Part 11 out of 12
told, on his entire line, was only about forty thousand, the rupture of
the far-stretching defences, at some point, seemed only a question of
time. And scarcely that. Rather, a question of the moment selected by
Grant for his great blow.
At the end of March the hour of decisive struggle was plainly at hand.
The wind had dried the roads; artillery could move; the Federal left
was nearly in sight of the Southside road; one spring, and General
Grant could lay hold on that great war-artery, and then nothing would
be left to Lee but retreat or surrender.
Such was the condition of things at Petersburg, in these last days of
March. Grant was ready with his one hundred and fifty thousand infantry
to strike Lee's forty thousand. Sheridan was ready with his twelve
thousand superbly mounted cavalry, to hurl himself against the two
thousand half-armed horsemen, on starved and broken-down animals, under
command of General Fitz Lee. A child could have told the result. The
idea of resistance, with any hope, in the defences, any longer, was a
chimera. Lee was a great soldier--history contains few greater. The
army of Northern Virginia was brave--the annals of the world show none
braver. But there was one thing which neither great generalship, or
supreme courage could effect. Opposed by one hundred and fifty thousand
well-fed troops, with every munition of war, forty thousand starving
men, defending a line of forty miles, must in the end meet capture or
The country did not see it, but General Lee did. The civilians--the
brave ones--had a superstitious confidence in the great commander and
his old army. It had repulsed the enemy so uninterruptedly, that the
unskilled people believed it invincible. Lee had foiled Grant so
regularly that he was looked upon as the very God of Victory. Defeat
could not come to him. Glory would ever follow his steps. On the
banners of the old army of Northern Virginia, led by Lee, the eagles of
victory would still, perch, screaming defiance, and untamed to the end.
While the civilians were saying this, Lee was preparing to retreat.
Nothing blinded that clear vision--the eyes of the great chief pierced
every mist. He saw the blow coming--the shadow of the Grant hammer as
the weapon was lifted, ran before--on the 25th of March Lee's rapier
made it last lunge. But when his adversary recoiled to avoid it, it was
Lee who was going to retreat.
That lunge was sudden and terrible--if it did not accomplish its
object. In the dark March morning, Gordon, "The Bayard of the army,"
advanced with three thousand men across the abatis in front of Hare's
What followed was a fierce tragedy, as brief and deadly as the fall of
Gordon rushed at the head of his column over the space which separated
the lines; stormed the Federal defences at the point of the bayonet;
seized on Fort Steadman, a powerful work, and the batteries surrounding
it, then as the light broadened in the East, he looked back for
re-enforcements. None came--he was holding the centre of Grant's army
with three thousand men. What he had won was by sheer audacity--the
enemy had been surprised, and seemed laboring under a species of
stupor; if not supported, and supported at once, he was gone!
An hour afterward, Gordon was returning, shattered and bleeding at
every pore. The enemy had suddenly come to their senses after the
stunning blow. From the forts and redoubts crowning every surrounding
hill issued the thunder. Cannon glared, shell crashed, musketry rolled
in long fusillade, on three sides of the devoted Confederates. Huddled
in the trenches they were torn to pieces by a tempest of shell and
As the light broadened, the hills swarmed with blue masses hastening
toward the scene of the combat, to punish the daring assailants.
Grant's army was closing in around the little band of Gordon. No help
came to them, they were being butchered; to stay longer there was mere
suicide, and the few who could do so, retreated to the Confederate
They were few indeed. Of the splendid assaulting column, led by Gordon,
more than two thousand were killed or captured. He had split the
stubborn trunk, but it was the trunk which now held the wedge in its
Gordon retreated with his bleeding handful--it was the second or third
time that this king of battle had nearly accomplished impossibilities
by the magic of his genius.
He could do only what was possible. To stay yonder was impossible. And
the scarred veteran of thirty-three years, came back pale and in
Lee had struck his last great blow, and it had failed.
THE WRESTLE FOR THE WHITE OAK ROAD.
It is unsafe to wound the wild-boar, unless the wound be mortal. To
change the figure, Grant had parried the almost mortal thrust of Lee;
and now, with the famous hammer lifted and whirled aloft, aimed the
final and decisive blow at the crest of his great adversary.
On Wednesday, March 29th, the Federal commander commenced the general
movement, which had for its object the destruction of Lee's right wing,
and the occupation of the Southside road.
Before dawn, the masses of blue infantry began to move westward across
the Rowanty, laying down bridges over the watercourses, as the columns
passed on; and on the night of the same day, the corps of Humphreys and
Warren were near Dinwiddie Court-House with their extreme right
guarded, by Sheridan's cavalry.
Such was the work of Wednesday. The great moment had evidently arrived.
Lee penetrated at a single glance the whole design of his adversary;
collected about fifteen thousand men, nearly half his army, and leaving
Longstreet north of the James, and only a skirmish line around
Petersburg, marched westward, beyond the Rowanty, to meet the enemy on
the White Oak road.
On the morning of the 30th, all was ready for General Grant's great
blow. But the elements were hostile to the Federal side. In the night,
a heavy rain had fallen. All day on the 30th, it continued to rain, and
military movements were impossible. The two great opponents looked at
each other,--lines drawn up for the decisive struggle.
On the 31st, Grant was about to open the attack on Lee, when that
commander saved him the trouble. The Virginian seemed resolved to die
in harness, and advancing.
The corps of Humphreys and Warren had advanced from Dinwiddie
Court-House toward the Southside road, and Warren was in sight of the
White Oak road, when, suddenly, Lee hurled a column against him, and
drove him back. The Confederates followed with wild cheers, endeavoring
to turn the enemy's left, and finish them. But the attempt was in vain.
Federal re-enforcements arrived. Lee found his own flank exposed, and
fell back doggedly to the White Oak road again, having given the enemy
a great scare, but effecting nothing.
As he retired, intelligence reached him that Sheridan's cavalry were
advancing upon Five Forks. That position was the key of the whole
surrounding country. If Sheridan seized and occupied this great
_carrefour_, Lee's right was turned.
A column was sent without delay, and reached the spot to find Sheridan
in possession of the place. Short work was made of him. Falling upon
the Federal cavalry, Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee drove them back upon
Dinwiddie--pushed rapidly after them--and, but for the terrible swamp,
into which the late rains had converted the low grounds, would have
followed them to the Court-House, and gotten in rear of the left wing
of the Federal army.
That was the turning point. If Pickett and Fitz Lee had reached
Dinwiddie court-house, and attacked in the enemy's rear, while Lee
assailed them in front, it is difficult to believe that the battle
would not have resulted in a Confederate victory.
Such was the alarm of General Grant at the new aspect of affairs, that
late at night he withdrew Warren, and ordered him to hurry toward
Dinwiddie Court-House, to succor Sheridan in his hour of need. Then if
our flanking column could have pushed on--if Lee had then advanced--but
all this is idle, reader. Providence had decreed otherwise. The
flanking column could not advance--at ten at night it was withdrawn by
Lee--midnight found the two armies resting on their arms, awaiting the
morning of the first of April.
I have endeavored to present a rapid, but accurate summary of the great
events which took place on the lines around Petersburg, from the
morning of the 29th of March, when General Grant began his general
movement, to the night of the 3lst, when he confronted Lee on the White
Oak road, ready, after a day of incessant combat, which had decided
little, to renew the struggle on the next morning for the possession of
the Southside road.
This summary has been, of necessity, a brief and general one. For this
volume has for its object, rather to narrate the fortunes of a set of
individuals, than to record the history of an epoch, crowded with
tragic scenes. I cannot here paint the great picture. The canvass and
the time are both wanting. The rapid sketch which I have given will
present a sufficient outline. I return, now, to those personages whose
lives I have tried to narrate, and who were destined to reach the
catastrophe in their private annals at the moment when the Confederacy
reached its own.
I shall, therefore, beg the reader to leave the Confederate forces at
bay on the White Oak road--the flanking column under Pickett and
Johnson falling back on Five Forks--and accompany me to the house of
the same name, within a mile of the famous _carrefour_, where, on the
night of the 3lst of March, some singular scenes are to be enacted.
It was the night fixed for Mohun's marriage. I had been requested to
act as his first groomsman; and, chancing to encounter him during the
day, he had informed me that he adhered to his design of being married
in spite of every thing.
When night came at last, on this day of battles, I was wearied out with
the incessant riding on staff duty; but I remembered my promise; again
mounted my horse; and set out for "Five Forks," where, in any event, I
was sure of a warm welcome.
Pushing on over the White Oak road, I turned southward at Five Forks,
and riding on toward Judge Conway's, had just reached the road coming
in from Dinwiddie Court-House, when I heard a cavalier approaching from
that quarter, at a rapid gallop.
He was darting by, toward Five Forks, when by the starlight I
"Halt!" I shouted.
He knew my voice, and drew rein with an exclamation of pleasure.
"Thanks, my dear old friend," he said, grasping my hand. "I knew you
would not fail me."
"Your wedding will take place, Mohun?"
"Yes, battle or no battle."
"You are right. Life is uncertain. You will hear cannon instead of
marriage-bells probably, at your nuptials--but that will be inspiring.
What is the news from the Court-House?"
"Our infantry is falling back."
"The condition of the roads stopped them?"
"Yes, it was impossible to get on; and they have been recalled by order
of General Lee. Listen! There is the column coming--they are falling
back to Five Forks, a mile north of Judge Conway's."
In fact, as we rode on now, I heard the muffled tramp of a column, and
the rattle of artillery chains in the woods.
"The enemy will follow, I suppose?"
"Not before morning, I hope."
"Meanwhile you are making good use of the time to get married. What
will you do with Miss Georgia?"
"You mean Mrs. Mohun, Surry!" he said, smiling.
"Well, she will be sent off--her father will take the whole family to
Petersburg in the morning, to avoid the battle which will probably take
place in this vicinity to-morrow."
"You are right. I predict a thundering fight here, in the morning."
"Which I hope I shall not balk in, my dear Surry," said Mohun, smiling.
"Is there any danger of that?"
"I really don't know. It is not good for a soldier to be too happy. It
makes him shrink from bullets, and raises visions of a young widow, in
mourning, bending over a tomb."
"Pshaw! stop that folly!" I said. "Is it possible that a stout-hearted
cavalier like General Mohun can indulge in such apprehensions--and at a
moment as happy as this?"
I saw him smile sadly, in the dim starlight. "I am much changed," he
said, gently; "I no longer risk my life recklessly--trying to throw it
away. Once, as you know, Surry, I was a poor outcast, and my conscience
was burdened with a terrible crime. Life was little to me, then, and I
would not have cared if a bullet cut it short. I was reckless,
desperate, and had no hope. Now, I have hope--and a great deal more
than all--I have happiness. My hands are not stained with the blood of
that man and woman--I have the love of a pure girl who is going to give
her life to me--and I have prayed to God for pardon, and been pardoned,
I feel--else that All-merciful Being would not make my poor life bright
again! But let me stop this talk! A strange conversation for a wedding
night! Let me say again, however, my dear Surry, that I have no
enmities now. I no longer hate _that man_, and would not harm _that
woman_ for aught on earth. Let them go--they are indifferent to me. I
appeal to God to witness the purity of my sentiments, and the sincerity
with which I have prayed, 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
those who have trespassed against us!'"
I reached out my hand in the darkness, and pressed that of the speaker.
"You are right, Mohun--there is something greater, more noble, than
vengeance--it is forgiveness. More than ever, I can say now of you,
what I said after hearing your history that night."
"What was that, old friend?"
"That you were no longer the bitter misanthrope, hating your species,
and snarling at all things--no longer the gay cavalier rushing to
battle as a pastime--that you were altered, entirely changed,
rather--that your character was elevated and purified--and that now,
you were a patriotic soldier, fit to live or die with Lee!"
"Would that I were!" he murmured, letting his head fall upon his
"That is much to say of any man; but I will add more. You are worthy of
her--the blossom of Five Forks!"
As I uttered these words, we reached the gate.
A moment afterward we had entered the grounds, tethered our horses, and
were hastening to the house.
On the threshold we were met by Judge Conway, with a bow and a smile.
He pressed our hands cordially, but with a covert sadness, which I
suppose comes to the heart of every father who is about to part with a
beloved daughter--to give up his place as it were to another--and then
we entered the great drawing-room where a gentleman in a white cravat
and black coat awaited us. No other persons were visible.
The great apartment was a charming spectacle, with its brilliant lights
and blazing fire. The frescoed walls danced in light shadows; the long
curtains were drawn down, completely excluding the March air. Coming in
out of the night, this smiling interior was inexpressibly home-like and
As we entered, the clerical-looking gentleman rose, modestly, and
"The Reverend Mr. Hope," said Judge Conway, presenting him. And Mr.
Hope, with the same gentle smile upon his lips, advanced and shook
At that name I had seen Mohun suddenly start, and turn pale. Then his
head rose quickly, his pallor disappeared, and he said with entire
"Mr. Hope and myself are old acquaintances, I may even say, old
To these words Mr. Hope made a gentle and smiling reply; and it was
plain that he was very far from connecting the personage before him
with the terrible tragedy which had taken place at Fonthill, in
December, 1856. What was the origin of this ignorance? Had the worthy
man, in his remote parsonage, simply heard of the sudden disappearance
of Mohun, the lady, and _her brother_? Had his solitary life prevented
him from hearing the vague rumors and surmises which must have followed
that event? This was the simplest explanation, and I believe the
correct one. Certain it is that the worthy Mr. Hope received us with
smiling cordiality. Doubtless he recalled the past, but was too kind to
spread a gloom over Mohun's feelings by _alluding to his loss_. In a
few moments we were seated, and Judge Conway explained the presence of
The explanation was simple. Mohun, incessantly engaged on duty, had
begged Judge Conway to send a message to the parson of his parish; the
parson was absent, leaving his church temporarily in charge of his
brother-clergyman, Mr. Hope; thus that gentleman by a strange chance,
was about to officiate at Mohun's second marriage, as he had at his
I have explained thus, perhaps tediously, an incident which struck me
at the time as most singular. Are there fatalities in this world? The
presence of the Reverend Mr. Hope on that night at "Five Forks,"
resembled one of those strange coincidences which make us believe in
the doctrine of destiny.
Having exchanged compliments with the clergyman, Mohun and I were shown
to a dressing-room.
No sooner had the door closed, than I said to Mohun:--
"That is strange, is it not?"
"Singular, indeed," he replied, calmly, "but I am not averse to this
worthy man's presence, Surry. I have no concealments. I have related my
whole life to Judge Conway and Georgia. They both know the
circumstances which lead to the conviction that _that woman_ was
already married, when she married _me_--that the proof of her marriage
with Darke exists. Judge Conway is a lawyer, and knows that, in legal
phraseology, the array of circumstances 'excludes every other
hypothesis;' thus it is not as an adventurer that my father's son
enters this house: all is known, and I do not shrink from the eye of
this good man, who is about to officiate at my marriage."
"Does he know all?"
"I think not. I had half resolved to tell him. But there is no time
now. Let us get ready; the hour is near."
And Mohun looked at his watch.
"Nine o'clock," he said. "The ceremony takes place at ten."
And he rapidly made his toilet. The light fell on a superb-looking
cavalier. He was clad in full dress uniform, with the braid and stars
of a brigadier-general. The erect figure was clearly defined by the
coat, buttoned from chin to waist. Above, rose the proudly-poised head,
with the lofty brow, the brilliant black eyes, the dark imperial and
mustache, beneath which you saw the firm lips.
We descended to the drawing-room, where Judge Conway and Mr. Hope
Fifteen minutes afterward light steps were heard upon the great
staircase; the old statesman opened the door, and Miss Georgia Conway
entered the apartment, leaning upon the arm of her father.
She was clad in simple white muslin, with a string of pearls in her
dark hair; and I have never seen a more exquisite beauty. Her cheeks
glowed with fresh roses; a charming smile just parted her lips; and her
dark eyes, grand and calm, shone out from the snow-white forehead, from
which her black hair was carried back in midnight ripples, ending in
profuse curls. It was truly a _grande dame_ whom I gazed at on this
night, and, with eyes riveted upon the lovely face, I very nearly lost
sight of Miss Virginia, who followed her sister.
I hastened to offer my arm to the modest little flower, and followed
Judge Conway, who approached the parson, standing, prayer-book in hand,
in the middle of the apartment.
In another instant Mohun was standing beside Miss Georgia, and the
It was not destined to proceed far.
The clergyman had nearly finished the exhortation with which the "form
for the solemnization of matrimony," commences.
All at I once I was certain that I heard steps on the portico, and in
the hall of the mansion.
The rest seemed not to hear them, however, and Mr. Hope continued the
"Into this holy estate," he went on, "these two persons present come
now to be joined. If any man can show just cause why they may not
lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter
forever hold his peace."
As he uttered the words the door was suddenly burst open, and Darke
entered the apartment with _the gray woman_.
In the midst of the stupor of astonishment, she advanced straight
toward Georgia Conway, twined her arm in that of the young lady, and
"How do you do, cousin? I am Lucretia Conway. Your father is my uncle.
I have come to show just cause why you cannot marry General Mohun--my
WHAT OCCURRED AT "FIVE FORKS," ON THE NIGHT OF MARCH 31, 1865.
Mohun turned like a tiger, and was evidently about to throw himself
upon Darke. I grasped his arm and restrained him.
"Listen!" I said.
The house was surrounded by trampling hoofs, and clattering sabres.
Darke had not drawn his pistol, and now glanced at me. His face was
thin and pale--he was scarce the shadow of himself--but his eyes
"burned" with a strange fire under his bushy brows.
"You are right, Colonel Surry!" he said, in his deep voice, to me,
"restrain your friend. Let no one stir, or they are dead. The house is
surrounded by a squadron of my cavalry. You are a mile from all succor.
You can make no resistance. I am master of this house. But I design to
injure no one. Sit down, madam," he added, to his companion, "I wish to
The sentences followed each other rapidly. The speaker's accent was
cold, and had something metallic in it. The capture of the party before
him seemed to be no part of his design.
All at once the voice of the strange woman was heard in the silence.
She quietly released the arm of Georgia Conway, who had drawn back with
an expression of supreme disdain; and calmly seating herself in a
chair, gracefully cut some particles of dust from her gray riding habit
with a small whip which she carried.
