Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory
William R. Forstchen
Albert S. Hanser
|Cover artist||Wanda Tinasky|
|Genre||Alternate history novel|
|Publisher||Thomas Dunne Books|
|June 18, 2005|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|Pages||496 pp (1st edition)|
|ISBN||0-312-34298-5 (1st edition)|
|LC Class||PS3557.I4945 N48 2005|
|Preceded by||Grant Comes East|
Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory is the conclusion of an alternate history trilogy by former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen, and Albert S. Hanser. It was published in 2005 by Thomas Dunne Books. The other two books are Grant Comes East and Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War. The novel is illustrated with actual photographs of the Civil War, taken somewhat out of context.
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"The Battle of Frederick"
This book has Lee's army, fresh after defeating the Army of the Potomac at Gunpowder River, dealing with Grant's army of the Susquehanna as it marches through the Cumberland Valley and towards Virginia. Lee's army consists of three corps, two of Veteran Troops under James Longstreet and John Bell Hood. Longstreet's corps numbers around 15,000, with divisions under Allegheny Johnson, 4,000, Lafayette McLaws, 6,000, and Robert Rodes old division (Now under Pierce Doles), 5,000. His largest division under George Pickett is now much reduced since Gunpowder River, and it's now the garrison of Baltimore. Longstreet's corps largely bore the brunt of the fighting there, so it's mainly kept in reserve at Fredrick. Hood commands the II corps, he's been recently promoted. His performance is aggressive and at times sloppy, but always remains as dependable and brilliant. Commanding the largest corps, it numbered 21,000 men, with veteran divisions under Jubal Early 7,000 men, Jerome B. Robertson, 6,000, R.H. Anderson's small command, 3,000 and Alfred Scales's survivors from Fort Stevens, 5,000. Lastly there was Beauregard's new third corps who were mainly troops who used to garrison the Carolinas and Virginia. Divided into three divisions, the officers names are not mentioned. Most likely though, they would've been Robert Ransom, Samuel French and Roswell Ripley, the department commanders underneath Beauregard at the time. His corps numbered close to 20,000 men, but were mainly green troops. Beauregard was often at odds with Lee through this campaign, and jealous. This would take its toll during the battle.
On the Union side, Grant commanded all Union forces, and was directly in command of his troops sent from the west, The Army of The Susquehanna. This army consisted of the XIII corps, under Edward Ord. This was Grant's second largest corps, somewhere around 16,000 men full of veteran troops from Shiloh and before, these were the original core sector of Grant's army and its commander was legendary. His next Corps was only temporarily attached under Ambrose Burnside, the IX Corps taken from east Tennessee. It numbered around 16,000 men as well, including one division that is made up of colored troops who had never fired a shot. His third corps was the XVII Corps, his best unit of hardened veterans. His second in command, James Mcpherson, was in charge of those troops. This Corps also had Division commanders such as Blair or Logan. At 13,000 men though, it was the smallest corps in the army. His final Formation was the XIX corps, under Nathaniel P Banks. Made up of crack troops, this formation was the heaviest, numbering over 20,000.
Darius Couch commanded 20,000 90-day volunteers and militia.
Lastly, Winfield Scott Hancock commanded the garrison of Washington, close to 43,000 green troops and colored from Washington.
Buildup to battle
The Campaign begins after Lee has smashed the Army of the Potomac at Gunpowder River and Grant has finally completed transporting his army from the west and refitting it in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Grant makes the first move, and begins to march his newly minted Army of the Susquehanna southward down the Cumberland Valley toward Virginia. He also sends a large force of Pennsylvania militia whose enlistments are about to expire under General Darius Couch with a strong cavalry screen directly toward Baltimore as a feint. Lee, in Baltimore with the Army of Northern Virginia, intuits that Grant may be moving his main body south toward Virginia, but he cannot be certain and, thus, cannot fully commit his army until his own cavalry can break through the Union cavalry screen and obtain more information about their order of battle. However, purely as a precautionary measure, Lee does agree to send a pontoon train that was captured from the Union army during the Gettysburg Campaign westward to the vicinity of Frederick, Maryland, where it would be in better position to assist in any rapid Confederate movements in that direction.
