Tag Archives: Army of Northern Virginia

The Army of Northern Virginia Surrenders

April 10, 1865 – Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee issued a farewell to his Army of Northern Virginia as both sides prepared for a formal surrender ceremony.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

On the night of the 9th, a message arrived at the War Department in Washington from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander:

“Gen. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Va this afternoon on terms proposed by myself. The accompanying additional correspondence will show the conditions fully.”

It was generally understood that the surrender of the Confederacy’s largest army meant that the end of the war was near. As the news spread, celebrations in Washington that had begun with the fall of Richmond quickly exploded into joyous pandemonium. Decorative gaslights at the U.S. Capitol blazed the message: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” Flames from gas jets at the Patent Office spelled “UNION.” Lights burned in almost every window in celebration.

But back at Appomattox Court House, much work needed to be done. A committee made up of Federal and Confederate officers discussed the details of the surrender ceremony, which was to take place on the 12th. Then, on the 10th, the parole process began and Lee requested final reports from his corps commanders on operations from March 29th up to the surrender. Lee would use this material for his final report to President Jefferson Davis.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lee asked his aide, Colonel Charles Marshall, to draft a farewell address to the army and submit it to him by 10 a.m. When Lee learned that Marshall had been unable to meet the deadline, he ordered his aide to go into an ambulance and not return until it was done. A courier then reported that Grant wanted to meet with the Confederate commander once more. Lee accepted.

Meeting on a hill overlooking Appomattox Court House, Grant asked Lee if he would use his influence to persuade the remaining Confederate commanders in the field to surrender their armies. Lee acknowledged that further resistance would be futile, but he felt that urging a wholesale surrender might infringe on President Jefferson Davis’s powers as commander-in-chief. Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, Confederate artillery chief, later wrote, “I think there is no doubt that Mr. Davis would have considered it a great intrusion.”

Grant then asked Lee if he would be willing to go to Washington and meet with President Abraham Lincoln, but Lee did not think that would be proper. He did express opposition to “extremists on both sides,” and he assured Grant that he would devote his “whole efforts to pacifying the country and bringing the people back to the Union.” Grant was satisfied with Lee’s sincerity.

As Grant and Lee continued their discussion, Lee granted permission to Major General Philip Sheridan and other Federal officers to go into the Confederate camps to look for old friends. The Federals soon returned with Confederate Generals James Longstreet, John B. Gordon, and Henry Heth, all of whom paid their respects to Grant.

Meanwhile, other Federals and Confederates visited with each other at the McLean house in Appomattox. Grant later joined in and “spent an hour pleasantly” with Confederates who had been friends and West Point classmates before the war. The men mingled “very much as if all thought of the war had escaped their minds.”

Later that day, Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, met with his old friend General Lee. Meade’s aide Colonel Theodore Lyman recalled that Lee “gazed vacantly when Meade saluted him. But he recovered himself and said ‘What are you doing with all that gray in your beard?’ ‘That you have a good deal to do with!’ said our General promptly.”

Lee returned to his headquarters, where Marshall had finished the farewell address. Lee issued it as his last order, General Order No. 9:

“After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

“I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest. I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

“By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a Merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection.

“With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.”

Lee spent most of the 11th gathering the reports from his corps commanders and preparing his own report for Davis. It began, “It is with pain that I announce to Your Excellency the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.” Lee cited the failure of rations to reach the army at Amelia Court House as one of the chief causes of the surrender: “This delay was fatal, and could not be retrieved.”

He also explained that the defeat at Sayler’s Creek was because “General Anderson, commanding Pickett’s and B.R. Johnson’s divisions, became disconnected with Mahone’s division, forming the rear of Longstreet.” Lee then detailed exactly what led to his final decision to surrender:

“I deemed this course the best under all the circumstances by which we were surrounded. On the morning of the 9th, according to the reports of the ordnance officers, there were 7892 organized infantry with arms, with an average of 75 rounds of ammunition per man. The artillery, though reduced to sixty-three pieces, with ninety-three rounds of ammunition, was sufficient. These comprised all the supplies of ordnance that could be relied on in the State of Virginia. I have no accurate report of the cavalry, but believe it did not exceed 2100 effective men. The enemy was more than five times our numbers. If we could have forced our way one day longer, it would have been at a great sacrifice of life, and at its end I did not see how a surrender could have been avoided. We had no subsistence for man or horse, and it could not be gathered in the country. The supplies ordered to Pamplin’s Station from Lynchburg could not reach us, and the men, deprived of food and sleep for many days, were worn out and exhausted.”

Lee then bade farewell to his staff and signed his pledge not to take up arms against the United States again. He would not break camp until the surrender ceremony was over, but he would not participate. Neither would Grant, who had already gone back to the Federal supply base at City Point. He planned to slash Federal army expenses now that the largest enemy army had surrendered.

Gen. J.L. Chamberlain | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The official surrender took place on the 12th. Federal troops lined both sides of the main road to Appomattox Court House and awaited the Confederates, who were required to come forward, stack their arms, and fold their flags. Brevet Major General Joshua L. Chamberlain, the former Maine professor who had been wounded twice and became the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, presided over the ceremony. He recalled, “Grant wished the ceremony to be as simple as possible, and that nothing should be done to humiliate the manhood of the Southern soldiers.”

At 9 a.m., the Confederates formed ranks and marched down the street, with Major General John B. Gordon’s corps in the lead. The Stonewall Brigade headed the corps; this legendary outfit now consisted of just 210 men in five regiments. The small number of men contrasted with the large number of battle flags, prompting Chamberlain to note that “the whole column seemed crowned with red.”

Gordon led the men with “his chin drooped to his breast, downhearted and dejected in appearance.” Chamberlain suddenly ordered the Federals to carry arms, thus saluting Confederate honor. Gordon later wrote:

“One of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal army, General Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine, who afterward served with distinction as governor of his State, called his troops into line, and as my men marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes–a token of respect from Americans to Americans, a final and fitting tribute from Northern to Southern chivalry.”

According to Chamberlain:

“Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,–honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

Thus, the two armies ended four years of terrible warfare with “honor answering honor” for a “mutual salutation and farewell.” And the legendary Army of Northern Virginia was no more.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 555-57; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 470, 472; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 557; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18903-23, 20037-67, 20077-87; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 583; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8986-97, 9021-33; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (William C. Davis, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 284-86; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 670-75; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 220-21; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 849-50; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 432, 735-36; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538, 598-99

Lee Surrenders to Grant

April 9, 1865 – Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant received the surrender of Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee and the last of his Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee waited for Grant in the parlor of Wilmer McLean, in the village of Appomattox Court House. With Lee was his aide Colonel Charles Marshall and Grant’s aide Colonel Orville Babcock. Lee was impeccably dressed in a new full-dress uniform, scarlet sash, and sword with a jewel-studded hilt.

