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Chapter Eleven: Grant and Lee
I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
Ulysses S. Grant
With the blessing of God, I trust we shall be able to prevent General Grant from reaching Richmond.
Robert E. Lee
No two men better exemplified the cause for which they fought than Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant. Slaveholder, patrician, scion of the First Families of Virginia, the fifty-seven-year-old Lee personified the romantic virtues of the Old South. His father was Light-Horse Harry Lee, Washington's larger-than-life cavalry commander, governor of Virginia, spendthrift, womanizer, and ultimately a fugitive from debtor's prison who spent his last years in self-imposed exile in the West Indies. His mother was Ann Carter, daughter of the Tidewater Carters, the most prominent of James River planters, and once reputed to be the wealthiest family in America. Eager to emulate his father's soldierly example, and equally desirous of sparing his mother the cost of a civilian education, Lee entered West Point in 1825 and rarely looked back. Brevetted to the engineers, he served with distinction on the staff of General Winfield Scott during the Mexican War, became the ninth superintendent of the military academy in 1852, and three years later assumed temporary command of the 2nd Cavalry, his first troop duty in twenty-six years of active service. In 1859 Lee commanded the detachment that captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry, and on March 16, 1861, he was promoted to full colonel and assigned to command the 1st Cavalry regiment. The following month, when Virginia seceded, Lee promptly resigned his commission and headed south. "I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children," he wrote a Northern friend.
Lee's decision to join the Confederacy was not easily taken. The very day he learned Virginia had left the Union, he was offered the field command of the United States Army by the War Department. "I declined the offer," Lee wrote later, "stating as candidly and as courteously as I could, that though opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States." Five days later, April 23, 1861, Lee assumed command of Virginia's military forces. Three weeks after that, with the formation of the Confederate States of America, he became a brigadier general in the Confederate army, and on August 31, 1861, was confirmed in the rank of full general.
Lee was a strikingly handsome man, above medium height and well proportioned. He had a massive torso, and sitting on a horse, his shoulders and neck made him appear larger than he actually was. According to his principal biographer, he preferred the company of women, especially pretty women, to that of men, although there was never a suggestion of scandal. Deeply religious, Lee's belief in God was personal, not denominational. He read his Bible and prayer book daily, and spent much time on his knees seeking solace and support. He did not use tobacco, hated whiskey, and rarely drank even the smallest amount of wine. Like Grant, he was blessed with great powers of endurance and a strong nervous system. Despite his innate dignity, he met people easily and had a well-developed memory for names. His mind was mathematical, directed toward problem solving rather than abstraction. He was an accomplished linguist, his reading encompassed a broader range than that of most officers, and, like many gifted commanders, he was bored by office routine. He viewed his father as a Revolutionary War hero, not a tragic bankrupt, and George Washington was his idol. Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that by 1861 Lee "had come to view duty as Washington did, to act as he thought Washington would, and even, perhaps, to emulate the grave, self-contained courtesy of the great American rebel."
During the first year of the war, Lee's star was eclipsed. His initial assignment was to reclaim western Virginia for the Confederacy — an effort that ended in failure, in part because of Lee's timidity. Like Grant at Belmont, he was still learning the art of command. Lee reluctantly ordered an autumn pullback from the Kanawha, and was castigated by the bellicose Richmond press as "Granny Lee," a theoretical desk soldier who would not fight. Lee's second assignment was to improve coastal defenses in the Carolinas and Georgia — an assignment that placed him at loggerheads with the cream of Southern soldiery. At that point in the war, it was beneath the dignity of a white man to dig fortifications, besides which a brave man would not hide behind earthworks in the first place. This unwelcome duty earned Lee a second sobriquet, "King of Spades." He returned to Richmond in early 1862 to become Jefferson Davis's military secretary and adviser, an inauspicious posting that promised an abundance of desk work and little future. "Granny Lee." "King of Spades." The war, it seemed, had passed him by.
Opportunity appeared by accident. In May 1862, McClellan had pushed to within six miles of Richmond. Confederate forces under Joseph E. Johnston held the line on the Chickahominy, and on May 31 counterattacked at Seven Pines. At the climax of the battle, Johnston was seriously wounded, and Davis turned to Lee. It was an inspired choice and also a brave one. The fact that Lee was the ranking Confederate general available scarcely offset the disappointing reputation he had acquired. More troublesome was that in thirteen months of war, Lee had not taken part in a general engagement. Justified or not, Lee was viewed as a military theoretician who was out of place in the field. Most of Johnston's subordinates expressed discomfort at being placed under "a staff officer like Lee," and Union reaction was joyous. "I prefer Lee to Johnston," McClellan wrote Lincoln. "The former is too cautious and weak under grave responsibility. Personally brave and energetic to a fault, he is yet wanting in moral firmness when pressed by heavy responsibility, and is likely to be timid and irresolute in action."
Union celebrations were short lived. Despite his unpromising start, Lee proved to be, as his friend Major General Henry Heth observed, "the most belligerent man in the Confederate army." Within a month McClellan was on the run, outmaneuvered and outfought at Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, White Oak Swamp, and Malvern Hill. In August, Lee routed Pope at Second Manassas. Twice within the next year he crossed the Potomac to carry the fight to the North, hoping to sap Yankee sentiment to continue the war and coming perilously close, both at Antietam and Gettysburg, to smashing the Union line. Twice again he defeated the Army of the Potomac in Virginia: Burnside at Fredericksburg in 1862, Hooker at Chancellorsville in 1863. The battle of the Wilderness saw Lee on the attack once more. Whether Lee's aggressiveness aided or hurt the Confederacy is an argument recently renewed by historians, but for Grant and Meade in 1864 the answer was scarcely debatable.
Ulysses Grant, the son of an Ohio tanner, a man indistinguishable in a crowd even in uniform, personified the egalitarian values of a modernizing, democratic society. Modest, rumpled, sometimes a bit seedy, Grant was an ordinary man gifted with an extraordinary talent for making war. His simple exterior cloaked a formidable intellect and a rock-solid self-confidence that was equal to any crisis on the battlefield. He had a topographer's feel for landscape, a photographic memory when it came to maps, and a command of the English language at its incisive best. "There is one striking feature of Grant's orders," said Meade's chief of staff, Major General A. A. Humphreys. "No matter how hurriedly he may write them in the field, no one ever had the slightest doubt as to their meaning, or even has to read over them a second time to understand them."
Grant had an eye for the main chance. He focused on the enemy's weakness, not his own. No matter how badly things were going, he instinctively assumed they were worse for his opponent. After three years of war, he had become a master at maneuvering large bodies of troops on the battlefield. The battle of the Wilderness was not the best example. The working relationship between him and Meade had yet to be refined, and Grant had been unfamiliar with the capacities and shortcomings of the Army of the Potomac. Nevertheless, for the first time since the war began, a Union army was moving south after fighting Lee in Virginia. With the tenacity that had become his hallmark, Grant had captured the initiative. The democratic general of a democratic fighting force, he was determined to bring the Army of Northern Virginia to its knees.
Grant's object in moving on Spotsylvania was to force Lee out of his works in the Wilderness and bring him to battle in open country. Twelve miles southeast of Wilderness Tavern, Spotsylvania was situated on a direct line between Lee and Richmond. The town itself was of little importance except that it provided an easy approach to the two rail lines of central Virginia that were vital to the supply of Lee's army. By moving quickly, Grant planned to insert the Army of the Potomac between Lee and Richmond, take up a strong defensive position, and compel the Confederates to attack on terrain of his choosing.
The key to Grant's plan was to reach Spotsylvania before Lee. Once again, however, the Army of the Potomac proved sluggish and unresponsive. Despite the fact that it had a considerable head start, a better road, and a shorter distance to travel, the Union vanguard did not reach Spotsylvania until mid-morning of May 8. By then the Confederate 1st Corps was there and waiting. Lee anticipated Grant's move, and Longstreet's veterans — commanded now by Major General Richard Anderson — had marched briskly through the night, sliced ahead of Meade's forces, and secured the town before the Federals arrived. For Grant, the result was disappointing. Rather than standing between Lee and Richmond, he once again confronted the rebel army dug in and holding the high ground. Piecemeal attacks by Union infantry failed to dislodge the Confederates, and for the rest of the day Grant and Lee brought up reinforcements and deployed their armies in line of battle.
