The final movement of the Union army began on March 29, 1865. On the 30th General Sheridan advanced on Five Forks, a point below General Lee's line of intrenchments, and three miles from the Southside Railroad. Lee concentrated a strong force against him, weakening his lines in doing so. Sheridan had taken possession of Five Forks, but was driven back. He advanced again on April 1. Grant, finding that Lee had weakened his line of defence, directed a charge in force to be made by the Fifth Corps upon the Confederate works. It proved successful: the defensive line was broken, two thousand five hundred prisoners were captured, and the fugitives pushed with remorseless energy. On April 2 the final assault was made, and Petersburg captured. Nothing was left for Lee but flight or surrender. He chose the former, and on the night of April 2 began a rapid retreat from the lines he had so long and so gallantly held.
[THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN FROM "The Memoirs of Robert E. Lee," BY GENERAL A.L. LONG.] ALONG the north bank of the Appomattox moved the long lines of artillery and dark columns of infantry through the gloom of the night, over the roads leading to Amelia Court-House. By midnight the evacuation was completed, and a death-like silence reigned in the breastworks which for nine months had been "clothed in thunder," and whose deadly blows had kept at bay a foe of threefold strength.
As the troops moved noiselessly onward in the darkness that just precedes the dawn, a bright light like a broad flash of lightning illumined the heavens for an instant; then followed a tremendous explosion. "The magazine at Fort Drewry is blown up," ran in whispers through the ranks, and again silence reigned. Once more the sky was overspread by a lurid light, but not so fleeting as before. It was now the conflagration of Richmond that lighted the night-march of the soldiers, and many a stout heart was wrung with anguish at the fate of the city and its defenceless inhabitants. The burning of public property of little value had given rise to a destructive fire that laid in ashes nearly one-third of the devoted city.
The columns from Petersburg and its vicinity reached Chesterfield Court-House soon after daylight. Here a brief halt was ordered for the rest and refreshment of the troops, after which the retreat was resumed with renewed strength. A sense of relief seemed to pervade the ranks at their release from the lines where they had watched and worked for more than nine weary months. Once more in the open field, they were invigorated with hope, and felt better able to cope with their powerful adversary.
The April woods were budding round them, the odors of spring were in the air, the green fields and the broad prospect of woods and hills formed an inspiriting contrast to the close earthworks behind which they had so long lain, and as they marched along the unobstructed roads memories of the many victories to which they had formerly been led arose to nerve their arms and make them feel that while they had the same noble chieftain at their head they were still the equal of the foe. Thoughts like these lightened the weary march and gave new spirit to the ragged and hungry but undaunted men.
The retreat of Lee's army did not long remain unknown to the Federals. The explosion of the magazine at Fort Drewry and the conflagration of Richmond apprised them of the fact, and they lost no time in taking possession of the abandoned works and entering the defenceless cities.
On the morning of the 3d of April the mayor of Richmond surrendered the city to the Federal commander in its vicinity, and General Weitzel took immediate possession. He at once proceeded to enforce order and took measures to arrest the conflagration, while with great humanity he endeavored to relieve the distressed citizens. After four years of courageous sacrifice and patriotic devotion, the city of Richmond was compelled to yield to the decree of fate and bow her proud crest to the victor. But she felt no shame or disgrace, for her defence had been bold and chivalrous, and in the hour of her adversity her majestic fortitude drew from her conquerors respect and admiration.
As soon as Grant became aware of Lee's line of retreat, he pushed forward his whole available force, numbering seventy thousand or eighty thousand men, in order to intercept him on the line of the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Sheridan's cavalry formed the van of the pursuing army, and was closely followed by the artillery and infantry. Lee pressed on as rapidly as possible to Amelia Court-House, where he had ordered supplies to be deposited for the use of his troops on their arrival. This forethought was highly necessary in consequence of the scanty supply of rations provided at the commencement of the retreat.
The hope of finding a supply of food at this point, which had done much to buoy up the spirits of the men, was destined to be cruelly dispelled. Through an unfortunate error or misapprehension of orders, the provision-train had been taken on to Richmond without unloading its stores at Amelia Court-House, and its much-needed food disappeared during the excitement and confusion of the capital city. As a result, on reaching that point not a single ration was found to be provided for the hungry troops.
It was a terrible blow alike to the men and to their general. A reaction from hope to despair came upon the brave soldiers who had so far borne up under the most depressing difficulties, while on General Lee's face came a deeper shadow than it had yet worn. He saw his well-devised plan imperiled by a circumstance beyond his control. The necessity of speed if he would achieve the aim which he had in his mind was opposed by the absolute need of halting and collecting food for his impoverished troops. Grant was pursuing him with all haste. The only chance remaining to the Army of Northern Virginia was to reach the hill-country without delay. Yet here it was detained by the error of a railroad official, while the precious minutes and hours moved remorselessly by.
By the morning of the 5th the whole army had reached the place of general rendezvous. Bitter was its disappointment to learn that no food was to be had save such scanty quantities as might be collected by the foraging-parties that had immediately been sent out, and that a distance of fifty miles lay between it and adequate supplies. Yet no murmur came from the lips of the men to the ear of their commander, and on the evening of that unfortunate day they resumed their weary march in silence and composure. Some small amount of food had been brought in by the foragers, greatly inadequate for the wants of the soldiers, yet aiding them somewhat to alleviate the pangs of hunger. A handful of corn was now a feast to the weary veterans as they trudged onward through the April night. .
The progress of the retreat during the night was slow and tedious, the route for the most part lying through farms and over farm-lands, whose condition frequently demanded the aid of pioneers to construct and repair bridges and causeways for the artillery and wagons, the teams of which by this time had become weak and jaded. The country roads were miry from the spring rains, the streams were swollen, and the numerous wagons which were necessary to transport the munitions of war from Richmond to a new line of defence served to retard the retreat and permit the Federals to rapidly gain upon the slow-marching columns.
Sheridan's cavalry was already upon the flank of the Confederate army, and the infantry was following with all speed. On the morning of the 6th a wagon-train fell into the hands of Sheridan's troopers, but this was recaptured by the Confederates. During the forenoon of that day the pursuing columns thickened, and frequent skirmishes delayed the march. These delays enabled the Federals to accumulate in such force that it became necessary for Lee to halt his advance in order to arrest their attack till his column could close up and the trains and such artillery as was not needed for action could reach a point of safety.
This object was accomplished early in the afternoon. Ewell's, the rearmost corps of the army, closed upon those in front at a position on Sailor's Creek, a small tributary of the Appomattox River. While the troops were moving to their destination, and the trains had passed, General Gordon, who commanded the rear-guard, observing a considerable Federal force moving around the Confederate rear, apparently with the intention of turning it, sent notice of this movement to the troops in front, and then proceeded by a near route to a suitable position on the line of retreat.
Ewell, unfortunately, either failed to receive Gordon's message or his troops were so worn out with hunger and fatigue as to be dilatory in complying with orders. As a consequence, his corps was surrounded by the pursuing columns and captured with but little opposition. About the same time the divisions of Anderson, Pickett, and Bushrod Johnson were almost broken up, about ten thousand men in all being captured. The remainder of the army continued its retreat during the night of the 6th, and reached Farmville early on the morning of the 7th, where the troops obtained two days' rations, the first regular supplies they had received during the retreat. At Farmville a short halt was made to allow the men to rest and cook their provisions. .
The heads of the Federal columns beginning to appear about eleven o'clock, the Confederates resumed their retreat. The teams of the wagons and artillery were weak, being travel-worn and suffering from lack of forage. Their progress, therefore, was necessarily slow, and, as the troops were obliged to move in conformity with the artillery and trains, the Federal cavalry closed upon the retreating army. In the afternoon it became necessary to make dispositions, to retard the rapid advance of the enemy. Mahone's division, with a few batteries, was thrown out for that purpose, and a spirited conflict ensued, in which the Federals were checked. Other attempts were made during the afternoon to retard or arrest the Confederate columns, which in every instance were repulsed. .
