The Great Conspiracy

President Lincoln’s intense anxiety caused him to remain at City Point,
from this time forth, almost until the end–receiving from General
Grant, when absent, at the immediate front, frequent dispatches, which,
as fast as received and read, he transmitted to the Secretary of War, at
Washington. Grant had already given general instructions to Major-
Generals Meade, Ord, and Sheridan, for the closing movements of his
immediate Forces, against Lee and his lines of supply and possible
retreat. He saw that the time had come for which he had so long waited,
and he now felt “like ending the matter.” On the morning of the 29th of
March–preliminary dispositions having been executed–the movements
began. That night, Grant wrote to Sheridan, who was at Dinwiddie Court
House, with his ten thousand Cavalry: “Our line is now unbroken from the
Appomattox to Dinwiddie. * * * I feel now like ending the matter, if
it is possible to do so, before going back. * * * In the morning, push
around the Enemy, if you can, and get on his right rear. * * * We will
all act together as one Army, until it is seen what can be done with the
Enemy.” The rain fell all that night in torrents. The face of the
country, where forests, swamps, and quicksands alternated in presenting
apparently insuperable obstacles to immediate advance, was very
discouraging next morning, but Sheridan’s heart was gladdened by orders
to seize Five Forks.

On the 31st, the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House occurred–the Enemy
attacking Sheridan and Warren with a largely superior force. During the
night, Sheridan was reinforced with the Fifth Corps, and other troops.
On April 1st, Sheridan fought, and won, the glorious Battle of Five
Forks, against this detached Rebel force, and, besides capturing 6,000
prisoners and six pieces of artillery, dispersed the rest to the North
and West, away from the balance of Lee’s Army. That night, after Grant
received the news of this victory, he went into his tent, wrote a
dispatch, sent it by an orderly, and returning to the fire outside his
tent, calmly said: “I have ordered an immediate assault along the
lines.” This was afterward modified to an attack at three points, on
the Petersburg works, at 4 o’clock in the morning–a terrific
bombardment, however, to be kept up all night. Grant also sent more
reinforcements to Sheridan. On the morning of April 2nd, the assault
was made, and the Enemy’s works were gallantly carried, while Sheridan
was coming up to the West of Petersburg.

The Rebel Chieftain Lee, when his works were stormed and carried, is
said to have exclaimed: “It has happened as I thought; the lines have
been stretched until they broke.” At 10.30 A. M. he telegraphed to
Jefferson Davis: “My lines are broken in three places. Richmond must be
evacuated this evening.” This dispatch of Parke, Ord on Wright’s left,
Humphreys on Ord’s left and Warren on Humphrey’s left-Sheridan being to
the rear and left of Warren, reached Davis, while at church. All
present felt, as he retired, that the end of the Rebellion had come. At
10.40 A. M. Lee reported further: “I see no prospect of doing more than
holding our position here till night. I am not certain that I can do
that. If I can, I shall withdraw tonight, North of the Appomattox, and
if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night from
James river. * * * Our only chance of concentrating our Forces is to
do so near Danville railroad, which I shall endeavor to do at once. I
advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond to-night. I
will advise you later, according to circumstances. “At 7 o’clock P. M.
Lee again communicated to the Rebel Secretary of War this information:
“It is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position to-
night, or run the risk of being cut off in the morning. I have given
all the orders to officers on both sides of the river, and have taken
every precaution that I can to make the movement successful. It will be
a difficult operation, but I hope not impracticable. Please give all
orders that you find necessary, in and about Richmond. The troops will
all be directed to Amelia Court House.” This was the last dispatch sent
by Lee to the Rebel Government.

On the 3rd of April, Petersburg and Richmond were evacuated, and again
under the Union flag, while Grant’s immediate Forces were pressing
forward to cut off the retreat of Lee, upon Amelia Court House and
Danville, in an effort to form a junction with Johnston. On the 6th,
the important Battle of Sailor’s Creek, Va., was fought and won by
Sheridan. On the evening of the 7th, at the Farmville hotel, where Lee
had slept the night before, Grant, after sending dispatches to Sheridan
at Prospect Station, Ord at Prince Edward’s Court House, and Mead at
Rice Station, wrote the following letter to Lee:

“FARMVILLE, April 7th, 1865.

