Me, standing in front of the Wilmer McLean house, site of the Confederate surrender, April 9, 1865, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, VA.
Photo taken by Cheryl Pula.
The day Cheryl and I visited Appomattox Court House, there were but a handful of visitors about. I remember going into the McLean House and looking into the parlor, where Generals Grant and Lee met. As I looked inside, I could not believe how small the room was! The paintings of the scene all made it look so huge.
After an all-night march, the weary men of the Fifth Corps--along with the Second and Sixth Corps--finally cornered what was left of the Army of Northern Virginia, near the village of Appomattox Court House. Sheridan's cavalry had been fighting a pitched battle with the Confederates, and needed assistance from any available infantry. Chamberlain was concerned he would be receiving a flank attack himself, when suddenly he sees a sight he never expected to see:
Unknown to either Chamberlain or his men, a truce had been called.
Chamberlain is stunned by the word: "Surrender!" He thinks of how many times it was so close, yet snatched away--how often dreamed of, but never realized. He comes to his senses long enough to reply:
Yes, the flag of truce had come in, but just then a loud cannon-shot from the direction of Appomattox crashes into the Union line, killing Lt. Hiram Clark of the 185th New York--a young officer in Chamberlain's brigade, whom he admired very much. Clark became one of the last men killed in the Army of the Potomac.
As news of the surrender spreads, however, the Union troops go
absolutely nuts--loud cheers erupt, men jump up and down, caps
and knapsacks fly upward. Finally, after four long years, the war is
Me, standing in front of the "Peers House", near the "Surrender Triangle", Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, VA.
Photo taken by Cheryl Pula.
Cheryl and I strolled through this reconstructed village, peeking into various buildings. But when we got to this corner, I wanted to burst into tears. I had seen a painting by artist Don Troiani in the old courthouse, which depicted the surrender ceremony--and which showed Chamberlain and his men positioned near where I now stood. I was seized by the thought: "He was here! He was here!" "He", meaning Chamberlain.
Speaking of the "Peers House": I have a friend who works at Appomattox Court House, named Patrick Schroeder. He is the Park Historian there--and he also portrays George Peers, who lived in the above house. Peers was a prominent Appomattox citizen. And on a recent visit to Syracuse, Patrick shared the following anecdote about Mr. Peers, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain:
While Chamberlain and his men were camped in the Appomattox area, George Peers--a citizen of Appomattox--invited Chamberlain to dine with him. Years after the war, Mr. Peers renimisced to a writer about that meal. He spoke very highly of Chamberlain. And he was especially grateful to the General for bringing REAL COFFEE, which was a wartime scarcity in the South!
Although the surrender itself was signed April 9, 1865, General Grant had decided that a surrender ceremony should be held, in order to make certain to the former Rebels that, indeed, the war was over. They were to hand over their weapons and their battle colors, but keep their sidearms and their horses. A surprise, and a great honor, was in store for Chamberlain:
So it happened that this VOLUNTEER OFFICER, was chosen by General Grant himself, out of all the officers (volunteer AND Regular army) in the Army of the Potomac, to receive the "arms and colors" of the Army of Northern Virginia. In later years, when asked why he thought he'd been chosen for this honor, Chamberlain would say that he figured General Griffin had something to do with it. Upon hearing this news, Chamberlain asked the new Fifth Corps commander one thing: he wanted to be given the First Division's Third Brigade--which included the 20th Maine--because he had shared so many battles with them, and wanted them beside him, in this historic hour. Griffin agreed, and transferred Chamberlain to the Third Brigade.
The ceremony took place three days later, on April 12, 1865--four years to the day since the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
No--there was no color photography at Appomattox in April 1865! This picture was taken at the 140th anniversary reenactment at Appomattox, VA, in April 2005. The reenactor certainly looks like Chamberlain. And I think it gives one a great idea, of what the moments before the ceremony must have been like.
Special thanks to my friend Mindy Eckler, for sending me this photo--and to my dear friend Thomas Fleming for reducing the size for me!
Do not use without Mrs. Eckler's written permission.
