The Sunset of the Confederacy: Viii


AND now, as Lee sits there by the roadside with those two earthy, incarnated spirits frustrated, we find the reason why nothing Longstreet can say assuages his troubled mind; and why the idea of surrender is so galling.

Inasmuch as these spirits were not frustrated by Grant, but primarily and inexorably by our country’s destiny, in this lies the significance of Lee’s fortune. Oh Fate! you never drew a harder lot than that you drew for him. For he did not believe in Slavery at all; In fact, to him it was repulsive, and an institution antagonistic to the South’s ultimate political weal; yet you put him at the head of the last struggle between Slavery and Freedom in this world!

This speculation as to the temperamental and ingrained qualities of Lee may be wide of the mark; but I think not; for, as sure as we live, such lofty pride and burning enthusiasm are what we have a right to expect when the sterling in human character rings true. This, at least, we know indisputably, that the one thing he dreaded, and was ready to lay his life down rather than submit to, was humiliation; and let us be thankful that a place has been provided in human breasts for that kind of pride, a pride which rebels at abasement and — what is almost as intolerable — patronizing, sniffing condescension, come from whomsoever, or how, it may. And while you and I, Reader, may not even dream of putting ourselves in the company of the great, yet, in so far as we have that virtue and show it when we should, we claim, with uncovered heads in their presence, a common brotherhood.

And now, before the narrative journeys on, one final word as to Lee. Had the war ended favorably for the South, he would inevitably have been called upon and forced to head a government which, however victorious, in the very nature of things could not have enjoyed peace. For so long as Slavery existed, it would have had its implacable enemies; and sooner or later, torn by internal dissensions, the Border States would, one after another, on account of commercial advantages, have deserted the Confederacy; and it is a question whether Lee’s fame, military and political, would not have been left a sad wreck. But be this as it may, the failure of the Confederacy broke the heartstrings of thousands of high-minded Southerners, and I believe that it broke Lee’s very heart itself, and the wonder is that death did not come sooner.

Conversation between Longstreet and Lee as to Grant’s prospective terms continued in broken sentences till Babcock was seen approaching, and then, as Lee still seemed apprehensive of humiliating demands, Longstreet suggested to him that in that event he should break off the interview and tell Grant to do his worst. The thought of another round seemed to brace him, and he rode with Colonel Marshall to meet the Union commander. So closes Longstrcet’s account of that incident. Lee directed Marshall to find a suitable house for the conference, and he chose McLean’s, the best in the town, a brick building with elms and locusts about it, and rose-bushes blooming on the lawn. With a cool, inviting veranda, it stood facing west, the last in the village.

Marshall sent his orderly back to notify Lee, and he and Babcock soon were seated in the parlor, the left-hand room as you enter the hall. Meanwhile, Traveller’s humane groom removed his bit, and he began to nip the fresh springing grass in the dooryard, while Babcock’s orderly sat mounted out in the road, to notify Grant on his arrival. Ord, Sheridan, Custer, Griffin, and with him my friend Merrill, and their staffs, were up the road, only a few hundred yards away, and in full view.

Grant, after dispatching Babcock, mounted at once and followed the Walker’s Church Road till he came to the La Grange Road. This he took to the left, and then struck down across Plain Run to the Lynchburg Road. As he passed the left of the First New York Dragoons, some one shouted, ‘There comes General Grant.’

He rode directly to Sheridan’s group, saying as he drew rein, ‘How are you, Sheridan ? ’

‘First-rate,thank you,how are you?’ replied Sheridan, with an expressive smile; and then he told Grant what had happened, and that he believed it was all a ruse on the part of the Confederates to get away.

But Grant answered that he had no doubt of the good faith of Lee, and asked where he was.

‘In that brick house,’ responded Sheridan.

‘Well, then, we’ll go over,’ said Grant; and asked them all to go along with him.

This must have been about one o’clock, for Lyman says that ‘at, 2:20 Colonel Kellogg, Sheridan’s chief commissary, accompanied by a member of Lee’s staff, brought a note from Grant to Meade to suspend hostilities.'

Cincinnati, sired by the King of the Turf, Lexington, with his delicate ears, high and thoroughbred port, led the way, and at his side was Rienzi, carrying Sheridan. For some reason or other, perhaps because as a boy I played with the colts on the old home farm, those horses, from the day I saw Grant on Cincinnati and Sheridan on Rienzi in the Wilderness, have seemed like acquaintances to me; and now it pleases my fancy to put them with Traveller in a pasture, far, far beyond the reach of thundering guns or lamenting bugles, — a pasture that remains eternally green.

As Grant mounted the steps and entered the hall, Babcock, who had seen his approach, opened the door. Sheridan, Ord, and the other officers remained outside and took seats on two benches, one on either side of the door, and the steps of the veranda.

Grant, about five feet eight inches tall, his square shoulders inclined to stoop, was without a sword, wore a soldier’s dark-blue flannel blouse, displaying a waistcoat of like material, and ordinary top-boots with trousers inside. Boots and clothing were spattered with mud, and, in his memoirs, with his usual unstudied frankness, he says, ‘In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private, with the straps of a lieutenant-general [bullion-bordered rectangles, holding on their ground of black velvet one large and two smaller stars], I must have contrasted strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high, and of faultless form. But this was not a matter that I thought of until afterwards.'

