Nelson Appleton Miles.

Personal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire online

. (page 4 of 51)
Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 4 of 51)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the sturdy ships have been swept before the continuous and incessant
fury of the storm, every safeguard broken down, their anchors dragging,
and everything swept before the destroying power, may form some idea
of the resistlessness with which a hundred thousand men in practically
one continuous line with reserves, swept over fortifications, capturing
many forts and two great cities, and pressed on in one unbroken front.

It was a front which blazed and thundered shot and shell, hailed iron
and lead, which was marked by the smoke and roar of its line of advan-
cing batteries. The shouts of its victorious hosts swelled on the gale,
while the moans of the dying and wounded murmured in its wake. Dur-
ing the hours of every day there was constant pursuit and fighting, and
the hours of night were devoted to replenishing the supplies of food and
ammunition, and preparing for the following day, with little time given
to rest or sleep. The important engagements at Sutherland Station,
Sweet House Creek, Tabernacle Church, Amelia Court House, Jetersville,
Sailor's Creek, Farmville, all these preceded the final scene at Appomattox
Court House.

Yet these desperate encounters were not without the alleviation of
occasional scenes of mirth and revelry. On the day of the engagement at
Sailor's Creek, my division marched in line of battle over sixteen miles,
fighting over every ridge, and assaulting every defense. We could occa-
sionally see in the distance the large wagon-train which the Confederate
forces were endeavoring to protect and which the Union forces were
determined to capture. Just as the sun was setting in the west, the final
assault of the day was made at Sailor's Creek, resulting in the complete
rout of the enemy and the capture of this entire train, numbering over
two hundred wagons, and many battle-flags, pieces of artillery, and thou-
sands of prisoners. Then as night mantled the field of slaughter, a scene
of comedy was enacted about the bivouac fires. After the troops were in
position for the night and the soldiers had partaken of their spare meal
of coffee and crackers, they gratified their curiosity by a rigid inspection
of the day's trophies, and several of the wagons were found loaded with
the assets of the Confederate Treasury which had been brought out of



that department at Richmond. Then followed a most extraordinary
spectacle of jollity and good humor. A Monte Carlo was suddenly im-
provised in the midst of the bivouac of war.

" Here's the Confederate Treasury, as sure as you are a soldier," shouts one.

" Let's all be rich," says another.

" Fill your pockets, your hats, your haversacks, your handkerchiefs,
your arms, if you please," was the word, and the Confederate notes and


bonds were rapidly disbursed. If they were at a discount, they were crisp
and new and in enormous denominations.

Spreading their blankets on the ground by the bivouac fires the veter-
ans proceeded with the comedy, and such preposterous gambling was
probably never before witnessed. Ten thousand dollars was the usual
"ante;" often twenty thousand to "come in;" a raise of fifty thousand to
one hundred thousand was not unusual and frequently from one million
to two millions of dollars were in the " pool."



"Be prudent stranger," "Don't go beyond your means, my friend,"
were some of the remarks frequently heard amid roars of laughter; to-
gether with an occasional shout of "Freedom forever!" "Rally round
the flag, boys!" "Aint I
glad I'm in this army!"
"We are coming Father
Abraham!" "Boys, what
do you say? Let's pay off
the Confederate debt,"
etc., etc.

They were seemingly
as light-hearted and obliv-
ious to what might follow
as it is possible for sol-
diers to be. They kept
up the revelry during most
of the night, and some
were to make the soldier's
sacrifice on the morrow,

While Others were to Wit- VILLAGE OF APPOMATTOX.

ness the scene of final tri-
umph. Soon after daylight on the following morning, April 7, found the
troops in a hot pursuit which was continued across a branch of the
Appomattox River, near High Bridge, toward Farmville, and a sharp
engagement ensued at the latter place. The command held tenaciously
to its close proximity to the enemy's line in the several engagements dur-
ing the day, and in the evening Adjutant-General Seth Williams came to
my division headquarters bearing a letter from Lieutenant-General Grant
addressed to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army, de-
manding the surrender of that army. This letter passed through my line
under a flag of truce, and the reply of General Lee was returned through
the same channel. This correspondence, though now well-known history,
is again given here as a part of my narrative. It was as follows:

April 7, 1865.

GENERAL : The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of
further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel
that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further
effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States
Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia. U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.



7th April '65.

GEN'L: I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion
you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of N.
Va., I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore before
considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

Very respt. your obt. svt. R. E. LEE, Gen'l.

LT.-GEN'L U. S. GRANT, Commd. Armies of the U. States.

Next day the pursuit continued, and the following letter was sent in
like manner as the first:

April 8, 1865.

