The Sunset of the Confederacy: Ii


As the news of the evacuation spread through alleys and squalid suburbs, the scum of Richmond scented plunder, gathered, and soon gave themselves up to pillage, drunken debauch, and revelry.

In an account of his march through the city after midnight, the color-sergeant of the Eighteenth Virginia says: ‘Met a band of women going hand in hand, singing and carousing.’ The march of the last troops like troubled spectres along the dull, solitary, yellow-lighted, liquor-fumed streets, — for the civil authorities had had the barrels of whiskey and brandy rolled out of the saloons into the gutters and the heads knocked in (the scum lapped it up as it ran), — the shouts and yells of the drunken wretches resounding on all sides, the exploding magazines of forts and fired war vessels shaking the earth and hurling bursting shells on flaming arcs through the midnight sky, and at last the almost utter destruction of the fated city by incendiary fires, — all this has been recorded and by abler pens than mine.

But what a satiric contrast it was to the torchlight procession on the night Virginia cut the tender cords which bound her to the Union she had nursed. ‘A track of transparencies gleamed from Church Hill to the Exchange Hotel, and there was a vast crowd which hung on the speeches of orators speaking from balconies, imparting words of fire to the head of the column that toiled for a mile in one of the main thoroughfares of Richmond.’ And oh, wild and passion-swept multitude! hearken not to your inflaming orators, but to him who cried of old, ‘Behold I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, and I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath; and I will smite the inhabitants of this city, such as for death, to death; and such as for the sword, to the sword; and such as for the captivity, to the captivity.’

The other day, as I walked through the Capitol grounds at Richmond dwelling on its past, I happened to look up as I drew near Crawford’s celebrated monument of Washington. The setting sun had just sunk behind the roof of St. Paul’s, and golden was the west. I lifted my eyes to the rearing horse, staring with such manifest terror off over Richmond to the southwest, and Washington’s long outstretched forefinger pointing along the charger’s neck apparently to the same terrifying object, and lo! both directly toward Appomattox. As I paused involuntarily, the query rose: What does the charger see, and what is the Great Virginian, the Father of our country, pointing to? And there came a Voice hoarse and deep from the field of Appomattox saying, He is pointing to me. I said to myself, ‘What a prophetic analogue! and was the spirit of Jeremiah at Crawford’s hand?’

The sun was just peeping over the tree-tops when the last of the troops crossed Mayo’s Bridge. So, we will turn away from the scene of terror, — of Richmond in torment, — fire leaping from building to building, overhung by lumbering clouds of black smoke, away and back to where we left Lee’s army getting ready to withdraw from the lines of Petersburg.

The supply trains were started in the early Sunday afternoon, and by eight o’clock the artillery began to draw out, followed by infantry. Dawn discovered them all across the Appomattox, marching as fast as they could up the roads leading to Bevil’s Bridge. Mahone had left the Bermuda Hundred front, and it — as well as Richmond and the forts along the James — was deserted. The troops, including the cavalry whom Sheridan had defeated at Five Forks, and those who early in the morning had been cut off by the Second Corps from falling back on Petersburg, were bivouacking, forlorn and weary, beyond Namozine Creek. So passed the Army of Northern Virginia that April night, and hardly one of them got a wink of sleep.

And now, as we have set the Army of Northern Virginia in motion from Petersburg and Richmond, let that gallant soldier Theodore Lyman of Boston, on Meade’s staff, tell us what took place after Hill’s lines were broken.


‘April 2nd. 7.30. Dispatch that McCallister of 3d. div. 2d corps had captured the picket line in his front — Humphreys’, — a good deal of cheering from the right of the 2d. corps — Seymour of the 6th said to be on the south side track.

‘8.15 A.M. Dispatch that Ord and Hays (2d. div. 2d corps) have taken the line in their front. (The 19th and 20th Mass. took a work with several guns and some hundreds of prisoners.) In fact the enemy were abandoning this part of the line as fast as possible, and moving to their own right. At this time the General rode off to the left, — i. e. to the west — with myself alone, so that, for some time, I wrote his orders and despatches.

‘8.45 A.M. Sent telegraph ordering Benham to move up at once to Parke, from City Point. We found Gen. Grant in an open field, in front of Dabney’s Mill, and, after a few moments of conversation, Gen. Meade kept on to the left and followed our line of breastworks, the men of Mott’s division cheering him loudly.

9 A.M. Having notice from Mott that the enemy were double-quicking to their own right, Humphreys was directed to move with caution, as we had no supports to send him. At the Rainie house we found Gen. Humphreys. Miles’s division, having been down the plank, was returning, and was ordered up the Claiborne road, while the rest of Humphreys’s force was to move by the left flank and pass up the Boydton road. It was presumed (10 A.M.) that Sheridan and 5th. corps would be moving along the Cox and River roads, towards Petersburg, and would join our left (Miles’s div.); so a dispatch was sent him saying that Wright was moving down (south) on the Boydton plank, with Ord covering his left, while 2d. corps was moving up. Sheridan, however, turned N.W. and followed that part of the enemy that went along the Namozine road, the 5th corps being still detached under his orders. Meantime, Wright, finding that no enemy lay between him and the advancing 2d. corps, faced about and moved on Petersburg, so that his left might swing to the Appomattox, while his right should touch the left of the 24th. corps that was reaching towards the 9th.

