April 9 is the anniversary of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Virginia – the beginning of the end of the American Civil War.
On this date in 1865, after four years of bloody conflict, approximately 630,000 deaths and over 1 million casualties, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the tiny village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
General Lee arrived at the McLean home shortly after 1:00 p.m., followed a half hour later by General Grant. After engaging in conversation for about ten minutes, Lee asked Grant to propose the terms of surrender.
Grant’s terms were generous beyond any known precedent. Lee’s men would not be imprisoned, nor would they be prosecuted for treason. They would be required to accept individual paroles forbidding them from again taking up arms against the United States, and they would be bound to be law-abiding from that time forward.
In addition to these terms, Grant allowed Confederate officers to retain their horses, sidearms, and personal baggage. Cavalry and other troops using personal horses and mules were permitted to take them home for use with the spring planting. On learning that Lee’s troops were nearly starving, Grant provided 25,000 of his own army’s rations for their relief.
The terms of the surrender were recorded in a document completed around 4 p.m., April 9. As Lee left the house and rode away, Grant’s men began cheering in celebration, but Grant ordered it stopped. “I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped,” he said. “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we should not feel to exult over their downfall.”
Lee never forgot Grant’s magnanimity during the surrender, and for the rest of his life would not tolerate an unkind word about Grant in his presence.
Of all the wars that have afflicted the United States, none was so costly in suffering and death, none so filled with venom and hatred as was the American Civil War.
There are few more touching scenes in history than that of April 9, 1865, at Appomattox, Virginia, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant wrote a brief statement of terms under which the soldiers of the South were free to return to their homes with their personal sidearms, their private horses, and baggage. There was no recrimination, no demand for reparations, no apologies required or punishment given.
This has gone down in the chronicles of war as a great and magnificent act of mercy.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Blessed Are the Merciful“
In the following seven-minute video sequence, we see President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses Grant conversing, one week before Appomattox, about the eventual Confederate surrender. Lincoln reviews with Grant his desire to be lenient with the rebels when the times comes – “when peace comes, it mustn’t just be hangings,” he says – after which he expresses heartsickness over the scenes of carnage he has just viewed following the Battle of Petersburg (Virginia). The scene then shifts to Appomattox Court House, where the historic meeting between Grant and Lee is described. Finally, we witness Lee’s departure from Appomattox, where Grant and his subordinates remove their hats in a wordless gesture of respect to their now-defeated adversary.
The beginning and ending portions of the sequence are taken from the 2012 Steven Spielberg production, Lincoln. The middle segment, including the commentaries, is from Ulysses S. Grant: Warrior President, produced in 2002 for PBS’s American Experience television series.
My own feelings were sad and depressed…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.
General Ulysses S. Grant