April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders

 

It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884

 

 

 

And so the great Civil War ended.  Oh, not immediately.  The surrender process throughout the Confederacy would take until June, and skirmishes would be fought.  But with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, no one, except perhaps Jefferson Davis, north or south, doubted that the Civil War had ended with a Union victory.  At Appomattox Lee and Grant, with the ways in which they both behaved at this all important event in American history, planted the seeds of American reunification.

Lee, as ever noble, viewed surrender as a painful duty, and trusted in Grant to give just terms.  Grant, who would forbid the firing of cannon salutes in celebration of the surrender, gave as his main term that the Confederates simply go home and get on with their lives, agreeing to them taking with them a horse if they claimed one to help with the spring planting, and specifying that Confederate officers would retain their side arms so that he would not have to accept Lee’s sword in token of surrender.

 

 

The best account of the surrender is Grant’s, contained in his memoirs:

When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.   
  What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us. 
  General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form. But this was not a matter that I thought of until afterwards.   
  We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army. I said that I meant merely that his army should lay down their arms, not to take them up again during the continuance of the war unless duly and properly exchanged. He said that he had so understood my letter.  (more…)

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April 10, 1865: Lee’s Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia

Starving army,
Who, after your best was spent and your Spring lay dead,

Yet held the intolerable lines of Petersburg
With deadly courage.
                    You too are a legend now
And the legend has made your fame and has dimmed that fame,
–The victor strikes and the beaten man goes down
But the years pass and the legend covers them both,
The beaten cause turns into the magic cause,
The victor has his victory for his pains–
So with you–and the legend has made a stainless host
Out of the dusty columns of footsore men
Who found life sweet and didn’t want to be killed,
Grumbled at officers, grumbled at Governments.
That stainless host you were not.  You had your cowards,
Your bullies, your fakers, your sneaks, your savages.
You got tired of marching.  You cursed the cold and the rain.
You cursed the war and the food–and went on till the end.
And yet, there was something in you that matched your fable.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

 

It was fitting that one of the great armies of American history would go out of that history with a salute from its commander, Robert E. Lee.

Against high odds Lee and his army had come close to creating a new nation.  Always outnumbered, with troops often dressed in rags, ill-fed, ill-supplied, he led his men to magnificent victories in the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Fighting another great general, Grant, he achieved a stalemate in 1864 against an army that had more than a two-to-one advantage, and prolonged the life of his country by almost a year.  A fighting general with a propensity for taking huge risks, he was also a humane man with unfailing courtesy for both friend and foe.  In this final order he told the men who loved him, how much he loved them: (more…)

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April 8, 1865: Lee Rejects Guerrilla Warfare

On April 8, 1865 the last hope of escape for Lee’s army flickered out.  Union cavalry under Custer seized the critical supplies waiting for the Confederates at Appomattox Station.    Lee’s line of march to the west was now blocked as parts of three Union corps were making forced marches to reinforce Custer and would arrive on the morning of the ninth.  On the eighth Grant and Lee exchanged these letters:

APRIL 8, 1865

General R. E. LEE:

Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of same date, asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply I would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to yell, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

________
 
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
APRIL 8, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received at a late hour your note of to-day. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposal may affect the C. S. forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 a.m., to-morrow; on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.

R. E. LEE,
General.

 

It was becoming clear to the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia that surrender loomed and most of them were heartsick at this fact.

 

We Americans today view the Civil War as part of our history.  If different decisions had been made at the end of that conflict, the Civil War could still be part of our current reality.  Just before the surrender at Appomattox, General Porter Alexander, General Robert E. Lee’s chief of artillery, broached to  Lee a proposal that the Army of Northern Virginia disband and carry out a guerrilla war against the Union occupiers.  Here history balanced on a knife edge.  If Lee had accepted the proposal, I have little doubt the stage would have been set for an unending war between the North and the South which would still be with us.  Douglas Southall Freeman, in his magisterial R. E. Lee, tells what happened next, based upon Alexander’s memoirs, Fighting for the Confederacy. (more…)

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April 7, 1865: Surrender Correspondence Begins

Appomattox_Campaign_Overview

 

April 7, 1865 was a day of intense frustration for Robert E. Lee.  Hoping to feed his army with rations waiting at Farmville,  Union troops prevented that, crossing the Appomattox at bridges that Lee had ordered to be burned.  His army had no choice but to continue on its hungry way, the nearest rations being at Appomattox Court House some twenty-five miles away.  Longstreet in his memoirs recalled that dismal day.

