previous next

Chapter 5: the week of flying fights.

The victory at Five Forks had swept away a flying buttress of the enemy's stronghold. We had broken down the guard of a tactical movement to hold their threatened communications and cover their entrenched lines. We may be said to have virtually turned the right of the defenses of Petersburg and broken the Confederate hold upon Virginia. It was, indeed, a brilliant overture, giving courage to our hearts and stimulus to our energies.

Immediately on learning of Sheridan's victory at Five Forks, Grant reissued the suspended order directing an assault on the long-confronted defenses of Petersburg, which was executed by our Sixth and Ninth Corps with the assistance of the Army of the James with splendid valor and decisive effects. But he felt anxious about our isolated position at Five Forks, and ordered Humphreys to make vigorous demonstrations to find a vulnerable spot in the enemy's entrenched line in his front, and if he could not carry any portion of this, to send Miles' Division up the White Oak Road [183] to Sheridan that night. To intensify the diversion, our whole army in that quarter was to keep up a roar of cannonading all night long.

We now have to chronicle movements of extraordinary vacillation and complexity. It will be remembered that on the night of the battle most of our corps was moved out towards the Claiborne on the White Oak Road, and that part of Griffin's Division now commanded by Bartlett remained on the field with a guard at the Ford of Hatcher's Run, and a picket encompassing that storied and now haunted ground. We hardly know what General Grant can be desiring to establish when he says (Memoirs, II., p. 446) that Sheridan, “appreciating the importance of the situation, sent the Fifth Corps that night across Hatcher's Run to just south west of Petersburg, and faced them towards it.” If he had done so, there would have been a “diversion” on our end of the line as well as elsewhere, and with music and dancing; for this would have called us to disprove one of the very doubtful axioms of physics, that “two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time,” with such pyrotechnic celebration as two clouds charged with opposite electricities exhibit when driven to bivouac together in the same field of the heavens. We should have camped inside the rebel lines, and a bedlam of a bivouac that would have been.

After their defeat at Five Forks, the cavalry of both the Lees joined Rosser at the Ford crossing of Hatcher's Run, and then drew back on that [184] road to the Southside Railroad crossing. There were gathered also the fugitives from Pickett's and Johnson's Divisions, covered by the remainder of those divisions that had not been in the fight, --Hunton's Brigade of Pickett's Division, and Wise's, Gracie's (commanded by Colonel Sanford), and Fulton's of Johnson's Division, all under command of General R. H. Anderson. Their ultimate destination was to cover the enemy's right flank at Sutherland's Station. These would have been unpleasant fellows to camp with on the night of April 1st.

Humphreys, finding the entrenchments in his front impregnable, at about midnight sent Miles up the White Oak Road to Sheridan. But at daylight Sheridan faced him right about, and with two divisions of the Fifth Corps following, pushed back down the White Oak Road to attack the Claiborne flank,--where we had left it on the night of the thirty-first. Meantime, this morning of April 2d saw the splendid and triumphant assault of our army upon the outer Petersburg defenses. Humphreys, learning of this at about nine o'clock, attacked the works in his own front along the eastern end of the White Oak Road, defended by McGowan's, MacRay's, Scales', and Cook's Brigades of Hill's Corps commanded by Heth, and forced them out of their works by their right flank towards the Claiborne Road. Humphreys followed them up with his two divisions, and receiving word from Miles that he was returning towards him, ordered the whole Second Corps to pursue the enemy along [185] the Claiborne Road towards Sutherland's Station with a view to cutting off the retreat of the fugitives from Wright's and Ord's attacks, and closing in on Petersburg. Sheridan, arriving at the ClaiborneRoad and learning this,thereupon faces about the Fifth Corps, after having, strangely enough, given Miles permission to attack the enemy there, and marches his men back over the White Oak Road to Five Forks, and pushes on by the Ford Road up to Hatcher's Run. What lost labor for Miles and the Fifth Corps, running empty express up and down the White Oak Road! The shuttlecock was flying again. In the meantime Humphreys advancing with the two divisions to join Miles for the contemplated movement on the Claiborne flank and Sutherland's, having apprised General Meade of his intention, finds his action disapproved by his superiors, and receives orders to leave Miles and move his two other divisions off by the Boydton Road towards Petersburg and form on the left of the Sixth Corps. This, of course, left Miles to Sheridan, and Sheridan had now left Miles.

As these apparently absurd performances involve again the action and honor of the Fifth Corps, it is proper to bring them under examination. The accounts of the affair of Miles at Sutherland's Station given by General Badeau, General Grant, General Sheridan, and General Humphreys involve irreconcilable differences; and it is necessary to form our judgments on the subject by taking into account the means of knowledge, and probable [186] motives of action and of utterance, which go to establish the credibility of witnesses.

First we are prone to wonder how it could be that such a man as General Sheridan,--who does not reconsider his determinations,--when within less than two miles of the intended point of attack, should suddenly retire with his whole command, and leave Miles to fight the battle alone. It seems equally strange that General Humphreys should nearly at the same time turn and march off in the opposite direction, towards Petersburg. It is certainly a curious conjuncture that both Meade and Sheridan should be pulling away from Miles' high-toned division and the very respectable company of Confederates about Sutherland's as if they were not fit for their seeing.

Sheridan gives for his action a reason which appears sufficient, and adds an opinion which is significant. He says: “On the north side of Hatcher's Run, I overtook Miles, who was anxious to attack, and had a very fine and spirited division. I gave him permission; but about this time General Humphreys came up, and receiving notice from General Meade that he would take command of Miles' Division, I relinquished it at once, and faced the Fifth Corps to the rear. I afterwards regretted giving up this division, as I believe the enemy could at the time have been crushed at Sutherland's depot. I returned to Five Forks, and marched out the Ford Road towards Hatcher's Run.”

Two things are to be noted here: the reason why [187] Sheridan did not join the attack here, but released himself from the fight and Miles from his jurisdiction; and also his belief that this was the place at which to crush the enemy. Some of the rest of us had thought the same way on the 31st of March. This testimony is also confirmed by the opinion of the modest Humphreys, who cannot help saying that if the Second Corps could have been permitted to continue its march in the morning, “the whole force of the enemy there would probably have been captured.” This cumulative testimony shows what was lost by the antipathy of polarities, in the presence of Miles, the mysterious repellant.

In reflecting on the probabilities of Meade's motive in ordering Humphreys away from Miles' Division when Sheridan was approaching it with the intention of making an important fight there, it appears more than likely that Meade had a strong intimation that Sheridan must have undisturbed control of the entire operations on the extreme left. To this effect we have the direct, although perhaps unintentional, testimony of a most competent witness. General Badeau, Grant's military secretary, in his Military History of U. S. Grant, vol. III., p. 624, says: “Grant, however, intended to leave Sheridan in command of Miles, and indeed in full control of all the operations in this quarter of the field; and supposing his views to have been carried out, it was at this juncture that he ordered Humphreys to be faced to the right and moved towards Petersburg.” This appears to settle that part of the question, and takes the burden entirely [188] from Meade's shoulders, which he never seems to have had the heart to roll off for himself. Sheridan's motive, too, is readily seen by the same light. When he thought Miles had been ordered to resume relations with his own corps commander, Sheridan wished to have nothing to do with the fight, although in his estimation this was the supreme opportunity for “crushing the enemy.”

