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Chapter 57: Nearing the end.

As hope died out in the breasts of the rank and file of the Confederate Army, the President's courage rose, and he was fertile in expedients to supply deficiencies, and calm in the contemplation of the destruction of his dearest hopes, and the violent death he expected to be his.

As late as April 1, 1865, he wrote to General Lee from Richmond, of the difficulty of finding iron enough to keep the Tredegar works employed, and said: “There is also difficulty in getting iron even for shot and shell, but I hope this may for the present be overcome by taking some from the Navy, which under the altered circumstances may be spared. ... The question is often asked, ‘ will we hold Richmond,’ to which my only answer is, if we can; it is purely a question of military power. The distrust is increasing, and embarrasses in many ways.”

Events now rapidly culminated in the overwhelming disaster he and our brave people had striven so energetically to avert. The gloom was impenetrable. [580]

The siege of Petersburg was hotly pressed by the enemy, and there were many splendid instances of gallantry, but for want of space I can only cite that of Battery Gregg, which repulsed assault after assault — the Mississippians, Georgians, North Carolinians, and Louisianians, who had won honor on many fields, fought this, their last battle, with most terrible enthusiasm, as if feeling it to be for them the last act in the great drama.

Two hundred against 5,000, the odds were fearful, but they were animated by a noble purpose and had no thought of abandoning their post.

Fort Gregg fell, and but few of its brave defenders survived, but those 200 men had placed hors de combat 800 men of Gibbons's corps.1

On the day it fell, General A. P. Hill, our intrepid, skilful, handsome soldier, accompanied by a single courier, while endeavoring to join his troops at Five Forks, ran across two Federal soldiers. Upon demanding their surrender, they shot him down and then retreated. His body was brought back to Petersburg by his faithful courier,2 and the country's mourning was proportionate to her need of him, and her high estimate of his [581] skilful generalship. Our consolation was that he was saved the pang of Appomattox. General Lee now telegraphed President Davis, that he could no longer hold the lines of Petersburg, and would leave them at night, and that this would necessitate the evacuation of Richmond.

The enemy kept up an incessant fire upon the lines all day, and made many unsuccessful assaults, ceasing his efforts only at nightfall.

At twelve o'clock that night, the last man and the last gun of the brave army that had defended the lines of Petersburg for a twelvemonth passed over the pontoon bridge and the retreat began that ended at Appomattox.

1 Colonel Miller Owen: In Camp and Battle.

2 General Gibbons so informed General Wilcox at Appomattox.

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