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The last sad days. From the Richmond Dispatch, March 4, 1901.

From Petersburg to Appomattox Courthouse—Foodless Days—Sleepless nights.

Graphic description of the last hours of the Army of Northern Virginia by one of its Artillery officers.

Editor of the Charlotte (N. C.) Observer:
Following are the recollections of a Confederate States officer of artillery in the Army of Northern Virginia during the retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox, who was an eye witness and participant, written on the anniversary of the surrender of Lee's army, April 9, 1865:

This date recalls many sad memories. Eighteen years ago I parted with the men of my old battery with whom I had shared danger, privation and suffering. I saw the cause for which I had risked life, possessions, and separation from wife, children, and family go down in blood and defeat. I saw strong men weep, sullen and bitter men, some hang their heads and curse and swear in their sorrow and humiliation. Oh, the agony of those days! We were hundreds of miles from home and without the means of reaching home, surrounded by late foes, uncertain what the future would bring at our homes. If there, poverty stared us in the face and we did not know where to look, except to Him who doeth all things well, in whose hands are all of our destinies, ‘who plants His footsteps on the sea and rides upon the storm.’ I was an original secessionist, and revolutionist. Rather, I gave my heart and hand to the cause, and when Lincoln's proclamation for troops to assist in coercing North Carolina was issued, I volunteered at once and went to the United States forts in North Carolina by order of the Governor. I was among the first men who placed hostile feet on United States soil in North Carolina, and from that day, April 15, 1861, to the end of the war in 1865, when Lee surrendered [262] the army, I was in the field and in forts exposed to danger, risking my life for a cause I thought was right. With the same lights before me, I would do the same thing again, and have never regretted what I did then.

Ordered to evacuate.

During the last year of the war, in 1864, I was in Petersburg, Va., and had command of the artillery on the north side of the Appomattox river, sharing in the fighting on the lines and in the trenches, the roughest of which was the explosion of Burnside's mine. In the spring (in March) when an assault was made by night on the Union lines we were actively engaged, and from that time until the order came to evacuate Petersburg we were almost daily engaged. This order to evacuate was not unexpected. I knew our line had been much weakened in order to meet the Union forces. On our extreme right the railroad had been cut. The order to evacuate came about 9 o'clock on the 2nd of April, and by 12 o'clock that night we had withdrawn and stood upon Dunn's Hill overlooking Petersburg. Seated on my horse I viewed the weird scene, which I shall never forget. There was a vast throng of silent, sad men. The sky was bright from burning warehouses, bridges, magazines, and depots for stores. The only sounds to be heard were the rumbling of artillery, with an occasional sharp tone of command and the bursting of shells, fired at the retreating column across a pontoon bridge over the Appomattox river. Men tramped by in hundreds, moving by like spectres. All was silent except you. could hear the roar of the flames and shriek of shells that poured into the doomed city. I rode away in sadness and grief, still clinging to the hope that with all the forces united we could hold our own. Next morning a halt was made; we got the men together and the march was resumed, after securing some rations.

Last sight of Lee.

Here in this county—Amelia—I saw General Lee for the last time in command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Though [263] I had often seen him, it appeared to me I had never before seen him look so grand and martial and handsome on horseback. He was the finest specimen of a man I ever looked at, then apparently about 60 years of age, deep brown eyes, clear skin, a well-shaped Roman nose, abundant gray hair, silky beard and mustache, well and neatly trimmed, wearing a gray coat and soft hat, his uniform buttoned up and fitting to perfection. He was a picture worth seeing. He was always well mounted. It was a beautiful spring day, the jonquils and white hyacinths in bloom, the young foliage being sufficiently advanced to cause a little shade. In fact, all nature seemed to ‘clap its hands with joy.’ General Lee and staff rode up and rested a few minutes under the slight shade of the new leaves. I think General Longstreet was of the party, as well as a few staff officers. Presently the party moved on and the march was resumed, and when he disappeared it seemed as if a great light had gone out.

No one can describe the horror and suffering of the march or retreat. We were pressed on every side. Sheridan met us at the cross roads and at Detonville we made a stand, but the troops had become demoralized and panicky. The cavalry made frequent dashes upon our flank, which added to the panicky feeling. A cry, ‘The Yankee cavalry is coming,’ would cause a stampede, so demoralized the troops had become from loss of sleep and hunger and fatigue from the march.