‘Now we started for the most interesting ride that perhaps I ever had, a ride straight up the Boydton plank road, where hitherto none might go, save as prisoners of war! We passed the battery, whence came the fatal shot for poor Mills, and the entrenched line, with its abatis. Then descended to Hatcher’s Run bridge, where our men planted their flag at the first fight there. We crossed, rode up the ascent and came on the wide space of open land that surrounds the town. As we struck the rear of the column marching onward, the men broke into loud cheers which were continued all along. It was grand! We halted at 12, by the Harmon house, where Gen. Grant already was. Meantime Parke’s men were holding on gallantly to their captures, while the enemy knew their only safety lay in disputing to the utmost. One lunette was retaken by them, but the rest remained with us.

1 P.M. Gibbon took 2 enclosed redoubts by assault, after a desperate resistance, he losing heavily. They were near the plank road and were important.

‘ 1.45 P.M. Word having been received that Miles had encountered the enemy entrenched at Sutherland’s Station, Humphreys moved down the Cox road with Mott, to his assistance. Miles, however, at 3.30 attacked, flanked and routed the enemy, and took 3 guns. We took up our camp at Wall’s house at the point where the Boydton plank turns east to go towards the town.’

So then, by sunset, the exultant Army of the Potomac encompassed Petersburg, and there is no doubt it slept well. The spring-time air was balmy, the peach and cherry trees were in bloom, in runs and swales the little frogs were piping, ‘and the turtle and the crane and the swallow were observing the time of their coming’ as of old; and perhaps, who knows, through the slumbering camps, dew faintly sparkling on guns and moistening youth-tinted cheeks, guardian angels whispered to each and all, ‘Sleep deep and sleep well; for Victory, great and final Victory, is drawing near.’ At any rate when morning broke, the Army of Northern Virginia was gone, and the bridges over which it had crossed the Appomattox were on fire.

Grant, at once fathoming Lee’s design, set the army a-going with all speed up the south side of the river, and for the first time in its history, as it marched by the flower-sprinkled fields and woods (violets, liverwort, dogwoods, and cowslips were abloom), every one of its battle-torn colors was unfurled. And in a book called Stories Told by Soldiers, my friend, General Woodhall of Princeton, writes, ‘As far as the eye could reach, the curving country road was vivid with the lively but not boisterous blue and steel.’

Not long ago, starting early on a beautiful October morning, I made a trip from Petersburg to Appomattox over the roads the Confederates took. As I crossed the rumbling Pocahontas Bridge a thin veil of mist hung just above the river, cows were feeding along its low banks, — one a large, creamy yellow with spreading white spots, — and in a clump of blushing willows a sparrow was singing. The road, having cleared the mild ascent to Ettricks, which overlooks Petersburg, leads on, bordered here and there by lonely, tapering cedars, its Virginia rail fence, old and gray, masked by brushy thickets, lit up now and then by blazing leaves of tangled vines; — on, by fields with peanuts and corn in shock, through woods and woods, and by old plantations still and solemn, the dreaming silence broken every once in a while by a cow-bell’s kling, klung, klang, sometimes clear, sometimes faint, and by the soft, pensively mellow notes of migrating bluebirds;—on and on toward Bevil’s Bridge the road goes, over which the Army of Northern Virginia — our whole country’s pride now — made its last foreboding march that April morning, 1865.

About twelve or fourteen miles from Petersburg, a farmer, of large frame and stately manners, whose freshlypainted white house with open door and dahlias near it enlivens the lonely road, told that the van of the army reached there by daybreak; that from that time till the last one passed, his mother, with the servants, was engaged in preparing food for the hungry numbers; that the dooryard and the adjacent young orchard and garden were full of men resting, and that as a group of horsemen went riding by, he, a boy of thirteen, heard the soldiers say, ‘There goes Marse Robert.’

And of the man whom this boy saw Colonel Fremantle of the English army, who volunteered to serve for a time with Lee’s army, says: ‘His [Lee’s] cheeks were ruddy and his eyes had that clear light which indicates the presence of the calm, self-poised will. His beard and moustache, both grown gray, he wore short and well-trimmed, a gray uniform with no indication of rank save the stars on his collar, cavalry boots nearly to his knees, broadbrimmed gray, felt hat, which rested low on his forehead.’ Another who rode with him that morning says: ‘His seat in the saddle was erect and commanding, and he seemed to look forward to assured success in the critical movement which he had undertaken.’

What a scene for old age to dwell upon! And, since the alembic of a boy’s love and admiration is so durable and active, how meagre and blighted would be the nature that would fail in its reveries, as that morning came back, to clothe every one of those earnest, poorly-clad, and hungry soldiers, as well as the cause they fought for, in raiments of Right and Glory. Yes, as we stood by the roadside and talked, — his hound was running a fox or a rabbit in the bottom below, — my stately friend thought that the army he saw that morning was fighting for the right, and was one to be proud of; and as to the last I certainly agreed with him.

These forces, and the troops on the Hickory Road, on nearing Bevil’s Bridge, found the flooding river spread away out over its sombre and deeplywooded bottoms, so they had to strike for Goode’s Bridge, the next above on the raging stream, which then, as always after a heavy rain, boiled into the color of liquid brick-dust. Notwithstanding the long march and the frightful condition of the roads, — every stream, creek, and run was bank-high, the mud churned into mortar by the trains, and in places almost knee-deep, — Field’s division of Longstreet’s corps and Wilcox’s of Hill’s reached Goode’s by twilight and crossed over.

Ewell’s, Kershaw’s, and Custis Lee’s columns camped at Tomahawk Church, away off on the Genito Road. Darkness overtook the remnants of Pickett’s famous Gettysburg division, and the other fleeing troops, at Deep Creek on the south side of the Appomattox, and there before their camp-fires, weary, scantily rationed, and disheartened they sat, for the news of the abandonment of Richmond had reached them with its depressing and prophetic significance.

Lee himself bivouacked at Hebron Church six miles north of Goode’s Bridge, and at half-past six, concerned by learning that the pontoon which he had ordered to be laid at Genito, farther up the river, for the forces from the Richmond and James River lines to cross upon, had not been laid, sent a note by a courier to Ewell giving him the situation and directing him to move toward Goode’s.

This was the last unbroken night’s sleep of the Army of Northern Virginia, and, as before my mind’s eye its veterans lie resting at random around scattered camp-fires, I pity them, knowing, as I do, what is to befall them. And, Reader, so would you, had you in your youth contended for victory against them on the fields of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania. A clerk in the Confederate War Department, who stayed in Richmond, kept a diary, and in it recorded that there were millions of stars out that night. If so, they saw the troops in bivouac as we have placed them, and the heart of Richmond a desolate, smoking ruin, its streets deserted save by patrols and guards, — for Weitzel had already left, — its houses dark, curtains drawn and blinds closed, their inmates some in tears and all weighed down by bitter defeat.

In contrast the stars saw the homes of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston lit up brilliantly and the streets packed with cheering multitudes. The War Department proclaimed the fall of Richmond, and ordered a salute of one hundred guns to be fired at each military post in honor of the event.

The news reached Boston about 11 A.M., and the Governor of Massachusetts, Andrew, telegraphed to the Secretary of War, Stanton, “Our people by a common impulse abandon business to-day for thanksgiving and rejoicing.’ State Street was packed, the bells, including the Old North, rang for an hour at noon, and a salute was fired on the historic Common. The next day, Tuesday, a meeting was held in Faneuil Hall, and above the clock was an arch bearing the legend, ‘Stand by the work of your fathers.’ ‘ Work of your fathers! and that suggests that when the news of Cornwallis’s surrender reached Richmond in 1783, it was made known by the policemen on their beats calling out, ‘Past twelve o’clock — a starlit night — and Lord Cornwallis t-a-k-e-n!’

The Governor of Illinois, Oglesby, notified Washington; ‘We are firing salutes over the restoration of the Union, and the hearts of our people are throbbing in unison with the reverberation of Grant’s artillery. God bless Abraham Lincoln, E. M. Stanton, U. S. Grant, W. T. Sherman, Phil Sheridan, and the soldiers of the Union.'

In Philadelphia the State House bell clanged, all the fire engines came out, ringing their bells in front of Independence Hall; flags were waving, men embraced each other, courts adjourned, and schools were dismissed, and cannon boomed till night.

Champagne flowed like water, and in the clubs of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia men could be heard singing long after the millions of stars were out, ‘We’ll drink stone blind.’ The theatres were crowded, boxes, balconies, and the stages decorated with flags and bunting, and as the orchestra played the national airs, wild and still wilder were the cheers. And well might they cheer over the downfall of Richmond, and excused may they be for carousing in the clubs and hotels; yet better far were the prayers of thankfulness made on bended knees by fathers and mothers in the dimly lighted homes on the farms in the North, for their country’s deliverance, and for the prospect that their boys might be spared and come home.

But, Army of Northern Virginia, sleep on! The Confederacy’s star will hang in your country’s sky, and the day is coming when your children will rejoice in the fact that to whatsoever height of glory the reunited country rises, prouder will it and they be of you and your valor, and, above all, in those trying times to come, of that display of willingness to lay your lives down for a political principle that is the very foundation on which our whole governmental system is based. Sleep on, then, and if after the fires have died down, there be borne to your ears through the vast hush of night, not the bells of the North nor the sighs from home, but streams murmuring to the fields and the woods in which you lie, may you dream of Peace and see the land you love as it is to-day.

