April 6, 1865: Battle of Sailor’s Creek


One last battle between the old adversaries the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  While moving towards the Appomattox River to cross it on his march to the west, Lee was intercepted by a large Union force under Sheridan.  Ewell’s corps, the rearguard of the army, was surrounded and after hard fighting surrendered.  Lee lost one quarter of his army.  Union casualties were slightly in excess of 1,000 while Confederate casualties were 7,700, mostly prisoners.



Major General William Mahone relates this poignant moment with General Lee:


As we were moving up in line of battle, General Lee riding with me and remonstrating about the severity of my note in respect to Colonel Marshall’s interference with my division the night before, up rode Colonel Venable, of General Lee’s staff, and wanted to know if he General Lee, had received his message. General Lee replied ‘No,’ when Colonel Venable informed him that the enemy had captured the wagon-trains at Sailor’s Creek. General Lee exclaimed, ‘Where is Anderson? Where is Ewell? It is strange I can’t hear from them.’ Then turning to me, he said, ‘General Mahone, I have no other troops, will you take your division to Sailor’s Creek?’ and I promptly gave the order by the left flank, and off we were for Sailor’s Creek, where the disaster had occurred. General Lee rode with me, Colonel Venable a little in the rear. On reaching the south crest of the high ground at the crossing of the river road overlooking Sailor’s Creek, the disaster which had overtaken our army was in full view, and the scene beggars description,–hurrying teamsters with their teams and dangling traces (no wagons), retreating infantry without guns, many without hats, a harmless mob, with the massive columns of the enemy moving orderly on. At this spectacle General Lee straightened himself in his saddle, and, looking more the soldier than ever, exclaimed, as if talking to himself, ‘My God! has the army dissolved?’ As quickly as I could control my own voice I replied, ‘No, general, here are troops ready to do their duty;’ when, in a mellowed voice, he replied, ‘Yes, general, there are some true men left. Will you please keep those people back?’ As I was placing my division in position to ‘keep those people back,’ the retiring herd just referred to had crowded around General Lee while he sat on his horse with a Confederate battle-flag in his hand. I rode up and requested him to give me the flag, which he did.

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  1. At that point, the Army of Northern Virginia did have nothing left to give. They were a spent force but did not want to face it.

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