It was April 6, 1865. The once proud Army of Northern Virginia was starving and battered. No longer able to defend Petersburg and Richmond, General Robert E Lee was making a desperate attempt to move his shattered soldiers west. It was his hope to hook up with General Joseph Johnston and the Army of Tennessee. Nipping at his heels were several union armies, who cut off most of Lee's escape routes. He was forced to use slow secondary roads with bridges that collapsed as his wagon trains attempted to cross.
At Sailor's Creek, much of what was left of his army was destroyed over 1.5 hours of bloody fighting at the end of the day. Over 7,700 Confederate soldiers were captured and 800 more were wounded or killed. Lee lost nearly all his artillery pieces as well as his wagon train.
In the vanguard of union soldiers slashing away at rebel forces was none other than General George Armstrong Custer. After the surrender in battle, Custer insisted on feeding and housing nine Confederate officers in his tent that night. He dispatched his own doctor to treat one Confederate general suffering from malaria.
Other union soldiers followed Custer's example. After an hour and a half of brutality, the very cavalrymen who had pursued and dogged the rebels for several days, treated their foes with decency and honor. They did everything they could to feed their Confederate counterparts. They'd empty their haversacks and would even go without food themselves.
Rebels disliked Pa. Germans and considered them the most brutal of all union soldiers. One rebel was surprised when a "big Dutchman" emptied his haversack and gave all his food to them. "I'll get more," he promised, and did.
One rebel reports that, in the height of the fight, his gun jammed. He discarded it and jumped into the creek for a drink. When he got out a union cavalryman was there. "Are you hungry, Johnny?" The union cavalryman was carrying a small ham and cut off a slice for Johnny, then rode off.
The next morning, as Custer rode off in pursuit of Lee, he and his staff bowed to the Confederate officers. The remaining rebel prisoners erupted in delight as Custer had his band play a southern tune.
The day after such a brutal battle, these former foes were able to treat each other as Americans. We can do that, too.