Thomas Goode Jones.

Last days of the Army of Northern Virginia; an address delivered before the Virginia Division of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia at the annual meeting online

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Last Days of the Army of Northern Virginia







RICHMOND, VA., OCTOBER 12x11, 1893.


Headquarters Virginia Division of the


Richmond, Va., October 12th, 1893.

At the regular annual meeting of the Virginia Division of the Association
of the Army of Northern Virginia, held this day in the State Capitol, the
following proceedings were had :

Col. Richard L. Maury offered the following resolution :

^''Resolved, That the thanks of this Association be tendered Governor
Thomas G. Jones, of Alabama, for his able address on "The Last Days of
the Army of Northern Virginia," and that a copy of same be requested for
publication and the archives of the Association."

Which was unanimously adopted.

Test, Thomas Ellett,



Montgomery, Ala., November 7th, 1893.

Capt. Thomas Ellett,

Secretary, Virginia Division,

Association of Army of Northern Virginia,

Richmond, Va. :

Dear Sir — In compliance with the resolution enclosed in your letter of
the 30th ult., I take pleasure in sending herewith copy of the address. I
have delayed doing so until to-day, to perfect some of the notes to the text.
Thanking the Association for the many kindnesses shown me, I am,
Yours most truly,

Thos. G. Jones.

1665 G

Last Days of the Army of Northern Virginia








Gov. Jones, after appropriately acknowledging the kind
introduction of the Chairman, said :

Posterity will admit, as Greeley does in his "American Con-
flict" that the Confederacy had no alternative to staying its arm
at Sumter, but "its own dissolution." The smoke in Charleston
harbor had hardly clearea away before there arose in. sight of the
world the heroic figure of the Army of Northern Virginia. Many
have questioned its cause, but none have ever doubted it.

Washington and Richmond are about 120 miles apart ; and in
assault or defense of these cities each section put forth its might-
iest effort. The first army marched out from Washington for Rich-
mond in 1861, and the Army of Northern Virginia routed it at

In 1862 it repelled the mighty army of invasion which came in
sight of the spires of Richmond — defeated it and another army a
second time on the plains of Manassas — baffled or beat other ar-
mies at Winchester, Cross-Keys, and Port Republic — advancing
northward captured Harpers Ferry with 11,000 prisoners, fought
a drawn battle in Maryland — and hurled back a mighty foe at

In 1863, it defeated "the finest army on the planet" at Chan-
cel lorsville, and leaping Northward carried its standard into
Pennsylvania, where it failed to drive the foe from the heights
of Gettysburg, and then returning to its own soil again threw the
hostile army back on Washington, and yet again balked invasion
at Mine-Run, During that year it allowed no invading army to
aj)proach at any time within five days march of its capital.

In 1864 it hurled back one column at Bermuda Hundreds, an-
other at New Market, still another at Lynchburg — won vic-
tory at Kernstown and Monocacy, and assailed the outer walls of
Washington. With the main invading army, under its sturdiest
leader, it sought and nearly succeeded in a death grapple in the
Wilderness — repeatedly repulsed it with frightful lossatSpottsyl-
vania — won another Fredericksburg at Coal-Harbor — repelled
with awful slaughter all attacks in front of Petersburg ; and for
ten long months defended two cities 22 miles apart, until the
thin line worn by attrition and starvation, was broken through at

Four awful years passed before the armies which started from
Washington trod the streets of Richmond ; and in each of those
years the Army of Northern Virginia startled Washington with
the roll of its drum, or fought battles for its possession north of
the Potomac.

The last hours of such an army have not received that consider-
ation from the historian which they deserve. Knowing it will
prove of interest to the survivors of that glorious army, and that
perchance something I may say may serve to direct abler minds
and pens to this rich epoch in its history, I venture to address
my comrades to-night on "The last days of the Army of Northern

It is impossible, of course, in the scope or compass of such a
paper, to give in detail the history of the events which forced the
evacuation of Richmond, or to describe, except in the simplest
way, the movements of the army from Petersburg to Appo-
mattox. I shall not be able even to mention all the actions on
the retreat or to describe many of its noted scenes or to recall
many heroic feats of arms, or to attempt, were I worthy to pro-
nounce it, any eulogy upon its great commander.


