Seven Things You Didn’t Know about Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox

The Surrender At AppomattoxThe Surrender At Appomattox. (Photo: New York Public Library)

1) General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 was not the end of the Civil War.

There were still a number of armies still in the field that would surrender over the next month. The last major land force to surrender was Brigadier General Stand Watie, a Cherokee, and his Indian troops, on June 23. The last Confederate ship, the CSS Shenandoah, surrendered in England on November 6, 1865. President Andrew Johnson declared the war over on August 20, 1866.

2) The surrender at Appomattox Court House was not at a courthouse.

Appomattox Court House is the name of a small village in Virginia. When Clover Hill became the county seat of the newly surveyed Appomattox County in 1845, it got a court house. From then on, the hamlet was known as Appomattox Court House. The surrender took place in a house owned by Wilmer McLean.

3) Wilmer McLean, who owned the house where Grant accepted Lee’s surrender, had moved to Appomattox Court House in 1863 to avoid the war.

Before the war, McLean owned a farm near Manassas, Virginia. It happened to be the site where Union and Confederate soldiers fought the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the Civil War, on July 21, 1861. Eager to get as far away from the war as possible, McLean in 1863 moved 120 miles away from Manassas to the tiny village of Appomattox Court House. (McLean’s bad luck continued: during the war, he made a fortune smuggling sugar, but the fortune was in Confederate money, useless after the war.)

4) The final draft of the surrender document was written by an American Indian.

Lt. Colonel Ely Parker, a Seneca man on General Grant’s staff, wrote the final draft. Parker, an engineer for the U.S. Treasury Department, had moved to Galena, Illinois before the Civil War to oversee the construction of the customhouse there. Grant was clerking at his brother’s store at the time, and the two became friends. Parker had been trained as a lawyer as well as an engineer (although he could not pass the bar because, as an American Indian, he was not a citizen), and Grant asked him to draft the final copy of the surrender terms.

5) Grant’s terms of surrender were generous.

General Grant required only that Confederates surrender Confederate property. While the soldiers stacked about 27,000 guns, Grant permitted them to retain their side arms, their baggage, and their horses so they could make it home safely and plant crops when they got there. He also agreed to provide about 25,000 rations to the surrendering soldiers.

6) The legend that General Joshua Chamberlain’s men saluted the Confederates as they surrendered is true, but only sort of.

General Joshua Chamberlain, who had saved the Union victory at Gettysburg, was chosen to oversee the formal surrender of Confederate arms and battle flags. In honor of the occasion, he ordered his men to salute the Confederates, not in the form that was the highest military recognition, but in the marching salute, with a soldier’s gun in his right hand and held perpendicular to his shoulder. The men were silent.

7) The story that Lee offered his sword either to Grant or to Chamberlain is a myth.

According to Grant: “The much talked of surrendering of Lee’s sword and my handing it back, this and much more that has been said about it is the purest romance.” No one mentioned anything about swords or side arms at the conference. Grant simply wrote down in his surrender terms his plan to let Confederates keep them.

Chamberlain also discounted the story that he had received Lee’s sword: “It was said in press dispatches that…I made the claim that I had received Lee’s sword. I never did make that claim even, as I never did receive that sword.”

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1 Comment

  1. A very interesting fact I learned from reading Jay Winik’s April, 1865 is that both Lee at Appomattox and, later, Joseph Johnston in North Carolina, were disobeying orders from President Jefferson Davis when they accepted terms of surrender. According to Winik, the Confederate government had ordered Lee and Johnston to break up their armies into smaller units and continue fighting a guerilla war against the Union.

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