A more important success had attended the Federal arms in the West. General Johnston, who had been restored to command there at the solicitation of Lee, had found his force insufficient to oppose General Sherman's large army; the Confederates had accordingly retreated; and General Sherman, almost unresisted, from the exhaustion of his adversary, marched across the country to Savannah, which fell an easy prize, and thence advanced to Goldsborough, in North Carolina, where he directly threatened Lee's line of retreat from Virginia.
Such was the condition of affairs in the months of February and March, 1865. In the former month, commissioners from the Confederate Government had met President Lincoln in Hampton Roads, but no terms of peace could be agreed upon; the issue was still left to be decided by arms, and every advantage was upon the Federal side. General Lee, who had just been appointed "General-in-Chief"—having thus imposed upon him the mockery of a rank no longer of any value—saw the armies of the enemy closing in upon him, and did not deceive himself with the empty hope that he could longer hold his lines at Petersburg. The country, oppressed as it was, and laboring under a sentiment akin to despair, still retained in almost undiminished measure its superstitious confidence in him; but he himself saw clearly the desperate character of the situation. General Grant was in his front with a force of about one hundred and fifty thousand men, and General Sherman was about to enter Virginia with an army of about the same numbers. Lee's force at Petersburg was a little over thirty thousand men—that of Johnston was not so great, and was detained by Sherman. Under these circumstances, it was obviously only a question of time when the Army of Northern Virginia would be overwhelmed. In February, 1865, these facts were perfectly apparent to General Lee: but one course was left to him—to retreat from Virginia; and he promptly began that movement in the latter part of the month, ordering his trains to Amelia Court-House, and directing pontoons to be got ready at Roanoke River. His aim was simple—to unite his army with that of General Johnston, and retreat into the Gulf States. In the mountains of Virginia he could carry on the war, he had said, for twenty years; in the fertile regions of the South he might expect to prolong hostilities, or at least make favorable terms of peace—which would be better than to remain in Virginia until he was completely surrounded, and an unconditional submission would alone be left him.
It will probably remain a subject of regret to military students, that Lee was not permitted to carry out this retreat into the Gulf States. The movement was arrested after a consultation with the civil authorities at Richmond. Upon what grounds a course so obviously necessary was opposed, the present writer is unable to declare. Whatever the considerations, Lee yielded his judgment; the movement suddenly stopped; and the Army of Northern Virginia—if a skeleton can be called such—remained to await its fate.
The condition of the army in which "companies" scarce existed, "regiments" were counted by tens, and "divisions" by hundreds only, need not here be elaborately dwelt upon. It was indeed the phantom of an army, and the gaunt faces were almost ghostly. Shoeless, in rags, with just sufficient coarse food to sustain life, but never enough to keep at arm's-length the gnawing fiend Hunger, Lee's old veterans remained firm, scattered like a thin skirmish-line along forty miles of works; while opposite them lay an enemy in the highest state of efficiency, and numbering nearly five men to their one. That the soldiers of the army retained their nerve under circumstances so discouraging is surely an honorable fact, and will make their names glorious in history. They remained unshaken and fought undismayed to the last, although their courage was subjected to trials of the most exhausting character. Day and night, for month after month, the incessant fire of the Federal forces had continued, and every engine of human destruction had been put in play to wear away their strength. They fought all through the cheerless days of winter, and, when they lay down in the cold trenches at night, the shell of the Federal mortars rained down upon them, bursting, and mortally wounding them. All day long the fire of muskets and cannon—then, from sunset to dawn, the curving fire of the roaring mortars, and the steady, never-ceasing crack of the sharp-shooters along the front. Snow, or blinding sleet, or freezing rains, might be falling, but the fire went on—it seemed destined to go on to all eternity.
In March, 1865 however, the end was approaching, and General Lee must have felt that all was lost. His last hope had been the retreat southward in the month of February. That hope had been taken from him; the result was at hand; and his private correspondence, if he intrusted to paper his views of the situation, will probably show that from that moment he gave up all anticipation of success, and prepared to do his simple duty as a soldier, leaving the issue of affairs to Providence. Whatever may have been his emotions, they were not reflected in his countenance. The same august composure which had accompanied him in his previous campaigns remained with him still, and cheered the fainting hearts around him. To the 2d of April, and even up to the end, this remarkable calmness continued nearly unchanged, and we can offer no explanation of a circumstance so astonishing, save that which we have already given in a preceding chapter.
LEE ATTACKS THE FEDERAL CENTRE.
General Lee became aware, as the end of March drew near, that preparations were being made in the Federal army for some important movement. What that movement would be, there was little reason to doubt. The Federal lines had been extended gradually toward the Southside Railroad; and it was obvious now that General Grant had in view a last and decisive advance in that quarter, which should place him on his opponent's communications, and completely intercept his retreat southward.
The catastrophe which General Lee had plainly foreseen for many months now stared him in the face, and, unless he had recourse to some expedient as desperate as the situation, the end of the struggle must soon come. The sole course left to him was retreat, but this now seemed difficult, if not impossible. General Grant had a powerful force not far from the main roads over which Lee must move; and, unless a diversion of some description were made, it seemed barely possible that the Southern army could extricate itself. This diversion General Lee now proceeded to make; and although we have no authority to state that his object was to follow up the blow, if it were successful, by an evacuation of his lines at Petersburg, it is difficult to conceive what other design he could have had in risking an operation so critical. He had resolved to throw a column against the Federal centre east of Petersburg, with the view to break through there and seize the commanding ground in rear of the line. He would thus be rooted in the middle of General Grant's army, and the Federal left would probably be recalled, leaving the way open if he designed to retreat. If he designed, however, to fight a last pitched battle which should decide all, he would be able to do so, in case the Federal works were broken, to greater advantage than under any other circumstances.
The point fixed upon was Fort Steadman, near the south bank of the Appomattox, where the opposing works were scarcely two hundred yards from each other. The ground in front was covered with abatis, and otherwise obstructed, but it was hoped that the assaulting column would be able to pass over the distance undiscovered. In that event a sudden rush would probably carry the works—a large part of the army would follow—the hill beyond would be occupied—and General Grant would be compelled to concentrate his army at the point, for his own protection.
On the morning of March 25th, before dawn, the column was ready. It consisted of three or four thousand men under General Gordon, but an additional force was held in reserve to follow up the attack if it succeeded. Just as dawn appeared, Gordon put his column in motion. It advanced silently over the intervening space, made a rush for the Federal works, mounted them, drove from them in great confusion the force occupying them, and a loud cheer proved that the column of Gordon had done its work. But this auspicious beginning was the only success achieved by the Confederates. For reasons unknown to the present writer, the force directed by Lee to be held in readiness, and to move at once to Gordon's support, did not go forward; the brave commander and his men were left to breast the whole weight of the Federal onslaught which ensued; and disaster followed the first great success. The forts to the right and left of Fort Steadman suddenly opened their thunders, and something like a repetition of the scene succeeding the mine explosion ensued. A considerable portion of the assaulting column was unable to get back, and fell into the enemy's hands; their works were quickly reoccupied; and Lee saw that his last hope had failed. Nothing was left to him now but such courageous resistance as it was in his power to make, and he prepared, with the worn weapon which he still held in his firm grasp, to oppose as he best could the immense "hammer"—to use General Grant's own illustration—which was plainly about to be raised to strike.
THE SOUTHERN LINES BROKEN.
The hour of the final struggle now rapidly drew near. On the 29th of March, General Lee discovered that a large portion of the Federal army was moving steadily in the direction of his works beyond Burgen Mill, and there could be no doubt what this movement signified. General Grant was plainly about to make a decisive attack on the Confederate right, on the White-Oak Road; and, if that attack succeeded, Lee was lost.
Had not General Lee and his men become accustomed to retain their coolness under almost any circumstances of trial, the prospect now before them must have filled them with despair. The bulk of the Federal army was obviously about to be thrown against the Confederate right, and it was no secret in the little body of Southerners that Lee would be able to send thither only a painfully inadequate force, unless his extensive works were left in charge of a mere line of skirmishers. This could not be thought of; the struggle on the right must be a desperate one, and the Southern troops must depend upon hard fighting rather than numbers if they hoped to repulse the attack of the enemy.
Such was the situation of affairs, and neither the Confederate commander nor his men shrunk in the hour of trial. Leaving Longstreet to confront the enemy north of the James, and Gordon in command of Ewell's corps—if it could be called such—in front of Petersburg, Lee moved with nearly the whole remainder of his small force westward, beyond Hatcher's Run, to meet the anticipated attack. The force thus moved to the right to receive General Grant's great assault consisted of about fifteen thousand infantry, and about two thousand cavalry under General Fitz Lee, who, in consequence of the departure of Hampton to North Carolina, now commanded the cavalry of the army. This force, however, was cavalry only in name; and General Lee, speaking afterward of General Sheridan, said that his victories were won "when we had no horses for our cavalry, and no men to ride the few broken-down steeds that we could muster."
