The American Civil War, day by day - Page 107 - Politics | PoFo

Wandering the information superhighway, he came upon the last refuge of civilization, PoFo, the only forum on the internet ...

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it. Note: nostalgia *is* allowed.
Forum rules: No one line posts please.
March 26, Sunday

Lee writes Davis of the failure at Fort Stedman yesterday: “I fear now it will be impossible to prevent a junction between Grant and Sherman, nor do I deem it prudent that this army should maintain its position until the latter shall approach too near.” Lee is preparing to give up Petersburg and Richmond and pull back westward to attempt to join Johnston in North Carolina. Somehow, he has to move his 57,000 remaining men safely out of their trenches and off to the southwest without becoming ensnared in a general engagement with Grant’s 125,000 troops. From Petersburg, Lee knows he has to follow the Southside Railroad—its battered rolling stock will be needed if he is to get everyone and everything away—to its junction with the Richmond & Danville Railroad at Burke Station. From there he can follow the Danville line to the southwest and to Johnston. If he waits too long, Grant’s legions will swarm all over him.

On this same Sunday that Lee announces it is time to go, the advantage in numbers already enjoyed by the Federals is increased; Major General Philip H. Sheridan rides in from the Shenandoah Valley, President Lincoln watching Sheridan’s men cross the James while in his junket to the main fighting front at Petersburg. Sheridan defeated the last remnants of Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley at Waynesborough on the 2nd. He went on to destroy the railroads around Lynchburg and then headed toward Richmond. Feeling that the war is nearing its end, he wants his cavalry “to be in at the death.” His arrival now at Petersburg gives Grant an even larger force with which to extend the lines and thus further thin out Lee’s already numerically inadequate defenders. Grant is delighted by Sheridan’s combativeness and impressed by his willingness to give up his independent department (the vast Middle Military Division) and revert to his former assignment as commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry. The corps now consists of three divisions: the two Sheridan has brought back from the Valley, now commanded by Brigadier Generals Thomas C. Devin and George A. Custer, both of whom report to Brevet Major General Wesley Merritt, and the 3,300-man division that had stayed at Petersburg, now led by Major General George Crook. Grant will assign the cavalry a principal role—and the status of an independent army—in the impending campaign.

For more than a month, Grant has been expecting Lee to attempt a juncture with Johnston, and he has planned a massive movement to prevent it. As a preliminary, General Ord is to pull one of his two corps—the XXIV, led by Major General John Gibbon—and Brigadier General Ranald Mackenzie’s cavalry division out of the Federal lines north of the James River. They are to march south behind the position held by IX Corps and then west behind VI Corps to the Federal left, southwest of Petersburg. There, Ord’s 15,000 men are to spread themselves thin and relieve from duty in the trenches both II Corps and V Corps, thus freeing the 35,000 men of those corps for Grant’s proposed maneuver.

The field of operations envisioned by Grant is a rectangle southwest of Petersburg that is ten miles across, east to west, and eight miles deep. It is bounded on the north by the Southside Railroad; on the east by the Weldon Railroad; on the south by the Vaughan road to the village of Dinwiddie Court House; and on the west by a road leading north from Dinwiddie to the Southside Railroad—by way of a crossroads called Five Forks. The sector is cut diagonally by the Boydton Plank Road between Petersburg and Dinwiddie and by Hatcher’s Run, flowing northwest to southeast. Confederate entrenchments extend into this area from Petersburg, running southwest along the Boydton Plank Road to its crossing at Hatcher’s Run—the center of the rectangle. From there the White Oak road leads west to Five Forks; the fortifications follow it for two miles, then curve north to touch Hatcher’s Run again. The Federal left, despite frequent attempts to extend it westward, is still located on the Vaughan road where it crosses Hatcher’s Run, four miles southeast of the Confederate right.

When relieved by Ord’s men, General Warren’s V Corps, followed by General Humphrey’s II Corps, is to march five miles west along the Vaughan road until the troops are beyond the Confederate flank. From there the infantry is to press north toward the enemy line. They are not to attack it, however; the object is to flank the Confederates, forcing them to come out of their trenches to protect their rear and the Southside Railroad. Most important, Grant emphasizes, the infantry is to ensure the success of Sheridan’s cavalry. The plan calls for the cavalry to swing below and beyond the moving infantry, to Dinwiddie Court House, then north toward Five Forks, working behind the Confederate line. What happens next will depend on Lee. In the unlikely event that he doesn’t come out of his lines and fight, Sheridan is to destroy both the Southside and Danville Railroads around Burkeville, cutting Lee’s last supply line and escape route.

On the Mobile, Alabama, front, skirmishing erupts as Union troops push in nearer Spanish Fort. Other skirmishing occurs at Muddy Creek, Alabama, and Federals enter Pollard. In Kentucky there is a skirmish in Bath County and a four-day Union expedition in Louisiana from Bonnet Carré to the Amite River.
March 27, Monday

Late in the afternoon Sherman arrives by steamer at City Point. Grant and a few members of his staff are on hand to meet the red-haired Ohioan as he steps ashore; the two chief officers of the Federal Army greet each other “like two schoolboys coming together after a vacation,” grinning and shaking hands and making little jokes. “I didn’t expect to find all you fellows here,” Sherman says. “You don’t travel as fast as we do.” The group repairs to Grant’s headquarters, where Sherman pays his respects to Mrs. Grant. Then, sitting beside a campfire, Sherman entertains the assembled officers with the account of his Carolina adventures. After an hour Grant mentions that Lincoln is also at City Point; perhaps, he says, they should call on him before dinner. They find the President sitting alone in the after cabin of the River Queen, and once again Sherman has to tell his story of the Carolinas Campaign. This historic first, a joint meeting of the three principal actors on the Union side of the war, is a “good, long social visit,” Sherman will say later.

A three-day Union scout moves from Winchester to Woodstock, Virginia. In the Mobile campaign one Federal column reaches Canoe Station, Alabama.
March 28, Tuesday

Shifting of troops by the Federals at Petersburg marks preparations for the move to begin tomorrow. Meanwhile, a small expedition operates until April 11th from Deep Bottom, Virginia, to Weldon, North Carolina. Skirmishing takes place near Snow Hill, North Carolina; at Boone, North Carolina, involving Stoneman’s Union cavalry column moving in from the west; near Elyton, Alabama, with Wilson’s cavalry moving into the northern part of the state; and at Germantown, Tennessee. Until the 30th, a Federal expedition operates from Fort Pike, Louisiana, to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Grant, Sherman, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter meet with President Lincoln to discuss the strategy they plan to use against Lee and Johnston. Lincoln repeatedly expresses the hope that no more blood need be shed, but both generals say they expect the Confederates to fight at least one more major battle. Then a subject comes up that is much on everyone’s mind. The war is almost over; it is clear that not only the Confederate armies in the field but also the Confederate political authorities will be compelled to surrender soon. But no guidelines have been drawn. Unless some policy is spelled out in advance, the generals are likely to find themselves confronting a situation for which they are totally unprepared. Sherman, by his own account, asks what the President means to do with the defeated soldiers and the leaders of the Confederate government. “He said he was all ready,” Sherman will recall. “All he wanted of us was to defeat the opposing armies, and to get the men composing the Confederate armies back to their homes, and work on their farms and in their shops.” Admiral Porter will quote Lincoln as saying: “Let them once surrender and reach their homes, they won’t take up arms again. Let them go, officers and all. I want submission and no more bloodshed.” As for what is to become of Jefferson Davis, Lincoln hints that he hopes Davis will leave the country, although he obviously cannot say so in public. Lincoln is clear on one point—and both Sherman and Porter will remember it distinctly. As soon as the fighting stops, the people of the South “would at once be guaranteed all their rights” as citizens of a common country. “I want no one punished,” Porter will remember him saying; “treat them liberally all around. We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.” There is Sherman’s answer. This afternoon, he boards a swift boat for the return journey to Goldsborough. He is ready to wind up his end of the war, and he is certain now that he knows exactly on what terms President Lincoln intends to finish it.

In a letter to his daughter, General Lee says, “Genl Grant is evidently preparing for something & is marshalling & preparing his troops for some movement, which is not yet disclosed....”
March 29, Wednesday

This morning, when General Lee learns that the Federal movements are under way, he is instantly aware of what they portend and he reacts as strongly as he can. He had already pulled an infantry division under Major General George E. Pickett from Longstreet’s corps to assist in the attack on Fort Stedman. Pickett didn’t arrive in time to be of help, but now his 5,000 men are available to bolster General Richard Anderson on the Confederate right. (After Longstreet recovered from the near-fatal wound he suffered at the Wilderness and resumed command of I Corps last fall, Anderson was given the makeshift, division-size IV Corps.) But to counter Sheridan, Lee needs more horsemen. He summons his nephew, Major General Fitzhugh Lee, whose cavalry has been guarding the Confederate left, to join and take overall charge of the divisions led by Major General William H.F. (Rooney) Lee, the commanding general’s son, and Brigadier General Thomas Rosser. Their combined force of about 5,500 troopers will have to take on Sheridan’s 11,000. Lee then has Anderson send out Major General Bushrod Johnson’s division to determine the identity and strength of the Federal infantry that is advancing from the south on the Quaker road.

It is Warren’s V Corps, with the division of Brigadier General Charles Griffin in the lead, groping north from the Vaughan road. The Federals are moving through nasty country—flat, clayey, poorly drained ground obstructed by dense brush. Rain has raised the marshy streams that vein the area and has softened the convoluted trails. And today it has been raining again. “We went slipping and plunging through the black slimy mud in which pointed rocks were bedded,” a Federal marcher will recall, “now stumbling over a rotten tree, now over the stiffening corpse of some poor comrade by whose side we might soon lie.” At midafternoon, Griffin’s lead brigade—that of Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain—is approaching a sawmill on the Quaker road, just north of Gravelly Run, when it encounters Bushrod Johnson’s Confederates. The slender 36-year-old Chamberlain has seen more than his share of fighting since leaving the faculty of Bowdoin College to become a field officer in the 20th Maine. He was wounded at Petersburg nine months ago and still isn’t fully recovered. During the fierce engagement that now develops, Chamberlain is hit again. His horse is rearing at the time, and the bullet first passes through the animal’s neck, then rips Chamberlain’s left sleeve and slams into his chest, where it is deflected by a leather case and a mirror Chamberlain is carrying in his breast pocket. The shot courses along his ribs, passes out the back seam of his coat, and goes on to unhorse a staff officer riding behind him. Knocked unconscious, Chamberlain recovers seconds later to find General Griffin supporting him. “My dear General,” says Griffin, “you are gone.” Chamberlain raises his head, sees his men retreating, and says, “Yes, General, I am.” But a moment later Chamberlain struggles onto his bleeding horse and returns to the battle. Hatless and blood-smeared—the wounds of horse and rider have resulted, Chamberlain will observe, in “a blood relationship of which I was not ashamed”—he rallies his brigade and regains the lost ground.

This evening, with the rain slashing down, Grant either senses an opportunity, or comes to a long-deferred decision: He abruptly changes Sheridan’s orders. Forget the railroads, Grant says; instead, stay close to the infantry. “In the morning push around the enemy, if you can, and get on his right rear. We will act together as one army until it is seen what can be done.” Grant still offers no definite plan of action, but he is clear on one point, which he makes in a casual, artless sentence: “I feel now like ending the matter, if it is possible to do so, before going back.”

Grant’s goal of ending the matter is simply stated, but not so easily accomplished. General Robert E. Lee begs to differ—the Confederacy might be almost on its knees, but he hasn’t changed. Facing overwhelming odds and a critical threat to his position and communications, he decides to take the offensive. This evening he sends Pickett, with three of his own brigades and two of Anderson’s, to join Fitzhugh Lee at Five Forks and drive Sheridan away. This is a heavy responsibility for Pickett, the dashing 40-year-old general whose greatest fame thus far in the war has come for leading a hopeless charge at Gettysburg; but Lee’s choices are limited, and his need is great. While Pickett fights Sheridan, Lee will direct an attack on the Union infantry, with some of A.P. Hill’s and Anderson’s brigades striking V Corps on its left flank.

Stoneman’s Federal cavalry fights a skirmish at Wilkesborough, North Carolina, in their move from east Tennessee. The Yankees continue to converge on Mobile defense lines. USS Osage is sunk by a torpedo in the Blakely River, Alabama. There is skirmishing in southeast Missouri and a Union scout until April 2nd from Waynesville, Missouri. Other skirmishing occurs at Blackwater River, Kentucky, and Mosely Hall, North Carolina. A Federal scout operates from Stephenson’s Depot, Virginia, to Smithfield, West Virginia.

Sherman has gone back to Goldsborough, North Carolina. Lincoln continues on at City Point, inquiring of Grant and others how things look as to the new movement. General Lee keeps Richmond posted on the enemy’s movements at Petersburg.
March 30, Thursday

In Virginia the heavy rain continues, and movement is difficult. Nevertheless, Humphreys’ II Corps presses up close to the enemy entrenchments along Hatcher’s Run, and Warren’s V Corps moves ahead to occupy a line toward Gravelly Run. The two corps are pressing the enemy but not assaulting. And Sheridan sends Merritt with Devin’s cavalry division slogging northward from Dimwiddie to occupy the important intersection of Five Forks, directly on Lee’s probable escape route. About halfway there, the Federals run into Fitzhugh Lee’s troopers—who arrived at Five Forks this morning—and become engaged in heavy skirmishing. The rain is turning the countryside into a morass. “The troops waded in mud above their ankles,” Lieutenant Colonel Horace Porter, Grant’s aide-de-camp, will say. “Horses sank to their bellies, and wagons threatened to disappear altogether.” Grant, at his headquarters behind II Corps near Gravelly Run, watches in frustration. To move artillery forward, the roads will have to be corduroyed. The men start calling to their officers in grim jest: “Fetch along the pontoons” and “When are the gunboats coming up?”

At noon, Grant sends word that Sheridan should call off tomorrow’s operations. “The heavy rain of today will make it impossible for us to do much until it dries up a little.” Sheridan is dismayed. He is ready to fight, and he wants no delays. This afternoon he rides through the downpour to Grant’s headquarters, seven miles away, his horse “plunging at every step almost to the knees in the mud.” There he regales a group of staff officers with an excited defense of the original plan, pacing up and down, “like a hound on a leash,” Porter will say. “I can drive in the whole cavalry force of the enemy with ease,” Sheridan exclaims. Furthermore, he says, if he is given infantry he can roll up the Confederate flank or exert enough pressure to make possible a breakthrough elsewhere. “I tell you,” Sheridan says fiercely, “I’m ready to strike out tomorrow and go to smashing things!” Sheridan’s enthusiasm is catching, and his listeners urge him to talk to Grant. The two generals meet in Grant’s tent, and after Sheridan has made his case, Grant gives in. “We will go on,” he says. Elated, Sheridan hurries away to get the operation moving.

Upon returning to his own camp at Dinwiddie Court House late in the afternoon, Sheridan orders Merritt to develop the enemy’s position and strength. Merritt dispatches a brigade northward and succeeds in driving the opposing cavalry back to Five Forks. But there the Federal horsemen find Confederate infantry—Pickett’s division—entrenched and in a fighting mood. After a short exchange of fire, the Federals fall back and report that the enemy intends to hold Five Forks.

In the evening, Sheridan informs Grant of the presence of Pickett’s division. The two had discussed Sheridan’s need for infantry support during their meeting today. Sheridan had asked for Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps, which fought under him in the Shenandoah Valley. But VI Corps is miles away in the Petersburg trenches, beyond both V Corps and II Corps. Shifting three corps around in the rain and at night would be impossible, Grant told Sheridan. He could have Humphrey’s and II Corps if he insisted, but V Corps is the obvious choice. The problem is V Corps’ commander, Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren. Warren performed heroically at Gettysburg and is one of the most highly esteemed officers in the Army of the Potomac, yet he is beset by flaws that hamper his ability to work smoothly with his fellow officers. High-strung and temperamental at best, Warren has become increasingly abrasive as the war goes on, his moods alternating between rage and sulking lethargy. “I am becoming more than ever convinced that he has a screw loose,” writes V Corps artillery chief Charles Wainright, “and is not quite accountable for all his freaks.” Sheridan doesn’t want Warren, and Grant can understand why. The matter will remain unresolved overnight, and in the morning Sheridan will be far too busy to pursue it. Warren proposes that he put a force across the White Oak road, thus isolating Pickett’s troops from the Confederate right.

Union Cavalry of James Harrison Wilson in northern Alabama skirmishes at Montevallo with troops under Forrest’s general command. There also is an affair near Patterson’s Creek, West Virginia, and a four-day Federal expedition from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Clinton and the Comite River.

President Lincoln at City Point says he should be back in Washington “and yet I dislike to leave without seeing nearer to the end of General Grant’s present movement.”

In Richmond, President Davis writes a friend that “Faction has done much to cloud our prospects and impair my power to serve the country.”
March 31, Friday

In Virginia the rain stops at last this morning, and Merritt sends Devin’s Federal cavalry north to locate the enemy so Sheridan can “go to smashing things.” Crook’s men are in position to defend Dinwiddie, and Custer’s are escorting the bogged-down Federal wagon train six miles to the east. By noon, Sheridan’s confidence has become consternation; besides the enemy cavalry on the road to Five Forks, his patrols have discovered a large force of Pickett’s infantry heading toward Dinwiddie, around his left. Instead of attacking at his leisure, Sheridan is going to have to defend himself. Hastily, he sends Crook’s mounted brigades to meet the threat from the west.

About 2 pm the Confederate flanking force hits hard, driving one of Crook’s brigades and two of Devin’s nearly a mile east, all the way across the Dinwiddie road. There Pickett wheels his men and advances south toward the village, while Rosser’s and Rooney Lee’s cavalry divisions assail the Federals from the west. Pickett’s plan of attack has been well conceived, and he is executing it flawlessly. As the afternoon wears on, two of Sheridan’s brigades, led by Alfred Gibbs and J. Irvin Gregg, fight stubbornly to hold their advanced position on the Dinwiddie road, but the Confederate infantry drives them steadily south. Sheridan coolly arranges for the reconcentration of his scattered units and calls up Custer from his escort duties with two fresh brigades. Forming a defensive line on the last rise of ground north of the village, Custer withstands two assaults, then counterattacks before darkness ends the fighting. It will surely resume in the morning, and Sheridan is in a perilous position.

Meanwhile, General Warren, to the east, has been having his own troubles—and the enemy is only part of them. His proposal to put a force across the White Oak road, thus isolating Pickett’s troops from the Confederate right, had been approved by General Meade. So this morning, before Sheridan realizes how much trouble he is in, Warren sends out a division under Major General Romeyn B. Ayres to see how strongly the White Oak road is defended. The men march into the jaws of Anderson’s flanking attack. Anderson’s force is a hodgepodge—four brigades drawn from three divisions—with tactical command falling to Richard Johnson. They aren’t quite in place when Ayre’s Federals begin to cross the road. In the vanguard is a brigade of New York Zouaves and Heavy Artillerymen, led by Brevet Brigadier General Frederic Winthrop. They are met by a volley of musketry from Colonel Martin Stansel’s Alabama brigade, then are charged on the left flank by Brigadier General Eppa Hunton’s Virginians. Winthrop’s men give way, and the other brigades of Ayres’s division collapse in succession before the ferocious onslaught. When Samuel Crawford’s division comes to Ayres’s relief, it is routed in turn. The third of Warren’s divisions, commanded by General Griffin, had started the day in reserve; its soldiers are basking in the welcome sunshine when the sound of battle breaks their reverie. Griffin gets his men moving toward the fighting, only to be confronted by a mass of fugitives from the two other divisions. “For God’s sake,” Griffin shouts, “let them through or they will break our line!” But Griffin’s line holds and, bolstered by artillery, halts the Confederate advance. Meanwhile, on V Corps’ right, Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles leads his division of II Corps in an advance that regains some of the lost ground.

By midafternoon Warren is ready to mount a counterattack, assigning the task to Joshua Chamberlain’s brigade. “Will you save the honor of the V Corps?” Warren asks in a voice tight with emotion. So Chamberlain, still in pain from his wound, leads a furious charge that not only restores the line but surges ahead to the White Oak road. The attack evokes the admiration of both friend and foe; “I thought,” Confederate General Eppa Hunton will say, “it was one of the most gallant things I have ever seen.”

