Grant and Lee’s Surrender Correspondence

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Northern Diaries, Letters and Memoirs
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McLean House at Appomattox Court HouseAfter the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, Lee disengaged his army and headed west to link up with General Joseph E. Johnston’s army. After the crushing defeat at Five Forks on April 1, 1865 where the Confederates suffered nearly 3,000 casualties, the Army of Northern Virginia moved further west hoping to met trains carrying supplies. The following day Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill was killed in the Third Battle of Petersburg in the confusion as he attempted to reach his troops.

Four days later on April 6th, the Confederates were defeated again at Sailor’s Creek (also known as Sayler’s Creek, Hillsman Farm, or Lockett Farm) with 7,700 captured, with nine generals including Richard S. Ewell and Custis Lee among them. The number of dead and wounded are unknown. Upon seeing the survivors streaming along the road, Lee exclaimed in front of Maj. Gen. William Mahone“My God, has the army dissolved?”

Following the minor battles of Cumberland Church and High Bridge, Grant initiated the correspondence with the following letter that was sent on April 7th. In it he appealed to Lee to surrender his army to avoid the further spilling of blood.

General R. E. LEE:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General

In his reply General Lee responded the same day by refusing Grant’s surrender request but at the same time asking under what terms his army would receive for their surrender.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
APRIL 7, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R. E. LEE,
General.

On April 8, Union cavalry under Brevet Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer captured and burned three supply trains waiting for Lee’s army at the Battle of Appomattox Station. Now both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James were converging on Appomattox. On the same day Grant responded with a general outline of his terms of surrender. Lee’s path of escape was now blocked by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s formidable force.

General R. E. LEE:

Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of same date, asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply I would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to yell, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

Lee replied the same day and asked for a meeting on April 9th to discuss terms for peace. Lee was rather evasive saying that he did not think that he was ready to surrender but still desired a meeting.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
APRIL 8, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received at a late hour your note of to-day. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposal may affect the C. S. forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 a.m., to-morrow; on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.

R. E. LEE,
General.

Meanwhile, Lee ordered Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon‘s depleted corps and Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry to form a line of battle at Appomattox Court House on the morning of April 9th. Lee was determined to make one last attempt to escape the closing Union pincers and reach his supplies at Lynchburg. At dawn the Confederates advanced, initially driving back Sheridan’s cavalry. However, the arrival of Grant’s infantry—the Union V Corps—stopped the advance in its tracks.

Meanwhile, Grant had replied that he could only discuss terms of surrender but left Lee an opening by affirming his desire for peace.

APRIL 9, 1865

General R. E. LEE:

Your note of yesterday is received. I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace; the meeting proposed for 10 a.m. to-day could lead to no good. I will state, however, general, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be set-tied without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c.,

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

Lee’s outnumbered army was now surrounded on three sides.  Upon hearing it Lee finally stated the inevitable: “Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” Realizing that he was caught in a trap that he could not escape Lee replied asking for a meeting to discuss the terms of surrender.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
APRIL 9, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R. E. LEE,
General.

Grant replied with a somewhat detailed outline of the terms of surrender.

APPOMATTOX COURT-HOUSE, VA.
April 9, 1865

General R. E. LEE:

In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia 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 to be 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 officers 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 his home, not to be disturbed by U. S. authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

Lee replied with his acceptance of Grant’s terms and proposed a final meeting to sign the surrender terms. The two commanders met at Wilmer McLean’s house in Appomattox Court House at 3:00 PM where General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia almost four years after the war began with the firing on Fort Sumter.

The McLeans had moved from Manassas where some of the fighting at First Manassas had taken place. The War in Virginia had begun in Wilmer McLean’s property and ended in his parlor.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 9, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U. S. GRANT:

I have received your letter of this date containing the terms of 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 instant, they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.

R. E. LEE,
General.

Grant recalled later that migraine headache that he had seemed to immediately disappeared when he rad Lee’s reply.

Many point to Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865 as the end of the American Civil War.  This claim ignores the fact that other Confederate armies were still in the field and fighting after Lee’s surrender.  On April 26, 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston would surrender his forces to William T. Sherman in North Carolina.  General Richard Taylor’s forces in Alabama surrendered on May 4th.  On June 2, 1865 General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered the Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi.  And on June 23, 1865, General Stand Watie surrendered his Cherokee forces to the Union army in Oklahoma.

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