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April 9, 1865

By Patrick Van Roy On April 9th, 2021

In a last-ditch effort against Union forces, Confederate General Robert E. Lee realizes the effort is futile and surrenders his 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Virginia’s Appomattox Court House. The surrender triggers others across the South, as the American Civil War finally winds down.

One Response to “April 9, 1865”

  1. I read the book of the final years of the Civil War by Jeff Shaara; called the Last Full Measure; after downloading it on Kindle. Towards the end, after the surrender, there came the march by those remaining Southern Regiments, and the final stacking of weaponry; and I would copy those lines:-

    The men far down the line could see movement on the road now, the gray column in motion, and a low murmur spread up the road toward him. He felt his gut churn, felt the hard thumping in his chest, and finally he could see them coming up the long hill, marching toward him. They were led by an officer on horseback, and Chamberlain watched him, the back straight, the uniform clean, as clean as could be in the mud of the camps. The man’s face was trimmed by a short beard, a neat point below his chin. Chamberlain saw nothing else now. If this man was in front of the column it was for a reason, a choice made not by chance but by something in the man himself. The horse was moving slowly, with steady steps, and the man was now close to him, looking straight ahead, the eyes cold, dark, accepting the challenge of the moment, and Chamberlain could see it all, the sadness, the courage. He did not know all the flags, how to identify all the gray units, or even how many units were still a part of Lee’s army. He saw the red banner, held by another officer, behind this one commander, and now the name came, the recognition of one of Lee’s best. Chamberlain felt a sudden rush of excitement: John Gordon.

    Gordon moved past him, then reined the horse, and now Chamberlain saw the first of the foot soldiers, felt a small shock, the lines neat, the men marching straight, upright. But their uniforms were rags, pants torn, feet bare. The officers had some faint symbols of rank, but the coats were faded, sleeves frayed. Even the horses were gaunt, bones held together by raw patches of hide. The column was halted, and there was a quick shout. The men stood at quiet attention, and for the first time he could see the faces. They stared hard at the men who faced them a few feet away, who might have faced them on different ground in some very different place. The faces were thin, drawn, rough, and Chamberlain thought, These are the ones who still would fight, the ones who did not fall away, did not lose the strength, who are here now because it is their duty to be here. There was another quick shout, and the men drew their bayonets, fixed them in one motion down the line, and for one brief moment he had a stab of fear, thought, How many times … and they know it too, they know that when the bayonets went forward, we would be close, we would look straight into the eyes, and the better man would win. The word stuck in his mind. No, not better … there is nothing in that here, this has not been some contest, some test of resolve. Look at these men, look at the faces, the strength in the eyes. They are, after all … us.

    There was another order, and the men stepped forward, began to stack arms, making small pyramids, the bayonets pointing up, locking together. Then cartridge boxes were unhooked from belts, some from pieces of rope, some pulled from pockets. Slowly the boxes were piled beside the muskets, and the men backed into line, waited for the next command. He saw the smaller flag, had not really thought about that, had focused still on the bayonets, on the dull steel he’d seen too many times, but now one man stepped out of line, held the flag above him for a moment, and Chamberlain saw the man was crying, the flag slowly coming down, the man draping it carefully on the points of the bayonets. The man’s head dropped and he let go of the staff, moved back into line. Suddenly, several of the men broke ranks, hands went out, small sounds, and now, loud sobs, the hands were touching their flag, men dropping down, kneeling. No one spoke, there were no orders, then slowly the men began to stand again, helping each other, moving back into line. The line was straightened again, with a quiet look from an officer, the men standing at attention. The faces were fixed again, men fighting for control, for the dignity of the moment. There were still tears, small sounds, faces staring across to the men in blue.

    Then Chamberlain heard the low sounds beside him, behind him, could hear the quiet respect, the sadness coming from his own men. He looked at Gordon again, who stared ahead, waiting for the appropriate moment, waiting to move on, to bring on the rest of the column, the regiments, the brigades, passing the entire army along this road, every unit repeating the ceremony, with more stacks of arms, more bayonets, more flags. Chamberlain glanced to the men beside him, saw his young sergeant, the man with the flag of the Fifth Corps now, the red Maltese cross. There was another man beside him, another flag bearer with a larger flag, the stars and stripes, the flag of the army, of the Union, and the flag was fluttering in the slight breeze. Chamberlain saw the faces again, the men in the road looking up at the flag, thought, Yes, it is still yours … it has always been yours. Despite all you have done, all of the death and the horror, the anger and the hatred. You have proven you will fight and die for something that you believe in. That is exactly what this flag means, has always meant. He saw more faces looking up, drawn by the slow wave of the flag. There were still some angry glances, the fight not yet out of all of them, and Chamberlain thought, Well, that might be a good thing. It will take another kind of fight, a different strength now to pull us together, to mend what this war has done.

    They still have the strength, the will, and there is great value in that, for all of us, for the country, for the future. We are blessed by that, we are blessed that we can welcome them back, that we are all again under one flag. I salute you … no, we will all salute you. The words came into his mind, and he did not hesitate, said in a loud voice, “Carry … arms!” Men were looking at him, surprised, small voices, and he looked to the side, stared hard at the officers closest to him, would not repeat the order, knew they had heard it, knew they understood. Now the order echoed all along the line, all down the road. They all knew what the order meant, that the killing anger, the hatred, the blind violence of the beast was gone, and the men who stood face-to-face were brothers after all. Now the order was obeyed, and the men in blue held their muskets up to their chests, the quiet salute, the show of respect. Gordon was looking at him again, his face changed now, the eyes soft. Slowly, Gordon raised his sword, held it high, then dropped it down, low by his side, the point of the sword to the toe of his boot, the response, the soldier’s salute.

    I accept that this was all fictionalised, the product of an author’s imagination; but if this was anywhere near truth, it could all have ended so differently: but I also will copy just one sentence from a further chapter in that same book: that sentence being said as General Grant read that fateful message:- ““President Lincoln has been shot.”

    Shaara, Jeff. The Last Full Measure (p. 521). Birlinn. Kindle Edition.