"Yes, let us converse," she said, with her eyes riveted upon Georgia
Conway, "nothing can be more pleasant than these sweet family
Judge Conway glanced at the speaker with eyes full of sudden rage.
"Who are you, madam," he exclaimed, "who makes this impudent claim of
belonging to my family?"
"I have already told you," was the satirical reply of the woman.
"And you, sir!" exclaimed the old judge, suddenly turning and
confronting Darke, "perhaps you, too, are a member of the Conway
"Not exactly," was the cold reply.
"Your name, sir!"
Judge Conway gazed at the speaker with stupor.
"You that person?--you the son of General Arthur Davenant?"
"Yes, I am the son of General Arthur Davenant of the Confederate States
army--General Davenant, whom you hate and despise as a felon and
murderer--and I have come here to-night to relieve him of that
imputation; to tell you that it was I and not he, who murdered your
"A moment, if you please, sir," continued the speaker, in the same low,
cold tone, "do not interrupt me, I beg. I have little time, and intend
to be brief. You believe that your brother, George Conway, was put to
death by General Davenant. Here is the fact of the matter: I saw him at
Dinwiddie Court-House; knew he had a large sum of money on his person;
followed him, attacked him, murdered him--and with General Davenant's
pen-knife, which I had accidentally come into possession of. Then I
stole the knife from the court-house, to prevent his conviction;--wrote
and sent to him on the day of his trial a full confession of the
murder, signed with my name--and that confession he would not use; he
would not inculpate his son; for ten years he has chosen rather to
labor under the imputation of murder, than blacken the name of a
castaway son, whose character was wretched already, and whom he
"That is what I came here, to-night, to say to you, sir. I am a
wretch--I know that--it is a dishonor to touch my hand, stained with
every vice, and much crime. But I am not entirely lost, though I
told--my father--so, when I met him, not long since. Even a dog will
not turn and bite the hand that has been kind to him. I was a gentleman
once, and am a vulgar fellow now--but there is something worse than
crime, in my estimation; it is cowardice and ingratitude. You shall not
continue to despise my father; he is innocent of that murder. You have
no right to continue your opposition to my brother's marriage with your
daughter, for he is not the son of the murderer of your brother. _I_
count for nothing in this. I am not my father's son, or my brother's
brother. I am an outcast--a lost man--dead, as far as they are
concerned. It was to tell you this that I have come here to-night--and
for that only."
"And--this woman?" said Judge Conway, pale, and glaring at the speaker.
"Let her speak for herself," said Darke, coldly.
"I will do so, with pleasure," said the woman, coolly, but with an
intensely satirical smile. That smile chilled me--it was worse than any
excess of rage. The glance she threw upon Georgia Conway was one of
such profound, if covert, hatred, that it drove my hand to my hilt as
though to grasp some weapon.
"I will be brief," continued the woman, rising slowly, and looking at
Georgia Conway, with that dagger-like smile. "General Darke-Davenant
has related a pleasing little history. I will relate another, and
address myself more particularly to Judge Conway--my dear uncle. He
does not, or will not, recognize me; and I suppose I may have changed.
But that is not important. I am none the less Lucretia Conway. You do
not remember that young lady, perhaps, sir; your proud Conway blood has
banished from your memory the very fact of her former existence. And
yet she existed--she exists still--she is speaking to you--unbosoming
herself in the midst of her dear family! But to tell my little
story--it will not take many minutes. I was born here, you remember,
uncle, and grew up what is called headstrong. At sixteen, I fell in
love with a young Adonis with a mustache; and, as you and the rest
opposed my marriage, obdurately refusing your consent, I yielded to the
eloquence of Mr. Adonis, and eloped with him, going to the North. Here
we had a quarrel. I grew angry, and slapped Adonis; and he took his
revenge by departing without leaving me a wedding-ring to recall his
dear image. Then I met that gentleman--General Darke-Mortimer-Davenant!
We took a fancy to each other; we became friends; and soon afterward
travelled to the South, stopping in Dinwiddie. Here I made the
acquaintance of General Mohun--there he stands; he fell desperately in
love with me--married me--Parson Hope will tell you that--and then
attempted to murder me, without rhyme or reason. Luckily, I made my
escape from the monster! rejoined my friend, General Darke-Davenant;
the war came on; I came back here; have been lately arrested, but
escaped by bribing the rebel jailers; only, however, to find that my
naughty husband is going to marry my cousin Georgia! Can you wonder,
then, that I have exerted myself to be present at the interesting
ceremony? That I have yielded to my fond affection, and come to say to
my dear Georgia, 'Don't marry my husband, cousin!' And yet you frown at
me--you evidently hate me--you think I am _lying_--that I was married
before, perhaps. Well, if that be the case, where is the proof of that
marriage?" "Here it is!" said a voice, which made the woman turn
And opening the heavy window-curtains, which had, up to this moment,
concealed him, Nighthawk advanced into the apartment, holding in his
hand a paper.
A wild rage filled the eyes of the woman, but now so smiling. Her hand
darted to her bosom, and I saw the gleam of a poniard.
"This paper," said Nighthawk, coolly, "was found on the dead body of a
man named Alibi, who had stolen it. See, Judge Conway; it is in regular
form. 'At Utica, New York, Mortimer Davenant to Lucretia Conway.'
Attested by seal and signature. There can be no doubt of its
Suddenly a hoarse exclamation was heard, and a poniard gleamed in the
hand of the woman.
With a single bound, she reached Georgia Conway, and struck at her
heart. The corsage of the young lady, however, turned the poniard, and
at the same instant a thundering volley of musketry resounded without.
Furious cries were then heard; the wild trampling of horses; and a loud
"Put them to the bayonet!"
Darke drew his sword, and reached the side of the woman at a bound.
Throwing his arms around her, he raised her, and rushed, with his
burden, through the hall, toward the lawn, where a fierce combat was in
Suddenly the woman uttered a wild cry, and relaxed her grasp upon his
neck. A bullet had buried itself in her bosom.
Darke's hoarse and menacing voice echoed the cry; but he did not
release the body; with superhuman strength he raised it aloft, and
bounded down the steps.
As he reached the bottom, a man rushed upon him, and drove his bayonet
through his breast. It was withdrawn, streaming with blood.
"Put all to the bayonet!" shouted the voice of General Davenant, as he
charged with his young son, Charles, beside him.
At that voice Darke stretched out both hands, and dropping his sword,
uttered a cry, which attracted the general's attention.
For an instant they stood facing each other--unutterable horror in the
eyes of General Davenant.
"I am--done for," exclaimed Darke, a bloody foam rushing to his lips,
"but--I have told him--that _I_ was the murderer--that _you_ were
innocent. Give me your hand, father!"
General Davenant leaped to the ground, and with a piteous groan
received the dying man in his arms.
"I am a wretch--I know that--but I was a Davenant once"--came in low
murmurs. "Tell Will, he can marry now, for I will be dead--kiss me
The weeping boy threw himself upon his knees, and pressed his lips to
those of his brother.
As he did so, the wounded man fell back in his father's arms, and
On the day after these events, Lee's extreme right at Five Forks, was
furiously attacked, and in spite of heroic resistance, the little force
under Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee was completely routed and dispersed.
Do you regard that term "heroic," as merely rhetorical, reader?
Hear a Northern writer, a wearer of blue, but too honest not to give
brave men their due:--
"Having gained the White Oak road, Warren changed front again to the
right, and advanced westward, so continually to take in flank and rear
whatever hostile force still continued to hold the right of the
Confederate line. This had originally been about three miles in extent,
but above two-thirds of it were now carried. Yet, vital in all its
parts, what of the two divisions remained, still continued the combat
with unyielding mettle. Parrying the thrusts of the cavalry from the
front, this poor scratch of a force threw back its left in a new and
short crochet, so as to meet the advance of Warren, who continued to
press in at right angles to the White Oak road. When the infantry,
greatly elated with their success, but somewhat disorganized by
marching and fighting so long in the woods, arrived before this new
line, they halted and opened an untimely fusillade, though there had
been orders not to halt. The officers, indeed, urged their men forward,
but they continued to fire without advancing. Seeing this hesitation,
Warren dashed forward, calling to those near him to follow. Inspired by
his example, the color-bearers and officers all along the front, sprang
out, and without more firing, the men charged at the _pas de course_,
capturing all that remained of the enemy. The history of the war
presents no equally splendid illustration of personal magnetism.... A
charge of the cavalry completed the rout, and the remnants of the
divisions of Pickett and Johnson fled westward from Five Forks, pursued
for many miles, and until long after dark, by the mounted divisions of
Merritt and McKenzie."
That is picturesque, is it not? It is amusing, too--though so tragic.
