Surrender at Appomattox marks beginning of end to Civil War

By David VergunApril 7, 2015

Surrender at Appomattox marks beginning of end to Civil War
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Surrender at Appomattox marks beginning of end to Civil War
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WASHINGTON (April 8, 2015) -- Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, 150 years ago, was actually the first of several Confederate surrenders that took place in the weeks that followed.

Mark L. Bradley, a historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, said it is not really clear that the war ended with Lee's surrender. But first, Bradley described Lee's road to Appomattox and what caused the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to finally conclude it was over.

On April 9, at Appomattox Station, Virginia, Lee found his army and himself surrounded by an overwhelming number of Union Soldiers. Still, at this late stage in the war, Lee had not reconciled himself to surrender, Bradley said.

Lee attempted a breakout using several thousand of his cavalry and infantry. They briefly opened the road out of Appomattox Station but then the federals countered by sending in massive reinforcements and closed the opening.

At that point, Lee purportedly said to one his staff officers, "there's nothing left for me to do but go and see Gen. Grant," Bradley said, referring to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Army of the Potomac, the main Union force.

Grant and Lee had, before April 9, already exchanged several messages, Bradley said. "Grant first called on Lee to surrender to 'avoid any further effusion of blood.'"

Lee responded that he did not see it that way, but he added, what terms would you offer?

In other words, he said, Lee had realized for several days that his army had been greatly weakened, but he continued to fight on. As the end neared, he realized the futility of continuing the struggle. But only later in the morning of April 9 did Lee signal his intention to surrender.

One of Lee's subordinates suggested he resort to guerrilla warfare rather than surrender, Bradley said. Lee declined, "because he believed it would only make the situation even worse for the people of the South. Instead, Lee set the right tone by surrendering at Appomattox instead of breaking up his army into guerrilla bands."


Bradley described the surrender:

On the afternoon of April 9, Grant and Lee met for the first time in the front parlor of the Wilmer McLean house in the village of Appomattox Court House.

Lee was accompanied by an aide-de-camp, Lt. Col. Charles Marshall. Grant brought several of his generals and personal staff with him: Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, Maj. Gen. Edward O. C. Ord, Brig. Gen. John A. Rawlins, Brig. Gen. Rufus Ingalls, Brig. Gen. George H. Sharpe, Brig. Gen. Seth Williams, Brig. Gen. M. R. Morgan, Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker, Lt. Col. Orville E. Babcock, Lt. Col. Horace Porter, Lt. Col. Theodore S. Bowers, Lt. Col. Adam Badeau, and Capt. Robert T. Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln's eldest son.

Grant and Lee shook hands and then sat down at adjacent tables. Their conference began with small talk about their service in the Mexican War, but Lee cut short the exchange by reminding Grant of their purpose. He suggested that Grant put his proposed surrender terms in writing.

Grant wrote out the terms using a manifold writer, a carbon-paper copybook that produced three duplicates. The surrender terms allowed the officers of Lee's army to keep their swords, horses, and personal baggage. More importantly, all officers and men would "be allowed to return to their homes, and not be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside."

With this sentence, Grant gave his word that there would be no prosecution of Lee or his soldiers for their part in the war.

Realizing that most of Lee's men were farmers who needed their animals to plant a crop, Grant promised to instruct his officers to allow the Confederates to keep their mounts. When Lee informed Grant that his Soldiers had been living on parched corn for several days, the Union commander further pledged to provide them with rations.

When Grant was finished, the two generals signed the various copies of the agreement. As they departed, Grant and Lee saluted each other. Then they rode off to deliver the momentous news to their respective armies.

Bradley noted that Grant's terms for surrender were magnanimous. In effect, Grant had given a blanket pardon to Lee's entire army, including Lee himself. This was significant, because at the time, there was a lot of talk in Washington about trying some of the leading Confederates, including Lee.

Grant effectively squelched this talk by threatening to resign if the pardon was not carried out, Bradley said. Grant had Lincoln's respect and trust. Lincoln too wanted to avoid any further bloodshed and wanted the Southerners to get back to their shops and farms and rebuild.


Once Lee's army had surrendered, it was generally conceded that the war was over, Bradley said. However, it took some time to bring the war to a conclusion, as word didn't travel as fast as it does today and while the telegraph was in use, it wasn't readily available everywhere. In addition, people didn't always believe the veracity of reports.

The first big surrender after Appomattox took place near Durham Station, North Carolina, April 26, between Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. It was the largest troop surrender of the war, involving almost 90,000 Confederate soldiers in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

Sherman received word from Grant on the morning of April 12 that Lee had surrendered, Bradley said.