The odds against which the army contended, both moral and
physical, are not comprehended even now by many who took part
in the struggle. It is material, theref('re, to consider the strength
and conditions of the two armies at the commencement of the
operations which ended at Appomattox.

The exact strength of the contending armies at the opening of
hostilities, March 25th, 1865, is a matter of some dispute. The
morning reports and field returns of the two armies, however,
give data from which the strength of each can be determined
with substantial accuracy.

Major General Humphreys, at one time Chief of Staff to Gen'l
Meade, and afterwards a corps commander in his army, a writer
of great ability and fairness, states that the total effective of Lee's
army, on the 25th day of March, 1865, was it.fantry 46,000, field
artillery 5,000, and cavalry 6,000, making a total of not less than
57,000 officers and men. He appears to reach these figures on
the assumption that Wise's Brigade, 2,000 strong, was not includ-
ed in the reports of Anderson's corps, and that Rosser's cavalry
was also omitted from the last morning returns of the Department
of Northern Virginia of February 20lh, 1865. Not having the re-
turns before me for inspection, it is impossible to determine
whether the assumption is well founded.*

The last morning report of the Department of Northern Vir-
ginia was made February 20, 1865, and included not only the
troops around Petersburg and Richmond, but those in the Valley
and guarding bridges and railroads in the Department, and other
unattached commands, and gives a total present for duty, in
the entire Department, of 59,093 men. 5,169 of the number thus
reported were stationed either in the Valley or on the railroad
defences, leaving the total present of 53,924, on the Rich-
mond and Petersburg lines on February 20, 1865. To this should
be added the command of General Ewell, who had about 2,760
infantry in the Department of Richmond, under General Custis
Lee, and the Naval Batallion under Commodore Tucker. Includ-

*Col. Taylor, in "Four years with General Lee," speaks of the morning return
of February '2Sih, 18G5, while Humphreys and other Northern writers speak of
the return of February 2Uth, 1865, as being the "last morning report of the A. N.
V. on file in the War Deportment." All evidently refer to the same report since
the fiirures in each arc tlie same.

ing these in the total of the troops immediately around Rich-
mond and Petersburg, General Lee's present for duty on the 20th
of February, 1865, would amount to 57,000, in round numbers,
of all branches ot the service. If we deduct from this number the
6,041 cavalry and 5,392 artillery, it would give Lee six weeks
before the final operations began, 45,567 muskets for the defense
of his entire line of 37 miles from right to left. Of the cavalry
present 2,500 were dismounted for lack of horses, and the horses
of the remainder were hardly fit for use owing to the arduous
service, the effects of the hard winter, and the scarcity of forage.

Between the 20th February and the 1st of April, 1865, owing
to the gloomy outlook ol the cause, and the great suffering or the
men and their families at home, the desertions from Lee's army,
according to the statement of his Adjutant General, amounted to
about 3,0J0. Li the attack on Hare's Hill, on March 25th, the
Confederate loss in killed, wounded and missing was about 3,500,
to which should be added the loss on other parts of the
line of about one thousand men, so that on tlie
morning of the 29th of March, when Grant com-
menced his final movement, and every available infantry man
was in line, Lee could muster a little over 38,000 muske<s to with-
stand the attack.* This estimate is substantially thatof Swinton,
another very careful Northern writer, who states that at this time,
"from his left north east of Richmond, to his right beyond Peters-
tersburg as far as Hather's Run, there were 35 miles ot breastworks
which it behooved Lee to guard, and all the force remaining to him
"was 37,000 muskets and a small body of broken down horscl."'

Mr. Stanton, Federal Secretary of War, reported that Gen'l
Grant had available on the 1st of March, 1865, in the armies of
Meade, Ord and Sheridan, an available total of all arms of 162,-

*My estimate of the number of muskets available to Lee at the commencement
of final operations, after deducting the losses by desertion between that time and
Feb'y. '20th, 1865, and the casualties of March 25th, is a little less than Col. Tay-
lor gives him a monih earlier before these casualitics occurred. He says "it will
be seen on Feby. ^Sth, 1S65, Gen'l. Lee had available o9,S79 muskets." 1" reach
my estimate by including the number of troops under Custis Lee and the Naval
batallion, which are not borne on the last morning report of the N. N. V. of Feby.
20th, 1S65, and accept, though it may be erroneously, the conclusion of Hum-
phrey's that Wise's brigade is not included in these returns. Col. Taylor may be
right and my estimate may be erroneous. My purpose in accepting the figures of
Humphreys, is to show the disparity af numbers, even conceding all reputable
clai.>.is of our strength by writers on the other side.

