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[285] protecting the rear of the wearied and worn battalions of Lee that now moved slowly up the line of the Southside Railroad, contesting the way inch by inch with the determined pursuer. At Farmville a decided stand was made, and here the rear guard was joined by Fitz Lee and his cavalry. The fighting on the retreat, except in rare instances, did not reach the dignity of pitched battles; but one action that took place near Farmville deserves the record it has so far received from no pen or tongue. When the army reached this point, the conduct of operations in the rear was intrusted to Major General Fitz Lee, of cavalry fame; an officer who, after the death of Stuart, ranked first in the army for energy, elan, and all other qualities that make the ideal beau sabruer. With a small column of infantry, and such of his own command as he was yet able to hold together, Fitz Lee stoutly guarded the rear of the retreating army. As the main column passed the bridge in rear of Farmville, Fitz Lee in person held the town, gradually diminishing his front, which was closely pressed by the enemy, till there remained with him but a handful of brave men. Seated on horseback, near the bridge, he calmly watched the preparations for firing it, and directed the movements of the last groups that filed across. There he sat, a grand figure, in his own person the last remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia; and, like Marshal Ney at the bridge Kowno, he fired the last shot, and was the last to cross. As the final man was seen to be over, and when the bridge itself was in flames, the soldiers supposing him to be a vidette, shouted to him to ride across. Lee turned slowly toward them, ordering them to hurry across, and, adding, “I am Fitz Lee,” plunged into the river below the bridge. He gained the opposite bank in safety, but not without difficulty and danger, and the quick fire of the horse artillery from the other side soon gave assurance of his presence among the guns.

Hemmed in on all sides at Appomattox, General Robert E. Lee's only hope was to cut his way through, and, by the abandonment of his guns and baggage, to force his path to the mountains. Having formed this resolution, Gordon was promptly dispatched forward, while the left flank was protected by moving in the four battalions of Wilcox's sharpshooters. Two of these were engaged, and two more were moving into action. But a period to the fighting of the sharpshooters and of all the rest of that “incomparable infantry” was now close at hand. When Custer rode through the Confederate lines, an officer of General Lee's staff was at once sent to recall the sharpshooters, and the sound of their bugles to “Cease firing!” in a few minutes silenced forever the guns of the Army of Northern Virginia.

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