The Sunset of the Confederacy: I


LONGER are the shadows, richer are the colors of the evening clouds, deeper is the feeling as the close of the day draws near and the sun goes down: so was it with the War of the Great Rebellion as its end drew near. That momentous struggle had gone on for four long years. Much gallant blood had been shed, thousands of graves had been filled; and now, Sunday, the second day of April, 1865, — a memorable month and a memorable year in the annals of our country, — had come, and the church bells of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, were ringing for the morning service.

Bright over the city was the sun in the bending sky, the jonquils were glowing in the gardens, the southern woods were sweet with the bloom of the jessamine, and the fields were gay with the voices of birds and brooks,— but the gloom of the people was deep indeed. For an army of the North, having fought its way from the bank of the Ohio to the bank of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, a march of five or six hundred miles, had cut artery after artery of military supplies, had brought t he miseries and horrors of war 1o t he door of many a home, and had left behind it, especially in Georgia and South Carolina, a track of vast and ruthless devastation.

The Confederate armies that had contested with it so valiantly the bloody fields of Shiloh, Perryville, Stone River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Atlanta, Franklin, and Nashville, had been reduced by losses and repeated reverses to a disorganized and desponding fragment. And on that very day Sherman’s army, every flag and bit of clothing scented with burning pine, crouched like a tiger for a final, savage leap. A friend on duty in the Ordnance Office at Washington told me that it was unnecessary for the officers of that army, coming to settle their accounts after the surrender, to tell him where they had served, for before they could speak, the odor of burning southern pine had told the story.

So it may be said, and said truthfully, that on this fair Sunday morning all the territory of the Confederacy east of the Mississippi, with the exception of adjacent parts of Virginia and North Carolina, had been overrun and overpowered by the Federal forces; and although the people as individuals were unconquered, their hopes of success were fast turning to ashes. For the Confederacy — a martial embodiment of long and honestly held views of the Sovereignty of the States; a principle so sound and essential to the safety and dignity of our country, but asserted, alas! so untimely and at the cost of so much gallant blood and treasure by what we see now was a raving political delirium — had met with undreamedof and untoward experiences. Her armies, to their surprise, had encountered forces equally valiant; and, instead of going on from victory to victory, had suffered repeated, almost mortal repulses. But keener, I am fain to believe, than the defeat at the hands of underestimated and too generally despised foes, was the disappointment and humiliation the South had met with from the aristocratic governments of the old world which had been counted on with absolute certainty to reach out warm hands of welcome. For they, with satiric politeness and despicable evasion, denied her recognition; and there was brought home the truth of what had long ago been said: ‘Put not your trust in princes.’

Again, in the administration of civil affairs all had not gone well. Finances which might have been nursed into paramount strength had been terribly bungled, practically thrown away; as a result, hunger and want had become the tent-mates of every southern soldier in the field; and, as troubles go in pairs, faction and cabal born of irritable disappointment tore the Cabinet and Congress, day in and day out.

These surprises and adversities of four years were not without profound and serious results. The dearest and warmest lover of the Confederacy had to confess, in the spring of 1865, that Fortune had turned its face away from her, and that her strength was almost gone. So it was, indeed, and having heard the cheers and beheld the joy with which she was hailed by the friends of my youth at West Point, — and alas! how many laid down their lives for her! — I am free to say that I never think of her distressful last days without a sense of pity. Eager and yearning eyes of the Confederacy, are you looking for a friend among the nations? Oh, you shall look in vain: none, none will come; for the Spirit of the Ages has written the hated word Slavery in big letters across your breast; yet, in the memories of the sons and daughters of the men who fell for you, you will dwell transfigured as an image of sweet and radiant splendor.

The South’s only hope, her rock, shield, and horn of salvation, now lay in the Army of Northern Virginia, which, after four years of brilliant moves and matchless courage, had been forced back from the Rapidan by the lack of numbers, but not of spirit, to the defense of the lines of Richmond. There, under severe fire, day and night, hopeless of ever again flying their colors defiantly as of old on the banks of the Rapidan and Rappahannock, the veterans of Gaines’s Mill, Malvern Hill, Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor — and every star that shines and every wind that breathes over these fields calls them fields of glory — had stood in rags and hunger through the unusually cold winter days, receiving pitiful letters daily, letters full of heart-breaking home distresses, and often blurred and dampened with the tears of loving eyes. But, notwithstanding their own sufferings and those keener ones of hearth and cradle, they remained loyally, illustriously steadfast to their colors, and for comfort and strength went to the source to which we all go. Nightly they would gather, and on bended knees, with palm to palm, tears channeling their brave faces, ask God to guard and comfort their homes and little ones and at last to own and bless the Confederacy.

Since the Christian Era, what supreme hours the believers in God have gone through! How the beseeching, conflicting prayers have threaded suns and moons and hosts of stars in their travels toward Him! And He has heard them all, and wisely ruled for the best; and to-day He blesses the Southland with peace and plenty, and night and morning fills her lap with the fruits of the field.

Such was the state of the army; and as the bells were ringing that Sunday morning the gloom was deep and dark indeed.

