The Surrender of General Lee – Appomattox Court House (Part 2)

This is Part Two. To read Part One, please click here.

April 9, 1865 (Sunday – Afternoon through evening)

One of many inaccurate prints of the surrender.

One of many inaccurate prints of the surrender.

General Grant, from his Memoirs:

Before stating what took place between General Lee and myself, I will give all there is of the story of the famous apple tree.

Wars produce many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true. The war of the rebellion was no exception to this rule, and the story of the apple tree is one of those fictions based on a slight foundation of fact. As I have said, there was an apple orchard on the side of the hill occupied by the Confederate forces. Running diagonally up the hill was a wagon road, which, at one point, ran very near one of the trees, so that the wheels of vehicles had, on that side, cut off the roots of this tree, leaving a little embankment. General Babcock, of my staff, reported to me that when he first met General Lee he was sitting upon this embankment with his feet in the road below and his back resting against the tree. The story had no other foundation than that. Like many other stories, it would be very good if it was only true.

McLean House (c.1950) by Theodore Horydczak.

McLean House (c.1950) by Theodore Horydczak.

Horace Porter, of Grant’s staff, from Campaigning with Grant:

About one o’clock the little village of Appomattox Court-house, with its halfdozen houses, came in sight, and soon we were entering its single street. It is situated on rising ground, and beyond it the country slopes down into a broad valley. The enemy was seen with his columns and wagon-trains covering the low ground. Our cavalry, the Fifth Corps, and part of Ord’s command were occupying the high ground to the south and west of the enemy, heading him off completely. We saw a group of officers who had dismounted and were standing at the edge of the town, and at their head we soon recognized the features of Sheridan.

Another inaccurate print.

Another inaccurate print.

Philip Sheridan, from his Memoirs:

“How are you, Sheridan?” [asked Grant.] I assured him with thanks that I was “first-rate,” when, pointing toward the village, he asked, “Is General Lee up there?” and I replied: “There is his army down in that valley, and he himself is over in that house (designating McLean’s house) waiting to surrender to you.” The General then said, “Come, let us go over,” this last remark being addressed to both Ord and me. We two then mounted and joined him, while our staff-officers followed, intermingling with those of the general-in-chief as the cavalcade took its way to McLean’s house near by, and where General Lee had arrived some time before, in consequence of a message from General Grant consenting to the interview asked for by Lee through Meade’s front that morning—the consent having been carried by Colonel Babcock.

McLean House (1965) by Timothy O'Sullivan.

McLean House (1965) by Timothy O’Sullivan.

General Grant:

I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me, while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War.

When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.

Grant from West Point to Appomattox

Grant from West Point to Appomattox

Horace Porter:

The general passed in, and as Lee arose and stepped forward, Grant extended his hand, saying, “General Lee,” and the two shook hands cordially. The members of the staff, Generals Sheridan and Ord, and some other general officers who had gathered in the front yard, remained outside, feeling that General Grant would probably prefer his first interview with General Lee to be, in a measure, private. In a few minutes Colonel Babcock came to the front door, and, making a motion with his hat toward the sitting room, said: “The general says come in.”

Another inaccurate print of the surrender.

Another inaccurate print of the surrender.

Col. Charles Marshall, from Lee’s Aide-de-Camp:

In about half an hour we heard horses, and the first thing I knew General Grant walked into the room. There were with him General Sheridan, General Ord, Colonel Badeau, General Porter, Colonel Parker, and quite a number of other officers whose names I do not recall.

General Lee was standing at the end of the room opposite the door when General Grant walked in. General Grant had on a sack coat, a loose fatigue coat, but he had no side arms. He looked as though he had had a pretty hard time. He had been riding and his clothes were somewhat dusty and a little soiled. He walked up to General Lee and Lee recognized him at once. He had known him in the Mexican war. General Grant greeted him in the most cordial manner, and talked about the weather and other things in a very friendly way. Then General Grant brought up his officers and introduced them to General Lee.

McLean House (c.1950) by Theodore Horydczak.

McLean House (c.1950) by Theodore Horydczak.

Horace Porter:

We walked in softly, and ranged ourselves quietly about the sides of the room, very much as people enter a sick-chamber when they expect to find the patient dangerously ill. Some found seats on the sofa standing against the wall between the two doors and on the few plain chairs which constituted the furniture, but most of the party stood.

McLean House (probably 1930s)

McLean House (probably 1930s)

General Grant:

What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible 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, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, 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.

Still another inaccurate print of the surrender (note: Meade?)

Still another inaccurate print of the surrender (note: Meade?)

Charles Marshall:

I remember that General Lee asked for General Lawrence Williams, of the Army of the Potomac. That very morning General Williams had sent word by somebody to General Lee that Custis Lee, who had been captured at Sailor Creek and was reported killed, was not hurt, and General Lee asked General Grant where General Williams was, and if he could not send for him to come and see him. General Grant sent somebody out for General Williams, and when he came, General Lee thanked him for having sent him word about the safety of his son.

McLean House, 1865 by Timothy O'Sullivan.

McLean House, 1865 by Timothy O’Sullivan.

Horace Porter:

Grant began the conversation by saying: “I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico, when you came over from General Scott’s headquarters to visit Garland’s brigade, to which I then belonged. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere.” “Yes,” replied General Lee; “I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it, and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature.”

Rear of McLean House (probably 1930s)

Rear of McLean House (probably 1930s)

General Grant:

Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army. I said that I meant merely that his army should lay down their arms, not to take them up again during the continuance of the war unless duly and properly exchanged. He said that he had so understood my letter.

Then we gradually fell off again into conversation about matters foreign to the subject which had brought us together. This continued for some little time, when General Lee again interrupted the course of the conversation by suggesting that the terms I proposed to give his army ought to be written out.

Inaccurate surrender print.

Inaccurate surrender print.

Charles Marshall:

After a very free talk General Lee said to General Grant: ‘General, I have come to meet you in accordance with my letter to you this morning, to treat about the surrender of my army, and I think the best way would be for you to put your terms in writing.’ General Grant said: ‘Yes, I believe it will.’ So a Colonel Parker, General Grant’s Aide-de-Camp, brought a little table over from a corner of the room, and General Grant wrote the terms and conditions of surrender on what we call field note paper, that is, a paper that makes a copy at the same time as the note is written. After he had written it, he took it over to General Lee.

McLean House with Federal soldiers by Timothy O'Sullivan.

McLean House with Federal soldiers by Timothy O’Sullivan.

General Grant:

When I put my pen to the paper I did not know the first word that I should make use of in writing the terms. I only knew what was in my mind, and I wished to express it clearly, so that there could be no mistaking it. As I wrote on, the thought occurred to me that the officers had their own private horses and effects, which were important to them, but of no value to us; also that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to call upon them to deliver their side arms.

Grant’s conditions read:

APPOMATTOX C. H., VA.,

Ap 9th, 1865.

GEN. R. E. LEE, Comd’g C. S. A.

GEN: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.

Very respectfully, U. S. GRANT, Lt. Gen.

Draft of Grant's terms.

Draft of Grant’s terms.

Horace Porter:

As I was standing equally distant from them, with my back to the front window, I stepped forward, took the book, and passed it to General Lee. […] Lee pushed aside some books and two brass candlesticks which were on the table, then took the book and laid it down before him, while he drew from his pocket a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, and wiped the glasses carefully with his handkerchief. He crossed his legs, adjusted the spectacles very slowly and deliberately, took up the draft of the terms, and proceeded to read them attentively. They consisted of two pages. When he reached the top line of the second page, he looked up, and said to General Grant: “After the words ‘until properly’ the word ‘exchanged’ seems to be omitted. You doubtless intended to use that word.”

“Why, yes,” said Grant; “I thought I had put in the word ‘exchanged.'”

“I presumed it had been omitted inadvertently,” continued Lee; “and, with your permission, I will mark where it should be inserted.”

“Certainly,” Grant replied.

Lee felt in his pocket as if searching for a pencil, but he did not seem to be able to find one. Seeing this, I handed him my lead-pencil. During the rest of the interview he kept twirling this pencil in his fingers and occasionally tapping the top of the table with it. When he handed it back, it was carefully treasured by me as a memento of the occasion. When Lee came to the sentence about the officers’ side-arms, private horses, and baggage, he showed for the first time during the reading of the letter a slight change of countenance, and was evidently touched by this act of generosity. It was doubtless the condition mentioned to which he particularly alluded when he looked toward General Grant, as he finished reading, and said with some degree of warmth in his manner, “This will have a very happy effect upon my army.”

Inaccurate, but in color.

Inaccurate, but in color.

Charles Marshall:

General Lee then said to General Grant: ‘General, our cavalrymen furnish their own horses; they are not Government horses, some of them may be, but of course you will find them out—any property that is public property, you will ascertain that, but it is nearly all private property, and these men will want to plough ground and plant corn.’

General Grant answered that as the terms were written, only, the officers were permitted to take their private property but almost immediately he added that he supposed that most of the men in the ranks were small farmers, and that the United States did not want their horses. He would give orders to allow every man who claimed to own a horse or mule to take the animal home.

McLean House with Federal soldiers by Timothy O'Sullivan.

McLean House with Federal soldiers by Timothy O’Sullivan.

General Grant:

Then, after a little further conversation, General Lee remarked to me again that their army was organized a little differently from the army of the United States (still maintaining by implication that we were two countries); that in their army the cavalrymen and artillerists owned their own horses; and he asked if he was to understand that the men who so owned their horses were to be permitted to retain them. I told him that as the terms were written they would not; that only the officers were permitted to take their private property. He then, after reading over the terms a second time, remarked that that was clear.

