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Chapter 2:

The terms at Appomattox.

The terms at Appomattox were neither dictated by the Government, nor suggested by Mr. Lincoln, nor inspired by any subordinate. Early in March, 1864, the Administration had positively prohibited General Grant from attempting to settle or even discuss the conditions of peace; and at the interview between Mr. Lincoln and the commissioners sent out from Richmond in February Grant was not permitted to be present. There was a determination on the part of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton to exclude the military authorities altogether from the final settlement, after submission should be secured. During Mr. Lincoln's stay at City Point, prior to the final movements of the war, he had many conversations with Grant, but said nothing to indicate definitely what steps he intended to take at the close. Those steps were probably uncertain in his own mind, for, like all sagacious statesmen, he left much to be determined by circumstances as they might arise. Even after the fall of Petersburg, when the end of the war was evidently at hand, when Mr. Lincoln came up and conferred for an hour or two with Grant in the captured town, there was no definite line laid down for the head of the army. Grant only knew the general magnanimity of the President's views and his disposition toward clemency. I make this statement from his own positive declarations.

So, also, it is within my knowledge that no subordinate, however great or however near, either knew or suggested [19] in advance the terms that Grant would impose on Lee. This fact he has repeatedly stated to me. Matters of such consequence he never decided until the moment for decision came, and he never in his life arranged the details of any matter until it was presented to him for actual determination. Thus, until he knew that he had the remains of the army of Lee within his grasp, he did not reduce to form, even in his own mind, the exact conditions upon which he would allow it to surrender. He had indeed long felt that when the war was ended there should be no vindictive policy toward the vanquished, and he informed Lee at once when they met that he meant to accept paroles; but the important final provision, that which gives all its peculiar character to the capitulation, was unstudied, and its language spontaneous. Yet the language is as precise as words can make it, and enunciates a policy which has done as much as victory itself to secure the results of the war. ‘Each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they reside.’

The terms, however, were not in the least the result of chance, or carelessness, or indifference. They were the legitimate outgrowth of Grant's judgment and feeling; the consequence of all that had gone before; embodied then for the first time, because then for the first time the necessity for the embodiment had arrived. In this way Grant always did his greatest things. It may be strange or inexplicable, but he could not often explain his methods, nor, indeed, always his reasons.

He had at this moment no defined large views about separating the military from the civil power, far less any intent of encroaching on the domain or prerogative of politics. He did not even, like Sherman, take into consideration the fate or condition of other forces of the enemy, although he was General-in-Chief; he confined himself strictly [20] to the business before him—the disbanding and dispersion of Lee's army. He wanted to secure that neither that army nor any of its members could ever again resist or confront the national authority; and when this was determined he was unwilling to inflict on one of those members a single unnecessary humiliation or suffering. He was, I am sure, unconscious of any special magnanimity in this course. He thought nothing of himself, and little as yet of the farreach-ing effect of his terms on the population of the South. What his hand found to do, it did, and no more; in peace as well as in war.

The corroboration of all this is the fact that the idea of allowing the officers to retain their sidearms and personal effects was suggested to him as he wrote. He wore no sword, having been summoned hastily from his own headquarters two days before to a distant portion of the field, with no opportunity of returning afterward. Lee, however, had dressed himself with care for the ceremony. His headquarters' train had been burned by Sheridan in the pursuit, and Lee and his officers, able to save only a single suit of clothes, had secured the finest. In this way Lee was handsomely clad; he wore embroidered gauntlets and the sword presented to him by the ladies of Virginia. The conqueror, battle-stained, in a common soldier's coat, looked up at his foe, elaborately arrayed, and the glitter of the rebel weapon suggested to him to spare the conquered the humiliation of surrendering it. Then he wrote the line permitting officers to retain their side-arms, horses, and personal effects. This statement has been questioned, but I give it on General Grant's authority. He examined and corrected the account of the interview in my history of his campaigns.

