A History of the Civil War, 1861-1865/Chapter XIV
SHERMAN with an army of 60,000, which was substantially the same as that which he had led from Atlanta to Savannah, started northward from Savannah on February 1, in the execution of a plan devised by himself, and on March 23 reached Goldsborough, North Carolina, having covered the 425 miles in fifty days. His progress to the sea had been a frolic; the march northward a long wrestle with the elements. At the outset the first division encountered a deluging rain, causing a rise in the Savannah river which burst its dikes, washed over the road and nearly drowned many of the troops. Waiting until this flood abated and passing successfully the difficulties occasioned by the high water in the neighborhood of Savannah, the army plunged into the swamps of the Combahee and Edisto, and floundered through the flat quagmires of the river countries of the Pedee and Cape Fear. They crossed five large navigable rivers,—which the almost continuous rains of the winter had converted into lakes,—at times marching through icy water waist deep. “One day,” as Sherman related the incident, “while my men were wading a river which was surrounded for miles by swamps on each side, after they had been in the water for about an hour without much prospect of reaching the other side, one of them cried out to his chum, ‘Say, Tommy, I’m blowed if I don’t believe we’ve struck this river lengthways!’” Where the country was not actually under water, there was deep mud; the incessant downpour made roads which were always difficult almost impassable, turned swampy ways into deep quagmires. It was “chaos come again” wrote Cox, but the chaos was bridged for hundreds of miles by this indomitable army. The roads were corduroyed; the streams and rivers were crossed on pontoon and trestle bridges. It would have been a difficult region for an army to march through had the inhabitants been friendly and no enemy near; but, under the direction of Wheeler’s cavalry, details of negro laborers had “felled trees, burned bridges and made obstructions to impede Sherman’s progress.” To gain possession of the long causeways through the swamps it was necessary to outflank the enemy and drive him off. For this and other reasons there were skirmishes nearly every day, yet the army marched at the average daily rate of ten miles. Sherman “seems to have everything his own way,” wrote Lee from Petersburg. “I made up my mind,” said Joseph E. Johnston, “that there had been no such army since the days of Julius Cæsar.”
The 2500 wagons of the army carried a full supply of ammunition and a large number of Government rations. The initial food supply was eked out and systematic foraging upon the country was carried on in the manner which had proved so successful in the campaign from Atlanta to the sea. The march began in South Carolina, continued directly through the centre of the State and was marked by a line of buildings and cotton bales afire. The soldiers tore up the railroads, applied the torch to their woodwork, twisted the rails and destroyed all water-tanks, engines and machinery. The Confederates set fire to cotton to prevent its falling into the hands of the Union Army and what they spared was burned by the Northern soldiers in the territory which they were merely traversing and could not hope to occupy permanently. In the high circles of the army a bitter feeling existed against South Carolina as the cause of all the trouble of the past four years. “The whole army,” Sherman wrote, “is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her.” With such sentiments at headquarters it is little wonder that the rank and file thought it legitimate to despoil the enemy and set fire to his houses: still most of these irregular acts were committed by stragglers. Sherman’s orders may probably be justified from the military point of view but they left loopholes for the mania for destruction; and the necessities of the case and the burden of responsibility resting upon him may have caused him to wink at the havoc wrought by his army. The evidence shows, however, that many of the general officers did their best to stop the depredations of their soldiers and some punishments were inflicted. From this statement must again be excepted Kilpatrick, whose command suffered no restraint and were forward in destruction and pillage.
The most notorious occurrence during this march was the partial destruction by fire of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina; but this was due neither to Sherman nor Wade Hampton nor any other Federal or Confederate officer.
The occupation of Columbia by Sherman compelled the abandonment of Charleston on February 18 by the Confederates. Efforts were made to collect a force which should be able to resist the Union Army but, in view of the steadily advancing host, they seem to have been puny and at any rate were of no avail. When Davis heard that the evacuation of Charleston was necessary, he wrote, “I had hoped for other and better results and the disappointment is to me extremely bitter.”
