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Chapter 53:

  • General Lee Advises the evacuation of Richmond
  • -- withdrawal of the troops -- the naval force -- the conflagration in Richmond -- telegram of Lee to the President -- the evacuation complete -- the charge of the removal of supplies intended for Lee's army -- the facts -- arrangements with General Lee -- proclamation -- reports of scouts.

When, on the morning of April 2d, the main line of the defenses of Petersburg was broken, and our forces driven back to the inner and last line, General Lee sent the telegram, to which reference has been already made, and advised that Richmond should be evacuated simultaneously with the withdrawal of his troops that night. This left little time for preparation, especially in the matter of providing transportation for the troops holding the eastern defenses of Richmond. To supply the cavalry, artillery, and army wagons with horses had so exhausted the stock of Virginia as to leave the quartermaster's department little ability to supplement the small transportation possessed, or required by troops regarded as a stationary defense. The consequence was, that their withdrawal had to be made under circumstances which involved unusual embarrassments upon the march; soldiers, sailors, and citizens, constituting the ‘reserves,’ vied with each other in the performance of the hard duty to which they were called—a night march over unknown roads, to join a retreating army, pursued by a powerful enemy having large bodies of cavalry. The opposing lines of entrenchment north of the James were so near to each other that our forces could only withdraw when it was too dark for observation; this required that the movement should be postponed until the moon went down, which was at a late hour of the night.

The circumstances attending the withdrawal of Ewell's corps were such as to make its safety the subject of special solicitude. It was small in comparison to that retiring from Petersburg, had a greater distance to march before a junction could be made with the main body, and most of the men were unused to marching. From reports received long after the event, I am able to give the principal occurrences of their campaign.

General G. W. C. Lee moved his division from Chapin's Bluff across the James River, on the Wilton Bridge; the wagons having been loaded under the preparatory order, were sent up in the afternoon to cross at Richmond, and the division moved on to a short distance beyond Tomahawk Church, where it encamped on the night of the 3d. General [563] Kershaw's division, with dismounted men of Gary's cavalry brigade, crossed at Richmond and moved on to the same encampment. Having ascertained that the Appomattox could not be crossed on the route they were pursuing, the column was turned up to the railroad bridge at the Mattoax station, which was prepared for the passage of artillery and troops, and the two divisions, with their trains, crossed on the night of the 4th and encamped on the hills beyond the river. On the next day the column moved on to Amelia Court House; it was now joined by the naval battalion, under Commodore Tucker, and the artillery battalion of Major Frank Smith, which had been withdrawn from Howlett's Bluff; both of these were added to G. W. C. Lee's division. The supply train, not being able to cross the Appomattox River near Meadville, went farther up and, having effected a crossing, proceeded with safety until about four miles from Amelia Court House, where it was destroyed by a detachment of the enemy's cavalry on the morning of the 5th, with the baggage of G. W. C. Lee's division and about twenty thousand good rations.

