Out of the Storm

This is a book by Noah Andre Trudeau covering the end of the Civil War. Like most of Trudeau’s books, it’s heavy on what the soldiers said of their experiences. Like some of his other books, this one has no footnotes to tell you where the various statements may be found in primary source material. Notes at the end do list sources for each chapter, but they generally don’t match sources with specific quotations. Some of the maps in the book are useless due to the lack of detail and their placement far away from the action they depict, though there are some very good maps well situated for the reader to understand the action described.

In one part of the book he takes on the controversy about numbers: “How many Confederate soldiers were involved in the retreat has long been a matter of contention. Southern sources, which tend to emphasize the disparity between the two sides, suggest that between 25,000 and 30,000 soldiers left the Richmond-Petersburg theater on the night of April 2. Modern researchers, working backward from the known figures of those captured, killed, or surrendered in the course of the campaign, have established a likely figure of about 58,000. If a similar measure is applied to the Union troops actually engaged in the pursuit, the result is a total Federal force of more than 76,000 men.” [pp. 89-90] That passage cries for a note detailing the sources so someone could check the methodology and learn more, but one searches in vain for such a note.

One of the main players we follow is young John S. Wise, son of the former Virginia governor. “John S. wise had been on duty at Clover Station when he learned that a volunteer was needed to try to establish contact between the Confederate government in Danville and Lee’s army. Wise, whose father commanded a brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, at once stepped forward. An engine with a tender and a baggage car was sent up from Danville at about eight o’clock at night, and Wise received some last-minute instructions. He was to try to get as far north as Burkeville, and if he made it there, he was to switch over to the South Side Railroad and run westward until he made contact. If it was not possible for him to reach Burkeville, Wise was to pull the train back to Meherrin Station, obtain a horse, and attempt to intercept Lee overland.” [p. 95] That was on Tuesday, April 4, 1865. The night of Thursday, April 6, Wise caught up with Lee. “A young officer appeared out of the darkness and stepped up to the Confederate commander. ‘General Lee?’ he asked, touching his hat. It was John Wise, the courier sent by Jefferson Davis. Wise had spent a nerve-racking day dodging Yankee cavalry patrols as he made his way toward Rice’s Station. Now he produced Davis’s written order, which satisfied Lee. ‘You may say to Mr. Davis that, as he knows, my original purpose was to adhere to the line of the Danville Road. I have been unable to do so and am now endeavoring to … retire in the direction of Lynchburg.’ Wise ventured to ask the great commander if he foresaw making a stand at any particular place. ‘No,’ Lee said sadly. ‘No; I shall have to be governed by each day’s developments.’ There was a moody moment of silence before he added, with a touch of bitterness, ‘A few more Sailor’s Creeks and it will be over–ended–just as I have expected it would end from the first.’ ” [pp. 114-115]

We also learn about the relief of Generals Anderson, Johnson, and Pickett: “It was at New Store [on Saturday, April 8, 1865] that Robert E. Lee found time to take care of a few administrative matters. Three generals–Richard H. Anderson, Bushrod Johnson, and George E. Pickett–were relieved of command, ostensibly because their forces had been too depleted by combat loss and attrition to continue as independent organizations, though the generals’ lackluster performances during the retreat were certainly also a factor. The existing units were shifted to other commands, and the three officers told to report home for further orders, though only Anderson appears to have been formally notified.” [p. 127]

We find out that the surrender didn’t end animosity. “A Massachusetts man, pulling guard duty, wrote in his diary on April 17, ‘A Reb, after taking the oath [of allegiance], was caught tearing up our RR tracks. The guard shot him dead where he stood.’ A Pennsylvania surgeon, in a letter finished on April 18, reported a similar incident: ‘Yesterday some rebels were hung in the vicinity. … They were caught tearing up the Railroad. … They violated their parole and were justly and summarily dealt with. There is no truth or honor in a Rebel.’ ” [p. 151]

Trudeau gives us glimpses of how meeting Abraham Lincoln affected various rebels along the way. “The presidential party now returned by water to City Point. Lincoln’s spirits, which had been soured by Green’s visit, were considerably improved when they sailed past a transport filled with well-treated Confederate POWs, who not only recognized the Chief Executive but gave him three cheers. Back on land, Lincoln reviewed the communications that had piled up during his absence and spoke with several officers, including Brigadier General Charles H. T. Collis, in charge of City Point. Collis mentioned that a captured Confederate general who was waiting to be transported to a Northern prison had expressed an interest in seeing the U.S. President. ‘Do you know,’ Lincoln said with a faint smile, ‘I have never seen a live rebel general in full uniform.’ Collis brought in the prisoner, Rufus Barringer, who had been picked up by Yankee scouts on April 3, only a few hours after directed the Rebel side of the battle at Namozine Church. The two men chatted for a while; it seemed that Barringer’s brother had served in Congress when Lincoln was part of the Illinois delegation. Lincoln ended their talk by asking if there was anything he might do for the captured officer. Now it was Barringer’s turn to smile. ‘If anybody can be of service to a poor devil in my situation, I presume you are the man,’ he said. Unbidden, Lincoln wrote out a note to War Secretary Stanton, requesting that Barringer’s detention in Washington be ‘as comfortable as possible.’ Barringer read the note and left without further comment, with Collis leading the way. The Federal officer had walked only a few yards when he realized that the captured Rebel was no longer behind him. He went back and found Barringer standing alone, ‘audibly sobbing and terribly overcome.’ ” [pp. 194-195] During his visit to City Point, Lincoln also visited the wounded men of both sides. “In another war, Lincoln stopped beside a cot and extended his hand to the man lying there. ‘Mr. President,’ the patient said, ‘do you know to whom you offer your hand?’ ‘I do not,’ Lincoln replied. ‘Well, you offer your hand to a Confederate colonel who has fought you as hard as he could for four  years.’ ‘Well, I hope a Confederate colonel will not refuse me his hand.’ ‘No, sir,’ the wounded Rebel answered, and he returned the President’s gesture. Reflecting years afterward on this moment, the officer said, ‘He had me whipped from the time he first opened his mouth.’ By the end of the afternoon Lincoln had grasped the hands of more than five thousand wounded and sick military personnel.” [pp. 199-200]