Desperate as the situation had become, and irretrievable as it seemed hourly growing, General Lee could not forego the hope of breaking through the net that was rapidly enclosing him and of forming a junction with Johnston. In the event of success in this he felt confident of being able to manoeuvre with Grant at least until favorable terms of peace could be obtained.
A crisis was now at hand. Should Lee obtain the necessary supplies at Appomattox Court-House, he would push on to the Staunton River and maintain himself behind that stream until a junction could be made with Johnston. If, however, supplies should fail him, the surrender and dissolution of the army were inevitable. On the 8th the retreat, being uninterrupted, progressed more expeditiously than on the previous day. Yet, though the Federals did not press the Confederate flank and rear as on the day before, a heavy column of cavalry advanced upon Appomattox Station, where the supplies for the Confederate army had been deposited.
On the preceding day a correspondence had begun between the two commanding generals, opening in the following note sent by General Grant to General Lee:
"HEAD-QUARTERS ARMIES OF THE U. S.,
"5 P. M., April 7, 1865.
"GENERAL R. E. LEE, COMMANDING C. S. A.
" GENERAL,--The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate Southern army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
" Very respectfully, " Your obedient servant, " U. S. GRANT,
"Lieutenant-General commanding Armies of the U. S."
To which General Lee replied,--
"April 7, 1865. "GENERAL,--I have received your note of this day. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on 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 the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.
" R. E. LEE, " General. " LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT, commanding the Armies of the United States."
On the succeeding day General Grant returned the following reply:
"April 8, 1865.
"TO GENERAL R. E. LEE, COMMANDING C.S.A.
"GENERAL, -- Your note of the last evening, in reply to mine of the 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 might name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.
"U. S. GRANT,
General Lee immediately responded:
"April 8, 1865.
"GENERAL, -- I received at a late hour your note of today. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of 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 Confederate States forces under my command and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten A. M. to-morrow on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.
"R. E. LEE,
When Lee in the afternoon reached the neighborhood of Appomattox Court-House, he was met by the intelligence of the capture of the stores placed for his army at the station two miles beyond. Notwithstanding this over-whelming news, he determined to make one more effort to force himself through the Federal toils that encompassed him. Therefore he made preparations for battle, but under circumstances more desperate than had hitherto befallen the Army of Northern Virginia. The remnant of that noble army, now reduced to ten thousand effective men, was marshalled to cut its way through a host seventy-five thousand strong; but, notwithstanding the stupendous odds, there was not in that little band a heart that quailed or a hand that trembled; there was not one of them who would not willingly have laid down his life in the cause they had so long maintained, and for the noble chief who had so often led them to victory.
On the evening of that day the last council of the leaders of the Army of Northern Virginia was held around a bivouac-fire in the woods, there being present Generals Lee, Longstreet, Gordon, and Fitz Lee. This conference ended in a determination to make a renewed effort on the following morning to break through the impediments in front, of which there was still a possibility if only cavalry should be found and no heavy force of infantry had reached that point.
At three o'clock on the morning of the 9th of April the Confederates moved silently forward. The advance under Gordon, reaching the heights a little beyond the court-house at dawn, found that the route was obstructed by a large force of Federal cavalry. Gordon then deployed the Second Corps, now less than two thousand strong and supported by thirty pieces of artillery under General Long, with Fitz Lee's cavalry on the flank.
This artillery consisted of parts of the commands of Colonel Carter, Lieutenant-Colonels Poague and Duke Johnston, and Major Stark, and the guns were served with the usual skill and gallantry. A well-directed fire from the artillery and an attack from the cavalry quickly dislodged the force in front. Gordon then advanced, but was arrested by a greatly superior force of the enemy's infantry, whereupon he informed General Lee that a powerful reinforcement was necessary to enable him to continue his advance.