You can see that "poor scratch of a force" fighting to the death, can
you not? You can see the poor little handful attacked by Sheridan's
crack cavalry corps in front, and then suddenly by Warren's superb
infantry corps in both their flank and rear. You can see them, game to
the last, throwing back their left in the crochet to meet Warren; see
that good soldier cheering on his men "greatly elated," but "somewhat
disorganized," too--so much so that they suddenly halt, and require the
"personal magnetism" of the general to inspire them, and bring them up
to the work. Then the little scratch gives way--they are a handful, and
two corps are pressing them. They have "continued the combat with
unyielding mettle," as long as they could--now they are driven; and on
rushes the thundering cavaliers to destroy them! Sound the bugles! Out
with sabres! charge! ride over them! "Hurra!" So'the little scratch
General Warren, who won that fight, was a brave man, and did not boast
of it. Tell me, general--you are honest--is any laurel in your hardwon
wreath, labelled "Five Forks?" It would be insulting that other laurel
labelled "Gettysburg," where you saved Meade!
In that bitter and desperate fight, Corse's infantry brigade and Lee's
cavalry won a renown which can never be taken from them. The infantry
remained unbroken to the last moment; and a charge of Lee's cavalry
upon Sheridan's drove them back, well nigh routed.
But nothing could avail against such numbers. The Confederate infantry,
cavalry, and artillery at last gave way. Overwhelmed by the great
force, they were shattered and driven. Night descended upon a
battlefield covered with heaps of dead and wounded, the blue mingled
with the gray.
Among those wounded, mortally to all appearances, was Willie Davenant.
He had fought with the courage of the bull-dog which lay _perdu_ under
the shy bearing of the boy. All the army had come to recognize it, by
this time; and such was the high estimate which General R.E. Lee placed
upon him, that it is said he was about to be offered the command of a
brigade of infantry. Before this promotion reached him, however, the
great crash came; and the brave youth was to fall upon the field of
Five Forks, where he fought his guns obstinately to the very last.
It was just at nightfall that he fell, with a bullet through his
The enemy were pressing on hotly, and there was no time to bring off
the wounded officer. It seemed useless, too. He lay at full length, in
a pool of blood, and was breathing heavily. To attempt to move him,
even if it were possible, threatened him with instant death.
A touching incident followed. The enemy carried Five Forks as night
descended. They had advanced so early, that Judge Conway and his
daughters had had no time to leave their home. Compelled to remain
thus, they did not forget their duty to the brave defenders of the
Confederacy, and when the firing ceased, the old statesman and his
daughters went to succor the wounded.
Among the first bodies which they saw was that of Will Davenant. One
gleam of the lantern carried by the Federal surgeon told all; and
Virginia Conway with a low moan knelt down and raised the head of the
wounded boy, placing it upon her bosom.
As she did so, he sighed faintly, and opening his eyes, looked up into
her face. The blood rushed to his cheeks; he attempted to stretch out
his arms; then falling back upon her bosom the young officer fainted.
A cry from the girl attracted the attention of the Federal surgeon who
was attending to the wounded Federalists. He was a kind-hearted man,
and came to the spot whence he had heard the cry.
"He is dying!" moaned the poor girl, with bloodless cheeks. "Can you do
nothing for him? Oh, save him, sir!--only save him!--have pity upon
She could say no more.
The surgeon bent over and examined the wound. When he had done so, he
shook his head.
"His wound is mortal, I am afraid," he said, "but I will do all I can
And with a rapid hand he stanched the blood, and bandaged the wound.
The boy had not stirred. He remained still, with his head leaning upon
the girl's breast.
"Can he live?" she murmured, in a tone almost inaudible.
"If he is not moved, he may possibly live; but if he is moved his death
is certain. The least change in the position of his body, for some
hours from this time, will be fatal."
"Then he shall not have to change his position!" exclaimed the girl.
And, with the pale face still lying upon her bosom, she remained
Throughout all the long night she did not move or disturb the youth. He
had fallen into a deep sleep, and his head still lay upon her bosom.
Who can tell what thoughts came to that brave child as she thus watched
over his sleep? The long hours on the lonely battle-field, full of the
dead and dying, slowly dragged on. The great dipper wheeled in circle;
the moon rose; the dawn came; still the girl, with the groans of the
dying around her, held the wounded boy in her arms.
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
Is there a painter in Virginia who desires a great subject? There it
is; and it is historical.
When the sun rose, Willie Davenant opened his eyes, and gazed up into
her face. Their glances met; their blushing cheeks were near each
other; the presence of her, whom he loved so much, seemed to have
brought back life to the shattered frame.
An hour afterward he was moved to "Five Forks," where he was tenderly
cared for. The old statesman had forgotten his life-long prejudice, and
was the first to do all in his power to save the boy.
A month afterward he was convalescent. A week more and he was well. In
the summer of 1865 he was married to Virginia Conway.
As for Mohun, his marriage ceremony, so singularly interrupted, had
been resumed and completed an hour after the death of the unfortunate
Darke and his companion.
"THE LINE HAS BEEN STRETCHED UNTIL IT HAS BROKEN, COLONEL.".
At nightfall, on the first of April, the immense struggle had really
Lee's whole right was swept away; he was hemmed in, in Petersburg; what
remained for General Grant was only to give the _coup de grace_ to the
great adversary, who still confronted him, torn and shattered, but with
a will and courage wholly unbroken.
It is not an exaggeration, reader. Judge for yourself. I am to show you
Lee as I saw him in this moment of terrible trial: still undaunted,
raising his head proudly amid the crash of all around him; great in the
hour of victory; in the hour of ruin, sublime.
Grant attacked again at dawn, on the morning of the second of April. It
was Sunday, but no peaceful church-bells disturbed the spring air. The
roar of cannon was heard, instead, hoarse and menacing, in the very
suburbs of the devoted city.
There was no hope now--all was ended--but the Confederate arms were to
snatch a last, and supreme laurel, which time can not wither. Attacked
in Fort Gregg, by General Gibbon, Harris's Mississippi brigade, of two
hundred and fifty men, made one of those struggles which throw their
splendor along the paths of history.
"This handful of skilled marksmen," says a Northern writer, "conducted
the defence with such intrepidity, that Gibbon's forces, surging
repeatedly against it, were each time thrown back."
That is the generous but cold statement of an opponent; but it is
sufficient. It was not until seven o'clock that Gibbon stormed the
fort. Thirty men only out of the two hundred and fifty were left, but
they were still fighting.
In the attack the Federal loss was "about five hundred men," says the
writer above quoted.
So fell Lee's last stronghold on this vital part of his lines. Another
misfortune soon followed. The gallant A.P. Hill, riding ahead of his
men, was fired on and killed, by a small detachment of the enemy whom
he had halted and ordered to surrender.
He fell from his horse, and was borne back, already dying. That night,
amid the thunder of the exploding magazines, the commander, first, of
the "light division," and then of a great corps--the hero of Cold
Harbor, Sharpsburg, and a hundred other battles--was buried in the city
cemetery, just in time to avoid seeing the flag he had fought under,
Peace to the ashes of that brave! Old Virginia had no son more
Fort Gregg was the last obstacle. At ten o'clock that had fallen, heavy
masses of the enemy were pushing forward. Their bristling battalions,
and long lines of artillery had advanced nearly to General Lee's
head-quarters, a mile west of Petersburg.
As the great blue wave surged forward, General Lee, in full-dress
uniform, and wearing his gold-hilted sword, looked at them through his
field glasses from the lawn, in front of his head-quarters, on foot,
and surrounded by his staff. I have never seen him more composed.
Chancing to address him, he saluted me with the calmest and most
scrupulous courtesy; and his voice was as measured and unmoved as
though he were attending a parade. Do you laugh at us, friends of the
North, for our devotion to Lee? You should have seen him that day, when
ruin stared him in the face; you would have known then, the texture of
that stout Virginia heart.
The enemy's column literally rushed on. Our artillery, on a hill near
by, had opened a rapid fire on the head of the column; the enemy's
object was to gain shelter under a crest, in their front.
They soon gained it; formed line of battle, and charged the guns.
Then all was over. The bullets rained, in a hurtling tempest on the
cannoneer; the blue line came on with loud shouts; and the pieces were
brought off at a gallop, followed by a hailstorm of musket-balls.
Suddenly the Federal artillery opened from a hill behind their line.
General Lee had mounted his iron-gray, and was slowly retiring toward
Petersburg, surrounded by his officers. His appearance was superb at
this moment--and I still see the erect form of the proud old cavalier;
his hand curbing his restive horse; his head turned over his shoulder;
his face calm, collected, and full of that courage which nothing could
All at once a shell screamed from the Federal battery, and bursting
close to the general, tore up the ground in a dozen places. The horse
of an officer at his side was mortally wounded by a fragment, and fell
beneath his rider other animals darted onward, with hanging bridle-reins,
cut by the shell--but I was looking at General Lee, feeling certain that
he must have been wounded.
He had escaped, however. Not a muscle of his calm face had moved. Only,
as he turned his face over his shoulder in the direction of the
battery, I could see a sudden color rush to his cheeks, and his eye
"I should now like to go into a charge!" he said to Stuart, once, after
a disaster. And I thought I read the same thought in his face at this
But it was impossible. He had no troops. The entire line on the right
of Petersburg had been broken to pieces, and General Lee retired slowly
to his inner works, near the city where a little skirmish line, full of
fight yet, and shaking their fists at the huge enemy approaching,
received him with cheers and cries which made the pulse throb.
There was no _hack_ in that remnant--pardon the word, reader; it
expresses the idea.
