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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter V - Confederate Successes


M'CLELLAN'S ignominious failure disappointed but did not dishearten the Northern people. While M'Clellan was basting away from Richmond the Governors of seventeen States assured the President of the readiness of their people to furnish troops. The President issued a call for an additional 3007000 men; and his call was promptly obeyed.

M'Clellan lay for two months, secure but inglorious, beside his gun-boats on the James river. General Lee, rightly deeming that there was little to fear from an army so feebly led, ranged northwards with a strong force and threatened Washington. The Federal troops around the capital were greatly inferior in number. President Lincoln summoned M'Clellan northwards. M'Clellan was, as usual, unready; and a small Federal army under General Pope was left to cope unaided with the enemy. Pope received a severe defeat at Manassas, and retired to the fortifications of Washington.

General Lee was strong enough now to carry the war into Northern territory. He captured Harper's Ferry, and passed into Maryland. M'Clellan was at length stimulated to action, and having carried his troops northwards, he attacked Lee at Antietam. The Northern army far outnumbered the enemy. The battle was long and bloody. When darkness sank down upon the wearied combatants no decisive advantage had been gained. M'Clellan's generals urged a renewal of the attack next morning. But this was not done, and General Lee crossed the Potomac and retired unmolested into Virginia. M'Olellan resumed his customary inactivity. The President ordered him to pursue the enemy and give battle. He even wished him to move on Richmond, which be was able to reach before Lee could possibly be there. In vain. M'Clellan could not move. His horses had sore tongues and sore backs; they were lame; they were broken down by fatigue. Lincoln had already been unduly patient. But the country would endure no more. General M'Clellan was removed from command of that army whose power he had so long been (1862) able to neutralize; and his place was taken by General Burnside.

Burnside at once moved his army southwards. It was not yet too late for a Virginian campaign. He reached the banks of the Rappahannock, beside the little town of Fredericksburg. He had to wait there for many weary days till he obtained means to cross the river. While he lay, impatient, General Lee concentrated all the forces under his command upon the heights which rose steeply from the opposite bank of the stream. He threw up earth-works and strongly intrenched his position. There he waited in calmness for the assault which he knew he could repel.

When Burnside was able to cross the Rappahannock he lost no time in making his attack. One portion of his force would strike the enemy on his right flank; the rest would push straight up the heights and assault him in front. A slight sue- cess in his flanking movement cheered General Burnside. But in the centre his troops advanced to the attack under a heavy fire of artillery which laid many brave men low. The Northern soldiers fought their way with steady courage up the height. They were superior in numbers, but the rebels fought in safety within a position which was impregnable. The battle was no fair trial of skill and courage, but a useless waste of brave lives. Burnside drew off his troops and re-crossed the Rappahannock, with a loss of 12,000 men—vainly sacrificed in the attempt to perform an impossibility.

in the West there had been no great success to counterbalance the long train of Confederate victories in the East. The year closed darkly upon the hopes of those who strove to preserve the Union. The South counted with certainty that her independence was secure. Tb a prevailing opinion of Europe regarded the enterprise which the North pursued so resolutely, as a wild impossibility. But the Northern people and Government never despaired of the Commonwealth. At the gloomiest period of the contest a Bill was passed for the construction of a railroad to the Pacific. The Homestead Act offered a welcome to immigrants in the form of a free grant of 160 acres of land to each. And the Government, as with a quiet and unburdened mind, began to enlarge and adorn its Capitol on a scale worthy of the expected greatness of the reunited country.


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