- Public feeling in Richmond after evacuation day. -- President Davis' proclamation at Danville. -- New and sanguine theory of Confederate defence. -- moral effect of the fall of Richmond. -- retreat and final surrender of Lee's army. -- crossing of the Appomattox. -- explosion of magazines. -- the wagon-train from Richmond. -- order of Grant's pursuit. -- General Lee's New hopes. -- they are dashed at Amelia Court-house. -- the Confederates in a starving condition. -- Lee abandons the route to Danville and makes for Lynchburg, by way of Farmville. -- sufferings on the march. -- demoralization of the troops. -- some spirited episodes. -- the action of Sailors' Creek. -- the Confederates in the vicinity of Farmville. -- affairs with the enemy. -- the Confederates retreat to Appomattox Court-house, without molestation. -- sense of relief among the troops. -- ominous sounds of cannon. -- the exit to Lynchburg closed by Sheridan. -- desperate adventure of Gordon's corps. -- the recoil. -- a flag of truce on the scene. -- correspondence between Gens. Grant and Lee, leading to the surrender of the army of Northern Virginia. -- the conference at McLean's house. -- Gen. Lee announcing the terms of surrender. -- a touching scene at his headquarters. -- Gen. Lee's farewell address to his army. -- Magnanimous and delicate behaviour of Grant. -- Gen. Lee's return to his home. -- great exultation at Washington. -- Secretary Stanton's congratulations. -- scene at the President's house. -- characteristic speech and last joke of Abraham Lincoln
The Federal occupants of Richmond no doubt thought the people very submissive to the new authority. They saw no sign of violence, and they heard no expression of defiance. The population of Richmond moved mechanically before their new masters. But there was, for some days, an undercurrent of eager, excited thought which the Federals did not perceive; citizens whispered among themselves, and went around the street-corners to relate in low tones to each other some rumour eagerly grasped for the new hope it contained. Thus it was told in whispers that Gen. Lee had won a great victory on his retreat, that Johnston had struck Sherman a mortal blow, or that some other extravagant event had happened, some sudden relief of the falling fortunes of the Confederacy. It is not easy for men to descend at once to the condition of despair.  But even outside the circle of absurd rumours, there were intelligent minds in Richmond that still entertained lingering hopes of the cause of the Confederacy. The foundation of these hopes was small, but not altogether visionary. There was a chance that Lee might get off his army safely, and effect a successful retreat; he might unite with Johnston; and, although driven from Virginia, the armies of the Confederacy might reopen Georgia and the Carolinas, and place the Government nearer its resources of subsistence, with the control of a territory practically much larger than that in the Richmond jurisdiction. These things were possibilities, very small and very remote. It was learned through Northern newspapers, circulated in Richmond, that President Davis, who had reached Danville, had issued there the following proclamation:
This proclamation was the last effusion of the sanguine temperament  of the Confederate President. It gave a new colour to the evacuation of Richmond. But the hopeful and ingenious minds which constructed the new theory of Confederate defence had failed to take in a most important element in the consideration — the moral effect of the fall of Richmond. They did not reflect that this city had been for four years the central object of all the plans and exertions of the war; they did not understand that it had become to the popular mind the symbol of the Confederacy; and they could not realize that when Richmond fell the cause lost in the estimation of the army and people the emblem and semblance of nationality and all appliances for supporting the popular faith and enthusiasm. But the sequel was to develop and demonstrate all these consequences, and the last hopes of the Confederacy were to be speedily extinguished.
