The war ended, and from the battlefields of Virginia and up from the Carolinas the long blue lines marched through a ravaged land where the green of spring was already softening the raw scars that men and guns had made. They marched, many of them on familiar roads for the last time. Now all roads led to the Grand Review, and home.
By nightfall,May 22, 1865, Washington was circled in flickering light from the thousands of bivouac fires of the greatest armed host this continent had ever seen. The city itself had never been so crowded with visitors.
At seven o'clock next morning a single cannon boomed. This was the day of the Army of the Potomac, the spit-and-polish, paper-collar army that still remembered McClellan who had made them soldiers, the despised and often defeated army that came into its own at Gettsburg and proved itself in the last, long, bloody year in The Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, Cold harbor, and Petersburg. They came sixty abreast down broad Pennsylvania Avenue, with bands blaring the long-familiar music and tattered flags with their dreadful battle names fluttering in the bright air. This was the army of the fathers and sons and brothers of the people who lined the avenue. All day the steady blue lines passed the reviewing stand, and the cheering crowds grew silent, watching the shrunken regiments go by and remembering the absent faces.
The mood changed next day as Sherman led his Western armies. People watched curiously these men of a different breed, marching with the long, swinging stride that had taken them from Chattanooga to Atlanta to Savannah, and then north through the Carolinas. There were comic touches as the "bummers" passed with their nondescript carts.
Then it was all over; the rhythmic tramp of feet died away as the armies returned to their camps to await the final discharge, the breaking up of war-born comradeship, and the journey home. And as the crowds dispersed, awed by the two-days' spectacle of the Republic's might, there must have been some among them who sensed the spirit's presence there of the man whose patient fortitude had borne the greatest burden, only to lay it down in the moment of victory.