Page 552 Southern Historical Society Papers.
Stray Leaves from a Soldier's Journal.
By W. S. WHITE, Third Company Richmond Howitzers.
FALL OF RICHMOND.
'Twas the Sabbath morning on the 2d of April, 1865, and all was quiet along our lines. My battalion had been relieved from the front and was stationed a mile or so back in the rear of our main lines on the north side of the James River. At the usual hour for divine services quite a goodly collection of men had assembled in the Third Howitzers and a feeling discourse was preached to them by our chaplain, Rev. Henry M. White, than whom there is no chaplain more popular in our army. How quiet and peaceful everything seemed, and yet, father on, away off to the right, across the James River, scenes were transpiring that would shake from center to circumference our now hopeless Confederacy.
Little did the pastor or the people think then that it was the last sermon to the First Virginia Artillery!
The calm peacefulness of that Sabbath morning meeting, hanging as it were over the very volcano of destruction, made a vivid impression on my mind no circumstance can efface.
A short time afterward orders came for us to "prepare to move to the front"-this was considered only a precautionary order, and we thought but little of it. Many of our boys had gone into the city, as it was only a few miles off, and early in the afternoon one of them returned in breathless haste and bearing strange tidings. Say he: "Richmond is wild with excitement. General Lee has met with a heavy reverse on our right, and Richmond will be evacuated in less than twenty-four hours."
At first we paid but little attention to this information, considered by us nothing more than a Sunday rumor; but other soon began to come in, and all bore the same sad tidings. How like a thunder-bolt it came! and we-oh, now unprepared for the result! In solemn groups of five and ten the men collected, discussing the probable result of such a move as the forced evacuation of our metropolis. Sorrow was depicted upon every countenance, but also there was the stern determination to follow the flag of our noble Lee so long as it waved, and fall, it fall we must, under the blood-stained banner of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Noble banner! so oft triumphant and so deeply dyed with the
Page 553 Stray Leaves from a Soldier's Journal.
blood of fallen followers! Ere long-a week hence-and thou wilt trial in the dust of defeat; but we that are permitted to remain with thee unto the bitter end, even until there is no hope left, will feel neither degradation nor humiliation when thou art folded forever.
There was no longer a doubt of the fact that we had to surrender Richmond. Yes, noble old city, that for four long and bloody years had withstood the powerful combinations of our powerful foe.
Our lines on the right were totally swept away, our loss very severe, and we were outnumbered on every side. Still we had received no definite orders as to when or where we should move; and in sorrow the day wore on apace. As most of our horses were absent, we could only take with the Third Company two caissons, and then have but four horses each to our four Napoleons-very heavy guns, and should never be moved with less than six horses.
In our battalion the Rockbridge Artillery will have four guns, the Powhatan Artillery three guns, Salem Artillery four guns, the Third Howitzers four guns, making a total of fifteen guns, commanded by Colonel R. A. Hardaway, a brave and efficient officer.
Our commissary has no transportation for rations, and they are issued to us indiscriminately, each man taking as much as he can carry, none of us knowing when or where they would be again issued. About ten o'clock at night orders came for us move on to Richmond as rapidly as possible, and cross the James river at Mayo's bridge.
Everything now assumed the customary bustle and confusion of a camp preparing to be permanently abandoned. Captains gave orders to Lieutenants and they to Sergeants, whilst Sergeants called out lustily for our-of-the-way drivers, who were busily engaged in collecting a variety of plunder and a superabundance of rations, for the hauling of which there was no transportation, and every one had free access to as much meat, meal, molasses, flour, etc., as could be carried. About eleven o'clock we took the road and moved rapidly towards the city. I started with about twenty cannoniers to my gun, but when we nearly reached the city only two of them could be found, one of whom was quite lame, and the other one so lazy that if he started to run he would be too lazy to stop. These boys had all gone in ahead of the company to bid their friends and parents farewell; ad as I had some friends in the city whom I wished to bid farewell, I turned the command of the fourth gun over to the lame cannonier, and I left also.
