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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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Vol. IV
p86
Chapter VII

A Letter Comes to Headquarters

There on the hill above Sayler's Creek the fugitives gathered fast. For all of them, as for Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pickett's survivors after the fatal charge at Gettysburg, Lee had encouragement. Mahone's men would protect them, he said; the enemy would not overtake them. They must go to the rear and form again. "It's General Lee," the encouraged soldiers began to cry. "Where's the man who won't follow Uncle Robert?"1

Mahone soon returned and took the battle flag from the General's hand.2 Lee reached for his binoculars and began to study the valley and the hills beyond it, in the hope of discovering how he should dispose his thin line to halt the enemy's advance. Presently, in the backwash of the retreating troops, there arrived a "general of exalted grade," whose name merciful history does not record. Lee was sweeping the field with his glasses at the moment, the reins loose on Traveller's neck, "his attitude full of alertness and pugnacity." Not a glance did he give to the newcomer.

"General Lee," said one of his staff officers, "here is General –––––."

Lee did not lower his glasses or honor the beaten commander with a nod. All he did was to move his right hand to the rear in a gesture of biting reproach. "General," he said slowly, "take those stragglers to the rear, out of the way of Mahone's troops. I wish to fight here."3

The character of the débâcle was not yet known, but its magnitude was obvious. Gordon presumably was still fighting at the lower crossing of the creek, but Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ewell and Anderson somehow had met disaster. The capture of their commands was the most natural thing to surmise, for those refugees who came up to Lee p87 brought with them tales of whole divisions surrounded and Federals springing up everywhere with cries of "Surrender."


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Sketch of Lee's proposed movements after the disaster of Sayler's Creek, April 6, 1865.

(1) Longstreet was to march on Farmville. (2) Mahone with his division and the stragglers was to cross at High Bridge. (3) Gordon, if he escaped, was to follow Mahone. (4) The scene of the disaster to Ewell.

What should be done? Lee put the question to Mahone as he always did to whosoever was nearest him when he was "thinking aloud" on some military problem. Mahone had a suggestion. Together they worked out a plan for Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet to march on to Farmville, while Mahone held his position. Later in the night Mahone was to withdraw through the woods and cross the Appomattox on the Southside Railroad bridge. He was to hold the crossing until all the troops, guns, and wagons had passed, and then the engineers were to burn both that high span and the lower wagon bridge under the hill. Colonel Talcott, who was nearby, was immediately called up and assigned to this duty.4 No provision could be made as yet for Gordon, for the outcome of his battle was not yet plain. The bridges, of course, were to be held for him if he got away. In sketch, the plan is shown above.

It was now nearly dusk. Worn and already so tired that he had p88 stretched himself on the ground to rest during the evening,5 Lee rode back to Longstreet's lines at Rice.6 He found all quiet there. The cavalry that had been sent off during the morning had overtaken the Federals who were aiming to burn the high bridge over the Appomattox, and had killed or captured nearly all of them.7 Enemy infantry had appeared during the afternoon southeast of Rice and had come within a mile of the place, but had not attacked seriously.8

Longstreet's forces were intact, and Gordon's had been located, though they were still hotly and dangerously engaged; but it was soon apparent that these and the cavalry were now nearly all that was left of the army. As the details were put together, the tragedy that had overtaken the other troops stood out unrelieved. From early forenoon Anderson had been following Longstreet's wagons. Ewell had been behind Anderson. Then had come the greater part of the wagon train, and then Gordon, closing the rear. The long, enfeebled column had crept on toward Sayler's Creek, but had been repeatedly engaged. The Federal cavalry would charge up from the Genito road, south and southeast of the route of the army, and would feel out the strength of the forces marching with the wagons. Repulsed by the infantry, who formed line of battle to protect the trains, the Federals would ride on ahead and strike again and still again, always in search of some weak spot.

About 11 A.M., the Union troops were attacking Gordon so vigorously in the rear and were demonstrating so heavily that Anderson and Ewell halted where they were in order to permit the wagons to pass and thereby to keep Gordon from being cut off while covering the trains. Anderson had orders that he should close on Mahone's division, which was the rear command under Longstreet, but Anderson did not notify Mahone that he was halting. As a consequence, Mahone marched on and left behind him an hourly-widening gap between him and the van of Pickett's division, the leading unit of Anderson's command. Unprotected wagon trains were moving through this gap, near the large Harper plantation,9 on the upper stretches of Sayler's Creek and p89 between the branches, when Federal cavalry bore down on them. The bluecoats reached the wagon train and burned a small part of it. This was the attack General Lee had asked General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pendleton to try and repulse when he had heard of it during the forenoon. The irruption of the Federals, of course, partially blocked the p90 road, caused Anderson's troops to halt, and made progress slower, but at length, about 2 P.M., the remaining wagons ahead of Anderson began to move once more. Gordon was then close on Ewell's rear, and all the wagon trains between Ewell and Gordon seemed to be safe.

