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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter VIII - The Last Campaign


EVEN before the disasters of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and while General Lee was still pursuing a course of dazzling success, it had become evident to many that the cause of the South was hopeless. A strict blockade shut her out from the markets of Europe. Her supplies of arms were running so low, that even if she could have found men in sufficient numbers to resist the North, she could not have equipped them. Food was becoming scarce. Already the pangs of hunger had been experienced in Lee's army. Elsewhere there was much suffering, even among those who had lately been rich. The soldiers were insufficiently provided with clothing. As winter came on they deserted and went home in crowds so great that punishment was impossible.

The North had a million of men in the field. She had nearly six hundred ships of war, seventy-five of which were iron-dads. She had boundless command of everything which eoul(l contribute to the efficiency and comfort of her soldiers. The rolls of the Southern armies showed only four hundred thousand men under arms, and of these it was said that from desertion and other causes seldom more than one-half were in the ranks.

Money was becoming very scarce. The Confederate Government borrowed all the money it could at home. But the supply received was wholly out of proportion to the expenditure. A loan was attempted in England, and there proved to be there a sufficient number of rich but unwise persons to furnish three
millions sterling—most of which will remain for ever unpaid to the lenders. No other measure remained but to print, as fast as machinery would do it, Government promises to pay at some future time, and to force these upon people to whom the Government owed money. These promises gradually fell in value. In 1862, when the rebellion was young and hopes were high, one dollar and twenty cents in Government money would purchase a dollar in gold. In January 1863 it required three dollars to do that. After Gettysburg it required twenty dollars. Somewhat later it required sixty paper dollars to obtain the one precious golden coin.

It became every clay more apparent that the resources of the South were being exhausted. Even if the genius of her generals should continue to gain victories, the South must perish from want of money and want of food. There was a touching weakness in many of her business arrangements. Government appealed to the people for gifts of jewellery and silver plate, and published in the Richmond newspapers lists of the gold rings and silver spoons and teapots which amiable enthusiasts bestowed U0fl them When iron-clad ships of war were needed and iron was scarce, an association of ladies was formed to collect old pots and pans for the purpose The daring of these people and the skill of their leaders might indeed gain them victories ; but it was a wild improbability that they should come successfully out of a war in which the powerful and sagacious North was resolute to win.

The Northern Government, well advised of the failing resources of the South, hoped that one campaign more would close the war. Bitter experience had corrected their early mistakes. They had at length found a general worthy of his high place. Grant was summoned eastward to direct the last march on Richmond. The spirit of the country was resolute as ever. The soldiers had now the skill of veterans. Enormous supplies were provided. Everything that boundless resources, wisely administered, could do, was now (lone to bring the awful contest to a close.

When the campaign opened, Grant with 120,000 men faced Lee, whose force was certainly less by one-half. The little river Rapidan flowed between. The Wilderness—a desolate region of stunted trees and dense undergrowth—stretched for many miles around. At midnight, on the 3rd of May, Grant began to cross the river, and before next evening his army stood on the southern side. Lee at once attacked him. During the next eight flays there was continuous fighting. The men toiled all day at the work of slaughter, lay down to sleep at night, and rose to resume their bloody labour in the morning, as men do in the ordinary peaceful business of life. Lee directed his scanty force with wondrous skill. it was his habit to throw up intrenchments, within which he maintained himself against the Federal assault. Grant did not allow himself to be hindered in his progress to Richmond. When he failed to force the Confederate position lie marched southward round its flank, continually obliging Lee to move forward and take up a new position. His losses were terrible. From the 5th to the 12th of May he had lost 30,000 men in killed, wounded', and missing. The wounded were sent to Washington. Trains of ambulances miles in length, laden with suffering men, passed continually through the capital, filling all hearts with sadness and gloomy apprehension. The cost was awful, but General Grant knew that the end was being gained. He knew that Lee was weakened irrecoverably by the slaughter of these battles, and he wrote that he would "fight it out on this line, if it should take all summer."

