The supplies of the army were received by the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad from the capital, and from the depots on the Virginia Central. Lee had been assiduous in re-organizing his forces, in collecting an abundance of supplies, in checking desertions, and in procuring re-enforcements. And the vigor with which the conscription was pushed swelled his strength so materially that in three months Jackson’s corps alone shows an increase from a force of twenty-five thousand up to thirty-three thousand men “for duty.” The staff of the army was created a separate organization. The cavalry had already been successfully consolidated. And now the artillery was embodied in a special organization under Gen. Pendleton, and an engineer regiment put on foot.
The morale of the Army of Northern Virginia could not be finer. The forced retreat of McClellan from before Richmond; the driving of Pope from his vaunted positions in its front; the Maryland campaign with its deliberate withdrawal from an army of twice its strength; finally the bloody check to Burnside,—had furnished a succession of triumphs which would lend any troops self-confidence and high courage. But, in addition to all this, the average of the men of this army were older and more hardened soldiers than those of the Army of the Potomac. The early conscription acts of the Confederacy had made it difficult for men once inured to the steady bearing and rough life of the soldier, and to the hard fare of camp-life, to withdraw from the ranks.
In Hooker’s testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War occurs this tribute to the Confederate infantry: “Our artillery had always been superior to that of the rebels, as was also our infantry, except in discipline; and that, for reasons not necessary to mention, never did equal Lee’s army. With a rank and file vastly inferior to our own, intellectually and physically, that army has, by discipline alone, acquired a character for steadiness and efficiency, unsurpassed, in my judgment, in ancient or modern times. We have not been able to rival it, nor has there been any near approximation to it in the other rebel armies.”
The cavalry force was small, but energetic and enterprising to a degree as yet by no means equalled by our own. The artillery was neither as good, nor as well equipped or served, as ours, but was commanded with intelligence, and able to give a good account of itself.
Difficulty of an attack.
An attack of Lee’s position in front, even had Burnside’s experience not demonstrated its folly, seemed to promise great loss of life without corresponding success.
To turn his right flank required the moving of pontoon trains and artillery over the worst of roads for at least twenty miles, through a country cut up by a multitude of streams running across the route to be taken, and emptying into either the Potomac or Rappahannock; all requiring more or less bridging.