It is now late in the day. The Federal infantry has made little progress, and the cavalry is in trouble. Warren hears the firing from Dinwiddie Court House and, without waiting for orders, sends a brigade to help Sheridan fend off Pickett. Sheridan needs the help: “This force is too strong for us,” he admits in a message to Grant. Yet the situation holds an incomparable opportunity for the Federals. Sheridan sees it, even as his troopers fall back toward Dinwiddie, and explains it to Colonel Porter, who has ridden over to assess the situation for Grant. Pickett’s force, Sheridan insists, “is in more danger than I am—if I am cut off from the Army of the Potomac, it is cut off from Lee’s army, and not a man in it should ever be allowed to go back to Lee. We at last have drawn the enemy’s infantry out of its fortifications, and this is our chance to attack it.” But Sheridan needs infantry, and again he pleads for VI Corps, refusing to accept the impossibility of such a movement.

A deluge of orders have been raining down on Warren. First he is told to withdraw from the day’s advances and to send a brigade to Sheridan—which, of course, he has already done. But circumstances are thwarting any attempt at efficient movement. The streams are running high and the bridge over Gravelly Run, on the Boydton Plank Road to Dinwiddie, is out. Orders, suggesting other routes and then demanding a full division for Sheridan, are coming at Warren from a variety of sources—Meade, Grant, and Sheridan—and they are, in Chamberlain’s words, “to an amazing degree confused and conflicting.” Warren’s men are bone-tired, and the weather has turned stormy again. The simple process of sending instructions is a problem: Maps are poor, the terrain is thickly wooded, and the enemy is close by. Yet in all this confusion, General Warren also realizes that Pickett is vulnerable. At 8:40 pm, Warren suggests that he move his entire corps west and attack the Confederates on one side while Sheridan assails the other. An hour later, Meade relays the idea to Grant. Warren can send Griffin’s division down the Boydton Plank Road, straight to Sheridan’s support, and take his other two around to the enemy’s rear by way of a parallel road a mile to the north. Grant approves: “Let Warren move in the way you propose, and urge his not to stop for anything.” Grant then tells Sheridan that V Corps will be in position by midnight. By the time Grant’s approval is relayed back through Meade to Warren, it is almost 11 pm. The bridge on the Boydton Plank Road is not repaired until 2 am, and confusion between Meade and Warren over routes and priorities persist even longer. It will be nearly 6 am before Warren finally gets his remaining two divisions on the road.

In Alabama the Northern cavalry of James Harrison Wilson wrecks iron furnaces and collieries around Montevallo, Alabama. Skirmishing occurs nearby and at Six Mile Creek. Confederate opposition is too weak to prevent widespread destruction. At Mobile Federals are occupying nearby towns and drawing in their siege lines. Skirmishes break out at Magnolia, Tennessee, and at Gulley’s and Hookertown, North Carolina. About Aqua Fria, New Mexico Territory, there are two days of minor operations.
April 1865

It is a full spring now of the new year. While it is a time for growth and planting, it is also a time for more bloodshed on the battlefields. The Confederacy has little left except spirit, and even that is fading rapidly. Nearly 1,000,000 men of the North are in arms against possibly 100,000 effective men in the South. The land of the Confederacy has shrunk to isolated sections; its industrial and commercial potential is in a shambles. Victory for the Union is accomplished on all but the final acts. War is no longer the main preoccupation of those in power or of thoughtful citizens. How will the pieces of society fit back together? Of course, the re-elected President of the United States has four years to serve and he favors what are considered by some to be moderate policies, yet he has demanded at the same time what amounts to unconditional surrender. The questions are many as General Grant’s combined armies strike the enfeebled Army of Northern Virginia, as Sherman towers over Johnston in North Carolina, and as final mop-up operations go on in northern Alabama and at Mobile.

April 1, Saturday

At daybreak outside Petersburg, Pickett, seeing how exposed his position is, has begun to retreat, followed closely by Merritt’s Federal cavalry. Sheridan sends urgent orders to Warren: He must attack at once. But the two divisions of V Corps that are to take the northern route are just getting under way. They are in position by 7 am, but it is too late. Pickett is gone, and Sheridan is furious. Merritt and the cavalry, having followed Pickett north, find him in his former entrenchments paralleling the White Oak road, centered on Five Forks.

Sheridan devises a daring plan of attack. While the cavalry, fighting dismounted, feint toward Pickett’s right and pin down his center, Warren’s infantry will assault the left. If the Federals can turn that flank and drive the Confederates westward, they will be cut off from the rest of Lee’s army. Sheridan works out a complicated movement for V Corps. Pickett has anticipated just such a flanking and has refused his left—bent it back at a 90-degree angle, or return, north of White Oak road. Sheridan wants V Corps to attack from the southeast, at a 45-degree angle to the main enemy line. General Crawford’s division, on the right, will strike the angle of the Confederate breastworks while General Ayres’s division, on the left, will slant in against the main line. Griffin’s division will follow Crawford’s to help force the angle.

When Warren finally finds Sheridan at 1 pm, the two generals discuss the new plan, as General Warren will put it later, “until I understood it, I think; and he was convinced that I understood him.” Warren’s demeanor bothers Sheridan. Time is passing; the corps is moving to its new position at Gravelly Run Church too slowly, Sheridan thinks, and apparently nothing is being done to hurry the men. Sheridan’s disappointment in Warren grows “into disgust.” And when he tells Warren he is afraid they will run out of daylight before the infantry attack, he thinks Warren responds with “apathy” and “indifference.” By the time Warren’s exhausted soldiers finally begin to arrive at their destination on Pickett’s flank, Sheridan is all but consumed with impatience.

The Confederates also are in some disarray. Despite the exposed nature of Pickett’s position at Dinwiddie, Lee thinks that he should have remained there, holding Sheridan well away from the vital Southside Railroad. Lee’s orders to Pickett are unusually curt: “Regret exceedingly your forced withdrawal, and your inability to hold the advantage you had gained. Hold Five Forks at all hazards.” So Pickett, who had hoped to withdraw to a stronger defensive position behind Hatcher’s Run, has returned to his old breastworks at Five Forks. Still, there has been no indications of Federal infantry throughout the day, and if the Federal cavalry attack alone, the Confederates are sure they can fight the troopers off.

Blithely confident, Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee decide to indulge in a few hours of relaxation. It is spring, and the shad are running in the Nottoway River nearby; General Rosser has netted some of the delectable fish and has invited his two commanding officers to a shadbake at his headquarters on the north bank of Hatcher’s Run. Pickett and Lee, as hungry as anyone in their army, eagerly accept. Just before Fitzhugh Lee leaves, he is accosted by Brigadier General Thomas Munford, one of his division commanders. Munford has received a dispatch that indicates Federal cavalry have severed their communications with Anderson’s corps to the east. Lee dismisses the news and rides off with Pickett shortly after 2 pm. The two officers tell no one where they are going and appoint no one to command in their absence. Rosser’s feast is a leisurely one. Alcohol may have been served. Time passes. At 4:15 pm, the Federal V Corps at last finishes forming its lines of battle, in clear sight of the Confederate left. Munford immediately sends a courier to report the impending attack to Fitzhugh Lee or to Pickett. The rider can find neither of them. Subsequent messengers comb the area for the missing commanders without success. When the Federal assault comes shortly afterward, the sound of battle doesn’t carry the mile and a half to the site of the shadbake—perhaps owing to some “peculiar phenomenon of acoustic shadows,” as Confederate artillery commander E. Porter Alexander will later suggest. Thus the Confederates in Pickett’s line have to face the onslaught with no one in overall command.

As it happens, the meticulously planned Federal attack misfires. The Confederate angle, concealed in thick woods, is a full 800 yards farther west than Sheridan had thought, and the oblique Federal advance almost misses it. The vital spot is struck not by the massed weight of Crawford’s and Griffin’s divisions on the Federal right but by Ayres’s smaller force, on the left. Ayres has to wheel sharply to the left, under fire, to face the enemy’s refused flank. Crawford and Griffin march past the angle. Off to their right, Munford’s Confederate cavalry is shooting, and Crawford’s division heads toward this gunfire; Crawford misses the Confederate line entirely and marches away from the battle, with Griffin following close behind. Joshua Chamberlain realizes with mounting concern that his brigade is losing touch with Ayres. He is appalled to see Crawford in combat about 600 yards to the right while Ayres is fighting furiously about 600 yards to the left. “The great gap between these engagements,” Chamberlain will say, “made me feel that something was all wrong.” He wheels his brigade to the left and hurries toward the embattled Ayres. Griffin, quickly comprehending, follows Chamberlain with his other two brigades. “The moment we showed our heads,” Chamberlain will write, “we were at close quarters with the enemy.” Indeed, Ayres and Griffin are virtually on top of the 150-yard-long line of breastworks held by Brigadier General Matthew Ransom’s North Carolina brigade. Ironically, though, the Federals’ error in direction and their remedial action has caused them to overlap the Confederate left flank and rear. Crawford is now marching westward through the woods, far behind the Confederate line.

Chamberlain encounters Sheridan near the angle, yelling reassurance to the lead elements of Ayres’s division. But when the first Confederate fire strikes the Federal ranks, the attack wavers. Suddenly Sheridan, a small figure on a large mount, is in front of them all. He puts spurs to his horse and dashes along in front of the line of battle. Yelling and waving, Sheridan galvanizes the Federals with a relentless personal force. As they resume their advance, a soldier near Sheridan falls to the ground, blood spurting from his neck. The man cries, “I’m killed!” but Sheridan won’t hear of it. “You’re not hurt a bit!” he declares. “Pick up your gun, man, and move right on to the front!” The soldier clutches his weapon and rushes forward a dozen paces before he falls, “never to rise again.” As Ayres’s men push forward, struggling through thick brush, another volley smashes into them. They stagger and fall back in some confusion. Again Sheridan leaps to the fore. He seizes his red-and-white personal flag and leads the attackers, holding the banner high. Bullets are now humming like a “swarm of bees about our heads,” and shells are crashing through the ranks. A musket-ball pierces the battle flag; another kills the sergeant who is carrying it; another wounds an aide in the side. All this time Sheridan is dashing from one point of the line to another, “waving his flag, shaking his fist, encouraging entreating, threatening, praying, swearing, the very incarnation of battle.” In the meantime, General Warren, having seen to it that Griffin is attacking along with Ayres, has gone after Crawford’s division. He finds it in the enemy rear, wheels it, and attacks southward. Beset from three sides, the Confederate line begins to crumble. Ayres’s and Griffin’s men pour over the angle, officers and color-bearers in the lead. General Winthrop goes down at the head of his New York brigade with a fatal wound in the lungs; Sheridan himself leaps his horse into the midst of a group of startled Confederates, who quickly surrender.

General Pickett, still unaware of the battle raging nearby, is enjoying the afterglow of his feast. At length he decides to send a message to Five Forks. No sooner have his two couriers crossed Hatcher’s Run than there is a burst of gunfire and the startled general sees one of the messengers being captured by Federal soldiers. Pickett, thoroughly alarmed, springs to his horse and starts at a gallop for Five Forks. He soon discovers that he is cut off from his command by the blueclad soldiers of Crawford’s division. He appeals to Captain James Breckinridge of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry, who leads a charge against the Federals to open a path for the returning general; the captain is killed, but Pickett gets through.

When he reaches the field, Pickett finds that his left has been crushed and his force is being driven west; Crawford has cut the Ford’s Depot road, Pickett’s line of retreat to the north. Desperately, Pickett pulls Colonel Joseph Mayo’s brigade out of line, faces it north, and tries to hold off Crawford, but the Confederates almost immediately lose four guns and are driven back. Merritt’s Federal cavalry have been pressing Pickett from the south, the troopers fighting dismounted and blazing away with their carbines at any exposed opponent. Colonel William Johnson Pegram, the brilliant 23-year-old whom many consider the finest artillerist in the Army of Northern Virginia, has just told his gunners to “fire your canister low,” when he pitches from his horse with a mortal wound. He will die in the morning, less than two months after his older brother, General John Pegram, fell at Hatcher’s Run. While much of his force disintegrates in panic around him, Pickett makes a final stand with Brigadier General Montgomery Corse’s Virginia brigade. This rearguard opens a savage fire on Crawford’s troops, who have wheeled to the west in pursuit. When General Warren sees his line waver, he seizes the flag of V Corps and spurs his gray horse to the forefront of the charge. Warren’s horse is shot from under him, and Warren himself would have been killed or wounded had not Lieutenant Colonel Hollon Richardson from Wisconsin thrown himself in front of his commander, taking the bullet meant for Warren. Cheering wildly, Crawford’s brigades roll over Corse’s Virginians. By 6:45 pm, the last Confederate resistance has collapsed. Merritt’s dismounted troopers advance from the south, Custer leads two brigades in a mounted charge from the west, and Ranald Mackenzie’s cavalry sweeps in from the east, routing what remains of Fitzhugh Lee’s horsemen. More than 5,000 Confederates have been captured, along with thirteen flags and six guns. “It has been an evil day for us,” Captain Chambers writes in his diary; “My heart sickens is I contemplate recording this day’s disasters.” General Munford will later call Five Forks “the Waterloo of the Confederacy.”

At 7 pm, as the gunfire diminishes and darkness descends, Sheridan climaxes the day’s drama by removing General Warren from command of V Corps. Throughout the day, Sheridan has expressed open dissatisfaction with Warren, fretting over his tardiness, criticizing his dispositions, questioning his aggressiveness. After he had committed Crawford’s division, Warren had sent a staff officer to Sheridan with an exuberant message. He was in the Confederates’ rear, had cut off their retreat, and was capturing many men. Sheridan’s rejoinder stuns Warren’s aide. “By God, sir,” Sheridan snaps. “Tell General Warren he wasn’t in that fight!” Soon afterward, encountering General Griffin, Sheridan tells him to take command of V Corps. When the word reaches Warren a short time later, he goes to Sheridan—“with almost the agony of death upon his face,” Chamberlain will say—and asks him to reconsider. “Reconsider, hell!” says Sheridan. “I don’t reconsider my decisions. Obey the order!” And so Warren, his Army career demolished in the waning days of the war, reports to Grant for reassignment. He will wind up commanding garrison troops and campaigning for a court of inquiry.

Word of the victory at Five Forks is conveyed to General Grant by Colonel Porter. As Porter rides away from the battlefield, he finds the roads jammed with wagons, ambulances, and celebrating soldiers. Cheers are resounding on all sides, and everyone is “riotous over the victory.” Porter picks his way through the throngs and gallops into Grant’s camp. He begins shouting the good news, and in a moment all but the imperturbable general-in-chief are on their feet, “giving vent to boisterous demonstrations of joy.” Dignity is thrown to the winds. These officers have seen many victories, but this one presages the end of the war. Colonel Porter leaps from his horse and finds himself “rushing up to the general-in-chief and clapping him on the back with my hand, to his no little astonishment, and to the evident amusement of those about him.” Grant endures Porter’s enthusiasm without comment and reads Sheridan’s dispatch. He then turns to General Meade and says quietly, “Very well, then, I want Wright and Parke to assault tomorrow morning at four.”

The Federal troops in the entrenchments outside Petersburg have been anticipating the order to attack for several days. General Lewis Grant, the hard-fighting commander of VI Corps’s Vermont Brigade, has noted a diminishing number of Confederate soldiers in the works to his front and urged General Wright to risk a limited offensive. Wright has met with Meade, who personally reconnoitered the enemy lines and decided that an even larger assault is feasible. Tonight, the generals ready their men for a supreme effort.

On the other side of the line, General A.P. Hill spends his evening inspecting his lines. He goes to bed concerned about his ability to withstand an assault.

In North Carolina, while Sherman reorganizes his army, a skirmish occurs at Snow Hill. In northern Alabama, James H. Wilson’s Federals continue their successful advance toward Selma against Forrest, with skirmishes near Randolph, Maplesville, Plantersville, Ebenezer Church, Centerville, and Trion. Forrest has to pull back his scattered units and attempt to concentrate at Selma.

Elsewhere, action includes a skirmish at White Oak Creek, Tennessee; a Union expedition from Dalton to Spring Place and the Coosawattee River, Georgia; scouts during most of April from Licking, Missouri; operations by Federals against Amerinds west of Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory, until the 27th; and a Northern scout until the 4th from Pine Bluff to Bayou Bartholomew, Arkansas. On the Mobile front skirmishing flares near Blakely, Alabama.

A distraught President Davis writes General Lee that he has “been laboring without much progress to advance the raising of negro troops,” and he admits, “The distrust is increasing and embarrasses in many ways.” At City Point, President Lincoln is serving mainly as an observer and is forwarding messages to Washington on the progress of the Petersburg fighting. Union tinclad Rodolph is sunk by a torpedo in the Blakely River, Alabama.

CSS Shenandoah, on the hunt for US whaling ships since February, has had no luck until today, when she approaches Ascension Island in the eastern Carolines and finds a quartet of the blubber-laden vessels anchored in Lea harbor like so many sitting ducks. After putting the crews ashore, Commander James Waddell orders all four set afire.
April 2, Sunday

Generals Lewis Grant’s and Wright’s soldiers receive their orders for a morning assault on the Confederate entrenchments with fatalistic determination, recalling all too well the futile sacrifices of earlier assaults. As the 14,000 men of VI Corps form up in the chill darkness southwest of Petersburg, Major Hazard Stevens hears one soldier say to his comrades, “Well, goodbye, boys; this means death.” Captain Thomas Beals of IX Corps, which will advance from the southeast against the most formidable portion of the defenses, will later write, “There can be no doubt that few of us expected to emerge alive from this affair: for one, I did not.”

Once Meade’s forces are formed for the attack, the Union artillery opens with the greatest bombardment of the 10-month siege. From hundreds of cannons, field guns, and mortars comes a “stream of living fire,” the shells screaming through the air “in a semi-circle of flame.” The noisy barrage drowns out the sound of the signal gun at Fort Fisher that is supposed to start the assault. It is nearly 5 am before some units get underway. The attack is spearheaded by teams of ax-wielding pioneers, the so-called forlorn hope, who are to chop a way through the bristling hedge of abatis and chevaux-de-frise that screens the enemy earthworks. Behind the pioneers, the massive columns of infantry march forward with fixed bayonets. Muskets are loaded, but uncapped—to prevent unnecessary firing; haversacks and canteens have been left behind to avoid the telltale clanking that might alert the Confederates to the enemy’s approach. Startled pickets open a scattering fire on the shadowy figures in front of them, then run back to their lines, shouting the alarm. Soon the Federal ranks are raked with lead, but the attackers surge forward with cheers and a growing sense that perhaps this time their efforts will prevail.

Parke’s IX Corps is first to reach the Confederate works, battling John Gordon’s corps for possession of Fort Malone, a strong point known to the Federals as “Fort Damnation.” The place lives up to its reputation: Hundreds of charging Federals go down beneath volleys of musketry and salvos of double-shotted canister. Still they press on, tearing aside the abatis and pouring into the flooded ditch, where wounded men drown in the mud and water. By 9 am Brigadier General Robert Potter’s division has managed to capture much of Fort Mahone and its surrounding trench lines; but Potter is unable to effect a breakthrough, and he falls wounded by a shot that tears into his stomach. The Confederate defenders are rallied by the heroic example of officers like Lieutenant Colonel John C. Goodgame of Alabama, who stands atop a traverse shouting “Alabamians! Stand up! Aim low and fire like men!” Soon, the open space inside of Fort Mahone is “literally covered with blue coated corpses.”

It is a different story on the Confederate right, where the works are less formidable than at Fort Mahone. Advancing in a massive wedge, Wright’s VI Corps brushes the Confederate pickets aside and, despite heavy losses, manages to breach the entrenchments at several points simultaneously. The defenders fight hand-to-hand in a vain effort to stem the blue juggernaut. All along VI Corps’s front, the Confederates are “swept away and scattered like chaff before a tornado.” Wild with the victory, Wright’s men boil onward, formation and discipline forgotten, over the Boydton Plank Road to the Southside Railroad a mile beyond. With difficulty, Wright gets some of his men organized again, then swings to the left and sweeps down the Confederate line to Hatcher’s Run. There his troops meet John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps, which has brushed aside the Confederate force in front of them. Gibbon now faces his corps around to begin the drive on Petersburg itself.