I then said to him that I thought this would be about the last battle of the war—I sincerely hoped so; and I said further I took it that most of the men in the ranks were small farmers. 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. The United States did not want them and I would, therefore, instruct the officers I left behind to receive the paroles of his troops to let every man of the Confederate army who claimed to own a horse or mule take the animal to his home. Lee remarked again that this would have a happy effect.

He then sat down and wrote out the following letter:

General Lee’s reply:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, April 9, 1865.

GENERAL:—I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.

R. E. LEE, General.

A fair copy of Grant's terms.

A fair copy of Grant’s terms.

Horace Porter:

While the letters were being copied, General Grant introduced the general officers who had entered, and each member of the staff, to General Lee. The general shook hands with General Seth Williams, who had been his adjutant when Lee was superintendent at West Point some years before the war, and gave his hand to some of the other officers who had extended theirs; but to most of those who were introduced he merely bowed in a dignified and formal manner. He did not exhibit the slightest change of features during this ceremony until Colonel Parker of our staff was presented to him. Parker being a full-blooded Indian, when Lee saw his swarthy features he looked at him with evident surprise, and his eyes rested on him for several seconds. What was passing in his mind no one knew, but the natural surmise was that he at first mistook Parker for a negro, and was struck with astonishment to find that the commander of the Union armies had one of that race on his personal staff.

McLean House with family. By Timothy O'Sullivan.

McLean House with family. By Timothy O’Sullivan.

Charles Marshall:

[W]hile we were talking I heard General Grant say this: ‘Sheridan, how many rations have you?’ General Sheridan said, ‘How many do you want?’ and General Grant said, ‘General Lee has about a thousand or fifteen hundred of our people prisoners, and they are faring the same as his men, but he tells me his haven’t anything. Can you send them some rations?’

‘Yes,’ he answered. They had gotten some of our rations, having captured a train.

General Grant said: ‘How many can you send?’ and he replied ‘Twenty-five thousand rations.’

General Grant asked if that would be enough, and General Lee replied ‘Plenty; plenty; an abundance’; and General Grant said to Sheridan ‘Order your commissary to send to the Confederate Commissary twenty-five thousand rations for our men and his men.’

Palm Sunday - Harper's Weekly

Palm Sunday – Harper’s Weekly

Horace Porter:

Grant’s eye now fell upon Lee’s sword again, and it seemed to remind him of the absence of his own, and by way of explanation, and so that it could not be construed as a discourtesy, he said to Lee:

“I started out from my camp several days ago without my sword, and as I have not seen my headquarters baggage since, I have been riding about without any side-arms. I have generally worn a sword, however, as little as possible—only during the active operations of a campaign.” “I am in the habit of wearing mine most of the time,” remarked Lee, “when I am among my troops moving about through the army.”

General Sheridan now stepped up to General Lee, and said that when he discovered some of the Confederate troops in motion during the morning, which seemed to be a violation of the trace, he had sent him (Lee) a couple of notes protesting against this act, and as he had not had time to copy them, he would like to have them long enough to make copies. Lee took the notes out of the breast pocket of his coat, and handed them to Sheridan, with a few words expressive of regret that the circumstance should have occurred, and intimating that it must have been the result of some misunderstanding.

After a little general conversation had been indulged in by those present, the two letters were signed. Grant signed the terms on the oval table, which was moved up to him again for the purpose. Lee signed his letter of acceptance on the marble-topped table at which he sat. Colonel Parker folded up the terms, and gave them to Colonel Marshall. Marshall handed Lee’s acceptance to Parker.

Robert E. Lee leaving the McLean House following his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant by Alfred Waud

Robert E. Lee leaving the McLean House following his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant by Alfred Waud

Charles Marshall:

There was no theatrical display about it. It was in itself perhaps the greatest tragedy that ever occurred in the history of the world, but it was the simplest, plainest, and most thoroughly devoid of any attempt at effect, that you can imagine.
[…]
After that a general conversation took place of a most agreeable character. I cannot describe it. I cannot give you any idea of the kindness, and generosity, and magnanimity of those men. When I think of it, it brings tears to my eyes.

Robert E. Lee leaving the McLean House following his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant by Alfred Waud

Robert E. Lee leaving the McLean House following his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant by Alfred Waud

Horace Porter:

One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step, and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond, where his army lay—now an army of prisoners. He thrice smote the palm of his left hand slowly with his right fist in an absent sort of way, seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard, who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unaware of everything about him.

All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, moving toward him, and saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present. Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off at a slow trot to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.

  1. Thank you for bringing us day by day through these years of our nation’s greatest trial. I have read your posts pretty much every day, pretty much from the beginning. You transformed the civil war from something dry and dust-covered to an ongoing journey with a new chapter every day. This was a great undertaking. Thank you again for all your work.