With this force, amounting in all to about seventeen thousand men, Lee proceeded to take position behind the works extending along the White-Oak Road, in the direction of Five Forks, an important carrefour beyond his extreme right. The number of men left north of James River and in front of Petersburg was a little under twenty thousand. As General Grant had at his command a force about four times as great as his adversary's, it seemed scarcely possible that Lee would be able to offer serious resistance.
It soon became evident, however, that, in spite of this great disproportion of force, General Lee had determined to fight to the last. To attribute this determination to despair and recklessness, would be doing injustice to the great soldier. It was still possible that he might be able to repulse the assault upon his right, and, by disabling the Federal force there, open his line of retreat. To this hope he no doubt clung, and the fighting-blood of his race was now thoroughly aroused. At Chancellorsville and elsewhere the odds had been nearly as great, and a glance at his gaunt veterans showed him that they might still be depended upon for a struggle as obstinate as any in the past history of the war.
The event certainly vindicated the justice of this latter view, and we shall briefly trace the occurrences of the next three or four days which terminated the long conflict at Petersburg.
General Grant's assaulting force was not in position near the Boydton Road, beyond Hatcher's Run, until March 31st, when, before he could attack, Lee suddenly advanced and made a furious onslaught on the Federal front. Before this attack, the divisions first encountered gave way in confusion, and it seemed that the Confederate commander, at a single blow, was about to extricate himself from his embarrassing situation. The force opposed to him, however, was too great, and he found himself unable to encounter it in the open field. He therefore fell back to his works, and the fighting ceased, only to be renewed, however, at Five Forks. This had been seized by the cavalry of General Sheridan, and, as the point was one of importance, Lee detached a small body of infantry to drive away the Federal horse. This was done without difficulty, and the Confederate infantry then advanced toward Dinwiddie Court-House; but late at night it was withdrawn, and the day's fighting ended.
On the next day, the 1st of April, a more determined struggle ensued, for the possession of Five Forks, where Lee had stationed the small remnants of the divisions of Pickett and Johnson. These made a brave resistance, but were wholly unable to stand before the force brought against them. They maintained their ground as long as possible, but were finally broken to pieces and scattered in confusion, the whole right of the Confederate line and the Southside Road falling into the hands of the enemy.
This was virtually the end of the contest, but General Grant, it would appear, deemed it inexpedient to venture any thing. So thinly manned were the lines in front of Petersburg, in the absence of Longstreet north of James River, and the troops sent beyond Hatcher's Run, that on the 1st of April the Federal commander might have broken through the works at almost any point. He elected to wait, however, until the following day, thereby running the risk of awaking to find that Lee had retreated.
At dawn on the 2d the long struggle ended. The Federal forces advanced all along the Confederate front, made a furious attack, and, breaking through in front of the city, carried all before them. The forts, especially Fort Gregg, made a gallant resistance. This work was defended by the two hundred and fifty men of Harris's Mississippi Brigade, and these fought until their numbers were reduced to thirty, killing or wounding five hundred of the assailants. The fort was taken at last, and the Federal lines advanced toward the city. In this attack fell the eminent soldier General A.P. Hill, whose record had been so illustrious, and whose fortune it was to thus terminate his life while the Southern flag still floated.
LEE EVACUATES PETERSBURG.
Any further resistance upon the part of General Lee seemed now impossible, and nothing appeared to be left him but to surrender his army. This course he does not seem, however, to have contemplated. It was still possible that he might be able to maintain his position on an inner line near the city until night; and, if he could do so, the friendly hours of darkness might enable him to make good his retreat to the north bank of the Appomattox, and shape his course toward North Carolina, where General Johnston awaited him. If the movements of the Federal forces, however, were so prompt as to defeat his march in that direction, he might still be able to reach Lynchburg, beyond which point the defiles of the Alleghanies promised him protection against the utmost efforts of his enemy. Of his ability to reach North Carolina, following the line of the Danville Railroad, Lee, however, seems to have had no doubt. The Federal army would not probably be able to concentrate in sufficient force in his path to bar his progress if his march were rapid; if detached bodies only opposed him on his line of retreat, there was little doubt that the Army of Northern Virginia, reduced as it was, would be able to cut its way through them.
This preface is necessary to an intelligent comprehension of Lee's movements on the unfortunate 2d of April when his lines were broken. This occurrence took place, as we have said, about sunrise, and, an hour or two afterward, the Federal forces pressed forward all along the line, surging toward the suburbs of Petersburg. We have mentioned the position of General Lee's headquarters, about a mile and a half west of the city, on the Cox Road, nearly opposite the tall Federal observatory. Standing on the lawn, in front of his headquarters, General Lee now saw, approaching rapidly, a heavy column of Federal infantry, with the obvious design of charging a battery which had opened fire upon them from a hill to the right. The spectacle was picturesque and striking. Across the extensive fields houses set on fire by shell were sending aloft huge clouds of smoke and tongues of flame; at every instant was seen the quick glare of the Federal artillery, firing from every knoll, and in front came on the charging column, moving at a double quick, with burnished gun-barrels and bayonets flashing in the April sunshine.
General Lee watched with attention, but with perfect composure, this determined advance of the enemy; and, although he must have realized that his army was on the verge of destruction, it was impossible to discern in his features any evidences of emotion. He was in full uniform, and had buckled on his dress-sword, which he seldom wore—having, on this morning declared, it is said, that if he were compelled to surrender he would do so in full harness. Of his calmness at this trying moment the writer is able to bear his personal testimony. Chancing to hear a question addressed to a member of his staff, General Lee turned with great courtesy, raised his gray hat in response to the writer's salute, and gave him the desired information in a voice entirely measured and composed. It was impossible to regard a calmness so striking without strong sentiments of admiration, and Lee's appearance and bearing at this moment will always remain vividly impressed upon the writer's memory.
The Federal column was soon in dangerous proximity to the battery on the hill, and it was obliged to retire at a gallop to escape capture. An attempt was made to hold the ground near the headquarters, but a close musketry-fire from the enemy rendered this also impossible—the artillery was withdrawn—and General Lee, mounting his iron-gray, slowly rode back, accompanied by a number of officers, toward his inner line. He still remained entirely composed, and only said to one of his staff, in his habitual tone: "This is a bad business, colonel."
"Well, colonel," he said afterward to another officer, "it has happened as I told them it would at Richmond. The line has been stretched until it has broken."
The Federal column was now pressing forward along the Cox Road toward Petersburg, and General Lee continued to ride slowly back in the direction of the city. He was probably recognized by officers of the Federal artillery, or his cortege drew their fire. The group was furiously shelled, and one of the shells burst a few feet in rear of him, killing the horse of an officer near him, cutting the bridle-reins of others, and tearing up the ground in his immediate vicinity. This incident seemed to arouse in General Lee his fighting-blood. He turned his head over his right shoulder, his cheeks became flushed, and a sudden flash of the eye showed with what reluctance he retired before the fire directed upon him. No other course was left him, however, and he continued to ride slowly toward his inner line—a low earthwork in the suburbs of the city—where a small force was drawn up, ardent, hopeful, defiant, and saluting the shell, now bursting above them, with cheers and laughter. It was plain that the fighting-spirit of the ragged troops remained unbroken; and the shout of welcome with which they received Lee indicated their unwavering confidence in him, despite the untoward condition of affairs.
Arrangements were speedily made to hold the inner line, if possible, until night. To General Gordon had been intrusted the important duty of defending the lines east of the city, and General Longstreet had been directed to vacate the works north of James River, and march at once to the lines of Petersburg. This officer made his appearance, with his small force, at an early hour of the day; and, except that the Federal army continued firing all along the front, no other active operations took place. To those present on the Confederate side this fact appeared strange. As the force beyond Hatcher's Run had been completely defeated and dispersed, General Lee's numbers for the defence of Petersburg on this day did not amount to much, if any, more than fifteen thousand men. General Grant's force was probably one hundred and fifty thousand, of whom about one hundred thousand might, it would appear, have been concentrated in an hour or two directly in front of the city. That, with this large force at his disposal, the Federal commander did not at once attack, and so end all on that day, surprised the Confederate troops, and still continues to surprise the writer.
Night came at last, and General Lee began his retreat. He had sent, early in the morning, a dispatch to the civil authorities, at Richmond, informing them of the fact that his lines had been broken, and that he would that night retreat from Petersburg. Orders had also been sent to all the forces holding the lines north of James River to move at once and join him, and, just at nightfall, the army at Petersburg began crossing the Appomattox. This movement was effected without interruption from the enemy; and the army, turning into what is called the Hickory Road, leading up the north bank of the river, moved on steadily through the half light. Its march was superintended by Lee in person. He had stationed himself at the mouth of the Hickory Road, and, standing with the bridle of his horse in his hand, gave his orders. His bearing still remained entirely composed, and his voice had lost none of its grave strength of intonation. When the rear was well closed up, Lee mounted his horse, rode on slowly with his men; and, in the midst of the glare and thunder of the exploding magazines at Petersburg, the small remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia, amounting to about fifteen thousand men, went on its way through the darkness.