Never was a great man less sell-conscious than he, though, as I have observed elsewhere, while at the head of the Army of the Potomac, he maintained his dignity day in and day out, without charging the air of his headquarters with the usual pompous military fuss. This I know from experience, and although I was a mere boy, had he shown any affectations I believe I should have noticed them.

The kind and cut of his beard, deepbrown in shade, the way his hair lay, and the outline of his face, are familiar; but his eyes, so charitably direct, and his voice, so softly vibrant, veracious and sweet, must have been seen and heard to be duly appreciated. Under the depths of his quiet and modest reserve, lay a persistent and intense doggedness of purpose, as prompt and unconquerable as Lee’s pride and burning enthusiasm. And thus strangely balanced, stood those types and creations of American society of their generation, facing each other.

‘ Grant greeted Lee very civilly,’ says Marshall; and I have no doubt that he and his superb kinsman and chief at once felt the charm of that gentle, inflexible composure which every crowned head of the world, who afterward met him, felt and remarked upon.

Lee said to Grant, with his customary urbanity, that he remembered him well in the old army; to which Grant, with his usual modesty, replied that he remembered him perfectly, but thought it unlikely that he had attracted Lee’s attention sufficiently to be remembered after such a long interval.

Lee soon found himself in a stream of pleasant reminiscence with Grant about the Mexican War; and it could not have been otherwise, for there was something so quietly companionable in Grant’s manner that every one whom he met informally and socially always joined him in his unpremeditated talk. And I think I can see Lee’s brown, vigilant eyes kindle with inquisitive wonder as, in the course of their conversation, they fell on him. The same wonder had been in Meade’s and every old officer’s eyes, save Sherman’s, since Grant’s star broke through its dark eclipse. Here stood the man whose marvelous career had started wave after wave of camp-gossip in both armies, — the hero of Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, — now about to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, and leave a name shining unchallenged and unclouded at the climax of the war; and yet, in the full glow of this impending fame, mild, unconscious of self, and unpretentious.

It was Lee who finally had to remind Grant of the object of their meeting and suggest that he put his terms in writing, — another proof of Grant’s inherent delicacy, which made him reluctant to broach a painful subject.

Grant asked for his manifold orderbook and, on receiving it, took a seat, at the little centre-table and rapidly, with only a single momentary pause, wrote his terms. He says that when he put his pen to its task, he did not know the first word he should make use of in writing. The terms were as follows: —

APPOMATTOX CT, H., VA., April 9, 1865. GENERAL R. E. LEE,

Commanding C. S. A.

GENERAL: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly [exchanged], and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles, and the laws in force where they may reside.

Very respectfully,

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.

When he came to the end of the sentence closing with ‘appointed by me to receive them,’ he raised his eyes, and they fell on Lee’s lion-headed, stately sword, and then he wrote, ‘This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers nor their private horses.’ Grant probably thought of Traveller, and the pang it would give him to part with Cincinnati were he in Lee’s place.

It is needless for me to point out the significance of the last sentence, binding as it did the passions, and pledging the honor, of his country. In short , it meant that there should be no judicial bloodshed, no gibbets, and no mourning exiles. These terms, in the light of all that might have happened after the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, which took place within five days of the surrender, lent elevation, repose, and dignity to humanity, and, I have no doubt, the eyes of the country’s guardian angel welled with tears of joy.

Grant finishes the terms, rises, goes to Lee and hands him the open orderbook. Remaining seated, Lee lays it on the table beside him and with deliberation takes out his spectacles and adjusts them. Slowly and carefully he reads line after line. All eyes are on Lee. A hush, silent as death, prevails. And lo! a storm-beaten figure is at the door, haggard and in ravaged garmentss. It is easy to read in her face that it was once the playground of passion; it is easy to see the ashes of burned-out hopes in those blood-shot but once soaring eyes; and it is easy to see, too, where care has ploughed deeply her once rose-blooming cheeks. With lean hand and long, trembling finger, her eyes flashing the urgency of immmediate compliance, she beckons imperatively across the room to Destiny. With his still and inevitably onward step he makes his way toward her. Clutching him close, she whispers in quick, feverish breath, ‘What paper is that he is reading?’

‘Who are you?’ Destiny asks, fixing his cold gray eyes on her.

‘I am the Spirit of Four Years Ago. It was I who made their capitals ring as state after state left the Union, I who fired the first shot at Sumter. It was I who beat the Long Roll at every crossroad and before every door of the Southland. Awake, awake! Come back, come back, oh, drum-throbbing days! But what paper is that he is reading? I am persuaded there must be something dire in it, for I hear the bell in my breast sounding a knell.’

‘Those are Grant’s terms for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.’

‘Stop him! stop him!’ screamed the spirit wildly.

Destiny shook his head; she staggered backward, death rattled in her throat. But, as she was about to fall, Charity put her kindly arms about her and then, stroking her tired brow, led her away.

Barely have they cleared the door when another figure appears, gaunt, blood-stained, reeking of the lair, with inveterate malice in his hard, hard face. He needs no Plutonic herald to proclaim him Revenge. But see that darkening frown on the noble countenance of Magnanimity as he approaches the newcomer and asks in subdued tones, loaded with reproach, ‘What are you doing here?’

‘What does Grant mean,’ growled the figure, ‘by giving such terms to these God-damned rebels!’

’Rebels, God-damned rebels!’ exclaimed Magnanimity; ‘why, they are kith and kin! sons of Washington, Jefferson, Marshall, Madison, and Pinckney! Oh, you miscreant!’

He seized Revenge and flung him far; and great Nature approvingly allowed his crunching bones to break her silence as he fell on the jagged cliffs of Hate. Courage and Manliness greeted their brother proudly as he reëntered the door, and Mercy, ‘the sweetest virtue ever ascribed to God or man,’ walked up to him and, lifting her smiling face, put her hand in his.

When Lee came to the end he raised his eyes, looked at Grant, and remarked, ‘This will have a very happy effect upon my army,’

Grant then said he would have the terms copied in ink, unless he had some suggestions to make. Lee replied, one only, — that the cavalry and artillerymen owned their own horses, and he would like to understand whether or not they would be allowed to retain them. Grant told him the terms as written would not allow of this, but, as he thought this was about the last of the war, he would instruct the officers in carrying them out to allow every one claiming to own a horse or a mule to take the animal to his home, so that they could put in a crop to tide them through the next winter, which he feared might be one of want and suffering, owing to the wide devastation.

Lee is reported to have said then, ‘This will have the best possible effect upon the men. It will be very gratifying, and will do much toward conciliating our people.’

When on my visit to Appomattox last autumn, I had proof of Lee’s prophecy from the lips of one of Virginia’s well-bred matrons, the wife of Colonel Abbitt, who commanded a regiment in Wise’s brigade. During a call of respect to her and her mildfaced, battle-tried husband (we were on the porch; before us a long-stemmed red dahlia was in bloom, the shadows of venerable oaks mottled the sward, and the old plantation lay dreaming), she said, with gentle voice, ‘I never like to hear our people speak unkindly of Grant, for the armies had stripped us of everything we had in the way of food, and I think the supplies we got from the officers he left saved us from almost starving. No, I never like to hear any one abuse Grant.’

The terms were put in writing by Colonel Parker of Grant’s staff, a fullblooded Indian, a chief of the historic Six Nations, whose empire England, in the early days, had recognized. Parker’s stature was imposing — he was as tall as Lee and heavier; his eyes were coal-black, and his face had the broad commanding features of his race. He carried the table which Grant had used to the opposite corner of the room, and Colonel Marshall, a son of Lee’s sister, and a gentleman through and through, let him have his small boxwood inkstand and pen.

While Parker was copying the terms, Ord, Sheridan, Rawlins, and others, were presented to Lee, but the only one whom he greeted with any cordiality was Seth Williams; to the others he bowed formally. When Williams, with his usual spontaneous spirit of comradeship, referred to something amusing that had happened during their service together at West Point, one as adjutant, the other as superintendent, Lee’s only response was a slight inclination of the head.

A paraphrase of what Grant says in his memoirs of Lee and his manner at this interview, may be pertinent: namely, that Lee was a man of much dignity, and with a face so impassive that Grant did not know the character of his feelings, and that, whatsoever they may have been, they were entirely concealed from observation. He goes on to say: ‘My own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst, for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of those who were opposed to us.’

The cause which Grant had in mind was obviously Slavery, and, while it was the primal cause of the war, yet the people of the South did not lay down their lives in defense of the right to buy and sell human beings, and to charge them now with that offense is to my mind basely calumnious. No; Slavery, as a lawfully acknowledged institution, went up with the smoke of the first house that was burned, and the animating principle then, and to the end, was the defense of home and of the rights of the states to govern themselves.

While the terms were being copied, Lee told Grant that he had a number of prisoners whom he should be glad to release, as he had no provisions for them or his own men, who had been living for the last few days on parched corn and what they could gather along the route. Grant asked him to send the prisoners within his lines, and said that he would take steps at once to have Lee’s army supplied, but was sorry to say that he was entirely without forage for the animals. An inquiry as to the number of men to be fed Lee was unable to answer, and Grant asked, ‘ Suppose I send over twenty-five thousand rations, will that be enough? ’

‘More than enough,’replied Lee.

Grant directed Morgan, his chief commissary, to see that Lee’s army was fed.

By this time the terms were copied, and when they were signed it was about half-past two or three o’clock. Lee shook hands with Grant, bowed to the other officers, and left the room. Colonel Paine of Ord’s staff says: ‘As Lee came out of the room, and stopped for a moment in the doorway, those of us on the porch arose and complimented him with the usual salute to a superior officer. He seemed pleased at this mark of respect and, looking to the right and the left, he raised his own hat in recognition of the attention. As he drew on a pair of apparently new gloves, he stood so close to me that his initials, worked in white silk on the guard of the gauntlet, were plainly observed.’

Having signaled for his horse, Lee stood on the lowest step of the veranda while the groom was rebridling him, and from time to time, his eyes resting on the leaning fields spotted by the colors of the army he had just surrendered, he smote his gauntleted hands together unconsciously. When Traveller was led up, he mounted him at once. Grant then stepped down from the veranda and, as he passed Lee, touched his hat. Lee returned the salute and rode away. Marshall says that, if General Grant and the officers who were present at the McLean house had studied how not to offend, they could not have borne themselves with more good breeding.


