All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
The Last March of Lee's Army
by Bancroft, Hubert H.
|[We have now a highly important series of events to cover in rapid epitome,
comprising the doings of the armies in Virginia from the date of the battle of
Gettysburg to the surrender of Lee's army, and embracing in particular the
stirring scenes of war which followed Grant's assumption of the command of the
Army of the Potomac. Important as many of these events were, no one of them
except the closing event stands out prominently as of decisive value, and lack
of space prevents us from giving any of the battlescenes in detail, obliging us
to review briefly that great chapter in the history of the war which reached its
culmination in the surrender of Lee's army and the collapse of the Confederacy.
After the battle of Gettysburg the year 1863 passed without an engagement
between the two armies in Virginia. Lee, after crossing the Potomac, retired
behind the line of the Rapidan. Meade massed his army at Warrenton. In October
Lee made a rapid advance to the old battle-ground of Manassas. But if he hoped
to take his antagonist by surprise he was mistaken: Meade was too quick for him,
and he was forced to retreat hastily. In November Meade retaliated with an
equally rapid advance, hoping to surprise Lee in his lines at Mine Run. This
effort also ended in failure: Lee concentrated his army and Meade retired
without a battle. Late in the winter a cavalry expedition under Kilpatrick
sought to take Richmond by surprise. It failed, and nothing further was done
till the spring of 1864.
Grant's victorious career in the West had now made him the most prominent figure
in the Union armies, and on March 9, 1864, he was placed in command of all the
forces in the field, with the high grade of lieutenant-general, which had been
held by no one since Washington, Scott holding this rank only by brevet. He at
once appointed Sherman to the command of the Western armies, and took command in
person of the Army of the Potomac. It was designed that all the armies should
work thenceforward strictly in conjunction. On May 1 Grant opposed Lee with a
force estimated at one hundred and forty thousand to his sixty thousand. A
simultaneous movement was designed, and on May 4 Grant advanced towards the
Rapidan, while Butler, with twenty thousand men, moved from Fortress Monroe up
the south side of the James; and on the 6th Sherman advanced from Chattanooga.
Lee was found in line of battle in the difficult region of the Wilderness, the
scene of the previous desperate battle of Chancellorsville. A terrible
engagement ensued, which continued throughout the 5th and 6th of May. It was a
confused and sanguinary struggle, in the depths of a tangled thicket, in which
Grant lost more than twenty thousand men, five thousand of whom were taken
prisoners. The Confederates lost ten thousand. Neither side could claim a
Reconnoissances now showed that Lee had intrenched his army, and that a renewed
attack must result in very serious losses. On the night of the 7th, therefore,
Grant began a secret flanking march upon Spottsylvania Court-House. Lee
discovered the movement, and, having the shortest line, reached Spottsylvania
first. Warren, in the advance, had a severe fight in gaining his designated
point. For several days the armies faced each other, in busy preparation. On the
10th Grant assailed the Confederate lines. A severe battle took place, resulting
in no substantial advantage, while the losses on both sides were very heavy.
Early on the morning of the 12th the conflict was renewed. Hancock made a sudden
charge on Lee's right, captured the intrenchments, and took three thousand
prisoners. A desperate battle followed, the Confederates retiring to an interior
line of breastworks, which were vigorously defended, and held to the end of the
day. So far neither army could claim a victory, while the losses on both sides
had been enormous,--the Union loss being the greatest, from the fact that the
Confederates were fighting on the defensive, and most of the time behind strong
Heavy rains prevented operations during the few succeeding days. On the 19th
Grant received reinforcements from Washington, and, deeming the lines at
Spottsylvania too strong to be taken, he prepared for a night of the 21st. Lee
penetrated the design, and, having the shorter line, succeeded in again
outmarching his opponent. A battle took place here on the 23d, Grant having to
force the passage of the river in the face of the enemy. The conflict was much
less sanguinary than those preceding it, but, as Lee's position proved
impregnable, Grant gave orders for another flanking march. Sheridan, who had
been sent on a cavalry raid to cut Lee's lines of communication, rejoined the
army on the 25th, having inflicted much damage, threatened Richmond, and killed
the ablest Confederate cavalry leader, General J. E. B. Stuart.
