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Chapter 33:

  • News of the battle of Five Forks
  • -- Grant orders assaults on Petersburg -- spirit of commanders -- Lethargy of Lee -- Wright carries rebel line-parke carries outer line -- Ord and Humphreys penetrate line in their front -- Grant enters enemy's works -- enthusiasm of troops -- Grant faces Meade's command eastward and envelops Petersburg -- rebel army falling back in great confusion -- fighting in front of Parke -- Longstreet brought from north side of James -- capture of Fort Gregg -- Sheridan's movements on left -- miles's battle at Sutherland station -- final success of miles-sheridan pursues the enemy to the Appomattox -- correspondence with Sherman -- Grant's dispositions on night of April 2nd -- Lee orders all troops to Amelia court—house -- object of Lee -- evacuation of Petersburg -- entrance of national troops -- orders of Grant to intercept Lee -- Grant's entry into Petersburg -- interview with Lincoln -- departure of Grant for Appomattox valley -- fall of Richmond -- conduct of Davis and Lee-misery of inhabitants -- withdrawal of garrison -- firing of city -- night of April 2nd -- entrance of Weitzel -- Richmond saved by national soldiers.

On the night of the battle of Five Forks Grant was still at Dabney's saw-mill, expecting intelligence from Sheridan. Before him stretched in the darkness the forces of Ord and Meade, in front of the works which had withstood them so long. As far as the national lines extended, they still found themselves facing an enemy, and even when Grant had detached a portion of his command, Lee also divided his army. But this last act of the rebel chief had precipitated, and in reality assisted, the development of Grant's plans, and the national leader now only waited for news from the left, in order to attack the weakened front of his adversary. During the afternoon [501] orders were issued to Humphreys, Wright, and Parke to assault at four A. M., and Ord also was held in readiness. The greatest issues hung upon the scales.

At 7.45 P. M., the general-in-chief sent word to the President: ‘Sheridan with his cavalry and the Fifth corps has evidently had a big fight this evening. The distance he is off is so great, however, that I shall not probably be able to report the result for an hour or two.’

The rain was now over, and Grant sat outside of his tent, wrapped in the blue overcoat of a private soldier which he wore in this campaign. Two or three staff officers were with him, hovering around the camp fire in the wet and gloomy woods. Two had remained all day with Sheridan to bring the earliest reports. Suddenly the cheers of the troops were heard in the distance, as they gathered from an officer while he rode along the character of his news. Every one at Headquarters knew what it must be. Soon the aide-de-camp came up, and, before he dismounted, had told a part of his story. ‘The rebels didn't run,’ he said, ‘on any particular road.’ Five Forks was won, but the completeness of the success was still not known. Grant at once sent word to Meade: ‘Humphreys must push now, or everything will leave his front, and be concentrated against Sheridan.’ The instinct of battle was aroused, and he saw in an instant not only what the enemy should do, but what steps he himself must take in order to circumvent Lee.

Before long another officer arrived in great excitement, having ridden hard from the field.1 He [502] brought the full intelligence. Grant listened calmly to the report, only now and then interrupting to ask a question. When all was told, he rose, and without saying a word entered his tent, where a candle flickered on the table. He invited no one to join him, but wrote a dispatch in sight of the officers outside, and gave it to an orderly. Then, coming out to the fire again, he said, as calmly as if he were remarking, ‘it is a windy night,’—‘I have ordered an immediate assault along the lines.’

When it is remembered how often during the war these assaults had been made, and how often they were unsuccessful; in what light the country had come to regard attacks on fortified works; how possible repulse was even yet, and how disastrous repulse might be—with the army divided, and the cavalry and the Fifth corps miles away, the character and importance of the decision can be better appreciated. But Grant felt that the hour and the opportunity had arrived; he had that intuitive sympathy with his soldiers which all great commanders share; he knew that they must be inspired by Sheridan's victory as well as the rebels depressed; that this was the instant in which all things were possible; and he ordered the assault.

The dispatch was to Meade, and in these words: [503] ‘Wright and Parke should both be directed to feel for a chance to get through to the enemy's line at once, and if they can get through, should push on to-night. All our batteries might be opened at once, without waiting for preparing assaulting columns. Let the corps commanders know the result on the left, and that it is still being pushed.’

At the same time he sent word to the President, waiting anxiously in the adjutant-general's hut at City Point, for news from his armies: better news he got that night than ever before, in four long years; news to warm his patriotic heart at last, before it was chilled for ever. ‘I have just heard,’ said Grant, ‘from Sheridan. He has carried everything before him. . . . He has captured three brigades of infantry and a train of wagons, and is now pushing up his success. I have ordered everything else to advance and prevent a concentration of the enemy against Sheridan.’ This idea was constantly in his mind, and appeared in every dispatch—to prevent concentration against Sheridan.

To Ord also he said: ‘I have just heard from Sheridan. . . . Everything the enemy has will probably be pushed against him. Get your men up, and feel the enemy to see if he shows signs of giving way;’ and, a little later, he telegraphed to Weitzel, north of the James: ‘I have directed Colonel Bowers to send you the report of Sheridan's success this afternoon. I have since ordered an attack to-night and pursuit. Communicate the result to your troops. Be ready also to push any wavering that may be shown in your front.’

All was bustle and business now. The replies [504] from commanders were full of spirit. Ord declared that his troops would go into the enemy's lines ‘as a hot knife goes into melted butter,’ and Wright promised to ‘make the fur fly.’ ‘If the corps does half as well as I expect,’ he said, ‘we will have broken through the rebel lines in fifteen minutes from the word “go.” ’ When this was reported to Grant, he said: ‘I like the way Wright talks. It argues success. I heartily approve.’ Wright, indeed, had been full of confidence ever since the beginning of the movement. He was ready to assault at any time, and inspired not only his subordinates but his superiors with his own belief in victory. Meade, too, felt the influence of the hour, and was even more prompt than Grant designed, for he sent out orders to attack without forming assaulting columns, and at 9.50 P. M. Grant telegraphed to him: ‘I did not mean that attack should be made without assaulting columns, but that batteries should open on receipt of orders. They can feel out with skirmishers and sharpshooters if the enemy is leaving, and attack in their own way.’ He knew that under the influence of success both troops and commanders could be trusted. The sanguine talk all day had assured him of this, even before the news from Sheridan arrived.

To Ord he said at this time: ‘General Wright speaks with great confidence of his ability to go through the enemy's lines. I think, as you have such difficult ground to go over, your reserves had better be pushed well over to the right, so that they can help him, or go in with you, as may be required.’

The instructions to Meade were now made more [505] detailed: ‘I believe,’ said Grant, ‘with a bombardment beforehand, the enemy will abandon his works. If not pursued, Sheridan may find everything against him. Humphreys can push everything he has to his left, and if he finds the enemy breaking in his front, then push the single line left, directly to the front. If there is no break made by the enemy, then Miles's division can be pushed directly down the White Oak road. Parke and Wright can open with artillery and feel with skirmishers and sharp. shooters, and if the enemy is giving way, push directly after him.’ Ord also was informed: ‘If it is impracticable for you to get through in your front, I do not want you to try it. But you can, in that case, draw out of your lines more men as a reserve, and hold them to throw in where some one else may penetrate. My opinion is you will have no enemy confronting you in the morning. You may find them leaving now. Understand, I do not wish you to fight your way over difficult barriers against defensive lines. I want you to see through if the enemy is leaving, and if so, follow him up.’