Retreat and final surrender of Lee's army.In his last despatch from Petersburg, Gen. Lee had stated that some time during the night of the 2d April, he would fall back behind the Appomattox. He was then holding a semicircular line, the left resting on the Appomattox, narrowly including Petersburg; while his extreme right, which Sheridan was still pressing, was in the vicinity of the Southside Railroad, some fifteen miles west of the town. It appears that the enemy already imagined that he had cut off the troops on the right, supposing that they could not cross the river except through Petersburg; but in this he was mistaken. When night closed, the air was luminous with the steady glare of the burning warehouses in Petersburg. For several hours cannonading was kept up; but about midnight the Confederates began their retreat. By three o'clock in the morning, Gordon's whole corps, except a few pickets and stragglers, was safely across the river, and the bridge on fire. As the troops from Petersburg got across the river, the heavily-charged magazine of Cummin's battery of siege guns blew up, lighting the deep darkness of the night with its fierce and vivid glare, and then shaking the earth like the shock of an earthquake. Fort Clifton's magazine in a moment followed, and then the explosion was taken up all along the line to Richmond. The scene was fierce and imposing. The retreating army left the light and pierced the midnight darkness. At each step some new explosion would sound in their ears. The whole heavens in their rear were lit up in lurid glare, and added intensity to the blackness before their eyes. On leaving Petersburg, Gordon's corps took the river road; Mahone, with his division, and all other troops on the south side of the James, the middle road, and Ewell and Elzey, with the Richmond garrison, and other  troops, the road nearest the James River. During the day following the evacuation of Petersburg, the Confederates made good progress, their route unimpeded by wagons and artillery. But after the junction of Gordon's corps with Mahone and Ewell, with thirty miles of wagons, containing the special plunder of the Richmond departments, they went at a rate so distressingly slow, that it was apparent that an enterprising enemy would have little trouble in overtaking them. But the day passed without any attack of the enemy, and without the appearance of any considerable body of his forces. So far the retreat had been an occasion of reassurance; it had been effected safely; and with the additions made to the Petersburg section of troops from the Richmond lines and from Lee's extreme right, which had crossed the Appomattox above Petersburg, that resourceful commander had now well in hand more than twenty thousand troops. Gen. Lee had clearly seen that his retreat would put the enemy to the necessity of breaking up into bodies of one or two army corps, with a view to a vigorous pursuit. On the morning of the 3d, Grant commenced pursuit. Its order, calculated on the clear assumption that Lee would move for the Danville road, was as follows: Sheridan to push for the Danville road, keeping near the Appomattox; Meade to follow with the Second and Sixth corps; and Ord to move for Burkesville along the Southside road, the Ninth corps stretching along the road behind him. It was certainly a well-planned pursuit; but it involved the possibility that Lee might fall on the enemy in detail; it was a question of the rapidity of movements and combinations, in which, although Grant held the interiour line, his adversary was not in a hopeless situation; for Lee, even if forced from the Danville road, might take up an eccentric line, make a race to Farmville, there cross the Appomattox once more, and, by destroying the bridges after him, escape into the mountains beyond Lynchburg. With spirits visibly reassured, the retreating army reached Amelia Court-house in the morning of the 4th. But a terrible disappointment awaited it there. Several days before, Gen. Lee had despatched most distinct and urgent orders that large supplies of commissary and quartermaster's stores should be sent forward from Danville to Amelia Courthouse. But the authorities in Richmond bungled the command; and the train of cars loaded with these supplies ran through to relieve the evacuation of the capital, without unloading the stores at Amelia Court-house. Gen. Lee found there not a single ration for his army. It was a terrible revelation. To keep life in his army, he would have to break up half of it into foraging parties to get food; the country was scant of subsistence, a tract of straggling woods and pine barrens; and soon the pangs of hunger would tell upon the flagging spirits of his men, and consume the last hope. Meanwhile the forced delay of his army at Amelia Court-house gave  Sheridan, who was pursuing with his cavalry, and the Fifth corps, time to strike in upon the Confederate line of retreat. In the afternoon of the 4th he was reported at Jetersville, on the Danville Railroad, seven miles south west of Amelia Court-house. But it was no longer a question of battle with Gen. Lee; the concern was now simply to escape. His men were suffering from hunger; half of them had been sent or had straggled in quest of food; soldiers who had to assuage their craving by plucking the buds and twigs of trees, were scarcely to be blamed for courting capture; and thus with his army in loose order, in woful plight, diminishing at every step, Gen. Lee determined to try the last desperate chance of escape, and to penetrate the region of hills in the direction of Farmville, hoping