The Civil War’s end: A new beginning

During the final days of the U.S. Civil War my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was a patient  in the U.S. General Hospital at Fortress Monroe, Virginia — where he was admitted for treatment on 15 March 1865.
The fall of Richmond, Va. on the night of 2 April 1865. While my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was in the U.S. General Hospital at Fortress Monroe, Va., momentous events turned the tide decisively toward a Union victory in the U.S. Civil War. Image: Library of Congress

The first three weeks of Arthur’s stay saw momentous events that turned the tide decisively toward a Union victory — which must have buoyed the spirits of Union Army convalescents throughout the huge 1,800-bed facility.

Union troops under U.S. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — marching north to meet up with the Army of the Potomac — confronted Confederate forces in mid-March at the Battle of Bentonville and drove them out of Raleigh, N.C.

On 25 March at Fort Stedman,  Union forces foiled the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s last attempt to break the Siege of Petersburg, Va. Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of my ancestor’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery unit heard the fighting and wrote about it in a 26  March letter to his wife:

This morning or about 9 o’clock there was heavy firing on our right and we could hear the volleys of musketry very plain. There were various reports in camp in regard to the firing, one that Sheridan came through and took some two thousand prisoners, another that the Johnnies charged on one of our forts and were repulsed with some loss.

Six days later, on 2 April, Confederate forces abandoned their capitol at Richmond, Va. — burning it in their wake. The next day Union forces, including U.S. Colored Troops, marched into the city.

Pvt. Reynolds wrote of seeing the fires on 30 March from where he was stationed and his hopes for peace.

Heavy fires have been burning this afternoon over the Rebel lines and a story or rumor has been through our camp that the Rebs were evacuating Richmond, arising no doubt from the fires…I am strong in the faith that the day is not far distant when peace shall be heralded throughout or land. Oh will that not be a day of rejoicing and will there not be many glad hearts

On 9 April — outmaneuvered and outgunned by the Union Army and by the sweep of history away from slavery and toward freedom  — Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

Five days after that — amid relief and celebration at the war’s end –glad hearts were saddened when Pres. Abraham Lincoln was shot by a pro-slavery assassin.

I wonder if it was difficult for my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — who had served with the Union’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment for most of the previous year — to be laid up in bed far from his comrades-in-arms when the Civil War drew to a close, and when he learned of Pres. Lincoln’s death.

My ancestor likely felt many emotions at once — relief at the war’s end, longing to return to home and family, satisfaction for his contribution to the Union cause, anger and grief over Lincoln’s assassination. It’s hard to know since I have inherited no journals or letters from him.

But this I do know from his pension records: Arthur remained in hospital until May 1865, then returned to duty with his regiment.

Although the official battles were over, the Union Army — which had fought to end slavery and to maintain the Union — was still needed to assure that the Civil War’s end meant a new beginning.

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull would be part of that work. More on his return to duty in the next post.

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