Confederate Veteran May-June 1990
25th Anniversary of General Lee's Surrender April 9th, 1865
by John Pelopidas Leach, 1890
A quarter of a century has passed since General Lee surrendered the last hope of the Confederacy at Appomattox Court House.
For more than a year prior to that time, he had, with matchless skill, contended against vastly superior numbers and military resources, and successfully held at bay the grandest army ever marshaled on American soil. In the annals of American history, the name of this village will be preserved side-by-side with Yorktown, New Orleans and Mexico.
A private soldier, though a living witness, cannot describe a battle, much less a campaign. The field of observation to him is circumscribed and limited. But as I went with my companions to the last firing line, I have some vivid recollections of the event and I will relate my experiences and observations as a member of Company C, 53rd NC Regiment at Appomattox.
Before reaching Appomattox on the memorable retreat of our army from Petersburg, the half starved division of General Bryan Grimes, of which I belonged, was halted after dark for a short rest, and some of the *sharpshooters in the skirmish line, commanded by my brother, Lieutenant George T. Leach, also of Company C in the 53rd NC Regiment, collected and drove to our bivouac two or three cows with the intent of butchering them, believing, as they certainly had reason to believe, that the poor cattle would soon fall into the merciless hands of our pursuers.
Reaching our stopping place, for we had no encampment there, Lieutenant Leach sent to headquarters to get permission to butcher the cows for his Corps of Sharpshooters, stating that his men were suffering from food. They had been constantly on the flanks and in the rear of the retreating army since the evacuation, marching, counter marching, retreating and fighting without food or rest. General Grimes peremptorily refused to allow the cattle to be killed, because to allow it would violate one of Lee's well-established rules prohibiting plundering at any cost.
He ordered the cows to be returned to the field from which they were driven, a mile or two back. The order was instantly executed as far as possible - the cattle were driven within range of the federal pickets and turned over to our pursuers. We marched on with empty stomachs and continued to hold the front line in an attempt to open the way for the retreat of the Army. However, unknown to General Grimes, General Gordon, the memorable right eye and at that time the right arm of Lee and in immediate command of all the forces there, had discovered that we were "flanked by 10,000 shotted guns and by 10,000 fronted."
l do not believe that General Lee could have put into battle that day more than eight or 10,000 men, hence it would have been cruel slaughter to have continued the war at that point one moment longer as we would have been forced to assume that of the aggressor against 50,000 well armed and well-fed veterans of Grant's Army who had lapped our feeble forces in front and upon both flanks. In order to continue the retreat and overcome the enemy would have been a military impossibility as well as a ridiculous and monstrous proposition in view of the worn-out condition of our soldiers who, though, were still willing to give battle with vigor and determination.
The actions of those engaged at Appomattox was but a skirmish preliminary to surrender and I have little doubt that General Grant and General Sheridan had planned to bring about the surrender of Lee or destroy his Army at that point. They accomplished their purpose with exceedingly small loss to those engaged under Lee.
Of those who participated in or were present at the McLean House at the time the terms of surrender were concluded, there are few who now live. General Lee had with him only one officer, Colonel Marshall, while General Grant was accompanied by a number of officers. The officers there present fairly represented in proportion the number of privates upon either side that could have been put into battle.
We continued marching, counter-marching and skirmishing through the greater part of the night of April 8th and 9th. Then at sunrise we were deployed on a road and rail fence just beyond and in sight of the Court House. I do not recall the sight of a single dead Confederate that day though we drove some Union sharpshooters through the woods to the southwest where they made a stand on the edge of the woods and a few of them were killed and left upon the field.
Sheridan had placed some six-pound field guns in the woods in our front. They were keeping up a rapid fire when we advanced to their capture. Before we had gone half the distance, the guns were surrendered to a flanking party, and pretty soon were brought galloping across the field.
We escorted them to a point near the Court House and continued to advance to the west. We had gone less than a mile when the flag of truce was sent out and the firing ceased; this was no regular battle, though good men were killed and wounded in the skirmish. I think I saw the last gun fired that day. As we returned through the village, I saw some artillerymen prepare a gun for action. They opened fire upon a column of the enemy who were advancing from the south of the town, seeming unmindful of what had transpired at the front. An office rode up and ordered the gunners to cease firing. The various commands of the Army were much scattered and disorganized, but soon began to assemble in bivouac and before night were fed by our captors.
The Confederates were gathered over and around a large barren old field northeast of town when General Lee was seen to return from the village accompanied by Colonel Marshall. The whole Army rushed out to greet him and so thronged the road as to impede his passage. There was little cheering but no dearth of tears. Some wanted to hear a word from him, but if he spoke, I failed to catch his words. He waved his hand; the soldiers yielded the road and he passed on. He was very sad and perhaps could not restrain the tears. His bearing was erect and manly as a born ruler of men. He was a superb rider, always well mounted, but seldom rode out of a walk.
In a few moments, General John B.Gordon, who was at the time the idol of the Army, came along mounted upon a handsome bay mare, in a graceful canter. His dashing manner relieved the pent up-feelings of the men and they burst forth in wild applause. He passed through the assembled Army with hat in hand waving in response to their greeting. That evening and night speeches were made to the Army the best one by General Gordon.
Next morning we marched out under arms, fronted a column of Federals who stood in line at parade rest, stacked our guns and filed away to the South to fight never more for Dixie.
John Pelopidas Leach
Littleton, NC 1890
Edited by *Brock Townsend from many of the author's articles.
*The author's great grandson.
PS: An additional account states:
My Great, Grandfather Private John Pelopidus Leach wrote:
"Needham and Jack, faithful and devoted servants of my Brother Geo. T. Leach who then commanded my company, and Capt. Richardson who was captured at Fort Stedman, informed of the surrender, came to the front in search of my Brother and myself. They awoke me and gave me the first information I had of Lee's army, which I did not believe, until returning with them past the courthouse to the bivouac of the remnant of my company I saw the open field about the village full of straggling men, moving in aimless fashion, artillery, ambulances and wagons gathering in parks, many men crying, some cursing and all in pitiful distress."
"My command stacked arms in front of the victorious federals on the 10th of April, with one lieutenant, nine white men--all with guns-- and two Negro servants, Needham Leach of Chatham and Jack Richardson of Johnston County." (The Lieutenant was my great Uncle, George Thomas Leach)
"I with Needham, a Negro servant, as my only companion turned south to my home, Pittsboro, NC, passed through Chapel Hill and the Federal brigade of Gen. Atkins stationed there.
At Byrnums Mill on the Haw River, Needham and I were rowed across the stream in a bateau carrying the family servant of Maj. London, Sr. returning home with a bag of corn meal which he carried on the back of a mule."
* Shock Troops of the Confederacy
"......the *sharpshooters of the Army of Northern Virginia played an important and sometimes pivotal role in many battles and campaigns in 1864 and 1865. Confederate General Robert Rodes organized the first battalion of sharpshooters in his brigade in early 1863, and later in each brigade of his division......in the trenches of Petersburg......"
Before computers and when I lived in CA, I hired a NC lady to research the body servant of my g uncle, Needham Leach forward and she found the present day descendants of Needham! One of them lived close to me in CA and the others are still in Pittsboro. We've visited often and met my black Aunt Dixie who was named after my Great Aunt Dixie and a Cousin Dixie who is still alive and kicking in Pittsboro. I could not have been any happier. This was on my mothers side so I couldn't use my DNA and I could not get a male to do it on the Leach side. The reason I wanted this done was:
1. There was no slave listed in the 1860 census of Needham's age.
2. My gg grandfather would not have sent his eldest son off to war with a new, untested slave.
3. Needham is mentioned many times in letters home and he traveled back and forth between Virginia and NC obtaining provisions for my great uncle and grandfather.
4. He walked home from Appomattox with my great grandfather.
5. When he was married some years later, my gg grandfather traveled a long distance to be a witness at his wedding.
Lee's Surrender, By My Great Grandfather