April 7, 1865 was a day of intense frustration for Robert E. Lee. Hoping to feed his army with rations waiting at Farmville, Union troops prevented that, crossing the Appomattox at bridges that Lee had ordered to be burned. His army had no choice but to continue on its hungry way, the nearest rations being at Appomattox Court House some twenty-five miles away. Longstreet in his memoirs recalled that dismal day.
I heard nothing of the affair at Sailor’s Creek, nor from General Lee, until next morning. Our work at Rice’s Station was not very serious, but was continued until night, when we marched and crossed the Appomattox at Farmville without loss, some of Rosser’s and Mumford’s cavalry following. We crossed early in the morning and received two days’ rations,–the first regular issue since we left Richmond,–halted our wagons, made fires, got out cooking utensils, and were just ready to prepare a good breakfast. We had not heard of the disasters on the other route and the hasty retreat, and were looking for a little quiet to prepare breakfast, when General Lee rode up and said that the bridges had been fired before his cavalry crossed, that part of that command was cut off and lost, and that the troops should hurry on to position at Cumberland Church.
I reminded him that there were fords over which his cavalry could cross, and that they knew of or would surely find them. Everything except the food was ordered back to the wagons and dumped in.
Meanwhile, the alarm had spread, and our teamsters, frightened by reports of cavalry trouble and approaching fire of artillery, joined in the panic, put whips to their teams as quick as the camp-kettles were tumbled over the tail-boards of the wagons, and rushed through the woods to find a road somewhere in front of them. The command was ordered under arms and put in quick march, but General Lee urged double-quick. Our cavalry was then engaged near Farmville, and presently came a reckless charge of Gregg’s troopers towards parts of Rosser’s and Mumford’s commands. Heth’s division of infantry was sent to support them. As the balance of the command marched, General Lee took the head of the column and led it on the double-quick.
I thought it better to let them pass me, and, to quiet their apprehensions a little, rode at a walk. General Mahone received the attack of part of the enemy’s Second Corps, like Gregg’s cavalry making reckless attack. The enemy seemed to think they had another Sailor’s Creek affair, and part of their attack got in as far as Poague’s battery, but Mahone recovered it, and then drove off an attack against his front. General Gregg and a considerable part of his command were captured by Rosser and Mumford. At Cumberland Church the command deployed on the right of Poague’s battery, but Mahone reported a move by part of Miles’s division to turn his left which might dislodge him. G. T. Anderson’s brigade of Field’s division was sent with orders to get around the threatening force and break it up. Mahone so directed them through a woodland that they succeeded in over-reaching the threatened march, and took in some three hundred prisoners, the last of our trouble for the day. General Lee stopped at a cottage near my line, where I joined him after night; the trains and other parts of his army had moved on towards Appomattox Court-House.
Just after sunset, a letter from General Grant arrived:
A little after nightfall a flag of truce appeared under torchlight in front of Mahone’s line bearing a note to General Lee:
“Head-quarters Armies of the United States,
“5 P.M., April 7, 1865.
“General R. E. Lee,
“_Commanding Confederate States Army_:
“GENERAL,–The results of the last week must convince you of the
hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern
Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my
duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion
of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the
Confederate army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
“U. S. GRANT,
“_Lieutenant-General, Commanding Armies of the United
I was sitting at his side when the note was delivered. He read it and handed it to me without referring to its contents. After reading it I gave it back, saying, “_Not yet_.” General Lee wrote in reply,–
“April 7, 1865.
“GENERAL,–I have received your note of this day. Though not
entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further
resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate
your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before
considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on
condition of its surrender.
“R. E. Lee,
The surrender process had begun.