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IX.

THE WILDERNESS.

I.

PRELUDE TO THE WILDERNESS.

WHEN in the month of May, 1864, vernal grasses and flowers came once more to festoon the graves in battle-fields over which the contending hosts of North and South had wrestled for three years, the armies upstarting along all the front of war prepared to close again in deadly combat. It was the opening of the spring campaign of 1864; but it was more than the opening of a campaign, for the circumstances were such as to mark this as a new epoch in the history of the war.

This characteristic it owed first of all to the clearly-defined aspect of the military situation, which for the first time showed an entire unity both in the objectives to be attained by the Union armies and in the organization of the war itself.

When hostilities began between the North and South, the theatre was so vast, the circumstances were so novel, and the country so green in war, that the conduct of military operations was of necessity almost wholly experimental. The North undertook to subdue rebellion throughout a country continental in its dimensions, stretching from the Potomac to the Rio Grande-a country in which the whole population was in arms and animated by the bitterest hostility. With

out military traditions, without a military establishment, without a military leader of genius, the North, strong in the faith of the Union, accepted the gage of war. It formed armies. It sent them forth to battle. Of course, the conduct of the war was crude. There were three or four different armies in Virginia, three or four between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi-eight or ten in all where there ought to have been but three. These armies were placed frequently on faulty or indecisive lines. And there was no unity in their action. Nevertheless these armies went to work. They began "hammering." And at the end of three years they had produced results somewhat notable in their way. Let us recall briefly what these were, both as regards the East and the West, to the end that we may the better realize both what remained to be done and the change now introduced into the conduct of the war.

In considering the operations in Virginia there are two facts that should be borne in mind. First, that the Army of the Potomac had there not only to combat the main army of the South, but an army that by means of the interior lines held by the enemy, might readily receive great accessions of force from the western zone. "To the Confederates," as I have elsewhere said, "Virginia bore the character of a fortress thrust forward on the flank of the theatre of war, and such was their estimate of its importance, that they were always ready to make almost any sacrifice elsewhere to insure its tenure." Secondly, that the Army of the Potomac, in addition to its offensive charge, was the custodian of the National Capital-a duty that governed all strategic combinations in Virginia. Having thus at once to make head against the most formidable, the best disciplined, and the most ably commanded army of the Confederacy, and to guard Washington, which, while a glittering prize in the eyes of the enemy, was also most unfortunately located on an exposed frontier, it is not wonderful that the Army of the Potomac

had not yet been able to attain its goal-the capture of Richmond. From the fact that each army had a point of the highest importance to cover and an objective of the highest importance to gain, there resulted from the alternate aggressive movements of these two mighty and closely-matched rivals an ebb and flow, a flux and reflux of battle and bloodshed that rarely burst beyond the boundaries of the Potomac and the James. The history of the three years' operations up to this period is a history of the collisions of these two powerful bodies in combats wherein victory adhered now to the one and now to the other of the opposing standards. If the one side could claim a Manassas, a Fredericksburg, a Chancellorsville, the other could claim a Malvern, an Antietam, a Gettysburg. But it is the glory of the Army of the Potomac, that through all these weary three years it had kept good its trust, that it had preserved the Capital, that while receiving terrible blows it had not failed to inflict the like, and that it had already put hors de combat alone a hundred thousand of the bravest and best soldiers of the Confederacy. The opening of the spring campaign found it lying on the north bank of the Rapidan—its adversary being ensconced in works on the opposite side.

Meanwhile, the deeds of the armies of the west throughout these three years claim a more brilliant page.

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It is one of the well-known generalizations of the war, that while victory so long shunned in Virginia the Union standards, she crowned them through the West with constant laurels. This inequality of fortune is partly explained by the diversity of the obstacles to be overcome, East and West, and of the proportionate means for overcoming them: for the relative skill, strength, advantage of position, and what not, in the combatants, were very different on the two fields. But, nevertheless, as if to proclaim the dominion of fate, even where at the West energy and address were replaced by carelessness and blundering, there too the star of success shone

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fixed in the ascendant; and whatever there lacked of sound dispositions or right use of resources, seemed made up by pure good fortune and the prestige of past triumphs more legitimately won. No Union negligences or errors, however great, would as at the East, inure to permanent disadvantage. Confederate offensive campaigns met, when at the very summit of success, unexpected and improbable checks, ruining the enterprise as in Sydney Johnston's invasion begun and ended at Shiloh, and in Bragg's elaborate movement towards Louisville. Confederate defensive campaigns were suddenly turned to disasters, near the hour fixed for the saving contrecoup-as by Pemberton's operations at Vicksburg and the substitution of Hood for Johnston at the Chattahoochie. A rare cloud appeared on the Union path only to magically furl off, leaving at last the whole retrospect so luminous with victory from bound to goal, that one would say Fortune had been suborned to march under the Union banners.

The profit of these western successes was not confined to that region, but more than once roused the Union from the almost fatal melancholy into which the ruinous havoc repeated upon its eastern armies was plunging it. The governmental archives might, if ever penetrated, disclose the burden of gloom which western victories opportunely relieved; for often, while the cause was sinking in distress in the East, a blast from the West, blowing fresh and strong, gave it lease of life again. Beyond the Alleghanies, in an experience unknown at the East, each fought-out campaign led straight to the campaign succeeding: and a surplus of prestige from past victory gave bright augury of victory to come; till the very momentum of the Union columns rolling across their hundred-leagued campaigning grounds, was by friend and foc alike pronounced resistless. The Union triumphs at Mill Spring, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, in the spring of 1862, were followed by gradually unclinching the Mississippi forts from the sullen grip of the South, till Columbus, Island Ten, Fort Pillow and

Memphis being surrendered, and two elaborate lines of valley defence successively forced, the great Mobile highway lay open to Vicksburg. Bragg's angry lunge, in autumn, to win back lost fortunes, ended, after Murfreesboro', in a long recoil to Georgia, and in the abandonment of the north central zone, with all its cities, its arms-bearing people and its supplies. Onward with the new year 1863, moved the Union banners. Rosecrans scaled the Alleghanies toward Chattanooga, while Grant followed the guidance of the Mississippi, whose embouchure had been already won by the great riverfight below New Orleans. Midsummer was crowned with the conquest of Vicksburg; and when Port Hudson succumbed, in close corollary, the famous Mississippi line was fought out, and its record closed up in the war's annals. In the latter days of September, the Rosecrans column, winding its way far up the Alleghanies, aiming at Chattanooga, seized it and therewith the key of the whole mountain system. It only remained now for Grant, as commander of the whole Valley Department, to set a seal on the year by securing what was gained; and this he did (November, 1863,) in a great mountain battle, dashing Bragg from his seat on the heights which engirdled Chattanooga, and forcing off, in the same blow, Longstreet's eager grasp from Knoxville: then the Confederate hosts fell back into Georgia.

Such then was the result, territorially considered, of the three years of war. It had reduced the belligerent force of the Confederacy to two armies - the one under Johnston in Georgia, the other under Lee in Virginia. And in reducing the area of the rebellion it practically limited the functions of the Union force to the destruction of these two armies, which were the sole material support of the Confederacy. The anarchic elements of the war had been reduced to order and organic form, and if much yet remained to be done, there was at least a clear unity in the objectives to be attained.

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