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Appomattox Courthouse. Account of the surrender of the Confederate States Army, April 9, 1865.

By Colonel Herman H. Perry.
Interesting and Hitherto unpublished particulars.

[From the Atlanta, Georgia, Constitution November, 1892.]

The story of General Lee's surrender must ever have a sad interest for those who admire the brave.

While much has been written about that event, still there is lacking that inside information of the incidents which led up to it. [57]

A most interesting paper, read before the Confederate Veteran's Association, of Atlanta, spreads much light on the subject. It is from the pen of Colonel Herman H. Perry, now of Waynesboro, Georgia, who was assistant adjutant-general on the staff of General Sorrell.

Colonel Perry was himself the officer who received from the hands of General Grant's messenger the written demand upon General Lee that he should surrender.

The letter produced.

The letter of Colonel Perry is addressed to Hon. Robert L. Rodgers, of West End, and is by him made public:

Dear Sir—I received your favor of to-day, which request to send to you an account of the transactions of my receiving the first demand for the surrender of General Lee's army before reaching Appomattox. I remember having written to you last year that I would write it for your use as a matter of history. I did it in pencil at the time, and I laid it away and have not referred to it since. I have now disinterred it from a lot of old papers in my office and send it without any further polish or correction. I wish you would read it to Captain J. W. English and see if his memory and mine agree about it. I have been often importuned to write this before, but I have refrained from doing it because so many ‘heroes’ have appeared since the war ended who never handled a sword or gun then, and have been so injudiciously lauded by the press that I did not care to have the appearance of being on the list. But let us refer now to the scenes which were the closing acts of the glorious Southern Confederacy as the closing history of the times.

The eventful night.

It was night, April 7, 1865. We had crossed the river near Farmville and had taken up a position about, as near as I remember, a mile from the crossing, which the Confederates had attempted to burn, but unsuccessfully. General Miles, commanding a Federal brigade, made a mad attempt to throw the Confederates into confusion on their left by a flank movement (perhaps that was his purpose), but it was a very unfortunate move, for his lines were in a few minutes nearly cut to pieces and his brigade placed hors de combat. [58] A furious picket-firing and sharp-shooting began on both sides, while wounded and dead Federals lay between the two lines.

Mahone's division was now in the rear guard at this point of General Lee's army. General Lee's forces were reduced now to their minimum strength, but a fiercer, more determined body of men never lived. They simply waited for General Lee's orders.

About 5 o'clock P. M. a flag of truce appeared in front of General Sorrell's brigade (General Wright's old brigade), of which the writer of this account was the adjutant-general. A courier was sent to division headquarters to announce it. Colonel Tayloe, a splendid young Virginian, had been assigned temporarily to the command of General Sorrell's brigade, General Sorrell having been almost mortally wounded near Petersburg. In a short while Colonel Tayloe was ordered to send a staff officer to answer to the flag of truce.

The flag of truce.

The writer was assigned to this duty, at the Confederate front lines. As the top of the earthworks was reached a number of Federal sharp-shooters fired at me, and two balls passed through the uniform coat I wore and one ball wounded a Confederate soldier in the hand, who had risen up with others from behind the works, out of curiosity to see what was going to take place. That ended the truce business for that afternoon. After nightfall and after everything on both sides had lapsed into silence, pickets were put in front of our lines about one hundred yards. Captain James W. English, one of the bravest, coolest, most faithful and vigilant officers in the Confederate army, was in charge of the line in front of our brigade. I had selected him for the reason that I knew that he would not fail me if I depended on his courage and faith. Colonel Tayloe knew nothing of our command or its officers, and the responsibility rested on me to select the right men in the crisis there was now on us. We apprehended a night attack.

At 9 o'clock at night, as the moon was about to rise, Captain English reported that a flag of truce was again offered on the Federal line on our front,. It was reported again at our division headquarters, and I was again sent out to answer it as before. I put on an army revolver, put aside my sword, and advanced about fifty yards from our pickets, halted and called for the flag. Where I stood there were scattered around several Federal dead and wounded. [59]

One of the latter asked me to do something for him. I told him I would very soon, making this promise only to encourage him, for I could really do nothing for lack of authority as well as lack of means. I asked his name and was rather astonished when he said he was General Miles' adjutant-general, and that his name was Boyd, as I now remember it. A response to my call in front took my attention, though I remember that the wounded officer said he had been shot through the thigh.

I advanced some distance and met a very handsomely-dressed Federal officer. We stopped in front of each other, about seven or eight feet apart. I soon recognized the fact that my worn Confederate uniform and slouched hat, even in the dim light, would not compare favorably with his magnificence, but as I am six feet high I drew myself up as proudly as I could and put on the appearance, as well as possible, of being perfectly satisfied with my personal exterior. The officer spoke first, introducing himself as General Seth Williams, of General Grant's staff.

After I had introduced myself he felt in his side pocket for documents, as I thought, but the document was a very nice-looking silver flask, as well as I could distinguish. He remarked that he hoped I would not think it was unsoldierly courtesy if he offered me some very fine brandy. I will own up now that I wanted that drink awfully. Worn down, hungry, and dispirited, it would have been a gracious God-send if some old Confederate and I could have emptied that flask between us in that dreadful hour of misfortune. But I raised myself about an inch higher, if possible, bowed, and refused politely, trying to produce the ridiculous appearance of having feasted on champagne and pound cake not ten minutes before, and that I had not the slightest use for as plebian a drink as ‘fine brandy.’

He was a true gentleman, begged pardon, and placed the flask in his pocket again without touching the contents in my presence. If he had taken a drink, and my Confederate olfactories had obtained a whiff of the odor of it, it is possible that I should have ‘caved.’ The truth is, I had not eaten two ounces in two days, and I had my coat-tail then full of corn, waiting to parch it as soon as an opportunity might present itself. I did not leave it behind me, because I had nobody I could trust it with.

As an excuse which I felt I ought to make for refusing his proffered courtesy, I rather haughtily said that I had been sent forward only [60] to receive any communication that was offered, and could not properly accept or offer any courtesies. In fact, if I had offered what I could it would have taken my corn.

General Grants letter.

He then handed me a letter, which he said was from General Grant to General Lee, and asked that General Lee should get it immediately, if possible. I made no reply, except to ask him if that was all we had to transact, or something to that effect. He said that was all. We bowed very profoundly to each other and turned away. In a moment I was called again by General Williams, and he asked if I would meet one of the colonels of General Miles's brigade, whose name I have forgotten, but who, if living and remembering the incidents, I hope will write to me at Waynesboro, Georgia. I hesitated a moment and replied that I would. The colonel came up and presented to me some of the effects taken from the trunk of General Mahone that evening, which had been captured by the Federal forces. They were pictures of General Mahone's family, and, if I remember rightly, letters from his wife. I took them and promised to deliver them, thanking him for his kind consideration. He asked me if I knew anything of Lieutenant or Captain Boyd, who was either killed or wounded, and was in our lines. I related what had occurred as I came forward. He asked me to send him to them. I had no authority to do this, but I said for the sake of humanity I would take the authority, at the risk of a court-martial, and I asked him if any of our men were suffering in his lines to do likewise in relieving them. I went back, met Captain English, and asked him to attend to it, and he took four men, as he afterward told me, and sent Captain Boyd forward to a detail of Federal soldiers, who received him. Is Captain Boyd alive now? I would like to know. He can thank Captain English and his Confederate pickets for saving him from a long night of suffering.

In General Lee's hand.

In twenty minutes after I got back in our lines a Confederate courier, riding a swift horse, had placed in General Lee's hand the letter which was handed to me, the first demand for the surrender of his devoted army. In an hour's time we were silently pursuing our [61] way toward the now famous field of Appomattox. We marched all day of the 8th of April, and slept in bivouac not more than three or four miles from Appomattox, where the demand was made again, and was acceded to, and the Confederacy of the South went down in defeat, but with glory.

We arrived on the field of Appomattox about 9 o'clock on the 9th day of April, the day of capitulation. The negotiations lasted during that day. The general order from General Lee was read to the army on the 10th of April. This is as I remember it. General Lee published his last order to his soldiers on that day.

I sat down and copied it on a piece of Confederate paper, using a bass-drum head for a desk, the best I could do. I carried this copy to General Lee, and asked him to sign it for me. He signed it, and I have it now. It is the best authority, along with my parole, that I can produce why, after that day, I no longer raised a soldier's hand for the South. There were tears in his eyes when he signed it for me, and when I turned to walk away there were tears in my own eyes too. He was in all respects the greatest man that ever lived, and as an humble soldier of the South, I thank Heaven that I had the honor of following him.

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