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 At that time Longstreet, covering the rear, was threatened by Meade, so that there was no ability to reenforce Gordon, and thus to explain why General Lee then realized that the emergency had arisen for the surrender of his army which, in his note to General Grant of the previous day, he had said he did not believe to exist. Colonel Venable, at early dawn, had left Gordon with about five thousand infantry, and Fitzhugh Lee with about fifteen hundred cavalry, and Colonel Carter's battalion of artillery, forming his line of battle to attack the enemy, which, so far as then known, consisted of Sheridan's cavalry, which had got in front of our retreating column. The assault was made with such vigor and determination as to drive Sheridan for a considerable distance; if this had been the only obstacle, the road would have been opened for Lee to resume his march toward Lynchburg. After Gordon had advanced nearly a mile, he was confronted by a large body of infantry, subsequently ascertained to be about eighty thousand. To attack that force was, of course, hopeless, and Gordon commenced falling back, and simultaneously the enemy advanced, but suddenly came to a halt. Lee had sent a flag to Grant, who had consequently ordered a suspension of hostilities. A leader less resolute, an army less heroically resisting fatigue, constant watching, and starvation, would long since have reached the conclusion that surrender was a necessity. Lee had left Petersburg with not more than twenty thousand infantry, five thousand cavalry, and four thousand artillery. Men and horses all reduced below the standard of efficiency by exposure and insufficient supplies of clothing, food,1 and forage, only the mutual confidence between the men and their commander could have sustained either under the trials to which they were subjected. It is not a matter of surprise that the army had wasted away to a mere remnant, but rather that it had continued to exist as an organized body still willing to do battle. All the evidence we have proves that the proud, cheerful spirit both of the army and its leader had resisted the extremes of privation and danger, and never sunk until confronted by surrender. General Grant, in response to a communication under a white flag made by General Lee, as stated above, came to Appomattox, where a suitable room was procured for their conference, and, the two generals
1 Falsehood and malignity have combined to invent and circulate a baseless story to the effect that food ordered to Amelia Courthouse for Lee's troops was by the administration at Richmond diverted from its destination, and the soldiers thus left to needless suffering. A further notice will be taken of this slander in a subsequent chapter, and that it had not one atom of truth in it will be shown by conclusive testimony.
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