General Edward Porter Alexander(Part 8)

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Sniping had been light along the same part of the line and Alexander was making his way back to his horse well back of the trenches. Casually he stopped for a last look at the remote federal lines. He then heard the faint pop of the distant rifle and the buzz of the bullet as it struck the ground to his front and plowed into his left shoulder. There was little pain and he stood fixed for a second to deprive the shooter of the satisfaction of knowing he had hit his target. He then quickly found cover to assess his wound.

The yankee was too good of a rifleman to give him a second chance. The wound was bleeding nicely, so he had a gunner accompany him to the surgeon in case he lost too much blood on the way. While he waited at the field hospital, he pulled his lunch from his pocket and enjoyed a couple of camp biscuits filled with slices of fat bacon. The sawbones gave him a dose of chloroform and removed the slightly flattend .58 caliber slug. The thread pattern of his coat had been stamped on it “like it had been stamped with a die”. Alexander was lucky. The minie ball had missed both artery of the shoulder joint. He got his 30 day furlough.

Before he left for home Alexander briefed General Lee about his suspicion of the mine, and he was correct. The Pennsylvania coal miners had run a 511 foot tunnel under the Confederate gun battery with 40 ft galleries on each side. It was loaded with 8,000 pounds of powder and when it was detonated, the resulting crater was 200x 70x 25 feet deep. Observers couldn’t believe their eyes. Broken artillery pieces, men, and equipment went up into the clouds. A slave used for labor by the southern army was ejected into the federal lines. The shock was terrific, but the rebels were the first to act.

Confederate General Mahone rallied his men to plug the huge hole in the line. The storming federals swarmed into the crater stupidly, where the boys in gray used their 12 pr. mortars to slaughter them like shooting fish in a barrel. Due to his shoulder wound Porter missed the battle for the crater but made it back to Petersburg in time for Lee’s evacuation .

The weary gray line was nearing it’s limit of human endurance. Before he left, Porter passed an abandoned warehouse and picked up a new bridle and felt saddle blanket for Dixie along with a big slab of bacon. Everything that had made it through the blockade and would soon go up in smoke. This meat would be the only ration his men would get before the end.

At the last minute Lee was appointed Commander in Chief of all CSA forces. He would try to link up with General Joe Johnston to stop Sherman. Grant of course had other ideas and was able to cut off the starving army at Appomattox. The surrender being one of the most amazing ending stories in history. A story for another time.

While Lee and Grant were exchanging messages to set up a meeting, Brevet General Custer rode into Longstreet’s camp under a flag of truce. Custer announced to the General,” Sheridan (the federal Cavalry commander) and I are independent here today and unless you surrender immediately we are going to pitch in.” Longstreet replied, “Pitch in as much as you like.” He then turned to a memeber of his staff and said, “Take this gentleman and conduct him back to his lines and he may consider himself lucky to get back safely after his impertinent errand.” The arrogant Custer returned without the glory he had tried to swipe from Grant. Longstreet displayed the fighting spirit that still burned in the men. Alexander’s boys met him at every turn, telling him, “Don’t surrender the ammunition.” They had carried it too far and their fire had been miserly rationed for too long to give up their ful chest of ammo. Fighting had become a way of life.

At the surrender, Alexander was ordered to line up his guns along the road, which he did. They covered a full half mile. Grant had ordered rations to be distributed to the starving men in gray, but nothing was allocated for their animals that were reduced to skin and bones. On completion of supervising the paroling of his men, Porter left the next day for Richmond. The parting sight of his faithful horses, some still in harness with their guns, but most down and dying of thirst and starvation brought on even greater feeling of total desperation.

He was suddenly unemployed with a family to support and no prospects. The thought chilled Alexander to the bone. On the way to Richmond he heard that Brazil was at war with Paraguay and in need of artillery officers. The next day, he called on General Lee who was less than enthusiastic about his plans to leave the country. However, he decided to follow through with the idea and made his way to Washington DC and the Brazilian counsel. He had written his wife in Georgia of his plans and his decision to send for her and the children when he was settled in South America. One can imagine how thrilled the lady must have been.

In the capital he found that Lincoln was dead and anyone wearing rebel gray was fair game for a rope. The Brazilian diplomat ran him off, afraid that Porter’s presence might inspire a braying mob of yankees on the embassy. A wet blanket was thrown over the idea of the escape to Brazil. With some of the funds he had scrounged up for the trip, he purchased a few yards of fine fabric for his wife and carefully made his way home to Washington, Georgia. His wife was still bed ridden from the birth of his daughter a few weeks before. He wrote, “But although she thought me far on my road to Brazil, she knew the rush of my feet up the stairs the moment she heard it, and as I opened the door she was in the middle of the room advancing to meet me.” So ended the superb book “Fighting for the Confederacy.”

Alexander’s family had survived the war, but he didn’t relish the life of a bankrupt Southern planter. Offered a position in the math department of the University of South Carolina, he accepted and after several years found himself attached to the railroad industry. During the period he bought 10,000 acres on an island off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina. It was duck hunting paradise. When he retired as president of Savannah and Memphis Railroad, Alexander and his friend Grover Cleveland spent much time shooting waterfowl on the coastal estate. His friend in the White House made him an offer of 1,000 in gold a month to arbitrate the boundary dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse and included the world’s finest hunting and fishing. He spent two years and accomplished his mission that later aided in building of the Panama Canal. During his time in Central America, his family persuaded him to write his memoirs of the war. His objective critique of the Army of Northern Virginia, ” Military Memoirs of a Confederate ” was published in 1907. It is a most objective and impartial account of Lee’s Army and almost completely lacks Porter’s personal experiences. Almost a century later, a great discovery of what at first was thought to be the original noes from the book came to light. Gary Gallagher put together the tattered notes and journals of the personal account that Alexander had written for his family , and he had intended that it was never to see the light of day. Published in 1989 and titled ” Fighting for the Confederacy , the Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander.” it is the most candid , in depth and insightful work on the war.

Alexander returned home in time to see the love of his life pass away within 3 weeks on November 20th, 1899. He wife’s unmarried niece came to look after him on the island estate. She was a valuable source of help and served as hostess and entertained guests during his difficult time. On October 1, 1901 they were married. He was sixty-six, she was forty ,they honeymooned at Niagra Falls. The old Rebel suffered from several small strokes and on April 21, 1910 he lapsed into a coma in Savannah. At 8:30 PM on April 28, 1910 his soul peacefully ” crossed over the river to rest in the shade of the trees.”

Alexander did his duty, never regretted his service for the Confederacy and died as he lived , without malice. He rests in the Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia.

Military Memoirs of a Confederate Alexander

Fighting for the Confederacy Alexander

I Rode with StonewallHenry K Douglas

The Civil War A Narrative 1-3 – Shelby Foote

Clouds of GloryMichael Korda

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall JacksonS.C. Gwynne

April 1865 The Month That Saved America – Jay Wink

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great story, Shawn. It never ceases to amaze me that these men could fight each other like banshees and then live in harmony afterward. It was truly manful on all counts.

    It speaks ill of our own age that certain hysterical Lefties are calling for Truth & Reconciliation commissions because Orange Man said mean things about them on Twitter.

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