GENERAL: Your note of last evening in reply to mine of same date, asking the
condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just
received. In reply I would say, that peace being my great desire, there is but one condi-
tion I would insist upon, namely: That the men and officers surrendered shall be dis-
qualified from taking up arms again against the Government of the United States, until
properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you
may designate for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of
arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia
will be received. U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.


The correspondence continued as follows :

8 April, '65.

GEN'L: I rec'd at a late hour your note of to-day. In mine of yesterday I did not
intend to propose the surrender of the Army of N. Va., but to ask the terms of your prop-
osition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender
of this army, but as the restoration of peace should be the sole 'object of all, I desired to
know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot therefore meet you with
a view to surrender the Army of N. Va., but as far as your proposal may affect the C. S.
forces under my command and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet
you at 10 A. M. to-morrow on the old stage road to Richmond between the picket lines of
the two armies. Very respt. your obt. svt.

R. E. LEE, Genl.
LT.-GEN'L U. S. GRANT, Commd. Armies of the U. S.

April 9, 1865.

GENERAL: Your note of yesterday is received. I have no authority to treat on the
subject of peace; the meeting proposed for ten A. M. to-day could lead to no good. I
will state, however, General, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the
whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are
well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desira-
ble event, save thousands of human lives and hundreds of millions of property not yet
destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of
another life, I subscribe myself, etc. U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.



April 9th, 1865.

GENERAL: I received your note of this morning on the picket line whither I had
come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of
yesterday, with reference to the surrender of this army. I now request an interview in
accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday, for the purpose.

Very respectfully, Your obedient servt.

R. E. LEE, General.
LT.-GEN. U. S. GRANT, Comdg. U. S. Armies.

This letter and the one following could not be immediately delivered
to General Grant for a reason which will presently appear, and soon there-
after General Lee came up to my line with two staff officers for the purpose
of surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia.

When Major-General Humphrey, commanding the corps, and Major-
General Meade were informed of his presence, General Lee was told that
General Grant had left that part of the line and was on his way around to
the extreme left of the Army of the Potomac to join General Sheridan's
command. He, General Lee, then requested that hostilities be suspended
until he could meet General Grant, and left one of his staff officers there to
represent him with that request. He also wrote another note to be sent

from that point to General Grant, as follows:

9th April, 1865.

GENERAL: I ask a suspension of hostilities pending the adjustment of the terms of
the surrender of this army, in the interview requested in my former communication to-day.
Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE, General.
LT.-GEN. U. S. GRANT, Comdg. U. S. Army.

He was then obliged to pass back through his army to the right to
General Sheridan's front where, after the following correspondence, he
met General Grant and finally made the surrender, after a delay of several
hours, caused by the change of General Grant's personal position as above
mentioned. (See Humphrey's History of the Army of the Potomac, page


HDQRS A. N. VA., 9th April 1865.

GENERAL: I sent a communication to you to-day from the picket line whither I
had gone in hopes of meeting you in pursuance of the request contained in my letter of
yesterday. Maj.-Gen. Meade informed me that it would probably expedite matters to
send a duplicate through some other part of your lines. I, therefore, request an interview
at such time and place as you may designate, to discuss the terms of surrender of this
army, in accordance with your offer to have such an interview contained in your letter of
yesterday. Very respectfully your obt. svt.

R. E. LEE, General.

LT.-GEN. U. S. GRANT, Comd'g U. S. Armies.


April 9, 1865.

GENERAL: Your note of this date is but this moment (11:50 A. M.) received, in
consequence of my having passed from the Richmond and Lynchburg road to the Farm-
ville and Lynchburg road. I am at this writing about four miles west of Walker's
Church, and will push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you. Notice sent
me on this road where you wish this interview to take place will meet me.

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
GENERAL R. E. LEE. Commanding C. S. Armies.

The following letter presents some additional facts, hitherto unpub-
lished bearing upon the circumstances attending the surrender :

UNION CLUB, N. Y.. February 15, '96.

DEAR GENERAL : It was a mere chance, and a hard one for the glory of your
division and our corps, that Lee's surrender did not take place on the morning of April
9th on your front. On the preceding day I had gone out with the second of the flags of
truce relating to surrender, in company with Gen. Seth Williams (whose orderly behind
us was shot at that time). Gen. Williams explicitly stated that impending operations
were not at all to be affected. At noon the same day a flag, sent by Gen. Fitzhugh Lee,
was met by me. He asked if the operations were to cease, pending the correspondence.
Having heard Gen. Williams' statement I was able to answer in the negative. That
same night I had a long ride to the rear, where Generals Grant and Meade had adjoining
camps. I waited there until midnight. Returning to the Corps, I found it had advanced
during the night, and threw myself on the ground to sleep, but was soon awakened by
Gen. Humphreys with a sweet and considerate apology for asking me to go out again
with a flag since I had had no sleep. But of course I was glad to go.