"It was now the morning of the 12th of April. I had been ordered to have my lines formed for the ceremony at sunrise. It was a chill gray morning, depressing to the senses. But our hearts made warmth. We formed along the principal street...to face the last line of battle, and receive the last remnant of the arms and colors of that great army which ours had been created to confront for all that death can do for life. We were remnants also: Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York; veterans, and replaced veterans; cut to pieces, cut down, consolidated, divisions into brigades, regiments into one, gathered by state origin."(26)
Chamberlain now went back to the Third Brigade:
The stage was now set. What would happen in the next few minutes would cause some controversy in the North for Chamberlain, but would endear him to the South:
The Confederates broke camp for the last time, and made their way up the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, to where Chamberlain and his men waited. Leading the way was General Lee's representative: General John B. Gordon--a volunteer officer like Chamberlain, who had also risen through the ranks, and who was also much-wounded in battle:
The ceremony continues all day long, as Chamberlain and his men watch the remnants of this once-great army file in, and stack their muskets, and lay their battle-flags down. He sees remnants of storied regiments, brigades, divisions and corps--such as Cobb's Georgia Legion, Bushrod Johnson's Division, Gordon's Georgians, Ransom's North Carolinians, A.P. Hill's old corps--and Longstreet's First Corps! Men whom he faced in battle from Antietam to Five Forks. Emotions ran high on both sides, as men laid down their worn, but much-cherished, battle flags. Chamberlain ended up playing a part in one such instance:
This is the old courthouse building, which today serves as the Visitor Center at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. It faces one side of the "Surrender Triangle", in the center of the village.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, VA.
Photo courtesy of David Lepkowski.
Do not use without his express written permission.
The solemnity and sadness of the occasion was leavened by a rather comic scene, involving a discussion between Chamberlain and Confederate Brigadier General Henry Wise, a former governor of Virginia-and the man responsibile for hanging abolitionist John Brown in 1859. Chamberlain heard a commotion down the line, and went to investigate--and found Wise arguing with some of his men. Chamberlain sought to help the situation, and remarked to Wise that the good conduct of the troops on both sides boded well for the nation's future. Wise became belligerent:
As Wise looked at Chamberlain, he noticed the rips and holes in Chamberlain's coat and sleeve--"souvenirs" of his encounter with Wise's men at the Quaker Road--and asked him where he got them. When Chamberlain told him, Wise retorted that he was "fighting three army corps" and "thought it prudent to retire". When Chamberlain told him that he was up against three regiments, Wise angrily replied that he knew what he saw, and proceeded to lecture Chamberlain on the "legal way" to make out paroles! By this time, it had become a bizarre comedy, and staff members on both sides could not control their laughter. In later years, Chamberlain recalled the incident, using a biblical pun--but not mentioning Wise by name:
Finally, it was done, the long day over.
Many things happened in the days and weeks between Appomattox and the army's return to Washington. While camped outside the town of Farmville,VA, on Easter Sunday, 1865, Chamberlain and the rest of the Fifth Corps received the shocking news of the assassination of President Lincoln on April 14. Fearing the worst, he closed off the camps, hoping his men would not wreak vengeance upon the local population. A "funeral in the field" was held on April 19th--the same day as the state funeral in the capital--and was the scene of a potentially explosive incident:
After some solemn music by the First Division's German band, Father Egan rose to deliver the oration:
As Father Egan went on, some of the men began to pale, and instinctively started to reach for their stacked muskets. Chamberlain, seated near the padre on the platform, knew he had to act quickly:
Chamberlain had defused a dangerous situation, and the funeral ended without further incident.
In the days following the funeral, Chamberlain became something of a "military governor" in the region between Petersburg and Dinwiddie County. During the nearly two weeks he served in this capacity, food was distributed to civilians who would give the "oath of allegiance" to the Union, and to those in need. He also had to restore some semblance of order in the countryside. During this time, a very humorous incident occurred, brought about by the appearance of an unnamed "Belle of Dinwiddie", who was brought in to take the oath of allegiance by Chamberlain's youngest brother Tom, who was serving as Provost Marshal. Evidently Tom had a crush on the young woman--and big brother Joshua was also somewhat dazzled by her beauty!
After some verbal sparring back and forth between Joshua and the "belle" (whom he described as "the indomitable Portia", for her skill in debating!), she agrees to take the oath. Chamberlain remarks:
Alas, the "relationship" did not last for Tom, and no more mention is made of the lady in question. The Fifth Corps, and the rest of the AOP, made its way through Petersburg and Richmond, bypassing the old battlefield at Fredericksburg. While camped near Hanover Court House, a bizarre incident occurred:
Charlemagne had discovered the bodies of some long-dead soldiers from a previous battle. These bones were gathered up into old cracker-boxes and taken back with the army to Washington.
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