The Last Rebel Ground


One leaves the central village after perhaps buying a gift-shop reproduction of the parole issued each Reb allowing him to return home, thirty thousand being printed in the Clover Hill Tavern, and wanders perhaps to the wooded hill where Lee made camp after the surrender or to the tiny cemetery alongside what was the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road but is now just a minor rut in a field. The cemetery holds a dozen and a half soldiers’ bodies. One is Jesse H. Hutchins, who enlisted three days after the firing on Fort Sumter, a plaque tells us, served 1,454 days, and died in the Army of Northern Virginia’s final twenty-four hours, on April 8, when he ran into some Federal cavalry. His destiny was to stay forever in this place, which would have remained an obscure hamlet no one ever heard of had things been different. Now it lives in history as where the war ended, where occurred what Gen. Joshua Chamberlain of Maine famously described as the Passing of the Armies, the laying down of the Confederate flags and arms along the road that reaches for some thousand feet between the McLean and Peers Houses.

In the couple of days it took to print and sign the passes the former enemies mingled. I like the story a Southerner told. A Union soldier asked if he was hungry. A pretty question to ask a Reb, was the snorted reply. Never mind, the Yankee said. Did the Southerner have a knife? Yes. The Bluecoat pointed to a ham strung to his saddle. “Cut you a slice, Johnny.” In later years the Confederate said, “God bless that Yank!”

The surrender took place on Palm Sunday. On the previous Sunday Corporal Mauck had killed General Hill. Then came Lee’s retreat, and now there is the Lee’s Retreat Trail, which ends here where all the soldiers went home. As did I.