April 9

1865 Lee surrenders at Appomattox

The American Civil War, aka the War Between the States, aka the War of Northern Aggression, aka the War for Southern Independence, aka the Great Rebellion, had begun effectively in 1861 with the bombardment of a Union fort in Charleston harbor. It effectively ended four years later with the decision by Robert E. Lee to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia after losing a final battle to Ulysses S. Grant close to the village of Appomattox Court House. Lee had been trying to link up with other remaining Confederate forces but, surrounded and cut off from supplies, had to admit that he, and the Southern cause, were finally at the end of their rope. “There is nothing left for me to do”, he said, “but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

On the afternoon of April 12, in the parlor of a house owned by Wilmer McLean, Lee met Grant and agreed to very generous terms: the rebels would down their major weapons but would be allowed to march home under parole keeping their personal baggage, sidearms, and horses. Food for the journey was provided by the Union commissary and there was a tactful lack of triumphalism in the behaviour of the Northern Army. General Joshua Chamberlain, hero of Little Round Top, ordered his men to salute the passing grey-clad soldiers:

Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. [Confederate General] Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

Secessionist armies remained in the field as far away as Texas but Lee’s surrender prompted theirs as well. On May 9, the end of the war and of the Confederate States of America became official.



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