In Charleston much property was destroyed, but it was the Confederates who, through accident or design, were the agents of destruction. The Federal troops on entering the city found public buildings, stores, warehouses, railroad bridges, private dwellings and cotton afire but they afterwards wreaked their vengeance on this cradle of secession by robbery and pillage. Probably the majority of Northern people at the time had no other idea of Charleston’s distress than that it was abundantly deserved; but the suffering and want in this former abode of wealth and refinement must evoke in us now sympathy with the community on whom the horrors of war were visited.
To understand the march through South Carolina, the hatred of officers and soldiers for the State which had taken the lead in the secession movement must be borne constantly in mind. This undoubtedly led many of them into transgressions which they had not committed in Georgia and from which they afterwards refrained in North Carolina, while it furnished the stragglers a ready excuse for their robberies and outrages. General Blair reported on March 7 “that every house on his line of march to-day was pillaged, trunks broken open, jewelry, silver, etc., taken.” Cox had evidence after the war of robberies and even partial hanging to extort the disclosure of a place where money and valuables were hidden. “Stragglers, deserters from either army, marauders, bummers, and strolling vagabonds, negroes and whites committed outrages upon the inhabitants”; “three cases of rape and one of murder” were reported. In some cases punishment was inflicted. Howard directed that a soldier who had violently taken a watch from a citizen should have his head shaved and be drummed out of the service. Cox, who commanded the Twenty-third Corps in Schofield’s army, executed the death sentence pronounced by court-martial for a rape; the culprit, according to his recollection, was a bounty-jumper. A military commission, having found a private soldier guilty of the murder of a North Carolina citizen, sentenced him to be “shot to death with musketry”; two days later the sentence was executed. Sherman asserted generally that whenever individuals were detected in theft they were punished; but, in going over the evidence, one cannot fail to note many offences and few penalties. Yet despite the general lawlessness, of which we obtain glimpses from time to time, outrages on the persons of women were rare. Sherman testified under oath that in the whole of the march he heard of but two cases of rape.
The tendency of Federal officers, apart from the contemporary documents, has been to minimize the depredations, and the tendency of many Northern writers has been to gloss them over, so that even if every instance brought to light by Northern testimony be mentioned, the Union armies will suffer no injustice by the seeming redundancy of facts. So much of the Southern evidence is not specific and all of it is so pervaded with intense feeling that I have preferred to develop this subject from Northern sources, leaving the natural inference to be drawn that, if all had been told, the evidence against Sherman’s army would have been somewhat greater. The men who followed Sherman were probably more humane generally than those in almost any European army that had marched and fought before our Civil War, but any invading host in the country of the enemy is a terrible scourge.
Sherman reached Fayetteville (N. C.) on March 11 and, by means of a steam tug, which had come up the Cape Fear river from Wilmington, was placed in communication with Schofield and therefore with Grant and Stanton. Up to February 22 Grant, through the Richmond newspapers, had kept pretty well informed of Sherman’s progress, but on that day the newspapers were requested by the authorities not to publish any news connected with the pending military movements in the Carolinas, so that afterwards he could cull from them only meagre and unsatisfactory information. In his letter to Grant, Sherman said, “The army is in splendid health, condition and spirit although we have had foul weather and roads that would have stopped travel to almost any other body of men I ever read of.”
On March 21 Schofield reached Goldsborough (N. C.) where, two days later, Sherman’s army made with him the desired junction. “Were I to express my measure of the relative importance of the march to the sea and of that from Savannah northward,” wrote Sherman, “I would place the former at one and the latter at ten or the maximum.” He might have continued in Napoleon’s words written during his Austrian campaign, “I have destroyed the enemy merely by marches.”
Sherman himself went to City Point to have a consultation with Grant and there met President Lincoln. The three had two interviews, one on the afternoon of March 27 and the other next day when they discussed the past operations, the harbinger of their success, and the approaching end of the war. Lincoln and Sherman did most of the talking while Grant listened and ruminated. According to Sherman’s recollection of the interviews the two generals were agreed in their opinion that one or the other of them “would have to fight one more bloody battle and that it would be the last.” Lincoln said more than once that enough of blood had been shed and asked “if another battle could not be avoided,” to which Sherman made answer that they “could not control that event”; it rested with Jefferson Davis and General Lee whether or not the two armies should meet again in a “desperate and bloody battle.”
