Petersburg to Appomattox

Dr. Caroline Janney edited this latest addition to the “Military Campaigns of the Civil War” series from the University of North Carolina Press. This excellent book maintains the fine reputation of the series in true form. It consists of an introductory essay by Dr. Janney and nine essays produced that look at various aspects of the campaign that ended the existence of the Army of Northern Virginia.

In “Grant Finally Takes Command,” William W. Bergen makes the compelling case that Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, while he had been named the commanding general of all U.S. armies, really didn’t have complete control over the armies he commanded until after the 1864 presidential election. While President Abraham Lincoln supported Grant, political realities meant he had to tie Grant’s hands in some respects to help his reelection effort. Lincoln’s victory in 1864 allowed him to give Grant the freedom needed to finally win the war. “Now that the president would not be so constrained by the political considerations that had limited the general in chief’s authority in selecting subordinates, Grant could look forward to more leeway in shaping his command structure. While Grant would exercise that new discretion in several of the far-flung military districts he commanded, his changes to the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James stand out. These changes remade those armies and led directly to the swift surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia–and with its demise, the end of the Confederacy. The new U.S. army and corps commanders who won the race to Appomattox Court House were handpicked by Grant, and their aggressiveness, competence, and determination sharply contrasted with their predecessors’ cautious and often bumbling performance. Various political factors had prevented these generals’ promotions, and as a group they tended to be profane, loud, and belligerent, a style much different from that of their calmly determined chief. Yet they formed an effective team who won a swift and complete victory. Together they demonstrate that, in those final weeks, Grant finally took command.” [pp. 13-14] Political concerns weren’t the only factor, but they were the most important. “That Grant required nearly a year to reshape these armies can be attributed to three interrelated factors: first, Grant lacked familiarity with the Army of the Potomac and other Virginia forces; second, the Army of the Potomac’s culture of caution took time to overcome; third and most crucial, politics limited Grant’s choices for subordinates until after Lincoln’s reelection.” [p. 14] Interestingly, “during the Overland campaign, Lee exercised far more control over his army than Grant did over the Army of the Potomac.” [pp. 14-15] Bergen also tells us of a difference between Grant and Lee that is often overlooked. “Grant, as general in chief, commanded all U.S. armies in the field and did not command directly the Army of the Potomac, whereas until the war’s final weeks, Lee’s command was usually confined to the force he created, the Army of Northern Virginia. But other differences are profound. Lee, famously described as ‘audacity personified,’ had commanded his army for nearly two years by early 1864, and he had managed to imbue in his subordinates his own penchant for aggressive initiative. Because of his success and because political influence was muted in the Confederate command system, Lee had chosen nearly all of his subordinates almost entirely on the basis of merit. Grant’s position was far different. Upon arriving in Virginia in the spring of 1864, he found himself among strangers and indirectly leading an army with a distinctive–and a much more political–ethos than his former commands. Besides a few old army friends, he knew no one in the Army of the Potomac. Worse, Grant was viewed with skepticism if not resentment: that he had been promoted to lieutenant general and that he would choose to accompany the Army of the Potomac reflected Washington’s lack of confidence in the army’s leadership.” [p. 15] The fact that Lincoln needed political support for his reelection meant key parts of Grant’s plans were “in the hands of political generals of questionable competence. Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks, a Democrat and former Speaker of the House of Representatives who hooped to be nominated for president that summer, was assigned to seize Mobile, Alabama, one of the few remaining Confederate ports. Weeks before the campaign was to begin, however, Banks embarked on the ill-fated Red River campaign, more a politically motivated move designed to bolster the fledgling U.S.