The End of It All

On Sunday, the 9th (of April, 1865), late in the morning we were ordered from the road into the field, and further information was given that we were to have twenty minutes for coffee. This order was looked upon with suspicion. Such an order had not been issued for weeks, at least, and it was grimly asserted that the soldiers knew enough to get their breakfast without orders, and that the officers knew this, therefore the order had some sinister meaning. (Sgt. Charles G. Blatchley, Company I, Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry)

Typically, the foot soldiers viewed any alteration in their routine with suspicion, but this coffee break in a field a few miles east of Appomattox Court House was the first indication that something was very, very different. Wild rumors flew through the ranks that someone had seen the Rebels stacking their weapons. Some even dared to avow that Lee himself had surrendered. This speculation went on for hours until late in the afternoon when a nearby battery of artillery opened fire, not with live shot and shell, but with blank cartridges. A direct order from General Grant silenced the guns. There would be no jubilant displays of triumph over their defeated foes.

Blatchley continued his description of this momentous occasion: The most extraordinary scene I think I ever witnessed was that which greeted the appearance of General Meade passing through the line to congratulate his troops on the victory. Men were completely beside themselves. They flung their caps into the air, threw their knapsacks under his horse’s feet (Hail the conquering hero?), danced and laughed and shouted and rolled on the ground and cried at the same time. Men who declared when they went into that field that morning that they were so footsore that another step was impossible went out of that field that afternoon to the tune of Yankee Doodle, with steps as light as boys just out of school.

Sgt. John Hirst of Company D (Ben Hirst’s brother) had this view of the final few days of the war: We did not lose many men in our division during the whole time after we got the Rebels started, but we have a great number played out with sore feet and a great many others are barefooted. All of us are in good spirits over the result. I tell you after we once got inside their works, we pushed them harder than men were ever drove before. They had to leave their hospital and commissary tents standing and the first day we captured a great number of prisoners. The second day they got the start of us and it was night before we came up to them, but we kept taking prisoners all along the road and cutting off their wagon trains. When General Lee’s lines were broken, he had sixty thousand men and when he surrendered he had but eleven thousand. The woods were swarming with Rebels who had been fleeing on their own hook and the day after the surrender over ten thousand came in and were paroled.

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