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Surrender At Appomattox
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Battles
Surrender At Appomattox
Two major forces had defined the fighting in the Eastern Theater, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. After the defeat at Petersburg and subsequent withdrawal/retreat, the Confederate army lost its cohesiveness while the Union army moved at will about the Virginia landscape, two factors that weighed heavily on Robert E. Lee's mind.
Beginning on April 7, Ulysses S. Grant and Lee discussed the possibility of a Confederate surrender (see the Surrender Letters for copies of these communications).
On the night of April 8, Lee bivouacked north of Appomattox Court House with his men. That evening the General met with his remaining field commanders, John B. Gordon and James Longstreet. Along with cavalry commander Fitzhugh Lee and artillery chief Major General William Pendleton they convinced Lee not to surrender. Attending Lee were two slaves, his manservant and cook, who had been with him most of the war. As he went to bed Lee told his manservant to prepare his best uniform for tomorrow. He felt the time to surrender might come.
Behind Union lines General Grant had a very different night. Riding first with the detached XXIV Corps (Army of the James under the command of General Edward O. C. Ord) on a forced march from Farmville, he then rode north in the middle of the night with 5 staff officers to the main body of the Army of the Potomac under General George Meade. After resting briefly in an abandoned farmhouse, Grant joined Meade near the front line early on the morning of the 9th. After viewing the activity against Longstreet, Grant returned to Walker's Church, about 4 miles east of Appomattox Station. Continuing the series of dispatches (the Surrender Letters) that had begun on April 7, Grant tried to convince Lee of the futility of continued action. Lee remained true to his word to Gordon and Longstreet, however, allowing them a final attempt to break the Union envelopment. However, by 9 am it became apparent that Gordon's advance had been turned back and Longstreet's rear guard was under massive pressure. Both Gordon and Longstreet began to withdraw, Longstreet to just north of Lee's Headquarters and Gordon to his starting point just north of Appomattox Court House. What remained of the Army of Northern Virginia was close to destruction.
Gordon had Sheridan's cavalry (Custer and Devin's units) advancing on his left and Ord's infantry (Mackenzie's Brigade) advancing on his right while Longstreet's entire front was being shattered by a furious assault by Meade's forces. Lee went to the old stage road to wait for Grant, who did not show at 10 am as Lee had requested, but a messenger came forward. Grant, feeling Lee did not want to surrender, rejected his request to meet. Just before 11:00am the Confederate commander ordered the white flags forward and silence quickly fell over the Union lines.
With the flags of truce came confusion, and many versions of what occurred exist. On the southern line, General Gordon spoke to a succession of Union Generals (George Armstrong Custer, Philip Sheridan, and Ord) who assumed that Gordon was surrendering because they had not yet received word of the meeting at Appomattox Court House (Grant himself, riding a circuitous route between his lines would not receive it until 11:50 am). Gordon told each of them that he was not surrendering, that Grant and Lee were preparing to negotiate a surrender.
Custer rode on to confront Longstreet and demanded surrender from him. Longstreet stood, raised his voice at Custer and literally chased him off. In the meantime George Meade responded to Lee, granting a 1 hour ceasefire and suggesting that Lee send a second note through another place in the lines. Lee did and forwarded the note to a Union officer, but he was fearful that Grant's lack of response indicated he knew the situation of the Army of Northern Virginia and intended to finish the battle. General Longstreet, a friend of Grant's before (and after) the war, tried to convince Lee otherwise, but stopped when he realized Lee was not listening. Then a Union officer appeared at 12:15 pm with word that Grant had accepted the meeting.
General Grant advanced along the Richmond Stage Road to the "no man's land" between Union and Confederate lines. Just past the Union line a member of Lee's staff met Grant and his staff, escorting them to the Surrender House.
McLean's first home was used by General
Stepping up on McLean's porch, Grant entered the house and walked to the parlor, where Lee was seated at a table. The Confederate commander rose, tall and straight in his finest uniform. Grant's appearance was in stark contrast to Lee's. With his habit of advancing to the forward echelons, Grant wore a privates' issue, his only insignia being a general stars' on twin hand-sewn epaulets on the shoulders.
With the evidence of a hard night's work on his uniform, Grant shook hands with Lee. Two weeks shy of his 43rd birthday, Grant's beard was dark, with dabbles of grey. Lee, 15 years Grant's elder, had a beard that was mostly white and he stood with dignity and honor. Grant was smaller than Lee and that difference in height was exacerbated by a noticeable stoop in the Union commander's shoulders. Still, both in their own manner commanded respect.
Beyond physical appearance there were sharp contrasts in their personal histories. Lee, an aristocratic plantation owner whose uncle signed the Declaration of Independence, whose father had been a 3 term governor of Virginia, and himself married to a granddaughter of Martha Washington and Grant, son of a merchant and a failed farmer who sold wood on the streets of St. Louis when his family needed food.
Grant began the conversation, "I have met you once before..." when the Virginian was General Winfield Scott's chief-of-staff during the Mexican War. Grant continued, "...but I would not expect a superior officer of your rank to remember it." Lee acknowledge meeting Grant, "I remember meeting you..." but admitted that he had not been able to remember much about his opponent. They recalled, almost fondly, the times serving under General Scott, the Virginian whose blueprint for Union victory became Grant's battleplan.
Near 1:30pm Lee reminded Grant that they had come to the house for a reason, asking Grant to put in writing the terms of surrender. There was no additional discussion of the terms prior to Grant penning the following note:
After being presented with Grant's terms, Lee pointed out that in the Confederate army, cavalry and artillery used their own horses. Upon hearing this, Grant told Lee, "I [will] instruct the officers...to let every man of the Confederate army who claims to own a horse or mule take the animal to his home."
At this point, Robert E. Lee agreed the surrender terms, penning the following note:
Once the surrender had been signed, commissary wagons pulled up to the Confederate camps. Some men got meat, others got bread, but all were thankful for the nourishment. That night rain fell. The next morning brought more food and the officers designated to parole the men. Lee had designated Pendleton, Longstreet and Gordon to handle the Confederate processing while Grant gave the Union responsibility to Joshua Chamberlain.
The artillery exchange was completed on April 11, then the rest of the guns were to be taken the following day. As Gordon's men passed Chamberlain, he called "carry arms," which the bugler quickly passed to the men outside the sound of his voice. Upon hearing the call, Chamberlain's men snapped into position. Gordon turned, lowered his sword to Chamberlain, then called "carry arms" to his men. At the end of the federal line the call to fix bayonets went to the Confederate soldiers. Those who still carried bayonets affixed them to the barrel of their guns, then they stacked their weapons for the last time. Regimental colors were also placed in the stacks, for they would be needed no more. On April 12, 1865, the surrender at Appomattox was complete.
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Appomattox Court House
Surrender At Appomattox was last changed on - April 17, 2008
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