As we wind down the 150th. Anniversary events, the one that was just completed at Appomattox Court House, in Virginia, stirs the imagination and interest more than any others. There will be an abundance of good stories written by re-enactors and historians alike, who participated or visited there, which will retell what happened at this very special place.
This story provides some little known details on one small piece of the Confederate States Army in the Appomattox Campaign. These facts apply specifically to Zimmerman’s Battery (ZB) and the Reserve Artillery (RA) of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), from March 29 to April 12, 1865. Before we get into the final days of the ANV or talk about the Battle of Appomattox Station and MG Gordon’s breakout attempt, we go back to the first day of the campaign. So that you follow this story easier, let’s consider the organization of the ANV; this will allow you to see where Zimmerman’s Bty., fit into the big picture.
The RA was normally the responsibility of each Corp Commander and it was usually under the command of a major or lt. colonel, who answered to the commander of the artillery for each corps. This organization was the way the CS Army had been set up in 1861 and it continued until February 18, 1865, when BG William Pendleton, chief of artillery for the ANV was moved into what most describe as an administrative job.
Gen. Lee then selected Col. R.L. Walker, commander of the 3rd Corps Artillery and promoted him to the rank Brigadier General. He was ordered to take command of all of the Corps Reserve Artillery units, guns and men, then re-organize them into a single unit. Considering the harsh operating circumstances and the remount problems that the ANV was facing at the time, he was reasonably successful. This was partly due to his large physical stature and ability to handle the worst artillery commanders very diplomatically and within two weeks, he had them all pulling in the same direction.
The ANV’s regular artillery consisted of 1st. Corp Artillery, commanded by BG E.P. Alexander (3 battalions); the 2nd. Corp. Artillery, commanded by BG A.L. Long (7 battalions); the 3rd. Corp. Artillery, commanded by Col. W. Pegram (7 battalions) and the 4th. Corps Artillery, Commanded by Lt. Col. H.P. Jones (5 battalions). The regular artillery at the corps level with 100 percent staffing was normally the size of two regiments (2,000 to 2,400 men), however, by this time, their numbers were considerably lower. This re-organization removed all reserves from the regular artillery, at the corps level and it forced the commander’s to re-structure their remaining batteries.
The new RA would be given a limited number guns, totaling 100 (25 from each corps) and they were assigned in Battalions of three batteries, each with 12 guns. The result was eight battalions and each was under the command of a major or lt. colonel. Unfortunately, all of the batteries were not fully manned or properly equipped and some were not capable of engaging in a fight. The RA was roughly a regimental strength force with its manpower ranging at about 1,000 to 1,250 men, depending on what report you read. This difference here is because of the loss of men, horses and guns and these numbers changed almost daily, making an exact count nearly impossible, during the weeks that led up to Appomattox.
It is interesting to note, that Zimmerman’s Bty. was among the earliest members of the 2nd Corps RA, when it was placed there after the Battle of Gettysburg. On March 10, 1865, Zimmerman’s Bty. was operating at a lower than normal strength of 85 Privates, six NCO’s and four officers, totaling 95 men.
THE APPOMATTOX CAMPAIGN
As the Appomattox Campaign began to unfold on March 29, 1865, the RA was not only short of men, but also horses, food for the men, forage, powder and repair parts. The men’s spirits were high, considering most of them had not eaten or slept for days and everybody’s uniforms, equipment and mounts, were well worn. The ANV was also giving the RA additional batteries that either did not have enough men to work their guns or sufficient horses to pull them, so BG Walker ordered these men to fill in open positions in his other batteries. The remainder were assigned to take up arms to help protect the guns, working as “Guardians of the Piece” and he had about 75-100 men, so equipped. He used the excess guns to replace damaged ones or cobbled them up for much needed repair parts.
On March 31, 1865, he was given the additional command of all the ANV wagon trains, including the quartermaster’s wagons and numerous ambulances from the medical department. This increased the manpower to 1,000 artillerymen; a battalion of engineers with 300 men; 100 heavy drayage wagons with 210 men and 64 ambulances with 150 men. This is roughly 1,660 men and lots of horses and mules to deal with.
