One hundred and forty-three years ago today, on 9 April, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Union Commander Ulysses S. Grant, marking the effective end of the South’s struggle for independence.
It was a fateful day for the South, and in particular for my great grandfather and his four elder brothers, all of whom were fighting for the Confederacy.
On that day, the eldest brother Joshua Lazarus Moses was killed a few hours after Lee, unbeknownst to the troops elsewhere, had surrendered. Josh was commanding an artillery battalion (Culpepper’s Battery or Culpepper’s Light Artillery) that was firing the last shots in defense of Mobile, before being overrun by a Union force outnumbering his 13 to one. In this battle, Fort Blakeley, one of his brothers, Horace, was captured, and another, Perry, was wounded.
Joshua had also been in the thick of the fighting in the War’s opening battle, when Fort Sumter was attacked in April, 1861. Josh was the last Confederate Jew to fall in battle. His first cousin, Albert Moses Luria, was the first, killed at age 19 at the Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) in Virginia on 31 May, 1862.
While Lee was surrendering at Appomattox, a 2,500-man unit attached to Sherman’s army, known as Potter’s Raiders, was heading towards my family’s hometown of Sumter, South Carolina. Sherman had just burned nearby Columbia, and it was feared that his troops were headed to Sumter to do the same.
My then 16-year-old great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Moses, rode out to defend his hometown, along with some 157 other teenagers, invalids, old men, and the wounded from the local hospital. It was a mission as hopeless as it was valiant, but Sumter’s rag-tag defenders did manage to hold off Potter’s battle-seasoned veterans for over an hour before being overwhelmed by this vastly superior force, outnumbering theirs by some 15 to one.
Jack got away with a price on his head, and Sumter was not burned after all. But some buildings were, and there are documented instances of murder, rape, and arson by the Yankees.
The fifth bother, Isaac Harby Moses, having served with distinction in combat in Wade Hampton’s cavalry, later rode home from North Carolina after the Battle of Bentonville (North Carolina), the War’s last major battle, where he commanded his company, all of the officers having been killed or wounded. He never surrendered to anyone, his Mother proudly observed in her memoirs.
Earlier, as a member of a company of Citadel Cadets, he had his horse shot out from under him, and was attacked by a Union soldier wielding a sword. He was among those who fired the very first shots of the conflict, when his cadet company opened up on the Union ship, Star of the West, which was attempting to resupply the besieged Fort Sumter in January, 1861, three months before the War officially began.
Over two dozen members of the extended Moses family fought in the War, serving and working closely with such legendary generals as Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Wade Hampton, and firing some of the first and last shots of the War in its opening and closing battles. They fought on horseback and on ships, in the trenches and in the infantry. They built fortifications, led their men in charges, and one had responsibility for provisioning an entire army corps of some 50,000 men. The extended family sacrificed at least nine of its sons for The Cause.
Like their comrades-in-arms, the Moses’ were fighting for their homeland — not for slavery, as is so often said, but for their families, homes, and country. Put simply, most Confederate soldiers felt they were fighting because an invading army from the North was trying to kill them, burn their homes, and destroy their cities.
The hard-pressed Confederates were usually heavily outnumbered, outgunned, and out-supplied, but rarely outfought, showing amazing courage, skill, and valor.
The best known of the Moses family Confederates was Major Raphael Moses, General Longstreet’s chief commissary officer, whose three sons also fought for the South. Moses ended up attending the last meeting and carrying out the Last Order of the Confederate government.
He was ordered to deliver the last of the Confederate treasury, $40,000 in gold and silver bullion, to help feed and supply the defeated Confederate soldiers in nearby hospitals, and straggling home after the War — weary, hungry, often sick, shoeless and in tattered uniforms. With the help of a small group of determined armed guards, Moses successfully carried out the order from President Jefferson Davis, despite repeated attempts by mobs to forcibly take the bullion.
The anniversary of this fateful day should serve to remind us what the brave and beleaguered Southern soldiers and civilians were up against. Perhaps it will help people understand why, in this day when the South is so often vilified, native Southerners still revere their ancestors’ courage, and continue rightfully to take much pride in this heritage.
Lewis Regenstein [send him mail], a Native Atlantan, is a writer and author.