When the leading troops of Anderson's command reached the point where the wagons had been fired, they found Union cavalry across the road in great strength. General Wise at once extemporized an assault with his brigade and drove the Federals to the south, but he was greatly outnumbered, and as he had not communicated to his immediate superior his intention of attacking, he was not supported by the rest of Johnston's division and had to withdraw. Meantime, and apparently with no knowledge of what Wise was doing, Anderson rode back to the head of Ewell's column to find its commander, and to tell him that the enemy had the road ahead. Ewell had already heard this from Fitz Lee, who chanced to be passing, and he had directed the wagon trains to leave the main route of the army east of Sayler's Creek and to take a more northerly road, over a lower crossing, so that they would escape the obstacle of the burned vehicles. No word of this change of the route of the wagon trains, however, was sent to Gordon, who was following Ewell but was not in direct touch with him.

When Anderson and Ewell met, it was clear that they must either attack and drive off the enemy or else leave the road, skirt around the Federals and seek a way that would lead to Farmville. Ewell was for the latter course, but as he had not been over the ground and as Anderson had, he left the decision to the South Carolinian. Anderson chose to deliver a joint attack to clear the line of march. Before the dispositions for this could be made, however, Federal troops began to appear in large numbers in Ewell's rear. This was because Gordon, who had been following Ewell and had been heavily engaged, had assumed, in the absence of any word to the contrary, that the route of the wagons was that of the infantry, as it had been all day. He had filed off after the trains; the Federals had found the gap and had plunged in. The result was that while Anderson was about to be attacked in front, Ewell's corps was to be assaulted from the rear. Perceiving p91 this, Anderson told Ewell that he, Ewell, would have all he could do on his line and that the attack to clear the road ahead would have to be made with Anderson's own command. Anderson rode away for this purpose and Ewell prepared his line of battle to resist the Federal assault. Back to back, the corps made ready — Anderson facing west, Ewell east. In Ewell's command was the naval battalion under Commodore Tucker, which answered orders with the sailor's "aye, aye, sir." Here, also, were heavy artillerists from the James River defenses, some of whom had probably never been under musketry fire in their whole career as soldiers. Custis Lee commanded them and the local defense troops. The other division was Kershaw's, consisting of a remnant — some 1600 — of the veterans of the First Corps.


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The terrain of the Sayler's Creek area, the routes of the Army of Northern Virginia through it, and the approximate line of Ewell's corps when attacked, April 6, 1865.

Anderson's attack was not well organized and failed almost before it was launched. Ewell's defense was stubborn and included one spirited counterattack, but it was in vain. Anderson's troops were captured, except for Wise's brigade and a few scattered individuals who escaped through the woods — the men whom Lee had seen from the other side of Sayler's Creek. Ewell's corps was taken in front, in flank, and in rear, and after hand-to‑hand fighting, where the bayonet was used, was forced to surrender. Ewell lost 2800 in this way, Anderson perhaps 1500. The two corps as fighting units virtually ceased to exist.10 Lee told only the sombre truth when he said to Pendleton, "General, that half of our army is destroyed."11

p92 The weary commander probably was still gathering the details of the disaster to Ewell and to Anderson on Sayler's Creek when this note came from Gordon, marked 5 P.M.:

"I have been fighting heavily all day. My loss is considerable and I am still closely pressed. I fear that a portion of the train will be lost as my force is quite reduced & insufficient for its protection. So far I have been able to protect them, but without assistance can scarcely hope to do so much longer. The enemy's loss has been very heavy."12