It is a little confusing to try to reconcile this testimony and explanation, with General Grant's statement in his official report, that learning the condition of things on the morning of April 2d, Sheridan “returned Miles to his proper command.” If so, why did Sheridan give Miles permission to attack at Sutherland's? And why, if the smashing up of the rebel right flank was so easy to achieve here, did he turn his back on Miles on the very edge of battle, and leave to him the solitary honor and peril of confronting there Heth's, and what of Johnson's and Pickett's Divisions and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, falling back that afternoon before the Fifth Corps advance, should get into his front? Certainly there were no other of the enemy west of this point at that hour worth Sheridan's marching the Fifth Corps ten miles round to hunt after.

It is a striking coincidence that Sheridan with the Fifth Corps should have come so near to Miles and the enemy,--two miles on the south of them,in the morning, at the moment when Humphreys was first coming up with his two divisions for the fight he anticipated, and then again, after the middle of the afternoon, have come within two [189] miles of Sutherland's and of Miles fighting, on the Cox Road west of them, and also just at the time when Humphreys was “returning” from the direction of Petersburg with his division ordered by Grant to go up to Miles' relief. The play of attraction and repulsion is something deep-lying in the “law” of forces.

An effort has also been made to give the impression that these two appearances of Sheridan, on the right and on the left of Miles at Sutherland's, were moments of one and the same action,--parts of one undivided movement. Whereas they were separated by a wider detour, possibly imperiling quite as much as the eventful one of Crawford at Five Forks, where Warren was the chief victim.

There are so many curious jumbles of coincidence and dislocation in the accounts of Sheridan's movements that day,--if we may not say in the movements themselves,--that readers who are not on the alert to keep things clear in their minds are liable to lose their bearings. Badeau “bothers” matters very much; as when he says (vol. III., p. 520), “At noon the left wing under Sheridan was still unheard from.” It would seem that the delirium of writing history had reached the stupor symptom somewhere. Grant must have known that Sheridan had dropped Miles and gone back to start for a longer run. We have Grant's statement in his official report that he got worried about Miles after a while, left as he was alone when he ordered Humphreys away from him, and Sheridan had abandoned him. He adds, in terms [190] implying censure of Humphreys: “I directed Humphreys to send a division back to his relief. He went himself.” It required considerable boldness in Humphreys to “go himself” with one of his divisions. Warren had tried that, and it took him so far he never got back. Whatever the much buffeted Humphreys could have done, in obeying orders, he would have been left with only one of his divisions somewhere, and we cannot blame him for trying to get where he had a chance of getting his eye in range of two of them, when a mixed fight was going on. And Grant ordering Humphrey's divisions makes us wonder where Meade was, supposed to command the corps of his army. Though raised to functions of a higher power, the ratio seems the same as that of Warren and Humphreys to their commands,--the instinctive dignity and abnormal solicitude of the hen with one chicken. When Humphreys got to Miles, that gallant officer had beaten the enemy from their last stand; but the most of them had got off between Meade and Sheridan.

General Grant, with the sincere kindness of his prepossessions, makes a special effort to have General Sheridan appear as a direct participator in the victory at Sutherland's. He allows Badeau to speak to this effect. And he himself says in his Memoirs (vol. II., p. 451), “Sheridan then took the enemy at Sutherland's Station, on the reverse side from where Miles was, and the two together captured the place, with a large number of prisoners and some pieces of artillery, and put the remainder, [191] portions of three Confederate corps, to flight. Sheridan followed, and drove them until night, when further pursuit was stopped. Miles bivouacked for the night on the ground which he with Sheridan had so handsomely carried by assault.” It was sometime before noon when Miles made his first attack, and quite as late as 3 P. M. when he made his last and completely successful one. At this time the Fifth Corps, the head of Sheridan's column, had got around as far as Cox's Station on the Southside Railroad, within two miles of Sutherland's, and was tearing up the rails there. Our column was not near enough to Miles's fight to take part in the actual assault, although no doubt its rapid and close advance on the enemy's right had some influence on the victory. But we never thought of claiming part of the glory that belonged to Miles,--except that he was not long ago a Fifth Corps boy.

The truth is that after all the pains to secure for Sheridan the glory of whatever was achieved on the left, or as Badeau says, “in that quarter of the field,” when all came to the very field where by unanimous consent the enemy's main force could have been “crushed,” and in fact was broken away with less complete results by Miles' gallant fight, Sheridan came perilously near-so near in truth that the difference is inappreciable by the human mind — to being found “not in the fight,” by reason of the far-reaching effect of his recoil from the suddenly appearing Humphreys, who rose upon him at the crowning moment when he gave [192] Miles permission to open the “crushing” fight. Shakespeare puts it:

Ay, now, I see 'tis true;
For the blood-bolter'd Banquo smiles upon me,
And points at them for his.

It is a relief to resume the plain account of our pursuit of tangible beings evading Five Forks. It seems like passing from war to peace. Early on the morning of the 2d our cavalry drew off northwesterly from the Ford Road crossing of Hatcher's Run to cut off some rebel cavalry reported to have made a push in that direction. Sheridan having returned from the Claiborne Road with the rest of the Fifth Corps, at about noon our column moved out, my own command in the advance, down the Ford Road. At Hatcher's Run a vigorous demonstration of the enemy's skirmishers to prevent our crossing was soon dislodged by a gallant attack by Colonel Sniper with the 185th New York. Throwing forward a strong skirmish line, in command of Colonel Cunningham of the 32d Massachusetts, we pressed on for the Southside Railroad. Hearing the noise of an approaching train from the direction of Petersburg, I pushed forward our skirmishers to catch it. A wild, shriek of the steam-whistle brought our main line up at the double-quick. There we find the train held up, Cunningham mounted on the engine pulling the whistle-valve wide open to announce the arrival at a premature station of the last train that tried to run the gauntlet out of Petersburg [193] under the Confederate flag. This train was crowded with quite a mixed company as to color, character, and capacity, but united in the single aim of forming a personally-conducted southern tour. The officers and soldiers we were obliged to regard as prisoners of war: the rest we let go in peace, if they could find it. It was now about one o'clock. It is to be noted that this train appears to have had no difficulty in getting by Sutherland's at that hour.

I was now directed to advance and, if possible, get possession of the Cox Road. This we found to be well defended. A force of about ten thousand men formed a strong line in front of us, but with that “light order” of disposition and movement which betokens a rear-guard. As this is sometimes, however, the mask for formidable resistance, I prepared to carry the position whatever it might prove to be. Accordingly, I threw forward the 185th New York in extended but compact order, covering the enemy's front, brought the two battalions of the Ig8th Pennsylvania into line of battle in support, placed the 18gth New York, Lieut.-Colonel Townsend commanding, in a large tract of woods on the right with orders to move left in front, ready to face outwards and protect that flank which looked toward Sutherland's, and advanced briskly upon the opposing lines. They proved to be Fitzhugh Lee's Division of cavalry dismounted, which from character and experience had acquired a habit of conservative demeanor. But a strong dash broke them up, and we pressed [194] them slowly before us along the Cox Road. Anticipating the burden of the retreat from the direction of Petersburg to fall this way, I prepared to hold this road against all comers, in the meantime pushing forward to the bank of a branch of Hatcher's Run a mile short of Sutherland's. Here my command was held in line and on the alert while the rest of the Fifth Corps were engaged in tearing up the Southside Railroad between us and Cox's Station in our rear. We were on the flank and rear of the enemy fighting Miles, but the stress of that fire died away as we approached. Miles had utterly routed the enemy. No doubt our advancing along the Cox Road towards this point, and also our preventing Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry from joining the resistance to Miles, had some considerable effect on the minds of the enemy, as well as in determining the direction of their retreat, and in so far helped Miles win his victory; but this could hardly be construed as part of the action.