On the night of May 26 another effort to turn Lee's right was made by a rapid
march towards Richmond. Some fighting took place on the 30th, and on the 31st
Cold Harbor, in the vicinity of the previous battle of Gaines's Mill, was
reached. Here Grant made a fourth vigorous effort to overthrow Lee, who, as
before, faced him with intrenched lines. An assault was made at five P. M. on
the 1st of June, with some success, yet without breaking Lee's second line. On
the morning of the 3d an advance of the whole army was ordered, and a desperate
and sanguinary struggle took place. Despite every effort, Lee's lines remained
unbroken,--Grant losing seven thousand men to Lee's three thousand.
This ended the engagements in the field. The task of beating Lee by open
fighting had proved too murderous, the Union loss being very considerably
greater than that of the Confederates. Grant now determined on siege-operations,
and decided to move his army south of the James, at Bermuda Hundred, then held
by Butler. This gave him a water basis of supplies, and he was not troubled by
that nightmare of covering Washington which had weakened the efforts of all
previous commanders. In the campaign up to this time he had lost over fifty-four
thousand men, Lee about thirty-two thousand. Grant's army, including Butler's,
was now about one hundred and fifty thousand men, Lee's about seventy thousand.
These numbers are taken from Draper's "Civil War."
Immediately after crossing, a dash was made on Petersburg, in the hope of taking
it before Lee could strengthen its garrison. The effort ended in failure,
through lack of sufficient celerity of movement. Grant lost about nine thousand
men in this unlucky enterprise. Both sides now began to intrench, and there
gradually arose that wonderful series of earthworks which eventually stretched
for many miles both north and south of the James, from the vicinity of Richmond
to and beyond Petersburg, and behind which the opposing armies lay facing each
other for nearly a year.
During the period of these operations important events had taken place in the
Shenandoah Valley. Sigel had entered the Valley on May 1, but was defeated by
Breckinridge on the 15th. Hunter succeeded Sigel, and completely routed
Breckinridge at Piedmont. He now advanced upon Lynchburg, devastating the
country as he went, but was compelled to retreat before a strong force which Lee
had sent to oppose him. This Confederate success was followed by movements of
great importance. General Early, with twenty thousand men, made a rapid march
northward through the Valley, reaching Winchester on the 3d of July, and
Hagerstown, Maryland, on the 6th. He then moved boldly upon Washington,
defeating General Wallace on the Monocacy, and reaching a point within six miles
of the Capital on the evening of the 10th. An immediate assault might have given
him possession of the city, which was weakly defended. But he delayed for a day,
and the arrival of two corps secured the city and forced Early to retreat
hastily. He regained the Valley with his spoils, defeated General Crook at
Kernstown, and sent a cavalry party into Pennsylvania, which burned the town of
Chambersburg in reprisal for Hunter's depredations in the Valley.
On August 7 General Sheridan was assigned to the command of the forces opposing
Early. No event of importance took place until September 19, on which day Early
was severely defeated on the Opequan, losing six thousand men, the Federal loss
being about five thousand. Two days afterwards Early was again defeated at
Fisher's Hill. Sheridan now marched up the Valley, destroying everything that
could serve for army supplies. Supposing his foe to be helpless, Sheridan
repaired to Washington in October, to confer with the Secretary of War about
sending part of his army back to Grant. During his absence Early made a night
attack on his army, which was then posted on the north side of Cedar Creek. The
surprise was complete, the troops being routed at all points, and driven back in
a confusion little short of a panic. The severity of the pursuit was somewhat
reduced by the Confederates stopping to plunder the Union camp, and the broken
brigades regained some degree of order.
