Tears of Joy and Sadness

The formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia took place on Wednesday, April 12th, 1865, exactly four years after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain was placed in charge of planning and conducting the ceremonies, and his only goal was to mark the occasion with an air of dignity, solemnity, and respect for the 28,000 Confederate soldiers who laid down their arms.

Chamberlain described part of the ceremony in his memoir The Passing of Armies: (Maj. Gen. John) Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

The original members of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry had enlisted during the summer of 1862 for a term of “three years or the duration.” By any measure they had done their duty. Joy turned instantly to deepest gloom when word was received on the 15th of the assassination of President Lincoln. A funeral service for their Commander in Chief was conducted at brigade headquarters on May 19th, even as the Lincoln’s state funeral was being held in the East Room of the White House.

Only one objective remained—return home to Connecticut, but it would happen on army time. They set up their tents near Appomattox the way they always had, in neat rows that formed streets, and camped out for three weeks. Finally, on May 2nd, they packed up their gear and began their last march. On May 6th, the Fourteenth held the lead position in the long Second Corps column as they marched through the ruins of Richmond. Then they passed in review before Gen. Henry Halleck, who watched from the steps for the former Confederate capitol building.

May 10th was a memorable day for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut. In reverent silence they passed by the battlefield at Spotsylvania. They entered Fredericksburg from the south, passing over Marye’s Heights and down onto that dreadful plain of death where the regiment had been shattered nearly two and a half years earlier. Pontoons still bridged the Rappahannock and that evening they camped at Falmouth, very near the ground they had occupied during the long, cold winter of 1862-1863.

They reached Alexandria on May 15th, then marched in a grand review around the Capitol and down Pennsylvania Avenue. General Hancock was in attendance and one can only imagine the hearty cheers that arose from his old corps.

Finally, on May 31st, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry received their formal discharge papers. They boarded a train and headed north through Baltimore and Philadelphia. At New York they transferred to a steamship bound for Hartford, where they arrived early on June 8th. It seemed the entire city had turned out to welcome them home, and after being suitably feted and fed, the men said their farewells and drifted away in twos and threes toward Union Station to begin the final leg of their long journey home.

PERSONAL NOTE: After almost three years and 161 blog posts, this is my last article about the Fourteenth Connecticut. It has been a privilege to honor these men and keep their record of service alive. I will keep this blog active so you can always reference it.

But do not despair. I’m starting a new Civil War video blog next Friday, May 1st, titled “Civil War Sites: On Earth and in Cyberspace.” Same schedule, same great author, new and interesting content about some of the neat things I’ve come across while researching my novels. I do hope you’ll join me. Follow me on Twitter to receive messages when a new blog is posted or you can always access my new blog (starting May 1st) through my website:  www.kbacon.com.

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