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Chapter XV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

American War in 1865: Approaching end of the Struggle: Sherman continues his March; Enters South Carolina: Systematic devastation of the Country: Abandonment of Columbia; The City nearly destroyed by fire: Evacuation of Charleston: Federal Flag again raised on Fort Sumter: Affair of Bentonville: Sherman reaches Goldsboro', in North Carolina: Various attempts to close Wilmington Harbour; Failure of General Butler; The Fort reduced by General Terry: Schofieldbrought up from Tenessee; He occupies Wilmington, and advances to Goldsboro': Subjugation of Alabama: Sheridan defeats Early, and joins Grant before Petersburg: Lee attacks Fort Steadman; Is repulsed: Evacuation of Richmond; Terrible Scenes; The Federals enter the City: Lee retreats towards Lynchburg; Part of his Army, under Ewell, compelled to surrender: Lee beats off his Pursuers; Crosses the Appomattox River; Grant writes to him, urging him to surrender; Correspondence: Lee's line of Retreat barred by Sheridan; He agrees to surrender his Army; Meeting at Appomattox Courthouse; Terms of Capitulation: Lee's Farewell to his Army: Hostilities cease Everywhere: Capture of President Davis: Assassination of Mr. Lincoln; Attempt on the Life of Mr. Seward; Exasperation of the North; Probable motives of the Assassins: Immense exertions of the North during the War.
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The long agony of the Southern Confederation was now rapidly approaching its termination. The leaders still used bold and haughty language, and professed their determination to die rather than yield; but there are limits to human endurance; and for the adult male population of the South that limit had nearly been reached. Of what use was it to them to win a battle, or a dozen battles, if the end of the war was brought no nearer? Sooner or later the soldiers now under arms would go the way of their brave comrades who had watered the soil of Virginia and Pennsylvania with their blood, and yet the sacrifice would have been in vain! Cut off from the sea, and the supplies of men and material which else might come to them across the waves, enveloped by a girdle of fire, seeing their fairest and most fertile provinces devastated by a ruthless enemy, whenever he could break his way through their defences, unable to push back, however they might retard, the steadily-rising tide of Federal encroachment, the Confederate soldiers could not but recognise by this time that they were playing a hopeless game. To this feeling of despair must it have been owing that in this last campaign of 1865 Lee's soldiers, even when not seriously defeated, allowed themselves to be taken prisoners in great numbers; captivity must have seemed preferable in their eyes to a longer useless struggle against fate. On the other hand, the Federal soldiers, finding themselves at least two to one in most encounters, encouraged by the continual inflow of reinforcements, and by the liberality with which all their wants were supplied, and conscious that their movements were directed by determined and able leaders, displayed in the attack an elan and an elasticity of spirit similar to that which their adversaries had exhibited in the earlier years of the war.