THE RETREAT AND SURRENDER.
On the morning of the 3d of April, General Lee, after allowing his column a brief period of rest, continued his march up the north bank of the Appomattox.
The aspect of affairs at this time was threatening, and there seemed little ground to hope that the small force would be able to make good its retreat to North Carolina. General Grant had a short and direct route to the Danville Railroad—a considerable portion of his army was already as far west as Dinwiddie Court-House—and it was obvious that he had only to use ordinary diligence to completely cut General Lee off in the vicinity of Burkesville Junction. A glance at the map will indicate the advantages possessed by the Federal commander. He could move over the chord, while Lee was compelled to follow the arc of the circle. Unless good fortune assisted Lee and ill fortune impeded his opponent, the event seemed certain; and it will be seen that these conditions were completely reversed.
Under the circumstances here stated, it appeared reasonable to expect in Lee and his army some depression of spirits. The fact was strikingly the reverse. The army was in excellent spirits, probably from the highly-agreeable contrast of the budding April woods with the squalid trenches, and the long-unfelt joy of an unfettered march through the fields of spring. General Lee shared this hopeful feeling in a very remarkable degree. His expression was animated and buoyant, his seat in the saddle erect and commanding, and he seemed to look forward to assured success in the critical movement which he had undertaken.
"I have got my army safe out of its breastworks," he said, on the morning of this day, "and, in order to follow me, the enemy must abandon his lines, and can derive no further benefit from his railroads or James River."
The design of the Confederate commander has been already stated, but an important condition upon which he depended for success has not been mentioned. This was a supply of food for his army. The troops, during the whole winter, had lived, from day to day, on quarter-rations, doled out to them with a sparing hand; and, in moving now from Petersburg, Lee saw that he must look to supplies somewhere upon his line of retreat. These he had directed to be brought from the south and deposited at Amelia Court-House; and the expectation of finding at that point full subsistence for his men, had doubtless a great effect in buoying up his spirits. An evil chance, however, reversed all the hopes based on this anticipation. From fault or misapprehension, the train loaded with supplies proceeded to Richmond without depositing the rations at Amelia Court-House; there was no time to obtain other subsistence, and when, after unforeseen delay, in consequence of high water in the Appomattox, Lee, at the head of his half-starved soldiers, reached Amelia Court-House, it was only to find that there was nothing there for the support of his army, and to realize that a successful retreat, under the circumstances, was wellnigh hopeless.
Those who accompanied the Southern army on this arduous march will recall the dismayed expression of the emaciated faces at this unlooked-for calamity; and no face wore a heavier shadow than that of General Lee. The failure of the supply of rations completely paralyzed him. He had intended, and was confident of his ability, to cut his way through the enemy; but an army cannot march and fight without food. It was now necessary to halt and send out foraging parties into the impoverished region around. Meanwhile General Grant, with his great force, was rapidly moving to bar his adversary's further advance; the want of a few thousand pounds of bread and meat had virtually terminated the war.
An anxious and haggard expression came to General Lee's face when he was informed of this great misfortune; and, at once abandoning his design of cutting his way through to North Carolina, he turned westward, and shaped his march toward Lynchburg. This movement began on the night of the 5th of April, and it would seem that General Grant had had it in his power to arrest it by an attack on Lee at Amelia Court-House. General Sheridan was in the immediate vicinity, with a force of about eighteen thousand well-mounted cavalry, and, although it was not probable that this command could effect any thing against Lee's army of about the same number of infantry, it might still have delayed him by constructing breastworks in his way, and thus giving the Federal infantry time to come up and attack.
The opportunity of crushing his adversary at Amelia Court-House was thus allowed to pass, and General Grant now pressed forward his infantry, to bring Lee to bay, if possible, before he reached Lynchburg. From this moment began the struggle between the adversaries which was to continue, day and night, without intermission, for the next four days. The phenomenon was here presented of an army, reduced to less than twenty thousand men, holding at arm's-length an enemy numbering about one hundred and fifty thousand, and very nearly defeating every effort of the larger force to arrest their march. It would not interest the reader, probably, to follow in minute detail the circumstances of this melancholy retreat. From the importance of the transactions, and the natural attention directed to them, both North and South, they are doubtless familiar to all who will read these pages. We shall only speak of one or two incidents of the retreat, wherein General Lee appeared prominent personally, leaving to the imagination of the reader the remainder of the long and tragic struggle whose result decided the fate of the Confederacy.
General Grant doubtless saw now that every thing depended upon the celerity of his movements, and, sending in advance his large body of cavalry, he hastened forward as rapidly as possible with his infantry, bent on interposing, if possible, a heavy force in his adversary's front. Lee's movements were equally rapid. He seemed speedily to have regained his old calmness, after the trying disappointment at Amelia Court-House; and those who shared his counsels at this time can testify that the idea of surrender scarcely entered his mind for a moment—or, if it did so, was speedily banished. Under the pressure of circumstances so adverse that they seemed calculated to break down the most stubborn resolution. General Lee did not falter; and throughout the disheartening scenes of the retreat, from the moment when he left Amelia Court-House to the hour when his little column was drawing near Appomattox, still continued to believe that the situation was not desperate, and that he would be able to force his way through to Lynchburg.
On the evening of the 6th, when the army was near Farmville, a sudden attack was made by the Federal cavalry on the trains of the army moving on a parallel road; and the small force of infantry guarding them was broken and scattered. This occurrence took place while General Lee was confronting a body of Federal infantry near Sailor's Creek; and, taking a small brigade, he immediately repaired to the scene of danger. The spectacle which followed was a very striking and imposing one, and is thus described by one who witnessed it: "The scene was one of gloomy picturesqueness and tragic interest. On a plateau raised above the forest from which they had emerged, were the disorganized troops of Ewell and Anderson, gathered in groups, un-officered, and uttering tumultuous exclamations of rage and defiance. Rising above the weary groups which had thrown themselves upon the ground, were the grim barrels of cannon, in battery, ready to fire, as soon as the enemy appeared. In front of all was the still line of battle, just placed by Lee, and waiting calmly. General Lee had rushed his infantry over, just at sunset, leading it in person, his face animated, and his eye brilliant with the soldier's spirit of fight, but his bearing unflurried as before. An artist desiring to paint his picture, ought to have seen the old cavalier at this moment, sweeping on upon his large iron-gray, whose mane and tail floated in the wind; carrying his field-glass half-raised in his right hand; with head erect, gestures animated, and in the whole face and form the expression of the hunter close upon his game. The line once interposed, he rode in the twilight among the disordered groups above mentioned, and the sight of him aroused a tumult. Fierce cries resounded on all sides, and, with hands clinched violently and raised aloft, the men called on him to lead them against the enemy. 'It's General Lee!' 'Uncle Robert!' 'Where's the man who won't follow Uncle Robert?' I heard on all sides—the swarthy faces full of dirt and courage, lit up every instant by the glare of the burning wagons. Altogether, the scene was indescribable."
On the 7th the army pressed on beyond Farmville, still harassed as it advanced by the Federal infantry and cavalry; but, in some of these encounters, the pursuing force met with what was probably a very unexpected discomfiture. General Fitz Lee, bringing up the rear of the army with his force of about fifteen hundred cavalry on broken-down horses, succeeded not only in repulsing the attacks of the large and excellently-mounted force under General Sheridan, but achieved over them highly-honorable successes. One such incident took place on the 7th, when General Gregg attacked with about six thousand horse, but was met, defeated, and captured by General Fitz Lee, to the great satisfaction of General Lee, who said to his son, General W.H.F. Lee:
"Keep your command together and in good spirits, general—don't let them think of surrender—I will get you out of this."
On the 8th and 9th, however, this hope seemed unwarranted by the circumstances, and the commander-in-chief appeared to be almost the only human being who remained sanguine of the result. The hardships of the retreat, arising chiefly from want of food, began to seriously impair the resolution of the troops, and the scenes through which they advanced were not calculated to raise their spirits. "These scenes," declares one who witnessed them, "were of a nature which can be apprehended only by men who are thoroughly familiar with the harrowing details of war. Behind and on either flank, a ubiquitous and increasingly adventurous enemy—every mud-hole and every rise in the road choked with blazing wagons—the air filled with the deafening reports of ammunition exploding, and shells bursting when touched by the flames, dense columns of smoke ascending to heaven from the burning and exploding vehicles, exhausted men, worn-out mules and horses, lying down side by side—gaunt Famine glaring hopelessly from sunken, lack-lustre eyes—dead mules, dead horses, dead men everywhere—death many times welcomed as God's messenger in disguise—who can wonder if many hearts, tried in the fiery furnace of four unparalleled years, and never hitherto found wanting, should have quailed in presence of starvation, fatigue, sleeplessness, misery, unintermitted for five or six days, and culminating in hopelessness?" It cannot, however, be said with truth, that any considerable portion of the Southern forces were greatly demoralized, to use the military phrase, as the fighting of the last two days, when the suffering of the retreat culminated, will show. The men were almost entirely without food, and were glad to find a little corn to eat; but those who were not physically unable longer to carry their muskets—and the number of these latter was large—still marched and fought with soldierly cheerfulness and resolution.