239. General Humphreys, argues that this report does not cor-
rectly state the "available force present for duty," because it in-
cludes not only the "otficers and enlisted men of every branch of
the service present for duty, but all those on extra or detail du-
ty, as well as in arrest or confinement." He claims that the
available strength of the army of the Potomac on the 1st of March
1865, by this method of return, is increased by 16,000, or an ad-
dition of about one-eighth to its real fighting strength. Making
this deduction from the total effective of 162,239 reported by the
Secretary of War and based on the returns from those armies, we
would have a total of Grant's effective men, according to Gen'l
Humphrey's method of computation, of 146,239.* Gen'l Hum-
phreys taking the morning reports of March 31st, 1865, of men
"present for duty, equipped" (which he states is meant to repre-
sent the effective force, or total number of men available for
line of battle, and excluding all non-combatants, sick, etc) gives
the effective fighting strength of the army of the Potomac at
69,000 infantry, and 6,000 field artillery ; that of the army of the
James at 32,000 infantry, 3,0"0 field artillery, and 1,700 cavalry
under McKenzie, and Sheridan's enlisted men, exclusive of officers,
of the cavalry, at "J 3,000 — a total in round numbers of 124,700 men,
according to Gen'l. Humphreys.

Badeau, "Military History of Ulysses S. Grant," Vol. 3, p. 438,
states :

"On the 25th of March, 1865, Lee had still seventy thousand
effective men in the lines at Richmond and Petersburg, while the
armies of the Potomac and the James and Sheridan's cavalry,
constituting Grant's immediate command, numbered one hundred
and eleven thousand soldiers." •

In an elaborate note on p. 439, he assails Col. Taylor's statemsnt?
in "Four Years with General Lee," that Lee had at that time only
39,879 available muskets for the defence of the Richmond and
Petersburg lines, and endeavors to support his (Badeau's) state-
ment of Lee's effective strength by a remarkably vulnerable argu-

Badeau writes as if he thought Lee's return of February 20,
1865, included only the troops stationed in and around the Rich-
mond and Petersburg lines. The return is copied in Badeau's

*At this time Sheridan's cavah-y had noc joined Grant, and the return probably
i ncluded troops at Norfolk and Fortress Monroe.

work and he comments upon it and analyzes it. That return, which
was before his eyes when he wrote, shows on its face, that it in-
eluded not only Lee's troops stationed around Richmond and Pe-
tersburg, but the troops as well of Early stationed in the Valley
and then numbering 3,105 enlisted men, and also the troops under
Walker, on the railroad defenses, numbering 1,414 enlisted men?
and unattached commands numbering 504 enlisted men. Badeau
assumes, indeed asserts, that the troops in the Valley and those
on the Richmond and Danville defenses were used in the final de-
fence of the Richmond and Petersburg lines. Was he so ignorant
of events, of which he writes, that he did not know that over half
of Early's little force in the Valley included in that return was
either killed, wounded or captured in battle near Waynesboro,
Virginia, with Sheridan's cavalry, on March 2, 1865? Those who
escaped were disorganized, and when reorganized the greater part of
them remained in the Valley — not over a fifth of the force, if that
much, ever reached Lee. The troops on the Richmond & Dan-
ville Railroad, the integrity of which line of supply was so vital
to Lee, and then so heavily threatened, were of course not avail-
able to guard the Petersburg lines.

Badeau's method of arriving at Lee's effective strength on 25th
of March, 1865, is indeed remarkable throughout. He cites Lee's
return of February 20th, 1865, which, as we have seen, included
not only Lee's troops around Richmond and Petersburg, but those
in the Valley, and on the railroad defenses, and some unattached
commands, and says that for the '-Army of Northern Virginia
alone" the return shows 59,094 men present for duty, and an ag-
gregate of 73,349. He then nearly doubles Ewell's effective
strength (which it seems was not included in Lee's return of Feb-
ruary 20th, 1865,) and adding that to the aggrpgate already re-
ported gives Lee an aggregate of 78,433 on March 25th, 1865,
exclusive of the naval battalion and some horse guards or local
reserves. From this aggregate, in which are included all the sick,
all the officers and men "on extra or daily duty," and all the offi-
cers and men in arrest, in Lee's army, Badeau subtracts only 8,433
for men not available for line of battle duty, and asserts that the
residue of 70,000 is Lee's effective fighting strength !