On Lee’s departure, General Grant mounted Cincinnati and, having ridden some distance, dismounted on being reminded that he had not notified the War Department, called for pencil and paper, and telegraphed Stanton briefly that the Army of Northern Virginia had surrendered to him on terms proposed by himself. He then remounted and went to his headquarters, which meanwhile had been pitched on a knoll a mile or so up the road toward Appomattox Station.

When I visited the spot, on that misty morning already referred to, the ground about was covered almost kneehigh with a stubble of tall, intermatted coarse grass and weeds, chiefly asters, with stunted white blossoms. Crawling here and there up through the grass and to the mist-drenched tops of the weeds, were vines like morningglories, with now and then on their wavering stems a single bell-shaped, pink flower. The field, a pretty large one, declines to the east, and in the rising one beyond, a pasture dotted with trees and colonies of young sassafras and persimmon, stood an old deserted tobacco-house veiled in the mist. A herd of cattle, twenty or more, with bells of different tones, was grazing toward the south.

Almost as soon as Grant reached his headquarters, the trains carrying rations started on their humane mission, and with them went a hamper from Custer to his classmate ‘Gimlet’ Lee, colonel of a North Carolina regiment, and its historian says that Lee invited some of his officers to join him at luncheon. By the time the order announcing the surrender was promulgated, the rations were being issued. It was then nearly four o’clock.

Joy overflowed every heart of the Army of the Potomac when it was officially told that Lee’s army had surrendered. Men threw their hats in the air and cheered themselves hoarse, bands played, and officers, young and old, embraced each other, not in exultation over their foe, but because, at last, after four long years in defense of their country, the end had come — victory with healing on its wings.

The official news reached Meade on Humphreys’s front at five o’clock. Major Pease was the bearer of the happy tidings. Webb, Meade’s chief of staff, at once led three cheers with swinging hat, and then three more for Meade, who of all men should have been present at the McLean house. He had been unwell and, for a good share of the day, had lounged in an ambulance; but on receipt of the joyful news he mounted his horse and, preceded by a bugler sounding triumphantly to clear the way, rode down through his men whom he had led so long and so well; and Lyman, who was riding at his side, records that the color-bearers brought up their flags and waved them, and that the patient, silent old Army of the Potomac burst into a frenzy of excitement, rushing to the sides of the road and shouting till his very ears rang with the cheering.

Pretty soon Wright ordered the heroic, brown-eyed Cowan, a man of noticeable presence and stature, whose ancestors brought him a child from the land of Wallace and Bruce, to fire a national salute. The guns began to roar, and Bernard of Petersburg, author of an interesting book entitled, War Talks of Confederate Veterans, who was on furlough, says that as he and his party, on their return, jogged along near Amherst Court House, the sound of distant artillery from the direction of Appomattox Court House reached their ears. ‘But there was an ominous regularity in the firing of the guns.’ The guns were Cowan’s, and Grant, as soon as he heard them, sent orders forbidding salutes. Nature has her mysteries, and she has carefully hidden her final purposes from the ken of men, but in one respect she has been benignantly open and wise, — she has left the traits of the gentleman unmistakable to us all.

Lee, on riding back from the McLean house, established his headquarters for the afternoon by the roadside in the orchard. Now there is only a tree or two left on the southeasterly sloping field.

W. W. Blackford, in the appendix to the second volume of Memoirs of the War, a rare and valuable book,1 says that his command, the Engineer Brigade, under the refined and scholarly Tallcott, was camped near by in the orchard. Blackford records: —

‘There were many details about the surrender demanding attention, one of which was securing rations for the army from General Grant’s supplies, and officers were going and coming all day. General Lee’s staff were bivouacked in the shade of an apple tree near the road, and there Colonel Taylor or Colonel Venable received all visitors. General Lee was under the shade of a tree a little farther back, where he paced backward and forward all day long, looking like a caged lion. General Lee usually wore a plain undress uniform and no arms, except holsterpistols; on this occasion, however, he had put on his full-dress uniform and sword and sash, and looked the embodiment of all that was grand and noble in man. We, the field officers of the First, occupied a tree near General Lee’s staff. Colonel Tallcott had been a member of General Lee’s staff up to the time he took command of our regiment, and consequently there was a good deal of social intercourse between regimental and army headquarters, and during this day we were all much together, so we were kept posted pretty fully about that all was going on.

‘General Lee seemed to be in one of his savage moods, and when these moods were on him it was safer to keep out of his way; so his staff kept to their tree, except when it was necessary to introduce the visitors. Quite a number came; they were mostly in groups of four or five, and some of high rank. It was evident that some came from curiosity, or, as friends in the old army, to see General Lee. But the General shook hands with none of them. It was rather amusing to see the extreme deference shown him by them. When he would see Colonel Taylor coming with a party toward his tree, he would halt in his pacing and stand at “ attention " and glare at them with a look which few men but he could assume. They would remove their hats entirely and stand bareheaded during the interview, while General Lee sometimes gave a scant touch to his hat in return and sometimes did not even do that.’

At first sight, there is something a bit discordant in this account with the popular conception of Lee; but to me it only makes the man more real and adds to my admiration for him.

Out of the same mellow and blessed summer sky comes the growling thunder and the speeding lightning. What are we, if not human? Where is there any one, with a drop of red blood in his veins, who, with a cause so dear, and after leading an army like that of Northern Virginia so long and valiantly, could, in the face of what Lee had just gone through wear the look of a saint and curtain his natural feelings with a lace-work of hypocritical smiles,—and Cowan’s guns booming,— above all, from the curious who, next to the shallow-pated, supercilious rich, are the most detestable of beings. No, unless a man was a walking diplomatic sham he could not suppress his feelings; on the contrary, God has set times for us all when anger’s fires kindle quickly and blaze in every feature. I am surprised that any of General Lee’s old friends should, at that hour, have sought to renew acquaintance; they should have known better.

Late in the afternoon, when Gordon saw him mount Traveller to go to his permanent headquarters at the foot of the majestic oak that was waiting for him, he sent word for his men to give their loved commander a cheer as he passed, for he told them that Lee was feeling badly. Longstreet says: —

’From force of habit a burst of salutations greeted him, but quieted as suddenly as they rose. The road was packed by troops as he approached, the men with hats off, heads and hearts bowed down. As he passed they raised their heads and looked upon him with swimming eyes. Those who could find voice said, “Good-bye”; those who could not speak, and were near, passed their hands gently over the sides of Traveller. He rode with his hat off, and he had sufficient self-control to fix his eyes on a line between the ears of Traveller and look neither to right nor left until he reached a lone white oak tree, where he dismounted to make his headquarters and finally talked a little.’

Alexander records: ‘He [Lee] told the men that in making the surrender he had made the best terms possible for them, and advised all to go to their homes, plant crops, repair the ravages of the war, and show themselves as good citizens as they had been good soldiers.’ And all who were present say that tears were in his eyes. He then appointed Longstreet, Gordon, and Pendleton as commissioners to meet Gibbon, Griffin, and Merritt, of our army, to formulate details for carrying out the terms of capitulation.

Meanwhile Grant, according to Porter’s most realistic account of what took place at the McLean house, seated himself in front of his tent, on reaching camp. No cheers greeted him as he rode thither (had it been McClellan the army would have gone wild and their voices would have shaken the skies over him). Well, Grant seated himself in front of his tent, and what do you suppose he talked about? The surrender, of course. No, he turned to Ingalls and inquired, —

‘Ingalls, do you remember that old white mule that So-and-so used to ride when we were in the city of Mexico?'

‘Why, perfectly! ’ exclaimed the diplomatic Ingalls, one of the best poker players of the old army, who, having to draw suddenly on his wits (it is barely possible that he had never even heard of the old mule before), filled his hand as usual.

Ingalls was clever. I used to look at him with a boy’s keen interest. A man of the world, true as steel to his friends, and a most efficient officer.

Grant, until supper was ready, went on recalling the antics of the longeared, nimble-footed animal in those far-back times; times and mule doubtless evoked by his interview with Lee. His detached naturalness and summer calm in this hour of victory, I could not have believed possible, had I not seen him day after day on the field.

After supper, to the surprise and disappointment of his staff, who were looking forward to witnessing the ceremonial of surrender, Grant announced that on the following afternoon he proposed to start for Washington. He also expressed, with customary informality, his conviction that all the other Confederate armies would now lay down their arms and that peace would soon prevail. And thus, without vainglory, before his camp-fire on that knoll, where now the asters and the bind-weed bloom, Grant ended the great day when the sun of the Confederacy set, one among the greatest days, I think, in the annals of our country.


Meanwhile, night had fallen, and the camp-fires had been lit, but no moon or stars looked down softly on the field of the last act of the tragedy. For nature, as if in sympathy with the moods of the broken-hearted, had let fall a dark, responsive curtain, and the expanded heavens were black, draped as with a pall.

And now, as the bivouacs of the armies come into view, they are, as you see, on every slope and by every brook, their fires gleaming in the leafy margin of every wood and by the side of every road, each surrounded by figures of men, some upright, some prone, and many sitting with clasped knees; those in blue with dreamy joy, those in gray with sad and moistened eye. As all this breaks on my vision, a sense of loneliness comes over me. I know that I ought to feel glad, glad that Democracy has won her triumph, and that peace has come; but for some reason or other, as the field of Appomattox lies before me with its two old armies, the pitchy darkness fretted with their lonely camp-fires, my heart beats low and my eyes are swimming. Back come again those war days when, as a boy, I followed the flag; back come the nights of Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor; and the slender chords that nature has strung across the abysses of my weak heart are vibrating sadly.

And listen! The bands are playing ‘Home, Sweet Home.’

Come, dear Reader, let us withdraw, — the feeling is too tender; let us go heyond the reach of those pathetic notes, up to that oak-timbered ridge which rises steeply west of the Court House, and there sit till the bugles sound ‘taps.'