Then occurred that striking incident which has been so worthily celebrated in
art and poetry,--Sheridan's ride from Winchester. The commander had got to that
point on his return to the army, and first learned of the rout of his troops by
the appearance at the town of the most rapid of the fugitives. Instantly
mounting his mettled war-horse, he rode with headlong speed to the field of
battle, twenty miles away. His appearance on the field inspired the depressed
soldiers, while his cheering words put new life into their ranks. The lines were
quickly re-formed, an advance was ordered, and to Early's surprise he found his
victorious troops impetuously assailed by the recently broken host. His defeat
was complete, his loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners enormous, and his army
was so shattered that it was never able to take the field again. This definitely
ended the war in the Valley.
Before returning to the story of the siege of Petersburg some account of the
operations of the navy is desirable. Among the most important of these was the
attack of the iron-clad fleet on the harbor defences of Charleston. The powerful
defensive batteries drove off the iron-clads with the greatest ease, forcing
them to retire to escape destruction. Approaches were now made by land batteries
on Morris Island, but beyond the destruction of Fort Sumter no result of special
value was attained. In April, 1864, the Confederate ram Albemarle came down the
Roanoke River, disabled several gun-boats, and forced Fort Wessels to surrender.
She was soon afterwards destroyed by a torpedo, exploded under her by Lieutenant
Cushing. Of the nine powerful iron-clads constructed by the Confederate
government during the war every one was destroyed or captured. The Atlanta was
captured by the monitor Weehawken, at Savannah, after a fifteen-minutes'
engagement. The Tennessee, built on the plan of the Merrimack, was captured in
Mobile harbor, after being seriously injured by ramming with wooden vessels. At
this place the brave Farragut again ran a series of strong forts with his fleet,
himself standing exposed in the rigging as he received their fire.
The final important naval event was the capture of Fort Fisher, which covered
the channel leading to Wilmington, North Carolina, the only port now attainable
by blockade-runners. In December, 1864, a combined land and water expedition was
sent against the fort, accompanied by a boat stored with two hundred and fifteen
tons of gun-powder, by the explosion of which near the fort it was hoped that
its walls might be shattered. This proved a failure. The powder-boat was
expioded without doing the slightest damage. The fleet then attacked the fort,
whose guns were silenced. But General Butler, who commanded the land force,
would not make an assault, and the expedition returned unsuccessful. Another
expedition, under General Terry, was sent in January. The bombardment by the
fleet continued for several days, after which, on the 15th, a land assault was
made, and the fort taken, after a severe struggle. This event completely closed
the Confederacy from the outside world. The blockade was finally made fully
Yet there was a Confederate navy, whose ships had never entered a Southern port,
but which managed to commit great depredations upon American shipping. It was
composed of vessels built abroad and sold to the Confederates, one of them in
France, the remainder in England. Two powerful rams were built for this purpose
in England, but were detained when Minister Adams plainly hinted at war if they
were suffered to escape. Of the Confederate vessels which were permitted to sail
from British harbors, much the most important was the Alabama. This vessel was a
virtual pirate, which lured its victims by flying the British flag until they
were within its power. It did great damage to American shipping. Finally the
Alabama was encountered by the sloop-of-war Kearsarge, off the harbor of
Cherbourg, France. A severe battle ensued, in which the Alabama was dreadfully
shattered and finally sunk. During her career she had captured sixty-five
vessels, most of which she burned. The loss occasioned was afterwards charged
upon England, by the decision of an International Commission, and paid in
accordance with the verdict.