In truth these masters of State and war—the three men to whom above all others we owe the successful termination of the conflict—could not without gladness review the military operations of the last year and look forward to the promise of the future; but they appreciated too well the magnitude of the business in hand to give way to undue elation. As in May, 1864, Grant was confronted by Lee and Sherman by Johnston; but Grant had fought his way from the Rapidan to the James and the Appomattox, while Sherman, after a contested progress from Dalton to Atlanta, had made a holiday march to the sea followed by a march northward with the elements for his bitterest foes. He had achieved his purpose and was now at Goldsborough (N. C.) with 80,000 men preparing to advance against Johnston, who lay between him and Raleigh with an army of about 33,000. In other parts of the theatre of war, there were large and well-appointed Union forces bent on aggressive operations, working under Grant’s efficient direction with the common purpose of dealing the enemy a final blow. But it was confidently believed that if Lee and Johnston could be forced to surrender, the rest of the military resistance would collapse.
In this final encounter, the generals were well matched in intellectual ability but the material resources on the Union side were vastly greater. Yet the latent power of resistance in soldiers, skilfully and honestly led, who believe that they are fighting against the subjugation of their people, must be rated high, as so many instances in history attest. The more profound the study of the last days of the Confederacy, the firmer will be the conviction that the best of management was required of the North to assure the end of the war in the spring of 1865. In one respect fortune had signally favored the Union. Although distributing, in the last two years of the war, the favors of military skill with an equal hand, she had at the same time given to the United States a great ruler. Manifestly superior as had been Davis’s advantages in family, breeding, training and experience, he fell far below Lincoln as a compeller of men. We have seen Lincoln in times of adversity and gloom and have marvelled at his self-effacement and we have seen him listening to words of advice, warning and even reproof such as are rarely spoken to men wielding immense power; and throughout he has preserved his native dignity and emerged from nearly every trial a stronger and more admirable man.
Grant appears at his best in the final operations of his army. He is the Grant of Donelson, Vicksburg and Chattanooga with a judgment developed through larger experience and the discipline of adversity. The full reports and detailed despatches admit us to the actual operations of his mind as he surveyed the vast field over which his armies, always in touch with him, moved to their several tasks in his grand scheme of strategy. He combined self-confidence with caution. He did not underestimate his enemy; he did not, as he perceived the successful operation of his plans, give way to elation, thinking the work already done which was only half done. But he was not too cautious to move forward boldly and without fear of the result. In Sherman and Sheridan he had helpers on whom he could rely as if each were another self. Seeing things alike they were in complete sympathy with him; they comprehended his orders and carried them out in letter and spirit as did no other of his subordinates. Sherman’s marching and fighting were now over but Sheridan was to be to Grant a prop and a weapon such as Stonewall Jackson had been to Lee in his earlier campaigns. With the force immediately under him, Grant had, besides Sheridan, an efficient coadjutor in Meade, and good corps commanders in Warren, Humphreys, Ord, Wright and Parke. At the commencement of the Appomattox campaign, he had in this army 116,000 effectives while Lee mustered 52,000.
Since the summer of 1864 Grant had besieged Richmond and Petersburg. The progress of the siege had been slow but persistent until, soon after the middle of February, Lee began to consider the eventuality of abandoning both cities. While in the freedom of private conversation he may have expressed himself in a despairing tone, his despatches indicated a belief that there was still a chance of success in fighting on; moreover, he made it clear that he would resist the foe as long as resistance was possible unless he were advised to yield by the superior civil authority. He infused an energy into his sortie of March 25, which, though the attempt was unsuccessful, demonstrated that there was still a great deal of fight in him and his army. The Union lines did not encircle Richmond and Petersburg, but left open an avenue of escape to the west and southwest. The Richmond and Danville railroad and its Petersburg connection, the Southside or Lynchburg railroad, which were the lines of supply for Richmond and Petersburg, were in operation. Grant “spent days of anxiety” lest Lee should abandon these places and, after getting away from him, either make a junction with Johnston, or, retreating by way of Lynchburg, secure himself in the mountain fastnesses and make a raid into East Tennessee. Should the two Confederates unite their forces he feared “a long, tedious and expensive campaign consuming most of the summer.” Lee considered the two alternatives and preferred the union with Johnston; but, if Davis’s memory may be trusted, Lee “never contemplated surrender” but, in emulation of a plan of Washington’s, purposed as a last resort retreating to the Virginia mountains where he thought that he might carry on the war for twenty years. Taking all conditions into account the game was equal and was played with skill on each side.