Grant's great anxiety was that Lee should not escape before the assault was made, and precipitate himself on Sheridan. Before the news of the battle arrived, he had directed Meade to hold Miles's division, of the Second corps, in readiness to move to the left;2 and at 9.30 P. M., he said again: ‘I would fix twelve to-night for starting Miles's division down [506] White Oak road to join Sheridan, if the enemy is not started by that time and the Second corps in pursuit. With Miles's division, and what he already has, I think Sheridan could hold all of Lee's army that could be got against him till we could get up.’

The corps commanders, however, reported that they could not be ready to assault before morning, and the order was finally made definite for four A. M. Parke and Wright were to attack positively, and Humphreys and Ord, if they found the enemy leaving, or if for any other cause an assault seemed feasible. Sheridan was now notified of the movement. ‘An attack,’said Grant, ‘is ordered for four in the morning at three points on the Petersburg front; one by the Ninth corps, between the Appomattox and the Jerusalem plank road, one west of the Welldon road, and the third between that and Hatcher's run. From your isolated position I can give you no specific directions, but leave you to act according to circumstances. I would like you, however, to get something done to the Southside road, even if you do not tear up a mile of it.’ During the night a messenger from Sheridan arrived, with further reports of the situation. He was quite prepared to receive an attack from Petersburg, but proposed himself to march by the White Oak road in the morning, against the right flank of Lee. The suggestion was approved by Grant, who still, however, was apprehensive that the enemy might desert his lines and fall upon Sheridan, before assistance could arrive, with the hope of driving him from his position, and opening a way for the retreat of the entire rebel army. To guard against this, not only was Miles's division sent to reinforce Sheridan and occupy [507] the White Oak road, by which Lee must move, but the furious bombardment begun before midnight was kept up till morning.

But Lee made no attempt whatever to escape, nor indeed to prepare for the assault which he must have seen was inevitable. On the contrary, he ordered Pickett to return towards Petersburg,3 and left Longstreet with ten thousand men north of the James,4 at the very moment when Grant was massing his forces to deal his heaviest blow. The bombardment presaged the coming storm, and Lee had received intelligence of the disaster at Five Forks. He still had in front of Grant, between the Appomattox and the Claiborne road, as many as forty thousand effective men,5 and a line of works as strong and as skilfully constructed as ever defended an army. The force before him was not more than sixty thousand in number, including the entire effective strength of Parke, Wright, Ord, and Humphreys, as they stood in line of battle. It would seem as if the gallant soldiers who had so long withstood the national armies might even yet have resisted an advance; or that the ingenuity and skill which had contrived so many manoeuvres might still have devised a plan by which those soldiers should have eluded their foe, and made one more effort to escape destruction. [508]

But Lee was apparently stunned, or bewildered, by the extent of his misfortunes or the prescience of further disaster. The right of his army had been wrenched violently from the centre, yet he allowed his left to remain separated by the James river from the bulk of his command, while he stood still to receive the blow which he knew was about to fall. He seems, indeed, to have lost his usual selfcon-troll, for, in his chagrin at the defeat of Pickett, he declared that he would place himself at the head of his troops when they next went into action, and he ordered his generals to put all stragglers in arrest, with plain reference to the conduct of the officers. But the inhabitants of Richmond had no warning of their danger, and there is no record that even the rebel government was yet apprised of the calamity at Five Forks. Lee's whole conduct at this crisis was that of a man whose faculties were beginning to give way amid the wreck of his cause and the crash of his army tumbling into ruins around him.

On the morning of the 2nd of April, the assault was made by Wright and Parke; Ord and Humphreys at first waiting to ascertain the result on the right of the line.

Wright had assembled his troops at the point where, on the 25th of March, he had carried the rebel entrenched picket line, in front of his old left. This was within striking distance of the enemy's main entrenchments. The national line here turned to the south, so that the Sixth corps faced both north and west, and fronted towards the Boydton road. The command was formed in three divisions, the centre somewhat in advance, and the other two right and left in front respectively, in order to be ready [509] to move promptly in either direction. Five batteries accompanied the assaulting column, and in addition twenty picked artillerymen, volunteers for the duty, who were supplied with tools for the purpose of turning any captured guns immediately upon the enemy. Pioneers were distributed in advance, to clear away obstructions, and the sharpshooters of the corps were disposed so as to render the most effectual service. Perfect silence was enjoined on the entire command until the moment of assault.

The ground in front, though clear of trees, was obstructed by marshes which partially covered the enemy's line, and immediately on the right was an inundation, rendering an approach in that direction entirely impracticable, while still further to the east were the strong works originally constructed for the defence of Petersburg. The fortifications to be assaulted consisted of a line of rifle-pits with deep ditches and high relief, covered at intervals of every few hundred yards by forts or batteries well supplied with artillery, and the whole preceded by three separate lines of abatis and fraise.

By some mischance or misapprehension the pickets in the vicinity of the forming columns began a fire while the troops were taking position, and thus brought a return fire, not only on themselves, but on the dense masses in their rear. This for a moment threatened to interfere with the plan of the attack, by precipitating an advance; but, although many casualties occurred, the officers succeeded in quieting the men, who remained without returning a shot or uttering a word to disclose their position to the enemy.

At four o'clock the unusual darkness rendered [510] any connected movement still impracticable, but at 4.40 A. M. there was light enough for the men to see to step. Even then nothing was discernible beyond the distance of a few yards, but at that hour the columns moved. They broke at once over the rebel picket line, and made their way rapidly, under a heavy fire of artillery and a still more deadly one of musketry, towards the parapet. Abatis was cut away, and through the openings thus effected, and those left by the enemy for his own convenience of access to the front, the main defences were reached. Here the rebels made a gallant stand, but the struggle, though sharp, was brief, and in a few moments the works were carried, and Wright was in possession of the whole front of attack of his corps.

In the ardor of the movement it was quite impossible at once to check the advance of the troops, and parties from each division soon reached the Boydton road and the Southside railway, breaking up the rails and cutting the rebel telegraph wires. As promptly as possible, however, the lines were reformed and wheeled to the left; and then, with his left guiding on the rebel entrenchments, Wright moved down towards Hatcher's run. At first the enemy attempted resistance, but this was speedily overcome, and the entire rebel line from the point of attack to Hatcher's run, with all the artillery and a large number of prisoners, was soon in possession of the Sixth corps.

Parke's advance was made at the point where the Jerusalem plank road entered the rebel fortifications. During the night he had surprised and captured about half a mile of the rebel picket line, taking two hundred and fifty prisoners, but the [511] movement disclosed the enemy's works well manned, the troops on the alert, and no apparent change in the force in front, either of artillery or infantry. In order not to precipitate the general assault, the captured picket line was abandoned. The musketry firing soon quieted down, and the concentration of the troops proceeded. Hartranft was massed on the right of the Jerusalem road and Potter on the left, these two divisions forming the assaulting column. Storming parties, accompanied by pioneers provided with axes to clear away the abatis, preceded each division, and details of artillerymen to work any guns that might be captured were also in readiness.

Wilcox was to make a strong demonstration in his front, further to the right, to deceive the enemy as to the real point of attack, and at four o'clock he pushed out and captured a few of the rebel skirmishers, and even carried two hundred yards of the main line; but the enemy promptly concentrated upon him, and he was forced to retire. His movement, however, had the designed effect, and attracted the rebel attention away from the real point of assault.

