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Chapter 29

The general was up at daylight the next morning, and the first report brought in was that Parke had gone through the lines at 4 A. M., capturing a few skirmishers, and that the city had surrendered at 4: 28 to Colonel Ralph Ely. A second communication surrendering the place was sent in to Wright. General Grant's prediction had been fully verified. The evacuation had begun about ten the night before, and was completed on the morning of the 3d. Between 5 and 6 A. M. the general had a conference with Meade, and orders were given to push westward with all haste. About 9 A. M. the general rode into Petersburg. Many of the citizens, panic-stricken, had escaped with the army. Most of the whites who remained stayed indoors; a few groups of negroes gave cheers, but the scene generally was one of complete desertion. Grant rode along quietly until he came to a comfortable-looking brick house with a yard in front, No. 21 Market street, the residence of Mr. Thomas Wallace, and here he and the staff dismounted [449] [450] and took seats on the piazza. A number of the citizens now gathered on the sidewalk, and stood gazing with eager curiosity upon the features of the commander of the Yankee armies. Soon an officer came with a despatch from Sheridan, who had been reinforced and ordered to strike out along the Danville Railroad, saying he was already nine miles beyond Namozine Creek, and pressing the enemy's trains. The general was anxious to move westward at once with the leading infantry columns, but he prolonged his stay until the President came up.

Mr. Lincoln soon after arrived, accompanied by Robert, who had ridden back to the railroad-station to meet him, and by his little son, “Tad,” and Admiral Porter. He dismounted in the street, and came in through the front gate with long and rapid strides, his face beaming with delight. He seized General Grant's hand as the general stepped forward to greet him, and stood shaking it for some time, and pouring out his thanks and congratulations with all the fervor of a heart which seemed overflowing with its fullness of joy. I doubt whether Mr. Lincoln ever experienced a happier moment in his life. The scene was singularly affecting, and one never to be forgotten. He said: “Do you know, general, I had a sort of sneaking idea all along that you intended to do something like this; but I thought some time ago that you would so maneuver as to have Sherman come up and be near enough to cooperate with you.” “Yes,” replied the general; “I thought at one time that Sherman's army might advance far enough to be in supporting distance of the Eastern armies when the spring campaign against Lee opened; but I had a feeling that it would be better to let Lee's old antagonists give his army the final blow, and finish up the job. If the Western troops were even [451] to put in an appearance against Lee's army, it might give some of our politicians a chance to stir up sectional feeling in claiming everything for the troops from their own section of country. The Western armies have been very successful in their campaigns, and it is due to the Eastern armies to let them vanquish their old enemy single-handed.” “I see, I see,” said Mr. Lincoln; “but I never thought of it in that light. In fact, my anxiety has been so great that I didn't care where the help came from, so that the work was perfectly done.” “Oh,” General Grant continued, “I do not suppose it would have given rise to much of the bickering I mentioned, and perhaps the idea would not have occurred to any one else. I feel sure there would have been no such feeling among the soldiers. Of course I would not have risked the result of the campaign on account of any mere sentiment of this kind. I have always felt confident that our troops here were amply able to handle Lee.” Mr. Lincoln then began to talk about the civil complications that would follow the destruction of the Confederate armies in the field, and showed plainly tie anxiety he felt regarding the great problems in statecraft which would soon be thrust upon him. He intimated very plainly, in a conversation that lasted nearly half an hour, that thoughts of leniency to the conquered were uppermost in his heart.

Meanwhile his son Tad, for whom he always showed a deep affection, was becoming a little uneasy, and gave certain appealing looks, to which General Sharpe, who seemed to understand the mute expressions of small boys, responded by producing some sandwiches, which he offered to him, saying: “Here, young man, I guess you must be hungry.” Tad seized them as a drowning man would seize a life-preserver, and cried out: “Yes, I am; that's what's the matter with me.” This greatly [452] amused the President and the general-in-chief, who had a hearty laugh at Tad's expense.

A gentleman whom we supposed was the proprietor of the house asked the general to go into the parlor; but he declined politely, saying, “Thank you, but I am smoking.”

