Surrender At Appomattox

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[Accompanying Grant and his escort as they sought to keep pace with the flying Union columns, Cadwallader sent dispatches to the Herald at every opportunity. On the morning of April 5 the party entered the dilapidated village of Nottaway Court House.]

While Grant was viewing the place a staff officer arrived with dispatches from Sheridan, stating that he had captured a large number of prisoners, artillery, part of a wagon train, had driven the enemy’s advances back with considerable loss.

Soon after receiving this dispatch two trusty scouts arrived from Sheridan with additional news, and urging Gen. Grant to come to that place and capture Lee’s whole army. The general sent a staff officer to read this news from Sheridan at the head of every brigade in the line of march. Although the men had already tramped over twenty miles that day and were hoping to camp for the night, this news encouraged them to make several miles before stopping.

We reached Sheridan’s headquarters [near the town of Jetersville] between eleven and twelve at night and found them in a small log cabin in the middle of a tobacco patch. Some of his staff were at work by candlelight, the general was trying to sleep in a loft above on a clapboard floor, and came scrambling down a ladder as soon as we were announced with no clothing but a shirt, pants and boots. He commenced by pointing out on the maps the position of the enemy at nightfall, the positions held by his own troops, the lines of retreat which Lee was now compelled to adopt along different roads, the combinations and marches which could be made to cut him off, and ended by declaring this to be the final battle ground. Meade’s troops must be forced to certain positions during the night, and then not a man of Lee’s army could escape. He was enthusiastic, positive and not a little profane in expressing his opinions.

Grant was all this time brimming over with quiet enjoyment of Sheridan’s impetuosity, but finally said the Confederate army was certainly in a bad predicament; it would be compelled to abandon its intended line of retreat; that it would unquestionably be further demoralized by this; but if he was in Gen. Lee’s place he thought he could get away with part of his army, and he supposed Gen. Lee would. Sheridan didn’t believe a single regiment could escape and reiterated the opinion many times. Grant said in his quiet, pleasant way that we were doing splendidly; everything was now in our favor; but we must not expect too much. We would do all in our power, but it was too much to expect to capture the whole :Confederate army just then, &c., &c.

Gen. Grant left Jetersville at five o’clock P.M. of April 6th, and rode to Burkeville Junction, where his headquarter train had orders to await him at night. Soon after reaching that place a staff officer arrived from Sheridan with the glorious news of the day’s work at Sayler’s Creek, and the taking of thirteen thousand prisoners, and several hundred wagons.

[On April 7 Grant sent a note to Lee suggesting that further resistance was useless and that the Army of Northern Virginia ought to be surrendered. Lee countered with a note in which he denied that the time for surrender had come, but in which at the same time he asked what terms Grant would offer if surrender did become necessary. Grant replied with a note inviting the surrender of Lee’s army, and offering to meet with him to arrange terms. While an answer was being awaited, the two armies moved toward the west and south, with the Army of the Potomac straining every nerve to head Lee off from any possible avenue of escape. Part of the Army, led by Sheridan’s cavalry, raced to get in front of Lee; the rest, under Meade, followed closely in Lee’s rear.]

We moved leisurely along all day [April 8] expecting every hour to hear something further from Gen. Lee. Nothing came but night, which found us twentyfive miles from the headquarter train; and without any accommodations for ourselves or horses. Gen. Meade established his headquarters for the night near an old country homestead known as the Clifton House, and invited us all to supper. The Clifton House had been deserted on our approach and most of the household effects hauled away. Some old house servants were left behind to look after the premises as well as they could, and from them it was learned that one bed remained standing in good condition in an upper chamber. After supper with Gen. Meade, we all went to the Clifton House. Grant and Rawlins took possession of the one bed, upstairs, and the staff threw themselves on the parlor floor for rest and sleep. I “retired” early and selected the best place on the floor for my own occupancy. With my field-glasses for a pillow I slept soundly till towards midnight, when the challenge of the guard outside awoke us all. The sound of jingling spurs and clanking saber was next heard, and then the announcement: “Dispatches for General Grant.” We were instantly on the alert. When the dispatch had been carried upstairs to Gen. Grant, we threw the parlor door wide open at the foot of the stairway, and it must be confessed, played the part of privileged eavesdroppers.

