March 3, 1865: Lee in trouble.

Robert E. Lee

New York Times


It is not unsafe, though in the absence of all specific information, to conjecture that SHERMAN may now be directing his march straight upon Raleigh by way of Cheraw and Fayetteville. We learn from the Southern papers, that he is not moving on Charlotte, and that the alarm at that place has therefore subsided. There appears no reason to doubt the truth of this statement, and the obvious inference from it is, that he has turned in a northeasterly direction, deflecting his course somewhat toward Wilmington with the double object of cutting off HARDEE’s progress toward JOHNSTON, and effecting a junction with SCHOFIELD. Moreover, this would be the shortest route to Raleigh, the State capital of North Carolina, where he would once more be planted on LEE’s only line of communication with the South, and where he could establish an excellent secondary base, having direct railroad communication with Wilmington. If he began to move in this direction last week, there can scarcely be any doubt that he has by this time picked up SCHOFIELD, and that the combined force is now moving due north, with a weight that nothing within reach of the Confederacy can stop, or even delay.

From Columbia to Fayetteville is little over one hundred miles, and the Cape Fear River is navigable from this point to Wilmington, so that SHERMAN could here replenish his stores before marching on Raleigh, a precaution which may possibly be necessary, as the intervening country is mostly covered with turpentine forests, is sparsely settled and poor, so that it might be no easy task for an army to live off it. As we said yesterday, there is no probability that his movement northward can be checked by any force JOHNSTON can get together, until he arrives within striking distance of LEE, who may possibly then make a dash at him.

But there is, after all, nothing so likely as that Richmond will be evacuated, and that LEE will confine himself to a policy of delay, avoiding a general engagement, except in a position chosen by himself and fortified. The history of the war proves, beyond question, that no General on either side can calculate on absolutely decisive victories, let his combinations be ever so successful. All our pitched battles have ended in the withdrawal of the worsted party from the field, severely mauled, perhaps, but still not so utterly disorganized as to be incapable of further resistance; and no victory has been achieved, except, perhaps, THOMAS’ at Nashville, which has not cost the victor dearly.

Now a victory which costs LEE dearly and does not accomplish the total destruction of the Union army, would be almost as disastrous for him as a defeat. His army is the only one remaining to the Confederacy, and its strength is already terribly reduced; he has no means of recruiting; and to suppose that, under these circumstances, he will resort to the reckless and dashing strategy of the early part of the war, is to suppose him grown utterly desperate and frantic — a hypothesis which is refuted by all that is known of his character, or by his career. He will, we may be sure, sacrifice everything and every place to the safety of his army. Without Richmond, the army might be kept for a while together; without the army Richmond would be of no use. The exhortations of the Richmond papers to the citizens not to be afraid — that the city will not be evacuated, and that the removal of stores, &c., is merely a precaution called for by ordinary prudence, are not worthy of much attention. It is, of course, desirable that everything like a popular panic should be avoided, inasmuch as it would be difficult to prevent its communicating itself to the army; and we know that the rebel army has never yet abandoned any city without declaring loudly before hand that they never would give it up, but would defend it to the last extremity; that the victor would only enter it over their dead bodies, and to find it a mass of smoking ruins. But there is always behind this froth a good deal of common sense, which has so far deprived the world of any of the satisfaction of witnessing any such displays of heroism, and is likely to do so to the end.

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