-sponsored state government than a military necessity. The invasion bogged down, and it would be months before Banks’s forces could threaten Mobile. In Virginia, politics compelled Grant to entrust two politicians with key parts of his plan, Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, a popular figure among the sizable German American electorate, was to advance up the Shenandoah Valley to tie up Confederate forces there. He came to grief at New Market in May, allowing crucial reinforcements to reach Lee during the Overland campaign. The other effort, a drive up the James River to threaten Richmond, was assigned to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler and his Army of the James. A favorite of Radical Republicans and War Democrats, Butler considered running for president in 1864. Partly to head him off, the Lincoln administration had sounded him out that spring to see if he would be interested in being vice president or secretary of war. Butler demurred, hoping to enhance his political prospects on the battlefield. In what became known as the Bermuda Hundred campaign, however, Butler failed to accomplish much of anything. Had Sigel and Butler performed adequately, the Overland campaign might have resulted in a U.S. triumph that spring.” [p. 17] With the results of the 1864 election in hand and with Lincoln’s reelection secured, Grant immediately moved to reshape the leadership of United States armies. “Shortly after the 1864 election Grant visited Washington for consultations, and he moved quickly to take advantage of what he hoped would be more flexibility in choosing subordinates. While there he wrote Stanton to recommend dismissing nine major generals and thirty-one brigadier generals of volunteers; in subsequent correspondence over the next two weeks, Grant added another major general and two brigadiers to the list. … While eight on the list were U.S. Military Academy graduates, most were not, and nearly all had obtained their rank through political connections. Many were serving in administrative roles or awaiting orders, and Grant may have sought to create vacancies to be filled by those deserving promotion. The results of the proposed purge proved disappointing–only eight of these generals resigned or were removed before May 1865, and some of these departed through normal attrition. Grant’s efforts did not seriously harm their reputations; nearly all the generals were mustered out with brevet promotions. … In compiling such a long list, Grant may have been looking for cover for his determination to sideline three prominent names on that list–major generals John A. McClernand, Franz Sigel, and William Rosecrans. McClernand, whom Grant had dismissed for insubordination during the Vicksburg campaign, resigned his commission almost immediately after the election … Grant’s effort to dismiss Sigel was less successful. After the New Market debacle, Sigel clung to a minor administrative command and enjoyed a moment of success in defending Harpers Ferry against a Confederate probe in July 1864. Shelved from that post shortly after, Sigel did not again command troops. But if he was asked to resign his major generalship, he refused, and he only relinquished his rank several weeks after Appomattox. Grant was able to remove Rosecrans from his post as commander of the Department of the Missouri–a removal long sought by Grant but in vain, apparently because of Rosecrans’s continued political influence. When asked by Stanton what command Rosecrans might be given, Grant was blunt: ‘Rosecrans will do less harm doing nothing on duty. I know of no department or commander deserving such punishment as the infliction of Rosecrans upon them.’ Rosecrans waited in Cincinnati for orders that would never come, and he resigned his commission in December 1865.” [pp. 19-21] Grant was able to get rid of Butler, replacing him with Edward O. C. Ord. Ambrose Burnside left the Ninth Corps, and Grant replaced him with Maj. Gen. John Parke, who had graduated second in the West Point class of 1849. Winfield Scott Hancock, perhaps the best of the Army of the Potomac’s corps commanders, had to leave as well because of his still unhealed wound from the Battle of Gettysburg. Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys replaced him. “During the pursuit of Lee in April 1865, he displayed determination and decisiveness.” [p. 24] Maj. Gen. John Gibbon, a stalwart division commander, acceded to command of the Twenty-fourth Corps of the Army of the James. Grant gave Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan permission to relieve Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, which Sheridan did at the Battle of Five Forks. “Warren never understood that he had been sacked not so much for his actions at Five Forks–where he did as well as could be expected–but because Grant had lost confidence in his ability to lead a corps during the final push.” [p. 25] Sheridan replaced Warren with Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin. “That Griffin was elevated to corps leadership over the senior division commander and despite his unpopularity with his fellow officers indicated to the army that unrelenting aggressiveness was expected.” [p. 26] We find that every change in leadership led to an improvement. The result was improved aggressiveness and performance, leading to a swift conclusion of the war. This was an outstanding essay.

