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´╗┐Title: Last Days of the Rebellion - The Second New York Cavalry (Harris' Light) at Appomattox - Station and Appomattox Court House, April 8 and 9, 1865
Author: Randol, Alanson M.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Last Days of the Rebellion - The Second New York Cavalry (Harris' Light) at Appomattox - Station and Appomattox Court House, April 8 and 9, 1865" ***

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  HOUSE, APRIL 8 and 9, 1865.


  _Major First U. S. Artillery (late Colonel Second New York
  Cavalry), Bvt. Brig-General, U. S. Vols._



During the winter of 1864-5 the Second New York (Harris' Light) Cavalry
was in winter quarters near Winchester, Va., on the Romney pike. Alanson
M. Randol, Captain First United States Artillery, was colonel of the
regiment, which, with the First Connecticut, Second Ohio, and Third New
Jersey, constituted the first brigade, third division, cavalry corps. The
division was commanded by General George A. Custer; the brigade by A. C.
M. Pennington, Captain Second United States Artillery, Colonel Third New
Jersey Cavalry. On the 27th of February, 1865, the divisions of Merritt
and Custer, with the batteries of Miller (Fourth United States Artillery)
and Woodruff (Second United States Artillery), all under command of
General Sheridan, left their winter quarters in and around Winchester,
and, after a series of splendid victories, and unsurpassed marches and
fortunes, joined the Army of the Potomac in front of Petersburg on the
27th of March. The Second New York Cavalry shared largely in the glories
and miseries of this great and successful raid. At Five Forks, Deep Creek,
and Sailors Creek, it not only maintained its gallant and meritorious
record, but added to its great renown. At the gentle and joyous passage
of arms at Appomattox Station, on the 8th of April, it reached the climax
of its glory, and, by its deeds of daring, touched the pinnacle of fame.
On that day it performed prodigies of valor, and achieved successes as
pregnant with good results as any single action of the war. By forcing a
passage through the rebel lines and heading off Lee's army, it contributed
largely to the result that followed the next day--the surrender of the
Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the night of the 7th of April we camped on Buffalo River. Moving at an
early hour on the 8th, we crossed the Lynchburg Railroad at Prospect
Station, and headed for Appomattox Station, where it was expected we would
strike, if not intercept, Lee's retreating, disintegrating army. The trail
was fresh and the chase hot. Joy beamed in every eye, for all felt that
the end was drawing near, and we earnestly hoped that ours might be the
glorious opportunity of striking the final blow. About noon the regiment
was detached to capture a force of the enemy said to be at one of the
crossings of the Appomattox. Some few hundreds, unarmed, half-starved,
stragglers, with no fight in them, were found, and turned over to the
Provost Marshall. Resuming its place in the column, I received orders to
report with the regiment to General Custer, who was at its head. Reporting
in compliance with this order, General Custer informed me that his scouts
had reported three large trains of cars at Appomattox Station, loaded with
supplies for the rebel army; that he expected to have made a junction
with Merritt's division near this point; that his orders were to wait here
till Merritt joined him; that he had not heard from him since morning, and
had sent an officer to communicate with him, but if he did not hear from
him in half an hour, he wished me to take my regiment and capture the
trains of cars, and, if possible, reach and hold the pike to Lynchburg.
While talking, the whistle of the locomotive was distinctly but faintly
heard, and the column was at once moved forward, the Second New York in
advance. As we neared the station the whistles became more and more
distinct, and a scout reported the trains rapidly unloading, and that the
advance of the rebel army was passing through Appomattox Court House.
Although Custer's orders were to make a junction with Merritt before
coming in contact with the enemy, here was a chance to strike a decisive
blow, which, if successful, would add to his renown and glory, and if not,
Merritt would soon be up to help him out of the scrape. Our excitement was
intense, but subdued. All saw the vital importance of heading off the
enemy. Another whistle, nearer and clearer, and another scout decided the
question. I was ordered to move rapidly to Appomattox Station, seize the
trains there, and, if possible, get possession of the Lynchburg pike.
General Custer rode up alongside of me and, laying his hand on my
shoulder, said, "Go in, old fellow, don't let anything stop you; now is
the chance for your stars. Whoop 'em up; I'll be after you." The regiment
left the column at a slow trot, which became faster and faster until we
caught sight of the cars, which were preparing to move away, when, with a
cheer, we charged down on the station, capturing in an instant the three
trains of cars, with the force guarding them. I called for engineers and
firemen to take charge of the trains, when at least a dozen of my men
around me offered their services. I chose the number required, and ordered
the trains to be run to the rear, where I afterwards learned they were
claimed as captures by General Ord's corps. The cars were loaded with
commissary stores, a portion of which had been unloaded, on which the
rebel advance were regaling themselves when we pounced so unexpectedly
down on them.

