Lee's retreat and surrender.
March 20 to April 9, 1865.
- The last left flank
-- at Burgess' Tavern again
-- five Forks
-- Petersburg is taken
-- Atkinson's grave
-- marching in the Rebel rear
-- what they left behind
-- Sailor's Creek
-- graves that did not hold defunct Rebels
-- high bridge
-- fall of General Smythe
-- our last stand and last shots
-- why are we going so slowly?
-- General Meade to the front
-- General Meade returns—‘Lee has surrendered’
-- how the Army felt.
The Battery remained in this camp [says Capt. Adams] until the morning of March 29th, when, under orders, I reported to Gen. Hays,1 commanding Second Division, Second Corps, with the Tenth Massachusetts Battery and Battery ‘B,’ First Rhode Island Light Artillery, both batteries having been placed under my command for the spring campaign, by order of Brevet Lieut. Col. Hazard, Chief of artillery of the Second Corps.
Adjutant General's Report.
Massachusetts, 1865, p. 748.
In conformity with instructions issued from Gen. Grant
's headquarters on the 24th, and thence promulgated, the Second Corps moved at 6 A. M. on the 29th, ‘crossed Hatcher's Run
, and took position covering the Vaughan Road
, with its right resting within supporting distance of the Twenty-fourth Corps, which had taken the place of the Second
Corps in the intrenchments.’2
Our guns, ordered into position in front of the camp, seemed to form the pivot on which the corps moved.
The next day we were relieved by colored troops of the Twenty-fourth Corps, and moved up into a field near Dabney's Mill,3
and parked, remaining here all night.
But the rain, so frequently the accompaniment to the movements of this army, did not now forget us.
Strong working parties were busily engaged stretching corduroys along the miry places in old or new thoroughfares, as we toiled on in mud towards the front There was little for the artillery to do this day, as the corps lay in dense woods from Hatcher's Run
on the right, above our old position at Armstrong
's, to the vicinity of the Boydton Road
where it massed on that memorable 27th of October—the
same woods and undergrowth that prevented connection being made between us and the Fifth Corps.
The clouds broke away in the afternoon, and we bivouacked anticipating a bright day on the morrow; but when morrow (the 31st) came we were wakened by the raindrops pattering in our faces, and found our beds already pools of water.
It was about noon of this day that the gallant Miles and his First Division struck the enemy in flank and drove him back into his intrenchments with severe loss in killed and wounded and one flag and many prisoners captured, and occupied the White Oak Road
By dint of much exertion we succeeded in reaching a position assigned us, but were ordered elsewhere at night.4
Morning of April-fool day (Saturday) dawned bright and beautiful.
It brought to the ear frequent crashes of musketry.
These had been heard with greater or less frequency since the movement was initiated, but their authors were invisible to us for reasons already given.
On either side of the road at Burgess' Tavern the Rebels
had constructed a strong fort, connecting the two by a heavy breastwork, and extending the same on their left to the Run
, and on their right around to the mill-pond above the bridge.
During this day Gen. Mott
with his Third Division attempted to carry these works but without success.
Thus far we had taken no part in the fray,5
during the afternoon we lay listening to the rolling volleys at Five Forks
, whose significance we did not then appreciate.
But later, rumors were abundant and of a varied nature.
had been nearly surrounded, driven back, and badly beaten; then he had attacked a second time, and with the Fifth Corps overcome all opposition and reached the Southside Railroad.6
During the night we were aroused by the thunders of a cannonade up before Petersburg
, rivalling that heard at the Mine
It was ordered by Gen. Grant
preliminary to an assault by the Sixth and Ninth corps upon the main lines, in order that the enemy should not concentrate against Sheridan
At early dawn (Sunday, April 2d) the Battery
was ordered into position.8
Our shells were directed at the artillery inside the forts, already alluded to as occupying our old battle-ground.