At Amelia Court House Ewell's corps made a junction with Lee's army, but forced marches with men most of whom were untrained by previous campaign had greatly reduced the number of Ewell's command, and the want of rations now was impairing their efficiency. From that place his corps moved in rear of Anderson's, followed by the train of Lee's army, which was covered in rear by Gordon's corps. The march was much impeded by the wagon trains, consequently slow and, from frequent halts, fatiguing. About noon of the 6th, after crossing a small stream within several miles of Sailor's Creek, the enemy's cavalry made an attack at the point where the wagon train turned off to the right. Skirmishers from Lee's division were thrown out, and soon repelled the attack; it was thought necessary, however, to retain these troops in that position until the trains had passed. General Gordon, who protected the rear, had frequent combats with the pursuers. As soon as the trains were out of the way, Ewell's troops moved on after Anderson's corps. On crossing Sailor's Creek, General Ewell reports that he met General Fitzhugh Lee, from whom he learned that a large force of cavalry held the road in front of Anderson, and was so strongly posted that he had halted. Lee's and Kershaw's divisions moved on to close upon Anderson; Gordon having followed the wagon and artillery train, the enemy's cavalry and also infantry appeared in the rear, and commenced an attack upon Kershaw's division. Anderson had proposed to Ewell that, if he would hold in [564] check the enemy who was coming up on the rear, he would attack the cavalry in front, to open our line of march in that direction. Lee's and Kershaw's divisions were therefore formed in line of battle faced to the rear. Anderson made the attack, but failed. Meantime an artillery fire was opened on Kershaw's and Lee's divisions; they, having no artillery to reply, were subjected to the severe trial of standing under a fire they could not return. In their praise, it was said they unflinchingly bore the test. Supposing probably that their artillery fire had demoralized our troops, the enemy's infantry advanced. They were repulsed, and that portion which attacked G. W. C. Lee's artillery brigade was charged by it, and driven back across Sailor's Creek. The enemy had now turned the flank of Kershaw's division and obliged it to retire. Ewell, while seeking some route by which his command might be extricated, was captured, and the enemy closed in on Lee's division, surrounding it on every side. Firing ceased, and the division was captured. A like fate befell the division of Kershaw. A portion of Anderson's corps escaped, but Ewell's was all captured. This corps, when it left Richmond, numbered about six thousand men. At the battle of Sailor's Creek there remained about three thousand. The fatigue of constant marching for days and nights to men unaccustomed to such service might sufficiently explain the diminution; to this must be added, however, the want of rations for the last two days of their campaign. Twenty-eight hundred were taken prisoners, and about a hundred fifty killed and wounded. From General Ewell's report I learn that the force of the enemy engaged at Sailor's Creek amounted to thirty thousand men. In closing his report he says:

The discipline preserved by General G. W. C. Lee in camp and on the march, and the manner in which he handled his troops in action, fully justified the request I had made for his promotion. General Kershaw, who had only been a few days under my command, behaved with his usual coolness and judgment.

Lest any should suppose, from the remark of General Ewell, that I had been unwilling or reluctant to promote my aide-de-camp, Colonel G. W. C. Lee, it is proper to state that the only obstacle to be overcome was Lee's objection to receiving promotion. With refined delicacy he shrank from the idea of superseding men who had been actively serving in the field, and in one case where the objection did not seem to me to have any application, he so decidedly preferred to remain with me, that I yielded to his wishes, but gave him additional rank to command the local troops for the defense of Richmond. His valuable services in that capacity, on various occasions, sustained my high opinion of him [565] as a soldier, and his conduct on that retreat, and in the battle of Sailor's Creek, for which he is commended, was only what I anticipated.

Of the forces constituting the defense of Richmond on April 2d, it remains only to account for the naval force in the James. After General Ewell had withdrawn his command, Admiral Semmes embarked the crews of his gunboats on some small steamers, set fire to his war vessels, and proceeded up the river to the landing opposite Richmond. Here he found no land transportation awaiting him, and the last railroad train had left at early dawn. With the energy and capacity so often elsewhere displayed by him, however, on finding the railroad station deserted, he commenced a search for material which, with his steam engineers, he could make available. He states that a few straggling passenger cars lay uncoupled along the track, and that there was also a small engine, but no fire, and no fuel to make one. They coupled the cars together, his marine sappers and miners cut up a fence for steam fuel, and thus he got under way, but the engine proved insufficient to draw the train, and at an up-grade he was brought to a halt immediately after starting. One of his engineers, however, found in the workshops another engine; with the two he was able to proceed, and thus to transport his sailors to Danville, the best mode known to him to execute the order sent to him by the Secretary of the Navy, ‘You will join General Lee in the field with all your forces.’1 When General Longstreet was withdrawn from the north side of the James, Colonel Shipp, commandant of the Virginia Institute, with the battalion of cadets, youths whose gallantry at the battle of New Market has been heretofore noticed, and such convalescents in Richmond as were able to march, moved down to supply the vacancy created by the transfer of Longstreet's force to Petersburg. General Ewell, in command at Richmond, had for its defense the naval force at Drewry's Bluff under Commander Tucker, which was organized as a regiment and armed with muskets. On the north side of the James were General Kershaw's division of Confederate troops and General G. W. C. Lee's division, composed mostly of artillerymen armed as infantry, and the ‘reserves,’ or ‘local troops.’ Cooperating with these was Admiral Semmes's naval force on the James. On the night of April 2d these forces were withdrawn, and took up their line of march to join General Lee's army on its retreat.