At half-past 4 the signal for Parke's main attack was given, and the Ninth corps column moved swiftly and steadily forward. In a moment the rebel picket line was carried, the stormers and pioneers rushed on, and under a galling fire cut away openings in the abatis and chevaux-de-frise. The assaulting divisions followed close, and undeterred by a severe fire of cannon, mortar, and musketry from the now aroused main line, pressed gallantly on, capturing the rebel works in front, with twelve pieces of artillery and eight hundred prisoners. One [512] column swept to the right until the whole of what was called by the enemy Miller's salient was in Parke's possession. This part of the defences was heavily traversed and afforded a strong foothold, where the rebels fought from traverse to traverse with great tenacity. Parke, however, drove them back steadily for about a quarter of a mile, when, reinforced and aided by strong positions in the rear, they were able to check the national progress.

Parke now made a gallant attempt to carry the inner line. The captured guns were turned on the enemy, served at first by infantry volunteers, and afterwards by details of artillerymen from the batteries in the rear; but the rebels held their own. Potter at this point was severely wounded. It was now daylight, and no further attempt to advance was made, but attention was turned to securing what had been gained, and restoring the organization of the troops, unavoidably shattered in the heavy fighting and the advance in the dark over broken ground. The loss in officers had been very severe. The captured line was made tenable as speedily as possible, but the position was extremely exposed, the forts and batteries being open in the rear. Parke indeed had only carried an outer line, and, although it was of great strength, and the rebels had fought splendidly to retain it, they still possessed an interior and principal chain of works before Petersburg was reached. This inner line ran west for a short distance from the Jerusalem road, and then turned north to the Appomattox, inside of the works that Wright had carried, so that, after all the success of the morning, Petersburg was still in the possession of the enemy.

At 5.15 A. M., Wright reported his first success, [513] and Grant instantly sent word to Ord: ‘Wright has carried the enemy's line, and is pushing in. Now is the time to push your men to the right, leaving your line very thin, and go to his assistance.’ Next came the news of Parke's assault, and at six o'clock Humphreys also was ordered to advance. At 6.40, Grant sent his first dispatch to City Point, for the President: ‘Both Wright and Parke got through the enemy's line. The battle now rages furiously. Sheridan with his cavalry, the Fifth corps, and Miles's division of the Second corps I sent to him since one this morning, is now sweeping down from the west. All now looks highly favorable. Ord is engaged, but I have not yet heard the result on his front.’ Five minutes later, he said to Meade: ‘Wright can put in everything he has except the garrisons of the enclosed works. Ord is pushing by the shortest road to help Wright. I heard from Sheridan at 12.30 this morning.’ To Sheridan himself he said: ‘Wright and Parke attacked at daylight this morning, and carried the enemy's works in their front. Wright's troops, some of them, pushed through to the Boydton road, and cut the telegraph wire. Ord is now going in to reinforce Wright, and Humphreys is feeling for a soft place in the line south of Hatcher's run. I think nothing now is wanting but the approach of your force from the west to finish up the job on this side.’

It was time, however, to attend to the other end of the line, for Parke had reported the check to his advance, and at 7.10 A. M. Grant said to Meade: ‘There is more necessity for care on the part of Parke than of either of the other corps commanders. As I understand it, he is attacking the main line of works around Petersburg, whilst the others are only attacking [514] an outer line, which the enemy might give up without giving up Petersburg. Parke should either advance rapidly, or cover his men and hold all he gets.’ At the same time he cautioned Weitzel, north of the James: ‘The greatest vigilance is necessary on your part that the enemy do not cross the Appomattox to overwhelm and drive back Parke.’ To the staff officer left in charge at City Point he said: ‘Instruct Benham to get the men at City Point out to the outer lines, and have them ready. While all our forces are going in, some enterprising rebels may possibly go through down there, in a fit of desperation, to do what damage they can.’ With all his aggressive audacity Grant never neglected the necessary precautions against similar traits in the enemy.

Meanwhile the two corps on the left of the Sixth had made their advance. The ground in front of Ord was difficult, and his troops at first did not succeed in penetrating the enemy's line; but, as the rebels weakened their force in his front in order to resist Wright and Parke, Ord also broke through the entrenchments. Humphreys too was doing well. At about half-past 7 the entrenched picket line in his front was captured under musketry as well as artillery fire, and at eight o'clock Hays's division of the Second corps carried an important redoubt, with three guns and a large part of the garrison. Mott's division of the same corps was then pushed forward to the Boydton road, but found the rebels on that front had evacuated their line.

At 8.25 A. M., Grant thus summed up for the President the results that had been attained: ‘Wright has gone through the enemy's line, and now has a [515] regiment tearing up the track on the Southside railroad, west of Petersburg. Ord has gone in with Wright. I do not see how the portion of the rebel army north of where Wright broke through are to escape.’ While he wrote, a message arrived from the Twenty-fourth corps. Grant stopped to read it, and then continued: ‘Dispatch just received from Ord states some of his troops have just captured the enemy's works south of Hatcher's run, and are pushing on. This is bringing our troops rapidly to a focus with a portion of the rebels in the centre.’ Ten minutes later he announced the capture to Meade: ‘We have the forts next to Hatcher's run on both sides. I think there will be no difficulty in Humphreys marching forward now towards Petersburg, or towards the retreating foe.’ A little later he said to the officer in charge at City Point: ‘Notify Mulford to make no more deliveries of rebel prisoners whilst the battle is going on;’ and in the same dispatch: ‘I have not yet heard from Sheridan, but I have an abiding faith that he is in the right place and at the right time.’

Grant had remained at his Headquarters to receive reports until he learned that Ord as well as Wright had broken the lines, and then he rode out to direct the varying operations of his armies. It was now all one battle-field from Petersburg to beyond Five Forks. Everywhere the national columns had burst the rebel barriers, and were surging inward towards the railroad and the town that had been their goal for a year. The various corps were becoming confused as they converged, and it needed the chief to disentangle the lines. He soon approached the broken defences, and spurred his horse [516] over the works that had defied him so stubbornly. Just as he entered, he was met by a body of three thousand prisoners captured by Wright, marching to the rear. Next he came upon a division of the triumphant Sixth corps, moving with the haste of battle, but the cheers of the men as they passed told that they recognized who it was that had organized their victory. Grant galloped along, staying neither for prisoners nor cheers, receiving dispatches and instructing generals as he rode. The dead and the wounded showed that the works had not been too easily won.

Soon the news was brought that Ord had connected with Wright, and that Humphreys also had penetrated the lines. Grant at once decided to face the entire commands of Meade and Ord to the east and envelop Petersburg, moving rapidly against any further entrenchments that might be found. He rode himself to the right and soon came up with Meade. Directions for Parke to hold out were renewed; Wright and Ord were to move along inside the captured works, and Humphreys to come in on the left of Ord. Wright had halted at Hatcher's run to reform his lines, and one division of Ord's command now entered the works at the point carried by Wright, and passed along the front of the Sixth corps. Then together they retraced their steps, and advanced on the right and left of the Boydton road, towards Petersburg, Humphreys following with two divisions, leaving Miles still under the command of Sheridan.

The general-in-chief rode up on some high ground to watch the movement. The point was about a mile from the interior rebel line, and not three miles [517] from the heart of Petersburg. Here he dismounted and sat on the ground near a farmer's house, and waited for reports. The rebel artillerists soon turned their guns against the group of officers and orderlies, and the place seemed hot for a while, even to men who were used to battle; but just as the cannonading began, several officers arrived, and Grant remained to receive their intelligence, and write his orders in return. He was thus under fire for nearly a quarter of an hour, and his aides-de-camp, remembering the results that hung upon his life, ventured to suggest a change of position; but he sat unmoved, with his back to a tree, until the reports directed to this spot had all arrived. Then quietly, but rather maliciously, he remarked: ‘The enemy seems to have the range of this place. Suppose we ride away.’ A long breath, and a quick gallop, and the general-in-chief was out of danger.

At 10.45 A. M., he sent word again to the President: ‘Everything has been carried from the left of the Ninth corps. The Sixth corps alone captured more than three thousand prisoners. The Second and Twenty-fourth corps both captured forts, guns, and prisoners from the enemy, but I cannot yet tell the number. We are closing around the works of the city immediately enveloping Petersburg. All looks remarkably well. I have not yet heard from Sheridan.’

The wrecks of the rebel army were now tumbling in from every direction towards Petersburg; cavalry, artillery, and infantry, all in rout and confusion. Gordon on the left was driven back by Parke; the centre under Hill had been pierced and broken and almost destroyed by Wright; while Heth [518] and Wilcox, further to the west, were cut off by Humphreys and Ord. Pickett in the night had endeavored to gather up what he had saved from the ruin at Five Forks, and form a junction with the rebel right near Sutherland station, but, meeting the fugitives of Heth and Wilcox, who had thrown away their arms, he retraced his steps and hurried to cross the Appomattox at Exeter mills. Sheridan meantime was coming up by the White Oak road to shut off every avenue of escape, and complete the destruction of the enemy. It seemed for a while as if conquered and conquerors would enter Petersburg together, and whether Lee could retain any organization at all or the Appomattox be crossed, was a matter of doubt. The rebel chief had anticipated his defeat, and dressed himself that morning in full uniform, with his finest sword, declaring that if forced to surrender, he would fall in harness; and when it was announced that his works were carried, he simply said: ‘It has happened as I thought; the lines have been stretched until they broke.’6

He fled with his escort from one position to another before the victorious columns, and once the advancing batteries were opened on a house where he had halted, and he was driven by their fire still nearer in towards Petersburg. At first but little effort seems to have been made to resist the national progress. Lee had been composed all through this terrible morning, but it was with the dull, apathetic composure of despair. It was necessary, however, to make some stand, or every man in the rebel army [519] would be killed or captured then and there; and after a while he showed something of his ancient energy. Gordon was ordered, if possible, to force back Parke; Hill, Mahone, and Lee himself exerted themselves to stem the tide of flight and chase; the fragments of regiments were gathered up to man the yet uncaptured forts; and Longstreet was brought from the north side of the James. At forty minutes past ten, the rebel general sent the portentous news to Richmond: ‘I see no prospect,’ he said, ‘of doing more than holding our position here till night. I am not certain that I can do that.’

Grant had early detected the movement of Longstreet. At 10.45 A. M., he said to Weitzel: ‘One brigade of Mahone's division is here, and no doubt more will be here soon. Keep in a condition to assault when ordered, or when you may feel the right time has come.’ At 12.50 P. M., he telegraphed to the same commander: ‘Rebel troops are pouring over the Appomattox. Direct General Hartsuff to demonstrate against them on his front [at Bermuda Hundred], and, if there is a good showing, attack. The enemy will evidently leave your front very thin by night. I think I will direct you to assault by morning. Make your preparations accordingly.’

Meanwhile, the rebels had made several attempts to regain the lines which had been wrested from them by Parke. These extended for a distance of about four hundred yards on each side of the Jerusalem road, and included several important forts and redans. The enemy had for several hours been busily planting guns to command the position, and kept up an incessant sharpshooters' fire; but the [520] national reply had been so hot that every advance in line was at once repelled. At eleven o'clock, however, a heavy and determined assault was made, but was repulsed at every point with severe loss. Grant now ordered up two brigades from City Point to the support of Parke. The line was reversed, and the chevaux-de-frise transferred to the opposite front, while a cross line connected Parke's new right with the most advanced point of his original position. Every subsequent effort of the enemy in this direction was repelled. The desperate attempts to recapture this portion of the line were inspired by its proximity to Petersburg, which enabled Parke not only to command an important approach to the town, but with his artillery to threaten the bridge over the Appomattox, and the only possible exit of Lee.

At noon, the left wing under Sheridan was still unheard from, but the entire national centre and right were faced towards Petersburg, and approaching from south and west to envelop the town. Parke remained in the important position he had acquired; the Sixth and Twenty-fourth corps moved rapidly up to connect with the Ninth, and the two divisions of Humphreys were extending to the Appomattox on the north. The rebels, it has been seen, had constructed an interior line of works, running directly around the city, and outside of this was a series of enclosed and isolated forts, commanding the interval between the river and the line of fortifications carried at daybreak. What was left of the discomfited command of Lee had now been driven back upon this interior line. In the retreat several of the rebel batteries were dashingly handled, and inflicted considerable loss on the pursuing force, but with a single [521] exception they had all been thrust back, from point to point, inside the rebel lines. One battery, however, was captured, but not till its horses had been shot by the skirmishers of the Sixth corps.

Most of the outer works were speedily carried or abandoned, but two sister redoubts, Forts Gregg and Baldwin, offered stout resistance, and soon after midday the Twenty-fourth corps came up before them. They were the most salient and commanding works outside of Petersburg, and it was indispensable that they should be stormed. Accordingly, at one o'clock an assault on Fort Gregg was ordered. Three of Ord's brigades, under Turner and Foster, moved forward at once in close support, and a desperate struggle ensued. The garrison was composed of three hundred brave fellows, collected from various commands—artillery, infantry, and a body of mounted drivers called Walker's Mules, to whom muskets had been furnished, for the rebels habitually put even their teamsters into line of battle. These men had been driven from the picket line in the morning, and fled to Fort Gregg for shelter. Two rifled cannon constituted the armament. The rebels fought with splendid valor, and several times repulsed the assaulting party. At last the parapet was gained, but even then for half an hour a hand-to-hand conflict was maintained. Many of the garrison used their bayonets and clubbed muskets, and not until half-past 2 did the gallant remnant surrender. Two hundred and fifty officers and men were captured, and fifty-seven dead were found within the works. Several of Ord's regiments claimed the honor of first planting their colors on the parapet, but the real glory of this little battle indisputably belongs to the defenders. [522] It was the last fight made by rebel soldiers for their capital, and worthy of the old renown of the army of Northern Virginia.7

Fort Baldwin, the adjoining work, was at once evacuated, but the guns of Fort Gregg were turned on the retreating garrison, and the commander with sixty of his men surrendered.

The line of investment was now materially shortened, and the national troops closed in around Petersburg. The prolonged defence of Fort Gregg, however, had given Lee time to rally his disordered soldiers, and the arrival of Longstreet with his yet unbeaten command was a reinforcement that added spirit as well as strength to what was left of the routed army.

Meanwhile Sheridan had been busy on a more distant portion of the field. Miles reported to him at daybreak, and was ordered to move back towards Petersburg, and attack the enemy at the intersection of the White Oak and Claiborne roads. The rebels were found at this point, in force and in position, and Sheridan followed Miles immediately with two divisions of the Fifth corps. The enemy, however, withdrew from the junction, and Miles pursued with great zeal, pushing the fugitives across Hatcher's run, and following them up towards Sutherland station, [523] on the Southside railroad. North of Hatcher's run, Sheridan came up with Miles, who had a fine and spirited division, and was anxious to attack, and Sheridan gave him leave. About this time Humphreys also arrived with the remainder of his corps, having made his breach in the lines, and moved up from the Boydton road. He now reassumed command of Miles, and Sheridan faced the Fifth corps by the rear, and returning to Five Forks, marched out by the Ford road to Hatcher's run.