Our cavalry shortly afterwards coming up in our rear, Sheridan with them pursued the fugitives along their retreat, now northwesterly, our rear division, Crawford's, joining in a skirmish at about dusk. We turned off the Cox Road to the Namozine, and moving out about two miles, bivouacked at the junction of this road with the River Road, which here turns north, leading to the Appomattox.

This was a hard day for my command. Being in the advance and in contact with the enemy, we had to move as nearly as possible in line of battle, taking a wide breadth of that broken country, [195] through brush and tangle, swamp and mire. Eight hours of this right upon such severe experience the two days and nights before left the men utterly exhausted. But they gathered the sticks for their little fires, and unrolled their slender haversacks, disclosing treasures that were mostly remnants, whether pork or sugar, biscuit or blankets things provided for their earthly sustenance while they were contending for ideals to come true for them only in some other life, or far-away form. Sic vos non vobis-not you for yourselves-says Virgil to his bees and birds building nests and storing up food, mostly for others. Strange shadows fall across the glamour of glory. The law of sharing for the most of mankind seems to be that each shall give his best according to some inner commandment, and receive according to the decree of some far divinity, whose face is of a stranger, and whose heart is alien to the motives and sympathies that animate his own.

At daylight on the 3d we moved out on the River Road on the south side of the Appomattox, with the purpose of cutting off the enemy's retreat from Petersburg. This day was remarkable in the fact that then, for once, we had somebody “ahead” of the Fifth Corps except the enemy. The cavalry were ahead this time, and that incident did not add to the comfort of marching in the mud, which in its nature, and without previous preparation, was a sufficient test for human powers, physical and moral. We had, however, the stimulus of hearing in exultant and wildly exaggerated phrase of the [196] flight of the Confederate government from Richmond, the full retreat of Lee's army from Virginia, and the downfall of the Confederacy. The plain facts were enough for us: Lee's army was in retreat for Danville, the Richmond government broken up, and the Confederacy at least mounted on its last legs. The splendid work of the right wing of our army on the 2d had set this in motion, and we still thought our restless behavior on the extreme left had at least induced Lee to notify Davis on the evening of that day that he should be obliged to abandon his lines during the night and would endeavor to reach Danville, North Carolina. Davis anticipated him with military promptitude, and succeeded in getting off with his personal effects and the Confederate archives by the Danville Road.

Grant had ordered a general assault on the interior lines of Petersburg and Richmond early on this morning of the 3d, but it was then discovered that they had been evacuated during the night. These places were immediately occupied by our troops, and General Warren was assigned to the command of the forces in and around Petersburg and City Point. The order given by Lee for the general retreat had been put into execution early in the evening of the 2d; Longstreet and the troops that had been in our main front, including also Gordon's Corps, had crossed to the north side of the Appomattox, directing their course towards Amelia Court House on the Danville Railroad about equidistant from Richmond [197] and Petersburg. Those with whom we had been principally engaged, Pickett's and Bushrod Johnson's Divisions, with Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, moved up the south side of the Appomattox, closely followed by us. The cavalry ahead were pressing on the enemy's rear all day, and just at dusk of the evening came upon a strong line of Lee's cavalry with Hunton's and Wise's infantry brigades boldly confronting us at the crossing of Deep Creek. The cavalry had forced them away in a sharp engagement before we got up to share in it. We could not help admiring the courage and pluck of these poor fellows, now so broken and hopeless, both for their cause and for themselves. A long and hard road was before them, whatever fate should be at the end of it. We had a certain pride in their manliness, and a strong “fellow-feeling,” however determined we were to destroy the political pretension which they had accepted as their cause. Before morning of the 4th General Sheridan, learning that Lee was trying to assemble his army near Amelia Court House, ordered the Fifth Corps to make all dispatch for Jetersville, a point about eight miles south of that place, to intercept Lee's communications by the Danville Road, while a column of our cavalry was sent around to strike that road still south of us and then move up to join us at Jetersville. Here, after a brisk march,--thirty-five miles, Sheridan says,--we arrived late in the day, and before midnight the Fifth Corps was in line of battle across the Danville Railroad, strongly [198] entrenched, effectually cutting Lee's plans and therefore in a position where we were pretty sure to be ourselves attacked with desperation in the morning, by Lee's whole army. This expectation held us at high tension on the morning of the 5th, waiting for the Army of the Potomac to come up and secretly hoping in our interior confessionals that Lee would also wait for them.

We had all expected a great battle at Jetersville. A sonorous name is not necessary for a famous field. And there was a little French flavor about this name that might have brought livelier associations than “jetsam,” of which also there was plenty before the week was over. Sheridan thought Lee missed his great opportunity in not attacking us here before any reinforcements got up. We shall not censure Lee. If he had doubts about the issue of a fight with the Fifth Corps we willingly accord him the benefit of his doubt. It appears, however, that Lee being informed by “RooneyLee, his son, that Sheridan had a heavy force of infantry here, gave up the attack and turned his columns off by a more northerly route, sending his trains by the best protected roads towards the Danville communications. So narrow was our chance of being confronted by Lee's whole army. And so great was our satisfaction at Lee's opinion of the Fifth Corps.

Our Second and Sixth Corps had been trying to follow the Fifth all the morning of the 4th, but had been stopped a long way back by one of those common, and therefore presumably necessary, but [199] unspeakably vexatious, incidents of a forced march,--somebody else cutting in on the road, claiming to have the right of way. The cavalry had come in on them from one of the river-crossings where they had been heading off Lee from his nearest road to Amelia Court House, and precedence being given the cavalry in order, our infantry corps had to mass up and wait till they could get the road. The fields were in such condition that troops could not march over them, and the roads were not much better for the rear of a column, with all its artillery and wagons. These delayed corps were not allowed to get the rheumatism by resting on the damp ground, but were favored with the well-proved prophylactic of lively work corduroying roads, so that they could have something substantial to set foot on. At half-past 2 in the afternoon of the 5th, the advance of the Second Corps began to arrive in rear of our anxious, expectant, front-faced lines, and form in upon our left, soon followed by our Sixth Corps, which in like manner formed upon our right. It needs not be told what kind of a greeting we gave each other there. These corps, what had they not done since they parted on the old lines a week before! That Army of the Potomac together once again, at that turning, burning point dividing the storied past from the swift-coming end of its history.