 

I heard nothing of the affair at Sailor’s Creek, nor from General Lee, until next morning. Our work at Rice’s Station was not very serious, but was continued until night, when we marched and crossed the Appomattox at Farmville without loss, some of Rosser’s and Mumford’s cavalry following.  We crossed early in the morning and received two days’ rations,–the first regular issue since we left Richmond,–halted our wagons, made fires, got out cooking utensils, and were just ready to prepare a good breakfast. We had not heard of the disasters on the other route and the hasty retreat, and were looking for a little quiet to prepare breakfast, when General Lee rode up and said that the bridges had been fired before his cavalry crossed, that part of that command was cut off and lost, and that the troops should hurry on to position at Cumberland Church.

I reminded him that there were fords over which his cavalry could cross, and that they knew of or would surely find them. Everything except the food was ordered back to the wagons and dumped in.

Meanwhile, the alarm had spread, and our teamsters, frightened by reports of cavalry trouble and approaching fire of artillery, joined in the panic, put whips to their teams as quick as the camp-kettles were tumbled over the tail-boards of the wagons, and rushed through the woods to find a road somewhere in front of them. The command was ordered under arms and put in
quick march, but General Lee urged double-quick. Our cavalry was then engaged near Farmville, and presently came a reckless charge of Gregg’s troopers towards parts of Rosser’s and Mumford’s commands. Heth’s division of infantry was sent to support them. As the balance of the command marched, General Lee took the head of the column and led it on the double-quick.

I thought it better to let them pass me, and, to quiet their apprehensions a little, rode at a walk. General Mahone received the attack of part of the enemy’s Second Corps, like Gregg’s cavalry making reckless attack. The enemy seemed to think they had another Sailor’s Creek affair, and part of their attack got in as far as Poague’s battery, but Mahone recovered it,
and then drove off an attack against his front. General Gregg and a considerable part of his command were captured by Rosser and Mumford. At Cumberland Church the command deployed on the right of Poague’s battery, but Mahone reported a move by part of Miles’s division to turn his left which might dislodge him. G. T. Anderson’s brigade of Field’s division was sent with orders to get around the threatening force and break it up.  Mahone so directed them through a woodland that they succeeded in over-reaching the threatened march, and took in some three hundred
prisoners,[211] the last of our trouble for the day. General Lee stopped at a cottage near my line, where I joined him after night; the trains and other parts of his army had moved on towards Appomattox Court-House.

Just after sunset, a letter from General Grant arrived: (more…)

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April 5, 1865: Endgame

 

Appomattox_Campaign_Overview

 

With the fall of Richmond the Civil War was drawing rapidly to a close.  However, Lee still led the remnants of his army and he had a plan:  march to the west and break contact with the Army of the Potomac and head south to join up with Johnston in North Carolina.  It was unlikely that he could accomplish this, but Lee felt duty bound to try.  His main initial problem was to feed his army.  To accomplish this he had the army concentrate at Amelia Court House where he expected to find supplies.  To his astonishment he found plenty of ammunition but no food.  To feed his army he had to draw upon the civilian population:

 

Amelia C. H., April 4, 1865.

To the Citizens of Amelia County, Va.

The Army of Northern Virginia arrived here today, expecting to find plenty of provisions, which had been ordered to be placed here by the railroad several days since, 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. We require meat, beef, cattle, sheep, hogs, flour, meal, corn, and provender in any quantity that can be spared. The quartermaster of the army will visit you and make arrangements to pay for what he receives or give the proper vouchers or certificates. I feel assured that all will give to the extent of their means.

