The night of the 1st of April, General Humphreys's corps—the Second —had extended its left toward the White Oak road, and early next morning, under instructions from General Grant, Miles's division of that corps reported to me, and supporting him with Ayres's and Crawford's divisions of the Fifth Corps, I then directed him to advance toward Petersburg and attack the enemy's works at the intersection of the Claiborne and White Oak roads.
Such of the enemy as were still in the works Miles easily forced across Hatcher's Run, in the direction of Sutherland's depot, but the Confederates promptly took up a position north of the little stream, and Miles being anxious to attack, I gave him leave, but just at this time General Humphreys came up with a request to me from General Meade to return Miles. On this request I relinquished command of the division, when, supported by the Fifth Corps it could have broken in the enemy's right at a vital point; and I have always since regretted that I did so, for the message Humphreys conveyed was without authority from General Grant, by whom Miles had been sent to me, but thinking good feeling a desideratum just then, and wishing to avoid wrangles, I faced the Fifth Corps about and marched it down to Five Forks, and out the Ford road to the crossing of Hatcher's Run. After we had gone, General Grant, intending this quarter of the field to be under my control, ordered Humphreys with his other two divisions to move to the right, in toward Petersburg. This left Miles entirely unsupported, and his gallant attack made soon after was unsuccessful at first, but about 3 o'clock in the afternoon he carried the point which covered the retreat from Petersburg and Richmond.
Merritt had been sent westward, meanwhile, in the direction of Ford's Station, to break the enemy's horse which had been collecting to the north of Hatcher's Run. Meeting, with but little opposition, Merritt drove this cavalry force in a northerly direction toward Scott's Corners, while the Fifth Corps was pushed toward Sutherland's depot, in the hope of coming in on the rear of the force that was confronting Miles when I left him. Crawford and Merritt engaged the enemy lightly just before night, but his main column, retreating along the river road south of the Appomattox, had got across Namozine Creek, and the darkness prevented our doing more than to pick up some stragglers. The next morning the pursuit was resumed, the cavalry again in advance, the Fifth Corps keeping up with it all the while, and as we pressed our adversaries hundreds and hundreds of prisoners, armed and unarmed, fell into our hands, together with many wagons and five pieces of artillery. At Deep Creek the rearguard turned on us, and a severe skirmish took place. Merritt, finding the enemy very strong, was directed to await the arrival of Crook and for the rear division of the Fifth Corps; but by the time they reached the creek, darkness had again come to protect the Confederates, and we had to be content with meagre results at that point.
From the beginning it was apparent that Lee, in his retreat, was making for Amelia Court House, where his columns north and south of the Appomattox River could join, and where, no doubt, he expected to meet supplies, so Crook was ordered to march early on April 4 to strike the Danville railroad, between Jettersville and Burkeville, and then move south along the railroad toward Jettersville, Merritt to move toward Amelia Court House, and the Fifth Corps to Jettersville itself.
The Fifth Corps got to Jettersville about 5 in the afternoon, and I immediately intrenched it across the Burkeville road with the determination to stay there till the main army could come up, for I hoped we could force Lee to surrender at Amelia Court House, since a firm hold on Jettersville would cut him off from his line of retreat toward Burkeville.
Accompanied only by my escort—the First United States Cavalry, about two hundred strong—I reached Jettersville some little time before the Fifth Corps, and having nothing else at hand I at once deployed this handful of men to cover the crossroads till the arrival of the corps. Just as the troopers were deploying, a man on a mule, heading for Burkeville, rode into my pickets. He was arrested, of course, and being searched there was found in his boots this telegram in duplicate, signed by Lee's Commissary General.
"The army is at Amelia Court House, short of provisions. Send 300,000 rations quickly to Burkeville Junction." One copy was addressed to the supply department at Danville, and the other to that at Lynchburg. I surmised that the telegraph lines north of Burkeville had been broken by Crook after the despatches were written, which would account for their being transmitted by messenger. There was thus revealed not only the important fact that Lee was concentrating at Amelia Court House, but also a trustworthy basis for estimating his troops, so I sent word to Crook to strike up the railroad toward me, and to Merritt—who, as I have said, had followed on the heels of the enemy—to leave Mackenzie there and himself close in on Jettersville. Staff-officers were also despatched to hurry up Griffin with the Fifth Corps, and his tired men redoubled their strides.
My troops too were hard up for rations, for in the pursuit we could not wait for our trains, so I concluded to secure if possible these provisions intended for Lee. To this end I directed Young to send four of his best scouts to Burkeville Junction. There they were to separate, two taking the railroad toward Lynchburg and two toward Danville, and as soon as a telegraph station was reached the telegram was to be transmitted as it had been written and the provisions thus hurried forward.
Although the Fifth Corps arrived at Jettersville the evening of April 4, as did also Crook's and Merritt's cavalry, yet none of the army of the Potomac came up till about 3 o'clock the afternoon of the 5th, the Second Corps, followed by the Sixth, joining us then. General Meade arrived at Jettersville an hour earlier, but being ill, requested me to put his troops in position. The Fifth Corps being already intrenched across the Amelia Court House road facing north, I placed the Sixth on its right and the Second on its left as they reached the ground.
As the enemy had been feeling us ever since morning—to learn what he was up to I directed Crook to send Davies's brigade on a reconnoissance to Paine's crossroads. Davies soon found out that Lee was trying to escape by that flank, for at the crossroads he found the Confederate trains and artillery moving rapidly westward. Having driven away the escort, Davies succeeded in burning nearly two hundred wagons, and brought off five pieces of artillery. Among these wagons were some belonging to General, Lee's and to General Fitzhugh Lee's headquarters. This work through, Davies withdrew and rejoined Crook, who, with Smith and Gregg, was established near Flat Creek.
It being plain that Lee would attempt to escape as soon as his trains were out of the way, I was most anxious to attack him when the Second Corps began to arrive, for I felt certain that unless we did so he would succeed in passing by our left flank, and would thus again make our pursuit a stern-chase; but General Meade, whose plan of attack was to advance his right flank on Amelia Court House, objected to assailing before all his troops were up.
I then sent despatches to General Grant, explaining what Davies had done, and telling him that the Second Corps was arriving, and that I wished he himself was present. I assured him of my confidence in our capturing Lee if we properly exerted ourselves, and informed him, finally, that I would put all my cavalry, except Mackenzie, on my left, and that, with such a disposition of my forces, I could see no escape for Lee. I also inclosed him this letter, which had just been captured:
"AMELIA C. H., April 5, 1865.
"Our army is ruined, I fear. We are all safe as yet. Shyron left us sick. John Taylor is well—saw him yesterday. We are in line of battle this morning. General Robert Lee is in the field near us. My trust is still in the justice of our cause, and that of God. General Hill is killed. I saw Murray a few minutes since. Bernard, Terry said, was taken prisoner, but may yet get out. I send this by a negro I see passing up the railroad to Mechlenburg. Love to all.
"Your devoted son,
"Wm. B. TAYLOR, Colonel."
General Grant, who on the 5th was accompanying General Ord's column toward Burkeville Junction, did not receive this intelligence till nearly nightfall, when within about ten miles of the Junction. He set out for Jettersville immediately, but did not reach us till near midnight, too late of course to do anything that night. Taking me with him, we went over to see Meade, whom he then directed to advance early in the morning on Amelia Court House. In this interview Grant also stated that the orders Meade had already issued would permit Lee's escape, and therefore must be changed, for it was not the aim only to follow the enemy, but to get ahead of him, remarking during the conversation that, "he had no doubt Lee was moving right then." On this same occasion Meade expressed a desire to have in the proposed attack all the troops of the Army of the Potomac under his own command, and asked for the return of the Fifth Corps. I made no objections, and it was ordered to report, to him.
When, on the morning of the 6th, Meade advanced toward Amelia Court House, he found, as predicted, that Lee was gone. It turned out that the retreat began the evening of the 5th and continued all night. Satisfied that this would be the case, I did not permit the cavalry to participate in Meade's useless advance, but shifted it out toward the left to the road running from Deatonsville to Rice's station, Crook leading and Merritt close up. Before long the enemy's trains were discovered on this road, but Crook could make but little impression on them, they were so strongly guarded; so, leaving Stagg's brigade and Miller's battery about three miles southwest of Deatonsville—where the road forks, with a branch leading north toward the Appomattox—to harass the retreating column and find a vulnerable point, I again shifted the rest of the cavalry toward the left, across-country, but still keeping parallel to the enemy's line of march.