At one o'clock that afternoon my command was suddenly called out to support the cavalry, which returning from a heavy reconnoissance had struck one of the enemy's trains moving off on our left [200] flank, and having captured 180 wagons and five pieces of artillery, and destroyed the wagons, was bringing in the artillery and a large number of prisoners, and was severely attacked by a strong body of cavalry and infantry, not far out from our lines. This had made things lively for a time. We had not much to do, however, when we got up to them. Or perhaps that prolific and redundant principle of anticipation, by which a thing seems so much better when you want it than when you get it, and, vice versa, so much worse when you fear it than when you front it, may have availed here. The so-called moral effect of seeing and knowing that our plodding infantry had covered their tracks was perhaps stronger than we could have made good if we had been more severely tested in the flying fight. But our cavalry was a queer sight. Before they had destroyed the wagons, they had apparently had a custom-house inspection, and confiscated many, various, and marvelous “goods,” contraband, and some of them contradictory, of war. It looked as if not only the grocers and tinsmiths, but also the jewelers and possibly the milliners, of Petersburg and Richmond had been disappointed in a venture they had hopefully consigned to southern ports. It was almost provocative of levity,--quite “to the prejudice of good order and military discipline,” to see our grave cavalry forming their flowing lines of battle with silver coffee-pots and sugarbowls thumping at their saddle-straps, and when they rallied in return to see their front fluttering [201] with domestic symbols, and even “favors” of the boudoir, as if a company of troubadours had dismounted a squadron of crusaders between Joppa and Jerusalem. But it was with a joy deeper far than merriment that I came in touch with our splendid old First Maine Cavalry, famed for manhood and soldierhood then and ever since, with Smith at their head straight and solid and luminous as a lighthouse.

Sheridan, however, wished to move up and attack Lee, even before the other corps got up to us. Meade, having arrived in person in advance of even the Second Corps, was unwilling to move out without the other corps to attack Lee with forty thousand men in hand and in position,--if the reports which Sheridan relied upon were true. This decision of Meade, Badeau says, was “much to Sheridan's mortification.” Still all he could do about it was to “tell his father.” He sent a messenger to Grant saying that it was of utmost importance that Grant should come to him in person. Meade had been very ill for the last two days,--we cannot much wonder at that,--and had asked Sheridan to put the Second Corps and also the Sixth into position as he might desire, while he retired for a little rest. Grant, coming promptly up in the course of the night, held a conference with Sheridan on the situation, and especially, it now appears, on Meade's supposed or imputed plan “of moving out to his right flank,” whatever that might be conjectured to mean, “and giving Lee the coveted opportunity of escaping [202] us, and putting us in rear of him.” Grant and Sheridan then went, after midnight, to see Meade, when General Grant says he “explained to Meade that we did not want to follow the enemy, but to get ahead of him, and that his (Meade's) orders would allow the enemy to escape.” It seems incredible that an officer of the position, experience, and responsibility of General Meade could have listened patiently to this imputation of ignorance and stupidity. A movement to Meade's “right flank,” as his army was faced, would have carried him back to our old entrenched lines. It is absurd to imagine Meade ever intended this undertaking. And it may be questioned whether the movement we did make under Sheridan's direction and Grant's authority and orders for Meade to execute did not immediately “put us in rear of Lee's army” and keep us there until the long, hard circuit to Appomattox Court House was run.

This kind of history makes it proper to look at matters a little in detail. And for the first thing as to the state of mind and purpose of General Meade, against whom such belittling reference has been made.

The last week's experiences had worked together to make Meade in truth seriously ill. Still he held up in spirit and body like a martyr. When Sheridan with the Fifth Corps at Jetersville on the 5th sent word to Meade asking for the other corps of his army, Meade, lying on his rude couch scarcely able to move, shows no lack of soldierly spirit or indeed of magnanimity. He dispatches Grant: “I [203] have ordered Humphreys to move out at all hazards at 3 A. M.; but if the rations can be issued to them prior to that, to march as soon as issued; or if the temper of the men, on hearing the dispatch of General Sheridan communicated to them, leads to the belief that they will march with spirit, then to push on at once, as soon as they can be got under arms.” In his order then issued Meade says: “The troops will be put in motion regardless of every consideration but the one of ending the war. ... The Major-General commanding feels that he has but to recall to the Army of the Potomac the glorious record of its repeated and gallant contests with the Army of Northern Virginia, and when he assures the army that in the opinion of so distinguished an officer as Major-General Sheridan, it only requires these sacrifices to bring this long and desperate contest to a triumphant issue, the men of this army will show that they are as willing to die of fatigue and of starvation as they have ever shown themselves ready to fall by the bullets of the enemy.”

This may not carry all the incitements of persuasive eloquence; but whatever concentric or eccentric meanings it may bear, it is the testimony of a high and heroic soul. He was the senior of Sheridan in rank and service and in command, and had now begun to comprehend the plans for Sheridan in the coming campaign beyond the part of commander of the cavalry forces. But he sends him this word: “The Second and Sixth Corps shall be with you as soon as possible. In the meantime [204] your wishes or suggestions as to any movement other than the simple one of overtaking you will be promptly acceded to by me, regardless of any other consideration than the vital one of destroying the Army of Northern Virginia.” Deep-drawn is this simple language: deeplier significant the more one ponders it. We have the high authority of General Adam Badeau that “this is the stuff of which commanders are made.” That is,--self-effacement and renunciation at the behest of a rival! We are not so sure about this definition of the proper “stuff” for the composition of commanders; but certainly this message is an almost sublime utterance of a gentleman and a patriot,--an unselfish and magnanimous man. To my mind, it seems like the last words of an Algernon Sidney or a Montrose: “The noblest place where man can die is where he dies for man.”

In this same spirit he rises from his couch of suffering and passing his troops upon the road, finds his Fifth Corps in advance of Sheridan's cavalry, square across the Danville Railroad, faced towards Lee's then approaching army, and asks Sheridan to place the rest of the Army of the Potomac, as it comes up, in such order of battle as Sheridan may think proper, and trusting that all will be done in the spirit that has animated his whole movement thus far, asking only that this overmarched advance shall not be hurled against Lee's whole entrenched army before our main body is all up, Meade sinks down to his couch for a respite at least of mental suffering. Here he is [205] visited by Grant and Sheridan with the very distinct intimation that his plans are weak and silly, and that Sheridan's plans would now be put into execution. Then, to sleep, we may suppose. And in that sleep what dreams might come, those who watched his troubled rest spoke not what they divined. For it needed not vision nor prophet, nor Urim nor Thummim to read through the palpitating air that another sun had arisen. Samuel had already anointed David and Saul could get no answer from the Lord. It needed no far-sighted glasses to see that Meade was no longer in reality commander of the Army of the Potomac but only the vanishing simulacrum of it. Was he dreaming perchance of the affront offered him by the false charge of an intended “right flank” movement which would lead him past the enemy's rear? Or lamenting in helpless agony the lost opportunity of striking a decisive blow at Lee's last vital stand had he not been sent off by Grant and Sheridan to Amelia Court House whence Lee had already fled? For it was well known to some whose business it was to know, that Meade had planned to move in a very different direction and on shorter lines on the morning of April 6th, and strike Longstreet at Rice's Station on the Lynchburg Road where there is every reason to believe he would have brought about the beginning of the end. Alas for Meade! He never saw his army together again,--not even in the grand review at Washington,--from which time too he sunk from sight.