Word of the disastrous breakthrough doesn’t at once reach General A.P. Hill at his headquarters west of the city. He was awakened with the news that Gordon was heavily engaged on the left, at Fort Mahone; but he got no word from his own lines. Before daylight, Hill rode to Lee’s headquarters a mile and a half away for a conference. Lee is weary and ill, lying in bed partially clothed, listening to the guns, suffering from what may have been an attack of rheumatism. Soon Longstreet arrives, in advance of the reinforcements he is bringing across the river. The three generals are discussing the bleak situation when an officer bursts in to report that Hill’s lines have been struck and broken and that Federal skirmishers are approaching.

The Federals are not skirmishers but small groups of VI Corps attackers who have lost touch with their regiments as they surged over the Confederate works. Still, they are there; Lee can see them with his field glasses from his headquarters at the Turnbull house. General Hill mounts up, and with Colonel Charles Venable of Lee’s staff and two couriers he races to try to stem the breakthrough. Federal soldiers are scattered over the countryside. Hill’s party takes two prisoners at pistol-point and sends them to the rear with one of the couriers. A few minutes later, Hill orders Venable to deploy some Confederate artillery he has spotted on the Cox road. Next Hill heads west, crosses the Boydton Plank Road, then continues along it toward the southwest. “Sergeant,” Hill says to G.W. Tucker, his remaining courier, “should something happen to me you must go back to General Lee and report it.” Moments later the men spot two Federals in the trees ahead. “We must take them,” Hill snaps, drawing his revolver and riding ahead without hesitation. The bluecoats—Corporal John Mauk and Private Daniel Wolford from Pennsylvania—take cover and level their rifles. “If you fire you’ll be swept to hell,” shouts Tucker. “Our men are here— Surrender!” He is trying to keep ahead of Hill, who has closed to within twenty yards of the Federals. “Surrender!” shouts Hill, but the answer comes as spitting lead. Wolford’s bullet, meant for Tucker, goes wild, but Corporal Mauk’s shot pierces Hill’s heart. He is dead before he hits the ground. As ordered, Tucker rides back and reports to Lee, whose eyes fill with tears at the news. “He is at rest now,” Lee murmurs, “and we who are left are the ones to suffer.”

The welcome change of a bright and sunny spring day goes unnoticed as Lee reviews his shattered army’s irreparable situation. What remains of Pickett’s force is cut off and out of the fight. Anderson’s corps has been sent to reinforce Pickett and can neither reach him nor return to the right flank. What remains of the right—Henry Heth’s and Cadmus M. Wilcox’s divisions of Hill’s corps—in turn has been severed from the rest of the army by the wedge driven by VI Corps and has retreated in confusion from their fortifications. Only Gordon, outnumbered 2 to 1, by shifting his men to each threatened point, is holding on the left. With Sheridan nearing the Southside Railroad and the roads leading to the southwest, most of the Confederate forces at Petersburg will have to retreat northward, across the city’s bridges over the Appomattox. Only then will they be able to head west. Getting through the bottleneck that the bridges present is going to take time; somehow the advancing Federals have to be held off until nightfall.

With the enemy threatening to overrun his headquarters, Lee prepares to move into Petersburg to organize a last stand, but first he sends a telegram to Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge: “I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.” A messenger takes the copy of the wire to President Davis, who on this Sunday is in his usual pew at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. After reading it, he rises and is noticed to walk “rather unsteadily out of the church.” His face is “set, so we could read nothing.” But as more messengers arrive, and more officials hurriedly leave the church, everyone understands. The minister ends the services and the anxious worshippers hurry to their homes.

Brigadier General John R. Cooke, meanwhile, has re-formed the remains of Heth’s and Wilcox’s divisions on a ridge near Sutherland Station, on the Southside Railroad two miles north of what had been the Confederate right flank. They are pursued by II Corps and barely have time to throw up breastworks before General Miles’s division confronts them and attacks. The Confederates—about 1,200 men—are determined and reasonably well entrenched, but the Federal soldiers, tasting triumph, launch a headlong assault. Confederate artillery blasts away, but so wild is their aim and “so great the impetus of the enemy” that the attackers aren’t staggered for a moment. The two lines collide with a roar—both sides shouting, both firing “volley to volley.” This time the Confederate musketry, “a perfect sheet of lead,” prevails. The Federals are rocked, and at last retreat. A second attack, at 12:30 pm, is also repulsed.

Two hours later Miles tries again, sending Colonel John Ramsey’s brigade to flank the Confederate right while the other brigades charge the center. A curious thing happens as the Federals launch their third attack: The Southern soldiers begin to argue about whether to continue the fight. “A wild uproar arose among us,” Captain James F.J. Caldwell of South Carolina will write. “Some were for resisting to the last, some advised immediate flight, some gave up the cause and counseled unconditional surrender.” Not surprisingly, Miles’s third assault succeeds. The Confederate line collapses from right to left, 600 men are captured, and the confused and disheartened survivors fall back toward the Appomattox. Caldwell calls it the “most disorderly movement I ever saw among Confederate troops.” For the rest of the day, a “weary, mortified, angry stream of men” pour through the fields and roads, making their way, in small groups and large, to the northwest along the river.

Robert E. Lee has moved his headquarters by now. The Turnbull house had been struck by an artillery shell while Lee was still in it—by the end of the day it will be burned to the ground—and cannon fire had followed him down the road as he departed. Lee establishes a temporary headquarters in a house near Petersburg and begins to plan his withdrawal. He works with great care despite numerous interruptions. One is a dispatch from Jefferson Davis, in which the President complains that to depart from Richmond tonight will necessitate “the loss of many valuables, both for the want of time to pack and of transportation.” For an instant Lee’s calm demeanor cracks. He rips the message apart and says: “I am sure I gave him sufficient notice.” But his answering message to Davis is as gracious as ever, saying only that he thinks it “absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight.”

The plans for withdrawal are complicated. The army is spread over a wide area around Petersburg and Richmond, and various units will confront different problems in getting to an assembly point. That point—previously selected and made known to Lee’s commanders—is the little town of Amelia Court House, about 35 miles west of Petersburg, on the Richmond & Danville Railroad. To avoid jamming the roads, several routes will have to be used. The Appomattox River, which runs southeastward between Amelia and Petersburg, will be a serious obstacle. Some of Lee’s units will have to cross it twice—and of the three major bridges over the river, at least one is thought to be out. But the army will never reach Amelia Court House unless the Federals are kept out of Petersburg until nightfall, when the Confederates will have a reasonable chance of getting across the river. There remains an inner line of strong fortifications from which to defend the city; these works stretch between the Boydton Plank Road and the river, scarcely a mile west of Petersburg. Longstreet’s men are filing into the line as fast as they arrive. But the Federals—Ord’s command and Wright’s VI Corps, with Humphreys and most of II Corps not far behind—threaten to get there first.

At 1 pm, Longstreet needs two more hours to get his men into position. But time has run out. General Grant is watching the action from a nearby hill, whittling and rapping out orders. He directs General Ord to attack the Confederate position, and Ord in turn allots the responsibility to John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps. The duty of holding the crucial stretch of earthworks falls to General Cadmus M. Wilcox’s division, and he gives the most critical assignment—the defense of the strong points known as Fort Gregg and Battery Whitworth—to a brigade of Mississippians commanded by Brigadier General Nathaniel Harris. The Confederates are outnumbered by more than 10 to 1, but no one flinches from the task. Inside Fort Gregg, Lieutenant Colonel James H. Duncan tells the troops of two Mississippi regiments, “Men, the salvation of Lee’s army is in your keeping.” When the flag of one of the regiments is shot from its staff at Battery Whitworth, General Harris ties the banner to a musket and climbs on top of the parapet, flaunting the banner at the Federals as they advance.

Gibbon’s leading division under Brigadier General Robert Foster is staggered by a hail of fire from the Confederate works—each defender with two or more rifles at hand, and the rear rank loading them and handing them off to the front rank. Yet the attackers press on, tumbling into the ditch and battling their way up the steep parapet, using their bayonets and swords to dig footholds in the muddy soil. Brigadier General John W. Turner’s division comes piling in behind Foster’s men, and soon a dozen Federal flags have been planted on the ramparts. The fighting is as desperate as any the war has seen. The defenders of Battery Whitworth and Fort Gregg are submerged beneath a flood of men in blue. “The sight was truly terrific,” an Illinois officer will recall. “Dead men and the dying lay strewn all about, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we could prevent our infuriated soldiers from shooting down and braining all who survived of the stubborn foe.” Of the 214 Confederates in Fort Gregg, only 30 are still standing; 55 have been killed and 129 wounded. The loss in Battery Whitworth is nearly as great. Gibbon’s attackers have also paid a heavy price: 714 men killed, wounded, or missing. The valiant Confederate defense of Fort Gregg has given Lee the time he needed to deploy General Longstreet’s troops behind the innermost line of earthworks protecting Petersburg. Ord and Wright, reluctant to launch a further assault, are content to rest on their hard-won laurels. To the east, Fort Mahone has finally fallen to IX Corps, but there also the Federals founder against Lee’s final line of defense. Still, the survival of Petersburg is measured in hours, and after ten months of slaughter, that in itself is enough for the Federal soldiers. Their flags are “floating on the Rebel works. And, as daylight faded into darkness, we hopefully watched them, clinging closer and closer to their eagle-peaked staffs until they were lost on the gloom. Thus closed that wild, stormy Sabbath, a day of blood, carnage, and victory.”

Ever since the disruption of the Sunday service at S. Paul’s Church in the morning, a strange agitation is perceptible on the streets of Richmond. Everyone understands the city is about to be abandoned to the Federals. In fact, preparations have been underway for more than a month, and most civilian officials below Cabinet rank have already left. Yet there is still shock; this is, after all, the capital of the Confederacy, where citizens have felt “a singular security.” Jefferson Davis and members of the Cabinet, the Archives, and the Treasury are soon on their way to Danville. This evening the Confederates set fire to Richmond’s warehouses—over the objections of the city fathers—to keep the valuable contents from falling into the hands of the Federals. The fires quickly spread.

With the departure of the civil authorities, the streets of Richmond are taken over by a rowdy and menacing mob—thugs, thieves, prostitutes, Army deserters, and convicts who have broken out of the penitentiary. There is virtually no one available to control either the fires or the crowds; the municipal police and firefighters are few and inadequate. To make matters worse, orders have been given for the destruction of the city’s liquor supplies, and casks have been emptied into the gutters, where rough-looking people immediately begin scooping up the whiskey in buckets and pitchers. Others begin breaking into shops. “It was an extraordinary night,” newspaper editor Edward A. Pollard will recall; “disorder, pillage, shouts, mad revelry of confusion.” Mobs can be seen in the flickering firelight, “besieging the commissary stores, destroying liquor, intent perhaps upon pillage, and swaying to and fro in whatever momentary passion possessed them.” As the hours pass, Pollard will say, “the sidewalks were encumbered with broken glass; stores were entered at pleasure and stripped from top to bottom; yells of drunken men, shouts of roving pillagers, wild cries of distress filled the air and made the night hideous.” It is a “saturnalia.”

All the while, Lee’s army is streaming northward across the Appomattox from Petersburg, southward across the James below Richmond, then westward toward Amelia Court House. Around midnight the Heavy Artillerymen manning the James River defenses at Chaffin’s and Drewry’s Bluffs abandon their positions, destroying the ordnance that cannot be removed. The sailors of the fleet join in the withdrawal, scuttling their vessels behind them. Captain Sulivane, in command of 200 local militia, is posted at the only remaining bridge across the James at Richmond, with orders to burn it after the last Confederate soldiers are across. From there he watches the “terrible splendor” of Richmond dying.

President Lincoln goes to the front at Petersburg and sees some of the fighting from a distance, meanwhile keeping Washington informed as to the progress of Grant’s armies. At 8:15 in the evening he telegraphs Grant, “Allow me to tender to you, and all with you, the nation’s grateful thanks for this additional, and magnificent success.”

At Selma, Alabama, some 12,000 Federal troops of James Harrison Wilson have reached near the city after besting Forrest’s men in various small engagements for several days. Forrest attempts to bring his about 7,000 to 8,000 men into Selma, but the investment by Wilson prevents it. Department commander Richard Taylor barely escapes as he leaves to gather men for Forrest. Near evening Wilson’s men attack the thinly held works of Selma. The charge is completely successful and confusion reigns. Forrest and a few of his officers and men escape. the Federals capture 2,700 prisoners, about forty guns, large stores of supplies, plus the important manufacturing center of Selma. The Union victors, with light casualties, now turn toward Montgomery, Alabama. At last Forrest, the invincible, has been beaten, but assuredly his force is no longer what it had been in numbers or in spirit.

On the Mobile front, the siege of Fort Blakely begins, while that of Spanish Fort continues. It is only a question of time before overwhelming Federal numbers will force the capitulation of Mobile itself. But by now it is too late for the campaign to be of much strategic importance.

Elsewhere, skirmishing breaks out near Goldsborough, North Carolina, and Van Buren and Hickory Station, Arkansas. Two Union expeditions in Louisiana last several days, one from Thibodeaux, Bayou City, and Brashear City to Lake Verret and The Park, and the other from The Hermitage to French Settlement.
A curious thing happens as the Federals launch their third attack: The Southern soldiers begin to argue about whether to continue the fight. “A wild uproar arose among us,” Captain James F.J. Caldwell of South Carolina will write. “Some were for resisting to the last, some advised immediate flight, some gave up the cause and counseled unconditional surrender.” Not surprisingly, Miles’s third assault succeeds. The Confederate line collapses from right to left, 600 men are captured, and the confused and disheartened survivors fall back toward the Appomattox. Caldwell calls it the “most disorderly movement I ever saw among Confederate troops.” For the rest of the day, a “weary, mortified, angry stream of men” pour through the fields and roads, making their way, in small groups and large, to the northwest along the river.

This is extraordinary. The game is up, and the enlisted men know it. Why die a futile death for a lost cause?
Potemkin wrote:This is extraordinary. The game is up, and the enlisted men know it. Why die a futile death for a lost cause?

Yup, it's done, but people are stubborn--there was an argument, after all. Reminds me of the reverse of Lee's comment to Longstreet at the end of the movie Gettysburg, "If the men will fight, what can we do but lead them?" The reverse is, "As long as our leaders lead us, what can we do but fight?" They're caught in a mutual feedback loop. Though that is going to be steadily breaking down over the next few days....
April 3, Monday

Mrs. Phoebe Yates Pember of Richmond is looking toward the rising sun when a single Federal bluejacket rises above the hill. Soon, another and another “spring up as if out of the earth,” but still all remains quiet. About 7 am there falls upon the ears the steady clatter of horses’ hooves, and winding around Rocketts, close under Chimborazo Hill, comes a small and compact body of Federal cavalrymen. They are will mounted, well accoutered, well fed—a rare sight in Richmond streets—the advance “of that vaunted army that for four years had so hopelessly knocked at the gates of the Southern Confederacy.”

Meanwhile, while Captain Sulivane, guarding the last bridge at Richmond crossing the James, is anxiously watching Federal horsemen enter the city, a Confederate ambulance train forces its way through the mobs thronging the commissary depot on the Richmond waterfront and crosses the bridge. It is followed by a brigade of cavalry commanded by Brigadier General Martin W. Gary. After the long column has thundered over the bridge, Gary continues to sit his horse nearby while long minutes pass; Sulivane frets, his kerosene, tar, and pine logs ready to be ignited. Then another company of cavalry appears, dashing for the bridge with blueclad riders not far behind. “My rearguard,” General Gary explains. The last Confederate defenders of Richmond gallop across the bridge and away. Gary touches his hat and rides after them. “All over, good-by,” he shouts to Sulivane. “Blow her to hell.”

It has fallen to Major General Godfrey Weitzel, whose XXV Corps in the lines north of the James River has sat out the momentous fighting of the past five days, to take possession of Richmond and raise over it the flag of the United States. This is a heavy irony, since Weitzel’s command includes all the Black troops formerly assigned to both the Army of the James and IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Weitzel’s foot soldiers follow the cavalry into Richmond, stack their arms in Capitol Square, and go to work to control the fires still raging throughout the city. Every able-bodied man the Federals find on the streets—Black, White, straggler, or convict—is required to help. The fires are extinguished and order restored in an incredibly short time. By all accounts, the behavior of the Federal soldiers is exemplary. They are firm but kindly in their treatment of the conquered citizenry, doing their best to reassure the women, distribute food to the needy, and protect the helpless. One officer responds to the appeal of a frantic young woman who says her bedridden mother can’t flee the approaching flames. Entering the house, he finds the invalid to be the wife of Robert E. Lee. The officer posts guards at the house and makes an ambulance available to evacuate Mrs. Lee if necessary. Still, the troops filling the streets of Richmond are the enemy, and their presence evokes a conflict in Southern hearts that is reflected with precision in the diary of 14-year-old Frances Hunt: “The Yankees are behaving very well, considering it is them.”

This same morning, the Federals—General Grant among them—have marched into Petersburg. The streets along the riverfront are still crowded with Confederate soldiers struggling to get away, and Grant could wreak terrible damage with his cannon. But he lets the stragglers go. “I had not the heart,” he will explain, “to turn the artillery upon such a mass of defeated and fleeing men.” Besides, he adds, “I hoped to capture them soon.” Abraham Lincoln has been at City Point throughout the last week, keeping abreast of the stirring events by means of dispatches from Grant. When Petersburg falls, Lincoln hurries there for a brief, triumphant meeting with his general in chief.

Sheridan’s cavalry is close on Fitzhugh Lee’s heels, and the Virginian has to turn and fight twice today. At Namozine Church, Custer’s leading brigade under Colonel William Wells attacks Lee’s rearguard, inflicting heavy casualties.

At Northport, near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, an action breaks out between the cavalry of Wilson and Forrest. In addition, there are skirmishes at Mount Pleasant, Tennessee; Hillsville, Virginia; and a two-day Federal scout from Huntsville to near Vienna, Alabama. Federals pursue bushwhackers near Farmington, Missouri; and until April 11th there is a Union expedition to Asheville, North Carolina.

The Virginia Military Institute corps of cadets march glumly west from Federally occupied Richmond to the burned-out ruin of their beloved institute at Lexington in the Shenandoah Valley. It will soon be rebuilt, and classes resumed; little has changed from last spring. Henceforth, every May 15 at VMI, the roll call will include ten additional names: those of the youths who died of wounds received at the Battle of New Market. As each name sounds across the parade ground—Cabell, Atwill, Crockett, Hartsfield, Haynes, Jefferson, Jones, McDowell, Stanard, Wheelwright—a specially honored cadet will step forward and respond: “Died on the field of honor, Sir!”
April 4, Tuesday

Accompanied by his 12-year-old son, Tad, and by Rear Admiral David Porter, Lincoln steps ashore unannounced in a remote part of the conquered enemy capital that Weitzel’s force hasn’t yet occupied. The boat that was carrying the President’s escort of Marines has run aground, and he is protected by no more than a dozen soldiers armed with carbines. The only people on hand to observe the historic arrival are some Black laborers working nearby. In an instant they recognize the visitor, drop their spades, and cluster around the President. Some of them fall to their knees and kiss his feet while Lincoln helplessly protests. More former slaves materialize. “They seemed to spring from the earth,” Admiral Porter will recall. “They came, tumbling and shouting, from over the hills and from the waterside, where no one was seen as we passed.” The alarmed sailors form a cordon around Lincoln and fix their bayonets as the crowd, says Porter, “poured in so fearfully that I thought we all stood a chance of being crushed to death.” At length, Lincoln says a few words to the jubilant mob: “You are free,” he tells them, “free as air.”