The town of Spotsylvania lies on a ridge between the Po and Ni rivers, two of the four northern Virginia streams (the Mat, the Ta, the Po, and the Ni) that join to form the Mattaponi River. At Spotsylvania, the ridge is about three miles wide and affords a strong defensive position. Neither the Po nor the Ni is especially wide, but the streams are deep, with steep banks, and bordered by heavily wooded bottom land. Crossing them is difficult, and Lee utilized the rivers to secure his flanks. To the front, elaborate rebel breastworks stretching between the rivers dominated the ridgeline. Taking full advantage of the natural features of the terrain, the Confederates laid out their fortifications in the shape of a huge inverted U, or "hog's snout," a configuration that would also enable Lee to shift troops internally from one side to the other as the need arose. Rebel artillery was sited to be mutually supporting, and wherever practicable, an abatis of fallen timber was put in place.
Lee's eye for taking advantage of the topography had been sharpened under Scott in Mexico, and at Spotsylvania he more than demonstrated his proficiency. The man who had been ridiculed in 1862 as "King of Spades" had discovered a means of countering Grant's numerical superiority. The era of trench warfare, which had been slowly developing, came to fruition at Spotsylvania. Interlocking timber-and-dirt barriers blocked the way forward, deep traverses zigzagged to provide cover against Union artillery fire, and head logs, chocked a few inches above hard-packed soil from the trenches, afforded rebel riflemen a protected slit through which they could take deliberate aim at an approaching enemy. As Meade's chief of staff noted, Lee's fortifications during the last year of the war multiplied his defensive strength fourfold. And if the works were manned properly, "there is scarcely any measure by which to gauge the increased strength thereby gained."
On May 9, 1864, with his troops dug in and his flanks snug between the rivers, Lee waited confidently to smash the inevitable Union attack. "With the blessing of God," he wrote Jefferson Davis, "I trust we shall be able to prevent General Grant from reaching Richmond."
By late afternoon on May 8 most of Grant's troops were in place. The Union line faced south and was laid out in a rough semicircle paralleling the Confederate works. Hancock's 2nd Corps was deployed on the right, Warren and Sedgwick in the center, and Burnside on the left. From a tactical point of view, Grant was in no better position than in the Wilderness. He had moved south because he saw no advantage in assaulting the works Lee's men had thrown up in the forest, yet the Confederate fortifications at Spotsylvania were even more formidable, laid out on dominant terrain between unfordable rivers. If Grant was perturbed, he did not show it. He wanted to bring on a battle, unwelcome as the setting might be, and proceeded accordingly.
The one bright spot that afternoon was Sheridan. Thus far the Union cavalry had rendered little assistance. Meade held to the view that horse soldiers could best be used screening the army's advance and protecting slow-moving wagon trains. Sheridan wanted to mass the troopers into a compact hard-hitting body, take off deep into the Confederate rear, lure Jeb Stuart into battle, and whip the socks off him. The dispute broke into the open on May 8. Both Meade and Sheridan were endowed with fiery tempers, and as the recriminations ("highly spiced with expletives") escalated, Meade decided to take the matter to Grant. He stalked over to Grant's tent and related the conversation he had had with his cavalry commander. When he got to Sheridan's claim that he would destroy Stuart if Meade would only let him, Grant perked up. "Did Sheridan say that?" he asked, more amused than angered by the cavalryman's insubordination. Meade nodded. "Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it."
Meade took this with good grace, although by traditional standards of military discipline Grant was wrong. Rather than support the commander of the Army of the Potomac in a dispute with a subordinate, he winked at Sheridan's infraction. By now Grant was thoroughly frustrated with the Eastern army's caution, and if the obstreperous cavalry commander believed he could beat Stuart, Grant wanted him to go to it.
Early the next morning Sheridan set out with his three cavalry divisions in the direction of Richmond. Riding four abreast, the column of troopers stretched thirteen miles in length and moved at a walk — a deliberate provocation to entice Stuart to attack. Sheridan's first target was Lee's advance supply base at Beaver Dam Station, fifteen miles south. Stuart nipped at Sheridan's heels, but was unable to prevent the destruction of three weeks' rations for the Army of Northern Virginia, twenty miles of railroad track, a hundred freight cars, and half the locomotives of the Virginia Central line. After wreaking havoc in Lee's rear, Sheridan continued south. Stuart stayed abreast of the Union column but did not make a stand until the Federals reached Yellow Tavern, a point six miles north of Richmond where the rebel leader hoped to receive reinforcements from the city's garrison. The reinforcements failed to arrive, and Stuart's cavalry proved no match for Sheridan's troopers, who outnumbered them two to one and who were armed with rapid-fire carbines instead of the South's standard-issue muzzle loaders. Stuart was mortally wounded in the fighting — a devastating blow to the Southern cause — and the once invincible Confederate cavalry was routed. Sheridan pushed on, easily rode through Richmond's outer defenses, but paused before plunging into the city itself. "I could have gone in and burned and killed right and left," Sheridan wrote later, but it would have been for no permanent advantage. Tempted though he was, Little Phil led his troopers into Butler's lines on the James, rested his mounts, refitted, and rejoined the Army of the Potomac on May 24.