To return to our story it will be borne in mind [206] that the Fifth Corps and the cavalry held Jetersville from the afternoon of the 4th of April to the afternoon of the 5th, in the face of Lee's whole army. But as things were before morning Sheridan returns the Fifth Corps to the command of Meade, an act which he states he “afterwards regretted” --a conciliatory phrase which had become habitual. Assured by him that Lee's army is at Amelia Court House, Grant orders Meade to move out in that direction in the order of battle in which his corps were already formed, to attack the enemy in position there, while Sheridan with the cavalry should take the direction Meade had intended for his army,--towards the Danville and Lynchburg roadcrossings. We had moved in this way five miles of the eight, when Griffin learns that Lee's army is not at Amelia Court House, having left there on the evening before, and being now well on its way around our left flank. Humphreys caught sight of some of Lee's rear columns moving on a road about four miles northwest of us, and immediately sent out a detachment to cut them in two. It was no part of Lee's plan to wait to be attacked by our whole army, and on learning of our gathering at Jetersville he began his retiring movement at eight o'clock in the evening, sending his several corps by all the roads leading in the desired direction, either for Danville or for Lynchburg. So Meade was actually sent out with the foregone certainty of doing what he had no thought of doing, but was charged with having contemplated,--letting Lee pass him, and putting us in his rear. [207]

Meade at once faces his army about and directs his several corps by different roads to follow, outmarch, and intercept Lee's flying army. Griffin is sent by the most northerly and roundabout way, through Paineville (well-named), Ligontown, and Sailor's Creek,--in doing this, observe, moved from the extreme left to the extreme right of the army. Humphreys moves on the left of the Fifth Corps to Deatonsville, and thence towards Sailor's Creek, while the Sixth Corps under Wright moves from Jetersville by the shortest roads to the same rendezvous. Now began the terrible race and running fights, swift, bold, and hard; both armies about equally tasked and tried, and both driven to the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

We could not well understand our being moved by so roundabout a way to reach our destination. It is explained, however, by a passage in General Grant's Memoirs (vol. II., p. 473), which considering the pressure upon time and strength and generous resolution falling upon our men, is remarkable as showing what motives sometimes control military movements. It is remarkable also in showing what part General Meade had in commanding his army corps. The passage reads: “When the move towards Amelia Court House had commenced that morning, I ordered Wright's Corps, which was on the extreme right, to be moved to the left, past the whole army, to take the place of Griffin's, and ordered the latter at the same time to move by, and place itself on the right. The object of this movement was,” proceeds this naive narration, [208] “to get the Sixth Corps, Wright's, next to the cavalry, with which they had formerly served so harmoniously and so efficiently in the valley of Virginia.”

The Sixth Corps now remained with the cavalry and under Sheridan's direct command, until after the surrender.

This is in truth a gracious reference to the work of the Sixth Corps before the onset of Early when Wright had already made a stand and was turning the tide backward as Sheridan came riding “from Winchester twenty miles away.” But the last remark will provoke a smile. The wish was father to the thought, no doubt; but the fact was a “bar sinister.” The Sixth Corps was under Sheridan's direct command only in the one fight at Sailor's Creek, and Sheridan did not get sight of it again,not even in the grand review at the disbandment of the armies. Moreover, for that one fight, Sheridan complains that although Wright obeyed his orders, he refused to make his report to him until positively ordered to do so by the Lieutenant-General himself.

Lee had got ahead of us; we were mortified at that. But he found his way a “hard road to travel.” His hope was now to get to the Danville junction at Burkesville, where he expected rations, and possibly a clear road to Danville or Lynchburg. So he pushes the heads of his flying columns along the roads running between the Southside and the Appomattox, a path traversed by many and difficult streams, only to find at every crossing some [209] hot vanguard of Sheridan or Humphreys or Wright or Griffin, or at last of Ord; and each time, too, after fighting more or less severe to be beaten off with ever new disaster, wasting powers, and spreading demoralization. Yet stretching on with ever increasing desperation. . . . As one has seen some poor worm upon the forestick, girdled with fire, again and again attempt to cross the deadly edge and recoil writhing from the touch; wearing out his life in the frantic effort to save it; his struggles the more frenzied and wild the less his chances are-so now for these brave spirits who held together for manhood's sake in the name of what they already felt to be a doomed Confederacy. Virginia was but a prison-pen; the Southside Railroad was the dead-line; the river the Lethean stream. There was blood at every bridge and ford. Yet higher and higher up road and river stretched the two armies; one with the frenzy of a forlorn hope; the other with the energy of fierce resolve.

Our privilege was to push things; and there was no default of that. Our advanced infantry corps were operating with cavalry; which means doing cavalry-work marching and infantry-work fighting. And the example of the cavalry was superb.

For all our haste, we moved with caution; skirmishers and flankers well out; every moment looking for some hard-pressed rear-guard to turn and give battle, to gain time for their crowding columns ahead to pass some obstacle, or reach some favorable ground for respite or defense. For the [210] most part the road of our pursuit was hard and smooth and clean; with no particular marks of disorder save here and there a dead man by the wayside, or an empty haversack which want had made superfluous, or a musket which haste and hopelessness had made too heavy.

Now we come to low ground where the ruts are axle deep and the road strewn with wreckage: broken-down forage trains, empty but unwieldy; abandoned cannon and battery-wagons stuck fast in the mire,--the trembling mules still harnessed to the wreck; horses starved and overtasked, but still saddled or packed, turned loose by their masters, whose future interests so outweighed the present that they couldn't stop to ride; queer Virginia farm-carts, as queerly freighted, with which some ignorant citizen was bearing off his household gods, and goddesses as well, fleeing before the Yankees with the full persuasion that they were after them with hoofs and horns in the likeness of their master, the evil one. 1

Now we come to the deep creek, where the fugitives have destroyed the bridge behind them to check our oncoming, but checking more effectually their own followers; strewn, the stream, with sunken and floating remnants of almost every kind that man strives to put together and fate is busy to take to pieces; betokening how many, soldier and civilian, have reached the stream too late for the bridge, and have attempted the dangerous ford; while crowding on the banks are still [211] stranger vehicles and convoys; wild-looking men in homespun gray, standing sulkily by, or speaking only to insist that they are civilians and not soldiers,--what they know of prison-pens not being attractive, as compared with starving in the open barrens; sometimes white men, or what seem to be, declaring they are not white, but colored;a claim not often set up in that section of the Republic, though there might be some truth in it for all that; for there was in those days a whimsical variance between law and fact,--between being actually white and legally white,--as indeed under all climes and constitutions one may be found physically one color and morally the other.

But sometimes there was no mistake. For here we have come upon a waif of the deluge,--a token of the dispersion of peoples, the survival of the fittest, the stock and cradle of a race. Mounted on a pile of worldly goods that might have been blown together by the four winds, or rolled up by the waves of as many lost civilizations, crowded into a vehicle till it was a vehicle no longer, as it could neither carry nor go, sat supreme the irrepressible “man and brother” himself, surrounded by his ebony tokens of the earth's replenishment,--proof and promise of plenty,--cheerful, hopeful, imperturbable, all of them alike, trusting to luck as ever, for all it seemed rather against them just then; bound for the promised land, and piously waiting a special dispensation from heaven in their behalf, some Moses hand that cleft the Red Sea before the chosen. [212]

Obstacles like these give check to the pursuit. A bridge must be built that the ammunition wagons may pass dry. Loiterers and impatient voyagers are alike impressed for service. The pioneers search shores and woods and hamlets for timber and planks. The stalled forage wagons are dragged in to form the temporary piers. The mounted officers dash about to find a safe ford for the men. The most intrepid of them follow breastdeep, cartridge-boxes and haversacks borne upon the bayonets high above their heads, to keep both kinds of ammunition dry. Some enterprising surgeon or meandering chaplain, thinking to do better than the hard-headed pioneers or adventurous orderlies for the men's welfare, shouts from the middle of the stream above or below that he has found the ford, and in the midst of his jubilation suddenly sinks into an unforeseen hole, whence after stirring variations from plain song to rapid minor and staccato, and splurges of diminuendo and crescendo, he returns to the hither shore in dismal cadence and saturated conviction.

