- Historic Sites
Surrender At Appomattox
Cadwallader watches the meeting between the disheveled Grant and the courtly Lee
October 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 6
Gen. Lee was older in appearance, but soldierly in every way. He was over six feet in height, rather heavily built in these later years of his life, neatly dressed in the full uniform of his rank, and wearing an elegant costly sword by far too valuable for field service, or for any but ceremonious occasions. I afterwards learned it was one presented to him by the State of Virginia. He wore his hair and whiskers cut short, both of which were iron gray in color. He was rather stout and fleshy than otherwise; with bronzed face from exposure to storm and sun; but showing a remarkably fine white skin above the line of his hatband when uncovered. His manners and bearing were perfect, and stamped him a thoroughbred gentleman in the estimation of all who saw him. His position was a difficult and mortifying one to a proud and sensitive man; yet he comported himself with that happy blending of dignity and courtesy so difficult to describe, but so befitting to the serious business he had in hand. There was no haughtiness or ill-humor betrayed on the one hand; nor affected cheerfulness, forced politeness, nor flippancy on the other. He was a gentleman —which fully and wholly expresses his behavior.
The belief seemed widespread among Confederate officers that the United States government had pledged itself to grant no amnesties for treason, and that “they must all hang together, or hang separately.” On learning that Gen. Grant had taken no advantage of their desperate situation, but had voluntarily extended to them the same magnanimous terms offered two days before, and refused by Gen. Lee, they expressed their extreme gratitude. Discussion among themselves strengthened this feeling. All admitted that their army had no further power of resistance, and that it was obliged to surrender on our own terms. They seemed surprised to find no appearance of vindictiveness on our part. Judging from their hearty confessions of generous treatment, one would conclude that they had expected to be chained together as felons, to grace the triumphal march of our victorious army. No one who witnessed the behavior of the rebel officers and listened to their conversation, could long doubt the wisdom of Grant’s policy. Their first questions had been: “Well, what are you going to do with us?” showing extreme anxiety. The feeling of relief from all suspense was universal.
The appointment of officers to carry out the details of the surrender were made during the night by Grant and Lee, respectively. On our part, Gen. John Gibbon was the ranking officer.
At ten o’clock A.M. , Monday, April 10th, 1865, the two generals met by appointment on the brow of a hill north of the Court House. Grant and staff had barely arrived when Lee, accompanied by an orderly came galloping up the slope, and wheeled to the side of the Lieutenant-General who sat on his horse a few rods in advance of the line of the staff. Their conversation lasted nearly an hour, in a drizzling rain which had just set in. During this conference Lee stated that if Grant had assented to a meeting which he had proposed some weeks before, peace would undoubtedly have resulted therefrom. The conversation between them was unheard by others; but enough was gleaned from Gen. Grant to know that Lee acknowledged his army to be completely beaten; the Confederacy about destroyed; and further prolongation of the war impossible. Johnston was expected to surrender to Sherman without firing another gun.
While this interview was carried on, a study of the surroundings interested me. Meade and staff, Sheridan and staff, Ord and staff, and a large concourse of general officers were ranged in semi-circular line in the background, presenting a tableaux not often witnessed. Back of us lay the Federal troops compactly massed, and many of them in view. In front of us across a ravine which separated the two armies, lay the shattered remnants of Lee’s grand army of invasion, which had carried consternation to the north until Antietam and Gettysburg had driven them from our borders. Grant’s staff, whilst nominally the ranking one, was by no means the most pretentious in appearance.
About eleven o’clock, Lee saluted, rode down the hill, crossed the ravine, entered his tent, packed his traveling portmanteau, and left the same day, attended by a single servant, to join his family in Richmond.
Gen. Grant turned the head of his thoroughbred horse “Cincinnatus” towards the Court House; gave directions to the staff quartermaster to take the headquarter train to Prospect Station for that night; to move it from there back to City Point by easy marches; and started with some of his staff for Washington to stop the draft then progressing.
We had some delays along the road in the afternoon, and did not reach Prospect Station till dark. The headquarter train arrived soon after, when tents were pitched, supper prepared and eaten; and all assembled in front of a roaring log fire; ankle deep in mud, but exalted above most earthly discomforts by the crowning success of the campaign.