On the evening of April 8th, this little army, with its ammunition nearly exhausted, was confronted by the forces of General Grant, which had been thrown across our line of retreat at Appomattox. Then came the last sad Confederate council of war. It was called by Lee to meet at night. It met in the woods at his headquarters and by a low-burning bivouac-fire. There was no tent there, no table, no chairs, and no camp-stools. On blankets spread upon the ground or on saddles at the roots of the trees we sat around the great commander. A painter's brush might transfer to canvas the physical features of that scene, but no tongue or pen will ever be able to describe the unutterable anguish of Lee's commanders as they looked into the clouded face of their beloved leader and sought to draw from it some ray of hope.
There were present at this final council the general-in-chief, the commander of his artillery, General Pendleton; General Fitzhugh Lee, who in the absence of Wade Hampton commanded the cavalry, and General Longstreet and myself, commanding all that was left of his immortal infantry. These fragments of each arm of the service still represented the consecration and courage that had made Lee's army, at the meridian of its power, almost invincible.
The numbers and names of the staff officers who were present I can not now recall; and it would be as impossible to give the words that were spoken or the suggestions that were made as it would to photograph the thoughts and emotions of that soldier group gathered at Lees' last bivouac. The letters of General Grant asking surrender, and the replies thereto, evoked a discussion as to the fate of the Southern people and the condition in which the failure of our cause would leave them There was also some discussion as to the possibility of forcing a passage through Grant's lines and saving a small portion of the army, and continuing a desultory warfare until the Government at Washington should grow weary and grant to our people peace, and the safeguard of local self-government. If all that was said and felt at that meeting could be given it would make a volume of measureless pathos. In no hour of the great war did General Lee's masterful characteristics appear to me so conspicuous as they did in that last council. We knew by our own aching hearts that his was breaking. Yet he commanded himself, and stood calmly facing and discussing the long-dreaded and inevitable.
It was finally determined that with Fitz Lee's cavalry, my infantry, and Long's artillery, under Colonel Thomas H. Carter, we should attempt at daylight the next morning to cut through Grant's lines. Longstreet was to follow in support of the movement. The utmost that could be hoped for was that we might reach the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee with a remnant of the army, and ultimately join General Johnston. . . .
The audacious movement of our troops was begun at dawn. The dashing cavalry leader, Fitzhugh Lee, swept through the Union left flank, while the infantry and artillery attacked the front. I take especial pride in recording the fact that this last charge of the war was made by the footsore and starving men of my command with a spirit worthy the best days of Lee's army. The Union breastworks were carried. Two pieces of artillery were captured. The Federals were driven from all that portion of the field, and the brave boys in tattered gray cheered as their battle-flags waved in triumph on that last morning.
The Confederate battle-lines were still advancing when I discovered a heavy column of Union infantry coming from the right and upon my rear. I gathered around me my sharpshooters, who were now held for such emergencies, and directed Colonel Thomas H. Carter, of the artillery, to turn all his guns upon the advancing column. It was held at bay by his shrapnel, grape, and canister. While the Confederate infantry and cavalry were thus fighting at the front, and the artillery was checking the development of Federal forces around my right and rear, Longstreet was assailed by other portions of the Federal army. He was so hardly prest that he could not join, as contemplated, in the effort to break the cordon of men and metal around us. At this critical juncture a column of Union cavalry appeared on the hills to my left, headed for the broad space between Longstreet's command and mine. In a few minutes that body of Federal cavalry would not only have seized the trains but cut off all communication between the two wings of Lee's army and rendered its capture inevitable. I therefore detached a brigade to double-quick and intercept this Federal force.
Such was the situation, its phases rapidly shifting and growing more intensely thrilling at each moment, when I received a significant inquiry from General Lee. It was borne by Colonel Charles S. Venable, of his staff, afterward the chairman of the faculty of the University of Virginia. The commander wished me to report at once as to the conditions on my portion of the field, what progress I was making, and what encouragement I could give. I said: "Tell General Lee that my command has been fought to a frazzle, and unless Longstreet can unite in the movement, or prevent these forces from coming upon my rear, I can not long go forward." . . .
When General Lee received my message he said: "There is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I had rather die a thousand deaths." My troops were still fighting, furiously fighting in nearly every direction, when the final note from General Lee reached me. It notified we that there was a flag of truce between General Grant and himself, stopping hostilities, and that I could communicate that fact to the commander of the Union forces in my front. . . . Colonel Peyton soon informed me that we had no flag of truce. I said: "Well, take your handkerchief and tie that on a stick, and go." He felt in his pocket and said, "General, I have no handkerchief." "Then tear your shirt, sir, and tie that to a stick." He looked at his shirt, and then at mine, and said, "General, I have on a flannel shirt, and I see you have. I don't believe there is a white shirt in the army." "Get something, sir," I ordered. "Get something and go!"
He secured a rag of some sort, and rode rapidly away in search of General Ord. He did not find Ord, but he found Sheridan, and returned to me accompanied by an officer of strikingly pictureque appearance. This Union officer was slender and graceful, and a superb rider. He wore his hair very long, falling almost to his shoulders. Guided by my staff-officer, he galloped to where I was sitting on my horse, and, with faultless grace and courtesy, saluted me with his sabre and said:
"I am General Custer, and bear a message to you from General Sheridan. The General desires me to present to you his compliments, and to demand the immediate and unconditional surrender of all the troops under your command." I replied, "You will please, General, return my compliments to General Sheridan, and say to him that I shall not surrender my command." "He directs me to say to you, General, if there is any hesitation about your surrender, that he has you surrounded and can annihilate your command in an hour."
To this I answered that I was probably as well aware of my situation as was General Sheridan; that I had nothing to add to my message informing him of the contents of the note from General Lee; that if General Sheridan decided to continue the fighting in the face of the flag of truce, the responsibility for the blood shed would be his and not mine.
In a short time thereafter a white flag was seen approaching. Under it was Philip Sheridan, accompanied by a mounted escort almost as large as one of Fitz Lee's regiments. Sheridan was mounted on an enormous horse, a very handsome animal. The meeting of Lee and Grant, and the impressive formalities which followed, put an end to the interview, and we parted without the slightest breach of strict military courtesy. . . .
When the proud and sensitive sons of Dixie came to a full realization of the truth that the Confederacy was overthrown and their leader had been compelled to surrender his once invincible army, they could no longer control their emotions, and tears ran like water down their shrunken faces. The flags which they still carried were objects of undisguised affection. These Southern banners had gone down before overwhelming numbers; and torn by shells, riddled by bullets, and laden with the powder and smoke of battle, they aroused intense emotion in the men who so often followed them to victory. Yielding to overpowering sentiment, these high-mettled men began to tear the flags from the staffs and hide them in their bosoms, as they wet them with burning tears.
1 From General Gordon's "Reminiscences of the Civil War." By permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright 1903. General Gordon, a native of Georgia, entered the Confederate army as a captain in 1861, and rose to be a lieutenant-general. He commanded one wing of General Lee's army at the time of the surrender. After the war he served two terms in the United States Senate, and one term as Governor of Georgia.
A white flag went out from the Southern ranks, the firing ceased; the war in Virginia was over. Colonel Babcock, the bearer of General Grant's last note, found General Lee near Appomattox Court House, lying under an apple tree upon a blanket spread on some rails, from which circumstance the widespread report originated that the surrender took place under an apple tree.
General Lee, Colonel Marshall of his staff, Colonel Babcock of General Grant's, and a mounted orderly rode to the village, and found Mr. Wilmer McLean, a resident, who, upon being told that General Lee wanted the use of a room in some house, conducted the party to his dwelling, a comfortable two-story brick, with a porch in front running the length of the house. General Lee was ushered into the room on the left of the hall as you enter, and about one o'clock was joined by General Grant, his staff, and Generals Sheridan and Ord. Grant sat at a marble-topped table in the center of the room, Lee at a small oval table near the front window. "The contrast between the commanders," said one who was present, "was striking."
Grant, not yet forty-three years old, five feet eight inches tall, shoulders slightly stooped, hair and beard nut-brown, wearing a dark-blue flannel blouse unbuttoned, showing vest beneath; ordinary top boots, trousers inside; dark-yellow thread gloves; without spurs or sword, and no marks of rank except a general's shoulder-straps. Lee, fifty-eight years old, six feet tall, hair and beard silver gray; a handsome uniform of Confederate gray buttoned to the throat, with three stars on each side of the turned-down collar, fine top-boots with handsome spurs, elegant gauntlets, and at his side a splendid sword.2 With a magnificent physique, not a pound of superfluous flesh, ruddy cheeks bronzed by exposure, grave and dignified, he was the focus for all eyes. "His demeanor was that of a thoroughly possest gentleman who had a disagreeable duty to perform, but was determined to get through it as well and as soon as he could" without the exhibition of temper or mortification.
Generals Lee and Grant had met once, eighteen years before, when both were fighting for the same cause in Mexicoone an engineer-officer and on the staff of Scott, the commanding general, the other a subaltern of infantry in Garland's brigade. After a pleasant reference to that event, Lee promptly drew attention to the business before them, the terms of surrender were arranged, and at General Lee's request reduced to writing, as follows:
APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE, VA.,
April 9, 1865.
GENERAL: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company and regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers nor the private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as he observes his parole, and the laws in force where he may reside.
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
General R. E. LEE.
"Unless you have some suggestion to make, I will have a copy of the letter made in ink and sign it," said Grant; and it gave Lee the opportunity to tell him that the cavalrymen and many of the artillerymen owned their own horses, and he wished to know whether these men would be permitted to retain their horses. The terms gave to the officers only that privilege, and so Grant stated; but seeing that Lee's face showed plainly that he would like that concession made, the former said feelingly that he supposed that most of the men in ranks were small farmers, that their horses would be useful in putting in a crop, to carry themselves and families through the next winter, and that he would give instructions "to let all men who claim to own a horse or mule take the animals home with them to work their little farms." The Union commander was in touch with his President.
General Weitzel, who had entered Richmond with his Twenty-fifth Corps and received its formal capitulation, asked Mr. Lincoln what he "should do in regard to the conquered people?" The latter is reported to have replied that he did not wish to give any orders on that subject, but added, "If I were in your place I'd let 'em up easy, I'd let 'em up easy." It was the fear of his men losing their horses in case of surrender that made the Confederate cavalry commander ask permission at the council the night before to extricate his cavalry in case of surrender, provided it was done before the flag of truce changed the status. To Grant's written proposition for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee replied:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 9, 1865.
GENERAL: I received your letter of this date, containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those exprest in your letter of the 8th instant, they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulation into effect.
R. E. LEE, General.
Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT.
The formalities were concluded without dramatic accessories, and then Lee's thoughts turned to his hungry veterans and to his prisoners. "I have a thousand or more of your men and officers, whom we have required to march along with us for several days," said Lee to Grant. "I shall be glad to send them to your lines as soon as it can be arranged, for I have no provisions for them. My own men have been living for the last few days principally upon parched corn, and we are badly in need of both rations and forage." The rations sent from Lynchburg to the Southerners were captured. When Grant suggested that he should send Lee twenty-five thousand rations, the latter told him it would be ample, and assured him it would be a great relief. The Confederate commander then left, and rode away to break the sad news to the brave troops he had so long commanded.
General Grant's behavior at Appomattox was marked by a desire to spare the feelings of his great opponent. There was no theatrical display; his troops were not paraded with bands playing and banners flying, before whose lines the Confederates must march and stack arms. He did not demand Lee's sword, as is customary, but actually apologized to him for not having his own, saying it had been left behind in the wagon; promptly stopt salutes from being fired to mark the event, ,and the terms granted were liberal and generous. "No man could have behaved better than General Grant did under the circumstances," said Lee to a friend in Richmond. "He did not touch my sword; the usual custom is for the sword to be received when tendered, and then handed back, but he did not touch mine." Neither did the Union chief enter the Southern lines to show himself or to parade his victory, or go to Richmond or Petersburg to exult over a fallen people, but mounted his horse and with his staff started for Washington. Washington, at Yorktown, was not as considerate and thoughtful of the feelings of Cornwallis or his men. Charges were now withdrawn from the guns, flags furled, and the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia turned their backs upon each other for the first time in four long, bloody years.
1 From Lee's "Life of Robert E. Lee." By permission of the publishers, D. Appleton & Co. Copyright 1894. Fitzhugh Lee was a nephew of Robert E. Lee, a graduate of West Point, and a cavalry commander during all the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war he became Governor of Virginia and later United States Consul at Havana, Cuba. He filled the latter office at the time of the blowing up of the Maine in Havana Harbor.
2 The handle of this sword is white, with a lion's head at the top and wrapt with gilt wire (not studded with jewels, as has been published), with gilt guard, the scabbard of blue steel with gilt trimmings. Where the rings are attached, on one side of the blade, are the words, "General Robert E. Lee, from a Marylander, 1863"; on the other, "Aide toi et Dieu t'aidera." This sword is in the possession of General G. W. C. Lee, son of General Lee, and President of Washington and Lee University at Lexington, Va.
DAVIS'S FLIGHT FROM RICHMOND AND CAPTURE IN GEORGIA