General Lee, by Fitzhugh Lee, Chapter 15

General Lee


GENERAL LEE on the morning of April 2d telegraphed Breckinridge, Secretary of War, that it was necessary his position should be abandoned that night, “or run the risk of being cut off in the morning; it will be a difficult but I hope not an impracticable operation. The troops will all be directed to Amelia Court House.” He advised that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond that night. The Southern President was kept informed on all subjects connected with the army, and of course knew that a crisis in its affairs was approaching, which involved the evacuation of its position; but he was not prepared for a precipitate announcement to that effect, or indeed for any change of affairs for two weeks. On April 2d he occupied his accustomed seat, about the center of the middle isle, in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, much interested as usual in the services conducted by his friend, the Rev. Dr. Minnigerode. There he received a dispatch. Upon reading it, he quietly rose and left the church. The telegram was from General Lee, announcing his speedy withdrawal from Petersburg. Lee’s decision quickly became generally known in the two cities, and the feeling produced can readily be imagined. Women prayed, men wept, children wondered. Three exits remained only for the Army of Northern Virginia—one north of Richmond, one west, and one southwest. No object could now be achieved by marching in the first two directions, but by the remaining one Johnston might be reached, and his communications by the Danville Railroad with the South be maintained. On the afternoon of April 2d Lee issued orders for his troops to leave their lines everywhere at 8 P.M., and take up the line of march for Amelia Court House.

This little village is on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, thirty-eight miles southwest of Richmond. At that point it was determined to concentrate, issue—wonderful to relate—abundant rations to the troops, and get them again in shape after the heavy work of the past few days and the night march. As Grant’s army was stretched to the Appomattox on the south side above Petersburg, Lee must march up its north side. Longstreet’s, Hill’s, and Gordon’s corps crossed the Appomattox that night, the two former at Battersea factory pontoon bridge, the latter at Pocahontas and Railroad bridge, and moved—via Bevel’s and Goode’s bridges on the Appomattox below where it is crossed by the Danville Railroad—to Amelia Court House. Mahone’s division was directed to the same point, via Chesterfield Court House. Ewell, commanding the troops in front of Richmond, Kershaw’s and Custis Lee’s divisions, and the naval brigade, was instructed to cross to the south side of James River, cross the Appomattox at Goode’s bridge, and join the army at Amelia Court House. The commands of Pickett and Bushrod Johnson and the cavalry, being west of Petersburg and of the Federal lines, moved up the south bank of the Appomattox. General Lee was not able to concentrate all his troops at Amelia Court House until midday on the 5th, Ewell being the last to arrive. The small army was now divided into four small infantry corps or commands, and a cavalry corps commanded respectively by Longstreet, Ewell, R. H. Anderson, Gordon, and Fitzhugh Lee. Mahone’s division was assigned to Longstreet’s corps, and the naval battalion of Commodore Tucker to General Custis Lee’s division.

The troops, though suffering for food and raiment, want of sleep, and marching over roads heavy from copious rains, were buoyant in spirit, brave in heart, and of undoubted morale; nearly every one of them was a survivor of bloody battles and a veteran of years of terrible war. They were soldiers of no “ordinary mold, who had an abiding faith amounting to fanaticism that the God of battles would in the end send their cause safe deliverance, and they followed Lee with an almost childlike faith, which set no bounds to his genius and power of achievement.” Shut up so long in dismal, dangerous trenches, the fields, running streams, trees thick with bursting buds of spring, grass growing green under the kisses of the sun, and new scenes, were to them most refreshing and exhilarating.