“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
States’ army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee, however, in replying to this demand, and in subsequent
correspondence, seemed to be unable to see “the hopelessness of further
resistance.” He thought “the emergency had not yet come.” Hence, Grant
decided to so press and harass him, as to bring the emergency along
quickly. Accordingly, by the night of the 8th of April, Sheridan with
his Cavalry had completely headed Lee off, at Appomattox Court House.
By morning, Ord’s forces had reached Sheridan, and were in line behind
him. Two Corps of the Army of the Potomac, under Meade, were also, by
this time, close on the Enemy’s rear. And now the harassed Enemy,
conscious that his rear was threatened, and seeing only Cavalry in his
front, through which to fight his way, advanced to the attack. The
dismounted Cavalry of Sheridan contested the advance, in order to give
Ord and Griffin as much time as possible to form, then, mounting and
moving rapidly aside, they suddenly uncovered, to the charging Rebels,
Ord’s impenetrable barrier of Infantry, advancing upon them at a double-
quick! At the same time that this appalling sight staggered them, and
rolled them back in despair, they became aware that Sheridan’s impetuous
Cavalry, now mounted, were hovering on their left flank, evidently about
to charge!

Lee at once concluded that the emergency “had now come,” and sent, both
to Sheridan and Meade, a flag of truce, asking that hostilities cease,
pending negotiations for a surrender–having also requested of Grant an
audience with a view to such surrender. That afternoon the two great
rival Military Chieftains met by appointment in the plain little farm-
house of one McLean–Lee dressed in his best full-dress uniform and
sword, Grant in a uniform soiled and dusty, and without any sword–and,
after a few preliminary words, as to the terms proposed by Grant, the
latter sat down to the table, and wrote the following:

“VIRGINIA, April 9, 1865.

“GENERAL: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the
8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern
Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and
men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be
designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers
as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not
to take up arms against the Government of the United States, until
properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander to sign a
like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and
public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the
officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the
side-arms of the officers nor their private horses or baggage. This
done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to
be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their
paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.


“General R. E. LEE.”

After some further conversation, in which Grant intimated that his
officers receiving paroles would be instructed to “allow the Cavalry and
Artillery men to retain their horses, and take them home to work their
little farms”–a kindness which Lee said, would “have the best possible
effect,” the latter wrote his surrender in the following words:

April 9, 1865.

“GENERAL: I received your letter of this date containing the terms of
the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, as proposed by you. As
they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the
8th instant, they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper
officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
“R. E. LEE, General.

“Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT.”
Before parting, Lee told Grant that his men were starving; and Grant at
once ordered 25,000 rations to be issued to the surrendered Rebels–and
then the Rebel Chieftain, shaking hands with the Victor, rode away to
his conquered legions. It was 4.30 P.M. when Grant, on his way to his
own headquarters, now with Sheridan’s command, dismounted from his
horse, and sitting on a stone by the roadside, wrote the following

“Hon. E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington.

“General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon on
terms proposed by myself. The accompanying additional correspondence
will show the conditions fully.
“U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant General.”
Meanwhile on the 5th of April, Grant, who had kept Sherman, as well as
Sheridan, advised of his main movements, had also ordered the former to
press Johnston’s Army as he was pressing Lee, so as, between them, they
might “push on, and finish the job.” In accordance with this order,
Sherman’s Forces advanced toward Smithfield, and, Johnston having
rapidly retreated before them, entered Raleigh, North Carolina, on the
13th. The 14th of April, brought the news of the surrender of Lee to
Grant, and the same day a correspondence was opened between Sherman and
Johnston, looking to the surrender of the latter’s Army–terms for which
were actually agreed upon, subject, however, to approval of Sherman’s
superiors. Those terms, however, being considered unsatisfactory, were
promptly disapproved, and similar terms to those allowed to Lee’s Army,
were substituted, and agreed to, the actual surrender taking place April
26th, near Durham, North Carolina. On the 21st, Macon, Georgia, with
12,000 Rebel Militia, and sixty guns, was surrendered to Wilson’s
Cavalry-command, by General Howell Cobb. On the 4th of May, General
Richard Taylor surrendered all the armed Rebel troops, East of the
Mississippi river; and on the 26th of May, General Kirby Smith
surrendered all of them, West of that river.