On April 1, 1865, Col. William Pegram was mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks and he died the next day. Lt. Col. David McIntosh, who was the original captain of Zimmerman’s Bty., was promoted to colonel and took over Pegram’s Command. At the 3rd. Battle of Petersburg on April 2, 1865, MG A.P. Hill was killed and the 3rd. Corp was merged into the 1st. Corp, due to its heavy losses in the battle. Commander of the 3rd. Corp Reserve Artillery Col. D. McIntosh and Lt. Colonel William Poague were assigned to the RA and assisted BG Walker. By April 5, 1865, Zimmerman’s Bty. was operating at a reduced strength of 65 Privates, four NCO’s and three officers, for a total of 72 men.
By April 7, 1865, BG Walker had received permission to move out ahead of the infantry with his RA and the wagon trains, so as to not impede them. Their destination was the Lynchburg Fairgrounds, some 25 miles to the west and all through the day on April 8, they stayed one step ahead of the Federal cavalry. This proved to be was a prudent decision for the ANV, considering the large size and slower pace of the RA and it put them and the wagon trains about five hours ahead of the Infantry.
THE BATTLE AT APPOMATTOX STATION
Gen. Lee had received news about noon on April 8. that three supply trains had reached Appomattox Station and they contained much needed food, ammunition, medical supplies and clothing. He was jubilant and ordered BG Martin Gary’s cavalry to go there and protect these trains, pending his arrival on April 9 and he ordered BG Walker and the RA to the same location, to assist Gary. Unfortunately and almost at the same time, the Federals received the same news and MG Sheridan sent BG Custer’s cavalry forward to capture the trains. They would arrive after the Confederates and anticipating action, they were ready for the fight that ensued.
Gen. Lee ordered BG Walker to move forward with all haste. He arrived about 3 p.m. and he brought 840 artillerymen (7 battalions/ 80 guns), which was about 85 percent of his force, but it represented all of the full strength and properly equipped batteries, in his command. All of the heavy wagons also accompanied him, with 210 hostlers to be loaded with the supplies on the trains for the ANV. In addition, he had 300 engineers and 100 of his artillerymen equipped as infantry. With Gary’s 1,500 troopers, the total number of Confederates at Appomattox Station was about 2,950 men.
BG Gary and his cavalry arrived about 3:30 p.m. and shortly after 4 p.m. they were engaged with Custer’s well equipped, well fed, full strength division (8,000 men). A spirited fight followed for a number of hours, continuing until about 9 p.m. that night, before it subsided. The Confederates were repulsed and lost the trains to the Federals, with their supplies. The Federal reports show that they captured 24 guns, 100 wagons; a 100 men were killed or wounded and 1,000 men were captured. There are no Confederate reports on this action.
THE OLD RED OAK CHURCH
The Confederates retreated from Appomattox Station under the cover of darkness and the Federals held their position and did not pursue; this was to secure the trains from any additional attempt to capture them. The Confederate Scouts led BG Walker to the Old Red Oak Church (OROC) site, which is about five miles northwest of Appomattox Court House, in a rural setting, where the remainder of his forces and the ambulances were waiting.
Arriving at OROC after midnight (now April 9, 1865), Walker made the decision to stop, believing he had put sufficient distance between the RA and the Federals. BG Gary continued east, intending to link back up with MG Gordon’s command and he would participate in the action the following morning. Lt. Col. Talcott’s engineer’s choose to stay at OROC, instead of trying the linkup that BG Gary was attempting, under the cover of darkness.
Walker then quickly wrote a message to Gen. Lee, informing him what happened at Appomattox Station and he dispatched a messenger to deliver it; then he started attending to the men, including the wounded. He put the remaining batteries back to the best strength he can, but with missing men mixed crews and many battalions being down to two or three guns, this is a difficult undertaking. Additionally, the horses were watered, along with the men, from a spring on the OROC site and everybody filled their canteens and water barrels. There was no food for the men or forage for the horses and the men had been awake for days, with absolutely no rest. BG Walker had lots to do and not enough time to complete everything.
In a few hours, the messenger returned with orders from Gen. Lee regarding the planned breakout on the morning of April 9. During the night, the Federal cavalry had taken the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, cutting off any chance that the ANV could use it to escape to the west. The order instructed Walker to be ready to move before first light and support Gordon, as he attempted to retake the road. If this was not practicable, then the RA was to spike their guns, destroy the remaining military stores, disburse the men and head south, to join MG Johnston in North Carolina.
As the morning dawned cold and wet, a heavy fog covered everything and reducing visibility to less than 20-30 yards. Gordon chose a location for his battle line near the intersection of Prince Edward Court House Road and LeGrande Road to set up his battle line. This is less than a mile south of Appomattox Courthouse and five miles from OROC and as soon as all the troops arrived, he attacked the enemy. BG Walker ordered all of the full strength batteries remaining at OROC and Talcott’s engineers to support him and he moves out to link up with Gordon. They make a brisk pace and have only one hour to get into position, with MG Gordon’s command. They moved south and were intercepted by Federal Cavalry about three miles south of Old Red Oak Church; they were forced to retreat and never arrived to support Gordon, at the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse.
BG Gary and his Cavalry were successful in reaching Confederate lines the night before and they were out in front of Gordon’s Infantry. Lt. Col. Haskell’s Artillery Battalion, from the 1st. Corp. with the 13th. N.C., including Latham’s, Garden’s battery from the Palmetto Artillery of South Carolina and the Charlotte Artillery were also supported Gordon. Shortly before 7:30 a.m. the fight started with Gordon’s charge, which was the last for the ANV and within 60 minutes, the battle crumbled. The Charlotte Artillery was credited with firing the last Confederate artillery shot in this battle. Additional Federal infantry, including the 5th. Corps and elements from the 24th. Corps, have reinforced MG Sheridan’s Cavalry Brigade, along with artillery and it become painfully evident that the superior numbers of the Federal forces completely surrounded the ANV, making an escape impossible.
As the breakout attempt failed, BG Walker was forced to retreat back to Old Red Oak Church where the balance of his forces remained. The command, included 74 guns with some being unusable and about 600 artillerymen, 300 engineers and 64 ambulances with 120 medical personnel, plus over 200 wounded men. The wagons was parked up and down the road in front of OROC for a half mile, in both directions. This made the combined RA force about 1,220 men, including the wounded. BG Walker allowed all the men to rest, but he kept the teams hitched and ready to move on a moment’s notice. The situation was tense for all who were there and they realize that something unpleasant, is brewing.
Back at Gen. Lee’s Headquarters, the news about the battle was relayed from MG Gordon and Lee made his decision. He dispatched a rider at some point after 10:30 a.m. with a message to Gen. Grant, requesting a meeting, but Grant is on the field and difficult to locate; he finally gets the message about 11:30 a.m. He accepted and agreed with the location and then issued a “cease fire order” to the Federal forces. When the messenger returned to Lee, the “cease fire order” is duplicated for the Confederates and Lee also sent riders out with “white truce flags.” BG Gary, upon seeing the first truce flag, decided to take his command to safety and he chose to depart from the field. Nobody is 100 percent sure of the exact time all this took place, but most period reports agree that it occurred sometime after 11 a.m. and before noon.
Gen. Lee arrived first for the 1 p.m. meeting at the McLean House, in the Village of Appomattox. Gen. Grant arrived late, then he and Lee had a cordial discussion about the Mexican War and then turned to the terms of the surrender. They concluded about 3 p.m., and Lee departed after a tip of the hat to Grant, to return to his men. News of the surrender began to spread quickly and BG Walker received it about 4:30 p.m. and he immediately called a meeting of the officers to discuss what has happened. The consensus of the Officers was that any decision to surrender or not, should lie with each man and Walker agreed. He then called the troops together, so he could tell them the bad news; this takes place about 5 p.m.
IT’S UP TO EACH MAN NOW
By now, most of the men had settled into a melancholy mood, reflecting on the fact they are glad to be alive, but they are devastated by the news. Some immediately start making plans to depart from the camp and head south, with many stating they will go home. The men from Zimmerman’s Bty., along with numerous others, decided to spike their guns and burn the carriages, wheels and limbers. Then they moved around camp saying their goodbyes to the men they served with, knowing they may never see their comrades in arms again. Color Sgt. R.C. Nettles decided he will wrap the Pee Dee Light Artillery (PDLA) flag around his body and hide it under his uniform, to prevent its capture.
They determined that a large number of men did not intend to surrender and by first light on April 10, all of them were gone, leaving the ones who are wounded or decided to stay, at OROC. They headed west and crossed the James River by ferry then moved toward Lynchburg, in small groups. This area was not well covered by the Federal cavalry and once there, they planned to head south, making a wide circle around the west flank of the Federal Army.