"Let 'em come on! We'll give 'em ----!" shouted the ragged handful. I
dare not change that rough sentence. It belongs to history. And it was
glorious, if rude. In front of that squad was a whole army-corps. The
corps was advancing, supported by a tremendous artillery fire, to crush
them--and the tatterdemalions defied and laughed at them.
This all took place before noon. Longstreet had come in from the north
of the James with his skeleton regiments; and these opposed a bold
front to the enemy on the right, while Gordon commanding the left,
below the city, was thundering. A cordon hemmed in the little army now,
in the suburbs of Petersburg. The right, on the Boydton road, was
carried away; and the left beyond James River. One hope alone
remained--to hold Petersburg until night, and then retreat.
I will not describe that day. This volume approaches its end; and it is
fortunate. To describe at length those last days would be a terrible
task to the writer.
Lee telegraphed to the President that he was going to retreat that
night; and at the moment when the officers of the government hastily
left Richmond by the Danville railroad, the army at Petersburg began to
Did you witness what I describe, reader? What a spectacle!--the army of
Northern Virginia, or what was left of it, rather, stealing away amid
darkness. I sat my horse on the Hickory road, north of the Appomattox,
near the city, and looked at the ragged column, which defiled by from
the bridge over the river. In the starlight I could see their faces.
There was not a particle of depression in them. You would have said,
indeed, that they rejoiced at being out of the trenches--to be once
more on the march, with Lee, riding his old iron-gray, in front of his
old soldiers--with the battle-flags of a hundred battles still floating
General Lee stood at the forks of the road, directing his column. He
had said little during the day, and said little now, but his voice was
as calm and measured, his eye as serene as before.
"This is a bad business, colonel!" I had heard him say, at the
moment when the shell burst near him in the morning.
[Footnote 1: His words.]
I heard but one other allusion which he made to the situation.
"Well, colonel," he said to an officer, in his deep and sonorous voice,
"it has happened as I told them it would, at Richmond. The line has
been stretched until it has broken."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
So, over the Hickory road, leading up the northern bank of the
Appomattox, in the direction of Lynchburg--amid the explosion of
magazines, surging upward like volcanoes, the old army of Northern
Virginia, reduced to fifteen thousand men, went forth, still defiant,
into the night.
WHAT I SAW FROM THE GRAVE OF STUART.
Three hours afterward I was in Richmond.
Sent with a message for General Ewell, I had taken the last train which
left for the capital, and reached the city toward midnight.
The first person whom I saw was Tom Herbert, who ran to meet me. His
face was pale, but his resolute smile still lit up the brave face.
"Come and wait on me, my dear old friend," he said; "I am to be married
And in a few words he informed me that Katy had consented to have the
ceremony performed before Tom followed General Lee southward.
Half an hour afterward I witnessed a singular spectacle: that of a
wedding, past midnight, in the midst of hurry, confusion, uproar,
universal despair--the scene, a city about to fall into the hands of
the enemy--from which the government and all its defenders had fled.
[Footnote 1: Real.]
Katy acted her part bravely. The rosy cheeks were unblanched still--the
sweet smile was as endearing. When I took an old friend's privilege to
kiss the smiling lips, there was no tremor in them, and her blue eyes
were as brave as ever.
So Tom and Katy were married--and I bestowed upon them my paternal
blessing! It was a singular incident--was it not, reader? But war is
full of such.
I did not see Tom again until I met him on the retreat. And Katy--I
have never seen her sweet face since--but heaven bless her!
An hour afterward I had delivered my message to General Ewell, who was
already moving out with his small force to join Lee. They defiled
across the bridges, and disappeared. For myself, tired out, I wrapped
my cape around me, and stretching myself upon a sofa, at the house of a
friend, snatched a little rest.
I was aroused toward daybreak by a tremendous explosion, and going to
the window, saw that the city was in flames. The explosion had been
caused, doubtless, by blowing up the magazines, or the rams in James
River. The warehouses and bridges had been fired in anticipation of the
approach of the enemy.
It behooved me to depart now, unless I wished to be captured. I had
taken the precaution to provide myself with a horse from one of the
government stables; the animal stood ready saddled behind the house; I
bade my alarmed friends farewell, and mounting, rode through the
streets of the devoted city toward the Capitol, amid bursting shell
from the arsenal, exploding magazines, and roaring flames.
I can not describe the scenes which followed. They were terrible and
would present a fit subject for the brush of Rembrandt. Fancy crowds of
desperate characters breaking into the shops and magazines of
stores--negroes, outcasts, malefactors, swarming in the streets, and
shouting amid the carnival. The state prison had disgorged its
convicts--the slums and subterranean recesses of the city its birds of
the night--and now, felons and malefactors, robbers, cut-purses and
murderers held their riotous and drunken carnival in the streets,
flowing with whiskey. Over all surged the flames, roaring, crackling,
tumultuous--the black clouds of smoke drifting far away, under the blue
skies of spring.
Then from the Capitol hill, where I had taken my stand, I saw by the
early light, a spectacle even more terrible--that of the enemy entering
the city. They came on from Charles City in a long blue column
resembling a serpent. Infantry and troopers, artillery and
stragglers--all rushed toward the doomed city where they were met by a
huge crowd of dirty and jabbering negroes and outcasts.
Suddenly a shout near at hand, thundered up to the hill. In front of
the Exchange a column of negro cavalry, with drawn sabres rushed on. As
they came, they yelled and jabbered--that was the darkest spectacle of
I remained looking at the frightful pageant with rage in my heart,
until the advance force of the enemy had reached the railing of the
Capitol. Then I turned my horse, and, pursued by carbine shots, rode
out of the western gate, up Grace Street.
Fifty paces from St. Paul's I saw Colonel Desperade pass
along--smiling, serene, in black coat, snow-white shirt, tall black
hat, and with two ladies leaning upon his arms.
"Ah! gallant to the last, I see!" I growled to him as I rode by. "'None
but the brave desert the fair!'"
The colonel smiled, but made no reply.
A hundred yards farther I met little Mr. Blocque joyously approaching.
In his hand he carried his safeguard, brought him by the gray woman.
At his breast fluttered a miniature United States flag. The little
gentleman was radiant, and exclaimed as he saw me:--
"What! my dear colonel! you are going to leave us? Come and dine with
me--at five o'clock, precisely!"
My reply was not polite. I drew my pistol--at which movement Mr.
Blocque disappeared, running, at the corner of St. Paul's.
On his heels followed a portly and despairing gentleman--Mr. Croaker.
"Save my warehouse! it is on fire! I shall be a beggar!" yelled Mr.
I laughed aloud as the wretched creature rushed by, puffing and
panting. Ten minutes afterward I was out of the city.
My last view of Richmond was from Hollywood Hill, near the grave of
Stuart. The spectacle before me was at once terrible and splendid. The
city was wrapped in a sea of flame. A vast black cloud swept away to
the far horizon. A menacing roar came up from beneath those flames
surging around the white Capitol;--the enemy's guns, troopers,
musketeers and the rabble, were rushing with shouts, yells, and curses
into the devoted city, which had at last fallen a prey to the Federal
A last pang was to tear my heart. The sight before me was not enough, I
had turned my horse to ride westward, throwing a parting glance upon
the city, when suddenly the Virginia flag descended from the summit of
the Capitol and the United States flag was run up.
I turned and shook my clenched hand at it.
"That is not my flag, and shall never be!" I exclaimed, aloud.
And taking off my hat as I passed the grave of Stuart, I rode on,
thinking of the past and the present.
Crossing James River, above the city, I pushed after the army, which I
rejoined on the evening of the 4th, as it was crossing the Appomattox
opposite Amelia Court-House.
It reached that village on Wednesday April 5th, and you could see at a
glance that its spirit was unbroken. As to General Lee, his resolution
up to that time had astonished all who saw him. Never had he seemed in
more buoyant spirits.
"I have got my army safe out of its breastworks," he said, "and in
order to follow me, my enemy must abandon his lines, and can derive no
further benefit from his railroads, or James River."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
It was only the faint-hearts who lost hope. Lee was not of those.
Mounted upon his old iron-gray--at the head of his old army, if his
little handful of about fifteen thousand men could be called such--Lee
was still the great cavalier. The enemy had not yet checkmated him: his
heart of hope was untouched. He would cut his way through, and the red
flag should again float on victorious fields!
The army responded to the feeling of its chief. The confidence of the
men in Lee was as great as on his days of victory. You would have said
that the events of the last few days were, in the estimation of the
troops, only momentary reverses. The veterans of Hill and Longstreet
advanced steadily, tramping firm, shoulder to shoulder, with glittering
gun barrels, and faces as resolute and hopeful as at Manassas and
"Those men are not whipped," said a keen observer to me, as he looked
at the closed-up column moving. And he was right. The morale of this
remnant of the great army of Northern Virginia was untouched. Those who
saw them then will testify to the truth of my statement.
At Amelia Court-House a terrible blow, however, awaited them. General
Lee had ordered rations to be sent thither from North Carolina. They
had been sent, but the trains had gone on and disgorged them in
Richmond. When Lee arrived with his starved army, already staggering
and faint, not a pound of bread or meat was found; there was nothing.
Those who saw General Lee at this moment, will remember his expression.