The Rebels replied briskly for a time, but at 8.30 A. M. were reported
to be evacuating, whereupon Mott
's Division was immediately pressed forward to the attack, and in a few moments the stars and stripes were seen waving over the forts.9
About noon we drew out, limbered up, and followed the infantry columns through the Rebel
We marched in triumph over the road where five months before we had run that fearful gantlet of bullets, paused a few moments on the hill where we made our stand against the rear assault, and found a grave on the spot where Atkinson
Satisfied that it was his, there being no others near, we hastily inscribed his name, battery, and date of death on a rough board, with satisfaction at being thus able to mark his remains for future removal, before passing on with the column.
We camped that night without the city of Petersburg
, having supplied ourselves with tents and other conveniences from the stores which the enemy in his haste to escape had left scattered behind in great confusion.
When morning came we did not stop to enter the city.
More important work was on hand, and the troops moved off on the ‘River Road,’ a thoroughfare running generally parallel with the Appomattox
, and south of it. On we pressed through deserted camps left strewn with the evidences of panic and haste.
All day and far into the night the march continued.
Two or three hours of rest were taken just before morning of April 4th, when at 6 o'clock we were off again, following
the Fifth Corps, which left nothing of consequence behind it except the road, and this so badly cut up that a brigade was detached to repair it in advance of our corps.
April 5th, the corps moved at 1 o'clock A. M., following the Namozine Road
, a southern fork from the River Road
We were delayed several hours by the cavalry cutting in ahead, but after 8 A. M. the road was again clear.
This day the pursuit began to grow interesting.
By mid-afternoon we had reached Jetersville
, where we found the Fifth Corps in line of battle, and our own taking a like formation on its right and left.
While awaiting orders to take position we engaged in coversation with a crowd of Rebel prisoners, but shortly a rush and cheer announced some new capture.
It was Gen. Lee
's headquarters flag, one member of his staff, and a span-new battery that had been moving with headquarters guard, which our enterprising cavalry had cut out of the enemy's column.
The battery was a curiosity.
The guns were of an English breech-loading pattern unfamiliar to us. The harnesses were just from the arsenal at Richmond
, and were doing duty on a sorry-looking collection of skin-and-bone horses and mules indiscriminately mingled.
They depicted most pathetically the proximity of the Southern Confederacy to the historic ‘Last Ditch.’
Some expectations of a battle were had here for the possession of the Danville Road
, across which our army had planted itself,11
but the enemy did not see fit to attack, and the night passed quietly.
With early morning of the 6th the pursuit again
began, the corps moving towards Amelia C. H.
, with the design of attacking the enemy if found.
We came within sight of his wagon train, and accelerated its speed in a most comical manner with a few shells.12
It was not all holiday work, however, for the Rebels
with their old-time doggedness, though fully realizing that the days of the Confederacy
were few, seized upon every commanding position in their path to make a short stand, which necessitated bringing up artillery and deploying the infantry to drive them on. By the time this was done they were ready to renew the retreat, having delayed our advance long enough to permit their trains and main column to get a good start.
Other evidences of demoralization than those evinced by captured prisoners and artillery now became frequent along the route.
These were abandoned wagons, forges, battery wagons, pots and kettles, in short every description of army traps not absolutely essential in battle that pulled back their hungry, jaded beasts, and, it may be added, the hungry, footsore, worn-out Confederates as well, so many of whom still rallied around their idolized leader.
The misery of the famished troops during the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th of April, passes all experience of military anguish since the retreat from the banks of the Beresina, Swinton, Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac.
Towards evening of the 5th.
[says one of their number,] and all day long upon the 6th, hundreds of men dropped from exhaustion, and thousands let fall their muskets, from inability to carry them any further.
It was the lot of the Second Corps to follow sharply upon the heels of the enemy during his retreat,
pursuing the same route, and to it these evidences of the disintegration of that once proud and valiant army were strikingly interesting.
So hot had been our pursuit that at Sailor's Creek (not Sheridan
's battle of Sailor's Creek
, for that ‘was fought beyond the stream, two miles away from Gen. Humphreys
) a short, sharp contest gave us thirteen flags, three guns, several hundred prisoners, over two hundred wagons with their contents, and about seventy ambulances.