The general hoped that before he parted with Mr. Lincoln he would hear that Richmond was in our possession; but after waiting about an hour and a half, he said he must ride on to the front and join Ord's column, and took leave of the President, who shook his hand cordially, and with great warmth of feeling wished him God-speed and every success.

The general and staff had ridden as far as Sutherland's Station — about nine miles-when a despatch from Weitzel overtook him, which had come by a roundabout way. It read: “We took Richmond at 8:15 this morning. I captured many guns. The enemy left in great haste. The city is on fire in two places. Am making every effort to put it out. The people received us with enthusiastic expressions of joy.” Although the news was expected, there were loud shouts of rejoicing from the group who heard it read. The general, as usual, did not manifest the slightest sign of emotion, and merely remarked: “I am sorry I did not get this information before we left the President. However, I suppose he has heard it by this time” ; and then added: “Let the news be circulated among the troops as rapidly as possible.”

Grant and Meade both went into camp at Sutherland's Station that evening (April 3). The Army of the Potomac caught but a few hours' sleep, and at three the next morning was again on the march. The pursuit had now become swift, unflagging, relentless. Sheridan, “the inevitable,” as the enemy had learned to call [453] him, was in advance, thundering on with his cavalry, followed by Griffin and the rest of the Army of the Potomac; while Ord was swinging along toward Burkeville to head off Lee from Danville, to which point it was naturally supposed he was pushing in order to unite with Joe Johnston's army. April 4 was another active day; the troops were made to realize that this campaign was to be won by legs; that the great walking-match had begun, and success depended upon which army could make the best distance record. Grant rode this day with Ord's troops. Meade was quite sick, and had to take at times to an ambulance; but his loyal spirit never flagged, and all his orders breathed the true spirit of a soldier. That night General Grant camped at Wilson's Station on the South Side Railroad, twenty-seven miles west of Petersburg. A railroad engineer who had been brought in as a prisoner reported that Davis and his cabinet had passed through Burkeville, on their way south, early on the morning of the day before. The next morning the general sent a despatch to Sherman in North Carolina, giving him an account of the situation, containing instructions as to his future movements, and winding up with the famous words: “Rebel armies are now the only strategic points to strike at.” On the 5th he marched again with Ord's column, and at noon reached Nottoway Court-house, about ten miles east of Burkeville, where he halted with Ord for a couple of hours. A young staff-officer here rode up to Ord in a state of considerable excitement, and said: “Is this a way-station1” The grim old soldier, who was always fond of a quiet joke, replied with great deliberation: “This is Nott-a-way Station.” The staff collected around General Grant on the front porch of the old town tavern, and while examining maps and discussing the movements a ringing despatch came in from Sheridan [454] saying he had captured six guns and some wagons, and had intercepted Lee's advance toward Burkeville; that Lee was in person at Amelia Court-house, etc. This news was given to the passing troops, and lusty cheers went up from every throat. They had marched about fifteen miles already that day, and now struck out as if they were good for fifteen more, and vowed that they were going to beat the record of the cavalry.

We continued to move along the wagon-road which runs parallel to the South Side Railroad till nearly dark, and had by that time reached a point about half-way between Nottoway and Burkeville. The road was skirted by a dense woods on the north side — the side toward the enemy. A commotion suddenly arose among the headquarters escort, and on looking round, I saw some of our men dashing up to a horseman in full Confederate uniform, who had emerged like an apparition from the woods, and in the act of seizing him as a prisoner. I recognized him at once as the scout who had brought the important despatch sent by Sheridan from Columbia to City Point. I said to him, “How do you do, Campbell?” and told our men he was all right, and was one of our people. He said he had had a hard ride from Sheridan's camp, and had brought a despatch for General Grant. By this time the general had also recognized him, and had ridden up to him and halted in the road to see what he had brought. Campbell took from his mouth a small pellet of tin-foil, opened it, and pulled out a sheet of tissue-paper, on which was written the famous despatch, so widely published at the time, in which Sheridan described the situation at Jetersville, and added, “I wish you were here yourself.”