General George Armstrong Custer in command of a Union cavalry brigade screening Couch's force learns of Lee's movement of the pontoon train from a loyal Union railroad man, and decides it is an important enough prize that he must abandon his current mission, leaving Couch without proper screening forces. As a result, Lee quickly learns that, as suspected, Couch's force is a feint and of no military concern, and, also, that Custer is moving on Frederick. While the pontoons are not of critical importance, Lee realizes that the town of Frederick itself is extremely critical. Not only does it have critical railroad facilities and equipment that would expedite rapid movement of Confederate forces by rail, but it also sits at the base of the Catoctin Mountains and the passes through which he could launch a rapid attack on Grant's flank as his army marches down the Cumberland Valley. He immediately orders Stuart's three brigades of cavalry to Frederick to support the slim Confederate forces already holding the town, while his infantry follows close behind by rail and on foot (except for Pickett's division, which was decimated in the fight at the Gunpowder River, and is left behind as a rear guard in Baltimore). While this plays out, though, Custer's brigade of cavalry is able to reach Frederick and drive out the two regiments Confederate cavalry holding Frederick and retake the town as well as the critical rail facilities just minutes ahead of Stuart.
Custer quickly makes plans both for defense and for destroying critical bridges and rail facilities on the banks of the Monocacy River just east of Frederick, but, before he can complete either, Stuart arrives and immediately begins to attack. His troopers greatly outnumber Custer's, and those numbers soon begin to show. However, Custer leads a brilliant "last stand" and, although he is mortally wounded in the process, he is able to hold out long enough to destroy the critical railroad bridge east of Frederick in spectacular fashion (by exploding several trains' boilers in an intentional collision), and, thus deny the critical rail facilities to the Confederates, which would, in turn, greatly slow efforts to bring infantry forward by rail for the remainder of the campaign.
As Custer's last stand reaches its climax, Lee himself feels the result of the destruction of part of the railroad as he nearly dies in a train derailment. Lee along with Alfred Scales's Division arrive at the town shortly after Stuart retakes it and push beyond to seize the passes through the Catoctins with the intention of holding there until the remainder of the Confederate army can come up. James McPherson brings his Union Corps up, driving them relentlessly. When they arrive, his first brigade immediately engages Scales' strong defensive line and suffers heavily. After a half hour, his entire first division was engaged. Fifteen minutes later, his second division arrives and begins to forces Scales' now outnumbered command back. Not wanting to be a hollow wreck, Scales slowly pulled back. By the time McPherson's third and fourth divisions arrive, Scales was in full retreat.
McPherson occupies the heights but needs reinforcements. However, Ambrose Burnside stops his corps to rest, which angers Grant. Burnside is relieved and Phillip Sheridan takes his place and tries to drive his men to the front.
McPherson advances down from the crest of the Catoctins toward the town of Frederick where Lee decides to set a trap, intending to lure McPherson into the town where he can engage his isolated corps in front while sending additional forces around both flanks before Union reinforcements can arrive. Scales builds defensive positions in the town while Jerome Robertson brings his men to the south of town to flank McPherson in that direction and Stuart brings his troopers to the north to come down on McPherson's northern flank. McPherson's corps enters the town and confused, bloody house-to-house fighting ensues between his forces and Scales'. McPherson's men are taken piecemeal by groups of Confederates, and casualties quickly rise. Then, Robertson smashes through McPherson's flank and bags most of his Corps, killing McPherson in the process. The remainder of his corps flees the town and the day's actions are mainly over, except for a small fight with the IX corps.
The first day's battle is a great tactical victory for the Confederates with over 7,000 casualties on the Union side versus only 2,000 on the Confederate side.