In obedience to a law of the Congress, General Ewell had made arrangements to burn the tobacco at Richmond whenever the evacuation of the city should render the burning necessary, to prevent the [566] tobacco from falling into the hands of the enemy. Orders were given also to destroy certain property of the Confederate States, exceptions being made as in the case of the arsenal, the burning of which would endanger the city. To prevent the possibility of a general conflagration he had advised with the mayor and city council, and the necessary precautions were believed to have been taken. General Ewell's report, December 20, 1865, published in the Historical Society Papers,2 satisfactorily establishes the fact that the conflagration in Richmond of April 3, 1865, did not result from any act of the public authorities. The burning of the tobacco was resorted to only when the alternative was to burn or allow it to fall into the hands of the enemy, who, there was no doubt, would take it without making compensation to the owners. It was a disagreeable necessity, and therefore every opportunity was allowed to the owners of that and other articles of export to place them, if possible, beyond the danger of being applied to the use of the hostile government. There is no similitude between the destruction of public property made by us and the like act of the invader in our country. The property we destroyed belonged to the Confederate States only. Armories and shipyards destroyed by them—those, for instance, at Harpers Ferry and Norfolk—were the property of the states in common, which the Federal government had emphatically declared it was its bounden duty to preserve, and which was its first plea in justification of the act of sending an armed force against the Southern states.

The conflagration at Richmond occurred on the morning of April 3d, after I had left the city, and I therefore have only such knowledge in regard to it as was subsequently acquired from others. Those who would learn specifically the facts and speculations in regard to it are referred to the report of General Ewell, which has been above cited. Suffice it to say that the troops of neither army were considered responsible for that calamity.

On Sunday, April 2d, while I was in St. Paul's Church, General Lee's telegram, announcing his speedy withdrawal from Petersburg and the consequent necessity for evacuating Richmond, was handed to me. I rose quietly and left the church. The occurrence probably attracted attention, but the people of Richmond had been too long beleaguered, had known me to receive too often notice of threatened attacks, and the congregation of St. Paul's was too refined, to make a scene at anticipated danger. For all these reasons, the reader will be prepared for the announcement that the sensational stories which have been [567] published about the agitation caused by my leaving the church during service were the creations of fertile imaginations. I went to my office and assembled the heads of departments and bureaus, as far as they could be found on a day when all the offices were closed, and gave the needful instructions for our removal that night, simultaneously with General Lee's withdrawal from Petersburg. The event was not unforeseen, and some preparation had been made for it, though, as it came sooner than was expected, there was yet much to be done. My own papers were disposed as usual for convenient reference in the transaction of current affairs, and as soon as the principal officers had left me the executive papers were arranged for removal. This occupied me and my staff until late in the afternoon. By this time the report that Richmond was to be evacuated had spread through the town, and many who saw me walking toward my residence left their houses to inquire whether the report was true. Upon my admission of the painful fact—qualified, however, by the expression of my hope that we would return under better auspices—the ladies especially, with generous sympathy and patriotic impulse, responded, ‘If the success of the cause requires you to give up Richmond, we are content.’

The affection and confidence of these noble people in the hour of disaster were more distressing to me than complaint and unjust censure would have been.

In view of the diminishing resources of the country on which the Army of Northern Virginia relied for supplies, I had urged the policy of sending families as far as practicable to the south and west, and had set the example by requiring my own to go. If it was practicable and desirable to hold the south side of the James, then, even for merely material considerations, it was important to hold Richmond, and this could best have been done if there had been none there save those who could aid in its defense. If it was not practicable and desirable to hold the south side of the James, then Richmond would be isolated, and if it could have been defended, its depots, foundries, workshops, and mills could have contributed nothing to the armies outside, and its possession would no longer have been to us of military importance. Ours being a struggle for existence, the indulgence of sentiment would have been misplaced.

Being alone in Richmond, the few arrangements needful for my personal wants were made soon after reaching home. Then, leaving all else in care of the housekeeper, I waited until notified of the time when the train would depart; then, going to the station, I started for [568] Danville, whither I supposed General Lee would proceed with his army.