We have one further series of events to review,--those attending the siege of
Petersburg by Grant, and its defence by Lee. The first important event of that
siege was Grant's attempt to seize the Weldon Railroad, on June 21, 1864. This
was repulsed, with a loss of four thousand men. Immediately afterwards a cavalry
expedition was sent to cut the railroads south of Richmond. It was driven back
with loss, after doing some damage, which was quickly repaired. The next
important event was the attempt to destroy the Confederate works by a mine. This
was excavated with great labor, and exploded on the morning of July 30. A deep
gap was blown through the works, but the subsequent assault was so completely
mismanaged that the Confederates had hours in which to bring up troops and
batteries. As a result the charging column was repulsed, with heavy loss, and
Petersburg saved. On August 12 a demonstration in force was made against
Richmond, north of the James, and advantage taken of the concentration of
Confederate troops in that direction, to assail the defenders of the Weldon
Railroad. This road was taken, and effectually ruined. On the 29th another
assault was made north of the James, and Fort Harrison, one of the Confederate
earthworks, taken. These operations had been attended with serious losses, with
but little compensating advantage.
The next purpose in Grant's operations was the destruction of the Southside
Railroad, with the eventual intention to assail the Danville Road, the main line
of communication between Richmond and the South. During the remainder of the
season, however, very little was done. A severe engagement took place at
Hatcher's Run, in a movement towards the Southside Railroad. The affair ended in
a Union withdrawal. Butler's effort to dig a canal across Dutch Gap, a point
where the James makes a wide bend, proved useless, and the armies settled down
to an autumn and winter rest.
Active operations began again in March, Grant having then about one hundred and
twenty thousand men. Lee's actual number is not well known. On February 5, 1865,
an attempt had been made to turn Lee's lines at Hatcher's Run, which was
repulsed, with loss. The only offensive movement of Lee during this long siege
was made on March 25, an early morning attack being directed against Fort
Steadman, near the site of the mine. The surprise was complete, and the fort
taken. But its holders were at once assailed from all sides, and driven out,
with a loss of three thousand out of the five thousand engaged.
The final movement of the Union army began on March 29. On the 30th Sheridan
advanced on Five Forks, a point below Lee's line of intrenchments, and three
miles from the Southside Railroad. Lee concentrated a strong force against him,
weakening his lines in doing so. Sheridan had taken possession of Five Forks,
but was driven back. He advanced again on April 1. Grant, finding that Lee had
weakened his line of defence, directed a charge in force to be made by the Fifth
Corps upon the Confederate works. It proved successful: the defensive line was
broken, two thousand five hundred prisoners were captured, and the fugitives
pushed with remorseless energy. On April 2 the final assault was made, and
Petersburg captured. Nothing was left for Lee but flight or surrender. He chose
the former, and on the night of April 2 began a rapid retreat from the lines he
had so long and so gallantly held. The story of that retreat we extract from
"The Memoirs of Robert E. Lee," by General A. L. Long.]
Along the north bank of the Appomattox moved the long lines of artillery and
dark columns of infantry through the gloom of the night, over the roads leading
to Amelia Court-House. By midnight the evacuation was completed, and a death-
like silence reigned in the breastworks which for nine months had been "clothed
in thunder," and whose deadly blows had kept at bay a foe of threefold strength.
As the troops moved noiselessly onward in the darkness that just precedes the
dawn, a bright light like a broad flash of lightning illumined the heavens for
an instant; then followed a tremendous explosion. "The magazine at Fort Drewry
is blown up," ran in whispers through the ranks, and again silence reigned. Once
more the sky was overspread by a lurid light, but not so fleeting as before. It
was now the conflagration of Richmond that lighted the night-march of the
soldiers, and many a stout heart was wrung with anguish at the fate of the city
and its defenceless inhabitants. The burning of public property of little value
had given rise to a destructive fire that laid in ashes nearly one-third of the
The columns from Petersburg and its vicinity reached Chesterfield Court-House
soon after daylight. Here a brief halt was ordered for the rest and refreshment
of the troops, after which the retreat was resumed with renewed strength. A
sense of relief seemed to pervade the ranks at their release from the lines
where they had watched and worked for more than nine weary months. Once more in
the open field, they were invigorated with hope, and felt better able to cope
with their powerful adversary.