On March 29, Grant began his movement on his own left and at night had an unbroken line from the Appomattox river to Dinwiddie Court-House. From his headquarters in the field he wrote to Sheridan, “I now feel like ending the matter if it is possible to do so without going back.” Two nights and a day of heavy rain interrupted operations, but on the 31st the advance was resumed, when Lee attacked the Fifth Corps and the Union cavalry and gained a temporary success. Sheridan in falling back, wrote Grant, “displayed great generalship.” On April 1 Sheridan fought in a masterful way the battle of Five Forks, which resulted in disaster to the Confederates. “He has carried everything before him” is Grant’s account of this action. The General-in-Chief received the intelligence of the victory of Five Forks at nine in the evening and immediately ordered an assault on the enemy’s line, which was made at an early hour next day; his army won a decisive victory. On the night of April 2, Lee evacuated Richmond and Petersburg, with the intention of concentrating his troops at Amelia Court-House, and making his way to Danville whence he would effect a junction with Johnston’s army. After him, next morning, followed the Union forces in eager pursuit.
As late as April 1, Davis apparently thought that there was no immediate necessity for the abandonment of Richmond. On the morning of Sunday the 2d he was at St. Paul’s listening to the noble liturgy of the Episcopal Church; the clergyman was reading for the last time in his ministry the prayer for the President of the Confederate States. Here Davis was apprised by a messenger from the War Department of the gravity of the military situation. He left his pew quietly and walked out of the church with dignity to receive Lee’s telegram which gave an account of his disaster and advised that Richmond be abandoned. The news spread rapidly, and so unexpectedly had it come upon the city that the greatest confusion and excitement prevailed as functionaries and citizens made ready for flight. Davis with all the members of his cabinet (except the Secretary of War), a number of his staff and other officials, got away at eleven o’clock in the evening on a train of the Richmond and Danville railroad and reached Danville next afternoon in safety. Under Lee’s previous order, Ewell, who was in command of the troops in Richmond, directed that the tobacco in the city should be burned and that all stores which could not be removed should be destroyed. It is probable that the fires lighted in pursuance of this order spread to shops and houses and it is certain that in the early morning of April 3 a mob of both colors and both sexes set fire to buildings and “began to plunder the city.” Ewell said in his report that by daylight the riot was subdued and Jones wrote that at seven o’clock in the morning men went to the liquor shops in execution of an order of the city government and commanded that the spirits be poured into the streets. The gutters ran with liquor from which pitchers and buckets were filled by black and white women and boys. By seven o’clock also the evacuation of Richmond by the Confederates was completed.
The Union troops passed cautiously the first line of the Confederate works but as they met with no opposition, they went by the next lines at a double quick, and when the spires of the city came into view, they unfurled a national banner, and their bands striking up “Rally Round the Flag,” they sent up cheer on cheer as they marched in triumph through the streets. But they found confusion, an extensive conflagration and a reign of pillage and disorder. Their commander, Weitzel, received the surrender of Richmond at the city hall at quarter past eight, and, by two o’clock in the afternoon, they had quelled the tumult and put out the fires but not before a considerable portion of the city had been destroyed.
The Union soldiers were received by the white people gratefully and by the negroes with joy. Full of meaning was the visit of President Lincoln to Richmond, which was made from City Point next day in an unostentatious and careless manner. Proper arrangements had been made for his conveyance and escort but, owing to two accidents, the President completed his river journey in a twelve-oared barge and walked about a mile and a half through the Richmond streets accompanied by Admiral Porter and three other officers with a guard of only ten sailors armed with carbines. He was received with demonstrations of joy by the negroes and, though the city was full of drunken civilians, he met with neither molestation nor indignity. He went to the house which Davis had occupied as a residence, now Weitzel’s headquarters and, if we may believe some personal recollections, looked about the house and sat in Davis’s chair with boyish delight. Lincoln passed the night in Richmond and on April 5 returned to City Point. Under that date Jones reported perfect order in the city and Dana telegraphed from Richmond, “Whig appeared yesterday as Union paper.… Theatre opens here to-night.”