General Lee's spirits do not seem at any time to have flagged, and up to a late period of the retreat he had not seriously contemplated surrender. The necessity for this painful course came home to his corps commanders first, and they requested General Pendleton, the efficient chief of artillery of the army, to inform General Lee that in their opinion further struggle was hopeless. General Pendleton informed General Lee of this opinion of his officers, and it seemed to communicate something like a shock to him.
"Surrender!" he exclaimed with a flash of the eye, "I have too many good fighting-men for that!"
Nevertheless, the necessity of seriously contemplating this result was soon forced upon him. Since the morning of the 7th, a correspondence had taken place between himself and General Grant; and, as these notes are interesting, we here present those which were exchanged up to the night of the 8th:
April 7, 1865.
General R.E. Lee, commanding C.S.A.:
GENERAL: The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate Southern Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
Your obedient servant,
Lieutenant-General commanding Armies of the United States.
April 7, 1865.
GENERAL: I have received your note of this day. Though not entirely of the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.
R.E. LEE, General.
To LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U.S. GRANT,
Commanding Armies of the United States.
April 8, 1865.
To General R.E. Lee, commanding C.S.A.:
GENERAL: Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of the same date, asking the conditions on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia is just received.
In reply, I would say, that peace being my first desire, there is but one condition that I insist upon, viz.:
That the men surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged.
I will meet you, or designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will he received.
Your obedient servant,
U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General, commanding Armies of the United States.
April 8, 1865.
GENERAL: I received, at a late hour, your note of to-day, in answer to mine of yesterday.
I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender.
But as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposals would tend to that end.
I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia; but so far as your proposition may affect the Confederate States forces under my command and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 A.M. to-morrow, on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies. Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
R.E. LEE, General C.S.A.
To LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GRANT,
Commanding Armies of the United States.
No reply was received to this last communication from General Lee, on the evening of the 8th, and that night there was held, around a bivouac-fire in the woods, the last council of war of the Army of Northern Virginia. The scene was a very picturesque one. The red glare from the bivouac-fire lit up the group, and brought out the details of each figure. None were present but General Lee and Generals Longstreet, Gordon, and Fitz Lee, all corps commanders. Generals Gordon and Fitz Lee half reclined upon an army-blanket near the fire; Longstreet sat upon a log, smoking; and General Lee stood by the fire, holding in his hand the correspondence which had passed between himself and General Grant. The question what course it was advisable to pursue, was then presented, in a few calm words, by General Lee to his corps commanders, and an informal conversation ensued. It was finally agreed that the army should advance, on the next morning, beyond Appomattox Court-House, and, if only General Sheridan's cavalry were found in front, brush that force from its path, and proceed on its way to Lynchburg. If, however, the Federal infantry was discovered in large force beyond the Court-House, the attempt to break through was to be abandoned, and a flag dispatched to General Grant requested an interview for the arrangement of the terms of a capitulation of the Southern army.
With a heavy heart, General Lee acquiesced in this plan of proceeding, and soon afterward the council of war terminated—the corps commanders saluting the commander-in-chief, who returned their bows with grave courtesy, and separating to return to their own bivouacs.
In spite, however, of the discouraging and almost desperate condition of affairs, General Lee seems still to have clung to the hope that he might be able to cut his way through the force in his front. He woke from brief slumber beside his bivouac-fire at about three o'clock in the morning, and calling an officer of his staff, Colonel Venable, sent him to General Gordon, commanding the front, to ascertain his opinion, at that moment, of the probable result of an attack upon the enemy. General Gordon's reply was, "Tell General Lee that my old corps is reduced to a frazzle, and, unless I am supported by Longstreet heavily, I do not think we can do any thing more."
General Lee received this announcement with an expression of great feeling, and after a moment's silence said: "There is nothing left but to go to General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths!"
His staff-officers had now gathered around him, and one of them said: "What will history say of our surrendering if there is any possibility of escape? Posterity will not understand it." To these words, General Lee replied: "Yes, yes, they will not understand our situation; but that is not the question. The question is, whether it is right; and, if it is right, I take the responsibility."
His expression of buoyant hopefulness had now changed to one of deep melancholy, and it was evident to those around him that the thought of surrender was worse to him than the bitterness of death. For the first time his courage seemed to give way, and he was nearly unmanned. Turning to an officer standing near him, he said, his deep voice filled with hopeless sadness: "How easily I could get rid of this, and be at rest! I have only to ride along the line and all will be over!"
He was silent for a short time after uttering these words, and then added, with a heavy sigh: "But it is our duty to live. What will become of the women and children of the South, if we are not here to protect them?"
The moment had now come when the fate of the retreat was to be decided. To General Gordon, who had proved himself, in the last operations of the war, a soldier of the first ability, had been intrusted the command of the advance force; and this was now moved forward against the enemy beyond Appomattox Court-House. Gordon attacked with his infantry, supported by Fitz Lee's cavalry, and the artillery battalion of Colonel Carter, and such was the impetuosity of his advance that he drove the Federal forces nearly a mile. But at that point he found himself in face of a body of infantry, stated afterward, by Federal officers, to number about eighty thousand. As his own force was less than five thousand muskets, he found it impossible to advance farther; and the Federal lines were already pressing forward to attack him, in overwhelming force, when the movement suddenly ceased. Seeing the hopelessness of further resistance. General Lee had sent a flag to General Grant, requesting an interview looking to the arrangement, if possible, of terms of surrender; and to this end the forward movement of the Federal forces was ordered to be discontinued.
The two armies then remained facing each other during the interview between the two commanders, which took place in a farm-house in Appomattox Court-House. General Lee was accompanied only by Colonel Marshall, of his staff, and on the Federal side only a few officers were present. General Grant's demeanor was courteous, and that of General Lee unmarked by emotion of any description. The hardships of the retreat had somewhat impaired his strength, and his countenance exhibited traces of fatigue; but no other change had taken place in his appearance. He was erect, calm, courteous, and confined his observations strictly to the disagreeable business before him. The interview was brief; and, seated at a plain table, the two commanders wrote and exchanged the accompanying papers:
APPOMATTOX COURT-HOUSE, April 9, 1865.
General R.E. Lee, commanding C.S.A..:
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 designated by me, the other to be retained by such officers as you may designate.
The officers to give their individual parole not to take arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander to 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 their private horses or baggage.
This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they may reside.
U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
Lieut.-General U.S. Grant, commanding U.S.A.:
GENERAL: I have received your letter of this date, containing the terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R.E. LEE, General.
The two generals then bowed to each other, and, leaving the house, General Lee mounted his gray, and rode back to his headquarters.
The scene as he passed through the army was affecting. The men gathered round him, wrung his hand, and in broken words called upon God to help him. This pathetic reception by his old soldiers profoundly affected Lee. The tears came to his eyes, and, looking at the men with a glance of proud feeling, he said, in suppressed tones, which trembled slightly: "We have fought through the war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more!"
These few words seemed to be all he could utter. He rode on, and, reaching his headquarters in the woods, disappeared in his tent, whither we shall not follow him.
On the next day the Army of Northern Virginia, numbering about twenty-six thousand men, of whom but seven thousand eight hundred carried muskets, was formally surrendered, and the Confederate War was a thing of the past.
LEE RETURNS TO RICHMOND.
General Lee, on the day following the capitulation of his army, issued an address to his old soldiers, which they received and read with very deep emotion. The address was in these words:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 10, 1865.
After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but, feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged.
You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
R.E. LEE, General.
The painful arrangements connected with the capitulation were on this day concluded; and General Lee prepared to set out on his return to Richmond—like his men, a "paroled prisoner of the Army of Northern Virginia." The parting between him and his soldiers was pathetic. He exchanged with all near him a close pressure of the hand, uttered a few simple words of farewell, and, mounting his iron-gray, "Traveller," who had passed through all the fighting of the campaign unharmed, rode slowly in the direction of Richmond. He was escorted by a detachment of Federal cavalry, preceded only by a guidon; and the party, including the officers who accompanied him, consisted of about twenty-five horsemen. The cortege was followed by several wagons carrying the private effects of himself and his companions, and by the well-known old black open vehicle which he had occasionally used during the campaigns of the preceding year, when indisposition prevented him from mounting his horse. In this vehicle it had been his custom to carry stores for the wounded—it had never been used for articles contributing to his personal convenience.
General Lee's demeanor on his way to Richmond was entirely composed, and his thoughts seemed much more occupied by the unfortunate condition of the poor people, at whose houses he stopped, than by his own situation. When he found that all along his route the impoverished people had cooked provisions in readiness for him, and were looking anxiously for him, with every indication of love and admiration, he said to one of his officers: "These good people are kind—too kind. Their hearts are as full as when we began our first campaigns in 1861. They do too much—more than they are able to do—for us."
