On Saturday, the 8th, no enemy appeared, and we marched undisturbed all day. Up to this time, since the evacuation of Petersburg
, we had marched day and night, continually followed and harassed by the enemy.
The men were very much jaded and suffering for necessary sustenance, our halts not having been sufficiently long to prepare their food; besides, all our cooking utensils not captured or abandoned were where we could not reach them.
's division was assigned to and placed under my command, by order of General Lee
Upon passing a clear stream of water, and learning that the other division of the corps had gone into camp some two miles ahead, I concluded to halt and give my broken-down men an opportunity to close up and join us, and sent a message to General Gordon
, commanding the corps, making known my whereabouts, informing him I would be at any point he might designate at any hour desired.
By dark my men were all quiet and asleep.
About 9 o'clock I heard the roar of artillery in our front, and in consequence of information received I had my command aroused in time and passed through the town of Appomattox Courthouse before daylight, where, upon the opposite side of the town, I found the enemy in my front.
Throwing out my skirmishers and forming line of battle, I reconnoitered and satisfied myself as to their position, and waited the arrival of General Gordon
for instruction, who, awhile before day, accompanied by General Fitz Lee
, came to my position, when we held a council of war. General Gordon
was of the opinion that the troops in our front were cavalry, and that General Fits Lee
thought they were infantry and that General Gordon
They discussed the matter so long that I became impatient, and said it was somebody's duty to attack, and that immediately, and I felt satisfied that they could be driven from the crossroads occupied by them, which was the route it was desirable that our wagon train should pursue, and that I would undertake it; whereupon Gordon
said: ‘Well, drive them off.’
I replied: ‘I cannot do it with my division alone; but require assistance.’
He then said: ‘You can take the two other divisions of the corps.’
By this time it was becoming sufficiently light to make the surrounding localities visible.
I then rode down and invited General Walker
, who commanded a division on my left, composed principally of Virginians
, to ride with me, showing him the position of the enemy and explaining to him my views and plans of attack.
He agreed with me as to its advisability.
I did this because I felt that I had assumed a very great responsibility when I took upon myself the charge of making the attack.
I then made dispositions to dislodge the Federals
from their position, placing Bushrod Johnson
's division upon my right, with instructions to attack and take the enemy in the flank, while my division skirmishers charged in front, where temporary earthworks had been thrown up by the enemy, their cavalry holding the
crossings of the road with a battery.
I soon perceived a disposition on their part to attack the division in flank.
I rode back and threw our right so as to take advantage of some ditches and fences to obstruct the cavalry if they should attempt to make a charge.
In the meantine the cavalry of Fitz. Lee
were proceeding by a circuitous route to get in rear of them at the cross-roads.
The enemy, observing me, fired upon me with four pieces of artillery.
I remember well the appearance of the shell, and how directly they came towards me, exploding and completely enveloping me in smoke.
I then gave the signal to advance.
At the same time Fitz. Lee
charged those posted at the cross-roads, when my skirmishers attacked the breastworks, which were taken without much loss on my part, also capturing several pieces of artillery and a large number of prisoners, I at the same time moving the division up to the support of the skirmishers in echelon by brigades, driving the enemy in confusion for three-quarters of a mile beyond the range of hills covered with oak undergrowth.
I then learned from the prisoners that my right flank was threatened.
Halting my troops, I placed the skirmishers, commanded by Colonel J. R. Winston
, 45th North Carolina troops, in front, about 100 yards distant, to give notice of indication of attack.
I placed Cox
's brigade, which occupied the right of the division, at right angles to the other troops, to watch that flank.
The other divisions of the corps (Walker
's and Evans
's) were on the left.
I then sent an officer to General Gordon
, announcing our success, and that the Lynchburg
road was open for the escape of the wagons, and that I awaited orders.
Thereupon I received an order to withdraw, which I declined to do, supposing that General Gordon
did not understand the commanding position which my troops occupied.
He continued to send me order after order to the same effect, which I still disregarded, being under the impression that he did not comprehend our favorable location, until finally I received a message from him, with an additional one as coming from General Lee
, to fall back.
I felt the difficulty of withdrawing without disaster, and ordered Colonel J. R. Winston
, commanding the skirmish line, which had been posted in my front on first reaching these hills, to conform his movement to those of the division, and to move by the left flank so as to give notice of an attack from that quarter.
I then ordered Cox
to maintain his position in line of battle, and not to show himself until our rear was 100 yards distant, and then to fall back in line of battle, so as to protect our rear and right flank from assault.
instructed Major Peyton
, of my staff, to start the left in motion, and I continued with the rear.
The enemy, upon seeing us move off, rushed out from under cover with a cheer, when Cox
's brigade, lying concealed at the brow of the hill, rose and fired a volley into them, which drove them back into the woods, the brigade then following their retreating comrades in line of battle unmolested.
After proceeding about half the distance to the position occupied by us in the morning, a dense mass of the enemy in column (infantry) appeared on our right, and advanced without firing towards the earthworks captured by us in the morning, when a battery of our artillery opened with grape and canister and drove them under the shelter of the woods.
As my troops approached their position of the morning, I rode up to General Gordon
and asked where I should form line of battle.
He replied, ‘Anywhere you choose.’
Struck by the strangeness of the reply, I asked an explanation, whereupon he informed me that we would be surrendered.
I then expressed very forcibly my dissent to being surrendered, and indignantly upbraided him for not giving me notice of such intention, as I could have escaped with my division and joined General Joe Johnston
, then in North Carolina
Furthermore, that I should then inform my men of the purpose to surrender, and that whoever desired to escape that calamity could go with me, and galloped off to carry this idea into effect.
Before reaching my troops, however, General Gordon
overtook me, and, placing his hand upon my shoulder, asked me if I were going to desert the army and tarnish my own honor as a soldier, and said that it would be a reflection upon General Lee
and an indelible disgrace to me if I, an officer of rank, should escape under a flag of truce, which was then pending.
I was in a dilemma and knew not what to do, but finally concluded to say nothing on the subject to my troops.
Upon reaching them, one of the soldiers asked if General Lee
had surrendered, and upon my answering that I feared it was a fact that we had surrendered, he cast away his musket, and holding his hands aloft, cried in an agonized voice: ‘Blow, Gabriel, blow!
My God, let him blow.
I am ready to die!’
We then went beyond the creek at Appomattox Courthouse, stacked arms amid the bitter tears of bronze veterans, regretting the necessity of capitulation.