The courier, whom Lee sent to Ewell, rode all night but could not find him; and on regaining headquarters, the general made this postscript to the communication, and started it on its way again: —

‘April 4, 7: 30 A.M. The courier has returned with this note, having been able to hear nothing of you. I am about to cross the river. Get to Amelia Court House as soon as possible, and let me hear from you. R. E. L.’

As it is not more than nine or ten miles from Goode’s Bridge to the court house, Lee must have covered the distance by half-past eight at the latest, and there his hopes met a staggering blow, for to his utter consternation he found not a single ration for man or beast. On reporting his surrender six days later to Mr. Davis, Lee said, ‘Not finding the supplies ordered to be placed there, nearly twenty-four hours were lost in endeavoring to collect subsistence for men and horses. This delay was fatal.’

In view of the calamitous nature of the consequences due to want of supplies, as alleged by Lee, Jefferson Davis in his history of the Confederacy claims, and establishes almost beyond dispute, that no orders were given or received for rations to be sent to Amelia Court House. Notice, if you will, that Lee used the word ‘placed’ and not ‘ sent.’ The explanation of it all is found, I think, in the misapprehension of Lee’s verbal suggestion made at least a month before the evacuation, whereby quite an amount of artillery ammunition was sent to Amelia, but nothing else. It is obvious now that he meant to have supplies of all kinds placed there, anticipating his present move. In any case the CommissaryGeneral at Richmond knew or ought to have known that there were no supplies at Amelia, and as soon as he was told that the army would concentrate at that point should, without orders, have seen to it that they would meet supplies, of which he had an abundance within reach. Storehouses at Danville were crammed with them. So on his shoulders lies the responsibility for this neglect; and the momentous incident may be dismissed with this single observation, that it only adds another and striking proof of the panic which seized the authorities in Richmond, from high to low, and leads one to suspect that every one was thinking of his own personal safety, and not of the wants of the hard-tried veterans.

That Tuesday, April 4, 1865, must have been a long and harassing day to Lee. A drizzling rain was falling, and wet, tired, and famishing troops, cavalry, artillery, and infantry, were pouring in every hour, and all dumbfounded at not getting the supplies which they had been told would meet them there. Great was their disappointment, and grounds for complaint were abundant, but so far as I can learn there was nothing like mutiny or even fault-finding, and their conduct testifies convincingly of their deep and steadfast loyalty both to Lee and to their cause.

It was late in the afternoon before the rear of the divisions of Field, Wilcox, and Heth came up, but all with courage unshaken. Longstreet formed them in lines of battle east of the town, looking for a chance to strike the heads of our pursuing columns which he imagined to be immediately in the rear of MacKenzie’s cavalry who were making a bold and persistent attack.

Anderson, Wise, and Pickett, who had come up the south side with their badly disorganized, if not demoralized men, — Sheridan and the officers who report on the operations of the day all say that the resistance was feeble, the roads strewn with arms and the woods full of stragglers, — were in ragged lines along the Bevil’s Bridge Road east of Amelia, confronting Merritt’s cavalry.

The positions of the troops not yet in the vicinity of the Court House, and the progress his army had made in concentrating there, are indicated by a letter dated at nine o’clock P.M., which Lee wrote to Ewell, saying that he was very much gratified to learn of his, Ewell’s, favorable prospect of crossing the river on the railroad bridge at Mattoax, that he hoped he was safely over by that time, — the last of the column, however, did not cross till after midnight, — that Gordon who had brought up the rear of the Petersburg forces was at Scott’s shop, which is about midway from Goode’s to Amelia, and that Mahone was between Gordon and the bridge.

Lee’s headquarters were pitched in the dooryard of a house occupied by a Mrs. Smith, a refugee from Alexandria,— so we are told by that gallant confederate officer Captain Frederick M. Colsten of Baltimore; and when I stood before it last October, no troops worn down with hunger and fatigue, no jaded horses with staring eyes, drooping heads, and panting flanks, no trains, guns, or cavalry, met my eye. A saddle-horse or two stood, tied, dreaming before a store, a group of little girls wended their way to school, and intermittently a mocking-bird, in a locust tree with a blasted top, trilled joyously, and the church spires looked up into a cloudless sky.

That had been a trying day for Lee, and it must have been late when his head touched the pillow; and whether he slept or not, it was an awful and eventful night. Let the truth, and the whole truth, be known. Darkness had barely set in when the Army of Northern Virginia, the army of Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor, began to melt away. ‘At morning rollcall,’ says the historian of a Richmond battery, ‘ a number of men did not answer to their names.’ Nearly a whole company of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry left the army on the night of the fourth and fifth, so it is recorded in the regiment’s history; and there is but little doubt that all through the lone hours, singly, and in squads, men were shoaling away toward home. A member of Fitzhugh Lee’s division of cavalry tells us that, on reaching the village the following morning, Wednesday, ‘I beheld the first signs of dissolution of that grand army which had endured every hardship of march and camp with unshaken fortitude, when looking over the hills I saw swarms of stragglers moving in every direction.’