For the first time the shadow of despair passed over that brave
forehead. Some one had, indeed, struck a death-blow at him. His army
was without food. All his plans were reversed. He had intended to
reprovision his force at Amelia, and then push straight on. His plan, I
think I can state, was to attack the detached forces of Grant in his
front; cut his way through there; cross the Nottoway and other streams
by means of pontoons, which had been provided; and, forming a junction
with General Johnston, crush Sherman or retreat into the Gulf States.
All this was, however, reversed by one wretched, microscopic incident.
The great machine was to be arrested by an atom in its path. The
rations were not found at Amelia Court-House; the army must have food,
or die; half the force was dispersed in foraging parties throughout the
surrounding country, and the delay gave Grant time to mass heavily in
Lee's front, at Burksville.
Then all was decided. Lee had not doubted his ability to crush a corps,
or even more, before the main force of the enemy came up. He saw as
clearly now, that there was no hope of his cutting his way through
Grant's army. It was there in his front--the failure of rations had
caused all. With what must have been a terrible weight upon his heart,
Lee directed his march toward Lynchburg, determined to fight to the
end; and, as he had said during the winter, "die sword in hand."
Then commenced the woeful tragedy. What words can paint that retreat?
There is only one other that equals it--Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.
The army staggered on, fighting, and starving, and dying. Stalwart men
fell by the roadside, or dropped their muskets as they tottered on. The
wagons were drawn by skeleton mules, without food like the soldiers. If
an ear of corn was found, the men seized and munched it fiercely, like
animals. Covered with mud, blackened with powder, with gaunt frames,
and glaring eyes, the old guard of the army of Northern Virginia still
stood to their colors--fighting at every step, despairing, but not
shrinking; and obeying the orders of Lee to the last.
You would not doubt that confidence in, and love for, their commander,
reader, if you had witnessed the scene which I did, near Highbridge.
The enemy had suddenly assailed Ewell and Custis Lee, and broken them
to pieces. The blue horsemen and infantry pressing fiercely on all
sides, and hunting their opponents to the death, seemed, at this
moment, to have delivered a blow from which the Confederates could not
rise. The attack had fallen like a thunderbolt. Ewell, Anderson, and
Custis Lee were swept away by mere weight of numbers; the whole army
seemed threatened with instant destruction.
Lee suddenly appeared, however, and the scene which followed was
indescribable. He had rushed a brigade across, riding in front on his
iron-gray; and at that instant he resembled some nobleman of the old
age on the track of the wild-boar. With head erect, face unmoved, eyes
clear and penetrating, he had reached the scene of danger; and as the
disordered remnants of Ewell's force crowded the hill, hot and panting,
they had suddenly seen, rising between them and the enemy, a wall of
bayonets, flanked by cannon.
A great painter should have been present then. Night had fallen, and
the horizon was lit up by the glare of burning wagons. Every instant
rose, sudden and menacing, the enemy's signal rockets. On the summit of
the hill, where the infantry waited, Lee rode among the disordered men
of Ewell, and his presence raised a storm.
"It's General Lee!"
"Where's the man who won't follow old Uncle Robert!"
Such were the shouts, cries, and fierce exclamations. The haggard faces
flushed; the gaunt hands were clenched. On all sides explosions of rage
and defiance were heard. The men called on the gray old cavalier,
sitting his horse as calm as a statue, to take command of them, and
lead them against the enemy.
No attack was made on them. An hour afterward the army moved again--the
rear covered by General Fitzhugh Lee with his cavalry, which, at every
step, met the blue huntsmen pressing on to hunt down their prey.
Such were some of the scenes of the retreat, up to the 7th. Who has the
heart to narrate what followed in the next two days? A great army dying
slowly--starving, fighting, falling--is a frightful spectacle. I think
the memory of it must affect even the enemies who witnessed it.
It is only a small portion of the tragic picture that the present
writer has the heart to paint.
On the morning of the 7th of April, and throughout the 8th, the horrors
of the retreat culminated.
The army was fighting at every step. Hope had deserted them, but they
were still fighting.
On every side pressed the enemy like bands of wolves hunting down the
Gordon and Longstreet, commanding the two skeleton corps of infantry,
and Fitzhugh Lee the two or three thousand cavalry remaining, met the
incessant attacks, with a nerve which had in it something of the
Fitz Lee had commanded the rear guard on the whole retreat. All along
the route he had confronted the columns of Sheridan, and checked them
with heavy loss.
At Paynesville he had driven Sheridan back, killing, wounding, and
capturing two hundred of his men. At Highbridge he captured seven
hundred and eighty more, killing many, among the rest the Federal
General Read. On the morning of the 7th, beyond the river, he drove
back a large column, capturing General Irwin Gregg.
That was a brave resistance made by the old army of Northern Virginia,
reader, as it was slowly advancing into the gulf of perdition.
Beyond Farmville there was no longer any hope. All was plainly over. I
shrink from the picture, but here is that of one of my friends. "It
became necessary to burn hundreds of wagons. At intervals the enemy's
cavalry dashed in and struck the interminable train, here or there,
capturing and burning dozens on dozens of wagons. Hundreds of men
dropped from exhaustion, and thousands let fall their muskets from
inability to carry them any farther. The scenes were of a nature which
can be apprehended in its vivid reality only by men who are thoroughly
familiar with the harrowing details of war. Behind, and on either
flank, a ubiquitous and increasingly adventurous enemy; every mud-hole
and every rise in the road choked with blazing wagons; the air filled
with the deafening reports of ammunition exploding, and shell bursting
when touched by the flames; dense columns of smoke ascending to heaven
from the burning and exploding vehicles; exhausted men, worn-out mules
and horses, lying down side by side; gaunt famine glaring hopelessly
from sunken lack-lustre eyes; dead mules, dead horses, dead men,
everywhere; death many times welcomed as God's blessing in
disguise--who can wonder if many hearts tried in the fiery furnace of
four unparalleled years, and never hitherto found wanting, should have
quailed in presence of starvation, fatigue, sleeplessness, misery,
un-intermitted for five or six days, and culminating in
[Footnote 1: The Hon. Charles Francis Lawley, in the London _Times_.]
They did not "quail," they fell. It was not fear that made them drop
the musket, their only hope of safety; it was weakness. It was an army
of phantoms that staggered on toward Lynchburg--and what had made them
phantoms was hunger.
Let others describe those last two days in full. For myself I can not.
To sum up all in one sentence. The Army of Northern Virginia, which had
for four years snatched victory upon some of the bloodiest
battle-fields of history, fought, reeled, fired its last rounds, and
fell dead from starvation, defying fiercely with its last breath,
gurgling through blood in its throat, the enemy who was hunting it down
to its death.
Call it what you will, reader--there was something in those men that
made them fight to the last.
THE LAST COUNCIL OF WAR OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA.
On the night of the 8th of April, within a few miles of Appomattox
Court-House, took place the last council of war of the army of Northern
It was in the open air, beside a camp-fire, near which were spread
General Lee's blankets; for throughout the retreat he had used no tent,
sleeping, shelterless like his men, by the bivouac fire.
To this last council of war, none but the corps commanders were
invited. Thus the only persons present were Gordon and Longstreet,
commanding the skeleton corps of infantry, and Fitzhugh Lee, the
cavalry of the army.
Gordon was stretched near Fitzhugh Lee, upon the blankets of the
commander-in-chief; Gordon, with his clear complexion, his penetrating
eyes, his firm lip, his dark hair, and uniform coat buttoned to his
chin--the man to fight and die rather than surrender. Near him lay Fitz
Lee, the ardent and laughing cavalier, with the flowing beard, the
sparkling eyes, the top-boots, and cavalry sabre--the man to stand by
Gordon. On a log, a few feet distant, sat the burly Longstreet, smoking
with perfect nonchalance--his heavily bearded face exhibiting no
emotion whatever. Erect, within a few paces of these three men, stood
General Lee--grave, commanding, unmoved; the fire-light revealing every
outline of his vigorous person, clad in its plain gray uniform, the
gray beard and mustache, the serene eyes, and that stately poise of the
head upon the shoulders, which seemed to mark this human being for
All these persons were composed. Their faces were haggard from want of
rest, but there was nothing in their expressions indicating anxiety,
though some gloom.
"It was a picture for an artist," said that one of them who described
the scene to me afterward. The ruddy light brought out every detail of
these martial figures. By that fire on the roadside had assembled for
the last time General Robert E. Lee and his corps commanders.
The council was brief.
General Lee succinctly laid before his listeners the whole situation.
His army was on a strip of land between the James River and the enemy.
He could not cross the river--if he could not break through the enemy
in his front the army was lost. General Grant had understood his
situation, and a correspondence had taken place. He would read General
Grant's notes and copies of his own replies.
By the light of the fire, General Lee then proceeded to read the papers
Grant had opened the correspondence. "The result of the last week must
convince General Lee," he wrote, "of the hopelessness of further
resistance on the part of the army of Northern Virginia." He therefore
"asked the surrender" of that army to prevent bloodshed.
Lee had written in reply, requesting Grant to state the terms.
Grant had stated them on this 8th of April, and Lee had replied at once
that he "did not intend to propose the surrender of the army of
Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of General Grant's proposition.
