Saturday, June 09, 2012

Civil War Sesquicentennial Notes: War Ends

This concludes the series of Civil War Sesquicentennial Notes I published in 2011 in family emails focusing on the last days of the Civil War.


Sunday, 9 April 1865. It was Palm Sunday. As Grant had mused the previous day, Lee was considering a fight. Lee thought an attack against Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps north of Appomattox Courthouse might provide time and space for the rest of his army to retreat toward Leesburg. Confederate scouts and pickets reported that two more Union corps had maneuvered behind Lee, blocking his exit. Some of his staff officers urged that they let the men exfiltrate to fight as guerrillas. Lee, it is believed, rejected the idea saying that they would just become marauders and would be hunted down by the Union cavalry. Guerrilla warfare, or “bushwhacking”, was more dishonorable than surrendering. Even so, Lee said that he “would rather die a thousand deaths” than surrender to General Grant. Lee, of course, did no such thing. Rather he sent a dispatch through the Union lines to General Grant agreeing to surrender. They met at the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Courthouse at 1400 hours. In one of the ironies of the war, Wilmer McLean’s home in Manassas, Virginia, was destroyed in 1861 during the Battle of Bull Run. After that battle he purchased land that was so far away from the war it would never again affect him. Lee stood on the porch of McLean’s house wearing a clean, dress uniform and sword. General Grant arrived on horseback wearing his standard “slouch” hat, a muddy enlisted man’s coat, without rank insignia. He looked like a private. They shook hands and went into the parlor. Grant’s said he would allow Lee to surrender his Army, that they were to “stack arms” (give their rifles and pistols to the Union Army), and go home. Lee asked that his men and officers, who unlike the Union Army, owned their own horses, be allowed keep them. Grant said yes. Moreover, Grant said, the Union Army would provide rations, provisions, and medical care to Lee’s near starving 28,000 soldiers. Lee and Grant signed the surrender document. They shook hands. It was over.