The main reason for this abandonment of the colors is not far to seek. With the fall of Richmond, hunger and want, which had long been the grim companions of the army, were joined by two figures that had dogged it from the Wilderness, and whose footsteps had been heard growing nearer and nearer since leaving Petersburg. Suddenly, as the sense came over them that the cause was lost, the poorly-clad and half-starved veterans found themselves looking into the hard, glaring eyes of the Inevitable and the Inexorable; and that look for many was decisive. There were other reasons, too, the cries from home, cries that grew louder and keener at every step they took bearing them farther away.

Reader, if you and I, worn out, spirits low from want of sleep and food, and convinced of certain defeat and probable imprisonment, had been in their places, I wonder what we should have done. Would it have been Duty’s call or the cry from home that would have determined our course? Well, it might have been the former; if so, God bless you, and here is my hand; but it might have been the latter too, for, like yourself, they were brave men. So let us be charitable to those who through the dark, mist-shrouded fields and woods stole away, and whose guns were found, some standing upright in the field with bayonets thrust into the rainsoaked ground, some leaning against fences, others against the trunks of trees. The haversacks and equipments which these men had borne with great valor on many a field were scattered here, there, and everywhere; now and then one was left dangling on a bough, in testimony of the wearer’s affection. It was told me that a cavalryman or cannoneer, — I have forgotten which, — after leaving his horse that night, stumbled on a shock of fodder, picked up an armful and carried it back to his dumb companion, and then they parted, forever. But how about those who stood faithful? Garlands, garlands, for every one of them, say I.

In the forenoon of Wednesday all the surplus artillery was assembled under command of General Walker, and, after a number of caissons were destroyed, struck off on the road leading toward Farmville. It was not till one o’clock that Lee, with Longstreet at his side, put himself at the head of the infantry—Ewell’s and Custis Lee’s columns had not yet got up — and started for Jetersville, some eight or ten miles below Amelia. The troops were preceded by W. H. F. Lee’s division of cavalry, which, on approaching the station, found itself plump up against Sheridan who, as early as half-past four on the day before, had thrown Crook’s division of cavalry across the line of retreat at that point, and by dark had reinforced it with the Fifth Corps. During the night these forces had built a strong line of works, and Lee’s cavalry was not strong enough fully to develop Sheridan’s position or his strength. While information was sought from the neighboring farmers as to roads and the lay of the land, Lee held a long conference with Longstreet, and the afternoon melted away. And now let the narrative turn and give as rapid an account as may be of the marches which had brought Lee to check.


As soon as Mr. Lincoln at City Point heard that Petersburg was ours, he hurried thither; and on meeting Grant, who had awaited his coming before following the army, grasped and held his hand, as his eyes and warm heart poured out their thanks. Grant, meanwhile, had told Sheridan that, ‘The first object of the present movement will be to intercept Lee’s army, and the second to secure Burkeville,’ which, as any one can see who consults a map of the field of operation, was a vital point in case Johnston had an understanding with Lee to hurry forward from North Carolina and join their forces.

Sheridan replied, — he did not get Grant’s dispatch till 1: 45 P.M., — ‘ Before receiving your dispatch I had anticipated the evacuation of Petersburg and had commenced moving west. My cavalry is nine miles beyond Namozine Creek, and is pressing the enemy’s trains. I shall push on to the Danville Road as rapidly as possible.’

Spurred on by Sheridan’s contagious intensity, his cavalry dogged the retreating Confederates fiercely throughout the livelong day. At 4 P.M. he sent word to Grant,—Sheridan was then at Namozine Church, — ‘The enemy threw their ammunition on the sides of the road and into the woods, and then set fire to the fences and woods through which the shells were thrown. The woods are strewn with burning and broken-down caissons, ambulances, wagons and débris of all descriptions. Up to this hour we have taken about 1200 prisoners of A. P. Hill’s corps, and all accounts report the woods filled with deserters and stragglers.’

When night fell, that flaming and relentless soldier had his headquarters at the home of a Mrs. Cousins on the lefthand side of the road leading to Amelia Court House, having covered at least half the way to the point he was aiming for on the Danville Road to head off Lee. His cavalry, the troopers of the valley, now joyous and confident, were some miles in advance at Deep Creek, a sluggish stream, beyond which toiled on their disorganized and downcast enemy. Behind our cavalry lay the Fifth Corps and, stretching away behind it on the Namozine River Road, was Humphreys with the Second, and then the Sixth. Ord followed by Parke had taken the railroad and was bivouacking at Wilson’s Station, while Grant and Meade had pitched their headquarter tents at Sutherlands. This was Monday night.