Grant rode into the village a half hour later with several officers, including Major Generals Philip Sheridan (cavalry commander) and E.O.C. Ord (Army of the James commander), and Brigadier General George A. Custer. Grant’s aide-de-camp, Colonel Eli Parker, rode with him as well. They all stopped outside the McLean house and waited outside while Grant went in.

Grant wore a basic, muddy uniform and no sword; his baggage had not caught up with him yet. Grant later wrote, “In my rough travelling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form.” Lee rose to shake hands with the five-foot-eight Federal commander, and the men engaged in some small talk. Babcock soon appeared in the front doorway and called on the Federal officers waiting outside to come in. They quickly filled the McLean parlor to witness the event.

Grant told Lee, “I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico, when you came over from General Scott’s headquarters to visit Garland’s brigade, to which I then belonged. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere.” Lee replied, “Yes, I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it, and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature.”

According to Grant:

“Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army.”

Grant explained that the terms would remain as they were in his letter from the previous day: Confederate officers and men in the Army of Northern Virginia would lay down their arms and be allowed to return to their homes, and they would be disqualified from taking up arms against the United States again until properly exchanged. Lee then suggested that the terms be put in writing, and Grant agreed. While Lee sat at his table, Parker brought up a second table for Grant to use. Grant opened his order book and wrote:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit:

“Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

Lee Surrenders to Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Grant exceeded his authority with the last sentence, which guaranteed that the Confederates would not be punished for rebelling against the Federal government. Nevertheless, the book was passed to Lee, who laid it on the table, polished his spectacles, put them on, and read it. Scanning the second page, Lee said, “After the words ‘until properly’ the word ‘exchanged’ seems to be omitted. You doubtless intended to use that word.”

Grant said, “Why, yes. I thought I had put in the word ‘exchanged.’” Lee replied, “I presumed it had been omitted inadvertently, and, with your permission, I will mark where it should be inserted.” Grant said, “Certainly.” Marshall gave Lee his pencil, and Lee twirled it in his fingers and tapped it on the table as he finished reading. He noted the section allowing officers to keep their horses and side arms and said, “This will have a very happy effect upon my army.”

Lee then said, “General, our cavalrymen furnish their own horses; they are not Government horses, some of them may be, but of course you will find them out–any property that is public property, you will ascertain that, but it is nearly all private property, and these men will want to plough ground and plant corn.” Grant told Lee that the terms did not allow for the rank and file to keep their horses, and Lee replied that this was clear.

Then Grant reconsidered. He said that he hoped this would be the final battle of the war, and presuming that most of the Confederates were small farmers, they would be allowed to keep their horses as well. Lee repeated that such an allowance would have a happy effect on the men. Lee wrote a reply to Grant’s written terms:

“I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.”

At around 3:45 p.m., this letter was placed in an envelope and sealed. Grant took the envelope and handed it to Parker without reading it; he said that Lee’s word was sufficient for the surrender to take effect. Parker wrote out copies of Grant’s surrender order, and Grant introduced Lee to all the Federal officers in the parlor. When Lee came to Parker (who was a Seneca Indian), he said, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”

Grant asked Sheridan if his troopers had any rations they could share with the remaining Confederates, many of whom were nearly starved to death. Sheridan said that he had some from the Confederate trains his men had captured the previous day. Grant asked Lee if 25,000 rations would be enough, and Lee replied, “Plenty, plenty; an abundance.”

Lee left the McLean house, accompanied by Babcock and Marshall. The general stood on the porch steps and silently pounded his right fist into his left palm as he waited for his orderly to bring up his horse. As Lee mounted the horse, Grant emerged from the McLean house and raised his hat in salute. All Federal officers present did the same. Lee returned the salute and rode off slowly.

As Lee returned to his surrendered army, weeping troops swarmed him and urged him to carry on the fight. Lee told them, “I have done for you all that it was in my power to do. You have done all your duty. Leave the result to God. Go to your homes and resume your occupations. Obey the laws and become as good citizens as you were soldiers.”

Grant left the house next, accompanied by Colonel Horace Porter. When Porter asked if Grant would notify Washington, Grant admitted that he had forgotten about that. He stopped at the roadside and scribbled a hasty message for the telegraph.

An officer present later recalled that after Grant and Lee left the McLean house, “Relic-hunters, charged down upon the manor house and began to bargain for the numerous pieces of furniture.” Some men tried to pay McLean, but he refused. The men took the furniture anyway.

Meanwhile, word quickly spread among the Federals that Lee had surrendered. The men shouted, cheered, and fired their weapons in celebration. When gunners started firing their cannon in salute, Grant ordered them to stop. He told them, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again, and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations.” He later wrote:

“What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know… but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”

Grant’s order did not reach the troops outside Appomattox Court House, and they staged wild celebrations. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, rode down the lines waving his hat and shouting, “It’s all over, boys! Lee’s surrendered! It’s all over!” An officer wrote his wife: “Notwithstanding the privations and hardships I have endured, and the great suffering I have undergone, the glory of this day more than compensates me for all.” A soldier recalled:

“The air is black with hats and boots, coats, knapsacks, shirts and cartridge boxes, blankets and shelter tents, canteens and haversacks. They fall on each others’ necks and laugh and cry by turns. Huge, lumbering, bearded men embrace and kiss like school-girls, then dance and sing and shout, stand on their heads and play at leapfrog with each other… All the time, from the hills around, the deep-mouthed cannon give their harmless thunders, and at each hollow boom the vast concourse rings out its joy anew that murderous shot and shell no longer follow close the accustomed sound.”

The celebrations would increase as news of the surrender reached Washington and then the rest of the North.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 555-56; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 460-69; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 557; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 581; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (William C. Davis, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 284-85; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 18-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 670-71; Maddox, Robert J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 464; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 217-18, 220; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 848-49; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5645; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 735-36; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 377-81; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

Lee Agrees to Discuss Surrender

April 9, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee was compelled to ask Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant for a meeting to discuss surrendering the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant and Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

At 5 a.m. on Palm Sunday, Confederate infantry under Major General John B. Gordon and cavalry under Major General Fitzhugh Lee advanced as planned. They hoped to break through Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry blocking their escape route to the west while Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps held off the Federals closing in from the east.

