American Civil War Campaigns--Surrender at Appomatox Court House (April 1865)


Figure 1.-This is Gen. Ord, commander of the Army of the James, and his family shortly after Lee's surrender at Appomatox (April 1865). They are at Jefferson Davis' residence in Richmond. Lee's surrender table can be seen in the doorway.

Lee as the Federals broke through his lines around Richmond made a desperate attempt to move the Army west, hoping to join Johnston's forces to the south in in North Carolina. Union Calvary managed, however, to trap Lee's remaining forces at Appomatox. Recognizing the futility of further resistance, he surrendered a few days later. The scene of the Lee's surender at Appomatox has passed into legend. Almost unbelieveably, the surrender took place in Wilmer McLean's parlor. This was the same wholesale grocer of whom it is said that the Civil War started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor. The account of Joshua Chaberlin, best noted for anchoring the Federal left at Gettysburg on Little Roundtop, has been questioned. [Marvel] And most illustrations of the surrender are eronious. There can be little doubt, however, that Grant's generous treatment of Lee and his men was a major step in the eventual unification of the country. Similarly, Lee's injunction to his men to become 'loyal citizens' of the United States. It was Lee's great gift to the American nation. Davis wanted continued resistance, ordering the Army to scatter and wage a guerilla campaign. Such a campaign would have failed, but the campaign needed to supress it would have delayed the heling process for a generation. Jesse James and Bloody Bill Anderson in Missouri are an example of what would have happened if Lee had opted for guerilla war. [Stiles] That is not to say that Grant and Lee saw the War in similar terms. [Varon] Davis also fled Richmond. He was tracked down by Federal Calvary and, unlike Lee, arrested (May 1865).

Final Offensive on Richmond (April 2)

The seige of Richmond was the lonest campaign of the War. Grant desiring to avoid the high casualties from a friontal assault on fixed positiins decided ion a seige. He set out to streatch the seige kines longer and longer knowing that Lee did not have the men amaterial to man an elogated line, even if he had the advantage of interior klines. Finally the Federal Sixth Corps launched a pre-dawn assault and breeched the Confederate lines around Petersburg (April 2, 1865). Confederate brigades, stretched thin, and poorly supplied fought a tenacous defense, but could not stop a well supplied Federal corps. were overwhelmed by Union forces attacking their fortifications. The loss of Petersburg doomed Richmiond.

Lee's Retreat

Lee as the Federals broke through his lines around Richmond informed President Davis and made a desperate attempt to move the Army west, hoping to join Johnston's forces to the south in in North Carolina.

Fedreal Encirclement (April 8)

Federal Calvary managed, however, to trap Lee's remaining forces at Appomatox, less tha a week after Richmond fell. Federal cavalry under Brig. Gen. and Brevet Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer captured and burned three supply trains waiting for Lee's army at the Battle of Appomattox Station. At the time both the the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James were converging on Appomattox. The loss of the supplies at Appomattox was a disaster for Lee whose men were in a desperate state. Lee's only option was now to move west and reach the railway at Lynchburg, where supplies were stockpiled.

Battle of Appomatox (April 9--Morning)

While the Federal Union Armies were closing in on Lee, all that lay between Lee and Lynchburg was the fast-moving Federal cavalry. Lee hoped to break through the cavalry before Federal infantry arrived. The Federal Battle of Appomattox Court House was the final consequetial engagement of the Civil War (April 9). Lee tried to break out of the Fedearl encirclement, but failed. His men were outniumbetred, out gunned and close to starvatiion. Recognizing the futility of further resistance, Lee decided that his only option was surrender.