Grant found that a direct attack on Richmond was as yet hopeless, he marched southwards past the rebel capital to the little town of Petersburg, twenty-two miles off. His plan was to wear down the rebel army by the continual attack of Superior forces, and also to cut the railways by which provisions were brought into Richmond. By the middle of June he was before Petersburg, which he hoped to possess before Lee had time to fortify the place against him. It might have been taken by a vigorous assault, but the attacking force was feebly led, and the opportunity was missed.

And now there began the tedious bloody siege of Petersburg. The armies had chosen their positions for the final conflict. The result was not doubtful. General Lee was of opinion, some time ago, that the fortunes of the Confederacy were desperate. The Northern Government and military leaders knew that success was certain. Indeed General Grant stated afterwards that he had been at the front from the very beginning of the war, and that he had never entertained any doubt whatever as to the final success of the North.

All around Petersburg, at such distance that the firing did not very seriously affect the little city, stretched the earthworks of the combatants. Before the end there were forty miles of earthworks. The Confederates established a line of defence. The Federals established a line of attack, and gradually, by superior strength, drove their antagonists back. Lee retired to a new series of defences, where the fight was continued. The Federals had a railway running to City Point, eleven miles away, where their ships brought for them the amplest supplies. Lee depended upon the railways which communicated with distant portions of Confederate territory. These it was the aim of Grant to cut, so that his adversary might he driven by want of food from his position. The outposts of the armies were within talking distance of each other. The men lay in rifle-pits or shallow ditches, watching opportunity to kill. Any foe who incautiously came within range died by their unerring fire. For ten long months the daily occupation of the combatants had been to attack each the positions of the other. The Confederates, by constant sallies, attempted to hinder the advance of their powerful assailant. Grant never relaxed his hold. He "had the rebel!- ion by the throat," and he steadily tightened his grasp. By City Point he was in easy communication with the boundless resources of the North. Men and stores were supplied as he needed them by an enthusiastic country. Oil rebel side the last available man was now in the field. half the time the army wanted food. Desertions abounded. It was not that the men shunned danger or hardship, but they knew the cause was hopeless. Many of them knew also that their families were starving. They went home to help those who were dearer to them than that desperate enterprise whose ruin was now so manifest. The genius of Lee was the sole remaining buttress of the Confederate cause.

Once the Federals ran an enormous mine under a portion of the enemy's works. In this mine they piled up twelve thousand pounds of gunpowder. They had a strong column ready to march into the opening which the explosion would cleave. Early one summer morning the mine was fired. A vast mass of earth, mingled with bodies of men, was thrown high into air. The Confederate defence at that point was effaced. The attacking force moved forward. But from some unexplained reason they paused and sheltered themselves in the huge pit formed by the explosion. The Confederates promptly brought up artillery and rained shells into the pit, where soon fifteen hundred men lay dead. The discomfited Federals retired to their lines.

When Grant began his march to Richmond, he took care that the enemy should be pressed in other quarters of his territory. General Sherman marched from Tennessee down into Georgia. Before him was a strong Confederate army and a country peculiarly favourable for an army contented to remain on the defensive. Sherman overcame every obstacle. He defeated his enemy in many battles and bloody skirmishes. His object was to reach Atlanta, the capital of Georgia. Atlanta was of extreme value to the rebels. It commanded railroads which conveyed supplies to their armies. It had great factories where they manufactured cannon and locomotives; great foundries where they laboured incessantly to produce shot and shell. Sherman, by brilliant generalship and hard fighting, overcame all resistance, and entered Atlanta, September 2. It was a great prize, but it was not had cheaply. During these four months he had lost 30,000 men.

\\Tlien Sherman had held Atlanta for a few weeks he resolved to march eastward through Georgia to the sea. He had a magnificent army of 60,000 men, for whom there was no sufficient occupation where they lay. On the sea-coast there were cities to be taken. And then his army could march northwards to join Grant before Petersburg.