As I entered the city, by the way of Rocketts, scenes of confusion
Page 554 Southern Historical Society Papers.
met me on every hand, and though it was long after midnight, yet crowds of men, women and children, of every hue and size, thronged the streets in dense masses, bearing away upon their shoulders all kinds of commissary stores. Whether these things were issued to them or were stolen by them, I had not the heart to enquire.
Armed men-citizen guards-were marching through the street and emptying into the gutters all the liquor they could find, whilst beastly sots followed in their wake, and wallowing literary in the mire of inebriation drank deeply from this reeking, seething, poisonous stream; and the fumes thereof ascending, mingled with the curses of strange women, of reeling, staggering, drunken men, of Federal prisoners marching through the streets and shouting forth their jibes and jeers at the downfall of the Southern metropolis, made this a night of honor that never can be forgotten.
At the private dwellings were yet lighted up, and that told of the anguish, the suffering, and the pain of parting then taking place; for from nearly every dwelling a loved one was going forth from his home, and was leaving all behind him. I soon bade my friends farewell, not knowing that I would ever see them again, and rejoined my command on Fourteenth (Pear) street, near Mayo's bridge.
"Forward, Third Company!" We were marching away-away from all we cherished and held most dear on earth. Three times had we, as a company, marched through noble old Richmond since the war commenced, and now we knew that we were going away forever-that another flag would, in a few short hours, float triumphantly over her hills where to-day the Bonnie Blue Flag of Dixie is floating for the very last time.
We lingered not to participate in or to witness the shamefully disgraceful proceedings that took place a short time after we left, but in silence and in sorrow we marched on, on to the sound of the night wind sighing through streets that ere long should ring with the shout of a shameless mob, and roar with the desolating flame of destruction. No woman's hand waved us a parting adieu as we sped onward, no matron or sire, bending 'neath the weight of years, bade us God speed, for the weak and defenseless were weeping in their desolated homes, and thus we left them.
All night long we marched, and on the morning of the 3d halted a few miles from Branch's Church, in Chesterfield county.
Went into camp about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, at Tomahawk Church, and remaining there all night, resumed our march at 3 A.
Page 555 Stray Leaves from a Soldier's Journal.
M. on the 4th. I was utterly broken down, and did not get up until several hours after our battalion had resumed its march, but as it was moving so slowly, I son caught up with it. Crossed the Appomattox River at Mattoax Station, upon a railway bridge, a very dangerous experiment, as the bridge was in a horrible condition. Lee's army is evidently making for Danville, Va.., via Burkeville Junction. Camped near Mattoax Station.
Wednesday, April 5th.-Marched all day and night; passed through Amelia Courthouse, and there found the enemy pressing us closely. A short distance in front of our battalion, beyond the Courthouse, a brigade of Federals dashed into out lines, but were driven off.
Thursday, April 6th.-The enemy have reached Burkeville Junction ahead of us, and we must take another direction, towards Lynchburg, I presume. The enemy, to-day, made a bold dash upon our column, at Deatonville, Amelia county; our guns were rapidly brought "into battery," and for a time we thought a heavy fight would take place. After a half hour's engagement we drove them off and resumed our march. Matters now began to assume a very serious accept, and late in the afternoon a heavy fight occurred in our rear, in which we were most seriously worsted. The march now assumed every appearance of a rout. Soldiers from every command were straggling all over the country, and our once grand army was rapidly melting away. On every side the Federals were capturing our wagon trains, artillery, etc., and in the meantime picked up thousand of our men, who were too nearly starved to fight. Marched to the High Bridge, over the Appomattox, and reached that point late at night, remaining there until next morning, when we moved in the direction of Farmville.
