The less-than-one-company-sized pittance that was the 13th Mississippi Regiment at Appomattox Courthouse played no recorded role in the events surrounding General Lee’s formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. It was the Christian holy day of Palm Sunday.
According to the National Historical Park on the Web, four officers and 81 privates surrendered at Appomattox and were freed on parole. By my count of their online records, however, a total of 80 surrendered, a number which includes three assistant surgeons, three corporals, four sergeants and a first lieutenant: 1LT William H. Davis, who began the war as a Spartan Band private but was commanding the regiment at Appomattox.
The 13th Regiment soldiers who surrendered at Sayler’s Creek on April 6 are not included on the parole list and no one seems to have kept a record of them. And the paroled were the fortunate ones, for they were immediately released and given passes to facilitate their journey home to Mississippi.
Those who were captured at Sayler’s Creek three days before Appomattox, along with thousands of others from Lee’s army, were marched (some were so weak they had to be dragged by their comrades, according to historian Robert Krick) back to Petersburg. They were crowded onto filthy transports and taken, without food or water, north to Federal prisons. Krick found that some of them died on the way. Many were taken to the Maryland hellhole on Chesapeake Bay dubbed Point Lookout. The subsequent assassination of President Lincoln would add to their problems and delay their release until July.
Humphreys’ Mississippi Brigade memoirist J.S. McNeilly indicated that he was among the imprisoned. He commented on the surrender of Humphreys’ brigade and the two other Mississippi brigades in Lee’s army this way: “In the final roundup at Appomattox Mississippians were woefully scarce even where the army was a skeleton.”
McNeilly counted 698 Mississippians out of a surrendered total of 28,231 Rebel soldiers paroled at Appomattox. He assigned 257 of the 698 to Humphreys’ Brigade. The park service’s parole records list a total of just 246 members of the four-regiment brigade who were issued paroles. In addition to the 85 the park service claims for the 13th Regiment, their list includes a first lieutenant serving as the brigade ordnance officer, 4 officers and 44 privates from the 21st Regiment, 4 officers and 44 privates from the 18th Regiment, and 3 officers and 62 privates from the 17th Regiment.
According to the Park Service:
“On the morning of April 12th the remnants of General Lee’s infantry, 21-22,000 men, marched as organized Confederate units for the last time. They marched from their encampments, east of the village, across the Appomattox River and into Appomattox Court House where they stacked their arms before double rows of Federal infantry.
“There, along the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road the Confederates laid down what was left of their state and regimental battle flags – many emblazoned with the names of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and other bloody fields of the last four years. Before leaving for home the Southerners were issued parole passes.
“The pass was an oath – the Latin root of the word parole means ‘to give your word’- the men swore not to take up arms again ‘until paroled or properly exchanged.’ Thus, the men of Lee’s army were allowed to return to their homes on their own honor and these slips of paper would allow them safe passage through both Confederate and Union military lines on their way homes [sic].”
Independent historian H. Grady Howell, Jr., found that Captain Gwin R. Cherry of the 17th Mississippi Regiment was in command of what was left of Humphreys’ Mississippi Brigade at Appomattox. Howell indicates that the final records of the 18th and 21st regiments show that 20 officers and 231 privates of all four regiments were surrendered to General Grant’s army. Howell’s total presumably includes some who were captured at Sayler’s Creek.
“Stillness at Appomattox” was the title of the concluding volume of a popular trilogy history of the war by journalist Bruce Catton. Written from the victorious Union’s point of view, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. It was the first history I recall reading about anything at all, a few years later when I was thirteen. The image of the stillness seems to have been used by many memoirists and historians after the war.
Krick quotes one Rebel veteran’s use of the word which perhaps best illustrates the idea behind it:
“The great heart of the noble Army of Northern Virginia had ceased to beat forever; and then there ‘was stillness as of death.'”
UPDATE: I made a serious error in this post originally, caused by my faulty search of the Park Service’s parole lists. I came up with only four privates and no officers of the 13th who surrendered at Appomattox. I have now corrected the error in the text to include five officers and 75 privates. And also enlarged the totals for the other three regiments of the brigade. I also removed the names of the four men originally posted and will, instead, include all 80 names in the near future. I wanted to get the totals corrected immediately. I regret the error very much and apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused any reader.