Some men here, too, have their daintinesses as well as those who are delicately apparelled and live in kings' houses. It is hard to march in gurgling shoes after wading neck-deep. They wish to take off wet garments, assume the nethermost Highland costume, or even to emulate the Sandwich Island fellow-citizen in church array, and then stop to dry and dress again on the other side. But this dandyism cannot be indulged. Time is an essential element of this contract. Not [213] a moment must the pursuit lose its semblance of forwardness if we mean to catch Lee's army. So each superior takes his own style of persuasion according to his conception of personal and official dignity. The higher the rank, the loftier the style. The corporals and sergeants coax; the captains command; the colonels scold; the generals scowl;and several who appear to have conscientious scruples against affirming, freely avail themselves of that other alternative which the laws so charitably provide.

But fairly over at last, instead of halting anywhere the column is pushed on at the “double quick,” to make up for lost time. We climb the way, the narrow cut scarce wide enough for a single track, here again choked with abandoned artillery and entangled mules, whose strength succumbed after passing purgatory. The way is strewn with new tokens of the painful ascent for our leaders. Among these some quite unwelcome waifs, such as loaded percussion shells jolted out of the galloping chests, which for aught we know the blow of a horse's hoof might explode in our faces; gun-carriages and caissons set on fire by the desperate fugitives, and when we pass them the flames already within a foot of the fuses and powder-bags. There is not much loitering about that sort of a camp-fire. Better crunch the earth with wet shoes for a good, dead pull than take the chance of being hung up to dry on a clay bank, or aired on a tree-top.

Now we reach a spot where Sheridan had burst [214] across the flying column and left a black and withered track behind him like the lightning's path. Our orders are to destroy all military equipage we capture or overtake. The war had not ended then, and military necessity was both lawful and expedient rule. Such masses of war-material must not be left unspoiled behind us, for aught we can foresee or foreordain by some chance of battle or of movement to fall into the enemy's hands and serve them against us again. War is destruction,word and deed. So we make wild bonfires of wagon heaps and munitions, throw into the swamps and streams what we dare not risk ourselves to add to the lesser piles of ammunition capping the firestacks, and chop and slash the wheel-spokes of the gun carriages we cannot stop to burn.

Forward again! On a fresh track. Suddenly the rattling musketry of the skirmishers ahead tells that we have struck the enemy's rear-guard. A bold battery of flying artillery runs up out of a cross-road on a hillside half a mile away, and opens back on the head of our column with case-shot and shell. This offers variety, which is said to be the spice of life, if spice is what we need. A regiment is thrown forward into line at the double quick; a brigade follows in column of support. There comes a blast of canister, the answering swell of musketry; this for a few minutes; then a wild shout goes up into the rolling smoke; the battery manages to limber up and is off at a gallop, or sinks into sudden silence with all around. We reach the spot, and find our gallant fellows resting on their [215] line, with a goodly half-glad company of prisoners in hand, and a patient group of the wounded of both parties for the ambulances which come galloping to the front, and alas, not without some brave men, our brothers, born near or far, to be buried here by the lonely wayside, lost but unforgotten!

We will look at these things with a more military eye, and something more of detail. When Meade had been sent off to Amelia Court House on the morning of the 6th, Sheridan sent his cavalry in the opposite direction,--the way Meade had intended to go with his army,--towards Farmville, where we had learned from intercepted dispatches Lee expected to find rations for his famishing troops. The cavalry soon got on the flank of Lee's trains; however, they were well guarded, and our forces were unable to inflict more injury than to hold the enemy in check until the Second and Sixth Corps, faced about and sent back by Meade, should come up, to take their accustomed and decisive share in the work. Barlow's Division of the Second had been turned off to the right of the road taken by his corps, towards that on which the Fifth Corps was moving, and where the enemy was expected to be encountered. But the enemy's columns on this road had already passed in the night, so that Barlow and the Fifth Corps had their hard and eager march with no material effect upon the enemy but that of capturing prisoners and destroying overtaken material of war. The other two divisions of the Second Corps took the road for [216] Deatonsville towards Sailor's Creek and the Appomattox, and soon found themselves in a running fight with Gordon's Corps, which held the costly honor of forming the rear-guard of Lee's main army. Our troops had a very difficult country to overcome,--broken, tangled, and full of swamps. They had to cross streams by wading armpit deep, and then push on to strike the flank or rear of the sullen ranks. Meanwhile a portion of our men were building bridges after Humphreys's rapid fashion, for the passage of our artillery and ambulances. Thus we succeeded in keeping the artillery up to the skirmish lines, and in carrying the strong positions which the well-handled enemy had managed to entrench in their own rear-guard style and efficiency. In this way Humphreys pushed them for more than sixteen miles, the road much of the way strewn with wagons, camp equipage, battery-forges, and limbers — a stream of wreckage. At Perkinson's Mills, near the mouth of Sailor's Creek, Gordon made a definite stand, with a well-placed line of battle. But Humphreys' splendid handling of his plucky men inspired them to their best, and a sharp fight left the Second Corps masters of the field, and of large numbers of the enemy. This cost the corps 311 men killed and wounded. The loss of the enemy was still greater. The captures of the corps were thirteen battle-flags, four cannon, and seventeen hundred prisoners. After this defeat, Gordon pushed his retreat to High Bridge, a crossing of the Appomattox five miles below Farmville. [217]

Meantime Ewell and Anderson had been brought to a stand by our cavalry higher up Sailor's Creek, three miles on Humphreys's left. It was our Sixth Corps that now came upon them; the sharp issue soon joined. This corps fought with all its old hardihood, and our cavalry surpassed itself, riding over the enemy's works, saber to bayonet. This splendid courage and soldiership won commensurate results. General Ewell was compelled to surrender, and nearly all of his command, over six thousand men, fell into our hands. Among these were many distinguished generals, both of his corps, and of Pickett's Division.

These were most brilliant victories for the Second and Sixth Corps, and we of the Fifth were proud of them, for they were our own. We expected this of Sheridan and the cavalry, but were glad the old Army of the Potomac infantry came in for an undeniable share of the solid work as well as of the glory.

There was some unaccountably poor generalship that day in the Confederate army. Longstreet held his troops all day at Rice's Station waiting for Anderson and Ewell and Gordon to come up, who had been held back to cover the trains. But for all that, Lee lost his trains, and by reason of this effort to save his trains he lost also a large part of his army and his main chance of escape. General Humphreys in his admirable review of this day's business, noting the fact that “Ewell's whole force was lost, together with nearly half of Anderson's and a large part of Gordon's, all in a useless effort [218] to save the trains,” goes on to say in effect that if Lee had abandoned all surplus artillery and camp equipage and retained only his ammunition and hospital wagons, and established temporary depots of supplies at important railroad stations, he might have been able to move rapidly enough to make a successful junction with Johnson at Danville, or at least, to reach the mountains of Lynchburg.

What would this have availed to the main issue? Already the shadow of doom drew over the drifting Confederacy. The hour of deliverance and dispersion was almost welcomed by its armies. And it was reserved for Lee to be confronted by a man as magnanimous as himself, and guided by a better star. He had to go down, honored and beloved indeed for the man he was, but the more lamented for the unhappy choice he made when he cast in his lot with those who forsook the old flag for a new one, which did not recognize the fact that old things had become new,--that even constitutions move with the march of man, with wider interpretations and to their appointed goals, and that the old flag borne forward by farther-seeing men held its potency not only in the history of the past but for the story of the future.