In the next essay, Dr. Susannah Ural discusses “We Can Keep All the Yankees Back That They Can Send: Morale Among Hood’s Texas Brigade’s Soldiers and Their Families, 1864-1865.” Morale in this unit was generally extremely high, even among their families back home in Texas. “The men were determined–despite wounds, imprisonment, fracturing supply lines, threats of consolidation, and waning opportunities for furloughs home–to enter the last campaign to secure their independence as they had entered their first campaign: as Hood’s Texas Brigade. The men’s futures, though, underscore just how devastating 1864’s losses would be for the Confederacy.” [p. 42] The brigade included the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas regiments and the 3rd Arkansas regiment. This was an elite unit, and was uncommonly motivated. “The Texas Brigade maintained a low desertion rate for the entire war compared with other units in the Army of Northern Virginia, averaging about 5 percent of the more than 7,000 men who served in the brigade, while Lee’s army averaged nearly three times that rate throughout the war. But of total desertions in the Texas Brigade, 38 percent took place between November 1863 and April 1864.” [p. 44] During most of that time they were in the Western Theater, away from the ANV. Even late in the war, the fall of 1864 and the winter of 1864-65, their confidence in victory remained high. “Even captured Texas Brigade soldiers remained optimistic that fall. Fourth Texas sergeant Sidney E. Moseley, recovering in the prisoners’ ward of Hampton Hospital in Hampton, Virginia, had been wounded at Gaines’s Mill, the Wilderness, and again at Darbytown Road, where he was finally captured and had a leg amputated by a Union surgeon. Of all men, Mosely certainly had reason to lose faith in the war. But he remained confident of Confederate victory and the justness of his side’s cause. That winter, Dr. Alfred Mercer, an English-born abolitionist practicing medicine in Syracuse, New York, had asked a colleague, Dr. John Newel Tilden, ‘if among your reb prisoners any one is willing to write me I should be glad to hear from him or them, and learn what they expect to gain for liberty or humanity, or what greater worldly prosperity they expect from our division of the Union.’ Fourth Texan Moseley pledged to ‘reply with as much brevity as possible’ and then went on for over twenty handwritten pages, countering each of Mercer’s claims about the nobility of the Union cause with biting sarcasm. ‘I am a one legged Confederate soldier,’ Moseley began, ‘having but recently lost my leg in battling against the insolent invader of our country. I am also sorely afflicted with the itch, the sore eye, the Yankees and various other miserable and disagreeable things, too numerous to enumerate.’ But he took the time to lay out a carefully crafted argument, starting with Mercer’s belief that the Union was on the right side of history and that Northerners did not hate Southerners personally but rather ‘hate the principle of rebellion and the principle of slavery.’ After defending state sovereignty and slavery and pointing to Northern ‘nullification’ of the Fugitive Slave Law, Moseley declared, ‘We glory in the Knowledge that we are eternally and irrevocably separated fro all such ranting, fanatical and Puritanical abolitionists as you seem to be. When the war is ended,–which, I think, will soon be,–we will say to you and your meddlesome, prying brethren, as we have been saying since the commencement of the war, ‘Go thy way for this time, when I have a more convenient season, I will call thee,’ or in other words, we hope to have nothing more to do with you.’ Mercer’s insistence that he had no animosity toward Confederates only infuriated the Texas sergeant. ‘And you have no hatred for the rebs! Truly your sense of duty is astoundingly developed. You have no hatred for us, nevertheless you invade and devastate our country, murder our people, burn our houses, barns, mills, and provisions, and our towns and cities, and perform numerous other little delicate, amiable and charitable deeds.’ ” [pp. 48-49] In resolutions the Texas Brigade soldiers passed on January 24, 1865, “The Texans clarified their faith in victory, as well as their faith in their leaders. They reminded readers of their numerous battlefield successes and their faith that there were more victories to come. As they awaited the spring campaign season, they mocked the ‘heterogeneous mass’ that was the Union army, ‘the Babel of modern times, in which is represented the African, shoulder to shoulder with his brother, the Yankee, who sells himself for a bounty and deserts and sells himself again–the man with the brogue so rich–the avaricious Hessian, and the dungeons of Europe.’ In contrast, the Texans explained, the Confederate army fought ‘to be free and independent of those who would kill eight millions of whites or enslave them in order to give a pretended freedom to half that number of African negroes.’ Fear not, they advised their readers, ‘our final triumph is certain and inevitable, and our subjugation is an impossibility.’ ” [p. 60] This shows neoconfederates today are merely liars when they bleat about the myth of black confederate soldiers and claim the confederates were multiculturalists. As I said earlier, their families shared their motivation. “In the roughly two dozen Texas Brigade letter collections and diaries that exist for 1864 and 1865, no letter has been found where a family on the home front insisted that their loved one quit the fight. There were complaints, to be sure. But of the wealth of Southern letters fro home that encouraged men to desert or begged them to come home to save the farm, none exist for Texas Brigade soldiers. Part of the reason for this may be tied to the fact that Texas Brigade soldiers were exceptionally motivated volunteers who knowingly joined units that would have them fighting far away in Virginia. Their families may have reflected similarly strong ideological motivations that sustained them and their fellow Texas Brigade families, who often lived in the same communities, while their men fought far from home.” [p. 64]