Slowly the little party moves on, accompanied by the burgeoning crowd. It is a warm day, and Lincoln is beginning to look dusty and hot. At last Porter spots a Federal cavalryman—the first occupation soldier he has seen since landing—and sends the man in search of an escort. Twenty minutes later a troop of riders appear and manage to push back the crowd, allowing Lincoln to proceed safely. After a walk of about two miles, Lincoln arrives at General Weitzel’s headquarters, in Jefferson Davis’s former executive mansion. One of the President’s party will say Lincoln is “pale and haggard, utterly worn out,” but a drink of water revives him and he goes on a tour of the house, showing a boyish pleasure at the opportunity to look over Davis’s living quarters.

Later this afternoon, Lincoln visits other parts of the city, riding in a carriage and attended by a cavalry escort. He sees the infamous Libby Prison and the Confederate capitol and has an evening meeting with Judge John A. Campbell, who had participated in the recent Hampton Roads peace conference. Few details of Lincoln’s activities in Richmond today will survive, but there will be a report from Mrs. George Pickett, the comely young wife of the Confederate general. Answering her door, she finds “a tall, gaunt, sad-faced man in ill-fitting clothes standing outside.” He says, “I am Abraham Lincoln.” When she gasps, “The President!” he says, “No; Abraham Lincoln, George’s old friend.” Lincoln and Pickett had known each other before the war. Mrs. Pickett is holding her 10-month-old son, and Lincoln takes the infant in his arms and accepts a damp kiss. As he hands back the child before leaving, Lincoln says to him: “Tell your father that I forgive him for the sake of your bright eyes.”

While Lincoln visits Richmond, the vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia arrives in the pretty red-brick town of Amelia Court House. All day long, the scattered Confederate units struggle to reconcentrate there. A.P. Hill’s corps, under Henry Heth, is the first to arrive, having marched northwest from Petersburg. Gordon’s corps is close behind. Before long they are joined by Mahone’s division. Richard Ewell is marching the forces that had defended Richmond toward Amelia by a more northerly road, and south of the Appomattox the remains of Pickett’s division, Anderson’s corps and Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry find that after their defeat at Five Forks they have the shortest march of all.

By this morning Sheridan is certain that the Confederates are concentrating their forces at Amelia Court House. He also understands that the race is not for that place, but for the vital railroad junction near Burkeville, fifteen miles southwest of Amelia. If Lee’s army can get there ahead of the Federals, it might still escape to join Johnston’s army. Sheridan orders George Crook’s division to strike for Jetersville, a station halfway between Amelia and Burkeville. Charles Griffin is to follow with V Corps. Both reach Jetersville before evening. Thus instead of pursuing the Confederates, the Federals race alongside them, trying to get ahead of Lee and bring him to bay. Sheridan’s route leads toward Amelia—and George Meade, riding with his army although seriously ill, sends both II and VI Corps marching westward in the cavalry’s wake. Their course is a full twenty miles shorter than the 55-mile arc some of the Confederate troops have to travel. The Federals, in fact, seem to have all the advantages—superior numbers, plenty of food and ammunition, and the fiery exhilaration of victory.

The Confederates are in far worse physical shape, but they are running for their lives, for the survival of the Confederacy, and for General Lee. Despite their privations, some of them are ebullient, “like schoolboys on a holiday.” They are out of the trenches at last and back on the road. They have been told there will be plenty to eat at Amelia, the sun is shining, and they can hope again. But the lift to Confederate spirits cannot overcome for long the twin enemies of hunger and exhaustion. Now on the second day, many soldiers are sleeping as they walk; when there is a halt, the men drop to the ground until the march resumes. Then, when another soldier trips over them, they lurch to their feet and stumble on. Pickett’s force has been “so crushed by the defeats of the last few days that it straggles along “without strength and almost without thought.” They are mostly silent. “An indescribable sadness weighed on us.”

For a time the marchers include clusters of fleeing civilians. “There were citizens in broadcloth,” Lieutenant Colonel William W. Blackford will recall, “politicians, members of Congress, prominent citizens, almost all on foot, but sometimes there were wagons and carriages loaded with them. Some ladies too might be seen occasionally and generally they were calmer than the men.” Among Ewell’s troops is a group of Navy men—sailors and Marines who had been assigned to the ironclads and gunboats on the James River. Their ships are gone, but they have formed a battalion of infantry under Commodore John R. Tucker and are tramping along in their strange uniforms, responding to such outlandish commands as “To starboard, march!” There is also a large contingent of former noncombatants—“a perfect army of bureau clerks, quartermasters, commissaries and ordnance officers,” continues Colonel Blackford, “all dressed in fine clothes and uniforms, with white faces, scared half to death, fellows who for the most part had been in bomb-proof offices ever since the war began and who did not relish the prospect of smelling powder now.” Many of them have been organized into independent companies known as the Richmond Locals and have been placed with Brigadier General Seth Barton’s brigade. The Locals, along with the Naval Battalion, are now serving under the command of Robert E. Lee’s eldest son, Custis Lee. As they move westward over five separate routes, the varied units of the Army of Northern Virginia are accompanied by hundreds of wagons, ambulances, and artillery pieces in cumbersome trains.

All of the marchers—whatever their previous service or the state of their morale—are buoyed by a single prospect: that of eating their fill at Amelia Court House. During the final days of the siege, Lee had asked the Confederate Commissary Department to collect a substantial store of food in Richmond. This had been done; 350,000 rations had been gathered in the capital, and Lee wanted them sent ahead to Amelia. Another 500,000 rations of bread and 1.5 million rations of meat have been collected at Danville; as a result, Lee has every reason to believe that, for now at least, his supply worries are over. But when, upon his arrival at Amelia Court House, Lee looks for the rations, he makes an appalling discovery. He finds an abundant cache of artillery caissons, ammunitions, and harness—but not a single ration of food. For a moment, the discovery completely paralyzes the imperturbable Lee, an anxious and haggard expression coming to his face. The army continues to converge on the rendezvous, camping in the streets and overflowing into the surrounding countryside. Soon thousands of hungry men are jammed into the little town and its environs and additional commands are waiting beyond the Appomattox. Not a bit of food is available for them, and no one knows why. Blame for the confusion is hurled in several directions. Some insist that the necessary cars weren’t available because they had been commandeered to save “the rubbish of the departments.” Jefferson Davis will indignantly deny this. The simple fact will seem to be that in the haste of moving out of the Turnbull house, Lee’s headquarters staff failed to get word to the Commissary officials that Lee was counting on the supplies to be waiting for him at Amelia Court House.

In desperation, Lee pulls some wagons and teams out of the trains parked around the town and addresses a plea to the citizens of Amelia County. “The Army of Northern Virginia arrived here today, expecting to find plenty of provisions,” Lee writes. “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.” Lee arms his quartermasters with this message and sends them out into a countryside that has been combed repeatedly for food, with orders to try one more time. Until they return, the army can’t move. The slim but precious lead over the pursuing Federal infantry will have to be sacrificed.

While the foragers are out, Lee reorganizes his wagon trains, directing all but the most critically needed wagons to follow a circuitous route to the north, keeping the Confederate army between them and the Federals. He also orders the destruction of the excess artillery rounds stockpiled at Amelia; only enough ammunition to fill the artillery’s limber chests is set aside. The ear-shattering detonations causes an incident that demonstrates the fragility of the army’s self-control. Private Carlton McCarthy and his fellow artillerists are sitting around chatting quietly, when suddenly the earth shakes with a tremendous explosion and an immense column of smoke rushes up into the air to a great height. For a moment there is “the greatest consternation,” while regiments break and flee “in wildest confusion.” McCarthy’s unit, which has been assigned to protect their battalion’s flank, leaps up and prepares to do battle. Only then do the abashed soldiers discover that their commanders are merely exploding unneeded ammunitions. “Then what laughter and hilarity prevailed,” McCarthy will record, “among these famishing men!”

The retreating Army of Northern Virginia skirmishes with Federals at Tabernacle Church or Beaver Pond Creek and at Amelia Court House.

In Alabama Federal cavalry of James H. Wilson enter Tuscaloosa.

At the new capital of the Confederacy in Danville, Virginia, President Davis issues a proclamation to the remaining people of the crumbling nation. “It would be unwise, even if it were possible, to conceal the great moral, as well as material injury to our cause that must result from the occupation of Richmond by the enemy. It is equally unwise and unworthy of us, as patriots engaged in a most sacred cause, to allow our energies to falter, our spirits to grow faint, or our efforts to become relaxed, under reverses however calamitous.” He admits there is now a new phase of the conflict, but he vows to maintain the struggle.
April 5, Wednesday

The foragers General Lee sent out yesterday return to Amelia Court House during the morning, but their wagons are virtually empty. The local farmers had been stripped during the winter. In McCarthy’s battalion each man is issued two ears of corn that had been intended for the horses. The corn is parched in the campfires and eaten later; it is so hard, McCarthy will later say, that “it made the jaws ache and the gums and teeth so sore as to cause almost unendurable pain.” A number of men wander off to look for food on their own. Some of these strays return, some don’t. The absence of food makes it even more imperative that the Confederate push westward resume immediately. “I know that the men and animals are much exhausted,” notes Lee in a message to General Gordon. “But it is necessary to tax their strength.” The soldiers understand their predicament. As Colonel William M. Owen, commanding the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, writes in his diary, “It is now a race for life or death.”

The Federal troops are equally aware of what is at stake. They have outrun their own wagon trains, “so elated by the reflection that at last they were following up a victory to its end,” Grant will say, “that they preferred marching without rations to running a possible risk of letting the enemy elude them.” General Humphreys with II Corps joins Crook’s cavalry and Griffin’s V Corps at Jetersville, directly in Lee’s path, and Wright is approaching with VI Corps. General Meade intends to attack Lee at Amelia, of course, but to Sheridan’s distress, he plans to wait until tomorrow morning, when Wright will be in position. Sheridan doesn’t want to wait. His patrols report that Lee’s wagon trains are already pulling out of Amelia Court House; Brigadier General Henry E. Davies’ troopers have found and destroyed 180 Confederate wagons and have captured five artillery pieces at Painesville, a crossroads seven miles northwest of Amelia. Moreover, Sheridan doesn’t want the Federal infantry to strike Lee in such a way that the Confederates can take to their heels again; he wants to get in front and block them. Sheridan cannot overrule Meade, but he knows who can; he sends an urgent message to Grant, who is farther south and heading directly to Burkeville with General Ord’s command. “I wish you were here yourself,” Sheridan says. “I feel confident of capturing the Army of Northern Virginia if we exert ourselves.” Grant, heeding Sheridan’s appeal, hurries to Jetersville. He arrives late at night after a four-hour ride through dangerous country with only a small escort to protect him. Grant goes over the situation with Meade and is not happy about it. But, beyond directing Ord’s two corps to push on to Burkeville before going into bivouac, he can do nothing until dawn. Meade asks for and receives the return of Griffin’s V Corps to his command.

When the Army of Northern Virginia resumes its march, leaving Amelia at midday, Lee knows that the Federal cavalry is at Jetersville. His men have captured two Federal scouts bearing important dispatches that reveal the Federal positions. Cavalry might be brushed aside, but when Lee’s riders probe the Federal position at Jetersville they find infantry there as well, the vanguard of the hard-marching V Corps. Lee knows that if he attempts to smash through, Grant’s mighty army will certainly overwhelm his depleted forces. He has to try to get around the Federals, not only to continue his escape but to go far enough down the railroad to get supplies. His men must have food, and soon. Accordingly, Lee leads his column on a swing to the north, around the Federal position. His route of march will pass through Rice’s Station on the Southside Railroad, seven miles northwest of Burkeville. Once there he can receive food by rail from Lynchburg, then march west to that city or, preferably, head south until he again strikes the Danville route—the way to Johnston’s army. But with the Federal V Corps at Jetersville, and with II and VI Corps closing in fast, he will have to hurry.

The Army of Northern Virginia marches all afternoon, and then through the night, in heavy rain. The starving and exhausted soldiers stumble forward, many losing all track of time and unable to remember afterward where they have been or what they have done. Some wander away from the columns in search of food; others fall by the roadside. General Davies’ attack on the wagon train at Painesville has left the route blocked with wreckage; the surviving vehicles return to the same roads used by the infantry, adding to the congestion and slowing the march even more. Horses and mules break down, forcing the abandonment of scores of wagons that carry the army’s remaining scraps of food.

The Federals find the roads littered with discarded weapons, blanket rolls, and artillery pieces in the wake of the fleeing army. Chalked on the side of one abandoned wagon is the message: “Weuns have found the last ditch.” Most of the wagons still contain their cargo, and the Union soldiers picking through the wreckage are surprised at the variety of heavy, useless equipment the Confederates were carting along. “Cooking utensils, frying pans, stewpans, kettles, were plentiful,” Brigadier General Philip de Trobriand will say. The roads are filled with human flotsam as well—stragglers, deserters, and men who simply can no longer stay away. Prisoners are pouring into the Union lines by the thousands.

During the night a horse that had been tied to a fence breaks away and stampedes along the Confederate column, dragging a piece of rail. The dazed soldiers, sure they are being attacked, panic and start shooting. Fellow marchers return fire, and before sanity can be restored, several men have been killed or wounded. There are several real attacks, as well; Sheridan’s cavalrymen pounce time and again from parallel roads to the south of the Confederates. Longstreet, urged on by Lee, leads the melancholic march with his own and Heth’s corps, followed by their wagons. Longstreet’s vanguard is screened by Rooney Lee’s cavalry. Next comes Anderson’s small corps and Ewell’s Richmond garrison, reduced by straggling to fewer than 3,000 men—half its strength of three days ago. Then comes the rest of the army’s trains, followed by Gordon’s corps, still bringing up the rear. It is supposed to be a forced march, but the pace is more like a crawl. The collapse of a small bridge over Flat Creek, on the Amelia Springs road, halts the artillery and trains until the engineers can be brought up to repair it. This night the army advances only seven miles.

At Danville President Davis writes his wife that he is out of touch with Lee but that he is fitting up an executive office. “I am unwilling to leave Virginia,” he states.

In Richmond, President Lincoln comes ashore again from Malvern. For a second time he confers with John H. Campbell and then reads a statement. It says peace is possible only through restoration of the national authority throughout all the states, that there must be no receding on the abolition of slavery, and that hostilities will not cease short of an end to the war and disbanding of all hostile forces. Campbell will say that the President states he is contemplating calling the Virginia legislature together to vote restoration of the state to the Union. The exact words and meaning of this proposal will become a subject for much controversy, and still not be clear over a century later. The President then returns to City Point. At 6 pm he receives news that Secretary of State Seward has been critically injured in a carriage accident in Washington this afternoon.

Two Federal expeditions start out in South Carolina: one until the 15th from Charleston to the Santee River, and another until the 25th from Georgetown to Camden. Confederates burn two Federal steamers near Maple Cypress and Cowpen Landing, North Carolina. There also is an expedition against Amerinds on the west coast from Camp Bidwell to Antelope Creek, California; and for three days Federals operate a scout from Huntsville to New Market and Maysville, Alabama.
April 6, Thursday

A disgruntled Sheridan moves his cavalry off to the left at first light, while Meade advances firmly—in the wrong direction. Longstreet’s van is little more than five miles from Rice’s Station, but Gordon’s rearguard is just leaving Amelia Springs, a hamlet four miles west of Amelia Court House. Thus when Mead launches his belated attack northeastward, General Humphreys, on the Federal left, reports “a strong column of the enemy’s infantry” marching away to the west. The Federal army halts, and when more reports confirm that it is indeed heading away from the enemy, the men are faced about and take up the chase again, with Humphrey’s II Corps in the lead. “A sharp running fight” commences at once with Gordon’s corps, which continues over a distance of fourteen miles, during which several partially entrenched positions are carried. Gordon will note that the roads and fields and woods swarm with “eager pursuers,” and that his command is “in almost incessant battle.” Despite their wretched condition, the Southern soldiers fight fiercely. “There was as much gallantry displayed by some of the Confederates in these little engagements,” Grant will say later, “as was displayed at any time during the War.” During this hectic chase, II Corps gets so far in front of the rest of the Federal army that Grant fears Lee’s entire force might suddenly turn and overwhelm it.

When Longstreet, at the head of the army, reaches Rice’s Station at midmorning, he learns that several hundred Federals had just passed through, heading north along the railroad. The news is alarming; the reported enemy force isn’t large enough to attack the army, but it is certainly large enough to destroy the vital bridges across the Appomattox River, three miles to the north. There the eastward-flowing river and the railroad—headed west for Lynchburg—intertwine. About four miles northeast of the market town of Farmville, the tracks cross to the north side of the river by way of the so-called High Bridge, which spans a flood plain half a mile wide at the dizzying height of 126 feet. Loss of this bridge and of the less-imposing wagon bridge beside it would cut one of the Confederates’ few remaining lines of retreat. Troops of General Ord’s Army of the James—one division of Weitzel’s XXV Corps and two divisions of Major General John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps—have marched directly to Burkeville while the Army of the Potomac is veering north to Jetersville. Early this morning, Ord dispatched nearly 900 men—two regiments from Ohio and Pennsylvania and three companies of his headquarters guard, Massachusetts cavalry—to destroy the bridges. The force is well past Rice’s Station when the Confederates arrive there and learn of the threat. Longstreet rounds up all the cavalry he can find to give chase, telling General Thomas Rosser to take his division and destroy the Federals if it takes the last man of his command to do it. Longstreet soon adds General Thomas Munford’s division to the force, giving Rosser a total of 1,200 horsemen. Word reaches Ord that the Confederate cavalry is in pursuit and he dispatches his adjutant general, Colonel Theodore Read, to warn Washburn. After a brief discussion, the two officers decide that they will continue their mission.

When Rosser’s leading brigades catch up with the Federals around noon, the 80-man cavalry squadron has just driven a detachment of home guards away from the High Bridge. The Federal infantry wait on a hill near the Watson farmhouse, about half a mile to the south. Before Colonel Washburn can destroy the bridge, he hears firing behind him and gallopx back to find his infantry support being attacked by three brigades of Confederates. Munford has dismounted his division and sent the men directly toward the Federal line while Rosser takes his two brigades to the left behind a screen of trees to strike the Federals’ flank. After another quick conference with Colonel Read, Washburn—unaware that he is facing two Confederate divisions—leads a ferocious charge against the dismounted attackers in his front. At first the unexpected charge dismays Munford’s men and they are driven back; Washburn’s men crash through three lines of advancing enemies, “tearing their formation asunder as the tornado cuts its way through the forest.” But Rosser’s brigades rapidly to advance assist their comrades. Despite the large force arrayed against him, Washburn continues his charge into the oncoming Confederates. The fight dissolves into a swirling hand-to-hand struggle. Confederate Brigadier General James Dearing and Washburn dash by each other, exchanging saber cuts as they pass. Seconds later, a Confederate trooper shoots Washburn through the cheek tumbling him off his horse. Washburn is then struck in the head by a saber and mortally wounded. Dearing spots Colonel Read and shoots him dead. Then Dearing too is shot down. Within a few minutes the Massachusetts cavalry is overwhelmed. All eleven of its officers, including its three company commanders, are casualties. Only seven enlisted men have been killed or wounded, but more than sixty are taken prisoner.

Once the Federal horsemen have been dealt with the Confederates turn on the infantry, which had held its position on the hill instead of coming to the aid of the beleaguered Massachusetts cavalry. Brigadier General John McCausland of Rosser’s division orders his two units of Virginia cavalry to charge the Federal position. Colonel Reuben Boston is killed in the attack, but his men drive the Federals from the hill. When the other Virginia unit rides around the flank of the fugitives, they surrender en masse. The Confederates take nearly 800 men prisoner along with six colors and guidons and a complete brass band. The Appomattox bridge remains in Confederate hands for the time being, but a Federal colonel who is being led away a prisoner tells his captors jauntily, “Never mind, boys, Old Grant is after you. You will be in our predicament in 48 hours.”

As the day wears on, Lee and Longstreet wait impatiently at Rice’s Station for the rest of the Confederate army, which is struggling to close up. Grant will later recall that the iron-willed Lee “never permitted the head of his columns to stop because of any fighting that was going on in the rear.” One result of this policy, Grant later writes, is that Lee very nearly wins his race. Another result, however, is that his units have become badly strung out; the remainder of Longstreet’s corps is coming in with little trouble, but Anderson and Ewell have to stop frequently to fight off Sheridan’s slashing attacks from their left, and Gordon is constantly bedeviled by II Corps.

