“What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassable face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings…were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”
So wrote Ulysses S. Grant in his memoirs as he described his meeting with Robert E. Lee on today’s date, April 9 in 1865. Lee, the commanding General of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia knew that his army was surrounded by Union Army forces under the command of General Grant, and that he had no further hope of military success. With his force reduced to 28,000 men and running low on provisions, Lee realized that surrender was his only alternative to further pointless bloodshed. “There is nothing for me to do now but to go to General Grant,” he said, “and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”
The War Finds Wilmer McLean
A meeting was arranged in the small town of Appomattox Court House, at the home of a local town resident Wilmer McLean. It was an amazing coincidence, but McLean (pictured below) had his home commandeered as the headquarters for Confederate General P.T. Beauregard during the first major engagement of the war, the First Battle of Bull Run (July 18, 1861). A Union cannonball landed in McLean’s kitchen, so he subsequently moved his home to what he thought would be a quiet corner of Virginia, where the war would not find him. But find him, it did! The meeting between the two men went amicably enough, with Grant agreeing to allow the Confederate officers to keep their horses:
“I took it that most of the men in the ranks were small farmers.” Grant said. “The whole country had been so raided by the two armies that it was doubtful whether they would be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they were then riding.”
There was an entire Confederate army facing General Sherman to the South of Appomattox under the command of Joseph E. Johnston. In addition, there were other Confederate forces scattered throughout South and all of these could still fight. But the leaders of these armies took their cue from General Lee instead of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis called for the fight to continue, but these armies would surrender as General Lee had done. Thus the surrender at Appomattox effectively brought the American Civil War to an end. And Wilmer McLean could afterwards say quite correctly: “The Civil War began in my kitchen, and ended in my parlor!”
“Memoirs and Selected Letters” – Ulysses S. Grant Literary Classics of the United States Inc., New York, 1990. pp. 735 – 740.