After a week-long retreat up the Appomattox River from Petersburg, a lengthy and hard engagement with Union forces at Saylor Creek, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was surrounded by the Union army. On April 8th, Robert E. Lee agrees to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General U.S. Grant. In the week leading up to their meeting this day, the two generals exchanged notes that reflect the grace of both men. Their first notes follow:
April 9th 1865:
“… then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths…”
–Robert E. Lee, April 9, 1865
Grant to Lee:
“General R.E. Lee, Commanding C.S.A.:
5 P.M., April 7th, 1865.
The results 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.
The note was carried through the Confederate lines and Lee promptly responded:
Lee to Grant:
“April 7th, 1865.
General: I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of 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.”
Lee finally made the decision to stop the fighting and asked to meet General Grant face to face.
Lee dressed for the meeting in his best dress uniform, including a ceremonial sword he only wore when making formal rounds in Richmond. He was accompanied to the meeting by Generals Longstreet and Gordon. Grant was on his horse riding up from Farmville when he received Lee’s final note regarding place and time for their meeting, two o’clock in the afternoon at the MeLean house in Appomattox. Grant spurred his horse and galloped the final four miles, arriving mud-spattered and winded. He apologized for his appearance and after a few minutes of remembrances about their days in the Mexican campaign they began to discuss terms. Grant acknowledged he knew that the Confederate’s rations were low (they had, in fact, had nothing to eat for five days, and the Federals had captured their supply train) and offered assistance; Lee responded with a request for 25,000 rations for his men. As they continued to talk Lee halted the conversation and asked Grant to write it out:
Surrender Terms at Appomattox, 1865
General R.E. Lee,
APPOMATTOX Ct H., Va.,
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 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 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 baggage. 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.
Lee then noted that the horses used in his army were the personal property of the men and they would be much needed to put in crops as they went home. Grant immediately agreed that the horses could go with the men and Lee noted that this would help ease the transition.
The meeting at Appomattox ended four years of war — over 360,000 Union soldiers died, over 260,000 Confederates. The war accounted for more American combat deaths than in all our other wars combined.
These notes come from the website, “Surrender at Appomattox, 1865,” Eye Witness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (1997).