Monday, April 09, 2007

Appomattox -- April 9, 1865

The day that would later be remembered as the end of the Civil War (to be accurate, it wasn't, as there were still several armies in the field) began with an assault by the Confederate Second Corps on Union positions. It was Palm Sunday, 1865.

While the initial charge forced the Union lines to retreat, it also put the Confederates in a position to view the Union XXIV Corps and the V Corps in battle formations. The CSA Second Corps withdrew and a member of General Robert E. Lee's staff was given a report to take back to Lee's headquarters.

There had been contacts between General Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant for a few days already, but Lee had not been ready to surrender. What he heard from his staff officer the morning of the 9th was enough to force his decision. He made contact with Grant's headquarters and a meeting was agreed to. The Confederates secured a home in the area and Lee awaited Grant.

After some reminiscing about their shared experiences in the Mexican War, Lee, who was perhaps a little impatient to conclude what must have been a humiliating visit, asked Grant to proceed to the matter at hand. Grant reiterated, in writing, generous terms:
"In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside."

-- The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky and Konecky. Reprint of the 1885 edition in one volume.

After some discussion, during which Lee pointed out that many enlisted cavalrymen provided their own horses, Grant agreed that, in view of the needs of the planting season, they would be permitted to retain their horses as with the officers. Lee thanked Grant, saying that this would have a good effect on the soldiers.

When the surrender was concluded, cheering commenced in the Union camps. General Grant ordered an immediate stop on the grounds that this sort of humiliation was uncalled for.

The following day Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain was selected to receive the fomal surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Chamberlain, who was a professor at Bowdoin College before the Civil War, chose on his own authority to show military respect to the Confederate forces which were passing in review as they proceeded to the point where they would stack their arms. In Chamberlain's words:
"... Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry"—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!..."

-- The Passing of the Armies by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, originally published in 1915

Chamberlain knew this would be a controversial decision on his part, but his simple act of consideration may have eased the tensions of the day.

General Gordon, who began the previous day with what he quickly learned would be a futile assault on Union lines, was moved by this display of courtesy, and later mentioned Chamberlain's gesture in his memoirs.

As a result of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, the remaining Confederate armies surrendered, beginning with General Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina on April 26, followed by the Trans-Mississippi Department under the command of General Edmund Kirby Smith on June 2, 1865. The last significant Confederate force, under the command of General Stand Watie, a Cherokee, took place in Oklahoma on June 23, 1865.

On Good Friday, 1965 (April 14, 1865), Abraham Lincoln attended a play at Ford's Theater and received a fatal wound from an assassin's pistol. His Second Inauguaral Address, delivered a little over a month previously, set the tone for his intentions in reconstruction:
"... Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Had Lincoln lived, things might have been significantly different...

All photos are believed to be in the public domain and were obtained from Wikipedia.

While I have linked liberally with Wikipedia in this posting, I crosschecked with such works as Grant's The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Chamberlain's The Passing of the Armies, McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, and Shelby Foote's The Civil War: a Narrative - Red River to Appomattox.

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