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Last days of the army of Northern Virginia.

An address delivered by Hon. Thomas G. Jones, Governor of Alabama, before the Virginia division of the Association of the army of Northern Virginia at the Annual meeting, Richmond, Va., October 12th, 1893.

The President, Hon. George L. Christian, having called the meeting to order, in glowing terms, introduced the orator.

Governor Jones, after appropriately acknowledging the kind introduction of the chairman, said:

Posterity will admit, as Greeley does in his ‘American Conflict,’ that the Confederacy had no alternative to staying its arm at Sumter but ‘its own dissolution.’ The smoke in Charleston harbor had hardly cleared away before there arose in sight of the world the heroic figure of the Army of Northern Virginia. Many have questioned its cause, but none have ever doubted it. [58]

Washington and Richmond are about 120 miles apart; and in assault or defence of these cities each section put forth its mightiest effort. The first army marched out from Washington for Richmond in 1861, and the Army of Northern Virginia routed it at Manassas.

In 1862 it repelled the mighty army of invasion which came in sight of the spires of Richmond; defeated it and another army, a second time, on the plains of Manassas; baffled or beat other armies at Winchester, Cross-Keys and Port Republic; advancing northward captured Harper's Ferry with 1,000 prisoners; fought a drawn battle in Maryland, and hurled back a mighty foe at Fredericksburg.

In 1863 it defeated ‘the finest army on the planet’ at Chancellorsville, and leaping northward carried its standard into Pennsylvania, where it failed to drive the foe from the heights of Gettysburg, and then returning to its own soil, again threw the hostile army back on Washington, and yet again balked invasion at Mine-Run. During that year it allowed no invading army to approach at any time within five days march of its capital.

In 1864 it hurled back one column at Bermuda Hundreds, another at New Market, still another at Lynchburg; won victory at Kernstown and Monocacy, and assailed the outer walls of Washington. With the main invading army, under its sturdiest leader, it sought and nearly succeeded in a death grapple in the Wilderness; repeatedly repulsed it with frightful loss at Spotsylvania; won another Fredericksburg at Cold Harbor; repelled with awful slaughter all attacks in front of Petersburg; and for ten long months defended two cities twenty-two miles apart, until the thin line, worn by attrition and starvation, was broken through at last.

Four awful years passed before the armies which started from Washington, trod the streets of Richmond; and in each of those years the Army of Northern Virginia startled Washington with the roll of its drum, or fought battles for its possession north of the Potomac.

The last hours of such an army have not received that consideration from the historian which they deserve. Knowing it will prove of interest to the survivors of that glorious army, and that perchance something I may say may serve to direct abler minds and pens to this rich epoch in its history, I venture to address my comrades tonight on ‘The last days of the Army of Northern Virginia.’

It is impossible, of course, in the scope or compass of such a paper, to give in detail the history of the events which forced the [59] evacuation of Richmond, or to describe, except in the simplest way, the movements of the army from Petersburg to Appomattox. I shall not be able even to mention all the actions on the retreat or to describe many of its noted scenes or to recall many heroic feats of arms, or to attempt, were I worthy to pronounce it, any eulogy upon its great commander.

The strength of the contending armies.

The odds against which the army contended, both moral and physical, are not comprehended even now by many who took part in the struggle. It is material, therefore, to consider the strength and conditions of the two armies at the commencement of the operations which ended at Appomattox.

The exact strength of the contending armies at the opening of hostilities, March 25, 1865, is a matter of some dispute. The morning reports and field returns of the two armies, however, give data from which the strength of each can be determined with substantial accuracy.

Major General Humphreys, at one time chief of staff to General Meade, and afterwards a corps commander in his army, a writer of great ability and fairness, states that the total effective of Lee's army on the 25th day of March, 1865, was infantry 46,000, field artillery 5,000, and cavalry 6,000, making a total of not less than 57,000 officers and men. He appears to reach these figures on the assumption that Wise's brigade, 2,000 strong, was not included in the reports of Anderson's corps, and that Rosser's cavalry was also omitted from the last morning returns of the Department of Northern Virginia of February 20, 1865. Not having the returns before me for inspection, it is impossible to determine whether the assumption is well founded.1

The last morning report of the Department of Northern Virginia was made February 20, 1865, and included not only the troops around Petersburg and Richmond, but those in the Valley and guarding bridges and railroads in the department, and other unattached [60] commands, and gives a total present for duty in the entire department of 59,093 men; 5,169 of the number thus reported were stationed either in the Valley or on the railroad defences, leaving the total present of 53,924 on the Richmond and Petersburg lines on February 20, 1865. To this should be added the command of General Ewell, who had about 2,760 infantry in the Department of Richmond, under General Custis Lee, and the Naval battalion under Commodore Tucker. Including these in the total of the troops immediately around Richmond and Petersburg, General Lee's present for duty on the 20th of February, 1865, would amount to 57,000, in round numbers, of all branches of the service. If we deduct from this number the 6,041 cavalry and 5,392 artillery, it would give Lee, six weeks before the final operations began, 45,567 muskets for the defence of his entire line of thirty-seven miles from right to left. Of the cavalry present, 2,500 were dismounted for lack of horses, and the horses of the remainder were hardly fit for use owing to the arduous service, the effects of the hard winter, and the scarcity of forage.

Between the 20th of February and the 1st of April, 1865, owing to the gloomy outlook of the cause, and the great suffering of the men and their families at home, the desertions from Lee's army, according to the statement of his adjutant general, amounted to about 3,000. In the attack on Hare's Hill, on March 25th, the Confederate loss in killed, wounded, and missing was about 3,500, to which should be added the loss on other parts of the line of about 1,000 men, so that on the morning of the 29th of March, when Grant commenced his final movement, and every available infantryman was in line, Lee could muster a little over 38,000 muskets to withstand the attack.2 [61] This estimate is substantially that of Swinton, another very careful Northern writer, who states that at this time, ‘from his left northeast of Richmond to his right beyond Petersburg as far as Hatcher's Run, there were thirty-five miles of breastworks which it behooved Lee to guard, and all the force remaining to him was 37,000 muskets and a small body of broken down horse.’

Mr. Stanton, Federal Secretary of War, reported that General Grant had available on the 1st of March, 1865, in the armies of Meade, Ord and Sheridan, an available total of all arms of 162,239. General Humphreys argues that this report does not correctly state the ‘available force present for duty,’ because it includes not only the ‘officers and enlisted men of every branch of the service present for duty, but all those on extra or detail duty, as well as in arrest or confinement.’ He claims that the available strength of the Army of the Potomac on the 1st of March, 1865, by this method of return, is increased by 16,000, or an addition of about one-eighth to its real fighting strength. Making this deduction from the total effective of 162,239 reported by the

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