Just after crossing Sailor's Greek, a favorable opportunity offering, both Merritt and Crook attacked vigorously, gained the Rice's Station road, destroyed several hundred wagons, made many prisoners, and captured sixteen pieces of artillery. This was important, but more valuable still was the fact that we were astride the enemy's line of retreat, and had cut off from joining Longstreet, waiting at Rice's Station, a corps of Confederate infantry under General Ewell, composed of Anderson's, Kershaw's, and Custis Lee's divisions. Stagg's brigade and Miller's battery, which, as I have said, had been left at the forks of the Deatonsville road, had meanwhile broken in between the rear of Ewell's column and the head of Gordon's, forcing Gordon to abandon his march for Rice's Station, and to take the right-hand road at the forks, on which he was pursued by General Humphreys.
The complete isolation of Ewell from Longstreet in his front and Gordon in his rear led to the battle of Sailor's Creek, one of the severest conflicts of the war, for the enemy fought with desperation to escape capture, and we, bent on his destruction, were no less eager and determined. The capture of Ewell, with six of his generals and most of his troops, crowned our success, but the fight was so overshadowed by the stirring events of the surrender three days later, that the battle has never been accorded the prominence it deserves.
The small creek from which the field takes its name flows in a northwesterly direction across the road leading from Deatonsville to Rice's Station. By shifting to the left, Merritt gained the Rice's Station road west of the creek, making havoc of the wagon-trains, while Crook struck them further on and planted himself square across the road. This blocked Ewell, who, advancing Anderson to some high ground west of the creek, posted him behind barricades, with the intention of making a hard fight there, while the main body should escape through the woods in a westerly direction to roads that led to Farmville. This was prevented, however, by Crook forming his division, two brigades dismounted and one mounted, and at once assaulting all along Anderson's front and overlapping his right, while Merritt fiercely attacked to the right of Crook. The enemy being thus held, enabled the Sixth Corps—which in the meantime I had sent for—to come upon the ground, and Ewell, still contending with the cavalry, found himself suddenly beset by this new danger from his rear. To, meet it, he placed Kershaw to the right and Custis Lee to the left of the Rice's Station road, facing them north toward and some little distance from Sailor's Creek, supporting Kershaw with Commander Tucker's Marine brigade. Ewell's skirmishers held the line of Sailor's Creek, which runs through a gentle valley, the north slope of which was cleared ground.
By General Grant's directions the Sixth Corps had been following my route of march since the discovery, about 9 o'clock in the morning, that Lee had decamped from Amelia Court House. Grant had promptly informed me of this in a note, saying, "The Sixth Corps will go in with a vim any place you may dictate," so when I sent word to Wright of the enemy's isolation, and asked him to hurry on with all speed, his gallant corps came as fast as legs could carry them, he sending to me successively Major McClellan and Colonel Franklin, of his staff, to report his approach.
I was well advised as to the position of the enemy through information brought me by an intelligent young soldier, William A. Richardson, Company "A," Second Ohio, who, in one of the cavalry charges on Anderson, had cleared the barricades and made his way back to my front through Ewell's line. Richardson had told me just how the main body of the enemy was posted, so as Seymour's division arrived I directed General Wright to put it on the right of the road, while Wheaton's men, coming up all hot and out of breath, promptly formed on Seymour's left. Both divisions thus aligned faced southwest toward Sailor's Creek, and the artillery of the corps being massed to the left and front of the Hibbon house, without waiting for Getty's division—for I feared that if we delayed longer the enemy might effect his escape toward Farmville—the general attack was begun. Seymour and Wheaton, moving forward together, assailed the enemy's front and left, and Stagg's brigade, too, which in the mean time had been placed between Wheaton's left and Devin's right, went at him along with them, Merritt and Crook resuming the fight from their positions in front of Anderson. The enemy, seeing little chance of escape, fought like a tiger at bay, but both Seymour and Wheaton pressed him vigorously, gaining ground at all points except just to the right of the road, where Seymour's left was checked. Here the Confederates burst back on us in a counter-charge, surging down almost to the creek, but the artillery, supported by Getty, who in the mean time had come on the ground, opened on them so terribly that this audacious and furious onset was completely broken, though the gallant fellows fell back to their original line doggedly, and not until after they had almost gained the creek. Ewell was now hemmed in on every side, and all those under his immediate command were captured. Merritt and Crook had also broken up Anderson by this time, but he himself, and about two thousand disorganized men escaped by making their way through the woods toward the Appomattox River before they could be entirely enveloped. Night had fallen when the fight was entirely over, but Devin was pushed on in pursuit for about two miles, part of the Sixth Corps following to clinch a victory which not only led to the annihilation of one corps of Lee's retreating army, but obliged Longstreet to move up to Farmville, so as to take a road north of the Appomattox River toward Lynchburg instead of continuing toward Danville.
At the close of the battle I sent one of my staff—Colonel Redwood Price—to General Grant to report what had been done; that we had taken six generals and from nine to ten thousand prisoners. On his way Price stopped at the headquarters of General Meade, where he learned that not the slightest intelligence of the occurrence on my line had been received, for I not being under Meade's command, he had paid no attention to my movements. Price gave the story of the battle, and General Meade, realizing its importance, sent directions immediately to General Wright to make his report of the engagement to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, assuming that Wright was operating independently of me in the face of Grant's despatch Of 2 o'clock, which said that Wright was following the cavalry and would "go in with a vim" wherever I dictated. Wright could not do else than comply with Meade's orders in the case, and I, being then in ignorance of Meade's reasons for the assumption, could say nothing. But General Grant plainly intending, and even directing, that the corps should be under my command, remedied this phase of the matter, when informed of what had taken place, by requiring Wright to send a report of the battle through me. What he then did, and what his intentions and orders were, are further confirmed by a reference to the episode in his "Memoirs," where he gives his reasons for ordering the Sixth Corps to abandon the move on Amelia Court House and pass to the left of the army. On the same page he also says, referring to the 6th of April: "The Sixth Corps now remained with the cavalry under Sheridan's direct command until after the surrender." He unquestionably intended all of this, but his purpose was partly frustrated by General Meade's action next morning in assuming direction of the movements of the corps; and before General Grant became aware of the actual conditions the surrender was at hand.
LINCOLN'S LACONIC DESPATCH—CAPTURING LEE'S SUPPLIES—DELIGHTED ENGINEERS—THE CONFEDERATES' LAST EFFORT—A FLAG OF TRUCE—GENERAL GEARY'S "LAST DITCH" ABSURDITY—MEETING OF GRANT AND LEE—THE SURRENDER—ESTIMATE OF GENERAL GRANT.
The first report of the battle of Sailor's Creek that General Grant received was, as already stated, an oral message carried by Colonel Price, of my staff. Near midnight I sent a despatch giving the names of the generals captured. These were Ewell, Kershaw, Barton, Corse, Dubose, and Custis Lee. In the same despatch I wrote: "If the thing is pressed, I think that Lee will surrender." When Mr. Lincoln, at City Point, received this word from General Grant, who was transmitting every item of news to the President, he telegraphed Grant the laconic message: "Let the thing be pressed." The morning of the 7th we moved out at a very early hour, Crook's division marching toward Farmville in direct pursuit, while Merritt and Mackenzie were ordered to Prince Edward's Court House to anticipate any effort Lee might make to escape through that place toward Danville since it had been discovered that Longstreet had slipped away already from the front of General Ord's troops at Rice's Station. Crook overtook the main body of the Confederates at Farmville, and promptly attacked their trains on the north side of the Appomattox with Gregg's brigade, which was fiercely turned upon and forced to re-cross the river with the loss of a number of prisoner's, among them Gregg himself. When Crook sent word of this fight, it was clear that Lee had abandoned all effort to escape to the southwest by way of Danville. Lynchburg was undoubtedly his objective point now; so, resolving to throw my cavalry again across his path, and hold him till the infantry could overtake him, I directed everything on Appomattox depot, recalling Crook the night of the 7th to Prospect Station, while Merritt camped at Buffalo Creek, and Mackenzie made a reconnoissance along the Lynchburg railroad.
