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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
I pushed to the front myself and found Sheridan and Griffin at a small house near two miles from where we started from. While at this house, I saw a good deal of Sheridan; he appeared exceedingly affable and pleasant in his intercourse with his staff, but certainly would not impress one by his looks any more than Grant does. He is short, thickset, and common Irish looking. Met in the Bowery, one would certainly set him down as a “b’hoy”; and his dress is in perfect keeping with that character. His Irish blood shone out today in the haphazard way he drove ahead, first on one road, then on another, seeming to think that infantry and artillery could go wherever his own horse did, and a whole corps turn in an equally small space.
We received a dispatch from army headquarters, saying that Richmond was evacuated last night. To all intents the rebellion may be said now to be over; certainly it is on its last legs. If those legs are long enough to enable Lee to get around us and join Johnston in North Carolina, they may be strong enough to give us one more big fight. All the heart and spirit being gone, though, strength of leg is not likely to amount to much.
I may head the account of this day in large letters for its events close the rebellion. The Army of Northern Virginia under Lee has been its main strength, and today that army has surrendered. During three long and hard fought campaigns it has withstood every effort of the Army of the Potomac: now at the commencement of the fourth, it is obliged to succumb without even one great pitched battle. Could the war have been closed with such a battle as Gettysburg, it would have been more glorious for us; more in accordance with what poetical justice would seem to owe to the Army of the Potomac. As it is, the rebellion has been worn out rather than suppressed. The cjth of April will, however, be a day forever to be remembered with thanksgiving throughout our land.
Sheridan’s cavalry struck the head of Lee’s retreating army last night near Appomattox Station on the railroad, and was able to seize and hold the road to Lynchburg in advance of them; the main road at this point coming down quite near to the railroad. With the first break of day our Corps was again in motion. On arriving at the station after a couple of hours’ march, the corps was massed a short distance to the north of it.
The country here is broken into abrupt hills, but is mostly cleared. I found a superb position for my guns near a house, and just where the right of the Fifth Corps joined the Army of the James.
From here we could look down into a valley stretching to the north for some three miles. Immediately below lay the little village of Appomattox Court House into which our skirmishing line was just driving the enemy. Beyond was one mass of men, wagons and artillery; in the distance they appeared to be in utter confusion. Shells from the right and left were bursting in their midst, especially from the right away off to the north where the Second and Sixth Corps were. Little puffs of smoke, too, showed our skirmish line pushing in from the east, as far as the eye could reach.
I at once ordered Rogers up on the left of the house, leaving Mink below as the range was too great for his guns. Just as the guns were in the act of being unlimbered, a flag of truce came galloping up, when all firing was immediately stopped. Rogers and his men were greatly disappointed in not getting a last shot at the rebellion; for Lee’s army presented a perfect target for long-range firing. In about an hour we received orders for a suspension of hostilities until three o’clock to arrange terms of surrender. During this time both armies were to remain exactly as they were.
Soon after three o’clock we received notice that the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was agreed on. The notice did not reach Humphreys until a little after the appointed time. The instant time was out, he commenced to advance and his batteries opened a vigorous cannonade. For a few minutes we thought that the fight was opened in earnest; but Meade quickly stopped it. An hour or so before dark, we received a circular announcing the surrender of Lee’s Army and directing that we go into camp, make ourselves comfortable and send for rations and supplies.
So ends the great rebel army: the army of the rebellion. For I doubt if the force Johnston has in North Carolina amounts to very much, and it is the only army worth calling such they have left east of the Mississippi. Set aside the cause in which it was engaged, the history of the Army of Northern Virginia has been a glorious one. There cannot, however, be much of it left in the valley below tonight, for since this campaign opened by the attack on Fort Stedman, we must have taken near 30,000 prisoners, while very larger numbers have no doubt deserted since they left Richmond and Petersburg, seeking to reach their homes across the country.