When all was ready Sherman put the torch to the public buildings of Atlanta, telegraphed northwards that all was well, and cut the telegraph wires. Then he started on his march of three hundred miles across a hostile country.  For a month nothing was heard of him. When lie re-appeared it was before Savannah, of which he quickly possessed himself. His march through Georgia had been unopposed. He severely wasted the country for thirty miles on either side of the line from Atlanta to Savannah. lie carried off the supplies he needed. He destroyed what he could not use. He tore up the railroads. He proclaimed liberty to the slaves, many of whom accompanied him eastward. He proved to all the world how hollow a thing was now the Confederacy, and how rapidly its doom was approaching.

At the north, in the valley of the Shenandoah, a strong Confederate army, under the habitually unsuccessful General Early, confronted the Federals under Sheridan. Could Sheridan have been driven away, the war might again have been carried into Pennsylvania or Maryland, and the North humbled in her career of victory. But Sheridan was still triumphant. At length General Early effected a surprise. He burst upon the Federals while they looked not for him. His sudden attack disordered the enemy, who began to retire. Sheri- clan was not with his army. He had gone to Winchester, twenty miles away. The morning breeze from the south bore to his startled ear the sounds of battle. Sheridan mounted his horse, and rode with the speed of a man who felt that upon his presence hung the destiny of the fight. his army was on the verge of defeat, and already stragglers were hurrying from the field. But when Sheridan galloped among them, the battle was restored. Under Sheridan the army was invincible. The rebels were defeated with heavy loss, and were never again able to renew the war in the valley of the Shenandoah.

The Slave question was not yet completely settled. The Proclamation had made free the slaves of all who were rebels, and nothing remained between them and liberty but those thin lines of gray-coated hungry soldiers, upon whose arms the genius of Lee bestowed an efficacy not naturally their own. But the Proclamation had no power to free the slaves of loyal citizens. In the States which had not revolted slavery was the same as it had ever been. The feeling deepened rapidly throughout the North that this could not continue. Slavery had borne fruit in the hugest rebellion known to history. It had proclaimed irreconcilable hostility to the Government. It had brought mourning and woe into every house. The Union could not continue half-slave and half-free. The North wisely and nobly resolved that slavery should cease.

Most of the loyal Slave States freed themselves by their own choice of this evil institution. Louisiana, brought back to her allegiance not without some measure of force, led the way. Maryland followed, and Tennessee, and Missouri, and Arkansas. In Missouri, whence the influence issued which murdered Lovejoy because he was an abolitionist—which supplied the Border ruffians in the early days of Kansas—the abolition of slavery was welcomed with devout prayer and thanksgiving, with joyful illuminations and speeches and patriotic songs.

One thing was yet wanting to the complete and final extinction of slavery. The Constitution permitted the existence of the accursed thing. If the Constitution were so amended as to forbid slavery upon American soil, the cause of this huge discord which now convulsed the land would be removed. A Constitutional Amendment to this effect was submitted to the people. In the early months of 1865, while General Lee—worthy to fight in a better cause—was still bravely toiling to avert the coming doom of the Slave Empire, the Northern States joyfully adopted the Amendment. Slavery was now at length extinct. This was what Providence had mercifully brought out of a rebellion whose avowed object it was to establish slavery more firmly and extend it more widely.

But freedom was not enough. Many of the black men had faithfully served the Union. Nearly two hundred thousand of them were in the ranks—fighting manfully in a cause which was specially their own. There were many black men, as Lincoln said, who "could remember that with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they had helped mankind to save liberty in America." But the coloured race was child-like and helpless. They had to be looked upon as it wards of the nation." A Freedmen's Bureau was established, to be the defence of the defenceless blacks. General Howard—a man peculiarly fitted to give wise effect to the kind purposes of the nation—became the head of this department. it was his duty to provide food and shelter for the slaves who were set free by military operations in the revolted States. lie settled them, as he could, on confiscated lands. After a time he had to see to the education of their children. In all needful ways he was to keep the negroes from wrong till they were able to keep themselves.

