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In Their Own Words

April 13, 1865

Letter from Captured Confederate Soldier

Captured and on prison liberty in Richmond, Va., Georgian W.C. McCall wrote to his wife of the Confederate evacuation at Petersburg, his inability to keep up with his unit, and decision to go to Richmond and give himself up to Union forces:

” [O]n Sunday morning, April 2nd, Grant attacked our lines in front of Petersburg, taking several miles of our works and killing and capturing a large number of our troops and demoralizing a great many. So that General Lee was compelled to evacuate his entire line from the left of Richmond to the right of Petersburg. I know that Grant would compel Lee to retreat, but it was more sudden and early than I thought for. My opinion was that Grant would outflank, but he did it by a direct attack. On Sunday night our entire line was evacuated, and we commenced our retreat. Grant shoved hard after us, and I learn that on Friday Grant had Lee surrounded and that Lee surrendered with all his army. About all this, though, you can learn more about and better from the papers than I can tell you.

“On the night of the evacuation of our lines, I was on picket… . We left lines at 3 o’clock and for two nights we had had no sleep. After we moved out, the picket was put on the rear guard of our division train. The weather being hot and but little to eat and having had no sleep for two nights, I became so broke down and wore out by night that I had to stop at a house to get some bread baked, and there I stayed all night. The picket had gone on and so had all the rear guard. My feet became very sore and blistered, so that I could not get up with the train any more. The army all crossed the bridges at different places on the Appomattox River and the bridges burnt. So when I got [to] the river, I could not cross. There were many hundreds in my condition … . So having nothing to eat, only as the citizens would give it to me, and all hope being cut off of getting to Lee’s army without being captured, some advised for us to lay about in the wood and beg our living for a few days… .We concluded that it was best to return back to Richmond, the nearest point, and give ourselves up. We did so. And it is well we did. We found on coming back that hundred[s] had gone on back to give up. Those who did not, the Yankees caught. When I got back to Richmond I found that several thousand who was unable to keep up with their commands had come back and give up as prisoners. The Yankees treated us kindly. I got back to Richmond on the 7th. The Yankees’ picket was Negroes. They treated us very kind. We were taken to prison and have been here ever since.”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.”: Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), pp. 348-49.