The Life of General Robert E. Lee
G. Mercer Adam


THE end of strife, obviously now, drew very near; and Lee, though he did not shirk further fighting, in the cause he had so long, earnestly, and bravely borne a conspicuous part, naturally wished now to steal off from his environing foes and reach Appomattox Court House. There he expected to obtain supplies to enable him to push on with his little shrunken but faithful band to the Staunton River, and at that point “maintain himself behind the stream until a junction could be made with Johnston.” On the afternoon of April 8, he, however, learned that the supplies at the Court House had been captured, and that the enemy were in strong force about the place. This was disconcerting news to Lee; but it did not cause him to hesitate in his course, which was to divest himself of all impedimenta and cut his way through the Federal lines, and so escape from the entanglement he and his loyal followers found themselves in.

The idea of surrender, which had been favored at the camp-fire council with his general officers, was naturally repugnant to Lee; and, while a chance of escape remained, equally opposed was he to the notion of disbandment, which would expose his men to almost certain capture, as well as disappointment and misery in their search for food. The responsibility of continuing actively in the field was, of course, acutely felt by the gallant leader; and he keenly sympathized with the discomforts and sufferings of his troops, though he would not, as yet, bring himself to resort to or justify surrender, with honor. To accept the latter, when it was proposed by his corps-commanders in council, instantly aroused the martial spirit of the heroic general, and elicited the retort: “Surrender! I have too many good fighting men for that.” At this crisis, his anxieties were great, but chiefly for the leal and true men under him, as well as for the women and children of the South, of whose fate, in the emergencies of the time and their issues, he had constant and patriotic thought. Fits of sadness could not fail to come upon him, just then, as we see in his remark, when evidently thinking of exposing himself as a soldier to death on the field of battle. “How easily I could get rid of this,” he said, “and be at rest: I have only to ride along the line and all will be over. But it is our duty to live!”

On the morning of April 7th, the Confederates resumed their march from High Bridge, where we had left them in bivouac, towards Farmville, with the design of reaching Appomattox Court House; thence, if practicable, to push on to Lynchburg. On withdrawing from High Bridge, an attempt was made to fire the bridges at the place, so as to impede the enemy’s crossing in pursuit. In this, however, the Confederates were, in part, thwarted by the coming up of the Second Federal corps. The latter dashed forward and saved the bridges from entire destruction, while at the same time it fell upon the “rebel” rearguard and the remains of its wagon train, which were speedily taken; though General Gordon here turned upon the enemy and drove them off, capturing about 200 prisoners. For the remainder of the day, the retreat was unmolested, save for periodic dashes of the Federal cavalry; and late in the afternoon brought Lee’s wearied command to a strong defensive position north of Farmville, covering the main road to Lynchburg. Here a halt was ordered for a brief rest, and to hold the pursuing enemy in check until night-fall, when the retreat was intended to be resumed.

While in bivouac here. General Humphrey’s command came up to attack the position, but finding it too strong to be carried by a direct assault he sought to carry it by an attack on the flanks. This movement enabled Humphreys to discover that he had the whole of Lee’s army here ensconced, and while sending back for reenforcements he contented himself by an attempt on the Southern left. In this, however, he was repulsed with a heavy loss. As night had now come on, the forced Federal fighting was discontinued, while the Confederates got ready to continue the retreat. Before setting out, the leader of the Army of Northern Virginia received from General Grant the first of his overtures for peace, in a despatch (dated April 7, 1865), which read thus:

General R. E. Lee:

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, Lieut.-General.

General Lee at once replied to this Federal missive as follows:

April 7, 1865.


I have 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.


When the latter communication reached Grant’s hands, the night had been far spent, while the Confederates were well on their way to Appomattox Court House, heading for Lynchburg. On the morning of the 8th (April), General Grant at once, however, replied to it, and in the following terms:

April 8, 1865.


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 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, Lieut.-General.


To this. General Lee made the following response:

April 8, 1865.


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 be 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 desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia; but, as far as your proposal may affect the Confederate forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten A.M. to morrow, on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies.

R. E. Lee, General.


On the following day. General Grant sent the Confederate leader the subjoined reply:

April 9, 1865.


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, Lieut.-General.


While this correspondence was passing between the two leaders of the respective armies, the retreating Confederates had reached Appomattox Court House, within twenty-five miles of Lynchburg, which they had gained by the evening of April 8. All day, fugitives and pursuers had hardly exchanged shots; though as the “rebel” vanguard neared a narrow strip of land between the Appomattox and the James rivers, the sound of heavy firing was borne down from the front, and the conclusion was instantly, and correctly, reached that the further advance of the Confederate columns was cut off. The firing, as it quickly transpired, came from Sheridan’s command, which, after a rapid circuitous march, had reached the vanguard of the retreating force, and was then engaged in capturing a train or two of cars, filled with food and supplies for Confederate consumption from Lynchhurg. With the great raider’s cavalry force had also come up General Ord’s infantry division, and both barred the further advance of Lee’s wearied and now feeble army, and what remained of the Confederate wagon transport.

At this new menace, when there was little will or ability among the men to confront it with vigor, the Confederates must have been appalled; but not so was their brave leader, who, with characteristic will-power and decision, ordered that a passage-way be cut on the morrow through all obstacles, and this perilous task was entrusted to General Gordon.

On the morning’s dawn (the memorable 9th of April), Gordon made ready his cutting-out force, and, after a brief reconnaissance, led a smart attack upon the Federals, whom he at first drove back, but was in turn compelled to recoil from the superior force brought up to defend the place and hem in the Confederate army. Finding that he could not force a passage-way, or even hold his ground with safety, Gordon sent word back to General Lee of the straits he was in, and advising him of his having been effectively checkmated by the enemy. Apprised of the situation, and seeing no way out of it except at the sacrifice of much life, which he was now unwilling to make, the Confederate commander-in-chief concluded that the time had at last come to surrender. He therefore hastened forward a flag of truce to General Sheridan, seeking a suspension of hostilities with a view to surrender, and at the same time penned and despatched the following communication to General Grant:

April 9, 1865.


I received your note 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 art interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose. Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE, General.

Commanding the Armies of the United States.

The interview sought by General Lee was promised by the Federal General, as soon as he should be apprised of the desired place of meeting. Notice of this was forthwith despatched to General Grant, and the now historic meeting took place between the two commanders, in the village at Appomattox Court House, at the house of Wilmer McLean. Here, after the formal greeting of the two Generals and their respective staffs, the agreement of surrender was drawn up, signed, and witnessed; while the terms of surrender were drafted and signed by the Federal Commander, and formally accepted, under seal, by the Confederate General, as the subjoined document will show:

Appomattox Court House, Va.
April 9, 1865.


In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, 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 designated by me, and 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 United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be packed and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side arms of the officers, or their 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 they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.

U. S. Grant, Lieut.-General.


The Life of General Robert E. Lee G. Mercer Adam CHAPTER XIX
The surrender of General Robert E. Lee
at Appomattox Court House, April 10, 1865.

A formal letter, drafted and signed by General Lee, was at the interview delivered to General Grant, accepting the generous terms of surrender and the conditions stipulated to be observed; while, on the following day, Commissioners representing both causes met, drafted, and signed the appended Agreement giving effect to the surrender. The names and ranks of the Commissioners on each side, it will be observed, are appended at the foot of the Agreement, the details of which are as follows:


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

1st. The troops shall march by brigades and detachments to the designated point, stack their arms, deposit their flags, sabers, pistols, etc., and then 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.

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

3rd. 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 Quarter-master, receipts being taken for the same.

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

5th. 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.


JOHN GIBBON, Maj-Gen. Vols.
CHARLES GRIFFIN, Bt. Maj-Gen, U. S. Vols.
W. MERRIT, Bt. Maj-Gen.
J. B. GORDON, Maj-Gen.
W. M. PENDLETON, Brig-Gen. and Chief of Artillery.

Thus was completed and given effect to the surrender of Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, and thus passed into history the closing incidents of the great Civil War. The number of effective men of Lee’s immediate command who, on the morrow of surrender, took advantage of the generous terms offered by General Grant, on the part of the United States Government, did not exceed 10,000; though, when the stragglers came up and the scattered contingents were gathered in, the entire number paroled reached close upon 28,000. Throughout the proceedings connected with the surrender, there was nothing, in tone or manner, on the part of the victors, to wound the natural sensitiveness of the Confederates; while no spirit of exultation was manifested, or aught shown save the utmost kindliness, compassion, and sympathy. This, added to the considerate and politic conditions upon which each individual member of the Southern army was paroled and permitted to return to his home, relieved surrender of all pang, and the remembrance of “a lost cause,” if it then or afterwards intruded itself, of a sense of disappointment and sorrow. To Lee, personally, the worst, if we may say it, was yet to come, in taking leave of his grim but loved veterans, and in bidding each of the now shrunken but heroic band farewell.

Profound was the feeling with which the little army saw their beloved leader ride back to his headquarters after the surrender had been practically effected. Sobs and tears were the signs of their emotion, as all realized that the end had finally come, and the last fight for Southern independence had taken place. As his men clustered around their great Captain, seeking to grasp and give a loving pressure to the hand of their long-time chieftain, upwelling tears in the hero’s eyes spoke the agony of his soul, and, in trembling tones, he simply said to them: “Men, we have fought through the war together; and I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more!” On the morrow, however, he took a more formal leave of his little faithful band, and in the following graciously expressed and noble, pathetic words:

Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,
April 10, 1865.

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.

But one more act in the drama of capitulation has to be related, viz., the summoning, on April 12, for the last time, of the several divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia, to a public place near the Appomattox Court House, where the different commands stacked their arms, packed the artillery, deposited their accoutrements, and, with a salute, parted with their field and regimental colors. The surrender was received for General Grant (who, with a fine consideration for the feelings of the men of the late army, remained at his headquarters) by Major-General Gibbon. Those who had effected their escape (chiefly 2,000 cavalry under Kosser and Fitzhugh Lee), before the closing in of Sheridan’s lines after hostilities were suspended, and who afterwards surrendered, were partakers in the terms granted to the army as a whole. All, officers and men, were now paroled and disbanded, and took their several ways homewards; while General Lee, accompanied by his staff, set out for Richmond and reunion with those dear to them. At the late Confederate capital, the hero was hailed, alike by gray and blue uniformed figures, with the heartiest enthusiasm; while by the city’s officials and citizens he was awarded the respect and homage due not only to fidelity, but to stately courage and high moral worth.

After the surrender and dispersion of Lee and his army. General J. E. Johnston, with whose command in North Carolina Lee had with futile purpose sought to form a junction, entered into corespondence with General Sherman, as he could now make no stand alone. This correspondence led to the surrender of his army at Durham Station on the 26th of April; while other bands of Confederate troops also yielded themselves up, and the four terrible years of war finally came to a close. Simultaneously, General Grant returned with his staff to Washington, where followed the hideous tragedy of the assassination, on the 14th of April, of President Lincoln, as he was sitting with his family in a box at the theater in the capital. The lamented President died on the following day. The assassin was a demented Southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, who belonged to an actor’s family, and had become fanatically opposed to the good and wise Lincoln and to the Union Administration and party. Escaping from Washington after his vile deed, which struck horror in all breasts, and moved even the South to sympathy, Booth was hunted down by a party of soldiers near Fredericksburg, and, refusing to surrender, he was shot in a barn where he had sought refuge.

The striking down of the great Emancipator, ever prone to kindliness, as he was, and possessing a mind and heart always influenced by humane and just motives, was a heavy blow to the whole country; and especially just then, when he was about to grapple with the serious problem of Reconstruction. In a sense, as the present writer has elsewhere said, Lincoln’s calamitous end came as a not unfitting sequel to, and admonition against, civil war; and though it deprived the nation of his wise counsels in the great work that lay before it, his death and the manner of it were factors of value in hushing all criticism of the man and his career, while raising grateful peans to his memory. In unity well might the two sections of the country, now again become one, pay ceaseless honor to him who had had much to do, through the long and appalling conflict, in bringing about the happy issue of Union, and who, in memorable words, in his immortal Second Inaugural, after bemoaning the scourge of war, and yet foreseeing its close, had admonished the Nation to have “malice toward none,” and “with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to seethe right,” besought them to “finish the work they were in, to bind up the Nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

In closing our narrative of the chief incidents of the war, as they connect themselves with General Lee, and passing to follow the latter to the close of his illustrious career, it remains but to add, that a general amnesty was proclaimed by the new Union President (Andrew Johnson), on the 29th of May, the last of the Confederate generals having surrendered during the month; while President Davis of the now collapsed Confederacy, then a fugitive in Georgia, was captured on May 10th at Irwinsville, Ga., and imprisoned for a time in Fortress Monroe, but later on was liberated on parole.

Soon after the close of the conflict the North disbanded its large armies, over 800,000 having been mustered out by the month of November, 1865. “The War for the Union,” remarks an historian authority (Edward Channing, in his “History of the United States”) “cost the nation. North and South, the lives of nearly a million men: about 95,000 Northern soldiers were killed on the field of battle, or were fatally wounded and died in hospitals; 180,000 more succumbed to disease while on the army rolls. To these figures must be added those who died from accident, disappeared permanently, or died in Southern prisons, or in consequence of disease or wounds contracted while in the service; the total of those who perished from all these causes is not far from half a million; about as many more Southerners perished from similar causes. Hundreds of thousands more contracted disorders or received wounds while in the service, which did not lead directly to death, but which shortened life or made it wretched. The total money cost of the war to the Union Government was about 3,500 million dollars—excluding expenses incurred by States and municipalities, which amounted, in all probability, at least to 300 millions more. Adding to this the amount paid and to be paid in pensions to those who risked their lives and the well-being of their families for the Union cause, and the amount of private property destroyed during the conflict, the War for the Union cost not less than ten thousand million dollars!”


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