In his essay, “A Whole Lot of Blame to Go Around,” Dr. Peter Carmichael considers the confederate loss at the Battle of Five Forks, which led to the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond and the retreat to Gettysburg. He tells us, “Lee stands behind a Lost Cause barricade, shielded from criticism about April 1, 1865, at the expense of his subordinates, who are left without cover and easily targeted for the operational and tactical mistakes made by the Army of Northern Virginia on that day.” [p. 87] Lee himself had identified Five Forks as being a critical point, key to the security of his position. Dr. Carmichael doesn’t suggest Lee should have made an offensive maneuver to save his army. “The Army of Northern Virginia had long passed its zenith of power, and the grind of siege warfare had reduced the fighting spirit and strength of the rank and file. In the spring of 1865, Lee only had 31,400 men to cover twenty-seven-and-a-half miles of trench line that stretched from the Richmond defenses just north of the James River to the western outskirts of Petersburg. On the ground it came to 1,140 men per mile, or one man every yard and a half. Lee’s veteran soldiers were hanging on by a gossamer thread.” [p. 88] Lee put together a force of 5,500 cavalry under his nephew, Fitz Lee, and 6,000 infantry under Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett and shifted them to his right flank. Pickett also had six pieces of artillery commanded by William R. J. Pegram. Most students of the war are familiar with the accepted story of Five Forks. Pickett, Fitz Lee, and Tom Rosser were at a shad bake when the Federals attacked, having left their respective commands without notice and without anyone knowing where they were, therefore those commands were without leadership, thus making a breakthrough possible. Dr. Carmichael challenges the accepted view. “On the whole, the testimony counters the simplistic idea that Pickett and Fitz Lee were more interested in eating fish and drinking whiskey than looking after their troops. Witnesses attest to the fact that both officers personally placed their soldiers along the White Oak Road throughout the morning of April 1. They remained at the front until going to Hatcher’s Run (which they probably did around 2:00 P.M.) A little after noon, Col. Joseph Mayo Jr. of the 3rd Virginia Infantry remembered that ‘General Pickett called us together at Five Forks in the rear of those guns, pulled out a map showed us where we were, then gave directions to strengthen our position as well as we could; and he rode of[f] with General Fitz Lee down this Ford road to the north. We went immediately to execute that order.’ From Mayo’s testimony and that of others, it is clear that Confederate officers knew the location of Pickett and Fitz Lee’s headquarters north of Hatcher’s Run, where Rosser was guarding the army’s wagons. The idea that Fitz Lee and Pickett simply disappeared without telling anyone is misleading. Couriers had no problem in finding both men throughout the day. The challenge for the couriers was getting Pickett and Fitz Lee to believe there was a crisis brewing in front of the Confederate left flank. It also appears that Pickett had not left explicit instructions with the ranking officer on the line, Maj. Gen. Rooney Lee, who himself was not in position to react to an emergency. Rooney was on the far right of the line when the Union attack commenced and was completely unaware that he was the ranking officer responsible for giving commands until Pickett or Fitz returned. Such negligence on Pickett’s part was absolutely indefensble.” [p. 98] Fitz Lee and Pickett certainly bear much blame, but so does R. E. Lee for not paying more attention to his right flank. “Only the commanding general could have ensured that Pickett and [Richard H.] Anderson worked in harmony. What exactly Lee had asked of his two subordinates is impossible to determine. There are no surviving written orders or verbal instructions recorded. Yet, both Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee, in separate statements, criticized Anderson for failing to provide direct support to the Confederates at the Forks (Anderson, in fact, had a long history of failing to cooperate with his other officers). Fitz Lee, in a report to Robert E. Lee dated April 22, 1865, does not name names but makes it clear that he and Pickett were dangling from a hook. … Even if the expectation of supporting Pickett had not been clearly articulated to Anderson, he and his subordinate Bushrod Johnson showed a breathtaking lack of initiative on April 1.” [pp. 104-105] This was another terrific essay giving us detail beyond what we normally read.

