From the 12 August 1879 issue of The New York Times.




The Cincinnati Commercial prints a long story by the ex-Chaplain of an Ohio regiment, detaling his impressions received in an interview held with the late Gen. Robert E. Lee at the time Gen. Sherman’s army was marching through Richmond. We quote from it as follows:

I conversed with him upon a variety of subjects, upon all of which he expressed opinions. He was very positive in his convictions, and seemed to have weighed every sentence with studied care. The telegraph wires haveing recently announced the news of Lincoln’s assassination, this naturally was the first subject of conversation. In speaking of the martyred President, he said: “The death of that eminent citizen has filled me with horror. If there were blemishes in his character, his life exhibited some splendid and rare virtues. He was one of the most extraordinary men that ever lived in our country. His heart was grand and large. He was constitutionally pensive. Had he been spared, the South would be treated with honorable propriety and with a gallant generosity; good-will and friendliness would have marked his treatmentof the South.” He pronounced Booth “a cowardly ruffian;” that all the tragic machinery of the globe, that all the instruments of civil rage could not produce so fine a demon; that the soldiers of the Southern Army and the people regard the murder of Lincoln not only as a crime against our Chrsitian civilization and our common humanity, but that his loss at this moment was a terrible blow to the vanquished, who would have to bear the responsibility of the cruel, cold-blooded assassination; that the spirit of clemency, moderation, and of conciliation displayed by the President were virtues not to be found in his successor. “Let the avenger’s arms,” he continued to say, with eyes moistened with tears, “fall upon the guilty. Should this be the course adopted by the authorities at Washington, their greatest victory is yet before them;” that a more shining page in their annals would be written, and that the sublimest example of magnanimity and self-government would be set.

To my question, “Do you think the rebellion is ended?” he replied, very emphatically; “Yes, Sir; and had it not been for the politicians, it would never have been commenced.” The politicians to whom he referred were Davis, Yancey, Breckinridge, and Toombs, and others whose names he mentioned. He went on to say: “I was opposed to the war at the outset. I wept when I heard of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. I sought retirement so that I might not hear or see any of the political leaders, the great end and aim of whose statesmanship was to precipitate the havoc that subsequently swept their fields and cities. But when Virginia, my native State, seceded, there was only one course for me to pursue, namely. to follow her fortunes.”

Gen. Lee adverted to the character of Grant, of whom he spoke in the most friendly words and terms. He ascribed to him the possession of the noblest attributes of American manhood, and that he possessed all the requisites and talents for the organization of armies. At the present hour, when not a few apprehensive gentlemen and reckless partisans are charging the illustrious ex-President with Cæsarism, and with desperate ambitions to overthrow the Government, it will be some satisfaction to his many friends to recall the high estimate in which he was held by the Southern chieftain. In the generous terms accorded to the impoverished South, Grant won for himself imperishable renown, and they furnish a shining example of how bravely he could fight his country’s battles, and of how nobly he could sympathize with the vanquished. In no quarter of the world has there been such magnanimity as that displayed by Grant, and of all the laurels won by the mighty Captain in our immortal struggle, the greenest and freshest of them all is his splendid conduct to Lee and his soldiers. “I wish,” said Gen. Lee, “to do simple justice to Gen. Grant, when I say that his treatment of the Army of Southern Virginia is without a parallel in the history of the civilized world. When my poor soldiers, with famished faces, had neither food nor raiment, it was then that Gen. Grant immediately issued the humane order that 40,000 rations should be furnished to the impoverished troops. And that was not all of his magnanimity. I was giving directions to one of my staff officers, when making out the list of things to be surrendered, to include the horses. At that moment Gen. Grant, who seemed to be paying no attention to what was transpiring, quickly said: “No, no, Gen. Lee, not a horse—not one—keep them all! Your people will need them for the Spring crops!”

It was a scene never to be forgotten to watch Lee’s manner, when, with a spirit of chivalry equal to his skill and gallantry, he told, with moistened eyes, this and many other instances of the magnanimity so nobly displayed by his illustrious rival. The conversation turned to Gen. Sherman. The Southern papers were criticising very sharply Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, and I asked Gen. Lee what his views were of the great flanker. He said, in substance: “It has been observed that there is no character so uniformly bright as not to possess some dark stains; but while we assent to the general truth of this observation, that charity which hopeth all things should lead us to believe that there are no hearts so darkly vicious as not to be illumined by some beams of the light of virtue. To suppose Sherman an exception to this rule would be illiberal. The unbounded license which he allowed his soldiers in the States of Georgia and the Carolinas has greatly exaggerated the horrors of war. As a strategist and commander of men, Sherman has displayed the highest order of military genius. Throughout his recent campaign, when he had to pass through an unknown country, cross rivers, support his troops, &c., he certainly exhibited a singleness of purpose, a fertility of resource, which wins him a high place among the famous soldiers of history. He seems to be cool without apathy, cautious without being dilatory, patient without being dispirited, personally brave, but never rash. Judged by Napoleon’s test, ‘Who did all that?’ he is, in my opinion, among the most successful of the Federal officers who have played a prominent part in the history of the war.”

In the course of the conversation he spoke of Sheridan as a most brilliant and magnetic commander. I asked him who was the greatest of the Federal Generals. “Indeed, Sir, I have no hesitation in saying Gen. Grant. Both as a gentleman and an organizer of victorious war, Gen. Grant hath excelled all your most noted soldiers. He has exhibited more true courage, more real greatness of mind, more consummate prudence from the outset, and more heroic bravery than any one on your side.”

One topic of our conversation was the foreign element in both armies. Speaking of the Irish, he declared with considerable feeling that the “South could not reconcile with their notions of consistency and honor how Northern Irishmen, who were so desperately and violently opposed to the thralldom of Britain—the wrongs of Ireland being as mosquito bites by the side of the enormous injuries which had been inflicted by the North on the South—how liberty-loving Irishmen could fight against the Southerners contending for independence and equality of rights” I suggested that the soldiers of Irish origin in our armies were equally bewildered to know how Irishmen who for centuries had gallantly contended for the freedom of the Celts could be so inconsistent and recreant to every principle of right as to be engaged in a war for a Government whose cornerstone was slavery. Besides that, though Irishmen were revolutionists at home, they were conservatives in the United States, and that there was an infinite difference between a war in the interests of oppression, and one in favor of the oppressed. Adverting to the character of the Irish as soldiers, the General was very enthusiastic, saying that they played a prominent part in all the wars of the world for the last three centuries, now on one side, now on the other. “The Irish soldier fights not so much for lucre as through the reckless love of adventure, and, moreover, with a chivalrous devotion to the cause he espouses for the time being. Cleburne, on our side, inherited the intrepidity of his race. On a field of battle he shone like a meteor on a clouded sky! As a dashing military man he waas all virtue; a single vice does not stain him as a warrior. His generosity and benevolence had no limits. The care which he took of the fortunes of his officers and soldiers, from the greatest to the least, was incessant. His integrity was proverbial, and his modesty was an equally conspicuous trait in his character. Meagher, on your side, though not Cleburne’s equal in military genius, rivaled him in bravery and in the affections of his soldiers. The gallant stand which his bold brigade made on the heights of Fredericksburg is well known. Never were men so brave. They ennobled their race by their splendid gallantry on that desperate occasion. Though totally routed, they reaped harvests of glory. Their brilliant, though hopeless, assaults on our lines excited the hearty applause of my officers and soldiers, and Gen. Hill exclaimed: ‘There are those green flags again’ “

Referring to the great loss sustained by the Confederacy in the death of Stonewall Jackson, Gen. Lee remarked: “In surprises, marches, and in the art of creating the resources of war, Jackson far surpassed the level of his age, and rose to a comparison with Hannibal and Napoleon, the two greatest commanders of ancient and modern times. In every relation of private and public life his character was perfect. The South has produced some abler soldiers, and a few in point of military talent were his equals, but it can not and never could boast of one more beloved, not by personal friends alone, but by every soldier and officer that served under him. His dispatches, even when announcing the grandest successes, were brief statements of fact, unvarnished; many such passages as this would occur: ‘We are about to open the campaign. I have prayed earnestly to God that He will enable me to pass through it in His fear, knowing no greater earthly blessing than to have a conscience at ease in the discharge of duty.’ “

I left the presence of Gen. Lee impressed with the consciousness that pride, hatered, revenge, had no place in his noble nature, and that having lowered his colors and sheathed his sword, he was fully entitled to the respect and consideration of the gallant soldier to whom he surrendered.