The Confederates initially drove Sheridan’s troopers back, pushing forward to the crest of a hill near Appomattox Court House. But they did not know that Sheridan was only pulling his men back so the infantry could get into the fight, and beyond the crest lay XXIV Corps from the Army of the James and V Corps from the Army of the Potomac. The Federals surged forward, and Gordon told one of Lee’s aides, “My old corps is reduced to a frazzle, and, unless I am supported by Longstreet heavily, I do not think we can do anything more.”

But Longstreet was busy trying to fend off II and VI corps from the Army of the Potomac, three miles northeast. When the aide delivered Gordon’s message to Lee, he realized he now had no hope of continuing southwest to join with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates in North Carolina. His army was surrounded on three sides (with the fourth side useless to them) and outnumbered five-to-one. After four years of fighting, the Army of Northern Virginia now faced annihilation. Lee said, “Then there is nothing left me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Lee met with Longstreet and Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, army artillery chief. Alexander proposed disbanding the army and allowing the troops to continue the struggle as guerrilla fighters. Lee demurred, arguing that the hungry men “would become mere bands of marauders, and the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many sections they may never (otherwise) have occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from.”

Lee rode out about 8:30 a.m. to the place where he had proposed meeting with Grant to discuss peace terms. But he soon received a message from Grant telling him that the meeting would not take place:

“I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace; the meeting proposed for 10 a.m. to-day could lead to no good. I will state however, general, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c. U.S. Grant, Lieutenant General.”

Annoyed by this rejection, Lee told his aide, “Well, write a letter to General Grant and ask him to meet me to deal with the question of the surrender of my army.” It read:

“I received your note of this morning on the picket line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.”

At that time, Grant was riding with II and VI corps coming in from the east. After he left that sector to meet with Sheridan, a courier under a white flag (actually a towel) delivered Lee’s message, where it was received by Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Meade forwarded the message to Grant but refused to suspend hostilities: “I have no sort of authority to grant such suspension. General Lee has already refused the terms of General Grant.”

When told that the Federals would attack, Lee wrote a second note to Grant: “I ask a suspension of hostilities pending the adjustment of the terms of the surrender of this army, in the interview requested in my former communication today.” Meade was finally persuaded to halt his attack.

Brigadier General John Rawlins, Grant’s chief of staff, received Lee’s message, read it, and handed it to the commander. Grant had been suffering from a migraine, or “a sick headache” as he described it, but “the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured.” Grant quickly replied:

“Your note of this date is but this moment (11:50 A.M.) received, in consequence of my having passed from the Richmond and Lynchburg roads to the Farmville and Lynchburg road. I am writing this about four miles west of Walker’s Church, and will push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you. Notice sent to me on this road where you wish the interview to take place will meet me.”

Grant then met with Sheridan and informed him that Lee wanted to surrender. Sheridan was “suspicious about the whole business, feared that there might be a plan to escape, that he had Lee at his feet and wanted to end the business by going in and forcing an absolute surrender by capture.” But Grant had “no doubt about the good faith of Lee,” and both sides ceased firing until Grant and Lee could talk.

Federals and Confederates dropped their guns and started mingling between the lines. A Pennsylvanian wrote that he went to the nearest Confederate regiment and “as soon as I got among these boys I felt and was treated as well as if I had been among our own boys, and a person would of thought we were of the same Army and had been Fighting under the Same Flag.” Another Federal soldier recalled:

“I remember how we sat there and pitied and sympathized with these courageous Southern men who had fought for four long and dreary years all so stubbornly, so bravely and so well, and now, whipped, beaten, completely used up, were fully at our mercy–it was pitiful, sad, hard, and seemed to us altogether too bad.”

Colonel Orville Babcock of Grant’s staff delivered the general’s message to Lee, who received it near 1 p.m. He dispatched Colonel Charles Marshall of his staff to find a meeting place for the two commanders. Marshall and Babcock rode into the village of Appomattox Court House and met with a resident named Wilmer McLean, who reluctantly allowed them to use the front parlor of his home. Ironically, McLean had moved away from Manassas to escape the war after his home had been damaged during the Battle of Bull Run in 1861. The McLean family settled in this peaceful village, “where the sound of battle would never reach them.”

According to Marshall: “Colonel Babcock told his orderly that he was to meet General Grant, who was coming on the road, and turn him in when he came along. So General Lee, Babcock and myself sat down in McLean’s parlour and talked in the most friendly and affable way.”

Federal officers waited for Grant on the road to Appomattox Court House, including Sheridan and Major General E.O.C. Ord, commanding the Army of the James. Grant looked ahead to the village and asked Sheridan, “Is Lee up there?” Sheridan said yes. Grant replied, “Very well. Let’s go up.” A nearby Federal band played “Auld Lang Syne” as the officers rode by.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 541; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 566; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 375-80; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 460-69; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22451-78; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 557; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19697-707, 19727-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 581; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8768-81, 8825-47; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (William C. Davis, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 284-85; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 18-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 670-71; Maddox, Robert J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 464; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 217-18, 220; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 848-49; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5645; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 735-36; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 377-81; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Appomattox Campaign: Part 2

April 8, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia continued its grueling westward march while Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant continued pressing for its surrender.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lee hoped to get his men to Appomattox Court House, where supplies were supposedly waiting. From there, Lee planned to continue west to Lynchburg and then turn south to join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. However, the army had dwindled to less than 20,000 men, with troops falling out by the hour from hunger and exhaustion. And over 80,000 Federals were in close pursuit, with Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry riding ahead to block Lee’s path.

Grant, the overall Federal commander, had written to Lee urging him to surrender. Grant received Lee’s reply on the morning of the 8th, in which Lee asked what terms Grant might offer. While awaiting Grant’s reply, Lee told aides, “I will strike that man a blow in the morning.” When an officer suggested surrender, Lee replied:

“I trust it has not come to that! We certainly have too many brave men to think of laying down our arms. They still fight with great spirit whereas the enemy does not. Besides, if I were to intimate to General Grant that I would listen to terms, he would at once regard it as such evidence of weakness that he would demand unconditional surrender–and sooner than that I am resolved to die. Indeed, we must all determine to die at our posts.”

Major General Henry Wise, the former Virginia governor, asked Lee what he planned to do. Lee replied, “I shall have to be governed by each day’s developments. A few more Sayler’s Creeks and it will all be over–ended–just as I have expected it would end from the first.”

