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The sword of Lee. [from the Baltimore sun, August, 1901.]

It was not offered to General Grant at Appomattox.

Colonel Marshall's testimony.

He corrects an Oft—Repeated misstatement that is without the slightest Foundation—What General Grant wrote about the matter.

The following correspondence between Mr. Spotswood Bird, of Baltimore, a member of Company F, Twenty-fourth Regiment Virginia Cavalry, Confederate States Army, and Colonel Charles Marshall, of this city, corrects a frequently-repeated misstatement [270] connected with General Lee's surrender to General Grant at Appomattox. The correspondence was elicited by an interesting sketch written by Mrs. Jefferson Davis for the New York World, in which Mrs. Davis inadvertently gave the error a fresh lease of life by her distinguished endorsement, the statement being that General Lee offered his sword to General Grant when he surrendered, which the latter, in the language of Mrs. Davis, ‘did not keep as a trophy, but respectfully returned to the hand which had made its fame as deathless at that of Excalibur.’

To clear up a point of great historical interest and to correct finally and authoritatively an error that was gaining popular currency, Mr. Bird, in May last, addressed the following letter to Colonel Marshall, who was on General Lee's staff and was present during the interview between Lee and Grant:

The truth of history.

I know that I simply voice the sentiments of our comrades when I say it is time that this miserable perversion of the truth, this outrageous error, should be exploded and settled for all time; and it is our opinion that no one living is so well qualified to do this, and let the plain and simple facts go down to history, as yourself. You, who wrote the articles of agreement as General Lee's secretary, and were personally present during the whole time of his interview with General Grant on that memorable occasion, can, with authority which will compel acceptance, even from our late enemies, refute the myth which has been so often repeated that it is now being accepted as truth, that General Lee tendered his sword to General Grant, which the latter refused to accept.

As a matter of fact it should be known to the world that General Lee was careful in arranging the terms of surrender with General Grant to avoid any humiliation, but on the contrary, to protect the dignity of himself and every officer in the Army of Northern Virginia with the express provision that they should retain their sidearms. It follows, of course, that neither General Lee himself, nor a single one of the Confederate officers ever thought for a moment of surrendering, or offering to surrender, his sidearms, but after receiving their paroles, marched out of the Federal lines with their sidearms buckled on, which the writer knows to be a fact from personal observation at the time.

In justice to the peerless Lee and the noble men who were [271] “steadfast to the last,” I feel that you will appreciate the duty you owe them to place your unqualified statement of the facts on record, so that our children and children's children can, whenever necessary, in the future, appeal to your statement to vindicate and establish the truth. Our Confederate camps can spread your statement on their records and thus make it accessible to their history committees and the survivors of our comrades when their voices shall all be still. I have been requested to appeal to you for your written statement concerning this matter so dear to our hearts, thus verifying the facts herein stated, which we feel confident will be to you a “labor of love.” The sword of Lee was drawn from motives as noble and lofty as ever inspired human breast; it was wielded in a cause as righteous as ever enlisted patriot zeal; by reason of having been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources' it was sheathed in defeat — not surrendered in humiliation.

With sentiments of highest esteem, believe me, dear sir,

Very truly and sincerely yours,

Spotswood Bird, Late private, Company F, 24th Regiment, Virginia Cavalry, Gary's Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia.

Colonel Marshall's reply.

Baltimore, June 5, 1901.
Spotswood Bird, Esq., Late Private, Company F, Twenty-fourth Regiment, Virginia Cavalry:
dear Sir,—I have received your communication of May 23d, and herewith return, as requested, my reply.

The subject of your letter is one that is entirely covered, I think, by my address delivered before the Society of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States in the State of Maryland on January 19, 1894, which I inclose to you and of which you may make such use as you deem proper. You will perceive from the address that the circumstances attending the meeting between General Grant and General Lee on April 9, 1865, did not call for any demand on the part of General Grant for the surrender of General Lee's sword on that occasion and that any statement, however made and by whomsoever made to the effect that General Lee made the tender of the surrender of his sword to General Grant must be entirely in conflict [272] with the views of either. Neither of them, I am sure, was influenced by any theatrical ideas of the surrender.

You will observe that by the very terms of the surrender demanded by General Grant, it was expressly provided that the officers of the Confederate army should retain their sidearms. To have offered to surrender his sword would have been an offer on General Lee's part to do more than had been demanded of him. I cannot, therefore, understand how Mrs. Davis, or any one else, could have supposed that General Lee made that offer, or how General Grant could have made such a demand.

This subject has been so much dwelt upon by those who pretend to write about the circumstances of the surrender that it has become fatiguing. All the facts are, I think, fully set forth in the address I send you. This statement has been prepared with great care and has never been contradicted by any officer on either side to my knowledge.

Believe me, my dear sir, very truly yours,

General Grant's testimony.

Mr. Bird also writes the Sun as follows:

General Grant himself fully corroborates Colonel Marshall's statement in his book, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Volume II, Chapter XXV, pages 344-346. I quote General Grant's own words:

No conversation—not a word—passed between General Lee and myself, either about private property, sidearms or kindred subjects. The much talked of surrendering of Lee's sword and my handing it back, this, and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance. The word ‘sword’ or ‘sidearms’ was not mentioned by either of us until I wrote it in the terms. There was no premeditation, and it did not occur to me until the moment I wrote it down. If I had happened to omit it and General Lee had called my attention to it, I should have put it in the terms precisely as I acceded to the provision about the soldiers retaining their horses.

This brief extract should be conclusive as to this question. Additional extracts show that the terms of surrender contained specific provision for retention of sidearms by the officers, and private property by both officers and men of General Lee's army. [273]

It is highly creditable to General Grant, and in keeping with his courtly and knightly bearing toward General Lee, that in this matter he was unwilling to have ascribed to him a degree of magnanimity as purely sentimental and romantic as it was baseless. Any one who in the future may be bold enough to repeat the mythical story that General Lee offered his sword to General Grant, which the latter refused to accept, with the unqualified testimony of both Colonel Marshall and General Grant to the contrary, will be guilty of either palpable ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation.

Spotswood Bird. Baltimore, August, 1900.

(It may be added as a matter of local interest, that the magnificent uniform and splendid sword which General Lee wore on the occasion of his interview with General Grant at Appomattox, were the gifts of Baltimore sympathizers and admirers.) [From the Southern Practitioner, August, 1901.]\

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