Battle of Appomattox Court House

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Battle of Appomattox Court House

April 9, 1865


Same day


Appomattox County, Virginia


Eastern Theater


Appomattox Campaign


Union victory

33 star flag.png
Conf Navy Jack.png

Army of the Potomac

Army of Northern Virginia


Ulysses S. Grant

Robert E. Lee



Paroled: 27,805


Lee took the starving remains of his still-proud army west, hoping to feed them from supplies which he believed will arrive at Amelia Court House; when they don't he's forced to feed them from the countryside, all the while warding off Union attacks there and at Tabernacle Church. Sheridan sets his cavalry across the Danville Railroad at Jetersburg, cutting off an escape route and forcing Lee to move towards Farmville and skirmishes at Amelia Springs and Paine's Cross Roads on April 5. An accidental dividing of his army is an advantage for the Federals at Saylers Creek; Lee loses more than 8,000 men - one third of his army — to capture. The forced delay also benefitted the Federals in another way: they captured Lee's supply train.

On the 7th, Lincoln received a message sent to Grant from Sheridan: "If the thing is pressed, I think Lee might surrender." Lincoln wired to Grant: "Let the thing be pressed."

Grant learned of several trainloads of supplies and forage at Appomatox, and Sheridan made his move to capture them. He then sat down and composed a letter to Lee:

Commanding C. S. A.
The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

The reply came soon, and was disappointing:

GENERAL: I have received your note of this day. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.
R. E. LEE,

Still, Grant realized Lee's letter needed a reply, and he wrote out the terms he felt were based on Lincoln's remarks just days before:

Commanding C. S. A.
Your note of last evening in reply to mine of same date, asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia is just received. In reply I would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, namely: that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.

During this exchange, Grant got what he termed "a sick headache"; mustard treatments and steam baths couldn't cure it, and Lee's reply to meet for discussions of things not involving a surrender made the headache worse:

GENERAL:—I received, at a late hour, your note of to-day. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army; but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia; but as far as your proposal may affect the Confederate States forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten A.M. to-morrow on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.
R. E. LEE, General.[4]

"He still means to fight," Grant said.


At dawn on April 9, John B. Gordon's Second Corps attacked Sheridan's cavalry and quickly forced back the first line, while Confederate cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee moved around the Union flank. The second line, held by Ranald S. Mackenzie and George Crook, fell back. Gordon's troops charged through the Union lines and took the ridge, but as they reached the crest they saw the entire Union XXIV Corps in line of battle with the V Corps to their right. Immediately the battle fizzled out; Fitz Lee's cavalry withdrew and rode off towards Lynchburg. Ord's troops began advancing against Gordon's corps while the Union II Corps began moving against General James Longstreet's corps to the northeast. Colonel Charles Venable of Lee's staff rode in at this time and asked for an assessment, and Gordon gave him a reply he knew Lee didn't want to hear: "Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet's corps." Upon hearing it Lee finally stated the inevitable: "Then there is nothing left me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths." He then penned out a letter to Grant, and sent it through the lines:

GENERAL:—I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you, and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview, in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday, for that purpose.
R. E. LEE, General.

Upon reading it, the headache vanished.

A cease-fire was arranged, and several officers from both sides met to select a proper place for the surrender. At Appomatox Court House stood the only available structure considered proper enough: the home of Wilmer McLean, who had the previous bad luck to have lived on the site of the first battle of the War; he had moved to Appomatox where he had hoped "never to see another soldier again." Now, there were several in his parlor, with more showing up.

Lee arrived dressed in his finest uniform, a sash around his waist, and a sabre hanging at his side. He stood in McLean's parlor for thirty minutes when Grant finally arrived, wearing his uniform casually with mud-spattered boots and a private's overcoat with a general's shoulder-straps hastily sewn on. Pleasant conversation began, about times in the Mexican War, until Lee brought up the subject of the meeting. Grant replied the Lee's army "should lay down their arms, not to take them up again during the continuance of the war unless duly and properly exchanged." Lee suggested that the terms be made in writing:

April 9th, 1865.
Comd’g C. S. A.
GEN: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. 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 paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.
Very respectfully,
Lt. Gen.[5]

Lee read the document and said the terms would have a happy effect on the men, but saw something not mentioned that caused some distress. There were soldiers, cavalrymen, and artillerists who owned their own horses, and he wanted to know if these animals could be retained. Grant stated that according to the terms they would not, to which Lee reluctantly agreed. But after some thought — and with the realization that the spring planting season was about to start — Grant issued orders that all Confederates who claimed to own a horse or mule would be allowed to take them home to work their farms.

April 9, 1865.
GENERAL:—I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
R. E. LEE, General.[6]

That done, all that was left for Lee to do was to return to his lines, where he gave a few tear-filled remarks to his men. Grant on the other hand sent a simple message to Washington: "General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon on terms proposed by myself. The accompanying additional correspondence will show the conditions fully".[7] The celebrations were stopped by Grant — who did not want to exult in the enemy's downfall — but there was wild euphoria in Washington where, despite heavy rain, some three thousand citizens came out to parade, play music, and celebrate what they thought was the end of the war. One of the parades ended at the White House, of which Lincoln came out to applause. Expecting a speech, the president asked for something else:

"Fellow citizens: I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of a formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, tomorrow night. If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. I see you have a band of music with you. I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.’”[8]

But on the 10th of April there were still several major rebel armies in the field which had to be dealt with.

The surrender ceremony

On April 10, Lee gave his farewell address to his army. The same day a six-man commission gathered to discuss a formal ceremony of surrender, even though no Confederate officer wished to go through with such an event. Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain was the Union officer selected to lead the ceremony, and later he would reflect on what he witnessed on April 12, 1865, and write a moving tribute:

"The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?
Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry"—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!"

27,805 Confederate soldiers passed by that day, stacked their arms, and went home.