At eight o’clock, possibly about the hour Lee at Hebron Church was wording his note to Ewell, Sheridan was writing his orders to the unpretentious, big-hearted Crook to move at three, and to the tall, surly-looking, and stalking-gaited Griffin to move at 5 A.M., for Jetersville, a station named for a celebrated Baptist clergyman, about half-way between Burkeville and Amelia Court House.

When the morning of the second day (Tuesday) of the pursuit broke, Meade took the road Sheridan was on, and Grant went with Ord, who was aiming for Burkeville. It was a heavily overcast and drizzling day, the rain at times breaking into showers, drenching men, fields, and woods. I am inclined to think that that day, and the day which followed it, were the crucial days of the campaign. Speed now was everything, but the streams rose and had to be bridged, the water stood in pools in the low places and tussocky swales, and the mud in the road deepened, churned at last into mortar knee-deep so that the wheels were up to the hub, and it was almost impossible to move the trains, which in their hurry had doubled up, the poor exhausted floundering animals blocking the way. Miles and miles had to be corduroyed for them; but on, regardless of weather, the water spurting from their shoes at every step, and rain dripping from the soaked brims of their hats, went the gallant infantry. Never, never did coming events so breathe on an army as on the Army of the Potomac that day. Sometime about noon the news came that Richmond had fallen, that the stars and stripes were waving over the capitol, and the columns broke into long and mighty cheers, that rang through woods and fields.

Sheridan, meanwhile, was hastening on to Jetersville. Crook, the brave, the simple-hearted, reached there about three in the afternoon, and threw his division across the road, interrupting a stream of men, hungry and low-spirited, fleeing homeward from Lee’s army. Sheridan, himself, joined his able division commander an hour later, and by the time the sun was setting, Griffin, grim as an old eagle, having marched nearly thirty miles, came in sight and took position on the right and left of the cavalry, and at once went to work throwing up a line of breastworks.

While these moves of Sheridan so fatal to Lee were being made, Mackenzie, Merritt, and Custer, my friends of cadet days, all now asleep, and God bless their ashes, were crowding Anderson, Pickett, Wise, and Fitzhugh Lee back with such vigor on Amelia that Lee thought that the infantry of the Army of the Potomac was right behind them, and arrayed his forces, under the valiant Longstreet, to meet them, losing thereby most valuable time.

Meanwhile Meade’s and Ord’s columns were pushing on. At seven o’clock, — the storm had passed, and in the overarching dome the glittering constellations marched, looking down who knows with what absorbing interest, — Sheridan wrote to Meade,—

‘The rebel army is in my front, three miles distant, with all its trains. If the Sixth Corps can hurry up we will have sufficient strength. I will hold my ground unless I am driven from it. I understand that Humphreys is just after the Fifth Corps. My men are out of rations, and some rations should follow quickly. Please notify General Grant.

‘ P. S. The enemy are moving from Amelia Court House via Jetersville and Burke’s Station to Danville. Jeff Davis passed over this railroad yesterday to Danville.’

This dispatch reached Meade’s headquarters at the house of a Mr. Jones, on the east side of Deep Run, at a quarter of eleven. He was quite unwell and after it had been read to him he retired, but sent for Sheridan’s staff officer, the brave Colonel Newhall, and asked him as to the situation and what Sheridan said about it. In effect Newhall’s report was that Lee could be balked, and if Meade would forsake everything but arms and ammunition and at any sacrifice hurry forward and join Sheridan, Lee would have to surrender. Meade forwarded the dispatch to Grant, who was in camp at Wilson’s Station on the South Side Road, telling him that Humphreys was partly across the run, that his men had been moving, working on the roads, and standing for fourteen hours, and were out of rations, — the cavalry on the right had cut across to the left intercepting his march during the afternoon, — that in a general order for him and all the troops to move at 3 A.M. he had said,—

‘The Major-General commanding feels he has but to recall to the Army of the Potomac the glorious success of the oft-repeated gallant contests with the Army of Northern Virginia, and when he assures the army that, in the opinion of so distinguished an officer as General Sheridan, it only requires these sacrifices to try and bring the long and desperate conflict to a triumphant issue, the men of this army will show that they are willing to die of fatigue and starvation as they have ever shown themselves ready to fall by the bullets of the enemy.’

When, after midnight, the tired, wet, and hungry men were aroused by the pealing bugles and heard Meade’s order, they broke into cheers and took up the line of march. And that on this narrative may fall the glow of the spirit of the army, and for the sake of the chords of sympathy which bind us all, let it be told that men whose shoes had given out wrapped cloths around them and, smiling over their own appearance, at the command, ‘Forward!’ stepped off with their comrades. Others who were wounded refused to stay in the hospitals and rejoined their regiments, nursing their wounds only when the troops halted. We cannot account for this inspiring zeal and fortitude unless we realize that up and down the high valleys of the mind God’s heralds were blowing their trumpets; trumpets that stir the hearts of men and have been heard down the ages, and lo! the generations had prophets: religion, literature, poetry, and glory.