The Army of Northern Virginia evacuated Richmond and Petersburg during the night of April 2 and the early morning of the 3d. Grant, without tarrying for a visit to Richmond, set after them in hot pursuit. After a chase of eighty miles he hemmed them in and compelled their surrender. When Lee became convinced that further resistance was useless he said, “Then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” He ordered the white flag to be displayed, requested by letter a suspension of hostilities and an interview with Grant. The two generals met at McLean’s house in the little village of Appomattox Court-House. Lee wore a new full-dress uniform of Confederate gray “buttoned to the throat” and a handsome sword, the hilt of which “was studded with jewels,” while Grant had on “a blouse of dark-blue flannel unbuttoned in front” and carried no sword. “In my rough travelling suit,” wrote Grant, “the uniform of a private with the straps of lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form.” Although jubilant over his victory Grant, on coming into personal contact with Lee, “felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly.” Grant was magnanimous; Lee heroic in his adversity. Generous terms were offered and the paper signed that ended the war.
The number of men surrendered was 28,231. The Confederates had “been living for the last few days principally upon parched corn” and were badly in need of food. Grant supplied them with rations. As soon as the Union soldiers heard of the surrender they commenced firing salutes at different points along the lines. He ordered these stopped saying, “The war is over; the rebels are our countrymen again; and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations in the field.”
Lee rode back sorrowfully to his soldiers. With eyes full of tears he said, “We have fought through the war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more.” On the morrow he issued a farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia and rode away to Richmond. The army disbanded and dispersed to their homes.
The news of Lee’s surrender was received in Washington at nine o’clock on Sunday evening, April 9, and at a somewhat later hour in other cities. While the people had exulted at the occupation of Richmond, they perceived that the possession of the capital of the Confederacy did not imply the end of the war. But now it was in everybody’s mouth, “the great captain of the rebellion had surrendered”: this imported that slavery was dead, the Union restored and that the nation lived. So pregnant an event ought to be made known speedily to Europe; accordingly the Inman line despatched a special steamer on the Monday to carry the intelligence across the ocean. The people of the North rejoiced on the night of the 9th and during the day and evening of the 10th as they had never rejoiced before, nor did they on any occasion during the remainder of the century show such an exuberance of gladness. Business was suspended and the courts adjourned. Cannons fired, bells rang, flags floated, houses and shops were gay with the red, white and blue. There were illuminations and bonfires. The streets of the cities and towns were filled with men who shook hands warmly, embraced each other, shouted, laughed and cheered and were indeed beside themselves in their great joy. There were pledges in generous wine and much common drinking in bar-rooms and liquor shops. There were fantastic processions, grotesque performances and some tomfoolery. Grave and old gentlemen forgot their age and dignity and played the pranks of school-boys. But always above these foolish and bibulous excesses sounded the patriotic and religious note of the jubilee. “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow” were the words most frequently sung in the street, the Board of Trade and the Stock Exchange. One writer recorded that in the bar-room of Willard’s Hotel, Washington, when the news arrived, an elderly gentleman sprang upon the bar and led the crowd in singing with unwonted fervor the well-known doxology. Twenty thousand men in Wall Street sang it with uncovered heads. On the Tuesday, Trinity Church, New York, was crowded for a special service. The choir chanted the Te Deum and at the bidding of the clergyman the congregation rose and, inspired by the great organ and guided by the choir, sang the noble anthem “Gloria in Excelsis.” These opening words, “Glory be to God on high and on earth peace, good will towards men” had a peculiar significance to the Northern people who during these days of rejoicing were for the most part full of generous feeling for the South. Patriotism expressed itself in the songs “John Brown’s Body,” “My Country, ’tis of Thee,” “Rally Round the Flag,” and the “Star-spangled Banner.” Lowell instinctively put into words what his countrymen had in their hearts: “The news, my dear Charles, is from Heaven. I felt a strange and tender exaltation. I wanted to laugh and I wanted to cry and ended by holding my peace and feeling devoutly thankful. There is something magnificent in having a country to love.”
