Appomattox Courthouse; The Beginning of the End

Today in History, April 9: 1865 – One of the most momentous events in American history. After years of foiling every move the Union made, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had finally been run to ground. Countless Yankee Generals had been bested by him, but he had finally met his match…not tactically, but in determination, by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. At Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, Lee, his army starving and with nowhere else to run, in spite of the fact that he would “rather die a thousand deaths”, agreed to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant. Lee arrived in his best uniform; Grant, typically, arrived in a muddy private’s uniform. Grant offered terms that included Confederate officers keeping their horses and sidearms, enlisted men keeping their horses so that they could farm their land, as long as they agreed to abide by their paroles and obey the laws of the land. Lee was very appreciative of these terms, saying they would be helpful to his army, men he loved. As Lee mounted his horse and left the site of the surrender, Union soldiers began to cheer. Grant quickly silenced them, reminding them that the Confederates were once again their countrymen. The surrender document was signed in the home of Wilmer McLean. Ironically, in the first battle of the war, First Bull Run, or First Manassas if you are from the South, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters were in McLean’s home in Manassas, where cannon shot destroyed part of the house. McLean moved south to Appomattox Courthouse to keep his family safe. So, as is said, the Civil War began in Wilmer McLean’s front yard, and ended in his parlor.

Lee was given the opportunity by Grant to allow one of his subordinates to accept the surrender…to avoid humiliation. Lee refused…his FATHER, Light Horse Harry Lee, had been with Washington at Yorktown and witnessed the ungentlemanly act of British Gen. Lord Cornwallis sending a subordinate to surrender his sword to Washington. Lee refused to dishonor his family name by repeating the act. Grant did not require Lee to surrender his sword, but Lee was the man that represented his army at Appomattox Courthouse. Both gentlemen, North and South, maintained their honor.

Other notables at the meeting were Captain Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son.  Robert had insisted on serving despite his father’s reservations, so Grant found a place for him on his staff.  Major Gen. Phillip Sheridan, who had been a very successful commander and who would one day command all of the US Army.  Also Grant’s adjutant, Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian who was chosen to write out the surrender because he had the best hand writing of those present.

Poor McLean’s woes were not over, either.  Officers present made off with almost everything except the wallpaper in the room to remember the occasion.

 

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