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Gathering of the Eagles by Clyde Heron. Historical American Civil art print of General Lee shown with confederate General Joseph E Johnson, Stonewall Jackson before Fredericksburg.
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Text for the above print as shown on the certificate:
Mr. Lincoln's "Prince of Procrastination," General George McClellan, had finally been prodded into action. On March 17th, 1862, one day ahead of the deadline imposed by the President, the first of McClellan's divisions embarked at Alexandria. "The worst is over," the general assured his superiors by letter. "Rely upon it that I will carry this thing through handsomely."
His optimism was short-lived. McClellan's peninsula campaign did not go nearly as smoothly as he had anticipated. It was May 24th before his forces occupied the village of Mechanicsville, still some five miles from Richmond. Here his progress was stalled because the Chickahominy River was on the rise and he had to put his men to work building no fewer than eleven bridges across the river in a twelve mile stretch south to Bottom's bridge. Then to add to his problems, he received word that General McDowell's 40,000 men would not be at his disposal as had been the plan.
Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston learned that McDowell was returning to Fredericksburg on the night of May 23rd, a move he knew he had precipitated by an event at Front Royal on May 23rd. A surprise attack by Stonewall Jackson upon General Nathanial Banks had set his main army to flight, half destroyed his wagon train, and in a full scale battle at Winchester, put the Federals into panic.
Now that Johnston did not have to worry about McDowell, he would attack the Federals south of the Chickahominy and overwhelm their left wing before it could be reinforced from across the river. The battle of Seven Pines began at 1.00pm on May 31st, when D. H. Hills division launched a massive attack, overrunning Casey's Federal troops. The battle raged on until dusk and Johnston concluded that the battle would have to continue the next day.
At about 7.00pm he rode toward the front with his young orderly and a staff colonel, seeing to the disposition of his troops. As he neared the edge of the battlefield, Johnston saw the officer duck his head as an enemy shell whistled by, Johnston smiled and said, "Colonel there is no use of dodging, when you hear them they have passed." Just then a Federal musket ball struck Johnston in the right shoulder. A moment later a heavy fragment of shell slammed into the general's chest, knocking him to the ground unconscious.
President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee greeted Johnston as he was moved to the rear. The severely wounded general had regained consciousness but was growing weaker and was taken from the field.
Davis pressed General Gustavus Smith, the ranking officer, for his plans since he would logically inherit command. Smith's hesitant replies did not suit Davis, and his mention of pulling back even closer to Richmond was unacceptable.
No one was near Lee and Davis as they rode slowly through the swarm of vehicles carrying the wounded into Richmond - not close enough to hear Davis' words which placed Lee in command; however, his most devoted biographer was to render them: "General Lee, I shall assign you to the command of this army. Make your preparations as soon as you reach your quarters. I shall send you the order when you get to Richmond."
Major Generals James Longstreet, A.P. Hill and D.H. Hill were already engaged in the theatre of operations, but before calling these commanders to council, Lee would add one more name to the list. He sent insistent dispatches to Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson urging him to hurry to Richmond. Lee put the order gently, "If you agree," but the compelling haste was clear in every line. Jackson was to conceal his movements and come as swiftly as possible to the capital. It was an order to delight Jackson; he might have written it himself.
At almost the same moment Jackson read Lee's order, General Banks was telegraphing Washington that Old Jack was advancing on him in overwhelming force. Jackson's answer to Lee's summons was not to be an easy task, a fifty-two mile ride in fourteen hours.
It was Sunday, June 27th, and Jackson chose to delay the start of his journey until 1.00am so that he would not break the Sabbath. It would be mid-afternoon before he arrived at Lee's headquarters in the Dabb's farmhouse near Richmond. He found Lee at work and waited for him in the yard, D.H. Hill arrived and was most surprised to find his newly-famous brother-in-law present for the meeting, since he had only yesterday been far down the valley confronting Banks. Yet there he was.
Things were bad, the barbed-tongued Hill told Jackson. His forces were being crushed by McClellan's huge army. There was little food, scarce supplies, and even their cannon were untrustworthy.
Jackson made little reply to his outspoken friend as they went inside. They were soon joined by Longstreet and H.P. Hill. Longstreet, a Union captain when the war came, was squat, stubborn, and becoming deaf at the age of 41. Red-haired A.P. Hill was hot-tempered, but brilliant and had yet to be tested in the field.
Lee began to explain the plan of assault on the Yankees. It was a bold plan, born of desperation in an effort to stave off a siege of Richmond. Lee was but 55. He had held command for just three weeks and had fought no battle beyond giving direction in the final hours of the inconclusive action at Seven Pines. Although there was a gentle authority in his voice, his manner of offering his plan bordered on humility. He spoke as became the man who had lately written on taken command from the wounded Johnston, "I wish his mantle had fallen on an abler man, or that I were able to drive our enemies back to their homes. I have no ambition and no desire to but the attainment of this object, and therefore only wish for its accomplishment by him that can do it most speedily and thoroughly."
Within the next four days, 85,000 Confederates faced 105,000 Bluecoats and emerged triumphant. Union General George McClellan not only lost men and supplies, he lost the initiative. Lee had his first victory.
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