Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Goldsboro is four hundred and twenty-five miles from Savannah.
Sherman’s march was without much incident until he entered
Columbia, on the 17th of February. He was detained in his
progress by having to repair and corduroy the roads, and rebuild
the bridges. There was constant skirmishing and fighting between
the cavalry of the two armies, but this did not retard the
advance of the infantry. Four days, also, were lost in making
complete the destruction of the most important railroads south
of Columbia; there was also some delay caused by the high water,
and the destruction of the bridges on the line of the road. A
formidable river had to be crossed near Columbia, and that in
the face of a small garrison under General Wade Hampton. There
was but little delay, however, further than that caused by high
water in the stream. Hampton left as Sherman approached, and
the city was found to be on fire.

There has since been a great deal of acrimony displayed in
discussions of the question as to who set Columbia on fire.
Sherman denies it on the part of his troops, and Hampton denies
it on the part of the Confederates. One thing is certain: as
soon as our troops took possession, they at once proceeded to
extinguish the flames to the best of their ability with the
limited means at hand. In any case, the example set by the
Confederates in burning the village of Chambersburg, Pa., a town
which was not garrisoned, would seem to make a defence of the act
of firing the seat of government of the State most responsible
for the conflict then raging, not imperative.

The Confederate troops having vacated the city, the mayor took
possession, and sallied forth to meet the commander of the
National forces for the purpose of surrendering the town, making
terms for the protection of property, etc. Sherman paid no
attention at all to the overture, but pushed forward and took
the town without making any conditions whatever with its
citizens. He then, however, co-operated with the mayor in
extinguishing the flames and providing for the people who were
rendered destitute by this destruction of their homes. When he
left there he even gave the mayor five hundred head of cattle to
be distributed among the citizens, to tide them over until some
arrangement could be made for their future supplies. He
remained in Columbia until the roads, public buildings,
workshops and everything that could be useful to the enemy were
destroyed. While at Columbia, Sherman learned for the first
time that what remained of Hood’s army was confronting him,
under the command of General Beauregard.

Charleston was evacuated on the 18th of February, and Foster
garrisoned the place. Wilmington was captured on the 22d.
Columbia and Cheraw farther north, were regarded as so secure
from invasion that the wealthy people of Charleston and Augusta
had sent much of their valuable property to these two points to
be stored. Among the goods sent there were valuable carpets,
tons of old Madeira, silverware, and furniture. I am afraid
much of these goods fell into the hands of our troops. There
was found at Columbia a large amount of powder, some artillery,
small-arms and fixed ammunition. These, of course were among
the articles destroyed. While here, Sherman also learned of
Johnston’s restoration to command. The latter was given, as
already stated, all troops in North and South Carolina. After
the completion of the destruction of public property about
Columbia, Sherman proceeded on his march and reached Cheraw
without any special opposition and without incident to relate.
The railroads, of course, were thoroughly destroyed on the
way. Sherman remained a day or two at Cheraw; and, finally, on
the 6th of March crossed his troops over the Pedee and advanced
straight for Fayetteville. Hardee and Hampton were there, and
barely escaped. Sherman reached Fayetteville on the 11th of
March. He had dispatched scouts from Cheraw with letters to
General Terry, at Wilmington, asking him to send a steamer with
some supplies of bread, clothing and other articles which he
enumerated. The scouts got through successfully, and a boat was
sent with the mail and such articles for which Sherman had asked
as were in store at Wilmington; unfortunately, however, those
stores did not contain clothing.

Four days later, on the 15th, Sherman left Fayetteville for
Goldsboro. The march, now, had to be made with great caution,
for he was approaching Lee’s army and nearing the country that
still remained open to the enemy. Besides, he was confronting
all that he had had to confront in his previous march up to that
point, reinforced by the garrisons along the road and by what
remained of Hood’s army. Frantic appeals were made to the
people to come in voluntarily and swell the ranks of our foe. I
presume, however, that Johnston did not have in all over 35,000
or 40,000 men. The people had grown tired of the war, and
desertions from the Confederate army were much more numerous
than the voluntary accessions.