While Sheridan was crossing swords with the Confederate cavalry near Richmond, Grant and Lee were engaged in a titanic struggle at Spotsylvania. May 9 was a day of preparation. Lee's troops continued to improve their position, and Grant, after probing the Confederate center, dispatched Hancock to turn the rebel left. Grant was looking for a weak spot. Rather than assault the formidable Confederate works head-on, he would first try to slip the 2nd Corps around the entrenchments for a sudden descent on Lee's rear. Unfortunately, the maneuver required Hancock to cross the Po River twice, and by the time the troops were ready to attack on May 10, Lee had shifted two divisions under Jubal Early to counter the threat. Early's men had industriously dug themselves in, and with the element of surprise gone, Hancock reluctantly informed Grant that an attack would be futile.
A greater disappointment for Grant was the death of John Sedgwick. After meeting with Grant the morning of May 9, the 6th Corps commander had gone forward to the center of his line, found the troops were nervous because of scattered fire from Confederate sharpshooters, and tried to reassure them. The rebel marksmen were a good 800 yards away and Sedgwick mocked: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." The next crack of the rifle sent a bullet that struck Sedgwick in the head, killing him instantly. Uncle John, the best loved general in the Army of the Potomac, was gone. Meade wept, Lee was saddened by the death of his old friend, and Grant was incredulous. "Is he really dead?" he asked Horace Porter. "His loss to this army is greater than the loss of a whole division."
The good news on May 9 was that the war elsewhere was going as Grant hoped. A package of dispatches from Washington revealed that Sherman was moving swiftly through northwest Georgia and that Joseph E. Johnston had yet to make a stand. A report from Butler stated he had landed at City Point and was preparing to move on Petersburg. Butler said he anticipated hard fighting and asked for reinforcements. General Sigel reported from the Shenandoah valley that he had not yet encountered the enemy and would soon be moving on the railhead at Staunton, an important supply point for Lee's army. Grant had already instructed Halleck to provide reinforcements for Butler, and after digesting the messages from the field, he telegraphed Washington a brief report on the situation at Spotsylvania. "Enemy hold our front in very strong force and evince strong determination to interpose between us and Richmond to the last." As if to reassure the capital, Grant added, "I shall take no backward step." He asked Halleck to rush another five million rounds of small arms ammunition to the front and "all the infantry you can rake and scrape....We can maintain ourselves and in the end beat Lee's army, I believe."
Since Lee had withdrawn two of Early's divisions from his line to meet the threat Hancock presented on his left, Grant concluded (wrongly as it turned out) that he must have weakened his center. Still seeking a soft spot, the general in chief ordered a frontal attack for 5 P.M. on May 10, the principal thrust directed at the tip of the hog's snout — or "mule shoe," as it came to be called. As was too often the case with the Army of the Potomac, the attack was poorly coordinated. Warren's 5th Corps moved out an hour early, Hancock's corps, which had to make a forced march back from the Po, was an hour late, and instead of a weakened Confederate center, Union troops ran directly into the massed firepower of the Confederate 1st and 2nd corps. Losses were heavy all along the line, except among Burnside's troops, who once again barely got into action. At no point was the rebel line breached, except briefly in front of the 6th Corps where Colonel Emory Upton led an elite force of twelve regiments and demonstrated that Lee's line was not impregnable providing the attackers moved quickly.
A brash twenty-four-year-old West Pointer from New York who took soldiering seriously and himself even more so, Upton had no patience with incompetent brother officers or tactics that proved manifestly outdated. Strong on theory and eager to test it in the field, Upton argued that the way to breach a fortified position was to attack it on a narrow front and on a dead run, not stopping to fire or reload until the troops were over the parapets and inside the enemy's works. So persuasive was Upton that Grant decided to give his plan a try. Martin McMahon, the hard-bitten 6th Corps chief of staff, handpicked twelve regiments for the task. "Upton," said McMahon, "you are to lead those men upon the enemy works this afternoon, and if you don't carry them, you are not expected to come back." Upton replied predictably that he intended to carry the position, and then set about to organize his attack.
