Bendigo Advertiser Wednesday, March 22, 1865
THE CIVIL WAR RICHMOND, 5th December 1864
(From the Times Correspondent.)
Information has just reached me of a conversation held last week, in which the interlocutors were General Grant and a gentleman who returned to Richmond on the 2nd instant from the North, bearing a letter of introduction to be presented en route from Mr. Seward to General Grant. It is well known that the gentleman in question (who is a foreigner) is in intimate relations with the Confederate Government. He paints General Grant as a gentleman of eminent courtesy, tranquil and dignified in manner, free from the proverbial bluster of his countrymen, and studiously conciliating in his language. General Grant commenced the conversation by extravagant laudations of President Davis and General Lee, especially of the latter, whose equal morally and intellectually is not according to the Federal General's professed opinion, to be found among eminent military men anywhere upon earth He proceeded next to make the startling assertion that Richmond is a doomed city, and that Mr. Davis and General Lee are well aware of the fact. He pointed out with emphasis that slowly and insidiously the Federal army is constantly advancing a step, and that never since the 14th of June, when it crossed to the south side of the James, has it made a quarter of a step backwards. " The end," he continued, "must be the fall of Richmond, How long it will be before the end comes it is impossible for me to say. General Lee knows the position of my army to be impregnable on both sides of the river, and he will attack on neither. I do not expect the city to be suddenly evacuated, but some day, little by little, my guns will get within shelling distance of the capital, and from that hour it is merely a question of time. It is probable that if at this stage the resistance be obstinate and prolonged, the whole city will be burnt to the ground. Anyhow, its evacuation by General Lee's army is, in the end, inevitable " While this conversation was in progress, a telegram arrived from General Butler, on the north side of the James, announcing to General Grant that the " Richmond Examiner of this morning anticipates that Sherman will get safe to the sea coast.''
I can assure General Grant that if he was in a position to arrive at the undisguised opinion of President Davis and General Lee he would come to a conclusion different from that which he last week expressed, but which it is difficult to believe that he sincerely entertains. It is the deliberate conviction not only of the two eminent men in question, but also of eighteen-twentieths of the inhabitants of Richmond and of ninety-nine-hundredths of the army which defends it that the city was never so safe since the war commenced as at the present moment It seems to all men of sense that every time that Grant has made a tentative movement, either with cavalry or infantry, or by subterranean mines or any other aggressive device, and has been foiled with considerable loss of life, he has made more than a quarter of a step backward. How many of these attacks have been foiled since June last it is difficult to compute. But against all these failures, spread over the last five and-a-half months, Grant has nothing to advance as a makeweight, except the slight but immaterial advance of his lines upon the Weldon Railroad, and the capture of Fort Harrison on the 29th of September. No one is probably better aware than General Grant that these two slight advantages have not brought him an inch nearer to the capture of Richmond. He is now confronted by a frowning line of earthworks, which stretches for 33 or 34 miles, commencing at the Chickahominy River, extending across the James, and running close up to the Weldon Railroad on the west of Reams' Station. I may be mistaken, but, in common with every Confederate officer I have conversed with on both sides of the James, it is my belief that against any portion of these lines Grant's army, even if doubled in number, will never prevail. The difficulty and danger of attempting to get round either or both of General Lee's flanks at points where the Confederates are operating upon the inner circle is obviously very great. I anticipate that if Grant's army receives very material accession of strength before April and during next summer, the siege of Richmond will be protracted through the whole- of next year. If he is not heavily reinforced by next spring, we shall see whether he will pass through 1865 without taking several quarter steps backward. But, be that as it may, it is already seen and felt that the advantages to the Confederates of carrying on a defensive struggle so close to their heart as Richmond are obvious and manifold. The blood propelled through the great aorta is far larger in volume than the blood which circulates through the temporal artery and the vigilance necessitated by the close proximity of the enemy is of eminent benefit to this brave, but careless community. In addition, the long-protracted struggle around Richmond gives the Confederates time to duplicate such establishments as the Tredegar Works, and to inaugurate supple mentary measures for creating munitions of war all over their country. It never seems to have entered General Grant's head that the capture of Richmond will be to him and his associates but the letting out of strife. But General Grant's words are robbed of half their significance when it is remembered that they were addressed to a gentleman who would in three or four days be in communication with the Richmond authorities. It is difficult not to suspect that Grant shares with his wily countrymen the sentiment so admirably expressed in Milton's lines :
"Our better part remains
" To work in close design by fraud or guile
" What force effected not."
