The final volume of the Virginia at War series from the University Press of Kentucky is now available, which includes my essay on the demobilization of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. My essay follows Lee’s men along the roads and paths out of Appomattox and explores, among other things, their encounters with Federal troops, ex-slaves, as well as their response to Lincoln’s assassination. I have said before that we draw much too sharp a line between the Civil War and Reconstruction. It doesn’t take much of an effort to appreciate that some of the fundamental questions surrounding the war had yet to be decided. My narrow time frame also reinforced the importance of contingency when looking at the past. Many of the men were in the dark about what to expect when they arrived home or how they would go about picking up the pieces of a world that had changed so dramatically in four short years. I was struck by the extent to which their accounts, especially those who lived in the paths of the two armies, emphasized the altered landscapes. Lee’s men also learned of Lincoln’s assassination while on the road. Some of the reports indicated that in addition to Lincoln, the vice-president, secretary of state, and even Grant were also dead. For some of these men, there was no government.
Other authors in this volume include Jaime A. Martinez, Ervin Jordan, John M. Mclure, and Chris Calkins. I am thrilled to have an essay in a book edited by James I. Robertson and William C. Davis.
I wrote this essay so long ago that I almost forgot about it. The other day I learned that the final volume [link to Amazon] in the Virginia at War series edited by James I. Robertson and William C. Davis is now available for pre-order and is slated for publication in November. I was asked to contribute an essay on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia. That is an incredibly broad topic and with my word limit I had to think carefully about how to narrow my focus. In the end I decided to look at the first few weeks following the surrender at Appomattox and specifically at the experiences of the men as they walked home. The research process was difficult owing to the fact that so few men kept a record of their journeys home. Here is a taste.
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home”: The Demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia
Lawrence Taliaferro’s civil war should have ended on very familiar ground when he crossed the Rappahannock River by Fredericksburg shortly after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Instead, Taliaferro was struck by the drastic changes to the landscape. Abandoned and rusting war machinery littered the ground as well as the bones of old mules and horses. The surrounding forests had been leveled to serve the needs of warring armies throughout the conflict. As Taliaferro traversed those final twelve miles to what he hoped would be the comforts of his family’s estate he became disoriented by the numerous paths that obscured a well-known road. Eventually he lost his way and was forced to ask for directions. An elderly black man, who Taliaferro later learned was an ex-slave of the family, escorted the confused and tired young man to his home.