John C Gorman.

Lee's last campaign online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryJohn C GormanLee's last campaign → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


\ W^ ,



LEE'B



LAST CAMPAIGN,



BY



CAPTAIN J. O.. Or



o\\


\A ^ \












RALEIGH,


N. C:


WM.


B. SMirn & coMPAirr,




MDCCCLXVI.




;V'-^'






Vx


W ,>




Entered according to Act of Congreee, in the year 1865, by

, WM. B. SMITH & COMPANY.
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States
for the District of Pamlico, North Carolina,



CONTENTS.



CHAPTER I.

PA««v

The Condition of the Army of Northern Virginia In Its Last
Days— The Lines in Front of Petersburg— The Battles
Around the City— The Final Struggle— Terrible Fight-
ing—The Assaults on Forts Mahone and Gregg-
Thrilling Scenes— The Main Bodice of Both Annies
Stand and Look Anxiously On— The Confederate Army
Serered— The Evacuation of Richmond and Petera-
burg— The Greetings of Petersburg Ladies to the Re-
treating Columns— The Retreat 3nd Ecr'^uit to Appo-
mattox Court House,.... .., ,,'/ ^

CHAPTER II. . _ ,

Official Correspondence Concerning the Surrender— Thu
Interview Between Generals Leo and Orai't— Appear-
ance of General Lee— Scenes Between the 7.'v*o' A?niIeG
Under Flag of Truce— The Surrender— General Lee'B

Farewell Address to His Army. 4^

#



LEE'S LAST CAMPAIGN.

CHAPTEJt I.

The Coiulitiuu of the xVrmy of Northern Virgiuia in itd Laat
Days— The Linos in Front of Petersburg -The Battle.-*
Around the City— The Final Straggle— Terrible Fight-
ing—The AsBaullt! on P'ortti Mahoue and Gregg— Thrilling
Scenea— The Main Botlies of Both Armies Stand and
Look Auxiousily On— The Confederate Army Severed—
The Evacuation of llichmond and Petersburg— Th<^
Greetings of Petersburg Ladie.-i to the Retreating Col-
umns—The Ketreat and Pursuit to Appomattox Court
House.

•HEN I returned to my command in tli«
early part of Marcli, after a long
^ absence as a prisoner, I was greatly
'^^S' depressed at the sad state of feeling
in which I found almost the whole army. —
The buoyant, hopeful tone that animated
them during the bloody and heroic strug-
gles in the WildernesSj and at Spotsylva-
nia, Avas gone. The men who followed the
immortal Jackson in his historic and eventful
campaigns^ and endured every fatigue and



6 leb's last campaign.

hardship without a murmur, in the full hope
of eventual victory, were dejected, crestfallen
and despondent. The wear and tear of a
continuous campaign from the Kappahannoc
to the James, and the disasters of the Valley
struggle of the previous fall, together with
the continuous marching and counter-march-
ing on their present lines, without rest and
with short rations, were telling upon their
hardy natures. Longstreet's veterans, who
had followed their old leader from the ensan-
guined fields of Virginia to Chicamauga and
East Tennessee, and who had again been for-
warded to their old fields of conflict, were
thinned in numbers, and had lost much of
the fierce fire of pluck that characterised them
of old.

The lines were long, stretching from below
Richmond, on the north side of the James, to
Hatcher's run, away beyond Petersburg, on
the south side. A countless host were just
in front of them^ watching an opportunity to



strike where" the lines ^Yere the weakest. —
The Confederate army'^ numbered perhaps
60,000' all "[told — artillery,' cavalry ^and^ in-
fantry, and with 40 miles of defence, the
battle-line vras thin as a skirmish, ''and Jthe
duty incessant and fatiguing in the greatest
degree. On some parts of the line the crack
of the rifle, the booming of artillery, and the
bursting of the mortar shells were incessant.

Desertions were very numerous, both to the
enemy and to the rear, and I early found
that the army had^at last'succumbed, not to
the enemy in front, but to the discontent, the
murmurings,';|despondency and [demoraliza-
tion among the people at home, who infused
their hopeless dejection, by furloughed men
returning to their commands, and by letters.

Longstreet commanded the Confederate
left, across the James, and^his right^division
extended]to within a'few miles of Petersburoj.
Gordon came [next, with his three divisions,
thinned by arduous and fatiguing marches and



8 lee's U^T CfAMPlIGM. .

bloody battles in the Sbenandoab Valley, to
the dimensions of only respectable brigades.
He commanded just in front of Petersburg,
from the Appomattox to a small stream just
to the right of the city, which, not knowing
its correct name, I will call Silver run ; and
it was along this line, almost its entire length,
that a continuous struggle for months had
been kept up, and in some places the opposing
forces were scarce a dozen yards apart. A.
P. Hill, with his three divisions, held the
right, extending to Hatcher's run, while the
cavalry guarded either flank.

