April 9, 1865
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and the mighty Union Army of the Potomac captured the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va., on April 3, 1865, and had Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s ragged Army of Northern Virginia on the run. Grant quickly sent his hardened veterans slogging to the west on muddy roads after Lee’s Rebel army, realizing that if he kept up the pressure he had a very good chance of defeating Lee and ending the war.
With three times as many men as Lee could muster, Grant had been able to apply pressure to all sides of Lee’s army as it struggled to escape the Union onslaught. But Grant was well aware that the Rebel soldiers and their sly leader were still a formidable force with a demonstrated capability of turning dire circumstances into victory.
The stressful days and anxious, sleepless night were telling Grant’s normally solid disposition. An aide reported that he suffered from “one of his sick headaches, which are rare but cause him fearful pain, such as almost overcomes his iron stoicism.” When Grant stopped for the night on April 8, 1865, he was almost without strength from the blinding pain, and sought relief by applying mustard plasters to his wrists and neck and soaking his feet in hot water. Though an aide reminded him that his migraines were often followed by good news, Grant did not feel better and went to bed. At midnight, a message from Lee denying the necessity of surrender was delivered to Grant, and he was seen pacing in the yard before dawn with both hands pressed to his temples.
Shortly after 11:00 A.M. on April 9, 1865, a courier rode up and delivered a message from Lee requesting a meeting to discuss the surrender of his army. “When the officer arrived,” said Grant, “I was still suffering with the sick headache; but the moment I saw the note I was cured.” While his staff cheered, Grant dispatched a message to Lee to meet him at Appomattox Court House.
“Then there is nothing left for me but to go and see General Grant, and I had rather die a thousands deaths,” said Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the morning of April 9, 1865. That morning Lee had dressed in his finest uniform. “I have probably to be General Grant’s prisoner and thought I must make my best appearance,” he calmly explained to a fellow officer, but his heart was breaking. The end was at hand — the end of the war, the end of the bloodshed and deprivation, but also the end of the country for which he and his men had so nobly fought. As he looked out over the battlelines, he briefly contemplated shirking the difficult task: “How easily I could be rid of this, and be at rest! I have only to ride along the line and all will be over! . . . But it is our duty to live. What will become of the women and children of the South if we are not here to protect them?” Lee instructed his corps commanders to send out flags of truce to suspend the hostilies and wrote a note to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant requesting an interview to arrange the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
Word soon came from Grant that he was pushing to the front to meet with Lee. Gen. James Longstreet came up as Lee was preparing to leave for Appomattox Court House. Still game, Longstreet said to Lee, “General, unless he offers us honorable terms, come back and let us fight it out.”
As he rode toward the town, Lee sent his aide, Col. Charles Marshall, ahead to locate a suitable house for the meeting. Marshall asked the first citizen he came upon in Appomattox Court House, Wilmer McLean, for assistance. McLean took Marshall to his own home, which proved to be the most prosperous looking in the town. Lee arrived at 1:00 P.M., took a seat near a small table in a corner of the parlor, and sat quietly waiting for Grant to arrive. After half an hour, Lee heard the sound of boots mounting the front steps. Lee rose as Grant entered, and the two men met in the middle of the room and greeted each other with a handshake.
“In about a half an hour we heard horses, and the first thing I knew General Grant walked into the room . . . He looked as though he had a pretty hard time . . . dusty and a little soiled,” remembered Col. Charles Marshall, the aide who accompanied Gen. Robert E. Lee into the McLean house at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. The most momentous event in the history of the nation — the surrender of Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac — was about to take place.
The two generals talked of their first meeting in the Mexican War, made introductions to the officers in the room, and engaged in a wandering conversation that Lee at last brought back to the surrender. “What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know, as he was a man of much dignity, with an impassable face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result,” wrote Grant. “But my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letters, were sad and depressed . . . Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting . . . General Lee called my attention to the object.”
“I suppose, General Grant,” said Lee, “that the object of our meeting is fully understood. I asked to see you to ascertain upon what terms you would receive the surrender of my army.” “The terms I propose,” replied Grant, “are those stated substantially in my letter of yesterday — that is, the officers and men surrendered to be paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition, and supplies to be delivered up as captured property.”
The generous terms were accepted, and Grant started writing them out. When he was writing the part about delivering up all arms, he looked up at Lee’s dress sword, then added a sentence excluding officers’ side arms from those to be turned over.
Appomattox Ct. H., Va.
Apl 9, 1865
General R.E. Lee
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, 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 to 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 their private horses or baggege. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles, and the laws in force where they may reside.
U.S. Grant, Lt-G
Lee looked up from the surrender terms and said to Grant, “This will have a very happy effect on my army.” He could only be pleased, especially with the last sentence, which put him and his men out of jeopardy of charges of treason. He hesitated before saying, “There is one thing I would like to mention. The cavalrymen and artillery men in our army own their own horses . . . I would like to understand whether these men will be permitted to retain their horses.”
“Well, the subject is quite new to me,” responded Grant. “I take it that most of the men in the ranks are small farmers, and as the country has been so much raided by the two armies, it is doubtful whether they will be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they are now riding. I will instruct the officers I shall appoint to receive the paroles to let all men who claim to own a horse or mule to take their animals home with them to work their little farms.”
“General, say the word and we’ll go in and fight ’em yet,” shouted some of the men crowding around Gen. Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, when he rode back into the lines held by the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had just surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. His appearance had caused the usual cheer to erupt, but it queckly fell silent when the men saw the countenance of their beloved general. The normally solid composure had cracked and his great distress was evident.
With tears running down his cheeks, Lee said, “Men, we have fought the war together, and I have done the best I could for you. You will all be paroled and go to your homes until exhanged. My heart is too full to say more.” As Traveller moved through the throng, the men voiced their love and devotion for the gray man on the gray horse. They reached ut and touched Lee’s uniform, patted Traveller, and sobbed their farewell to the only commander their army had known.
As the news spread, more and more men flocked to Lee. He passed on to an apple orchard, where he stayed briefly to arrange details of the surrender, then rode on to his headquarters. “There was,” wrote one soldier, “a general rush from each side of the road to greet him as he passed, and two solid walls of men were formed along the whole distance. Their officers followed, and behind the lines of men were groups of them, mounted and dismounted, awaiting his coming . . . As soon as he entered this avenue of old soldiers, the men who had stood to their duty in so many battles, wild, heartfelt cheers arose which so touched General Lee that tears filled his eyes and trickled down his cheeks as he rode his splendid charger, hat in hand, bowing his acknowledgements.” The exhibition of feeling on his part found quick response from the men, whose cheers changed to choking sobs as . . . they waved their hats as he passed . . . One man extended his arms, and with an emphatic gesture said, “I love you just as well as ever, General Lee!”
Fascinating Fact: These terms were probably more than Grant was authorized to offer, but he knew President Lincoln would agree. He had told Grant: “I want no one punished, treat them liberally all around. We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.”