By 11 am, Anderson is still five miles from Rice’s Station. Ahead of him are the two forks of Sayler’s Creek, a tributary of the Appomattox River. He is nearing a crossroads called Holt’s Corners when he has to halt and face his brigades west to fend off another onslaught by Crook’s horsemen. Someone has decided to let a number of the wagons pass both Anderson and Ewell, apparently to shorten the distance between Ewell and Gordon; while this is being done, the gap between Longstreet’s rearguard and Anderson’s van widens even more. In their befogged condition, neither Anderson nor Ewell think to tell Longstreet or Lee what is happening to them. Anderson soon has reason to wish he had, for when the wagons move unprotected into the widening gap Federal riders led by Custer attack, killing drivers, cutting horses loose, and setting wagons on fire. To protect the rest of the wagons, Ewell orders those still behind him to take another road, which forks off to the north. Using it, the wagons can cross Sayler’s Creek at the confluence of its two branches and make their way westward at a safer distance from the enemy cavalrymen. General Gordon is not informed of the change, however; when he arrives at the fork in the road, he follows the wagons—as he has been doing all day—off to the north. Thus, Lee’s outnumbered army has been split into three diverging parts.

Of these, the one made up of Ewell’s and Anderson’s commands is facing the most immediate danger. Anderson’s brigades cross Little Sayler’s Creek and push three quarters of a mile down the road, only to find Federal cavalry in strength blocking their way. All three of Sheridan’s divisions are firmly planted across the road and threatening the Confederate left. When Gordon moved off to the north, Ewell lost his rearguard. The Federal II Corps continues to chase Gordon, but Sheridan has sent for Wright’s VI Corps, which had been put at his disposal by Grant this morning after Meade’s abortive advance on Amelia. Wright has been following Sheridan, and now he makes a swing to the north from Pride’s Church to gain the Rice’s Station road and comes in behind Ewell. While the infantry comes up, Sheridan’s horsemen continue their attacks to hold the Confederates in place.

From the valley of Little Sayler’s Creek, Confederates watch the Federal VI Corps deploy, the corps massing into the fields at a double quick, “the battle lines blooming with colors, growing longer and deeper at every moment, the batteries at a gallop coming into action front.” The sun is more than halfway down, “the oak and pine woods behind them crowning the hill and laying evening’s peaceful shadows on Ewell’s line and on Sheridan’s.” The Confederates are watching Brigadier General Truman Seymour’s division take position, and its troops make up only half of the 10,000 about to move against the Confederates. Shortly, Brigadier General Frank Wheaton deploys two brigades on Seymour’s left. With Anderson pinned down by Sheridan’s cavalry a mile farther south, Ewell’s 3,000 men will be forced to face the infantry on their own. Grimly, Ewell forms a line blocking the road, halfway down the hillside, with Custis Lee’s Richmond troops on the left, Commodore Tucker’s sailors in reserve, and his one veteran division, Major General Joseph B. Kershaw’s, on the right. The Confederates begin to throw up fieldworks to face the coming attack. On a hill across the valley, Major Andrew Cowan, VI Corps’ artillery commander, deploys his five batteries around the Hillsman house. It is about 5 pm. For a brief time the Federals wait—and, in the silence that precedes the assault, the Confederates give in to exhaustion. It is an eerie moment. “The little stream bawled peacefully at our feet,” Colonel Peter A.S. McGlashan of Georgia will recall. “The tender flowers of spring were showing above the grass. The hum of insects and the strange silence all around seemed to cast a drowsy spell over the men, and I could see them gradually sinking to the ground and, pillowing their heads in their arms, fitfully dreaming.”

The respite is ended by the roar of Federal cannon. For half an hour the Confederates are subjected to “a terrible fire” from twenty guns blasting case shot at a range of 800 yards. The Southern soldiers can only flatten down and endure the bombardment; there is no Confederate artillery to fire back. Ewell and Anderson discuss irresolutely whether they should try to escape to the west or break through the enemy cavalry. Before they can reach a decision, the Federal infantry advances.

Sheridan is on hand to direct the infantry assault. Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Hopkins watches him instructing General Wright: “I saw him make a gesture with his palm turned to the front that said unmistakably that whatever opposed us on the hill opposite was to be pushed out of the way.” Wright’s infantry has a difficult approach, however. The Confederate column had been able to use a bridge to get across the creek; the Federals, advancing in line of battle across the adjoining field, have to wade through water up to the waist. Corporal B.F. Jones of Pennsylvania will recall, “At the foot of the hill we came to a quicksand swamp. As soon as I put my foot on it I knew what it was. I immediately stepped out in front and, jumping from one bunch of grass to another, I reached the other side dry shod, while many of the company got in the mire so deep that they could not get out without assistance.” There is a sputtering of musketry as Ewell’s skirmishers fall back, and then another uncanny silence. The attackers have been told to hold their fire until they are within 200 yards of the enemy line; Ewell’s men are ordered not to fire until commanded to do so.

As the opposing ranks close, some of the Federals flutter handkerchiefs at Ewell’s men, inviting the Confederates to surrender. The answer is a roar of musketry. Confederate Major Robert Stiles—commanding a detachment in Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield’s former Heavy Artillery brigade—calls out to his men: “Ready!” They rise to one knee in unison, “like a piece of mechanism.” When he shouts “Aim!” The advancing bluecoats have come so close that he is sure they can hear him distinctly. The Confederates level their muskets. “Fire!” At the eruption of flame and smoke, the first rank of Federal soldiers in front of Stiles’ position simply disappears. A moment later, as another volley rings out, the Rhode Island and Pennsylvania regiments in the center of the assault line break and run. Stiles’ cannoneers and Major William S. Basinger’s 18th Georgia Battalion charge wildly after them, driving the hapless Federals back across the creek with a ferocious combination of point-blank rifle fire and work with bayonet and clubbed musket. In the fighting, Stiles finds himself in possession of his battalion’s flag; five soldiers have already fallen while carrying it. The major prudently sticks it upright in some thick brush as a rallying point for his command. By this time, Edwards’ remaining regiments have recovered from the shock of the Confederate counterattack. They wheel right and open a devastating fire. A Massachusetts regiment uses their Spencer repeaters, and the Federal artillery on the heights hurls canister into the Confederates now exposed on the hillside. Stiles and Basinger lead their men through a protective ravine back to the hilltop. Stiles now finds himself without a commanding officer. Crutchfield had ridden off, under heavy fire, to get instructions from Custis Lee; but Crutchfield never reaches him. His body is found on the field, shot through the head.

Although their center has been driven in, the Federals continue a grinding assault on both flanks. Colonel William S. Truex brings his brigade up the hill and wheels left, striking part of Custis Lee’s flank and sending it back in confusion. On the far right, part of Colonel Joseph E. Hamblin’s brigade pushes across the Confederates’ rear. Brigadier General James P. Simms’s Georgians, holding Kershaw’s right flank, are almost surrounded before they run to escape the trap. The Confederates’ situation is hopeless. They are badly outnumbered, inexperienced, and weary; their commanders are too tired to think straight. In a moment they are attacked simultaneously front and rear, by overwhelming numbers, and the battle degenerates into “a butchery and a confused melée of brutal personal conflicts.” Private Samuel Eddy of Massachusetts is pinned to the ground by a bayonet thrust through his body. Yet he manages to chamber another round in his Spencer repeater and kill his assailant. Then Eddy throws aside the body with one hand, withdraws the bayonet from his own horrible wound, rises to his feet, and walks to the rear. Eddy is fortunate. During the fight there are “no facilities for taking off the wounded,” so they are directed, when able, to crawl behind trees and into gullies. Many are probably shot a second time, while lying on the exposed hillside.

While Wright, urged on by Sheridan, launches the infantry assault on Ewell, the Federal cavalry under Wesley Merritt has attacked Anderson’s command from the opposite direction. That fight is as fierce as Ewell’s, and the outcome is similarly preordained. Anderson has the remnants of two divisions, about 6,000 men under Bushrod Johnson and George Pickett, which he gamely deploys in the face of Merritt’s three divisions of horsemen, 8,000 strong. Crook, leading the largest of the Federal divisions, slams into Johnson’s line. Matthew Ransom’s North Carolinians, holding Johnson’s left, are flanked out of their shallow trenches and overrun by Colonel J. Irvin Gregg’s 1,300 veteran Pennsylvania cavalrymen. The Confederates wait “until the horsemen were almost near enough to leap over the slight breastwork. The quiet line of dingy greys suddenly sprang to life, planted their rebel flags almost within reach of the bold troopers, and with their peculiar faint cheer delivered into them a most destructive volley. Many saddles were emptied but on they came, jumping over the works and killing many with the hoofs of the horses.” Pickett manages to fight off several attacks by Custer’s men, supported by Thomas Devin’s division, but it is to no avail. Custer finally smashes through with a characteristically headlong mounted charge, a feat rarely tried against breastworks.

The Confederates “lost all formation and went across the country, our boys chasing up and gathering them in.” The Federals capture the Confederate wagon train, setting it ablaze after appropriating anything that catches their fancy. Some of Anderson’s men, fleeing northeastward, get mixed up with Ewell’s men, who are racing to the southwest. Others try to form a hollow square, the traditional defense against cavalry, but they are soon overwhelmed and forced to surrender. General Henry A. Wise halts his retreating brigade long enough to stop the Federal pursuit momentarily; then, joined by William Wallace’s brigade, he hurries toward Farmville. Anderson and his division commanders manage to get away, but Ewell and seven other generals are taken prisoner, along with about 6,000 men. At dusk, after most of the Confederates have given themselves up, General J. Warren Keifer, riding alone, finds himself facing the leveled muskets of the Naval Brigade, whose men have withdrawn to the woods and are unaware of the surrender. His life is spared when a Confederate officer knocks aside the musket barrel of a man who is about to fire. Keifer rides at top speed back to his own command and returns with them to demand and receive Commodore Tucker’s surrender.

About the time VI Corps began the bombardment of Ewell’s forces, Gordon finds himself in similarly desperate straits. The road he is following runs northwest for two miles, then turns to the left, descending into a swampy valley and crossing the two forks of Sayler’s Creek just above their confluence. The crossings present a serious bottleneck to the passage of the wagons, and at 4 pm one of the two bridges collapses, slowing Gordon’s column just as the relentless Humphreys advances on its rear. Gordon forms a line of battle on the crest of the ridge east of Sayler’s Creek and prepares to fight. He dispatches a message of quiet alarm to Lee: “So far I have been able to protect the wagons, but without assistance can scarcely hope to do so much longer.” The division of Nelson Miles and Francis Barlow attack, driving General Gordon’s line from the ridge. The Confederates have managed to position some guns across the creek, and their fire momentarily stops the Federal attack at the crest. “General Gordon, seeing resistance was hopeless,” Private Henry T. Bahnson will write, “gave us orders to save ourselves, showing us the way by galloping his horse down the hill and fording the creek.” On the opposite ridge Gordon pulls together what remains of his force and marches to the southwest, toward the High Ridge and Farmville. But he has to leave behind 1,700 men who are taken prisoner, 200 wagons, seventy ambulances, three guns, and thirteen battle flags.

Even after Lee and Longstreet figure out what is happening to their unexpectedly fragmented army, they are unable to send help to either Gordon or Ewell. Ord is advancing from the southeast, threatening the Confederates’ railroad lifeline; with Sheridan and VI Corps to the east and II Corps to the northeast, Longstreet dares not weaken his grip on the roads leading to Farmville. The army’s only chance is to get to Farmville, cross the bridges, and burn them; with the Federals blocked by the flooded river, the Confederates might get some food and rest. The best Longstreet can do is post Mahone’s division along the bluffs that line the west bank of Big Sayler’s Creek and await developments. As evening comes on, Lee rides with Mahone, who has returned from sick leave, to look down into the Sayler’s Creek valley. It is a scene, Mahone will write, that “beggars description—hurrying teamsters with their teams and dangling traces (no wagons), retreating infantry without guns, many without hats, a harmless mob, with the massive columns of the enemy, moving orderly on. At this spectacle General Lee straightened himself in his saddle, and, looking more the soldier than ever, exclaimed, as if talking to himself, ‘My God! Has the army dissolved?’ ” Deeply moved, Mahone takes a moment to steady his voice. He then responds, “No, General, here are troops ready to do their duty.” Recovering his aplomb, Lee orders Mahone to form a line and rally the stragglers; then he sits his horse and watches, clutching a battle flag.

Never before has the Army of Northern Virginia sustained such a defeat as it has today. The 8,000 casualties it has suffered since morning amount to roughly a quarter of its total strength. Needing to get south and join Johnston, the army instead has been deflected to the northwest, away from its route toward Burkeville and Rice’s Station. The only good news Lee receives this evening is that bacon and cornmeal to feed his army have definitely arrived in Farmville. On that slender reed he again sets to work, gathering scattered commands, assigning routes, urging his officers and men forward on yet another all-night march. There are only two corps now. Gordon’s, which includes the survivors of Anderson’s corps and Pickett’s division under the command of General Wise, is to make its way over the Appomattox at the High Bridge and then west to Farmville. Longstreet’s is to take the road northwest from Rice’s Station to Farmville—with Mahone’s division acting as the rearguard.

This night, Sheridan sends an exultant report to Grant detailing the victory at Sayler’s Creek and concluding: “If the thing is pressed I think Lee will surrender.” Grant relays Sheridan’s message to President Lincoln, who is still at City Point, and receives an immediate response: “Let the thing be pressed.” Thus the frantic chase goes on, the Confederates staggering through the night and the Federals taking time to eat and sleep before resuming the pursuit. In his camp this evening, Nelson Miles watches as “a scene of comedy” is enacted about the bivouac fires. Several of the wagons were found loaded with the assets of the Confederate Treasury. A Monte Carlo is suddenly improvised in the midst of war. Spreading their blankets on the ground by the fires, the veterans proceed with the comedy, and such “preposterous gambling was probably never before witnessed.” $10,000 is the usual ante; often $20,000 to come in; a raise of $50,000 to $100,000 isn’t unusual and frequently from $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 are in the pool.

In southwest Virginia there is action at Wytheville and also an affair near Charles Town, West Virginia. In Alabama Wilson’s cavalry and Forrest’s remaining men fight skirmishes near Lanier’s Mills, Sipsey Creek, and King’s Store.

At City Point President Lincoln writes General Weitzel in Richmond, “It has been intimated to me that the gentlemen who have acted as the Legislature of Virginia, in support of the rebellion, may now now [sic] desire to assemble at Richmond, and take measures to withdraw the Virginia troops, and other support from resistance to the General government. If they attempt it, give them permission and protection....”
April 7, Friday

At first light, two of Sheridan’s cavalry divisions, followed by V Corps, swing to the left to keep the Confederates from turning south. Ord’s Army of the James, VI Corps, and Crook’s cavalry dog Longstreet, and II Corps continues to pursue Gordon. Lee’s plan now is to provision his men from the railroad cars at Farmville and then cross the Appomattox River as soon as possible. Once on the north side of the Appomattox, the Confederates can burn the bridges and get a little breathing room, since the river is too high to be forded by infantry. After eating and resting they can continue west toward Lynchburg, then see about uniting with Johnston. Longstreet’s artillery chief, Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, protests that crossing the river will make them take the shorter road to the Federals.

By early morning, Longstreet’s men are filing through the streets of Farmville to draw their rations from the waiting boxcars. Food in hand, they cross to the open fields on the other side of the river to build their fires, fry their bacon, and cook their cornbread. As Gordon’s units come in from the northeast, they are met with rations brought across the river for them. General Lee has just begun to look less worried when he gets word that Sheridan’s cavalry and Ord’s two corps are approaching more rapidly than expected. The Confederates on the north side of the river are forced to wolf down their uncooked food—or abandon it—and rush into formation to meet the threat. The supply train is quickly pulled out of Farmville while thousands of Longstreet’s men who haven’t yet drawn their rations watch in dismay, then dash across the river. Some have to cross on bridges that are already burning.

At the same time, a new threat looms from the east. There has been an unaccountable delay in setting fire to the High Bridge and its companion wagon bridge. At one point during the night, some of Gordon’s men had panicked and stampeded across the wagon bridge in what one participant describes as “a mass of wriggling humanity wedged so tightly that moving or even breathing seemed impossible.” Several men were trampled, and at least one unfortunate soldier was forced over the side of the bridge. All of Gordon’s survivors were across the bridge before sunrise, but for some reason, Mahone withheld the order to fire the bridges, and they aren’t torched until minutes before Humphreys’ men arrive at the river. Sharpshooters try to keep the Federals at bay, but skirmishers from Maine are able to extinguish the flames on the wagon bridge with blankets and water from their canteens. Others are able to control the fire on the High Bridge so that only four of its 21 spans are destroyed. After only a brief pause, the Federals continue their pursuit of Gordon and Mahone (who before the year is out will be named president of the railroad company whose bridge he has just inadvertently saved). While Humphreys leads Miles’s and Philip de Trobriand’s troops northwest to head off Longstreet, a third division, under General Barlow, heads southwest along the railroad track toward Farmville. Barlow’s division attacks Gordon’s departing wagon train just outside Farmville, cutting off and destroying a number of wagons. But Gordon’s rearguard is still fighting hard and exacting a heavy toll: More than 130 of Barlow’s men are taken prisoner. Among the Federal casualties is Brigadier General Thomas Smythe, who is mortally wounded. Smythe will be the last Federal general killed in the war.

Crook’s horsemen, who by now have entered Farmville from the south, only to find the bridges destroyed, splash across the river at a ford a mile or so downstream. About four this afternoon they attack another wagon train. The Confederate cavalry protecting the train countercharge, catching the Federal brigade on a narrow plank road where it is constricted on each side by high fences. They take several more prisoners, including Colonel Gregg, and drive the Union riders toward the river. The Federals rally, but not before the Confederates have been reinforced by William G. Lewis’ North Carolina brigade and twelve guns belonging to the Washington Artillery. In the counterattack General Lewis is wounded and falls into enemy hands, but his men force the enemy to retreat across the river.

Mahone’s rearguard division had entrenched this morning near Cumberland Church, about three miles north of Farmville, where the road taking Lee’s army to Lynchburg meets the road from the High Bridge along which Humphreys is advancing his two divisions. The Federals reach the junction early in the afternoon, and by now 18,000 infantrymen of the Army of Northern Virginia are in line, supported by Colonel William T. Poague’s battalion of sixteen guns. Brief skirmishing convinces Humphreys that he will need help; he sends for Barlow’s division and calls on Meade to dispatch another corps north from Farmville. Humphreys isn’t aware that neither VI Corps nor the Army of the James can get across the river at Farmville. When he hears the firing of Crook’s engagement in midafternoon, he thinks reinforcements are on the way and attacks. Nelson Miles’s division slams into Mahone’s left and begins to turn the Confederate flank. Miles’s Federals charge with reckless enthusiasm; General Longstreet observes tartly that they seem to expect another rout like the one at Sayler’s Creek. The Confederates, however, are anything but easy prey. When Colonel George W. Scott’s brigade overruns Captain Arthur B. Williams’ North Carolina battery, taking several of its guns, Mahone reacts quickly. He orders a body of soldiers from Major General Bryan Grimes’s North Carolina division, which has just arrived from Farmville, to counterattack along with some of Anderson’s Georgians. They soon recover the guns.

General Mahone will later concede that the Federal attack had been a very near thing; one enemy brigade had pushed “full around my left flank and were forcing into the rear of my line when General Longstreet cut them off and quite annihilated it.” Humphreys has no support—Barlow’s division can’t get in position to help until dark—so he suspends the fighting until morning, knowing that Lee will slip away during the night. But the Confederates have been delayed another half day at Cumberland Church, while not far to the south, Sheridan is again racing westward.

