Surrender At Appomattox: The Historic Meeting Between Lee and Grant
On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, two of the greatest generals in American history met in the parlor of Wilmer and Virginia McLean’s home in the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. For the man in gray, dressed in an impeccable new uniform, the moment he dreaded had finally come. Outnumbered, devoid of supplies, and cut off from escape, General Robert E. Lee was here to surrender his beloved Army of Northern Virginia. For the man in blue, wearing his mud-spattered field uniform, this event was the first step toward making the United States whole again. The terms Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was about to offer to Lee would help bring a long and bloody nightmare to an end. After four years of Civil War, these two men of honor shook hands, conversed for about 25 minutes, and then got down to the matter at hand.
Under Grant's terms, Lee’s officers and men were to be paroled and required to forfeit all military equipment. Writing out the surrender conditions on a small, oval table in the McLean’s parlor, the Union commander proposed, “The Arms, Artillery and public property to be parked and staked and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them . . . This done each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes not to be disturbed by United States Authority so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they may reside.” After the Confederate commander reviewed the terms and asked for some minor revisions, Grant asked Lee if he was satisfied with what he found. “Yes," said Lee, "I am bound to be satisfied with anything you offer. It is more than I expected.”
The historic meeting between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant in the small parlor of Wilmer and Virginia McLean’s home in the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Painting by Tom Lovell. (Photo Credit: National Park Service)
Grant had no desire to humiliate General Lee and his men. As Grant reflected in his Personal Memoirs, “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” Not requiring Lee to surrender his sword, Grant also issued a directive allowing Confederate soldiers who owned their horses or mules to take their animals home, which would enable them “to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter.” As Lee said, “This will have the best possible effect upon the men,” and “will do much toward conciliating our people.” Additionally, Grant provided rations for some 25,000 exhausted and hungry Rebel soldiers. It was another act of magnanimity that Lee was truly grateful for, saying, “it will be a great relief, I assure you.”
Around four o’clock that afternoon, the final surrender documents were signed. Before Lee could ride away to deliver the news to his men, Grant and other Union officers raised their hats to their once fearsome opponent. Lee returned the gesture, tipping his hat, and then made the slow trot back to the troops who had faithfully stood by him for so long.
Grant and Lee tip their hats as the Confederate commander leaves the McLean house. (Photo Credit: National Park Service)
As a somber Lee returned to his lines and rode past many of his equally dispirited soldiers, he said, "Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done the best that I could for you." After those words, General Lee and his battle-hardened warriors wept openly together. The Confederate commander also went on to issue a final message to his army. He concluded his farewell address by writing, "With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell."
After all they had been through, Union soldiers were euphoric as news of the surrender quickly spread along their lines. Overcome with emotion, many of them could not help but celebrate. Before his artillery could fire a 100-gun salute, however, Grant ordered it to be stopped. “The war is over,” he said, “the rebels are our countrymen again, and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations.”
It would take a little more time for other Confederate armies in the field to finally capitulate, but the surrender meeting between Lee and Grant on April 9, 1865 helped bring the United States a step closer to once more being one nation. The task of creating a permanent peace would not be an easy one, but acting with the same dedication and courage that made him such a great military commander, Ulysses S. Grant would lead that effort as the 18th President of the United States.
Photo Header Credit: "Let Us Have Peace" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris - National Park Service.
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson.
Grant by Ron Chernow.
National Park Service: The Surrender Meeting.
Smithsonian Institution: Robert E. Lee's Farewell Address.
The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant.