Looking back from 100 years later: How the Civil War ended (1965)
by Harry Ferguson — Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) April 9, 1965
One hundred years ago today: Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant, commander-in-chief of the Union Armies, at Appomattox Courthouse, Va.
Appomattox, Va. — Gen. Robert E. Lee knew in mid-morning that the end was near.
For one fleeting moment as he watched the Army of Northern Virginia disintegrate into a gray mass of hungry men, he had suicidal thoughts. It occurred to him that death would be a quick and easy way to cast off the burden that had grown too heavy.
“How easily I could be rid of this and be at rest,” he said to his staff. “I have only to ride along the line and all will be over.” Then, abruptly, he abandoned the idea of inviting death by Federal bullets and wrenched his thoughts back out of the next world into the present:
“But it is our duty to live.”
For Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant, the last night of the Civil War was a miserable one. He spent it tossing fitfully in a farmhouse bed and trying to ease the. pain throbbing in his head.
He tried soaking his feet in a hot mustard bath. He applied mustard plasters to the back of his neck and wrists.
Nothing seemed to ease the ache, so as a rooster announced dawn on April 9, 1865, he rolled out of bed. He was pulling on his boots when a courier rode up with word from Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Grant’s chief of staff read aloud:
“As far as your proposal may affect the C.S. forces under my command and tend to the restoration of peace, I shall be pleased to meet you at 10 a.m. tomorrow on. the old stage road to Richmond between the picket lines of the two armies.”
Lee had written it the day before, in answer to a note from Grant, asking that he surrender.
Grant, commander of the Union forces, put on his drab blue tunic and said, “I’ll meet Lee as he asks and we’ll settle the whole business in an hour.” His headache was gone.
“What will become of the women and children of the South if we are not here to protect them?”
He gave orders to arrange for surrender.
It was Palm Sunday, April 9.
But General William Tecumseh Sherman, leading an army of 60,000 Federal troops, also was on the march northward, driving ahead of him a ragged army of 21,000 Confederates led by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.
Sherman had broken the spine of the Confederacy, through Atlanta to the sea, and now he had wheeled north to close the trap on Lee and Johnston.
New war concept
War is hell, Sherman said, and his campaign proved it as he came north through pillars of fire by night and columns of ‘smoke by day. Behind him he left a trail of charred cities and flaming barns, for he was using a new concept of total war — destroy not only enemy armies, but the sustenance of the land.
Federal troops caught part of Lee’s army in the bottom lands of Saylor’s Creek, defeated them, and accepted the surrender of Gen. Richard E. Ewell and 8,000 men.
Then Lee learned that Sheridan’s cavalry had cut his escape route to Lynchburg. The Army of Northern Virginia was surrounded, and a column carrying food and ammunition for it never arrived at its destination of Amelia courthouse.
It was the end for Lee.
Flag of truce
Sgt. G. W. Tucker tied a dirty handkerchief to a stick and rode ahead with the flag of truce. Behind him rode Lee and Col. Charles Marshall of the Confederate staff. On their way, they met Col. Orville Babcock of Grant’s staff, who delivered a note from the Union commander.
Lee ordered Marshall to look for a meeting place that would be suitable for the surrender, and the colonel rode ahead, until he saw a man who identified himself Wilmer McLean, a resident of Appomattox Courthouse.
McLean showed Marshall a small brick building, but the colonel said “isn’t there another place?”
McLean pointed to his brick home, and Marshall led Lee and. Babcock to the house, up the steps, and into a parlor on the left side of the hall.
Lee sat down in a tall chair beside a marble-topped table and waited for Grant.
The Union commander had awakened with one of the bad headaches with which he suffered frequently. He dressed carelessly, putting on a private’s uniform and stuffing the trousers into high boots.
His clothing was spattered with dried mud, and only the three stars on his shoulder identified him as a man of rank. He walked into the parlor of the McLean house at 1:30 p.m. and Lee rose to greet him.
“I met you once before, Gen. Lee,” Grant said, “while we were serving in Mexico, when you came over from Gen. Scott’s headquarters to visit Garland’s brigade.
“I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere.”
“Yes, I know I met you on that occasion,” Lee replied, “and I have often tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never even able to recall a single feature.”
The conversation faltered. The roles of victor and vanquished seemed to have been reversed, for Grant was nervous and reluctant to get down to the business of the day.
Lee was calm and after some more aimless talk, he finally mentioned the purpose of the meeting: “I suppose, Gen. Grant, that the object of our meeting is fully understood.”
Grant agreed and Lee suggested the Union commander write out the surrender terms.
Still nervous, Grant did so and omitted an important word in the document which he was writing in pencil in an order book. Lee called his attention to it and Grant made a correction.
The terms were liberal. Only 28,356 men remained in the army of the Northern Virginia, and they were paroled on pledge never to bear arms against the United States again.
Grant ordered rations issued to the hungry Confederates, and agreed to let them keep their horses and mules for use in planting their farms. There were to be no Union reprisals against any Confederate soldier so long as he observed the laws of the place where he resided.
Lee left the McLean house first on his horse Traveller, and word of the surrender raced ahead of him to the ragged men in gray. He passed a South Carolina infantry unit and Private Frank Mixson wrote what happened:
“We commenced yelling for Lee. The old man pulled off his hat, and with tears streaming down his cheeks without a word he rode past us. All were bowing heads with tears.”
Today, Appomattox Courthouse is no longer a city, but a shrine. Its buildings have been restored exactly as they were on Palm Sunday in 1865, and in the tourist season state Highway No. 24 is heavy with traffic.
The license plates read like a roll call of the 50 states. People walk silently up the half dozen wooden steps of the McLean house, and turn left to the parlor where a vanquished man surrendered with dignity, and a victorious man accepted the surrender with humility and generosity.
Along the side of Highway 24 are long, narrow depressions in the soil where 100 years ago men in blue and gray dug trenches.
Each year, as the miracle of the Virginia springtime occurs once more, they grow shallower, and in the fullness of time, nature will remove the last scar.
Heavy loss of life by both sides
About 6,000 battles and skirmishes were fought during the Civil War.
The North had a total of 2.2 million men under arms; the South approximately 1 million.
Battlefield deaths for the North were 140,414: for the South, 94,000.
Other deaths: North, 224,000; South, 164,000.
The Latest From Grant.
VICTORY !! GLORIOUS NEWS!!
GENERAL GRANT SUGGESTS TO GENERAL LEE A SURRENDER.
Lee Asks for Terms!
THE WAR PROBABLY ENDED.
Grant has fought it out on his own chosen line! The arms of the Union are victorious! Lee has surrendered! Domestic treason is utterly suppressed and punished — freedom extended to all the people — the South conquered — the rebellion at an end — and peace with a Union restored and purified nigh at hand. Such is the result of Lee’s surrender. Let the people everywhere rejoice, and bless God for this triumph of right over wrong — of freedom over oppression.
Clifton House, VA., April 9, 1865. — Hon. E. M. Stanton: The following correspondence has taken place between Gen. Lee and myself. There has been no relaxation in pursuit during its pendency. U.S. Grant, Lieut. Gen.
Correspondence between Grant and Lee
April 7, 1865. — Gen. R. E. Lee: The result of the last week must have 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. A. armies known as the Army of Northern Virginia. Very respectfully, U.S. Grant, Lieut. Gen.
April 7. — General: I have received your note of this date. Though not entirely of the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I respect your desire to evade the useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer of condition of surrender. R.E. Lee.
April 8. — Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of same date, asking on what conditions I will accept the surrender of the Army of the Northern Virginia, is received.
In reply I would say that peace being my first desire, there is but one condition I insist on, viz: that the men surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged.
I will meet you, or designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms on which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received. Very respectfully, U.S. Grant, Lieut. Gen.
Headquarters armies of C.S.A., April 9, 1865 — General: I received at a late hour a note, in answer to mine of yesterday.
I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition; but to be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender, but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposal would tend to that end.
I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposition may affect the C. S. A. forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pressed to meet you at [unknown] to-morrow, at the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies. Very respectfully, R.E. Lee.
To Gen. Grant., U.S.A. April 9. — Your note of yesterday is received. As I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace the meeting is proposed for 10 a.m. to-day could lead to no good.
I will state, however, General, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole north entertain the same feeling. Terms by which peace can be had are well understood by the south. By laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event; save those bands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property, not yet destroyed.
Sincerely hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself very respectfully. U.S. Grant, Lieut. Gen.
April 9. — General: I received your note of this morning on the picket line, whither I had come to meet you, and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposition of yesterday, with reference to the surrender of this army.
I now request an interview in accordance with the officer contained in yours of yesterday, for that purpose. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, R.E. Lee, General.
To Lieut. Gen. Grant. Appomattox, C. H., April 9. — Gen. R. E. Lee, etc.: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the army of Northern Virginia, on the following terms, to-wit:
Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate — one copy to be given to any officer designated by me; the other to be retained by such officer as you may designate, the officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands; the arms, artillery and public property, to be packed, stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them.
This will not embrace the side arms of the officers, nor their private horses, or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to go to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they may reside. Very respectfully, U.S. Grant, Lieut. Gen.
Head-quarters Army Northern Virginia, April 9, 1865 — Lieut Gen. Grant: I have received your letter of this date, containing terms of surrender of the army of Northern Virginia, as proposed by you, and as they are the same expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will propose to designate the proper officers to carry stipulations into effect. Very respectfully, R.E. Lee, General.
Washington, April 9. — To Lieut. Gen. Grant: Thanks to Almighty God for the great victory with which he has this day crowned you and the gallant army under your command. The thanks of this Department, of the Government, and of the people of the United States; their reverence and honor have been deserved, and will be rendered to you and the brave soldiers and officers of your army for all time to come. (Signed) E.M. Stanton.
War department, Washington, April 9 — 10 p.m. — Ordered that a salute of two hundred guns be fired at the headquarters of every army and navy department, and every arsenal in the United States, and at the Military Academy at West Point, on the day of the receipt of this order, in commemoration of the surrender of Gen. R. E. Lee and his army to Lieut. Gen. Grant. (Signed) E.M. Stanton.
Civil War – Appomattox Station – Lee’s last attempt to provision his retreating army
At this railroad point, three miles from the Court House, a Confederate provision train arrived on the morning of April 8th.
The supplies were being loaded into wagons and ambulances by a detail of about four thousand men, many of them unarmed, when suddenly a body of Federal cavalry charged upon them, having reached the spot by a by-road leading from the Red House.
After a few shots, the Confederates fled in confusion. The cavalry drove them on in the direction of Appomattox Court House, capturing many prisoners, twenty-five pieces of artillery, a hospital train, and a large park of wagons. This was Lee’s last effort to obtain food for his army.
Federal soldiers who performed one of the last duties at Appomattox
A detail of the Twenty-sixth Michigan handed out paroles to the surrendered Confederates.