What remained of the RA at OROC, was a mere shadow of the days past. By mid-day on April 10th., Federal cavalry troopers were riding the field to see who remained and where they were located. At OROC, they find 54 guns in varying condition, with some being operational and others dismantled for parts and 97 artillerymen. The 64 ambulances, with the medical personnel attending to the wounded, made up the balance. Zimmerman’s Bty., who chose to leave before first light on April 10, had only 39 privates, four NCO’s and two officers remaining, for a total of 45 men, when they departed. The rest had been killed, wounded, captured or they had been separated and were lost out on the field.
The Confederates at OROC indicated that 20 guns were spiked and buried and their carriages were destroyed and about 500 hundred men left camp and slipped away, under the cover of darkness. After the Federal troopers left, the promised food rations from the Federal Quartermaster began arriving; a soldier’s diary entry notes that it was about 4 p.m., when this took place.
THE LONG ROAD HOME
It’s interesting to note, that none of the RA men who left OROC on April 10, got to North Carolina before MG Johnston surrendered, on April 26, 1865. Most arrived home by the middle of May 1865, to find a devastated homeland and dead or missing family members.
It is impossible for any of us to understand what they felt, thought or to appreciate the terrible circumstances they faced, with everything lost and having to start over. No matter what you did, owned or had before the war, you now had no money and no job and most had no house to live in. They came back and went to work rebuilding their homes and lives and in the process, helped make the country better.
BG Martin Gary refused to surrender and released his men to go home and many had already decided to do just that. Instead of going to MG Johnston in North Carolina, he asked for volunteers to join the escort of President Davis, as it moved southwest and he got 200 of his men to volunteer. They joined the president’s group near Greensboro, N.C. and they go to his mother’s home in Cokesbury, S.C., where he decided to lay down his sword and leave the Confederate service. In later years, he rebuilds his law practice and became a state senator in 1876, but his political views put him on a collision course with South Carolina’s new Governor, Wade Hampton. Gary’s daughter was married to BG Nathan Evans of Marion, S.C. who commanded the so called “Tramp Brigade,” in the Army of Tennessee.
BG R.L. Walker was from Fluvanna County, Va. which is about 60 miles north of Appomattox and just southeast of Charlottesville. He was a VMI graduate and chose not to surrender on April 12 or receive a parole. He simply went home to start over and rebuild his peacetime profession of being a Civil Engineer and moved to Selma, Ala. and found work with the Marine & Selma Railroad. Late in life, he decided to go back to Fluvanna County, Va. where he died and he was buried at Hollywood Cemetery, in Richmond.
Capt. William Zimmerman returned to Kershaw County, S.C. and found his farm destroyed and his family gone. The neighbors told him the family had gone west and a few days later, he departed to find them and he never returned to South Carolina. In later years some of the veterans who attended the annual PDLA reunion at Elim Baptist Church, in Effingham, S.C. remembered that Zimmerman had been given the battery’s guidon flag. They speculated that he took it west, because it was not captured or surrendered and it has never been found. Today, the PDLA carried an exact copy of this flag at all of the re-enactments and living history events, that the battery participates in.
Color Sgt. R.C. Nettles who had hidden the battery’s flag, made it home safely and he placed his flag in the safekeeping of Ms. Louisa McIntosh, who had originally sewn it for the unit. In 1877, it was returned to the battery and was displayed at every reunion until 1906, when it was turned over to the custody of the state. Today, it resides in the South Carolina Relic Room & Military Museum in Columbia, “having never been touched by any hostile hands.” Several years ago this flag was completely restored, with donations from the Palmetto Battalion of South Carolina Volunteers and the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
It’s easy to understand why this story which focusses on the Reserve Artillery and the OROC site, is so important to the members of Zimmerman’s Bty. and the other batteries who were in the RA. In addition, this story also includes the other units, who made up the RA on April 8-9, including: Talcott’s engineers, cavalry, quartermaster department hostlers/teamsters and all of the medical department personnel, who manned the ambulances. All of these units played an important part in the overall campaign at Appomattox.
Please consider these points:
• The last battle major battle for the ANV was at Appomattox Station, on afternoon and into the evening of April 8 and the RA participated.