The book encompasses more than just Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant. It covers the full spectrum of events at the end of the war, including Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to William T. Sherman, the capture of Jefferson Davis, and the various other surrenders as well as the Battle of Palmito Ranch, May 13, 1865. Trudeau’s book covers the postwar fates of various soldiers, and it also talks about the prisoner of war experience at the end of the war, and here Trudeau makes his most egregious error: “Prisoner exchange had been the accepted practice until 1863, when the system had fallen apart due to mutual distrust and a hardline Union policy that recognized that the North, with its larger population base, was better able to replace the men lost as prisoners than was the South. Exchanges on a man-for-man basis were resumed in 1865, when a combination of humanitarian concerns and political pressures caused the Federals to end their boycott.” [p. 264] This is completely wrong. The Federals ended exchanges because of the confederate refusal to treat black soldiers and their officers as prisoners of war on the same footing as men from white units, and because the confederates had put paroled men back into line before they had been properly exchanged. The exchanges resumed in 1865 when the confederates reversed their stand and agreed to include black soldiers in the exchanges.

Even with that major error, I can highly recommend this book as a very readable and mostly accurate account of what happened from April to June of 1865, in what Trudeau calls “the end of the Civil War.”

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8 comments

  1. I enjoyed all of Trudeau’s books, but was frustrated, like I gather you are, with the lack of *precise* documentation. Trudeau is generally a good scholar, so he knows how to do it right. I suspect the publisher wanted to make the book “more accessible” and so they went with informal footnotes.

    One quibble. I can find no evidence of any agreement about blacks being included in the resumption of exchanges. There just isn’t any documentary trail (that I have found) to support it. The only doc I know of is a letter in Grant’s papers (I don’t think it made the OR) that he was resuming exchanges, but there is no mention of the terms of the arrangement. So it is a bit of a mystery. It is entirely possible that black troops were included in the resumed exchanges, which would implicitly support your point, but I know of no evidence. If I’ve missed something, I would be more than happy to learn of it.

    1. Compare the messages from the confederates on exchanges.
      It wasn’t until January 24, 1865 that the confederate POW commissioner, Col Robert Ould, proposed a one-for-one exchange with no regard to color:

      “But that great suffering must ensue if your prisoners remain in our hands is very certain. For that reason I propose that all of them be delivered to you in exchange, man for man and officer for officer, according to grade, for those of ours whom you hold.” [OR, Series II, Vol VIII, p. 123]

      In response to this, Grant made preparations to exchange upwards of 3,000 men per week:

      “CITY POINT, VA., February 2, 1865–11.30 a.m.
      Hon. EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
      I am endeavoring to make arrangements to exchange about 3,000 prisoners per week. This is as fast and probably faster than they can be delivered to us.
      Please have facilities given Lieutenant-Colonel Mulford to get rebel prisoners to comply with this arrangement. I would like disabled troops (troops from Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana) sent first, as but few of these will be got in the ranks again, and as we can count upon but little re-enforcement from the prisoners we get.
      U. S. GRANT,
      Lieutenant-General.”

      [OR Series II, Vol VIII, p. 170]

      1. OK, I have missed the note from Ould you mentioned (or forgot about it). Thanks, Al.

        1. The second note (from Grant) I had seen before, but not the one from Ould. My error.

          1. No problem, Jim.

        2. My pleasure, Jim. I got on the trail of that one through James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 800, note 59.

          1. Just a further FYI kind of thing: Grant was no fool. There is a note in the OR that CS prisoners from “eastern” regiments (VA, NC, etc.) should be exchanged through Vicksburg. Those from “western” regiments (TX, AR, etc.) should be exchanged through City Point. This makes it more difficult for the men to get back to their units.

            Sneaky people, those Yankees …

          2. Of course, there were western units in the ANV and eastern units in the west, so maybe not completely sneaky. Also, an exchanged soldier may not be able to get back to his own unit, but he can get back to a unit.

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