The very return, on which Badeau bases his argument, shows
that Lee, at that very rime, had 5,330 officers and enlisted men
sick, and 7,179 enlisted men detailed in the various staff depart-

mentp, and 830 men in arrest — a total of 13,728 soldiers, as Ba-
deau himself estimates the number — who are never counted any-
where in ascertaining the line of battle strength of any army,
except when Badeau estimate Lee's effectives. Subtract this
number, 13,728, from 78,433, the aggregate Badeau ascribes to
Lee, and Lee would have only 64,705 effectives, including the
5,169 effectives stationed in the Valley and on the railroad de-
fences. These latter, we have seen, were not and could not be
present at the final assault on the lines. If we deduct them, Ba-
deau's own figures, after allowing an exaggeration of Ewell's effec-
tives, would give Lee only 58,906 effectives on March 25th, 1865.
In Vol. 3, p. 686, of the work, Badeau gives an official table,
from the Adjutant General's Office, "of the strength of the forces
under General Grant operating against Richmond from March,
186-1, to April, 1865, inclusive." From the official record it ap-
pears that in March, 1865, Grant had : "Present for duty, officers,
5,288 ; enlisted men, 123,225 ; on extra or daily duty, officers, 1,060 ;
enlisted men, 19,731; sick, officers 77, enlisted men 5,214; in ar-
rest, officers 77, enlisted men 510" — a grand aggregate of 155,254,
around Petersburg and Richmond. If we apply Badeau's lule for
estimating Lee's effective strength, by deducting a little over one-
eighth from this aggregate of 155,254 for men not available for
line of battle duty, and treat the residue as Grant's effective
force, it would give him over 1 35,000 eft'ectives. If we deduct
from Grant's aggregate, all of his sick, extra duty men and those
in arrest (which is generally considered a fair test of the fighting
strength) it would give him 123,225 effectives on March 25th,
1865. Badeau shrank from applying this test, which he used to
ascertain Lee's effectives, because it would show that Grant had at
least 24,000 more men than Badeau gives him. He does even
worse. Grant's own returns, as we have seen, thow that Grant
had at this time (after excluding all sick, extra duty men and those
in arrest, which amount to 31,996 men) 123,255 effective enlisted
men. Badeau, without so much as suggesting a reason for it, ar-
bitrarily cuts Grant's effective strength down 12,000 below what
his own returns show it to be, and puts his effective strength at
"110,000 soldiers " Evidently Badeau felt that his method of ar-
riving at Lee's effective strength, which was so different from that
employed to ascertain Grant's, needed some bolstering up besides
the figures he gave, and, he endeavors to support it by the bald as-

sertion that the '"rebels habitually put into battle nearly all" of the
extra duty men. If the "rebels" could do this, it is fair to pre-
sume that Grant did it also. But it is impossible to use the bulk
of the extra duty men in battle, as any experienced soldier knows,
Gen. Humphreys' "Virginia Campaign, 1864-5," p. 409, speaking
of such a claim, says :

"The column present for duty equipped," is intended to give
the uumber of enlisted men that form the fighting force of the
army, together with those that may be made available for it, such
as the provost guard ; but does not include those on extra or daily
duty who form no part of this force, and are not available Jor iV

All the military glory in the late conflict can not be awarded
to either side, and there is enough for both. Whatever feats in
arras either accomplished are now the common heritage of the
American peoj^le. Where numbers are material in proving the
prowess of either army, writers, and especially soldiers who
fought in either army, should seek to get the facts as they existed
and fairly apply the same methods to both armies for arriving at
the truth.

It is little to be wondered at that the statements of Badeau as
to the numbers of either army, when he uses such methods to
ascertain them, are generally considered as little authority by
writers on both sides.

