Skip to main content

Surrender At Appomahox

July 2024
1min read

Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865—not the meeting between Lee and Grant at which the terms were discussed, which has become almost legendary and hackneyed, but rather the hours that followed: Lee riding among the remnants of his army, comforting, reassuring, speaking to the men from horseback, and the formal surrender ceremony later, heavy with emotion, when the colors were furled and the arms were stacked. The scene, laden with significance, was one of the truly momentous events in American history for what it symbolized. Men wept, not, I suspect, because of the failure of their cause—for long before that day the cause, if it was understood at all, had ceased to evoke the dedication it once inspired. Rather I think it was because the hardship and sacrifice was suddenly over, because the shedding of blood had ended, and because the memories of all those thousands who didn’t make it to the final day came rushing to the fore. They might also have wept, if they knew what we know, for a world and a time that was now lost forever. Things would never be the same again. The America of the early nineteenth century had passed; the nation left its formative period and entered into a maturity in which the romantic ideals, aspirations, and yearnings of that earlier time would no longer have any place. It was this moment that symbolized, perhaps more than any other, the Americans’ loss of innocence. It was all put together by Lee in his farewell to his troops, full of pathos and sincerity and imparting as few other documents have the meaning of those mid-April days. Lee’s farewell address must be read aloud to capture its real impact; it never fails to touch the heart.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.