This Week in the American Civil War: April 5-11, 1865

MN150Logo_OL_FNLInformation courtesy of the

Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force

(www.mncivilwar150.com and “Minnesota Civil War 150” on Facebook)

 

Major Highlights for the Week

Wednesday April 5, 1865

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was confronted by a lack of supplies for the Army of Northern Virginia at Amelia Court House, Virginia. With Federal Major General Phil Sheridan and infantry in front of him near Jetersville, he could no longer use the Danville Railroad and turned towards Farmville instead, where supplies were ordered from Lynchburg by railroad. Sheridan wanted to attack but Major General George G. Meade refrained from ordering the attack until more troops could arrive.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was at Danville and was out of touch with General Robert E. Lee but was establishing an executive office there, not willing to leave Virginia.

President Abraham Lincoln entered Richmond again before returning to City Point where he received word that Secretary of State William H. Seward was injured in a carriage accident in Washington that afternoon.

Thursday April 6, 1865

BATTLE OF SAYLER’S CREEK

The last major engagement between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and Federal Army of the Potomac occurred at Sayler’s Creek, near the Farmville and High Bridge crossings of the Appomattox River. Crossing the stream was imperative for safety and the army attempted to keep together, which was impossible. In the bottom land of Sayler’s Creek, the retreating column split and the Federals moved in forcing a gap in the Confederate line. Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Lieutenant General James Longstreet and Major General William Mahone continued on while Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell and Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson followed behind the gap. The wagons were ordered on a detour to cross the river. Anderson and Ewell were quickly pressed back, but mounted a countercharge which failed in the face of strong artillery fire. Federal flanks closed in towards the middle and Ewell was forced to surrender. Some 8,000 Confederates surrendered while Federals suffered approximately 1,180 sustained casualties. It is estimated that the Confederates lost about a third of the men that departed Amelia Court House that morning. As Lee witnessed the engagement, he exclaimed, “My God! Has the army been dissolved?” It was clear that the numbers of the once proud Army of Northern Virginia were diminishing rapidly.

Friday April 7, 1865

Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, in an effort to avoid further bloodshed, sent a message to Confederate General Robert E. Lee asking for the surrender of his Army of Northern Virginia.

The Confederate army, meanwhile, received more punishment even though they repulsed the Federals in an engagement near Farmville, Virginia, and crossed the Appomattox River to continue their retreat on the north side. Though the Confederates attempted to burn the bridges behind them, Federal troop movements blocked Lee at Appomattox Station and Appomattox Court House, squeezing Lee between Federal forces on the east and west flanks.

Tennessee ratified the Thirteenth Amendment and inaugurated avowed abolitionist and unionist W.G. “Parson” Brownlow as the state’s governor.

At City Point, Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln sent a wire to Grant stating, “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet were in Danville, Virginia attempting to do what they could, though their efforts had little effect.

Saturday April 8, 1865

The road to Lynchburg, Virginia, the next goal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army, passed through hamlets and villages and Appomattox Station near Appomattox Court House. Behind the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia was Federal Major General George G. Meade with the Second and Sixth Corps., Federal Major General Phil Sheridan’s cavalry and the Fifth Corps to the south. By evening, a detachment of the Army of the James blocked Lee’s route to Lynchburg. Though skirmishing occurred throughout the day, Meade was unable to bring on a general engagement, while Sheridan’s cavalry seized Confederate supply trains at Appomattox Station.

Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, at Farmville, Virginia, received Lee’s reply asking what terms Grant would offer. Grant offered to meet with Lee to receive the surrender. Lee replied later in the day that he did not intend to propose surrender but merely inquired to ask the terms of the proposition. Still, Lee wanted to meet to discuss this with Grant.

Earlier in the morning, Lee was informed by a number of his officers that had conferred the previous evening and agreed that the army could not break through to join Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s troops and recommended that he open negotiations with the Federals.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis got information from Secretary of War John C. Brekinridge and messenger John S. Wise that the situation was critical. Nevertheless, a certain amount of routine business continued.

President Abraham Lincoln visited Petersburg, then late in the evening left City Point, Virginia by boat and headed back to Washington.

Late in the night near Appomattox Court House, Confederate General Robert E. Lee held his final council of war.

Sunday April 9, 1865

     LEE SURRENDERS TO GRANT AT APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE

On Palm Sunday, a clear spring sun rose in Virginia. At dawn, near Appomattox Station, the Confederates had attacked with the hope of forcing a passage through the Federals in front of them. At first they were successful, but there was more than just enemy cavalry in front of them. The route was also blocked by infantry. The Federal forces drove in, and on the east other Federals under Major General George G. Meade attacked the Confederate rear guard. Escape was now impossible. Lee arranged to meet with Grant.

On the field, there was confusion with truce flags mixed in with small arms fire. Federal Brigadier General George A. Custer demanded the surrender of Confederates.

Yet by the early afternoon in the home of Wilmer McLean at Appomattox Court House, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and one aide met with Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, his staff, and several of the major commanders. After pleasantries, Lee called attention to the matter at hand, discussion of surrender terms.

Grant wrote out his proposal, went over it with his staff, then presented it to Lee. The terms did not include surrender of side arms of officers or of their private horses or baggage, and allowed each officer and man to go home and not be disturbed as long as parole was observed. Lee brought up the fact that cavalrymen and artillerists owned their own horses, which would be needed for the spring planting. After a short conference, Grant agreed to let those who claimed horses to keep them. Arrangements were also made to feed Lee’s army from Federal supplies. Thus it was completed – a document from Grant to Lee giving terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, and one from Lee to Grant accepting those terms. Contrary to legend, Lee did not surrender his sword to Grant.

However, the war was not over. There were still armies in the field and a Confederate government at Danville, Virginia. It was only after a gentle reminder later in the afternoon that Lieutenant General Grant remembered to inform Washington to what transpired at Appomattox Court House.

President Abraham Lincoln arrived back in Washington in early evening as news was spreading throughout the land. Bonfires sprang up as crowds jammed the streets. In the Army of the Potomac, flags waved, bands played, artillery boomed and the air was filled with knapsacks, canteens, tin cups and roaring cheers. When the noise receded, a silence of respect to the fallen dead and the vanquished foe fell over Appomattox a four years of war in Virginia had ended.

Monday April 10, 1865

News of the surrender arrived in Danville, Virginia, late in the afternoon. By evening, what little remained of the Confederate government took to the railroad again and headed for Greensborough, North Carolina, fearful that the cavalry in the area might overtake them.

President Abraham Lincoln was serenaded several times throughout the day by relieved and happy crowds in Washington. He promised to make a more formal appearance the following evening, and asked one of the bands to play “Dixie.”

In Mobile, Alabama, Forts Huger and Tracy kept up their bombardment, but it was clear that with less than 5,000 Confederates at hand, Major General D.H. Maury would be forced to evacuate the city.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee issued his last general orders imploring the members of his former command to return to their homes then bid an affectionate farewell.

As Lee was in the process of issuing his general order, Federal Major General Ulysses Grant arrived and the two conferred about surrendering all of the Confederate armies. Lee made note that it was not his decision to make but that of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Other officers, including Major General George G. Meade who was not present at the surrender, visited with Lee. Memories and curiosity seemed to draw them all together.

Tuesday April 11, 1865

At Mobile, Alabama, the remaining defenses of Forts Huger and Tracy were abandoned and Confederate Major General D.H. Maury began evacuation of the city itself. Only a rear guard remained behind that night.

Federal Major General William T. Sherman’s troops continued to advance towards Goldsborough, North Carolina. Sherman entered Smithfield, North Carolina, where he learned of Lee’s surrender.

The Confederate government train arrived at Goldsborough, North Carolina, early in the day to a cold response in comparison to what they received in Danville, Virginia. Citizens were concerned about reprisals from Federal troops.

President Abraham Lincoln spoke to an enthusiastic crowd from a window of the White House. He expressed the hope for a “righteous and speedy peace” and discussed reconstruction, including giving the Negro the right to vote.  Lincoln admitted the difficulties of reconstruction and desired that plans be kept flexible. It was a serious, anxious speech, full of the future – and was to be his last.

Where Minnesota Regiments were the week of April 5-11, 1865 

Active units:

1st Battalion Minnesota Infantry – Present at Lee’s surrender and on duty at Appomattox Court House until May 2, 1865.     

2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On Raleigh, North Carolina campaign until April 14, 1865.

3rd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Duvall’s Bluff, Arkansas until May 13, 1865.

4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On Raleigh, North Carolina campaign until April 14, 1865.

5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Mobile, Alabama until April 12, 1865.

6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Mobile, Alabama until April 12, 1865.

7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Mobile, Alabama until April 12, 1865.

8th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On Raleigh, North Carolina campaign until April 14, 1865.

9th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Mobile, Alabama until April 12, 1865.

10th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Mobile, Alabama until April 12, 1865.

11th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Assigned to duty guarding the line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad from Nashville to the Kentucky line. Companies E, G, and I were at Gallatin, Tennessee. Company A was at Buck Lodge. Company B at Edgefield Junction. Company C at Richland. Company D at Sandersville. Company H was at Mitchellsville. The location of companies F and K are unknown at this time. The regiment remained on duty at these locations until June 25, 1865.

2nd Regiment Minnesota Cavalry – Engaged in frontier and patrol duty between Forts Wadsworth, Abercrombie, Ripley and Ridgely with headquarters at Fort Snelling, until November 17, 1865.

Brackett’s Battalion of Minnesota Cavalry – Engaged in frontier and patrol duty between Forts Wadsworth, Abercrombie, Ripley and Ridgely with headquarters at Fort Snelling until May 1866.

Hatch’s Independent Battalion of Cavalry – Companies A, B, C and D moved to Fort Abercrombie. Companies A and B assigned to garrison at Fort Abercrombie.  Company C assigned to garrison at Alexandria and Pomme de Terre. Company D on patrol duty from Fort Abercrombie to Pembina.  Companies E and F on frontier duty. The battalion would remain in these duty locations for the duration of the war – until April 26, 1866.

1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Battery – On garrison duty at Chattanooga, Tennessee until September 27, 1865.

1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery – On Raleigh, North Carolina campaign until April 14, 1865.

2nd Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery – On duty in Philadelphia, Tennessee until July 1865.

3rd Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery – Various sections on duty at Fort Ridgely, Fort Ripley and Fort Sisseton until May 1865.

Inactive units: 

1st Regiment Minnesota Cavalry “Mounted Rangers” – Formally mustered out of service on December 7, 1863. Inactive.  

1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Mustered out of Federal service on April 29, 1864. Inactive. 

2nd United States Sharpshooters, Company A – Transferred to the 1st Battalion, Minnesota Infantry on February 20, 1865 at Petersburg, Virginia for duration of service.  

1st United States Sharpshooters Company I Mustered out of Federal Service on March 19, 1865.

About civilwarweek

Member - Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, Civil War reenactor and historian since 1993, holds Bachelor's Degree in History from Concordia University-St. Paul, currently pursuing Master's Degree in History at St. Cloud State University and is author of the forthcoming book, "Muskets and Memories: A Modern Man's Journey through the Civil War."
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