The End Of The Civil War
"Reminiscences Of The Civil War" by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, CS
"Furling of the Flags" painting by Richard Norris Brooke
GENERAL LONGSTREET'S forces and mine at Appomattox, numbered, together, less than 8000 men; but every man able to bear arms was still resolute and ready for battle. There were present three times that many enrolled Confederates; but two thirds of them were so enfeebled by hunger, so wasted by sickness, and so foot-sore from constant marching that it was difficult for them to keep up with the army. They were wholly unfit for duty. It is important to note this fact as explaining the great difference in the number of those who fought and those who were to be fed. At the final meeting between General Lee and General Grant rations were ordered by General Grant for 25,000 Confederates.
Marked consideration and courtesy were exhibited at Appomattox by the victorious Federals, from the commanding generals to the privates in the ranks. General Meade, who had known General Lee in the old army, paid, after the surrender, an unofficial visit to the Confederate chieftain. After cordial salutations, General Lee said playfully to his former comrade in arms that years were telling upon him. General Meade, who had fought Lee at Gettysburg and in many subsequent battles, made the strikingly gracious and magnanimous answer: "Not years, but General Lee himself has made me gray."
Some of the scenes on the field, immediately after the cessation of hostilities and prior to the formal surrender, illustrate the same magnanimous spirit, and were peculiarly impressive and thrilling. As my command, in worn-out shoes and ragged uniforms, but with proud mien, moved to the designated point to stack their arms and surrender their cherished battle-flags, they challenged the admiration of the brave victors. One of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal army, General Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine, who afterward served with distinction as governor of his State, called his troops into line, and as my men marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes -- a token of respect from Americans to Americans, a final and fitting tribute from Northern to Southern chivalry.
General Chamberlain describes this incident in the following words:
"At the sound of that machine-like snap of arms, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse, facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and, as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse's head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his sword-point to his toe in salutation.
By word of mouth the general sent back orders to the rear that his own troops take the same position of the manual in the march past as did our line. That was done, and a truly imposing sight was the mutual salutation and farewell.
Bayonets were affixed to muskets, arms stacked, and cartridge-boxes unslung and hung upon the stacks. Then, slowly and with a reluctance that was appealingly pathetic, the torn and tattered battle-flags were either leaned against the stacks or laid upon the ground. The emotion of the conquered soldiery was really sad to witness. Some of the men who had carried and followed those ragged standards through the four long years of strife rushed, regardless of all discipline, from the ranks, bent about their old flags, and pressed them to their lips.
And it can well be imagined, too, that there was no lack of emotion on our side, but the Union men were held steady in their lines, without the least show of demonstration by word or by motion. There was, though, a twitching of the muscles of their faces, and, be it said, their battle-bronzed cheeks were not altogether dry. Our men felt the import of the occasion, and realized fully how they would have been affected if defeat and surrender had been their lot after such a fearful struggle."
When the proud and sensitive sons of Dixie came to a full realization of the truth that the Confederacy was overthrown and their leader had been compelled to surrender his once invincible army, they could no longer control their emotions, and tears ran like water down their shrunken faces. The flags which they still carried were objects of undisguised affection. These Southern banners had gone down before overwhelming numbers; and torn by shells, riddled by bullets, and laden with the powder and smoke of battle, they aroused intense emotion in the men who had so often followed them to victory. Yielding to overpowering sentiment, these high-mettled men began to tear the flags from the staffs and hide them in their bosoms, as they wet them with burning tears.
The Confederate officers faithfully endeavored to check this exhibition of loyalty and love for the old flags. A great majority of them were duly surrendered; but many were secretly carried by devoted veterans to their homes, and will be cherished forever as honored heirlooms.
There was nothing unnatural or censurable in all this. The Confederates who clung to those pieces of battered bunting knew they would never again wave as martial ensigns above embattled hosts; but they wanted to keep them, just as they wanted to keep the old canteen with a bullet-hole through it, or the rusty gray jacket that had been torn by canister. They loved those flags, and will love them forever, as mementoes of the unparalleled struggle. They cherish them because they represent the consecration and courage not only of Lee's army but of all the Southern armies, because they symbolize the bloodshed and the glory of nearly a thousand battles.