His soldierly habits remained unchanged, and he seemed unwilling to indulge in any luxuries or comforts which could not be shared by the gentlemen accompanying him At a house which he reached just as night came, a poor woman had prepared an excellent bed for him, but, with a courteous shake of the head, he spread his blanket, and slept upon the floor. Stopping on the next day at the house of his brother, Charles Carter Lee, in Powhatan, he spent the evening in conversation; but, when bedtime came, left the house, in spite of the fact that it had begun to rain, and, crossing the road into the woods, took up his quarters for the night on the hard planks of his old black vehicle. On the route he exhibited great solicitude about a small quantity of oats which he had brought with him, in one of the wagons, for his old companion, "Traveller," mentioning it more than once, and appearing anxious lest it should be lost or used by some one.
The party came in sight of Richmond at last, and, two or three miles from the city, General Lee rode ahead of his escort, accompanied only by a few officers, and, crossing the pontoon bridge below the ruins of Mayo's bridge, which had been destroyed when the Confederate forces retreated, entered the capital. The spectacle which met his eyes at this moment must have been exceedingly painful. In the great conflagration which had taken place on the morning of the 3d of April, a large portion of the city had been burned; and, as General Lee rode up Main Street, formerly so handsome and attractive, he saw on either hand only masses of blackened ruins. As he rode slowly through the opening between these masses of debris, he was recognized by the few persons who were on the street, and instantly the intelligence of his presence spread through the city. The inhabitants hastened from their houses and flocked to welcome him, saluting him with cheers and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. He seemed desirous, however, of avoiding this ovation, and, returning the greeting by simply raising his hat, rode on and reached his house on Franklin Street, where, respecting his desire for privacy under circumstances so painful, his admirers did not intrude upon him.
We have presented this brief narrative of the incidents attending General Lee's return to his home after the surrender, to show with what simplicity and good sense he accepted his trying situation. A small amount of diplomacy—sending forward one of his officers to announce his intended arrival; stopping for a few moments as he ascended Main Street; making an address to the citizens who first recognized him, and thus affording time for a crowd to assemble—these proceedings on the part of General Lee would have resulted in an ovation such as a vanquished commander never before received at the hands of any people. Nothing, however, was less desired by General Lee than this tumultuous reception. The native modesty of the man not only shrunk from such an ovation; he avoided it for another reason—the pretext it would probably afford to the Federal authorities to proceed to harsh measures against the unfortunate persons who took part in it. In accordance with these sentiments, General Lee had not announced his coming, had not stopped as he rode through the city; and now, shutting himself up in his house, signified his desire to avoid a public reception, and to be left in privacy.
This policy he is well known to have pursued from that time to the end of his life. He uniformly declined, with great courtesy, but firmly, invitations to attend public gatherings of any description, where his presence might arouse passions or occasion discussions connected with the great contest in which he had been the leader of the South. A mind less firm and noble would doubtless have yielded to this great temptation. It is sweet to the soldier, who has been overwhelmed and has yielded up his sword, to feel that the love and admiration of a people still follow him; and to have the consolation of receiving public evidences of this unchanged devotion. That this love of the Southern people for Lee deeply touched him, there can be no doubt; but it did not blind him to his duty as the representative individual of the South. Feeling that nothing was now left the Southern people but an honest acceptance of the situation, and a cessation, as far as possible, of all rancor toward the North, he refused to encourage sentiments of hostility between the two sections, and did all in his power to restore amicable feeling. "I am very glad to learn," he said in a note to the present writer, "that your life of General Jackson is of the character you describe. I think all topics or questions calculated to excite angry discussion or hostile feelings should be avoided." These few words convey a distinct idea of General Lee's views and feelings. He had fought to the best of his ability for Southern independence of the North; the South had failed in the struggle, and it was now, in his opinion, the duty of every good citizen to frankly acquiesce in the result, and endeavor to avoid all that kept open the bleeding wounds of the country.
His military career had placed him, in the estimation of the first men of his time, among the greatest soldiers of history; but the dignity and moderation of the course pursued by him, from the end of the war to the time of his death, will probably remain, in the opinion of both his friends and enemies, the noblest illustration of the character of the man.
GENERAL LEE AFTER THE WAR.
In the concluding pages of this volume we shall not be called upon to narrate either military or political events. With the surrender at Appomattox Court-House the Confederate War ended—no attempt was made by General Johnston or other commanders to prolong it—in that great whirlpool all hopes of further resistance disappeared.
We have, therefore, now no task before us but to follow General Lee into private life, and present a few details of his latter years, and his death. These notices will be brief, but will not, we hope, be devoid of interest. The soldier who had so long led the Confederate armies was to enter in his latter days upon a new field of labor; and, if in this field he won no new glories, he at least displayed the loftiest virtues, and exhibited that rare combination of greatness and gentleness which makes up a character altogether lovely.
Adhering to the resolution, formed in 1861, never again to draw his sword except in defence of Virginia, General Lee, after the surrender, sought for some occupation, feeling the necessity, doubtless, of in some manner employing his energies. He is said to have had offered to him, but to have courteously declined, estates in England and Ireland; and to have also declined the place of commercial agent of the South in New York, which would have proved exceedingly lucrative. In the summer of 1865, however, he accepted an offer more congenial to his feelings—that of the presidency of Washington College at Lexington—and in the autumn of that year entered upon his duties, which he continued to perform with great energy and success to the day of his death. Of the excellent judgment and great administrative capacity which he displayed in this new field of labor, we have never heard any question. It was the name and example, however, of Lee which proved so valuable, drawing to the college more than five hundred students from all portions of the South, and some even from the North.
Upon the subject of General Lee's life at Washington College, a more important authority than that of the present writer will soon speak. In the "Memorial Volume," whose publication will probably precede or immediately follow the appearance of this work, full details will, no doubt, be presented of this interesting period. The subject possesses rare interest, and the facts presented will, beyond all question, serve to bring out new beauties in a character already regarded with extraordinary love and admiration by men of all parties and opinions. To the volume in question we refer the reader who desires the full-length portrait of one concerning whom too much cannot be written.
During the period extending between the end of the war and General Lee's death, he appeared in public but two or three times—once at Washington, as a "witness" before a Congressional committee, styled "The Reconstruction Committee," to inquire into the condition of things in the South; again, as a witness on the proposed trial of President Davis; and perhaps on one or two additional occasions not of great interest or importance. His testimony was not taken on the trial of the President, which was deferred and finally abandoned; but he was subjected before the Washington committee to a long and searching examination, in which it is difficult to decide whether his own calmness, good sense, and outspoken frankness, or the bad taste of some of the questions prepounded to him, were the more remarkable. As the testimony of General Lee, upon this occasion, presents a full exposition of his views upon many of the most important points connected with the condition of the South, and the "reconstruction" policy, a portion of the newspaper report of his evidence is here given, as both calculated to interest the reader, and to illustrate the subject.
The examination of General Lee took place in March, 1866, and the following is the main portion of it:
General ROBERT E. LEE, sworn and examined by Mr. Howard:
Question. Where is your present residence?
Answer. Lexington, Va.
Q. How long have you resided in Lexington?
A. Since the 1st of October last—nearly five months.
THE FEELING IN VIRGINIA.
Q. Are you acquainted with the state of feeling among what we call secessionists in Virginia, at present, toward the Government of the United States?
A. I do not know that I am; I have been living very retired, and have had but little communication with politicians; I know nothing more than from my own observation, and from such facts as have come to my knowledge.
Q. From your observation, what is your opinion as to the loyalty toward the Government of the United States among the secession portion of the people of that State at this time?
A. So far as has come to my knowledge, I do not know of a single person who either feels or contemplates any resistance to the Government of the United States, or indeed any opposition to it; no word has reached me to either purpose.
Q. From what you have observed among them, is it your opinion that they are friendly toward the Government of the United States, and that they will cooeperate to sustain and uphold the Government for the future?
A. I believe that they entirely acquiesce in the Government of the United States, and, so far as I have heard any one express an opinion, they are for cooeperating with President Johnson in his policy.
Q. In his policy in regard to what?
A. His policy in regard to the restoration of the whole country; I have heard persons with whom I have conversed express great confidence in the wisdom of his policy of restoration, and they seem to look forward to it as a hope of restoration.
Q. How do they feel in regard to that portion of the people of the United States who have been forward and zealous in the prosecution of the war against the rebellion?
A. Well, I don't know as I have heard anybody express any opinion in regard to it; as I said before, I have not had much communication with politicians in the country, if there are any; every one seems to be engaged in his own affairs, and endeavoring to restore the civil government of the State; I have heard no expression of a sentiment toward any particular portion of the country.
Q. How do the secessionists feel in regard to the payment of the debt of the United States contracted in the prosecution of the war?