At break of day, April 8, Merritt and Mackenzie united with Crook at Prospect Station, and the cavalry all moved then toward Appomattox depot. Hardly had it started when one of the scouts—Sergeant White —informed me that there were four trains of cars at the depot loaded with supplies for Lee's army; these had been sent from Lynchburg, in compliance with the telegram of Lee's commissary-general, which message, it will be remembered, was captured and transmitted to Lynchburg by two of Young's scouts on the 4th. Sergeant White, who had been on the lookout for the trains ever since sending the despatch, found them several miles west of Appomattox depot feeling their way along, in ignorance of Lee's exact position. As he had the original despatch with him, and took pains to dwell upon the pitiable condition of Lee's army, he had little difficulty in persuading the men in charge of the trains to bring them east of Appomattox Station, but fearing that the true state of affairs would be learned before long, and the trains be returned to Lynchburg, he was painfully anxious to have them cut off by breaking the track west of the station.
The intelligence as to the trains was immediately despatched to Crook, and I pushed on to join him with Merritt's command. Custer having the advance, moved rapidly, and on nearing the station detailed two regiments to make a detour southward to strike the railroad some distance beyond and break the track. These regiments set off at a gallop, and in short order broke up the railroad enough to prevent the escape of the trains, Custer meanwhile taking possession of the station, but none too soon, for almost at the moment he did so the advance-guard of Lee's army appeared, bent on securing the trains. Without halting to look after the cars further, Custer attacked this advance-guard and had a spirited fight, in which he drove the Confederates away from the station, captured twenty-five pieces of artillery, a hospital train, and a large park of wagons, which, in the hope that they would reach Lynchburg next day, were being pushed ahead of Lee's main body.
Devin coming up a little before dusk, was put in on the right of Custer, and one of Crook's brigades was sent to our left and the other two held in reserve. I then forced the enemy back on the Appomattox road to the vicinity of the Court House, and that the Confederates might have no rest, gave orders to continue the skirmishing throughout the night. Meanwhile the captured trains had been taken charge of by locomotive engineers, soldiers of the command, who were delighted evidently to get back at their old calling. They amused themselves by running the trains to and fro, creating much confusion, and keeping up such an unearthly screeching with the whistles that I was on the point of ordering the cars burned. They finally wearied of their fun, however, and ran the trains off to the east toward General Ord's column.
The night of the 8th I made my headquarters at a little frame house just south of the station. I did not sleep at all, nor did anybody else, the entire command being up all night long; indeed, there had been little rest in the cavalry for the past eight days. The necessity of getting Ord's column up was so obvious now that staff-officer after staff-officer was sent to him and to General Grant requesting that the infantry be pushed on, for if it could get to the front, all knew that the rebellion would be ended on the morrow. Merritt, Crook, Custer, and Devin were present at frequent intervals during the night, and everybody was overjoyed at the prospect that our weary work was about to end so happily. Before sun-up General Ord arrived, and informed me of the approach of his column, it having been marching the whole night. As he ranked me, of course I could give him no orders, so after a hasty consultation as to where his troops should be placed we separated, I riding to the front to overlook my line near Appomattox Court House, while he went back to urge along his weary troops.
The night before General Lee had held a council with his principal generals, when it was arranged that in the morning General Gordon should undertake to break through my cavalry, and when I neared my troops this movement was beginning, a heavy line of infantry bearing down on us from the direction of the village. In front of Crook and Mackenzie firing had already begun, so riding to a slight elevation where a good view of the Confederates could be had, I there came to the conclusion that it would be unwise to offer more resistance than that necessary to give Ord time to form, so I directed Merritt to fall back, and in retiring to shift Devin and Custer to the right so as to make room for Ord, now in the woods to my rear. Crook, who with his own and Mackenzie's divisions was on my extreme left covering some by-roads, was ordered to hold his ground as long as practicable without sacrificing his men, and, if forced to retire, to contest with obstinacy the enemy's advance.
As already stated, I could not direct General Ord's course, he being my senior, but hastily galloping back to where he was, at the edge of the timber, I explained to him what was taking place at the front. Merritt's withdrawal inspired the Confederates, who forthwith began to press Crook, their line of battle advancing with confidence till it reached the crest whence I had reconnoitred them. From this ground they could see Ord's men emerging from the woods, and the hopelessness of a further attack being plain, the gray lines instinctively halted, and then began to retire toward a ridge immediately fronting Appomattox Court House, while Ord, joined on his right by the Fifth Corps, advanced on them over the ground that Merritt had abandoned.
I now directed my steps toward Merritt, who, having mounted his troopers, had moved them off to the right, and by the time I reached his headquarters flag he was ready for work, so a move on the enemy's left was ordered, and every guidon was bent to the front. As the cavalry marched along parallel with the Confederate line, and in toward its left, a heavy fire of artillery opened on us, but this could not check us at such a time, and we soon reached some high ground about half a mile from the Court House, and from here I could see in the low valley beyond the village the bivouac undoubtedly of Lee's army. The troops did not seem to be disposed in battle order, but on the other side of the bivouac was a line of battle—a heavy rear-guard—confronting, presumably, General Meade.
I decided to attack at once, and formations were ordered at a trot for a charge by Custer's and Devin's divisions down the slope leading to the camps. Custer was soon ready, but Devin's division being in rear its formation took longer, since he had to shift further to the right; Devin's preparations were, therefore, but partially completed when an aide-decamp galloped up to with the word from Custer, "Lee has surrendered; do not charge; the white flag is up." The enemy perceiving that Custer was forming for attack, had sent the flag out to his front and stopped the charge just in time. I at once sent word of the truce to General Ord, and hearing nothing more from Custer himself, I supposed that he had gone down to the Court House to join a mounted group of Confederates that I could see near there, so I, too, went toward them, galloping down a narrow ridge, staff and orderlies following; but we had not got half way to the Court House when, from a skirt of timber to our right, not more than three hundred yards distant, a musketry fire was opened on us. This halted us, when, waving my hat, I called out to the firing party that we were under a truce, and they were violating it. This did not stop them, however, so we hastily took shelter in a ravine so situated as to throw a ridge between us and the danger.
We traveled in safety down this depression to its mouth, and thence by a gentle ascent approached the Court House. I was in advance, followed by a sergeant carrying my battleflag. When I got within about a hundred and fifty yards of the enemy's line, which was immediately in front of the Court House, some of the Confederates leveled their pieces at us, and I again halted. Their officers kept their men from firing, however, but meanwhile a single-handed contest had begun behind me, for on looking back I heard a Confederate soldier demanding my battle-flag from the color-bearer, thinking, no doubt, that we were coming in as prisoners. The sergeant had drawn his sabre and was about to cut the man down, but at a word from me he desisted and carried the flag back to my staff, his assailant quickly realizing that the boot was on the other leg.
These incidents determined me to remain where I was till the return of a staff-officer whom I had sent over to demand an explanation from the group of Confederates for which I had been heading. He came back in a few minutes with apologies for what had occurred, and informed me that General Gordon and General Wilcox were the superior officers in the group. As they wished me to join them I rode up with my staff, but we had hardly met when in front of Merritt firing began. At the sound I turned to General Gordon, who seemed embarrassed by the occurrence, and remarked: "General, your men fired on me as I was coming over here, and undoubtedly they are treating Merritt and Custer the same way. We might as well let them fight it out." He replied, "There must be some mistake." I then asked, "Why not send a staff-officer and have your people cease firing; they are violating the flag." He answered, "I have no staff-officer to send." Whereupon I said that I would let him have one of mine, and calling for Lieutenant Vanderbilt Allen, I directed him to carry General Gordon's orders to General Geary, commanding a small brigade of South Carolina cavalry, to discontinue firing. Allen dashed off with the message and soon delivered it, but was made a prisoner, Geary saying, "I do not care for white flags: South Carolinians never surrender...." By this time Merritt's patience being exhausted, he ordered an attack, and this in short order put an end to General Geary's "last ditch" absurdity, and extricated Allen from his predicament.