The April woods were budding round them, the odors of spring were in the air,
the green fields and the broad prospect of woods and hills formed an inspiriting
contrast to the close earthworks behind which they had so long lain, and as they
marched along the unobstructed roads memories of the many victories to which
they had formerly been led arose to nerve their arms and make them feel that
while they had the same noble chieftain at their head they were still the equal
of the foe. Thoughts like these lightened the weary march and gave new spirit to
the ragged and hungry but undaunted men.
The retreat of Lee's army did not long remain unknown to the Federals. The
explosion of the magazine at Fort Drewry and the conflagration of Richmond
apprised them of the fact, and they lost no time in taking possession of the
abandoned works and entering the defenceless cities.
On the morning of the 3d of April the mayor of Richmond surrendered the city to
the Federal commander in its vicinity, and General Weitzel took immediate
possession. He at once proceeded to enforce order and took measures to arrest
the conflagration, while with great humanity he endeavored to relieve the
distressed citizens. After four years of courageous sacrifice and patriotic
devotion, the city of Richmond was compelled to yield to the decree of fate and
bow her proud crest to the victor. But she felt no shame or disgrace, for her
defence had been bold and chivalrous, and in the hour of her adversity her
majestic fortitude drew from her conquerors respect and admiration.
As soon as Grant became aware of Lee's line of retreat, he pushed forward his
whole available force, numbering seventy thousand or eighty thousand men, in
order to intercept him on the line of the Richmond and Danville Railroad.
Sheridan's cavalry formed the van of the pursuing army, and was closely followed
by the artillery and infantry. Lee pressed on as rapidly as possible to Amelia
Court-House, where he had ordered supplies to be deposited for the use of his
troops on their arrival. This forethought was highly necessary in consequence of
the scanty supply of rations provided at the commencement of the retreat.
The hope of finding a supply of food at this point, which had done much to buoy
up the spirits of the men, was destined to be cruelly dispelled. Through an
unfortunate error or misapprehension of orders, the provision-train had been
taken on to Richmond without unloading its stores at Amelia Court-House, and its
much-needed food disappeared during the excitement and confusion of the capital
city. As a result, on reaching that point not a single ration was found to be
provided for the hungry troops.
It was a terrible blow alike to the men and to their general. A reaction from
hope to despair came upon the brave soldiers who had so far borne up under the
most depressing difficulties, while on General Lee's face came a deeper shadow
than it had yet worn. He saw his well-devised plan imperilled by a circumstance
beyond his control. The necessity of speed if he would achieve the aim which he
had in his mind was opposed by the absolute need of halting and collecting food
for his impoverished troops. Grant was pursuing him with all haste. The only
chance remaining to the Army of Northern Virginia was to reach the hill-country
without delay. Yet here it was detained by the error of a railroad official,
while the precious minutes and hours moved remorselessly by.
By the morning of the 5th the whole army had reached the place of general
rendezvous. Bitter was its disappointment to learn that no food was to be had
save such scanty quantities as might be collected by the foraging-parties that
had immediately been sent out, and that a distance of fifty miles lay between it
and adequate supplies. Yet no murmur came from the lips of the men to the ear of
their commander, and on the evening of that unfortunate day they resumed their
weary march in silence and composure. Some small amount of food had been brought
in by the foragers, greatly inadequate for the wants of the soldiers, yet aiding
them somewhat to alleviate the pangs of hunger. A handful of corn was now a
feast to the weary veterans as they trudged onward through the April night. .
The progress of the retreat during the night was slow and tedious, the route for
the most part lying through farms and over farm-lands, whose condition
frequently demanded the aid of pioneers to construct and repair bridges and
causeways for the artillery and wagons, the teams of which by this time had
become weak and jaded. The country roads were miry from the spring rains, the
streams were swollen, and the numerous wagons which were necessary to transport
the munitions of war from Richmond to a new line of defence served to retard the
retreat and permit the Federals to rapidly gain upon the slow-marching columns.