The Confederates had no reserves, and
when a brigade was taken to assist at some
threatened point, the position they left was
endangered, and safety was only insured by
the unconsciousness of the Federals'. There
were dozens of times during the winter, had
Grant only kno-VNTi it, when an assault could
have been made with the same result of the
last one, which caused the evacuation.



lee's last OAitPAlGN, 9

In the last days of March, the 27th, I
think, Gen. Lee made his last oflfensive de-
monstration, which ended in failure, and
demonstrated the condition of his troops^
The assault I allude to was on Gordon's line,
two miles south of the Appomattox, and just
to the left of the Crater. Robbing other por-
tions of his line, he massed two divisions, and
early in the morning dashed on the ahattu
of the Federals. They were surprised, and
the sharpshooters of Grimes* division, com-
posing the advance, succeeded in driving them
from their works, and Lee's troops occupied
their breastworks for a distance of a quarter
of a mile, with comparatively no loss, and
with a loss to the Federals of one principal
fort (Haskell) and some 500 prisoners. —
Had this opportunity been taken advantage
of, there is no telling the result, which would
have ensued, but Lee's troops could not be
induced to leave the breastworks, taken from
their enemy and advance beyond. They



10 lee's last campaign.

hugged the works in disorder, until the Fed-
erals recovered from their surprise, and soon
the artillery in the forts to the right and left
began their murderous fire on them, and
when fresh troops were brought up by the
Federals, their advance was almost unresisted,
and an easy recapture was obtained, the
Confederates retiring under a severe fire into
their old works. Many of the men took
shelter under the breastworks they had cap-
tured, and surrendered .when the Federals
advanced, and the result was a Confederate
loss treble that of their foe. This affair
demonstrated to all that the day of oifensive
movements on the part of. the Confederates
was gone. One more such disaster would
have been irreparable.

Comparative quiet reigned after, along the
whole line, for two or three days, when again
the vindictive fire of picket and mortar was
re-inaugurated, and the spiteful whiz of the
m'nnie kept all cramped within the narrow
limits of the trenches.



LBE*S LAST CAMPAIGN. 11

Just before the final struggle, it appeared
as if the scene of hostilities had been trans-
ferred from Gordon's immediate front. On
his front there was a painful lull in the firing ;
painful because it denoted that the Federals
intended to operate elsewhere, and we were
in suspense. The heavy booming of guns
was heard away on our right, sounding like
distant thunder. Again it would open on
our extreme left, and the rattle of musketry
and the lumber of the great guns would per-
suade us that the ball had opened for a surety
in that direction, but, after a few impulsive
volleys, strife would cease, and a calm would
prevail.

The indications assured us all that the day
and hour of the beginning of the spring cam-
paign was near at hand. The increasing
signs of activity inside the enemy's lines filled
the air and caused it to vibrate with the buz
and hum of reinforcements, and the great
addition to their drum corps and trumpeters,



12 lee's last campaign.

whose morning reveille sliut out even the
sound of fire-arms, gave ample evidence of it.
Clouds of dust away in their rear clearly
showed that trooj^s were moving. Each night
the Confederates unfolded their blankets and
unloosed their shoe-strings in uncertainty.

A day or two previous to the decisive 2ud,
the cannonading on the extreme right grew
fiercer and more continuous, and we all
thought that the strategy of Grant was being
uncovered. Every available man from the
Confederate left and centre was hurried to
the right. Pickett's entire division was sent
thither to the assistance of Bushrod Johnson,
Avho occupied A. P. IliU's right, and Long-
street put in command. On the 30th of
March, the left brigade of Hill's corps, (Mc-
Gowan's,) whose left rested on Silver run,
was moved to the right, leaving only artiller-
ists in the trenches, and the picket in front.
Cox's brigade, of Grimes' division, held the
right of Gordon's corps and extended to the



lee'b last campaign. IB

kft bank of the run. On tlie.4st of March
and 1st of April, the battle seemed hotter on
the right, and the heavy water-batteries on
the left boomed incessantly. It appeared as
if our corps, (Gordon's,) which had become
powder-blackened and sulphur-fumed with
the baptism of battle for the several weeks
previous, were to escape the assaulting might
and vengeance of the Federals, and maijy an
old soldier, while listening to the distant roar,
congratulated himself and his command that
they were to escape this time. But they
reckoned without their host.