I stood near him as Lee left the room, and thus happened to be the first to congratulate him upon the result. I said something about the event being one that would live forever in history. I am sure the idea had not occurred to him until [21]

I uttered it The effect upon his fame, upon history, was not what he was considering. He was thinking of the captured soldiery returning home without their weapons, to work their little farms; of a destitute country, ravaged by law, but now to be restored.

I talked with him that night when the others, tired with the marches and battles of the week, had gone to such beds as the camp provided. I had been used to sit up with him late into the night, to write his letters or to keep him company, for he could not sleep early. Then he always talked with greater freedom than at any other time. This night we spoke of the terms he had granted Lee. There were some of his officers who disliked the idea of the paroles, and thought at least the highest of the rebels should have been differently dealt with—held for trial. This was not my feeling, and I spoke of the effect his magnanimity was sure to have upon the country and the world. He was not averse to listen, and declared that he meant to maintain the compact no matter who opposed. But Lincoln, he said, was certain to be on his side.

The next day he met Lee again at the picket lines between the armies, and the two generals sat on their horses and discussed the condition of the South for hours, in sight of their soldiers. Lee assured Grant of the profound impression the stipulations of the surrender had made upon his army, and declared that the entire South would respond to the clemency he had displayed. Scores of the captured officers had already visited Grant, many of them his comrades at West Point, in the Mexican war, or on the Indian frontier, and thanked him for their swords, their liberty, and the immunity from civil prosecution which he had secured them.

Later on the same day he set out for Washington. General Ord accompanied him as far as City Point, and then was directed to take command in the captured capital. Ord shared the feeling I had expressed in regard to the treatment [22] of the fallen enemy, and learning my views he asked that I might be ordered to accompany him to represent the General-in-Chief directly in Richmond, and to report familiarly and confidentially what could hardly be the subject of official letters. Grant was accustomed to employ his staff officers on such errands and he complied at once with Ord's request. He informed me in a private conversation of the purpose of my orders. Ord's task, he said, was to foster a submissive spirit among the conquered population and soldiers, and to carry out the lenient policy which the terms at Appomattox had foreshadowed, and I was to assist him in every way. I was to be given duties that would lead me into contact with Southerners of importance, and among other tasks that of distributing food to the destitute was committed to me. In Richmond, at that time, every one was destitute, and when General Lee arrived from Appomattox I had learned the condition of the city, and sent at once to inquire if I could furnish him and his staff with supplies. He replied by an aide-de-camp that he was greatly obliged, and did not know what he should have done had the offer not been made. He wanted, indeed, to sell his horses, both to obtain money and because he had no forage. There was only one way in which the food could be supplied. Congress had provided for such emergencies: printed tickets were prescribed, on the presentation of which what was called the ‘destitute ration’ was furnished. A ticket for a destitute ration was accordingly made out for General Robert E. Lee and staff.

When I was returning to Washington Lee requested me to ask of Grant whether the soldiers captured at Sailor's Creek, four days before the final battle, might not be released on the terms granted to their fellows at Appomattox. There were 7,000 of these, among them General Custis Lee, a son of the Southern commander. But Grant considered that men taken in battle with arms in their hands were not as yet entitled to the same treatment with those who had surrendered [23] in the open field; for, it must be remembered, he held that he had been fighting rebels. Accordingly the men were not paroled at that time.

Nevertheless, the terms which he refused to extend in one instance he was prompt to temper to changed conditions in another. In the summer of 1866, a daughter of General Lee fell dangerously ill in North Carolina. Lee was then living at Lexington, in Virginia, and supposed that his parole did not allow him to leave his home, even to visit a dying child. I learned the fact and reported it to Grant, who at once directed me to enclose a formal extension of his parole to Lee, but to state that at this late day he did not consider the extension necessary. General Lee acknowledged the obligation in the following letter:

Lexington, Va., August 3, 1866.
Colonel,—I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 26th ult., enclosing an extension of the limits of my parole. I am very much obliged to the General Commanding the armies of the United States for his kind consideration. I am unable to visit North Carolina, and therefore did not think proper to apply for the favor granted.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee. Colonel Adam Badeau, Military Secretary.

This was the last communication between the two great adversaries growing out of the war. [24]

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