Some narrow but very good and patriotic people object to this expression of Southern sentiment. It was not so, however, with William McKinley, that typical American, who, while living and while dying, exhibited in their fulness and strength the virtues of a true and lofty manhood. That chivalric Union soldier, far-seeing statesman, and truly great President saw in this Southern fidelity to past memories the surest pledge of loyalty to future duties. William McKinley fought as bravely as the bravest on the Union side; but he was broad enough to recognize in his Southern countrymen a loyal adherence to the great fundamental truths to which both sides were devoted. He was too wise and too just to doubt the South's fealty to the Constitution or to the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence; for Madison was father of the one and Jefferson of the other. He was great enough to trust implicitly the South's renewed allegiance to the Union and its flag; for hers was the most liberal hand in studding its field with stars. He did not hesitate to trust Southern pluck and patriotism to uphold the honor of the country and give liberty to Cuba; for he remembered Washington and his rebels in the Revolution, Jackson and his Southern volunteers at New Orleans; Zachary Taylor and his Louisianians, Clay and his Kentuckians, Butler and his South Carolinians, and Davis and his Mississippians in Mexico.
The heartstrings of the mother, woven around the grave of her lost child, will never be severed while she lives; but does that hinder the continued flow of maternal devotion to those who are left her? The South's affections are bound, with links that cannot be broken, around the graves of her sons who fell in her defence, and to the mementoes and memories of the great struggle; but does that fact lessen her loyalty to the proud emblem of a reunited country? Does her unparalleled defence of the now dead Confederacy argue less readiness to battle for this ever-living Republic, in the making and the administering of which she bore so conspicuous a part ?
If those unhappy patriots who find a scarecrow in every faded, riddled Confederate flag would delve deeper into the philosophy of human nature, or rise higher,--say to the plane on which McKinley stood,--they would be better satisfied with their Southern countrymen, with Southern sentiment, with the breadth and strength of the unobtrusive but sincere Southern patriotism. They would see that man is so constituted--the immutable laws of our being are such--that to stifle the sentiment and extinguish the hallowed memories of a people is to destroy their manhood.
During these last scenes at Appomattox some of the Confederates were so depressed in spirit, so filled with apprehensions as to the policy to be adopted by the civil authorities at Washington, that the future seemed to them shrouded in gloom. They knew that burnt homes and fenceless farms, poverty and ashes, would greet them on their return from the war. Even if the administration at Washington should be friendly, they did not believe that the Southern States could recover in half a century from the chaotic condition in which the war had left them. The situation was enough to daunt the most hopeful and appall the stoutest hearts. "What are we to do? How are we to begin life again?" they asked. "Every dollar of our circulating medium has been rendered worthless. Our banks and rich men have no money. The commodities and personal property which formerly gave us credit have been destroyed. The Northern banks and money-lenders will not take as security our lands, denuded of houses and without animals and implements for their cultivation. The railroads are torn up or the tracks are worn out. The negroes are freed and may refuse to work. Besides, what assurance can we have of law and order and the safety of our families with four million slaves suddenly emancipated in the midst of us and the restraints to which they have been accustomed entirely removed?"
To many intelligent soldiers and some of the officers the conditions were so discouraging, the gloom so impenetrable, that they seriously discussed the advisability of leaving the country and beginning life anew in some other land.
While recognizing the dire extremity which confronted us, I was inclined to take a more hopeful view of the future. I therefore spoke to the Southern soldiers on the field at Appomattox, in order to check as best I could their disposition to leave the country, and to counteract, if possible, the paralyzing effect of the overwhelming discouragements which met them on every side.
As we reached the designated point, the arms were stacked and the battle-flags were folded. Those sad and suffering men, many of them weeping as they saw the old banners laid upon the stacked guns like trappings on the coffin of their dead hopes, at once gathered in compact mass around me. Sitting on my horse in the midst of them, I spoke to them for the last time as their commander. In all my past life I had never undertaken to speak where my own emotions were so literally overwhelming. I counselled such course of action as I believed most conducive to the welfare of the South and of the whole country. I told them of my own grief, which almost stifled utterance, and that I realized most keenly the sorrow that was breaking their hearts, and appreciated fully the countless and stupendous barriers across the paths they were to tread.
Reminding them of the benign Southern climate, of the fertility of their lands, of the vastly increased demand for the South's great staple and the high prices paid for it, I offered these facts as legitimate bases of hope and encouragement. I said to them that through the rifts in the clouds then above us I could see the hand of Almighty God stretched out to help us in the impending battle with adversity; that He would guide us in the gloom, and bless every manly effort to bring back to desolated homes the sunshine and comforts of former years. I told them the principles for which they had so, grandly fought and uncomplainingly suffered were not lost,--could not be lost,--for they were the principles on which the Fathers had built the Republic, and that the very throne of Jehovah was pledged that truth should triumph and liberty live. As to the thought of their leaving the country, that must be abandoned. It was their duty as patriots to remain and work for the recuperation of our stricken section with the same courage, energy, and devotion with which they had fought for her in war. I urged them to enter cheerfully and hopefully upon the tasks imposed by the fortunes of war, obeying the laws, and giving, as I knew they would, the same loyal support to the general Government which they had yielded to the Confederacy. I closed with a prophecy that passion would speedily die, and that the brave and' magnanimous soldiers of the Union army, when disbanded and scattered among the people, would become promoters of sectional peace and fraternity.
That prophecy would have been speedily fulfilled but for the calamitous fate that befell the country in the death of President Lincoln; and even in spite of that great misfortune, we should have much sooner reached the era of good-will and sectional concord if the spirit of the soldiers who did the fighting had animated the civilians who did the talking.
As I began to speak from my horse, large numbers of Union soldiers came near to hear what I had to say, giving me a rather queerly mixed audience. The Hon. Elihu Washburne, afterward United States Minister to France, the close friend of both President Lincoln and General Grant, was present at the surrender, as the guest of the Union commander. He either heard this parting speech or else its substance was reported to him. As soon as the formalities were ended, he made himself known to me, and in a most gracious manner expressed his pleasure at the general trend of my remarks. He assured me that the South would receive generous treatment at the hands of the general Government. My special object in referring to Mr. Washburne in this connection is to leave on record an emphatic statement made by him which greatly encouraged me. I can never forget his laconic answer to my inquiry: "Why do you think, Mr. Washburne, that the South will be generously dealt with by the Government?"
"Because Abraham Lincoln is at its head," was his reply.
I knew something of Mr. Lincoln's past history, of his lifelong hostility to slavery, of his Emancipation Proclamation and vigorous prosecution of the war; but I had no knowledge whatever of any kindly sentiment entertained by him toward the Southern people. The emphatic words of Mr. Washburne, his intimate friend and counsellor, greatly interested me. I was with Mr. Washburne for several succeeding days--we rode on horseback together from Appomattox back toward Petersburg; and his description of Mr. Lincoln's character, of his genial and philanthropic nature, accompanied with illustrative anecdotes, was not only extremely entertaining, but was to me a revelation. He supported his declaration as to Mr. Lincoln's kindly sentiments by giving an elaborate and detailed account of his meeting with our commissioners at Hampton Roads. He expressed the opinion that the President went to that meeting with the fixed purpose of ending the war by granting the most liberal terms, provided the Southern commissioners acquiesced in the sine qua non--the restoration of the Union.
