A Captain in the Ranks A Romance of Affairs

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Language: English
Published: 5 days ago
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The Final Fight

The slender remnant of Lee's artillery swung slowly into position a few miles west of Appomattox Court House. Wearily—but with spirit still—the batteries parked their guns in a field facing a strip of woodland. The guns were few in number now, but they were all that was left of those that had done battle on a score of historic fields.

Lee had been forced out of his works at Richmond and Petersburg a week before. Ever since, with that calm courage which had sustained him throughout the later and losing years of the war, he had struggled and battled in an effort to retreat to the Roanoke River. He had hoped there to unite the remnant of his army with what was left of Johnston's force, and to make there a final and desperate stand.

In this purpose he had been baffled. Grant's forces were on his southern flank, and they had steadily pressed him back toward the James River on the north. In that direction there was no thoroughfare for him. Neither was there now in any other. Continual battling had depleted his army until it numbered now scarcely more than ten thousand men all told, and starvation had weakened these so greatly that only the heroism of despair enabled them to fight or to march at all.

The artillery that was parked out there in front of Appomattox Court House was only a feeble remnant of that which had fought so long and so determinedly. Gun after gun had been captured. Gun after gun had been dismounted in battle struggle. Caisson after caisson had been blown up by the explosion of shells striking them.

Captain Guilford Duncan, at the head of eleven mounted men, armed only with sword and pistols, paused before entering the woodlands in front. He looked about in every direction, and, with an eye educated by long experience in war, he observed the absence of infantry support.

He turned to Sergeant Garrett, who rode by his side, and said sadly:

"Garrett, this means surrender. General Lee has put his artillery here to be captured. The end has come."

Then dismounting, he wearily threw himself upon the ground, chewed and swallowed a few grains of corn,—the only rations he had,—and sought a brief respite of sleep. But before closing his eyes he turned to Garrett and gave the command:

"Post a sentinel and order him to wake us when Sheridan comes."

This command brought questions from the men about him. They were privates and he was their captain, it is true, but the Southern army was democratic, and these men were accustomed to speak with their captain with eyes on a level with his own.

"Why do you say, 'when Sheridan comes'?" asked one of Duncan's command.

"Oh, he will come, of course—and quickly. That is the program. This artillery has been posted here to be captured. And it will be captured within an hour or two at furthest, perhaps within a few minutes, for Sheridan is sleepless and his force is not only on our flank, but in front of us. There is very little left of the Army of Northern Virginia. It can fight no more. It is going to surrender here, but in the meantime there may be a tidy little scrimmage in this strip of woods, and I for one want to have my share in it....