The battle opened on Gordon's front at
3J o'clock on the morning of the 2d, and
the coniiict then seemed general along the
wdiole line. The earth shook under the jar
and sound. The air w^as thick wdth death-
dealing missiles, and the wiiole atmosphere
lit np luridly from the firing of cannon, the
bursting of shell and the flash of the rifle.
In the darkness it seemed as if the hand of



U lees's last OAMMtC^N.

Deity had let loose its Hold upon the world,
its attraction was gone, and, amid thunder
and lightning and tempest, the chaotic
masses of earth and sky were commingling
together in grand confusion.

But this was only the interlude foreshad-
owing the tragedy of the dawn. Grant did
not intend to suq^rise the Confederates by
rushing madly and headlong at a given
point, without warning or notice. He put
them on the alert all along the entire line,
but they were unaware where he intended
to strike in deadly earnest. At da-^m ear-
nest charges, in double column, were made
at different points on the line, but without
success. Still the continuous roar was kept
up from fort and battery, by cannon and
mortar, and one no longer knew how the
battle was going, away from one's own im-
mediate front, except by the assurance
given by the answering thunder of the
guns. About noon, it seemed as if tho bat-



lee's LASt OMiTAIQK. l5

tie raged fiercer if possible. The god of
war was reveling incarnately. Huge masses
of sulpliurous smoke himg over the scene of
conflict. Every piece of artillery in the
thickly studded forts, batteries and mortar-
beds on both sides were at their best, and
their reports savagely, terrifically crashing
tlirough the narrow streets and lanes of
Petersburg, eclioed upwards, and made it
appear as if invisible fiends of the air were
engaged, like us, in bloody conflict.

It was at this moment that the Federak
made their most determined efibrt on Gor-
don's lines, and by heroic bravery and
daring, and amid great slaughter, succeeded
in taking a portion of the breastworks near
the Appomattox. But they could not use
the advantage they had struggled so hard
to obtain. The works were bo constructed
that the men could retreat only a few yards
to another line, while their old line was
exposed to the raking fire from the artillery



IC lee's last OA^^CPAIGIT.

on tlie right and left ; at tins part of tlie
line, tlie artillery fire in a manner ceased,
and, from the construction of the works, an
almost individual battle was kept up until
dark, with no more advantage gained on
the Federal side than the taking of the first
line, which they were unable to hold in a
body.

"While this fierce battle Avas raging on
the left of the " Crater," other parts of the
line to the right were hotly engaged, but
the Confederates succeeded in repulsing
every effort. About 2, p. m., heavy masses
of troops were concentrated by the Federals
directly opposite the position which Mc-
Gowan's brigade had left the day previous.
It took place while a seeming lull had oc-
curred in the battle. I saw them when
they first came in sight, marching in line
of battle, three columns deep, apparently
by divisions, their guns glistenkig and
sparkling in the sun, and their [blue uni-



lee's labt campaign. 17

forms seemingly black in the distance. —
They drove the Confederate skirmishers
before them with impmiity, and when they
reached point blank range received the fire
of the batteries in the breastworks without
staggering. Had infantry been there, per-
haps another tale might have been told,
but without their assistance the Confed-
erate batteries were carried in a moment,
and the long line of breastworks was theirs,
and of the few men that occupied them,
some fled to the rear and others to the right
and left. A loud huzza, that drowned the
sound of battle on other parts of the line,
greeted our ears and gave assurance to our
right that a success had been gained by the
Federals, and disaster had befallen the Con-
federates.

Just in rear, some two or three hundred
yards, on many parts of our line, heavy
forts had been erected to guard against
just such results as had ensued. In rear of



18 lee's last campaigx.

the line of works captured by tlie Federals
were batteries Mahone and Gregg, but
neither had guns mounted nor men assigned
them, Mahone was unfinished, and was
simply an embrasured battery of three
guns. Gregg was a large fort, with a deep
ditch in front, and its sally-ports protected
in rear, and was embrasured for six guns.
These two forts were all that now prevented
the enemy from completely cutting the
Coiifederate lines in two to the Appomat-
tox, and di^^ding A. P. Hill and Long-
street's forces, on the right, from the main
body of the army.