Grant, however, had intended to leave Sheridan in command of Miles, and indeed in full control of all the operations in this quarter of the field; and, supposing his views to have been carried out, it was at this juncture that he ordered Humphreys to be faced to the right and moved towards Petersburg. This left Miles unsupported by either Humphreys or Sheridan. Nevertheless, that gallant commander made his assault. But the rebel position was naturally strong as well as defended by breastworks and artillery, and Miles was compelled to retire. A second attack at half-past 12 met with no better fortune, although supported by a vigorous shelling from the artillery of the division. The position was important, for it covered the right of Lee's army; the rebels resisted vigorously, and Miles fell back to a crest about eight hundred yards from the enemy's line.

News of the repulse was carried to Grant, now nearly five miles away, and for a while the general-in-chief was anxious about the fate of Miles. There was evidently a movement to the west by the troops cut off from Lee, and these might concentrate upon the isolated command and destroy it before they [524] retired. Humphreys was accordingly ordered to send another division to the support of Miles. He went himself with Hays's division, while Mott took position on the left of the line encircling Petersburg.

Sheridan meantime had sent Merritt westward to cross Hatcher's run, and break up the rebel cavalry, which had assembled in considerable force north of the stream; but the rebels would not stand to fight, and the national troopers pursued them in a northerly direction to the borders of the Appomattox river. Sheridan himself with the Fifth corps crossed Hatcher's run, and struck the Southside railroad, north of Five Forks; then, meeting with no opposition, he marched rapidly towards Sutherland, and came up in flank and rear of the enemy opposing Miles, just as Humphreys was returning on the right from Petersburg.

Miles, in the interval, had devised a plan not unlike the strategy of Sheridan at Five Forks, though on a smaller scale. He made a feint against the rebel right, pushing a strong skirmish line around that flank until he overlapped it and reached to the railroad; and, while the enemy's attention was thus diverted, at 2.45 P. M. he assaulted the opposite flank, sweeping rapidly down inside the breastworks, capturing nearly a thousand prisoners and two pieces of artillery, and putting the remainder of the force to precipitate flight.

Sheridan overtook the rebels in their rout on the main road along the Appomattox river, and the cavalry and Crawford's division attacked them at nightfall; but the friendly darkness interposed, and the remnants of the force that had resisted Miles so stoutly threw away their arms and hid themselves [525] in the woods till morning. Miles had been ordered to pursue the enemy towards Petersburg, and advanced in that direction about two miles, when he met Humphreys with Hays's division coming up to his relief. He thereupon returned to Sutherland and went into bivouac.

The troops which he had encountered belonged to Heth and Wilcox's divisions, and possibly a few to Anderson's command. Pickett, we have seen, had endeavored to reach Sutherland during the day, having been ordered thither by Lee, but he found the road filled with unarmed fugitives from the battle, and concluded to cross the Appomattox without delay.

When Grant heard of the action at Sutherland, he declared to Meade: ‘Miles has made a big thing of it, and deserves the highest praise for the pertinacity with which he stuck to the enemy and wrung from him victory.’

In the midst of the absorbing interest of the assaults on Petersburg, while directing the marches and counter-marches of his own converging columns, and planning to pursue and intercept the scattered forces of his routed adversary, Grant received dispatches from Sherman. At 4.30 P. M., a staff officer telegraphed from City Point: ‘A letter, of date 31st, from General Sherman is just received. He says the enemy is inactive in his front. He will move at the time stated to you. Thinks Lee will unite his and Johnston's army, and will not coop himself up in Richmond. Would like to be informed if Sheridan swings off, that he may go out and meet him. Does not believe Sheridan can cross the Roanoke for a month. Will send letter by mail.’ Grant replied [526] at once: ‘Send all my dispatches that have gone concerning operations to Sherman. . . . Have you stopped Mulford from delivering prisoners? If he has any on hand for delivery, tell him to hold on to them.’ To Weitzel he now said: ‘You need not assault in the morning unless you have good reason for believing the enemy are leaving. We have a good thing of it now, and in a day or two I think I will be able to send you all the troops necessary.’

At 4.40 P. M., the general-in-chief telegraphed to City Point: ‘We are now up, and have a continuous line of troops, and in a few hours will be entrenched from the Appomattox below Petersburg to the river above. . . . The whole captures since the army started out gunning will not amount to less than twelve thousand men and probably fifty pieces of artillery. . . . All seems well with us, and everything quiet just now. I think the President might come out and pay us a visit to-morrow.’ To this Lincoln himself replied: ‘Allow me to tender to you, and all with you, the nation's grateful thanks for the additional and magnificent success. At your kind suggestion, I think I will meet you to-morrow.’ Grant thereupon telegraphed again: ‘If the President will come out on the nine A. M. train to Patrick station, I will send an escort to meet him. It would afford me much pleasure to meet the President in person at the station, but I know he will excuse me for not doing so when my services are so liable to be needed at any moment.’ At 8.40 P. M., he added to this: ‘I have just heard from Miles. He attacked what was left of Heth and Wilcox's divisions at Sutherland station, and routed them, capturing about a thousand prisoners. The enemy took the [527] road north to the Appomattox. As Sheridan was above them, I am in hopes but few of them will escape.’

All west of the rebel centre had now been driven beyond the Appomattox by Sheridan, while all to the east was forced into Petersburg, from which there was no exit for Lee except by the country roads north of the river. The only question with Grant was, whether at once to assault the inner lines or wait for the rebels to move out from behind their works, and attack them in flight and undefended. The troops in front of Petersburg had been under arms for eighteen hours; they had assaulted the strongest lines known in modern war, swept down them several miles, and, returning, marched five miles east of the original point of attack; they were too exhausted for another assault, unless it was absolutely necessary. Meade and others entitled to offer their opinions urged strongly that the whole army should be brought up to Petersburg, and the place assaulted in force; but Grant did not doubt that Lee had already determined upon flight, and a further assault of fortified works would only occasion unnecessary slaughter. He therefore decided to envelop the town on the southern side of the Appomattox, but to hold half his army in readiness for prompt pursuit. If the rebels should not withdraw, he meant, of course, to assault in the morning; but, if Lee evacuated the city in the night, the national troops in front of the town could take prompt possession of Petersburg, while Sheridan, and those disposed along the Appomattox, would be ready to intercept and pursue the flying columns. No assault was therefore ordered for the 2nd of April. [528]

Sheridan had already been directed to cross the Appomattox west of Lee's army, with the Fifth corps and the cavalry. ‘You may cross where you please,’ said Grant. ‘The position and movements of the enemy will dictate your movements after you cross. All we want is to capture or beat the enemy.’ Humphreys also was held loose during the night, with orders to report to Sheridan. At 7.40 P. M., Grant said to Meade: ‘I would send Humphreys no orders further than to report to Sheridan, and return or cross the Appomattox as he wishes . . . Sheridan thinks that all the rebel army that was outside the works immediately around the city are trying to make their escape that way. I think there is nothing in Petersburg except the remnant of Gordon's corps, and a few men brought from the north side to-day. I believe it will pay to commence a furious bombardment at five A. M. to be followed by an assault at six, only if there is good reason to believe the enemy is leaving. Unless Lee reaches the Danville road to-night, he will not be able to reach his army.’ At 9.45 P. M., he said, also to Meade: ‘Direct General Parke to use his siege artillery upon the railroad bridge to-night. If we can hit the bridge once, it will pay.’

