Last night, just before dark, I took a detour down a narrow back road to visit Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park, not too far from Appomattox, Virginia. A misty rain, suspended in the air, dampened my uncovered hands and face as I walked my dog and thought about where I was and the ground I was standing on. We were the only ones there, Dusa and I, although you might imagine we were surrounded by the spirits of the past.
Thousands died on this ground at the very end of the Civil War on April 6, 1865. The battle was basically a bloody and futile holding action. The war would end not too much farther down the road when General Lee surrendered all the troops then under his command and caught inside General Grant’s trap. More about the italicized part later.
Sailor’s Creek was fairly unique in that many who fought on the Confederate side were Richmond desk jockeys and others who had found ways to avoid military service, even though the South, like the North, was drafting men as fast as they could track them down. For the most part, these men might have continued avoiding, but they didn’t – and that’s the interesting part.
Everybody knew the war was lost for the South. My speculation is that these men knew this was the last chance they’d have to win self-respect for the image they would see in the mirror for the rest of their lives – if they survived. They didn’t suddenly decide to fight for a cause which was already lost and which they might not have agreed with anyway, but they did feel they owed something to those they viewed as their fellow countrymen and to their homes and families. (Note: I did a video shoot of a reenactment here several years ago and the reenactors did a great job of portraying the former deskjockeys.)
Now about the italicized text. Some Southern cavalry broke through the Northern encirclement just before Lee surrendered. These men figured , therefore, that they weren’t surrendered and they rode on to Lynchburg, Virginia. There they were told by a high-ranking officer to go to their homes, that the war was over. It appears that my great-great-grandfather was among them, in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry. If only he wasn’t just a spirit in the mist, I would truly love to talk with him…
– As written quickly at the Muse Coffee Company in Lynchburg, Virginia on the morning of November 20, 2009.