Lee being unable to grant that request, but one course remained. A flag of truce was sent to General Grant requesting a suspension of hostilities for the arrangement of preliminaries of surrender. Then an order to cease firing passed along the lines. This order, on being received by General Long, was sent by him, through Major South-all and other members of his staff, to the different batteries to direct them to discontinue firing. General Long then proceeded to the court-house.
On reaching that point he discovered that the order had not been carried to a battery that occupied the hill immediately above the village, which continued to fire rapidly at an advancing line of Federal infantry. He at once rode in person to the battery and gave the order to the captain to cease firing and to withdraw his battery to a point east of the town, where the artillery was ordered to be parked. These were the last shots fired by the Army of Northern Virginia. .
The artillery had been withdrawn from the heights, as above stated, and parked in the small valley east of the village, while the infantry, who were formed on the left, stacked arms and silently waited the result of the interview between the opposing commanders.
The flag of truce was sent out from General Gordon's lines. Grant had not yet come up, and while waiting for his arrival General Lee seated himself upon some rails which Colonel Talcott of the Engineers had fixed at the foot of an apple-tree for his convenience. This tree was half a mile distant from the point where the meeting of Lee and Grant took place, yet wide-spread currency has been given to the story that the surrender took place under its shade, and "apple-tree" jewelry has been profusely distributed from the orchard in which it grew.
About eleven o'clock General Lee, accompanied only by Colonel Marshall of his staff, proceeded to the village to meet General Grant, who had now arrived. The meeting between the two renowned generals took place at the house of a Mr. McLean at Appomattox Court-House, to which mansion, after exchanging courteous salutations, they repaired to settle the terms on which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia should be concluded.
A conversation here took place which General Grant, as he himself tells us, led to various subjects divergent from the immediate purpose of the meeting, talking of old army matters and comparing recollections with General Lee. As he says, the conversation grew so pleasant that he almost forgot the object of the meeting.
General Lee was obliged more than once to remind him of this object, and it was some time before the terms of the surrender were written out. The written instrument of surrender covered the following points. Duplicate rolls of all the officers and men were to be made, and the officers to sign paroles for themselves and their men, all agreeing not to bear arms against the United States unless regularly exchanged. The arms, artillery, and public property were to be turned over to an officer appointed to receive them, the officers retaining their side-arms and private horses and baggage. In addition to this, General Grant permitted every man of the Confederate army who claimed to own a horse or mule to retain it for farming purposes, General Lee remarking that this would have a happy effect. As for the surrender by General Lee of his sword, a report of which has been widely circulated, General Grant disposes of it in the following words: "The much-talked-of surrendering of Lee's sword and my handing it back, this and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance."
After completion of these measures General Lee remarked that his men were badly in need of food, that they had been living for several days on parched corn exclusively, and requested rations and forage for twenty-five thousand men. These rations were granted out of the car-loads of Confederate provisions which had been stopped by the Federal cavalry. As for forage, Grant remarked that he was himself depending upon the country for that. The negotiations completed, General Lee left the house, mounted his horse, and rode back to head-quarters.
It is impossible to describe the anguish of the troops when it was known that the surrender of the army was inevitable. Of all their trials, this was the greatest and hardest to endure. There was no consciousness of shame; each heart could boast with honest pride that its duty had been done to the end, and that still unsullied remained its honor. When, after his interview with Grant, General Lee again appeared, a shout of welcome instinctively ran through the army. But, instantly recollecting the sad occasion that brought him before them, their shouts sank into silence, every hat was raised, and the bronzed faces of the thousands of grim warriors were bathed with tears.
As he rode slowly along the lines, hundreds of his devoted veterans pressed around the noble chief, trying to take his hand, touch his person, or even lay a hand upon his horse, thus exhibiting for him their great affection. The general then, with head bare and tears flowing freely down his manly cheeks, bade adieu to the army. In a few words he told the brave men who had been so true in arms to return to their homes and become worthy citizens.
Thus closed the career of the noble Army of Northern Virginia.
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