Sheridan's cavalry was already upon the flank of the Confederate army, and the
infantry was following with all speed. On the morning of the 6th a wagon-train
fell into the hands of Sheridan's troopers, but this was recaptured by the
Confederates. During the forenoon of that day the pursuing columns thickened,
and frequent skirmishes delayed the march. These delays enabled the Federals to
accumulate in such force that it became necessary for Lee to halt his advance in
order to arrest their attack till his column could close up and the trains and
such artillery as was not needed for action could reach a point of safety.
This object was accomplished early in the afternoon. Ewell's, the rearmost corps
of the army, closed upon those in front at a position on Sailor's Creek, a small
tributary of the Appomattox River. While the troops were moving to their
destination, and the trains had passed, General Gordon, who commanded the rear-
guard, observing a considerable Federal force moving around the Confederate
rear, apparently with the intention of turning it, sent notice of this movement
to the troops in front, and then proceeded by a near route to a suitable
position on the line of retreat.
Ewell, unfortunately, either failed to receive Gordon's message or his troops
were so worn out with hunger and fatigue as to be dilatory in complying with
orders. As a consequence, his corps was surrounded by the pursuing columns and
captured with but little opposition. About the same time the divisions of
Anderson, Pickett, and Bushrod Johnson were almost broken up, about ten thousand
men in all being captured. The remainder of the army continued its retreat
during the night of the 6th, and reached Farmville early on the morning of the
7th, where the troops obtained two days' rations, the first regular supplies
they had received during the retreat. At Farmville a short halt was made to
allow the men to rest and cook their provisions. .
The heads of the Federal columns beginning to appear about eleven o'clock, the
Confederates resumed their retreat. The teams of the wagons and artillery were
weak, being travel-worn and suffering from lack of forage. Their progress,
therefore, was necessarily slow, and, as the troops were obliged to move in
conformity with the artillery and trains, the Federal cavalry closed upon the
retreating army. In the afternoon it became necessary to make dispositions, to
retard the rapid advance of the enemy. Mahone's division, with a few batteries,
was thrown out for that purpose, and a spirited conflict ensued, in which the
Federals were checked. Other attempts were made during the afternoon to retard
or arrest the Confederate columns, which in every instance were repulsed. .
Desperate as the situation had become, and irretrievable as it seemed hourly
growing, General Lee could not forego the hope of breaking through the net that
was rapidly enclosing him and of forming a junction with Johnston. In the event
of success in this he felt confident of being able to manoeuvre with Grant at
least until favorable terms of peace could be obtained.
A crisis was now at hand. Should Lee obtain the necessary supplies at Appomattox
Court-House, he would push on to the Staunton River and maintain himself behind
that stream until a junction could be made with Johnston. If, however, supplies
should fail him, the surrender and dissolution of the army were inevitable. On
the 8th the retreat, being uninterrupted, progressed more expeditiously than on
the previous day. Yet, though the Federals did not press the Confederate flank
and rear as on the day before, a heavy column of cavalry advanced upon
Appomattox Station, where the supplies for the Confederate army had been
On the preceding day a correspondence had begun between the two commanding
generals, opening in the following note sent by General Grant to General Lee:
"HEAD-QUARTERS ARMIES OF THE U. S.,
"5 P. M., April 7, 1865.
"GENERAL R. E. LEE, COMMANDING C. S. A.
" GENERAL,--The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness
of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this
struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself
the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the
surrender of that portion of the Confederate Southern army known as the Army of
" Very respectfully,
" Your obedient servant,
" U. S. GRANT,
"Lieutenant-General commanding Armies of the U. S."
To which General Lee replied,--
"April 7, 1865.
"GENERAL,--I have received your note of this day. Though not entertaining the
opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the
Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion
of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you
will offer on condition of its surrender.
" R. E. LEE,
" LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT, commanding the Armies of the United States."
On the succeeding day General Grant returned the following reply:
"April 8, 1865.
