Monday, April 9, 2012

145 Years Ago Lee Surrendered To Grant

On April 6, 1865, General Robert E. Lee was attempting to link up with General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee and go on the offensive.  On his way Sheridan's cavalry and elements of the II and VI Corps. cut them off and causing most of the 7,700 Confederates to surrender.  The delay prevented Lee from reaching the station by late afternoon on April 8, allowing Sheridan to reach the station, where he captured Lee's supplies and obstructed his path.

Following a minor battle in Cumberland Church and High Bridge, on April 7, Grant sent a note to Lee suggesting that it was time to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia.  General Lee sent a return note refusing the request, but asked General Grant what terms he had in mind.  On April 8, the Union cavalry captured and burned three supply trains waiting for Lee's army at the Battle Appomattox Station. 

With his supplies at Appomattox destroyed, Lee now looked west, to the railway at Lynchburg, where more supplies were waiting for him.  Now all that lay between Lee and Lynchburg was the Union Cavalry.  Lee hoped to break through before the infantry arrived.  He sent a note to Grant saying that he did not wish to surrender his army just yet but was willing to discuss how Grant's terms would affect the Confederacy.

At dawn on April 9, the Confederates under Major General John B. Gordon attacked Sheridan's cavalry and quickly forced back the first line Under Brig.General Ranald S. Mackenzie and George Crook.  Gordon's troops charged through the Union lines and took the ridge, but as they reached the crest they saw the entire Union XXIV Corps in line of battle with the Union V Corps to their right.  When Lee's cavalry saw this they immediately withdrew and rode off towards Lynchburg. Colonel Charles Venable of Lee's staff rode in and asked for an assessment, and Gordon gave him a reply he knew Lee did not want to hear.  "Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet's corps."  After hearing this Lee finally stated the inevitable, "Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

At 8:00 a.m., General Lee rode out to meet General Grant, accompanied by three of his aides.

General Grant received Lee's letter on the morning of April 9, 1865.  He replied to Lee, "General, Your note of this date is but this moment, 11:50 a.m. received, in consequence of my having passed from Richmond and Lynchburg road.  I am at this writing about four miles West of Walker's 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."

It was a show of remarkable respect that he let General Lee choose the spot for his surrender.  Appomattox Court House, a small village of twenty buildings, was chosen as the location.  The brick home of Wilmer McLean was the site.

Dressed in an immaculate uniform, Lee waited for Grant to arrive.  Grant arrived in a mud-spattered uniform, government issue flannel shirt with trousers tucked into muddy boots, and no sidearms.  It was the first time the two men had seen each other face-to-face in almost two decades.  Suddenly overcome with sadness, Grant found it hard to get to the point of the meeting and instead the two generals briefly discussed their only previous encounter, during the Mexican-American War.

The terms of the surrender were recorded in a document completed and signed around 4 p.m. April 9, 1865.  The nightmare of a civil war fought between neighbors, brothers, relatives of all kinds, and citizens of the United States was finally over.

In reality, it was not until June 23, 1865 that the last confederates finally received word that the war was over, surrendered,  laid down their arms and went home.

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