First I met the Chief of Couriers at Lee's Headquarters, next Col. Chas. Marshall,
Lee's A.D.C. and Military Sec'y and next Gen. Lee. The latter had come to this place,
as stated in his letter to Gen. Grant, " to meet you (Gen. Grant) and ascertain definitely
what terms were embraced in your proposition of yesterday with reference to the sur-
render of this Army."

It was the chance of Gen. Grant riding to the left to see Gen. Sheridan, instead
of coming to our front, where Lee expected him, that prevented the surrender being
made on our (your) front. Such little incidents give a different face to history. To
resume, Lee started his reply to Gen. Grant's letter, but closed it in haste, being dis-
turbed by the firing at Appomattox. I conveyed the letter and in addition a verbal
message to the effect that he had come there expecting to meet Gen. Grant, and under-
standing the military operations would be suspended, and that he wished to know when
and where they could meet. The surrender, as is known in detail, soon followed.

Ever sincerely yours, CHAS. A. WHITTIER.

GEN. NELSON A. MILES, Commander U. S. A.

The final result was, however, most gratifying, though the culminating
scene had been thus shifted and delayed. During the four hours of the
suspension of hostilities pending the surrender, the batteries went into
position and the lines of battle were formed, ready for immediate attack.


You could see the gleam of alternating hope and anxiety playing upon the
faces of those war-worn troops wherever you turned. In anticipation of
the final result the headquarters band of my division was ordered up close
in the rear of our line of battle, and when the announcement came that
General Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, this band
broke the silence with the music of " Hail Columbia " and the other national
airs with indescribable spirit and volume. The example was followed by
all the bands of the Army of the Potomac, the shouts of victory
and peace swelled from a hundred thousand throats, and above all re-
echoed such continued thunder from double-charged cannon, firing blank
cartridges, as has seldom been heard on any battlefield. At the same time
the air was full of hats, canteens, haversacks, cartridge boxes; everything
that could be detached from .the person and thrown high overhead. Sol-
diers who had borne the brunt of battle for four years with absolute forti-
tude melted like overjoyed women and embraced each other in their arms,
or rolled like children upon the turf. Their hearts were filled with irre-
pressible gladness, their faces bedewed with tears of joy. The battle-torn
flags were waved, embraced and kissed by the bronzed and war-scarred
veterans. It is utterly impossible to adequately describe the scene, or the
feelings that swelled the souls of that army. Thankfulness, joy, generosity,
magnanimity, patriotism, were all mingled in the feelings of the hour.
The exultation of victory and the joyous anticipation of returning to our
homes, were tempered by sympathy and respect for a vanquished but
valiant foe.

Possibly their emotions could not be better expressed than in these
lines, written by Associate Justice Brewer, of the United States Supreme

"Now thanks be to God for the dawning of peace,
A respite from conflict and a sweet release
From the carnage of war and the horrors of strife,
The shedding of blood and the wasting of life;
And far be the day when we rally again
For a harvest of death and a reaping of men,
No taunt for the vanquished, no sneer at her slain;
"Tis enough, they were brothers and are brothers again;
For henceforth forever one nation shall be
From ocean to ocean, from the lakes to the sea.
And o'er our land one flag shall float,
One song ascend from every throat;
That flag the banner of the free;
That song the song of liberty."


In that hour we could not but remember also the thousands upon
thousands of our comrades who had made the soldier's sacrifice. Elo-
quently silent, unseen, but present to our fond remembrance, was that
spirit host in this hour of final triumph. Of the hundreds of thousands
who perished in that great war many to-day rest where they fell, and we
find a consolation and an expression of our reverence for their memories
in these lines:

" Cover them over with beautiful flowers,
Deck them with garlands, those brothers of ours,
Lying so silent by night and by day,
Sleeping the years of their manhood away.
Give them the meed they have won in the past;
Give them the honors their future forecast;
Give them the chaplets they won in the strife;
Give them the laurels they lost with their life.
Cover them over, yes, cover them over,
Parent and husband, brother and lover;
Crown in your hearts those heroes of ours,
Cover them over with beautiful flowers.
Cover the thousands who sleep far away,
Sleep where their friends cannot find them to-day;
They who in mountain and hillside and dell,
Rest where they wearied, and lie where they fell.
Softly the grass-blades creep round their repose;
Sweetly above them the wild floweret blows;
Zephyrs of freedom fly gently o'erhead,
Whispering prayers for the patriot dead."

The black-mouthed cannon were at last parked in silence, and the long
commissary trains of the victorious army passed through the surrendered
lines to supply alike both armies. The magnanimity and generosity of the
silent commander touched the hearts of all with respect and admiration,
and all realized that the cause that divided the two forces had at last
disappeared, and that friendship and confidence must be restored.