To be frank," he had added, "I do not think the emergency has arisen to
call for the surrender." But he would meet General Grant on the next
morning to discuss the whole affair.
There the correspondence had terminated. What was the opinion of his
Their replies were brief and informal. The scene was august but simple.
What was determined upon was this---
That the army should continue its march on the next day toward
Lynchburg, breaking through Sheridan's cavalry which was known to be in
front; but in case the Federal infantry, a very different thing from
the cavalry, was found to be "up," then Gordon, who was to lead the
advance, should inform the commander-in-chief of that fact, when a flag
of truce would be sent to General Grant acceding to the terms of
capitulation proposed in his last note to General Lee.
Fitzhugh Lee only stipulated that if he saw that the Federal infantry
in his front, rendered surrender inevitable, he should be allowed to go
off with his cavalry to save the horses of his men.
This was agreed to, and it will be seen that Fitz Lee availed himself
of the conmmander-in-chief's permission.
So ended that last council of war, by the camp fire.
With grave salutes and a cordial pressure of the brave hands, the
famous soldiers took leave of Lee.
As they disappeared he drew his blanket around him and fell asleep by
the blazing fire.
It was the night of April 8th, 1865--three years, day for day, from the
moment when these lines are written.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE SURRENDER.
Throughout that strange night of the eighth of April, 1865, I was in
the saddle, carrying orders.
Those who saw it will remember how singularly brilliant it was. The
moon and stars shone. The light clouds sweeping across the sky scarcely
obscured the mournful radiance. All was still. The two armies--one
surrounded and at bay, the other ready to finish the work before
it--rested silently on their arms, waiting for that day which would
bring the thunder.
Every arrangement had been made by Lee to break through the force in
his front, and gain Lynchburg, from which he could retreat to the
The column of infantry to open the way was about one thousand six
hundred men, under Gordon. The cavalry, numbering two or three
thousand, was commanded by Fitzhugh Lee. The artillery, consisting of
three or four battalions, was placed under that brave spirit, Colonel
Thomas H. Carter.
For the tough work, Lee had selected three braves.
I saw them all that night, and read in their eyes the fire of an
You know those men, reader. If _you_ do not, history knows them. It was
their immense good fortune to bear the red cross banner in the last
charge on the enemy, and with their handful of followers to drive the
Federal forces back nearly a mile, half an hour before Lee's surrender.
I had just left General Fitzhugh Lee, near Appomattox Court-House, and
was riding through the pines, when a sonorous voice halted me.
"Who goes there?" said the voice.
For I had recognized the voice of the general of cavalry. We have seen
little of him, reader, in this rapid narrative; but in all the long
hard battles from the Rapidan to this night, I had everywhere found
myself thrown in collision with the great soldier--that tried and
trusty friend of my heart. The army had saluted him on a hundred
fields. His name had become the synonym of unfaltering courage. He was
here, on the verge of surrender now, looking as calm and resolute as on
his days of victory.
"Well, old friend," said Mordaunt, grasping my hand and then leaning
upon my shoulder; "as the scriptures say, what of the night?"
"I understand. You think the enemy's infantry is up."
"Then we'll have hard work; but we are used to that, Surry."
"The work is nothing. It is death only. But something worse than death
is coming Mordaunt."
Mordaunt shook his head.
"I am not going to surrender," he said. "I have sworn to one I love
more than my life--you know whom I mean, Surry--that I would come back,
or die, sword in hand; and I will keep my oath."
The proud face glowed. In the serene but fiery eyes I could read the
expression of an unchangeable resolution.
"Another friend of ours has sworn that too," he said.
"And just married! His poor, young wife, like yours, is far from him."
"You are mistaken; she is near him. She went ahead of the army, and is
now at the village here."
"Is it possible? And where is Mohun?"
"He is holding the advance skirmish line, on the right of Gordon. Look!
Do you see that fire, yonder, glimmering through the woods? I left him
there half an hour since."
"I will go and see him. Do nothing rash, to-morrow, Mordaunt. Remember
that poor Old Virginia, if no one else, needs you yet!"
"Be tranquil, Surry," he replied, with a cool smile. "Farewell; we
shall meet at Philippi!"
And we parted with a pressure of the hand.
I rode toward the fire. Stretched on his cape, beside it, I saw the
figure of Mohun. He was reading in a small volume, and did not raise
his head until I was within three paces of him.
"What are you reading, Mohun?"
He rose and grasped my hand.
"The only book for a soldier," he said, with his frank glance and brave
smile--"the book of books, my dear Surry--that which tells us to do our
duty, and trust to Providence."
I glanced at the volume, and recognized it. I had seen it in the hands
of Georgia Conway, at Five Forks. On the fly leaf, which was open, her
name was written.
"That is _her_ Bible," I said, "and doubtless you have just parted with
"Yes, I see you know that she is here, not far from me."
"Mordaunt told me. It must be a great delight to you, Mohun."
He smiled, and sighed.
"Yes," he replied, "but a sort of sorrow, too."
"Why a sorrow?"
Mohun was silent. Then he said:---
"I think I shall fall to-morrow."
"Absurd!" I said, trying to laugh, "Why should you fancy such a thing?"
"I am not going to surrender, Surry. I swore to Chambliss, my old
comrade, that I would never surrender, and he swore that to me. He was
killed in Charles City--he kept his word; I will not break mine,
My head sank. I had taken my seat on Mohun's cape, and gazed in silence
at the fire.
"That is a terrible resolution, Mohun," I said at length.
"Yes," he replied, with entire calmness, "especially in me. It is hard
to die, even when we are old and sorrowful--when life is a burden. Men
cling to this miserable existence even when old age and grief have
taken away, one by one, all the pleasures of life. Think, then, what it
must be to die in the flush of youth, and health, and happiness! I am
young, strong, happy beyond words. The person I love best in all the
world, has just given me her hand. I have before me a long life of joy,
if I only live! But I have sworn that oath, Surry! Chambliss kept his;
shall I break mine? Let us not talk further of this, friend."
And Mohun changed the conversation, refusing to listen to my
Half an hour afterward I left him, with a strange sinking of the heart.
Taking my way back to the Court-House, I passed through the little
village, rode on for a mile, and then, overwhelmed by fatigue, lay down
by a camp fire in the woods, and fell asleep.
I was waked by a single gun, sending its dull roar through the gray
Rising, I buttoned my cape around me, mounted my horse, and rode toward
As I ascended the hill, upon which stands Appomattox Court-House, a
crimson blush suddenly spread itself over the fields and woods.
I looked over my shoulder. In the east, on the summit of the forest,
the newly risen sun was poised, like a great shield bathed in blood.
Such was the spectacle which ushered in the ninth of April, 1865, at
THE LAST CHARGE OF THE OLD GUARD.
I rode on rapidly to the front.
It was the morning of the ninth of April, 1865. Since that time three
years, day for day, nearly hour for hour have passed; for these lines
are written on the morning of the ninth of April, 1868.
Gordon had formed his line of battle across the road just beyond the
court-house--and supported by Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, and Carter's
artillery on his right, was advancing with measured steps to break
through the enemy.
It was a spectacle to make the pulse throb. The little handful was
going to death unmoved. The red light of morning darted from the
burnished gun-barrels of the infantry, the sabres of the cavalry, and
the grim cannon following, in sombre lightnings.
Gordon, the "Bayard of the army," was riding in front of his line. The
hour and the men had both come. Steadily the old guard of the army of
Northern Virginia advanced to its last field of battle.
[Illustration: THE LAST CHARGE]
Suddenly, in front of them, the woods swarmed with the enemy's
infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The great multitude had evidently
employed the hours of night well. Grant's entire army seemed to have
massed itself in Gordon's front.
But the force was not the question. Gordon's one thousand six hundred
men were in motion. And when Gordon moved forward he always fought, if
he found an enemy.
In five minutes the opponents had closed in, in stubborn fight, and the
woods roared with musketry, cannon, and carbines.
Then a resounding cheer rose. The enemy had recoiled before Gordon, and
he pressed forward, sweeping every thing in his path for nearly a mile
beyond the court-house.
On his right Fitzhugh Lee's horsemen thundered forward on the retiring
enemy; and Carter's guns advanced at a gallop, taking positions--Starke
to the left and Poague to the right of the road--from which they opened
a rapid fire upon the Federal line of battle.
I had accompanied the advance and looked on with positive wonder. A
miracle seemed about to be enacted before my very eyes. Gordon's poor
little skirmish-line of less than two thousand men, with the half-
equipped horsemen of Fitzhugh Lee, on their broken-down animals, seemed
about to drive back the whole Federal army, and cut their way through
Alas! the hope was vain. In front of the handful were eighty thousand
men! It was not Sheridan's cavalry only--that would have speedily been
disposed of. During the night, General Grant's best infantry had
pressed forward, and arrived in time to place itself across Lee's path.
What Gordon and Fitzhugh Lee encountered was the Federal army.
Right and left, as in front, were seen dense blue columns of infantry,
heavy masses of cavalry, crowding batteries, from which issued at every
instant that quick glare which precedes the shell.
From this multitude a great shout arose; and was taken up by the
Federal troops for miles. From the extreme rear, where Longstreet stood
stubbornly confronting the pursuers, as from the front, where Gordon
was trying to break through the immense obstacles in his path, came
that thunder of cheers, indicating clearly that the enemy at last felt
that their prey was in their clutch.