‘The whole result of the day's work, to the corps, was 13 flags, 4 guns, 1,700 prisoners, and over 300 wagons.’14
We camped near this place for the night and at 6.30 A. M. of the 7th moved down a long and quite steep hill to the creek, near whose banks stood the wagons already mentioned; and picketed near—they did not need this precaution—was a collection of the skinniest and boniest mules we ever set eyes upon; which, we believe, could not, in tandem, have pulled one wagon up the steep ascent opposite, much less the two hundred.
The wagons, though now under guard, had been pretty thoroughly ‘inspected.’
The ground was strewn with clothing, good, bad, and indifferent, but mostly bad; tents, kettles, bacon, cornmeal, officers' desks, and official documents of most execrable paper, Near by was a bivouac-ground from which the poor Johnnies
had been called while in the midst of preparations for a muchneeded meal.
Baking-pans and kettles filled with half cooked dough were about every fire, and near at hand stood a few bags of meal.
As our supply train was far to the rear, and our rations drawing low, we were not altogether unwilling to interchange corn cakes with hard-tack for a time.
But we move on.
Soon we began to come upon whole parks of wagons burned by the enemy as they stood, to prevent them falling into our hands; and then—the last thing to go—artillery ammunition was thickly strewn along the roadside, some partially destroyed, and some uninjured, left in cases as it was packed in Richmond
The caissons were found a short distance away, partially burned.
Some of the guns were also secured, but few in comparison with the abandoned caissons and limbers.
We supposed them holding on to these, until a squad of cavalry, scouting through the woods, came upon some newly made graves with head-boards set up and duly marked with the name and regiment of the slain Rebel heroes.
Four gun-carriages, however, having been observed standing suspiciously near, gave something of a clue to the kind of stuff the defunct heroes were probably made of, and an inquisitive Yankee probing one grave found it to contain the remains of a lamented brass 12-pounder.
Its three comrades were lying in adjacent graves, and were speedily exhumed to swell the captures.
Others were said to have been found afterwards, which had been thus shrewdly concealed.
All these evidences of extreme demoralization induced the reflection as to how long an army thus wasting away could endure before surrendering or becoming a minus quantity.
From early dawn till darkness the booming of cannon indicated that Lee
's retreating columns were being harassed at some point of contact.
's men were everywhere, apparently, but really on his left flank, dashing in upon him by every highway or byway that gave opportunity, and when least expected.
Our own corps pressed vigorously on, this Friday, April 7th.
At High Bridge
, where the Lynchburg
Railroad crosses the Appomattox
on tall brick piers, Gen. Barlow
, now in command of the Second Division, came upon the rear of the enemy just as they had fired the wagon-road bridge, and as the second span of the railroad bridge was burning.
He at once secured the former, as the river was not fordable, and crossed his troops, preparing to move against the enemy who were stationed in a redoubt or bridge-head on the south bank.
The artillery was also moved up into position15
to cover the attack, but the enemy moved off without waiting longer, leaving behind them eighteen pieces of artillery.
This body constituted only a rear guard, and the pursuit was again renewed to the westward, Barlow
marching by the railroad, and the rest of the corps by the old stage road farther north.
, about six miles farther up the river, Barlow
again came upon the enemy engaged in the work of bridge-burning, and covering a wagon train that was moving towards Lynchburg
attacked and the enemy soon abandoned the town, burned about one hundred and thirty wagons, and joined the main body of Lee
Gen. Humphreys: Report of Operations.
In this attack the gallant Gen. Smythe
fell mortally wounded, and a few of his brigade were captured.
The enemy was next met with four or five miles north of Farmville
, at bay on a high ridge of land, which he had crowned with his intrenchments and batteries, commanding the open and gradually sloping ground over which his assailants must pass to reach him. The artillery was again ordered up, our
battery taking its last position of the war on a low piece of ground in the edge of a strip of woods, where we were pretty well overlooked by the enemy.