In “Lucky Inspiration,” Dr. Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh of the United States Naval Academy discusses Maj. General Philip H. Sheridan and his tenure in command of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. “Over the course of the war, the eastern cavalry had surmounted systemic problems in its leadership and organization introduced during George B. McClellan’s command tenure, while Sheridan himself had grown into an effective army commander capable of leading both cavalry and infantry during the Shenandoah Valley campaign of the fall of 1864. He thus oversaw a cavalry arm by the time of Appomattox that served as a mobile shock force capable of fighting with both the state-of-the-art Spencer repeater and the hoary saber of Napoleonic warfare. n doing so, he restored a measure of fluidity to military operations in Virginia that had evaporated by the close of the Overland campaign. Moreover, the Cavalry Corps’s evolution required such a varied constellation of factors involving institutions, technological advances, and the peculiar quirks of personal leadership that it belies any notion that the course and outcome of the Appomattox campaign was foreordained.” [pp. 110-111] Dr. Hsieh identifies Maj. General George B. McClellan’s shortcomings in his organization and use of cavalry. It was singularly unimaginative and he tended to dilute the cavalry’s potential by farming out cavalry units instead of consolidating them and having them detailed to tasks having nothing to do with cavalry combat such as being his escort and carrying messages. “Without a coherent and separate organization, infantry and division commanders tended to disperse their troopers as hangers-on for generals and ‘to provide orderlies for dashing young staff officers and strikers for headquarters,’ as opposed to a purposeful military organization.” [p. 114] Dr. Hsieh takes us through Joseph Hooker’s command and George G. Meade’s command to Sheridan’s arrival. At first, Sheridan was not a success as a cavalry commander. “For all his merits as a commander, Sheridan proved unsuccessful at fulfilling these important cavalry responsibilities [Reconnaissance and screening] during the Overland campaign. Instead, Sheridan was overly fixated on defeating the Confederate cavalry, and he failed to balance these competing priorities. He allowed his most inexperienced division commander, James Harrison Wilson (who would later grow into his position but performed poorly early in the Wilderness campaign), to expose himself to serious peril while failing to properly screen Grant’s advance. His corps acquired little useful communication for Grant and George Gordon Meade to guide Union operations. Meade and Sheridan had clashed before the campaign had even started, and matters boiled over on May 8. 1864, in the aftermath of the bloody fighting in the Wilderness. Sheridan demanded the freedom to go pursue Stuart, and Grant acceded to his request, with decidedly mixed results.” [p. 115] Sheridan’s assignment to the Shenandoah Valley allowed him to emerge as not only an effective cavalry commander, but as an army commander as well. “The rough Napoleonic rule of thumb was that a corps needed enough forces and a competent enough commander to survive on its own for a day’s worth of fighting, with reinforcements no more distant than a day’s march away. In contrast, a commander such as Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1864 would need far more independence than a corps commander fighting under the direct supervision of Grant or Lee in a confined theater such as northern Virginia. The Confederacy had always benefited from having corps commanders capable of this next level of responsibility conducting its operations in the Shenandoah Valley, whether it was Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson in 1862, John C. Breckinridge afterward, or Early wreaking havoc all the way to the outskirts of Washington in 1864. Sheridan’s arrival at the head of a unified Valley command for the Union would finally rectify this problem in Virginia.” [p. 117] This excellent essay is an example of incisive analysis and insight from which all students of the war can benefit.