A. I have never heard anyone speak on the subject; I suppose they must expect to pay the taxes levied by the Government; I have heard them speak in reference to the payment of taxes, and of their efforts to raise money to pay taxes, which, I suppose, are for their share of the debt; I have never heard any one speak in opposition to the payment of taxes, or of resistance to their payment; their whole effort has been to try and raise the money for the payment of the taxes.
Q. From your knowledge of the state of public feeling in Virginia, is it your opinion that the people would, if the question were left to them, repudiate and reject that debt?
A. I never heard any one speak on that subject; but, from my knowledge of the people, I believe that they would be in favor of the payment of all just debts.
Q. Do they, in your opinion, regard that as a just debt?
A. I do not know what their opinion is on the subject of that particular debt; I have never heard any opinion expressed contrary to it; indeed, as I said in the beginning, I have had very little discussion or intercourse with the people; I believe the people will pay the debts they are called upon to pay; I say that from my knowledge of the people generally.
Q. Would they pay that debt, or their portion of it, with as much alacrity as people ordinarily pay their taxes to their Government?
A. I do not know that they would make any distinction between the two. The taxes laid by the Government, so far as I know, they are prepared to pay to the best of their ability. I never heard them make any distinction.
Q. What is the feeling of that portion of the people of Virginia in regard to the payment of the so-called Confederate debt?
A. I believe, so far as my opinion goes—I have no facts to go upon, but merely base my opinion on the knowledge I have of the people—that they would be willing to pay the Confederate debt, too.
Q. You think they would?
A. I think they would, if they had the power and ability to do so. I have never heard any one in the State, with whom I have conversed, speak of repudiating any debt.
Q. I suppose the Confederate debt is almost entirely valueless, even in the market in Virginia?
A. Entirely so, as far as I know. I believe the people generally look upon it as lost entirely. I never heard any question on the subject.
Q. Do you recollect the terms of the Confederate bonds—when they were made payable?
A. I think I have a general recollection that they were made payable six months after a declaration of peace.
Q. Six months after the ratification of a treaty of peace between the United States and the Confederate Government?
A. I think they ran that way.
Q. So that the bonds are not due yet by their terms?
A. I suppose, unless it is considered that there is a peace now, they are not due.
Q. How do the people of Virginia, secessionists more particularly, feel toward the freedmen?
A. Every one with whom I associate expresses the kindest feelings toward the freedmen. They wish to see them get on in the world, and particularly to take up some occupation for a living, and to turn their hands to some work. I know that efforts have been made among the farmers near where I live to induce them to engage for the year at regular wages.
Q. Do you think there is a willingness on the part of their old masters to give them fair living wages for their labor?
A. I believe it is so; the farmers generally prefer those servants who have been living with them before; I have heard them express their preferences for the men whom they knew, who had lived with them before, and their wish to get them to return to work.
Q. Are you aware of the existence of any combination among the "whites" to keep down the wages of the "blacks?"
A. I am not; I have heard that in several counties the land-owners have met in order to establish a uniform rate of wages, but I never heard, nor do I know of any combination to keep down wages or establish any rule which they did not think fair; the means of paying wages in Virginia are very limited now, and there is a difference of opinion as to how much each person is able to pay.
Q. How do they feel in regard to the education of the blacks? Is there a general willingness to have them educated?
A. Where I am, and have been, the people have exhibited a willingness that the blacks should be educated, and they express an opinion that it would be better for the blacks and better for the whites.
Q. General, you are very competent to judge of the capacity of black men for acquiring knowledge—I want your opinion on that capacity as compared with the capacity of white men?
A. I do not know that I am particularly qualified to speak on that subject, as you seem to intimate, but I do not think that the black man is as capable of acquiring knowledge as the white man. There are some more apt than others. I have known some to acquire knowledge and skill in their trade or profession. I have had servants of my own who learned to read and write very well.
Q. Do they show a capacity to obtain knowledge of mathematics and the exact sciences?
A. I have no knowledge on that subject; I am merely acquainted with those who have learned the common rudiments of education.
Q. General, are you aware of the existence among the blacks of Virginia, anywhere within the limits of the State, of combinations, having in view the disturbance of the peace, or any improper or unlawful acts?
A. I am not; I have seen no evidence of it, and have heard of none; wherever I have been they have been quiet and orderly; not disposed to work; or, rather, not disposed to any continuous engagement to work, but just very short jobs to provide them with the immediate means of subsistence.
Q. Has the colored race generally as great love of money and property as the white race possesses?
A. I do not think it has; the blacks with whom I am acquainted look more to the present time than to the future.
Q. Does that absence of a lust of money and property arise more from the nature of the negro than from his former servile condition?
A. Well, it may be in some measure attributed to his former condition; they are an amiable, social race; they like their ease and comfort, and I think look more to their present than to their future condition.
IN CASE OF WAR, WOULD VIRGINIA JOIN OUR ENEMIES?
Q. In the event of a war between the United States and any foreign power, such as England or France, if there should be held out to the secession portion of the people of Virginia, or the other recently rebel States, a fair prospect of gaining their independence and shaking off the Government of the United States, is it or is it not your opinion that they would avail themselves of that opportunity?
A. I cannot answer with any certainty on that point; I do not know how far they might be actuated by their feelings; I have nothing whatever to base an opinion upon; so far as I know, they contemplate nothing of the kind now; what may happen in the future I cannot say.
Q. Do you not frequently hear, in your intercourse with secessionists in Virginia, expressions of a hope that such a war may break out?
A. I cannot say that I have heard it; on the contrary, I have heard persons—I do not know whether you could call them secessionists or not, I mean those people in Virginia with whom I associate—express the hope that the country may not be led into a war.
Q. In such an event, do you not think that that class of people whom I call secessionists would join the common enemy?
A. It is possible; it depends upon the feeling of the individual.
Q. If it is a fair question—you may answer or not, as you choose—what, in such an event, might be your choice?
A. I have no disposition now to do it, and I never have had.
Q. And you cannot foresee that such would be your inclination in such an event?
A. No; I can only judge from the past; I do not know what circumstances it may produce; I cannot pretend to foresee events; so far as I know the feeling of the people of Virginia, they wish for peace.
Q. During the civil war, was it not contemplated by the Government of the Confederacy to form an alliance with some foreign nation if possible?
A. I believe it was their wish to do so if they could; it was their wish to have the Confederate Government recognized as an independent government; I have no doubt that if it could have made favorable treaties it would have done so, but I know nothing of the policy of the government; I had no hand or part in it; I merely express my own opinion.
Q. The question I am about to put to you, you may answer or not, as you choose. Did you take an oath of fidelity, or allegiance, to the Confederate Government?
A. I do not recollect having done so, but it is possible that when I was commissioned I did; I do not recollect whether it was required; if it was required, I took it, or if it had been required I would have taken it; but I do not recollect whether it was or not.
Q. (By Mr. Blow.) In reference to the effect of President Johnson's policy, if it were adopted, would there be any thing like a return of the old feeling? I ask that because you used the expression "acquiescing in the result."
A. I believe it would take time for the feelings of the people to be of that cordial nature to the Government they were formerly.
Q. Do you think that their preference for that policy arises from a desire to have peace and good feeling in the country, or from the probability of their regaining political power?
PRESIDENT JOHNSON'S POLICY.
A. So far as I know the desire of the people of the South, it is for restoration of their civil government, and they look upon the policy of President Johnson as the one which would most clearly and most surely reestablish it.
CONDITION OF THE POORER CLASSES.
Q. Do you see any change among the poorer classes in Virginia, in reference to industry? Are they as much, or more, interested in developing their material interests than they were?
A. I have not observed any change; every one now has to attend to his business for his support.
Q. The poorer classes are generally hard at work, are they?
A. So far as I know, they are; I know nothing to the contrary.
Q. Is there any difference in their relations to the colored people? Is their prejudice increased or diminished?
A. I have noticed no change; so far as I do know the feelings of all the people of Virginia, they are kind to the colored people; I have never heard any blame attributed to them as to the present condition of things, or any responsibility.
Q. There are very few colored laborers employed, I suppose?
A. Those who own farms have employed, more or less, one or two colored laborers; some are so poor that they have to work themselves.
Q. Can capitalists and workingmen from the North go into any portion of Virginia with which you are familiar and go to work among the people?
A. I do not know of any thing to prevent them. Their peace and pleasure there would depend very much on their conduct. If they confined themselves to their own business and did not interfere to provoke controversies with their neighbors, I do not believe they would be molested.
Q. There is no desire to keep out capital?
A. Not that I know of. On the contrary, they are very anxious to get capital into the State.
Q. You see nothing of a disposition to prevent such a thing?
A. I have seen nothing, and do not know of any thing, as I said before; the manner in which they would be received would depend entirely upon the individuals themselves; they might make themselves obnoxious, as you can understand.
Q. (By Mr. Howard.) Is there not a general dislike of Northern men among secessionists?
A. I suppose they would prefer not to associate with them; I do not know that they would select them as associates.
Q. Do they avoid and ostracize them socially?
A. They might avoid them; they would not select them as associates unless there was some reason; I do not know that they would associate with them unless they became acquainted; I think it probable they would not admit them into their social circles.
