Appomattox and After

April 9:General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to GeneralUlysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia on this day in 1865,signaling the end of the American Civil War. The eyewitness records of theevent include the diary of William G. Hinson, a lieutenant in the 7thSouth Carolina Cavalry. The following excerpts follow Hinson’s path fromJanuary 27, 1865, when he returned to battle after a month’s leave:

  • Left home at 9a.m. to return to Virginia with feelings that no pen can do justice to. Ah! Theanguish of a mother under such circumstances, when all the natural feelings saytry and retain him, as one has already been taken, but the nobler sense of dutysays no, obey your country’s call….
  • The fall ofCharleston announced. Oh how it hurts me to think of the proud old city beingin the hands of the enemy. How they will gloat over it. The spirits of our menare very low. …For several days no corn or grain for horses and no meat formen.
  • The evacuationof Richmond has commenced. …Witnessed a sight that will never be forgotten;thousands of ladies weeping and wringing their hands as they saw their lasthope departing. Would that every one of the army could have seen it! The heartmust indeed be a craven one, that would not be fired to noble deeds by thesight.

By the time that Hinsonand the other troops under Lee’s command arrive at Appomattox the cause is allbut lost. But battle is engaged, and as Hinson and his men are firing on atroop of Yankee cavalry, forcing them into retreat, a rider speeds past himtowards the Union side:

…At the same glance tookin a horseman at a rapid gate riding towards them with a small white flag andhorror of horrors! it flashes through the command that Lee had surrendered. Mypencil almost refuses to write the disgrace….

It takes the starvingHinson three weeks to make it home, traveling through a South that itself “seemseaten out.” His last diary entry confesses to tears and to feelings ofdisgrace: “I had expected the day I could put off my armor to be theproudest of my life but alas, how different.”


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.