Tuesday, April 7, 2015


The Confederates who fought to
the bitter end  were determined
to achieve Southern Independence.
This determined looking un-
identified Confederate is wearing
a plain uniform typical of those of
the late war period. (Library of
Congress, Liljenquist Collection

            With the Confederate failure to breakout at Fort Stedman, Grant increased pressure on the Southern defenses all up and down the siege line. The 10th Louisiana returned to its position at the right center of the defenses. The week following the Battle of Fort Stedman, the Federal pressure was ramped up until it reached the crescendo of a great attack on the Confederate flank – The Battle of Five Forks – in which Gordon’s Second Corps did not participate. Grant mounted the pressure on all parts of the Confederate line to cement them in place, and on March 29 sent Sheridan’s cavalry, Humphreys’ 2nd  Corps and Warren’s 5th  Corps – 50,000 men – to cut Lee’s last supply line, the South Side Railroad. Sheridan was in overall command. Lee countered by sending Major General George Pickett with about 10,000 infantry and cavalry to hold the vital strategic intersection of Five Forks at all hazards. If Five Forks fell to the enemy, not only would his last major supply line be threatened, but also his last avenue of retreat. The bluecoats maneuvered into position with the battles of Quaker Road, March 29; White Oak Road and Dinwiddie Court House on March 31. Then on April 1, while Pickett was absent at a shad bake, Sheridan directed  Warren’s 5th  Corps to attack Pickett’s Five Forks position with 22,000 men on April 1. The Confederate position was turned with the loss of 2,000 prisoners to 633 casualties for the Federals.
On the next day, April 2, Grant ordered a major assault all up and down the Confederate line. The seizure of the Southside Station severed the railroad link and A.P. Hill was killed in the fight. The 10th Louisiana was at Graves’ Salient and repulsed the assault on their part of the line, but it was pierced in three other places. It was also on that day that the last man of the 10th Louisiana was killed in the war. Colonel Waggaman and Major Powell were preparing to go to Sunday Mass. Waggaman asked Powell if they had time to make it, looking at his watch and seeing it was 10:30, Powell replied, “Hardly. Unless we leave now.” It was at that very moment that that the Federal assault commenced and Powell was struck in the head by a sharpshooter’s bullet. He was the last man of the regiment killed in the war.          The Second Corps was ordered to hold the line but not try to retake any lost positions. The Louisianians were holding 200 yards of the line and endured a fierce storm of shot and shell for the next 22-hours. To test the strength of the enemy assault, occasionally a man would hold up a hat on a stick to see how many times bullets pierced it. Once again Waggaman’s men were covering the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia at great cost to themselves.
            Lee notified President Davis that he had to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg so that the government could move to Danville, Virginia. He then issued orders to the some 58,000 men he had scattered through the Northern Virginia region to rendezvous at Amelia Court House on the Richmond and Danville railroad line. He planned to have rations and ammunition there to replenish the army and then march to North Carolina to unite with Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. But the rations were not there when the army arrived and Lee was forced to send  foraging  parties out to gather food for the army, so it could continue south. This gave Grant and the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James, about 76,000 men, a chance to catch up with Lee, who had a one day lead. Sheridan and the Federal cavalry also started a running fight with the Confederate rear guard. That rear guard included the Louisiana brigade, and the remnants of the 10th Louisiana Infantry.