R. E. Lee, General

The next day Lee found his path south blocked as the Army of the Potomac occupied Jetersville.  General Longstreet in his memoirs gives us the details:

Our purpose had been to march through Burkeville to join our forces to those of General J. E. Johnston in North Carolina, but at Jetersville, on the 5th, we found the enemy square across the route in force and intrenching, where our cavalry under General W. H. F. Lee engaged him.  General Field put out a strong line of skirmishers to support the cavalry.  Field’s, Heth’s, and Wilcox’s divisions and artillery were prepared for action and awaited orders. General Meade was in front of us with the Second and Fifth Corps and Sheridan’s cavalry, but his Sixth Corps was not
up. General Fitzhugh Lee had been sent by the Painesville road with the balance of his cavalry to guard the trains raided by detachments of the enemy, which latter made some important captures.

General Lee was with us at Jetersville, and, after careful reconnaissance, thought the enemy’s position too strong to warrant aggressive battle. He sent for some of the farmers to get more definite information of the country and the strength of the position in front of us, but they knew nothing beyond the roads and by-roads from place to place. General Meade, finding that his Sixth Corps could not join him till a late hour, decided to wait till next morning for his attack. General Ord rested his column for the night at Burkeville. The enemy was quiet at Jetersville, except for a light exchange of cavalry fire. No orders came, the afternoon was passing, further delay seemed perilous. I drew the command off and filed to the right to cross Flat Creek to march for Farmville. The other
infantry and trains and artillery followed and kept the march until a late hour, halting for a short rest before daylight.

Lee would continue his trek west hoping to elude his pursuers who were clearly closing in.

 

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April 2, 1865: Third Battle of Petersburg

1280px-Petersburg_Apr2

 

With Union victory at Five Forks, General Lee desperately shifted troops to the west to protect the Southside Railroad.  Grant, realizing that Lee was thinning his lines around Petersburg and Richmond to protect the railroad, ordered a general assault against the Confederate fortifications.

The VI Corps achieved  a major breakthrough up the Boydton Plank Road.  Lee telegraphed Secretary of War Breckenridge:

I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. I am not certain I can do that. If I can I shall withdraw to-night north of the Appomattox, and, if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night from James River. I advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond tonight. I will advise you later according to circumstances.

The II Corps to the left of the VI Corps and the XXIV Corps to the right of the VI Corps also achieved breakthroughs.  Union casualties were about 4,000 compared to 5000 Confederate, most of whom were taken prisoner.  The siege of Petersburg and Richmond was at an end as Lee moved his army out of his lines and began the march to the west that would end at Appomattox Court House.

 

 

Here is General Longstreet’s account of the Third Battle of Petersburg in his memoirs: (more…)

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March 31, 1865: Battle of White Oak Road

1280px-Petersburg_Mar29-31

Realizing that Grant was moving sufficient troops to flank his right, General Lee decided to launch an attack against the troops of the Union V Corps, holding a section of  the White Oak Road and preventing the linking of the Confederate right under Pickett with the rest of Lee’s army.  The Union left was in the air, separated by  three miles from Sheridan’s troopers at Dinwiddie Court House and Lee intended to take full advantage of this fact, massing four brigades to make the attack.

The Confederates routed two Union divisions, chasing them south of Gravelly Run.  At 2:30 PM the Union V Corps counterattacked across Gravelly Run, the attack spearheaded by the First Division of the V Corps.  The spearhead of the spearhead was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s brigade, still led by Chamberlain although he had been seriously wounded at the battle of Lewis Farm on March 29, 1865.  The Union counterattack was successful,  recovering the lost ground and once again breaking the White Oak Road, separating the Confederate right at Five Forks from the rest of the Confederate army.  Union casualties were approximately 1407 to approximately 800 Confederate.

