Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia
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Colonel Hubbard, though born in Salisbury, had lived in the West before the war, and first saw service with an Illinois regiment. Returning to Connecticut, he assisted in raising a company for the Nineteenth, and was mustered in as its captain. He was steadily promoted until the death of Colonel Kellogg brought him naturally to the command of the regiment; but, as has been said, his own modest estimate of his qualifications for this responsibility caused him to decline the appointment. When it came to him a second time he accepted, and proved by his subsequent handling of the regiment a worthy successor to the remarkably able soldiers under whom he had served, winning the brevet rank of brigadier-general in the final campaigns. His ambition was, a comrade wrote, to do his full duty without a thought for personal glory; and he enjoyed in a high degree the respect and affection of his command. He died in Washington, where he lived for many years, on December 21, 1886, and was buried in Winsted.
The brilliant victories in which the Second Artillery had borne so worthy a part, and the re-election of President Lincoln in November (1864), put an end to all anxieties as to danger in the quarter of the Shenandoah, which before Sheridan’s campaign had been a region of fatal mischance to the national cause from the beginning of the war. As a consequence the Sixth Corps was once more ordered to rejoin Grant’s army, and the regiment left the historic valley on December 1st, arriving on the 5th before Petersburg, where it was assigned a position near the place of its skirmish on June 22nd.
“Then it was unbroken forest,” says its history; “now, hundreds of acres were cleared, and dotted with camps. A corduroy road ran by, and a telegraph, and Grant’s railroad. No other such railroad was ever seen before, or ever will be again. It was laid right on top of the ground, without any attempt at grading, and you might see the engine and rear car of a long train, while the middle of the train would be in a valley, completely out of sight. Having reached Parke Station, we moved to a camp near Battery Number Twenty-seven, and went into the snug and elegant little log houses just vacated by the Ninety-fourth New York. This was a new kind of situation for the ‘Second Heavies.’ The idea of being behind permanent and powerful breastworks, defended by abatis, ditches, and what not, with approaches so difficult that ten men could hold five hundred at bay, was so novel, that the men actually felt as if there must be some mistake, and that they had got into the wrong place.”
For two months no fighting fell to the regiment’s lot, for though the Union commanders and armies were ready and eager to make an end of the war as soon as possible, little could be done during the winter. Though this inactivity brought perhaps some relief from the rigors of army life, the men had numerous reminders that they were still in active service. One of the chief events of this season the history of the regiment describes as follows: “On the afternoon of the 9th (December, 1864), the First and Third Divisions of the Sixth Corps were marched to the left, beyond the permanent lines, and off in the direction of the Weldon Railroad, to prevent any attack on the Fifth and Second Corps, now returning from their expedition. After going for about six miles we halted for the night, in a piece of woods. It was bitter cold when we left camp, but soon began to moderate, then to rain, then to sleet; so that by the time we halted, everything was covered with ice, with snow two inches deep on the ground, and still sifting down through the pines. It was the work of an hour to get fires going,–but at last they began to take hold, and fuel was piled on as though it did not cost anything. Clouds of steam rolled out of the soaked garments of the men, as they stood huddled around the roaring, cracking piles,–and the black night and ghostly woods were lighted up in a style most wonderful. The storm continued all night, and many a man waked up next morning to find his legs firmly packed in new fallen snow. At daylight orders came to pack up and be ready to move at once; which was now a difficult order to execute, on account of many things, especially the shelter tents;–for they were as rigid as sheet-iron and yet had to be rolled up and strapped on the knapsacks. Nevertheless it was not long before the regiment was in motion; and after plodding off for a mile to the left, a line of battle was formed, vedettes sent out, trees felled and breastworks built, and at dinner-time the men were allowed to build fires and cook breakfast. Then, after standing until almost night in the snow, which had now turned to sleet, the column was headed homeward. Upon arriving, it was discovered that some of the Jersey Brigade had taken possession of our log snuggeries, and that their officers had established their heels upon the mantels in our officers’ quarters, and were smoking the pipes of comfort and complacency, as though they had not a trouble in the world, and never expected to have. But they soon found that possession is not nine points of military law, by any means. An order from Division Headquarters soon sent them profanely packing,–and the Second Heavies occupied.”