The great-hearted leader and beloved President was soon to fall, but his
wise and generous words express the spirit of the million of armed veteran
soldiers who put off the habiliments of war and resumed the responsibilities
and duties of American citizens. They represent the earnest appeal and
wise counsel contained in his first inaugural : " We are not enemies, but
friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained,
it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory
stretching from every battlefield and patriot-grave to every living heart



and hearthstone all over this broad land will yet swell the chorus of the
Union, when touched again, as surely they will be, by the better angels of
our nature," and his words at Gettysburg, "With charity for all, with
malice toward none, let us bind up the nation's wounds."

In this spirit the veterans furled their triumphant banners, stacked
their arms, and returned again to the peaceful walks of life.

In order to comprehend the magnitude of the cause in which those
men were engaged, we must consider what would have been the result to
the people of this country, and to the whole human race, if they had failed


in that heroic enterprise for the restoration and perpetuity of the great
republic. It was a question of national life or of dissolution, of one grand
republic, or of two or several conflicting republics or principalities. It
was a question between anarchy to be followed by despotism, or the
restoration of the great republic in all its grandeur and magnificence
with an assured prosperous and peaceful future.

Let us consider for a moment how near we came to dissolution and
destruction. Let us take a few reasonable illustrations. What would


have been the result had Abraham Lincoln and Winfield Scott failed when
the country was in the first dark hour of its imminent peril? What would
have been the result had James B. Eads gone from St. Louis to Richmond
instead of to Washington, and proposed to construct and place at the
service of the Confederacy instead of the Federal Government, that mag-
nificent flotilla of gun-boats that contributed so largely, under the gallant
Foote, to the opening of the Mississippi from the Lakes to the Gulf? Sup-
pose John Ericsson, that master-mind who twice revolutionized the navies
of the world, had placed his Monitor under the Confederate flag beside the
Merrimac on the Chesapeake, or with his system of battleships had block-
aded the Northern ports instead of the ports of the Southern States?
What would have been the result if Sherman's army had exhausted its
strength against the enemy between Chattanooga and Atlanta, if he had
conducted an ineffective campaign instead of sweeping a zone from At-
lanta to the sea? Or what would have been the result had Thomas failed
at Nashville, and allowed his army to be annihilated and left his oppo-
nent's army free to march to the Great Lakes? Or, again, what would have
been the result had the army under Meade been captured or destroyed
instead of hurling back the most powerful army contending against the
government when it had reached the flood-tide of success and almost
decisive victory on the crest of Gettysburg? Instead of capturing the Army
of Northern Virginia, suppose the Armies of the Potomac and the James
had been destroyed or captured with our national capital. The Confeder-
acy would then have been recognized as an established government by
every power in Europe, and ruin and universal bankruptcy would have
prevailed where universal prosperity has since flourished. The republican
form of government would have perished, possibly forever. The world
could then have said that after nearly one hundred years of experiment,
under the most favorable circumstances and in a country walled by two
great oceans, republican institutions had been tried and had utterly failed.
Despotic government, and with it human slavery, would have been the
fate of man for an indefinite period of time.

Now, looking back after thirty years of unprecedented peace and pros-
perity, what are the results of that terrible sacrifice? What has been
achieved, and what results do we see to compensate for the sufferings of a
loyal people and the untimely death of more than three hundred thousand
of our citizens? What are the lasting monuments to their services and their
achievements? Is it the gratitude of the people that in time will grow
weary? Is it the monuments that we have erected? Not at all ; pillars of


stone and statues of bronze are perishable and must in time crumble and
sink into oblivion. Then what are the living monuments that will endure?
One is that man now enjoys equal rights and j ustice before the law; another,
that universal freedom, education, security and protection of life and
property prevail in every section of our country. A third result is seen in
the fact that those who fought against us have also equally enjoyed the
fruits of our success, and are now thoroughly devoted to the welfare and
perpetuity of the Federal Government, devoting their best efforts toward
maintaining its honor and integrity, and have even recently given a
splendid exhibition of their loyalty to and pride in it, and of their stead-
fastness in upholding the supremacy of its laws.

Instead of despotism or anarchy we have as a result this indestructible
and imperishable monument of patriotism. We have assured the exist-
ence of this great republic and of our sister republics scattered over the
entire western hemisphere, from the Great Lakes to the extreme southern
border of South America. Liberality, humanity and justice now, more
than ever, influence or control the governments of the civilized world.

The surrender of the armies of the Confederacy left the South bankrupt
and paralyzed, and mourning and loss had come to every household. But
it left four millions of human beings emancipated. They were not citizens,
though no longer slaves under the law ; and yet they possessed not land
enough to stand upon. It was an immediate question what to do with
that mass of freed people, too great it seemed to be assimilated in the body

Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 4 of 51)