to avail himself of these positions of defence. On the 5th he took up this line of retreat; but the locomotion of his army was no longer what it had been. The troops went wearily along, averaging hardly half a mile an hour. It was with some satisfaction that they saw the wagons which had so effectually clogged their march begin to cast up their plunder. Jaded horses and mules refused to pull; demoralized and badly-scared drivers, with straining eyes and perspiring bodies, plied their whips vigorously to no effect; difficult places in the road were choked with blazing wagons, fired to save their contents from the enemy; there were deafening reports from ammunition exploding and shells bursting, when touched by the flames; and on this line of terrible retreat, behind and on either flank, there was a running fight through every hour of the day. At every hill divisions would alternately halt, and form lines of battle and check the pursuers. As soon as proper disposition had been made on the next line of hills the rear division would move off and pass the others, only to form again at the next suitable defensive position. Thus toiled on the retreating army. Hundreds of men dropped from exhaustion; thousands threw away their arms; the demoralization appeared at last to involve the officers; they did nothing to prevent straggling; and many of them seemed to shut their eyes on the hourly reduction of their commands, and rode in advance of their brigades in dogged indifference. But in the jaded, famishing crowd there was yet left something of the old spirit which had made the Army of Northern Virginia famous throughout the world, and inscribed its banners with the most glorious names of the war. Its final retreat was not to be without its episodes of desperate and devoted courage. On the 6th, the enemy having changed the order of pursuit to conform to Lee's new movement, Sheridan, with his cavalry, struck in upon the Confederate line of retreat just south of Sailors' Creek, a small tributary of the Appomattox. Ewell's corps, consisting of about four thousand two hundred men, was called upon to support Pickett, who, with his division reduced to about eight hundred men, was being sorely pressed by  Sheridan. On reaching the ground, and whilst deploying his troops into line of battle, it was discovered that Gordon's division, which formed the rear-guard of the army, had taken another road, following after the wagon train, and that the Federal forces had already occupied the high ground in Ewell's rear, opening upon his troops a rapid and deadly fire of artillery. A very brief time elapsed, when the appearance of a very heavy force of infantry, also in the rear, rendered it necessary to face about the Confederate line, and prepare for another conflict on the very ground over which it had just passed. The enemy advanced with spirit, and with the evident determination of bringing matters to a crisis, and thus, without being able to assist Pickett, Ewell, with his small force, was compelled to hold his ground against these overwhelming numbers in his (Pickett's) rear. At this critical juncture fresh troops were brought up against Pickett, and, charging impetuously on his line, it was easily broken, never again to be reformed, or restored to such order as to render it longer available. The enemy's forces, confident and exulting over the prospect of success, were now hurled upon the brave men of Ewell's corps. It, however, with an exhibition of valour never surpassed, continued to stand at bay. It kept up a most destructive fire, strewing the field with dead and wounded. But at last the unequal contest was terminated; Gen. Ewell was captured, and one of his division commanders, G. W. C. Lee; and the greater portion of the command surrendered, but not until they had given evidences of a spirit which the enemy had scarcely looked for in so small a portion of a fugitive army. The retreat of what remained of the Confederate army was continued, until at last it had crossed the Appomattox and reached Farmville. Except Longstreet's command, it crossed the river during the night; Gordon's troops at the High Bridge going into bivouac on the opposite side, while Longstreet occupied the hills on the river near the town of Farmville. Here, on the morning of the 7th, the haversacks of many of the men were replenished for the first time since leaving Petersburg. It is said of these devoted men who yet clung to the great Confederate commander, that their suffering from the pangs of hunger “has not been approached in the military annals of the last fifty years.” At early dawn the enemy made an attack on Gordon at the bridge, and on Longstreet on the hills near Farmville. Firing the bridge, and leaving one brigade to check the enemy, the remainder of Gordon's corps took the railroad track to Farmville, leaving the brigade skirmishing sharply. On the high hills on the upper side of the Appomattox, just beyond Farmville, it appeared as if the Confederates intended to give battle. The artillery was placed in position, and active skirmishing had commenced with the Federal advance, which had crossed the river on the heels of the retreating rear-guard of the Confederates. The lines of infantry were formed  in order of battle; but it was only done to cover the movement of the wagons, as the army took up its line of retreat. That portion of the Federal army which had crossed the river dashed on recklessly, and seemed to think they had only a demoralized mob to contend with. They drove the Confederate wagon guard in and cut the train in two, on the road the wagons were