Humphreys’ Second Corps moved between one and two o’clock without food; Wright with the Sixth got to Deep Run at seven, his men having come on, like those of Humphreys, rationless. The former reached Jetersville at half-past three, and took positions on the right and left of Griffin. About 6 P.M., the advance of the evergallant Sixth Corps, the flags unfurled which it had carried on so many fields with valor, bore up, marching strongly. This was Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in fact, the day had barely begun. Sheridan, determined to find out what Lee was up to, seeing that he did not attack, sent a brigade of cavalry under Davies to Lee’s right. At Paine’s cross-roads, some five or six miles west of Amelia, Davies struck a train of wagons and artillery, several miles long, heading towards Rice’s Station on the road running to Lynchburg, and captured five pieces of artillery, a number of prisoners, several hundred wagons, and eight or nine battle-flags.

Fitzhugh Lee, Dearing, and Gary attacked him viciously as he withdrew, but Sheridan advancing several brigades of cavalry to his aid, he was able to bring in his telltale captures, although not without losing some heroic fellows. Shortly after the return of Davies a Negro was led in, bearing a brief note given him by a Confederate officer, which ran as follows, —

April 5, 1865.
DEAR MAMMA: Our army is ruined, I fear. We are all safe as yet. Shyron left us sick. John Taylor is well; saw him yesterday. We are in line of battle this evening. General Robert Lee is in the field near us. My trust is still in the justice of our cause and that of God. General Hill is killed. I saw Murray a few moments since. Bernard Terry [he] said was taken prisoner, but may get out. I send this by a negro I see passing up railroad to Mecklenburg. Love to all.
Your devoted son,

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, and it is easy to read in this letter the despair that had come over the Army of Northern Virginia.

At three o’clock Sheridan sent a dispatch to Grant, inclosing the above letter and reporting Davies’s operations, adding, ‘I wish you were here yourself. I feel confident of capturing the Army of Northern Virginia if we exert ourselves. I see no escape for Lee.’


While the scout to whom this dispatch was intrusted makes his way to Grant who was some twenty miles distant with Ord heading for Burkeville, let us go to the side of his great antagonist, whose advance, when the narrative left him, had come up with sudden check against Sheridan’s entrenched lines at Jetersville, Griffin being athwart the railroad on a ridge crowned with an open oak wood, Humphreys on his right, and the cavalry on his left.

No one whom Lee sent to reconnoitre these lines brought back a single hope of carrying them: they were too grimly strong, and, moreover, the stiff bearing on the part of the skirmishers in front of them told the story of what the attacking soldiers would meet from the men behind them; in other words, that Sheridan was ready to play the desperate game of battle. Notwithstanding, however, had Lee had all of his army there, I have no doubt that he would have assaulted; but Ewell was not up, in fact he had barely reached Amelia. So Lee’s fighting spirit had to yield, and he decided to move toward Farmville. He owed all this to Sheridan, who, that day, and on to the end, was the lion in his way.

Longstreet tells us that ‘no orders came, the afternoon was passing, further delay seemed perilous, I drew the command off and filed to the right to cross Flat Run to march to Farmville. The infantry, trains, and artillery followed, and kept the march up until a late hour.’

Lee bivouacked at Amelia Springs, and I do not know how that great man felt that night, but trust that, like Griffin’s, his camp was in an open oak wood, that the ground sloped away gently, that every wandering south wind breathed sweetly through the tree tops, and that sleep fell softly over his thwarted, troubled mind.

At five o’clock in the afternoon — about the hour probably when Longstreet started his trains and artillery — Grant was at Notaway Court House and notified Meade: —

Ord has covered fifteen miles today to reach here, and is going on. He will probably reach Burkeville tonight. My headquarters will be with the advance.
Lieutenant General.

Toward sundown Sheridan’s intrepid and more-than-once-tried scout, Campbell, wearing the uniform of a Confederate officer, his horse in a lather, emerged from the woods on the right of Ord’s marching column and, on being taken to Grant, handed him Sheridan’s dispatch, written on tissue paper and rolled up in a pellet covered with tinfoil. Grant as soon as he read it dismounted — he was riding ‘Jeff Davis,’ a middle-sized, stocky, black pony; those who served at headquarters will remember the fast-pacing little fellow well — and, with the saddle for a rest, wrote a message to Ord. He then mounted Cincinnati, his high, thorough-bred bay, — how proudly he stood, ears alert, that second day at Spottsylvania when his rider and all headquarters were under fire, — and, with Campbell in the lead, set off through the dark, tangled woods, now up narrow lanes, now by lone barns, on past unlighted houses where the watchdog alone was awake, and, once more, across gray, night-mantled fields for Jetersvilie. ‘I wish you were here yourself,’ Sheridan had said, and that was enough; no distance, fatigue, or darkness could be so great or so deep as to stay the quiet and mighty-hearted Grant from answering the call.

