Most of us think of the significance of this day in 1865 as revolving around the soldiers who met for the final time at Appomattox Court House. The images and stories of Lee and Grant in the McLean House and the famous salute between Gordon and Chamberlain, which may or may not have occurred according to William Marvel, color our imagination. Here is another story from that day.
Fannie Berry was at Pamplin City, Virginia, as stray Rebel fugitives from the Army of Northern Virginia tried to fend off their pursuers. “The Yankees and Rebels were fighting, and they were waving the bloody flag, and a Confederate soldier was up on a post, and they were shooting terribly. Guns were firing everywhere.” when “all of a sudden” she heard the strains of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and looked up to see Union soldiers approaching. “How far is it to the Rebels?” a soldier asked her. But she was too afraid to reply, because, “if the Rebels knew that I told the soldier,” they would have killed her. She told him she didn’t know, but when he asked again, Berry darted behind her master’s house and furtively pointed in the Rebels’ direction.
A regiment of black troops marched up, and according to Berry, as soon as the Rebels caught sight of them, they raised a white flag “as a token that Lee had surrendered. Glory! Glory!” Berry exclaimed. “Yes, child, the Negroes were free, and when they knew that they were free they –Oh! Baby!–began to sing: ‘Mary don’t you cook no more,/You are free, you are free./Rooster don’t you crow no more,/You are free, you are free…’ Such rejoicing and shouting you never heard in your life.” For Samuel Spottford Clement, it seemed that at last God had heard the prayers that slaves had “sent up for three hundred years.” [From The Slaves’ War by Andrew Ward, (p. 247)]
It is indeed an important day in American history.
[Image: Don Troiani’s “The Last Salute” HAP]