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FTER the battle of Fredericksburg, General Burnside
still believed that the enemy's position could be carried, or, at all events, successfully turned. The weather continued favorable, and the idea of going into winter quarters was unwelcome to an active mind. He immediately made preparations for another movement. A plan proposed by General Averill for making an extensive cavalry raid around the enemy's lines, destroying his communications and exciting alarm in the rebel capital was approved with some modifications. The army was to assist in the execution of the plan by a demonstration across the river, by which it was to withdraw the attention of the enemy from General Averill's movements sufficiently to give good promise of success to the operations in his
General Averill's plan contemplated a movement across the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford, and the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford. Thence, according to order, the troops were to make a
etour around the enemy's position, with detached parties to cut the telegraph wires between Gordonsville and Culpepper Court House on one side and those between Louisa Court House and Hanover Junction upon the other side. The main body was to “pass down near Louisa Court House to Cartersville or Goochland Court House, cross the James river, destroy one or more locks on the canal which runs along the left bank of the James river, destroy the bridges across the Appomattox river and Flat Creek, destroy whatever bridges might be found on the Petersburg and Lynchburg railroad, and the
bridges across the Nottoway river and Stony Creek on the Petersburg and Weldon railroad."*
General Averill hoped to make a junction with General Peck at Suffolk, who was to be instructed to send out strong reconnoitering parties to the Blackwater river. Two signal officers were to accompany General Averill, two were to be sent to General Peck. A code of rocket signals had been prepared, by which communications could be interchanged over a distance of twenty miles. A picked force was organized, consisting of five hundred volunteer and five hundred regular cavalry, of the best men and most trustworthy officers, with four pieces of light horse artillery and an engineer party furnished with
proper tools and all the materials for destroying the bridges and blowing up the stone structures.” The party was to go without baggage, or wagons, or pack animals, or anything to encumber the expedition. A division of infantry and an extra brigade with a battery and a few hundred additional cavalry were placed at General Averill's disposal to go as far as Morrisville, to be distributed along the upper fords of the Rappahannock. The enemy's cavalry were at the time attempting a raid
own lines near Fairfax Court House, and it was hoped that this extra force might cut off and capture the raiding party or disconcert its plans. In the meanwhile, General Burnside was to engage the enemy's attention by making a feint of attack upon his lines in front or flank. The officers and men in the cavalry force were eager to go upon
expedition, and burned for the opportunity of giving some' eclat to their branch of the service. On the 26th of December, General Burnside ordered
preparations for a movement to be made, intending to cross the river at a point called Hayfield, some six or seven miles below Fredericksburg, and seize the railroad in the enemy's rear. On the 30th the cavalry started, and on the next day the head of the column had arrived near Kelly's Ford, intending to cross and en
*Order to General Averill.
ter upon the real work of the expedition. Every thing was promising a great success. The infantry had well performed its work and the additional cavalry had had a successful skirmish with the enemy at Warrenton. The army was ready to coöperate.
A very serious and unexpected interruption took place, which changed the entire aspect of affairs. On the afternoon of the 30th, a despatch was received at headquarters from the President, in the following words: “I have good reason for saying that you must not make a general movement without letting me know of it.” General Burnside was surprised by such a communication. What could it mean? It was supposed that the President had some information which rendered any movement impracticable, and accordingly orders were sent to General Averill to halt his column and await further directions. On the night of the 31st, General Burnside went to Washington, and on the following day had several long interviews with the President, Mr. Stanton and General Halleck, in which were discussed the various military questions which the battle of Fredericksburg had raised. To his great astonishment, he ascertained that two officers of his army, having solicited leave of absence for a few days, ostensibly on private business, had visited the President, and, by exaggerated statements of the condition of the army, of the magnitude of the preparations, and the feeling of the officers and men towards General Burnside, had induced him to believe that a movement was going on which would result in a second battle, more disastrous than the first had been. The President was alarmed, and under the influence of the erroneous information which had been given him, was induced to send the despatch above referred to. General Burnside returned to his camp early in the morning of January 20, 1863. He found that the enemy's raid had been frustrated and had come to nought, mainly by the judicious management of General Stahl, commanding at Fairfax Court House. But he also found that the plan of his own movement had, by some means, become known to the
enemy. Nothing remained but to recall General Averill and to give up the thought of active operations for the time. The troops were reëstablished in camp. Thus the third attempt of General Burnside to use his army against the enemy was brought to failure by the intrigue of his subordinate officers. That the President did not dismiss those officers on the spot, was due more to his humanity of heart than to their desert!
The incidents above related gave rise to the tentler of his resignation on the part of General Burnside, and to some correspondence between him and the President and General Halleck. On the 5th, General Burnside wrote to Mr. Lincoln : “ Since my return to the army, I have become more than ever convinced that the general officers of this command are almost unanimously opposed to another crossing of the river ; but I am still of the opinion that the crossing should be attempted, and I have accordingly issued orders to the engineers and artillery to prepare for it. There is much hazard in it, as there always is in the majority of military movements, and I cannot begin the movement without giving you notice of it, particularly as I know so little of the effect that it may have upon other movements of distant armies.
“ The influence of your telegraph the other day is still upon me, and has impressed me with the idea that there are many parts of the problem which influence you that are not known to me.
“In order to relieve you from all embarrassment in my case, I inclose with this my resignation of my commission as Major General of Volunteers, which you can have accepted if my movement is not in accordance with the views of yourself and your military advisers.
“ I have taken the liberty to write to you personally upon this subject, because it was necessary, as I learn from General Halleck, for you to approve of my general plan, written at Warrenton, before I could commence the movement, and I think it is quite as necessary that you should know of the important movement I am now about to make ; particularly as it
will have to be made in opposition to the views of nearly all my general officers, and after the receipt of a despatch from you informing me of the opinion of some of them who have
“ In conversation with you on New Year's morning, I was led to express some opinions which I afterwards felt it my duty to place on paper, and to express them verbally to the gentlemen of whom we were speaking, which I did in your presence after handing you the letter.
“I beg leave to say that my resignation is not sent in any spirit of insubordination, but, as I before said, simply to relieve you from any embarrassment in changing commanders, where lack of confidence may have rendered it necessary.
On the same day, General Burnside wrote to General Halleck: “I have decided to move the army across the river again, and have accordingly given the directions to the engineers and artillery to make the necessary preparations to effect the crossing.
“Since I last saw you, it has become more apparent that the movement must be made almost entirely upon my own responsibility, so far as this army is concerned, and I do not ask you to assume any responsibility in reference to the mode or place of crossing, but it seems to me that, in making so hazardous a movement, I should receive some general directions from you as to the advisability of crossing at some point, as you are necessarily well informed of the effect at this time upon other parts of the army of a success or a repulse. You will readily see that the responsibility of crossing without the knowledge of this effect, and against the opinion of nearly all the general officers, involves a greater responsibility than an officer situated as I am ought to incur.
“In view of the President's telegraph to me the other day, and with its influence still upon me, I have written to him on this subject, and enclosed to him my resignation, directed to the Adjutant General, to be accepted in case it is not deemed advisable for me to cross the river. I send this resignation,