 

Here is the report of Brigadier General Charles Griffin who command the First Division of the V Corps: (more…)

June 21-23 1864: First Battle of Weldon Railroad

Petersburg_June21-22

With the War in the East now centering on the siege of Petersburg, Lee faced the daunting problem of protecting the rail lines that kept Petersburg, Richmond and his army supplied.  It took no military genius to realize that if the Union captured those rail lines, Lee’s position would be rendered untenable.  So that is what Grant promptly commenced to do.  The II and VI Corps were tasked with seizing, and destroying as much of the Weldon Railroad as they could take.

Skirmishing occurred on June 21 as the II Corps probed toward the rail line.   On June 22 both the II and the VI corps advanced towards the railroad, with rugged terrain causing a gap to open up between the corps.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone concealed his division in a ravine and launched an attack on the rear of the II Corps which wreaked havoc until the lines stabilized by nightfall. (more…)

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June 3, 1864: Cold Harbor-Not War But Murder

ColdHarbor-June3

And, after that, the chunky man from the West,

Stranger to you, not one of the men you loved

As you loved McClellan, a rider with a hard bit,

Takes you and uses you as you could be used,

Wasting you grimly but breaking the hurdle down.

You are never to worship him as you did McClellan,

But at the last you can trust him.  He slaughters you

But he sees that you are fed.  After sullen Cold Harbor

They call him a butcher and want him out of the saddle,

But you have had other butchers who did not win

And this man wins in the end.

 

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

The main Union assault at Cold Harbor went in on the foggy morning of June 3 at 4:30 AM, the three corps of Smith, Wright and Hancock hitting the Confederate left.  Some of the Union veteran troops, in those pre-dog tag days, pinned white notes with their names and addresses on the backs of their uniforms so their bodies could be identified, they having learned the hard lesson that assaulting fortified lines held by Confederate infantry was bound to cause huge casualties among the attacking force.  The attack went in blind, as, stunningly, no had bothered to reconnoiter the Confederate lines and draw up maps.  One Union soldier in Gibbon’s division had an apt comment on this military malpractice:   “We felt it was murder, not war, or at best a very serious mistake had been made.”

Smith’s attack on the right quickly bogged down, his men being funneled through two ravines where they were cut down in large numbers.  Wright’s men in the middle, still weary from their attacks on June 1, made little effort, and their attack was pinned down almost as soon as it started.  Hancock’s attack on the Union far left pierced the Confederate lines, but the breach was sealed and the Confederates repulsed Hancock with heavy loss. The attacks were all over by 7:30 AM.  Grant wanted attacks to resume, but by 12:30 PM  he had become convinced that further attacks were simply impossible.

The Union casualties from the assault have been estimated from 3,000-7,000.  I believe the upper estimate is more likely correct.  The Confederates incurred about 1500 casualties.  The armies would remain confronting each other at Cold Harbor until June 12, but there would be no further attacks.  Total Union casualties from all the fighting at Cold Harbor were around 12,000 to 5,000 Confederate, the same disparity as at Fredericksburg, the Cold Harbor assault of June 3 resembling the futile Union assaults of that battle. (more…)

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Lost For Over a Century

I once sent the government a check for some $35,000.00 to pay estate tax on behalf of a client.  The check was lost for several months by the Feds.  At the time I recalled this historical event:

Robert E. Lee was an advocate of reconciliation after the Civil War.  This was demonstrated by his application for a Presidential Pardon on June 13, 1865, high confederate officers having been excluded from President Johnson’s general pardon and amnesty of May 29, 1865 and being required to appeal directly to the President.  Lee wrote:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April ’61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Va. 9 April ’65.

 

Lee was not aware that an oath of loyalty was required and he took such an oath on October 2, 1865:

 

 

“I, Robert E. Lee, of Lexington, Virginia, do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

 

The oath went to Secretary of State Seward, and then it vanished from history for over a century until it was found by Elmer O. Parker, an archivist at the National Archives, in 1970 among State Department papers in a cardboard box  clearly indexed V for Virginia and L for Lee.  Lee had inquired frequently about his application over the five years he had to live from 1865-1870.  Whether his application was lost deliberately or lost through ineptitude is unclear.

On August 5, 1975 President Ford restored the citizenship rights of Lee, making these remarks: (more…)

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