As soon as the line of works were cap-
tured the men from all the brigades which
had been forced to retire were hurried into
these works. Three guns, saved from cap-
ture on the entrenchments, were put in
battery Mahone, with a fev/ men, and three
also in fort Gregg, with about 300 infantry,
mostly Mississippians. After reforming



19

and getting in order, tlie Federal)^ moved
on these works — on Mahone first, and they
took it with a rush, althougli the gunners
stood to their guns to the last and fired
their last shot while the Federal troops
were on the ramparts.

I was standing where I could view the
whole encounter. The Confederate line to
the left of the run was not attacked. The
creek divided us, and the struggle was go-
ing on on one hill while we were on the
opposite, about half a mile apart, anxious
and breathless witcesses.

As soon as Mahone fell the Federals, in
three lines, moved on fort Gregg, vith
cheers. In the immediate vicinity all else
was silent. How confidently, and in what
beautiful lines they advance ! As they
near the fort their line curves into a circle.
They are within fifty yards, and not tlie
flash of a single rifle yet defies them. My
God ! have the boys surrendered without a



so lee^s labt campaign.

struggle ? We look to see if the sigm of a
white flag can be seen. At this instant it
sefems to gleam in the sun-light, and sends
a pang to onr hearts. But no ; it is the
white smoke of th«ir guna, while cim-
noneers and infantry simultameously fire
on the confident assaulters, vho stag-
ger, reel under tlieir death-dealing vollej,
and in a moment the Federal lines are bro-
ken and they retreat in masses under cover.
A loud and wild cheer succeeds the breath-
less stillness that prevailed amongst us, and
is answered exultingly by the heroic little
garrison in fort Gregg. But reinforcements
have come to the help of the assaulters. I
can see their long serpentine lines as they
wind their way through the cleared fielda
in the distance, and over the captured
works. I turned and looked to our rear,
but no reinforcements were seen coming to
the succor of the garrison. Every maa is
needed at hii post, and no rdserves are at



21

hand. The repulsed assailants, animated
bj the sight of reinforcements, reform, and^
as their comrades come np in battle array,
march forth again in unbroken ranks. As
they gain the hill-top, two hundred yards
from the fort, the • artillery within the fort
belches forth from the embrasures, and the
effect of its canister can be plainly seen in
the heaps of dead and dying that strew the
ground. But the check is only momentary.
As the next line advances they move for-
ward in serried ranks, and soon the fort is
canopied in smoke. We can see the artil-
lery ft8 it flres in rapid succession, and the
small arms pop and crack in a ceaseless
rattU. The conflict elsewhere ceases, and
both sides are silent and anxious witnesses
of the struggle at the fort. Thus the fight
continues for half hour. The Federals have
reached the ditcib. They climb up the
sides of the works, and, as the foremost
reach the top, we can see them reel and fall



22

headlong on their comrades below. Once,
twice and thrice have thej reached the top,
only to be repnlsed, and vet they persevere,
and the artillery in the embrasures continue
to lire in rapid succession. But, at last, all
is hushed ! The artillery once more, and
for the last time, fire a parting shot, and we
can see the Federals as with impunity they
mount the works and begin a rapid lire on
the defenders within. Their ammunition
is exhausted, and, unwilling to surrender,
they are using their bayonets and clubbing
their guns in an unequal struggle. At last
one loud huzza proclaims the fort lost, and
with it the Confederate army cut into two
parts. Generals Hetli and AVilcox were in
the fort, cheered the men to the last, and,
at the minute of its surrender, mounted
their steeds, dashed through the sally-port
and retreated to the rear. I have since
"[earned that 280 of the garrison, of a little,
over 300j were killed and wounded.



LEE'S LAST CAMPAIGN. 23

As soon as the fort was captured the
Federal signal coryjs were at work, and the
cannonading and sharpshooting was r^
newed on the other parts of the line. In a
moment heavy bodies of cavalry were seen
emero^int^ from the Federals' former lines,
poured rapidly over tlie captured works
and galloped in S(|iiadrons towards the Ap-
pomattox, which was some four or five
miles otf. Their track could be traced by
the heavy columns of black smoke that rose
from the various farmhouses on their route,
which had l)een set on lire. The infantry
which had suceeeded in caj)turing the fort
formed line fronting the Confederates' right
flank, and looked as if they intended march-
ing by the rear into Petersburg. New dis-
positions were also made along the Con-
federate line. Kegiments were detached
from their positions along the line (whose
place had to be tilled by deployment by
those who remained) and sent to the right



24 XiEE's LAST CAMPAIGN.

flank and rear, confronting the new line of
tlie Federals. Artillery galloped into po-
sition, and soon Fields' division, with the
Texans in the lead, joined the right flank
and formed a defensive line to the rear to-
wards the river. A narrow creek only
divided the opposing forces, but the Federals
eeemed satisfied with their success now and
did not advance. A heavy artillery fire
was, however, kept up from the new lines
until dark.