As he had covered the rear, Gordon had been so closely pursued that he had been forced before noon to halt a division, to throw up works across the road, to pass the other divisions through, and then to repeat the process with the second division and the third. Once he was compelled to form line of battle along the hills at Deatonsville, and with Jones's artillery and W. H. F. Lee's division of cavalry, to retard the enemy until the road in front of him was clear of wagons for a mile. Then he set out again and having turned to the right as already noted, caught up with the wagon trains at an exceedingly bad crossing near the mouth of Sayler's Creek. The cavalry had been withdrawn by this time, so his three small and tired divisions had to hold off the Federals on the east side of the creek until the wagons got over. The direct assault of the enemy13 was successfully repulsed. Soon afterward, however, the Federals who had overrun Ewell's front massed for a new charge on Gordon. It was at this juncture that he wrote Lee. p93 Probably before the dispatch was received — Lee could not have given assistance even had word come earlier — Gordon was again attacked. Once more he drove back his assailants, but about 6 o'clock he was assaulted heavily in front and on both flanks. His exhausted divisions broke, got across the creek as best they could, and formed again, after a fashion, on the west bank, in the darkness.14

Gordon lost by capture some 1700.15 These, added to the men taken from Ewell and Anderson and those who straggled and fell into the hands of the enemy during the day, brought the Federals' haul of prisoners to at least 6000. With the killed and wounded counted in, the day had cost Lee not less than 7000 and perhaps 8000 men.16 The Southern commander now had only six divisions that could be counted as fighting organizations and but two of these, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Field's and Mahone's, were of any size. The cavalry mounts were nearly dead, though the troopers who had been able to keep their horses going were still capable of putting up a fight. The artillery was reduced by about 50 per cent in personnel and still further in guns. To oppose on the morrow four corps of infantry and four divisions of cavalry — a total of 80,000 men, all within striking distance and with sufficient food and ammunition — Lee could not muster more than 12,000 reliable muskets and 3000 sabres. Every hours was to see that number perceptibly diminished, for men who had held their nerves under control and had silenced their protesting stomachs were dropping fast. Each halt meant that some soldiers would not be able to obey the "Fall in" when the column moved forward again.

Lee permitted himself no inferences that night. Nor, where everything was contingent on hour-by‑hour developments, could he plan far ahead. Obviously there was still a chance of escaping with what remained of his army, if he could rest and reorganize his men. For then he could widen in the direction of Lynchburg the arc of his retreat to the southwest and might still outmarch the enemy. At the least, he could execute the first part of this movement. He could cross to the north bank of the Appomattox, burn p94 the bridges near Farmville, and give his men the repose that was now as much a necessity as food. He might even in this way deceive the enemy and get a new lead.

So long as this chance was open to him, his sense of duty did not permit him to consider any alternative. Soon after he returned to Rice, about sundown, he gave orders for Longstreet to resume the retreat via Farmville, in the direction of Lynchburg.17 The guns were withdrawn,18 and the troops started moving shortly after dark. Field's, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Heth's, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wilcox's divisions, together with the wagon trains of the whole army, were now put on the road — a very bad one at that.19 The cavalry moved in Longstreet's rear.20 The orders to the officers collecting the scattered units were that they should get the men across the Appomattox and re-form them there.21 Mahone and Gordon were to go over the river via the High Bridge.22 From Lynchburg, the post-commandant had wired that the Federals were advancing down the Virginia-Tennessee Railroad and that he wished to know if reinforcements could be sent. Lee answered that this could not be done, that Lynchburg must be held, if practicable, and that, if it could not be, supplies should be sent to Farmville or as far down the road toward that town as possible.23

Long after the leading troops had resumed the march toward Farmville, Lee remained at his temporary headquarters in a field north of Rice. He had a camp-fire of fence-rails close to his ambulance. For a time he stood by the wheel of the vehicle, looking into the fire and dictating to his only secretary, Colonel Marshall, who was sitting by a lantern in the ambulance, writing out Lee's orders on a lap-desk.24

p95 Soon afterward, Lee rode on to Farmville and went to the home of Patrick Jackson on Beech Street, where he sought a few hours' rest. Very early on the morning of April 7, as he prepared to leave, his hostess met him with an invitation to breakfast. He declined with his wonted courtesy, on the ground that he did not feel like eating. Mrs. Jackson pressed him: "Isn't there something we can fix for you, General?" Her manner was so earnestly solicitous that he confessed he had for days been wanting a cup of tea. Fortunately — and most oddly in the general distress of the times — the family had a little tea that had been put away against the day of need. It was quickly brought forth and brewed. Lee drank it gratefully.25

It must have been from Mrs. Jackson's that Lee directed Traveller to the home of Mrs. John T. Thornton, which was nearly opposite. Dismounting, he entered and greeted the widow of one of the most gallant of his regimental cavalry commanders, killed two years and a half previously during the Maryland expedition. "I have not time to tarry," he said with deep emotion, "but I could not pass by without stopping for a moment to pay my respects to the widow of my honored soldier, Colonel Thornton, and to tender her my deep sympathy in the sore bereavement which she sustained when the country was deprived of his invaluable services."26 Then he went on to survey the situation.

