From John Lightner, 200th Pennsylvania

Letter from Private John Lightner of the 200th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to his mother on the day of Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

Nottoway C.H., Va.

Sunday, April 9th, 1865


Pennsylvania State Flag | Image Credit:
Pennsylvania State Flag | Image Credit:

I really think the first thing I ought to do is to beg pardon for not writing you for so long. The first chance to send a letter since we started however was this morning, but I had none ready.

Have not the last weeks been glorious one(s)? You must be nearly wild with excitement. I know I am, and I don’t know near as much as you do. I feel just like hurrahing every time I think of it. The end is surely near. Where the rebels are is now the question. I don’t believe they are of much account anywhere.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a small squad of over 8,000 going to the rear under guard, and they reported that Lee only had about 20,000 with him in any sort of shape and that is almost nothing in front of our army. Our boys are jubilant I tell you, anxious and eager to push on. I may be over-sanguine but I am really looking for the close of this long and desperate struggle in the course of a month. I don’t see how it can last.

But perhaps you are particularly interested in the personal movements of your absent boy. You can get all the general details of movements through the newspapers.

Well, after my scribble in the old camp on Monday morning, I went again to (the) hospital. About noon, all were packed and we took our place in the passing column through our works across the long-contested middle ground, through the rebel lines, which are if anything more wonderful and intricate than our own, and on into Petersburg, the town whose steeples I have been looking at for almost 10 months. No one could help thinking in passing through the reb lines, if they could not hold such fortifications as they had there, surely they cannot make a stand anywhere. The fighting is almost over.

It was hard to realize that we really were in Petersburg. I remained there all afternoon, riding up one street and down another, stopping occasionally at some house. It is really a very pleasant city and by far the largest that I have yet seen in Virginia. The inhabitants were rather shy. Most of them did not appear particularly well pleased, but our troops were feeling gay and we made the old town ring again with good old Union music. Our troops all filed out along the Southside R.R. Thus far we have been following it right along. I suppose in a day or two it will be in running order up to this point and probably beyond.

Our division had been engaged all the time in that meanest of all ways of marching wagon guard and bringing up the rear of our whole wagon train. I have occasionally heard the sounds of fighting away in our front, but never near enough to be at all engaged. ‘Tis a very safe position and in fact a pretty responsible one, though there is but little honor, credit or glory in it. We have been taking it very leisurely, we are only about 45 miles from Petersburg now. We have had seven nights marching nearly all the time, though never more than five or 10 miles at a time.

We have had most beautiful weather ever since we started and the country looks pretty. ‘Tis a better country here than on the other side of the river, many large plantations, but very few that I call comfortable houses. I do think they are as a class the most miserable set of people that I ever saw. They do not seem to have the least idea of what decent living is. Of course there are a few exceptions but only about enough to prove the general rule.

The orchards are all in full bloom, flowers beginning to appear and the grain fields are beautifully green. So far we are having a beautiful country trip. Last night was the first that has really seemed to me like actual campaigning. The first night that I have slept in a tent. I have had a house every other night and all but one good bed to sleep in…

Love to father, self and all folks as ever,

Your Affectionate Son,



Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 232-33

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