The point selected for Upton's assault was about midway down the west face of the mule shoe. Confederate artillery was thickest there, but Upton planned to overrun the guns before they had a chance to do much damage. He deployed his regiments three abreast, four lines deep. The first line was to charge across no-man's-land without pausing, breach the ramparts, and fan out left and right to widen the gap. The second line would plunge straight ahead to deepen the penetration, while the third and fourth lines would follow on to provide support wherever needed. The troops were instructed to cover the distance as rapidly as possible: no firing, no loading, and no pausing to give aid or succor to wounded comrades.
Grant rode out to observe the attack, found a suitable knoll, dismounted, and sat down on a fallen tree to write a dispatch. No sooner had he started writing than a shell exploded directly in front of him. Grant looked up briefly and then resumed writing. A group of wounded from the 5th Wisconsin were being carried past at the time, and one remarked: "Ulysses don't scare worth a damn."
At ten past six, Upton gave the signal to advance. Rebel gunners opened a deadly barrage but in less than four minutes men of the three leading regiments were swarming over the Confederate parapets and fighting hand-to-hand in the trenches. The second wave followed and quickly overwhelmed the defenders. The first Federal line fanned out, the second line continued forward, and the third and fourth waves came on to round up a thousand or so dazed defenders. So far, everything had worked as Upton said it would. Lee's line had been punctured and the road to Richmond seemed open. At this point, Union follow-through failed to materialize. Lee, on the spot as always, rushed reinforcements to contain the breakthrough, rebel artillery boomed all along the front, and the division assigned to support Upton crept forward cautiously and crawled back ignominiously as soon as it came under fire. Deprived of support, Upton's twelve regiments were unable to withstand the withering counterattack Lee mounted. The breakthrough had gone for naught. The men of the 6th Corps fell back to the main Union battle line, leaving a thousand or more casualties. Southern losses were similar. That evening a Confederate band assembled near the site of Upton's breakthrough and mournfully intoned "Nearer My God to Thee." A Union band responded with the "Dead March" from Saul. The rebel musicians followed with "Home Sweet Home," and in the words of an enlisted man from Georgia, "A united yell went up in concert from the men on both sides, such a one as was never heard among the hills of Spotsylvania county before or since."
Grant was annoyed that the Army of the Potomac had failed to exploit Upton's breakthrough, but the tactics of the young West Pointer had proved promising. (Upton, who had been wounded, received an on-the-spot promotion to brigadier general.) Grant decided to repeat the maneuver using a whole corps instead of simply a brigade. He would employ Hancock's 2nd Corps and hit Lee on the snout — the apex of the rebel salient, traditionally believed to be a weak point in such a formation because not as many guns could be brought to bear. Meade was instructed to slip the 2nd Corps behind Warren and Wright (who had succeeded Sedgwick) to the center of the Union line, and set the attack for 4 A.M., May 12. Burnside was to move forward simultaneously on Hancock's left, while Wright and Warren kept up the pressure on the right and far right. Grant believed the one-day delay would allow the troops time to get in place, and give Hancock an opportunity to make a thorough reconnaissance of the avenue of attack. The downside was it afforded Lee an additional day to prepare.
Wednesday, May 11, dawned cold and wet, a seasonal spring rain breaking the heat that had set in two weeks earlier. As Grant sat drinking his breakfast coffee he was joined by Congressman Elihu Washburne, who had accompanied the army since crossing the Rapidan. Washburne was returning to Washington that day, and asked Grant if he could give him a statement for President Lincoln and Mr. Stanton. "I know they would be greatly gratified if I could carry a message from you giving what encouragement you can as to the situation."
Grant hesitated. He knew any statement he sent would be released to the press, and he did not want to engender false hopes of an early victory. He also did not want to disappoint Washburne, to whom he owed just about everything. Rather than send a message to the president, Grant said he would write a letter to Halleck. "I generally communicate through him, giving the general situation, and you can take it with you."
Grant stepped inside his tent, sat down at his writing table, and jotted a brief message, cigar firmly clinched between his teeth. "We have now ended the sixth day of very heavy fighting. The result to this time is much in our favor. But our losses have been heavy as well as those of the enemy." Grant estimated his casualties at 20,000. He said Lee's army was "very shaky," and that it entrenched at every opportunity in order to protect itself. He closed with a flourish, soon to be splashed across the front pages of Northern newspapers in large headlines: "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."