Grant was perfectly right in his intuitions. Lee was making all his preparations to evacuate Petersburg. He notified the authorities at Richmond of this at forty minutes past ten in the morning. ‘I see no prospect,’ he telegraphed, ‘of doing more than holding our position here till night. I am not certain that I can do that. If I can, I shall withdraw to-night north of the Appomattox, and if possible it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night [529] from James river. The brigades on Hatcher's run are cut off from us; enemy have broken through our lines and intercepted between us and them, and there is no bridge over which they can cross the Appomattox this side of Goode or Bevil's, which are not very far from the Danville railroad. Our only chance, then, of concentrating our forces is to do so near Danville railroad, which I shall endeavor to do at once. I advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond to-night. I will advise you later, according to circumstances.’

At fifty-five minutes past four P. M., he said again: ‘I think the Danville road will be safe until tomorrow.’

Accordingly, during the afternoon Jefferson Davis and his chief confederates left the city, where for nearly four years they had defied the government to which they once had sworn allegiance. The exit of the rebel rule was as discreditable as its origin was dishonorable. The population of Richmond received no warning of the coming disaster. Not a rumor of the defeat at Five Forks had reached the rebel capital. On the contrary, it was announced and believed that a victory had been gained.8 Davis was at church when Lee's telegram was handed to him. He read it, and left his prayers unfinished, while the clergyman dismissed his congregation at once, notifying them that the local forces were to assemble at three P. M., and afternoon service would not be held. The militia were hurried to the defences to relieve Longstreet's veterans, but still no public announcement of the ruin was made. Davis and his cabinet fled by a special train, leaving the [530] population to take care of themselves. ‘It was after two P. M.,’ says the diary of a rebel war-clerk, ‘before the purpose to evacuate the city was announced, and the government had gone at eight.’

At seven o'clock, Lee sent his last dispatch to the rebel Secretary of War, who alone of his government had remained at his post: ‘It is absolutely necessary,’ he said, ‘that we should abandon our position to-night, or run the risk of being cut off in the morning. I have given all the orders to officers on both sides of the river, and have taken every precaution that I can to make the movement successful. It will be a difficult operation, but I hope not impracticable. Please give all orders that you find necessary in and about Richmond. The troops will all be directed to Amelia court-house.’9

When night fell on the 2d of April, Lee was still holding the semicircular line south of the Appomattox which closely included Petersburg; while his extreme right, hard pressed by Sheridan, was fifteen miles west of the town. The forces from Richmond and the lines at Bermuda Hundred were already in motion to join him on the Appomattox; and Pickett and Bushrod Johnson were heading their scattered troops for Amelia court-house, crossing the river wherever they could find a bridge or a ford. Grant encompassed the city with his right wing, and his left extended parallel with the fragments of Lee's command that had been left outside.

The whole object and aim of the rebel leader now was to effect a junction with Johnston, whose [531] forces were massed at Smithfield, in North Carolina, half-way between Raleigh and Goldsboro, and a little nearer than Sherman's troops to Petersburg. If Lee could possibly succeed in joining Johnston, he would still command a formidable army, and might hope even yet to give the national general serious trouble, or at least secure more favorable terms for the shattered Confederacy. The distance between the rebel armies was a hundred and fifty miles. To accomplish his purpose Lee must evade the columns of Grant, striking first for Burksville, at the junction of the Southside and Danville roads, fifty miles from Richmond, and then move still further south towards Danville, to which point he might hope that Johnston would fall back in order to concentrate the two commands.

The Appomattox river, rising in the neighborhood of Lynchburg, and flowing east in a general course, ran directly across Lee's path, and as Grant had possession of the southern bank as far as Sutherland, the rebel general would be obliged to move on the opposite side for more than twenty miles; then, crossing at Goode or Bevil's bridge, he meant to strike for Amelia court-house on the Danville road, eighteen miles north of Burksville. At Amelia he expected to obtain supplies. Grant, of course, would divine his route and endeavor to follow or intercept his march; but Lee was no further from Burksville than the national army, and decidedly nearer to Amelia;10 his troops would have the impetus of flight, and would start some hours in advance. By [532] great exertions and expedition, the rebel chief still hoped to outmarch or out manoeuvre his antagonist. He recovered from his first dejection of the morning, and later in the day gave orders for the concentration of all his forces for a night march.

But first he was present at the burial of a comrade. General A. P. Hill, one of the ablest of his corps commanders, had fallen in the assaults of the morning, and soon after dark Lee with his staff attended the hurried funeral. Then he rode out on the northern bank, and watched the movements of his retreating army, standing by the side of his horse, bridle in hand, at the junction of the roads to Richmond and Amelia. The rebel troops filed silently in the darkness past their chief out of the city they had defended so long. But there were no longer any lines to be held, any earthworks to be defended. The evacuation began at ten o'clock and was complete before three. Then Lee mounted his horse and followed his army. The forts on the James were blown up, and the bridges over the Appomattox set on fire.

Desultory firing was kept up by Parke all night, and the batteries on his right opened at intervals upon the bridge, according to Grant's orders. As the evacuation was anticipated, the troops were instructed to use the greatest vigilance to detect any movement of the enemy, and at two A. M., Parke began feeling the rebel positions with skirmishers, but found the pickets still out. Before daylight, however, he reported that on two of his division fronts the rebel line, so far as developed, consisted only of skirmishers, and that a heavy explosion had occurred a little after three o'clock in the heart of Petersburg. [533] He pushed forward at once to ascertain whether the enemy had retired. Wright and Ord were notified of the report, and instructed also to push forward skirmishers to discover the condition of the enemy.

At four o'clock, Parke succeeded in penetrating the line in his front at all points almost simultaneously, capturing the few remaining pickets. Ely's brigade, of Wilcox's division, was the first to enter the town, near the Appomattox, and to Colonel Ely the formal surrender was made at 4.28 A. M. . The Sixth corps also advanced, and the authorities must have been anxious to capitulate, for a second communication surrendering the town was forwarded by Wright to Meade. The flag of the Sixth Michigan sharpshooters was raised on the court-house, and guards were posted throughout the town. By the prompt efforts of officers and troops the main structure of the bridge was saved. Skirmishers were then pushed across the river, and numbers of stragglers were captured both in the city and outskirts.

At ten minutes past five Meade reported to Grant: ‘Colonel Ely is in possession of Petersburg;’ and Grant instantly replied: ‘You will march immediately with your army up the Appomattox, taking the River road, leaving one division to hold Petersburg and the railroad.’ He followed this with a personal interview, and at six o'clock Meade issued his orders to the corps commanders. Mott's division of the Second corps was on the extreme left of the investing force, nearest the river, and Meade instructed Wright: ‘Send Mott up the River road to join Humphreys as soon as possible. Move with your whole corps at once, following Mott, and keeping control of him until he shall report to Humphreys.’ [534] To Parke, Meade said: ‘Leaving one division to guard Petersburg and the railroad, move with the rest of your command up the Cox road.’ At the same time Grant dispatched an officer to Sheridan, announcing the fall of the city, and ordering him to push to the Danville road with all speed, with Humphreys and Griffin, as well as the cavalry.

Before the troops were in motion, the generalin-chief telegraphed to City Point for the President: ‘Petersburg was evacuated last night. Pursuit will be made immediately.’ He had already said to Ord: ‘Efforts will be made to intercept the enemy, who are evidently pushing towards Danville. Push southwest with your command by the Cox road. The army of the Potomac will push up the River road.’

Thus Grant's first orders were—not to follow Lee through Petersburg, but to intercept him, moving his whole command by the south side of the Appomattox towards the Danville railroad, while Lee was hastening on the northern bank to cross, as he had said, at Goode or Bevil's bridge. It was characteristic of the national general that he was not satisfied with pursuit. One division was left in Petersburg, and the army, without even entering the town it had besieged for nearly a year, was hurried westward to get in front of its retreating enemy.

To Weitzel, Grant now telegraphed: ‘I do not doubt but you will march into Richmond unopposed. Take possession of the city. Establish guards, and preserve order until I get there. Permit no man to leave town after you get possession. The army here will endeavor to cut off the retreat of the enemy.’

At nine o'clock, the general-in-chief rode into [535] Petersburg to obtain what information he could in regard to the movements of Lee. The streets were nearly vacant, but here and there groups of women and children gazed curiously at the conqueror. The negroes came up closer, and a few gave cheers; but the entry into the captured town had none of the formalities of a triumph. Grant rode through the narrow streets, attended only by his staff, and alighted at the house of a citizen, where he sat in the porch, receiving intelligence and examining prisoners. Soon an officer from Sheridan arrived with reports. ‘Before receiving your dispatch,’ said Sheridan, ‘I had anticipated the evacuation of Petersburg, and had commenced moving west. My cavalry is nine miles beyond Namozine creek, and is pressing the enemy's trains. I shall push on to the Danville road as rapidly as possible.’ Grant replied, at 10.20 A. M.: ‘The troops got off from here early, marching by the River and Cox roads. It is understood that the enemy will make a stand at Amelia court-house, with the expectation of holding the road between Danville and Lynchburg. The first object of present movement will be to intercept Lee's army, and the second to secure Burksville. I have ordered the road to be put in order up to the latter place as soon as possible. I shall hold that place if Lee stops at Danville, and shall hold it anyhow, until his policy is indicated. Make your movements according to this programme.’

Soon after this he received a dispatch from City Point, announcing that the President was coming up to Petersburg, and replied: ‘Say to the President that an officer and escort will attend him, but, as to myself, I start towards the Danville road with the [536] army. I want to cut off as much of Lee's army as possible.’

Lincoln, however, arrived before Grant had left the town, and the two had a short interview in the rebel porch. The President, of course, was cheerful at the great success which had been achieved, but there was a dash of anxiety mingled with his satisfaction; he foresaw the imminent civil complications that success involved. His great heart was full of charity, however, and he was planning already what merciful magnaminity he could show to those who had resisted and reviled himself and his government so long. Some of these plans he unfolded now to Grant.

There was no news yet of the capture of Richmond, and at 12.30 P. M. the general-in-chief telegraphed to Weitzel, showing the dispatch to the President: ‘How are you progressing Will the enemy try to hold Richmond? I have detained the division belonging to your corps, and will send it back if you think it will be needed. I am waiting here to hear from you. The troops moved up the Appomattox this morning.’ To Hartsuff, who was in command in front of Bermuda Hundred, he said: ‘What do you learn of the position of the enemy in your front? If the enemy have moved out, try to connect pickets with the forces from Petersburg.’

After remaining an hour and a half, the President returned to City Point, and Grant set out to join Ord's column, having yet received no message from Richmond. He had not ridden far, however, before a dispatch was handed him from Weitzel. It was in these words: ‘We took Richmond at 8.15 this morning. I captured many guns. Enemy left in great [537] haste. The city is on fire in two places. Am making every effort to put it out.’

But the capture of the rebel capital had now become a comparatively unimportant circumstance. The all-absorbing object was the capture of the rebel army; and when the news that had been waited and wished for so long was communicated to the troops, it created no surprise, no especial exultation even. In the crowd of events and emotions that filled this day, it was only one great subject of rejoicing among many others. ‘Richmond is taken,’ was the word passed along the column. ‘Ah, is it?’ the soldiers said; ‘well, we must make haste now to catch Lee.’

It is difficult to conceive a more dastardly act or a more pitiable fate than supplemented and consummated the fall of Richmond. Here was a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, which for nearly four years had been the capital of an armed rebellion; the centre and focus of the opposition to the government, now abandoned by its defenders and exposed alone to the punishment which its garrison should have remained to share; which had collected a surplus population, composed in large part of the adventurers and miscreants, the drunkards, and gamblers, and libertines, the characterless characters that congregate around a falling political conspiracy; a city where every man had been engaged in treason, and was liable to its penalties, and every woman had abetted it; a city which had endured the privations of a siege, where provisions were scarce and dear, and money would now be annihilated;11 a [538] city crowded with a servile race who looked to the approach of the besiegers to set them free—and this place was left by the authorities and the army to await the entrance of its conqueror—without one soldier to keep order, or restrain pillage, or claim protection, or exchange military formalities with the captors. The so-called government fled in dismay and disgrace, and the conduct of the army was little better towards its capital in this emergency. Lee was as derelict as Davis, and equally with him deserved the execrations which the other received.12 For Lee was general-in-chief, and knew of the flight of his superiors; he knew the destitution and desperation of the inhabitants; he was a soldier, and knew what horrors often come upon besieged cities when at last they fall. Yet he left not a company, not a squad, behind. He made no pretence of surrendering the forts or their armament, and therefore ran the risk of exasperating the victors; thus saving his military pride at the expense of his military honor. He did not attempt to protect the miserable wretches whom he abandoned, a prey to all the anguish of expectation and despair. His generals followed his example and his orders;13 they withdrew after dark, and set fire to the warehouses in the most crowded part of the city as they fled; and [539] when night came on the rebellion went down under an accumulation of agony and dread such as the world has seldom seen.

When the news first spread that Richmond was to be evacuated, it was disbelieved. The citizens, we have seen, had been kept in utter ignorance of their danger, and even supposed a victory had been achieved. But the preparations at the Jefferson Davis house and in the government offices betrayed the truth. Wagons loaded with boxes and trunks were driven to the station of the Danville railroad, and the archives of the rebel government and the effects of the rebel president went off together as freight.

Next there came a street rumor of bloody fighting beyond Petersburg, on the Southside road, in which Pickett's division was said to have met with fearful loss. Nothing of this, however, was disclosed by the government, even to the clerks in the War Office; but the marching of veteran troops from the defences and the replacing of them hurriedly with militia indicated the emergency. At two P. M. it was known that the national army had certainly broken through Lee's lines and attained the Southside road.

Soon men in uniform were seen, some of them officers, hurrying away with their trunks; but they were not allowed to put them on the cars. The legislature of Virginia escaped by the canal, and, in less than an hour after the first appearance of wagons in the streets, the population of Richmond was involved in a panic. Every road leading north was crowded with vehicles, which commanded any price. Squads of local troops and reserves were marching [540] to and fro, but of no use. The negroes stood silent, wondering what would be their fate. Next, all horses were impressed. Then, committees were appointed by the city government to visit the liquor shops and destroy the spirits. Hundreds of casks were rolled out of doors and the heads knocked in. The streets ran with liquor, and women and boys—black and white—were seen filling their buckets from the gutters. The commissariat stores were also opened, and their contents thrown out to the excited throngs. Some of the shopkeepers offered clothes to the departing soldiers. The streets were filled with people hurrying to the different avenues of exit; porters, carrying huge loads, ran hither and thither; the banks were all open, and depositors were anxiously collecting their specie, directors as anxiously getting off their bullion. Millions of dollars of paper money were carried to the Capitol square, and buried there.