"TO GENERAL R. E. LEE, COMMANDING C.S.A.
"GENERAL, -- Your note of the last evening, in reply to mine of the same date,
asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of
Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply I would say that, peace being my
great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, -- namely, that
the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again
against the government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will
meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you might name for the
same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging
definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia
will be received.
"U. S. GRANT,
General Lee immediately responded:
"April 8, 1865.
"GENERAL, -- I received at a late hour your note of today. In mine of yesterday
I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but
to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency
has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but, as the restoration of
peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals
would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender
the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposal may affect the
Confederate States forces under my command and tend to the restoration of peace,
I should be pleased to meet you at ten A. M. to-morrow on the old stage-road to
Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.
"R. E. LEE,
When Lee in the afternoon reached the neighborhood of Appomattox Court-House, he
was met by the intelligence of the capture of the stores placed for his army at
the station two miles beyond. Notwithstanding this over-whelming news, he
determined to make one more effort to force himself through the Federal toils
that encompassed him. Therefore he made preparations for battle, but under
circumstances more desperate than had hitherto befallen the Army of Northern
Virginia. The remnant of that noble army, now reduced to ten thousand effective
men, was marshalled to cut its way through a host seventy-five thousand strong;
but, notwithstanding the stupendous odds, there was not in that little band a
heart that quailed or a hand that trembled; there was not one of them who would
not willingly have laid down his life in the cause they had so long maintained,
and for the noble chief who had so often led them to victory.
On the evening of that day the last council of the leaders of the Army of
Northern Virginia was held around a bivouac-fire in the woods, there being
present Generals Lee, Longstreet, Gordon, and Fitz Lee. This conference ended in
a determination to make a renewed effort on the following morning to break
through the impediments in front, of which there was still a possibility if only
cavalry should be found and no heavy force of infantry had reached that point.
At three o'clock on the morning of the 9th of April the Confederates moved
silently forward. The advance under Gordon, reaching the heights a little beyond
the court-house at dawn, found that the route was obstructed by a large force of
Federal cavalry. Gordon then deployed the Second Corps, now less than two
thousand strong and supported by thirty pieces of artillery under General Long,
with Fitz Lee's cavalry on the flank.
This artillery consisted of parts of the commands of Colonel Carter, Lieutenant-
Colonels Poague and Duke Johnston, and Major Stark, and the guns were served
with the usual skill and gallantry. A well-directed fire from the artillery and
an attack from the cavalry quickly dislodged the force in front. Gordon then
advanced, but was arrested by a greatly superior force of the enemy's infantry,
whereupon he informed General Lee that a powerful reinforcement was necessary to
enable him to continue his advance.
Lee being unable to grant that request, but one course remained. A flag of truce
was sent to General Grant requesting a suspension of hostilities for the
arrangement of preliminaries of surrender. Then an order to cease firing passed
along the lines. This order, on being received by General Long, was sent by him,
through Major South-all and other members of his staff, to the different
batteries to direct them to discontinue firing. General Long then proceeded to
On reaching that point he discovered that the order had not been carried to a
battery that occupied the hill immediately above the village, which continued to
fire rapidly at an advancing line of Federal infantry. He at once rode in person
to the battery and gave the order to the captain to cease firing and to withdraw
his battery to a point east of the town, where the artillery was ordered to be
parked. These were the last shots fired by the Army of Northern Virginia. .
The artillery had been withdrawn from the heights, as above stated, and parked
in the small valley east of the village, while the infantry, who were formed on
the left, stacked arms and silently waited the result of the interview between
the opposing commanders.
The flag of truce was sent out from General Gordon's lines. Grant had not yet
come up, and while waiting for his arrival General Lee seated himself upon some
rails which Colonel Talcott of the Engineers had fixed at the foot of an apple-
tree for his convenience. This tree was half a mile distant from the point where
the meeting of Lee and Grant took place, yet wide-spread currency has been given
to the story that the surrender took place under its shade, and "apple-tree"
jewelry has been profusely distributed from the orchard in which it grew.
