- Jul 23, 2017
- Southwest Missouri
May 6, 1864 - 154 years ago - the Wilderness
"From the Rapidan to Richmond and the Spottsylvania Campaign"
Just then, an officer rode up who told us a bit of news, that made us feel more like tears than cheers, and put every fellow’s heart into his mouth. He said that just before, General Lee had come in an ace of being captured. A body of the enemy had pushed through a gap in our line and unexpectedly come right upon the old General, who was quietly sitting upon his horse. That, these fellows could with perfect ease have taken, or shot him, but that he had quietly ridden off, and the enemy not knowing who it was, made no special effort to molest him.
I wish you could have seen the appalled look that fell on the faces of the men, as they listened to this. Although the danger was past an hour ago, they were as pale and startled and shocked as if it were enacting then. The bare idea of anything happening to General Lee was enough to make a man sick, and I assure you it took all the starch out of us for a few minutes.
I don’t know how it was, but somehow, it never occurred to us that anything could happen to General Lee. Of course, we knew that he was often exposed, like the rest of us. We had seen him often enough under hot fire. And, by the way, I believe that the one only thing General Lee ever did, that the men in this army thought he ought not to do, was going under fire. We thought him perfect in motive, deed and judgment; he could do no wrong, could make no mistake, but this, - that he was too careless in the way he went about a battlefield. Three different times, during these very fights, at points of danger, he was urged to leave the spot, as it was “not the place for him.” At last he said, “I wish I knew where my place is on the battlefield; wherever I go some one tells me that is not the place for me.”
But, he would go! He wanted to see things for himself, and he wished his men to know, that he was looking after them, both seeing that they did their duty, and caring for them. And certainly, the sight of his beloved face was like the sun to his men for cheer and encouragement. Every man thought less of personal danger, and no man thought of failure after he had seen General Lee riding along the lines. Nobody will ever quite understand what that old man was to us, his soldiers! What absolute confidence we felt in him! What love and devotion we had, what enthusiastic admiration, what filial affection, we cherished for him. We loved him like a father, and thought about him as a devout old Roman thought of the God of War. Anything happen to him! It would have broken our hearts, for one thing, and, we could no more think of the “Army of Northern Virginia” without General Lee, at its head, than we could picture the day without the sun shining in the heavens.
I have been holding this piece for the new Soldiers Tales forum, and now that it is open just in time for the anniversary of this story, it really belongs in this forum. While the story reflects the near reverence many of his soldiers held for him, the story is about the man, and less so, about the men.