So it was in the spiritual world; in the natural world no look brought any relief. For all the historic region of Virginia east of the Blue Ridge, from the James to the Potomac, had been so scourged and ravaged that it was a pitiful scene. It had been one continuous battling ground. In the previous autumn the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia’s granary and gallery of beautiful views, which hitherto had been spared, was despoiled; for, after practically obliterating Early’s army, —which, to weaken Grant’s hold on Petersburg, had threatened Washington by way of the Shenandoah, —Sheridan laid waste with the torch that mountain-cradled, wheat-bearing, brook-singing valley.

But despite all these vicissitudes and the deepening shadows of impending disaster, the people of Richmond, suffering for the necessaries of life and witnessing daily the wide-spread dying out of enthusiasm for the Confederacy, and the rapid drying up of the streams of its resources, had not given way entirely to despair; in fact, they were surprisingly hopeful; their faith in the righteousness of their cause, the genius of Lee, and the courage of his army, was firm.


Sunday, — and the bells were calling the people to worship. Old and noted Richmond families uncovered at the door and reverently sought their pews at St. Paul’s, seven out of ten of the women in mourning. In the solemn quiet sat the aged fathers, their hair falling white, and many a mother with high-bred face, sorrowing for the boys who would never come home. There in the subdued light of the sanctuary they sat, while the bells, which had clanged so joyfully at the birth of the Confederacy, reluctantly and sadly boomed their final notes, as if they already knew, what the congregation little expected, that when they should ring again on the next Sunday, at that very hour, the Confederacy would be on its deathbed, breathing its last.

Jefferson Davis, President of the illfated cause, above middle height, lithe, distinguished, neatly arrayed in gray, came up the centre aisle with modest, dignified quietude of manner, entered his pew on the right and bowed his head in prayer. His spare austere face showed the effect of four years of care, as well it might, for who ever faced a longer and fiercer tempest? but he carried with him to St. Paul’s, as everywhere, his habitual atmosphere of invincible courage and the never-failing bloom of urbanity. The organ droned the last of the colorless Venite, and the service began.

Along the sunshiny side of the empty streets, here and there, convalescents from the hospitals sauntered, pale, some armless and some on crutches. On its staff above the roof of the nearby capitol, the flag of the Confederacy drooped in the mild sunshine, the stars of its blue saltier shining from its folds above steeple and chimney and over the spring-time gladness of the fields. Out in Holywood, where Stuart lay with so many of the best and the bravest, and where Mr. Davis’s dust is now resting, the robins, sparrows, catbirds, red birds, turtle-doves and mockingbirds were building their nests among the evergreens and native trees.

Over the rapids, at the foot of the knolls of Holywood, the stately James flowed murmuring, by the shores of Belle Isle and the baleful walls of Libby Prison, from whose drearily grated windows looked hollow-eyed, half-starved Northern prisoners of war, who, as they heard the bells of Richmond ringing, no doubt recalled the bells of home and longed for release and peace.

It was Communion Sunday, and the sacred elements covered with a white cloth were on the table. Doctor Charles Minnegerode, the rector of St. Paul’s, a diminutive, fervid transplanted German, was delivering his usual tense, extempore address, when the sexton, a portly man, with ruffles at his wrists and bosom, and polished brass buttons on a faded suit of blue, advanced up the aisle with soft but stately tread, and after touching the President on the shoulder with solemnity becoming his station and his one - day-in-the - week lofty importance, condescendingly handed him a message. Mr. Davis threw his blue-gray eyes rapidly over the fatal dispatch; he grasped his soft, creamy-white hat, rose, and withdrew calmly.

Hardly had he left the door before the sexton again marched up the aisle and, bending, spoke to General Joseph Anderson, who at once took his leave. Then followed two more grand entries — and I think the Confederacy, though wan her cheek, smiled faintly; for like everything born in America, she must have had a sense of humor. Heaven be blessed for the gift, and I hope they buried the dignified sexton in his ruffled shirt and suit of blue with brass buttons in due pomp; peace to his clay wherever it lies! At his fourth presageful march up the aisle, again with a message to a prominent official, anxiety seized the congregation, and like alarmed birds they rose at once and left the church; and not until the bewildered people cleared the door and mingled with the throng that had already gathered in the modest vestibule and on the pavement, was the purport of the message to Mr. Davis revealed. There in consternation they saw government employees of a department that occupied an opposite building frantically carrying bundles of public documents out into the middle of the street and setting them on fire. Then the appalling significance of it all broke on them, and they melted away to their homes in dread and anguish. The smoke of the burning records soon became the breath of panic, and by the time the sun went down and twilight came on, the city was in tragic confusion. Lee’s lines were broken, and Richmond was to be evacuated that night.

When I was in Richmond at the unveiling of Mr. Davis’s monument, a few years ago, I went into the historic church and sat awhile. The sun was bright in the cloudless sky, the roses were fresh in the gardens, for it was June, and sweet was the silence in St. Paul’s; and, thank God, sweet was the peace of the land! As I sat there in the stillness, the solemn past, as on a great and deeply shadowed river’s breast, went drifting by, and it seemed to me a striking circumstance that the news of the breaking of Lee’s lines, foreshadowing as it did the immediate collapse of the Confederacy, should reach its devout President in a church on a Sunday, and, remarkably enough, at the Communion service. Who knows whether, since the earnest prayers of so many had to be unanswered, it was not ordained in compensation, that the sacred place and the sacred hour should lend their serene and holy associations to this memory?


The lines held by Lee’s army began on the north of Richmond, well out from its suburbs, and after circling them about to the east and south, led to Chaffin’s Bluff on the James, some six or seven miles below the city. There they crossed to Drury’s Bluff, uniting with a line of great strength that started on the bank of Swift Creek nearly opposite Petersburg, securing the railroad between it and Richmond, and barring all exit to our forces in the angle between the rivers. It was known as the Bermuda Hundred line. Those of Petersburg, the main or outer lines, began on the right bank of the Appomattox, ran eastward a while on the crest of a ravine, then bore away off southwestward to Hatcher’s Run, and after crossing it turned westward till they came to what is known as the Claiborne Road, which they followed northward to the Run again. There they ended, seven or eight miles southwest of Petersburg, and at least thirty odd miles from where they started at the Brooke Pike north of Richmond.

From Chaffin’s Bluff back to Richmond, they were several deep, and consisted generally of strong, traversed breastworks, connecting what is known as detached earthworks with heavy parapets and deep ditches, all fronted with abatis and skirmish-line rifle-pits. They still can be traced; and had you, reader, seen our troops try to carry them, as I did in front of Petersburg, on a hot July morning in the battle-summer of 1864, you would have discovered how truly formidable they were, and your heart would have beaten, I know, with mine, as the column, with flags flying, white and red bands rippling in the morning sun, moved to the assault and was mowed down by the enemy’s guns. The gently upward-sloping ground over which the men advanced toward the crater, for that was the action, was as blue with the bodies of the dead as a field of gentians. Yes, indeed, their line of works was strong and they had as brave men as ever lived to hold them.

Longstreet’s two divisions, Field’s and Kershaw’s, were in the works north of the James; Mahone of Hill’s corps, in the Bermuda Hundred front; while the rest of Hill’s troops and a division of Ewell’s old corps under Gordon, the one that struck us so hard in the Wilderness, occupied the long Petersburg lines; Lee’s cavalry were veiling his right, but widely scattered, having to forage for themselves.

Richmond and its immediate defenses were under Ewell, a serious and unconsciously amusing man on account of his natural eccentricities, and yet one of the kindest, truest-hearted and most lovable that ever lived. He had lost a leg during the War, and when mounted, had to be strapped to his horse ‘ Rifle,’ a flea-bitten gray, and was famous for his skill in ‘deviling’ turkey-legs. When well along in years he married a Widow Brown, and always in introducing any one to her, would say, ‘Mrs. Brown, allow me to present my friend so-and-so.’ Ewell was the man, too, who declared that he believed Stonewall Jackson was a lunatic for claiming that he could not use red pepper on account of its giving him rheumatism in the left leg!

What I am about to say in reference to Jackson is of very little concern to my fellow men, for his star is set high and will shine on long after this narrative is forgotten and its writer turned to obscure dust. But. for some reason or other, brilliant as were his military exploits, he never won my admiration as a man, like Ewell, Lee, Longstreet, Stuart, and so many others; and had he died without uttering as sweet a sentiment as ever passed the lips of a dying soldier, his career and personality would not engage this pen for a single moment. But when that cold nature, just on the point of exchanging mortality for immortality, breathes softly between its ashen lips, “Let us cross over the River and lie down in the shade of the trees,” and its spirit mounts on its heavenly way, I am conscious of one of life’s mysteries, and feel another proof of God’s abundance in blessing the world with tender feeling. Without this utterance, Stonewall Jackson would have been nothing more to me than a belated, uninteresting Roundhead, a dull, cast-iron military hero; but with it he is transfigured; and may the last moments of us all be attended with like visions of rest.

Besides a provisional force made up of employees, clerks, convalescents, and the like, Ewell had a small division of two brigades, chiefly heavy artillery, commanded by Custis Lee, the great general’s son, to whom, while Custis was a cadet at West Point, Lee wrote as good a letter as ever father wrote to son.

Such in a general way was the extent and character of Lee’s lines and the troops that occupied them just before the final campaign began. Our lines, conforming to theirs in direction, were built like theirs, and in many places were so very close to them that one could almost tell the color of a man’s eyes.

What was known as the Army of the James, consisting of the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth corps and a small division of cavalry under my classmate Mackenzie, — peace to his ashes! — held the lines north of the James and those of the Bermuda Hundred front. Facing Petersburg, with its right resting on the Appomattox, was the Ninth Corps, commanded by Parke; next came the Sixth, under Wright ; then Humphreys with the Second, joining the Fifth, which had been led so long by the unfortunate Warren, and which now held the extreme left.

Sheridan, who had rejoined the Army of the Potomac with the First and Second divisions of his superb cavalry, having struck boldly across the country from the Shenandoah Valley, — and the ashes of its burned mills, barns, and stacks of harvested grain remember him yet, — had united them with their old comrade-division the Third, which had remained with the army, and posted them all well to the front and left of Warren.

Besides these land forces, we had also a number of war-vessels, several of them heavy iron-clads, lying with steam up in the James, off City Point. That was our base of supplies; and at the edge of the bluff overlooking the James and Appomattox (for it is there they meet), was Grant’s headquarters. I have no memory of the War more stirring than that which met the eye from that bluff by day or by night. The broad rivers at our feet, dotted with craft of all kinds: noisy, stubborn tugs, barges, steamboats, steamships, and delicately-masted sailing ships, some coming, some going, threading their way slowly and carefully through the anchored vessels; the bank lined with wharves and storehouses; the narrow space between them and the sharplypitching, clay bluff, a swarm of army wagons, ambulances, soldiers, laborers, black and white; the deep steady rumble; the complaining screech of lifting anchors; the whistles hoarse and deep of the passing ships; and lo, plain coffins going aboard the Washington boat on the way home; all that and much more could be seen and heard from sunrise to sunset. It was pleasant when all the tumult was over and the hush of night had come, to look down on the river and see the dim red, blue, and yellow lights of the vessels, and all so still save some busy, puffing tug. It was pleasant but always half-way sad, for me, to hear the little bells on the men-of-war striking the lonely hours.

Out in the river among all those lights, at the date this narrative deals with, a trim steamboat called the Mary Martin was lying; and aboard was Abraham Lincoln. Knowing from Grant that he was about to move, the President’s anxiety was so great that he could not stay in Washington, so he came down to be near his well-beloved army in its last trial.

Such then was the general character of our lines and theirs, and the forces in them at the beginning of the end.

Various figures have been given estimating the strength of Lee’s army. That it was nearer fifty than forty thousand I am inclined to believe. But however that may be, Grant had more than twice as many; and, moreover, his army had had warm clothing and food in abundance, while Lee’s had had neither sufficient food nor clothing, and the winter had been one of rigorous, miserable cold.

The following letter from Lee to the Confederate Secretary of War lifts the curtain on the dismal state of the army: ‘Yesterday — the most inclement day of the winter — the troops had to be maintained in line of battle, having been in the same condition two previous days and nights. I regret lo be compelled to state that under these circumstances, heightened by assaults and fire of the enemy, some of the men have been without meat for three days and all are suffering from reduced rations, scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail, and sleet. Their physical strength, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment.’

Although they were true of heart and their faithfulness reached to the clouds, there was something more than the lack of food and clothing that wasted the spirits of his men. Defeat had drawn near and was staring at them, and the future was growing blacker and blacker. On the other hand, for our men a sense of victory was kindling it as the sun flushes the dawn.


Grant, having resolved to bring the issue to its ultimate trial, on the night of March 27 brought Ord from north of the James with three divisions of infantry, two white and one colored, and Mackenzie’s cavalry. They took the positions Humphreys and Warren had occupied, these two veteran corps having been drawn out preparatory to moving for Lee’s right. Leaving Parke, Wright, and Ord in the lines, Grant, with Sheridan leading, started Humphreys and Warren on the morning of the twenty-ninth.

Lee was alert to his danger, and on the thirty-first struck Warren, who was feeling for his right, a heavy blow. Meanwhile Sheridan had gained Dinwiddie Court-House, four or five miles beyond Warren, and had moved toward Five Forks on his way to the South Side Railroad, about all of the enemy’s cavalry having gathered in to head him off. Lee, realizing how important it was to check Sheridan, sent Pickett and Bushrod Johnson’s divisions of infantry to the aid of his cavalry, and together on the thirty-first they drove Sheridan back to Dinwiddie, winning almost a complete victory over him. But threatened by Warren, they had to withdraw during the night to Five Forks, and there they threw up a temporary line of entrenchments.

As soon as Lee, in the course of the forenoon of April first, heard that Sheridan was likely to renew the offensive, he started several brigades to Pickett’s help, for that point was vital; but before they reached him Sheridan, reinforced by Warren, had assailed Pickett and driven him with great confusion from the field, capturing thousands of prisoners and several guns, the uncaptured Confederates fleeing northward in utter confusion through the darkness, for it was just at nightfall that they met their overwhelming defeat.

Pickett’s and Fitz Lee’s failure to hold that position was fatal, and offered a singular instance of Fortune’s bad turn of her wheel for Lee; inasmuch as, when Sheridan made his attack, the famous, long-haired Pickett, Gettysburg’s hero, and the cavalry commanders, blue and gay-eyed Fitz Lee, gigantic and black-eyed Rosser, were engaged in planking shad on the north bank of Hatcher’s Run, two miles or more in the rear of their resolute but greatly outnumbered troops. Although the fire was quick and heavy, it was completely smothered by the intervening timber, and notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the gallant Munford and the infantry brigade commanders, before they got to the front the day was lost; so at least the story was told to me by my friend Rosser, who lately and in honor went to his grave.

The news of this disaster did not reach Lee till about half-past seven, whereupon he telegraphed to Longstreet, in the lines north of the James, to come to Petersburg at once with one of his divisions; while Grant, as soon as the same news reached him, — he was sitting alone before a struggling camp-fire in a thick, dripping pine wood, for it was raining hard,— ordered all the guns to open on the Petersburg lines, and the Sixth and Ninth corps to assault at daybreak.

Longstreet, in response to Lee’s dispatch, started Field’s division by rail, and then set off with his staff across the country for Petersburg and Lee’s headquarters. To his dying day he spoke of that night’s long ride. Of course, our batteries having opened in obedience to Grant’s orders, theirs replied; and, as Longstreet rode on, those revengeful batteries answered each other with jarring thunder, and heavy mortar-shells rose from fort to fort, the small, trailing red lights of their burning, sputtering fuses outlining against the pitchy sky their high curving way. Sometimes one was just rising for its flight as the other, coming down with accelerated speed, exploded with surly, tremendous roar. Few men ever took a ride on a dark night toward the boom of a hundred guns, under a sky like that.

It was about dawn when he reached Lee’s headquarters at the Turnbull House, several miles southwest of Petersburg. Lee was still on his bed suffering from rheumatism, an ailment which had troubled him, and sometimes seriously, for years. He had Longstreet come to a seat at his bedside, explained what had happened the evening before at Five Forks, and told him to go, as soon as his troops arrived, to the support of Pickett’s men, on whom he laid no blame or reproach as they had had to meet greatly superior numbers. But within a few hours, and long before Field of Longstreet’s division got to Petersburg, the crisis had come; Hill’s lines had been broken, and it was no longer a question of regaining Five Forks, but of holding on to Petersburg itself.

The Sixth and Ninth corps made their assaults just as the gray light of morning was sifting in. They carried their points of attack, a mile or so apart, with great valor but with great loss, for the enemy defended their lines with uncommon bravery.

Not long since, toward the close of a lazy October day, I stood on the ground they won. The field, over which they advanced so firmly, sloped away to the east, and lay beautifully still in its autumn dream. The shadows were long, and a herd of cows at the lower edge of the pasture were feeding toward the gate, while some barefooted boys were approaching to let them go home through the bars for the evening milking. Here were no flags, no roar of guns or crash of bursting shells, no dead and bayoneted Confederates (for they stood to the very last), no wild cheers or trumpets pealing; but I thought I heard the mellow notes of a distant harp, and if I were asked whence they came I should guess that the harp was resting against the breast of Glory, and with swimming eyes her hands were sweeping the strings softly for the dead of both armies.

As soon as A. P. Hill heard of the Sixth Corps’ successful assault he left his headquarters, which was not far from Lee’s, to go to his disrupted lines. Accompanied by a single courier, he came suddenly, at the edge of a wood, upon two of our men belonging to Wright’s Corps, who had pushed on through the breach. Hill drew his pistol and demanded their immediate surrender, whereupon they skipped behind a big tree and resting their guns one above the other against it, fired, killing him instantly. Soon his body was found, taken to Petersburg, and placed in an ambulance which started for Richmond, arriving at the south end of Mayo’s Bridge about midnight. There the ambulance had to wait an hour or more owing to the tide of troops and flight of citizens pouring over the bridge out of the city. Once across, the men drove to an undertaker’s shop whose doors had been demolished by the mob, and after groping awhile in the darkness their hands fell on a coffin. They washed the face of the punctilious and ever gallant man, and on pulling off his gauntlets found that the fatal shot had cut off the thumb of his left hand and passed directly through his heart, coming out at the back. Closing the lid tenderly over him, they put the casket into the ambulance, recrossed the bridge and wended their way up the south side of the island-dotted, royal James; and about two o’clock on Monday afternoon they buried him in the old Winston family graveyard. Many fields, as well they may, treasure his name; and when Lee was breathing his last, Hill’s image with Stonewall Jackson’s was in his dying eye.

That portion of Hill’s corps to the left, as they faced their own works, of the point the Sixth Corps carried, fell backward and then rallied behind Gordon, who, although he had lost the right of his lines, was holding the Ninth Corps under Parke from making further headway. Hill’s other brigades, among them Cooke’s, Scales’s, Lane’s, McRae’s, and McGowan’s, — cut off from falling back on Petersburg by the advance of the Sixth Corps through the gate it had opened with such high valor, — followed what are known as the Cox and the River roads up the south side of the Appomattox. Humphreys, who was nearest to them, pursued with Miles’s division, which, after noon, gave them battle and defeat at Sutherland Station, the broken forces fleeing westward and joining those which, the night before, had set out to support Pickett. Owing to a wreck on the railroad Field’s first brigade did not get to Petersburg till two o’clock, and it was sunset when the last arrived.

By ten o’clock all the outer lines of Petersburg, except those valiantly held by Gordon on the north side, were in our hands. Lee’s situation was now exceedingly grave, and although his men were responding with great steadiness to the defense of the inner lines, the chances were barely even that he could hold on till night; and in case he could not, it was manifestly clear that the long-dreaded hour had come when both Petersburg and Richmond would have to be given up.

In view of the end which we now so clearly see was inevitable, I have sometimes thought it would have been better, sparing lives and days of suffering, had Lee asked terms then and there of Grant. For Mr. Lincoln who, like Solomon, had ‘wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart,’ was at City Point, only a few miles away; and, knowing his sagacity and his longing for peace, we can be sure that he would have dealt wisely and been abundantly generous. Besides, it might have proved a stroke on Lee’s part attended with far-reaching and beneficent political results that would have stamped a fitting obverse to his military fame, inasmuch as Mr. Lincoln’s terms, backed as they would have been by the honor and good faith of the veteran Army of the Potomac, might have outlined a policy so merciful and practical for bringing the states once more into harmony that, notwithstanding his cruel and awful death, the politicians would not have dared to repudiate it.

But, like Grant, Lee had been educated at West Point, and that stern national school so inculcates the theory of the subordination of the military to the civil authority that the thought of encroaching upon, much less assuming, the prerogative of the Confederate Congress and Executive, never entered his mind, however convinced he may have been of the lean chance of success.

And while I believe that he longed for peace with just as much holy eagerness as did Mr. Lincoln, yet we must bear in mind that only a few months earlier he had made overtures to Grant, and that Grant’s response, dictated from Washington, shut the door with a slam on everything short of unconditional surrender. Meeting such a rebuff he had, as we all have, a natural unwillingness to beg for peace at the hands of a cold enemy; and this unwillingness was the stronger because of his belief in the righteousness of his cause.

However, is there real doubt that Mr. Lincoln would have let the South resume its rights of statehood under the conditions that now prevailed? I think not, for he knew, as we all know, that the brains and character of a state must be intrusted with the duties of carrying it on.

But Lee did not know, nor did the bulk of Mr. Lincoln’s northern contemporaries know, the wisdom, depth, and natural warmth of Mr. Lincoln’s heart; much less did they dream of the way in which he would tower above the common level of his age; so, although it might have been a stroke of large and merciful consequence for Lee to have pocketed his rebuff and asked for terms, that he did not do it is not to be wondered at. Surely not, if we lift our eyes from this misty, transitory life up to that undistracted power called Destiny and see her looms all busy, their shuttles flying back and forth ceaseless till the fullness of time is come.

But let this conjecture engage attention as it may, Lee, after sending his dispatch to Mr. Davis, notified his corps commanders to get ready for withdrawal that night.

And now while the afternoon wanes, while Gordon holds his line, and Gibbon of our army after terrific slaughter carries two detached works in front of the inner line south of Petersburg; and while the heads of departments of Lee’s army are getting their trains ready to withdraw as soon as night falls, the narrative will, before going further, avail itself of the pause to acquaint the reader with a general outline of the country through which both armies will be moving on the morrow. And I wish he could ride over the roads they took from Petersburg to Appomattox and see them with his own eyes; for I am sure the long-sincedead event would become alive again, and, at many a turn, roads and fields would speak to him, and tenderly too, of the past.


If any one has any particular interest in the movements, the map now wall be of great help. But let me say that the scene of them all is the basin of the Appomattox, which rises well up toward Lynchburg and not far from the James. Its birthplace is in some broken hills covered with oak timber within sight of Appomattox Court-House, and from there it sets off for the rising sun. It curves often, has many stretches through woods where venerable trees on the opposite banks almost mingle their tops, their shadows dreaming below in the moving stream; it receives the waters of a number of deep-winding, tree-roofed, wood-duck-nesting creeks, and many a run with glittering ripples and sober pools, the homes of dace, minnows, and chub. Finally, it comes in sight of Petersburg, where it tumbles over some rapids between low bluffs, and then on to the James, which it enters at City Point, ten or twelve miles below Richmond (but only as the crow flies, for the stately river has many bends). It was up the territory between the rivers that the first marches were made by Lee’s Petersburg forces; those in Richmond and the forts along the James moved southward to meet them on lines of march converging at Goode’s Bridge across the Appomattox.

That river’s biggest town is Petersburg, which is connected with Richmond by the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and with Lynchburg by what, in the days of the War, was called the South Side road, on account of its following the south bank of the Appomattox. It will be borne in mind that Lee depended at last wholly on those two railways for his supplies.

From Richmond a railroad runs southward to Danville, the point at which Lee hoped to unite his army with Johnston’s, then trying feebly to head off Sherman, — whose animated face gave me more the idea of a blazing meteor when he talked than any face I ever met. This railroad crosses the Appomattox at Mattoax, twenty-seven miles from Richmond, and soon thereafter — nine or ten miles it is — reaches the old and now famous village of Amelia CourtHouse, where Lee directed all of his scattered forces to assemble. It intersects the South Side Railroad at Burkeville, fifty-one miles from Petersburg and forty-eight from Richmond. It was by this road that Mr. Davis’s train, leading several others, fled on that Sunday night.

There are Bevil’s, Goode’s, and Genito bridges over the Appomattox. The first one, Bevil’s, upon which Lee relied to carry his forces across the river, is about thirty-five miles above Petersburg. On the south side of the Appomattox there are two country roads known as the Cox and the River roads, which lead up to Amelia; and on the north is another River Road which runs thither by way of Bevil’s Bridge. This, as well as the Hickory and the Woodpecker roads, sets out from Petersburg up the divide between the Appomattox and the James. The Hickory joins the River Road after a while, but the Woodpecker wends aimlessly westward and loses itself at last in roads much like itself, which mingle, some to go to sleep in Chesterfield Court-House, some in Richmond. From Richmond there is an historic highway known as the Genito, which leads finally to a bridge of that name across the Appomattox. These, then, are the main roads, and I think the only ones that remember the two armies welt; they wind through much deep and pondering forest, cross many creeks and pleasant runs, and smile back on many old friends, fields of wheat, tobacco, and blading corn. It is all truly Virginian, the home and burial place of more than one distinguished family, whose venerable mansions, once the abodes of culture and warm hospitality, look at you now with saddened, pleading eyes.

Mysteriously enough, besides the towering event on the upper Appomattox, this region witnessed another which cast the heaviest shadow that ever fell on any land, —the introduction of slavery by a Dutch man-of-war against the humane remonstrances of the first settlers at Jamestown. And lo! after two hundred and fifty years, — years of brave and high-minded effort to found a republic, and years blessed with sweet peace, prosperity, and fraternal brotherhood, — it witnessed the deadly struggle which grew mainly out of the slavery forced upon it in its infancy. These two waters, the James and Appomattox, draining the country which is the scene of this narrative, saw slavery’s coining, and the Appomattox saw its ending; and both rivers will tell you now that they are glad it is gone.

In view of the fact that the names of officers, Confederate and Federal, will appear and reappear so often in the course of my story, I have wondered whether or not it would be of advantage to the reader to throw a rushlight as it were upon their personalities; but most of them are of such renown, especially Grant and Lee and Meade, and they have all been dealt with in so much detail by numerous writers, — including myself in The Battle of the Wilderness,— that it would be carrying coals to Newcastle to enlarge upon them here. Moreover, I have a dread of repeating myself, and although I served with, saw, and knew most of them, I shall trust to the reader’s imagination to portray them duly in the light of their deeds.

On second thought, perchance the reader, like myself, is pleased if not aided by having as a side-light on great deeds the distinctive features of the actor’s face, and so I wall devote a line or two to Gordon and Parke who, when I digressed, were contending so fiercely, one to hold, the other to carry, the lines at Petersburg.

Gordon, to whom more than to any one Lee owed the salvation of Petersburg that day, was a man of natural eminence. Above medium height, he had a soldier’s port, raven-black hair, a scar across his face, and as fierce and nearly as cruelly blue an eye as I ever looked into. When the Confederacy fell, he rose chivalrously to his reunited country’s call. In his indomitable courage he was like Humphreys, who commanded our Second Corps; and if there were ever hearths on this green earth at which valor and honor felt at home, they were theirs.

Parke had smiling brown eyes and a heavy jaw, and wore side-whiskers; and about him was somewhat of the subdued air of scholarship, clothing his address and bearing in simple good manners.


But to return to the action: Lee’s troops at Petersburg, Longstreet’s corps leading, began to withdraw as soon as night had fully set in; Mahone in the Bermuda Hundred lines, too, set off early. It was well on toward midnight before those in the field-works on the bluffs of the James and those in the lines around Richmond were under way. The delivery and promulgation of the general orders for these movements at one of the posts on the James that Sunday night, well deserve mention; and may the spirit of the occasion, signalized by reverence and recognition of a Power above all powers, breathe, God willing, on this narrative to the end.

Major Stiles, commanding a battalion of artillery at Chaffin’s Bluff, had stood, so he tells us in his sterling Four Years Under Marse Robert, a greater part of the day on the parapets of his works, listening to the guns at Petersburg. Their dull reverberations, rapid and continual, so foreboded adversity that, before going to meet with his men for worship at nightfall, in a dimly lighted little chapel which they had built during the winter, he told his adjutant to remain in the office, and if any orders came to bring them to him at once. ‘ I read with the men,’ says the major,‘the Soldier Psalm, the Ninetyfirst, and exhorted them in any special pressure that might come upon us in the near future, the “terror by night” or the “destruction at noonday,” to abide with entire confidence in that “stronghold,” to appropriate that “strength.”’

The major says that, as he uttered these last words, a lad’s open face with brimming eyes caught his attention and checked his speech momentarily. Just then the door opened, and there stood the adjutant with an official communication in his hand. Stiles asked him to stand for a moment where he was, and proceeded to tell the men what, he was satisfied, was the purport of the adjutant’s message. The young major, for he was scarcely twenty-five years of age, then led them in prayer, imploring the ‘realization of what David had expressed in the psalm—for faith, for strength, for protection.’ After Amen had been said, all on bended knees and heads bowed,— deep must have been its holy pause,— the major rose and read Lee’s orders. Softly, at the appointed hour, for our sentinels were within speaking distance, his men stole out of their works and, leaving their hollow tents standing, took up the march. Daylight, when it broke, found them miles away in Chesterfield; and there they lay down and fell asleep in a grove. And I hope their slumber was sweet, and that the lad’s eyes, if he had dreams, saw home or heaven.

The abandonment of Richmond by the Confederate and State authorities, and by many of its prominent citizens, was marked by no such orderly and solemnly uplifting detail as distinguished the conduct of Major Stiles and his command. For some strange reason, little or no fortitude and self-possession were displayed. On the contrary, as soon as it was learned that the troops were to evacuate the lines that night, frantic with disappointment or dread, they began to pour toward the railway stations and the canal, packing themselves and their belongings into the cars or on the sleepy boats, and by sundown all the roads leading south and west into the country, then veiling with twilight, were filled with groups of anxious travelers, some on foot, some on horseback, and many in vehicles, often hired at fabulous prices.

