He and his meager staff trotted their horses toward a brick house at a small village called Appomattox Court House. The place, ironically, belonged to a man named Wilmer McLean, who had moved his family there to get away from war, fleeing the two armies that had overrun his former abode, a farm on the banks of a rill know as Bull Run, near the railroad junction at Manassas, the place where the conflict had begun.
On this day, one hundred fifty years ago, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General U. S. Grant.
Lee had been struggling to make an escape with his troops to Tennessee or beyond, but matters had become desperate, and his way had been blocked. Two days before, he received the following message from Grant:
Headquarters Armies of the United States,General Lee read the note when he got it after 10 pm, and replied:
April 7, 1865 - 5 p.m.
General R. E. Lee,
Commanding C. S. Army.
General: The results 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.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. Grant, Lieutenant General,
Commanding Armies of the United States.
7th Apl '65Thus began an exchange of messages over the next two days, often delayed by the lack of even the most rudimentary technology of the day, where Grant and Lee played chess with the fortunes of war in Southern Virginia.
I have recd your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of N. Va. I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, & therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.
Very respy your obt Svt
R. E. Lee, Genl
Lt Genl U. S. Grant,
Commd Armies of the U States
Even on Sunday morning, messages went back and forth under flags of truce--an uneasy truce not tolerated well by Generals Sheridan and Meade--until a meeting was agreed to, and took place that afternoon in the aforementioned brick house in Appomattox Court House.
Lee arrived first, about 1 pm, and waited a full half hour in McLean's parlor before Grant arrived, wearing a rumpled and muddy uniform because his baggage train had gone astray.
Grant immediately got down to business, reviewing the terms he had previously set out to Lee in his correspondence. Lee suggested that Grant write them out so that the two generals could formally act on the terms, and Grant agreed. After Grant wrote them out in his order book, Lee examined them. When he had finished reading the document, he looked at Grant and said, This will have a very happy effect on my army."
Grant asked if Lee had any suggestions about the offer, and they discussed the matter of the Confederate men and officers owning their own horses, unlike the case in the United States Army. Grant decline to add a modification to the terms, but knowing the Southerners would need their livestock for plowing ground for crops, he said he would instruct the officers he would appoint to receive the paroles of all the men to let all the men who claimed a horse or mule to take the animals home with them.
Much relieved, Lee agreed, and Grant passed the document to a staff member to make a "fair copy," that is, an official rendering of the document. As this was done, Lee looked over a draft of his acceptance that his military secretary, Lt. Colonel Charles Marshall, had completed, made corrections, and waited for both documents to be finished.
Grant came over to apologize for his rumpled clothes and lack of side arms, saying, "I thought you would rather receive me as I was than be detained." Lee replied that he was much obliged.
By this time, both the surrender terms and the letter of acceptance were completed, and Lee signed the letter, which Marshall sealed and handed to Grant's adjutant, and received in turn the signed and sealed terms of surrender.
Lee broke open the envelope and read again the terms, but Grant did not read the letter of acceptance. He later explained that Lee's spoken word was enough for him.
By 4 o'clock, the ceremonial protocol had been performed, and General Robert E. Lee was free to leave. He shook hand with General U. S. Grant, bowed to the others in the room, and left.
Thus began the ultimate surrender of all the armies of the Confederacy, ending a terrible war that cost upwards of 600,000 lives.
For my take on the American Civil War, read the Whitney Award Finalist novel Gone for a Soldier. You can find purchase links to a variety of online vendors here. Thank you for visiting. Please come back on Saturday for a peek at a scene from the novel I am writing, The Zion Trail.
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