. . . and told me that, learning Lee’s army was to be surrendered, he had during the night mounted his fleet horse . . .
Continuing Confederate Government’s Last Days,
our selection from The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis published in 1881. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Confederate Government’s Last Days.
Place: Macon, Georgia
The design, as previously arranged with General Lee, was that, if he should be compelled to evacuate Petersburg, he would proceed to Danville, make a new defensive line of the Dan and Roanoke Rivers, unite his army with the troops in North Carolina, and make a combined attack upon Sherman; if successful, it was expected that reviving hope would bring reinforcements to the army, and Grant, being then far removed from his base of supplies, and in the midst of a hostile population, it was thought we might return, drive him from the soil of Virginia, and restore to the people a government deriving its authority from their consent. With these hopes and wishes, neither seeking to diminish the magnitude of our disaster nor to excite illusory expectations, I issued, on the 5th, the following proclamation, of which, viewed by the light of subsequent events, it may fairly be said it was over-sanguine:
“The General-in-Chief found it necessary to make such movements of his troops as to uncover the capital. It would be unwise to conceal the moral and material injury to our cause resulting from its occupation by the enemy. It is equally unwise and unworthy of us to allow our energies to falter and our efforts to become relaxed under reverses, however calamitous they may be. For many months the largest and finest army of the Confederacy, under a leader whose presence inspires equal confidence in the troops and the people, has been greatly trammeled by the necessity of keeping constant watch over the approaches to the capital, and has thus been forced to forego more than one opportunity for promising enterprise. It is for us, my countrymen, to show by our bearing under reverses, how wretched has been the self-deception of those who have believed us less able to endure misfortune with fortitude than to encounter danger with courage.
“We have now entered upon a new phase of the struggle. Relieved from the necessity of guarding particular points, our army will be free to move from point to point, to strike the enemy in detail far from his base. Let us but will it, and we are free.
“Animated by that confidence in your spirit and fortitude which never yet failed me, I announce to you, fellow-countrymen, that it is my purpose to maintain your cause with my whole heart and soul; that I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of any of the States of the Confederacy; that Virginia—noble State, whose ancient renown has been eclipsed by her still more glorious recent history; whose bosom has been bared to receive the main shock of this war; whose sons and daughters have exhibited heroism so sublime as to render her illustrious in all time to come—that Virginia, with the help of the people and by the blessing of Providence, shall be held and defended, and no peace ever be made with the infamous invaders of her territory.
“If, by the stress of numbers, we should be compelled to a temporary withdrawal from her limits or those of any other border State, we will return until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.
“Let us, then, not despond, my countrymen, but, relying on God, meet the foe with fresh defiance and with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.
While thus employed, little if any reliable information in regard to the Army of Northern Virginia was received, until a gallant youth, the son of General Henry A. Wise, came to Danville, and told me that, learning Lee’s army was to be surrendered, he had during the night mounted his fleet horse, and, escaping through and from the enemy’s cavalry, some of whom pursued him, had come quite alone to warn me of the approaching event. Other unofficial information soon followed, and of such circumstantial character as to prove that Lieutenant Wise’s anticipation had been realized.
Our scouts now reported a cavalry force to be moving toward the south around the west side of Danville, and we removed thence to Greensboro, passing a railroad-bridge, as was subsequently learned, a very short time before the enemy’s cavalry reached and burned it. I had telegraphed to General Johnston from Danville the report that Lee had surrendered, and, on arriving at Greensboro, conditionally requested him to meet me there, where General Beauregard at the time had his headquarters, my object being to confer with both of them in regard to our present condition and future operations.
The invitation to General Johnston for a conference, noticed in a previous chapter, was as follows:
“GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA, April 11 1865—12 M.
“General J. E. JOHNSTON, headquarters, via Raleigh:
“The Secretary of War did not join me at Danville. Is expected here this afternoon.
“As your situation may render best, I will go to your headquarters immediately after the arrival of the Secretary of War, or you can come here; in the former case our conference must be without the presence of General Beauregard. I have no official report from General Lee. The Secretary of War may be able to add to information heretofore communicated.
“The important question first to be solved is, At what point shall concentration be made, in view of the present position of the two columns of the enemy, and the routes which they may adopt to engage your forces before a proposed junction with General Walker and others. Your more intimate knowledge of the data for the solution of the problem deters me from making a specific suggestion on that point.
In compliance with this request, General J. E. Johnston came up from Raleigh to Greensboro, and with General Beauregard met me and most of my Cabinet at my quarters in a house occupied by Colonel J. Taylor Wood’s family. Though I was fully sensible of the gravity of our position, seriously affected as it was by the evacuation of the capital, the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the consequent discouragement which these events would produce, I did not think we should despair. We still had effective armies in the field, and a vast extent of rich and productive territory both east and west of the Mississippi, whose citizens had evinced no disposition to surrender. Ample supplies had been collected in the railroad depots, and much still remained to be placed at our disposal when needed by the army in North Carolina.