Though weeks were spent in such comparative comfort and immunity as the present situation afforded, the men felt as if they were resting over a volcano which might break into fierce activity at any moment; and as the winter passed signs of the renewal of the struggle multiplied on all sides.
On February 5th (1865), part of the Second Connecticut was ordered to move out to support and protect the flank of the Fifth Corps, which was engaged near Hatcher’s Run, and accordingly left the comforts of the camp and bivouacked for the night a few miles away. The history of the regiment says: “It was bitter cold sleeping that night–so cold that half the men stood or sat around fires all night. In the morning the movement was continued. A little before sundown we crossed Hatcher’s Run and moved by the flank directly into a piece of woods, the Second Brigade under Hubbard leading the division and the Second Connecticut under Skinner leading the brigade. Wounded men were being brought to the rear and the noise just ahead told of mischief there. Colonel Hubbard filed to the left at the head of the column along a slight ridge and about half the regiment had filed when troops of the Fifth Corps came running through to the rear and at the same moment General Wheaton rode up with ‘oblique to the left, oblique to the left,’ and making energetic gestures toward the rise of ground. The ridge was quickly gained and fire opened just in time to head off a counter fire and charge that was already in progress, but between the ‘file left’ and the ‘left oblique’ and the breaking of our ranks by troops retreating from in front, and the vines and underbrush (which were so thick that they unhorsed some of the staff officers) there was a good deal of confusion, and the line soon fell back about ten rods, where it was reformed and a vigorous fire poured–somewhat at random–a little to the left of our first position. The attempt of the enemy to get in on the left of the Fifth Corps was frustrated. Our casualties were six wounded (some of them probably by our own men) and one missing. The position was occupied that night, and the next day until about sundown, when the brigade shifted some distance to the right and again advanced under an artillery fire to within a short distance of the rebel batteries and built breastworks. The rebel picket shots whistled overhead all the time the breastworks were building, but mostly too high to hurt anything but the trees. At midnight the division moved back to quarters, arriving at sunrise. Having taken a ration of whiskey which was ordered by Grant or somebody else in consideration of three nights and two days on the bare ground in February, together with some fighting and a good deal of hard marching and hard work, the men lay down to sleep as the sun rose up, and did not rise up until the sun went down.”
This position, which was on the eastern side of the city of Petersburg, was gallantly attacked and captured in the early morning; troops were at once called from all parts of the Union line and hurried to the point of action, but the fort was retaken before the Second Connecticut reached the scene, and the regiment was then moved to the southwest of the city before Fort Fisher, a general assault of the whole extensive line having been ordered by Grant to develop the weakness that Lee must have been obliged to make somewhere to carry out his plan against Fort Stedman. The attack succeeded in gaining and holding a large share of the Confederate picket line, a matter of great importance.
The Second Connecticut advanced to the charge late in the afternoon “as steadily as though on a battalion drill,” the regimental history relates. It captured a line of rifle pits and kept on “under a combined artillery and musket fire. The air was blue with the little cast iron balls from spherical-case shot which shaved the ground and exploded among the stumps just in rear of the line at intervals of only a few seconds. Twenty of the Second Connecticut were wounded–seven of them mortally–in reaching, occupying, and abandoning this position, which, proving entirely untenable, was held only a few minutes. The line faced about and moved back under the same mixed fire of solid shot, spherical case, and musketry, and halted not far in front of the spot whence it had first moved forward. Other troops on the right now engaged the battery and captured the rest of the picket line, and after half an hour the brigade again moved forward to a position still further advanced than the previous one, where a permanent picket line was established.”
The week following this eventful day, which began with the capture of one of the Union works, and ended with substantial gains along their front, saw intense activity on all sides. The abandonment of Petersburg by Lee was now plainly imminent, and the preventing of his army’s escape was the paramount object. The whole vast field of operation about the besieged city became a seething theater of complicated movement, and the Second Connecticut, under frequent orders for immediate advance, was formed in line at all hours of the day or night, and excited by a thousand rumors and orders given and revoked, but it did not finally leave its quarters during this time.