This night, General Grant stays at the Prince Edward Hotel in Farmville, where Lee stayed last night. He sits on the hotel porch and watches the Federal VI Corps come into town. Despite all the marching they have done, the soldiers are in high spirits. Colonel Horace Porter will remember they “came swinging through the main street of the village with a step that seemed as elastic as on the first day of their toilsome tramp. It was now dark, but they spied the general-in-chief watching them with evident pride from the piazza as they marched past. Then was witnessed one of the most inspiring scenes of the campaign. Bonfires were lighted on the sides of the street; the men seized straw and pine-knots, and improvised torches; cheers arose from their throats, already hoarse with shouts of victory; bands played, banners waved, and muskets were swung in the air. A regiment now broke forth with the song of ‘John Brown’s Body,’ and soon a whole division was shouting the swelling chorus of that popular air, which had risen to the dignity of a national anthem. The night march had become a grand review, with Grant as the reviewing officers.”

Grant enjoys the celebration, but he is also deeply thoughtful. He spoke today to a Federal surgeon who was born in Virginia and is related to a captured Confederate general, Richard Ewell. The doctor reports that Ewell is depressed and thinks the Confederate cause is lost. They should really have quit sooner, Ewell had said, while they still had a right to claim concessions. If Ewell is feeling that way, Grant decides, Robert E. Lee might be feeling the same. Grant also receives word this night from Sheridan that Lee’s supplies are at Appomattox Station—26 miles west of Farmville. Sheridan intends to start for the junction tomorrow; if he can beat Lee to those rations, the chase might be over. Before Grant goes to bed, he addresses a short message to his Confederate adversary. “The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia,” Grant writes. “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.”

The Army of Northern Virginia, somehow still responding to the will of its commanding general, pulls its skeletal remains together after dark for yet another march—the third in as many nights. The steady disintegration of the army continues. Men who have remained loyal and optimistic as they marched away from their burning capital, who have since fought and marched and fought again, even after the lack of food and rest has left them barely conscious, have reached the limits of human endurance. In man after man, the will to continue flickers out. Many wander off into the woods and surrender to the first blue-uniformed soldier they see; others sink to the roadside and fall asleep; and some keep up only by dropping their rifles, which have become impossibly heavy.

Lee and Longstreet manage to remain clearheaded. They are together when Grant’s demand for surrender is brought in at 9:30 pm. After reading the message, Lee passes it without comment to Longstreet, who glances at it and responds tersely, “Not yet.” Lee scratches out a brave sentence of reply to Grant, in which weariness and doubt aren’t entirely concealed. “Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask what terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.”

Then Lee puts his army on the road. Sheridan’s report to Grant is correct—supplies from Lynchburg have arrived by rail at Appomattox Station, 25 miles west of Farmville, and are waiting there without adequate protection. First the Confederates will have to disengage from the attacking Federals and get a safe distance away; then, after a few hours of rest, they will stumble onward. Their objective will be Appomattox Court House, a village two miles northeast of the railroad station. Remarkably, Lee’s disengagement goes smoothly, and it becomes possible to hope again. Some of the rations issued at Farmville have been saved and are now eaten, imparting strength and even a certain buoyancy of spirit to many.

Wilson’s and Forrest’s men skirmish at Fike’s Ferry on the Cahawba River, Alabama; and there is a Federal scout near Mobile from Blakely toward Stockton, Alabama, as the siege goes on.

Tennessee ratifies the 13th Amendment, and an avowed abolitionist and unionist, W.G. “Parson” Brownlow, is inaugurated as governor. The US State Department and Britain open correspondence over the claims arising from the depredations of the Confederate raider Alabama.

At Danville President Davis and his Cabinet are trying to do what they can, but their efforts will have little effect.
April 8, Saturday

As the Army of Northern Virginia resumes on this fine spring morning, the Federal infantry is trailing far behind and Sheridan’s cavalry has eased its attacks on the left. The Confederates know they will be back, but it is a pleasant change nonetheless. Before long a courier brings Grant’s response to Lee’s inquiry about possible terms of surrender. There would be only one condition, says Grant, “that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified from taking up arms again against the government of the United States until properly exchanged.” This is a far more generous offer than Lee had expected from “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Lee hands Grant’s message to one of his aides, Colonel Charles S. Venable. “How would you answer that?” Lee asks. “I would answer no such letter,” Venable declares hotly. “Ah,” says the general, “but it must be answered.”

By evening, Lee has dispatched his reply and his army has gone into bivouac northeast of Appomattox Court House. General Pendleton, the army’s chief of artillery, rides ahead, through the village to the railroad station. An advance detachment commanded by Brigadier General R. Lindsay Walker, consisting of 24 pieces of artillery and two companies of cannoneers who are now serving as infantry, have camped there, near the army’s wagon train. Pendleton is talking with Walker when suddenly the camp is attacked by the vanguard of Custer’s cavalry. The startled artillerists grab their muskets, get a few of their cannon into action, and beat off their assailants. Pendleton, thoroughly alarmed by the presence of the enemy in front of the army, goes back to headquarters to report the danger. On the way he narrowly escapes capture by more Federal horsemen, who are cantering along the road between him and town. Pendleton had intended to ask that infantry be sent to protect Walker’s guns, but at 9 pm he hears a brief roar of artillery from the southwest, followed by a profound silence. Pendleton guesses its meaning, and when he arrives at Lee’s headquarters he reports that Walker’s camp has been overrun.

Although the Confederate high command won’t know it for certain until tomorrow, Pendleton is right. Sheridan’s riders had eased up on the Confederate army’s left today in order to devote all their energy to getting in front of it. This afternoon Custer’s division had taken Appomattox Station, with its four freight trains loaded with precious food. While the rest of the cavalry was coming up, Custer had gone on to capture the wagons and guns parked nearby. This evening a handful of New York troopers led by Lieutenant Colonel Augustus I. Root charge into the streets of Appomattox itself before being forced to retreat by superior numbers of Confederates. Colonel Root is shot dead from his horse when he is within fifteen paces of the courthouse.

As the night deepens, Lee and his generals can see the painful evidence of their predicament. Although Lee’s pursuers—II and VI Corps—are still ten miles to the east, the red glow of enemy campfires burnish the sky to the south, where General Ord’s three divisions, after marching along a parallel road, have drawn even with the Confederates. To the west is Sheridan’s cavalry, “hovering around like ill-omened birds of prey, awaiting their opportunity.” Lee summons his top commanders to a council at his spartan camp—the headquarters baggage has been lost, and he has no tent, no table, not even a stool. Quietly, he reviews the situation. A Federal force of some kind undoubtedly is ahead, between them and Lynchburg. Perhaps it is time to give up. Somehow the general finds the strength to say, as Longstreet had yesterday night, “Not yet.” If their route is blocked by cavalry alone, without the support of infantry, they still might be able to break through toward Lynchburg. Gordon, it is decided, will advance westward at first light, with the support of Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry. If Gordon can drive off the Federals in front of them, he will wheel to the south and guard the road while the remaining supply wagons and Longstreet’s corps passes through. No one says it, but if Gordon runs into Federal infantry, the cause is lost. Lee admits as much after the meeting, when he indulges in a moment of black humor. Gordon sends a staff officer back to Lee with a question: After the breakthrough, where is he supposed to stop for the night? Lee stares at the officer. “Tell General Gordon that I should be glad for him to halt just beyond the Tennessee line.” Tennessee is 200 miles away.

The stress is beginning to tell on General Grant. All day today he has ridden behind II Corps, staying as close as possible to Lee in order to expedite communications between them. Around midday Grant began to suffer from “one of his sick headaches, which are rare but cause him fearful pain, such as almost overcome his iron stoicism.” Grant’s distress intensifies, and when he stops for the night he seeks relief by bathing his feet and applying mustard plasters to his wrists and to the back of his neck. He and his staff have outdistanced their wagons, and so they are forced to appropriate food and blankets from Meade’s staff, who share their billet. Then Grant lies down and tries to sleep. He is still awake at midnight when a courier brings Lee’s response to his surrender terms. The message is a stunning disappointment; Lee, apparently braced by a day of relatively good fortune, has changed his tone completely. “I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia,” he writes. “To be frank I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army.” Lee asks to meet Grant between their lines tomorrow at 10 am—not to negotiate a surrender, but merely to see how, as Lee puts it, “your proposal may affect the Confederate States forces under my command and tend to the restoration of peace.” The ending of the war, in contrast to the surrender of Lee’s army, is a task that President Lincoln has reserved for himself and has ordered Grant to avoid. What is more, it seems to Grant as well as his staff that Lee has taken a more exalted stance than his position merits. Grant shakes his throbbing head in great dismay. “It looks as if Lee still means to fight,” he says. Grant lies down again to wrestle with his pain and try to sleep. But there is a piano in the house, and some of the staff officers pound on it for hours into the night, adding thoughtlessly to the agony of their commanding officer—who hates music even when he isn’t in pain.

On the far side of the Confederate army, in a cottage near Appomattox Station, General Sheridan is also unable to sleep. An officer sees him at a late hour “stretched at full length on a bench before a bright open fire, wide awake, and evidently deep in thought.” All night long Sheridan frets, consults with his division commanders, and sends messengers riding through the dark. Sheridan has Lee’s supplies, and he is in front of the Confederate army; but he knows he can’t bring Lee to bay without infantry support. At the moment he has none. Sixth Corps has reverted to Meade’s control, and the nearest foot soldiers are those of Ord’s Army of the James. They are coming as fast as they can—traveling 21 hours in 24, and covering thirty miles in that time—but Sheridan sends repeated messages urging them to push even harder. At last, Sheridan’s nightlong vigil is rewarded: General Ord arrives to report that his army is approaching. Ord outranks Sheridan, but he listens to the cavalry officer’s fervid suggestions for deployment. Around 4 am, the first of Ord’s troops reach Appomattox Station, with Griffin’s V Corps not far behind. By this time Sheridan, ever more sure that the 9th will be the last day of the war, is at the front. Ahead of his main force Sheridan has deployed a brigade commanded by Colonel Charles H. Smith. During the night Smith’s men throw up breastworks across the Lynchburg road, half a mile west of Appomattox Court House and one and a half miles northeast of the railroad station. Behind Smith is the rest of Sheridan’s cavalry. Ranald Mackenzie’s division from the Army of the James is on the left; George Crook’s division holds the center; and Wesley Merritt has Thomas Devin’s division on the right, with Custer in reserve. The men have had only a few hours of sleep, the generals none at all; but they will be ready by the time daylight comes—and Gordon launches his assault.

At Danville, President Davis gets information from Secretary of War Breckinridge and messenger John S. Wise that the situation is critical. Nevertheless, a certain amount of routine business continues.

President Lincoln again visits Petersburg and late in the evening leaves City Point by boat for Washington.

Heavy Union bombardment begins late in the afternoon at Spanish Fort outside Mobile, Alabama. At a weak point in the thinly held Confederate line the Federal troops charge, failing at first and then succeeding in taking a portion of the lines. Using a narrow escape passage the Southern defenders evacuate Spanish Fort during the night. In North Carolina there is action at Martinsville. Federals pursue guerrillas in northeast Missouri, and carry out scouts from Vienna and Fairfax Court House into Loudoun County, Virginia.
April 9, Sunday

When the sun rises on Appomattox Court House, the old II Corps of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia—which marched to Gettysburg behind Richard Ewell, to the outskirts of Washington under Jubal Early, and to Petersburg with John Gordon—shows its unbreakable spirit this morning. Gordon gestures at the mass of Federal troopers and tells his ablest division commander, Major General Bryan Grimes, to “drive them off.” While Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry works its way around the Federal flank, Grimes leads three divisions forward in a sweeping attack in echelon from the right. The firing has already started when Sheridan comes up, and with Ord’s men on their way he sees no point in making a last-ditch stand. He orders Smith’s brigade to fight a delaying action, falling back to Crook’s main line, while Merritt’s two divisions move right to make way for the arriving infantry and to prepare a flank attack. Giving a Rebel yell, the Confederates soon take possession of Smith’s breastworks, and the Federals retreat to Crook’s position. Crook and Mackenzie then withdraw to the northwest, Devin and Custer to the southwest, letting a gap open between the wings. Into this opening the joyful Confederates surge, to the crest of a low ridge that had been held by the enemy troopers. Then they see the Federal infantry.

As the morning fog clears, Fitzhugh Lee and Gordon watch in dismay as masses of blueclad soldiers—Ord’s Army of the James—form on hillsides to the west. Gibbon’s XXIV Corps is already deployed in line of battle, the men lying on their arms for a few minutes of much-needed rest. Behind them a column of Black troops—a division of XXV Corps—is stumbling into place, reeling with exhaustion. (One of its brigades has marched 96 miles in three and a half days without losing a single straggler.) On Ord’s right is Griffin’s V Corps. The impact of the Federal presence is overwhelmingly clear. Fitzhugh Lee immediately disengages and rides away, headed for Lynchburg twenty miles to the west to avoid the inevitable—“officers and men of different regiments jammed up together, always in a trot, sometimes in a gallop.” Gordon’s infantry, meanwhile, continues to skirmish with an enemy that is no longer retreating but gathering for a massive attack. To the east of Lee’s army, about 8 am, the Federal II Corps resumes its advance. Part of Longstreet’s force facing this threat is visible to Sheridan as his cavalry prepare to charge Gordon’s left; Lee’s two corps will soon be fighting back to back. The fighting has been going on for three hours when Colonel Venable finds Gordon and asks for an assessment of the situation. The message Venable carries back to General Lee is more pessimistic than any Gordon has ever sent to his chief: “I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet’s corps.” Lee knows that Gordon would not exaggerate the gravity of his position, and he knows that Longstreet will soon be as much in need of help as Gordon is. As if to himself, Lee murmurs: “Then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I had rather die a thousand deaths.”

Lee had proposed a 10 am meeting with Grant, and although he hasn’t yet received a reply, he assumes that the meeting will take place. But it is still early and he has to wait. In the meantime, he polls his commanders. Longstreet will recall that he asks Lee whether the bloody sacrifice of his army could in any way help the cause in other quarters; Lee thinks not. Then, says Longstreet, “your situation speaks for itself.” General Manhone agrees: “It is your duty to surrender.” But E. Porter Alexander, Longstreet’s chief of artillery, takes the opposite view. “If we surrender this army,” says Alexander, “every other army will have to follow suit. All will go like a row of bricks.” It would then be impossible for any of them to negotiate acceptable terms, he argues. Instead, Lee’s soldiers should be allowed to slip away into the countryside, perhaps to report to the governors of their states and continue the fight. Lee’s answer is sorrowful but firm. “If I took your advice,” he says quietly, “the men would be without rations and under no control of officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live. They would become mere bands of marauders, and the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many side sections they may never have occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from.” Alexander will concede, “I had not a single word to say in reply. He had answered my suggestion from a plane so far above it that I was ashamed of having made it.”

At 8:30 am, Lee mounts Traveller and starts east to meet Grant. He is accompanied by two staff officers, Colonels W.H. Taylor and Charles Marshall, and by Sergeant G.W. Tucker, the courier who had witnessed A.P. Hill’s death. Lee’s appearance between the lines catches the Federals by surprise. He hasn’t asked for a truce, and as his party rides past the Confederate pickets, it isn’t met by General Grant but by an advancing line of II Corps skirmishers. General Humphreys is about to attack Longstreet’s line. Just then, Lieutenant Colonel Charles A. Whittier appears with a message from Grant. While the Federal skirmishers pause, Lee reads with dismay that Grant has no intention of meeting him, “as I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace.” Yet Grant writes that he too is anxious to end the hostilities: “The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event.” Lee has no room left for maneuvering. Shots can still be heard on Gordon’s front, and fighting is about to erupt on Longstreet’s. Lee’s negotiating position has suddenly worsened and all mention of the liberal terms that had been offered in Grant’s second note has disappeared from the latest correspondence. With time rapidly running out, Lee tells Colonel Marshall to compose a new message reminding Grant of “your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army.” Again Lee requests a meeting, and this time he doesn’t evade its true purpose.

Lee wants to wait between the lines for Grant’s answer, but the Federal skirmishers begin to advance again. Grant has left the area, to ride to Sheridan’s position. Humphreys and Meade have been told to let nothing interfere with their military operations, and neither general feels he has the authority to suspend the attack. A Federal courier rides out to warn Lee and his party that they are in danger of being overrun by the assault. Stubbornly, Lee stays. He sends a new message to Grant, requesting “a suspension of hostilities pending the adjustment of the terms of the surrender of this army.” Then, with the advancing Federals barely 100 yards away, Lee reluctantly rides back into Longstreet’s lines, ordering his men to hold their fire for as long as they can.

And now, remembering that Gordon is still engaged, Lee sends the Georgian instructions to arrange a truce. Captain Robert M. Sims carries word of the ceasefire to Gordon, then rides into the Federal lines, a white towel tied to the tip of his sword. Sims is unable to locate Grant or Sheridan, but he does encounter Custer, who sends two of his staff officers to Gordon, demanding an unconditional surrender. Gordon refuses. Shortly afterward, there arrives at his headquarters a slender, long-haired Federal officer, who is “of strikingly picturesque appearance.” The newcomer sweeps before Gordon with a flourish, salutes with his saber, and proclaims dramatically: “I am General Custer, and bear a message to you from General Sheridan. The general desires me to present you his compliments, and to demand the immediate surrender of all the troops under your command!” Since Lee and Grant are already exchanging message on the subject of surrender, Custer’s demand is a breach of military etiquette. Gordon curtly rejects the demand, and Custer responds that Sheridan is prepared to “annihilate your command in an hour.” In that case, says Gordon quietly, the responsibility for breaking the truce will be Sheridan’s, and Gordon will have nothing more to say.

Custer, undeterred, asks to see General Longstreet, and Gordon has him escorted to the senior corps commander. Gordon does, however, take the precaution of sending at least three more truce flags into Federal lines to ensure that a ceasefire is maintained. Custer’s meeting with Longstreet is the stormiest of this momentous day. Longstreet is in no mood for theatrics. He stares as the 25-year-old general gallops up, blond curls bouncing; another Confederate notes that Custer is wearing “the largest shoulder straps of a major general I ever saw” in addition to “a gorgeous red scarf and in it a gold pin near two inches in length and breadth.” In a sharp, agitated fashion, Custer addresses Lee’s senior lieutenant: “In the name of General Sheridan I demand the unconditional surrender of this army!” Longstreet blows up like a powder charge. Custer “was reminded,” Longstreet will later write, “that I was not the commander of the army, that he was within the lines of the enemy without authority, addressing a superior officer, and in disrespect of General Grant as well as myself.” When Custer replies that Longstreet will “be responsible for the bloodshed to follow,” Longstreet snaps, “Go ahead and have all the bloodshed you want.” Custer withdraws.

Meanwhile, General Meade has finally agreed to declare a one-hour truce while couriers race after General Grant with Lee’s latest request for a meeting. Firing has now stopped all over the field. Wearily, Lee throws himself down under an apple tree—General Alexander spreads a blanket over some fence rails for him—and, along with his staff, he waits. Curious about what the ceasefire portends, a group of opposing generals hold an informal conference between the lines, in front of Appomattox Court House. General Gibbon recalls that “prominent officers on both sides, who had not met, except in battle, for four years, mingled together and chatted. All wore an air of anxiety, but all seem hopeful that there would be no further necessity for bloodshed.” A Northern correspondent reports that while Generals Longstreet and Ord—the ranking officers present—talk about how best to maintain the ceasefire, the other generals “fraternized in small throngs, and discussed the affairs of the conference and the contents of various flasks that had been brought out especially for the occasion.” After about an hour, the officers part amicably.

A little after 11 am, Grant—still unwell—stops in a clearing to rest from the long ride around his army. Just then a shouting horseman rides up with a letter from Lee. Grant reads it impassively, then tells Brigadier General John A. Rawlins, his chief of staff, to read it aloud. Rawlins draws a long breath and reads Lee’s request for a meeting to discuss “the surrender of this army.” There is silence. Someone calls for three cheers, but the response is feeble. Then Grant smiles. He suddenly feels wonderful. When the officer arrived he was still suffering from his sick headache, “but the moment I saw the note I was cured.” Grant immediately dictates a crisp reply to Lee, explaining his whereabouts and saying he will “push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you.” Grant entrusts the message to Lieutenant Colonel Orville E. Babcock of his staff. When Babcock comes up to Lee and Longstreet, who are waiting under the apple tree, Lee rises and prepares apprehensively for the next step. “General,” Longstreet says quietly, “unless he offers us honorable terms, come back and let us fight it out.” Impractical as the suggestion is, Lee seems fortified by Longstreet’s unfailing support. Lee reads Grant’s note, then mounts and rides west with Babcock to meet the Union commander.