In other essays, we read William C. “Jack” Davis’ essay on attempts by confederates R. E. Lee, John C. Breckinridge, and John A. Campbell to arrange a negotiated peace near the end of the war. “None of these peacemakers had espoused secession in 1861, yet they all fought hard for the Confederacy, and never more than now as they struggled to influence the manner of its demise.” [p. 138] Dr. Keith Bohannon writes an essay on the loss of confederate military records during the Appomattox campaign. Both sides were at fault. Confederates destroyed many records and United States Army officers had priorities other than preserving enemy records. In “We Were Not Paroled,” Dr. Caroline Janney writes about members of the Army of Northern Virginia who were not with Lee at Appomattox and later surrendered to United States forces. “Of the approximately 60,000 men available to Lee after the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond on April 2 (which included those in the trenches surrounding Petersburg along with the various units from the Richmond defenses), only 26,000 to 28,000 were formally paroled between April 9 and 12 at Appomattox. Accounting for the approximately 11,530 casualties sustained between April 2 and 8, a conservative estimate suggests that at least 20,000 of Lee’s men failed to surrender at the famed site. Their reasons were as varied as the men themselves. Many had been footsore and starving stragglers unable to keep up with the relentless pace of Lee’s army as it pushed west. Others believed that there was little use resisting any further and elected to go home before ever reaching Appomattox. A good many cavalry troopers and artillerists escaped the Union cordon on April 9. And some simply hoped to forgo the humiliation of surrendering, slipping from the lines that day and refusing to acquiesce or be conquered.” [p. 193] United States officials knew it was important to get these men to surrender, and gradually these men themselves began to see how it was in their best interest to surrender. Dr. Janney explains how this all happened. In “Sheridan’s Personal Memoirs and the Appomattox Campaign,” Dr. Stephen Cushman provides a literary analysis of the cavalryman’s memoirs. “His memoirs have considerable literary merit, too, as they offer readers many richly textured glimpses of moments and subjects that have no counterparts in Grant’s and Sherman’s accounts. More important for the moment is the formulation that in the case of these memoirs by the three most famous architects of U.S. victory, one cannot separate the shaping of Civil War memory from the realities of book publishing and market demand at the end of the nineteenth century.” [p. 221]

Dr. Elizabeth Varon of the University of Virginia provides the final essay in the volume, “The Last Hour of the Slaveholders’ Rebellion: African American Discourse on Lee’s Surrender.” We learn African Americans developed a tradition that Lee’s surrender at Appomattox marked the death of slavery. “The enshrinement of Appomattox as a ‘freedom day’ rested on three interconnected claims: that the Union army’s victory over Lee dramatized the manly heroism and agency of African American soldiers; that the surrender brought many slaves their first consciousness and experience of liberation; and that the magnanimous terms of surrender that Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant offered Lee symbolized the promise of racial reconciliation between whites and blacks.” [p. 254] She tells us, “Two distinct interpretations have structured the scholarship, each influential in its own right. The dominant interpretation, what we might call the triumphalist one, is dramatized by Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War and given a patina of scholarly legitimacy by such historians as Bruce Catton and Jay Winik. This is the argument that the surrender ‘saved America,’ to use Winik’s formulation from his acclaimed 2001 book, April 1865. Grant’s magnanimity to Lee at Appomattox and Lee’s resignation in defeat, enactments of the simple goodness of these two men, unified the country and assured America’s rise as a great power on the world stage. By crediting Americans with ending their Civil War far more civily than any other society ever had ended such a bitter conflict, this interpretation ‘nourishes the American sense of exceptionalism,’ the historian Gary Gallagher has noted. Grant and Lee’s great achievement at Appomattox was to guarantee that Americans would never again turn against each other. In a second, revisionist, interpretation, the peace that Grant and Lee tried to conjure came at a terrible price. Their gesture of mutual forgiveness at Appomattox was a harbinger of the overthrow of Reconstruction and the ascendance of the ‘Lost Cause’ mythology, which romanticized the Confederacy. This view is articulated most forcefully by the historian David Blight, whose Race and Reunion charts how ‘Grant’s lenient terms’ had ‘transfigured’ by the turn of the century into ‘a slow surrender of a different kind’: in their determination to reconcile with white Southerners and restore ‘order’ to the unstable South, Northern whites abandoned their commitment to black citizenship, capitulated to ‘Jim Crow’ segregation, and embraced the gospel of white solidarity. This long retreat, which was well underway by the time Reconstruction formally ended in 1877, ‘drained the war of political meaning.’ Neither the triumphalist interpretation nor the revisionist one (which has prevailed in academic circles) acknowledges the symbolic role Appomattox has played as a black freedom day.” [p. 256] Dr. Varon also tells us, “seven different regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) participated in the Appomattox campaign and were present at the surrender.” [p. 257] In what I found to be another fascinating connection, and there are so many in the Civil War, she writes, “We are only just beginning to recover the stories of still others, more obscure, who filled out the ranks–men such as William H. Costley, whose mother, Nance, had been freed in an 1841 Illinois court case argued by a young upcoming lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, and George Edmondson of the 127th USCT, a descendant of the Hemings family of Thomas Jefferson’s plantation Monticello.” [p. 259] This excellent essay gives us a view of how African Americans, and especially USCT veterans, saw and in many cases later wrote about Appomattox and Lee’s surrender.

The essays in this book give us much to think about and provide information many of us haven’t seen elsewhere. I think you should read it.

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