A light was soon struck upstairs when Rawlins opened and read the dispatch in so loud a tone that we heard the most of it. It ran as follows:

April 8th, 1865. General: —I received at a late hour your note of today. 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. But as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposals would tend 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 proposition may affect the Confederate state forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten A.M. tomorrow, on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies. Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant. R. E. Lee, General C.S.A. To Lieutenant-General Grant; Commanding Armies of the United States.•

• The text of this note given by Cadwallader is essentially though not absolutely correct. See Douglas Southall Freeman: R. E. Lee (New York. 1947, 1949), IV, 133, for the exact text.

The reading of this cool disingenuous dispatch threw Gen. Rawlins into unusually bad temper, and he began at once: “He did not propose to surrender,” he says. “Diplomatic but not true. He did propose, in his heart, to surrender. He now tries to take advantage of a single word used by you, as a reason for extending such easy terms. He now wants to entrap us into making a treaty of peace. You said nothing about that. You asked him to surrender. He replied by asking what terms you would give if he surrendered. You answered, by stating the terms. Now he wants to arrange for peace—something beyond and above the surrender of his army—something to embrace the whole Confederacy, if possible. No Sir! No Sir. Why it is a positive insult; and an attempt in an underhanded way, to change the whole terms of the correspondence.”

Then came Grant’s soft, moderate, persuasive, and apologetic voice: “Some allowance must be made for the trying position in which Gen. Lee is placed. He is compelled to defer somewhat to the wishes of his government, and his military associates. But it all means precisely the same thing. If I meet Lee, he will surrender before I leave.”

By previous invitation we all breakfasted with Gen. Meade, before daylight, Sunday morning, April 9th, 1865. We started as soon as it was light enough to do so safely, to ride around the right flank of the rebel army to join Sheridan, whom we knew to be squarely in Lee’s front, somewhere near Appomattox Court House. We had to make a wide detour, to avoid running into Confederate pickets, flankers and bummers. It proved to be a long rough ride, much of the way without any well-defined road; often through fields and across farms; over hills, ravines and “turned out” plantations; across muddy brooks and bogs of quicksand. About eleven o’clock A.M. we halted for a few minutes to breathe our horses, in a new “clearing” where a number of log heaps were on fire. At one of these the party mainly dismounted, and lighted cigars from the blazing logs.

While there some one chanced to look back the way we had come, and saw a horseman coming at full speed, waving his hat above his head, and shouting at every jump of his steed. As he neared us we recognized him as Major [Lieutenant Charles E.] Pease, of Gen. Meade’s staff, mounted on a coal black stallion, white with foam, from his long and rapid pursuit of us.

Major Pease rode up to Gen. Rawlins, saluted, and handed him the sealed envelope. Rawlins tore one end open slowly, withdrew the inclosure, and read it deliberately. He then handed it to Gen. Grant, without a word of comment. The staff were all expecting Lee to surrender, and searched the countenance of Gen. Rawlins eagerly for some clue to the contents of the package. There was no exultation manifested—no sign of joy—and instead of flushing from excitement, he clenched his teeth, compressed his lips, and became very pale. Grant read it through mechanically, and handed it back to Rawlins, saying in a common tone of voice: “You had better read it aloud General.” The immovable expression of countenance in these two prominent actors in the great drama drawing to a close, was rather discouraging to the onlookers. Rawlins showed nothing but extra paleness. There was no more expression in Grant’s countenance than in a last year’s bird’s nest. Grant’s face was like the face of a Sphinx.

Rawlins drew a long breath, and in his deep sepulchral voice, a little tremulous by this time, read the following dispatch from Lee:

9th April, 1865. 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. Lieut. Gen. U. S. Grant.•

• Except for punctuation, the text of this letter is correct. See Freeman: R. E. Lee , IV, 127.