How the dry leaves scuffle under our feet as we disturb them in their quiet beds! But here we are; let us sit down on this fallen stub, once in the vanguard of the venerable trees, to greet the morning sun. No wind is astir, and dogwood, oak, beech, maple, and gum about us are holding their blooming spring-time festival; for it is April. Deep is their silence; the Appomattox, which rises at their feet, is murmuring the news it will tell to the sea, and a little frog, free from man’s troubles, pipes child-like in the sedges.

We can see nearly all of the campfires of the Army of the Potomac; there is Grant’s, too; but we cannot see Lee’s, for it is up in the woods at the foot of that large white oak. But we can see those of his men who are bivouacking on the gullied slopes that pitch down to the river. And how each one of them, as well as those of the Army of the Potomac, glows softly through the darkness like a lonely topaz! The sight of those fires, with all they mean, will outlast many a memory; for each one of our intellectual faculties has its own special treasure, and, thank God, should the winds of fortune blow too chill, the humblest farmer’s boy can withdraw in his old age to the picture gallery of his youth!

Night with her noiseless step moves on. The fires are burning low. Hark! the first bugle is sounding ‘taps,’ and one by one the call is taken up in the camps. And let me tell you, Reader, that if you have never heard it blown on the field, you will not realize its depth; that call, to be at its best, must be heard on the edge of a battlefield and in the presence of an enemy. Then the night envelopes neighboring woods, and the vaulted starry skies seem to lend each lamenting note some of their own subdued loneliness. And now the last one is dying away — and the day is done.

But before we leave this spot, let us not forget that it is a Sunday night, and that in many a country home, North and South, the little sleepy ones are assembled for evening prayer, and fathers, — or too often it is a pale, widowed mother, — on bended knees, with palm to palm, are thanking God for mercies, asking Him to watch over them during the night, imploring Him earnestly to bring peace once more to the land, and adding with low, trembling voice, a prayer that ‘He will protect and guard the absent soldier-boy.’

To-morrow they will hear that the war is over. Speed, speed on, glad tidings to every door in the land! Unworthy as we are, let us kneel and join in a silent prayer of thankfulness that the end of the strife has come and that no more homes, North or South, will hear the blighting news of a son who has died in a hospital or been killed in battle; but ere we rise, let us ask Him to send his comforter to our enemies, the broken-hearted Confederates of the Army of Northern Virginia; and I think I can hear from every mountain range and every wave-washed beach a respondent, ‘Amen, and Amen.’

A peevish voice hails, — it sounds like that of a carping professor of literature: ‘I thought we were to have an account of a famous military campaign and he has led us to a prayer-meeting! He does not seem to have the first idea of true narrative continuity!’ Well, perhaps not; but continuity or no continuity, which would you rather follow, a canal, or some insignificant rivulet wandering from field to field, which, although without depth, yet for a moment now and then, besides the actual mundane facts, reflects cloud and star, and once in a while breaks into a low little gurgle of its own?

The narrative might linger reflectively in the shadow of the four years of war that had been waged so bitterly by the two sleeping armies, sponsors now for all their absent, valiant dead; and it might dwell, too, on what Appomattox meant in the way of progressive national life. But on it must go. As to what Appomattox meant, historically and politically, that I shall leave to other pens, with this single suggestion, that it is not in our country’s stupendous growth and worldrecognized power that the war finds its true measure. It has other terms than those of commerce and wealth. In short, it supplies to our countrymen what Grote says the Iliad did to the Greeks, ‘a grand and inexhaustible object of common sympathy, common faith, and common admiration.’

Sleep on, then, Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia, and sleep well; your countrymen’s ‘common sympathy, common faith, and common admiration,’ will, through the powers of mind and heart, camp you together on a field higher than this.

The next morning, a rain began that lasted for several days. Grant, with his staff’, peace-loving Ord and Gibbon, set out, preceded by a white flag and bugler, to call on Lee. But on reaching the Confederate sentinels at the river, he was halted by them, as they had orders to allow no one to pass; they requested him to wait there till his presence could be made known to Lee. Grant and his party then turned to the little knoll at the left of the road: a tablet marks the spot. As soon as Lee heard that Grant had been stopped on his way to pay him his respects, he mounted and came down from his camp at a gallop, and as he rode he lifted his hat. Grant lifted his, and stepped Cincinnati forward; Lee wheeled Traveller to the left, and the staff fell back into a semi-circle, out of hearing.

There they talked for well-nigh an hour, and Grant says in his memoirs, that ‘Lee referred to the extent of the Southern country and that the armies of the North might have to march over it several times before the war entirely ended, but he hoped earnestly that that would not be necessary, involving, as it would, further destruction of property and useless sacrifice of life.’ Grant, in view of this truth, suggested to him that if he would say the word, so great was his influence that every Confederate army would lay down its arms, and the suspended political life would soon resume its peaceful sway. To this Lee replied, with his usual reverence for authority, that he could not usurp executive functions without consulting Mr. Davis.

Marshall says that Lee observed to Grant, in the course of the interview, that if he had met him at Petersburg, or at any time later, they would have ended the war then and there. He does not give Grant’s reply, but it was, doubtless, that he had orders from the War Department not to assume to make terms of peace, which Lee as a soldier would have recognized as a complete answer.

At the end of the interview, Lee requested that such explicit instructions be given to the commissioners as to paroles and the carrying out of the details of the terms that there might be no misunderstandings. He then lifted his hat and said good-bye.

He and Grant parted. They never met again.

The question as to who was the greater, Lee or Grant, is no longer an open one: the world has apparently decided irrevocably in favor of Lee. But, nevertheless, I cast my vote for Grant; and on the substantial ground that he was intuitively great; and I can think of no foundation for greatness so unchallengeable and so elemental as intuition.

Grant rode back to the McLean house, and there met Longstreet, Wilcox (who had been his groomsman), Heth, Gordon, Pickett, and others, all of whom except Gordon were fellow West Point men. Longstreet says that, ‘as he was passing through the room, General Grant looked up, recognized me, rose, and with old-time cheerful greeting, gave me his hand, and after passing a few remarks offered a cigar, which was gratefully received.'

At noon Grant shook hands with all of the Confederates, saying goodbye, and then started for Washington, bivouacking that night at Prospect Station.

Meanwhile Meade, with his son George, Webb, and Colonel Theodore Lyman, had set out to see Grant, intending to pay his respects to his old friend Lee on the way. As Field, a large and handsome man, whose hair was very black and worn long, was in command where they entered the Confederate lines at New Hope Church, Meade went to his headquarters first. And here is what Lyman says in his diary: —

‘He [Field] guided us to Lee’s headquarters, in a small wood, and consisting only of a flag with a camp-fire before it. His baggage had perhaps been burnt the night before, along with much more; we saw many burnt wagons here and there. The rebel infantry was camped or rather bivouacked along the road, with their muskets stacked and the regimental colors planted. They appeared to have very little to eat and very few shelter tents. The number of men actually equipped seemed small, the bivouacs did not appear larger than those of a weak corps. Lee was away, but as we rode along we met. him returning. He looked in a brown study, and gazed vacantly when Meade saluted him. But he recovered himself and said, —

‘“What are you doing with all that gray in your beard?”

‘ “ As to that, you have a great deal to do with it! ” said our general promptly. ‘Lee is a tall, strongly-made man, with a florid, but not fat, face. His thick hair and beard, now nearly white, are somewhat closely trimmed. His head is large and high, the eye dark, clear, and unusually deep. His expression is not that of genius or dash, but of wisdom, coolness, and great determination. His manners are courtly and reserved, now unusually so, of course. Though proud and manly to the last, he seemed deeply dejected. Meade talked with him some time,’

Meade then went on to the McLean house, hoping to find Grant, but he had left. While Lyman was talking to Gibbon, a voice behind him said, —

‘ How are you, Ted ? ’

It was ‘Roonie’ Lee, the General’s second son, W. H. F., who had been a college mate of Lyman at Harvard. I never saw this son of General Lee, but often heard his old army friends speak of him with warm affection.

That night Lee sat before his campfire with Marshall, and told him to prepare an order to the troops, which on the following day was read and was in these terms.

April 10, 1865.


NORTHERN VIRGINIA. After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them, but, feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes, and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. LEE, General.

A few hours before Lee left, on the following morning, Captain Colston went to see him to say good-bye, and asked him as a favor to write his name on the fly-leaf of a New Testament which he had carried through the war. Lee willingly complied, and now the Testament, and the almost sacred autograph, are in Baltimore, and when death comes to the captain, may all the sweet promises of the book be realized.

Lee, about ten o’clock, accompanied by Marshall, Taylor, and Venable, rode off the field of Appomattox, off into the radiant field of glory; and I think the towering white oak followed him and Traveller with tender interest till they disappeared behind the timbered ridges of wildness and beauty in Buckingham. And who knows that on many and many a night, as the stars shone down, and all the younger generations of oaks, pine, and gum were asleep, the venerable, majestic tree did not commune with itself, wondering how it was going with Lee.

At an early hour on the following day, the 12th, General Chamberlain, of Maine, to whom the honor had been given of receiving the surrender of the arms and colors of Lee’s forces, formed his division along the road from the Court House to the river. For reasons that will unfold, I believe the selection of Chamberlain to represent the Army of the Potomac was providential in this, that he, in the way he discharged his duty, represented the spiritually real of this world. And by this I mean the lofty conceptions of what in human conduct is manly and merciful, showing in daily life in consideration for others, and on the battlefield linking courage with magnanimity and sharing an honorable enemy’s woes.

The division he commanded was the first division of the old Fifth Corps, — Warren’s, — the unfortunate Warren, to whom, however, with Chamberlain, had fallen the honor of saving Little Round Top and Gettysburg. And yet, mournful as was the grave that Warren, filled, yet to clouds, wandering winds, and the glimmering silence of the marching stars, that little wooded hill at Gettysburg repeats with exultation the story of its broken-hearted hero.

Well, Chamberlain led his division to its post along the road; within a stone’s throw flowed the Appomattox. On the right of his line stood the Thirty-Second Massachusetts, sponsor for Lexington and Bunker Hill, for Adams, Hancock, Franklin, and the old, unconquerable Puritan spirit.

