Down a Long Slope
And so the war continued, with daily carnage displayed against a bright and beautiful landscape. There were times I thought I could not stand the difference any longer and should leave, but I realized that leaving fewer of us behind would be dangerous . And so, I stayed with my comrades. As I have said before, I was fighting for them more than for a cause or principle. I would add to this that I also fought for my family. As Adolphus would say, that much was axiomatic.
Finally we were beaten back nearly to Appomattox Court House. Both armies stopped to rest near there, and both considered what to do next. There were rumors of a large meeting with Lee and his generals present, and word was they were discussing a surrender. Some men wept at these stories while others cheered, but all of us considered that what we were hearing were rumors only, and possibly not near the truth. All we could do was wait and see what happened next.
A day I shall remember for as long as I lived dawned bright and clear. I was standing on the ramparts so I observed this celestial phenomenon first hand. Adolphus joined me. “The captain’s being called to a big meeting of all officers his grade and above. I think this might be it.”
“I certainly hope so. I take it we’ll find out when he gets back?”
“Yes. That would be the ticket.”
We stood there silently in the quiet. “One thing for sure, the Federals aren’t making any noise.”
“That’s another good sign.”
We were out for about an hour when we heard a murmur from behind our lines. We could not leave our posts, but Andrew came along to join us. “It’s official,” he said. “The captain said Lee will surrender this afternoon, and that’s straight from his mouth. The man don’t lie.”
For some reason, Adolphus and I took off our hats, as if we were standing on the street when a funeral came by. In a sense, we had just heard about the death of the Confederacy, so what we did seemed entirely appropriate. Much later on, we learned there were some at the meeting who wanted to fade into the woods to the west of us and conduct guerrilla operations for as long as they could, but Lee would have none of that. I for one, and many others, were glad for his words.
Our relief came along an hour later, although I do not know why. With the news, we knew there would be no attacks, but old habits die hard, I suppose. We camp back to our camp and sat on our blankets. Andrew came along again and said, “Come on and hurry you! Lee’s going to go by not too far from here.”
We went about a quarter mile back and found the rest of the army lining the dirt road leading to the court house. We waited half an hour and then Lee came along. Men pressed up to him, touching his horse and calling out to him, “We’ll never forget you, General. We’re beat but not defeated.”
I don’t know what that meant, but as he went by, Lee looked right at me and touched the brim of his hat. His face was clouded with sorrow, but he kept control of his emotions. How he did so I do not know. I gave him my best salute and watched as he continued to ride along the road, swarmed by troops. At last he went around a curve and so was lost to our sight.
Adolphus, Andrew, Hiram (who had joined us) and I stood still for a moment and then, with sighs, turned back to our camp. “Well, that’s that,” I said. “What now?”
“We wait to hear the terms of surrender. I pray that Grant will be generous.”
“As do I.”
We walked back to our campsite and lay down to try to sleep, but it proved elusive under the circumstances. After about an hour, the captain came by and wearily climbed off his horse. We all gathered round. “It’s official,” he said. “We’re beat. We’re constrained to surrender our arms, return home, and agree not to take up arms against the United States again. Grant’s allowing of us who own our own horses to keep them so that we can tend our farms and plant our crops.” He smiled. “I don’t think most of you own horses, so that provision won’t apply, but you can go home. You do so with my thanks for your service and admiration of your courage. As you go, I pray that God will watch over you, both now and evermore.”
At these words, some of us wept while others simply stared at the captain. Finally, Adolphus roused himself and shouted, “Three cheers for the captain! Hip, hip!”
“Hooray!” we responded.
“Hooray! from the collective voices.
And with that it was really, finally over. All around me I saw troops shaking hands and putting their arms around each other’s shoulders. Along with Adolphus, Hiram and Andrew, I gathered my supplies, and we set out on our long walk home. This time we needed no permission, and we walked without fear of arrest. This had been a long time coming, and I found it hard to believe it.