Nearing Appomattox Court House, Lee asks Colonel Charles Marshall of his staff to ride ahead and arrange for a meeting place Marshall spurs his horse on toward the village. Only a few brave inhabitants are outdoors, Marshall notes, and he asks “the first citizen I met to direct me to a house suitable for the purpose.” By one of history’s remarkable coincidences, Marshall has come upon a merchant by the name of Wilmer McLean, who once owned a farm in northern Virginia, near Manassas Junction. In July of 1861, the first major battle of the war was fought across McLean’s land. His home had been used by General Beauregard as his headquarters and later served as a Confederate hospital; the Yankees had fired a cannon ball into his kitchen. McLean is a patriotic Southerner, but by March of 1862 he had had enough of soldiers. He took his family away—and avoided by only a few months having to watch the Second Battle of Bull Run / Manassas, which was fought in his former front yard. After several moves, the McLeans settled down in the sleepy little community of Appomattox Court House. “Here,” McLean told his family, “the sound of battle will never reach you.” But now the war has found them again. McLean at first tries to avoid his second rendezvous with history. He leads Marshall to a vacant, dilapidated building and suggests that the colonel conduct his meeting there. Only when the officer declares the place unacceptable does McLean suggest his own house, the most prosperous -looking residence in the village. It is a pleasant, tree-shaded, two-story brick structure with a colonnaded porch. Inside, a parlor to the left of the front door contains several chairs and tables. Marshall pronounces it a “fine place for a meeting.”

Marshall sends word to Lee, who arrives at 1 pm accompanied by Colonel Babcock and Sergeant Tucker. About half an hour later, Grant makes his way across the porch and enters, followed by a number of his staff officers and by Generals Ord and Sheridan. Lee rises to his feet and the two commanders shake hands. They are a study in contrasts. Tall, white-bearded, and dignified, Lee has put on his best uniform and is wearing his finest sword. Grant is slight and slouched, brown-haired and red-whiskered; his three-starred shoulder straps are sewn on a mud-splattered sack coat. The Union general’s field glasses are slung across his shoulder, but he wears no sword. He has the inelegant look of “a fly on a shoulder of beef.” At Grant’s behest, Colonel Babcock beckons several more Federal officers into the crowded parlor. The group now includes Brigadier Generals Rufus Ingalls and Seth Williams, and young Captain Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son, as well as Lieutenant Colonel Ely Parker—a Seneca Amerind serving on Grant’s staff as his military secretary. When Lee first sees him he stares for a moment, then extends his hand and says, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker shakes his hand and replies, “We are all Americans.” Those who can find chairs sit down; the others stand against the walls. Generals Merritt and Custer arrive while the negotiations are going on but don’t enter the room.

As Grant prepares to discuss the surrender, he is seized by a curious emotion. He had been jubilant after receiving Lee’s last note. Now he is “sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and so valiantly.” Grant is also somewhat embarrassed by his rough attire—“afraid,” he will confess, “Lee might think I meant to show him studied discourtesy by so coming.” Perhaps as a result of this uneasiness, Grant finds it difficult to come to the point of the meeting. He starts to talk about other things, chatting about the war in Mexico and old days in the Army, until Lee brings him back to the main topic. “I suppose, General Grant,” he says, “that the object of our present meeting is fully understood. I asked to see you to ascertain upon what terms you would receive the surrender of my army.” Grant’s reply must lift an enormous burden from Lee: Grant repeats his original, generous offer. “That is,” he explains, “the officers and men surrendered to be paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition and supplies to be delivered up as captured property.”

Lee suggests that Grant write out the terms, “so that they may be formally acted upon.” Grant calls for his order book, lights a cigar, and for a few moments puffs energetically; he later acknowledges that he doesn’t really know how to begin. Then he reaches for a pencil, writes for a while, pauses, and writes some more. He consults with Lieutenant Colonel Parker, makes a few changes, then hands the book to Lee. Now it is Lee’s turn to delay; he is clearly reluctant to come to grips with what must be the most difficult moment of his life. He fidgets. He clears a space on a nearby table, puts down Grant’s order book, takes out his steel-rimmed eyeglasses, wipes the glasses with his handkerchief, crosses one leg over the other, carefully puts the glasses on and at last picks up the book again. Silently he reads:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia 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”—here Lee, after checking with Grant, borrows Horace Porter’s pencil and inserts the word “exchanged,” which Grant had inadvertently omitted—“and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of his command.

“The arms, artillery and public property are 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, officers and men 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.”

The last sentence offers far more than Lee can have expected—far more, in all probability, than Grant is authorized to offer. It removes the taint of treason from Lee’s soldiers, placing them permanently out of reach of any vengeful Northerners. Lee looks up after he reads it and says quietly, “This will have a very happy effect on my army.”

Still Lee hesitates. Something more is on his mind, but he is obviously having difficulty putting it into words. Finally he says, “There is one thing I would like to mention. The cavalrymen and artillerists own their own horses in our army. Its organization in this respect differs from that of the United States. I would like to understand whether these men will be permitted to retain their horses.” Grant says slowly, “You will find that the terms as written do not allow this. Only the officers are allowed to take their private property.” Lee replies, “No, I see the terms do not allow it. That is clear.” He is evidently loath to ask for the favor, but it is obviously important to him. Grant quickly speaks. “Well, the subject is new to me. I take it that most of the men in the ranks are small farmers, and as the country has been so raided by the two armies, it is doubtful whether they will be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they are now riding. I will instruct the officers I shall appoint to receive the paroles to let all the men who claim to own a horse or mule to take their animals home with them to work their little farms.” Lee is appreciative. “This will have the best possible effect on the men,” he responds with visible relief. “It will be very gratifying and will do much toward conciliating our people.”

Now that the terms are agreed upon, Grant asks Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Bowers to copy the order in ink. Bowers is too nervous to write steadily, so Grant gives the assignment to Ely Parker. Meanwhile, Lee tells Colonel Marshall to draft the Confederate acceptance. While this is being done, Lee explains to Grant that about a thousand Federals have been captured in recent days; Lee wants to return them as soon as possible, since he can’t feed them. “I have, indeed, nothing for my own men,” he says. Grant immediately accepts the return of the prisoners and arranges to issue rations to the defeated Confederates. The two generals sign the terms of surrender about 3 pm. They rise and shake hands again.

When Lee leads the way back to the porch, the Federal soldiers in the McLean yard come to attention and salute. Lee returns the salute and pauses on the steps. The Confederate leader stares at the distant hills where his army lies. Three times he pounds the palm of his left hand slowly into his right fist “in an absent sort of way.” Lee then calls out in a choked voice for his horse, and when Sergeant Tucker appears with the animal, Lee reaches up and smooths its forelock. Then he climbs into the saddle with an audible sigh—“almost a groan.” Just then Grant, coming down the porch steps, stops and, without a word, removes his hat. The rest of the Federal officers do the same. Lee raises his hat in return and rides slowly off.

As he comes to his own lines, Lee is quickly surrounded by a crowd of soldiers. “Are we surrendered?” someone cries out. It is a moment of overpowering grief; Lee’s iron control slips, and for a time he can say nothing. At last, his voice trembling, his cheeks wet with tears, he speaks to the waiting troops: “Men, we have fought through the war together,” he says. “I have done the best I can for you. My heart is too full to say more.” He rides away to his headquarters in the apple orchard, where he paces “backwards and forwards all day long looking like a caged lion.” A parade of visiting Union officers—old friends and the merely inquisitive—seek him out. When the visitors are escorted into Lee’s presence, “he would halt in his pacing, and stand at attention and glare at them with a look which few men but he could assume.” The visitors doff their hats respectfully and soon leave.

Meanwhile, the Federal camps are erupting with joy. As soon as the surrender papers have been signed, crusty George Meade, who has been so sick with stomach troubles and fever for the past week that he has scarcely left his ambulance, mounts a horse and takes off down the road at a gallop. Waving his hat and shouting at the top of his voice, he cries, “It’s all over, boys! Lee’s surrendered! It’s all over!” The men hearing his shouts respond with shouts of their own until they can shout no longer; for half an hour the air above them is filled with caps, coats, and knapsacks, and when the excitement finally subsides the men throw themselves on the ground completely exhausted. Other men “embrace and kiss like schoolgirls, then dance and sing and shout, stand on their heads and play leapfrog with each other.” Throughout the Union army, artillerymen begin to fire salutes. However, Grant immediately sends word to have it stopped. “The Confederate were now our prisoners and we did not want to exult in their downfall.” To the officers on his staff, Grant says, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.” In a moving confirmation of Grant’s words, the Federal soldiers parcel out rations to the famished Confederates. Union regiments share their provender until every haversack is empty. With the fraternization comes a relaxation of discipline. There’s nothing that resembles guard duty this night, resembling “a picnic rather than a picket line.” Four years of war in Virginia have ended.

President Lincoln arrives back in Washington in early evening as the news is spreading throughout the land. Bonfires spring up as crowds jam streets. In Chicago, one hundred cannon awaken sleepers, and bells ring. It is the same throughout the North.

At Mobile, things are also concluding. The combined Federal army of E.R.S. Canby attacks Fort Blakely now that Spanish Fort has fallen. The assault is successful without heavy loss and only Forts Huger and Tracy remain in action against the Federals. The city is virtually open for occupation.

At Danville, President Davis is mainly concerned with building entrenchments for defense.
April 10, Monday

This morning, Grant tries to enlist Lee’s help in obtaining the surrender of other Confederate armies. Lee declines, because he cannot consult with President Davis. With that, Grant’s work in Virginia is finished. At noon he and his staff mount their horses and ride on to Burkeville, where they board the train that will carry them to City Point. From there Grant plans to head by steamer for Washington.

Lee doesn’t yet consider himself free to go. For one thing, he feels he can’t leave until his soldiers have endured the ordeal of the formal surrender (though he doesn’t intend to watch it). Nor can he go without bidding his troops an official farewell. His last address to his men—General Order No. 9—is decorous and moving:

“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 survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

“But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have 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 an affectionate farewell.”

Only one thing remains to be done. The Confederates had hoped that there would be no formal laying down of arms—that instead they would be permitted to leave their muskets and colors stacked in their encampments for Federal authorities to gather up. But this is one concession Grant wouldn’t make. He wanted an official ceremony, something that none of the participants will ever forget—although he has ordered that it be kept simple. So today a six-man commission meets at the McLean house and draws up plans for the occasion. Generals Gibbon, Griffin, and Merritt represent the Federal army, Generals Longstreet, Gordon, and Pendleton the Confederate forces. It is a cordial meeting, and the vanquished commanders acquiesce to all the Federal demands. The ceremony is to be held in two days.

As dawn breaks over Washington guns boom the news of Appomattox, one week after a similar uproar hailed the fall of Richmond. If the reaction now is less hysterical, if many loyal citizens are content to remain abed, counting the five hundred separate thuds of the salute—as compared to nine hundred last Monday—that is not only because of the earlier drain on their emotions, it is also because of rain drumming hard on their bedroom windows and mud slathered more than shoe-top-deep outside. Still, a carousing journalist observes, the streets are soon “alive with people singing and cheering, carrying flags and saluting everybody, hungering and thirsting for speeches.” They especially want a speech from Lincoln, whose presence in town, after his return from down the coast last evening, is in contrast to his absence during the previous celebration. At the Treasury Department, for example, when the clerks are told they have been given another holiday, the same reporter notes that they “assembled in the great corridor of their building and sang ‘Old Hundredth’ with thrilling, even tear-compelling effect,” then troop across the grounds to the White House, where, still in excellent voice, they serenade the President with the national anthem. He is at breakfast and doesn’t appear, but a night’s sleep has done nothing to diminish the excitement he felt on reading Grant’s wire at bedtime. “Let Master Tad have a Navy sword,” he directs in a note to Welles, and adds in another to the Secretary of War (omitting the question mark as superfluous on this day of celebration): “Tad wants some flags. Can he be accommodated.”

Stanton evidently complies in short order, for when a procession arrives from the Navy Yard a couple of hours later, dragging six boat howitzers which are fired as they roll up Pennsylvania Avenue, the boy stands at a second-story window and flaunts a captured rebel flag, to the wild applause of a crowd that quickly swells to about three thousand. Presently Lincoln himself appears at the window, and the yells redouble. “Speech! Speech!” men cry from the lawn below. But he puts them off. He will speak tonight, or more likely tomorrow, “and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before.” As the laughter subsides he takes up a notion that has struck him. “I see you have a band of music with you,” he said, and when a voice calls up: “We have two or three!” he proposes closing the interview by having the musicians play “a particular tune which I will name.... I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presented the question to the Attorney General and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is now our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.” The band does, to roars of approval from the crowd, then follows the irreverent rebel anthem with a lively rendition of “Yankee Doodle,” after which Lincoln calls for “three good hearty cheers for General Grant and all under his command.” These given, he requests “three more cheers for our gallant navy,” and when they are over he retires, as does the rollicking crowd. Near sundown, a third crew of celebrants turns up, to be similarly put off on grounds that he has to be careful what he says at times like this. “Everything I say, you know, goes into print. If I make a mistake it doesn’t merely affect me nor you, but the country. I therefore ought at least to try not to make mistakes. If, then, a general demonstration be made tomorrow evening, and it is agreeable, I will endeavor to say something and not make a mistake without at least trying carefully to avoid it.”

Once more “a government on wheels,” President Davis and his cabinet leave Danville for Greensboro late this night in a driving rainstorm that only adds to the depression and confusion brought on by the arrival of simultaneous reports, no less alarming for being unofficial and somewhat vague, that Lee surrendered to Grant yesterday, near Appomattox Courthouse, and that a heavy column of enemy cavalry is approaching from the west. Nothing more is heard for a time about the extent of Lee’s removal from the war—that is, whether all or only part of his army has been surrendered—but the other report is soon confirmed by word that a detachment from the column of blue troopers, some 4,000 strong under Stoneman, had burned the Dan River bridge a few hours after the fugitive President’s train rattled across it and on into Carolina. Informed of his narrow escape from capture, Davis manages a smile of relief. “A miss is as good as a mile,” he remarks, and his smile broadens.

General Beauregard arrives at Greensboro on his way to Danville to meet President Davis, in response to a summons from the Commander in Chief.

At Mobile, Forts Huger and Tracy keep up their bombardment; but it is clear that with less than 5,000 Confederates at hand, Major General D.H. Maury will be forced to evacuate the city. Wilson’s cavalry skirmish at Lowndesborouh and Benton, Alabama, and there are brief skirmishes at Burke’s Station and Arundel’s Farm, Virginia. Sherman’s army in North Carolina takes up the march once more, moving out toward Raleigh with skirmishing at Boonville, Moccasin Swamp, and Nanhunta Station.
April 11, Tuesday

At Mobile, the remaining defenses of Forts Huger and Tracy are abandoned, and General D.H. Maury begins evacuation of the city itself. Works are dismantled, stores removed, cotton burned, and by nightfall only a rearguard remains. Maury sends a message to the Union fleet informing them that the Confederates are leaving. The evacuation will be completed by tomorrow morning.

Sherman’s troops continue to advance toward Goldsborough, North Carolina, and enter Smithfield to learn the news of Lee’s surrender. A Southern woman hears the wild shouting, and says to her children, “Now father will come home.” But the advance is not without some fighting, at Smithfield, near Beulah and Pikeville. Stoneman’s Union cavalry, farther west in North Carolina, skirmishes at Shallow Ford and near Mocksville.

There is Northern scouting from Winchester, Virginia, to Timber Ridge, West Virginia; also scouting for a couple days and a skirmish at St. Charles, Arkansas. Two blockade runners are captured off Crystal River, Florida.

Whatever pleasure Davis has taken from his narrow escape last night is soon dispelled by the coolness of his reception when the train creeps into Greensboro this morning. Though news of his coming had been wired ahead, no welcoming group of citizens turns out to greet him or even acknowledge his presence, which makes their town the Confederacy’s third capital in ten days. For the most part, like many in this Piedmont region of the Old North State, they have never been enthusiastic about the war or its goals, and their pro-Union feelings have been considerably strengthened by reports, just in, that Stoneman’s raiders are headed in their direction and that Sherman has begun his advance from Goldsborough, first on Raleigh, with Johnston known to be falling back, and then on them. Fearing reprisal for any courtesy offered Davis and his party, they extend none—except to the wealthy and ailing Trenholm; he and Mrs. Trenholm are taken in by a banker who, it is said, hopes to persuade the Secretary to exchange some gold from the treasure train for his Confederate bonds. Davis himself would have no place to lay his head if an aide, John T. Wood—former skipper of the Tallahassee and the President’s first wife’s nephew—had not had his family refugeeing in half of a modest Greensboro house. Despite protests from the landlord, who fears that his property will go up in flames as soon as Stoneman or Sherman appear, Wood’s wife has prepared a small upstairs bedroom for the Chief Executive. While Trenholm is being made comfortable in the banker’s mansion across town, the rest of the cabinet adapt themselves as best they can to living in the dilapidated coaches, which have been shunted onto a siding near the depot.

Beauregard and his staff are similarly lodged in three boxcars parked nearby. He crosses the tracks to report aboard the presidential coach. Davis greets him cordially, eager for news of the situation around Raleigh. Dismayed, the Creole tells of Johnston’s hurried evacuation of Smithfield, under pressure from Sherman, and of his present withdrawal toward the state capital, which he doesn’t plan to defend against a force three times his size. In short, Beauregard says, the situation is hopeless. Davis disagrees. Lee’s surrender has not been confirmed; some portion of his army might have escaped and could soon be combined with Johnston’s, as originally intended. The struggle will continue, whatever the odds, even if it has to be done on the far side of the Mississippi. Beauregard is amazed, but by no means converted from his gloom, when Davis gets off a wire instructing Johnston to come at once to Greensboro for a strategy conference. “The important question first to be solved is what point of concentration should be made,” the President declares. He has no intention of giving up the war, and he wants the Virginian to be thinking of his next move before they meet, though he is frank to admit that “your more intimate knowledge of the data for the solution of the problem deters me from making a specific suggestion on that point.”

At a cabinet meeting today, Lincoln discusses his plan to have the Virginia legislature meet to revoke its article of secession. He finds Stanton and Speed vehement in their opposition, and none of the rest in favor of creating a situation in which, as Welles points out, “the so-called legislature would be likely to propose terms which might seem reasonable, but which we could not accept.” To these are added the protests of various other advisers, by no means all of them die-hard radicals.

But despite his other concerns, tonight Lincoln is back at his window, as promised, and the crowd is there to hear him in their thousands, packed shoulder to shoulder on the White House lawn and looking up at the same window. Off in the drizzly distance, Arlington House—R.E. Lee’s former home, long since commandeered by the government he had defied—glitters on its hillside beyond the Potomac, illuminated tonight along with all the other public buildings, while nearer at hand, gilded with light from torches and flares, the Capitol dome seems to float like a captive balloon in a gauzy mist that verged on rain. To one observer yesterday, seeing him for the first time, Lincoln “appeared somewhat younger and more off-hand and vigorous than I should have expected. His gestures and countenance had something of the harmless satisfaction of a young politician at a ratification meeting after his first election to the Legislature. He was happy, and glad to see others happy.” Tonight, though, he is different. Appearing after Tad has once more warmed the crowd by flourishing the Confederate banner, he seems grave and thoughtful, and he has with him, by way of assuring that he would “not make a mistake without at least trying carefully to avoid it,” a rolled-up manuscript he has spent most of the day preparing. What he has in mind to deliver tonight is not so much a speech as it is a closely written document, a state paper dealing less with the past, or even the present, than with the future; less with victory than with the problems victory has brought. The crowd below doesn’t know this yet, however, and Noah Brooks—a young newsman who is slated to replace one of his private secretaries—sees “something terrible in the enthusiasm with which the beloved Chief Magistrate was received. Cheers upon cheers, wave after wave of applause rolled up, the President patiently standing quiet until it was over.”

