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of a powerful army, was hot in pursuit, and on September 17 the two armies met at Antietam, where one of the most desperate battles of the war was fought. Both sides claimed victory, but Lee retreated to Virginia, McClellan moving very deliberately in pursuit.
In the months that followed the authorities at Washington seemed at their wits' ends where to find a general who could be trusted to face the redoubtable Lee. Grant was winning battles in the West, but he could not be spared from there. McClellan had shown that he could fight, but between battles he took his time too decidedly to please Lincoln and Stanton, and was now removed, General Burnside being chosen in his place. Burnside knew that he had been put at the head of the army to fight, and lost no time in doing so. He attacked Lee in his strong intrenchments at Fredericksburg on December 13, and was thoroughly punished for his temerity, being driven back with terrible loss in killed and wounded. General Hooker was selected to succeed him and next May attacked Lee in force at Chancellorsville, in the Wilderness region. He, too, was soundly beaten and forced to retreat with heavy loss.
The drama of Lee's career now shifts to Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, which State he invaded with his victorious veterans shortly after Hooker's repulse. Here the Union army faced him under Meade, a third new general, and the great three days' battle of July 1-3 took place. Lee fought like one struggling for life or death, but the strength of Meade's position enabled him to withstand the desperate assaults of his antagonist, and on the 4th Lee began his retreat. Both sides had lost heavily, but the North had far greater recuperative powers than the South and it
has ever since been recognized that Gettysburg was the turning point in the war. Until then the tide had been rising. Then it began to recede.
Lee had hitherto been fighting eagerly on the offensive, and the brilliancy of his marches and suddenness of his blows had attracted the attention and admiration of the world. It was felt that a new great soldier had come, one with much of the Napoleonic dash and fervor. In the spring of 1864 the scene changed. Grant came up from his victories in the South and pitted himself against the great Southern commander, giant against giant. Thenceforth Lee's warfare was a defensive one, but he showed himself as brilliant in this as in the offensive, and continued to win admiration from the world.
“General Lee is a phenomenon," said "Stonewall” Jackson. “ He is the only man I would follow blindfold.”
This praise was not misplaced. Lee had shown himself able in the first two years of the war, and only the fact that he was attempting an impossible task stood in the way of far greater success. In the final years he was to show himself as able, in meeting the blows of Grant, the hammerer. It was now a question of endurance, not of brilliant movements and stunning strokes. Lee's army had lost heavily and it was impossible to bring it back to its strength. Grant had a vast population to draw from and unlimited sources of food and supplies. This last year was a death struggle. Yet the devotion of the Confederate veterans to their commander and their confidence in his skill and genius enabled them to bear up against Grant's stern and sturdy campaign.
On May 5, 1864, the struggle between the two giants of the war began, in that rugged Wilderness where Hooker had been beaten a year before. For two days the battle was kept up, then Grant, finding that Lee could not be driven from his hold, cut loose himself and made a flank march towards Richmond. Grant is not a retreating 'man,” said Lee. He must face him or all would be lost.
He did face him, sternly and unyieldingly, at Spottsylvania; again at North Anna; still again at Cold Harbor, where Grant hurled his columns to death and destruction against Lee's inflexible lines. Grant had learned by this time that Lee was a tower of strength in defence. His lines simply could not be broken. Nothing remained but a renewal of the flank movement, and the Union armies swung across the James River and marched in force upon Petersburg. As before, Lee was there to meet them, this time effectively, for the policy of the flank movement had reached its limit. It was now brought to a question of steady pounding, and this for the greater part of a year Grant kept up.
Vast and mighty were the earthworks that rose between Richmond and Petersburg, with an army behind and an army in front of them, hammering away incessantly through summer, autumn, and winter, until spring came again. But the hammering was steadily wearing out Lee's strength. His army decreased; his food supplies fell off; at length came the day when the long line could be held no longer and Richmond had to be abandoned. Then the swift Union cavalry swept round in front of the starving veterans of the Confederacy, the army was surrounded and nothing but surrender remained. It was a heart-breaking day to General Lee when he had to lay down his arms at
Appomattox to the conqueror, on that April 9, 1865, which witnessed the fall of the Confederacy after its strenuous four years' struggle.
This is a very brief statement of the record of Robert E. Lee in the Civil War. History tells the tale of his life during that period. All we need say further is that he proved himself a soldier of extraordinary ability, a daring, impulsive, energetic man, great alike in attack and in defence, utterly unlike Grant in his methods and character. Only when these two men came together was the fate of the Confederacy decided. Had they been equal in resources it is impossible to tell which would have won. Grant with his bulldog tenacity, Lee with his brilliancy in attack, his unyieldingness in defence. He was overmatched, and he fell. That is the utmost that can now be said.
General Lee was a man of kindly and generous nature. Many tales are told, revealing qualities which endeared him to all who knew him. Once, while inspecting some batteries near the Union lines, he ordered the soldiers back out of danger. He had to be there; they were not needed. On his way back he stopped, despite the danger, to pick up a young sparrow that had fallen from the nest and put it back into its home. After Chancellorsville, when loudly cheered by his men, he refused to take credit for the victory; he said it belonged to Jackson, who had fallen. Many anecdotes have been told showing his kindliness of heart and the generosity of his nature, and he is everywhere looked upon as a pure-minded, warmhearted, self-sacrificing man, devoted to what he deemed his duty, and one of the great soldiers of modern times.
The war over, General Lee sought a quiet, modest home in Powhatan County, Virginia, and lived there in simple retirement with his family. Many positions which would have given him liberal salary with little labor were offered him, but he declined them all. He wanted no money which he did not earn. Finally he accepted the presidency of Washington College, at Lexington, Virginia, believing that he could there make himself of use and influence. His task was a difficult one, but he managed it ably and conscientiously. His reputation brought hosts of students to the college, which prospered greatly under his control.
He did not govern the college like an army, but was kind and indulgent in his treatment of the students and won their respect and affection as he had formerly done that of his soldiers. His appeal to their higher sentiments brought from them the best that was in them, they being ashamed to do less than their best when they felt that General Lee's eye was upon them.
Here he died October 12, 1870, five years after the war which had given him world-wide fame. Upon his death the name of the college was changed to Washington and Lee University, as a monument to the great soldier who had served as its president. Since those days the bitterness of the Civil War feeling has passed away, and men now give General Lee credit for honor and integrity in the feelings that made him oppose the Union, however much they may feel that he took a narrow and sectional view of his duty to his country.