We parted at Petersburg, and among the last things he enjoined was faith in the kindly purposes of Abraham Lincoln in reference to the Southern people. Mr. Washburne said that the President would recommend to Congress such legislation as in his opinion would promote the prosperity of the South. He was emphatic in his declaration that Mr. Lincoln desired only the restoration of the Union--that even the abolition of slavery was secondary to this prime object. He stated that the President had declared that if he could restore the Union without abolition, he would gladly do it; if he could save the Union by partial abolition of slavery, he would do it that way; but that if it became necessary to abolish slavery entirely in order to save the Union, then slavery would be abolished: that as his great object had been achieved by the surrender of Lee's army, it would speedily be known to the Southern people that the President was deeply concerned for their welfare, that there would be no prosecutions and no discriminations, but that the State governments would be promptly recognized, and every effort made to help the Southern people. These impressive assurances were adding strength to my hopes when the whole country was shocked by the assassination of the President.
General Gibbon, General Griffin, and General Merritt were appointed by General Grant to meet Generals Pendleton, Longstreet, and myself, appointed by General Lee. The special duty which devolved on these six officers was the discussion and drafting of all details to carry out the formal surrender, according to the general terms agreed upon by the commanders-in-chief. In all our intercourse with those three Union officers I can recall no expression or word that could possibly wound the sensibility of a Confederate. Rejoiced as they naturally were at the termination of the long and costly struggle, and at the ultimate triumph of the Union cause, they scrupulously avoided allusions to battles in which the Federal armies had been victors, and endeavored rather to direct conversation to engagements in which the Union forces had been vanquished. Indeed, Confederate officers generally observed and commented upon this spirit, which at that time seemed to actuate the privates as well as the officers of the victorious army.
As the Confederates were taking leave of Appomattox, and about to begin their long and dreary tramp homeward, many of the Union men bade them cordial farewell. One of Grant's men said good-naturedly to one of Lee's veterans:
"Well, Johnny, I guess you fellows will go home now to stay."
The tired and tried Confederate, who did not clearly understand the spirit in which these playful words were spoken, and who was not at the moment in the best mood for badinage, replied:
"Look here, Yank; you guess, do you, that we fellows are going home to stay? Maybe we are. But don't be giving us any of your impudence. If you do, we'll come back and lick you again."
Probably in no military organization that ever existed were there such cordial relations between officers and private soldiers as in the Confederate army. This was due, doubtless, to the fact that in our ranks there were lawyers, teachers, bankers, merchants, planters, college professors, and students who afterward became chief justices, governors, and occupants of the highest public stations. Since the war some of these privates have told with great relish of the old farmer near Appomattox who decided to give employment, after the surrender, to any of Lee's veterans who might wish to work a few days for food and small wages. He divided the Confederate employés into squads according to the respective ranks held by them in the army. He was uneducated, but entirely loyal to the Southern cause.
A neighbor inquired of him as to the different squads:
"Who are those men working over there ?"
"Them is privates, sir, of Lee's army."
"Well, how do they work?"
"Very fine, sir; first-rate workers."
"Who are those in the second group ?"
"Them is lieutenants and captains, and they works fairly well, but not as good workers as the privates."
"I see you have a third squad: who are they ?"
"Them is colonels."
"Well, what about the colonels? How do they work ?"
"Now, neighbor, you'll never hear me say one word ag'in' any man who fit in the Southern army; but I ain't a-gwine to hire no generals."
The paroles issued to the Confederates were carefully examined by the possessors, and elicited a great variety of comment. Each man's parole bore his name and the name of his company and regiment, and recorded his pledge to fight no more until he was regularly exchanged. A few hoped for an early exchange and release from this pledge, that they might continue the struggle with some organized force, operating in a different section of the Confederacy. They were looking hopefully to the Trans-Mississippi, where, even after the surrender of Lee and Joe Johnston and Richard Taylor east of the Mississippi, Generals Kirby Smith, Magruder, and Forney, with Simon Bolivar Buckner as chief of staff, were still appealing to Confederates to "stand to their colors." That gallant little army of the Trans-Mississippi had fought many desperate battles under such leaders as McCulloch, Mcintosh, Ross, Green, Maxey, Waul, Price, Van Dorn, Pike, Walker, Shelby, and W. L. Cabell, of whom General Marmaduke wrote: "The élan and chivalrous bearing of Cabell inspired all who looked upon him "; and these few unyielding spirits at Appomattox were still panting for continued combat in the ranks of those unsurrendered forces beyond the great Father of Waters. The more thoughtful, however, knew that the war was over. They carefully preserved their paroles, and were as proud of them as a young graduate is of his diploma, because these strips of paper furnished official proof of the fact that they were in the fight to the last. This fact they transmit as a priceless legacy to their children.