The general said he would go at once to Sheridan, and dismounted from his black pony “Jeff Davis,” which he had been riding, and called for his horse “Cincinnati.” [455] He stood in the road for a few minutes, and wrote a despatch to Ord, using the pony's back for a desk, and then, mounting the fresh horse, told Campbell to lead the way. It was found that we would have to skirt pretty closely to the enemy's lines, and it was thought that it would be prudent to take some cavalry with us; but there was none near at hand, and the general said he would risk it with our mounted escort of fourteen men. Calling upon me and three other officers to accompany him, he started off. I had in the mean while questioned the scout about the trip, and found that we would have to follow some cross-roads through a wooded country and travel nearly twenty miles. It was now dark, but there was enough moonlight to enable us to see the way without difficulty. After riding for nearly two hours, the enemy's camp-fires were seen in the distance, and it was noticed that the fence-rails were thrown down in a number of places, indicating that cavalry had been moving across this part of the country, though we were certain our cavalry had not been there. Knowing that scouts are seldom trustworthy, and are often in the employ of both sides, and feeling that the general's safety was now entirely in the power of a comparatively unknown man, I, for one, began to grow suspicious. Just then Campbell fell back several paces and suddenly turned his horse into a piece of woods which we were skirting, and seemed to be acting in a manner that indicated either confusion or treachery. I cocked my pistol, and rode close behind him, thinking his feelings would stand that much in the way of precaution anyhow, and determined that if he was caught giving any suspicious signals I would at once arrest him. The scout, however, was thoroughly loyal, and one of Sheridan's most trusted men; no thought of treachery had crossed his mind; he was only looking for a short [456] cut through the woods. About half-past 10 o'clock we struck Sheridan's pickets. They could hardly be made to understand that the general-in-chief was wandering about at that hour with so small an escort, and so near to the enemy's lines. The cavalry were sleeping on their arms, and as our little party picked its way through their ranks, and the troopers woke up and recognized the general in the moonlight, their remarks were highly characteristic of the men. One said: “Why, there's the old man. Boys, this means business” ; and another: “Great Scott! the old chief's out here himself. The rebs are going to get bu'sted to-morrow, certain” ; and a third: “Uncle Sam's joined the cavalry sure enough. You can bet there'll be lively times here in the morning.” Sheridan was awaiting us, feeling sure that the general would come after getting his despatch. A good supper of beef, cold chicken, and coffee was soon prepared, and it was quickly demonstrated that the night ride had not impaired any one's appetite.

When the general-in-chief had learned fully the situation in Sheridan's front, he first sent a message to Ord to watch the roads running south from Burkeville and Farmville, and then went over to Meade's camp near by. Meade was lying down, and still suffering from illness. His views differed somewhat from General Grant's regarding the movements of the Army of the Potomac for the next day, and the latter changed the dispositions that were being made, so as to have the army unite with Sheridan's troops in swinging round more toward the south and heading off Lee in that direction.

The next day (April 6) proved a decided field-day in the pursuit. It was found in the morning that Lee had retreated during the night from Amelia Court-house; and from the direction he had taken, and information [457] received that he had ordered rations to meet him at Farmville, it was seen that he had abandoned all hope of reaching Burkeville, and was probably heading for Lynchburg. Ord was to try to burn the High Bridge over the Appomattox, and push on to Farmville. Sheridan's cavalry was to work around Lee's left flank, and the Army of the Potomac was to make another forced march, and strike the enemy wherever it could reach him. I spent a portion of the day with Humphreys's corps, which attacked the enemy near Deatonsville and gave his rear-guard no rest. I joined General Grant later, and rode with him to Burkeville, getting there some time after dark.

Ord had pushed out to Rice's Station, and Sheridan and Wright had gone in against the enemy and fought the battle of Sailor's Creek, capturing 6 general officers and about 7000 men, and “smashing things” generally. General Grant broke camp and started from Burkeville early the next morning (the 7th), and moved rapidly in the direction of Farmville. The columns were crowding the roads, and the men, aroused to still greater efforts by the inspiriting news of the day before, were sweeping steadily along, despite the rain that fell, like trained pedestrians on a walking-track. As the general rode among them he was greeted with shouts and hurrahs on all sides, and a string of sly remarks, which showed how familiar swords and bayonets become when victory furnishes the topic of their talk, such as “Cavalry's gi'n out, general. Infantry's going to crush the rest of the mud” ; and “We've marched nigh twenty miles on this stretch, and we're good for twenty more if the general says so” ; and “We're not straddlin‘ any hosses, but we'll get there all the same.” The general raised his hat in acknowledgment of the cheers, and gave a pleasant nod to each of the men who addressed him. [458]