It is an indisputable historical truth that Grant's army out-
numbered Lee's nearly three to one on the morning of April 1st,


But comparison of numbers merely can not give any true
conception of the disparity between the two armies. What the
army of Northern Virginia fought in front, the world knows.
What mighty obstacles fought it in the rear, the world will never
know until the Contederate archives are all laid bare.

One of the greatest of philosophers has said that "in war the
moral is to the physical as three to one," and when this element
is considered, the disparity in numbers and equipment between
the two armies shrinks into insignificance, in determining the
odds against which the Army of Northern Virginia fought.

It is no vain boast or impeachment of the courage of the army
of the Potomac to declare that the soldiers of the armv of Northern

Virginia, standing on their own soil and in defense of their own
capital, man for man, were superior to their opponents. But
aside from the pkill and courage of the officers and men, devotion
to their cause, profound faith and love for their commander, and
a proud record of glory in arms which none ever surpassed, the
Army of Northern Virginia was at that time at a fearful disad-
vantage compared with the Army of the Potomac, not only in
numbers and equipment, but in nearly all conditions and cir-
cumstances that fight with the soldier and give power and soul to

The winter of 1864-5 was one of marked severity, making duty
of any kind very arduous. The clothing of the Confederate
troops, which at best was hardly sufficient, had become thread-
bare and tattered, and they were often without shoes. Their food
during this period consisted chiefly of corn bread, for there was
little meat of any kind. Most of the bacon issued to the troops
had been imported through Wilmington and other ports. The
capture of these places cut off this source of supply, and when the
supply on hand was exhausted little could be obtained else-
where; for the meat in the country was about exhausted and the
railroad facilities for hauling it were miserable. Medicines of the
simplest kind were extremely scarce; and coffee, tea and sugar
were generally rarities even in the hospital. Now and then the
commissary department secured some peas and potatoes and
sometimes fresh beef; and on this supply the army existed rather
than lived during the winter of 1865. A soldier who received a
quarter of a pound of bacon, often rancid, and a pound of flour
for a day's ration considered himself most fortunate. The effect
of this exposure and suffering upon the health of Lee's men, as
compared with Grants, is strongly presented by the sickness in
the two armies, as shown by their respective sick lists. Lee's re-
turn of February 20th, 1,865, gives 5330 sick out of an aggregate
of 73,349, while Grant's returns about the same time show a sick
list of 5,360 out of an as'gregate of 155,224, or more than double
the sickness in proportion in Lee's army than in Grant's.

General Lee himself gives a vivid and sad picture of the suffer-
ing of his army at this time, in a dispatch to the Secretary of
War. Under date of 8th February, 1865, he says :

"Yesterday, the most inclement day of the winter, the troops
had to be maintained in line of battle, having been in the same


condition two previous days and nights. I regret to be compelled
to state that under these circumstances, heightened by the assaults
and fire of the enemy, some of the men have been without meat
for three days, and all are suffering from reduced rations and
scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold and rain. Their physical
strength, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment.
Our Cavalry has to be dispersed loi want of forage. Taking these
facts, in connection with the paucity of numbers, you must not be
surprised if calamity befalls us."

About the same time he notified the War Department that
" the cavalry and artillery are scattered for want of forage, and
the amunition trains are absent in North Carolina and Virginia
collecting provisions," and adds, " you see to what straits we are
reduced, but I trust to work out."

In a secret session of the Confederate Congress, about, that time,
the condition of the Confederate Commisariat was given as fol-
lows : (1) There was not enough meat in the Southern Con-
federacy for the armies it had in the field : (2) There was not
in Virginia either meat or bread enough for the armies within her
limits; (3) The supply of bread for those armies to be obtained
from other places depended absolutely upon keeping open the
railroad connections to the South ; (4) The meat must be ob-
tained from abroad through seaport towns : (5) The transpor-
tation was not now adequate, from whatever cause, to meet the
necessary demands ot the service; (6) The supply of fresh meat
to Gen. Lee's army was precarious, and if the army tell back from
Richmond and Petersburg, there was every probability that it
would cease altogether."

It might have been added that the track and rolling stock of

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Online LibraryThomas Goode JonesLast days of the Army of Northern Virginia; an address delivered before the Virginia Division of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia at the annual meeting → online text (page 1 of 5)