The next day begins with various skirmishes. Lee is dug in on a ridge to the east of the town. By now the rest of the army has arrived and is dug in, Longstreet on the right\reserve, Hood in the center, and Beauregard on the left. After Grant probes his line, (Banks on the left, Ord on the right, Sheridan in the center and McPherson in reserve in Frederick itself. Grant is on a long ridge, with the town in the center. A road goes up his entire line, which is on the banks of the Monacacy. Throughout the day, the Union make small attacks but to little effect and the fighting on that day is over.
The third day begins with Ord assaulting a Confederate salient on the river. After a fierce artillery barrage and duel, Ord attacks and suffers heavily. His first division is nearly destroyed at the ends of Hood's muskets. The second and third divisions redouble their efforts and temporarily push the confederates back to the ridge. Ord follows up on a frontal charge where he is defeated, until Jubal Early's men smash into Ord's line at the ford and after taking heavy casualties pushes Ord across the river for good.
At the end of the day, Lee has lost 6,000 men, many of them coming from Early's division, and the past three days add up to 10,000. Ord on the other hand lost all but three thousand of his Corps, which makes the total loss in the army the past three days 20,000 with two full Corps, Ord's and McPherson's, essentially destroyed.
Lee now feels his advantage and wants to use it. His plan is to send two of Beauregard's divisions as well as Robertson and Mclaws to assault the union right by going down south, cross the river, and roll up the road that longs along the Union line.
Grant on the other hand decides to wait, because he has a trap on a wider scale that is now being sprung. First, he has placed all the forces in the fortifications around Washington under the command of General Winfield Scott Hancock with orders to advance westward along the south bank of the Potomac to seize and fortify all of the crossings that Lee might use if he must retreat back to Virginia. Moreover, the surviving remnants of the Army of the Potomac, now under Sykes, are being transported to Baltimore by sea with the intent of retaking the city and eventually advancing on Lee's rear. Consequently, Grant need only keep Lee's army engaged at Frederick, while these other forces complete their maneuvers.
Lee, on the other hand, with his communications to the south soon to be severed will soon have little choice but to attack and defeat Grant here at Frederick.
The Hornet's Nest
After skirmishing throughout the morning hours, Grant shifts Sheridan's reserves to reinforce Ord. By twelve, Beauregard assaults union pickets at the ford with Stuart's cavalry. After defeating them, he continues up the road on a two division front. But instead of waiting for Mclaws and Robertson's veterans, he goes in without them. The battle drags out and becomes very costly. Beauregard eventually pushes Sheridan's and Ord's men back.
The section where Sheridan's and Ord's men are form in a rail road cut. Beauregard tries to rush the position but suffers heavily. He then tries to surround it and mass his attack that way, the same tactic he used at Shiloh in a similar position. This sector called the hornets nest, holds for hour after hour. Casualties mount as he fails to take the position. The colored troops in particular do well, by blunting Beauregard's attack. Eventually Robertson arrives and bayonet charges the position with the Texas Brigade in the thick of it. Robertson is killed and his division is torn to shreds. After hours of fighting, Ord surrenders, but not without inflicting over 10,000 casualties. Lee is furious with Beauregard and thinks of relieving him, for now Grant has bled Lee dry. Lee orders a frontal assault along the entire line and Early, Richard Anderson, Johnson, Doles and Scales to assault Sheridan and Banks. Sheridan and his men put up a fierce fight but retreat after tearing Early's division to shreds and wounding the commander. Banks pulls back as well, the onrushing confederates see victory in sight as they rush up Braddock's heights. Scores of Union are captured as Longstreet and Hood bring their forces upon the fleeing federals. Finally it seemed the road was over and there was a clear road all the way to Washington.
Hunt forms a massive battery along two roads in Frederick, with McPherson's old command behind him. After the hornet's nest, Lee directs personally McLaws and two of Beauregard's divisions along with Robertson's old command to assault the town. Going up the two roads, Stuart leads the advance against 160 guns. The assault is torn to shreds as scores fall on the road. McLaws is killed but his division along with Robertson's old division and Johnson seize the guns. The victory was nearly theirs until Banks and Sheridan counterattacked and made short work of the assault. Stuart is wounded and Hood was hit near the breakthrough in Sheridan's line earlier. The attack in Frederick was torn apart, divisions torn to shreds. Lee led the assault until taken custody of and sent to the rear. Lee nearly saw them break another time, only to meet failure. The rest of Lee's forces withdrew across the river, ending the battle since they withdrew the next day.