When quiet was restored Gordon remarked: "General Lee asks for a suspension of hostilities pending the negotiations which he is having with General Grant." I rejoined: "I have been constantly informed of the progress of the negotiations, and think it singular that while such discussions are going on, General Lee should have continued his march and attempted to break through my lines this morning. I will entertain no terms except that General Lee shall surrender to General Grant on his arrival here. If these terms are not accepted we will renew hostilities." Gordon replied: "General Lee's army is exhausted. There is no doubt of his surrender to General Grant."
It was then that General Ord joined us, and after shaking hands all around, I related the situation to him, and Gordon went away agreeing to meet us again in half an hour. When the time was up he came back accompanied by General Longstreet, who brought with him a despatch, the duplicate of one that had been sent General Grant through General Meade's lines back on the road over which Lee had been retreating.
General Longstreet renewed the assurances that already had been given by Gordon, and I sent Colonel Newhall with the despatch to find General Grant and bring him to the front. When Newhall started, everything on our side of the Appomattox Court House was quiet, for inevitable surrender was at hand, but Longstreet feared that Meade, in ignorance of the new conditions on my front might attack the Confederate rearguard. To prevent this I offered to send Colonel J. W. Forsyth through the enemy's lines to let Meade know of my agreement, for he too was suspicious that by a renewed correspondence Lee was endeavoring to gain time for escape. My offer being accepted, Forsyth set out accompanied by Colonel Fairfax, of Longstreet's staff, and had no difficulty in accomplishing his mission.
About five or six miles from Appomattox, on the road toward Prospect Station near its intersection with the Walker's Church road, my adjutant-general, Colonel Newhall, met General Grant, he having started from north of the Appomattox River for my front the morning of April 9, in consequence of the following despatches which had been sent him the night before, after we had captured Appomattox Station and established a line intercepting Lee:
"CAVALRY HEADQUARTERS, April 8, 1865—9:20 P. M.
"LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT, "Commanding Armies of the U. S.
"General: I marched early this morning from Buffalo Creek and Prospect Station on Appomattox Station, where my scouts had reported trains of cars with supplies for Lee's army. A short time before dark General Custer, who had the advance, made a dash at the station, capturing four trains of supplies with locomotives. One of the trains was burned and the others were run back toward Farmville for security. Custer then pushed on toward Appomattox Court House, driving the enemy—who kept up a heavy fire of artillery—charging them repeatedly and capturing, as far as reported, twenty-five pieces of artillery and a number of prisoners and wagons. The First Cavalry Division supported him on the right. A reconnoissance sent across the Appomattox reports the enemy moving on the Cumberland road to Appomattox Station, where they expect to get supplies. Custer is still pushing on. If General Gibbon and the Fifth Corps can get up to-night, we will perhaps finish the job in the morning. I do not think Lee means to surrender until compelled to do so.
"P. H. SHERIDAN, Major-General."
"HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY, April 8, 1865—9:40 p.m.
"LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT. "Commanding Armies U. S.
"GENERAL: Since writing the accompanying despatch, General Custer reports that his command has captured in all thirty-five pieces of artillery, one thousand prisoners—including one general officer—and from one hundred and fifty to two hundred wagons.
"P. H. SHERIDAN, Major-General."
In attempting to conduct the lieutenant-general and staff back by a short route, Newhall lost his bearings for a time, inclining in toward the enemy's lines too far, but regained the proper direction without serious loss of time. General Grant arrived about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, Ord and I, dismounted, meeting him at the edge of the town, or crossroads, for it was little more. He remaining mounted, spoke first to me, saying simply,
"How are you, Sheridan?" I assured him with thanks that I was "first-rate," when, pointing toward the village, he asked, "Is General Lee up there?" and I replied: "There is his army down in that valley, and he himself is over in that house (designating McLean's house) waiting to surrender to you." The General then said, "Come, let us go over," this last remark being addressed to both Ord and me. We two then mounted and joined him, while our staff-officers followed, intermingling with those of the general-in-chief as the cavalcade took its way to McLean's house near by, and where General Lee had arrived some time before, in consequence of a message from General Grant consenting to the interview asked for by Lee through Meade's front that morning—the consent having been carried by Colonel Babcock.
When I entered McLean's house General Lee was standing, as was also his military secretary, Colonel Marshall, his only staff-officer present. General Lee was dressed in a new uniform and wore a handsome sword. His tall, commanding form thus set off contrasted strongly with the short figure of General Grant, clothed as he was in a soiled suit, without sword or other insignia of his position except a pair of dingy shoulder-straps. After being presented, Ord and I, and nearly all of General Grant's staff, withdrew to await the agreement as to terms, and in a little while Colonel Babcock came to the door and said, "The surrender had been made; you can come in again."
When we re-entered General Grant was writing; and General Lee, having in his hand two despatches, which I that morning requested might be returned, as I had no copies of them, addressed me with the remark: "I am sorry. It is probable that my cavalry at that point of the line did not fully understand the agreement." These despatches had been sent in the forenoon, after the fighting had been stopped, notifying General Lee that some of his cavalry in front of Crook was violating the suspension of hostilities by withdrawing. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon the terms of surrender were written out and accepted, and General Lee left the house, as he departed cordially shaking hands with General Grant. A moment later he mounted his chunky gray horse, and lifting his hat as he passed out of the yard, rode off toward his army, his arrival there being announced to us by cheering, which, as it progressed, varying in loudness, told he was riding through the bivouac of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The surrender of General Lee practically ended the war of the rebellion. For four years his army had been the main-stay of the Confederacy; and the marked ability with which he directed its operations is evidenced both by his frequent successes and the length of time he kept up the contest. Indeed, it may be said that till General Grant was matched against him, he never met an opponent he did not vanquish, for while it is true that defeat was inflicted on the Confederates at Antietam and Gettysburg, yet the fruits of these victories were not gathered, for after each of these battles Lee was left unmolested till he had a chance to recuperate.
The assignment of General Grant to the command of the Union armies in the winter of 1863-64 gave presage of success from the start, for his eminent abilities had already been proved, and besides, he was a tower of strength to the Government, because he had the confidence of the people. They knew that henceforth systematic direction would be given to our armies in every section of the vast territory over which active operations were being prosecuted, and further, that this coherence, this harmony of plan, was the one thing needed to end the war, for in the three preceding years there had been illustrated most lamentable effects of the absence of system. From the moment he set our armies in motion simultaneously, in the spring of 1864, it could be seen that we should be victorious ultimately, for though on different lines we were checked now and then, yet we were harassing the Confederacy at so many vital points that plainly it must yield to our blows. Against Lee's army, the forefront of the Confederacy, Grant pitted himself; and it may be said that the Confederate commander was now, for the first time, overmatched, for against all his devices—the products of a mind fertile in defense—General Grant brought to bear not only the wealth of expedient which had hitherto distinguished him, but also an imperturbable tenacity, particularly in the Wilderness and on the march to the James, without which the almost insurmountable obstacles of that campaign could not have been overcome. During it and in the siege of Petersburg he met with many disappointments—on several occasions the shortcomings of generals, when at the point of success, leading to wretched failures. But so far as he was concerned, the only apparent effect of these discomfitures was to make him all the more determined to discharge successfully the stupendous trust committed to his care, and to bring into play the manifold resources of his well ordered military mind. He guided every subordinate then, and in the last days of the rebellion, with a fund of common sense and superiority of intellect, which have left an impress so distinct as to exhibit his great personality. When his military history is analyzed after the lapse of years, it will show, even more clearly than now, that during these as well as in his previous campaigns he was the steadfast Centre about and on which everything else turned.
ORDERED TO GREENSBORO', N. C.—MARCH TO THE DAN RIVER—ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI—LEAVING WASHINGTON—FLIGHT OF GENERAL EARLY—MAXIMILIAN—MAKING DEMONSTRATIONS ON THE UPPER RIO GRANDE—CONFEDERATES JOIN MAXIMILIAN—THE FRENCH INVASION OF MEXICO AND ITS RELATIONS TO THE REBELLION—ASSISTING THE LIBERALS —RESTORATION OF THE REPUBLIC.
The surrender at Appomattox put a stop to all military operations on the part of General Grant's forces, and the morning of April 10 my cavalry began its march to Petersburg, the men anticipating that they would soon be mustered out and returned to their homes. At Nottoway Court House I heard of the assassination of the President. The first news came to us the night after the dastardly deed, the telegraph operator having taken it from the wires while in transmission to General Meade. The despatch ran that Mr. Lincoln had been, shot at 10 o'clock that morning at Willard's Hotel, but as I could conceive of nothing to take the President there I set the story down as a canard, and went to bed without giving it further thought. Next morning, however, an official telegram confirmed the fact of the assassination, though eliminating the distorted circumstances that had been communicated the night before.
When we reached Petersburg my column was halted, and instructions given me to march the cavalry and the Sixth Corps to Greensboro', North Carolina, for the purpose of aiding General Sherman (the surrender of General Johnston having not yet been effected), so I made the necessary preparations and moved on the 24th of April, arriving at South Boston, on the Dan River, the 28th, the Sixth Corps having reached Danville meanwhile. At South Boston I received a despatch from General Halleck, who immediately after Lee's surrender had been assigned to command at Richmond, informing me that General Johnston had been brought to terms. The necessity for going farther south being thus obviated we retraced our steps to Petersburg, from which place I proceeded by steamer to Washington, leaving, the cavalry to be marched thither by easy stages.
The day after my arrival in Washington an important order was sent me, accompanied by the following letter of instructions, transferring me to a new field of operations:
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES. "Washington, D. C., May 17, 1865.
"GENERAL: Under the orders relieving you from the command of the Middle Military Division and assigning you to command west of the Mississippi, you will proceed without delay to the West to arrange all preliminaries for your new field of duties.
"Your duty is to restore Texas, and that part of Louisiana held by the enemy, to the Union in the shortest practicable time, in a way most effectual for securing permanent peace.
"To do this, you will be given all the troops that can be spared by Major-General Canby, probably twenty-five thousand men of all arms; the troops with Major-General J. J. Reynolds, in Arkansas, say twelve thousand, Reynolds to command; the Fourth Army Corps, now at Nashville, Tennessee, awaiting orders; and the Twenty-Fifth Army Corps, now at City Point, Virginia, ready to embark.
"I do not wish to trammel you with instructions; I will state, however, that if Smith holds out, without even an ostensible government to receive orders from or to report to, he and his men are not entitled to the considerations due to an acknowledged belligerent. Theirs are the conditions of outlaws, making war against the only Government having an existence over the territory where war is now being waged.
"You may notify the rebel commander west of the Mississippi—holding intercourse with him in person, or through such officers of the rank of major-general as you may select—that he will be allowed to surrender all his forces on the same terms as were accorded to Lee and Johnston. If he accedes, proceed to garrison the Red River as high up as Shreveport, the seaboard at Galveston, Malagorda Bay, Corpus Christi, and mouth of the Rio Grande.
"Place a strong force on the Rio Grande, holding it at least to a point opposite Camargo, and above that if supplies can be procured.
"In case of an active campaign (a hostile one) I think a heavy force should be put on the Rio Grande as a first preliminary. Troops for this might be started at once. The Twenty-Fifth Corps is now available, and to it should be added a force of white troops, say those now under Major-General Steele.
"To be clear on this last point, I think the Rio Grande should be strongly held, whether the forces in Texas surrender or not, and that no time should be lost in getting troops there. If war is to be made, they will be in the right place; if Kirby Smith surrenders, they will be on the line which is to be strongly garrisoned.
"Should any force be necessary other than those designated, they can be had by calling for them on Army Headquarters.
"U. S. GRANT, "Lieutenant-General.
"To MAJOR-GENERAL P. H. SHERIDAN, "United States Army."
On receipt of these instructions I called at once on General Grant, to see if they were to be considered so pressing as to preclude my remaining in Washington till after the Grand Review, which was fixed for the 23d and 24th of May, for naturally I had a strong desire to head my command on that great occasion. But the General told me that it was absolutely necessary to go at once to force the surrender of the Confederates under Kirby Smith. He also told me that the States lately in rebellion would be embraced in two or three military departments, the commanders of which would control civil affairs until Congress took action about restoring them to the Union, since that course would not only be economical and simple, but would give the Southern people confidence, and encourage them to go to work, instead of distracting them with politics.
At this same interview he informed me that there was an additional motive in sending me to the new command, a motive not explained by the instructions themselves, and went on to say that, as a matter of fact, he looked upon the invasion of Mexico by Maximilian as a part of the rebellion itself, because of the encouragement that invasion had received from the Confederacy, and that our success in putting down secession would never be complete till the French and Austrian invaders were compelled to quit the territory of our sister republic. With regard to this matter, though, he said it would be necessary for me to act with great circumspection, since the Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, was much opposed to the use of our troops along the border in any active way that would be likely to involve us in a war with European powers.
Under the circumstances, my disappointment at not being permitted to participate in the review had to be submitted to, and I left Washington without an opportunity of seeing again in a body the men who, while under my command, had gone through so many trials and unremittingly pursued and, assailed the enemy, from the beginning of the campaign of 1864 till the white flag came into their hands at Appomattox Court House.
I went first to St. Louis, and there took the steamboat for New Orleans, and when near the mouth of the Red River received word from General Canby that Kirby Smith had surrendered under terms similar to those accorded Lee and Johnston. But the surrender was not carried out in good faith, particularly by the Texas troops, though this I did not learn till some little time afterward when I was informed that they had marched off to the interior of the State in several organized bodies, carrying with them their camp equipage, arms, ammunition, and even some artillery, with the ultimate purpose of going to Mexico. In consequence of this, and also because of the desire of the Government to make a strong showing of force in Texas, I decided to traverse the State with two columns of cavalry, directing one to San Antonio under Merritt, the other to Houston under Custer. Both commands were to start from the Red River —Shreveport and Alexandria—being the respective initial points—and in organizing the columns, to the mounted force already on the Red River were added several regiments of cavalry from the east bank of the Mississippi, and in a singular way one of these fell upon the trail of my old antagonist, General Early. While crossing the river somewhere below Vicksburg some of the men noticed a suspicious looking party being ferried over in a rowboat, behind which two horses were swimming in tow. Chase was given, and the horses, being abandoned by the party, fell into the hands of our troopers, who, however, failed to capture or identify the people in the boat. As subsequently ascertained, the men were companions of Early, who was already across the Mississippi, hidden in the woods, on his way with two or three of these followers to join the Confederates in Texas, not having heard of Kirby Smith's surrender. A week or two later I received a letter from Early describing the affair, and the capture of the horses, for which he claimed pay, on the ground that they were private property, because he had taken them in battle. The letter also said that any further pursuit of Early would be useless, as he "expected to be on the deep blue sea" by the time his communication reached me. The unfortunate man was fleeing from imaginary dangers, however, for striking his trail was purely accidental, and no effort whatever was being made to arrest him personally. Had this been especially desired it might have been accomplished very readily just after Lee's surrender, for it was an open secret that Early was then not far away, pretty badly disabled with rheumatism.
By the time the two columns were ready to set out for San Antonio and Houston, General Frank Herron,—with one division of the Thirteenth Corps, occupied Galveston, and another division under General Fred Steele had gone to Brazos Santiago, to hold Brownsville and the line of the Rio Grande, the object being to prevent, as far as possible, the escaping Confederates from joining Maximilian. With this purpose in view, and not forgetting Grant's conviction that the French invasion of Mexico was linked with the rebellion, I asked for an increase of force to send troops into Texas in fact, to concentrate at available points in the State an army strong enough to move against the invaders of Mexico if occasion demanded. The Fourth and Twenty-fifth army corps being ordered to report to me, accordingly, I sent the Fourth Corps to Victoria and San Antonio, and the bulk of the Twenty-fifth to Brownsville. Then came the feeding and caring for all these troops—a difficult matter—for those at Victoria and San Antonio had to be provisioned overland from Indianola across the "hog-wallow prairie," while the supplies for the forces at Brownsville and along the Rio Grande must come by way of Brazos Santiago, from which point I was obliged to construct, with the labor of the men, a railroad to Clarksville, a distance of about eighteen miles.