In obedience to a law of Congress, Ewell, in command at Richmond, had made arrangements to burn the tobacco there whenever the evacuation of the city should render that necessary to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. After the departure of the Southern troops, the fire got beyond local control. Mrs. Lee’s house, in the center of the square on Franklin Street between Seventh and Eighth, was at one time in danger from the conflagration, a large church on the opposite side having caught fire from flying sparks, and many offers were made by persons rushing to her room to move her elsewhere, which she resisted. In the midst of the excitement a gentleman cried that the only way to save the square in which she lived was to blow up every other house, and all were so agitated that they readily acquiesced in the remarkable suggestion, and seemed much pleased at the ready ability of the person who could devise at such a time a remedy; while the poor property holder immediately began to calculate if his dwelling would be the “every other house.” Graphic pictures have been painted in well-chosen phrase of the exciting scenes of April 3d. On one side the retreating march of the Confederates, on the other the triumphant advance of the Federals; while between the two, great pillars of fire rose draped in the smoke of a burning city. The tattered, brown, weather-beaten army is marching away through woods and over roads with straggling trains; the faces of the soldiers are turned from Richmond. The victorious legions, glistening with steel, with clashing music and waving banners, are pouring into the city, marching through the streets, and stacking arms in the Public Square, where “stood the dumb walls of the Capitol of the Confederacy.” White clouds of dense smoke with the light of the fire woven in their folds, reaching from the island-dotted river to the tall trees on the hill of the Public Square, hung in the sky above the fated city.

At the same time Grant rode into Petersburg between rows of closed houses and deserted streets, cheered here and there by a few groups of negroes, until he came to a comfortable-looking brick house with a yard in front, where he dismounted and with his staff took seats on the piazza. There Mr. Lincoln, who had been for some days at City Point, joined him. “I doubt,” said an eye witness, “whether Mr. Lincoln ever experienced a happier moment in his life,” as, seizing General Grant’s hand, he congratulated him on his success. The Union commander then set out for Sutherland Station, above Petersburg, where he and Meade passed the night of the 3d. Mr. Lincoln afterward went to Richmond; he was curious to see the house Mr. Davis had lived in. With a stride described as long and careless he walked its streets, and asked “Is it far to President Davis’s house?” Upon reaching the house, Captain Graves, aid-de-camp to General Weitzel, whose Twenty-fifth Corps first entered the city, states that he took a seat in a chair, remarking, “This must have been President Davis’s chair,” and then jumped up and said in a boyish manner, “Come, let us look at the house.” Mr. Davis was then in Danville, from which place on the 5th he published a proclamation in which he tells his countrymen not to despond, “but, relying on God, meet the foe with fresh defiance and with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.”

Grant gave orders for a vigorous pursuit in two columns south of Appomattox parallel to Lee’s route north of it—one under Ord up the Southside or Lynchburg Railroad to Burkeville Junction, fifty-two miles from Petersburg; the other under Sheridan, who had the cavalry corps and Second, Fifth, and Sixth Infantry Corps, on a route between Ord and Lee. These movements directly west, if properly made, would plant the Army of the Potomac across the Danville road at Burkeville, as well as at another point between there and Amelia Court House, twenty miles northeast of Burkeville. In that case Lee’s withdrawal to Danville would be blocked, his junction with Johnston foiled, and the use of the Danville Railroad taken away from him. Sheridan arrived at Jetersville—on the Danville Railroad, seven miles from Amelia Court House, where Lee was that morning—on the afternoon of the 4th, with some eighteen thousand troops of all arms, and intrenched. Meade did not reach him until late in the afternoon of the 5th. The last of Lee’s force, Ewell, it will be remembered, did not reach Amelia Court House until noon that day. Still, if Lee’s supplies had been there as ordered, he might have moved against Sheridan at Jetersville very early on the 5th with his whole force except Ewell, over twenty thousand men, and defeated him and reached Burkeville, thirteen miles farther, before Ord, who arrived there late that night.

Had Lee once passed beyond Burkeville, the Danville road could have supplied his army, its trains transported them to Danville, and via Greensborough to Raleigh and Goldsborough, or wherever Johnston was, or Johnston’s force could have been rapidly brought to the Army of Northern Virginia. “Not finding the supplies ordered to be placed at Amelia Court House,” says Lee, “nearly twenty-four hours were lost in endeavoring to collect in the country subsistence for men and horses. The delay was fatal, and could not be retrieved.” There is some mystery about these supplies. Lee ordered them to be sent there from Danville, for he has so stated; and General J. M. St. John, then commissary general, states that on April 1, 1865, there were five hundred thousand rations of bread and one million five hundred thousand rations of meat at Danville, and three hundred thousand rations of bread and meat in Richmond, and that he received no orders to send supplies to Amelia Court House either from Richmond or Danville; and Mr. Lewis Harvie, then the president of the Richmond and Danville Railroad, has testified that no orders were ever given to his officers to transport any rations to Amelia Court House. It has been stated that on that famous Sunday a train-load of supplies arrived at Amelia Court House from Danville, but the officer in charge was met there by an order to bring the train to Richmond, because the cars were needed for the transportation of the personal property of the Confederate authorities. Mr. Davis was in ignorance of any such instruction, and would be the last man to place his personal wants or desires ahead of the necessities of the soldiers, and the commissary general and the railroad president also testify that they knew nothing of any such orders.

