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Chapter 59: surrender of Lee.

Upon crossing the Appomattox on the night of April 2d, Lee's army marched toward Amelia Court House. It had been his original intention to go to Danville, but being prevented from carrying out this purpose, he marched toward Lynchburg.

Encumbered by a large wagon train, his march was necessarily slow. His trains were attacked again and again by the enemy's cavalry, adding to the delay.

On April 4th Amelia Court House was reached and the army, being without rations, to appease hunger subsisted on young shoots just putting out upon the trees and parched corn. 1

On the 5th the retreat was continued toward Danville; the intention was there to form a junction with Johnston's army, but the enemy had the shortest line, and at Jettersville headed him off, and the march was turned to Lynchburg, where Lee had expressed his [590] belief, that he could carry on the war for twenty years.

On April 6th the rear-guard was attacked by a large force of the enemy, and Generals G. W. C. Lee, Ewell, and Anderson, and many others were captured.

General Rosser, of the cavalry, captured a body of 800 of the enemy, who had been sent by Grant, under General Read, to destroy the bridge at Farmville to impede Lee's march. Read was killed in single combat by General Dearing, who was himself mortally wounded.

On April 7th, Farmville was reached, and here for the first time since leaving Petersburg provisions were issued to the army. The enemy still pursuing, the quartermasters began to burn their wagons, and whatever they contained was destroyed.

The enemy followed closely, crossed the railroad bridge, and brought Lee to bay, attacked and were repulsed, and the retreat continued.

On the evening of the 8th, with his army wearied and diminished in numbers by men falling by the wayside who had never before abandoned their colors, but were now unable longer to keep up with the retreating column, General Lee decided, after conference with his corps commanders, that he would advance [591] the next day beyond Appomattox Court House, and if the force reported there should be only Sheridan's cavalry, disperse it, and continue the march toward Lynchburg.

Gordon, whose corps had formed the rearguard from Petersburg, and who had fought daily for the trains, was now transferred to the front. Next morning, April gth, before daybreak, he, with Fitz Lee's cavalry, moved forward to the attack. He was confronted by Sheridan's cavalry, and he drove them steadily before him, and captured two pieces of artillery. All seemed going well, when Sheridan withdrew from the field, and then, like the lifting of a curtain, Gordon beheld the army of the James advancing through the trees with ten times his number. At the same time Longstreet, covering the rear, being threatened by Meade with a superior force, found it impossible to reinforce Gordon, who, stained with powder and exhausted by his recent battle, reared his knightly head and said, “Tell General Lee my corps is reduced to a frazzle.”

Lee then said, “There is nothing left but for me to go and see General Grant.” And a flag of truce was raised to suspend hostilities pending the interview between the commanders.

An eye-witness thus describes General [592] Lee's appearance when he rode off to see Grant: “He was in full uniform, with handsome embroidered belt and dress-sword, tall black army hat, and buff leather gauntlets. His horse, ‘ old Traveller,’ was finely groomed, and his equipments, bridle-bit, etc., were polished until they shone like silver; he was accompanied by Colonels Marshall and Taylor, of his staff.” 2

Generals Grant and Lee met at the farmhouse of Mr. McLean, a gentleman, who before and during the battle of Manassas, July 18, 1861, had resided at McLean's Ford, over Bull Run, and moved thence to Appomattox to be free from war's alarms. Fate directed the steps of both armies to his fancied secure and quiet retreat, and there the end was to come.

A suitable room having been prepared, and the two generals being seated, General Lee opened the interview by saying: “General Grant, I deem it due to proper candor and frankness to say, at the very beginning of this interview, that I am not willing even to discuss any terms of surrender inconsistent with the honor of my army, which I am determined to maintain to the last.” General Grant replied, “I have no idea of proposing dishonorable terms, General; but I would be [593] glad if you would state what you consider honorable terms.”

General Lee then briefly stated the terms upon which he would be willing to surrender. General Grant expressed himself satisfied with them, and the propositions were reduced to writing.

General Lee read the propositions carefully, and copies were made of the paper by Colonel Marshall and General Grant's secretary.

While this was being done, Generals Grant and Lee exchanged a few words of civility, and the Federal generals who were present were introduced to General Lee, but nothing bearing upon the surrender was said.

General Grant having signed his note, General Lee conferred with Colonel Marshall, who wrote a brief note of acceptance of the terms of surrender offered which were as follows:

The officers to give their individual parole not to take arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander to 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 officers appointed to receive them.

This will not embrace the side-arms of [594] 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 the United States authority so long as they observe their parole, and the laws in force where they may reside.

General Lee then rose to depart, and after bowing to the officers present, went out upon the porch, and beckoned to his orderly to lead up his horse. Descending the steps, he paused a moment and looked sadly out over the valley where his army lay, then mounted. General Grant, who had followed and descended a few steps, raised his hat in respectful salutation, as did those who stood upon the porch. Upon observing this courtesy, General Lee, removing his hat, bowed low upon his horse's neck and rode away.

“ As soon as he was seen riding toward his army, whole lines of men rushed down to the roadside, and crowded around him to shake his hand. All tried to show him the veneration and esteem in which they held him. Filled with emotion he essayed to speak, but could only say, ‘Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more.’ We all knew the pathos of those simple words, of that slight tremble in his [595] voice, and it was no shame on our manhood that ‘something on a soldier's cheek washed off the stain of powder; ’ that our tears answered to those of our grand old chieftain, and that we could only grasp the hand of ‘ Uncle Robert’ and pray ‘ God help you, General.’ 3

There were 7,892 men of the army of Northern Virginia who had arms in their hands at the surrender. The total number, including those who reported afterward, was between 26,000 and 27,000. Grant's army numbered 162,239.t In connection with the evacuation of Richmond, the following incident is related by General G. W. C. Lee:

After I was taken prisoner at Sailor's Creek, with the greater part of the commands of General Ewell and General Dick Anderson, and was on my way to Petersburg with the officers of the three commands, we met the United States engineer brigade under command of General Benham, whom I knew prior to the breaking out of the war as one of the captains of my own corps-engineers.

He did not apparently recognize me, and I did not make myself known to him; but began talking to General Ewell, in a loud tone [596] of voice which could be distinctly heard by all around.

I heard General Benham say, among other things, that “ General Weitzel had found, soon after his entrance into Richmond, a letter from General Lee giving the condition of the Army of Northern Virginia, and what he proposed to do should it become necessary to withdraw from the lines before Richmond and Petersburg, and that the letter was immediately sent to General Grant.” In answer to some doubt expressed by General Ewell or someone else, General Benham replied, “Oh, there is no doubt about the letter, for I saw it myself.”

I received the impression at the time or afterward, that this letter was a confidential communication to the Secretary of War in answer to a resolution of the Confederate Congress asking for information in 1865. When I mentioned this statement of General Benham to General Lee, some time afterward, the latter said, “ This accounts for the energy of the enemy's pursuit. The first day after we left the lines he seemed to be entirely at sea with regard to our movements, after that, though I never worked so hard in my life to withdraw our armies in safety, he displayed more energy, skill, and judgment in his movements than I ever knew him to display before.”


In requesting the above statement from General G. W. C. Lee, Major Walthall, then at Beauvoir with Mr. Davis, wrote him as follows:

Besides its bearing in other respects, it may possibly throw some light upon the yet unexplained failure of General Lee's request for supplies at Amelia Court House, to reach the President or the War Department. ... It seems to be certain that neither the President, Secretary of War, Quarter-Master-General, nor Commissary-General ever received the requisition.

Colonels Taylor and Marshall (of General Lee's staff) both remember that it was well understood that such a requisition had been made, but cannot state with precision either the channels through which, or the functionary to whom, it was sent.

1 The letter had been captured that asked for rations to be sent to that point.

2 Colonel Miller Owen; In Camp and Battle.

3 Colonel William Miller Owen: In Camp and Battle. t Colonel Taylor: Four Years with Lee.

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