• After the Appomattox Station battle, the RA retreated to the OROC site and found water and solace, along with much needed rest.
• Men from the RA attempted to participate in the unsuccessful breakout and final change of the ANV on the morning of April 9; this is commonly called the “Battle of Appomattox Courthouse.” Unfortunately, they never arrived, due to the Federal cavalry.
• The end came later in the day, on April 9, with the surrender and all the men who were at OROC and were not wounded, survived the war.
• We believe that Charlotte Artuillery, Latham’s Battery and Zimmerman’s Battery were the only Confederate units, who participated in the 150th. Appomattox event, who were “actually camped in the exact spot” where their unit was, on April 9, 1865, when the ANV surrendered.
How did this part of the 150th. Appomattox event, come together? Jerry Little, a member of Latham’s Battery who lives in Gladstone, about 10 miles north of ACH-NHS, has researched and reviewed reports, letters, diaries and official correspondence that helped him locate the OROC site.
There is considerable difficulty in verifying facts regarding the ANV and the circumstances surrounding the battles at Appomattox Station and Appomattox Courthouse, because nobody wrote reports on them, except for the Federals. The Confederates were moving so fast and frequently, that no time was assigned to this important task.
It is likely, as research continues on this subject, that new information will be found in the future and changes will be required to some of the facts provided in this text.
The OROC sanctuary was built in 1784 and a fire destroyed the original building in 1818. A new brick building was built in 1819 and the site was abandoned in 1909, when the church built a new sanctuary down the road. Unfortunately, the original building is now in ruins, but a grave yard remains. The church wants to protect the site and they are seeking Va. historical designation for the property and an want an appropriate permanent marker for the site.
He was able to secure permission from the Red Oak Baptist Church (ROBC) for us to camp there from April 7-12, 2015. This site is five miles northwest of the 150th. Appomattox event location, as the crow flies, so many of our members also registered to attend the 150th. Appomattox event.
We accomplished the following while we were at the OROC site:
• We participated in a special fellowship with the other artillerymen who chose to portray RA units and that experience was unforgettable.
• We handled visits from the historical society and the news media.
• We held a fundraiser for OROC to help defray the cost of the Virginia historical marker, to be erected on the site.
• We welcomed the public and told them the story about what happened here.
• We held a memorial service at the North Carolina monument, at the ACH-NHS, conducted by Latham’s Bty., with assistance from the Chaplin of the Palmetto Battalion of South Carolina Volunteers. (Note: South Carolina has no monument).
• We fired artillery salutes every day and at night, along with Latham’s & Charlotte Arty., on April 9-11 and symbolically burned carriages, wheels and limbers, to signify the spiking and destruction of the guns and carriages by the RA Batteries, on April 9-10, 1865.
• We visited the Appomattox Court House-NHS, the Museum of the Confederacy and the 150th. Appomattox event site and found many of our longtime friends among those who attended this memorable event.
Having started the 150th. Anniversary celebrations with the firing on Ft. Sumter, on April 6-14, 2011, the Pee Dee Light Artillery (including Brunson’s Bty., McIntosh’s Bty., Latham’s Bty. and Zimmerman’s Bty.) have fielded members and guns at almost every 150th. Anniversary event. Many of these events were held in the South and others stretched up the east coast, including our participation in both of the Battles of Gettysburg, held in late June and early July 2013. It is proper that we finish, four years later, by honoring these men who came before us, so we decided to attend this event, to honor them.
Many call this the “Long Road Home” and it’s noteworthy, because that is exactly what the men of the Confederacy faced after Appomattox. Most ended up walking home, because transportation for them was scarce; even though they could use the Federal railroads, most choose not to. It would take some of them almost two months to get home.
The original parole documents, proving that a former Confederate soldier was actually with Gen. Lee at Appomattox, became treasured family heirlooms. Many of them were passed down in wills, all over the South and today, these documents are extremely rare and they have become valuable collectibles.
There are many members in the units that participated here, who are old and gray and for us, this truly was a “once in lifetime opportunity” to walk on the OROC ground in the footsteps of our ancestors. For the others who are younger, we sincerely hope that they will come back in 50 years, for the 200th. Anniversary and reminisce about what our battery and the Reserve Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia, did here on April 8-12, 1865.
-By H.G. Clapper