford at their flag was exceedingly unimportant, be-length sent for them and told them that he cause Fremont and Shields were about to had a reply from his general respectfully effect a junction, when they would recover declining to accede to their request; so that by force all they had lost and teach Jackson nothing now remained but to send them