Friday, April 7th.-Moved within two miles of Farmville, where we halted to rest. Most of us busied ourselves in preparing a lunch composed of anything we could get. I had finished my delicious (to me) meal, consisting of a savory slap jack, and was lying on the ground, quietly taking my ease, when all at once a commotion arose and the drivers commenced hitching up in a hurry; for once the gallant, through somewhat lazy, Fourth Detachment, was on time. There was no hollooing for "Jack Crump", Jack was ready, and every body else was ready, and we moved out into the road without
Page 556 Southern Historical Society Papers.
regard to company or battalion order. There was much confusion, and I had received no especial orders, but I knew something was wrong. In the scramble, my gun (four-inch) occupied the third place form he head of the battalion. We moved rapidly; I was ahead of and separated from the balance of my company, and no commissioned officer was with me. Finally an officer from the Salem artillery rode by, and as he did so, remarked:
"You had better keep your eye upon a good horse; you will need him presently.
I replied, "I expect as much."
We were moving to the right of Farmville, a short distance in Cumberland county, and through a densely wooded swamp. Two guns belonging to the Salem artillery were in my front, and, through at the head of the battalion, neither field nor company officers were with them. I stopped to get a drink of water, and in so doing, noticed that not other guns were following me; an Orderly rode up to me and said:
"Colonel Hardaway says you have taken the wrong road; get back into the other road as speedily as possible."
I looked back and that which I had been expecting for some time was at its height-a stampede had taken place. Men and horses were dashing furiously through the woods. Instead of obeying Colonel Hardaway's order, it flashed across my mind that if I would move on the by-road, the enemy, if any there be near at hand, would follow the main column, and I might easily escape with my gun. So I gave the drivers orders to "trot, march" and away we went at a swinging rate. However, there was a wagon train in our front (Captain R. L. Christian's) and that brought us to a halt-the panic was spreading amongst his drivers, who had halted, unhitched, and were preparing to spike their mules, I reckon. I prevailed upon them not to desert their train, but to move along, at least until some of us had seen the enemy, or had heard a shot fired, neither of which had been done as yet. We moved on as rapidly as we could, and every now and then men from our main column would come up, telling us of the stampede, but not one of them had seen a single sign of a Yankee, or had heard a shot fired. I was fully convinced now that the whole affair was caused by improper information, and that the enemy were not in two miles of us. The drivers having, according to orders, cut their traces, and, being ordered to take care of themselves, were doing some John Gilpin horseman-
Page 557 Stray Leaves from a Solider's Journal.
ship through the woods, and having no officers with them, were seemingly at a great loss to know what to do. I was fully satisfied that if the drivers were sent back at once the abandoned guns could all be saved; therefore, whenever I came in contact with one of the battalion drivers, I sent him back to the guns, which order was pretty generally obeyed.
After many inquiries we found the cause of the stampede to be this:
It will be remembered that we were marching without support and were within two miles of Farmville, where we halted to give, men and horses a few hours rest, and from that place we moved in great hurry and confusion. General Mahone, commanding our rear guard, had sent direct information to Colonel Hardaway that he, General Mahone, could no longer maintain his ground, and unless our battalion moved off in haste, it would certainly be captured. Hence the haste; Hardaway was informed that he would be entirely enemy appeared upon his flank,he (Hardaway) must immediately spike his guns and abandon them, saving his men and horses, if possible; that the enemy would probably appear on his left flank- no Confederate force being between us and them.
Whilst we were marching through this dense swamp in Cumberland country, our battalion being badly scattered, and we not being able to see but a few yards either to the right of left, Colonel Talcott, a Colonel of Engineers on General R. E. Lee's staff (I think,) rode up to Colonel Hardaway and made this statement:
"The enemy are upon your left flank, and are but a short distance from you."
