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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter VI - The War Continues


Hitherto the men who had fought for the North had been volunteers. They had come when the President called, willing to lay down their lives for their country. (1863) Already volunteers had been enrolled to the number of A.D. one million and a quarter. But that number had been sadly reduced by wounds, sickness, and captivity, and the Northern armies had not proved themselves strong enough to crush the rebellion. A Bill was now passed which subjected the entire male population, between eighteen and forty-five, to military duty when their service was required. Any man of suitable age could now be forced into the ranks.

The blockade of the Southern ports had effected for many months an almost complete isolation of the Confederates from time world outside. Now and then a ship, laden with arms and clothing and medicine, ran past the blockading squadron, and discharged her precious wares in a Southern port. Now and then a ship laden with cotton stole out and got safely to sea. But this perilous and scanty commerce afforded no appreciable relief to the want which had already begun to brood over this doomed people. The Government could find soldiers enough; but it could not find for them arms and clothing. The railroads could not be kept in working condition in the absence of foreign iron. Worst of all a scarcity of food began to threaten. Jefferson Davis begged his people to lay aside all thought of gain, and devote themselves to the raising of supplies for the army. Even now the army was frequently on half supply of bread. The South could look back with just pride upon a long train of brilliant victories, gained with scanty means, by her own valour and genius. But, even in this hour of triumph, it was evident that her position was desperate.

The North had not yet completely established her supremacy upon the Mississippi. Two rebel strongholds—Vicksburg and Port Hudson—had successfully resisted Federal attack, and maintained communication between the revolted provinces on either side the great river. The reduction of these was indispensable. General Grant was charged with the important enterprise, and proceeded in February to begin his work.

Grant found himself with his army on the wrong side of the city. lie was sip stream from Vicksburg, and lie could not hope to win the place by attacks on that side. Nor could lie easily convey his army and siege appliances through the swamps and lakes which stretched away behind the city. It seemed too hazardous to run his transports past the guns of Vicksburg. He attempted to cut a new channel for the river, along which lie might convey his army safely. Weeks were spent in the vain attempt, and the country, which had not yet learned to trust in Grant, became impatient of the unproductive toil. Grant, undismayed by the failure of his project, adopted a new and more hopeful scheme. He conveyed his soldiers across to the western bank of the Mississippi, and marched them southward till they were below Vicksburg. There they were ferried across the river; and then they stood within reach of the weakest side of the city. The transports were ordered to run the batteries of Vicksburg and take the chances of that enterprise.

When Grant reached the position lie sought lie had a difficult task before him. One large army held Vicksburg. Another large army was gathering for the relief of the endangered fortress. Soon Grant lay between two armies which, united, greatly outnumbered his. But he had no intention that they should unite. lie attacked them in detail. In every action he was successful. The Confederates were driven back upon the city, which was then closely invested.

For six weeks Grant pressed the siege with a fiery energy .which allowed no rest to the besieged. General Johnston was not far off, mustering an army for the relief of Vicksburg, and there was not an hour to lose. Grant kept a strict blockade 1upon the scantily-provisioned city. From his gun-boats and from his own lines he-maintained an almost ceaseless bombardment. The inhabitants crept into caves in the hill to find shelter from the intolerable fire. They slaughtered their mules for food. They patiently endured the inevitable hardships of their position; and their daily newspaper, printed on scraps of such paper as men cover their walls with, continued to the end to make light of their sufferings, and to breathe defiance against General Grant. But all was vain. On the 4th of July—the anniversary of Independence—Vicksburg was surrendered with her garrison of 23,000, men much enfeebled by hunger and fatigue.

The fall of Vicksburg was the heaviest blow which the Confederacy had yet sustained. Nearly one-half of the rebel territory lay beyond the Mississippi. That river was now firmly held by the Federals. The rebel States were cut in two, and no help could pass from one section to the other. There was deep joy in the Northern heart. The President thanked General Grant for "the almost inestimable service" which he had done the country.

But long before Grant's triumph at Vicksburg another humiliation had fallen upon the Federal arms in Virginia.

Soon after the disaster at Fredericksburg, the modest Burnside had asked to he relieved of his command. General Hooker took his place. The new chief was familiarly known to his countrymen as "fighting Joe Hooker,"—a, title which sufficiently indicated his dashing, reckless character. hooker entered on his command with high hopes. "By the blessing of God," he said to the army, "we will contribute something to the renown of our arms and the success of our cause."

After three mouths of preparation, General Hooker announced that his army was irresistible. The Northern cry was still, "On to Richmond." The dearest wish of the Northern People was to possess the rebel capital. Hooker marched southward, nothing doubting that he was to fufill the long frustrated desire of his countrymen. His confidence seemed not to he unwarranted; for lie had under his command a magnificent army, which greatly outnumbered that opposed to him. But, unhappily for hooker, the hostile forces were Ted by General Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

On the 1st of Nay, hooker was in presence of the enemy on the line of the Rappahannock. Lee was too weak to give or accept battle; but he was able to occupy Hooker with a series of sham attacks. All the while Jackson was hasting to assail his flank. His march was through the Wilderness—a wild country thick with ill-grown oaks and a dense undergrowth- where surprise was easy. Towards evening, on the 2nd, Jackson's soldiers burst upon the unexpectant Federals. The fury of the attack bore all before it. The Federal line fell back in confusion and with heavy loss.

In the twilight Jackson rode forward with his staff to examine the enemy's position. As he returned, a North Carolina regiment, seeing a party of horsemen approach, presumed it was a charge of Federal cavalry. They fired, and Jackson fell from his horse, with two bullets in his left arm and one through his right hand. They placed him on a litter to carry him from the field. One of the bearers was shot down by the enemy, and the wounded general fell heavily to the ground. The sound of musketry wakened the Federal artillery, and for some time Jackson lay helpless on ground swept by the cannon of the enemy. When his men learned the situation of their beloved commander, they rushed in and carried him from the danger.

Jackson sunk under his wounds. He bore patiently his great suffering. "If I live, it will be for the best," he said; "and if I die, it will be for the best. God knows and directs all things for the best." He died eight days after the battle, to the deep sorrow of his countrymen. He was a great soldier; and although he died fighting for an evil cause, he was a true-hearted Christian man.

During two days after Jackson fell the battle continued at Chancellorsville. Lee's superior skill in command more than compensated for his inferior numbers. He attacked Hooker, and always at the point of conflict he was found to be stronger. Hooker discovered that he must retreat, lest a worse thing should befall him. After three days' fighting lie crossed the river in a tempest of wind and rain, and along the muddy Virginian roads carried his disheartened troops back to their old positions. He had been baffled by a force certainly not more than one-half his own. The splendid military genius of Lee was perhaps never more conspicuous than in the defeat of that great army which General hooker himself regarded as invincible.


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