A little before noon on April 7, 1865, General Grant, with his staff, rode into the little village of Farmville, on the south side of the Appomattox River, a town that will be memorable in history as the place where he opened the correspondence with Lee which, two days later, led to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. He drew up in front of the village hotel, a comfortable brick building, dismounted, and established headquarters on its broad piazza. News came in that Crook was fighting large odds with his cavalry on the north side of the river, and I was directed to go to his front and see what was necessary to be done to assist him. I found that he was being driven back, the enemy (Munford's and Rosser's cavalry divisions, under Fitzhugh Lee) having made a bold stand north of the river. Humphreys was also on the north side, isolated from the rest of our infantry, confronted by a large portion of Lee's army, and having some heavy fighting. On my return to general headquarters that evening, Wright's corps was ordered to cross the river and move rapidly to the support of our troops there. Notwithstanding their long march that day, the men sprang to their feet with a spirit that made every one marvel at their pluck, and came swinging through the main street of the village with a step that seemed as elastic as on the first day of their toilsome tramp. It was now dark, but they spied the general-in-chief watching them with evident pride from the piazza of the hotel as they marched past. Then was witnessed one of the most inspiring scenes of the campaign. Bonfires were lighted on the sides of the street; the men seized straw and pine-knots, and improvised torches; cheers arose from their throats, already hoarse with shouts of victory; bands played, banners waved, and muskets were swung in the air. A regiment now broke forth with the song of “John Brown's body,” and [459] soon a whole division was shouting the swelling chorus of that popular air, which had risen to the dignity of a national anthem. The night march had become a grand review, with Grant as the reviewing officer.

Ord and Gibbon had visited the general at the hotel, and he had spoken with them, as well as with Wright, about sending some communication to Lee that might pave the way to the stopping of further bloodshed. Dr. Smith, formerly of the regular army, a native of Virginia, and a relative of General Ewell, now one of our prisoners, had told General Grant the night before that Ewell had said in conversation that their cause was lost when they crossed the James River, and he considered that it was the duty of the authorities to negotiate for peace then, while they still had a right to claim concessions. adding that now they were not in condition to claim anything. He said that for every man killed after this somebody would be responsible, and it would be little better than murder. He could not tell what General Lee would do, but he hoped that he would at once surrender his army. This statement, together with the news that had been received from Sheridan, saying that he had heard that General Lee's trains of provisions, which had come by rail, were at Appomattox, and that he expected to capture them before Lee could reach them, induced the general to write the following communication:

Headquarters, Armies of the U. S., 5 P. M., April 7, 1865.
General R. E. Lee, Commanding C. S. A.:
The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that [460] portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-general.

This he intrusted to General Seth Williams, adjutant-general, with directions to take it to Humphreys's front, as his corps was close up to the enemy's rear-guard, and see that it reached Lee. Williams's orderly was shot, and he himself came near losing his life in getting this communication through the lines. General Grant decided to remain all night at Farmville and await the reply from Lee, and he was shown to a room in the hotel in which he was told that Lee had slept the night before, although this statement could not be verified. Lee wrote the following reply within an hour after he received General Grant's letter, but it was brought in by a rather circuitous route, and did not reach its destination till after midnight:

April 7, 1865.
I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R. E. Lee, General. Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant, Commanding Armies of the U. S.

The next morning, before leaving Farmville, the following reply was given to General Seth Williams, who again went to Humphreys's front to have it transmitted to Lee:

April 8, 1865.
General R. E. Lee, Commanding C. S. A.:
Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of the same date, asking the conditions on which I will accept the surrender of [461] the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon-namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-general.

The last sentence shows great delicacy of feeling on the part of General Grant, who wished to spare General Lee the mortification of personally conducting the surrender. The consideration displayed has a parallel in the terms accorded by Washington to Cornwallis at Yorktown. Cornwallis took advantage of the privilege, and sent O'Hara to represent him; but Lee rose superior to the British general, and in a manly way came and conducted the surrender in person.