One relief, if only one, was in sight. General St. John had reached Farmville from Amelia Springs the previous day. He had found the provisions sent from Burkeville on the approach of the enemy, 80,000 rations of meal and about 40,000 of bread, and he had set about collecting voluntary contributions of grain, which he had the mills grind at once. He had dispatched three couriers to Lee on the afternoon of the 6th with a report and a request for protection of the trains, though apparently none of p96 these reached Lee. Now General St. John turned over all he had to Lee's commissary for issue to the troops, many of whom had received no regular rations since April 2,27 five days previously. The starving time, it seemed, at last was over! The wagon train was arriving,28 the artillery was coming up,29 the head of Longstreet's column was close at hand. There was, however, a touch of new personal suspense for Lee in a meeting with Custis's courier, Dick Manson. When Lee asked eagerly how his son had fared in the battle of Sayler's Creek, Manson could only answer that he had been sent off the previous morning and did not know what fate had befallen his commander.30

Lee now rode to the north side of the Appomattox to locate the troops that had escaped the disaster at Sayler's Creek and had been ordered to cross the Appomattox at High Bridge. He soon found Major General Bushrod R. Johnson, who reported that his division had been destroyed; but very shortly Lee saw marching toward him in good order the largest of the brigades of Johnson's division, headed by General Wise. That veteran was afoot, wrapped in a gray blanket in lieu of a cloak, wearing a strange hat cocked on one side, and showing plainly on his face the red of the mud-puddle in which he had washed.

Weary as he was, Lee scarcely could repress his smile at the appearance of Wise. Calmly he asked what was the condition of Wise's command.

"Ready for dress-parade," answered Wise proudly, and proceeded to demand provisions for his troops.

Lee promised food and directed him to deploy his men across the hill. Wise, he went on, was to organize and take command of the stragglers who, despairingly and in large numbers, were streaming toward them. There followed a colloquy in which Wise sought to make it plain that General Bushrod Johnson, who was still sitting nearby, was to be accounted a straggler and had left his troops.

"Do you mean to say, General Lee," inquired Wise, "that I must take command of all men of all ranks?

p97 Wise was satisfied that Lee, as he understood the significance of his question, turned his head to conceal another smile.

"Do your duty, sir," was all Lee said.31 He added, privately no doubt, that General Wise would do well to wash his face again.32 Behind Wise's brigade and the stragglers, but probably not reported at this hour, the survivors of Gordon's corps were moving up. They had crossed at High Bridge, as directed, were marching along the railroad track,33 and would be ready to rejoin the rest of the army when Longstreet moved to the north side of the Appomattox.34

Ere long, General Breckinridge, the Secretary of War, arrived at temporary headquarters.35 Lee at once went into conference with him, but neither he nor Breckinridge left any account of the interview. Breckinridge got the impression that Lee's move across the Appomattox was for temporary relief, and he reported to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mr. Davis the next day that Lee on the 7th would "still try to move around toward North Carolina." The secretary, himself a soldier of ability, was quick to see the desperate plight of the army. "The straggling has been great," he telegraphed, "and the situation is not favorable."36

Longstreet's troops were now coming into Farmville, and the advanced units were marching across the bridge and to the northside, where they were to halt and cook their long-awaited rations. The cavalry was following them, with the understanding that when they had passed, the two bridges — that of the railroad and that on the plank road — were to be burned. If this were done and if the two crossings at High Bridge had been destroyed, as previously ordered, then Lee would have at least some chance to rest his army and to resume his march ahead of the enemy, because the river could not be forded by infantry, though it was passable by cavalry. The sketch on page 98 shows the position of the bridges. p98


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The river and roads north of Farmville showing, in particular, the location of the two bridges across the Appomattox.