In a previous chapter I promised to expose the fiction which imputed to me the removal of supplies intended for Lee's army at Amelia Court House. Though manufactured without one fiber of truth, it has been copied into so many books, formed the staple of so many jeremiads, and pointed so many malignant reflections, that I deem it proper for myself and others concerned now to present the evidence which will overthrow this baseless fabric.

General I. M. St. John, Commissary General of the Confederate Army, was requested by me, after the close of the war, to prepare a report in reply to the widely circulated story that Lee's army had been compelled to evacuate Petersburg and subsequently to surrender because the administration had failed to provide food for their support. On July 14, 1873, General St. John addressed to me a report of the operations and condition of the commissariat immediately preceding the surrender of Lee's and Johnston's armies. That report, together with confirmatory statements, will be found in the Southern Historical Society Papers for March, 1877. From it and the accompanying documents I propose to make brief extracts.

General St. John says that in February, 1865, when he took charge of the commissary bureau, on account of the military status he

found that the Army of Northern Virginia was with difficulty supplied day by day with reduced rations. . . . I at once proceeded to organize a system of appeal and of private contribution as auxiliary to the regular operations of the commissary service. With the earnest and very active aid of leading citizens of Virginia and North Carolina, this effort was attended with results exceeding expectation. . . . On or before March 15, 1865, the Commissary-General was able to report to the Secretary of War that, in addition to the daily issue of rations to the Army of Northern Virginia, there lay in depot along the railroad between Greensboro, North Carolina, Lynchburg, Staunton, and Richmond, at least ten days rations of bread and meat, collected especially for that army, and subject to the requisition of its chief commissary officer; also that considerably over 300,000 rations were held in Richmond as a special reserve. . . . There was collected by April 1, 1865, in depot, subsistence stated in detail as follows:

At Richmond, Virginia, 300,000 rations bread and meat; at Danville, 500,000 rations bread; at Danville, 1,500,000 rations meat; at Lynchburg, 180,000 rations bread and meat; at Greensboro, North Carolina, and vicinity, 1,500,000 rations bread and meat.

In addition, there were considerable supplies of tea, coffee, and sugar carefully reserved for hospital issues chiefly. These returns did not include the subsistence collections by the field-trains of the Army of Northern Virginia, under orders from its own headquarters, nor the depot collections at Charlottesville, Staunton, and other points upon the Virginia Central Railroad, to meet requisitions from the Confederates operating in the Valley and western Virginia. [569] South and west of Greensboro, North Carolina, the depot accumulations were reserved first to meet requisitions for the forces operating in the Carolinas, and the surplus for Virginia requisitions. . . .

The report then refers to a conference between the Secretary of War (Breckinridge) and the general commanding (Lee) with the Quartermaster General (Lawton) and the Commissary General (St. John). After a general discussion of the wants of the army in clothing, forage, and subsistence, to an inquiry by General Lee, General St. John replied:

That a daily delivery by cars and canal-boats, at or near Richmond, of about five hundred tons of commissaries' stores was essential to provide for the Richmond siege reserve and other accumulations desired by the General commanding; that the depot collections were already sufficient to assure the meeting of these requisitions, and, if the then existing military lines could be held, the Commissary-General felt encouraged as to the future of his own immediate department.

The procuring of supplies was only one of the difficulties by which we were beset. The deteriorated condition of the railroads and the deficiency of rolling-stock embarrassed transportation, and there was yet another: the cavalry raids of the enemy frequently broke the railroads and destroyed trains. General Lawton, with great energy and good judgment, under the heavy pressure of the circumstances, improved the railroad transportation. I quote again from the report of General St. John:

Upon the earliest information of the approaching evacuation, instructions were asked from the War Department and the General commanding for the final disposition of the subsistence reserve in Richmond, then reported by Major Claiborne, post commissary, to exceed in quantity 350,000 rations. The reply, ‘Send up the Danville Railroad if Richmond is not safe,’ was received from the army headquarters, April 2, 1865, and too late for action, as all railroad transportation had then been taken up, by superior orders, for the archives, bullion, and other Government service, then deemed of prior importance. All that remained to be done was to fill every accessible army-wagon; and this was done, and the trains were hurried southward.