THE POSITION OF THE COLORED RACE.
Q. (By Mr. Blow.) What is the position of the colored men in Virginia with reference to persons they work for? Do you think they would prefer to work for Northern or Southern men?
A. I think it very probable they would prefer the Northern man, although I have no facts to go upon.
Q. That having been stated very frequently in reference to the cotton States, does it result from a bad treatment on the part of the resident population, or from the idea that they will be more fairly treated by the new-comers? What is your observation in that respect in regard to Virginia?
A. I have no means of forming an opinion; I do not know any case in Virginia; I know of numbers of the blacks engaging with their old masters, and I know of many to prefer to go off and look for new homes; whether it is from any dislike of their former masters, or from any desire to change, or they feel more free and independent, I don't know.
THE MATERIAL INTERESTS OF VIRGINIA.
Q. What is your opinion in regard to the material interests of Virginia; do you think they will be equal to what they were before the rebellion under the changed aspect of affairs?
A. It will take a long time for them to reach their former standard; I think that after some years they will reach it, and I hope exceed it; but it cannot be immediately, in my opinion.
Q. It will take a number of years?
A. It will take a number of years, I think.
Q. On the whole, the condition of things in Virginia is hopeful both in regard to its material interests and the future peace of the country?
A. I have heard great hopes expressed, and there is great cheerfulness and willingness to labor.
Q. Suppose this policy of President Johnson should be all you anticipate, and that you should also realize all that you expect in the improvement of the material interests, do you think that the result of that will be the gradual restoration of the old feeling?
A. That will be the natural result, I think; and I see no other way in which that result can be brought about.
Q. There is a fear in the public mind that the friends of the policy in the South adopt it because they see in it the means of repairing the political position which they lost in the recent contest. Do you think that that is the main idea with them, or that they merely look to it, as you say, as the best means of restoring civil government and the peace and prosperity of their respective States?
A. As to the first point you make, I do not know that I ever heard any person speak upon it; I never heard the points separated; I have heard them speak generally as to the effect of the policy of President Johnson; the feeling is, so far as I know now, that there is not that equality extended to the Southern States which is enjoyed by the North.
Q. You do not feel down there that, while you accept the result, we are as generous as we ought to be under the circumstances?
A. They think that the North can afford to be generous.
Q. That is the feeling down there?
A. Yes; and they think it is the best policy; those who reflect upon the subject and are able to judge.
Q. I understand it to be your opinion that generosity and liberality toward the entire South would be the surest means of regaining their good opinion?
A. Yes, and the speediest.
Q. (By Mr. Howard.) I understand you to say generally that you had no apprehension of any combination among the leading secessionists to renew the war, or any thing of the kind?
A. I have no reason in the world to think so.
Q. Have you heard that subject talked over among any of the politicians?
A. No, sir; I have not; I have not heard that matter even suggested.
Q. Let me put another hypothetical state of things. Suppose the executive government of the United States should be held by a President who, like Mr. Buchanan, rejected the right of coercion, so called, and suppose a Congress should exist here entertaining the same political opinions, thus presenting to the once rebel States the opportunity to again secede from the Union, would they, or not, in your opinion, avail themselves of that opportunity, or some of them?
A. I suppose it would depend: upon the circumstances existing at the time; if their feelings should remain embittered, and their affections alienated from the rest of the States, I think it very probable they might do so, provided they thought it was to their interests.
Q. Do you not think that at the present time there is a deep-seated feeling of dislike toward the Government of the United States on the part of the secessionists?
A. I do not know that there is any deep-seated dislike; I think it is probable there may be some animosity still existing among the people of the South.
Q. Is there not a deep-seated feeling of disappointment and chagrin at the result of the war?
A. I think that at the time they were disappointed at the result of the war.
Q. Do you mean to be understood as saying that there is not a condition of discontent against the Government of the United States among the secessionists generally?
A. I know none.
Q. Are you prepared to say that they respect the Government of the United States, and the loyal people of the United States, so much at the present time as to perform their duties as citizens of the United States, and of the States, faithfully and well?
A. I believe that they will perform all the duties that they are required to perform; I think that is the general feeling so far as I know.
Q. Do you think it would be practicable to convict a man in Virginia of treason for having taken part in this rebellion against the Government by a Virginian jury without packing it with direct reference to a verdict of guilty?
A. On that point I have no knowledge, and I do not know what they would consider treason against the United States—if you refer to past acts.
Mr. Howard: Yes, sir.
Witness: I have no knowledge what their views on that subject in the past are.
Q. You understand my question. Suppose a jury was impanelled in your own neighborhood, taken by lot, would it be possible to convict, for instance, Jefferson Davis, for having levied war upon the United States, and thus having committed the crime of treason?
A. I think it is very probable that they would not consider he had committed treason.
THEIR VIEWS OF TREASON.
Q. Suppose the jury should be clearly and plainly instructed by the Court that such an act of war upon the part of Mr. Davis or any other leading man constituted the crime of treason under the Constitution of the United States, would the jury be likely to heed that instruction, and, if the facts were plainly in proof before them, convict the offender?
A. I do not know, sir, what they would do on that question.
Q. They do not generally suppose that it was treason against the United States, do they?
A. I do not think that they so consider it.
Q. In what light would they view it? What would be their excuse or justification? How would they escape, in their own mind? I refer to the past—I am referring to the past and the feelings they would have?
A. So far as I know, they look upon the action of the State in withdrawing itself from the Government of the United States as carrying the individuals of the State along with it; that the State was responsible for the act, not the individuals, and that the ordinance of secession, so called, or those acts of the State which recognized a condition of war between the State and the General Government stood as their justification for their bearing arms against the Government of the United States; yes, sir, I think they would consider the act of the State as legitimate; that they were merely using the reserved rights, which they had a right to do.
Q. State, if you please—and if you are disinclined to answer the question you need not do so—what your own personal views on that question are?
A. That was my view; that the act of Virginia in withdrawing herself from the United States carried me along as a citizen of Virginia, and that her laws and her acts were binding on me.
Q. And that you felt to be your justification in taking the course you did?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. I have been told, general, that you have remarked to some of your friends, in conversation, that you were rather wheedled or cheated into that course by politicians?
A. I do not recollect ever making any such remark; I do not think I ever made it.
Q. If there be any other matter about which you wish to speak on this occasion, do so, freely.
A. Only in reference to that last question you put to me. I may have said and may have believed that the positions of the two sections which they held to each other was brought about by the politicians of the country; that the great masses of the people, if they understood the real question, would have avoided it; but not that I had been individually wheedled by the politicians.
Q. That is probably the origin of the whole thing.
A. I may have said that, but I do not even recollect that; but I did believe at the time that it was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practised on both sides.
Q. You say that you do not recollect having sworn allegiance and fidelity to the Confederate Government?
A. I do not recollect it, nor do I know it was ever required. I was regularly commissioned in the army of the Confederate States, but I do not really recollect that that oath was required. If it was required, I have no doubt I took it; or, if it had been required, I would have taken it.
Q. Is there any other matter which you desire to state to the committee?
A. No, sir; I am ready to answer any question which you think proper to put to me.
Q. How would an amendment to the Constitution be received by the secessionists, or by the people at large, allowing the colored people, or certain classes of them, to exercise the right of voting at elections?
A. I think, so far as I can form an opinion, in such an event they would object.
Q. They would object to such an amendment?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Suppose an amendment should nevertheless be adopted, conferring on the blacks the right of suffrage, would that, in your opinion, lead to scenes of violence or breaches of the peace between the two races in Virginia?
A. I think it would excite unfriendly feelings between the two races; I cannot pretend to say to what extent it would go, but that would be the result.
Q. Are you acquainted with the proposed amendment now pending in the Senate of the United States?
A. No, sir, I am not; I scarcely ever read a paper. [The substance of the proposed amendment was here explained to the witness by Mr. Conkling.] So far as I can see, I do not think that the State of Virginia would object to it.
Q. Would she consent, under any circumstances, to allow the black people to vote, even if she were to gain a large number of representatives in Congress?
A. That would depend upon her interests; if she had the right of determining that, I do not see why she would object; if it were to her interest to admit these people to vote, that might overrule any other objection that she had to it.
Q. What, in your opinion, would be the practical result? Do you think that Virginia would consent to allow the negro to vote?
A. I think that at present she would accept the smaller representation; I do not know what the future may develop; if it should be plain to her that these persons will vote properly and understandingly, she might admit them to vote.
Q. (By Mr. Blow.) Do you not think it would turn a good deal, in the cotton States, upon the value of the labor of the black people? Upon the amount which they produce?
A. In a good many States in the South, and in a good many counties in Virginia, if the black people were allowed to vote, it would, I think, exclude proper representation—that is, proper, intelligent people would not be elected, and, rather than suffer that injury, they would not let them vote at all.
Q. Do you not think that the question as to whether any Southern State would allow the colored people the right of suffrage in order to increase representation would depend a good deal on the amount which the colored people might contribute to the wealth of the State, in order to secure two things—first, the larger representation, and, second, the influence desired from those persons voting?