Brig Gen G.A. Custer | Image Credit: claseshistoria.com

That afternoon, Brigadier General George A. Custer’s cavalry division captured four supply trains at Appomattox Station, about a mile from Appomattox Court House. Sheridan reported that his troopers had begun arriving at the courthouse town to block Lee, and, “If the 5th Corps can get up tonight we will perhaps finish the job in the morning. I do not think Lee means to surrender until compelled to do so.” Grant wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “I feel very confident of receiving the surrender of Lee and what remains of his army tomorrow.”

The Confederates continued moving, unaware that Federals were now in their front. Lee relieved Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson and Major Generals George Pickett and Bushrod R. Johnson from duty because they no longer had commands after the rout at Sayler’s Creek. As for the remaining Army of Northern Virginia, Major General John B. Gordon’s infantry corps and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry stopped near the town surrounding the Appomattox County courthouse. Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps stopped behind Gordon.

Meanwhile, Lee received Grant’s latest message:

“Your note of last evening in reply to mine of the same date, asking the conditions 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 against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may 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.”

The surrender terms were generous; not only would the troops be allowed to return to their homes, but Lee would be spared the humiliation of surrendering in person. In fact, they were the same terms that Grant had offered Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg. But Lee was not ready to give up. He replied:

“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 N. Va., 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 N. Va.; 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 10 A.M. tomorrow on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies.”

Grant received this message in a farmhouse near Farmville. He was suffering from a migraine, and Lee’s reply made it no better. Grant’s staffers were enraged upon reading Lee’s note because Lee tried shifting the topic from surrender to peace negotiation, which Grant had no authority to discuss. Grant did not share their anger; he simply shook his head and said, “It looks as if Lee means to fight. I will reply in the morning.” Grant proposed to meet with Lee nonetheless until his top staffer and trusted confidante General John Rawlins reminded him that President Abraham Lincoln had ordered Grant to only discuss surrender, not peace, with Lee.

As night fell, the situation for Lee was bleaker than ever:

  • Sheridan’s cavalry blocked the road to Lynchburg that Lee needed for his army to survive.
  • Major General John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps was southwest of Lee, poised to join forces with Sheridan.
  • Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps was coming up behind Gibbon.
  • II and VI corps under Major Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and Horatio G. Wright were closing in on the Confederates from the east.

Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, who had come out to inspect the Army of Northern Virginia, reported to President Jefferson Davis at Danville that Lee had been “forced across the Appomattox” River to find “temporary relief” from the Federals in his continuing effort to “move around (the Federals) toward North Carolina. The straggling has been great, and the situation is not favorable.”

Lee arrived about a mile northeast of Appomattox Court House at 9 p.m. Artillery could be heard in the distance, and Federal campfires were visible to the west. The Confederates were virtually surrounded and outnumbered five-to-one. Supply lines had been cut, denying them any hope for food or reinforcement.

Lee held a council of war with Longstreet, Gordon, and Fitz Lee. They resolved to attack Sheridan’s troopers at 5 a.m. on the 9th, before the infantry could come to their aid. The goal was to break through the Federal line and get to Lynchburg. Gordon and Fitz stated that they could handle the cavalry, but if the infantry came up, they would have to surrender. When one of Gordon’s aides asked Lee where Gordon should stop after the breakthrough, Lee replied, “Tell General Gordon that I should be glad for him to halt just beyond the Tennessee line.”

Both Federals and Confederates bivouacked within striking distance of each other that night. Men on both sides felt that the next day would decide the war.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 539-40; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 581; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 374-75; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 458-60; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22452, 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 556; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19590-609, 19355-75, 19657-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 581; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8721-45; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (William C. Davis, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 282-84; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 669-70; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 216-17; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 377-81; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Appomattox Campaign

April 7, 1865 – After suffering his worst defeat, Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee embarked on the final campaign of his military career.

The Confederates who survived yesterday’s Sayler’s Creek rout continued their agonizing march west to collect the rations waiting for them at Farmville. Many starving men had been living on dried corn intended for the horses. They crossed the Appomattox River and burned the bridges behind them, but Federals from II Corps seized a bridge downriver before it could be destroyed. This enabled the Federals to cross and continue their close pursuit.

As the Confederates stopped at Farmville to cook their rations, Lee learned that the Federals had gotten across the Appomattox. He would have to order another forced march to get away, this time to Appomattox Court House, 38 miles west. The exhausted troops were quickly put in motion once again; many had not even had time to eat when the ration train steamed off to safety. Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, the Confederate artillery chief, later wrote:

“It was very plain that the prospect of being surrendered had suddenly become a topic of general conversation. Indeed, no man who looked at our situation on a map, or who understood the geography of the country, could fail to see that General Grant now had us completely in a trap… We were now in a sort of jug shaped peninsula between the James River and the Appomattox, and there was but one outlet, the neck of the jug at Appomattox Court House, and to that Grant had the shortest road!”

Federals from II Corps and Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry clashed with a Confederate holding force at Cumberland Church on the afternoon of the 7th. The Confederates repelled two charges, capturing Brigadier General John Irvin Gregg and mortally wounding Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth in the process. Smyth would become the last general to die in the war. Darkness ended the fighting, and the Confederates soon began another grueling night march.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

That night, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, rode into Farmville with Sheridan. Grant rode ahead of his baggage and had no clothes other than the mud-stained uniform he was wearing. Sheridan had written that Lee might surrender if pressed, and Grant forwarded this message to President Abraham Lincoln, who was still monitoring developments from the Federal supply base at City Point. Lincoln replied, “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”

Sheridan reported that his cavalry was riding hard for Appomattox Court House, where the Federals learned that supplies were being sent for Lee’s army. Sheridan also reported that Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, the Confederate corps commander who had been captured at Sayler’s Creek, had told his captors, “Our cause is lost. Lee should surrender before more lives are wasted.” Grant said, “I have a mind to summon Lee to surrender.” Grant went into the town hotel serving as his headquarters and wrote a letter to be sent to Lee under a flag of truce:

“The result 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 States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.”

Meanwhile, Lee’s troops continued heading west. Many dropped out due to hunger, sleep deprivation, or sheer hopelessness. Major General Henry Wise, the former Virginia governor, bluntly told Lee:

“This army is hopelessly whipped, and is fast becoming demoralized. These men have already endured more than I believed flesh and blood could stand, and I say to you, sir, emphatically, that to prolong the struggle is murder, and the blood of every man who is killed from this time forth is on your head, General Lee.”

Lee asked, “What would the country think of me, if I did what you suggest?” Wise snapped, “Country be damned! There is no country. There has been no country, General, for a year or more. You are the country to these men… You know the game is desperate beyond redemption, and that, if you so announce, no man, or government, or people, will gainsay your decision.”

A courier delivered Grant’s message to Lee around 10 p.m. Lee read the message and then handed it to Lieutenant General James Longstreet, his most trusted corps commander. Longstreet read it and said, “Not yet.” Lee responded to Grant:

“GENERAL:–I have recd your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of N. Va. I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, & therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 538; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 372-73; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 455-56; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555-56; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18973-83, 19355-65, 19531-41; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 580; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8653-65; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 550-51; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 281; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 119-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 668-69; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Battle of Sayler’s Creek

April 6, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia sustained its worst defeat of the war while trying to elude Federal pursuers west of Richmond.

On the night of the 5th, Lee’s forces began moving west out of Amelia Court House in heavy rain. The army had dwindled to about 25,000 hungry, exhausted, and desperate men. The troops headed toward Farmville, where Confederate Commissary General I.M. St. John arranged to have 80,000 rations waiting for them via the South Side Railroad. From there, Lee hoped to continue west to Lynchburg and then turn south to join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates in North Carolina.

The Confederates were under pursuit by some 80,000 Federals, led by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry corps was in the lead, followed by three corps from Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, and a corps of Major General E.O.C. Ord’s Army of the James. The Federals were highly motivated by the prospect of destroying Lee’s army and ending the war.

The Federals were mostly south and east of Lee’s Confederates. Early on the 6th, Grant discovered that Lee was moving west, around the Federal left flank. He therefore directed Sheridan’s cavalry to ride northwest and block the Confederate advance while Federal infantry closed in from behind. Meade had planned to advance on Amelia Court House, but when he learned that Lee was no longer there, he wheeled left and joined Sheridan in the pursuit.

The opposing forces moved along parallel roads, with the Confederates on the northern route and slightly ahead. Along the way, Federal troops came across abandoned guns, broken down wagons, starving animals, and Confederate stragglers ready to surrender.

On the morning of the 6th, elements of Sheridan’s cavalry rode into a gap that had formed between the Confederate corps of Lieutenant Generals James Longstreet and Richard H. Anderson. Longstreet was unaware that Anderson had been stopped and thus continued west to Rice’s Station. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, moving behind Anderson, sent his wagon train north with Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederates to prevent its capture.

Confederate Lieut Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Ewell positioned his corps on a ridge facing northeast, overlooking the Hillsman farm and Little Sayler’s (or Sailor’s) Creek. Gordon was to his left (north), and Anderson was to his right rear (south). Major General Horatio G. Wright’s Federal VI Corps formed on the opposing ridge and gunners opened fire around 5 p.m. The infantry advanced soon after.

The Confederates waited for the Federals to cross the swollen creek and then unleashed a deadly volley. Ewell ordered a charge, but it was repulsed with heavy loss. The Federals countercharged, and the men engaged in vicious hand-to-hand combat. According to one of Ewell’s officers, “the battle degenerated into a butchery and confused melee of brutal personal conflicts. I saw numbers of men kill each other with bayonets and the butts of muskets, and even bite each other’s throats and ears and noses, rolling on the ground like wild beasts.”

The Federals ultimately overwhelmed Ewell’s undersized command and forced Ewell to surrender; he lost 3,400 of his 3,600 men. Both his division commanders, Major Generals Joseph B. Kershaw and George Washington Custis Lee (oldest son of Robert E. Lee) also surrendered.

Ewell later reported:

“As shells and even bullets were crossing each other from front and rear over my troops, my right was completely enveloped. I surrendered myself and staff to a cavalry officer who came in by the same road General Anderson had gone out on.”

Ewell, the commander who had helped “Stonewall” Jackson mystify Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and who had lost a leg at Second Bull Run, was shipped to the Federal prison at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.

The naval forces that had been formed into an infantry unit after abandoning Richmond were among the last to surrender. Federal Colonel J. Warren Keifer rode ahead to accept their surrender before they had actually done so, and some Confederates trained their guns on him. But their commander, John R. Tucker, stopped them from killing the colonel. Tucker surrendered his sword to Keifer, who returned it to Tucker after the war.

To Ewell’s right rear, three Federal cavalry divisions attacked and overwhelmed Anderson’s men at a crossroads near the Harper and Marshall farms. The Confederates broke and fled into the woods; those who did not escape were taken prisoner. Anderson lost 2,600 men but managed to escape.

To Ewell’s left, Gordon fended off Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’s II Corps while fleeing west. However, the Confederates were forced to make a stand on the high ground at the Lockett farm when their vital wagon train got stalled in mud. Humphreys’s 16,500 Federals gradually pushed Gordon’s 7,000 men back until they had to use the wagons for protection.

When the Federals began swinging around the Confederate left flank, Gordon ordered a retreat. Some 2,000 Confederates were captured, along with over 200 wagons that they could ill afford to lose. Confederate survivors straggled west toward Longstreet’s waiting forces at Rice’s Station.

General Lee watched the action with Major General William Mahone’s division (under Longstreet). As the Confederates fled, Lee cried, “My God! Has the army been dissolved?” Mahone replied, “No General, here are troops ready to do their duty.” Lee said, “Yes, there are still some true men left. Will you please keep those people back?” Mahone’s men helped cover the retreat across the Appomattox River.

The Confederates lost about 8,000 men, mostly captured, including six generals. This was roughly one-third of the remaining Army of Northern Virginia, and it was the largest number of Americans ever taken prisoner in battle up to that time (it was later surpassed by Bataan, 77 years later). This was Lee’s worst defeat of the war, and Confederates would remember it as “Black Thursday.”

But even though Lee had less than 20,000 men left in his army, the Federals had failed to block his escape path to the west. Lee therefore continued on toward Farmville as planned, now moving only with those who had either escaped from or avoided the Sayler’s Creek rout. After dark, the Confederates crossed the Appomattox and burned the bridges behind them.

Meanwhile, Sheridan reported to Grant:

“I attacked them with two divisions of the Sixth Army Corps and routed them handsomely, making a connection with the cavalry. I am still pressing on with both cavalry and infantry. Up to the present time we have captured Generals Ewell, Kershaw, Barton, Corse, DeBose and Custis Lee, several thousand prisoners, 14 pieces of artillery with caissons and a large number of wagons. If the thing is pressed I think Lee will surrender.”

