Foreign and Colonial NewsThe Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1311, p. 366-367.
April 22, 1865
Retreat of Lee.
We were able to announce in a part of our Town Edition last week that General Lee had sustained a great defeat, and that Petersburg and Richmond had been evacuated by the Confederates and occupied by the victorious Federals. It was already known that there had been much hard fighting on the 31st ult. between General Grant's extreme left, under General Sheridan, and the Confederates, but that there had been no great result. On the 1st inst. the engagement was renewed, and in the afternoon General Sheridan cut the Confederate right at Five Forks Station, on the Southside Railway, and captured several thousand prisoners and some guns. At an early hour on the morning of the 2nd inst., a general attack was made on the Confederate lines in front of Petersburg, and was successful after very severe fighting, the Confederates retiring into the intrenchments immediately about Petersburg. During the night the city was evacuated, and on the morning of the 3rd inst. it was occupied by the Federals. Richmond had also been evacuated at the same time, and was likewise occcupied [sic] by General Weitzel's Federal corps on the morning of the 3rd inst. The Confederates had blown up their vessels of war at Richmond and Petersburg, had destroyed most of the bridges, and had burned large quantities of tobacco and stores. Nothing was accurately known as to the amount of the losses on each side, but on the 4th inst. General Grant estimated that his entire losses up to that date would not exceed 7000 men killed, wounded, and missing. He added that on the previous day more than 2000 Confederates were made prisoners; and in a previous despatch of the 2nd inst. he had stated that up to that time his army had
Page 367taken at least 12,000 prisoners. The correspondents of the New York newspapers asserted that the Confederates had lost altogether 25,000 prisoners and 15,000 killed or wounded. According to the latest news from New York (to the 8th inst.) Generals Grant, Sheridan, and Meade were in hot pursuit of the Confederates, capturing prisoners by the thousand.
The New York correspondent of the Times, writing on the 5th inst., thus describes the opening battles of the great Federal victory:--
Sheridan left in the night (of Tuesday, March 25), with his whole cavalry force, to make an attempt to reach the Southside Railroad. Most people imagined his destination was Burkesville, the point of junction between the Southside and Danville roads. He passed Dinwiddie Courthouse on Wednesday morning, all well; but it now began to leak out that he was not going to Burkesville at all, but was simply engaged in an attempt to turn Lee's right flank. On Wednesday afternoon the rain set in; the roads in two hours were converted into a quagmire, and so, of course, was the country round them. This delayed his march seriously, revealed the nature of his movement to the enemy, and, in fact, precipitated the crisis. On the same day the whole army of the Potomac moved out of its old position, except two corps left to hold the intrenchment, and pushed off in the old style to the left, and bivouacing that night on the northward side of the Vaughan-road.
It had by this time, doubtless, become apparent to Lee where Grant was, and he made his preparations to foil him with his usual energy. Pickett's division, one of the largest in his army, was sent to look after Sheridan; it found him with trains stuck in the mud, his horses in much the same fix, the men living on hard biscuits and drenched with twenty-four hours' rain. The 5th Corps, under General Warren, had been sent in support of him. It was to seize the White Oak-road and hold it, while a brigade of the cavalry pushed into the railroad at Five Forks; but the infantry did not come up, or was repulsed, some say owing to the rain; others, owing to Warren's disobedience of orders or remissness. Sheridan evidently took the latter view of it, for he relieved him of his command on the following day. As soon as it was disposed of, the enemy flung the whole of Pickett's division on Sheridan. The country was thickly wooded, most of the ground impracticable for cavalry, whose light carbines, if they were dismounted, could do little against the Confederate rifles. Sheridan was pressed hard during the day, losing, perhaps, a thousand men and a good deal of ground, and was only enabled to stop his retreat near nightfall by the arrival of Custer with two fresh brigades. So far the movement had not been very prosperous.
Thursday was a comparatively quiet day. Little was done beyond skirmishing. Lee was probably occupied in massing his troops, while the Federals were fairly mud-bound. The 5th Corps held a position between Gravelly Run and Hatcher's Run, about a mile north of the junction of the Quaker road and Boydton road.
At daylight on Friday morning a column composed of Wise's and Johnson's divisions, and one from Pickett's corps, flung itself upon it, and drove Crawford's and Ayre's division in confusion from the field for nearly two miles. They were not rallied till the afternoon, and then only south of the Boydton road. The offensive was resumed, with the assistance of the 2nd Corps, and, after a desperate conflict, the enemy was driven in, and at nightfall the Federals had advanced their position so as to hold the White Oak-road.
On Friday night General Grant, dissatisfied, like most other observers on the Federal side, with the day's business, placed General Sheridan in the supreme command of the whole of Warren's corps and all the cavalry. The brilliant contest of Saturday is most vividly narrated in the following extract from the report furnished by the correspondent of the New York World:--
At daybreak on Saturday Sheridan fired four signal-guns to admonish Warren he was off; and his cavalry, by diverging roads, struck their camps. Just south of Culpepper is a certain Stony Creek, the tributaries to which wind northward and control the roads. Over Stony Creek went Crook, making the longest detour. Custer took a bottom called Chamberlain's Bed; and Devin advanced from Little Five Forks--the whole driving the rebels towards the left of their works on White Oak-road.
We must start with the supposition that our own men far outnumbered the rebels. The latter were widely separated from their comrades before Petersburg, and it was a part of our scheme to push them back into their intrenchments. This work was delegated to the cavalry entirely; but mounted carabineers are no match for stubborn, bayoneted infantry. So when the horsemen were close up to the rebels they were dismounted and acted as infantry. All the afternoon the cavalry pushed them hard, and the strife went on uninterruptedly and terrifically.
Through wood, and brake, and swamp; across field and trench (says the correspondent), we pushed the fighting defenders steadily. For a part of the time Sheridan himself was there, short and broad, and active, waving his hat, giving orders, seldom out of fire, but never stationary; and close by fell the long, yellow locks of Custer, sabre extended, fighting like a Viking, though he was worn and haggard with much work.
After a time Sheridan got overwhelming forces to bear upon the Southern position, and forced a crisis which is thus finely described by the same writer, whose descriptions, graphic as they are, must have been penned with extraordinary quickness and promptitude to reach us by the same mail as brings the telegraphic summary of the same news. He says:--
Little by little, Sheridan, extending his lines, drove the whole rebel force into their breastworks; then he dismounted the mass of his cavalry and charged the works, straight in front, still thundering on their flank. At last every rebel was safe behind his intrenchments. Then the signal was given, and concealed infantry, many thousand strong, sprang up and advanced by echelon to the right. Imagine a great barn-door shutting to, and you have the movement, if you can also imagine the door itself, hinge and all, moving forward also. At six o'clock the whole corps column came crash upon the full flank of the astonished rebels. Now came the pitch of the battle. We were already on the rebel right in force, and thinly in their rear. Our carabineers were making feint to charge in direct front, and our infantry, four deep, hemmed in their entire left. All this they did not for an instant note, so thorough was their confusion; but, seeing it directly, they, so far from giving up, concentrated all energy, and fought like fiends. They had a battery in position which belched incessantly, and over the breastworks their musketry made one unbroken roll, while against Sheridan's prowlers on their left, by skirmish and sortie, they stuck to their sinking fortunes so as to win unwilling applause from mouths of wisest censure.
It was just at the coming up of the infantry that Sheridan's little band was pushed the hardest. At one time, indeed, they seemed about to undergo extermination; not that they wavered, but that they were so vastly overpowered. It will remain to the latest time a matter of marvel that so paltry a cavalry force could press back 16,000 infantry; but when the infantry blew like a great barn-door--the simile best applicable--upon the enemy's left, the victory that was to come had passed the region of strategy and resolved to an affair of personal courage. We had met the enemy; were they to be ours? To expedite this consummation, every officer fought as if he were the forlorn hope. Mounted on his black pony (the same which he rode at Winchester), Sheridan galloped everywhere, his flushed face all the redder, and his plethoric but nervous figure all the more ubiquitous. He galloped once straight down the rebel front, with but a handful of his Staff. A dozen bullets whistled for him together; one grazed his arm, at which a faithful orderly rode; the black pony leaped high, in fright; and Sheridan was untouched, but the orderly lay dead in the field, and the saddle dashed away empty. The fight, as we closed upon the rebels, was singularly free from great losses on our side, though desperate as any contest ever fought on the continent. One prolonged roar of rifles shook the afternoon; we carried no artillery; and the rebel battery, until its capture, raked us like an irrepressible demon, and at every foot of the intrenchments a true man fought, in front and behind. The birds of the forest fled afar; the smoke ascended to heaven; locked in such mad frenzy, none saw the sequel of the closing day. Now Richmond rocked in her high towers to watch the impending issue, but soon the day began to look grey, and a pale moon came tremorously out to watch the meeting squadrons. Imagine along a line of a full mile thirty thousand men struggling for life and prestige; the woods gathering about them--but yesterday the home of hermit hawks and chipmunks--now ablaze with bursting shells, and showing in the dusk the curl of flames in the tangled grass, and, rising up the boles of the pine trees, the scaling, scorching tongues. Seven hours this terrible spectacle had been enacted, but the finale of it had almost come.
It was, by all accounts, in this hour of victory when the modest and brave General Wintrop, of the first brigade, Ayre's division, was mortally wounded. He was riding along the breastworks, and in the act, as I am assured, of saving a friend's life, was shot through the left lung. He fell at once, and his men, who loved him, gathered round and took him tenderly to the rear, where he died before the stretcher on which he lay could be deposited beside the meeting-house door.
At seven o'clock the rebels came to the conclusion that they were outflanked and whipped. They had been so busily engaged that they were a long time finding out how desperate were their circumstances; but now, wearied with persistent assaults in front, they fell back to the left, only to see four close lines of battle waiting to drive them across the field, decimated. At the right, the horsemen charged them in their vain attempt to fight "out," and in the rear straggling foot and cavalry began also to assemble; slant fire, cross fire, and direct fire, by file and volley, rolled in perpetually, cutting down their bravest officers and strewing the fields with bleeding men; groans resounded in the intervals of exploding powder, and, to add to their terror and despair, their own artillery, captured from them, threw into their own ranks, from its old position, ungrateful grape and cannister, enfilading their breastworks, whizzing and plunging by air line and ricochet, and at last bodies of cavalry fairly mounted their intrenchments and charged down the parapet, slashing and trampling them, and producing inextricable confusion. They had no commanders--at least no orders--and looked in vain for some guiding hand to lead them out of a toil into which they had fallen so bravely and so blindly. A few more volleys, a new and irresistible charge, a shrill and warning command to die or surrender, and, with a sullen and fearful impulse, 5000 muskets are flung upon the ground, and 5000 hot, exhausted, and impotent men are Sheridan's prisoners of war. Thus ended the splendid victory of Five Forks. General Longstreet, it is thought, commanded.
On learning of this success on the extreme left, Grant determined on a general assault along the whole line for next day. The 9th Corps held the ground from the extreme right of the whole Federal line as far as to the Weldon Railroad, opposite the middle of Petersburg. The 6th Corps, which appears to have been recalled from the left, was opposite the remaining part of the Petersburg works; next, it would seem, came the 24th, the 2nd, and the 5th, the whole forming a line of fully twenty miles in length. The assault took place at all points at four o'clock in the morning of Sunday, the 2nd of April. It was received with a terrific fire of artillery from the forts, and with the most gallant resistance on the part of their garrisons. But the Federal rush was irresistible. The 9th Corps on the right, and the 6th on the left, broke through the lines opposite them, and swept down to each flank, capturing in succession the forts by which the line was strengthened. Sheridan, on his part, had done his work with equal efficiency. From the point on the Southside Railway, which the night before he had seized, he immediately commenced his march eastward, closing in upon Petersburg. So ended the day. Its results were 12,000 prisoners and fifty guns taken, and the Federals established in overwhelming force within reach of the last line of defences of the city. But in the night Lee anticipated capture, and evacuated both Richmond and Petersburg.
On the following day, the 3rd of April, the two towns were entered by the victors, amid the shouts of the secret sympathisers, so long repressed, and of the negroes, frantic with joy, who had not yet been permitted the privilege of fighting their deliverers.
The following details respecting the evacuation of Richmond and its occupation by the Union forces were telegraphed to the War Department, Washington, from that city:--
General Wietzel learnt, at three o'clock in the morning of Monday, that Richmond was being evacuated, and at daylight moved forward, first taking care to give his men breakfast, in the expectation that they might have to fight. He met no opposition, and, on entering the city, was greeted with hearty welcome from the mass of the people. The Mayor went out to meet him and to surrender the city, but missed him on the road. General Weitzel finds much suffering and poverty among the population. The rich as well as the poor are destitute of food. He is about to issue supplies to all who take the oath. The inhabitants number about 20,000, half of them of African descent. Jefferson Davis left at seven p.m. by the Danville Railroad. All the members of Congress escaped. Hunter has gone home. Judge Campbell remains here. General Weitzel took here 1000 prisoners besides the wounded. These number 5000, in nine hospitals. He captured cannon to the number of at least 500 pieces. Five thousand muskets have been found in one lot. Thirty locomotives and 300 cars are found here. The Petersburg Railroad bridge is totally destroyed; that of the Danville-road partially, so that connection with Petersburg can easily be made. All the rebel vessels are destroyed except an unfinished ram, which has her machinery in her perfect. The Tredegar Works are unharmed and the machinery was taken to-day, under General Weitzel's orders. Libby Prison and Castle Thunder have also escaped the fire, and are filled with rebel prisoners of war. Most of the editors have fled, especially John Mitchell. The Whig appears as a Union paper, with the name of the former proprietor at the head. General Weitzel describes the reception of President Lincoln as enthusiastic in the extreme.
In St. Paul's Church, near the War Department building, President Davis was (according to one account) sitting at the time General Lee's telegram announcing the turning of the Confederate right on the White Oak-road was received. The clergyman had nearly finished his sermon when an orderly entered the church, passed straight to the President's pew, and handed to him the fatal despatch. Mr. Davis immediately proceeded to the War department, thence to the Capitol, and thence to the Richmond and Danville Railroad dépôt, where he made the necessary preparations for the conveyance of his family to a place of safety. He remained in the city until near nightfall, when he left in the 5.30 train.
A letter from Richmond, published in the New York Times, gives the following account of President Lincoln's visit to the late Confederate capital:--
Head-quarters, Army of the James, Richmond, April 4.
The most interesting fact to be recorded to-day is the visit of the President to Richmond. Mr. Lincoln, accompanied by his young son and Admiral Porter, arrived at the Rocketts at two p.m. in the Malvern, and proceeded at once to the mansion of ex-president Davis, now the head-quarters of Major-General Weitzel. The arrival of the President soon got noised abroad, and the coloured population turned out in great force, and for a time blockaded the quarters of the President, cheering vociferously. It was to be expected that a population that three days since were in slavery should evince a strong desire to look upon the man whose edict had struck for ever the manacles from their limbs. A considerable number of the white population cheered the President heartily, and but for the order of the Provost Marshal, issued yesterday, ordering them to remain within their homes quietly for a few days, without doubt there would have been a large addition to the numbers present. After a short interval the President held a levée--General Devins introducing all the officers present. The President shook hands with each and received the hearty congratulations of all. The presidential party, attended by Generals Weitzel, Devins, Shepley, and a brilliant staff of officers, then made a tour round the city, drove rapidly round the capital, stopping for a few moments to admire Crawford's magnificent statue of Washington in the grounds of the Capitol, and returned to General Weitzel's head-quarters at 5.30. The President and party left Richmond at 6.30 p.m. Admiral Farragut arrived here this morning on a flying visit, and returned to City Point this evening down the James. It is very satisfactory to be able to state that the torpedoes have been removed and that six of our gunboats are at the present time lying off the "Rocketts." The destruction of property by the fire yesterday is enormous, and must amount to tens of millions of dollars. The dense volumes of smoke and the intense heat rendered it impossible to form an adequate idea of the extent of the property destroyed yesterday. The entire business portion of the city is a heap of smouldering ruins, and nothing but the absence of wind saved the entire city from destruction. There is but one feeling of unmitigated disgust expressed by the residents at this barbarous outrage. It is positively asserted that General Breckinridge gave the order that the tobacco and the Government workshops should be set fire to, and the close proximity of other valuable property rendered its escape from destruction almost impossible. The greater portion of the tobacco destroyed is said to have belonged to France and England. A regular mail communication between this and City Point will be established to-morrow, under the superintendence of Lieutenant Parker, who has been stationed at City Point for some time in the same capacity. Lieutenant Parker has taken possession of the old Post Office here, which is well adapted for the purpose. The publication of the Whig newspaper is resumed, under the management of one of its proprietors, who has always been opposed to secession. I inclose the first copy issued of the reformed journal, which states the circumstances under which its publication is permitted to be resumed. It is gratifying to state that the city is perfectly tranquil, and that the general behaviour of our troops is all that could be desired and has elicited the admiration of the citizens generally.
The pursuit of Lee began as soon as his flight from Wilson's station, on the 4th inst., was known. General Grant telegraphed to the Secretary of War:--
The army is pushing forward in the hope of overtaking and dispersing the remainder of Lee's army. Sheridan, with his cavalry and the 5th Corps, is between this and the Appomattox; General Meade, with the 2nd and 5th [sic] , following. General Ord is following the line of the Southside Railroad. All of the enemy that retain anything like organisation have gone north of the Appomattox, and are apparently heading for Lynchburg. Their losses have been very heavy. Houses through the country are nearly all used as hospitals for wounded men. In every direction, I hear of rebel soldiers pushing for home--some in large, some in small squads, and generally without arms. The cavalry have pursued so closely that the enemy have been forced to destroy probably the greater part of their transportation, caissons, and munitions of war. The number of prisoners captured yesterday will exceed 2300. From the 28th of March to the present time our loss in killed, wounded, and captured will not probably reach 7000, of whom from 1500 to 2000 were captured, and many but slightly wounded. I shall continue the pursuit as long as there appears to be any use in it.
It will be observed that Lee's precise course was not known. But it was at least certain that his only route lay westward, and General Grant lost not an hour in directing the pursuit. It seems to have been conducted in three columns. One, consisting of the cavalry, with (perhaps) the 5th Army Corps, under the command of Sheridan, was in advance, and struck the Danville Railway leading from Richmond to Burksville Junction, near Amelia Courthouse, about forty miles from Richmond and twelve from Burksville. General Meade followed on a line a little to the south, commanding the 2nd and 6th Corps. Grant himself accompanied the left wing, consisting of the 24th and part of the 25th Corps, under General Ord, on the direct Burksville road, parallel with the Southside Railway, and which passes through Nottaway Courthouse, about ten miles south-east of Burksville. But it was not till Tuesday, the 4th, when these positions were reached, that any distinct information was obtained of the whereabouts of what remained of the routed army. On the evening of that day Sheridan sent word to Meade that if he could get his column up in time he might capture or disperse Lee's army, then resting at Amelia Courthouse. On Wednesday, the 5th, Sheridan was at Jeffersville, half way between Amelia Courthouse and Burkesville, thus cutting Lee off from the junction and preventing his adopting the route to Danville; and the Federal General, pushing a brigade still further to the left, captured five guns, 200 waggons, and a number of prisoners. The 2nd Corps joined him in the forenoon, and the 6th in the afternoon; and Grant himself, leaving Ord's division, which proceeded to and captured Burkesville the same night, moved across the country, at the earnest request of his cavalry lieutenant, to be present with the advance. On Thursday, the 6th, Meade received intelligence that Lee was pointing in the direction of Farmville, a point on the Lynchburg Railway, about eight miles west of Burkesville. The Federal troops were at this time proceeding in a northerly direction from Burkesville, but their route was at once changed to the north-west; the 6th Corps, which had been on the right, meantime moving along the rear to the left, to form the extreme left of the line; the 2nd forming the centre, and the 5th the right. The cavalry were on the continuation of the left flank. The 2nd Corps soon became engaged with the enemy, and drove him across Sailor's Creek, a stream which falls into the Appomattox river about eight miles north of Burkesville. The 6th Corps, with Sheridan's cavalry, came up about four p.m., and instantly charged. The result was decisive, and six Confederate Generals were captured--Ewall, Kershaw, Button, Corse, Debare, and Curtis Lee--and several thousand prisoners, fourteen guns, and many caissons fell into the hands of the victors. For two miles the road was strewn with tents, baggage, cooking utensils, and ammunition. Several times the enemy appears to have rallied, and to have attempted a stand behind intrenchments or natural obstacles; but he was successively driven from them, and only nightfall seems to have prevented his utter dispersion or surrender. At this point the narrative for the present stops.
There had been extraordinary rejoicings throughout the North; and speeches had been made by several members of the Government. In his speech, Secretary Seward said that, if the people approved, the policy of the United States would be non-interference in the domestic affairs of other nations, and that, if England were just towards the United States, Canada would be left undisturbed.
A serious accident happened to Mr. Seward, in Washington, on the 5th inst. The horses of his carriage in which he was driving with his family took fright and became unmanageable. Mr. Seward jumped from the vehicle and fell heavily on his side, fracturing his right jaw and the right arm above the elbow. The ladies in the carriage sat still and escaped unhurt. Mr. Seward's present condition is represented as favourable.
There has been fighting at Mobile, with varying success. The intelligence is, however, to the 30th ult., and probably the affair is over by this time. Both land and sea forces were engaged in the reduction of the place.
Sherman was still resting at Goldsboro' on the 4th, but was expected to move against Raleigh and into Virginia.
Two new military movements are reported of a subordinate character, but which cannot fail to harass the Confederacy, should it survive the blows already received. One, under the direction of General Wilson, is aimed at the heart of Alabama, and then to strike at Mobile; the other, commanded by General Hancock, is directed up the Shenandoah Valley, for an attack on Lynchburg.
The Herald asserts that President Lincoln has opened negotiations with Judge Campbell for a settlement with the South, and that President Davis requested the latter to remain in Richmond for that purpose.
Sir Frederick Bruce, the successor at Washington of Lord Lyons, has arrived out.
The Federal negro recruiting commission has been removed from Washington to Richmond in order to organise the negro recruiting in Virginia.
The Federal transport General Lyon, with nearly 600 troops and hands on board, has been destroyed by fire on her passage from Wilmington to Fort Monroe, when over 500 persons perished, including the captain, who, crazed with fear, was one of the first to desert the ship in a boat, which was immediately swamped.
The Canadian Government seems determined to enforce their neutrality obligations, despite the action of the Montreal Court. The question of the extradition of the St. Albans raiders will be raised before the entire bench of Judges. Montreal despatches state that the raiders had been removed to Toronto, and were expected to be brought before the Judges there on the 10th inst. Their removal caused much excitement at Montreal, and it was deemed expedient to escort them to the railway station by a strong detachment of troops, lest any attempt should be made to rescue them. The Federal Government has, it is said, withdrawn its demand for the extradition of the prisoners, in consequence of the action of the Canadian Executive.