To Appomattox

This is a popular history by Burke Davis published in 1959. You can download and read a free copy here.

The book reads well and one can get through it fairly quickly. It’s not a scholarly book in any way. There are no notes to tell you where the various anecdotes were originally found, and it’s accordingly very difficult to verify the author’s claims.

He provides us some nice human interest stories, such as the story of the infamous Richmond slave dealer Robert Lumpkin on April 2, 1865: “At this hour a slave dealer, one Lumpkin, appeared at the depot with a shuffling line of fifty slaves, their ankles chained. A sentinel in uniform thrust a bayonet at Lumpkin. ‘There’s no room here for you or your gang,’ he said, and turned the slaver from the station. The furious Lumpkin was forced to unlock the Negroes in the street and watch the scattering of $50,000 worth of property–perhaps the last batch of salable slaves in the nation.” [p. 106] He also tells us of the family of Josiah Gorgas, the chief of the confederate ordnance bureau: “Amelia Gorgas and her ten-year-old son Willie spent the night stripping their apartment in the Armory. Negro servants did most of it, carting the valuables away in a carriage. Amelia Gorgas could not know that the slaves dumped the treasures in the open, atop Gamble Hill: a sewing machine, a mirror, and her prized brass fireplace set. There was not time to move the heavy furniture and the carpets. Mrs. Gorgas feigned resignation at her general’s departure: ‘Every wife knew that she must be separated from her husband and left to the mercy of a victorious army.’ Her resolution now began to fail her.” [pp. 122-123]

The book is filled with such stories, skillfully woven into a smooth narrative. We get to see some things about the Lee family. “One of Ripley’s men was riding through the streets, gathering whites and Negroes for fire-fighting crews when a Negro called him from the front of a large brick house. ‘My mistress wants to talk to you,’ the servant said. The officer went into the house and met a  young woman. ‘My mother is an invalid,’ she said. ‘She can’t leave her bed. Will you help us if the fire comes this far?’ Her mother, the girl said, was Mrs. Robert E. Lee. the officer promised help, and within an hour a corporal and two men of the 9th Vermont stood guard before the house, with a waiting ambulance in the street.” [p. 147]

If you’re looking for a good book that reads like a novel and aren’t concerned about being able to verify the facts, then you will thoroughly enjoy this book. If, however, you’re looking for a book that adheres to stringent scholarly standards, this is not the book for you. It’s a story of the people on both sides who undertook the road from Petersburg and Richmond to Appomattox Court House, as well as the civilians who stayed behind. Take it for what it is, though, essentially a book of human interest stories with little or no historical analysis.


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