Upon this information, yet without seeing the enemy, Colonel Hardaway, generally cautions and thoroughly brave, gave the order to abandon the guns. Colonel Braxton had four guns in rear of us belonging to his battalion; they were also abandoned. The greater portion of these guns were spiked or cut down by our men, some of whom never left the guns at all. The "First," "Second" and "Third" guns of the "Third Company Howitzers," were spiked or disabled; the "Second Howitzers" has no guns; the "First Company" has buried theirs, and the "Fourth Detachment, Third Company," represents the RICHMOND HOWITZERS.
Six or seven of the abandoned guns were recovered that night by the men, and one of them was given to Sergeant George D. Thax-
Page 558 Southern Historical Society Papers.
ton (Second Detachment, Third Company,) he having brought it off the field. This gun belonged to Braxton's battalion, but as we saved it, our boys held on to it. We had a great deal of trouble to bring these guns up, for the roads were muddy and our horses almost famished.
Saturday, April 8th.-It is impossible for us to reach Lynchburg, the question of our surrender is now one of time only. Marched within four miles of Appomattox Courthouse, and halted about 2 P. M. Later in the afternoon heavy firing is heard immediately in our front, and soon we hear that the enemy have attacked and captured a park of our artillery, commanded by General Lindsey Walker, amounting to some thirty or forty guns. No infantry was supporting this artillery, and though the artillerists made a gallant resistance yet the most of them had to surrender. Some got off with their guns, and buried them shortly afterwards.
The "Second Company, Richmond Howitzers," at the evacuation of Richmond, had been given muskets, and have been doing infantry duty ever since. To say that they did their duty well is but to say what we expected of them. At Sailor's Creek, in Amelia country, they had fought the enemy most gallantly, and their loss was severe; they did not know how to run. At this place one of their Lieutenants, Henry S. Jones, fell mortally wounded; he was a gallant soldier, and had served faithfully with that Company during the entire war. So near the end and then to fall. At night we buried several guns belonging to our camp-fires, discussing our probable fate. It was now apparent to all that we could hold out bu a few hours-men and horses were utterly worm down by fatigue, loss of sleep and hunger. Thousands were leaving their commands and wandering about the devastated country in quest of food, and they had no muskets.
Each hour the enemy was drawing his anaconda coil around us more closely. The throes of dissolution had commenced, and we would go out with the tide. The oil in the lamp was burning low, and the light was going out forever.
THE SURRENDER-APPOMATTOX COURTHOUSE, SUNDAY APRIL 9TH, 1865.
We started early and moved in the direction of Appomattox Courthouse. When reaching that place 'twas evident we could go
Page 559 Stray Leaves from a Soldier's Journal.
no father, for the enemy, cavalry, infantry and artillery, in countless thousands, were on every side. A shell comes hurling down the lines, others follow fast and follow faster; just as cheerfully and just as defiantly as at Bethel, four years ago, when our hopes were big with the fate and fame of a new-born nation, do our boys go forth to meet them, and our guns hurl back their shot and shell.
WE were but a little band, standing there in the soft spring light of that Sabbath morn; THEY were as the sands upon the sea shore, or as the leaves upon the forest trees.
The flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, under whose silken folds so many a gallant comrade, friend, and brother fell, all tattered and torn, but NEVER dishonored, and around whose broken staff so many happy memories cluster, is floating above us for the very last time. The fighting ceased and soldiers wept.
"On now forever,
Farewell the tranquil mind; farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troop, and the JUST wars,
That make ambition virtue! O farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The Southern banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of bloody war!
And O, you mortal engines, whose rude throats
The immortal Jove's dread clamors counterfeit,
FAREWELL-Othello's occupation's gone!"
The rode adown our lines that peer of Generals, ROBERT EDWARD LEE, his head all bared and his noble face all clouded with a sorrow deeper than tongue can tell or pen can paint.
Is it a wonder then, that strong men, "men grown old in wars."
weep like children, and tearfully turning from, to them, the saddest sight on earth, silently prepare to go back to their desolated homes?
Ah! Time, nor sorrow, nor no other grief, however great, can erase from memory's vellum page the bitterness of that day.