It will be seen from this statement that the reply was directed to the removal of the subsistence reserve only if Richmond was not safe. It cannot be supposed that such a reply emanated from General Lee, as he surely never contemplated an attempt to hold Richmond after Petersburg was evacuated. General St. John then adds:

On March 31st, or possibly the morning of April 1st, a telegram was received at the bureau in Richmond, from the commissary officer of the Army of Northern Virginia, requesting breadstuffs to be sent to Petersburg. Shipment was commenced at once, and was pressed to the extreme limit of transportation permitted by the movement of General Longstreet's corps (then progressing [570] southward). No calls, by letter or requisition, from the General commanding, or from any other source, official or unofficial, had been received either by the Commissary-General or the Assistant Commissary-General; nor (as will be seen by the appended letter of the Secretary of War) was any communication transmitted through the department channels to the bureau of subsistence, for the collection of supplies at Amelia Court-House. Had any such requisition or communication been received at the bureau as late as the morning of April 1st, it could have been met from the Richmond reserve with transportation on south-bound trains, and most assuredly so previous to General Longstreet's movement.

On the morning of the 3d the Commissary General left Richmond and joined General R. E. Lee at Amelia Springs. There were at that time about eighty thousand rations at Farmville, ‘there held on trains for immediate use.’ On the morning of the 6th the Commissary General asked General Lee whether he should send those rations down the railroad or hold them at Farmville. Not receiving instructions, the rations remained at Farmville, and on the 7th the army passing there took a portion of them. On the morning of the 8th the subsistence trains on the railroad at Pamphlin's Station, twenty miles west of Farmville, were attacked by the enemy's cavalry and captured, or burned to avoid capture. The surrender followed on the subsequent day. The foregoing extracts, I think, prove unquestionably that no orders were received to place supplies for Lee's army at Amelia Court House; that sufficient supplies were in depot to answer the immediate wants of the army, and that the failure to distribute them to the troops on their retreat was due to the active operations of the enemy on all our lines of communication; hence, when the Commissary General applied to General Lee for instructions as to where supplies should be placed, he says, ‘General Lee replied in substance that the military situation did not permit an answer.’ Lest, however, what has been given should not seem conclusive to others, I add confirmatory testimony. General John C. Breckinridge, in a letter to General I. M. St. John, of date May 16, 1871, wrote:

A few days before the evacuation of Richmond you reported to me that besides supplies accumulated at different distant points in Virginia and North Carolina, you had ten days rations accessible by rail to [General Lee] and subject to the orders of his chief commissary. I have no recollection of any communication from General Lee in regard to the accumulation of rations at Amelia Court-House. . . . The second or third day after the evacuation, I recollect you said to General Lee in my presence that you had a large number of rations (I think eighty thousand) at a convenient point on the railroad, and desired to know where you should place them. The General replied that the military situation made it impossible to answer.

In a letter of the date of September, 1865, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas [571] G. Williams, assistant commissary general, wrote to General St. John, and from his letter I make the following extract:

On the morning of April 2, 1865, the chief commissary of General Lee's army was asked by telegram what should be done with the stores in Richmond. No reply was received until night; he then suggested that, if Richmond was not safe, they might be sent up on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. As the evacuation of Richmond was then actively progressing it was impracticable to move those supplies. . . . In reply to your question with regard to the establishment of a depot of supplies at Amelia Court-House, I have to say that I had no information of any such requisition or demand upon the bureau.

Major J. H. Claiborne, assistant commissary general, in a letter to Geenral J. M. St. John, from Richmond, June 3, 1873, wrote:

No order was received by me, and (with full opportunities of information if it had been given) I had no knowledge of any plan to send supplies to Amelia Court-House. Under such circumstances, with transportation afforded, there could readily have been sent about three hundred thousand rations, with due regard to the demand upon this post.

During the retreat, supplies were found at Pamphlin's Depot, Farmville, Danville, Salisbury, and Charlotte. Major B. P. Noland, chief commissary for Virginia, wrote to General St. John, April 16, 1874. After saying that he had read with care the report of General St. John, and expressing the opinion that it was entirely correct, of which no one in the Confederacy had better opportunities to judge, he writes:

I think the plan adopted by your predecessor, Colonel Northrop (which was continued by you), for obtaining for the use of the army the products of the country, was as perfect and worked as effectively as any that could have been devised. ... I left Richmond at one o'clock of the night Richmond was evacuated, with orders from you to make Lynchburg my headquarters, and be ready to forward supplies from that point to the army. I never heard of any order for the accumulation of supplies at Amelia Springs.

