Lieutenant S, Crocker Lovell, led calvary unit that gave Gen. Robert E. Lee an honorable escort.
Civil War veteran Lieutenant S. Crocker Lovell, who escorted Robert E. Lee after his surrender, became a well-respected local businessman. The building he built in 1870 housed a boot and shoe store, Robinson’s Grocery Store, and in recent years, George’s Cleaners. It was replaced in 2014 with the South Common Estates condominiums
The cannons fell silent and men in gray laid down their arms, shedding tears as their magnificent but defeated Gen. Robert E. Lee passed by.
But as men from the Union and Confederate armies contemplated a return to peacetime that April morning in 1865, 150 years ago today, there were still formalities to observe.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had already received the surrender of Lee’s army in the parlor of a family home at a place called Appomattox Courthouse, Va.
Remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia — numbering 20,000 or more — prepared to set off for their homes under the generous terms of the surrender.
Then came the question of Lee, himself.
Somehow, the thought of the legendary general — resplendent in his gray uniform — riding off alone in a countryside so recently filled with gunfire and death didn’t sit well with the commanders of the Union army.
Somehow, it was decided that a small detachment of Union cavalry be put at the old soldier’s disposal to escort him respectfully on his way home — and possibly to guard against any potshots by resentful Union veterans.
According to published accounts, 16 troopers from the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry were ordered to perform the honors.
And at their head was Lt. Samuel Crocker Lovell of Mansfield, a veteran of the siege of Petersburg, Va., and a survivor of yellow fever contracted early in the war.
Lovell, born in 1839, was the son of a local storekeeper who joined the Union Army at 21 shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lovell was hailed as a war hero in his hometown and kept a series of diaries throughout his Civil War service, still in the hands of the Mansfield Historical Society.
Just how Lovell came to be put in charge of the Lee detail isn’t clear, but his role in one of the final acts of the Civil War is documented in his diary and accounts given by others who were present.
Capt. William B. Arnold of North Abington, another Massachusetts cavalryman, later recalled the scene in his contribution to a pamphlet entitled “The Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry in the Closing Scenes of the War for the Maintenance of The Union.”
“When the arrangements of paroling the Confederate army were complete and General Lee was at liberty to depart from his army, an order came from army headquarters for a detail of cavalry to escort General Lee from his lines,” Arnold wrote. “The escort was made up from the 4th Massachusetts cavalry and I was privileged to be one of them. Sixteen men composed the platoon and Lieutenant Lovell of our regiment was in command. I was right guide of the detail, and I thought at the time that we were pretty good representatives of the Union cavalry.”
On the morning of April 11, two days after the surrender, the little detachment rode up to Lee’s camp and patiently waited while the general and his staff completed a breakfast of hard tack, fried pork and black coffee.
Then the entire party, including Lee, mounted and began the trip toward Richmond.
“From the time we left his camp till we passed the last of his regiments the men seemed to come from everywhere and the ‘Rebel Yell’ was continuous,” Arnold wrote.
Lee, the defeated commander, apparently wanted to dispense with ceremony and dismissed his escort after only a few miles.
“General Lee rode up to Lieutenant Lovell and thanked him for the escort, and saluted as he went his way, while we returned to Appomattox. At night the army of Northern Virginia was gone. The Union army was preparing to take up the line of march for their homes.”
Lovell later wrote wistfully of the parting.
“To me,” he wrote. “it was a happy day for it meant that the war was over and I was going to return home. It was a sad day for Lee — brave though he was he could not keep back the tears. They coursed down the furrowed, bronzed face in great drops.
“When General Lee considered that we had accompanied him far enough he grasped my hand in a firm shake and said ‘God speed and a safe return.’”
Lovell returned to the retail trade in his hometown where he continued to be a public figure long after the war. He had his cavalry horse, “Black Billy,” shipped back home and is reputed to have ridden the stallion in Mansfield parades for many years. Lovell died in 1918.