This message enraged Meade because it made no mention of VI Corps’ contribution to the victory. He fumed, “Oh, so General Wright wasn’t there?” Nevertheless, the Federal high command was now confident that Lee’s army was finally on the verge of collapse.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 531-32; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 369-71; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 452-54; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 87-91; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555; Floyd, Dale E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 248-49; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18963-83, 19305-15, 19335-45; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 579-80; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8642; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 278-81; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 114-15, 120-28; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 223-24; Ward, Burns, Burns, The Civil War, p. 376-77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 667-68; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; Robertson, James I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 659-60; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 376-77

The Amelia Campaign: Part 2

April 5, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia reached Amelia Court House, but Federal forces closing in on them meant they had no time for rest.

By the 5th, Lee’s Confederates were concentrating at Amelia Court House. They had expected food there, but there was none, so Lee sent out foraging parties to scour the countryside. They returned with hardly any sustenance, despite Lee’s personal appeal for civilian aid. So the famished troops settled in under a cold rain.

Federals reached Jetersville, six miles southwest of Amelia Court House, thereby blocking Lee’s path along the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry and Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps arrived first, soon to be joined by II and VI corps under Major Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and Horatio G. Wright. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, arrived with Humphreys and Wright.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, wanted foremost to destroy Lee’s army before it could join with General Joseph E. Johnston’s in North Carolina. Grant wrote to Major General William T. Sherman, whose Federals opposed Johnston: “Let us see if we cannot finish the job with Lee’s and Johnston’s armies. Rebel armies now are the only strategic points to strike at.”

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sheridan agreed. He dispatched Brigadier General Henry E. Davies’s troopers to scout Confederate movements north of Amelia Court House. During this assignment, the Federals attacked a Confederate supply train near Paineville, a few miles north of Amelia Springs. They seized and burned nearly 200 wagons filled with food and other vital supplies; most of Lee’s official papers were also destroyed. The Federals captured 11 flags and over 300 prisoners. Sheridan reported:

“The whole of Lee’s army is at or near Amelia Court House, and on this side of it. General Davies, whom I sent out to Painesville on their right flank, has just captured six pieces of artillery and some wagons. We can capture the Army of Northern Virginia if force enough can be thrown to this point, and then advance upon it. My cavalry was at Burkesville yesterday, and six miles beyond, on the Danville Road, last night. General Lee is at Amelia Court House in person. They are out of rations, or nearly so.”

Lee believed that only cavalry blocked his path at Jetersville, and he therefore resolved to break through it and continue moving down the Richmond & Danville line. But when he and Lieutenant General James Longstreet reconnoitered the area, Lee realized there were too many Federals to contend with.

Having lost his one-day jump on Grant, Lee’s only chance was to force his tired, starving troops to conduct a night march west, around the Federal left flank, to Farmville, 23 miles away. Once there, the Confederates could be supplied from Lynchburg via the South Side Railroad. They could then turn south and continue for Danville and into North Carolina beyond. The Confederate commissary general assured Lee that 80,000 rations would be waiting for Lee at Farmville.

Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, which had been moving west from Richmond, arrived at Amelia Court House on the 5th. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was now united and ready to continue the grueling march. Confederate officers received Lee’s instructions near nightfall and then delivered what they considered to be “the most cruel marching order” they had ever given.

Longstreet’s corps and the remainder of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps led the march. Behind them was Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s small corps, Ewell’s reserve corps, and the wagon train. Major General John B. Gordon’s corps served as rear guard. Lee told Gordon, “I know that the men and animals are much exhausted. But it is necessary to tax their strength.” Many Confederates fell out due to exhaustion and were captured.

Sheridan wanted to continue pursuing, but Meade, the ranking commander on the field, wanted to wait until his entire army was up and attack on the 6th, moving by the right flank to get into Lee’s rear. Sheridan feared this would allow Lee to get past the Federal left and escape. He appealed to Grant, who was headquartered 16 miles away at Nottoway Court House: “I wish you were here yourself. I feel confident of capturing the Army of Northern Virginia if we exert ourselves. I see no escape for Lee.”

A scout disguised as a Confederate colonel was assigned to deliver the message. Sheridan wrote the note on tissue paper, which the scout folded into tinfoil, wrapped into tobacco, and stashed into his mouth. When Grant read the message, he quickly collected a cavalry escort and made a risky night ride through dark woods and enemy territory before reaching Sheridan around 10:30 p.m.

Sheridan explained the situation to Grant, who agreed with his assessment. Grant later wrote:

“We then together visited Meade, reaching his headquarters about midnight. I explained to Meade that we did not want to follow the enemy; we wanted to get ahead of him, and that his orders would allow the enemy to escape, and besides that, I had no doubt that Lee was moving right then. Meade changed his orders at once.”

Grant then sent orders to Major General E.O.C. Ord, whose Army of the James was following Meade in pursuit: “I am strongly of the opinion that Lee will leave Amelia tonight to go south. He will be pursued at 6 A.M. from here if he leaves. Otherwise an advance will be made upon him where he is.” Confederates captured the messenger delivering this order and sent it to Lee, who now learned that the armies of both Meade and Ord were pursuing him. His situation was becoming more desperate by the hour.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 530-31; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 368-69; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 451-52; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 87-91; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19119-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 578; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8548-71; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 278; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-67; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; Robertson, James I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 659-60

The Amelia Campaign

April 4, 1865 – As Federals captured Petersburg and Richmond, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia escaped across the Appomattox River. The Confederate lines had finally broken after nearly 10 months of trench warfare, but Lee’s forces were not yet conquered.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

After abandoning Richmond and Petersburg, Lee hoped to link his shrinking army with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army in North Carolina. Lee’s forces would move west, cross the Appomattox River, and concentrate at Amelia Court House. From there, they would head southwest to Danville and then turn south to meet up with Johnston.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, ordered most elements of his Armies of the Potomac and the James to pursue Lee’s Confederates along a parallel route to the south. Grant’s goal was to get ahead of Lee and block his path at Burkeville, where the Richmond & Danville Railroad bisected the South Side Railroad. This would force Lee to either fight the numerically superior Federals or surrender.

Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry led the pursuit. On the 3rd, part of Sheridan’s force under Major General George A. Custer clashed with the Confederate rear guard west of Petersburg at Namozine Church, Namozine Creek, and Sweathouse Creek. The Federals took several hundred prisoners before halting their pursuit in the face of gathering Confederate infantry near nightfall. Custer’s brother, Captain Tom Custer, won the Medal of Honor for his role in this engagement.

Meanwhile, Lee’s Confederates continued moving along five different routes. Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps took the lead while Major General John B. Gordon’s corps formed the rear guard. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, which had just evacuated Richmond, was expected to join the main army soon. Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s corps and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry made up the southern flank, moving below the Appomattox.

There were about 30,000 officers and men left in the Army of Northern Virginia to face a Federal force of over 100,000. The Confederates were exhausted and hungry, but Lee had asked the Commissary Department to send food from the 350,000 reserve rations in Richmond to Amelia Court House via the Richmond & Danville Railroad. The Confederates were motivated to continue forward by the promise of food up ahead.

On the 4th, Federal cavalry skirmished with elements of Anderson’s infantry and Fitz Lee’s cavalry at Tabernacle Church and Beaver Pond Creek. Fighting continued until around 10 p.m., when the Federals received orders to fall back. That same day, the exhausted, hungry Confederates on the northern flank reached Amelia Court House, having marched 21 miles on the 3rd.

Lee followed his men into the town, but to his horror, there was no food waiting for them, just war equipment. The confusion of Richmond’s fall had apparently disrupted Lee’s communications with the Confederate government. One of Lee’s aides, John E. Cooke, later wrote that “the failure of the supply of rations completely paralyzed him.” Lee sent Confederate foragers to beg for food carrying a special appeal “To the Citizens of Amelia County,” signed by “R.E. Lee”:

“The Army of Northern Virginia arrived here today, expecting to find plenty of provisions. But to my surprise and regret, I find not a pound of subsistence for man or horse. I must therefore appeal to your generosity and charity to supply as far as each one is able the wants of the brave soldiers who have battled for your liberty for four years.”

Meanwhile, Sheridan’s Federals and elements of Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps reached Jetersville, just six miles southwest of Amelia Court House. This cut Lee off from the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Lee wired Confederate officials at Danville to send 200,000 rations to his army from there, but the Federals at Jetersville cut the telegraph line.

Lee needed to move fast if he wanted to get around the Federals at Jetersville, but his men needed food, and he had to wait for Ewell to come up from Richmond. So the Confederates waited for both Ewell and the foragers to arrive.

Lee had been one day ahead of Grant on the race out of Petersburg and Richmond, but Grant was now closing in quick. He wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “The army is pushing forward in the hope of overtaking or dispersing the remainder of Lee’s army… I shall continue the pursuit as long as there appears to be any use in it.” That night, Sheridan reported to Grant: “If we press on we will no doubt get the whole army.”

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References

Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 367-68; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 450-51; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 19099-119; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 576-78; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8476-501, 8512; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109-19; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 665-66; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 375

The Fall of Petersburg: Part 2

April 3, 1865 – As Federal troops continued pouring into Petersburg, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant made plans to capture General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army.

The fall of both Petersburg and Richmond were imminent by the morning of the 3rd. But Grant, the overall Federal commander, knew that nothing would be won until Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was destroyed. He therefore ordered another artillery bombardment to begin at 5 a.m., followed by another infantry advance to clear out any remaining Confederates in the siege lines outside Petersburg.

The renewed drive proved unnecessary when Federal troops from IX Corps overran the lines, entered Petersburg early on the 3rd, and discovered that the Confederates had retreated across the Appomattox River. Grant rode into Petersburg around 9 a.m. and was greeted by cheering soldiers, blaring bands, and black residents. Most white residents stayed in their homes.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Soldiers and civilians were not impressed with Petersburg, mainly because it had been under siege for 10 months and had little to offer anyone in the way of food or comfort. Grant set up temporary headquarters at the home of Thomas Wallace on 21 Market Street. An officer noted that Grant stood in a doorway, “as if the work before him was a mere matter of business in which he felt no particular enthusiasm or care.” He had already begun planning his westward hunt for Lee’s army.

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln at City Point received reports of Petersburg’s fall and accepted an invitation to meet Grant in the captured city. Lincoln telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in Washington at 8 a.m.: “Grant reports Petersburg evacuated, and he is confident Richmond also is. He is pushing forward to cut off, if possible, the retreating army. I start to join him in a few minutes.”

Lincoln took a train to the Petersburg outskirts with his son Tad, a White House guard, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter. Lincoln’s older son Robert, serving on Grant’s staff, met his father’s party with horses, and they all rode up Market Street to meet with Grant on the porch of the Wallace house.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln and Grant shook hands, and the president said, “Do you know, General, that I have had a sort of sneaking idea for some days that you intended to do something like this?” Grant said, “I had a feeling that it would be better to let Lee’s old antagonists give his army the final blow and finish up the job. I have always felt confident that our troops here were amply able to handle Lee.” As Grant later wrote:

“I told him (Lincoln) that I had been very anxious to have the Eastern armies vanquish their old enemy who had so long resisted all their repeated and gallant attempts to subdue them or drive them from their capital… I said to him that if the Western armies should be even upon the field, operating against Richmond and Lee, the credit would be given to them for the capture, by politicians and non-combatants from the section of country which those troops hailed from. It might lead to disagreeable bickerings between members of Congress of the East and those of the West in some of their debates… Mr. Lincoln said he saw that now, but had never thought of it before, because his anxiety was so great that he did not care where the aid came from so the work was done.”

The men conferred on the porch for over an hour, during which time slaves gathered to watch them. Grant hoped to receive word that Richmond had fallen before he had to leave, but no news came. There would be no celebrating; Grant set out to organize the pursuit that he hoped would result in the end of the war. He guessed that Lee would head for the junction of the Richmond & Danville and South Side railroads at Burkeville, 40 miles southwest of Richmond.

Grant, whose westernmost Federals were closer to Burkeville than any of Lee’s Confederates, wanted to assemble his forces at that town and block Lee from any further westward escape. He rode out to direct the movement and stopped at Sutherland Station, west of Petersburg, which was held by Major General John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps from the Army of the James. Grant received a message: “Weitzel entered Richmond this morning at half past eight.” Gibbon’s men cheered wildly upon hearing the news, while Grant quickly put together a plan of pursuit:

  • Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry corps and Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps from the Army of the Potomac would lead the pursuit by heading due west to Burkeville with all possible speed.
  • Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, would move west behind Sheridan and Griffin with II and VI corps, led by Major Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and Horatio G. Wright respectively.
  • Gibbon’s corps would move west along the South Side Railroad behind Meade.
  • Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps from the Army of the Potomac would bring up the rear, guarding the railroad as it went.