Four years had now passed since Lincoln's election furnished the slave-owners with a pretext to rebel. Another election had to be made. Lincoln was again proposed as the Republican candidate. The Democratic party nominated M'Clellan—the general who so scrupulously avoided collisions when he commanded a Federal army. The war, said the Democrats, is a failure; let us have a cessation of hostilities, and endeavour to save the Union by peaceful negotiation. Let us put (Iowa slavery and rebellion by force, said the Republicans; there is no other way. These were the simple issues on which the election turned. Mr. Lincoln was re-elected by the largest majority ever known. "It is not in my nature," he said, "to triumph over any one; but I give thanks to Almighty God for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand by free government an(l the rights of humanity."

He was inaugurated according to the usual form. His Address was brief, but high-toned and solemn, as beseemed the circumstances. Perhaps no State paper ever produced so deep an impression upon the American people. It closed thus:-"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword—as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.' With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind lip the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

During the winter months it became very plain that the Confederacy was tottering to its fall. These were the bitterest months through which Virginia had ever passed. The army was habitually now on short supply. Occasionally, for a day, there was almost a total absence of food. One day in December Lee telegraphed to Richmond that his army was without meat, and dependent on a little bread. And yet the soldiers were greatly better off than the citizens. Provisions were seized for the army wherever they could be found, and the owners were mercilessly left to starve. The suffering endured among the once cheerful homes of Virginia was terrible.

Every grown man was the property of the Government. It was said the rich men escaped easily. But a poor man could not pass along a street in Richmond without imminent risk of being seized and sent down to the lines at Petersburg. At railroad stations might be constantly seen groups of squalid men on their way to camp—caught up from their homes and hurried off to fight for a cause which they all knew to be desperate—in the service of a Government which they no longer trusted. It was, of course, the earliest care of these men to desert. They went home. They surrendered to the enemy. The spirit which made the Confederacy formidable no longer survived.

General Lee had long before expressed his belief that without the help of the slaves the war must end disastrously. But all men knew that a slave who had been a soldier could be a slave no longer. The owners were not prepared to free their slaves, and they refused therefore to arm them. in November—with utter ruin impending—a Bill was introduced into the Confederate Congress for arming two hundred thousand negroes. It was debated till the following March. Then a feeble compromise was passed, merely giving the President power to accept such slaves as were offered to him. So inflexibly resolute were the leaders of the South in their hostility to emancipation. it was wholly unimportant. At that time Government could have armed only another five thousand men; and could not feed the men it had.

The finances of the Confederacy were an utter wreck. Government itself sold specie at the rate of one gold dollar for sixty dollars in paper money. Mr. Davis, by a measure of partial repudiation, relieved himself for a short space from some of his embarrassments. But no device would gain public confidence for the currency of a falling power. A loaf of bread cost three dollars. It took a month's pay to buy the soldier a pair of stockings. The misery of the country was deep, abject, unutterable. President Davis came to be regarded with abhorrence, as the cause of all this wretchedness. Curses, growing ever deeper and louder, were breathed against the unsuccessful chief.

General Grant, well aware of the desperate condition of the Confederates, pressed incessantly upon their enfeebled lines. Tie had 160,000 men under his command. Sheridan joined 1dm with a magnificent force of cavalry. Sherman with his victorious army was near. Grant began to fear that Lee would March 29, take to flight, and keep the rebellion alive on other fields. A general movement of all the forces around Richmond was decided upon. Lee struggled bravely, but in vain, against overwhelming numbers. His right was assailed by Sheridan, and driven back with heavy loss, 5000 hungry and disheartened men laying down their arms. On that same night Grant opened, from all his guns, a terrific and prolonged bombardment. At dawn the assault was made. Its strength was directed against one of the Confederate forts. The fight ceased elsewhere, and the armies looked on. There was a steady advance of the blue-coated lines; a murderous volley from the little garrison; wild cheers from the excited spectators. Under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry the soldiers of the Union rush on; they swarm into the ditch and up the sides of the works. Those who first reach the summit fall back slain by musket-shot or bayonet-thrust. But others press fiercely on. Soon their exulting cheers tell that the fort is won. Lee's army is cut in two. His position is no longer tenable. He telegraphed at once to President Davis that Richmond must be evacuated.