This fire enfiladed the position of our brig-
ade on the right, (as we occupied the angle
of the line,) and annoyed us a great deal, and
we all awaited with eagerness the coming of
night, and the setting of the seemingly dila-
tory sun.

All now felt that Petersburg was gone, and
that to-morrow would find the Confederates,
if permitted, on the north side of the Appo-
mattox.

From^the fall of Gregg, huge columns of



LEE'S LAST CAMPAIGN. 25

smoke burst from numberless depots and
warehouses of Petersburg, where Confederate
supplies were stored, and Y.^lien night closed
in the air was luminous with the steady glare
of burning buildings in the city, and to the
right ; all night long, at intervals, all along
the line, cannonading was kept up, and at
12 o'clock the Confederates began their
retreat. By 3 a. m. Gordon's whole corps,
except a few pickets and stragglers, were
safely across the river, and the bridge on
fire.

The Confederates passed through Peters-
burg in silence and dejection. Huge bolts
from the enemy's batteries were crashing
through the buildings, but they marched
heedlessly on without hurry or trepidation.
No one but soldiers were in the streets, and
but few houses gave evidence of being inhab-
ited. Sometimes females would approach at
the windows of different houses and ask, in
a plaintive and supplicative tone, " Boys,



26 lee's last cajvipaign.

are jou going to leave us ?" And you
could see signs of sorrow and distress in
tbeir countenances. Some two or three were
disposed to be merry, and changed our sym
pathies and fears in their behalf into care-
lessness, as they would tell us, ^' Good-bye,
boys, we'll drink pure coffee with sugar in it
to-morrow! — 'hard times, come again no
more !' " My command was one of the last
that crossed the Pocahontas bridge, and by
the time we had ascended the bluff, and stood
upon high ground, the bridge across the
Appomattox was in flames — rockets were
ascending high in the air along the Federal
lines, and loud huzziAS from the trenches
made the welkin ring.

At that time none knew or oauld guess at
the intentions of Gen. Lee, and the darkness
prevented us from knowing that the balaxice
of our forces were already on the march, up
the Appomattox. We rested a short while
by the roadside in the vicinity of the bridge,



lee's last campaign. 27

and at the signal gun from a piece of artil-
lery near by, which startled us by its sud-
denness and proximity, we were called to
attention and followed our comrades who had
preceded us up the river. That signal gun
was a notice to others besides ourselves. By
the time we had got under weigh, the heav-
ily charged magazine of Cummins' battery
of siege guns, blew up, first lighting up tne
deep darkness of the night with its fierce and
vivid glare, and then shaking the earth under
our feet like the shock of an earthquake. —
Fort Clifton's magazine in a moment follow-
ed, and then it was taken up all along the
line to Richmond. The scene was the fiercest
and most imposing I ever witnessed. We
left the light and pierced the midnight c.ark-
nesa of the rear. At each step we took some
new explosion would occur, seemingly severer
than the one that preceded it ; the whole
heavens in our rear were lit up in lurid glare,
that added intensity to the blackness before



S8 lee's last campaign.

U3. It was a3 if the gases, chained in the
earth, had at last found vent, and the gen-
eral conflagration of the world was at hand,
while we were retreating into the blackness
of uncertain gloom and chaos. We then
knew that Richmond had been left to the
fate of Petersburg, and we were on a retreat
to a new base.

On leaving Petersburg, Gordon's corps
took the river road ; Mahone, with his divis-
ion, and all other troops on this side of the
James, the middle road, and Ewell and Elzej,
with the Richmond garrison, and other
troops, the road nearest the James river.
During the day following the evacuation of
Petersburg the Confederates made good
progress, their route unimpeded by wagons
and artillery. But after the junction of
Gordon's corps with Mahone and Early, with
thirty miles of wagons, containing the spe-
cial plunder of the Post Doctors, Quarter-
masters and Post Commissaries of Richmond,



lee's last campawn. 29

they w^nt at a snail's pace, and it would have
been no trouble for an enterprising enemy
to have overtaken them. Until they arrived
at Amelia Courthouse, on the 4th of April,
although a body of the enemy had followed
them up, no attack had been made, and it


1 3

Online LibraryJohn C GormanLee's last campaign → online text (page 1 of 3)