Deep, deep is the blending in our country’s magic life of the hopes and aspirations that have stirred big hearts in all ages. Read the annals of Virginia, and it will be made known to you how the Spirit of Liberty made her home there with the Cavaliers, who fled from Old England for practically the same reasons that drove the Puritans to New England and the Catholics to Maryland. There, at those hospitable hearths she sat, where slaves were treated almost as members of the same family, tears falling down black cheeks as well as white, when death struck either master or slave; there she sat, stirrer of big hearts, kindling Virginia’s torch to light the way to the Declaration.

The troops, facing west, and in single-rank formation, were brought to an ‘order arms.’ The Confederates, in plain view, began to strike their few weatherworn scattered tents, seize their muskets, and for the last time fall into line. Pretty soon, along Chamberlain’s ranks, the word passed, ‘Here they come!’ And as, in my mind’s eye, I see them heading down that road, their colors dotting the gray column like tiger-lilies, my heart beats tenderly. I know how their bearers feel at the thought that they are to lay down their banners and part with them forever, banners which I saw so often, as they floated defiantly over the fields of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania.

On they come, and Gordon is riding at the head of the column. His eyes are cast down and heavy lies his grief, but on he leads the men who had stood with him and whose voices had more than once screamed like the voices of swooping eagles as victory showed her smile; but now he and all are dumb. They are gaining the right of Chamberlain’s line; now Gordon is abreast of it, his eyes are still down and he is drinking the very lees, for he thinks that all those men in blue, standing within a few feet of him at ‘order arms’ are gloating over the spectacle. He is almost opposite Chamberlain, who sits there mounted, the Maltese Cross and the Stars and Stripes displayed behind him; a bugle blows, and instantly the whole Federal line from right to left comes to a ' carry,’ the marching salute.

Chamberlain has said: ‘Gordon catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot-toe; then, facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual, — honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, or roll of drum; not a cheer, or word or whisper of vain-glorying, or motion of man standing again at the order; but an awed stillness rather, and breathholding, as if it were the passing of the dead!’

Great, in the broad and high sense, was the cause battled for, and spontaneous and knightly was this act of Chamberlain’s, lending a permanent glow to the close of the war like that of banded evening clouds at the end of an all-day beating rain. It came from the heart, and it went to the heart; and when ‘taps’ shall sound for Chamberlain, I wish that I could be in hearing, as Maine’s granite coast with its green islands and moonlight-reflecting coves takes them up in succession from Portland to Eastport, and as the ocean’s voice dies away, hear the vast wildernesses of hemlock, spruce, and pine repeating them with majestic pride for her beloved son.

The Confederate brigades, one after another, came into line, dressed carefully to the right, and then the last command was given — ‘Stack arms.’ The guns were planted, the bayonets writhing in each other’s grasp; equipments were taken off, and then the colors were laid lovingly on the stacks. The color-bearers cried as they turned away. And my eyes swim, too.

Longstreet’s men, the men of Chickamauga and Gettysburg, came last, and bringing up the rear was Pickett with the remnant of his division; and the banners which, I suspect, valor has planted on the peaks of History from Thermopylæ down, waved as the old fellows marched by with their torn standards. God’s blessings on everyone who wore the gray that day; in peace, sweet peace, I know, rest the dead. It was a fitting circumstance, and one of mere chance, that Chamberlain was selected, and called on the famous corps to salute their old intrepid enemy at this last solemn ceremonial. Chance, did I say? No, for God, whenever men plough the fields of great deeds in this world, sows seed broadcast for the food of the creative powers of the mind. What glorified tenderness it has added to the scene! How it, and the courage of both armies, and Lee’s noble character and tragic lot, and Grant’s magnanimity and Chamberlain’s chivalry, have lifted the historic event up to a lofty, hallowed summit for all people. I firmly believe that Heaven ordained that the end of that epoch-making struggle should not be characterized by the sapless, dreary commonplace; for with pity, through four long years, she had looked down on those highminded, battling armies, and out of love for them both, saw to it that deeds of enduring color should flush the end.

The ceremony of laying down arms took up the whole day, and all night men in relays were writing the paroles on the shambling little field-press; and on the following morning, as fast as they were distributed, the men set off for home. And with each departing step a deeper stillness comes over the field, and in corresponding mood the current of this narrative slows down; for, a few more lines and its course is run.

Major William A. Owen, adjutant of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, in his diary thus describes the scene. After receiving the paroles, he assembled his battalion and read Lee’s farewell order to them.

‘The men listened with marked attention and with moistened eyes as the grand farewell from their old chief was read; and then, receiving their paroles, they every one shook my hand and bade me good-bye, and breaking up into parties of three or four turned their faces homeward, some to Richmond, some to Lynchburg, and some to far-off, ruined Louisiana.

’I watched them until the last man disappeared with a wave of his hand around a curve in the road, then mounted and rode away from Appomattox.’

With this last scene of the great tragedy—that Confederate cannoneer outlined against a golden evening sky, and waving a long farewell — to soft and low falls the beat of my heart. Gone are the armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia, the long white trains and rumbling wheels, the dreaming colors and thundering guns, gone to a field which the mind of man by the wings of imagination alone can reach, and in whose beckoning radiance,so sweetly sad, this narrativeends.

(The End.)

  1. I am much indebted to Mr. R. C. Blackford, of Lynchburg, Virginia, for the privilege of quoting from this book.