The latter part of June I repaired to Brownsville myself to impress the Imperialists, as much as possible, with the idea that we intended hostilities, and took along my chief of scouts—Major Young—and four of his most trusty men, whom I had had sent from Washington. From Brownsville I despatched all these men to important points in northern Mexico, to glean information regarding the movements of the Imperial forces, and also to gather intelligence about the ex-Confederates who had crossed the Rio Grande. On information furnished by these scouts, I caused General Steele to make demonstrations all along the lower Rio Grande, and at the same time demanded the return of certain munitions of war that had been turned over by ex-Confederates to the Imperial General (Mejia) commanding at Matamoras. These demands, backed up as they were by such a formidable show of force created much agitation and demoralization among the Imperial troops, and measures looking to the abandonment of northern Mexico were forthwith adopted by those in authority—a policy that would have resulted in the speedy evacuation of the entire country by Maximilian, had not our Government weakened; contenting itself with a few pieces of the contraband artillery varnished over with the Imperial apologies. A golden opportunity was lost, for we had ample excuse for crossing the boundary, but Mr. Seward being, as I have already stated, unalterably opposed to any act likely to involve us in war, insisted on his course of negotiation with Napoleon.
As the summer wore away, Maximilian, under Mr. Seward's policy, gained in strength till finally all the accessible sections of Mexico were in his possession, and the Republic under President Juarez almost succumbed. Growing impatient at this, in the latter part of September I decided to try again what virtue there might be in a hostile demonstration, and selected the upper Rio Grande for the scene of my attempt. Merritt's cavalry and the Fourth Corps still being at San Antonio, I went to that place and reviewed these troops, and having prepared them with some ostentation for a campaign, of course it was bruited about that we were going to invade Mexico. Then, escorted by a regiment of horse I proceeded hastily to Fort Duncan, on the Rio Grande just opposite the Mexican town of Piedras Negras. Here I opened communication with President Juarez, through one of his staff, taking care not to do this in the dark, and the news, spreading like wildfire, the greatest significance was ascribed to my action, it being reported most positively and with many specific details that I was only awaiting the arrival of the troops, then under marching orders at San Antonio, to cross the Rio Grande in behalf of the Liberal cause.
Ample corroboration of the reports then circulated was found in my inquiries regarding the quantity of forage we could depend upon getting in Mexico, our arrangements for its purchase, and my sending a pontoon train to Brownsville, together with which was cited the renewed activity of the troops along the lower Rio Grande. These reports and demonstrations resulted in alarming the Imperialists so much that they withdrew the French and Austrian soldiers from Matamoras, and practically abandoned the whole of northern Mexico as far down as Monterey, with the exception of Matamoras, where General Mejia continued to hang on with a garrison of renegade Mexicans.
The abandonment of so much territory in northern Mexico encouraged General Escobedo and other Liberal leaders to such a degree that they collected a considerable army of their followers at Comargo, Mier, and other points. At the same time that unknown quantity, Cortinas, suspended his free-booting for the nonce, and stoutly harassing Matamoras, succeeded in keeping its Imperial garrison within the fortifications. Thus countenanced and stimulated, and largely supplied with arms and ammunition, which we left at convenient places on our side of the river to fall into their hands, the Liberals, under General Escobedo—a man of much force of character—were enabled in northern Mexico to place the affairs of the Republic on a substantial basis.
But in the midst of what bade fair to cause a final withdrawal of the foreigners, we were again checked by our Government, as a result of representations of the French Minister at Washington. In October, he wrote to Mr. Seward that the United States troops on the Rio Grande were acting "in exact opposition to the repeated assurances Your Excellency has given me concerning the desire of the Cabinet at Washington to preserve the most strict neutrality in the events now taking place in Mexico," and followed this statement with an emphatic protest against our course. Without any investigation whatever by our State Department, this letter of the French Minister was transmitted to me, accompanied by directions to preserve a strict neutrality; so, of course, we were again debarred from anything like active sympathy.
After this, it required the patience of Job to abide the slow and poky methods of our State Department, and, in truth, it was often very difficult to restrain officers and men from crossing the Rio Grande with hostile purpose. Within the knowledge of my troops, there had gone on formerly the transfer of organized bodies of ex-Confederates to Mexico, in aid of the Imperialists, and at this period it was known that there was in preparation an immigration scheme having in view the colonizing, at Cordova and one or two other places, of all the discontented elements of the defunct Confederacy —Generals Price, Magruder, Maury, and other high personages being promoters of the enterprise, which Maximilian took to readily. He saw in it the possibilities of a staunch support to his throne, and therefore not only sanctioned the project, but encouraged it with large grants of land, inspirited the promoters with titles of nobility, and, in addition, instituted a system of peonage, expecting that the silver hook thus baited would be largely swallowed by the Southern people.
The announcement of the scheme was followed by the appointment of commissioners in each of the Southern States to send out emigrants; but before any were deluded into starting, I made to General Grant a report of what was going on, with the recommendation that measures be taken, through our State Department, looking to the suppression of the colony; but, as usual, nothing could be effected through that channel; so, as an alternative, I published, in April, 1866, by authority of General Grant, an order prohibiting the embarkation from ports in Louisiana and Texas, for ports in Mexico, of any person without a permit from my headquarters. This dampened the ardor of everybody in the Gulf States who had planned to go to Mexico; and although the projectors of the Cordova Colonization Scheme—the name by which it was known—secured a few innocents from other districts, yet this set-back led ultimately to failure.
Among the Liberal leaders along the Rio Grande during this period there sprang up many factional differences from various causes, some personal, others political, and some, I regret to say, from downright moral obliquity—as, for example, those between Cortinas and Canales —who, though generally hostile to the Imperialists, were freebooters enough to take a shy at each other frequently, and now and then even to join forces against Escobedo, unless we prevented them by coaxing or threats. A general who could unite these several factions was therefore greatly needed, and on my return to New Orleans I so telegraphed General Grant, and he, thinking General Caravajal (then in Washington seeking aid for the Republic) would answer the purpose, persuaded him to report to me in New Orleans. Caravajal promptly appeared, but he did not impress me very favorably. He was old and cranky, yet, as he seemed anxious to do his best, I sent him over to Brownsville, with credentials, authorizing him to cross into Mexico, and followed him myself by the next boat. When I arrived in Brownsville, matters in Matamoras had already reached a crisis. General Mejia, feeling keenly the moral support we were giving the Liberals, and hard pressed by the harassing attacks of Cortinas and Canales, had abandoned the place, and Caravajal, because of his credentials from our side, was in command, much to the dissatisfaction of both those chiefs whose differences it was intended he should reconcile.
The day after I got to Brownsville I visited Matamoras, and had a long interview with Caravajal. The outcome of this meeting was, on my part, a stronger conviction than ever that he was unsuitable, and I feared that either Canales or Cortinas would get possession of the city. Caravajal made too many professions of what he would do—in short, bragged too much—but as there was no help for the situation, I made the best of it by trying to smooth down the ruffled feathers of Canales and Cortinas. In my interview with Caravajal I recommended Major Young as a confidential man, whom he could rely upon as a "go-between" for communicating with our people at Brownsville, and whom he could trust to keep him informed of the affairs of his own country as well.
A day or two afterward I recrossed the Gulf to New Orleans, and then, being called from my headquarters to the interior of Texas, a fortnight passed before I heard anything from Brownsville. In the meanwhile Major Young had come to New Orleans, and organized there a band of men to act as a body-guard for Caravajal, the old wretch having induced him to accept the proposition by representing that it had my concurrence. I at once condemned the whole business, but Young, having been furnished with seven thousand dollars to recruit the men and buy their arms, had already secured both, and was so deeply involved in the transaction, he said, that he could not withdraw without dishonor, and with tears in his eyes he besought me to help him. He told me he had entered upon the adventure in the firm belief that I would countenance it; that the men and their equipment were on his hands; that he must make good his word at all hazards; and that while I need not approve, yet I must go far enough to consent to the departure of the men, and to loan him the money necessary to provision his party and hire a schooner to carry them to Brazos. It was hard in deed to resist the appeals of this man, who had served me so long and so well, and the result of his pleading was that I gave him permission to sail, and also loaned him the sum asked for; but I have never ceased to regret my consent, for misfortune fell upon the enterprise almost from its inception.