On April 1st, Sheridan won his notable victory at Five Forks, and at midnight the regiment was ordered out for a final charge on the defences so long held against them, which was to be made early on the 2nd. All was made ready, the lines formed, and at daylight the signal gun set the army in motion.
“The advance was over precisely the same ground as on the 25th of March, and the firing came from the same battery and breastworks, although not quite so severe. Lieutenant-Colonel Skinner and seven enlisted men were wounded–none of them fatally. There was but little firing on our side, but with bayonets fixed the boys went in,–not in a very mathematical right line, but strongly and surely,–on, on, until the first line was carried. Then, invigorated and greatly encouraged by success, they pressed on–the opposing fire slackening every minute,–on, on, through the abatis and ditch, up the steep bank, over the parapet into the rebel camp that had but just been deserted. Then and there the long tried and ever faithful soldiers of the Republic saw daylight–and such a shout as tore the concave of that morning sky it were worth dying to hear.” The same jubilant success was attending the whole army, though not without sharp resistance on the part of the enemy in places.
Throughout the day advances were made and the works so long besieged were occupied all over the vast field, and at night the men “lay down in muddy trenches, among the dying and the dead, under a most murderous fire of sharpshooters. There had been charges and counter charges,–but our troops held all they had gained. At length the hot day gave place to chilly night, and the extreme change brought much suffering. The men had flung away whatever was fling-away-able during the charge of the morning and the subsequent hot march–as men always will, under like circumstances–and now they found themselves blanketless, stockingless, overcoatless,–in cold and damp trenches, and compelled by the steady firing to lie still, or adopt a horizontal, crawling mode of locomotion, which did not admit of speed enough to quicken the circulation of the blood. Some took clothing from the dead and wrapped themselves in it; others, who were fortunate enough to procure spades, dug gopher holes, and burrowed. At daylight the Sixty-fifth New York clambered over the huge earthwork, took possession of Fort Hell, opened a picket fire and fired one of the guns in the fort, eliciting no reply. Just then a huge fire in the direction of the city, followed by several explosions, convinced our side that Lee’s army had indeed left. The regiment was hastily got together,–ninety muskets being all that could be produced,–and sent out on picket. The picket line advanced and meeting with no resistance pushed on into the city. What regiment was first to enter the city is and probably ever will be a disputed question. The Second Connecticut claims to have been in first, but Colonel Hubbard had ordered the colors to remain behind when the regiment went out on the skirmish line, consequently the stars and stripes that first floated over captured Petersburg belonged to some other regiment. Colonel Hubbard was, however, made Provost-Marshal of the city, and for a brief while dispensed government and law in that capacity.”
Petersburg, however, now that it was abandoned by the enemy, had lost the importance it had so long possessed, and all energies were given to preventing the escape of its late defenders. Before the end of the day (April 3rd) the regiment, with the rest of the Sixth Corps, had turned westward and joined the pursuit. The chase was stern and the marches rapid, but far less wearing to these victorious veterans, filled with the consciousness of success, than those that had initiated their campaigning less than a year before. On April 6th the regiment, after an all day march, came up with the enemy in position at Sailor’s Creek, and went into the last engagement of its career. It was a charge under a hot fire, sharp and decisive, which quickly changed to a pursuit of the fleeing enemy, kept up until the bivouack at ten o’clock. The Second Connecticut captured the headquarters train of General Mahone, a battle flag, and many prisoners, and ended the tale of its losses with three men killed and six wounded.
The chase was taken up next morning (April 7th), and the regiment had reached a point close to Appomattox Court House, when on April 9th Lee met Grant and surrendered what remained of his army, at that historic place.
To imagine all that this meant to the men in arms is far easier than to attempt its description. They saw at last the end arriving of all the privation and suffering they had volunteered to undergo; they saw the triumph of the Union they had risen to defend to the uttermost extremity a proven fact. The whole continent vibrated with the deepest feeling at the news of it, but they, better than any others, knew in the fullest degree its immense significance.