General Ord with the Army of the James by hard marches after splendid fighting in the old lines had reached Burkesville on the evening of the 5th, and on the morning of the 6th was directed to destroy the High Bridge and all other bridges which might be used by Lee in the direction of [219] Danville or Lynchburg. This Ord proceeded to do with promptitude and vigor. But not aware of the proximity of the head of Lee's column, he sent out only a small party for this purpose, which after heroic and desperate fighting with Rosser's and Munford's cavalry, and the loss of the gallant General Reed and Colonel Washburn and many of their command, were forced to surrender what remained.

As for the Fifth Corps, we had made a day of it, marching thirty-two miles, burning and destroying, and bivouacked after dark in the vicinity of Sailor's Creek on the Appomattox. We had encountered only cavalry rear-guards and scouts, and had captured much material of war and over three hundred prisoners. We had many delays, bridgebuilding and burning; but our step was quickened by the roar of the Second and Sixth Corps battling on our left, and by sight of the dense black smoke that rose from the piles where our cavalry were burning the wagon-trains they captured on the roads to Farmville. Marvelous stories borne through the air, of our cavalry darting everywhere across the pathway of the fugitives, made good cheer around the camp-fires when we cooked frugal portions of precious coffee with cautious admixtures of turbid and possibly more deeply stained waters that came down to us from the ensanguined banks of Sailor's Creek.

As soon as it was dark on the night of the 6th, Longstreet pushed forward to Farmville, where his men at last got a supply of rations. For two or [220] three days past they had been living on parched corn,--if they could stop to make a fire to parch it. Longstreet did not tarry here; but on the morning of the 7th he crossed the river, burning the bridges behind him and moving out on the road to Lynchburg. Gordon, with Johnson's and Mahone's Divisions following, crossed to the north side of the Appomattox at High Bridge, five miles below Farmville. Our Second Corps closely followed, reaching the river just as the fugitives had blown up the bridge-heads forming its southern defense, and had set fire to the wagon bridge near by. Barlow hurrying forward saved it, and thus secured the passage of the Second Corps. Thereupon in the belief that Longstreet was moving toward Danville, he was sent up the river towards Farmville, and had a sharp engagement with some of Gordon's rear-guard on that road-while Humphreys with the rest of his corps, pushing closely out on the Lynchburg road, came suddenly on the enemy, who had turned to give battle, and who opened on him with sixteen pieces of artillery. He at once informs General Meade that he has the whole of Lee's remaining army in front of him, and asks that our Sixth Corps shall attack from the Farmville side while he takes the enemy in his front.

In the meantime the Fifth Corps had moved from Sailor's Creek at daylight, and at 9.50 had arrived at High Bridge. A singular movement is now put into effect, the purpose of which to ordinary minds seems inscrutable. From the extreme [221] right where Grant had so carefully placed us in order that the Sixth Corps might be next to Sheridan, the Fifth Corps is now marched past the rear of the Second and Sixth,--needing help as Humphreys did,--and ordered to the “extreme left” again,--which begins to seem our natural place after the manner of the “opposition” in the French Assembly. The queer thing about this is, that it puts us again into immediate contiguity with Sheridan and his cavalry, where General Grant had led us to fear we were not “harmonious,” as the good Sixth Corps was. But we were not such bad fellows after all. Having the last three days proved our prowess in marching, we were assigned the honor of making a cavalry-sweep around the left flank and front of Lee's rushing army while our Second and Sixth Corps did all they could to drive them beyond us. So by 7.30 that night we bivouacked at Prince Edward's Court House, as far south of the rest of our army as we had been north of it the day before.

Meantime Grant, now at Farmville, sends word to Humphreys confronting Longstreet and Gordon on the opposite side of the river, between High Bridge and Farmville, that the Sixth and Twenty-fourth Corps are at hand, and that “the enemy cannot cross the river,” --for what purpose it is difficult to divine, as he had already crossed to the north side and destroyed the bridges behind him, and could not be suspected of cherishing a desire to get back to the other side again at this juncture of affairs. Crook's cavalry managed to wade the [222] river and make a bold attack, but was repulsed with loss, the gallant General Irvin Gregg being rash enough to get into the enemy's lines, where he was held as prisoner.

But it was the Sixth and Twenty-fourth Corps that “could not cross,” and so Humphreys stood up there before Lee's army in a very perilous position. It was like the situation of our First Division sent across the Potomac at Shepardstown Ford after the battle of Antietam,--Lee's army in front of them, and a river behind them, perfectly surrounded by the enemy. Had Lee but understood Humphreys's situation, he might have destroyed the Second Corps, if he struck quickly, before the Fifth could have got over the river at High Bridge, and the Sixth and Twenty-fourth could have come around from Farmville by that long route.

Meade, indeed, had promptly ordered the Sixth and also the Twenty-fourth Corps--the latter being now by its proximity subject to his orders — to cross and attack as Humphreys had requested, on the enemy's right flank. Nobody at either headquarters seems to have been aware that the bridges at Farmville had been destroyed. So Humphreys, hearing the firing from Crook's attack, and believing it was that of these two infantry corps, made a bold stand and a bluff fight (almost in the slang sense of that term) all along the salient points of the line, which had the important effect of causing Lee to lose a day, which he could but ill afford. For in the meantime the cavalry and [223] the Fifth Corps with Ord's advance were driving with all their might to get across Lee's track.

Could our army that morning in easy reach of High Bridge have been rapidly concentrated according to Humphreys's earnest suggestion, and Meade's intention, and a little more “dash” and skillful engineering been put into exercise in the crossing at Farmville, there can be no question but that the Army of the Potomac would have “ended matters there, before they went back.”

But perhaps Grant thought there had been bloodshed enough, for that evening he writes a note to Lee making this thought the basis for asking the surrender of Lee's army. At half-past 8, this letter is sent by General Humphreys through his picket line. An hour's truce was given at this time to enable the enemy to gather up their wounded lying between the lines, which were only a few hundred yards apart. Lee's answer comes back within an hour, not offering to surrender but asking the terms that would be given in such case. In the course of the night, as might have been anticipated, Lee retires, making all possible dispatch for Lynchburg, the Second Corps by daylight in close pursuit, followed by the Sixth. We, of course, knew nothing of this at the time; but only of what was going on in the road to Appomattox.

For our part, on the morning of the 8th the Fifth Corps moved out at six o'clock, pressing with all our powers to outflank Lee's march. This morning I received a wholesome lesson of the results of inattention. In crossing Buffalo River, [224] my horse had a pardonable desire to take a drink. I let him advance half his length into the water, knee-deep or more,--which I thought enough; but with that unaccountable instinct of a drinking horse (or other fellow) to get further in, to “take another,” my horse kept creeping forward, and I was stupid enough to let him-until suddenly stepping over a steep bank of the channel his whole body was forced to follow, as also his master, --or who should have been. Decidedly all was not over,--mostly the reverse; two emergent heads absurdly trying to look dignified marking the vital center. We made for the nearest bank; but could not effect a landing on account of the extreme tendency of the earth and water there to resume prehistoric conditions. The horse, not being a saurian, could neither walk nor swim in that mire. I had to act the part of a “lighter” and the horse and I assumed more than original relations,--I being now the leader and something like the bearer. I got out first,--having only two feet to hold me fast. Then the dispensation of grace took the place of natural law, and two or three of my self-renouncing, now nearly sanctified, men went to the rescue of the crestfallen but still admired Charlemagne. What they had to do for us both afterwards, official dignity prevents explaining.