On that day, organized, armed Rebellion against the United States
ceased, and became a thing of the past. It had been conquered, stamped
out, and extinguished, while its civic head, Jefferson Davis, captured
May 11th, at Irwinsville, Georgia, while attempting to escape, was, with
other leading Rebels, a prisoner in a Union fort. Four years of armed
Rebellion had been enough for them. They were absolutely sick of it.
And the magnanimity of the terms given them by Grant, completed their
subjugation. “The wisdom of his course,” says Badeau, “was proved by
the haste which the Rebels made to yield everything they had fought for.
They were ready not only to give up their arms, but literally to implore
forgiveness of the Government. They acquiesced in the abolition of
Slavery. They abandoned the heresy of Secession, and waited to learn
what else their conquerors would dictate. They dreamed not of political
power. They only asked to be let live quietly under the flag they had
outraged, and attempt in some degree to rebuild their shattered
fortunes. The greatest General of the Rebellion asked for pardon.”


But while some of the great Military events alluded to in the preceding
Chapter, had been transpiring at the theatre of War, something else had
happened at the National Capital, so momentous, so atrocious, so
execrable, that it was with difficulty the victorious soldiers of the
Union, when they first heard the news, could be restrained from turning
upon the then remaining armed Rebels, and annihilating them in their
righteous fury.

Let us go back, for a moment, to President Lincoln, whom we left on
board the Ocean Queen, at City Point, toward the end of March and the
beginning of April, receiving dispatches from Grant, who was
victoriously engaged at the front. On the very day that Richmond fell–
April 4th–President Lincoln, with his little son “Tad,” Admiral Porter,
and others, visited the burning city, and held a reception in the
parlors of the Mansion which had now, for so many years, been occupied
by the Chief Conspirator, Jefferson Davis, and which had been
precipitately abandoned when the flight of that Arch-Rebel and his
“Cabinet” commenced. On the 6th, the President, accompanied by his
wife, Vice-President Johnson, and others from Washington, again visited
Richmond, and received distinguished Virginians, to whom he addressed
words of wisdom and patriotism.

[“On this occasion,” says Arnold, “he was called upon by several
prominent citizens of Virginia, anxious to learn what the policy of
the Government towards them would be. Without committing himself
to specific details, he satisfied them that his policy would be
magnanimous, forgiving, and generous. He told these Virginians
they must learn loyalty and devotion to the Nation. They need not
love Virginia less, but they must love the Republic more.”]

On the 9th of April, he returned to Washington, and the same day–his
last Sunday on Earth–came the grand and glorious news of Lee’s

On the Wednesday evening following, he made a lengthy speech, at the
White House, to the great crowd that had assembled about it, to
congratulate him, and the Nation, upon the downfall of Rebellion. His
first thought in that speech, was of gratitude to God. His second, to
put himself in the background, and to give all the credit of Union
Military success, to those who, under God, had achieved it. Said he:
“We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The
evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the
principal Insurgent Army, give hope of a righteous and speedy Peace,
whose joyous expression cannot be restrained. In the midst of this,
however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A Call
for a National Thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly
promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of
rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with
others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of
transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for
plan or execution, is mine. To General Grant, his skilful officers and
brave men, all belongs.”

This speech was almost entirely devoted to the subject of reconstruction
of the States lately in Rebellion, and to an argument in favor of the
Reconstruction policy, under which a new and loyal government had been
formed for the State of Louisiana. “Some twelve thousand voters in the
heretofore Slave State of Louisiana,” said he, “have sworn allegiance to
the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held
elections, organized a State government, adopted a Free State
Constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to Black and
White, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise
upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the
Constitutional Amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing Slavery
throughout the Nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully
committed to the Union, and to perpetual Freedom in the State; committed
to the very things, and nearly all the things, the Nation wants; and
they ask the Nation’s recognition and its assistance to make good that
committal. Now, if we reject and spurn them, we do our utmost to
disorganize and disperse them. We, in effect, say to the White men,
‘You are worthless, or worse; we will neither help you, nor be helped by
you.’ To the Blacks we say, ‘This cup of Liberty which these, your old
masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you and leave you to the
chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague
and undefined when, where, and how.’ If this course, discouraging and
paralyzing both White and Black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana
into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been
unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize and sustain
the new government of Louisiana, the converse of all this is made true.”

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