In all seriousness, how can this humiliating flight from the doomed city be accounted for? Was it because they feared that our troops (those who entered were under the firm hand of the mild and upright Weitzel) would turn barbarians and disgrace themselves and their country by outrages on persons and property? Or was it because there had been dreams of trials for treason and visions of gallows? Let the answer be what it may, the scene was not heroic, and was unbecoming in its contrast with the fame of Richmond, the valor of the Wilderness, the desperate stand at Antietam, the glorious charge of Pickett at Gettysburg, or the duel in Holywood. Let us not forget, however, that it was a day of panic, and be charitable; above all to the hundreds of minor officials, clerks, and employees in the various state and military departments, drawn from all over the South. For all of them I have nothing but pity in their distress; many were poor, far from home, and had only done their humble, tread-mill duties. But for all those who by hook or by crook had managed to keep out of the ranks, and especially for the oratorical, passion-inflaming politicians, of whom there were a goodly number, I have nothing, and they deserve nothing, but contempt. Who knows how much of the mutual rage and cruelty of individuals in both armies — for cruelty begets cruelty — is attributable to the blistering, wounding speech, the habitual, unmitigated abuse of the entire North, accompanied by taunting, boastful, and sneering arrogance, of that class before and during the War?

Let there be no mistake: to arrogance alone, in the final analysis, the South owed the North’s resolution to conquer or die. And who can say whether, in some measure at least, the atrocities that disgraced Sherman’s march and the spirit of vindictiveness which for a moment swept the North after Mr. Lincoln’s assassination, may not be laid at the doors of these frenzied declaimers?

I offer no veiled or surreptitious excuse for our armies in burning houses and barns of rich and poor, or pillaging and ruthlessly destroying the property of those whose only offense was that their sons had dared to fight for honestly held principles and their homes. Nor do I exculpate the authorities, Northern or Southern, for the needless suffering of prisoners, or for the lack of care and humanity which made Andersonville a gruesome horror and filled row after row of graves at Elmira, Chicago, and Rock Island. To the very end of our country’s history those graves will be a disgrace to South and North. No; the class I have in mind are the shrill, rabid, tongue-lashing, notoriety-craving and woe-breeding demagogues, whether born in the Northland or the Southland, who, by their rancorous, malignant speech, kindled the fires of our War. Read what appeared almost daily in the Southern press, consult the files of Congress, and mark the provocations and sometimes slanderous language in the proceedings of Abolition conventions.

So, then, fire-eaters, in dread of retributive justice for your malicious abuse of heaven-born speech; contractors, leeches, who had bled the Confederacy; and you, too, loudly-dressed hangers-on and gamblers, who infested Richmond but who had not the manliness to shoulder a gun, — catch the departing trains if you can and disappear for good and all! You made the evacuation of Richmond what it was, a disgraceful scene of terror; and when the Confederacy looks back, as I know it does, over those four troubled years, its eyes do not seek nor does its heart yearn for you, but for those self-possessed men of moral life, quiet demeanor, respectful speech, and honest convictions of the paramount rights of the state, and for the young men in the ranks who stood by its colors to the end. On them, as on the fathers and mothers whose prayers night and morning went up for the Confederacy, will it look through the misting past, with justly proud and affectionate eyes.

An occurrence is related as having taken place that Sunday night at the Danville station, which had and still has significance, — so at any rate it seems to me. And that we may note it, I will ask the reader to fancy that together we have crowded or wormed our way through the feverish multitude, till we are close to the cars in the dim, lamp-lit station. What a sea of distressed and needlessly alarmed men and women, — children are actually crying aloud, — swarming this way and that, are we in! The train, bearing Mr. Davis, the majority of his Cabinet, a car with a small amount of specie belonging to the Confederate treasury, and several coaches filled with Congressmen, distinguished personages, a clergyman or two, — think of shepherds abandoning their flocks under such circumstances! — and a few pale, sick and wounded officers and privates, has just left.

Other trains to follow are made up, their locomotives hoarsely sputtering, bursting into an impatient roar at times that drowns the babel of voices. The sinewy, middle-aged engineer, bare-headed, is leaning out of his cab, one hand on the lever, watching for the signal to be off; the young, smooth-faced fireman is ringing the bell, and sentinels, with bayonets fixed, are holding the eager, pressing mob back from the car-steps, letting only those enter who are properly authorized by superior officers.

But let us take a good look at that intent, flinty-faced, and sordid man, followed by a gang of slaves, who is forcing his way through the crowd into the presence of a sentinel. He represents the last of those creatures who dealt in his fellow mortals — at any rate that we have any knowledge of. Yes; take a good look at him, as at one of the wonders in an age of modern Christianity. His sorrowfuleyed slaves, male and female, left over from his last auction, — I hope for humanity’s sake that there was not a little black child among them, clutching nervously its mother’s hand, — are halted, and look around bewildered while he demands passage for himself and them.

The sentinel, a young man clad in gray, with that scornful and condemning look which the vocation of dealing in slaves naturally kindles, has brought his gun down, saying firmly as he bars approach to the cars, ‘Lumpkin ’ (for that is a dealer’s name), ‘there is no room in these cars for you and your gang.’ The slave-dealer remonstrates in vain, his eyes shooting flames of anger into the face of the stern, manly youth, and, at last, shamefully muttering oaths, leads off his gang. Lumpkin having gone, — gone to this world’s scrap-heap, — now scan the boy-sentinel’s face well, for in the spirit of those words and that gesture he has made the last and by far the best argument before history’s jury that the cause he loved and was willing to die for was not slavery. I do not know where fate led him, nor the number of years that fell on him, but I will guarantee that when death overtook him, his spirit on its upward flight was met by a noble company, and that in the reveries of the Confederacy his memory is green and dear.

(To be continued.)