Just at this hopeful moment came dire news. All Lee's plans were suddenly set at nought. Federal infantry were already on the north bank of the river, and were moving rapidly upstream toward the flank of the tired forces that were frying their bacon in the belief that at last they were safe from alarms. It developed that a grievous blunder had been made. Down the river, at High Bridge, where General Mahone had been stationed as rearguard, the railroad span had been set afire in time to be burning freely before the enemy reached it, but the wagon bridge in the valley, a much smaller affair, had been lighted too late. Barlow's division of the II Corps had gone down to it, had put the p99 flames out and had marched rapidly across it. By 9 o'clock the 1st Division of the same corps was moving easily over it. The delay in setting the wagon bridge afire seems to have been due to misunderstanding of the usual sort. The engineers had been directed to burn the bridges on word from General Mahone. He either forgot to give the orders in time or else thought the engineers were to act without him.37 Mahone made an attempt to retake the bridgehead, but failed.38 Thereupon he was forced to withdraw, though he put up stiff resistance to the Federal advance, some three miles from Farmville.39 Gordon's corps, which was ahead of Mahone, had light skirmishing.

General Lee exploded when he got word of the blunder. With vehemence unrestrained he voiced his opinion of the act and its authors:40 The last hope of the shattered army was being allowed to slip away! Lee's rage was soon subdued, however, and his mind was put to work to redeem once more — it was to be nearly the last time — the military mistakes of others. He sent for Alexander, told him what had happened, showed him on the map where the Federals could strike the road of the Confederate retreat three miles ahead, and directed him to move artillery to protect the position. When Alexander pointed out that the Federals on the south side of the river would have a shorter march, Lee neither resented the observation nor stopped to explain that he had no choice of route because he had to keep close to the railroad in order to meet his supply trains and to feed his men.41 He merely folded up his map and said there would be time enough to look after that.

In telling Alexander to send forward the guns to the place he had designated, Lee also entrusted to him the destruction of the two p100 bridges at Farmville, that of the railway and that on the plank road. Alexander was enjoined to see that the crossings were not burned before the Confederate cavalry had passed, and that they were not to be left so long that the Federals could extinguish the fire and utilize them.42

The order was given none too soon. Federal cavalry — they proved to be Crook's43 — were pressing so closely behind the Confederates' horses that Fitz Lee had to make a stand on the outskirts of Farmville and in the very streets of the town to permit Longstreet's rearguard and the stragglers to clear the bridges.44 By 11 A.M. the advance of that troublesome, fast-moving VI Corps was on the hills overlooking Farmville from the south.45 The bridges were then fired and caught aflame rapidly, before the Confederate cavalry could break off the skirmish and cross.46 The arrival of the Federals caused a near-stampede among the teamsters and scattered units on the north side of the river and prompted General Lee to order an immediate resumption of the retreat. He was concerned for the moment, also, lest part of the cavalry had been cut off and lost, and he insisted that the head of Longstreet's column start at the double quick. The issue of rations had to be suspended, even though a large part of the army had received nothing.47 In retrospect, at least, Longstreet attributed Lee's precipitancy to something akin to panic and he stated that he tried to reassure his chief by telling him that the cavalry would certainly find and use a nearby ford. Longstreet apparently did not realize how close the danger was. Envelopment was threatened; no time was to be lost.48 The cars containing provisions were sent farther up the railroad49 in the hope that they might be overtaken on the march, which was to be north of and then approximately parallel to the line.50

Lee went up the road with Longstreet's column some two miles and a half to the coal pits north of Farmville. There, to his relief, he found the cavalry and learned that the Confederates had located a ford some miles above the plank-road bridge and had crossed safely.51 The cavalry at the moment were covering the wagon train which was moving toward the main highway over "Lackland's Mill road," described by Stevens as "terribly bad."52 Lee sat down under an oak tree and was resting his back against it when Federal cavalry, who had used the ford by which Fitz Lee had crossed, advanced for another attack on the wagons. The troubled commander slowly got up, mounted his horse and rode past the Confederate troopers, who gave him a cheer. He lifted his hat in acknowledgment and soon paused to watch the fight.53 Under his eyes, one division met the oncoming Federals in front and another took them in flank. The enemy's attack was broken up brilliantly. Many of the Federals were captured, including their commander, Brigadier General J. Irvin Gregg.54 The survivors were routed. Lee's spirits, which always rose when action was joined, were much improved by this success. "Keep your command together and in good spirits, General — don't let them think of surrender — I will get you out of this," he told his son Rooney Lee after General Gregg had been taken.55 It was a courageous remark, but it was ominous in that it showed General Lee knew the men were talking of surrender. It was the first time, too, so far as is known, that Lee in his own conversation had recognized such a contingency on the retreat.

Lee held the cavalry where it could meet another attack,56 and he sent Mahone's division to the position taken by the artillery which Alexander had duly sent forward to the point where the road of the Federal advance met the road of Lee's march. This position was near Cumberland Church and Price's farm,57 a little more than three miles north of Farmville. Mahone drew up line of battle there, entrenched, and prepared to cover the passage of the wagons and of the army.58 Gordon's corps, which had now p102 come up, moved by the left flank through the woods to protect the wagons.

Owing to the condition of the animals and to the badness of the road by which the wagons were moving, the march was exceedingly slow in getting under way. The army had virtually no start when Federal infantry began to appear in much strength on Mahone's front. In the afternoon they attacked and tried to turn the division's left, which was almost "in the air." The cavalry who were covering the flank were driven in, and a battery was taken temporarily. The whole of the infantry had to stop, and both Gordon and Longstreet had to send Mahone help. He then beat off the attack and delivered a countercharge in which he took some prisoners.59 Lee congratulated the men,60 but he could not presume on this momentary advantage. He did not dare attempt his usual solution of such a problem, namely, an offensive against the troops that threatened his road. The wagons were still close at hand, most of the infantry had been moving with little or no rest for a minimum of eighteen hours, and some of them had been almost constantly on the move since nightfall of the 5th — more than forty hours. The strength of the Federals on the right and rear of the army was not known. Lee did not feel that he could afford to withdraw Mahone from his strong position until darkness. The failure to burn the wagon bridge below High Bridge was costing him dearly! For the Federals south of the river had been somewhat mystified by his movements and, if Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Humphreys's II Corps had been kept back at High Bridge, Lee might have had something of the advantage that McClellan gained by crossing to the south side of the Chickahominy on the night of June 27, 1862. As it was, the start that had been so vigorously begun at the double-quick near Farmville came to this maddening halt within four miles and in plain sight of the enemy!

Lee did not complain because of his inability to move from Cumberland Church, but at least once in the afternoon he displayed the petulance that always was the surest sign of a battle for self-mastery. He had ridden out toward Mahone's line and p103 was watching the fire of one of Chamberlayne's batteries, when a staff officer from Gordon came up the side of the hill next the enemy. Lee waited until the officer had given his message and then he pointed out his mistake in exposing himself unnecessarily. The officer answered that he was ashamed to shelter himself when he saw the commanding general sitting in plain view of the Federals. Lee flared up and answered rather sharply: "It is my duty to be here. I must see. Go back the way I told you, sir!" A small incident surely, but it was remembered and repeated: evil was the day when "Marse Robert" employed even that mild tone of rebuke!61

As darkness fell, Lee went to a cottage near Mahone's lines and close to Cumberland Church to spend the night.62 Longstreet soon joined him there.63 About half-past nine or perhaps a little later, a courier came up from Mahone's front with a dispatch for the commanding general. Lee opened it himself and read:

Headquarters Armies of the United States.
April 7, 1865 — 5 P.M.


General R. E. Lee,

Commanding C. S. Army:

General: The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.U. S. Grant,                   
Lieutenant-General,    
Commanding Armies of the United States.64

p104 General Lee studied it without a word or sign and then silently passed it to Longstreet, who was sitting near him. Longstreet read it, also, and handed it back.

"Not yet," he said.65


The Author's Notes:

1 Wearing of the Gray, 596.

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2 Longstreet, 615.

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3 Colonel W. E. Cameron, an eye-witness, in Norfolk Landmark, Nov. 25, 1894.

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4 Longstreet, 615. 32 S. H. S. P., 71.

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5 38 S. H. S. P., 11.

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6 Alexander, 597.

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7 O. R., 46, part 1, p1302.

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8 Longstreet's report, Lee MSS. — K.; O. R., 46, part 1, pp1175, 1181, 1187. While apparently not identified as such, these troops were of the XXIV Federal Corps.

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9 O. R., 46, part 1, p1132.

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10 Ewell's, Kershaw's, B. R. Johnson's, Custis Lee's and Fitz Lee's reports are in O. R., 46, part 1, pp1283 ff. Anderson's is in Lee MSS. — K.; Wise's account is in 25 S. H. S. P., 17 ff. The same volume (p39) contains another useful narrative. Facts of interest as to numbers, positions, and time of the various attacks will be found in Wright's report, O. R., 46, part 1, p906, Olcott's, ibid., p937, Devin's, ibid., p1125, Custer's, ibid., 1132. The story of the sailors and heavy artillerists has been admirably told in Stiles, 328 ff. Cf. also G. Wise, 234‑35.

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11 Pendleton, 401. Could Lee have prevented the disaster at Sayler's Creek? Was he to blame for it? Probably not. He undoubtedly regarded speed as the essential of the retreat. With speed there was at least a chance of escaping with the van. Without rapidity of retreat, there was the certainty of early ruin. Lee, said Grant, "never permitted the head of his columns to stop because of any fighting that might be going on in his rear. In this way he came very near succeeding in getting to his provision trains and eluding us with at least part of his army" (2 Grant, 472). If that was good strategy, as his adversary believed, then Lee cannot be held culpable for riding ahead. His orders seem to have been about the best he could have drawn with the situation as it was. Neglect of his orders rather than a defect in them opened the two gaps through which the Federals struck in front and in rear. Gordon's mistake in following the wagons rather than the troops was a natural one, inasmuch as Ewell had not advised him of a change of route. Anderson's and Pickett's failure to see that Mahone was informed when Pickett (p92)halted was, of course, a serious lapse. Mahone, also, must take his share of the blame. Throughout the campaign, as one reads the reports, one has the feeling that from weariness or despair or other cause, Anderson was scarcely responsible. In his report he mentioned more than once the hopelessness of the troops who, he said, "entered upon the campaign of 1865 with but little of the spirit of former days" (Anderson's report, Lee MSS. — K.). It is probable that Anderson himself was oppressed by the feelings that he thought were crippling his men. Had he been normal, in vigor of attack, Anderson might have saved the day by clearing the road before the Federals appeared in Ewell's rear. The old efficiency of organization was vanishing, and so was the offensive power of the army. Officers were failing as the men were. The limit of human endurance was passed with all except the strongest. It may seen ungenerous and worse to assess culpability on soldiers who had been marching for four days and for parts of three nights, and starving in the hour of their nation's death. Yet the happenings of April 4‑9 show how ceaseless strain on the nerves of soldiers deadens initiative and destroys judgment even when men still can march and ride and seem to be themselves.

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12 Lee MSS. — L.

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13 The attacking force consisted of part of the II Corps.

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14 The best account is Gordon's own, Lee MSS. — K. Cf. O. R., 46, part 1, pp682, 779. The evidence as to the time of Lee's receipt of this dispatch of 5 P.M. is inferential.

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15 O. R., 46, part 1, pp682, 784.

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16 Grant (O. R., 46, part 1, p55) merely approximated the prisoners.

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17 Alexander, 597.

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18 O. R., 46, part 1, p1281.

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19 Longstreet's report, Lee MSS. — K.

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20 O. R., 46, part 1, p1303.

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21 O. R., 46, part 1, p1292.

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22 Gordon's report, Lee MSS. — K.; Longstreet, 615.

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23 Lee MSS. — L.

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24 John S. Wise End of an Era, 429. Mr. Wise gave an account of an interview with Lee in which he stated that he told the General he came on indirect orders from President Davis and wished a report for the President of General Lee's progress and plans. In the course of this interview Wise quoted Lee as saying: "A few more Sayler's Creeks and it will all be over — ended just as I expected it would end from the first." Wise was eighteen at the time. He went to Danville, where he visited Mr. Davis. Recalling the visit, the Confederate President wrote (2 Davis, 678): ". . . little if any reliable information in regard to the Army of Northern Virginia was received until a gallant youth, the son of General Henry A. Wise, came to Danville and told me that, learning Lee's army was to be surrendered, he had during the night mounted his fleet horse, and, escaping through and from the enemy's cavalry, some of whom pursued him, had come quite alone to (p95)warn me of the approaching event." When first published, Wise's statement was challenged (3 Publications of the Southern History Association, 230). In the Taylor MSS. is a lengthy memorandum on this incident. Written by Colonel Walter Taylor, it disputes the accuracy of Wise's memory. It says, in part: "I was close to General Lee during those four years and can and do say that he never gave the slightest indication of such a belief [in the inevitability of Southern failure] as he is here represented to have entertained, although he fully appreciated the serious character of the work in hand and never under-estimated the power of the other side in the contest; and it is entirely at variance with the general trend of thought that characterized his confidential interchange of ideas with those nearest to him" (Taylor MSS., undated).