There was some fighting at Averysboro on the 16th between
Johnston’s troops and Sherman’s, with some loss; and at
Bentonville on the 19th and 21st of March, but Johnston withdrew
from the contest before the morning of the 22d. Sherman’s loss
in these last engagements in killed, wounded, and missing, was
about sixteen hundred. Sherman’s troops at last reached
Goldsboro on the 23d of the month and went into bivouac; and
there his men were destined to have a long rest. Schofield was
there to meet him with the troops which had been sent to
Wilmington.

Sherman was no longer in danger. He had Johnston confronting
him; but with an army much inferior to his own, both in numbers
and morale. He had Lee to the north of him with a force largely
superior; but I was holding Lee with a still greater force, and
had he made his escape and gotten down to reinforce Johnston,
Sherman, with the reinforcements he now had from Schofield and
Terry, would have been able to hold the Confederates at bay for
an indefinite period. He was near the sea-shore with his back
to it, and our navy occupied the harbors. He had a railroad to
both Wilmington and New Bern, and his flanks were thoroughly
protected by streams, which intersect that part of the country
and deepen as they approach the sea. Then, too, Sherman knew
that if Lee should escape me I would be on his heels, and he and
Johnson together would be crushed in one blow if they attempted
to make a stand. With the loss of their capital, it is doubtful
whether Lee’s army would have amounted to much as an army when it
reached North Carolina. Johnston? army was demoralized by
constant defeat and would hardly have made an offensive
movement, even if they could have been induced to remain on
duty. The men of both Lee’s and Johnston’s armies were, like
their brethren of the North, as brave as men can be; but no man
is so brave that he may not meet such defeats and disasters as
to discourage him and dampen his ardor for any cause, no matter
how just he deems it.

CHAPTER LXIII.

ARRIVAL OF THE PEACE COMMISSIONERS–LINCOLN AND THE PEACE
COMMISSIONERS–AN ANECDOTE OF LINCOLN–THE WINTER BEFORE
PETERSBURG–SHERIDAN DESTROYS THE RAILROAD–GORDON CARRIES THE
PICKET LINE–PARKE RECAPTURES THE LINE–THE LINE OF BATTLE OF
WHITE OAK ROAD.

On the last of January, 1895, peace commissioners from the
so-called Confederate States presented themselves on our lines
around Petersburg, and were immediately conducted to my
headquarters at City Point. They proved to be Alexander H.
Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, Judge Campbell,
Assistant-Secretary of War, and R. M. T. Hunt, formerly United
States Senator and then a member of the Confederate Senate.

It was about dark when they reached my headquarters, and I at
once conducted them to the steam Mary Martin, a Hudson River
boat which was very comfortably fitted up for the use of
passengers. I at once communicated by telegraph with Washington
and informed the Secretary of War and the President of the
arrival of these commissioners and that their object was to
negotiate terms of peace between he United States and, as they
termed it, the Confederate Government. It was instructed to
retain them at City Point, until the President, or some one whom
he would designate, should come to meet them. They remained
several days as guests on board the boat. I saw them quite
frequently, though I have no recollection of having had any
conversation whatever with them on the subject of their
mission. It was something I had nothing to do with, and I
therefore did not wish to express any views on the subject. For
my own part I never had admitted, and never was ready to admit,
that they were the representatives of a GOVERNMENT. There had
been too great a waste of blood and treasure to concede anything
of the kind. As long as they remained there, however, our
relations were pleasant and I found them all very agreeable
gentlemen. I directed the captain to furnish them with the best
the boat afforded, and to administer to their comfort in every
way possible. No guard was placed over them and no restriction
was put upon their movements; nor was there any pledge asked
that they would not abuse the privileges extended to them. They
were permitted to leave the boat when they felt like it, and did
so, coming up on the bank and visiting me at my headquarters.

I had never met either of these gentlemen before the war, but
knew them well by reputation and through their public services,
and I had been a particular admirer of Mr. Stephens. I had
always supposed that he was a very small man, but when I saw him
in the dusk of the evening I was very much surprised to find so
large a man as he seemed to be. When he got down on to the boat
I found that he was wearing a coarse gray woollen overcoat, a
manufacture that had been introduced into the South during the
rebellion. The cloth was thicker than anything of the kind I
had ever seen, even in Canada. The overcoat extended nearly to
his feet, and was so large that it gave him the appearance of
being an average-sized man. He took this off when he reached
the cabin of the boat, and I was struck with the apparent change
in size, in the coat and out of it.

