The morale of the troops.
The troops who left the Petersburg lines
on the retreat with Lee
were of no ordinary mould.
Each was a veteran of years of terrible war and trial, the survivor of many a bloody battle.
They had experienced victories without undue elation, and bore disaster and suffering without being cast down.
They remained with their colors when the faint-hearted and selfish fell by the way-side, because of a deep conviction of the justice and necessity of their cause, and were sustained by a high sense of duty and personal pride which scorned discharge unless it came through victory or by death or wounds.
The larger portion of them had an abiding faith, amounting almost to fanaticism, that the God of Battles would, in the end, send their cause safe deliverance, and they followed Lee
with an almost child-like faith, which set no bounds to his genius and power of achievement.
They did not doubt that he would unite with Johnston
and destroy Sherman
and then turn on Grant
; or else take up a new line and hold Grant
at bay until the country in the rear rallied and gave Lee
power to resume the offensive.
The power of the South
to indefinitely prolong the struggle by partisan war if its main armies were compelled to disperse, was a belief fostered by the traditions of the Revolution, and largely pervaded the ranks.
It was a general thought among these men that long continued resistance, and the burdens it would entail upon the invader, as well as the blows of Confederate arms, would finally wring recognition and peace from the United States
Such was the frame of mind of most of these men as they turned their backs upon the Confederate
capital; and while they were too intelligent not to appreciate the extent of the disaster, they entered upon the retreat with good heart and undoubted morale.
The men had been so long cooped up in the trenches that their march into the open fields and woods on the night of April 2d was as exhilarating to them as cool breezes and sunlight to one long confined in the close air of a dark dungeon.
These things explain the almost bouyant spirit of Lee
's troops on that fateful night.
The belief that the retreat would possibly end in surrender entered the minds of few. While the final result would probably not have been altered if Lee
had made a junction with Johnston
, it is certain if there had been food to sustain the bodies of these men their unquenched courage would have written a different history for the retreat from the Petersburg lines