Lewis E. Harvie, a distinguished citizen of Virginia who at the close of the war was president of the Richmond and Danville and Piedmont Railroads, wrote to General St. John on January 1, 1876. From his letter I made the following extracts, referring to the condition of affairs in 1865. He writes:

The difficulties of obtaining supplies were very great, particularly when the roads under my charge were cut, and transportation suspended on them, which was the case on one or two occasions for several weeks. Engines and cars, and machinery generally, on these roads were insufficient and inadequate from wear and tear to accomplish the amount of transportation required for the Government. . . . The Richmond and Danville and Piedmont Railroads were kept open, and about that time we added largely to its rolling-stock by procuring engines and cars from the different roads on the route of the Virginia and [572] Tennessee Railroad west. Starvation had stared the Army of Northern Virginia in the face; and the commissary department organized an appeal to the people on the line of the Richmond and Danville Railroad for voluntary contributions of supplies, and a number of gentlemen of influence, character, and position, including the most eminent clergymen of the State, addressed them in several counties, urging them to furnish the supply wanted.

No one who witnessed can ever forget the results. Contribution was universal, and supplies of food sufficient to meet the wants of the army at the time were at once sent to the depots on the road until they were packed and groaned under their weight; and I affirm that at the time of the evacuation of Richmond, the difficulty of delivering supplies sufficient for the support of the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee was solved and surmounted, for I know that abundant supplies were in reach of transportation on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, being massed in Danville, Charlotte, and at other points; and, from the increased motive power above referred to, they could have been deliverd as fast as they were required. . . . At the time of the evacuation of the city, there were ample supplies in it, as well as on the railroad west of Amelia Court-House, to have been delivered at the latter place for the retreating army, if its numbers had been double what they were. No orders were ever given to any officers or employee of the Richmond and Danville Railroad to transport any supplies to Amelia Court-House for General Lee's army, nor did I ever hear that any such orders were sent to the commissary department on the occasion of the evacuation of Richmond, until after the surrender of the army.

Harvie then recites his interview, held on Saturday, the day before evacuation, with the Quartermaster General, the Secretary of War, and myself, from whom he learned that he might go home for a fortnight, there being no expectation that Richmond would be evacuated in the meantime. He adds that the next day he was informed by telegraph of the proposed evacuation, and returned to Richmond, at which place he conferred with me and the Secretary of War about the route to be taken by the wagon supply train, and that he had a long conversation with me on the cars during our night ride to Danville.

In regard to sending supplies to Amelia Court House, he writes:

I have never believed that any orders to place supplies of food at Amelia Court-House were received by the commissary department at the time of the evacuation of the city, because from Richmond, or from the upper portions of the railroad, if required, they could at once have been transported without any delay or difficulty. Neither the road nor the telegraph was cut or disturbed until the day after the evacuation of the city.

It may perhaps be thought that the amount of evidence adduced is greater than necessary to disprove the very improbable assertion that, instead of burden cars, a passenger train had been loaded with provisions for Lee's army at Amelia Court House, and that these passenger cars, without being permitted to unload the freight, had, in reckless [573] disregard of the wants of our worn and hard-pressed defenders, been ordered to proceed immediately to Richmond, thus leaving them to starvation, and the necessity to surrender, in order to enable the executive department to escape; as I had no personal knowledge of the matter, however, it was necessary to quote those whose functions brought them into closer communication with the subject to which the calumny related.

On the night of the 2d, the same on which General Ewell evacuated the defenses of the capital and General Lee withdrew from Petersburg, I left Richmond and reached Danville the next morning.

Neither the president of the railroad, who was traveling with me, nor I knew that there was anything which required attention at Amelia Court House or any other station on the route. Had General Lee's letter to me, written on the afternoon of the 2d, been received at Richmond, which I think it was not, the fact that he proposed to march to Amelia Court House would have been known; it would have been unjust to the officers of the commissary department, however, to doubt that any requisition made or to be made for supplies had received or would receive the most prompt and efficient attention. If however, I had known that General Lee wanted supplies placed at Amelia Court House, I would certainly have inquired as to the time of reaching that station, and have asked to have the train stopped so as to enable me to learn whether or not the supplies were in depot. The unfounded calumny, after perhaps having been given more consideration than it was worth, is now dismissed.