While the regiment was rallying after the charge, the enemy opened on it a
fierce fire from all kinds of guns--field and siege--which, however, did
but little damage, as the regiment was screened from the enemy's sight by
a dense woods. I at once sent notification to General Custer and Colonel
Pennington of my success, moved forward--my advance busily
skirmishing--and followed with the regiment in line of battle, mounted.
The advance was soon checked by the enemy formed behind hastily
constructed intrenchments in a dense wood of the second growth of pine.
Flushed with success and eager to gain the Lynchburg pike, along which
immense wagon and siege trains were rapidly moving, the regiment was
ordered to charge. Three times did it try to break through the enemy's
lines, but failed. Colonel Pennington arrived on the field with the rest
of the brigade, when, altogether, a rush was made, but it failed. Then
Custer, with the whole division, tried it, but he, too, failed. Charge and
charge again, was now the order, but it was done in driblets, without
organization and in great disorder. General Custer was here, there, and
everywhere, urging the men forward with cheers and oaths. The great prize
was so nearly in his grasp that it seemed a pity to lose it; but the rebel
infantry held on hard and fast, while his artillery belched out death and
destruction on every side of us. Merritt and night were fast coming on, so
as soon as a force, however small, was organized, it was hurled forward,
only to recoil in confusion and loss. Confident that this mode of fighting
would not bring us success, and fearful lest the enemy should assume the
offensive, which, in our disorganized state, must result in disaster, I
went to General Custer soon after dark, and said to him that if he would
let me get my regiment together, I could break through the rebel line. He
excitedly replied, "Never mind your regiment; take anything and everything
you can find, horse-holders and all, and break through: we must get hold
of the pike to-night." Acting on this order, a force was soon organized by
me, composed chiefly of the Second New York, but in part of other
regiments, undistinguishable in the darkness. With this I made a charge
down a narrow lane, which led to an open field where the rebel artillery
was posted. As the charging column debouched from the woods, six bright
lights suddenly flashed directly before us. A toronado of canister-shot
swept over our heads, and the next instant we were in the battery. The
line was broken, and the enemy routed. Custer, with the whole division,
now pressed through the gap pell-mell, in hot pursuit, halting for neither
prisoners nor guns, until the road to Lynchburg, crowded with wagons and
artillery, was in our possession. We then turned short to the right and
headed for the Appomattox Court House; but just before reaching it we
discovered the thousands of camp fires of the rebel army, and the pursuit
was checked. The enemy had gone into camp, in fancied security that his
route to Lynchburg was still open before him; and he little dreamed that
our cavalry had planted itself directly across his path, until some of our
men dashed into Appomattox Court House, where, unfortunately, Lieutenant
Colonel Root, of the Fifteenth New York Cavalry, was instantly killed by a
picket guard. After we had seized the road, we were joined by other
divisions of the cavalry corps which came to our assistance, but too late
to take part in the fight.

Owing to the night attack, our regiments were so mixed up that it took
hours to reorganize them. When this was effected, we marched near to the
railroad station and bivouacked.

That night was passed in great anxiety. We threw ourselves on the ground
to rest, but not to sleep. We knew that the infantry was hastening to our
assistance, but unless they joined us before sunrise, our cavalry line
would be brushed away, and the rebels would escape after all our hard work
to head them off from Lynchburg. About daybreak I was aroused by loud
hurrahs, and was told that Ord's corps was coming up rapidly, and forming
in rear of our cavalry. Soon after we were in the saddle and moving
towards the Appomattox Court House road, where the firing was growing
lively; but suddenly our direction was changed, and the whole cavalry
corps rode at a gallop to the right of our line, passing between the
position of the rebels and the rapidly forming masses of our infantry, who
greeted us with cheers and shouts of joy as we galloped along their front.
At several places we had to "run the gauntlet" of fire from the enemy's
guns posted around the Court House, but this only added to the interest
of the scene, for we felt it to be the last expiring effort of the enemy
to put on a bold front; we knew that we had them this time, and that at
last Lee's proud army of Northern Virginia was at our mercy. While moving
at almost a charging gait we were suddenly brought to a halt by reports of
a surrender. General Sheridan and his staff rode up, and left in hot haste
for the Court House; but just after leaving us, they were fired into by a
party of rebel cavalry, who also opened fire on us, to which we promptly
replied, and soon put them to flight. Our lines were then formed for a
charge on the rebel infantry; but while the bugles were sounding the
charge, an officer with a white flag rode out from the rebel lines, and we
halted. It was fortunate for us that we halted when we did, for had we
charged we would have been swept into eternity, as directly in our front
was a creek, on the other side of which was a rebel brigade, entrenched,
with batteries in position, the guns double shotted with canister. To have
charged this formidable array, mounted, would have resulted in almost
total annihilation. After we had halted, we were informed that
preliminaries were being arranged for the surrender of Lee's whole army.
At this news, cheer after cheer rent the air for a few moments, when soon
all became as quiet as if nothing unusual had occurred. I rode forward
between the lines with Custer and Pennington, and met several old friends
among the rebels, who came out to see us. Among them, I remember Lee
(Gimlet), of Virginia, and Cowan, of North Carolina. I saw General Cadmus
Wilcox just across the creek, walking to and fro with his eyes on the
ground, just as was his wont when he was instructor at West Point. I
called to him, but he paid no attention, except to glance at me in a
hostile manner.

While we were thus discussing the probable terms of the surrender, General
Lee, in full uniform, accompanied by one of his staff, and General
Babcock, of General Grant's staff, rode from the Court House towards our
lines. As he passed us, we all raised our caps in salute, which he
gracefully returned.

Later in the day loud and continuous cheering was heard among the rebels,
which was taken up and echoed by our lines until the air was rent with
cheers, when all as suddenly subsided. The surrender was a fixed fact, and
the rebels were overjoyed at the very liberal terms they had received. Our
men, without arms, approached the rebel lines, and divided their rations
with the half-starved foe, and engaged in quiet, friendly conversation.
There was no bluster nor braggadocia,--nothing but quiet contentment that
the rebellion was crushed, and the war ended. In fact, many of the rebels
seemed as much pleased as we were. Now and then one would meet a surly,
dissatisfied look; but, as a general thing, we met smiling faces and hands
eager and ready to grasp our own, especially if they contained anything to
eat or drink. After the surrender, I rode over to the Court House with
Colonel Pennington and others and visited the house in which the surrender
had taken place, in search of some memento of the occasion. We found that
everything had been appropriated before our arrival. Mr. Wilmer McLean, in
whose house the surrender took place, informed us that on his farm at
Manassas the first battle of Bull Run was fought. I asked him to write his
name in my diary, for which, much to his surprise. I gave him a dollar.
Others did the same, and I was told that he thus received quite a golden

While all of the regiments of the division shared largely in the glories
of these two days, none excelled the Second New York Cavalry in its record
of great and glorious deeds. Well might its officers and men carry their
heads high, and feel elated with pride as they received the
congratulations and commendations showered on them from all sides. They
felt they had done their duty, and given the "tottering giant" a blow that
laid him prostrate at their feet, never, it is to be hoped, to rise again.

Transcriber's Note:

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "crowed" corrected to "crowded" (page 7)
  "on on" corrected to "on" (page 9)
  "unusal" corrected to "unusual" (page 9)

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Last Days of the Rebellion - The Second New York Cavalry (Harris' Light) at Appomattox - Station and Appomattox Court House, April 8 and 9, 1865" ***

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