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[98] Their actions excited suspicion, and they were arrested and searched. On one of them was found a dispatch from Sheridan to Grant. The two men then confessed that they were scouts and spies for Sheridan.

A staff officer was directed to carry the dispatch to General Lee, and also to ask ‘what disposition to make of the spies,’ who now momentarily expected to be led out to execution. General Lee was found late that night, at his headquarters near Amelia Springs, and the dispatch and message delivered. He inquired briefly of the circumstances of the arrest of the two men, and whether any information other than that sent him had been extracted from them. Being answered, he turned to give instructions to some other officers, telling the staff officer to wait, he would give him his answer presently. When he had finished giving his instructions to other officers who were waiting, he again turned to the staff officer as if about to speak to him, but remained silent for more than a minute when he said: ‘Tell the general the lives of so many of our own men are at stake that all my thoughts now must be given to disposing of them. Let him keep the prisoners until he hears further from me.’ At the time it did not occur to the officer, though it did shortly afterwards, when the surrender freed these spies of their peril, that General Lee was thinking, while he paused, that a few hours would decide the fate of his army, and that if the army were lost, the execution of the men would be useless, and debating in his own mind whether, under the circumstances, duty forbade his showing pity for his captives, and giving them a chance for their lives, by delaying a decision which, if made then, would, according to all the laws of war, inevitably doom them to death.

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