After nightfall Ewell's command, the garrison of Richmond, was withdrawn, burning the three bridges across the James in its flight; and, worse still, an order was issued to fire the four principal tobacco warehouses. The magistrates protested, but, in the mad excitement of the hour, the protest was unheeded, and the torch was applied. These stores were near the centre of the city, side by side with important mills, and the flames soon seized the neighboring buildings, and involved a wide area of the richest portion of the town.

And now Pandemonium seemed let loose. The guards of the penitentiary fled from their posts, in imitation of their superiors, and numbers of the lawless and desperate villains incarcerated for crimes of [541] every grade and hue set fire to the workshops and made their escape, and donning garments wherever they could steal them, in exchange for their prison livery, roamed over the streets without let or hindrance. Richmond all night was ruled by the mob. The fumes of the whiskey in the gutters filled and impregnated the air. The crowd surged from street to street and store to store, breaking open and robbing houses and shops, and sometimes setting them on fire. No one opposed, for every one believed that the city would be sacked in the morning. The last train left for Danville after dark, and there was then no further egress.

Some of the soldiers had left the ranks when Ewell withdrew, and these now added to the confusion, and the shouts of the plunderers, the yells of the drunken, the cries of the timid, were heard on every side. The patrols could not be found; the militia had slipped by their officers; and the mean-visaged crowds that in time of great public misfortune emerge from their dens were all abroad. The smoke and glare of the fire filled the streets; the flames reached to whole blocks of buildings, and before daylight one-third of Richmond was ablaze. The engine hose was cut.

At intervals came the terrible shocks caused by the explosion of the rams and gun-boats on the James, which were destroyed by order of Semmes, and the arsenal and laboratory, full of shells, were also fired.

The portion of the respectable population unable to get away remained in such of their houses as were not afire, collecting and secreting valuables, burying money and plate, or parting with those [542] friends who still hoped to join the fugitives; anxious even for the entrance of the national troops to put an end to the terrors of this awful night. One colonel in the rebel army made his way into Richmond after dark and was married, and then rejoined his command.

And thus amid acres of burning stores, and dwellings, and manufactories, and mills, and arsenals, and bridges, and vessels even; amid crowds of pillagers and fugitives, of slaves and soldiers, black and white; amid the crash of falling houses and exploding shells, under curtains of smoke that half obscured the blaze of the conflagration; amid rapine and riot and viler crimes—the city of Richmond fell.14

Weitzel, meanwhile, had been on the alert all night, prepared to attack in the morning; but, about three A. M. on the 3rd, it became evident that the rebels were abandoning their lines. He immediately directed the troops to be wakened, and gave orders for a movement at daybreak, the pickets to advance at once and feel the enemy's position. Major General Devens,15 commanding the Third division of the Twenty-fourth corps, was the first to report, at five o'clock, that his picket line had possession of the enemy's works. Upon this Weitzel sent two of his staff officers with a squadron of cavalry into Richmond, to preserve order until a larger force could arrive; while two divisions of infantry and all the [543] cavalry advanced by different roads, with directions to halt at the outskirts for further orders.

The sun was an hour up, when suddenly there rose in the streets the cry of ‘Yankees! Yankees!’ and the mass of plunderers and rioters, cursing, screaming, trampling on each other, alarmed by an enemy not yet in sight, madly strove to extricate themselves and make an opening for the troops. Soon about forty men of the Fourth Massachusetts cavalry rode into the crowd, and, trotting straight to the public square, planted their guidons on the Capitol. Lieutenant de Peyster, of Weitzel's staff, a New York stripling, eighteen years of age, was the first to raise the national colors, and then, in the morning light of the 3rd of April, the flag of the United States once more floated over Richmond.

The command of Weitzel followed not far behind, a long blue line, with gun-barrels gleaming, and bands playing ‘Hail Columbia,’ and ‘John Brown's soul goes marching on.’ One regiment was black.

The magistrates formally surrendered the city to Weitzel at the Capitol, which stands on a hill in the centre of the town, and overlooks the whole country for miles. The national commander at once set about restoring order and extinguishing the flames. Guards were established, plundering was stopped, the negroes were organized into a fire corps, and by night the force of the conflagration was subdued, the rioting was at an end, and the conquered city was rescued by the efforts of its captors from the evils which its own authorities had allowed and its own population had perpetrated.

1 The bearer of the good news was Colonel Horace Porter, one of the most abstemious men in the army; but he came up with so much enthusiasm, clapping the general-in-chief on the back, and otherwise demonstrating his joy, that the officer who shared his tent rebuked him at night for indulging too freely in drink at this critical juncture. But Porter had tasted neither wine nor spirits that day. He was only drunk with victory.

His mate himself was not much calmer. He had been shot in the foot, and wore a steel boot on the wounded leg; and when the order was given to mount and ride to the front, he laced up his boot on the unhurt limb before he discovered his blunder. Then Porter retaliated.

2Miles's division should be wheeled by the right immediately, so as to prevent reinforcing against Sheridan.’—Grant to Meade, April 1, 5.45 P. M.

Miles's division has been ordered to swing around to the White Oak road.’—Grant to Sheridan, April 1.

3 Pickett's Report.

4 Lee's last return, February 20th, puts Longstreet's effective strength at 7,403, exclusive of Pickett. In emergencies the rebels habitually put their extra-duty men into battle, and these in Longstreet's command were 2,100 in number on the 20th of February. Besides these, the local reserves in Richmond were sent to Longstreet on the 2nd of April. See Rebel War Clerk's Diary, Vol. II, p. 465.

5 The numbers were 38,258, besides 4,207 on extra duty.

6 The statements in this chapter in regard to Lee's conduct and language are all taken from Pollard, McCabe, Cooke, or other rebel writers.

7 The rebel writers, not satisfied with the legitimate glory won by the defenders of Fort Gregg, have magnified it into something marvellous. They declare that the garrison was only two hundred and fifty strong, and that these fought until only thirty were left alive. As the fort remained in the national possession, the rebels could not possibly have a knowledge of the number who surrendered. General Foster, who captured it, reported in April, 1865, before these fables were circulated, that two hundred and fifty were taken prisoner, officers and men, and fifty-seven dead were found inside.

8 Pollard's ‘Lost Cause.’

9 The three dispatches given in the text were the only reports made by Lee on the 2nd of April, and that dated seven o'clock was the last he sent to his government.

10 The rebel writers, with their habitual inaccuracy of military statement, declare that Grant had the interior line in these movements; but a glance at the map is sufficient to disprove the assertion.

11 The so-called Confederate money of course became worthless wherever the national armies were in possession. It had been almost worthless for months in advance.

12 I was sent to Richmond immediately after the close of this campaign, and found the inhabitants indignant at the conduct of Davis, and eager to learn of his capture. ‘Haven't they caught him yet?’ ‘What will they do with him?’ ‘Won't they hang him?’ were the constant inquiries of men and women whose sympathy had been entirely with the rebellion.

13 ‘What I did was in obedience to positive orders that had been given to me. . . . I did not exceed, but fell short of my instructions.’—Letter of General Ewell, written at Fort Monroe while he was a prisoner. 1865.

14 Every incident and almost every word in this account of the condition of Richmond on the 2nd and 3rd of April is taken from rebel narratives. It has been my aim, throughout this entire history, to employ as far as possible the language of eye-witnesses or participants.

15 Afterwards Attorney-General of the United States, under President Hayes.

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