By the time the party got across the Gulf and over to Brownsville, Caravajal had been deposed by Canales, and the latter would not accept their services. This left Young with about fifty men to whom he was accountable, and as he had no money to procure them subsistence, they were in a bad fix. The only thing left to do was to tender their services to General Escobedo, and with this in view the party set out to reach the General's camp, marching up the Rio Grande on the American side, intending to cross near Ringgold Bar racks. In advance of them, however, had spread far and wide the tidings of who they were, what they proposed to do, and where they were going, and before they could cross into Mexico they were attacked by a party of ex-Confederates and renegade Mexican rancheros. Being on American soil, Young forbade his men to return the fire, and bent all his efforts to getting them over the river; but in this attempt they were broken up, and became completely demoralized. A number of the men were drowned while swimming the river, Young himself was shot and killed, a few were captured, and those who escaped—about twenty in all—finally joined Escobedo, but in such a plight as to be of little use. With this distressing affair came to an end pretty much all open participation of American sympathizers with the Liberal cause, but the moral support afforded by the presence of our forces continued, and this was frequently supplemented with material aid in the shape of munitions of war, which we liberally supplied, though constrained to do so by the most secret methods.
The term of office of Juarez as President of the Mexican Republic expired in December, 1865, but to meet existing exigencies he had continued himself in office by proclamation, a course rendered necessary by the fact that no elections could be held on account of the Imperial occupation of most of the country. The official who, by the Mexican Constitution, is designated for the succession in such an emergency, is the President of the Supreme Court, and the person then eligible under this provision was General Ortega, but in the interest of the Imperialists he had absented himself from Mexico, hence the patriotic course of Juarez in continuing himself at the head of affairs was a necessity of the situation. This action of the President gave the Imperialists little concern at first, but with the revival of the Liberal cause they availed themselves of every means to divide its supporters, and Ortega, who had been lying low in the United States, now came forward to claim the Presidency. Though ridiculously late for such a step, his first act was to issue a manifesto protesting against the assumption of the executive authority by Juarez. The protest had little effect, however, and his next proceeding was to come to New Orleans, get into correspondence with other disaffected Mexicans, and thus perfect his plans. When he thought his intrigue ripe enough for action, he sailed for Brazos, intending to cross the Rio Grande and assert his claims with arms. While he was scheming in New Orleans, however, I had learned what he was up to, and in advance of his departure had sent instructions to have him arrested on American soil. Colonel Sedgwick, commanding at Brownsville, was now temporary master of Matamoras also, by reason of having stationed some American troops there for the protection of neutral merchants, so when Ortega appeared at Brazos, Sedgwick quietly arrested him and held him till the city of Matamoras was turned over to General Escobedo, the authorized representative of Juarez; then Escobedo took charge, of Ortega, and with ease prevented his further machinations.
During the winter and spring of 1866 we continued covertly supplying arms and ammunition to the Liberals—sending as many as 30,000 muskets from Baton Rouge Arsenal alone—and by mid-summer Juarez, having organized a pretty good sized army, was in possession of the whole line of the Rio Grande, and, in fact, of nearly the whole of Mexico down to San Louis Potosi. Then thick and fast came rumors pointing to the tottering condition of Maximilian's Empire-first, that Orizaba and Vera Cruz were being fortified; then, that the French were to be withdrawn; and later came the intelligence that the Empress Carlotta had gone home to beg assistance from Napoleon, the author of all of her husband's troubles. But the situation forced Napoleon to turn a deaf ear to Carlotta's prayers. The brokenhearted woman besought him on her knees, but his fear of losing an army made all pleadings vain. In fact, as I ascertained by the following cablegram which came into my hands, Napoleon's instructions for the French evacuation were in Mexico at the very time of this pathetic scene between him and Carlotta. The despatch was in cipher when I received it, but was translated by the telegraph operator at my headquarters, who long before had mastered the key of the French cipher:
"PARIS, January 10, 1867. FRENCH CONSUL, New Orleans, La.
"To GENERAL CASTELNAU, at Mexico.
"Received your despatch of the 9th December. Do not compel the Emperor to abdicate, but do not delay the departure of the troops; bring back all those who will not remain there. Most of the fleet has left.
This meant the immediate withdrawal of the French. The rest of the story—which has necessarily been but in outline—is soon told. Maximilian, though deserted, determined to hold out to the last, and with the aid of disloyal Mexicans stuck to his cause till the spring. When taken prisoner at Queretaro, he was tried and executed under circumstances that are well known. From promptings of humanity Secretary Seward tried hard to save the Imperial prisoner, but without success. The Secretary's plea for mercy was sent through me at New Orleans, and to make speed I hired a steamer to proceed with it across the Gulf to Tampico. The document was carried by Sergeant White, one of my scouts, who crossed the country from Tampico, and delivered it to Escobedo at Queretaro; but Mr. Seward's representations were without avail—refused probably because little mercy had been shown certain Liberal leaders unfortunate enough to fall into Maximilian's hands during the prosperous days of his Empire.
At the close of our war there was little hope for the Republic of Mexico. Indeed, till our troops were concentrated on the Rio Grande there was none. Our appearance in such force along the border permitted the Liberal leaders, refugees from their homes, to establish rendezvous whence they could promulgate their plans in safety, while the countenance thus given the cause, when hope was well-nigh gone, incited the Mexican people to renewed resistance. Beginning again with very scant means, for they had lost about all, the Liberals saw their cause, under the influence of such significant and powerful backing, progress and steadily grow so strong that within two years Imperialism had received its death-blow. I doubt very much whether such, results could have been achieved without the presence of an American army on the Rio Grande, which, be it remembered, was sent there because, in General Grant's words, the French invasion of Mexico was so closely related to the rebellion as to be essentially a part of it.
A. J. HAMILTON APPOINTED PROVISIONAL GOVERNOR OF TEXAS—ASSEMBLES A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION—THE TEXANS DISSATISFIED—LAWLESSNESS —OPPRESSIVE LEGISLATION—EX-CONFEDERATES CONTROLLING LOUISIANA—A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION—THE MEETING SUPPRESSED—A BLOODY RIOT—MY REPORTS OF THE MASSACRE—PORTIONS SUPPRESSED BY PRESIDENT JOHNSON —SUSTAINED BY A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE—THE RECONSTRUCTION LAWS.
Although in 1865-66 much of my attention was directed to international matters along the Rio Grande, the civil affairs of Texas and Louisiana required a certain amount of military supervision also in the absence of regularly established civil authority. At the time of Kirby Smith's surrender the National Government had formulated no plan with regard to these or the other States lately in rebellion, though a provisional Government had been set up in Louisiana as early as 1864. In consequence of this lack of system, Governor Pendleton Murray, of Texas, who was elected under Confederate rule, continued to discharge the duties of Governor till President Johnson, on June 17, in harmony with his amnesty proclamation of May 29, 1865, appointed A. J. Hamilton provisional Governor. Hamilton was empowered by the President to call a Constitutional convention, the delegates to which were to be elected, under certain prescribed qualifications, for the purpose of organizing the political affairs of the State, the Governor to be guided by instructions similar to those given the provisional Governor of North Carolina (W. W. Holden), when appointed in May.
The convening of this body gave rise to much dissatisfaction among the people of Texas. They had assumed that affairs were to go on as of old, and that the reintegration of the State was to take place under the administration of Governor Murray, who, meanwhile, had taken it upon himself, together with the Legislature, to authorize the election of delegates to a State Convention, without restriction as to who should be entitled to vote. Thus encouraged, the element but lately in armed rebellion was now fully bent on restoring the State to the Union without any intervention whatever of the Federal Government; but the advent of Hamilton put an end to such illusions, since his proclamation promptly disfranchised the element in question, whose consequent disappointment and chagrin were so great as to render this factor of the community almost uncontrollable. The provisional Governor at once rescinded the edict of Governor Murray, prohibited the assembling of his convention, and shortly after called, one himself, the delegates to which were to b chosen by voters who could take the amnesty-oath. The proclamation convening this assemblage also announced the policy that would be pursued in governing the State until its affairs were satisfactorily reorganized, defined in brief the course to be followed by the Judiciary, and provided for the appointment, by the Governor, of county officials to succeed those known to be disloyal. As this action of Hamilton's disfranchised all who could not take the amnesty oath, and of course deprived them of the offices, it met at once with pronounced and serious opposition, and he quickly realized that he had on his hands an arduous task to protect the colored people, particularly as in the transition state of society just after the close of the war there prevailed much lawlessness, which vented itself chiefly on the freedmen. It was greatly feared that political rights were to be given those so recently in servitude, and as it was generally believed that such enfranchisement would precipitate a race war unless the freedmen were overawed and kept in a state of subjection, acts of intimidation were soon reported from all parts of the State.
