Fresh from victory at Sailor’s Creek, Union forces continued to press westward against the Confederate rearguard. This time it was the Confederates who attempted to set High Bridge on fire, and this time it was the Yankees who doused the flames in the nick of time.
Within hours of Robert E. Lee’s departure from Farmville, Ulysses S. Grant entered the small town. As he had urged Sherman the previous day, “let us finish up this job all at once.” He conveyed his sense of urgency to Meade: “Every moment now is important to us.” But he was not quite sure when the end would come, so he urged his wife Julia that perhaps she should leave City Point and return home to Burlington, New Jersey.
Grant established headquarters on the plaza of a local hotel. He watched column after column of soldiers march past, and conferred with several generals as to what might happen next. As evening came he learned from Horatio Wright that Richard S. Ewell, who had been captured at Sailor’s Creek the previous day, believed that it was time to bring things to an end. Grant agreed. “I have a great mind to summon Lee to surrender,” he remarked, and proceeded to do exactly that, writing his counterpart as follows:
The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
Back at City Point, President Lincoln, sifting through the telegrams announcing the victory at Sailor’s Creek, came upon a missive from Phil Sheridan. Immediately he wired Grant: “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”
He need not have worried.