This driving pursuit, this relentless “forward,” was altogether new experience for our much-enduring, much-abused old Army of the Potomac,--so taunted with not moving,--urged “on to [225] Richmond” with the spur, but held to cover Washington with the curb, hitherto forced by something in the rear to stand still after our victories, and by something we did not understand to draw back from some of our best-fought fields. Yet it had been so managed that at the worst the enemy seldom got sight of our backs. For our part, we had come off in good order from Bull Run and Fredericksburg in ‘62, and equally well from Chancellorsville in ‘63, and from all the long series of terrible drawn battles from the Rapidan to the James in ‘64. And we had many times seen the rebel army retiring in good order from great disaster; for Lee showed his best generalship in the defensive, his best manhood and humanity in orderly retreat. But we had never seen anything like this. Now we realized the effects of Grant's permission to “push things,” --some of these things being ourselves. But the manifest results on others helped our spirits to sustain the wear and tear of body. The constantly diminishing ratio of the strength of Lee's army compared with ours made it clear that we should soon overcome that resistance and relieve Virginia of the burden of being the head of the Confederacy, and from that must follow the downfall of the Confederacy itself.

In this race, the 8th of April found the Fifth Corps at Prospect Station on the Southside Railroad, nearly abreast of Lee's hurrying column, ten miles north of us at New Store, across the Appomattox,--Meade with his two corps close upon his [226] rear. We had been now a week in hot pursuit, fighting and marching by sharp turns, on a long road. At noon of this day we halted to give opportunity for General Ord of the Army of the James to have the advance of us upon the road. He had come across from his successful assault on the center of the enemy's entrenchments before Petersburg to join our force and had with him the Twenty-fourth Corps under General Gibbon and Birney's Division of the Twenty-fifth Colored troops,whom we had not seen in the field before. The Fifth Corps was under Sheridan's immediate orders but General Ord being the senior officer present was by army regulations commander of our whole flanking column. He was very courteous to us all and we greeted him heartily. The preference of his corps to ours on the road was but natural considering his rank, and I am sure no one thought of taking offense at it. But we could not resist the thought that it was for some reasons other than military that General Ord's command instead of being directed upon Lee's rear by the shortest course should be sent around to the extreme left to co-operate with Sheridan, while the Army of the Potomac was dismembered and divided right and left,--thus as we thought entailing much needless hard marching when time and human strength were prime elements of our problem; with the reflection also that the breaking up of familiar companionship was not good economy for a fighting force. However, our duty was to obey orders and keep our thoughts to ourselves. [227]

These men of the Army of the James had been doing splendid work,--especially in getting up to us. But the hard march to overtake us had pretty nearly used them up. A marching column under such circumstances cannot help stretching. This was the case before us now. When we pulled out to follow their column we found it dragging and lagging before us, the rear moving at a rate ever slower than the head. This made it very hard on our men. We had managed hitherto to keep in pretty close touch with the cavalry; but this constant checking up was a far worse trial. It fretted our men almost to mutiny. Men who were really “the best fellows in the world,” as many a girl had told them on fairer evenings, and who wholly respected their officers and loved them, would greet the luckless officers believed to be leading the column with very insubordinate and wholly impracticable advice as to the merits of this march, and the duty of treating our men with some sense. The head of our column seemed more like a mob than our patient well-disciplined soldiers. The headquarters wagons and pack mules which made the bulk of that real rabble ahead got unceremoniously helped along. Whoever blocked the way was served with a writ of ejectment in quite primitive fashion. After dark the belated artillery obstructing the way was treated without much reverence. Even the much suffering horses were held responsible, and prodded and belabored by men who wanted to put two legs in the place of four. The drivers defended their poor beasts by [228] directing their whips against the assailants, whose “high primed parry” with their muskets and bayonets availed little against the lithe and cutting lash. As little did the replications and rejoinders settle the issue of justice in the all too “pending case.” We tried to drown the tumult, if we could not pacify the spirits of our exasperated men, by bringing the bands to the head of the column to administer the unction of the “Girl I left behind me.” However, this seemed to make them want to “get there” all the more.

Commanding officers could not exercise “discretion” about moving. We could not bring our men to a halt when there was this kind of obstacle before us, impassable as if it were a wall or a bog, and let them rest until the way could be cleared, as would have been reasonable. For some roving staff officer would happen along just then, and without inquiring into the case, would report to headquarters that such an officer was not moving according to orders, but was absolutely halting on the road. Then back would come an unjust reprimand, or perhaps the stultification of an “arrest,” --of which there was quite too much already. So officers had to seem like incapables, and the men, poor fellows, had to keep on their feet, creeping at a snail's pace, or standing like tripods, on two legs and a musket-butt; weighed down with burdens of “heavy-marching order,” which the mere momentum of marching, the changing play of muscles, would have helped to bear; all knowing full well that they would have [229] to make up for this weary work by running themselves fever-wild for hours at the end.

We of the Fifth Corps had a good right to be tired, too. We had had a brisk week's work of it since the White Oak Road and Five Forks-rushing and pushing night and day, fighting a little now and then for the sake of that variety which is the spice of life. Many of our big-hearted fellows lost patience whose only disobedience of orders was that they refused to die of fatigue and starvation, as Meade had promised Sheridan they were ready to do.

At last our lingering predecessors turn off. We have the road and the mood to make the most of it. We did not know that Grant had sent orders for the Fifth Corps to march all night without halting; but it was not necessary for us to know it. After twenty-nine miles of this kind of marching, at the blackest hour of night, human nature called a halt. Dropping by the roadside, right and left, wet and dry, down went the men as in a swoon. Officers slid out of saddle, loosened the girth, slipped an arm through a loop of bridle-rein, and sank to sleep. Horses stood with drooping heads just above their masters' faces. All dreaming,--one knows not what, of past or coming, possible or fated.

1 Cf. R. R. XLVI., pp. 733-1102, Serial 97.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Phil Sheridan (75)
Fitzhugh Lee (61)
Meade (39)
Clearseeing Humphreys (37)
U. S. Grant (24)
Sutherland (11)
Seth Gordon (9)
Ord (8)
Wright (7)
Longstreet (7)
Adam Badeau (7)
Bushrod Johnson (6)
Lewis Grant (6)
Pickett (5)
Charles Griffin (5)
Warren (4)
Miles (4)
Ewell (4)
R. H. Anderson (4)
Barlow (3)
Wise (2)
Rosser (2)
Hunton (2)
Heth (2)
Davis (2)
Cunningham (2)
Crook (2)
Crawford (2)
Washburn (1)
Townsend (1)
Gustave Sniper (1)
Joe Smith (1)
Algernon Sidney (1)
Shakespeare (1)
Scales (1)
Saul (1)
Sanford (1)
Rooney (1)
Reed (1)
Munford (1)
Moses (1)
McGowan (1)
Mahone (1)
Humphrey (1)
A. P. Hill (1)
Irvin Gregg (1)
Gracie (1)
Gibbon (1)
Early (1)
Cook (1)
Birney (1)
Joseph J. Bartlett (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
5th (4)
April 2nd (2)
6th (2)
April 8th (1)
April 6th (1)
April 4th (1)
April 1st (1)
March 31st (1)
4th (1)
3rd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: