April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders

 

 

And so the Civil War ended.  Oh, not immediately.  The surrender process throughout the Confederacy would take until June, and skirmishes would be fought.  But with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, no one, except perhaps Jefferson Davis, north or south, doubted that the Civil War had ended with a Union victory.  At Appomattox Lee and Grant, with the ways in which they both behaved at this all important event in American history, planted the seeds of American reunification.

Lee, as ever noble, viewed surrender as a painful duty, and trusted in Grant to give just terms.  Grant, who would forbid the firing of cannon salutes in celebration of the surrender, gave as his main term that the Confederates simply go home and get on with their lives, agreeing to them taking with them a horse if they claimed one to help with the spring planting, and specifying that Confederate officers would retain their side arms so that he would not have to accept Lee’s sword in token of surrender.

The best account of the surrender is Grant’s, contained in his memoirs:

When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.   
  What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us. 
  General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form. But this was not a matter that I thought of until afterwards.   
  We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army. I said that I meant merely that his army should lay down their arms, not to take them up again during the continuance of the war unless duly and properly exchanged. He said that he had so understood my letter. 
  Then we gradually fell off again into conversation about matters foreign to the subject which had brought us together. This continued for some little time, when General Lee again interrupted the course of the conversation by suggesting that the terms I proposed to give his army ought to be written out. I called to General Parker, secretary on my staff, for writing materials, and commenced writing out the following terms:
APPOMATTOX C. H., VA.,   
Ap l 19th, 1865. 

GEN. R. E. LEE,
    Comd’g C. S. A.
  GEN: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers 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 parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer 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 return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.
Very respectfully,     
U. S. GRANT,   
Lt. Gen.  
  When I put my pen to the paper I did not know the first word that I should make use of in writing the terms. I only knew what was in my mind, and I wished to express it clearly, so that there could be no mistaking it. As I wrote on, the thought occurred to me that the officers had their own private horses and effects, which were important to them, but of no value to us; also that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to call upon them to deliver their side arms. 
  No conversation, not one word, passed between General Lee and myself, either about private property, side arms, or kindred subjects. He appeared to have no objections to the terms first proposed; or if he had a point to make against them he wished to wait until they were in writing to make it. When he read over that part of the terms about side arms, horses and private property of the officers, he remarked, with some feeling, I thought, that this would have a happy effect upon his army. 
  Then, after a little further conversation, General Lee remarked to me again that their army was organized a little differently from the army of the United States (still maintaining by implication that we were two countries); that in their army the cavalrymen and artillerists owned their own horses; and he asked if he was to understand that the men who so owned their horses were to be permitted to retain them. I told him that as the terms were written they would not; that only the officers were permitted to take their private property. He then, after reading over the terms a second time, remarked that that was clear.  
  I then said to him that I thought this would be about the last battle of the war—I sincerely hoped so; and I said further I took it that most of the men in the ranks were small farmers. The whole country had been so raided by the two armies that it was doubtful whether they would be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they were then riding. The United States did not want them and I would, therefore, instruct the officers I left behind to receive the paroles of his troops to let every man of the Confederate army who claimed to own a horse or mule take the animal to his home. Lee remarked again that this would have a happy effect.
  He then sat down and wrote out the following letter:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, 
April 9, 1865. 

  GENERAL:—I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
R. E. LEE, General. 

LIEUT.-GENERAL U. S. GRANT. 
  While duplicates of the two letters were being made, the Union generals present were severally present to General Lee. 
  The much talked of surrendering of Lee’s sword and my handing it back, this and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance. The word sword or side arms was not mentioned by either of us until I wrote it in the terms. There was no premeditation, and it did not occur to me until the moment I wrote it down. If I had happened to omit it, and General Lee had called my attention to it, I should have put it in the terms precisely as I acceded to the provision about the soldiers retaining their horses. 
  General Lee, after all was completed and before taking his leave, remarked that his army was in a very bad condition for want of food, and that they were without forage; that his men had been living for some days on parched corn exclusively, and that he would have to ask me for rations and forage. I told him “certainly,” and asked for how many men he wanted rations. His answer was “about twenty-five thousand;” and I authorized him to send his own commissary and quartermaster to Appomattox Station, two or three miles away, where he could have, out of the trains we had stopped, all the provisions wanted. As for forage, we had ourselves depended almost entirely upon the country for that. 
  Generals Gibbon, Griffin and Merritt were designated by me to carry into effect the paroling of Lee’s troops before they should start for their homes—General Lee leaving Generals Longstreet, Gordon and Pendleton for them to confer with in order to facilitate this work. Lee and I then separated as cordially as we had met, he returning to his own lines, and all went into bivouac for the night at Appomattox.  
  Soon after Lee’s departure I telegraphed to Washington as follows:
HEADQUARTERS APPOMATTOX C. H., VA.,   
April 9th, 1865, 4.30 P.M. 

HON. E. M. STANTON,
    Secretary of War, Washington.
  General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon on terms proposed by myself. The accompanying additional correspondence will show the conditions fully.
U. S. GRANT,   
Lieut.-General.  
  When news of the surrender first reached our lines our men commenced firing a salute of a hundred guns in honor of the victory. I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped. The Confederates were now our prisoners, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.

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16 Comments

  1. Well that was certainly considerate of Grant to allow them to keep their horses.After reading the book “Killer Angels” I got the impression Gen. Lee knew the war was lost after the battle of Gettysburg. Would you agree with that assessment, Donald?

  2. I think that Lee from the onset of the War was skeptical about the chances of the Confederacy. However, he was enough of a soldier to know that nothing was certain in War. My guess is that after the re-election of Lincoln, Lee, like most Confederates, thought the War was lost.

    At the time of the Gettysburg Campaign Lee noted in a letter to Davis the rising power of the Northern peace movement and recommended attempting to start negotiations, assuming that once such negotiations started it would be hard to restart the War. If Lee had shattered the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, I think that is the path history might have taken, with a despairing North overruling Lincoln’s determination to carry on with the War.

    The Civil War is an endless field of might have beens.

  3. Thanks, I was not aware of everything going on in the background. In his book, Michael Shaara describes Lee as one resigned to accepting God’s will if he were to lose at Gettysburg.

  4. I’m a southern girl (Virginian) living in Alaska and we always considered General Lee our most revered leader. I was just telling my husband that it’s a testament to his personal character and military acumen that he’s admired even by those who beat him.

    I was very sheltered about the Civil War, growing up in southwestern Virginia. It wasn’t until I went to college with “Yankees” from Pennsylvania and New York that I realized many outside the south saw the “War of Northern Aggression” as a battle between the immoral southern slave owners and the virtuous northern liberators. To us, the war was always about states’ rights and self-determination; VMI’s 1861 class ring has “Let Virginia choose” inscribed prominently on it. Given the disturbingly unfettered power of our federal government today, I find myself wishing that the Confederacy had had the foresight to take the moral high ground of its own volition…can you imagine what would have happened if the south had issued the Emancipation Proclamation?

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane with these letters…it’s always cool to read the original sources. My 5 kids and I read them tonight while enjoying BBQ chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, fried pickles, and buttermilk biscuits in memory of the 150th anniversary of the surrender.

  5. BTW, I recently read that Pius IX actually supported the Confederacy and sent Jefferson Davis a letter of support and a signed photograph of himself. And that Lee kept a framed picture of the pontiff in his home until death, saying that the Vatican was “one of the Confederacy’s only friends in the world.” Have you ever heard of this? I’m an adult convert to the Church and would love to confirm this if it’s true.

  6. Pius IX may have privately leaned to the Confederacy, thinking, erroneously, that it was an illiberal state (actually it was more liberal, in the 19th century use of the term, slavery aside, than any other state in the world except for the US), but he never publically supported the Confederacy. Pio Nono sent Davis a framed picture of himself after the War when he was in captivity. Lee did keep a framed picture of Pius IX in his house and probably did say he was the only foreign head of state who had been friendly to the Confederacy. The posts linked below have more information:

    https://www.the-american-catholic.com/2010/08/13/jefferson-davis-and-pio-nono/

    https://www.the-american-catholic.com/2010/08/03/jefferson-davis-and-the-crown-of-thorns/

  7. Dawn, point was, the federal government had no authority to suppress a practice that was viewed as immoral but nevertheless accepted by a number of states.

    It would be like today, if the federal government believed that abortion was wrong (and it *is*), moral disapproval of a state law is not a constitutional rationale to authorize invading states to get rid of the law.

    Lincoln clearly knew he had no constitutional authority to “abolish slavery” and had to rely on the “Union forever” rationale to justify invading states. Only later, when war support in the North was flagging, did Lincoln advance abolition as a war aim. Since he knew abolition was unconstitutional as a war justification, it was clearly a political decision to advance abolition as a war aim (even though Lincoln clearly personally did oppose slavery).

    We have to be careful to cede to the federal government authority to impose its moral views on states by force. We’ve already seen it happen with abortion; it was no more justified then than it is now.

    Pius IX likely viewed favorably the Catholic notion of subsidiarity represented in the South ordering its own affairs; the South’s religious tolerance as opposed to the Knownothing anti-Catholic intolerance pervasive in the North; and the agrarian nature of their society (as opposed to the often dehumanizing emerging industrialization movement in the North).

  8. “Pius IX likely viewed favorably the Catholic notion of subsidiarity represented in the South ordering its own affairs; the South’s religious tolerance as opposed to the Knownothing anti-Catholic intolerance pervasive in the North; and the agrarian nature of their society (as opposed to the often dehumanizing emerging industrialization movement in the North).”

    No, he simply viewed the Confederates as opposed to the Liberals who were toppling his rule of the Papal States. He was wrong in that, but acuity in secular matters was never a strong point for Pio Nono. When he first came to the Papal throne he was regarded as a liberal. Metternich stated at the time he had planned for everything except a liberal Pope! When liberals began to agitate for reforms greater than he was willing to tolerate, Pio Nono embraced his inner reactionary. Pio Nono knew little about conditions in America, as attested by American clerics serving at the Vatican during his long reign.

  9. Thanks so much for clarification… I don’t know what was more enjoyable to me–reading your other blog post or reading the spirited comments about it!

  10. The South was not the primary destination for most of the Irish, Italian, German and Slavic Europe Catholic immigration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It therefore stands to reason that there would be more Southerners who have a connection to the Civil War than those in the North.

    Arguing about the causes of the War will never end, but I have a hard time sharing the admiration of General Lee simply for the cause he supported and fought for.

    The federal government we endure today is something I consider to be an effort first started by Wilson and accelerated by FDR, who used the Great Depression as an opportunity to expand federal government power and that is just what he did.

    The South had the better generals but could never match the North in manpower or industrial output. Great Britain was not going to recognize the Confederacy as she had abolished slavery in its Empire and besides, Lincoln threatened the UK with an invasion of Canada if the UK got involved.

  11. Saying that you can’t admire General Lee because he fought for the side that supported self determination re: slavery would seem to make it difficult to admire anyone outside of modern, fully enlightened Catholics. After all, I don’t recall St. Paul openly stating that slavery is a mortal sin against the inherent dignity of the person enslaved, so perhand he’s not to be admired, either? What about all of the Old Testament prophets and saints like Abraham, who owned slaves themselves? Given Lee’s lack of experience with the darkest horrors of American slavery, I can’t see why his support for his home state–to retain an institution that he erroneously believed to be moral as long as the masters followed Paul’s exhortation to be fair and generous with their slaves–this doesn’t, to me, negate the man’s overall integrity and by virtually all accounts of those who knew him, honorable character. I suppose I don’t subscribe to the idea that one has to have believed and lived with complete righteousness to be someone I admire…especially since we are all sinners. I also tend to make allowances for those not blessed with the gift of sacramental grace; if more is expected of those to whom more (grace) is given, then it seems reasonable to make allowances for men like Lee and Jackson, who arguably lived more righteous lives than many of us do today who are blessed with access to the sacraments and a more enlightened understanding of the Gospel.

