Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Who Rode with Lee at Appomattox?

Lee, Marshall, and Johns. 

   I'm not sure of the source of this scene that is floating around in my head. Maybe it is a painting, or some clip from a movie or show (Civil War Journal?). It shows General Lee at Appomattox, with an officer and courier in tow, leaving the McLean house. Lee we all recognize. But who were the others?

   The common story is that Lee was accompied by Col. Charles Marshall, of his staff, and Sgt. George W. Tucker, A. P. Hill's former chief of couriers. That is the way that Charles Marshall wrote the story many years after the war, and it is a story often repeated. Charles Marshall was present, and why shouldn't his account have credence? But maybe the years were catching up to Marshall when he wrote. There is no doubt that Lee was present, as was Marshall, but what about that courier?

   Marshall writes that "early on the morning of April 9, General Lee... directed me to come with him and go down on the Lynchburg road to meet General Grant... An orderly by the name of Tucker, a soldier from Maryland and one of the bravest men that ever fought,--he was with A. P. Hill when he was killed and brought Hill's horse off... accompanied us. The flag of truce was a white handkerchief, and Tucker road ahead of us carrying it." The three rode ahead, passing through the Confederate battle and skirmish lines. They eventually rode to the Federal skirmish line and halted. "As soon as Tucker was halted, General Lee directed me to go forward and seek the Federal commanding officer," Marshall wrote. For the next four paragraphs there is a discussion between Marshall and a couple of different Federal officers. After agreeing to a suspension of hostilities, Lee heard artillery, mounted, and rode  toward the sound of the guns. Arriving at the section of the lines where Fitz Lee was in command, Lee ordered them to cease firing.  Lee then retired to an apple orchard to await word from Grant. An hour later, word arrived that Grant was on his way. Marshall continues: "General Lee... at last called me and told me to get ready to go with him... I mounted my horse and we started off - General Lee, Colonel Babcock, Colonel Babcock's orderly, one of our orderlies, and myself." Notice that this time, Marshall does not use Tucker's name, simply, "one of our orderlies." (268)

   Freeman, in volume four of his biography of Lee, picks up this story. The party heading to see Grant is composed of Col. Walter Taylor, Charles Marshall, George Tucker, and Lee. This is based upon a letter that William H. Palmer wrote to Taylor on June 24, 1911. Palmer was on Hill's staff until the latter's death, and was now serving under Longstreet. (124)  Later that morning, while still waiting for word from Grant, Taylor was sent with a Federal Assistant Adjutant General with a message. When word arrived from Grant, according to Freeman, Lee, Marshall, and Tucker set off. (133, using Marshall as his reference.) Then, according to Freeman, Marshall and an orderly rode off to Appomattox to find a place suitable for a meeting. When the McLean house was selected, Marshall sent the orderly back to inform and guide Lee. (134) Eventually, Grant showed up, and the terms were worked out.

   Then Freeman turned to an account by George A. Forsyth, a Federal general and witness to the proceedings at Appomattox, who published his account in April 1898. Forsyth recalled seeing "a soldierly looking orderly in a tattered gray uniform, holding three horses..." (708) Eventually, Lee emerged from the McLean parlor. According to Forsyth, Lee, not seeing his horse, called out "Orderly! Orderly! "Here, General, here," was the quick response. The alert young soldier was holding the General's horse near the side of the house..." (710)  Forsyth never mentions the name of the "orderly," or courier.
McLean House 

   Was it Sgt. George W. Tucker? Probably not, or, probably not by the time they arrived at the court house. On April 14, 1865, the New York Daily Herald  ran an account of the surrender proceedings. This account was written and published thirty years before the others. According to this account, "General Lee was accompanied only by Colonel Marshall... at present an aid-de-camp on his staff, and Orderly Johns, who has served him in that capacity for fourteen months." There is only one member of the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry with the last name of Johns: Joshua O. Johns.  While he did not officially join the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry until December 1863, he was reportedly with Jackson, and wounded by the same volley that mortally wounded the General on May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville. He also surrendered at Appomattox. Lewis B. Ellis, also a member of the 39th Battalion, wrote another account in 1876. In his article, Ellis is refuting the idea that Lee surrendered under an apple tree. Instead, Lee was in the apple orchard awaiting word from Grant. When word arrived, Lee "called for his horse, and attended by Col. W. H. Taylor and Special Courier Johns, rode away in the direction of Appomattox Court house. He returned in about two hours and told us he had surrendered. I was a courier on duty with him at the time." (The Coffeyville Weekly Journal March 11, 1876)

   My two cents’ worth on who rode with Lee: When the group started off the first time on the morning of April 9, 1865, the party consisted of Lee, Marshall, and Tucker. At some point after returning from the first attempt to meet Grant, Tucker is ordered away. On setting out a second time, Tucker is not present, and Johns carries the white flag through the lines. Marshall mentions Tucker by name in the first attempt, but does not in the second ride to Appomattox. We know that other officers were present, like Colonel Taylor, at various times, and it is likely that other couriers were milling around.

Sources: Maurice,  An Aide-De-Camp of Lee (The writings of Charles Marshall. The Appomattox piece was originally published in 1894)
Freeman, R. E. Lee, Volume 4 (1935)
Forsyth, Harper's Magazine, Volume 96, 1898
New York Daily Herald   April 14, 1865
The Coffeyville Weekly Journal March 11, 1876

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