A blank silence fell on everybody for a minute. No one looked his comrade in the face. Finally Col. Duff, chief of Artillery, sprang upon a log, waved his hat, and proposed three cheers. A feeble hurrah came from a few throats, when all broke down in tears, and but little was said for several minutes. All felt that the war was over. Every heart was thinking of friends—family—home.

Presently Grant turned to Rawlins with a smile and said: “How will that do Rawlins?” to which the latter replied: “I think that will do” laying strong emphasis on the word “that.”

Gen. Ely S. Parker, Chief of the Six Nations, then military Secretary to Gen. Grant, was directed to write the following note to Gen. Lee:

April 9th 1865. Gen. R. E. Lee: — Yours of this date is but this moment (fifty minutes past eleven) received, in consequence of my having passed from Richmond and Lynchburg to the Farmville and Richmond road. Am at this writing about four miles west of Wallace Church, and will push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you. Notice sent to me on this road where you wish the interview to take place will meet me here.•

• The correct text of this note—approximately the same as in Cadwallader’s version—can be found in the Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLVI, Part 3, p. 665.

After dispatching this last note to Lee, Grant and staff rode on towards the Court House. The firing, which had been heavy through the early forenoon gradually died away, until it wholly ceased. The news of the pending negotiations for the surrender spread rapidly through both armies. As we came out on the open ground near the village [Appomattox], both armies were in plain view. The soldiers of each were in line of battle, and ready to renew the contest on short notice. Officers were galloping in all directions, colors were flying, and it had more the appearance of a grand review of troops, than of two contending hosts. A nearer view, however, disclosed dirty, tattered, ranks of soldiers, none of them well clad, and nearly all officers in fatigue dress.

We struck the upper or south end of the principal [street] of the village, and turned northward to the Court House. Lee’s army still lay north and east of the town. A close lookout was kept for Gen. Lee. When nearly in front of a two-story brick house on the right, or east side of the street, an orderly in rebel uniform was seen holding a couple of horses near the north end of the building. One was a dapple-gray, with a Grimsley saddle and plain single-reined bridle on him, without anything to denote rank.

A staff officer dashed across the open blue grass yard and inquired whose horses they were. The orderly said they belonged to Gen. Lee, who was in the house. The house stood back several rods from the street. The front fence was wholly down, and mostly carried away. So Gen. Grant rode across the yard to the front entrance to a long porch which extended the whole length of the house, dismounted, ascended a half dozen steps onto the porch, and was about to enter the half-open door of a wide hall which separated the ground floor into two suites of rooms, when Gen. Lee met him, exchanged salutations, and conducted him into the front room on the left side of the hall. The staff all remained on their horses. In a few minutes Gen. Grant came to the front, and beckoned to us to come in. All were formally presented to Gen. Lee, and Colonel [Charles] Marshall of Baltimore, one of his Aides, who was the only member of his staff that came with him.

The conversation was short and commonplace from necessity. After the ordinary civilities were exchanged, the military secretaries were set to work to reduce the terms of the capitulation into proper form. This did not take long. The terms being fully understood and agreed to, were written out in duplicate by Col. Ely S. Parker, in whose possession I saw the original, written on yellow manifold paper, in 1890.

The time occupied in making duplicates of the foregoing letters gave an excellent opportunity for studying the two principal actors in the great drama. Gen. Grant had been separated from his headquarter train about forty-eight hours. He was compelled to meet Gen. Lee in the ordinary fatigue blouse, a hat somewhat the worse for wear, without a sword of any kind (as he seldom wore one on a march) and with no insignia of rank excepting the Lieutenant-General’s shoulder straps on the outside of his blouse to designate him to his own troops. His appearance, never imposing, contrasted strongly with that of Gen. Lee. But his quiet, unassuming deportment rarely failed to impress everyone with his force of character, no matter what his surroundings might chance to be.

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.