Hamilton, an able, determined, and fearless man, tried hard to curb this terrorism, but public opinion being strong against him, he could accomplish little without military aid. As department commander, I was required, whenever called upon, to assist his government, and as these requisitions for help became necessarily very frequent, the result was that shortly after he assumed his duties, detachments of troops were stationed in nearly every county of the State. By such disposition of my forces fairly good order was maintained under the administration of Hamilton, and all went well till the inauguration of J. W. Throckmorton, who, elected Governor in pursuance of an authorization granted by the convention which Hamilton had called together, assumed the duties of the office August 9, 1866.
One of Governor Throckmorton's first acts was to ask the withdrawal or non-interference of the military. This was not all granted, but under his ingenious persuasion President Johnson, on the 13th of August, 1866, directed that the new State officials be entrusted with the unhampered control of civil affairs, and this was more than enough to revive the bulldozing methods that had characterized the beginning of Hamilton's administration. Oppressive legislation in the shape of certain apprentice and vagrant laws quickly followed, developing a policy of gross injustice toward the colored people on the part of the courts, and a reign of lawlessness and disorder ensued which, throughout the remote districts of the State at least, continued till Congress, by what are known as the Reconstruction Acts, took into its own hands the rehabilitation of the seceded States.
In the State of Louisiana a provisional government, chosen by the loyal element, had been put in operation, as already mentioned, as early as 1864. This was effected under encouragement given by President Lincoln, through the medium of a Constitutional convention, which met at New Orleans in April, 1864, and adjourned in July. The constitution then agreed upon was submitted to the people, and in September, 1864, was ratified by a vote of the few loyal residents of the State.
The government provided under this constitution being looked upon as provisional merely, was never recognized by Congress, and in 1865 the returned Confederates, restored to citizenship by the President's amnesty proclamation, soon got control of almost all the State. The Legislature was in their hands, as well as most of the State and municipal offices; so, when the President, on the 20th of August, 1866, by proclamation, extended his previous instructions regarding civil affairs in Texas so as to have them apply to all the seceded States, there at once began in Louisiana a system of discriminative legislation directed against the freedmen, that led to flagrant wrongs in the enforcement of labor contracts, and in the remote parishes to numbers of outrages and murders.
To remedy this deplorable condition of things, it was proposed, by those who had established the government of 1864, to remodel the constitution of the State; and they sought to do this by reassembling the convention, that body before its adjournment having provided for reconvening under certain conditions, in obedience to the call of its president. Therefore, early in the summer of 1866, many members of this convention met in conference at New Orleans, and decided that a necessity existed for reconvening the delegates, and a proclamation was issued accordingly by B. K. Howell, President-pro-tempore.
Mayor John T. Monroe and the other officials of New Orleans looked upon this proposed action as revolutionary, and by the time the convention assembled (July 30), such bitterness of feeling prevailed that efforts were made by the mayor and city police to suppress the meeting. A bloody riot followed, resulting, in the killing and wounding of about a hundred and sixty persons.
I happened to be absent from the city at the time, returning from Texas, where I had been called by affairs on the Rio Grande. On my way up from the mouth of the Mississippi I was met on the night of July 30 by one of my staff, who reported what had occurred, giving the details of the massacre—no milder term is fitting—and informing me that, to prevent further slaughter, General Baird, the senior military officer present, had assumed control of the municipal government. On reaching the city I made an investigation, and that night sent the following report of the affair:
"HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE GULF, "NEW ORLEANS, LA., Aug. 1, 1866.
"GENERAL U. S. GRANT:
"You are doubtless aware of the serious riot which occurred in this city on the 30th. A political body, styling themselves the Convention of 1864, met on the 30th, for, as it is alleged, the purpose of remodeling the present constitution of the State. The leaders were political agitators and revolutionary men, and the action of the convention was liable to produce breaches of the public peace. I had made up my mind to arrest the head men, if the proceedings of the convention were calculated to disturb the tranquility of the Department; but I had no cause for action until they committed the overt act. In the meantime official duty called me to Texas, and the mayor of the city, during my absence suppressed the convention by the use of the police force, and in so doing attacked the members of the convention, and a party of two hundred negroes, with fire-arms, clubs, and knives, in a manner so unnecessary and atrocious as to compel me to say that it was murder. About forty whites and blacks were thus killed, and about one hundred and sixty wounded. Everything is now quiet, but I deem it best to maintain a military supremacy in the city for a few days, until the affair is fully investigated. I believe the sentiment of the general community is great regret at this unnecessary cruelty, and that the police could have made any arrest they saw fit without sacrificing lives.
"P. H. SHERIDAN, "Major-General Commanding."
On receiving the telegram, General Grant immediately submitted it to the President. Much clamor being made at the North for the publication of the despatch, Mr. Johnson pretended to give it to the newspapers. It appeared in the issues of August 4, but with this paragraph omitted, viz.:
"I had made up my mind to arrest the head men, if the proceedings of the convention were calculated to disturb the tranquility of the Department, but I had no cause for action until they committed the overt act. In the mean time official duty called me to Texas, and the mayor of the city, during my absence, suppressed the convention by the use of the police force, and in so doing attacked the members of the convention, and a party of two hundred negroes, with fire-arms, clubs, and knives, in a manner so unnecessary and atrocious as to compel me to say it was murder."
Against this garbling of my report—done by the President's own order —I strongly demurred; and this emphatic protest marks the beginning of Mr. Johnson's well-known personal hostility toward me. In the mean time I received (on August 3) the following despatch from General Grant approving my course:
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES, "WAR DEPT., WASHINGTON, D. C., "August 3, 1866—5 p.m.
"MAJOR-GENERAL P. H. SHERIDAN, "Commanding Mil. Div. of the Gulf, "New Orleans, La.
"Continue to enforce martial law, so far as may be necessary to preserve the peace; and do not allow any of the civil authorities to act, if you deem such action dangerous to the public safety. Lose no time in investigating and reporting the causes that led to the riot, and the facts which occurred.
"U. S. GRANT, "Lieutenant-General."
In obedience to the President's directions, My report of August 1 was followed by another, more in detail, which I give in full, since it tells the whole story of the riot:
"HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE GULF, "NEW ORLEANS, LA., August 6, 1866.
"His EXCELLENCY ANDREW JOHNSON, "President United States.
"I have the honor to make the following reply to your despatch of August 4. A very large number of colored people marched in procession on Friday night, July twenty-seven (27), and were addressed from the steps of the City Hall by Dr. Dostie, ex-Governor Hahn, and others. The speech of Dostie was intemperate in language and sentiment. The speeches of the others, so far as I can learn, were characterized by moderation. I have not given you the words of Dostie's speech, as the version published was denied; but from what I have learned of the man, I believe they were intemperate.
"The convention assembled at twelve (12) M. on the thirtieth (30), the timid members absenting themselves because the tone of the general public was ominous of trouble. I think there were about twenty-six (26) members present. In front of the Mechanics Institute, where the meeting was held, there were assembled some colored men, women, and children, perhaps eighteen (18) or twenty (20), and in the Institute a number of colored men, probably one hundred and fifty (150). Among those outside and inside there might have been a pistol in the possession of every tenth (10) man.
"About one (1) p. m. a procession of say from sixty (60) to one hundred and thirty (130) colored men marched up Burgundy Street and across Canal Street toward the convention, carrying an American flag. These men had about one pistol to every ten men, and canes and clubs in addition. While crossing Canal Street a row occurred. There were many spectators on the street, and their manner and tone toward the procession unfriendly. A shot was fired, by whom I am not able to state, but believe it to have been by a policeman, or some colored man in the procession. This led to other shots and a rush after the procession. On arrival at the front of the Institute there was some throwing of brickbats by both sides. The police, who had been held well in hand, were vigorously marched to the scene of disorder. The procession entered the Institute with the flag, about six (6) or eight (8) remaining outside. A row occurred between a policeman and one of these colored men, and a shot was again fired by one of the parties, which led to an indiscriminate fire on the building through the windows by the policemen. This had been going on for a short time, when a white flag was displayed from the windows of the Institute, whereupon the firing ceased, and the police rushed into the building.