|"General Lee to the Rear."*
By J. WILLIAM JONES
[General Lee's affectionate regard
for those under his
When he rode among his troops
he was always greeted with enthusiastic cheers, or other manifestations
of love and admiration. I one day saw a ragged private whom he met on the
road (while riding alone, as was his frequent custom), stand with uncovered
head, as if in the presence of royalty, as he rode by. General Lee instantly
took off his own hat and treated the humbled man with all possible courtesy
and respect, and, as he rode on, the soldier enthusiastically said: "God
bless Marse "Robert"! I wish he was emperor of this country the private
soldier as to see his officers willing to share his dangers; and among
our Confederate soldiers especially, the officer who did not freely go
himself wherever he ordered his men soon lost their confidence and respect.
On the morning of May 6th, 1864,
in the Wilderness, as
While two soldiers led General Lee's horse to the rear, Gordon pout himself in front of his division, and his clear voice rang out above the roar of the battle, "Forward! Charge! and remember your promise to General Lee!" Not Napoleon's magic words to his Old Guard - "The eyes of your Emperor are upon you!" - produced a happier effect; and these brave fellows swept grandly forward, stemmed the tide, drove back five times their own numbers, retook the larger part of the works, established a new Confederate line, and converted disaster into a brilliant victory.
General Lee's horse was led back through the color company of the Fifty-second Virginia regiment, which was then commanded by Captain James Bumgardner, Jr., who was an eye-witness of the scene.
At the last "Memorial Day," June 9th, 1879, of the Augusta Association, presided over by Colonel James H. Skinner,of the old Fifty-second Virginia regiment, Captain Bumgardner made an eloquent address, from which I take the following description of the above battle picture, which I obtained from another eye-witness:
There is one incident in the history of the Army of Northern Virginia, so similar in many respects to an incident in the history of the army of Italy, which occurred during that campaign, conceded to be the most successful and splendid of all the campaigns of Napoleon, which so strikingly illustrates the character and spirit of the Confederate soldier, that I cannot forbear repeating it here, though at the risk of telling a twice told tale.
The success of the entire Italian campaign turned upon the successful passage of the bridge of Lodi. The Austrian army with its artillery were massed upon the other side, and the narrow pass must be won in the face of the concentrated fire. The French column was formed and ordered to advance. They staggered under the withering fire and retreated; but failure was ruin, the pass again retreated; yet the pass must be won; when Napoleon himself, and, by his order, Massena, Berthier, Cervoni, Dalmagne and Lannes,places themselves at the head of the column - "Follow your Generals!" was the order. They followed their Generals, passed the bridge, pierced the Austrian centre, and won the victory.
In the earliest dawn in a misty morning - the morning of the memorable 12th of May, 1864 - one of those tremedeous massed columns, which, from time to time during that frightful campaign, were hurled against the Army of Northern Virginia, dashed against our line with the fury and force of a tornado, and burst it asunder; and, through the breach, poured line after line and column after column, as wave follows wave in ocean storm.
In that moment hung suspended the fate of the Army of Northern Virginia. In the instant,just on the spot, that rushing, solid, ever-increasing mass must be met, stopped, hurled back, or all is lost. Nearly in rear of the breach were two brigades, lying along the line of their stacked arms. In a few second after the order to "fall in," they were ready for action, and General Lee rode to their front. And the picture he made, as the grand old man sat there on his horse, with his noble head bare, and looked from right to left, as if to meet each eye that flashed along the line, can never be forgotten by a man that stood there.
And every soldier along that line knew what that look meant; that it meant - "Soldiers, follow your General"; knew that work so desperate was to be done, and that interests so tremendous hung upon its successful doing, that everything, even the life of our great Chief himself, must be put to the dreadful hazard, if necessary to secure the result. They wanted no general or field marshal dismounted in their front to stimulate them to do and dare all in mortal power.
From three thousand lips at once burst the cry, "General Lee to the rear" - and not a foot would stir until he was led back through a gap in the line; and then the word was given, and the line moved forward, without pause, or waver, or break, right on up to the very face of the solid opposing mass; on, till sabres clashed and bayonets crossed; on, till the first line was driven back in confusion upon the second, and first and second upon the third; on, into the angle of the salient, where batteries, massed on right and massed on left, poured in a storm of shot and shell upon either flank; and still on, pressing back the stubborn heavy mass, covering the earth in piles with the slain, till the enemy, his organization lost in confusion, retired from the dreadful carnage, yielded back the captured works, and the crisis passed, and the field was saved.
Of the French engaged in the what Napoleon calls the terrible passage of the Bridge of Lodi, the loss was one in four. The proportion of loss in the force engaged in that charge on the 12th of May I do not know; but in one regiment - the centre regiment of one of the brigades, and if more exposed than others I know it not and know not why - the loss was one in two.
There was still another account of this scene, but agreeing with the two given above in all of the essential points, written at the time by the now Professor W. W. Smith, of Randolph-Macon College -then a beardless boy serving in the Forty-ninth Virginia regiment - which was so graphic that I will publish it so soon as i can obtain a copy.
A similar scene was enacted on the same day near the "bloody angle," where General Lee was only prevented from leading Harris' Mississippi brigade into the thickest of that terrible fight by the positive refusal of the men to go forward unless their beloved Chieftain would go to the rear.
These three incidents are all well authenticated; but Miss Emily Mason, in her biography, gives a correspondence between Hon. John Thompson Mason and General Lee, in which the former details the incident as it occurred with Gregg's Texas brigade, and asks the General about it. The reply is characteristic, and is as follows:
LEXINGTON, VA., December 7, 1865.
Hon. JOHN THOMSON MASON:
My Dear Sir - I regret that my occupations are such as to prevent me from writing at present a narrative of the event which you request in your letter of the 4th instant.
The account you give is substantially correct. General Gordon was the officer. It occurred in the battles around Spotsylvania Courthouse.
With great respect, your friend and servant,
R. E. LEE.
The world's history can produce no more splendid battle pictures than these, and yet so unconscious was General Lee of their bearing that he mingles two into one, and seems to have forgotten the other altogether.
J. WILLIAM JONES.
Taken from the Southern Historical
Society Papers, Richmond, Va
Portrait of General Lee from
Columbia Record Lp entitled