A Cavalier's Flamboyant Arrogance
Surrounded upon the ground at Appomattox combat conditions remained in effect for Lieutenant General James Longstreet's troops, in line and preparing to clash with units of Major General Andrew A. Humphrey's Second Army Corps. It was an incredibly strange situation to be in. General Lee had just mounted Traveller and passed into the First Corps' rear on his way to converse with Lieutenant General Grant. Far in advance, elements of Lee's Army were kept engaged with the enemy and Longstreet was preparing for action from front and rear, with no word to call a truce.
As an after thought, perhaps word came back from General Lee to inform General Gordon of his intended meeting, and Captain Robert Sims serving on Longstreet's staff was sent out for that purpose. Upon delivering the message to that general officer, he apparently was used to call a truce and rode out to do so.
The Confederate Captain soon noticed an officer and orderly riding out to greet him. Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer inquired by whose authority the captain had of calling a truce. Once he ascertained that the man was from General Longstreet's staff, he demanded to be taken to him. Approaching the corps commander, Custer demanded the surrender of his troops in the name of Major General Philip Sheridan, but Longstreet was not amused. He was not the commander of the army in Custer's presence and he was thus notified of that fact.
Looking about Custer openly mentioned what a pity it would be to draw more blood upon the field. The lieutenant general concurred and demanded that the truce be respected. He was reminded that his presence back there was disrespectful to the purposes of the generals commanding both armies that he was in conference with a senior ranking general officer of the enemy and without proper authority to do so. But Custer demanded the surrender had been one to be followed immediately or he and General Sheridan were going to pitch in. Unimpressed, Longstreet gave him permission to pitch in all he wanted, the blood would be on his hands. Turning to a staff officer, he gave the cavalier an escort back to his own lines warning him that he ought to consider himself fortunate he wasn't made a prisoner of war.
The wind was sucked right out of Custer's sails. The two armies sat idle awaiting word from the McLean House on how the drama was going to begin or end that day. With the Army of Northern Virginia surrounded on all sides, the war in this part of the country was quickly coming to a termination. General Longstreet would gracefully surrender his command to the authority drawing up terms to do so, and General Custer would simply have to look for his own glory someday, someplace and in some other war.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org