            At 1 o’clock in the morning of April 3, the 10th Louisiana finally got orders to evacuate and catch up with the rest of the army at Ameilia Court House. They got across the Appomattox River and then took the Woodpecker Road toward Amelia. On April 5 they re-crossed the Appomattox River and just passed through Amelia Court House, there being no rations, and headed for Burksville. The next day, April 6, the regiment skirmished with the Federals on the road to Burksville. At one point they doubled back to stop the enemy while the rest of the army moved on, then retrace their steps to catch up with the rest. The regiment then defended a bridge and at dusk, supported one artillery piece on the road while the rest of the army continued to retreat to Farmville. At 9 o’clock they moved out to rejoin the army at High Bridge, rest and then continue marching and reached Farmville by daylight of April 7. At Farmville they found 40,000 bread rations, 80,0000 of meal waiting for them and begin issuing the food. The Federals, however, arrived and Lee had to send the train on to Lynchburg, but it was captured the next day at Pamplin Depot. The Confederates then crossed the Appomattox River again at High Bridge, and hoped to delay the Federals by destroying the four bridges there, but one was left and the enemy also crossed. They then built entrenchments three miles north of Farmville and fought off enemy attacks until the supply train could safely pass.
            In spite of this discouraging retreat, many in the Southern army were not ready to surrender. Colonel Pendleton of the 15th Louisiana wrote to his wife on April 6, noting, “Our Army is not whipped – indeed it is strong & ready to fight to-day . . . .” Pendleton was likely commanding the 10th Louisiana as well as the 15th. The two fragments of each regiment had been consolidated to form Company D of the unofficial Louisiana battalion. Waggaman was commanding the brigade and Pendleton would have been senior to Lieutenant Colonel Monier. But the whole army was dwindling every day, losing men in each skirmish. The 10th Louisiana had lost 12 men on April 2 and 3 at Petersburg, including one man killed and 11 others captured. Private Peter Shery of the Confederates States Rangers was among those taken captive. On April 6, three more men were captured, including Private Joseph L. Strange of Company K. Then on April 7, an additional six 10th Louisiana men were captured at Farmville, including Private Maxile Marcantel of the Confederate States Rangers. Lee had his men do another night march to reach Appomattox Court House, the next place they hoped to find more food rations. It was 38-miles away.
       The march to Appomattox was relatively uneventful. But on April 8, the Army of Northern Virginia found that their supply train had been captured and Sheridan’s cavalry had arrived there before them. In addition, part of his artillery and wagons were captured that day at the Battle of Appomattox Station. Grant was now sending Lee notes inviting him to surrender. Lee decided to make one last desperate attempt to break through the Federal cavalry in his front. Lee ordered Gordon’s infantry, Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry and Long’s artillery to assault the Federals in front of them at daylight of April 9. Gordon positioned Evans’ division on the left, Walker’s in the center and Grimes’ on the right. Fitzhugh Lee would be to Grimes’ right. They had, altogether, about 5,400 men  to make the last charge of the Army of Northern Virginia. Taking part in the charge was the decimated Louisiana brigade, now down to just 178 men, including the small fragment of the 10th Louisiana. At daylight the Louisianians gave one last rebel yell as they charged toward the formidable Federal line. The Yankees were dismayed. They thought the Confederates would surrender at any time. Nobody wanted to be the last man killed in the war. Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry swept around the Sheridan’s left flank, while Evans, Walker, Grimes and Long’s artillery launched the frontal assault. “I take especial pride in recording the fact that this last charge of the war was made by the footsore and starving men of my command with a spirit worthy of the best days of Lee's army,” Gordon said.

           Surprisingly, the Federal breastworks were carried, two cannons captured and a battle flag captured after a Louisiana infantryman bayoneted the color bearer. After they had swept Sheridan’s cavalry aside, they were met by a bone-chilling sight – a solid phalanx of Federal infantry. The 5th  Corps, now commanded by Griffin, who had replaced the sacked Warren, was now up and in support of the cavalry. Gordon brought up the artillery and the infantry, opened fire and the combination of the two stopped the advance of the bluecoats. But the massive numbers were quickly flanking the Confederates on both flanks. Longstreet’s corps was also being assaulted. “My troops were still fighting, furiously fighting in nearly every direction, when the final note from General Lee reached me. It notified me that there was a flag of truce between General Grant and himself, stopping hostilities, and that I could communicate that fact to the commander of the Union forces in my front.”

No comments: