Today in History, April 9, 1865:
After years of foiling every move the Union made, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had finally been run to ground. Several 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.
McLean’s home was almost completely stripped of furniture by Union officers seeking momentos of the occasion.
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.