american civil war, appomattox court house, robert e lee, ulysses s grant
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On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-70) surrendered his approximately 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the American Civil War (1861-65). Days earlier, Lee had abandoned the Confederate capital of Richmond and city of Petersburg, hoping to escape with the remnants of his Army of Northern Virginia, meet up with additional Confederate forces in North Carolina and resume fighting. When Union forces cut off his final retreat, Lee was forced to surrender, finally ending four years of bloody sectional conflict.

In retreating from the Union army’s Appomattox campaign, which began in late March 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia had stumbled through the Virginia countryside stripped of food and supplies. At one point, Union cavalry forces under General Philip Sheridan had outrun General Robert E. Lee’s army, blocking their retreat and taking approximately 6,000 prisoners at Sayler’s Creek. Desertions were mounting daily, and by April 8 the Confederates were surrounded, with no possibility of escape. On April 9, Lee sent a message to General Ulysses Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. The two generals met in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean home at one o’clock that afternoon.

Lee and Grant, both of whom held the highest rank in their respective armies, had known each other slightly during the Mexican War (1846-48) and exchanged awkward personal inquiries.

Characteristically, Grant arrived in his muddy field uniform while Lee had turned out in full dress attire, complete with sash and sword. Lee asked for the terms, and Grant hurriedly wrote them out. All officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property–most important to the men were the horses, which could be used for a late spring planting. Officers would keep their side arms, and Lee’s starving men would be given Union rations.

Quieting a band that had begun to play in celebration, Grant told his officers, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.” Although scattered resistance continued for several weeks, for all practical purposes the Civil War had come to an end.