Though the occupation of Danville was not expected to be permanent, immediately after arriving there rooms were obtained, and the different departments resumed their routine labors. Nothing could have exceeded the kindness and hospitality of the patriotic citizens. They cordially gave us an ‘Old Virginia welcome,’ and with one heart contributed in every practicable manner to cheer and aid us in the work in which we were engaged.

The town was surrounded by an entrenchment as faulty in location as in construction. I promptly proceeded to correct the one and improve the other, while energetic efforts were being made to collect supplies of various kinds for General Lee's army.

The design, as previously arranged with General Lee, was that, if he should be compelled to evacuate Petersburg, he would proceed to Danville, make a new defensive line of the Dan and Roanoke rivers, unite his army with the troops in North Carolina, and make a combined [574] attack upon Sherman; if successful, it was expected that reviving hope would bring reenforcements to the army, and Grant, being then far removed from his base of supplies and in the midst of a hostile population, it was thought we might return, drive him from the soil of Virginia, and restore to the people a government deriving its authority from their consent. With these hopes and wishes, seeking neither to diminish the magnitude of our disaster nor to excite illusory expectations, I issued on the 5th the following proclamation, of which, viewed by the light of subsequent events, it may fairly be said it was oversanguine:

The General-in-Chief found it necessary to make such movements of his troops as to uncover the capital. It would be unwise to conceal the moral and material injury to our cause resulting from its occupation by the enemy. It is equally unwise and unworthy of us to allow our energies to falter and our efforts to become relaxed under reverses, however calamitous they may be. For many months the largest and finest army of the Confederacy, under a leader whose presence inspires equal confidence in the troops and the people, has been greatly trammeled by the necessity of keeping constant watch over the approaches to the capital, and has thus been forced to forego more than one opportunity for promising enterprise. It is for us, my countrymen, to show by our bearing under reverses, how wretched has been the self-deception of those who have believed us less able to endure misfortune with fortitude than to encounter danger with courage.

We have now entered upon a new phase of the struggle. Relieved from the necessity of guarding particular points, our army will be free to move from point to point, to strike the enemy in detail far from his base. Let us but will it, and we are free.

Animated by that confidence in your spirit and fortitude which never yet failed me, I announce to you, fellow-countrymen, that it is my purpose to maintain your cause with my whole heart and soul; that I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of any of the States of the Confederacy; that Virginia—noble State, whose ancient renown has been eclipsed by her still more glorious recent history; whose bosom has been bared to receive the main shock of this war; whose sons and daughters have exhibited heroism so sublime as to render her illustrious in all time to come—that Virginia, with the help of the people and by the blessing of Providence, shall be held and defended, and no peace ever be made with the infamous invaders of her territory.

If, by the stress of numbers, we should be compelled to a temporary withdrawal from her limits or those of any other border State, we will return until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.

Let us, then, not despond, my countrymen, but, relying on God, meet the foe with fresh defiance and with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.

While thus employed, little if any reliable information in regard to [575] the Army of Northern Virginia was received until a gallant youth, the son of General Henry A. Wise, came to Danville and told me that, learning Lee's army was to be surrendered, he had during the night mounted his fleet horse and, escaping through and from the enemy's cavalry, some of whom pursued him, had come quite alone to warn me of the approaching event. Other unofficial information soon followed, and of such circumstantial character as to prove that Lieutenant Wise's anticipation had been realized.

Our scouts now reported a cavalry force to be moving toward the south around the west side of Danville, and we removed thence to Greensboro, passing a railroad bridge, as was subsequently learned, a very short time before the enemy's cavalry reached and burned it. I had telegraphed to General Johnston from Danville the report that Lee had surrendered; on arriving at Greensboro, I conditionally requested him to meet me there, where General Beauregard at the time had his headquarters, my object being to confer with both of them in regard to our present condition and future operations.

1 Memoirs of Service Afloat, Admiral Semmes, pp. 811-815.

2 Vol. I, p. 101.

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