There turned up at this time a rather hungry-looking gentleman in gray, wearing the uniform of a colonel, who proclaimed himself the proprietor of the hotel. He gave us to understand that his regiment had crumbled to pieces; that he was about the only portion of it that had succeeded in holding together, and he thought he might as well “stop off” at home and look after his property. It is safe to say that his hotel had never before had so many guests in it, nor at such reduced rates. His story was significant as indicating the disintegrating process which was going on in the ranks of the enemy.

General Grant had been marching most of the way with the columns which were pushing along south of Lee's line of retreat; but, expecting that a reply to his [462] last letter would soon be received, and wanting to keep within easy communication with Lee, he decided to march this day with the portion of the Army of the Potomac that was pressing Lee's rear-guard. After issuing some further instructions to Ord and Sheridan, he started from Farmville, crossed to the north side of the Appomattox, conferred in person with Meade, and rode with his columns. Encouraging reports came in all day, and that night headquarters were established at Curdsville in a large white farm-house a few hundred yards from Meade's camp. The general and several of the staff had cut loose from the headquarters trains the night he started to meet Sheridan at Jetersville, and had neither baggage nor camp equipage. The general did not even have his sword with him. This was the most advanced effort yet made in moving in “light-marching order,” and we billeted ourselves at night in farm-houses, or bivouacked on porches, and picked up meals at any camp that seemed to have something to spare in the way of rations. That night we sampled the fare of Meade's hospitable mess, and once more lay down with full stomachs.

General Grant had been suffering all the afternoon from a severe headache, the result of fatigue, anxiety, scant fare, and loss of sleep, and by night he grew much worse. He was induced to bathe his feet in hot water and mustard, and apply mustard-plasters to his wrists and the back of his neck; but these remedies afforded little relief. The dwelling we occupied was a double house. The general threw himself upon a sofa in the sitting-room on the left side of the hall, while the staff-officers bunked on the floor of the room opposite, to catch what sleep they could. About midnight we were aroused by Colonel Charles A. Whittier of Humphreys's staff, who brought the expected letter from Lee. Rawlins [463] took it, and stepped across the hall to the door of General Grant's room. He hesitated to knock, not wishing to awake the commander if he were asleep, and opened the door softly and listened a moment to ascertain whether he could judge by any sound how the chief was resting. Soon the general's voice was heard saying: “Come in; I am awake. I am suffering too much to get any sleep.” I had in the mean time brought a lighted candle, and now stepped into the room with it. The general, who had taken off only his coat and boots, sat up on the sofa and read the communication.

The letter was as follows:

April 8, 1865.
I received at a late hour your note of to-day. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army; but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia; but as far as your proposal may effect the Confederate States forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I shall be pleased to meet you at 10 A. M. to-morrow on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.

R. E. Lee, General. Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant.

The general shook his head, expressive of his disappointment, and remarked, “It looks as if Lee still means to fight; I will reply in the morning” ; and after making a few more comments, lay down again upon the sofa. Rawlins and I expressed the hope that the general might still be able to get some sleep, and then retired from the room. About four o'clock on the morning of April 9 I [464] rose and crossed the hall to ascertain how the general was feeling. I found his room empty, and upon going out of the front door, saw him pacing up and down in the yard, holding both hands to his head. Upon inquiring how he felt, he replied that he had had very little sleep, and was still suffering the most excruciating pain. I said: “Well, there is one consolation in all this, general: I never knew you to be ill that you did not receive some good news before the day passed. I have become a little superstitious regarding these coincidences, and I should not be surprised if some good fortune were to overtake you before night.” He smiled, and replied: “The best thing that could happen to me to-day would be to get rid of the pain I am suffering.” We were soon joined by some others of the staff, and the general was induced to walk over to Meade's headquarters with us and get some coffee, in the hope that it would do him good. He seemed to feel a little better then, and after writing the following letter to Lee, and despatching it, he prepared to move forward.

April 9, 1865.
Your note of yesterday is received. As I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace, the meeting proposed for 10 A. M. to-day could lead to no good. I will state, however, general, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Sincerely hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, etc.,

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-general. General R. E. Lee.


General Grant kept steadily in mind the fact that he was simply a soldier, and could deal only with hostile armies. He could not negotiate a treaty of peace without transcending his authority.

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