When I returned to Petersburg from Appomattox, I found Mrs. Gordon rapidly recovering, and as soon as she was able to travel, in company with Captain James M. Pace of my staff and his little family, who had joined him, we began our arduous trip homeward, over broken railroads and in such dilapidated conveyances as had been left in the track of the armies. In Petersburg it was impossible to secure among the recently emancipated negroes any one willing to accompany us as nurse for our child. This fact imposed upon me the necessity of continuing for a time my command of infantry in arms -- a situation more trying to me in some respects than the one from which I had just been relieved by General Grant at Appomattox.
The generous terms of surrender given to Lee by Grant were exceeded in liberality by those which W. T. Sherman offered to Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. In the memorandum of agreement between Generals Sherman and Johnston (April 18, 1865) occur the following items:
"The Confederate armies now in existence to be disbanded and conducted to their State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State arsenals," etc. The President of the United States was to recognize the "several State governments on their officers and legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States." The Federal courts were to be reëstablished in the Southern States, the people of the South were to be guaranteed their political rights, and rights of person and property, with a general amnesty. Briefly analyzed, these liberal terms meant that, with the exception of slavery (nothing was said on that subject), the Southern States and people were instantly to resume the relations to the general Government which they had occupied before the war began, and, instead of surrendering their arms, were to deposit them in State arsenals for ready use in suppressing riots, enforcing law, and protecting homes and property.
These terms of surrender proposed by General Sherman reveal a spirit in extreme contrast to that which he showed toward the Southern people in his unobstructed march to the sea. In his agreement with General Johnston his magnanimity is scarcely paralleled by that of any victorious commander whereas in his long general orders for the conduct of his troops on their travel from demolished Atlanta to his goal by the sea, fully one half of his words are directions for systematic "foraging," destruction of "mills, houses, cotton-gins," etc., and for spreading "a devastation more or less relentless" according to the hostility shown by different localities on the line of his march. It is due to General Sherman to say that he had his peculiar ideas of waging war and making it "hell," but when it was over he declared, "It is our solemn duty to protect and not to plunder."
The terms proposed by him to General Johnston were so liberal that they were promptly rejected by the civil authorities at Washington. Mr. Lincoln was dead and Andrew Johnson was President; Mr. Stanton was Secretary of War, and General Halleck ranked General Sherman in the field. This vindictive trio--Johnson, Stanton, and Halleck--rejected General Sherman's agreement with General Johnston; and Stanton and Halleck sought to humiliate Sherman and, as he declared, to insult him. In his "Memoirs" General Sherman writes: "To say that I was angry at the tone and substance of these bulletins of the War Department would hardly express my feelings. I was outraged beyond measure, and was resolved to resent the insult, cost what it might "; and he did resent it in the most emphatic manner. In regard to the absurd report that Mr. Davis had carried out of Richmond vast sums of money, General Sherman writes: "The thirteen millions of treasure with which Jeff Davis was to corrupt our armies and buy his escape dwindled down to the contents of a hand-valise."
A great Frenchman pronounced the French Revolution an "about-face of the universe." The meeting of Lee and Grant at Appomattox was the momentous epoch of the century. It marked greater changes, uprooted a grander and nobler civilization, and, in the emancipation of one race and the impoverishment of another, it involved vaster consequences than had ever followed the fall of a dynasty or the wreck of an empire. It will stand in history as the Brook Kedron over which the Southern people passed to their Gethsemane; where every landscape was marred by ruins; where every breath of air was a lament and every home a house of mourning.
The magnanimity exhibited at Appomattox justifies me in recording here my conviction that, had it been possible for General Grant and his soldiers to foresee the bloody sweat which through ten successive years was wrung from Southern brows, the whole Union army would then and there have resolved to combat all unfriendly legislation. Or, later, if Booth's bullet had not terminated the life filled with "charity to all and malice toward none," President Lincoln's benign purposes, seconded by the great-hearted among our Northern countrymen, would have saved the South from those caricatures of government which cursed and crushed her.
In looking back now over that valley of death--the period of reconstruction,-- its waste and its woe, it is hard to realize that the worn and impoverished Confederates were able to go through it. The risen South of to-day is a memorial of the same patience, endurance, and valor which immortalized the four years' struggle for Southern independence.
All accounts agree that when the two great commanders met in the little brick house at Appomattox, they presented a contrast that was unique and strikingly picturesque. A stranger, unacquainted with the situation, would have selected Lee for the conqueror and Grant for the vanquished hero. Prompted by a sincere respect for the illustrious Federal chieftain, General Lee was dressed in his best uniform, and appeared at the place of conference in faultless military attire. General Grant, on the other hand, had received, while on his lines among his soldiers, General Lee's reply to his last note. Without returning to headquarters for his dress uniform, the Union commander rode at once to the point of meeting, wearing his fatigue suit, his cavalry boots begrimed with Virginia mud, and his plain blue overcoat concealing all insignia of rank. I never heard General Grant say so, but his characteristic modesty and magnanimity, with which I became familiar in after years, lead me to believe that consideration for General Lee prompted this absence of ostentation.
Probably nothing I can say of these illustrious soldiers will add to the fame of either. I am conscious of my inability to give a clear conception of their distinguishing and dissimilar but altogether admirable characteristics. Nevertheless, as the follower and friend of Lee and the sincere admirer of Grant, I desire to place on record in this concluding chapter my estimate of both these representative Americans.
Unless it be Washington, there is no military chieftain of the past to whom Lee can be justly likened, either in attributes of character or in the impress for good made upon the age in which he lived. Those who knew him best and studied him most have agreed that he was unlike any of the great captains of history. In his entire public career there was a singular absence of self-seeking. Otherwise he would have listened to the wooings of ambition when debating the course he should take at the beginning of our sectional conflict. He knew that he could hold any position he might wish in the armies of the Union. Not only by General Scott, the commander-in-chief, but by his brother officers and the civil authorities, Lee was recognized as the foremost soldier in the United States army. He knew, for he so declared, that the South's chances for success, except through foreign intervention, were far from encouraging. What would Caesar or Frederick or Napoleon have done? Deaf to every suggestion of a duty whose only promised reward was an approving conscience in ultimate defeat, allured by the prospect of leading armies with overwhelming numbers and backed by limitless resources, any one of these great captains would have eagerly grasped the tendered power. It was not so with Lee. Trained soldier that he was, he stood on the mountain-top of temptation, while before his imagination there passed the splendid pageant of conquering armies swayed by his word of command; and he was unmoved by it. Graduated at West Point, where he subsequently served as perhaps its most honored superintendent; proud of his profession, near the head of which he stood; devoted to the Union and its emblematic flag, which he long had followed; revered by the army, to the command of which he would have been invited--he calmly abandoned them all to lead the forlorn hope of his people, impelled by his conviction that their cause was just. Turning his back upon ambition, putting selfish considerations behind him, like George Washington in the old Revolution, he threw himself and all his interests into an unequal struggle for separate government. When John Adams of Massachusetts declared that, sink or swim, survive or perish, he gave his heart and hand to the Declaration of Independence, he stood on precisely the same moral plane on which Robert E. Lee stood from the beginning to the end of the war. As the north star to the sailor, so was duty to this self-denying soldier. Having decided that in the impending and to him unwelcome conflict his place was with his people, he did not stop to consider the cost. He resolved to do his best; and in estimating now the relative resources and numbers, it cannot be denied that he did more than any leader has ever accomplished under similar conditions. And when the end came and he realized that Appomattox was the grave of his people's hopes, he regretted that Providence had not willed that his own life should end there also. He not only said in substance, to Colonel Venable of his staff and to others, that he would rather die than surrender the cause, but he said to me on that fatal morning that he was sorry he had not fallen in one of the last battles. Yet no man who saw him at Appomattox could detect the slightest wavering in his marvellous self-poise or any lowering of his lofty bearing. Only for a fleeting moment did he lose complete self-control. As he rode back from the McLean house to his bivouac, his weeping men crowded around him; and as they assured him in broken voices of their confidence and love, his emotions momentarily overmastered him, and his wet cheeks told of the sorrow which his words could not express. Throughout that crucial test at Appomattox he was the impersonation of every manly virtue, of all that is great and true and brave--the fittest representative of his own sublimely beautiful adage that human virtue should always equal human calamity.
The ancient Romans and Greeks deified after death their heroes who possessed any one of the great virtues, all of which were harmoniously blended in this great Southerner. It required, however, neither his removal by death nor the hallowing influences of distance or time to consign him to the Pantheon of Immortals. It was more literally true of him than of any man I ever knew, among those whom the world honors, that distance was not needed to enhance his greatness.
A distinguished Georgian, the Hon. Benjamin H. Hill, truthfully declared that Lee was Caesar without his crimes, Bonaparte without his ambition, and George Washington without his crown of success; and it is my firm conviction that when his campaigns and his character are both understood, such will be the verdict of Christendom.
General Grant's bearing at Appomattox, his acts and his words, did much to alleviate the anguish inseparable from such an ordeal. The tenor of his formal notes, the terms granted at the appointed meeting, the prompt and cordial manner in which he acquiesced in each and every suggestion made by the Southern commander, left upon the minds of Confederates an ineffaceable impression. In looking back now over the intervening years, I am glad that I have never been tempted, in the heat of political contests, even while the South was enduring the agony of the carpet-baggers' rule, to utter one word of bitterness against that great and magnanimous Union soldier. Before the meeting at Appomattox the Confederates were decidedly prejudiced against General Grant, chiefly because of his refusal to exchange prisoners and thus relieve from unspeakable suffering the thousands of incarcerated men of both armies. On this account Southern men expected from him cold austerity rather than soldierly sympathy. Their previous conceptions of him, however, were totally changed when they learned that our officers were to retain their side-arms; that both officers and privates were to keep their horses; that their paroles protected them from molestation on their homeward trip and in their peaceful pursuits, so long as they obeyed the laws; and that in the prolonged official interview there was no trace of exultation at his triumph, but that he was in word and act the embodiment of manly modesty and soldierly magnanimity, and that from first to last he was evidently intent upon mitigating the bitterness of defeat and soothing to the utmost of his ability the lacerated sensibilities of his great antagonist.
General Grant's own declaration, made many years after the war, that he felt "sad and depressed" as he rode to meet General Lee in the little village of Appomattox, is entirely consistent with every account given of his bearing at the surrender.
It was reported at the time, and has since been confirmed by Union officers who were present, that he positively refused to permit Union artillery to fire a salute in celebration of the victory over his own countrymen. The exhibitions of General Grant's magnanimity which I observed during my personal intercourse with him immediately after the war, later while he was President, and when he became a private citizen, are all consistent with the spirit manifested by him at the surrender of Lee's army. In his "Memoirs" he has given a quietus to that widely circulated romance that he returned to Lee his proffered sword. I do not doubt that he would have done so; but there was no occasion for Lee's offering it, because in the terms agreed upon it was stipulated that the Confederate officers should retain their side-arms.
