The Battle of Appomattox Court House


Who: Robert E Lee (Confederacy) vs Ulysses S Grant (Union)

What: Site of Lee’s surrender to Grant

Where: Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Why: Lee’s forced were cut off, short of supplies and were greatly outnumbered

When: April 9, 1865

“There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths” – Robert E Lee

By April 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia’s position had become untenable. On April 1, Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry broke Confederate lines at the Battle of Five Forks. The next day, Grant finally reached a breakthrough in the Siege of Petersburg. With his supply lines severed, Lee ordered a retreat and abandoned Richmond, his objective to link up with Joseph E Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, severely weakened by William T Sherman but still roaming the Carolinas. By April 9, Lee was at Appomattox Court House, with both the enormous Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James converging on him. Lee flew the white flag and met with Grant to discuss surrender. They met in the home of Wilmer McLean, whose previous house had been used as P.G.T Beauregard’s headquarters in the First Battle of Bull Run. Grant was slightly star-struck by the imposing Lee, resplendent in his best uniform; Grant had not changed and was spattered with mud. After some small talk in which Grant went off-topic, he offered his generous terms: Lee’s men would hand in their arms, but would be fed, could keep their horses and could return home immediately without prosecution. Leading the formal ceremony, Joshua Chamberlain led a salute of the surrendering Confederates. There were still 175,000 rebels left in the field, but the others soon followed suit: Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26, Nathan Bedford Forrest on May 9, and Stand Watie on June 23. Lee never forgot Grant’s magnanimity, and never permitted a bad word to be spoken of him in his presence. The war was finally over.

Lee signs the terms of surrender in Wilmer McLean’s front parlor. Painting by Tom Lovell

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