Here, with our accustomed celerity, and for prudential reasons, strengthened by what all seemed to feel as the near approach of the end, we erected breastworks for the last time.
We were annoyed occasionally by a bullet, but from so great a distance that no one was injured; and in turn annoyed the enemy by occasional shelling.
Towards night Miles attacked with three regiments, but was repulsed with a total loss of nearly six hundred men.
At sundown, we put two Rebel shells, which we had picked up, into our guns, and sent them whizzing back to their former friends.
These were our last shots, and, it may be added, the last fired in the war by the Second Corps artillery.
The next morning tile enemy was gone, as was expected, and at 5.30 A. M. the corps moved on in pursuit.
Now indefinite rumors of flags of truce and negotiations for surrender began to circulate.
Of course we scouted them.
It seemed as reasonable to suppose that the rugged hills which contested our advance would melt down to a plain before us, as that the proud and well-nigh invincible old army of Lee
was about to lay down its arms.
At sunset we went into park, and had nearly unharnessed when the sound of distant firing, rapid and prolonged, told of sharp fighting in hand, and for this reason, as we supposed, orders were immediately received to hitch up and move on. In reality, however, the fighting had nothing whatever to do with the order, for it appears that Gen. Humphreys
had ordered a halt at sunset, which continued two hours.16
The march was then resumed in the hope
of coming up with the main body of the enemy, whose cavalry pickets had already been met with; but there seeming no probability of doing so, and the men being much exhausted from want of food and fatigue, a halt was ordered at midnight. The fighting we had heard was due to a dash made by the gallant Custer
upon Prospect Station
, where he seized four trains of supplies there awaiting Lee
's army, and sent them puffing back towards Farmville
As the artillery was marching in the rear of the corps, it was the last to pitch camp, which we did not do this night until into the small hours.
It was now definitely affirmed that Grant
had given Lee
the choice of surrendering or receiving the shock of the whole Union army.18
Morning came at length, the bright, beautiful, and now historic morning of April 9th, 1865.
The corps commander seemed in no hurry to move.
Everything was as serene as in an established camp.
We leisurely watered and fed our horses, and then prepared our own breakfasts.
Bands were playing merrily in all directions, men lay around at their ease, and the corps appeared more like a pleasure party than a host equipped for battle.
What did it mean?
Towards 10 o'clock the corps began to move leisurely forward, literally ‘dragging its slow length along.’
At one time firing was heard in the distance, as if to disprove the rumors, now oft repeated and persistent, of coming surrender.
About noon we came to a halt,19
which was high-water mark for the Battery
in its advance along the track of the retreating foe, and here we stood and waited, quizzing every orderly who passed the road either way. A staff officer from corps headquarters was heard to say that he had seen Gen. Lee
this day. This was a straw in the right direction.
It may seem to the casual reader that we were skeptical in the face of conclusive evidence.
But ‘On to Richmond
,’ the earliest rallying cry, perhaps, of the war, had long since been enrolled among the jests of the period, and no one thought of using it. now except as such, or in irony; for when the number of campaigns having that end in view, and entered upon by the army with enthusiasm, is recounted, all of which, to date, had ended in failure or worse disaster, it cannot seem strange that we had lost faith in the speedy coming of the long looked — for and much desired end.
Suddenly a bugle call was heard from the rear.
We turned to discover its meaning.
It was a warning to clear the road for a carriage drawn by four fine horses that were approaching at a gallop.
Within sat Gen. Meade
, yet pale with an illness that had confined him to his ambulance for some days, but now his face wore a smile, and he was looking eagerly forward, as if with joyful anticipation.
Not long after this all hands were ordered to the front, which surely indicated that in that direction there had ceased to be the usual danger, and the story soon reached us that all hostilities had ceased, and that our advance guard were walking side by side with the rear guard of the Johnnies.
Our faith was beginning to wax. Truly something was up, and it was beginning to dawn upon us, doubting souls!
that the fighting was over.
could, not be, and yet every moment strengthened that opinion.