During the imprisonment and vicarious punishment of the inflexible and stainless ex-President of the Confederacy, both General Richard Taylor of Louisiana and I had repeated conferences with the general-in-chief of the United States army, in the hope of securing the release of the distinguished prisoner. After one of the visits of the gallant Louisianian to General Grant, Taylor told me of a conversation in reference to the probability of General Grant's becoming President. Taylor said that General Grant assured him, with evident sincerity, that he had no desire to be President, -- that his tastes and training were those of a soldier, and that he was better fitted for the station he then held than for any civil office,- but that Taylor could rest assured, if the office of President ever came to him, he would endeavor to know no difference between the people of the different sections. The Southern people felt that they had cause to complain of President Grant for a lack of sympathy during those years when imported rulers misled credulous negroes and piled taxes to the point of confiscation in order to raise revenues which failed to find their way into State treasuries; but it must be remembered that General Grant was not a politician, and as the first civil office that came to him was the Presidency, he was naturally influenced by those whom he regarded as statesmen and whose long training in civil affairs seemed peculiarly to fit them for counsellors.
General Grant was not endowed by nature with the impressive personality and soldierly bearing of Winfield Scott Hancock, nor with the peculiarly winning and magnetic presence of William McKinley--few men are; but under a less attractive exterior he combined the strong qualities of both. There can be no doubt that Andrew Johnson, the infatuated zealot who came to the Presidency on the ill-fated martyrdom of Abraham Lincoln, would have followed his threat to "make treason odious" by an order for the arrest and imprisonment of Lee and other Confederate leaders but for the stern mandate of Grant that, in spite of Johnson's vindictive purposes, the Southern soldier who held a parole should be protected to the last extremity.
The strong and salutary characteristics of both Lee and Grant should live in history as an inspiration to coming generations. Posterity will find nobler and more wholesome incentives in their high attributes as men than in their brilliant careers as warriors. The lustre of a stainless life is more lasting than the fame of any soldier; and if General Lee's self-abnegation, his unblemished purity, his triumph over alluring temptations, and his unwavering consecration to all life's duties do not lift him to the morally sublime and make him a fit ideal for young men to follow, then no human conduct can achieve such position.
And the repeated manifestations of General Grant's truly great qualities--his innate modesty, his freedom from every trace of vain-glory or ostentation, his magnanimity in victory, his genuine sympathy for his brave and sensitive foemen, and his inflexible resolve to protect paroled Confederates against any assault, and vindicate, at whatever cost, the sanctity of his pledge to the van-quished-will give him a place in history no less renowned and more to be envied than that secured by his triumphs as a soldier or his honors as a civilian. The Christian invocation which came from his dying lips, on Mount McGregor, summoning the spirit of peace and unity and equality for all of his countrymen, made a fitting close to the life of this illustrious American. Scarcely less prominent in American annals than the record of these two lives, should stand a catalogue of the thrilling incidents which illustrate the nobler phase of soldier life so inadequately described in these reminiscences. The unseemly things which occurred in the great conflict between the States should be forgotten, or at least forgiven, and no longer permitted to disturb complete harmony between North and South. American youth in all sections should be taught to hold in perpetual remembrance all that was great and good on both sides; to comprehend the inherited convictions for which saintly women suffered and patriotic men died; to recognize the unparalleled carnage as proof of unrivalled courage; to appreciate the singular absence of personal animosity and the frequent manifestation between those brave antagonists of a good-fellowship such as had never before been witnessed between hostile armies. It will be a glorious day for our country when all the children within its borders shall learn that the four years of fratricidal war between the North and the South was waged by neither with criminal or unworthy intent, but by both to protect what they conceived to be threatened rights and imperilled liberty; that the issues which divided the sections were born when the Republic was born, and were forever buried in an ocean of fraternal blood. We shall then see that, under God's providence, every sheet of flame from the blazing rifles of the contending armies, every whizzing shell that tore through the forests at Shiloh and Chancellorsville, every cannon-shot that shook Chickamauga's hills or thundered around the heights of Gettysburg, and all the blood and the tears that were shed are yet to become contributions for the upbuilding of American manhood and for the future defence of American freedom. The Christian Church received its baptism of pentecostal power as it emerged from the shadows of Calvary, and went forth to its world-wide work with greater unity and a diviner purpose. So the Republic, rising from its baptism of blood with a national life more robust, a national union more complete, and a national influence ever widening, shall go forever forward in its benign mission to humanity.
This Page last updated 02/10/02