traversing; but Grimes' division advanced at a double-quick, attacked and charged the assailants, routed them, and captured two hundred prisoners. During all day of the 7th, the Confederate army marched without molestation in the rear. Occasionally the enemy's cavalry would dash in on a portion of their wagon train, kill a few horses, frighten drivers and quartermasters, and then scamper away; but no serious impediment was offered to the march. The whole army had left the main road and were traversing dense thickets of oak and pine, through which ran rarely used and broken roads. On the 8th they continued to march steadily, and in the middle of the day struck a better road, and made rapid progress until dark, when the rear was within four miles of Appomattox Court-house. The head of the column had reached the Court-house. Lynchburg was but twenty-four miles off. Not a gun had been fired during the day. The troops went into camp without restraint. No enemy seemed near. The bands of the divisions enlivened the departing hours of day with martial music. The weary private soldiers prepared to sleep with a strange sense of relief and contentment. But in this night of apparent security the general officers were consulting together; and their looks plainly indicated intense anxiety. Soon the rumble of distant cannon sounded in front. Presently came the ominous order for all the extra artillery to be cut down and the commands disbanded. The true situation was soon apparent to Gen. Lee. In pressing for Lynchburg he had to put himself in a dangerous predicament; he was on a strip of land not more than seven or eight miles broad between the James and Appomattox rivers; and the firing in front indicated that the outlet towards Lynchburg was closed by Sheridan, while Meade in the rear, and Ord south of the Court-house completed the environment and put Lee in a position from which it was impossible to extricate his army without a battle, which it was no longer capable of fighting. Early in the morning of the 19th, Gordon's corps was ordered to move to the front through Appomattox Court-house, passing the entire wagon and artillery train of the army. Lee's army had at this time dwindled down to eight thousand men with muskets in their hands. Gordon was thrown out with about two thousand men in front; the wreck of Longstreet's command covered the rear; and between these thin lines was the remnant of the wagon train, and clinging to these thousands of unarmed stragglers, many of them famishing and too weak to carry their muskets.  Such was the condition and disposition of Gen. Lee's forces when Gordon attempted the last desperate task of cutting his way through Sheridan's lines. The Confederate cavalry was drawn up in mass in the village. The fields, gardens, and streets were strewn with troops bivouacking in line of battle. In the early light of morning Gordon's corps marched through and to the west of the village. After reconnoitring, it was discovered that the enemy in front was dismounted cavalry in heavy force. Dispositions were made for attack, and about ten o'clock Gordon's line was ordered forward. The enemy's cavalry was easily driven back; it seemed that an exit would be secured, until it was discovered that the cavalry was falling back upon large masses of infantry, which were hastening forward and just forming to advance. It was the turn of the Confederates to fall back. Gordon now sent word to Gen. Lee that the enemy was driving him hack. Just as his divisions had formed anew to resist a flank movement of Sheridan, while the skirmishers were engaged, while the Richmond Howitzers (who had fired the first gun at Bethel), having already discharged one volley, were loading for another, a flag of truce appeared upon the scene, and the action suddenly and strangely ceased. The explanation of the cessation of hostilities was soon made known. While the pursuit of Lee's army by Grant's overwhelming forces was still in progress, the following correspondence, commenced at Farmville, had taken place between the two commanders, terminated by Lee's seeking the final interview, when he received the message referred to from Gordon:
The interview of the two commanders took place at the house of Mr. Wilmer McLean. It was a great occasion; thrilling and wonderful memories must have crowded upon these two men as they stood face to face. But the interview was very simple; there was no theatrical circumstance; there was not a sentimental expression in what was said. No man abhorred anything melo-dramatic more than Gen. Lee. His manner with Grant bordered on taciturnity, but not so as to exhibit temper or mortification. “His demeanour,” writes a Federal observer of the memorable scene, “was that of a thoroughly possessed gentleman who had a very disagreeable duty to perform, but was determined to get through it as well and as soon as he could.” He had come to the interview attended only by Col. Marshall, one of his aides. With courteous greeting the two commanders proceeded at once and simply to business; some explanations were required by Gen. Lee as to the meaning of certain phrases in the terms of surrender; and without other question or remark the act that was to put out of existence the Army of Northern Virginia was reduced to form at a deal table. When Gen. Lee had been seen riding to the rear, the rumour of surrender flew like wild-fire through the Confederates. It might have been supposed that the worn and battered troops who watched on their arms for the result of the conference at McLean's house, would have been glad to welcome a termination of their sufferings, come in what form it might; that they would feel a certain joy when a long agony was over. But such was not the display, when about half past 3 o'clock in the evening Gen. Lee was seen thoughtfully riding back to his headquarters, and it was known that the surrender had been completed. His leading officers were assembled, anticipating the result and awaiting his return. When the terms of surrender were announced, they approached their great commander in turn, and shook hands, expressing satisfaction at his course, and regret at parting. The lines of battle that had awaited a possible renewal of the combat, were broken; but there were no huzzas, no scattering, not an indecent shout; but the men broke ranks to rush up to their beloved  commander, struggling with each other to wring him once more by the hand. It was a most affecting scene. Rough and rugged men, familiar with hardship, danger, and death in a thousand shapes, had tears in their eyes, and choked with emotion as they thronged around their old chieftain, uttering words to lighten his burden and mitigate his pain. He had so often himself uttered such words to them, when they bled on the battlefield or toiled on the weary march. Now simple as ever, very serious but collected, with the marks of a Roman manhood yet about him, he turned to his soldiers, not to insult the occasion with a harangue or explanations or regrets, but merely to say, as the signs of tearless suffering gathered in his face: “Men, we have fought through the war together; and I have done the best I could for you.” The day after the surrender Gen. Lee took formal leave of his army in the following plain and manly address:
On the 12th April, the Army of Northern Virginia had its last parade. On that day, in pursuance of an arrangement of the commissioners of surrender, the troops marched by divisions to a spot in the neighbourhood of Appomattox Court-house, where they stacked arms and deposited accoutrements. About seventy-five hundred men laid down their arms; but the capitulation included in addition some eighteen thousand stragglers who were unarmed, and who came up to claim the benefit of surrender and accept paroles. With remarkable delicacy, Gen. Grant was not present at the ceremony, and had not been visible since his interview of the 9th with Gen. Lee.  Indeed, this Federal commander had, in the closing scenes of the contest, behaved with a magnanimity and decorum that must ever be remembered to his credit even by those who disputed his reputation in other respects, and denied his claims to great generalship. He had with remarkable facility accorded honourable and liberal terms to the vanquished army. He did nothing to dramatize the surrender; he made no triumphal entry into Richmond; he avoided all those displays of triumph so dear to the Northern heart; he spared everything that might wound the feelings or imply the humiliation of a vanquished foe. There were no indecent exultations; no “sensations;” no shows; he received the surrender of his adversary with every courteous recognition due an honourable enemy, and conducted the closing scenes with as much simplicity as possible. In the afternoon of the 12th April, Gen. Lee, attended by five members of his staff, rode into Richmond, and drew rein at his house on Franklin street. He passed on rapidly, as if to escape notice; blackened ruins threw their shadows across the way; strange faces were on the streets; but it was impossible for his commanding figure to pass without the challenge of curiosity, and there presently ran along the side-walks the shout, “It's Gen. Lee.” Instantly there was a wild chase after the party of horsemen. The General simply raised his hat as he rode rapidly on; dismounting, he shook hands with some that pressed upon him; he showed an anxiety to enter his house, and in a few moments he had passed into the fondly-desired retirement of his simple home. In Washington the surrender of Gen. Lee's army was taken as the close of the war. No sooner was it known than Secretary Stanton immediately telegraphed an order to the headquarters of every army and department, and to every fort and arsenal in the United States, to fire a salute of two hundred guns in celebration of the event. To Grant he despatched: “Thanks be to Almighty God for the great victory with which He has this day crowned you and the gallant armies under your command. The thanks of this department, and of the Government, and of the people of the United States-their reverence and honour have been deserved-will be rendered to you and the brave and gallant officers and soldiers of your army for all time.” A vast concourse of people assembled at the President's house to make the popular congratulations to Mr. Lincoln. There was music, illuminations; the ground was ablaze with triumphal lights; and the vast crowd called impatiently for a response from the President. It was a grand historical occasion; one of great thoughts and imposing circumstances; one for noble and memorable utterances. The President of the United States came forward, and called for the “rebel” song of “Dixie.” He said:  “I have always thought that ‘ Dixie’ was one of the best songs I ever heard. Our adversaries over the way, I know, have attempted to appropriate it; but I insist that on yesterday we fairly captured it. I referred the question to the attorney-general, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is now our property. (Laughter and loud applause.) I now ask the band to give us a good turn upon it.” It was the characteristic speech and last joke of Abraham Lincoln.