Tag archives: Appomattox

The Glory and Romance of Appomattox

by Family Research Council

April 9, 2012

When Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on this date in 1865 to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, national legends were born. The ironies of that event astonished the country for generations. Fewer and fewer Americans can tell you what every schoolchild once knew about this event in our countrys past.

The National Archives building in Washington proclaims its purpose in stone. It was built to house evidences of the glory and romance of our history. Increasingly, its not just the evidences of our American past that are dismissed, but the very idea of glory and romance that is denied.

Get real, we are told. But Appomattox is real. A nation that tore itself apart for four bloody years conducted a surrender ceremony marked by not a single act designed to humiliate a defeated rebellion.

How bloody? Today, we speak of 9/11 in hushed tones. Or at least we should. A nation of almost 300 million lost 2,975 on that terrible September day. It was the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history. Millions of Americans learned that they knew someone who died that day, or at least knew a relative of one of the dead.

Imagine how much more horrible it would be for a nation of just 35 million to lose 630,000 lives. Add to that suffering of tens of thousands of young men maimed for life in battles that, as The Civil War narrator David McCullough tells us, were fought in 10,000 places throughout America.

You would think a thirst for vengeance would overcome some of the Union soldiers. They had marched through Virginia for four years. Many had seen their brothers, or best friends, blown to pieces by rebel artillery.

My great-great uncle, Capt. Jonas Lipps, fought in the Stonewall Brigade. He was taken prisoner by Union forces outside of Spotsylvania Courthouse in May, 1864. One of his Union guards lunged at him with a bayonet. Jonas jumped back, but was stabbed through the fleshy part of his arm. He pulled out the bayonet and ran the guard through, killing him with his own bayonet.

When other Union soldiers rushed to kill Jonas, the captain of the guards ordered them to cease: That rebel captain is unarmed; he was only defending himself. Leave him alone. Jonas survived the day, only to die a year later in a POW camp, just days before Appomattox and peace. But this story especially the evidence of justice and mercy shown by the captain of the guard should strengthen us today.

Appomattox was not the final event of the Civil War. Union Gen. William T. Sherman was still vigorously pursuing Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston through the Carolinas.

But Lees surrender meant that Johnstons defeat, and soon that of other Confederate forces, was only a matter of time.

At sea, amazingly, the CSS Shenandoah would continue to destroy Union commerce and raid Yankee whalers long after Appomattox. Without reliable communications, this feared Confederate warship would fight on for months. Only in November, 1865, did the Shenandoah end her struggles in Liverpool, England.

U.S. Grant had respect for Robert E. Lee, but he did not hold him in awe. Bobby Lee! Bobby Lee! Grant had once growled at his generals. Im tired of hearing about Bobby Lee. Youd think he was about to turn a somersault and land in our campfires. I want to know what we are going to do. Grant always believed the best defense was a good offense.

Grants drive to destroy Lees army was a brutal, costly affair. Grant had ordered a charge at Cold Harbor, Virginia, that cost 7,000 Union lives in 20 minutes. Twenty years later, in his justly famous Personal Memoirs, he would express regret for ever having given that order.

Grant had to live with being called a butcher. Its a strange charge, since Robert E. Lee is never called a butcher. Lee had sacrificed, proportionately, more of his brave young men than Grant had.

It would be wonderful if every American could go to Appomattox. It is especially beautiful there in springtime. The blossoms testify to new life and rebirth.

I had the privilege five years ago of taking a class of FRC interns to Appomattox in the spring. They had come from as far away as California.

I had not fully realized how remote this little Virginia village is. Leaving Appomattox, we headed toward Richmond. A heavy spring rain turned the dirt roads to mud. It was the same road Gen. Lee must have traveled after Appomattox.

I remember pressing intern Nathan Macy about the GPS route. Fearing that we were lost, I asked Nathan to double-check. He did and assured me we were on the correct road. Well, I told Nathan, Gen. Lee only came here once. And he was being chased.

The Miracle at Appomattox: April 9, 1865

by Robert Morrison

April 8, 2011

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox that effectively ended the Civil War. Once, all Americans knew about Appomattox and what happened there. It was part of the reason we knew America was exceptional.

Gen. Robert E. Lee was retreating from Richmond with his army of starving scarecrows. He had fewer than 10,000 effective fighting men left in his Army of Northern Virginia. After four long years of incredibly bloody conflict, Lee knew that the overwhelming numbers and resources of the Union forces under Gen. U.S. Grant would in time wear him down. Lee had ordered a shipment of rations be sent from shattered Richmond to Amelia Courthouse. Some nameless official in the Confederate War Department got the order confused; the capital was, after all, being hurriedly evacuated. Instead of food, the War Department sent Lees army boxcars of ammunition. You cant eat bullets.

Finding himself surrounded, Gen. Lee rejected desperate pleas of his young officers. They wanted to slip away in the night, head for the mountains, and there keep up a guerilla war that would continue the bloodshed, perhaps for generations. Lee knew what hatreds, what horrors would attend that idea. No, he said definitively, I must go to see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.

Riding his famed horse, Traveler, the six-foot tall, silver haired warrior was dressed in his best gray uniform, replete with buckskin gloves, a multi-colored sash, a jeweled sword hanging at his side. It was this vision that led a loyal young Union girl on the road to Gettysburg to exclaim two years earlier: Oh, how I wish he were ours!

Lee arrived early at the home of Wilmer McLean in the tiny hamlet called Appomattox Courthouse. McLean had offered his front parlor for the surrender ceremonies. In 1861, farmer McLean had been living near the Manassas battlefield when a stray cannonball landed in the stewpot simmering in his fireplace. A Southern patriot, McLean had taken his family as far from the scene of battle as he could imagine. Now, the civil war that began in his kitchen would end in his front parlor.

General Ulysses S. Grant arrived late, his uniform still spattered with mud from his hurried ride. The only part of him that seemed military was his well-tended horse, Cincinnati. He wore a privates uniform coat with only the three stars of a Lieutenant General to give a hint that this was no ordinary soldier.

Grant then commanded all the forces of the Union, the largest army that had ever been assembled in the Western Hemisphere. At wars end, Gen. Grant had more black troops in his ranks than Lee had white soldiers in his. Some 200,000 black soldiers and sailors—mostly freed slavesserved the Union.

Grant tried to put Gen. Lee at ease with small talk of their days together in the Mexican War. Both men had distinguished themselves as heroes in that war. Grant told Lee he had met him once there and would never forget how he looked. Lee answered he knew that was so, and that he had tried to recall the meeting many times, but had never been able to recall a single feature of Grants.

If this was meant as a subtle insult to the unprepossessing Grant, the shorter, rumpled man who was the first since George Washington to hold his high rank did not take it so. Not then. And not in his wonderful dying memoirs written twenty years after this event.

Guided by Lincolns orders to let `em up easy, Grants terms for Lees army were more than generous. If the rebels would but lay down their arms, they could go home under parole, and wait to be properly exchanged. Everyone knew there would be no such exchange of prisoners.

Grant said Lees officers might keep their horses and their side arms. When Gen. Lee informed Grant that many of his enlisted men owned their own horses, Grant declined to change his neatly written surrender terms, but said he would give verbal instructions to his officers that any of Lees men claiming a horse might take it with him unmolested. He acknowledged that those horses would be needed for spring planting.

This will have the best possible effect upon the men. It will be very gratifying and will do much toward conciliating our people. Lee then brought up the matter of his hungry men. They had had but one meal in the last week, and that of parched corn. Grant did not tell Lee that the aggressive bluecoat cavalrymen under Gen. Little Phil Sheridan had captured the Confederate supply train that had gone astray.

Quickly, Grant offered 25,000 rations, and more to feed the famished foe. At the close of the two-and-a-half hour ceremony, Grant and all his officers stood down from Mr. McLeans front porch and took off their hats as Gen. Lee departed.

As Lee rode back through his lines, his brave men wept, prayed, and some cursed the Yankees. They patted Traveler tenderly. They must have heard the Union artillerists beginning a One Hundred Gun salutebut this was quickly quashed on orders of Gen. Grant. We must not exult on this day, Grant sternly ordered, the rebels are our countrymen once again.

Soon, Yankees and rebels were joining each other in their lines. Gen. James Longstreet, whom Lee called his Old Warhorse, hastened to see Grant. He had been in Grants wedding party. The next morning, Gen. Lee met Gen. George Meade riding on the road.

Gen. Lee, dont you recognize me? Im George Meade. Lee smiled, extending his hand. Meade, whered you get all that gray in your beard? Meade, who had successfully fended off Lees deadly assaults at Gettysburg, told his former enemy and old friend: Youre the one who put it there.

Three days later, the Army of Northern Virginia passed in review, laying down their arms and surrendering their flags. The ceremony was commanded by Union Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who would soon be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his great defense at Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Chamberlain brought his men to a full salute. Gen. John Bell Gordon, the much-wounded Confederate leader, responded to the salute by tapping his boot with his sword and horse and rider made a stately bow. Honor answering honor, Chamberlain later wrote.

If the reconciliation of North and South had been left to Grant and Lee, the nation would have been blessed indeed. Instead, following President Lincolns assassination, his vindictive successor Andrew Johnson determined to pursue a vengeful course. When he tried to prosecute Lee for treason, Grant rushed to the White House and demanded the order be rescinded. Backed up fully by Gen. Sherman, the Unions other great hero, Grant threatened to resign if the malicious Johnson went ahead. He dropped it.

Three years later, when Robert E. Lee was serving as president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, one of his professors expressed disgust that Grant had been nominated for President of the United States. The professor, formerly one of Lees officers, called Grant that drunk, that butcher.

Lee fixed the man with withering stare of his blue eyes and said quietly: If I ever hear you speak of General Grant in those terms again, one of us will terminate his association with this college. That college is now known as Washington & Lee University.

In no other nation on earth might such a fiery trial, one that claimed 630,000 lives, have ended so magnanimously as ours did at Appomattox. Britain hanged rebelsin Canada in 1837and shot them in Ireland in 1916. The Mexicans killed every Texas rebel at the Alamo in 1836.

Only in America could we have seen the stillness at Appomattox. It was a miracle then.

We need to remember that now.