When Robert E. Lee affixed his signature to the Appomattox Court House surrender document on April 9, 1865, he effectively flipped the Civil War switch to “off.”
The shooting suddenly stopped, except in specific regions of the Deep South and Trans-Mississippi where Confederate and Union troops would not learn about the surrender for days. Gunfire ceased in Virginia, where Pvt. John Haley of the 17th Maine Infantry found on April 10 that “it was quite easy to get up this morning” because “I feel that a load of several tons has been lifted from my shoulders.”
That sensation rippled across the Army of the Potomac and spread through the loyal states.
So did a sigh of relief among the Union’s fiscal whizzes: With the war ending, the Union needed no longer to spend $4 million a day to wage it.
The sooner the boys went home and left the army, the quicker that Washington could cut costs and reduce its growing debt. And with Confederate troops still ranging far afield in Alabama, Texas, and elsewhere, the War Department started downsizing the army no more than three days after Lee gave up —
— even if men from both sides were still bashing one another around Mobile Bay.
The 17th Maine left its camp near Appomattox Court House at 8 a.m., Wednesday, April 12 and reached Farmville at sunset. Col. Charles Mattocks made a statement in that “attractive little village on the South Side Railroad,” as Haley described Farmville.
“We marched through the town with flying colors and our bands playing national airs,” he said.
The 17th Maine boys continued marching eastward on Thursday and Friday and rested during the weekend. “Our work is done — well done,” Haley expressed a soldier‘s pride. “Success has crowned our efforts.”
Then the regiment went into a temporary camp — and stayed there until Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston officially surrendered his army to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina. The “temp” camp soon seemed permanent when Haley and his comrades received orders to construct log cabins equipped with bunks.
Not long after the surrendered Confederates left Appomattox Court House, the 11th Maine Infantry “set out for Richmond,” recalled 1st Lt. Robert Brady Jr. of Enfield and Co. B.
“We moved toward Richmond by easy marches, and in the highest spirits,” he said, describing the weather as “delightful” and “the country beautiful, and its inhabitants curious.” On Tuesday, April 25, the 11th Maine camped near the James River opposite Richmond; crossing the James the next day on a pontoon bridge, the Maine boys rejoined the Army of the James.
In an encounter prescient to the Grand Review of the Army slated for late May in Washington, D.C., the 11th Maine boys and their brigade comrades marched “ragged and dust laden” between the drawn-up ranks of the troops occupying Richmond. Those soldiers were “as spick and span as if just turned out of military bandboxes,” Brady noticed.
Then he saw the envy in many soldierly eyes. As would Sherman’s Bummers when they strolled along Pennsylvania Avenue about four weeks hence, the incoming veterans marched comfortably, their proud step and hard-marching appearance broadcasting their division’s “prestige of endurance and intrepidity,” Brady said.
The watching soldiers — all combat veterans who had quickly adjusted to Richmond garrison life — envied the dusty men marching past them. “It was plainly expressed to us that they would gladly change places with our division” just to claim they had chased Lee to his final defeat, Brady said.
The 11th Maine marched to its designated campground “in a grove back of the city,” according to Brady, and remained there “for several months.”
“Our camp was a pleasant and healthy one,” he said. “Our duties were light, our provisions were good and plentiful, and short leaves of absence could be had for the asking.”
The 1st Maine Cavalry did a bit of wandering around Robin Hood’s Southern barn before taking the turn toward home. Moving east on April 10 to Prospect Station on the South Side Railroad, the troopers swung into their saddles at 7 a.m., April 11 and rode 25 miles to Burkesville Junction.
Riding in easy stages, the cavalrymen reached Petersburg on April 18. Six days later, orders sent the regiment south “to North Carolina to help overpower Gen. [Joe] Johnston, who had not yet been thoroughly tamed,” said Sgt. Maj. Edward Parsons Tobie.
Traveling southwest past the battlefield of Dinwiddie Court House, the troopers crossed multiple rivers before reaching South Boston, Va. on April 28. “News was received of the surrender of Gen. Johnston, and orders were received to return—just as the regiment was in sight of North Carolina,” Tobie said.
So north to Petersburg the 1st Maine Cavalry started on Saturday, April 29. “This was a glorious march, a sort of pleasure trip” as the Maine lads rode through “fine” weather, Tobie recalled. “All nature was bright and cheery in its fresh spring green.”
Deploying no pickets or “advance guard,” the troops rode north, the direction they must take to reach Maine sometime in the near future. Tobie and his comrades reached Petersburg on May 3 and camped “at Ettricks, a factory village a mile or more” from the city.
The 1st Maine Cavalry boys would never camp together again, at least on Washington’s dime. The regimental ranks — and those of many other regiments — would soon thin as the War Department cut its costs.
The Zouave Element
The Zouaves were hard-fighting soldiers who adopted the colorful turbans and uniforms worn by French colonial troops in North Africa. From First Manassas to well into the Civil War, Zouaves fought ferociously for both North and South.
Join Maine humorist Robert “Maynard” Kuprovich as he dons the Zouave uniform of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment and speaks at the Isaac Farrar Mansion, 166 Union Street, Bangor, at 6 p.m., April 20. Maynard will talk about “The Zouave Element” in this Civil War Lecture Series presented by the Bangor Historical Society.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.