The recoil was brief. The great Federal wave which had rolled backward
before Gordon, now rolled forward to engulf him. The moment seemed to
have come for the old guard of the army of Northern Virginia to crown
its victories with a glorious death.
The Federal line rushed on. From end to end of the great field, broken
by woods, the blue infantry delivered their fire, as they advanced with
wild cheers upon the line of Gordon and Lee.
The guns of Carter thundered in vain. Never were cannon fought more
superbly; the enemy were now nearly at the muzzle of the pieces.
Gordon was everywhere encouraging his men, and attempting to hold them
steady. With flaming eyes, his drawn sword waving amid the smoke, his
strident voice rising above the din of battle, Gordon was superb.
But all was of no avail. The Federal line came on like a wave of steel
and fire. A long deafening crash, mingled with the thunder of cannon,
stunned the ear; above the combatants rose a huge smoke-cloud, from
which issued cheers and groans.
Suddenly an officer of General Lee's staff passed by like lightning;
was lost in the smoke; then I saw him speaking to Gordon. At the few
words uttered by the officer, the latter turned pale.
A moment afterward a white flag fluttered--the order to surrender had
What I felt at that instant I can not describe. Something seemed to
choke me. I groaned aloud, and turned toward the cavalry.
At fifty paces from me I saw Mordaunt, surrounded by his officers and
His swarthy face glowed--his eyes blazed. Near him, General Fitzhugh
Lee--with Tom Herbert, and some other members of his staff--was sitting
his horse, pale and silent.
"What will you do, general?" said Mordaunt, saluting with drawn sabre.
Fitzhugh Lee uttered a groan.
"I don't wish to be included in the surrender," he said. "Come, let's
go. General Lee no longer requires my poor services!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
Mordaunt saluted again, as General Lee and his staff officers turned
"We'll go out sword in hand!" Mordaunt said. "Let who will, follow me!"
A wild cheer greeted the words. The men formed column and charged.
As they moved, a second cheer was heard at fifty paces from us. I
turned my head, and saw Mohun, in front of about fifty cavalrymen,
among whom I recognized Nighthawk.
In an instant I was at Mohun's side.
"You are going to charge!" I said.
"And die, Surry! A gentleman gives his word but once!"
And, following Mordaunt with long leaps, Mohun and his horsemen burst
upon the enemy.
Then was presented a spectacle which made the two armies hold their
The column of cavalry under Mordaunt and Mohun, had struck the Federal
line of battle.
For an instant, you could see little, hear little, in the smoke and
uproar. A furious volley unhorsed at least half of the charging column,
and the rest were seen striking with their sabres at the blue infantry,
who stabbed with their bayonets at the rearing horses.
Then a thundering shout rose. The smoke was swept away by the wind, and
made all clear.
Mordaunt had cut his way through, and was seen to disappear with a
Mohun, shot through the breast, and streaming with blood, had fallen
from the saddle, his foot had caught in the stirrup, and he was dragged
by his frightened animal toward the Confederate lines.
The horse came on at a headlong gallop, but suddenly a cavalier came up
with him, seized the bridle, and threw him violently on his haunches.
The new-comer was Nighthawk.
Leaping to the ground, he seized the body of Mohun in his arms,
extricated his foot from the stirrup, and remounted his own horse, with
the form of his master still clasped to his breast.
Then, plunging the spurs into his animal, he turned to fly. But his
last hour had come.
A bullet, fired at fifty paces, penetrated his back, and the blood
spouted. He fell from the flying animal to the earth, but his arms
still clasped the body of Mohun, whose head lay upon his breast.
A loud cheer rose, and the blue line rushed straight upon him.
Nighthawk's head rose, and he gazed at them with flashing eyes--then he
looked at Mohun and groaned.
Summoning his last remains of strength, he drew from his breast a
pencil and a piece of paper, wrote some words upon the paper, and
affixed it to Mohun's breast.
This seemed to exhaust him. He had scarcely finished, when his head
sank, his shoulders drooped, and falling forward on the breast of
Mohun, he expired.
An hour afterward, all was still. On the summit of the Court-House hill
a blue column was stationary, waving a large white flag.
General Lee had surrendered.
Lee had surrendered the army of Northern Virginia.
Ask old soldiers of that army to describe their feelings at the
announcement, reader. They will tell you that they can not; and I will
not attempt to record my own.
It was, truly, the bitterness of death that we tasted at ten o'clock on
the morning of that ninth of April, 1865, at Appomattox Court-House.
Gray-haired soldiers cried like children. It was hard to say whether
they would have preferred, at that moment, to return to their families
or to throw themselves upon the bayonets of the enemy, and die.
In that hour of their agony they were not insulted, however. The
deportment of the enemy was chivalric and courteous. No bands played;
no cheers were heard; and General Grant was the first to salute
profoundly his gray-haired adversary, who came, with a single officer,
to arrange, in a house near the field, the terms of surrender.
They are known. On the tenth they were carried out.
The men stacked the old muskets, which they had carried in a hundred
fights, surrendered the bullet-torn colors, which had waved over
victorious fields, and silently returned, like mourners, to their
Two days after the surrender, Mohun was still alive.
Three months afterward, the welcome intelligence reached me that he was
He had made a narrow escape. Ten minutes after the death of the
faithful Nighthawk, the Federal line had swept over him; and such was
the agony of his wound, that he exclaimed to one of the
"Take your pistol, and shoot me!"
The man cocked his weapon, and aimed at his heart. Then he turned the
muzzle aside, and uncocking the pistol, replaced it in its holster.
"No," he said, "Johnny Reb, you might get well!"
[Footnote: These details are all real.]
And glancing at the paper on Mohun's breast, he passed on,
"It's a general!"
The paper saved Mohun's life. An acquaintance in the Federal army saw
it, and speedily had him cared for. An hour afterward his friends were
informed of his whereabouts. I hastened to the house to which he had
been borne. Bending over him, the beautiful Georgia was sobbing
hopelessly, and dropping tears upon the paper, which contained the
_"This is the body of General Mohun, C.S.A."_
The army had surrendered; the flag was lowered: with a singular feeling
of bewilderment, and a "lost" feeling that is indescribable, I set out,
followed by my servant, for Eagle's Nest.
I was the possessor of a paper, which I still keep as a strange
"The bearer," ran this paper, "a paroled prisoner of the army of
Northern Virginia, has permission to go to his home, and there remain
undisturbed--with two horses!"
At the top of this document, was, "Appomattox Court-House, Va., April,
10, 1865." On the left-hand side was, "Paroled Prisoner's Pass."
So, with his pass, the paroled prisoner passed slowly across Virginia
to his home.
Oh! that Virginia of 1865--that desolate, dreary land! Oh! those poor,
sad soldiers returning to their homes! Everywhere burned houses,
unfenced fields, ruined homesteads! On all sides, the desolation of the
torch and the sword! The "poor paroled prisoners," going home wearily
in that dark April, felt a pang which only a very bitter foe will laugh
But all was not taken. Honor was left us--and the angels of home! As
the sorrowful survivors of the great army came back, as they reached
their old homes, dragging their weary feet after them, or urging on
their jaded horses, suddenly the sunshine burst forth for them, and lit
up their rags with a sort of glory. The wife, the mother, and the
little child rushed to them. Hearts beat fast, as the gray uniforms
were clasped in a long embrace. Those angels of home loved the poor
prisoners better in their dark days than in their bright. The fond eyes
melted to tears, the white arms held them close; and the old soldiers,
who had only laughed at the roar of the enemy's guns, dropped tears on
the faces of their wives and little children!
In the autumn of last year, 1867, I set out on horseback from "Eagle's
Nest," and following the route west by Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville,
Germanna Ford, Culpeper, and Orleans, reached "The Oaks" in Fauquier.
I needed the sunshine and bright faces of the old homestead, after that
journey; for at every step had sprung up some gloomy or exciting
It was a veritable journey through the world of memory.
Fredericksburg! Chancellorsville! the Wilderness! the plains of
Culpeper!--as I rode on amid these historic scenes, a thousand memories
came to knock at the door of my heart. Some were gay, if many were
sorrowful--laughter mingled with the sighs. But to return to the past
is nearly always sad. As I rode through the waste land now, it was with
drooping head. All the old days came back again, the cannon sent their
long dull thunder through the forests; again the gray and blue lines
closed in, and hurled together; again Jackson in his old dingy coat,
Stuart with his floating plume, Pelham, Farley, all whom I had known,
loved, and still mourned, rose before me--a line of august phantoms
fading away into the night of the past.
Once more I looked upon Pelham, holding in his arms the bleeding form
of Jean--passing "Camp-no-camp," only a desolate and dreary field now,
all the laughing faces and brave forms of Stuart and his men
returned--in the Wilderness I saw Jackson fight and fall; saw him borne
through the moonlight; heard his sighs and his last greeting with
Stuart. A step farther, I passed the lonely old house in the
Wilderness, and all the strange and sombre scenes there surged up from
the shadows of the past. Mordaunt, Achmed, Fenwick, Violet
Grafton!--all reappeared, playing over again their fierce tragedy; and