Descendants keep memories alive
In the spring of 1864, Congress had revived the rank of lieutenant general (last held by George Washington), and Lincoln promoted Grant to the rank with the title of general in chief.
Upon Grant's shoulders went the hope and fate of the Union and for Lincoln. It was a last ditch, extremely hopeful decision since his own re-election depended on it. The Union armies however, were on the verge of depletion since their three-year enlistments were up. Congress saved the day by offering a bonus of $400 and a 30-day furlough. Hence, three quarters of the veterans re-enlisted.
Meanwhile, the Southern forces numbered fewer than half the enemy's. Given their losses in the previous year, 1863, the Confederacy stretched the draft's upper and lower limits to 50 and 17. The morale of the men in the Army of Northern Virginia, however, remained very high.
In consequence, many of their lean, rough, mettlesome veterans, out of devotion for their beloved commander, Lt. Gen. Robert E. Lee, had already re-enlisted. The new recruits, some no more than 16 and others more than 50, having lied about their ages, had one thing in common -- they were proud of their Southern heritage and had a powerful sense of comradeship and devotion to Lee. Additionally, they also shared in his sentiments: If victorious, they had everything to hope for and, if defeated, they had nothing left to live for.
The armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia had wintered but a dozen miles apart on opposite sides of the Rapidan. As the dogwoods bloomed, Grant, with 115,000 men, crossed the Rapidan River with intentions of engaging Lee's army, turning his right flank and driving onward to Richmond and victory. Thus began the second "Battle of the Wilderness."
Dense woods prohibited troop movements in favor of the Southern forces who were outnumbered two to one. Numerous desperate fighting situations took place in the dense jungle, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties on both sides. The blue coats, however, nearly always lost many more than did the gray since, due to their huge advantage in numbers, they were always on the attack while the rebels, on the other hand, had to dig in and rely heavily on fortifications.
In the seemingly interminable, devastating 11 months that followed, there were many such battles. Daily hundreds. Oft times, thousands lost their lives as battle after battle took place in defense of Richmond, Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston and others, all to no avail.
Sherman's defeat of the gallant but outgunned and outmanned Confederates was total and complete. As a result, absolute devastation was Atlanta's fate, as was Charleston's. Sherman's march through Georgia and South Carolina left a huge swath of devastation many miles wide.
Meanwhile, Richmond, too, was being destroyed and all that was left of Lee's brave and mettlesome Southerners, the Army of Northern Virginia, was on its final journey, attempting to escape the entrapment the blue coats were in the process of finalizing. It was the end of a long and terrible journey. Outnumbered by five or six to one, some 20,000 half-starved, gray scarecrows -- all that remained of a once proud and courageous Army, along with their undaunted commander -- surrendered to the inevitable.
They went home after that, but for many there was nothing to go home to since the Yankees had either confiscated their land or else destroyed their homes, farms and what have you. "Winners keepers -- losers weepers" was the order of the day.
Many packed up and went west settling in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Those that stayed had a long, hard road to travel, but through faith in God and perseverance, they made it. Today, the descendants of those glorious forebears who fought courageously for what they believed was right still keep their memory alive. They are chips off the old block and remain proud and mettlesome Southerners. They are members of the SVC and others.
Valkey Tiernan of Albany is a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, served in the Air Force 20 years and retired from Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany in 1997.