My Civil War had started with Gettysburg in July 2013, standing with the Union near the Angle and watching as General Pickett and the rest of the Confederates charged through the field toward us, rebel yells punctuating their strides. It ended last Sunday, when I stood once again in a Union line, waiting. This time, I was at Appomattox, Virginia, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was marching slowly toward us in formation, vanquished and about forfeit their flags and stack their arms.
But before the stacking, there was the surrender.
April 1865 found General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia fleeing across central Virginia toward North Carolina, where he hoped to meet and regroup with Confederate General Joseph Johnson and his Army of Tennessee. The Union was in hot pursuit and skirmishes erupted whenever stray brigades came together.
Eventually, it all caught up with the Confederates. Lacking supplies and his outnumbered army “fought to a frazzle” (according to one of his generals), Lee sent a message to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, asking to meet. Grant replied immediately, saying, “Notice me on this road where you wish the interview to take place.”
Lee sent out an aide to find a meeting site. The aide scrutinized the buildings in a small village called Appomattox Court House and chose one he deemed appropriate. The house belonged to merchant Wilmer McLean, who agreed to allow Lee and Grant to meet there.
The village of Appomattox Court House, including the McLean House, is now part of a national park that is administered by the National Park Service.
Mr. History Tourist and I took a four hour drive from DC to Appomattox Court House on April 9 and arrived about 2 pm, just in time to see Grant ride into town. Lee was already in the house waiting for Grant, as he had been in 1865.
They were in the house for about an hour. In 1865, Lee and Grant spent that time talking about their experiences in the Mexican War (where they had met previously), because Grant was too embarrassed to come to the point. Lee, however, eventually moved things along and signed the surrender. It said:
We, the undersigned Prisoners of War, belonging to the Army of Northern Virginia, having been this day surrendered by General Robert E. Lee, CSA, Commanding said Army, to Lieut. Genl. U.S. Grant, Commanding Armies of United States, do hereby give our solemn parole of honor that we will not hereafter serve in the armies of the Confederate States, or in any military capacity whatever, against the United States of America….
Done at Appomattox Court House, Va. This 9th day of April 1865.
In 2015, I suspect that hour was spent posing for official photographs. When they came out, a little before 3, Mr. HT and I had joined the large crowd lining the dirt road that led away from McLean House. Grant walked to the backyard of the McLean House and worked the crowd.
Lee got on Traveller and rode past us as he made his way out of town.