Open main menu

A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America/Introduction

< A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America

CAMPAIGN IN VIRGINIA,

FROM THE

RAPIDAN TO JAMES RIVER.




INTRODUCTION.

 

On the 3rd of May, 1864, the positions of the Confederate Army under General Lee, and the Federal Army under Lieutenant-General Grant, in Virginia, were as follows: General Lee held the southern bank of the Rapidan River, in Orange county, with his right resting near the mouth of Mine Run, and his left extending to Liberty Mills on the road from Gordonsville (via Madison Court House) to the Shenandoah Valley; while the crossings of the river on the right, and the roads on the left were watched by cavalry. Ewell's corps was on the right, Hill's on the left, and two divisions of Longstreet's corps were encamped in the rear, near Gordonsville. Grant's army (composed of the Army of the Potomac under Meade, and the 9th corps under Burnside,) occupied the north banks of the Rapidan and Robertson rivers; the main body being encamped in Culpeper county, and on the Rappahannock River.

I am satisfied that General Lee's army did not exceed 50,000 effective men of all arms. The report of the Federal Secretary of War, Stanton, shows that the "available force present for duty, May 1st, 1864," in Grant's army, was 141,166, to-wit: In the Army of the Potomac 120,386, and in the 9th corps 20,780. The draft in the United States was being energetically enforced, and volunteering had been greatly stimulated by high bounties. The North-Western States had tendered large bodies of troops to serve one hundred days, in order to relieve other troops on garrison and local duty, and this enabled Grant to put in the field a large number of troops which had been employed on that kind of duty. It was known that he was receiving heavy reinforcements up to the very time of his movement on the 4th of May, and afterwards; so that the statement of his force on the 1st of May, by Stanton, does not cover the whole force with which he commenced the campaign. Moreover, Secretary Stanton's report shows that there were, in the Department of Washington and the Middle Department. 47,751 available men for duty, the chief part of which, he says, was called to the front after the campaign began, "in order to repair the losses of the Army of the Potomac;" and Grant says that, at Spotsylvania Court House, "the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th. and 18th [of May,] were consumed in manœuvering and awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from Washington." His army, therefore, must have numbered very nearly, if not quite, 200,000 men, before a junction was effected with Butler.

On the 4th of May, it was discovered that Grant's Army was moving towards Germanna Ford on the Rapidan, which was ten or twelve miles from our right. This movement had begun on the night of the 3rd, and the enemy succeeded in seizing the ford, and effecting a crossing, as the river was guarded at that point by only a small cavalry picket. The direct road from Germanna Ford to Richmond passes by Spotsylvania Court House, and when Grant had effected his crossing, he was nearer to Richmond than General Lee was. From Orange Court House, near which were General Lee's headquarters, there are two nearly parallel roads running eastwardly to Fredericksburg—the one which is nearest to the river being called "The old Stone Pike," and the other "The Plank Road." The road from Germanna Ford to Spotsylvania Court House, crosses the old Stone Pike at the "Old Wilderness Tavern," and two or three miles further on, it crosses the Plank Road.

As soon as it was ascertained that Grant's movement was a serious one, preparations were made to meet him, and the troops of General Lee's Army were put in motion—Ewell's corps moving on the old Stone Pike, and Hill's corps on the Plank Road; into which latter road Longstreet's force also came, from his camp near Gordonsville.

Ewell's corps, to which my division belonged, crossed Mine Run, and encamped at Locust Grove, four miles beyond, on the afternoon of the 4th. When the rest of the corps moved, my division and Ramseur's brigade of Rodes' division were left to watch the fords of the Rapidan, until relieved by cavalry. As soon as this was done, I moved to the position occupied by the rest of the corps, carrying Ramseur with me.

Ewell's corps contained three divisions of infantry, to-wit: Johnson's, Rodes', and my own (Early's). At this time, one of my brigades (Hoke's) was absent, having been with Hoke in North Carolina; and I had only three present, to wit: Hays', Pegram's, and Gordon's. One of Rodes' brigades (R. D. Johnston's) was at Hanover Junction. I had about 4,000 muskets for duty; Johnson about the same number; and Rodes (including Johnston's brigade) about 6,000.