At Sailor's Creek a stand was made to enable the artillery and wagon trains to pass over the creek. There was then a sharp engagement. By this time the army had been ‘sifted’ down to as noble a set of men as ever lived. During the week the fighting had been continuous and the want of food and rest had demoralized thousands, who slipped off into the darkness of the night, when approaching their homes, and did not again return. The little handful of 8,000 or 9,000 men who remained did so with the determination to die, if necessary. We could net stand long at this place (Sailor's Creek)—in an hour or less it was all over. The wagon train became jammed and the enemy's cavalry dashed in, making such a scene as I had never before witnessed or wanted to witness again. Across the creek [264] on a little eminence with some artillery was General Lee, the guns firing over the heads of the of army. The wagons, with their canvas covers, had been set on fire. The cracking of rifles and shriek of shells and braying of mules and shouting of men made such a pandemonium as I had never before witnessed. Several ineffectual attempts to rally the men and restore some order out of the confusion were made, but nothing could be done. These were soldiers—veterans of Manassas, Cold Harbor, and Gettysburg—panic stricken, and there was no help.

Distressing scene.

What must General Lee's feelings have been as he witnessed such a sight. The cavalry retired, we crossed the river, and continued our weary and hungry march. That morning, early, I was riding along the road, when I heard my name called out. I saw a general officer I knew approaching, and he cried out, ‘Here, Captain, come and take breakfast with us.’ I cheerfully assented, as I had eaten almost nothing for over or about three days. Riding up to the fire, he handed me some breakfast, which consisted of parched corn, which had been obtained for the horses, so I had to go without anything to eat, except corn, parched in a frying-pan. I think it was about Friday night before the last day that an amusing thing happened, which I must relate. The artillery had been resting awhile, when the Union cavalry made a dash, and we lost a few men and two or three pieces of artillery. After the flurry I rode up to rejoin the rest, 1 heard some one laughing in a most stentorian voice, I rode up and said: ‘B, what do you mean in acting thus, and making so much noise?’ He broke out in a loud laugh, and said: ‘Oh, Captain, I am so d—–d glad I am alive I must laugh,’ and then resumed his yells. It seemed a very ludicrous thing.

We'll Saturday night about midnight we bivouacked while in sight of and nearby the Union camp-fires. With about a dozen we went into camp in a gorge. As we had been firing all day, trying to cheer the advancing troops, and had been using the artillery ‘advancing’ or firing over the heads of our army, we had not a single round of ammunition left in our chests. About daybreak [265] I was ordered to move to Lynchburg to refill our chests and put the guns in the earthworks there, and await the arrival of the army, which would fall back on that place. We pulled out about sunrise with nothing to eat, and had gone but a short distance before we came up with the balance of the army, and then the firing of the last engagement began. While not actually engaged we were near enough to hear the cheering and whirl of the bullets as they fell among us. We pushed on. The Siring did not last long, and there was a long, omnius silence, and a pall of gloom seemed to settle over us. An officer of artillery passed us, and said in a low tone, ‘Push on—General Lee has surrendered. When you meet up with the troop at Lynchburg cut down your guns, destroy your harness, disband your men, take your horses, and take care of yourselves, and go to you: homes in North Carolina the best way you can.’

The next day when the paroles were arranged all of the men with us were included in the surrender. The shock to us all was very great. A friend, who has been very sick, dies. You have watched over him, cared for and petted him; you know death must soon come. Still when it does come you are shocked. So it was with me. I said little. Lynchburg was reached when the sun was sinking behind the mountains. I drew the men up, dismounted the drivers, and told them the news. They thought it untrue. They themselves were so true, so brave, so faithful, they said they would follow General Lee to the Mississippi river, if necessary. They could not believe it. But when I ordered the guns cut down, their harness destroyed, they could hardly do it. The men gathered around me, some weeping, all saying it could not be true, as General Lee couldn't surrender. I bade them good-by, shaking each man by the hand, and not until I saw the last man leave the hill did I turn to look at the wreck. It was a terrible disappointment. My heart had thrilled at the music of those guns, I had seen nine fellows shot down while working them, for four years they had been my pride, and for four years I had been at the front, determined to remain there twice four, if necessary, and the war lasted that long. Now to see the guns lying there, my brave men gone, [266] it was more than I could stand. I rode away in the gloom of the evening, and my soldier life was forever over. I liked the life, it was congenial to me, and I had a splendid battery, a fine set of men—brave, prompt, and active. I liked all about the life of a soldier — the march, the bivouac, the dash at the enemy, and liked the danger and excitement. But, above all, I liked the cause for which I had exposed my life so after leaving wife and children. It proved to be a mistake, but I have never regretted the part I took in it. It had been my pride. But it is all for the best. I would not have it otherwise. This country is too grand and great to be divided. I have the kindest feelings for every one. Of all this I can truly say, ‘Miserima vidi pars fuit.’

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