Grant notified Sherman of the plan and warned that if Lee got to Burkeville first, “you will have to take care of him with the force you have for a while.” But if Grant got there first, “there will be no special use in you going any farther into the interior. This army has now won a most decisive victory and followed the enemy. This is all it ever wanted to make it as good an army as ever fought a battle.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln reviewed passing troops in Petersburg before returning to City Point. A dispatch from Stanton awaited:

“Allow me to respectfully ask you to consider whether you ought to expose the nation to the consequences of any disaster to yourself in the pursuit of a treacherous and dangerous enemy like the rebel army. If it was a question concerning yourself only I should not presume to say a word. Commanding Generals are in the line of duty running such risks. But is the political head of a nation in the same condition?”

Lincoln replied, “Yours received. Thanks for your caution, but I have already been to Petersburg, staid with Gen. Grant an hour & a half, and returned here. It is certain now that Richmond is in our hands, and I think I will go there tomorrow. I will take care of myself.” Lincoln told Porter, “Thank God I have lived to see this. It seems to me that I have been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is gone. I want to see Richmond.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 526-28; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 364; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 448-50; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18766-95, 18785-805; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 715-16; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 539-42; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 665-66; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 846; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 365-68

The Fall of Richmond

April 2, 1865 – As Federal forces entered Petersburg, the fall of the Confederate capital was imminent.

Richmond’s elite gathered for Communion Sunday services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Among them was President Jefferson Davis, seated in pew 63. The rector, Dr. Charles Minnigerode, delivered his invocation, and then the sexton delivered a telegram to the president. As Davis opened the envelope and read, witnesses noted “a sort of gray pallor creep over his face.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis quietly left with a few advisors, telling nobody about the situation so as to prevent a panic. But as more messengers came and went, word quickly spread that the capital would soon fall. At the nearby Second Presbyterian Church, Reverend Moses Hoge received the news during his sermon and announced to his congregation:

“Brethren, trying times are before us… but remember that God is with us in the storm as well as in the calm. We may never meet again. Go quietly to our homes, and whatever may be in store for us, let us not forget that we are Christian men and women, and may the protection of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be with you all.”

Government clerks soon began stacking documents in the streets and burning them. That night, Davis assembled his cabinet, informed them that Richmond was lost, and made arrangements to abandon the city. Each cabinet member was to bring his department’s archives to the Richmond & Danville Railroad depot, where a special train would relocate the government to Danville, southwest of Richmond. Davis was determined to keep the government functioning no matter what.

Richmond’s imminent fall was announced to the public in late afternoon. Many were shocked by the news because the Richmond press had been discouraged from reporting Federal success, and therefore they did not know the city was in such danger. Residents wept as they either hurried to leave or resolved to stay and leave their fate to the Yankees.

Pandemonium reigned as every road and railroad station was quickly jammed with humanity. Government officials scrambled to get family members aboard packet boats on the James River Canal before fleeing to safety. At the rail depot, the boxcars attached to the special government train were hastily labeled “War Department,” “Quarter-Masters Department,” etc. The Treasury car contained all the gold and silver from its vaults and local banks, totaling some $528,000. These assets were guarded by 60 midshipmen from the Patrick Henry, the Confederacy’s naval academy training vessel.

The special train was ready to leave at 8 p.m. Davis collected effects from the Executive Mansion and organized what was left so the Federals would not think he rushed out too hastily. Davis also sent an armchair to Mrs. Robert E. Lee in hopes of easing her arthritis; she was too infirmed to leave Richmond. Davis then wrote to her husband, who was busy evacuating Petersburg: “To move to night will involve the loss of many valuables, both for the want of time to pack and of transportation. Arrangements are progressing, and unless you otherwise advise the start will be made.”

When Lee received this message, he tore it up and snapped, “I am sure I gave him sufficient notice!” He then calmly replied: “Your telegram received. I think it will be necessary to move tonight. I shall camp the troops here north of the Appomattox. The enemy is so strong that they will cross above us & close us in between the James & Appomattox Rivers, if we remain.”

Davis rode through the panicked crowds to get to the depot (his wife and children had already left town in late March). By 11 p.m., Davis and most other top officials had boarded the train. Only Lee’s orderly retreat from Petersburg enabled the train to escape before the Federals arrived. The trip to Danville took 20 hours despite being just 140 miles away.

The Richmond fires | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Back in Richmond, the chaos continued. Inmates walked out of the abandoned state prison, and the inevitable looting and pillaging began. The Local Defense Board fell apart as marauders plundered shops, stores, and homes. Richmond officials issued orders to destroy all whiskey to prevent a drunken riot, but the people gathered all the liquor they could find and even scooped it up after it was dumped in the streets. A resident wrote that this was “the saddest of many of the sad sights of the war–a city undergoing pillage at the hands of its own mob, while the standards of an empire were being taken from its capitol.” Another wrote that on this night, “the devil was loosed.”

Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory directed Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes to destroy the Patrick Henry and all other vessels on the James River before they fell into Federal hands. The exploding ships shattered windows in Richmond. Semmes later wrote, “The spectacle was grand beyond description.” All remaining sailors were formed into an infantry brigade and sent with the rest of the Confederate troops out of town.

On land, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell ordered the destruction of all military equipment and supplies that could not be evacuated. During the night, Confederates burned warehouses, and the fires quickly spread out of control. They burned most tobacco barns, flour mills, and public buildings, as well as the Richmond Examiner and Inquirer. The troops evacuated on the Mayo Bridge out of Richmond, and then destroyed that as well.

The fires destroyed much of the main part of Richmond, with the massive inferno engulfing homes, hotels, factories, and warehouses. Around 2 a.m., the fires reached the national arsenal holding gunpowder and nearly a million artillery shells. This set off massive explosions that rocked the city for hours. Streets quickly filled with “those silent awful fires,” and resident Mary Fontaine wrote, “All like myself were watching them, paralyzed and breathless.”

By dawn on the 3rd, the city that had defiantly served as the Confederate capital for nearly four years lay in ruins.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 525; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 219-21; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18539-59, 18578-637; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 574-76; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 715-17; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-101; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 663-64; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 845-46; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 490-92; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 368-69; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 630-32; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 102-05, 108, 110