The surrender of Johnston to Sherman naturally followed Lee’s surrender. The war was over.
Between these two events our country suffered the greatest disaster in its history. Lincoln was assassinated.
Walt Whitman sang: “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won. O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills. My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still.”Although exasperated by Lincoln’s assassination, the North was at the same time inspired by the grandeur of Grant’s conduct at Appomattox. Nobody was hanged for a political crime, no land of the vanquished Confederates confiscated. Since the Americans’ “most noble closing of the Civil War,” wrote George Meredith, “I have looked to them as the hope of our civilization.”
The great man of the Civil War was Lincoln. Lacking him the North would have abandoned the contest. His love of country and abnegation of self made him a worthy leader. Other rulers of great power have remorselessly crushed those who stood in their way. He said, I am not in favor of crushing anybody out. Give every man a chance.
Lincoln is not as Mommsen wrote of Cæsar—the “entire and perfect man” who “worked and created as never any mortal did before or after him.” Verily Cæsar created Cæsarism for the modern world, the autocracy of the super-man. But which is the better policy to transmit to mankind, despotism or liberty? the better injunction, Submit yourselves unto Cæsar, or Give every man a chance? In intellect Cæsar and Lincoln are not to be compared. We speak of the mighty Cæsar, never of the mighty Lincoln. But nobody speaks of honest Julius, while Honest Old Abe will live through the ages.
- Horace Porter, Century, Sept. 1897, 739.
- J. D. Cox, 172.
- O. R., XLVII, Pt. 1, 19.
- Feb. 19, ib., 1044.
- J. D. Cox, 168, Reminiscences, II, 531.
- Dec. 24, 1864, O. R., XLIV, 741.
- V, 90 et seq. Rhodes, Historical Essays.
- O. R., XLVII, Pt. 2, 1201.
- O. R., XLVII, Pt. 2, 714.
- O. R., XLVII, Pt. 3, 79.
- Schofield had come to North Carolina.
- O. R., XLVII, Pt. 3, 470.
- See Whitelaw Reid, Ohio in the War, I.
- Schofield had come from Thomas’s army in Tennessee by river and rail to Washington, thence by sea to the vicinity of Wilmington, N. C.
- O. R., XLVII, Pt. 2, 794.
- W. Sherman, II, 221.
- Sloane, II, 235. Authorities: O. R., XLVII; V; W. Sherman; Cox’s Reminiscences.
- W. Sherman, II, 326; Horace Porter, Sept., 1897, 739.
- Johnston had been placed in command by Lee.
- T. L. Livermore, Milt. Hist. Soc., VI, 451.
- O. R., XLVI, Pt. 1, 47, 50, 52.
- J. Davis, II, 656.
- O. R., XLVI, Pt. 1, 53, 54, Pt. 3, 394.
- O. R., XLVI, Pt. 3, 575.
- T. L. Livermore wrote on Jan. 8. 1906: “During the Appomattox campaign, March 29 to April 9, 1865, with a force of about 116,000 effectives, Grant manœuvred and drove out of their intrenchments in front of Richmond and Petersburg about 52,000 Confederates and then with 72,000 men pursuing for eighty miles the remainder of the Confederate army estimated at 37,000, captured, dispersed, or put hors de combat on the way about 9000, and finally surrounded and received the surrender of 28,231. In no other modern campaign has an army ever pursued, surrounded and captured so many men in full flight.” Milt. Hist. Soc., VI, 451.
- H. Porter, Oct. 1897, 883.
- Grant, II, 490. Grant was 5 feet 8 in. high, with shoulders slightly stooped. He was nearly 43, Lee 58.
- Grant, II, 489.
- Horace Porter, Oct. 1897, 886, 887.
- Life of Lee, Cooke, 463.
- See V, passim.
- To C. E. Norton, Lowell, I, 344.
- “It has been eloquently said that the grass soon grows over blood shed upon the battlefield but never over blood shed upon the scaffold.” Froude’s Elizabeth, IV, 368.
- Lect., 193, n. 1; see V, passim.