“Fellow Citizens,” he says at last. Holding a candle in his left hand to light the papers in his right, he waits for new cheers to subside, and then continues. “We are met this evening not in sorrow but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression cannot be restrained.” Cheered again, he seeks relief from the difficulty of managing both the candle and his manuscript by signaling to Brooks, who stood behind one of the window drapes beside him, with what the journalist called “a comical motion of his left foot and elbow, which I construed to mean that I should hold his candle for him.” With both hands free to grip the sheaf of papers, and Brooks extending the light from behind the curtain, he goes on with his speech, dropping each read page as he begins the next. Unseen by the crowd, Tad scrambles about on the balcony floor to catch the sheets as his father lets them flutter down. “Another, another,” he keeps saying impatiently all through the reading, heard plainly because of a hush that soon descends on the celebrants on the lawn below. Referred to afterwards by Brooks as “a silent, intent, and perhaps surprised multitude,” they are in fact both silent and surprised, but they are more confused than they are intent. Until Lincoln began speaking they had not supposed tonight was any occasion for mentioning sadness, even to deny it, and as he continues along other lines, equally unexpected at a victory celebration, their confusion and discomfort grow. After this brief introduction, scarcely fitting in itself, he speaks not of triumphs, but rather of the problems that loom with peace; in particular one problem. “By these recent successes,” he reads from the second of the sheets that fall fluttering to his feet, “the reinauguration of the national authority—reconstruction—which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike the case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with—no one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mold from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.”

This then is his subject—“the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction”—and he stays with it through Tad’s retrieval of the last dropped sheet, addressing himself less to his listeners, it seems, than to the knotty problem itself, and in language that is correspondingly knotty. For example, in dealing with the claim that secession, while plainly illegal, has in fact removed from the Union certain states which now will have to comply with some hard-line requirements before they can be granted readmission, he pronounces it “a merely pernicious abstraction,” likely to “have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends” left and right of the stormy center. “We all agree that the seceded states, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union, and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those states, is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact easier, to do this without deciding or even considering whether these states have even been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union, and each forever after innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the states from without into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.”

In regard to the new state government in Louisiana, which has the support of only ten percent of the electorate, he acknowledges the validity of criticism that it is scantly based and doesn’t give the franchise to the Negro. All the same, though he himself wishes its constituency “contained fifty, thirty, or even twenty thousand [voters] instead of only twelve thousand, as it does,” and though he prefers to have the ballot extended to include the blacks—at least “the very intelligent” and “those who serve our cause as soldiers”—he doesn’t believe these shortcomings invalidate the present arrangement, which in any case is better than no arrangement at all. “Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it.” For one thing, the state legislature has already voted to ratify the 13th Amendment, and the sooner its authority is recognized by Congress, the sooner all men will be free throughout the land. He has thought long and hard about the problem, as well as about various proposals for its solution, “and yet so great peculiarities pertain to each state, and such important and sudden changes occur in the same state, and withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive and inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and collaterals.... In the present ‘situation,’ as the phrase goes, it maybe my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act when satisfied that action will be proper.”

That is the end, and he lets it hang there, downbeat, enigmatic, inconclusive, as perfunctory and uncertain, even in its peroration, as the applause that follows when his listeners finally understand that the speech—if that is what it had been—is over. Tad gathers up the last sheet of manuscript, and as Lincoln steps back into the room he says to Brooks, still holding the candle out from behind the window drape: “That was a pretty fair speech, I think, but you threw some light on it.” Down on the lawn, the misty drizzle had turned to rain while he spoke, and the crowd begins to disperse, their spirits nearly as dampened as their clothes. Some drift off to bars in search of revival. Others walk over to Franklin Square to serenade Stanton, who might do better by them.
April 12, Wednesday

This morning dawns cold and gray at Appomattox Court House. Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, honored with command of the surrender ceremony, aligns his Federal troops on both sides of the road leading through Appomattox; then he watches intently as the Confederate columns cross the valley and march up the avenue. There are no bands, no drums, just the familiar shuffling sound of tramping feet, the sun glinting off muskets carried at a right shoulder shift. “On they come,” Chamberlain will write, “with the old swinging route step and swaying battle flags.” General John Gordon leads the column; behind him, the first unit in the line of march is the Stonewall Brigade, now reduced to scarcely 200 men. All the Confederate units, in fact, have shrunken greatly in size—the crimson battle flags are “crowded so thick, by thinning out of men,” says Chamberlain, “that the whole column seemed crowned with red.” Gordon sits erect in his saddle, but his head is down and his expression dark. The men behind him, although they keep their lines well dressed and their formation tight under the scrutiny of their former adversaries, are equally grim. As the column nears the double line of Union soldiers, Gordon hears a spoken order, a bugle call, and an electrifying sound: the clatter of hundreds of muskets being raised to the shoulder. Gordon’s head snaps up. Comprehending in an instant, he wheels his mount toward Chamberlain. As the horse rears, then dips its head toward the ground, Gordon raises his sword aloft and brings its tip down to his toe in a sweeping response to the Union tribute. He shouts a command, and the advancing Confederates come from a right shoulder shift to shoulder arms—returning the salute. It is, Chamberlain will say, “honor answering honor,” and it is hard to say who is more moved. “Many of the grizzled veterans wept like women,” Major Henry Kyd Douglas, commanding John Pegram’s old brigade, will say, “and my own eyes were as blind as my voice was dumb.” “On our part,” Chamberlain will write, “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.”

After the exchange of salutes, the surrendering soldiers turn to face Chamberlain, dress their lines, fix their bayonets, and stack their muskets. They hang their cartridge boxes on the stacks. Then, “lastly—and reluctantly, with agony of expression—they fold their flags, battle-worn and torn, blood-stained, heart-holding colors, and lay them down.” This is the most painful part of the ordeal; one North Carolinian will say: “We did not even look into each other’s faces.” In all, 28,231 Confederates are paroled—far more than the 8,000 fighting men Lee commanded at the end of the fighting. Until dark, stragglers keep drifting in. Some are deserters; others had simply been sleeping or trying to find food. Now they need written passes in order to be able to travel safely home, and so they reappear.

Come night, the soldiers of Lee’s army begin to leave for the distant parts of the South. Lee departs for Richmond, accompanied by Federal cavalry. He had declined the escort, but the troopers insist on riding with him for at least part of the way, as an honor guard.

The final major city of the Confederacy falls. Federal troops of General E.R.S. Canby enter Mobile, Alabama, following Confederate evacuation last night. The capture comes much too late to have any effect upon the war. Maury’s force reaches Meridian, Mississippi, unopposed, and begins refitting with the hope of joining Johnston in North Carolina. The defenses of Mobile had been strong, but the Confederates were unable to man them in view of their slim numbers and the Federals’ overpowering strength. Federal losses numbered 232 killed, 1,303 wounded, and 43 missing for 1,578 casualties in the various operations against Mobile.

James Harrison Wilson’s cavalry occupys Montgomery, Alabama, after a skirmish on the Columbus Road. Sherman’s army is nearing Raleigh, North Carolina, in its renewed advance against Johnston, with actions near Raleigh and at Swift Creek. Farther west, Stoneman’s Federal cavalry move toward Salisbury and, at Grant’s Creek, charge some 3,000 Confederates, and occupy Salisbury. There is a two-day Union expedition from Port Hudson to Jackson, Louisiana; a scout from Tallahassa Mission, Indian Territory; a five-day scout from Dakota City, Nebraska Territory; and a scout until the 25th from Fort Stanton, New Mexico Territory.

President Lincoln’s speech last night has more repercussions than depressing and confusing the crowd, and those repercussions come fast—mostly from disaffected radicals who contend that secession had been a form of suicide from which no state can be resurrected except on conditions imposed by them at the end of the struggle now drawing rapidly to a close. Differing from Lincoln in this, or at any rate on what those terms should be, they believe they see clearly enough what he is up to. Congress won’t meet again until December, and he has it in mind to unite the people behind him, between now and then, and thus confront his congressional opponents with an overwhelming majority of voters whom he will attract to his lenient views by a series of public appeals, such as the one last night from the high White House window or last month’s inaugural, adorned with oratorical phrases as empty as they were vague. “Malice toward none” has no meaning for them, as here applied, and “charity for all” has even less; for where is the profit in winning a war if then you lose the peace? They ask that with a special urgency now that they have begun to suspect the Administration of planning to neglect Blacks, who are in fact what this war has been about from start to finish. Lincoln’s reference last night to a possible limited extension of the franchise to include those who are “very intelligent” only serves to increase their apprehension that the cause of the Blacks is about to be abandoned, possibly in exchange for the support of certain reactionary elements in the reunited country—not excluding former Confederates—in putting together a new and powerful coalition of moderates, unbeatable at the polls for decades to come. One among those perturbed is Chase, who had written yesterday to his former chief of his fears in regard to that neglect. The most acceptable solution, he said, is “the reorganization of state governments under constitutions securing suffrage to all citizens.... This way is recommended by its simplicity, facility, and, above all, justice,” the Chief Justice wrote. “It will be hereafter counted equally a crime and a folly if the colored loyalists of the rebel states shall be left to the control of restored rebels, not likely in that case to be either wise or just, until taught both wisdom and justice by new calamities.”

Lincoln finds the letter on his desk when he comes into the office this morning, and Chase follows it up with another, this same Wednesday, midway of Holy Week, suggesting an interview “to have the whole subject talked over.” Others have the same notion; Charles Sumner, for example. He didn’t hear the speech last night, but his secretary reported that it was “not in keeping with what was in men’s minds. The people had gathered, from an instructive impulse, to rejoice over a great and final victory, and they listened with respect, but with no expressions of enthusiasm, except that the quaint simile of ‘the egg’ drew applause. The more serious among them felt that the President’s utterances on the subject were untimely, and that his insistence at such an hour on his favorite plan was not the harbinger of peace among the loyal supporters of the government.” The Massachusetts senator feels this, too, and regrets it, his secretary notes; “for he saw at hand another painful controversy with a President whom he respected, on a question where he felt it his duty to stand firm.” Already his mail is filled with urgings that he do just that. “Magnanimity is a great word with the disloyal who think to tickle the President’s ear with it,” a prominent New Yorker writes. “Magnanimity is one thing. Weakness is another. I know you are near the throne, and you must guard its honor.” A Boston constituent knows where to fix the blame: on Lincoln, whose reconstruction policy is “wicked and blasphemous” in its betrayal of the cause of freedom by his failure to take the obvious next step after emancipation. “No power but God ever has or could have forced him up to the work he has been instrumental of, and now we see the dregs of his backwardness.”

Mainly these are old-line abolitionists, men with a great capacity for wrath. Ben Wade, for one, expresses the hope that such neglect will goad the southern Blacks to insurrection. “If they could contrive to slay one half of their oppressors,” he asserts, “the other half would hold them in the highest regard, and no doubt treat them with justice.” But even this is mild compared to the reaction that follows disclosure that Lincoln has authorized John A. Campbell to reassemble the Virginia legislature, composed in part of the very men who had withdrawn the Old Dominion from the Union in the first place. As it happens, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War is down in Richmond now, aboard the steamer Baltimore, and one of its members goes ashore this morning to get the daily papers. He comes back, much excited, with a copy of the Richmond Whig, which carries an Address to the People of Virginia by some of the legislators about to assemble. Moreover, Weitzel has endorsed it, and Wade goes into a frenzy at this evidence of official sanction for the outrage. Fuming, he declares—“in substance, if not in exact words,” a companion afterwards testifies—“that there had been much talk of the assassination of Lincoln; that if he authorized the approval of that paper ... by God, the sooner he was assassinated the better!” Others feel as strongly about this development, which seems to them to undo all they have worked for all these years. Zachariah Chandler, according to the same report, “was also exceedingly harsh in his remarks,” and none of the other members took offense at the denunciations. In Washington, the Secretary of War is apparently the first to get the news. He goes at once to Lincoln, then to Sumner, who writes Chase: “I find Stanton much excited. He had a full and candid talk with the President last eve, and insisted that the proposed meeting at Richmond should be forbidden. He thinks we are in a crisis more trying than any before, with the chance of losing the fruits of our victory. He asks if it was not Grant who surrendered to Lee, instead of Lee to Grant. He is sure that Richmond is beginning to govern Washington.” But Lincoln by now has revoked his authorization for the Virginians to assemble. Lincoln considered the matter overnight—aside, that is, from the time he spent delivering his speech from the balconied window—and though, as he says, he rather fancies the notion of having the secessionists “come together and undo their own work,” at 9 am he telegraphs Weitzel a question and a suggestion: “Is there any sign of the rebel legislature coming together on the basis of my letter to you? If there is any sign, inform me of what it is; if there is no such sign you may as [well] withdraw the offer.”

Although it is true he has no wish just now for a knockdown drag-out fight with either wing of his party, his decision to revoke what he calls his ‘offer’ is in fact less political than it is practical in nature. The conditions under which it had been extended no longer obtain; the gains sought in exchange have since been won. His purpose in approving Campbell’s proposal, just under a week ago, had been to encourage Virginia’s legislators, in return for certain “remissions” on his part, to withdraw her troops from the rebel armies and the state itself from the Confederacy. Grant accomplished the first of these objectives on Palm Sunday—the formal surrender ceremony is getting under way at Appomattox Courthouse even as Lincoln’s telegram goes over the wire to Weitzel—and the second scarcely matters, since there is no longer any sizeable body of armed graybacks within the borders of the Old Dominion. So much for that. As for the problem of keeping or breaking his promise to Campbell, that is merely personal; which is only another way of saying it doesn’t count. “Bad promises are better broken than kept,” he had said in his speech the night before, with reference to assurances he had given those who set up the provisional Louisiana government. “I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it, whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest.” And so it is in this case; he simply labels the promise ‘bad’—meaning profitless—and breaks it. When he hears from Weitzel this afternoon that “passports have gone out for the legislators, and it is common talk that they will come together,” Lincoln wires back a definite order that their permission to assemble be revoked.

He prefaces this, however, with some lawyerly explication of the events leading up to his decision, which he says is based on statements made by Campbell in a letter informing certain of the prospective legislators what their task would be in Richmond. He had talked the matter over with the President on two occasions, the Alabama jurist declared, and both conversations “had relation to the establishment of a government for Virginia, the requirement of oaths of allegiance from the citizens, and the terms of settlement with the United States.” Lincoln flatly denies this in his sundown wire to Weitzel. “[Judge Campbell] assumes, as appears to me, that I have called the insurgent legislature of Virginia together, as the rightful legislature of the state, to settle all differences with the United States. I have done no such thing. I spoke of them not as a legislature, but as ‘the gentlemen who have acted as the Legislature of Virginia in support of the rebellion.’ I did this on purpose to exclude the assumption that I was recognizing them as a rightful body. I dealt with them as men having power de facto to do a specific thing; to wit, ‘to withdraw the Virginia troops and other support from resistance to the general government.’... I meant this and no more. Inasmuch however as Judge Campbell misconstrues this, and is still pressing for an armistice, contrary to the explicit statement of the paper I gave him, and particularly as Gen. Grant has since captured the Virginia troops, so that giving a consideration for their withdrawal is no longer applicable, let my letter to you and the paper to Judge Campbell both be withdrawn, or countermanded, and he be notified of it. Do not allow them to assemble; but if any have come, allow them safe-return to their homes.”

Word of this revocation spreads rapidly over Washington and out across the land, to the high delight of those who lately have seethed with indignation: particularly the hard-war hard-peace Jacobins, who see in the action near certain proof that, in a crunch, the President will always come over to their side of the question—provided, of course, the pressure was kept on him: which it would be. James Speed, who had no sooner been confirmed as Attorney General than he went over to the radicals all-out, presently writes to Chase that Lincoln “never seemed so near our views” as he does now, with Holy Week drawing rapidly toward a close.

General Johnston arrives at Greensboro this morning and takes up quarters in one of Beauregard’s boxcars. Yesterday in Raleigh, Zeb Vance had warned him that Davis, “a man of imperfectly constituted genius, ... could absolutely blind himself to those things which his prejudices or hopes did not desire to see.” Johnston readily agreed, having observed this quality often in the past. But he has never seen it demonstrated more forcefully than he does today, when he and his fellow general enter the presidential coach for the council of war to which he has been summoned from his duties in the field. “We had supposed that we were to be questioned concerning the military resources of our department in connection with the question of continuing or terminating the war,” he will later write. Instead, “the President’s object seemed to be to give, not obtain information.” Quite as amazed as Beauregard had been yesterday, he listens while Davis speaks of raising a large army by rounding up deserters and conscripting men who previously had escaped the draft. Both generals protest that those who have avoided service in less critical times are unlikely to come forward now, and when Johnston takes the occasion to advise that he be authorized to open a correspondence with Sherman regarding a truce that might lead to a successful conclusion of the conflict, this too is rejected out of hand. Any such effort is sure to fail, he is informed, and “its failure would have a demoralizing effect on both the troops and the people, neither of [whom]”—as Davis later sums up his reply—“had shown any disposition to surrender, or had any reason to suppose that their government contemplated abandoning its trust.” There is a pause. All three men sit tight-lipped, brooding on the impasse they have reached. Davis at last breaks the silence by remarking that Breckinridge is expected to arrive at any moment from Virginia with definite information about the extent of Lee’s disaster, and he suggests that they adjourn until the Secretary gets there. The two generals are glad to retire from a situation they find awkward in the extreme—something like being closeted with a dreamy madman—although the encounter was not without its satisfactions for them both, convinced as they are, not only that they are right and he is wrong about the military outlook, but also that he will presently be obliged to admit it; if not to them, then in any case to Grant and Sherman.

In point of fact, they are more right than they will have any way of knowing until reports come in from close at hand and far afield. On this fourth anniversary of the day Beauregard opened fire on Sumter, Lee’s men—not part: all—were formally laying down their arms at Appomattox Courthouse, just over a hundred miles away, and James Wilson, after visiting destruction upon Selma, even now is riding unopposed into Montgomery, the Confederacy’s first capital, in bloodless celebration of the date the shooting war began. Nor is that all by any means. Canby marches this morning into Mobile, which Maury abandoned in the night to avoid encirclement and capture; while here in North Carolina itself, some eighty miles to the east, Sherman is closing on Raleigh, whose occupation tomorrow will make it the ninth of the eleven seceded state capitals to feel the tread of the invader; all, that is, but Austin and Tallahassee, whose survival is less the result of their ability to resist than it was of Federal oversight or disinterest. Even nearer at hand—but unaware that Jefferson Davis is a prize within their reach—Stoneman’s raiders have bypassed Greensboro to strike today at Salisbury, fifty of the ninety miles down the railroad to Charlotte, rounding up 1,300 prisoners and putting the torch to supplies collected in expectation that Lee would move that way from Burkeville. Also taken are 10,000 stands of small arms and fourteen pieces of artillery, the latter commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John C. Pemberton, who had surrendered Vicksburg, three months under two years ago, as a lieutenant general. Enlarging his destruction to include the railway bridges for miles in both directions before he swings west from Salisbury to return to Tennessee, Stoneman, though still uninformed of its proximity, ensures that when the fugitive rebel government resumes its flight—Meade and Ord hover northward; Sherman is advancing from the east—Davis and his ministers will no longer have the railroad as a means of transportation, swift and tireless and more or less free of the exigencies of weather, but will have to depend on horses for keeping ahead of the fast-riding bluecoats who will soon be hard on their trail.

Arriving this evening after his roundabout ride from Richmond by way of Farmville, Secretary of War Breckinridge knows even less of most of this than Johnston and Beauregard do. He does know, however, that Lee’s surrender includes the whole of his army, and this in itself is enough to convince the two generals that any further attempt to continue the conflict “would be the greatest of crimes.” Johnston says as much to the Secretary when he calls on him this night, adding that he wants the opportunity to tell Davis the same thing, if Davis will only listen. Breckinridge assures him he will have his chance at the council of war, which he has been informed will be resumed in morning in the house John Wood has provided across town.
  • 1
  • 105
  • 106
  • 107
  • 108
  • 109
  • 111

@Puffer Fish In the US, many sexual assaults a[…]

Really? So for example, why is it OK to let a tr[…]

Congress has no power to alter the qualification[…]

Offending a person of law by mistake. Do you mean […]