Cut off from Danville, the Southern troops were directed on Farmville, thirty-five miles west, and broke camp on the night of the 5th. Meade had proposed to attack Lee with the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps and Sheridan’s cavalry at Amelia Court House early on the morning of the 6th, and did not know he had moved until he had proceeded within a few miles of that village. Longstreet, in the advance, reached Rice Station, on the Lynchburg Railroad, on the morning of the 6th, and formed line of battle; he was followed by the commands of R. H. Anderson, Ewell, and Gordon, and W. H. F. Lee’s cavalry division in the order named. The remainder of the cavalry, under Rosser, had been passed to the front to protect the High Bridge between Rice Station and Farmville, and were just in time, as General Ord had sent out two regiments of infantry and his headquarters cavalry to burn that bridge and the one above at Farmville.

General Theodore Read, of Ord’s staff, conducted the party. A fight ensued, in which General Read and Colonel Washburn, commanding the infantry, and all the cavalry officers were killed on the Federal side, and General Bearing, commanding a brigade of Rosser’s division; Colonel Boston, the Fifth Virginia Cavalry; and Major Thompson, commanding Rosser’s horse artillery, were killed on the Confederate side. The Federal force surrendered. The three Southern officers killed were exceptionally fine soldiers, and their loss was greatly deplored.

Anderson’s march was much interrupted by the attack of the Federal cavalry on his flank. Halting to repel them and save the trains, a gap was made between the head of his column and the rear of Longstreet’s, into which, after he had crossed Sailor’s Creek—a small tributary flowing north into the Appomattox—the large force of Union cavalry was thrust, and mounted and dismounted cavalry stopped him and compelled him to deploy in their front. Ewell followed Anderson across Sailor’s Creek, but Gordon, guarding an immense wagon train, turned to his right down the creek before crossing it on a road running to High Bridge. The Sixth Corps getting up on Ewell’s rear, made him face his two divisions about—Kershaw on the right of the road and Custis Lee on the left, the navy battalion in rear of his right. Anderson and Ewell were facing in opposite directions, and neither had any artillery. Enveloped on both flanks and front in the combat which followed, Ewell was overwhelmed, not more than three hundred men of his three thousand escaping. Anderson was simultaneously attacked on front and flank, and also defeated. Both commands lost, in killed, wounded, and prisoners nearly six thousand men. Among the prisoners were Generals Corse and Hunton, of Pickett’s division, and Generals Ewell, Custis Lee, Kershaw, and Dubose, of Ewell’s.

Humphreys’s Second Corps in the meantime closely followed Gordon, and had a running contest with his rear for some miles, capturing thirteen flags, four guns, and some seventeen hundred prisoners. Gordon reached High Bridge that night, but lost a large part of a wagon train which had given the Confederates much trouble on the whole march and greatly delayed their progress, because drawn by weak animals over roads soft and muddy from the recent rains. Longstreet, after waiting in vain for the other commands to join him at Rice Station, under instructions marched with the divisions of Heth, Wilcox, and Field for Farmville, and that night crossed to the north side of the Appomattox. He had crossed that river twice already—once at Petersburg and once at Goode’s Bridge. Fitz Lee’s cavalry corps followed him, crossing the river above Farmville by a deep ford, leaving a force to burn the bridge. Gordon, to whose command Bushrod Johnson’s division had been assigned, crossed at High Bridge, below Farmville, and so did Mahone with his fine division.

At Farmville the Confederates feasted. It was the first occasion since leaving Richmond that rations had been issued, and their outdoor exercise had given them an appetite. Previous to this, organized bodies had been marched up to the corn houses en route, and each soldier given a dozen ears of corn, with a suggestion that he parch the grains on getting into camp. An enthusiastic young Irishman from Belturbet, County of Cavan, named Llewellyn Saunderson, reached the country in one of the last vessels running the blockade, and, being a Southern sympathizer, reported to the War Department, asking to be commissioned and sent to the field. It was done, and he was ordered to report to General Fitz Lee. His pockets were full of gold, and he quickly purchased a fine horse, the gray uniform of the staff officer, and joined the staff but a short time before the final attack. The rear guard of cavalry from Petersburg to Appomattox was obliged to pass over ground gleaned by the preceding infantry and artillery. Occasionally a trooper would secure a can of buttermilk, but corn, divided between horses and troopers,, was the “solid comfort.” Saunderson was bold, bright, and witty of course, behaving admirably under fire, and cheerfully under the treatment he received. He was paroled at Appomattox Court House, and returned to the “Green Isle” loaded with war experience. When asked in Richmond what he would say to his countrymen about the Confederates, he replied, “Oh, I never saw men fight better, but they don’t ate enough.”

The once great Army of Northern Virginia was now composed of two small corps of infantry and the cavalry corps, and resumed the march toward Lynchburg on the old stage road, but after going four miles stopped; and was formed into line of battle in a well-chosen position to give the trains time to get ahead. It was attacked by two divisions of Humphreys’s Second Corps, which had been long hanging on its rear, but repulsed them, Mahone handling Miles very roughly. Humphreys lost five hundred and seventy-one men killed, wounded, and missing. Preceding this attack, Crook’s cavalry division crossed the river above Farmville, and was immediately charged with great success by the Southern cavalry and driven back. The Federal General Gregg and a large number of prisoners were taken. General Lee was talking to the commander of his cavalry when Crook appeared, saw the combat, and expressed great pleasure at the result.

Had Lee not stopped to fight he could have reached Appomattox Station on the afternoon of the 8th, obtained rations, and moved that evening to Lynchburg. The delay allowed Sheridan—with two divisions of cavalry, followed by Ord’s infantry and Fifth Corps, marching by Prince Edward Court House—to reach Appomattox Station on the evening of the 8th, where he captured trains with Lee’s supplies and obstructed his march. Ord’s infantry did not arrive in front of Appomattox Court House until 10 A.M. on the 9th. Having demonstrated that what was left of his proud army would rush to battle as of old, Lee on the night of the 7th continued his retreat—Gordon in advance, next Longstreet, then the cavalry—and on the evening of the 8th halted in the vicinity of Appomattox Court House. The Second and Sixth Corps resumed the direct pursuit at half-past five on the morning of the 8th, and that night went into camp three miles in the rear of Longstreet. The Confederate cavalry had marched from the rear to the front during the night, with orders to resume the march at one o’clock, on the morning of the 9th. “Fitz Lee, with the cavalry supported by Gordon,” says General Lee, “was ordered to drive the enemy from his front, wheel to the left, and cover the passage of the trains, while Longstreet should close up and hold the position. During the night there were indications of a large force massing on our left and front. Fitz Lee was directed to ascertain its strength, and to suspend his advance until daylight if necessary.” It was General Lee’s intention to move by Campbell Court House through Pittsylvania County toward Danville. Two battalions of artillery and the ammunition wagons were directed to accompany the army, the rest of the artillery and wagons to move toward Lynchburg; but the plan could not be executed. Sheridan had been joined by Crook, and had thrown the immense cavalry corps directly across his path, between Appomattox Station and the Court House, the two places being five miles apart; and Ord, with the Army of the James and the Fifth Corps, was rapidly marching to his support, joining him at 9 or 10 A.M. on the 9th. The greater part of Gibbon’s Twenty-fourth Corps, a portion of Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, the Fifth Corps, and four divisions of cavalry, including Mackenzie, formed a living rampart of over forty thousand troops[1] to the advance of Gordon and Fitz Lee’s five thousand. Directly behind Lee were the Second and Sixth Corps, over twenty-five thousand troops.[2]

Gracefully General Lee yielded to the inevitable. The splendid army, with whose courage and heroism a world was familiar, was reduced to a fragment of brave men, many of whom, from exposure and want of food, could not lift a musket to the shoulder. The end which Lee feared and Grant expected had come. For some days the latter had been thinking how best he could introduce the subject of surrender to Lee, to relieve him from initiating an embarrassing proposition. The Union commander arrived at Farmville a little before noon on April 7th, establishing headquarters at the village hotel. He told Ord, Gibbon, and Wright, who had called at the hotel, that he was thinking of sending a communication to General Lee “to pave the way to the stopping of further bloodshed”; he had heard, too, that Ewell, then a prisoner, had said that “it was the duty of the authorities to negotiate for peace now, and that for every man killed somebody would be responsible, and it would be little better than murder.” Influenced by such reflections, he wrote the following communication:

April 7, 1865.

GENERAL: The result 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 Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant General.

General R. E. LEE.

General Seth Williams, his adjutant general, a former intimate friend of General Lee’s and his adjutant when he was superintendent at West Point, carried this communication across the river to Humphreys, who sent it at once through his lines to Lee, who was still in the position from which he had repulsed Humphreys’s attack that day. Humphreys received Grant’s note at 8.30 P.M., and Grant, Lee’s reply after midnight, which read:

April 7, 1865.

GENERAL: I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R. E. LEE, General.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT.

The next morning a reply was given to General Williams, who again went to Humphreys front to have it transmitted to Lee’s. Williams overtook Humphreys on the march; his letter was sent at once through the cavalry rear guard, close to General Humphreys’s front, to General Lee, whose reply was not received until dusk by Humphreys, and did not reach General Grant until after midnight, at a large, white farmhouse at Curdsville, ten miles in his rear. The two notes of that day (8th) are as follows:

April 8, 1865.

GENERAL: Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of the same date, asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply, I would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition that I would insist upon—namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will 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 upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant General.

General R. E. LEE.

April 15., 1868.

GENERAL: I received at a late hour your note of to-day. In 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. To he frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposal would lead to that end. I can not, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposal may affect the Confederate States forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 A.M. to-morrow on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies.

R. E. LEE, General.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT.

The Federal flag of truce accompanying Williams when he bore Grant’s first communication appeared in front of General Sorrel’s Georgia brigade, formerly Wright’s, of Mahone’s division, about 9 P.M. Sorrel had been dangerously wounded at Petersburg, and the brigade was commanded by Colonel G. E. Tayloe. This officer sent Colonel Herman H. Perry, his adjutant general, to meet the flag, who advanced some distance from his lines, and met a very handsomely dressed officer, who introduced himself as General Seth Williams, of General Grant’s staff. Perry’s worn Confederate uniform and slouch hat did not compare favorably by moonlight with the magnificence of Williams’s, but, being six feet high and a fine-looking fellow, he drew himself up proudly, as if perfectly satisfied with his personal exterior.

“After I had introduced myself,” says Perry, “he felt in his side pocket for documents, as I thought, but the document was a very nice-looking silver flask, as well as I could distinguish. He remarked that he hoped I would not think it was unsoldierly if he offered me some very fine brandy. I will own up now that I wanted that drink awfully. Worn down, hungry, and dispirited, it would have been a gracious godsend if some old Confederate and I could have emptied that flask between us in that dreadful hour of misfortune. But I raised myself about an inch higher, if possible, bowed, and refused politely, trying to produce the ridiculous appearance of having feasted on champagne and pound-cake not ten minutes before, and I had not the slightest use for as plebeian a drink as “fine brandy.”

“He was a true gentleman, begged pardon, and placed the flask in his pocket again without touching the contents in my presence. If he had taken a drink, and my Confederate olfactories had obtained a whiff of the odor of it, it is possible that I should have ‘caved.’ The truth is, I had not eaten two ounces in two days, and I had my coat tail then full of corn, waiting to parch it as soon as an opportunity might present itself. I did not leave it behind me, because I had nobody I could trust it with. As an excuse which I felt I ought to make for refusing his proffered courtesy, I rather haughtily said that I had been sent forward only to receive any communication that was offered, and could not properly accept or offer any courtesies. In fact, if I had offered what I could, it would have taken my corn.” Grant’s note to Lee being then transferred from Williams to Perry, the Confederate colonel and Federal general bowed profoundly to each other and separated.

On the morning of the 9th General Grant dispatched another note to General Lee as follows:

April 9, 1865.

GENERAL: Your note of yesterday is received. I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace; the meeting 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 entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, etc.,

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant General.

General R. E. LEE.

Humphreys sent it forward by Colonel Whittier, his adjutant general, who met Colonel Marshall, of Lee’s staff, by whom he was conducted to the general. To this note Lee replied:

April 9, 1865.

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 proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of the army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R. E. LEE, General.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT.

Grant, who received this note eight or nine miles from Appomattox, at once answered it.

April 9, 1865.

GENERAL R. E. LEE, commanding C.S.A.: Your note of this date is but this moment (11.50 A.M.) received. In consequence of my having passed from the Richmond and Lynchburg road to the Farmville and Lynchburg road, I am, at this writing, about four miles west of Walker’s Church, and will push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you. Notice sent to me on this road where you wish the interview to take place will meet me.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant General.

The reply was sent direct to General Lee by Colonel Babcock, of his staff. Lee was obliged to confront a painful issue. His duty had been performed, but so earnest was he in trying to extricate his troops, and carry them South, that he had failed to recognize the hopelessness of further resistance, or the emergency that called for the surrender of his army. At the suggestion of some of his higher officers, General Pendleton, the commander of his reserve artillery, went to Lee on the 7th to say that their united judgment agreed that it was wrong to have more men on either side killed, and that they did not wish that he should bear the entire trial of reaching that conclusion. But Lee replied that he had too many brave men to think of laying down his arms, and that they still fought with great spirit; that if he should first intimate to Grant that he would listen to terms, an unconditional surrender might be demanded, and “sooner than that I am resolved to die.” Lee had not altogether abandoned the purpose to march South, even after the notes of the 7th and 8th had been exchanged. Longstreet, Gordon, and Fitz Lee, commanding his corps, were summoned to his headquarters bivouac fires on the night of the 8th, near Appomattox Court House. The situation was explained freely, and the correspondence with Grant alluded to. I t was decided that Gordon and Fitz Lee should attack Sheridan’s cavalry at daylight on the 9th and open the way; but in case the cavalry was re-enforced by heavy bodies of infantry, the commanding general must be at once notified, as surrender was inevitable. The attack was made at sunrise, and the Federal cavalry driven back with the loss of two guns and a number of prisoners; the arrival at this time of two corps of Federal infantry necessitated the retirement of the Southern lines. General Ord states that he was “barely in time, for, in spite of General Sheridan’s attempts, the cavalry was falling back in confusion.” A white flag went out from the Southern ranks, the firing ceased; the war in Virginia was over. Colonel Babcock, the bearer of General Grant’s last note, found General Lee near Appomattox Court House, lying under an apple tree upon a blanket spread on some rails, from which circumstance the widespread report originated that the surrender took place under an apple tree.

General Lee, Colonel Marshall, of his staff, Colonel Babcock, of General Grant’s, and a mounted orderly rode to the village, and found Mr. Wilmer McLean, a resident, who, upon being told that General Lee wanted the use of a room in some house, conducted the party to his dwelling, a comfortable two-story brick, with a porch in front running the length of the house. General Lee was ushered into the room on the left of the hall as you enter, and about one o’clock was joined by General Grant, his staff, and Generals Sheridan and Ord. Grant sat at a marble-topped table in the center of the room, Lee at a small oval table near the front window. “The contrast between the commanders,” said one who was present, “was striking.” Grant, not yet forty-three years old, five feet eight inches tall, shoulders slightly stooped, hair and beard nut brown, wearing a dark-blue flannel blouse unbuttoned, showing vest beneath; ordinary top boots, trousers inside; dark-yellow thread gloves; without spurs or sword, and no marks of rank except a general’s shoulder straps. Lee, fifty-eight years old, six feet tall, hair and beard silver gray; a handsome uniform of Confederate gray buttoned to the throat, with three stars on each side of the turned-down collar, fine top boots with handsome spurs, elegant gauntlets, and at his side a splendid sword.[3] With a magnificent physique, not a pound of superfluous flesh, ruddy cheeks bronzed by exposure, grave and dignified, he was the focus for all eyes. “His demeanor was that of a thoroughly possessed gentleman who had a disagreeable duty to perform, but was determined to get through it as well and as soon as he could” without the exhibition of temper or mortification. Generals Lee and Grant had met once, eighteen years before, when both were fighting for the same cause in Mexico—one an engineer officer on the staff of Scott, the commanding general, the other a subaltern of infantry in Garland’s brigade. After a pleasant reference to that event, Lee promptly drew attention to the business before them, the terms of surrender were arranged, and at General Lee’s request reduced to writing, as follows:


GENERAL: 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 an officer to be 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 and 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 officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers nor the private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as he observes his parole, and the laws in force where he may reside.

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant General.

General R. E. LEE.

“Unless you have some suggestion to make, I will have a copy of the letter made in ink and sign it,” said Grant; and it gave Lee the opportunity to tell him that the cavalrymen and many of the artillerymen owned their own horses, and he wished to know whether these men would be permitted to retain their horses. The terms gave to the officers only that privilege, and so Grant stated; but seeing that Lee’s face showed plainly that he would like that concession made, the former said feelingly that he supposed that most of the men in ranks were small farmers, that their horses would be useful in putting in a crop to carry themselves and families through the next winter, and that he would give instructions “to let all men who claim to own a horse or mule take the animals home with them to work their little farms.” The Union commander was in touch with his President. General Weitzel, who had entered Richmond with his Twenty-fifth Corps and received its formal capitulation, asked Mr. Lincoln what he “should do in regard to the conquered people?” The latter is reported to have replied that he did not wish to give any orders on that subject, but added, “If I were in your place I’d let ’em up easy, I’d let ’em up easy.” It was the fear of his men losing their horses in case of surrender that made the Confederate cavalry commander ask permission at the council the night before to extricate his cavalry in case of surrender, provided it was done before the flag of truce changed the status. To Grant’s written propositions for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee replied:


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 instant, they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulation into effect.

R. E. LEE, General.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT.

The formalities were concluded without dramatic accessories, and then Lee’s thoughts turned to his hungry veterans and to his prisoners. “I have a thousand or more of your men and officers, whom we have required to march along with us for several days,” said Lee to Grant. “I shall be glad to send them to your lines as soon as it can be arranged, for I have no provisions for them. My own men have been living for the last few days principally upon parched corn, and we are badly in need of both rations and forage.” The rations sent from Lynchburg to the Southerners were captured. When Grant suggested that he should send Lee twenty-five thousand rations, the latter told him it would be ample, and assured him it would be a great relief. The Confederate commander then left, and rode away to break the sad news to the brave troops he had so long commanded.

His presence in their midst was an exhibition of the devotion of soldier to commander. The troops crowded around him, eagerly desiring to shake his hand. They had seen him when his eye calmly surveyed miles of fierce, raging conflict; had closely observed him when, tranquil, composed, undisturbed, he had heard the wild shout of victory rend the air; now they saw their beloved chieftain a prisoner of war, and sympathy, boundless admiration, and love for him filled their brave hearts. They pressed up to him, anxious to touch his person or even his horse, and copious tears washed from strong men’s cheeks the stains of powder. Slowly and painfully he turned to his soldiers, and, with voice quivering with emotion, said: “Men, we have fought through the war together; I have done my best for you; my heart is too full to say more.” It was a simple but most affecting scene. On the next day a formal leave of his army was taken by General Lee.


After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them: but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully
performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend
to you his blessing and protection. With an unceasing admiration
of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful
remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself,
I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R. E. LEE, General.

And then in silence, with lifted hat, he rode through a weeping army to his home in Richmond. He was not present at the final act of surrender; the details were prepared by three officers on each side, and were as follows:


Agreement entered into this day in regard to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to the United States authorities:

1. The troops shall march by brigades and detachments to a designated point; stack their arms, deposit their flags, sabers, pistols, etc., and thence march to their homes, under charge of their officers, superintended by their respective division and corps commanders, officers retaining their side arms and the authorized number of private horses.

2. All public horses, and public property of all kinds, to be turned over to staff officers to be designated by the United States authorities.

3. Such transportation as may be agreed upon as necessary for the transportation of the private baggage of officers will be allowed to accompany the officers, to be turned over, at the end of the trip, to the nearest United States quartermaster, receipts being taken for the same.

4. Couriers and mounted men of the artillery and cavalry, whose horses are their own private property, will be allowed to retain them.

5. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia shall be construed to include all the forces operating with that army on the 8th instant, the date of the commencement of the negotiations for surrender, except such bodies of cavalry as actually made their escape previous to the surrender, and except, also, such pieces of artillery as were more than twenty miles from Appomattox Court House at the time of the surrender on the 9th instant.

(Signed)     JOHN GIBBON, Major General Volunteers.
CHARLES GRIFFIN, Brevet Major General U. S, Volunteers.
W. MERRITT, Brevet Major General,
J. LONGSTREET, Lieutenant General.
I. B. GORDON. Major General.
W. N . PENDLETON, Brigadier General and Chief of Artillery.

General Grant’s behavior at Appomattox was marked by a desire to spare the feelings of his great opponent. There was no theatrical display; his troops were not paraded with bands playing and banners flying, before whose lines the Confederates must march and stack arms. He did not demand Lee’s sword, as is customary, but actually apologized to him for not having his own, saying it had been left behind in the wagon; promptly stopped salutes from being fired to mark the event, and the terms granted were liberal and generous. “No man could have behaved better than General Grant did under the circumstances,” said Lee to a friend in Richmond. “He did not touch my sword; the usual custom is for the sword to be received when tendered, and then handed back, but he did not touch mine.” Neither did the Union chief enter the Southern lines to show himself or to parade his victory, or go to Richmond or Petersburg to exult over a fallen people, but mounted his horse and with his staff started for Washington. Washington, at Yorktown, was not as considerate and thoughtful of the feelings of Cornwallis or his men.

Charges were now withdrawn from the guns, flags furled, and the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia turned their backs upon each other for the first time in four long, bloody years. The Southern soldiers, wrapped in faded, tattered uniforms, shoeless and weather-beaten, but proud as when they first rushed to battle, returned to desolate fields, homes in some cases in ashes, blight, blast, and want on every side. A few days afterward General Lee rode into Richmond, accompanied by his staff, and the cheering crowds which quickly gathered told in thunder tones that a paroled prisoner of war.[4] was still loved by his people. It was a demonstration in which men forgot their own sorrow and gave way to the glory and gratitude of the past. They adored him most, not in the glare of his brilliant victories, but in the hour of his deepest humiliation.


[1] Ord left Petersburg with twenty thousand troops all arms; Fifth Corps, fifteen thousand nine hundred and seventy-three. (Report of March 31,1865.) Sheridan s cavalry, thirteen thousand eight hundred and ten, to which add one thousand for the Fifth Corps artillery, makes fifty thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.

[2] Second Corps report, March 31, 1865: Twenty-one thousand one hundred and sixty-seven infantry, artillery, and seventy guns. Sixth: Eighteen thousand three hundred and eighty-four artillery and infantry and fifty-four guns = thirty-nine thousand five hundred and fifty-one, and one hundred and twenty-four guns.

[3] The handle of this sword is white, with a lion’s head at the top and wrapped with gilt wire (not studded with jewels, as has been published), with gilt guard, the scabbard of blue steel with gilt trimmings. Where the rings are attached, on one side of the blade, are the words, “General Robert E. Lee, from a Marylander, 1863”; on the other, “Aide toi et Dieu t’aidera.” This sword is in the possession of General G. W. C. Lee, son of General Lee, and the President of Washington and Lee University at Lexington, Va.

[4] The following parole was signed by General Lee and his staff:

We, the undersigned, prisoners of war belonging to the Army of Northern Virginia, having been this day surrendered by General R. E. Lee, commanding said army, to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding the armies of the United States, do hereby give our solemn parole of honor that we will not hereafter serve the armies of the Confederate States, or in any military capacity whatever, against the United States of America, or render aid to the enemies of the latter, until properly exchanged in such manner as shall be mutually approved by the relative authorities:

R. E. LEE, General.
W. H. TAYLOR, Lieutenant Colonel and Acting Adjutant General.
CHARLES S. VENABLE, Lieutenant Colonel and Acting Adjutant General.
CHARLES MARSHALL, Lieutenant Colonel and Acting Adjutant General.
H. E. PEYTON, Lieutenant Colonel and Inspector General.
GILES BROOKE, Major and A. A. Surgeon General.
H. S. YOUNG, Acting Adjutant General.

Done at Appomattox Court House, Va.,

the ninth (9th) day of April, 1865.

The parole was countersigned as follows:

The above-named officers will not be disturbed by United States authorities as long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they may reside.

GEORGE H. SHARPE, General and Assistant Provost Marshal.

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