Johnston got a telegram from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, April 10, saying that there was an unofficial report that Lee's army had surrendered. Johnston did not get the official word of the surrender until almost three days later, Bradley said.

Once the official news of surrender reached Johnston, he realized it was pointless to continue the struggle. So Johnston surrendered his Army of Tennessee, Bradley said.

If Grant's terms of surrender to Lee were magnanimous, Sherman's first agreement on April 18 "went way beyond what he was authorized to do and it got him into a bit of hot water in Washington," Bradley said.

Sherman's terms allowed Southern state governments to remain intact and guaranteed Southerners all their personal, political and property rights. One way to interpret this, he said, was that property rights presumably would include slaves, although slaves were not specifically mentioned.

What also got Sherman in trouble was that he offered a blanket amnesty to all Southerners, which would have included Davis and his cabinet.

Johnston suggested to Sherman that he should extend these terms of surrender to all remaining forces in the field, something Sherman was clearly not authorized to do, Bradley said.

"When President Johnson found out about this, he disapproved the agreement, Bradley said. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also sent Grant to North Carolina to inform Sherman that he must offer Johnston the same terms that Grant had given Lee."

However, Sherman also included a supplemental agreement that sweetened the deal for Johnston's men, providing many of them courtesy transport back to their homes. Also, one in seven Soldiers could keep their arms - offering Johnston's men a bit more than Grant's terms provided Lee's men, he said.

As for Davis, he believed the South should and could continue to fight on. Johnston had a very difficult time persuading Davis that the cause was lost, Bradley said. "It took some convincing."

For his part in the war, Davis was imprisoned in a casemate at Fort Monroe, Virginia, for two years. Though indicted for treason, he was never tried.

The next big surrender occurred at Citronelle, Alabama, May 4, where Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor came to an agreement with Union Maj. Gen. E.R.S. Canby. That surrender effectively ended significant combat east of the Mississippi River, Bradley said.

The last land battle of the war occurred May 12 - 13 at Palmito Ranch, Texas, where 350 Confederates commanded by Col. John S. "Rest in Peace" Ford bested 800 Union troops commanded by Col. Theodore H. Barrett, Bradley said.

Two weeks later, another surrender occurred May 26 in New Orleans, where Confederate Gen. Kirby Smith's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, surrendered Smith's Trans-Mississippi Department. Buckner acted behind Smith's back, Bradley said, and when Smith arrived at Houston, Texas, he learned he had no army.

Some 1,000 of Smith's disgruntled men under Brig. Gen. Joseph O. "Jo" Shelby headed south into Mexico. Tagging along with them were Smith and several Southern governors.

The last big surrender came June 23, when Brig. Gen. Stand Watie surrendered his Confederate Indian forces at Doaksville, Oklahoma, which was then Indian Territory, Bradley said. Although Watie was a chief of the Cherokee Nation, there were other Indian tribes under his command. In effect, Watie was the last Confederate general to surrender.

However, that is not quite the end of the surrendering, Bradley said. The Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah did not get word that the war had ended until much later from a British ship, and her captain, Cmdr. James I. Waddell, and his crew surrendered, Nov. 6, 1865.


"It's not clear to me that the war really ended," Bradley said. "It's a case of semantics. You go from the war into Reconstruction. A lot of people see it as a post-war period, and I won't really argue with that.

"But, you have these bands that start to form in the South in late 1865. They're called Regulators," he continued. "They're really vigilantes and in some cases they're just outlaws. They were plundering and pillaging and tended to focus their mischief on African-Americans."

As time went on, these ruffians became more sophisticated, forming into organized groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Red Shirts and White League. They resorted to violence, including murder. "My feeling is that it is a type of guerilla war. I see it as an extension of the Civil War. To paraphrase the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, 'a civil war by other means,'" Bradley said.


In June 1865, the Union troops had more than 200,000 men occupying the South, Bradley said, but that tapered off to about a tenth of that number the following year. The Army remained in the South because the federal government wanted to ensure the region would remain pacified, and they wanted to provide law and order, especially when it came to the treatment of blacks and unionists.

By 1870, all of the 11 states that had seceded from the Union had rejoined, after ratifying the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which addressed citizenship, civil rights and equal protection under the law.

The 14th Amendment overruled the Supreme Court's Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) decision, which ruled that Americans descended from African slaves could not be U.S. citizens.

One of the big takeaways from the war for the Army, Bradley said, is the importance of modern logistics to battlefield success - factories, railways, mass production of materiel and equipment, research and development, things that are still important today. "It was a transformational moment."

Bradley authored the CMH pamphlet, "The Civil War Ends," which is slated for this month and the companion pamphlet, "The Petersburg and Appomattox Campaigns," is scheduled for the end of this month.

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