‘A Final and Fitting Tribute’ – The Formal Surrender of Lee’s Army

April 12, 1865 (Wednesday)

“It was a chill gray morning, depressing to the senses. But our hearts made warmth.” – General Joshua Chamberlain

Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to the Army of the Potomac by John R. Chapin
Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to the Army of the Potomac by John R. Chapin

Though Robert E. Lee had surrendered on the 9th, the formal ceremony did not occur until this date. During this, the arms would be stacked and the flags folded. This was done by General Grant’s orders, though he would not be there to witness it. Neither would General Meade.

The task and honor fell upon General Joshua Chamberlain. “Grant wished the ceremony to be as simple as possible,” wrote Chamberlain after the war, “and that nothing should be done to humiliate the manhood of the Southern soldiers.”

The ceremony was to begin at 9am, and at that hour, the Confederate, marching once more in column, came into view.

General Joshua Chamberlain:

We formed along the principal street, from the bluff bank of the stream to near the Court House on the left,–to face the last line of battle, and receive the last remnant of the arms and colors of that great army which ours had been created to confront for all that death can do for life. We were remnants also: Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York; veterans, and replaced veterans; cut to pieces, cut down, consolidated, divisions into brigades, regiments into one, gathered by State origin; this little line, quintessence or metempsychosis of Porter’s old corps of Gaines’ Mill and Malvern Hill; men of near blood born, made nearer by blood shed. Those facing us-now, thank God! the same. […]

The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;–was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?

John Brown Gordon:

As my command, in worn-out shoes and ragged uniforms, but with proud mien, moved to the designated point to stack their arms and surrender their cherished battle-flags, they challenged the admiration of the brave victors. One of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal army, General Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine, who afterward served with distinction as governor of his State, called his troops into line, and as my men marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes — a token of respect from Americans to Americans, a final and fitting tribute from Northern to Southern chivalry.

General Chamberlain:

Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,–honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

In this way, each brigade and division passed until 4pm when the former soldiers of the Confederacy returned to their camps. By that time, Lee had already left for Richmond.

The next morning, 27,000 men would receive their paroles. “Now on the morrow,” Chamberlain concluded, “over all the hillsides in the peaceful sunshine, are clouds of men on foot or horse, singly or in groups, making their earnest way as by the instinct of the ant, each with his own little burden, each for his own little home. And we are left alone, and lonesome.”


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2 thoughts on “‘A Final and Fitting Tribute’ – The Formal Surrender of Lee’s Army

  1. Also worth noting on this date: Federal forces were on a tear in Alabama. Troops under Edward Canby occupied Mobile (which would have been a stunning victory a year before, but was now almost meaningless), while troopers under James Wilson took Montgomery, the original capital of the Confederacy.

  2. Great post. Its amazing how much respect was given to each army. What was left of the CSA Army by this time were among the most faithful of the Confederacy.

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