Monday, April 9, 2018

Today in U.S. History: April 9, 1865 – Lee surrenders to Grant by Kaye Spencer #WesternFictioneers @kayespencer

The end of the War Between the States was at hand…

In the spring of 1865, after four years of war on American soil, General Ulysses Grant was closing in on General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.  At this time, Lee’s army was still a Confederate force to be reckoned with, but just barely.

As Grant continued, slowly and doggedly, to take control of roads and thus supply lines, Lee experienced increasing numbers of deserters, which steadily weakened his forces. Grant knew and Lee knew that Grant knew that Lee needed to hook up with General Joseph Johnston’s army to the south. But the way was not an easy one to traverse.

The Union army met the Confederate army at the Battle of Ft. Stedman at Petersburg, Virginia in late March. This was Lee’s final offensive, but his casualties came at too high of a price to keep going much longer. Still, Lee hung on.

The Battle of Five Forks in Dinwiddie County, Virginia followed on April 1st. Again, Lee’s troops sustained considerable loss. So Lee retreated from the Richmond and Petersburg areas with Union troops hot on his heels.

Lee’s troop rallied for a bit, but the Federal army came on. By this time, Lee’s men numbered around 30,000. Lee met the Union forces for a final confrontation in the Appomattox Campaign. Lee’s intent was to make a hard march to join forces with Johnston, but General Sheridan had other ideas. He caught up with Lee on April 6th for the Battle at Sayler’s Creek [sic per Gallagher, The Great Courses, 2000).

Lee’s troops suffered great losses through death and capture. Many of his men were too hungry to continue, and others simply threw down their weapons and walked away. Then the Union army maneuvered into position in front of the Confederates, and there was no place left for Lee to go.

“I would rather die a thousand deaths [than surrender],” Lee said (Gallagher, 2000). Nevertheless, Lee sent the message for terms of surrender to Grant.

Lee and Grant met in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s red brick house in the small Virginia village of Appomattox Court House on the afternoon of April 9, 1865 to sign formal surrender documents. When Lee offered his sword to Grant, Grant refused it.
Signing the surrender from a contemporary sketch -
According to Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Virginia professor of history with specialty in the American Civil War, “…Lee showed up for this meeting immaculately dressed—a dress uniform, his saber. He expected to be taken prisoner, and he wanted to look like a soldier. Grant showed up for the meeting in muddy clothing. This has often been construed as a deliberate affront on Grant’s part that he wanted to humiliate Lee by showing up dressed shabbily. It isn’t true at all. When Grant learned definitively that there would be a meeting, he wanted to hurry to get to the spot, so that Lee didn’t have to sit and wait. He believed that would be humiliating to Lee to have to sit and wait…”

On the terms of surrender...

     ‘…the terms of surrender were simple. Confederate officers could keep their side arms [and swords]. All soldiers would be fed and allowed to keep their horses and mules. None would be tried for treason. “Let all the men who claim to own a horse or mule take the animals home with them to work their little farms,” Grant said. “This will do much toward conciliating our people,” replied Lee.

       As Lee rode off, Union troops started to celebrate the Union victory, but Grant silenced them. “The war is over,” he said. “The rebels are our countrymen again.” After the surrender, Lee returned to his men and quietly told them: “I have done for you all that it was in my power to do. You have done all your duty. Leave the result to God. Go to your homes and resume your occupations. Obey the laws and become as good citizens as you were soldiers.”’ (Boyer 394-395)

Chamberlain at Lee's Surrender - Kaye Spencer's personal collection

On April 12th, Confederate soldiers formally stacked arms at Appomattox Court House, but Lee and Grant were no longer there. However, General Joshua Chamberlain of Gettysburg’s Little Round Top fame was on hand for the surrender.

But the word was slow in spreading…
  • On April 26th, General Joseph Johnston surrendered to General Sherman a Durham Station, North Carolina.
  • On May 4th, General Richard Taylor surrendered at Citronelle, Alabama.
  • On May 10th, Jefferson Davis was captured in Irwinville, Georgia. He was imprisoned at Fortress Monroe for two years. He was never tried for treason.
  • On May 13th, the last land battle was fought at Palmito Ranch near Brownsville, Texas.

Until next month on the 2nd Monday for another episode of 'Today in U.S. History',

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

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*Boyer, Paul. American Nation. Austin: Holt, Rineholt and Winston, 2000.
*Gallagher, Gary. The American Civil War, Part 4, Lecture 46, "Petersburg to Appomattox", The Great Courses. Chantilly: The Teaching Company, 2000. DVD
*"Surrender at Appomattox, 1865," EyeWitness to History, (1997).
*Wikipedia Contributors. "Battle of Appomattox Court House." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Mar 2018. Web. 08 Apr 2018. <>


  1. It's the details, the personal stories, that makde history so compelling for me. It was always Davis and his wife Varina that fascinated me.

    Thanks for the post. As you know, I love history. Doris

    1. Doris,
      After reading "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara and watching the movie version "Gettysburg", I became quite interested in James Longstreet and Lawrence Chamberlain.

    2. For me it is Grant, probably because of his relationship with Twain. The other is Stonewall Jackson, because my materal grandfather used to call my mother that, because she was stubborn as a stonewall. Doris

    3. Doris,

      My favorite horse was named Stonewall Jackson. Goodness, but I loved that horse. It’s funny how some historical names (icons) have made their way into our everyday lives to mean something entirely different from their origins and how we adapt those names to fit our situations.

  2. Thanks, Kaye, for a compelling snapshot of Civil War history and the details of the meeting between Lee and Grant. I look forward to next month's installment.

    1. Tom,

      Thank you. I appreciate your interest and encouragement.

  3. So interesting, Kaye! I love those personal details. And it's important to remember too, that many of these men had known one another before the war ever began, personally, so I'm sure that made it very hard on so many levels for all of them.

    Here's another tidbit: The 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles were commanded by the highest ranking Native American of the war: Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, who also became the last Confederate General to surrender on June 23, 1865.

    I bought the three volume set of Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy, and it's fascinating reading but heavy. I have to read a few pages at a time to just be able to absorb. And it's been a while since I read, so I'm thinking I'll probably have to start all over again. LOL

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Cheryl,
      Thank you for the additional history. I'm passingly familiar with the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles, but obviously not enough to know Stand Waite was the last Confederate general to surrender. I will add him to my bulleted list. 😉

  4. Kaye Spencer,

    A bit of history for us all. Thanks.

    The Civil War was an awful and terrible thing.

    Worse, in one form or another, slaves were not freed and when President Hayes removed Reconstruction in 1877, blacks were doomed to extreme racial injustice for another 150 years.

    AND...with this present climate injustice seems to prevail for veterans, seniors, children, the homeless, the working poor, and those 42 million who suffer food shortages on a daily basis.

    The Civil War was fought PRIMARILY to end slavery and it was about fairness and economic and social injustice. Unfortunately we still are struggling...

    Thank you, Kaye.

  5. Charlie,
    You make an important point: In the 150 years since the American Civil War ended, instead of steady forward progress toward equality, compassion for each other, and eradicating social injustice, we certainly do seem to be loosing ground in a humanitarian way. It's disheartening.

    Thank you for sharing your insight.

  6. Informative post. Thanks for sharing.
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