Some of General Lee's Officers say to him
that "Further Resistance is Hopeless"Longstreet does not
approveGeneral Grant calls for Surrender"Not yet"The
Confederate Chieftain asks TermsHis Response to his Officers as
represented by General PendletonCorrespondence of Generals Lee and
GrantMorning of April 9General Lee rides to meet the Federal
Commander, while Longstreet orders the Last Line of BattleLongstreet
endeavors to recall his Chief, hearing of a Break where the Confederate Troops
could passCuster demands Surrender of LongstreetBeminded of
Irregularity, and that he was "in the Enemy's Lines"Meeting with General
Grant- CapitulationLast Scenes.
It was five o'clock when the advance commands moved,
four hours after the time ordered. To these General Long's batteries of
thirty guns were attached. They met Sheridan's cavalry advancing across their
route. The column was deployed, the cavalry on the right of the artillery and
infantry, as they advanced to clear the way. They reported some success,
capturing two pieces of artillery, when General Ord's column came up. He had,
besides his Army of the James, the Fifth Army Corps.
These commands, with the cavalry, pushed the Confederates
back a little, while the two corps of the Army of the Potomac were advancing
against my rear-guard. Of the early hours of this, the last day of active
existence of the Army of Northern Virginia, Colonel Venable, of General Lee's
staff, wrote thus :
"At three o'clock on the morning of that fatal day, General
Lee rode forward, still hoping that he might break through the countless hordes
of the enemy, who hemmed us in. Halting a short distance in rear of our
vanguard, he sent me on to General Gordon to ask him if he could break through
the enemy. I found General Gordon and General Fitz Lee on their front line in
the dim light of the morning, arranging our attack. Gordon's reply to the
message (I give the expressive phrase of the gallant Georgian) was this : '
Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do
nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet's corps.'
"When I bore
the message back to General Lee, he said, ' Then there is nothing left me but
to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.'
Convulsed with passionate grief, many were the wild words which we spoke as we
stood around him. Said one, ' Oh, general, what will history say of the
surrender of the army in the field "
He replied, 'Yes, I know they will say
hard things of us; they will not understand how we are overwhelmed by numbers.
But that is not the question, colonel; the question is, ' ' Is it right to
surrender this army "' ' If it is right, then I will take all the
Presently General Lee called to have me ride forward to him.
He was dressed in a suit of new uniform, sword and sash, a handsomely
embroidered belt, boots, and a pair of gold spurs. At first approach his
compact figure appeared as a man in the flush vigor of forty summers, but as I
drew near, the handsome apparel and brave bearing failed to conceal his
profound depression. He stood near the embers of some burned rails, received me
with graceful salutation, and spoke at once of affairs in front and the loss of
his subsistence stores. He remarked that the advanced columns stood against a
very formidable force, which he could not break through, while General Meade
was at my rear ready to call for all the work that the rear-guard could do,
and, closing with the expression that it was not possible for him to get along,
requested my view. I asked if the bloody sacrifice of his army could in any way
help the cause in other quarters. He thought not. Then, I said, your situation
speaks for itself.
He called up General Mahone, and made to him a similar
statement of affairs. The early morning was raw and damp. General Mahone was
chilled standing in wait without fire. He pushed up the embers and said to the
general he did not want him to think he was scared, he was only chilled.
General Mahone sometimes liked to talk a little on questions of moment, and
asked several questions. My attention was called to messages from the troops
for a time, so that I failed to hear all of the conversation, but I heard
enough of it to know that General Mahone thought it time to see General Grant.
Appeal was made to me to affirm that judgment, and it was promptly approved.
General Grant had been riding with his column in our rear
during the correspondence of the 7th and 8th. So General Lee, upon mounting
Traveller, his favorite horse, rode to our rear to meet him, leaving his
advanced forces engaged in a lively skirmish. He did not think to send them
notice of his intended ride, nor did he authorize me to call a truce. He passed
my rear under flag, but General Grant's orders were that his correspondence
with General Lee should not interrupt or delay the operations of any of his
forces. Our advance troops were in action, and General Humphreys was up with
the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac, preparing for action against tour
rear-guard. The situation was embarrassing. It was plain enough that I should
attack the Second Corps before others could be up and prepare for action,
though our truce forbade. It could not prevail, however, to call me to quiet
while the enemy in plain view was preparing for attack, so we continued at our
work constructing our best line of defence, and when strong enough I ordered
parts of the rear-guard forward to support the advanced forces, and directed
General Alexander to establish them with part of his batteries in the best
position for support or rallying line in case the front lines were forced back.
That was the last line of battle formed in the Army of Northern Virginia.
While this formation was proceeding, report came from our
front that a break had been found through which we could force passage. I
called for a swift courier, but not one could be found. Colonel J. C. Haskell
had a blooded mare that had been carefully led from Petersburg. Appreciating
the signs of the times, he had ordered her saddled, intending a desperate ride
to escape impending humiliation, but, learning my need of a swift courier, he
came and offered his services and his mare. He was asked to take the
information just brought in to General Lee, and as he mounted was told to kill
his mare but bring General Lee back. He rode like the wind.
General Lee had passed out and dismounted beyond a turn of
the road, and was not seen until the gallant rider had dashed by him. The steed
swept onward some distance before the rider could pull up. As Colonel Haskell
rode back, General Lee walked to meet him, exclaiming, " You have ruined your
beautiful mare ! why did you do so ?" The swift despatch was too late. General
Lee's note to General Grant asking an interview had gone beyond recall.
As my troops marched to form the last line a message came
from General Lee saying he had not thought to give notice of the intended ride
to meet General Grant, and asked to have me send his message to that effect to
General Gordon, and it was duly sent by Captain Sims, of the Third Corps staff,
serving at my head-quarters since the fall of A. P. Hill.
After delivering the message, Captain Sims, through some
informality, was sent to call the truce. The firing ceased. General Custer rode
to Captain Sims to know his authority, and, upon finding that he was of my
staff, asked to be conducted to my head-quarters, and down they came in fast
gallop, General Custer's flaxen locks flowing over his shoulders, and in brusk,
excited manner, he said,
" In the name of General Sheridan I demand the unconditional
surrender of this army."
He was reminded 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 to General Grant as well as myself; that if
I was the commander of the army I would not receive the message of General
He then became more moderate, saying it would be a pity to
have more blood upon that field. Then I suggested that the truce be respected,
" As you are now more reasonable, I will say that General
Lee has gone to meet General Grant, and it is for him to determine the future
of the armies."
He was satisfied, and rode back to his command.
General Grant rode away from the Army of the Potomac in the
morning of the 9th to join his troops near Appomattox Court-House, so General
Lee's note was sent round to him. When advised of the change, General Lee rode
back to his front to await there the answer to his note. While waiting, General
Lee expressed apprehension that his refusal to meet General Grant's first
proposition might cause him to demand harsh terms.
I assured him that I knew General Grant well enough to say
that the terms would be such as he would demand under similar circumstances,
but he yet had doubts. The conversation continued in broken sentences until the
bearer of the return despatch approached. As he still seemed apprehensive of
humiliating demands, I suggested that in that event he should break off the
interview and tell General Grant to do his worst. The thought of another round
seemed to brace him, and he rode with Colonel Marshall, of his staff, to meet
the Union commander.
The status of affairs spread through the advance troops of
the army, but the work of preparation on my rear line was continued. General
Field inquired of a passing officer, "What's up?" but, seeing arrangements
going on for attack in our rear, he continued his work of preparation to
General Grant was found prepared to offer as liberal terms
as General Lee could expect, and, to obviate a collision between his army of
the rear with ours, ordered an officer sent to give notice of the truce. A ride
around the lines would consume time, and he asked to have the officer conducted
through our lines. Colonel Fairfax was sent with him. When they reached our
rear line it was still at work on the trenches. The officer expressed surprise
at the work of preparation, as not proper under truce. Colonel Fairfax ordered
the work discontinued, and claimed that a truce between belligerents can only
be recognized by mutual consent. As the object of the ride was to make the
first announcement of properly authorized truce, the work of preparation
between the lines was no violation of the usages of war, particularly when it
was borne in mind that the orders of General Grant were that the correspondence
should not delay or interrupt military operations.
As General Lee rode back to his army the officers and
soldiers of his troops about the front lines assembled in promiscuous crowds of
all arms and grades in anxious wait for their loved commander. From force of
habit a burst of salutations greeted him, but it quieted as suddenly as it
arose. The road was packed by standing troops as he approached, the men with
hats off, heads and hearts bowed down. As he passed they raised their heads and
looked upon him with swimming eyes. Those who could find voice said good-by,
those who could not speak, and were near, passed their hands gently over the
sides of Traveller. He rode with his hat off, and had sufficient control to fix
his eyes on a line between the ears of Traveller and look neither to right nor
left until he reached a large white-oak tree, where he dismounted to make his
last head-quarters, and finally talked a little.
The shock was most severe upon Field's division. Seasoned by
four years of battle triumphant, the veterans in that body stood at Appomattox
when the sun rose on the 9th day of April, 1865, as invincible of valor as on
the morning of the 31st of August, 1862, after breaking up the Union lines of
the second field of Manassas. They had learned little of the disasters about
Petersburg, less of that at Sailor's Creek, and surrender had not had time to
enter their minds until it was announced accomplished !
The reported opportunity to break through the enemy's lines
proved a mistake. General Munford, suspecting surrender from the sudden quiet
of the front, made a dashing ride, and passed the enemy's lines with his
division of cavalry, and that caused the impression that we would be able to
Soon after General Lee's return ride his chief of ordnance
reported a large amount of United States currency in his possession. In doubt
as to the proper disposition of the funds, General Lee sent the officer to ask
my opinion. As it was not known or included in the conditions of capitulation,
and was due (and ten times more) to the faithful troops, I suggested a pro rata
distribution of it. The officer afterwards brought three hundred dollars as my
part. I took one hundred, and asked to have the balance distributed among
Field's division,the troops most distant from their homes.
The commissioners appointed to formulate details of the
capitulation were assigned a room in the McLean residence. The way to it led
through the room occupied as General Grant's head-quarters. As I was passing
through the room, as one of the commissioners, General Grant looked up,
recognized me, rose, and with his old-time cheerful greeting gave me his hand,
and after passing a few remarks offered a cigar, which was gratefully received.
The first step under capitulation was to deliver to the
Union army some fifteen hundred prisoners, taken since we left Petersburg, not
all of them by my infantry, Rosser's and Munford's cavalry having taken more
than half of them. Besides these I delivered to General Grant all of the
Confederate soldiers left under my care by General Lee, except about two
hundred lost in the affairs about Petersburg, Amelia Court-House, Jetersville,
Rice's Station, and Cumberland Church. None were reported killed except the
gallant officers Brigadier-General Bearing, of Rosser's cavalry, Colonel
Bostan, of Munford's cavalry, and Major Thompson, of Stuart's horse artillery,
in the desperate and gallant fight to which they were ordered against the
General Grant's artillery prepared to fire a salute in honor
of the surrender, but he ordered it stopped.
As the world continues to look at and study the grand
combinations and strategy of General Grant, the higher will be his award as a
great soldier. Confederates should be foremost in crediting him with all that
his admirers so justly claim, and ask at the same time that his great adversary
be measured by the same high standards.
On the 12th of April the Army of Northern Virginia marched
to the field in front of Appomattox Court-House, and by divisions and parts of
divisions deployed into line, stacked their arms, folded their colors, and
walked empty- handed to find their distant, blighted homes.
There were " surrendered and paroled" on the last day of our
military history over twenty-eight thousand officers and men,viz.:
|General Lee and staff
In glancing backward over the period of the war, and the
tremendous and terrible events with which it was fraught, the reflection
irresistibly arises, that it might perhaps have been avoided and without
dishonor. The flag and the fame of the nation could have suffered no reproach
had General Scott's advice, before the outbreak, been followed," Wayward
sisters, depart in peace." The Southern States would have found their way back
to the Union without war far earlier than they did by war. The reclaiming bonds
would then have been those only of love, and the theory of government
formulated by George Washington would have experienced no fracture. But the
inflexible fiat of fate seemingly went forth for war; and so for four long
years the history of this great nation was written in the blood of its strong