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25 Statement of Miss Mary Jackson, of Farmville, Va.

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26 Jones, 326.

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27 St. John's report, Lee MSS. — L.

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28 Stevens's report, Lee MSS. — L.

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29 O. R., 46, part 1, p1281.

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30 R. W. Manson to H. N. Phillips, MS., July 5, 1926, copy of which Mr. Phillips graciously gave the writer.

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31 MS. Memoirs of W. B. Freeman, who witnessed part of the encounter; Wise's statement in 25 S. H. S. P., 19. There is another version of this colloquy, or an account of a second in J. S. Wise: End of an Era, 433‑35. The writer has followed the earlier narrative of the senior Wise.

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32 End of an Era, 434.

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33 Captain J. C. G., Lee's Last Campaign, 34.

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34 Gordon's report, Lee MSS. — K.

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35 J. S. Wise, op. cit., 431, identified the headquarters as north of the Appomattox "in the forks of the road." This identification cannot be precise, but the house probably was that long occupied by R. D. Thaxton.

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36 O. R., 46, part 3, p1389.

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37 Mahone's defense is hinted in Longstreet, 615. Talcott gave his version in 32 S. H. S. P., 71. Talcott was in error, however, in saying that General Lee's reported indignation was over the failure to burn a bridge higher up the river. The only other bridges that mattered were those at Farmville, concerning the condition of which at the time of the Federals' approach there is an adequate account in O. R., 46, part 1, p652. For Humphreys's report as to the High Bridge affair, see O. R., 46, part 1, p683. A full narrative of the steps taken to save the High Bridge from complete destruction will be found in Livermore's Days and Events, 449 ff. For the hour of the crossing of the troops, see O. R., 46, part 1, p713.

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38 O. R., 46, part 1, p758.

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39 O. R., 46, part 1, p787. Mahone in his report, Lee MSS. — L., merely referred to two fights early in the day.

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40 Long, 413.

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41 Alexander, 597‑98.

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42 Alexander, 599.

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43 Formerly Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Kautz's.

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44 Longstreet's report, Lee MSS. — K.; E. M. Boykin: The Falling Flag (cited hereafter as Falling Flag), 32‑33.

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45 O. R., 46, part 1, p652.

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46 Longstreet, loc. cit.; Fitz Lee's report, O. R., 46, part 1, p1303. McRae, who apparently was near the rear, said in his report, Lee MSS. — L., that he arrived "about noon."

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47 Charles Marshall: Appomattox. An Address . . . Jany. 19, 1894 (cited hereafter as Marshall's Appomattox), 7.

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48 Longstreet, 616.

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49 St. John's report, Lee MSS. — L.

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50 Inquiries were made to Lynchburg and to Danville as to the reserve ordnance stores there, but elicited no reply, according to Baldwin's report, Lee MSS. — L.

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51 This, presumably, was at Sandy Ford, four miles above the plank-road bridge.

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52 Stevens's report, Lee MSS. — L.

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53 32 S. H. S. P., 310; Napier, 223.

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54 O. R., 46, part 1, p1303.

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55 Cooke, 455. Long, 415, evidently followed Cooke.

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56 O. R., 46, part 1, p1303.

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57 O. R., 46, part 1, p793.

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58 Alexander, 599.

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59 Mahone's report, Lee MSS. — L.; Gordon's report, Lee MSS. — K.; 1 N. C. Regts., 685.

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60 Grimes, 116; 1 N. C. Regts., 265.

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61 Long, 415‑16. The date and approximate time of day can be fixed by the reference to the name of the battery.

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62 Alexander, 600. As far as can now be determined this was the Blanton house, near Blanton's shop in Cumberland County, about three miles from Farmville (Farmville Herald, Feb. 5, 1926).

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63 Longstreet, 617.

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64 O. R., 46, part 3, p619; Longstreet, 619. The time of the arrival of the message, which had been offered by flag of truce shortly after 5 o'clock but could not be received until later because of the firing, is fixed fairly well by the narrative of the men who met the Federal bearer. See 20 S. H. S. P., 60. Cf. 19 S. H. S. P., 270; Sorrel, 300. None of the originals of Grant's letters is in the Lee papers.

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65 Longstreet, 619.


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