  12. Dawn, your argument is a straw man. It appears that you have taken almost as a personal slap in the face my criticisms of General Lee and by extension the Confederate Army. I stand by my statement that General Lee’s incursion into Pennsylvania where the Confederate Army kidnapped free black American men and sold them into slavery is an inexcusable evil.

    I’m from Western Pennsylvania, not southern Virginia. Neither the Revolutionary War nor the Civil War made their ways here. As far as I know the first ancestor of mine that made it to the US came to Allegany County, Maryland (Cumberland) in 1866 (a rarity – a Catholic Scot) so I have no ancestors who fought in the Civil War. I grew up in Ohio and Ohio does not commemorate General Sherman at all. There is no General Sherman Day.

    I am 100% sure that General Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Pickett and Johnston lived far more moral personal lives than, for example, the overblown dimwits who end up on the covers of celebrity rags that infest supermarket checkout lines.

    I don’t care that St. Paul did not write opposition to slavery in his letters and that didn’t make it right for the Confederacy to make slavery an institution.

    Queen Isabel the Catholic, the greatest Catholic queen ever short of the Queen of Heaven, despised slavery and forbid it in Castille and in the realms discovered by Columbus. This was almost 400 years before the Civil War.

    I understand the point of view of Virginians (mostly those outside of the Washington suburbs that I escaped) who cherish their Commonwealth’s past and its most famous men – Washington, Jefferson, Lee and others.

    General Lee has nothing on Jan III Sobieski and Josef Pilsudski. Lee fought the Union Army and lost. Sobieski crushed invading Turks and Pilsudski whipped the Soviet Army.

    Lee did do the right thing by reaffirming his allegiance to the United States after the war. So did Longstreet.

    As we approach Divine Mercy Sunday, I wish all of “yunz” “sto lat”.

  13. Penguins Fan, I really don’t take anything criticizing Lee et al personally. I’m not related to the man, just find much to admire about him. I don’t in any way condone the sins committed by Lee or any human being. I simply don’t think that his mistakes eclipse his admirable qualities. You’re free to disagree, of course, but I do challenge the idea that anyone who supported slavery is by necessity to be dismissed and/or reviled.

  14. “Queen Isabel the Catholic, the greatest Catholic queen ever short of the Queen of Heaven, despised slavery and forbid it in Castille and in the realms discovered by Columbus. This was almost 400 years before the Civil War.”

    Of course she also expelled the Jews from Spain and was a big supporter of the Inquisition. I happen to admire her greatly, but the historical record is the historical record. The same with Lee. Compared to most Southerners of his day he was enlightened in his views regarding slavery which he regarded as an unmitigated evil. He regarded secession as nothing but rebellion. He was a good man just as Isabella was a good woman. They were also both children of their times just as we are children of ours. Future generations will probably condemn and praise current prominent figures about issues that might well surprise us if we could see centuries from now. In assessing people of the past it is often best to use the standards of their time and place, while not forgetting to mention both the good and evil of those times and places, but not ascribing to one man or woman the invention of either the good or the evil. Rare indeed are the pure saints or pure monsters of history, and common indeed are flawed, sinful men and women, usually striving to do their best and often failing. When someone achieves greatness despite these flaws, and shows nobility, that deserves remembrance and celebration.

  15. I plead guilty to partial thread drift in bringing up one of my favorite historical leaders, Queen Isabel. We can debate the expulsion of Jews and the Inquisition another time.

    Back to General Lee – no doubt he was likely the most skilled military mind of his time anywhere in the world. His troops loved him. His leadership caused the South to fight on even after he likely realized it was a lost cause, which probably happened after Gettysburg.

    His cause is something I find wrong.

  16. “His cause is something I find wrong.”

    As do I PF, although one should recall that Lee said after the War that he rejoiced in the ending of slavery as a result of the War and acted in a manner that it was clear that those were not mere words. Additionally he constantly admonished Southerners to lay aside all rancor and become good citizens of the one nation. Lee was an American hero and not merely because of his military genius.

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