The Civil War Connections Blog

Waving the White Flag

On this day, April 9th, 148 years ago Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia laid down their weapons and surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in the small town of Appomattox, Virginia. Almost exactly four years before, on April 12, 1861, the Confederates had begun shooting on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, igniting the Civil War. By now however, Lee lead an army that was badly beaten and worn out, with the number of deserters increasing every day, and in desperate need of food. After almost four full years of fighting, both armies and the nation as a whole were tired of the war.

 

Portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, officer of the Confederate Army, c. 1864. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, officer of the Confederate Army, c. 1864. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 

As one of my previous blogs, Front Seats to the Eastern Theater, discusses, there was originally to be a battle at Appomattox. There was some light skirmishing, but once it became apparent that the Confederate troops would not win, Lee asked Grant to meet and discuss terms of surrender. This led the men to the house of Wilmer McLean, who had also seen the start of the war at his previous home in Manassas, Virginia, with the Battle of First Bull Run. Uncomfortably enough, the men had previously encountered one another during their time in the Mexican War, and apparently exchanged some pleasantries before discussing terms. Apparently, Lee showed up in his full dress uniform, looking polished and profession as he was always reported to be. In contrast, Grant showed up with his uniform rumpled and muddy, looking much as he did any other day.

 

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 

The terms of surrender that were reached between the two generals were exceptionally generous, and it is often called “The Gentlemen’s Agreement.” Grant paroled the Confederate soldiers and allowed them to return home, and while he required that Confederate equipment and weapons be turned over to the Union army, he allowed the men to keep their horses and mules so they could use them for the spring harvests. Much of the landscape of Virginia and the Eastern Theater had been ravaged or burned by the armies, and it needed to be restored to its former levels of production. In addition to this, the Confederate soldiers had not been able to eat in a few days, and Grant obliged Lee’s request for rations for his men.

When Lee left the McLean house to return to his army, the Union army began cheering and their band began playing celebratory tunes. When Grant heard this, he immediately sent word instructing them to stop stating, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.”[1] The official ceremony of surrender, in which the Confederate troops turned over their weapons, occurred a few days later on April 12th, the anniversary of the day the war had begun. Following Lee’s surrender, it took some time for fighting to cease in other parts of the country. However, the war was over in Virginia, and while Reconstruction was on the horizon, the nation would soon be rocked again with the assassination of President Lincoln.

 

McLean House, Appomattox, Appomattox County, VA. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

McLean House, Appomattox, Appomattox County, VA. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 


[1] “This Day in History – April 9th,” History Channel Online, Accessed April 9, 2013. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history