A. I think they would determine the question more in reference to their opinion as to the manner in which those votes would be exercised, whether they consider those people qualified to vote; my own opinion is, that at this time they cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the right of suffrage would open the door to a good deal of demagogism, and lead to embarrassments in various ways; what the future may prove, how intelligent they may become, with what eyes they may look upon the interests of the State in which they may reside, I cannot say more than you can.
The above extract presents the main portion of General Lee's testimony, and is certainly an admirable exposition of the clear good sense and frankness of the individual. Once or twice there is obviously an under-current of dry satire, as in his replies upon the subject of the Confederate bonds. When asked whether he remembered at what time these bonds were made payable, he replied that his "general recollection was, that they were made payable six months after a declaration of peace." The correction was at once made by his interrogator in the words "six months after the ratification of a treaty of peace" etc. "I think they ran that way," replied General Lee. "So that," retorted his interrogator, "the bonds are not yet due by their terms?" General Lee's reply was, "I suppose, unless it is considered that there is a peace now, they are not due."
This seems to have put an abrupt termination to the examination on that point. To the question whether he had taken an oath of allegiance to the Confederate Government, he replied: "I do not recollect having done so, but it is possible that when I was commissioned I did; I do not recollect whether it was required; if it was required, I took it, or if it had been required, I would have taken it."
If this reply of General Lee be attentively weighed by the reader, some conception may be formed of the bitter pang which he must have experienced in sending in, as he did, to the Federal Government, his application for pardon. The fact cannot be concealed that this proceeding on the part of General Lee was a subject of deep regret to the Southern people; but there can be no question that his motive was disinterested and noble, and that he presented, in so doing, the most remarkable evidence of the true greatness of his character. He had no personal advantage to expect from a pardon; cared absolutely nothing whether he were "pardoned" or not; and to one so proud, and so thoroughly convinced of the justice of the cause in which he had fought, to appear as a supplicant must have been inexpressibly painful. He, nevertheless, took this mortifying step—actuated entirely by that sense of duty which remained with him to the last, overmastering every other sentiment of his nature. He seems in this, as in many other things, to have felt the immense import of his example. The old soldiers of his army, and thousands of civilians, were obliged to apply for amnesty, or remain under civic disability. Brave men, with families depending upon them, had been driven to this painful course, and General Lee seems to have felt that duty to his old comrades demanded that he, too, should swallow this bitter draught, and share their humiliation as he had shared their dangers and their glory. If this be not the explanation of the motives controlling General Lee's action, the writer is unable to account for the course which he pursued. That it is the sole explanation, the writer no more doubts than he doubts the fact of his own existence.
GENERAL LEE'S LAST YEARS AND DEATH.
For about five years—from the latter part of 1865 nearly to the end of 1870—General Lee continued to concentrate his entire attention and all his energies upon his duties as President of Washington College, to which his great name, and the desire of Southern parents to have their sons educated under a guide so illustrious, attracted, as we have said, more than five hundred students. The sedentary nature of these occupations was a painful trial to one so long accustomed to lead a life of activity; but it was not in the character of the individual to allow personal considerations to interfere with the performance of his duty; and the laborious supervision of the education of this large number of young gentlemen continued, day after day, and year after year, to occupy his mind and his time, to the exclusion, wellnigh, of every other thought. His personal popularity with the students was very great, and it is unnecessary to add that their respect for him was unbounded. By the citizens of Lexington, and especially the graver and more pious portion, he was regarded with a love and admiration greater than any felt for him during the progress of his military career.
This was attributable, doubtless, to the franker and clearer exhibition by General Lee, in his latter years, of that extraordinary gentleness and sweetness, culminating in devoted Christian piety, which—concealed from all eyes, in some degree, during the war—now plainly revealed themselves, and were evidently the broad foundation and controlling influences of his whole life and character. To speak first of his gentleness and moderation in all his views and utterances. Of these eminent virtues—eminent and striking, above all, in a defeated soldier with so much to embitter him—General Lee presented a very remarkable illustration. The result of the war seemed to have left his great soul calm, resigned, and untroubled by the least rancor. While others, not more devoted to the South, permitted passion and sectional animosity to master them, and dictate acts and expressions full of bitterness toward the North, General Lee refrained systematically from every thing of that description; and by simple force of greatness, one would have said, rose above all prejudices and hatreds of the hour, counselling, and giving in his own person to all who approached him the example of moderation and Christian charity. He aimed to keep alive the old Southern traditions of honor and virtue; but not that sectional hatred which could produce only evil. To a lady who had lost her husband in the war, and, on bringing her two sons to the college, indulged in expressions of great bitterness toward the North, General Lee said, gently: "Madam, do not train up your children in hostility to the Government of the United States. Remember that we are one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring them up to be Americans."
A still more suggestive exhibition of his freedom from rancor was presented in an interview which is thus described:
"One day last autumn the writer saw General Lee standing at his gate, talking pleasantly to an humbly-clad man, who seemed very much pleased at the cordial courtesy of the great chieftain, and turned off, evidently delighted, as we came up. After exchanging salutations, the general said, pointing to the retreating form, 'That is one of our old soldiers, who is in necessitous circumstances.' I took it for granted that it was some veteran Confederate, when the noble-hearted chieftain quietly added, 'He fought on the other side, but we must not think of that.' I afterward ascertained—not from General Lee, for he never alluded to his charities—that he had not only spoken kindly to this 'old soldier' who had 'fought on the other side,' but had sent him on his way rejoicing in a liberal contribution to his necessities."
Of the extent of this Christian moderation another proof was given by the soldier, at a moment when he might not unreasonably have been supposed to labor under emotions of the extremest bitterness. Soon after his return to Richmond, in April, 1865, when the immedicabile vulnus of surrender was still open and bleeding, a gentleman was requested by the Federal commander in the city to communicate to General Lee the fact that he was about to be indicted in the United States courts for treason. In acquitting himself of his commission, the gentleman expressed sentiments of violent indignation at such a proceeding. But these feelings General Lee did not seem to share. The threat of arraigning him as a traitor produced no other effect upon him than to bring a smile to his lips; and, taking the hand of his friend, as the latter rose to go, he said, in his mildest tones: "We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them."
[Footnote 1: This was afterward done by one of the Federal judges, but resulted in nothing.]
The incidents here related define the views and feelings of General Lee as accurately as they could be set forth in a whole volume. The defeated commander, who could open his poor purse to "one of our old soldiers who fought on the other side," and pray daily during the bitterest of conflicts for his enemies, must surely have trained his spirit to the perfection of Christian charity.
Of the strength and controlling character of General Lee's religious convictions we have more than once spoken in preceding pages of this volume. These now seemed to exert a more marked influence over his life, and indeed to shape every action and utterance of the man. During the war he had exhibited much greater reserve upon this the most important of all subjects which can engage the attention of a human being; and, although he had been from an early period, we believe, a communicant of the Protestant Episcopal Church, he seldom discussed religious questions, or spoke of his own feelings, presenting in this a marked contrast, as we have said, to his illustrious associate General Jackson.
Even during the war, however, as the reader has seen in our notices of his character at the end of 1863, General Lee's piety revealed itself in conversations with his chaplains and other good men; and was not concealed from the troops, as on the occasion of the prayer-meeting in the midst of the fighting at Mine Run. On another occasion, when reviewing his army near Winchester, he was seen to raise his hat to a chaplain with the words, "I salute the Church of God;" and again, near Petersburg, was observed kneeling in prayer, a short distance from the road, as his troops marched by. Still another incident of the period—that of the war—will be recorded here in the words of the Rev. J. William Jones, who relates it:
"Not long before the evacuation of Petersburg, the writer was one day distributing tracts along the trenches, when he perceived a brilliant cavalcade approaching. General Lee—accompanied by General John B. Gordon, General A.P. Hill, and other general officers, with their staffs—was inspecting our lines and reconnoitring those of the enemy. The keen eye of Gordon recognized, and his cordial grasp detained, the humble tract-distributor, as he warmly inquired about his work. General Lee at once reined in his horse and joined in the conversation, the rest of the party gathered around, and the humble colporteur thus became the centre of a group of whose notice the highest princes of earth might well be proud. General Lee asked if we ever had calls for prayer-books, and said that if we would call at his headquarters he would give us some for distribution—'that some friend in Richmond had given him a new prayer-book, and, upon his saying that he would give his old one, that he had used ever since the Mexican War, to some soldier, the friend had offered him a dozen new books for the old one, and he had, of course, accepted so good an offer, and now had twelve instead of one to give away.' We called at the appointed hour. The general had gone out on some important matter, but (even amid his pressing duties) had left the prayer-books with a member of his staff, with instructions concerning them. He had written on the fly-leaf of each, 'Presented by R.E. Lee,' and we are sure that those of the gallant men to whom they were given who survive the war will now cherish them as precious legacies, and hand them down as heirlooms in their families."