Now officers and orderlies began to come from the front.
They had Zzz
$mi the Rebel
It had stacked arms pending the terms of surrender.
How the men chaffed each other between their hopes and fears, passing the long, anxious moments until all should be solved beyond doubt!
At last the suspense was brought to an end. A wave of motion
made by swaying bodies and uplifted hands swinging or throwing caps and hats aloft, rolled along the dense masses drawn up by the roadside nearer and nearer until we were swept in with the rest, willy, nilly, as by a tempest.
It is an ovation to Gen. Meade
, who now appears in sight returning on horseback, galloping along the lines, cap in hand, his gray hair streaming in the wind, and his beaming countenance telling the whole story.
It was entirely superfluous for the major riding just behind to announce that ‘Lee
has surrendered,’ for the army understood its General, and straightway went beside itself.
Such a throwing up of caps, such hugging and hand-shaking, such cheering, shouting and singing, such laughing, alternating with crying!
In short, a general effervescing in all the boyish demonstrations of which old soldiers are peculiarly capable, and which could in any way give expression to the irrepressible emotions of the hour, was indulged in till nature cried out in protest.
It was a rare occasion, the great day of a life-time, and one whose impressions will end only with life.
We saw nothing of the Rebel
army during the truce pending the surrender, as a halt had been ordered less than three miles to their rear, but several squads of their men, who had previously been taken prisoners, marched past us. A natural curiosity to see how the vanquished veterans took the new order of things prompted some interchange of remarks, but we heard nothing insulting, nothing even of an exultant character.
‘Well, boys, it's all over at last;’ ‘You can go home now,’ and other such expressions, evinced the kind feeling of the victors, while in return they received from the vanquished, ‘Bully for you, boys!’
‘We are glad it's over, any way,’ and other remarks of like character, showing
that these friendly feelings were reciprocated; but a more extended conversation with the members of the surrendered army showed some bitterness left still.
There were men who denounced the surrender, and wished they could have been allowed to ‘fight it out to the bitter end.’20
Of course we felt bad for them to think they had not seen fighting enough, and could not repress a query as to whether they had always availed themselves of every opportunity to fight that was presented in the four years agone.
Otherwise we felt no great sympathy for their pugnacious unrest.
But these persons were the exceptions.
The great mass of the Confederates
were glad enough that the war was practically ended.21
March 21. Lieut. Geo. M. Townsend
on 20 days leave of absence to visit Boston
March 22. Twenty horses received from Q. M. Dep
't, Art'y Brigade, Second Corps.
Corps review by Maj. Gen. Humphreys
. Private James Lee
reported to quarters.
March 24. Private Edwin A. Hill
returned from General Hospital.
Packed up at 8 A. M.; 89 rounds of ammunition expended in action near Hatcher's Run
(77 rounds of Hotchkiss Case shell and 12 rounds of Hotchkiss Percussion).
March 26. Q. M. Serg
't Wm. H. Fitzpatrick
and Private Timothy Nowell
returned from furloughs.
March 27. Private Charles Fiske
returned front General Hospital at City Point
March 28. Two guns turned over to J. P. Farley
, eighteen horses to E. J. Strang
. One corporal and nine men detailed for cattle guard.
Two horses died of exhaustion.
Serg't B. F. Parker
returned from 20 days furlough.
April 1. Private Geo. H. Putnam
and D. R. Stowell
returned from 20 days furlough.
Expended 97 rounds of ammunition.
Delivered 120 rounds of Hotchkiss Percussion to First N. H. Battery.
April 3. Three horses died of exhaustion.
April 5. One horse died of exhaustion.
April 6. Two horses died of exhaustion.
Expended 38 rounds of ammunition.
April 7. Two horses died of exhaustion.
Corp. Geo. H. Smith
reduced to the ranks.
Expended 16 rounds of ammunition.
Received 9 horses from Q. M. Dept.
April 8. Four horses died of exhaustion.
April 9. Two horses died of exhaustion.