Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 23, 1864

May 23, 1864


Battle of the North Anna River 

May 23-26, 1864


Day 1:  In another race, Grant and Lee force-march their troops to the North Anna River, where they hope to beat the other to the crossings.  But the Rebels already have possession of the crossings, so Lee’s troops cross to the south bank of the river.  Lee is convinced that the thrust to the North Anna is a feint by Grant.  But Grant is headed for the North Anna for sure.  The west column is Warren and Wright, intending to cross at Jericho Mills.  The east column is Hancock and Burnside, intending to cross at Ox Ford or Chesterfield Bridge near Hanover Junction.  Hancock is able to overwhelm a Rebel brigade and take the bridge.  Warren crosses at Jericho Mills nearly uncontested.  A.P. Hill only places one division there, Cadmus Wilcox’s.  Warren’s troops push across, and Wilcox’s division holds them and then makes a direct attack, but Warren’s troops push them back and keep the beachhead. 

Battle of the North Anna, May 23, 1864
maps by Wikipedia

This night, Lee decides to arrange his lines in a V-shaped wedge, with the apex anchored on the river at Ox Ford, in between the two main crossing points.  Lee’s plan is to split the Union wings, and attack either one wing or the other, and reinforce from the other. 


---In a letter to his wife penned this day, Gen. George G. Meade writes about the prospects of success:

We expected [this day] to have another battle, but the enemy refuses to fight unless attacked in strong entrenchments; hence, when we moved on his flank, instead of coming out of his works and attacking us, he has fallen back from Spottsylvania Court House, and taken up a new position behind the North Anna River; in other words, performed the same operation which I did last fall, when I fell back from Culpeper, and for which I was ridiculed; that is to say, refusing to fight on my adversary’s terms. I suppose now we will have to repeat this turning operation, and continue to do so, till Lee gets into Richmond.


---The New York Times publishes an editorial that is passionate on the question of Robert E. Lee’s personal honor, despite the genealogical errors:

The Chivalry of the Rebel Gen. Lee.

“When monkeys are gods, what must the people be?” ROBERT E. LEE, Commander of the rebel army, is deemed the paragon of Southern chivalry. The rebels have always been vain of being led by one of such pure blood, such stainless honor. Justly enough by their standard. But let us put him to a civilized test.

What is his blood? His grandfather, R.H. LEE, had the taint of treason in him. Writing in 1790, on the Federal Constitution, he said, “When we [the South] attain our natural degree of population, I flatter myself that we shall have the power to do ourselves justice, with dissolving the bond which binds us together.” His great uncle, “Light-Horse HARRY,” was stigmatized by JEFFERSON, who knew him well, as “an intriguer,” “an informer,” a “miserable tergiversator.” Maj.-Gen. CHAS. LEE, of Revolutionary memory, and a kinsman, was, as one may see by IRVING’s Washington, not only a calumniator of WASHINGTON, but was a plotter to supersede him; he was tried by court-martial, after the battle of Monmouth, was found guilty of disobedience of orders, misbehavior before the enemy, and disrespect to the Commander-in-Chief; was subsequently dismissed from the service in disgrace. . . . The great uncle, ARTHUR LEE, was the libeler of FRANKLIN and JAY and JEFFERSON, and is described by TUCKER, in his life of the latter, to have been “singularly impracticable in his temper and disposition.” The uncle, HENRY LEE, was in Congress at the time of the Presidential struggle between JEFFERSON and BURR, and, according to TUCKER, advised “desperate measures” to defeat the former; . . . It would be difficult to name an old family in this country, of any historical mark, whose “blood” has been shown to be of worse quality than that of the LEES of Virginia.

But it is not family that makes the gentleman, or the reverse. It is personal honor. Has ROBERT E. LEE this? We say emphatically that he has it not. He is deficient in its very first and most essential element — truth. He is as mendacious as BEAUREGARD himself. This can be proved incontestably, and that too without going back of the history of the last fortnight. . . . LEE deliberately and flagitiously lied. . . . No Commander of the Army of the Potomac has been guilty of anything of the kind. GRANT or MEADE would die on the spot before they would degrade their own manhood, and insult the manhood of their soldiers, by such deception.

The simple truth is that the very fact of a soldier’s abandoning his flag involves an abandonment of character. LEE received his military education from the Government, had been constantly honored and trusted by the Government, and it was the extreme of perfidy in him to turn traitor against the Government. . . . It is not morally possible to perpetrate this supreme crime without wrenching and in fact breaking down the whole moral nature. Treason cannot be committed on any scale without its malignity extending to every part of the moral constitution. Fidelity lies at the very core of sound character, and when that rots, all rots.

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