After a few days, about the 2d of February, I received a
dispatch from Washington, directing me to send the commissioners
to Hampton Roads to meet the President and a member of the
cabinet. Mr. Lincoln met them there and had an interview of
short duration. It was not a great while after they met that
the President visited me at City Point. He spoke of his having
met the commissioners, and said he had told them that there
would be no use in entering into any negotiations unless they
would recognize, first: that the Union as a whole must be
forever preserved, and second: that slavery must be abolished.
If they were willing to concede these two points, then he was
ready to enter into negotiations and was almost willing to hand
them a blank sheet of paper with his signature attached for them
to fill in the terms upon which they were willing to live with us
in the Union and be one people. He always showed a generous and
kindly spirit toward the Southern people, and I never heard him
abuse an enemy. Some of the cruel things said about President
Lincoln, particularly in the North, used to pierce him to the
heart; but never in my presence did he evince a revengeful
disposition and I saw a great deal of him at City Point, for he
seemed glad to get away from the cares and anxieties of the
capital.

Right here I might relate an anecdote of Mr. Lincoln. It was on
the occasion of his visit to me just after he had talked with the
peace commissioners at Hampton Roads. After a little
conversation, he asked me if I had seen that overcoat of
Stephens’s. I replied that I had. “Well,” said he, “did you
see him take it off?” I said yes. “Well,” said he, “didn’t you
think it was the biggest shuck and the littlest ear that ever you
did see?” Long afterwards I told this story to the Confederate
General J. B. Gordon, at the time a member of the Senate. He
repeated it to Stephens, and, as I heard afterwards, Stephens
laughed immoderately at the simile of Mr. Lincoln.

The rest of the winter, after the departure of the peace
commissioners, passed off quietly and uneventfully, except for
two or three little incidents. On one occasion during this
period, while I was visiting Washington City for the purpose of
conferring with the administration, the enemy’s cavalry under
General Wade Hampton, passing our extreme left and then going to
the south, got in east of us. Before their presence was known,
they had driven off a large number of beef cattle that were
grazing in that section. It was a fair capture, and they were
sufficiently needed by the Confederates. It was only
retaliating for what we had done, sometimes for many weeks at a
time, when out of supplies taking what the Confederate army
otherwise would have gotten. As appears in this book, on one
single occasion we captured five thousand head of cattle which
were crossing the Mississippi River near Port Hudson on their
way from Texas to supply the Confederate army in the East.

One of the most anxious periods of my experience during the
rebellion was the last few weeks before Petersburg. I felt that
the situation of the Confederate army was such that they would
try to make an escape at the earliest practicable moment, and I
was afraid, every morning, that I would awake from my sleep to
hear that Lee had gone, and that nothing was left but a picket
line. He had his railroad by the way of Danville south, and I
was afraid that he was running off his men and all stores and
ordnance except such as it would be necessary to carry with him
for his immediate defence. I knew he could move much more
lightly and more rapidly than I, and that, if he got the start,
he would leave me behind so that we would have the same army to
fight again farther south and the war might be prolonged another
year.

I was led to this fear by the fact that I could not see how it
was possible for the Confederates to hold out much longer where
they were. There is no doubt that Richmond would have been
evacuated much sooner than it was, if it had not been that it
was the capital of the so-called Confederacy, and the fact of
evacuating the capital would, of course, have had a very
demoralizing effect upon the Confederate army. When it was
evacuated (as we shall see further on), the Confederacy at once
began to crumble and fade away. Then, too, desertions were
taking place, not only among those who were with General Lee in
the neighborhood of their capital, but throughout the whole
Confederacy. I remember that in a conversation with me on one
occasion long prior to this, General Butler remarked that the
Confederates would find great difficulty in getting more men for
their army; possibly adding, though I am not certain as to this,
“unless they should arm the slave.”

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