About eleven o'clock General Lee, accompanied only by Colonel Marshall of his
staff, proceeded to the village to meet General Grant, who had now arrived. The
meeting between the two renowned generals took place at the house of a Mr.
McLean at Appomattox Court-House, to which mansion, after exchanging courteous
salutations, they repaired to settle the terms on which the surrender of the
Army of Northern Virginia should be concluded.
A conversation here took place which General Grant, as he himself tells us, led
to various subjects divergent from the immediate purpose of the meeting, talking
of old army matters and comparing recollections with General Lee. As he says,
the conversation grew so pleasant that he almost forgot the object of the
General Lee was obliged more than once to remind him of this object, and it was
some time before the terms of the surrender were written out. The written
instrument of surrender covered the following points. Duplicate rolls of all the
officers and men were to be made, and the officers to sign paroles for
themselves and their men, all agreeing not to bear arms against the United
States unless regularly exchanged. The arms, artillery, and public property were
to be turned over to an officer appointed to receive them, the officers
retaining their side-arms and private horses and baggage. In addition to this,
General Grant permitted every man of the Confederate army who claimed to own a
horse or mule to retain it for farming purposes, General Lee remarking that this
would have a happy effect. As for the surrender by General Lee of his sword, a
report of which has been widely circulated, General Grant disposes of it in the
following words: "The much-talked-of surrendering of Lee's sword and my handing
it back, this and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance."
After completion of these measures General Lee remarked that his men were badly
in need of food, that they had been living for several days on parched corn
exclusively, and requested rations and forage for twenty-five thousand men.
These rations were granted out of the car-loads of Confederate provisions which
had been stopped by the Federal cavalry. As for forage, Grant remarked that he
was himself depending upon the country for that. The negotiations completed,
General Lee left the house, mounted his horse, and rode back to head-quarters.
It is impossible to describe the anguish of the troops when it was known that
the surrender of the army was inevitable. Of all their trials, this was the
greatest and hardest to endure. There was no consciousness of shame; each heart
could boast with honest pride that its duty had been done to the end, and that
still unsullied remained its honor. When, after his interview with Grant,
General Lee again appeared, a shout of welcome instinctively ran through the
army. But, instantly recollecting the sad occasion that brought him before them,
their shouts sank into silence, every hat was raised, and the bronzed faces of
the thousands of grim warriors were bathed with tears.
As he rode slowly along the lines, hundreds of his devoted veterans pressed
around the noble chief, trying to take his hand, touch his person, or even lay a
hand upon his horse, thus exhibiting for him their great affection. The general
then, with head bare and tears flowing freely down his manly cheeks, bade adieu
to the army. In a few words he told the brave men who had been so true in arms
to return to their homes and become worthy citizens.
Thus closed the career of the noble Army of Northern Virginia.
[The surrender of Lee's army was followed, a few days afterwards, by that of
General Johnston, and within a month all the armies of the Confederacy had laid
down their arms and accepted the lenient terms proposed to General Lee. This
leniency was soon in danger of being replaced by harsher measures. Two days
after Lee's surrender an event occurred which stirred the North as no event of
the war had done, an act of brutal violence, which, with a different people,
might have led to deeds of bloody and terrible reprisal. This was the murder of
President Lincoln, who was shot in a Washington theatre by a frantic partisan of
the South, eager for that infamous glory which has led in all ages to acts of
destructive violence. Thus, by the pistol of an assassin, fell the man whose
hand had guided the ship of state through all the perils of its dangerous way,
and whose wise and judicious counsel and unbounded influence would have been of
incalculable value in healing the wounds of the war. In the act of its pretended
avenger the South lost its best friend, and a long period of divided counsels
and bitter feeling was the direct consequence of this fatal blow.]
Armistead L. Long