It was on May 11 that Lee made one of his rare tactical errors. In the afternoon rebel scouts reported massive Federal wagon trains moving northeast toward Fredericksburg. Grant was sending his empty vehicles back for a fresh supply of food and ammunition, but Lee, after studying the reports, concluded that his opponent was going to break off the fight at Spotsylvania and pull back behind the Rappahannock to regroup. If the Union army was withdrawing, Lee wanted to take advantage of it. "We must attack those people if they retreat," he told Henry Heth. "This army cannot stand a siege. We must end this business on the battlefield, not in a fortified place." Lee thereupon ordered the artillery deployed in the mule shoe to be limbered up and withdrawn, ready to set out in pursuit of the Federals when their retreat got underway. Lee had completely misread Grant's intentions. Rather than retreating, the general in chief was deploying his forces to launch the most powerful attack thus far in the campaign. Hancock's 2nd Corps would hit Lee's line exactly at the point from which the guns were being withdrawn.
It rained incessantly throughout the night of May 11. Hancock's troops, drenched to the bone, sloshed through ankle-deep Virginia mud to their rendezvous area, a thousand yards from the flattened apex of the Confederate salient. The soldiers were dead tired, some units having marched for seven hours, but by 2 A.M. 2nd Corps was in place. Grant's plan to storm the mule shoe head-on had yet to be communicated to the rank and file, but the troops sensed that something out of the ordinary was in the offing. "Great events have a power of self-proclamation," wrote a soldier from Massachusetts. "The feeling ran through the ranks that they were near to momentous happenings."
Hancock deployed his corps two divisions abreast, two deep. Each division was tightly massed, five paces between regiments, ten between brigades. A member of Hancock's staff described the corps as a "solid rectangular mass of nearly 20,000 men to hurl upon the enemy's works as soon as it should be sufficiently light for our purpose." Some of the men dozed in the mud, most stood in ranks, swaying restlessly, wiping the rain from their face, straining to hear the command to advance. Orders were to rush forward silently, with no firing until the rebel line was breached. Surprise was the watchword.
The appointed jump-off time of 4 A.M. came and went. It was still pitch black and Hancock wanted at least a glimmer of daylight. At 4:35, when the first hint of dawn appeared, the order to advance was given and the troops moved forward — almost as many as Thomas mustered for the charge up Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga, twice as many as Pickett led at Gettysburg. "It did not require anyone to tell us what to do," an infantryman from Pennsylvania remembered. "Everyone seemed to catch the inspiration that his safety depended on getting to those works." Another wrote, "All line and formation was now lost, and the great mass of men, with a rush like a cyclone, sprang upon the entrenchments and swarmed over." Sergeant Albert Marsh of the 64th New York noted, "It was a brilliant charge, with the bayonet, hardly a gun being fired."
The Confederate defenders were not taken entirely by surprise, but they were not exactly ready for the blow either. Powder was damp, muskets misfired, and the awesome weight of the Federal mass struck fear into even the most intrepid rebel rifleman. "As far as the eye could reach," an officer from Louisiana wrote, "the field was covered with the serried ranks of the enemy, advancing in close columns to the attack." The most serious problem for the Confederates was the lack of artillery, the two dozen guns that anchored the salient having been withdrawn during the night under Lee's instructions. Major General Edward Johnson, whose division held the forward edge of the salient, became apprehensive that evening with his gun pits standing empty and urged that his cannons be returned lest Grant not be retreating. Johnson, known affectionately as "Old Allegheny," the oldest (at forty-eight) of Lee's division commanders, had no hard evidence to go on other than the distant rumble of troops on the march. Yet a sixth sense warned him of impending calamity. Lee, who continued to believe Grant was heading toward Fredericksburg, was puzzled by Johnson's request but acquiesced, ordering that the guns be returned to the salient by daylight. They arrived just as the blue tide surged over the rebel ramparts, too late to be of service, too far forward to be withdrawn. All but two of the pieces fell into Union hands, along with most of Johnson's division, which melted under the onslaught.
Grant was up well before daylight that morning, his ear cocked for sounds of Hancock's attack. The salient was more than a mile away, but soon the distant roar of cheers and the rattle of musketry drifted back. Shortly after 5 A.M. a staff officer galloped in with a report from Hancock. "Our men have the works with some hundred prisoners. Impossible to say how many; whole line moving up." On the first rider's heels came another: "Prisoners come in rapidly
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