It was Communion Sunday in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and President Davis was in his pew among the other worshippers. No intelligence from the army had been allowed to reach the public for some days. But the sound of Grant's guns had been heard, and the reserve of the Government was ominous. Many a keen eye sought to gather from the aspect of the President some forecast of the future. In vain. That serene self-possessed face had lost nothing of its habitual reticence. In all that congregation there was no worshipper who seemed less encumbered by the world, more absorbed by the sacred employment of the hour, than President Davis. The service proceeded, and the congregation knelt in prayer. As President Davis rose from his knees the sexton handed him a slip of paper. He calmly read it. Then he calmly lifted his prayer-book, and with unmoved face walked softly from the church. It was Lee's message lie had received. Jefferson Davis's sole concern now was to escape the doom of the traitor and the rebel, He fled at once, by special train, towards the south. Then the work of evacuation commenced. The gun-boats on the river were blown up. The bridges were destroyed. The great warehouses in the city were set on fire, and in the flames thus wickedly kindled a third part of the city was consumed. All who had made themselves prominent in the rebellion fled from the anticipated vengeance of the Federals. The soldiers were marched off, plundering as they went. Next morning Richmond was in possession of the Northern troops. Among the first to enter the capital of the rebel slave-owners was a regiment of negro cavalry.

About midnight on Sunday Lee began his retreat from the position which he had kept so well. Grant promptly followed him. On the Tuesday morning Lee reached a point where he had ordered supplies to wait him. By some fatal blunder the cars laden with the food which his men needed so much had been run on to Richmond, and were lost to him. Hungry and weary the men toiled on, hotly pursued by Grant. Soon a hostile force appeared in in their front, and it became evident that they were surrounded.

General Grant wrote to General Lee asking the surrender of his army, to spare the useless effusion of blood. Lee did not at first admit that surrender was necessary, and Grant pressed the pursuit with relentless energy. Lee wrote again to request a meeting, that the terms of surrender might be arranged. The two leaders met in a wayside cottage. They had never seen each other before, although they had both served in the Mexican War, and Lee mentioned pleasantly that he remembered the name of his antagonist from that time. Grant drew up and presented in writing the terms which he offered. The men were to lay down their arms, and give their pledge that they would not serve against the American Government till regularly exchanged. They were then to return to their homes, with a guarantee that they would not be disturbed y the Government against which they had rebelled. Grant asked if these terms were satisfactory. "Yes," said Lee, "they are satisfactory. The truth is, I am in such a position that any terms offered to inc must be satisfactory." And then he told how his men had been for two days without food, and begged General Grant to spare them what he could. Grant, generously eager to relieve his fallen enemies, despatched instantly a large drove of oxen and a train of provision waggons. In half an hour there were heard in the Federal camp the cheers with which the hungry rebels welcomed those precious gifts.

Lee rode quietly back to his army. The surrender was expected. When its details became known, officers and men crowded around their much-loved chief to assure him of their devotion, to obtain a parting grasp of his hand. Lee was too deeply moved to say much. "Men," he said, with his habitual simplicity, "we have fought through the war together, and I have done the best I could for you." A day or two later the men stacked their arms and went to their homes. The history of the once splendid Army of Northern Virginia had closed.

Lee's surrender led the way to the surrender of all the Confederate armies. Within a few days there was no organized force of any importance in arms against the Union. The War of the Great Rebellion was at an end.


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