Grant won, barely. He lost over 25,000 men killed, wounded and captured and two of his corps commanders were lost, McPherson killed. McPherson's, Sheridan's and Ord's corps were hollow wrecks, he lost over a third of his force.
Lee lost 25,000 men, half his infantry. Mclaws, Robertson, Anderson, Johnson and all three of Beauregard's divisional commanders were dead. Early, Hood, Fitz Lee, Stuart, Jenkins, Beauregard and Jones were wounded. This was the turning point of the war, and it cost the south's last hope: The army of Northern Virginia.
At the same time as Lee was making his final desperate attacks at Frederick, the other parts of Grant's plan were coming together. Hancock's army seized all crossings of the Potomac to Lee's south and, with the assistance of volunteer work brigades composed of Washington D.C.'s African American population, constructed an impregnable line fortifications literally overnight. Meanwhile, General Sykes with the remainder of the Army of the Potomac landed at Baltimore, routed Pickett's rear guard, and, after seizing the remainder of the Confederate Army's supplies, began to advance westward on Lee's rear.
With his army fought out and short of supplies and, now, facing threats to his flanks and rear, Lee was left with no choice but to retreat back to Virginia. He first tried to retake the Potomac crossings now held by Hancock, but he was driven back. Marching westward, while attempting to hold off Grant to his north and the now rapidly advancing Sykes to the west, Lee searched for and, eventually, found an undefended crossing. He began to build the pontoon bridge, but, as the bridge neared completion, Lee again found himself pressed on all sides. First, Hancock advanced artillery to a point close enough to begin a bombardment of the bridge, which greatly slowed progress and threatened to destroy the bridge before it could even be used. Then, Sykes attacked and was able to drive right to the bridge and seize it along with a number of prisoners.
Lee attempted to march the remainder of his army away, but his army was now greatly outnumbered, low on supplies and physically exhausted. By the following day, Grant's army caught up with Lee as well, leaving him surrounded on all sides. After briefly considering one final, desperate attack to push Grant aside and breakout to Virginia, Lee sees the futility of it and agrees to surrender.
Lee was only responsible for the Army of Northern Virginia, but its surrender became the death blow to the Confederacy. After the surrender, Grant paroled Lee and his army, and allowed them to "go home". Then, he declared a 30-day, unilateral truce, ostensibly to give the paroled Confederates time to return home, but more so to give Confederate President Jefferson Davis time to "come to his senses" and realize the war was lost. However, Davis tried desperately to build a new army to defend Virginia and continue the fight, but his plan consisted mostly of redrafting the now-paroled Lee and his troops back into service. Lee's honor would not permit him to fight again when it was strictly forbidden by the terms of his parole, so he resigned from the army and, due to the great respect his generals and soldiers had for him, they all followed suit. Without an army, Davis was left with no choice but to surrender, ending the war.
Kirkus Reviews said that this novel was "reasonably well-written and plausible, with excellent period photographs as a bonus. Still, there's so much good Civil War history to read that this what-if exercise seems more than a touch unnecessary." Brad Hooper in his review for Booklist said that "as in the previous volumes in the trilogy, the authors' research is impeccable, and their presentation brings events down to a personal level, and, as in any good alternative vision of history, the reader is left believing it could really have happened this way."
- Judah Benjamin, Confederate secretary of state
- George Armstrong Custer, U.S. general
- Jefferson Davis, Confederate president
- Ulysses S. Grant, U.S. general
- Winfield Scott Hancock, U.S. general
- Robert E. Lee, Confederate general
- Abraham Lincoln, U.S. president
- James Longstreet, Confederate general
- James B. McPherson, U.S. general
- Phillip Sheridan, U.S. general
- George Sykes, U.S. general
- Elihu B. Washburne, U.S. congressman
- Henry Jackson Hunt, U.S. chief of artillery