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"So Ends The Great Rebel Army…”
To Union Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, Lincoln was a weak President, Grant an uninspired commander, Lee a slippery foe. His outspoken diary, never published before, memorably describes the Civil War’s final year
October 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 6
As our men passed through a narrow belt of woods, I could not see the actual charge on the works, only the smoke of the battle. The cheers of our men, however, told me that all was going well, and long files of prisoners coming in soon showed that the works were carried.
I do not think that it was over twenty minutes from the time I left Warren before I saw the first [column of about i ,000] prisoners. These men all moved along cheerfully, without one particle of that sullenness which formerly characterized them under similar circumstances. They joked with our men along the line and I repeatedly heard them say, “We arc coming back into the Union boys, we are coming back into the Union.” It was a joyful and an exciting sight, seeming to say that the war was about over.
This procession of prisoners was soon followed by another quite as numerous or even larger.
I then passed out onto the White Oak Road, and rode up it westward as the firing was becoming more distant.
At the Forks I found two guns, three-inch, just in their works, and Pennington sitting on one of them. I stopped here and had a talk with him and several other cavalry officers, formerly light battery commanders. They told me that they had charged the works at this point and carried them with any number of prisoners. While there Crawford came down the Ford Road, from the north, looking for Warren: and told me that there were more guns up the road which his men had taken. I went up the Ford Road then; some fifty yards up I found another gun, unlimbered and pointing east; perhaps a hundred yards further on two more standing in the road limbered. This made a total of five three-inch guns.
I turned back and pushed along the White Oak Road to find Warren. It was growing dark, the sun having already set; the bugles were sounding the recall; the pursuit was over, and the divisions getting together for the night. I told the General about the guns, and asked if I was to look after their removal. For this he referred me to Sheridan, as he said there might be some jealousy on the part of the cavalry.
We rode back together looking for Sheridan, and found him with his staff about a fire near the west end of the rebel works. Here I waited while General Warren had a short conversation with Sheridan. I dismounted, reported to Sheridan the number of guns I had found, and asked if he wished me to remove them; at the same time stating that Pennington claimed to have captured at least two of them. Sheridan was very pleasant, said that there was glory enough for all, and wished me to look after the guns.
[I] told Warren what directions Sheridan had given me, and inquired where corps headquarters would be for the night. Warren replied that General Sheridan had just informed him that he had relieved him from the command of the corps, and turned it over to Griffin; that he had given no reason for so doing, but referred him to General Grant to whom he was to report for orders.
I was astonished at this news and could not imagine what the trouble was. [Later I learned] that in swinging around Crawford’s division separated from Ayres’s, keeping off too much to the north; that Warren sent twice to recall him; and finally went himself and brought the division round. Griffin meantime seeing the gap left between the Second and Third divisions, closed up on Ayres’s left and took the place Crawford should have occupied. It was Warren’s having to go himself to bring Crawford back which was the immediate occasion of his removal, though it could not have been the actual cause.
To me his removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears wrong and very cruel. It seems that even had he been removed just before, the victory should have covered up very big faults, and Sheridan should have restored him at once.
In his retreat from the Petersburg lines, Lee was trying to evade Grant’s army and join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston, who had a Confederate army near Raleigh, North Carolina, where he faced a much larger Union army under General William T. Sherman. Sheridan commanded the Union advance, outdistanced the weary, half-starved Confederates, and brought them to bay at Appomattox Court House, where Lee found his army completely boxed in by a Union force that greatly outnumbered his own. Union artillery saw little action during the pursuit, but Wainwright did reach Appomattox in time to get his gum in line ready for the final battle which was never fought.
No fighting today for the Fifth Corps; only a hard and tiring march. I was still sitting by where our tents had been trying to finish a short letter home, when cheer after cheer rang from the troops along the road. I supposed that Sheridan was riding by; for he excites the greatest enthusiasm among the men, and is greeted whenever seen with such cheers as I have not heard given to any officer since McClellan’s day.
But this time I was mistaken—the hurrahs were for the fall of Petersburg this morning, news of which had just arrived.
There was an alarm on Crawford’s front during the night, and considerable firing on the part of his men. Some stray body of rebels ran against while trying to join their main force.