On April 9th 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. So began the end of the Civil War. They met at the house of Wilmer McLean in a village called Appomattox Court House. The trials of four years of war etched the faces of both Generals as their weary troops struggled between thankfulness that the war was ending and patriotism for the causes they felt were still attainable.
In the days before the surrender, Grant and Lee had exchanged a series of messages through the front lines. Both men were cautious, avoiding commitments that they could not keep. Not surprisingly, Lee was hesitant to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to the Union forces. But he was a realist. After the defeat at Petersburg, Lee had on April 2nd warned Confederate President Jefferson Davis that Richmond could no longer be protected. As Davis and the Confederate government fled southward, Lee knew that his armies could no longer hold off the inevitable. The South would fall in defeat.
The terms of the surrender were simple. All Confederate forces were to be disbanded and allowed to return to their homes, “not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles.” While “arms, artillery, and public property” were to be confiscated, officers were allowed to keep their side-arms (swords and pistols), private horses and baggage.
As General Lee mounted his horse to ride away from the McLean house, “General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”
The war would rapidly come to an end. But just as rapidly, President Abraham Lincoln would be assassinated. While the fighting was over, the struggle for freedom and equality would go on for decades, even a century, beyond this fateful day.
David J. Kent is an avid Lincolnophile and the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. You can order a signed copy directly from me, download the ebook at barnesandnoble.com, and find hard copies exclusively at Barnes and Noble bookstores.