If Mr. Davis and General Lee could be cajoled by flattery and undermined in faith by unscrupulously boastful anticipations, nothing but good could result to General Grant and his employers. As matters stand the Federals have to face or explain away the fact that the mighty host which Grant led across the Rapidan last May has failed either to give him Richmond or even "to fight it out on the same line, if it took all the summer." Summer and autumn have passed away, and winter is upon us. In a few months, the summer of 1865 will be here, and on what line does General Grant then propose to fight it out? There can be few Northerners gullible enough to believe that when General Grant began his advance against Richmond, nearly eight months ago, supported by between 200,000 and 300,000 men, he expected to find himself wintering on the James River, in command of a fifth of that force, and with Richmond as obstinately closed against him as ever. I can emphatically a sert that be General Grunt's anticipations about his prospects what they may, I remember no moment during the 20 months of intimate acquaintance with Confederate affairs when greater confidence and hopefulness were entertained in reference to the present and future of Secessia than at present. If General Grant could be induced to withdraw his eyes for a moment from the future of the Confederate States, and to contemplate the future of his own country, I would ask him to reflect in what estimation he is himself likely to be held by the fickle, many-headed beast of the North if he fails to take Richmond in the next six months ?
Many are the bitter Yankeehaters in this town, who wish for their enemies no greater degradation than that, having failed to subdue the South, they should find themselves with such a satrap as Abraham Lincoln strapped on their backs for four years to come without hope of relief. Many are the vaticinations already heard in Richmond that the second lustrum of Mr Lincoln, commenced in sunshine and tranquillity, and welcomed by a slavish and sycophantic community, will go out in storm and whirlwind amid execrations and curses. There is in the '. Arabian Nights " no tale so wild and startling as a comparison between the wealth, progress, actual and prospective prosperity of the United States in I860, and the utter humiliation of the record which they will exhibit in 1865.
I have just returned from passing several days in camp on the north of the James, and have watched with interest the progress of the Confederate lines northwards, until they have reached the bluff which overhangs the valley of the Chickahominy. It is curious to observe what an amount of labor the construction of these elaborate lines exacts. Your readers will remember that in my letter describing the abortive Federal attack of 27th October I stated that the new lines of the Confederates ran only to the Charles City-road, and that the Williamsburg and Nine-mile-roads (where the Federal attack upon that day was mainly delivered) were defended only by the old lines thrown up against General McClellan in 1862 But since the return of General Kershaw and his fine division from the valley, General Longstreet has extended his line northwards across the Williamsburg and Nine-mile roads to the Chickahominy River. One of the strongest earth redoubts which I have ever seen is being constructed on the Nine-mile-road and will be shortly finished It is to mount twelve guns, and, although its construction is necessary as a prophylactic measure, it takes no prophet to predict that it will never be approached by the Federals. The war in Virginia during the last week has been diversified only
by an attack of Grant's upon Stoney-creek depot (which is the furthest point northwards to which the cars from Weldon run), and by the destruction there of some stores and forage, inconsiderable in amount; and, secondly, by a success of the Confederate cavalry, under General Prosser, against two stations on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, in which considerably greater damage was inflicted than was accomplished by Grant's force at Stoney Creek. It is needless to say that these little episodes, sometimes magnified by the journals on one side or the other into extravagant proportions, exercise an infinitesimal influence upon the fortunes of the war; but, latterly, the Confederates, as regards the enterprise and success of their efforts, have certainly not had the worst of it.