Tuesday, February 28, 2012

John Brown Gordon Describes the Final Scenes at Appomattox

[caption id="attachment_2155" align="alignleft" width="173" caption="John Brown Gordon during the war"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Ralph Lowell Eckert, in his book John Brown Gordon: Soldier – Southerner – American, recounts Gordon’s description of the final scenes at Appomattox, in which he attempts to arrange a truce with the Federals in his front and finds his wing of the army in the unfortunate condition of having no white flag. Eckert sites as evidence Gordon’s official report in the OR, a letter to E. P. Alexander in 1888, another letter to Bryan Grimes in 1872, and several published accounts including those of J. William Jones and James Longstreet. Apparently, the story of his part in the final hours of the Army of Northern Virginia was a story he was fond of telling. In an 1899 letter to Mrs. Peyton, the wife of Colonel Green Peyton, Gordon’s chief of staff and the man to whom he gave the order to procure a flag of truce, Gordon offers nearly the exact account as he had rendered to Grimes decades earlier. Sounding something like a letter of reference, the letter is in answer to a request from Mrs. Peyton…for what it is uncertain.

1918 F. St. NW

Washington D.C.

Feby 13, 1899.

My Dear Mrs. Peyton:

I dictate a brief reply to your letter received some time since.

On the night of April the 8th, 1865, a conference was held at General Lee’s Headquarters at which it was decided that my command consisting of nearly one half of the Army, should, the next morning, attempt to cut its way out. We moved at daylight and swept over the Union breastworks, capturing some Artillery, and driving the enemy before us. We were however, soon almost completely surrounded when Colonel Venable rode up with an inquiry from General Lee as to the situation. I replied, “Tell General Lee that my command has been fought to a frazzle.” Then I received a note from General Lee informing me that there was a flag of truce between General Grant and himself stopping hostilities. It was at this time that I called your gallant husband to take a flag of truce, and communicate this information to the Union Commander in my front. Colonel Peyton could find no white flag or handkerchief. He finally secured a towel or something of the sort and rode rapidly away to the enemy’s lines. He soon returned with General Custer, with a demand from General Sheridan for my surrender, which was promptly declined, with a statement form me that General Lee was in conference with General Grant. On Custer’s return, General Sheridan rode toward my lines under a flag of truce, and I rode out with your husband and other members of my staff to meet him. This conference between Sheridan and myself resulted in an agreement to stop the fighting until Generals Lee and Grant should be heard from. My wing of the Army at this time consisted of other Corps. Rode’s old Division was a part of Jackson’s Corps, and therefore under my command. Colonel Peyton was the ranking Staff Officer in the Corps, and his fidelity, courage and great efficiency had long been recognized both in the field and by the War Department in Richmond. He was at this time serving as chief of staff with me. His never failing cheerfulness and hope; his words of encouragement and his good humour under the most trying conditions made him a delightful and helpful companion on the march, at the mess, around camp fires at night – indeed everywhere.

[caption id="attachment_2156" align="alignleft" width="199" caption="Senator Gordon of Georgia in the late 1890s"][/caption]

I wish I could write more; but hope that this may answer your purpose with every good wish.

I am, sincerely your friend,

J B Gordon

P.S. I beg to give you a more detailed account of the part played by your gallant husband in the last scenes of Appomattox. When the message reached me from General Lee, I directed Col Peyton, my chief of staff to take a flag of truce, ride quickly to the front & communicate to the Union Commander of the forces in front, the substance of General Lee’s note to me. Col Peyton replied: “General we have no flag of truce.” “Well,” I said, “Take your handkerchief & tie that to a stick & go.” He felt in his pockets & promptly replied: “I have no handkerchief Sir.”  “The tear your shirt Sir & put that on a stick & go” I ordered. He looked at his shirt & then at mine & said: “General, I have on a flannel shirt & I see you have. There isn’t a white shirt in your whole army. “Then get something at once & go” I quickly directed. Whereupon he found a towel or rag of not very immaculate whiteness, and rode off rapidly to the enemy’s lines. I have given in the body of this letter the circumstances of my parley with General Custer and later with General Sheridan.

Affectionately your friend,

J B Gordon

What a storyteller - he was full of 'em...and some were pretty close to the truth! And for those of you who demand satisfaction (from citations) the Gordon letter is housed at the Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. Their archivist was kind enough to send me copies of the Gordon collection.



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