Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Petersburg Siege

On page 202 of George B. McClellan & Civil War History, Rowland writes that McClellan's movement up the Peninsula toward Richmond "struck fear in the Davis cabinet and in military circles in Richmond. On one occasion, Davis sat dumbstruck in a meeting when Joseph Johnston recommended that the army fall back in concentrated force to defend the capital. When Johnston wrote Lee, a military adviser at the time, asking what plans were being devised for the evacuation of Richmond, Davis called a meeting of the cabinet. During the session, Lee, with uncharacteristic emotion, pronounced that Richmond had to be defended to the last extremity. At least for him, the loss of his native state's capital spelled the beginning of the end for the Confederate experiment. With tears streaming down his face, he jolted his audience with the emphatic declaration: 'Richmond must not be given up. It shall not be given up!'" [Rowland's references for this paragraph are Steven H. Newton, Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond, 242-55; Douglas Southall freeman, Lee's Lieutenants 2:47-48; Walter F. MCaleb, ed., Memoirs of John H. Reagan, 109]

So did Grant's cornering of Lee at Petersburg comprise a siege? Yes, according to Brian Holden Reid who on page 219 of his Robert E. Lee, Icon for a nation, wrote, "The siege of Petersburg imposed an unbreakable defensive caste on Lee's strategy. . . The siege of Petersburg resembled other great sieges of the mid nineteenth century in retaining an open flank."

On page 517 of Jefferson Davis, American, William Cooper wrote, "Lee dreaded this static warfare, which he considered extremely dangerous to his cause. Even before he crossed the James, he remarked that if he were forced to withstand a siege, then his ultimate defeat would be a matter of time.

COMMENT: Did Lee's opinion about getting caught in a siege change between 1862 and 1864-5? I see no evidence of that. He still thought the result would probably be disastrous for the Confederacy, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to fight to the bitter end.

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