It was well past ten o’clock when he reached Sheridan at the Childres House near the railroad, and, after hearing how things stood, sent a note to Meade saying, ‘I would go over to see you this evening but I have ridden a long distance to-day. Your orders directing an attack to-morrow morning will hold in the absence of others, but it is my impression that Lee will retreat during the night and, if so, we will pursue with vigor.’

That Lee withdrew as Grant predicted, we already know. And now we hope that after all that day’s work was done, this modest, true, magnanimous man had, like Lee and Griffin, a bed under towering oaks; that sleep, sweet sleep, came to him as I trust it came to them, and that every night wind breathed of the days to come, and he saw visions of his country moving upward in splendor and glory.

The road from Amelia Springs by which the weary, sleep-longing, hungry, yet dauntless Confederate army, moved toward Rice’s Station and Farmville is narrow, winding, and lonely; one that never before that fatal day had seen a battle-flag, heard the clattering march of cavalry or felt the heavy tread and jar of thundering guns. Nor had it ever dreamed of the sounds it was to hear before the sun went down: the shriek of disemboweled horses, the piercing cries of the wounded, and the faint, intermittent, muttering, delirious speech of the dying. No, it had heard the voices of Peace only: care-free Negroes singing in adjacent fields as they ploughed, hoed, and stacked the ripened grain; wagons chuckling happily under their loads of cotton and tobacco, wheat and corn for the mill; carriages rolling softly to and from the country churches, and now and then the natural glee of a light-hearted, whistling boy. It is bordered for long reaches by unfenced woods of haggard pines and brushy oaks, which rise scornfully above a dense undergrowth. On leaving Amelia Springs it shuns the frequent tributaries of Flat Creek by swerving around their swampy heads up among billowing, cultivated uplands creased by many ravines, the cradles of living streams, along whose thickety banks wild plums and azaleas bloom and redbirds build their nests.

The soaking rains of a few days past had made the road very soft, and the heavy trains and cavalry soon so cut up the low places that they were almost impassable. It is tiresome enough to march all night on good broad roads, but from marching over a narrow one like this, crowded with stalled trains, and packed with men whose hearts are bowed down, spare us, good Lord!

So through fields alternating with woods the road goes on, and after a while comes to Deatonsville, a hamlet of three or four houses. There, after crossing the historic Genito Road, one of Virginia’s oldest highways, it loiters along as before till it gets well over Sandy Creek, when it bends southwestward. About a mile and a half this side of Sailor’s Creek, another road sets off to the right, running northwest, skirting the creek’s timbered shoulders till, with the stream, it is almost within sight of the Appomattox, when it turns abruptly toward the setting sun and, plunging down into the valley, crosses the creek at a bridge and several fords.

The main road, after the other leaves it, changes a little more to the southward and soon catches the light of the eastern boundary of the Captain Hillsman Plantation, which slopes into the narrow valley of Sailor’s Creek. Just before reaching the house, it passes, and I think reverentially, the old graveyard where lie the gallant Captain’s ancestors under moaning pines, then by the dooryard it goes into the creek’s shelving, scored-out valley which, from bluff to bluff, if the shouldering sides may be called bluffs, is six or eight hundred yards wide. The stream itself is at the foot of the western bluff, and is not very large or very deep, but has very miry banks planted densely with willow, wild rose, and alder, and gilded richly on the margins with tufted cowslip.

At the time of the retreat the creek was high and well out of its treacherous banks. The road crosses it on a low rickety bridge opposite the mouth of a considerable ravine which reaches up to the timber on the west side, the birthplace of a cherished and singing little brook. It then turns to the left, and at once begins to mount diagonally the right bank, through scattering wild plums and young pines whose roots are beneath quilts of daisies and broom grass, which were stained that afternoon by much rare and gallant blood.

If you look over your left shoulder as you mount the road, the valley of the creek, and the old Hillsman homestead, with its big chimney and venerable dooryard, evergreens, and all the sloping fields greet your eye. Having gained the top of the ridge, the road disappears in a forest stippled with dogwoods and now and then blazing with an azalea, and through them wanders on to Rice’s Station, some four or five miles away.

Perhaps we have dwelt with too much particularity and too long on this road. But that was a crucial day of the great war between the States, and on this road, as a whole, and for the last time, marched the Army of Northern Virginia. Here, too, as the sun was going down, the Confederacy, under Sheridan’s mortal wounds, sighed out its last hope. Moreover, this was the scene of much valor and much suffering; and I think, dear friend, were you to sit down beside it, and in the silence let your mind dwell upon the past, the old road would unburden itself to you as it did to me; for I know right well that you are a true, kind-hearted man, one to whom old highways, church-spires, and battlefields would love to tell their memories and to talk, as the evening shadows deepen around you, of life’s strange, immortal, and fruitful mysteries.

Well, then, such is the general character of the road Lee’s army took, hoping to pass around Grant’s left on Thursday, the sixth. It is probable that Longstreet got back to it from Sheridan’s and Meade’s fronts at Jetersville toward midnight.

(To be continued.)