Sherman's great march had brought him and his army of 60,000 men to Savannah, the capital of Georgia; but it did not end there. His movements were delayed by heavy rains; but, on the 1st January, 1865, he set forth, moving his army directly northward, as if Augusta were the point of attack. Suddenly turning to his right, and crossing the river Savannah, he entered the swampy fertile plains of South Carolina. Beauregard was in his front, but the force under his command was too small to bar the way against Sherman's well-appointed army, and the Federal commander in the course of a fortnight had pushed his way through that hostile country, and was before Columbia - the state capital. Devastation marked the track of his columns. South Carolina was peculiarly obnoxious to the men of the North, as the state which had first seceded, and first fired on the Stars and Stripes; and her people were now to drink the bitter cup which a foe, not sensitive to the motives of chivalry and generosity, is wont to raise to the lips of the vanquished. Sherman, upon entering South Carolina, issued an order commencing, "The army will forage liberally on the country during its march." The wholesale and systematic foraging, it went on say, was to be done by regular foraging parties, organised for the purpose by the different brigade commanders; but all soldiers were to be permitted, during the halt or at camp, " to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and drive in stock in front of their camps." To army corps commanders was entrusted " the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c.; " but this power was not to be exercised " unless the inhabitants of the country through which the army was passing annoyed it by bush-whacking or other guerrilla operations, or unless they should burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility." The practical latitude which such an order gives to soldiers inclined to rapacity, or commanders inclined to severity, is evidently unbounded. The order proceeds to say that, as for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, "the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit; discriminating, however, between the rich who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly." The Federal historian maintains that " the mere necessity of subsisting such an army off the country, while passing rapidly through it, necessarily involved its devastation." But no such necessity existed; the harbour of Savannah was open to the Federals, so that any amount of supplies might have been accumulated by Sherman before he set out on his march; and if he could bring his guns safely through the swamps of South Carolina, he could also have brought trains of provision carts. Even if we grant that this would have been a difficult operation, and one involving delay, the alternative remained of paying for the supplies required, as the Duke of Wellington did in the south of France, and as the Germans usually did in the last war. There was no scarcity of "green-backs " (as the Federal paper- money was then called), and the inhabitants of the invaded districts would have indubitably preferred to be forced to part with their property at low fixed rates, rather than be despoiled of it without compensation or redress. What actually took place under General Sherman's plundering order is thus described by Mr. Greeley: " The business of foraging had been gradually assumed as a specialty by the least scrupulous of the soldiers, who, having mounted themselves somehow on beasts of burden, scoured the whole region in advance of our marching columns - often many miles in advance - gathering provisions for the army, and anything inviting and portable for themselves - dismounting and fighting in the line of battle when charged or impeded by cavalry or militia in moderate numbers; but fonder, on the whole, of rifling a house than of fighting its owner, and constantly intent on the main chance. No other state or section has in modern times been so thoroughly devastated in a single campaign, signalised by little fighting, as was South Carolina by that march through its utmost length, and over an average breadth of forty miles, by Sherman's army."

Beauregard had not a force under his orders sufficient for the defence of Columbia, and he therefore directed General Wade Hampton, who was in command there, to evacuate the city. That general did so, having first caused to be brought out into the streets and set on fire all the large stores of cotton which the place contained, lest it should fall into Federal hands. A portion only of Sherman's army entered the town, in the middle of the day on the 17th of February, but before night it was in flames. Federals and Confederates mutually taxed each other with having caused the conflagration. General Sherman, in a letter subsequently published, declared that the act of General Wade Hampton, in setting fire to the cotton in the streets, had been the cause of the disaster; the high wind blowing had, he said, communicated the fire from the cotton-bales to the houses. This may well have been so; yet there is an ambiguous expression in Sherman's letter which, if it does not suggest, certainly does not exclude, a different explanation. " Before one single public building had been fired by order," says General Sherman, "the smouldering fires set by Hampton's order were rekindled by the wind and communicated to the buildings around." The introduction of the words " by order " is remarkable, for it shows that the writer does not exclude from his mind the possibility of some of the public buildings having been fired without orders, and that previously to any mischief having been done by the burning cotton. If this was so, the burning of the city, which left 4,000 of the inhabitants houseless and homeless, is at once accounted for. Pollard, the Confederate historian, gives no explanation of the origin of the fire, though he says that drunken Federal soldiers did their best to increase it; but he thus describes the scenes which followed the entry of the Federal troops: - " No sooner had the enemy entered Columbia than a wild and savage scene of pillage commenced. Stragglers, pontoon-men, and the riff-raff of the army were to be met in every street and in almost every house. If they wanted a pair of boots, they took them from one's feet. Watches were in constant demand, in several instances being snatched from the persons of ladies. Ear and finger rings were taken by force; and, in isolated cases, the dresses of ladies were torn from their bodies by villains who expected to find jewels or plate concealed. Search for silver and provisions was made in every conceivable place. Ramrods were used as probes to indicate where boxes were buried; and gardens, out-houses, cellars, garrets, chimneys and nooks never thought of by any one but a thief in search of plunder, were turned, so to speak, inside out. The Rev. Mr. Shand, the Episcopalian clergyman, while conveying a trunk containing the communion- service of silver from the church to the South Carolina College, was accosted by a Yankee and a negro, who compelled him, under threat of death, to give it up."

The loss of Columbia involved the fall of Charleston, including Fort Sumter and the other defences; for since the sea was closed against them from behind by the blockading fleet, no hope of ultimate escape remained for the defenders, if they waited till they were hemmed in by a superior force on the land side. General Hardee, commanding at Charleston, evacuated the place after burning every warehouse or shed containing cotton, and the Federals entered unopposed (February 18) the proud little city which had so long kept them at bay. They found little but tottering walls and smoking ruins. The fenced city had literally been turned into a ruinous heap. A great explosion of gunpowder had caused the death of 200 persons, destroyed the depot where the accident occurred, and set fire to the adjoining buildings; so that, independently of the intentional arson, a large part of the city was thus burnt down. The Federal flag Was again raised over the recovered Fort Sumter, of which, since the heavy bombardment which it had undergone, nothing remained to the exterior view but crumbling walls. Two months later, on the anniversary of the surrender of the fort to the Confederates by Major Anderson (April 14), a large number of civilians from the North, desirous of celebrating at the same time their own triumph, the subjugation of their Southern countrymen, and the downfall of slavery, took down to Charleston the identical flag which had been flying on Fort Sumter at the time of the surrender, and re-hoisted it with appropriate rejoicings. While the Federals were entering the city, General Hardee, with 12,000 men, was marching along the coast in the direction of North Carolina, in order to join Beauregard and Cheetham. The last-named officer had been appointed to the command of what was left of the army lately defeated under Hood in Tennessee. But discouragement, arising from ill-success and incessant hardships, had now spread to such an extent among the Confederate soldiers, that no concentration of forces could bring together a respectable army. They gave themselves up to the enemy in great numbers; and Grant was reported to have declared, a few weeks later, that within a period of six months 17,000 deserters had come into his lines. From Columbia Sherman advanced on the 23rd February, but instead of marching to the attack of Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, he struck off to the right, crossed the Great Pedee river, and passing the state boundary at Sneedsboro', again concentrated his army at Fayetteville (March 11). General Johnston, who ought never to have been superseded, was now re-appointed to the command of the Confederate army opposed to Sherman. As the Federal left, under Slocum, was advancing from Fayetteville towards Goldsboro', Johnston vigorously attacked at Bentonville (March 20), hoping to envelop and crush it before it could be supported; but the success of the attempt did not correspond to his expectations. Sherman's victorious march terminated at Goldsboro', for to that point a strong Federal force had fought its way up from the coast just before his arrival, under circumstances which must now be explained.

After the closing of the port of Mobile, as narrated in Chapter IX., the only harbour in the Confederacy, east of Texas, which remained in any sense open was that of Wilmington in North Carolina. The Cape Fear river here joins the sea at a sharp angle, forming a long straight estuary, divided from the sea on the east by a narrow sandy peninsula, at the point of which stood Fort Fisher.

Twenty miles from the mouth of the river is the important town of Wilmington. Two or three islands on the opposite or western side of the estuary, at its mouth, provided the harbour with several entrances, each of which was guarded by a powerful fort. Under these circumstances it was impossible for the blockading squadron wholly to baffle the operations of swift blockade-runners, a larger percentage of which got safely in and out of Wilmington than was the case at any other Confederate port. After Farragut's success at Mobile, the conviction seems to have forced itself on the Federal authorities that only by means of a combined military and naval attack, similar to that before which Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan fell, could the river highway to Wilmington be closed. Preparations were gradually made in the autumn of 1864. General Butler was now in command on this part of the coast, a man not less confident in his own strategic resources than if, instead of being brought up in a lawyer's office, he had had the training of a Moltke or a Todleben. Having read in an English paper an account of the havoc caused by an explosion of gunpowder at Erith, Butler conceived the bright idea of blowing up Fort Fisher by laying a vessel containing 250 tons of gunpowder alongside of its sea-face, and then exploding the powder by a train. The experiment was made (December 23, 1864), but utterly failed; not the smallest injury was done to the fort, and the garrison merely supposed that one of the big guns on board some vessel in the blockading fleet had burst Grant then insisted that the plan of a combined attack should be tried - Butler taking a force of 6,000 men, and landing it on the peninsula above Fort Fisher, with a view to constructing batteries there, and cannonading the fort in concert with the fleet. But Admiral Porter, who then commanded off Wilmington, appears to have disliked Butler, and would do nothing in concert with him. Stationing his iron-clads as near to Fort Fisher as the depth of water would allow, he opened (Dec. 26) a terrific bombardment on the place, speedily silencing its fire, and blowing up two of its magazines. Butler believed that now was the time for him to land his troops and send them on to the assault; but the report of his immediate subordinate, General Weitzel, who carefully examined the work, and convinced himself that its defences were still in the main intact, caused him to hesitate; a personal examination induced him to form the same opinion, and to renounce the project of an assault as impracticable. Instead, however, of landing his men on the peninsula, according to Grant's orders, and opening trenches, Butler returned with the expedition to the James river. Grant was much annoyed, and immediately sent General Terry, at the head of a somewhat larger force, to execute the work which Butler had failed to perform. Terry landed a force of 8,000 men, provided with intrenching tools and everything necessary for a siege, on the peninsula to the north of the fort about the 12th January, 1865. His first care was to throw a strong defensive line across the peninsula on the land side of his encampment, to guard against any attack from Wilmington. This done, he turned his attention to Fort Fisher, which, after a careful reconnaissance and consultation with Porter, he resolved to attempt to carry by assault. Two storming columns were organised - one consisting of 2,000 sailors and marines, who were to attack the sea-face of the work; the other of the bulk of his little army, who were to endeavour to possess themselves of the complicated defences on the side facing the peninsula. The assault was delivered on the 15th January. Again the fire of the fort was silenced by the deluge of projectiles hurled into it by the fleet; but when the column of sailors rushed forward to the attack, they were, after a desperate struggle, beaten back with heavy loss. But, under cover of the diversion caused by the sailors' charge, Terry's storming column succeeded, first in carrying two or three outer lines of palisades, next in effecting a lodgment on the parapet, then in carrying one by one, though with severe loss, the traverses in rear of the parapet, and finally in driving the garrison right out of the fort. The retreating Confederates made for a strong battery planted at the extremity of the peninsula, but this could now afford them no effectual protection against the guns of the fleet, and they were compelled, to the number of 2,000, to surrender. The commanders in charge of the other forts, seeing the inutility of further resistance, also surrendered, and every approach to Wilmington by sea passed into the hands of the Federals. And now General Grant executed a master-stroke of tactics. The force at the disposal of General Terry was not large enough for the attack on Wilmington, nor was it deemed safe to detach any troops to his assistance from the army before Richmond and Petersburg; but there was an army corps far away to the west, in the now pacified state of Tennessee, which had no immediate work on its hands, and which might be utilised for the reduction of Wilmington. General Grant therefore sent the necessary orders to General Schofield, commanding the 23rd Corps at Clifton in Tennessee; that officer, on receiving them, embarked some 12,000 men in steamers on the Tennessee river, down which they were conveyed into the Ohio, up that stream to Cincinnati, thence by rail to Alexandria on the Potomac, where they were again embarked in steamers as soon as the ice would permit, and transported to the mouth of the Cape Fear river. When the troops under his command had been safely landed on the peninsula, and had joined the force under Terry, General Schofield found himself at the head of an army of 20,000 men, and strong enough for an immediate advance on Wilmington, which was only defended by a slender Confederate brigade under General Hoke. Hoke made the best defence he could, but was soon compelled to retire, evacuating Wilmington on the 22nd February. General Schofield, who had obtained this great success with very trifling loss, advanced, on the 6th March, from Wilmington into the interior of North Carolina, taking the direction of Goldsboro'. A part of his forces, to the number of 700 men, was surprised and captured by Hoke; but the contest was too unequal to last long, and Schofield entered Goldsboro' from the south a few days before Sherman with his army arrived from the south-west.

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Pictures for Chapter XV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

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