Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Soldiers' Views of the End of the Civil War

by Casey Gamble and Bryan Whitledge. Thanks to Victoria Fisher and Lindsay Gabriel for their research assistance.

W. Doherty Letter
This year, April 9 marks the 150th anniversary of General Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. This event brought an end to the Civil War. We dug into our Civil War Collection and found several diary entries and letters home from soldiers mentioning the surrender and the fact that the end of the war was in sight. Here, we are featuring a selection of these intriguing documents.

Hance Morgan was a Union soldier from New York who began his service in 1862. During his years in service, he was with many different NY regiments. In the days prior to the surrender, Morgan notes that his regiment was moving toward the site of the surrender and that they crossed the Appomattox River.

On April 9, Morgan remarked, "9 A.M. hear Cannonading a few miles ahead stop to rest. 12 N[oon] move on again haul into Park about 2 oclock, see a flag of truce wagon pass, said to convey Genl Lee. 4 P.M. Genl Lee Surrenders to Grant. Unconditionally. very great Enthusiasm amoung [sic] the Union Troops. Every Genl is cheered as he passes. Salutes are being fired by [Artillery]. our Battery with the rest."

T. Carter Diary
In another document, George Slaven, a member of the 18th Regiment of Pennsylvania Cavalry remarked "I was in camp the day was quite rainy. [T]hare [sic] was a salute fired this morning for the surrender of Gen Lee."

In a third document, Theodore Carter of the 26th Michigan Infantry didn't have much to mention on April 9. The next day, his diary reads, "[N]ews of the surrender of Gen. Lee and his whole army of northern Virginia salute of two hundred guns from the forts around." Seeing that the War was coming to an end, Carter writes on April 11 about the practical matter of disposing with his military store credits before he can no longer purchase goods: "Bought pair of socks envelopes and comforter and paid out the last cent am feeling a great deal better today."

William Doherty, a Canadian fighting in the Michigan 5th Cavalry wrote a lengthy letter home on April 10, 1864, from near Winchester, Virginia. He writes to his family, "You are perhaps aware that this state [Virginia] is one of the head states of the rebellion but I believe the confederacy is gone under. General R. E. Lee surrendered his whole army yesterday to Grant. Salutes of 200 guns are being fired all over the union and I think peace will soon be proclaimed."

D. Follmer Diary
Finally, an April 9 diary entry from J. D. Follmer of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry is among the most comprehensive of these examples. Follmer remarked on the abrupt end to fighting on April 9. He mentions, with great detail, how his unit was chasing enemy forces and about to return attack before news of the surrender came:

"The whole Brigade under Col. Young was formed for a charge, a portion began to advance when an officer rode between the lines with a white flat saying Lee had surrendered, ordering at the same time to cease firing. During the day our boys who had been captured returned and among them came Genl Gregg. Every one seems very happy. Bands are playing their gayest pieces and all are rejoicing that this war is over.

"Every fellow is writing home or to his best girl and if our mail bag holds all the letters sent, it will be a big one. Went down to Disputant Station to see Genl's Lee & Grant. Saw Grant, but Lee had gone away ere I got there."

These young men's experiences, preserved in their diaries, are among the thousands that have survived over 150 years. It is their words that help to shape our view of the end of one of the bloodiest chapters in American history.