The Surrender (April 9--Afternoon)

The scene of the Lee's surender at Appomatox has passed into legend. Almost unbelieveably, the surrender took place in Wilmer McLean's parlor. This was the same wholesale grocer of whom it is said that the Civil War started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor. The account of Joshua Chaberlin, best noted for anchoring the Federal left at Gettysburg on Little Roundtop, has been questioned. [Marvel] And most illustrations of the surrender are eronious. Often one table is picytured betwen Grant and Lee. Both belonging to McLean were appropriated by Federal generals and had their own histiories after the War. Lee’s table was taken from the McLean parlor by General Edward O.C. Ord. He claimed he paid McLean $40 for it. It was stored at Fort Monroe until after Ord’s death (1887). It was then sold to C.F. Gunther, Chicago businessman whose Civil War and other relics were later passed to the Chicago Historical Society. It is now held in the Society's Museum. Grant’s table was taken by General Sheridan who offered McLean $20 in gold. McLean refused the offer. Sheridan ordered the table removed anyway and threw the money on the floor. Gen. Custer obtained the table and sent it his wife. She loaned it to the Smithsonian Institute (1912). Mrs. Custer died (1926). Title to the table was transferred (1936). It is held in the Smithsonian Institute, Armed Forces Division.

Grant's Terms

There can be little doubt, however, that Grant's generous treatment of Lee and his men was a major step in the eventual unification of the country.

Lee's Instructions (April 10)

Lee gave his farewell address to his army (April 10). Lee's injunction to his men to become 'loyal citizens' of the United States. It was Lee's great gift to the American nation. Davis wanted continued resistance, ordering the Army to scatter and wage a guerilla campaign. Such a campaign would have failed, but the campaign needed to supress it would have delayed the heling process for a generation. Jesse James and Bloody Bill Anderson in Missouri are an example of what would have happened if Lee had opted for guerilla war. [Stiles]

Formal Surrenderv Ceremony (April 12)

A six-man commission gathered to discuss a formal ceremony of surrender (april 10). No Confederate officer of any staure understandably wished to go through a formal surrender ceremony. Brig. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain was the Federal officer selected to over see the ceremony. At the surrender ceremonies, some 28,000 Confederate soldiers passed by and stacked their arms.

Impact of Lee's Surrender

Lee's surrender is widely seen as the end of the Civil War. Actually, Lee surrendered only one Confederate Army and not the Confderacy itself. President Davis whio anted to continue resistance was still at large. There were still some 175,000 Confederate soldies still in the field. None of them, however, were commanded by officers of the same stature as Lee. And ther were all in a terrible sy=tate, poorly armed and supplied. Many of the men were near starvation. Small groups were in garrisons scattered throughout the South in garrisons. The largest formations were concentrated in three major Confederate commands. With Lee;s surrender the desire of these commands to continue the war evaporated. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina, the most importantb of the surviving Confederate armies, surrendered to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina (April 26, 1865). Some 98,270 Confederates surrendered with Johnston. This would be the largest surrender of the war. General Taylor surrendered his army at Citronelle, Alabama (early May). General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendering the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department near New Orleans (May). Nathan Bedford Forrest also surrendered, reading his farewell address to his men at Gainesville, Alabama (May 9). Brig. Gen. Stand Watie surrendered the last sizable organized Confederate force (June 23). There were several more small battles after Lee's surrender. The Battle of Palmito Ranch is commonly seen as the final military engagement of the War.

Views of the War

That is not to say that Grant and Lee saw the War in similar terms. [Varon] Grant and Lee as well as most Americans saw the War in very different terms. Grant saw the Fedweral vicyoory for which he played such a key role was one of right over wrong and perhaps even a touch of evil. For Lee while committed to peace was a matter of might iover right. While he was committed to peace and unity, he also was committed to restoring the South's political power within the now restored Federal Union. [Varon]

President Davis

Prsident Davis also fled Richmond. The Presidebt eluded the Federal opartriols for several weeks. He was finally tracked down by Federal Calvary and, unlike Lee, arrested (May 1865).

Sources

Marvel, William. Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomatox (University of North Carolina, 2002).

Varon, Elizabeth R. Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (2013), 320p.






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Created: 11:50 PM 1/31/2014
Last updated: 11:50 PM 1/31/2014