Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

History

History & Culture

WHERE OUR NATION WAS REUNITED

The stories of Appomattox Court House go far beyond the final significant battles of this nations bloody Civil War. Beyond the surrender meeting between Generals Lee and Grant and speak to the very soul of America.

The Meeting

THE GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT

On the morning of April 9, while General Robert E . Lee realized that the retreat of his beleaguered army had finally been halted, U. S. Grant was riding toward Appomattox Court House where Union Cavalry, followed by infantry from the V, XXIV, and XXV Corps had blocked the Confederate path. Lee had sent a letter to Grant requesting a meeting to discuss his army's surrender and this letter overtook Grant and his party just before noon about four miles west of Walker's Church (present-day Hixburg). Grant, who had been suffering from a severe headache, later remembered that upon reading Lee's letter the pain in his head had disappeared. He stopped to prepare his reply to Lee, writing that he would push to the front to meet him.

The location of the meeting was left to Lee's discretion. Lt. Colonel Orville E . Babcock and his orderly, Capt. Dunn, took Grant's reply and rode ahead. Babcock found Lee resting under an apple tree near the Appomattox River. After reading Grant's letter, Lee, his Aide-de-Camp Lt. Colonel Charles Marshall, and Private Joshua O. Johns rode toward Appomattox Court House accompanied by Federal Officers Lt. Col. Babcock and Capt. William McKee Dunn. Marshall and Johns rode ahead of Lee in order to find a place for the generals to confer. As Marshall passed through the village he saw Wilmer McLean in the vicinity of the courthouse. He asked McLean if he knew of a suitable location, and McLean took him to an empty structure that was without furniture. Marshall immediately rejected this offer. Then McLean offered his own home. After seeing the comfortable country abode, Marshall readily accepted and sent Private Johns back to inform General Lee that a meeting site had been found.

Lee arrived at the McLean house about one o'clock and took a seat in the parlor. A half hour later, the sound of horses on the stage road signalled the approach of General Grant. Entering the house, Grant greeted Lee in the center of the room. The generals presented a contrasting appearance; Lee in a new uniform and Grant in his mud-spattered field uniform. Grant, who remembered meeting Lee once during the Mexican War, asked the Confederate general if he recalled their meeting. Lee replied that he did, and the two conversed in a very cordial manner, for approximately 25 minutes. The subject had not yet gotten around to surrender until finally, Lee, feeling the anguish of defeat, brought Grant's attention to it. Grant, who later confessed to being embarrassed at having to ask for the surrender from Lee, said simply that the terms would be just as he had outlined them in a previous letter.

The terms would parole officers and enlisted men but required that all Confederate military equipment be relinquished. The discussion between the generals then drifted into the prospects for peace, but Lee, once again taking the lead, asked Grant to put his terms in writing. When Grant finished, he handed the terms to his former adversary, and Lee -- first donning spectacles used for reading-- quietly looked them over. When he finished reading, the bespectacled Lee looked up at Grant and remarked "This will have a very happy effect on my army." Lee asked if the terms allowed his men to keep their horses, for in the Confederate army, men owned their mounts . Lee explained that his men would need these animals to farm once they returned to civilian life. Grant responded that he would not change the terms as written (which had no provisions allowing private soldiers to keep their mounts) but would order his officers to allow any Confederate claiming a horse or a mule to keep it. General Lee agreed that this concession would go a long way toward promoting healing. Grant's generosity extended further. When Lee mentioned that his men had been without rations for several days, the Union commander arranged for 25, 000 rations to be sent to the hungry Confederates. After formal copies of the surrender terms and Lee's acceptance had been drafted and exchanged, the meeting ended.

In a war that was marked by such divisiveness and bitter fighting, it is remarkable that it ended so simply. Grant's compassion and generosity did much to allay the emotions of the Confederate troops. As for Robert E. Lee, he realized that the best course was for his men to return home and resume their lives as American citizens.

Before he met with General Grant, one of Lee's officers (General E. Porter Alexander) had suggested fighting a guerilla war, but Lee had rejected the idea. It would only cause more pain and suffering for a cause that was lost. The character of both Lee and Grant was of such a high order that the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia has been called "The Gentlemen's Agreement."

surrender

On April 9, 1865 after four years of Civil War, approximately 630,000 deaths and over 1 million casualties, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the rural town 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. The meeting lasted approximately an hour and a half. The terms agreed to by General Lee and Grant and accepted by the Federal Government would become the model used for all the other surrenders which shortly followed. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia allowed the Federal Government to redistribute forces and bring increased pressure to bear in other parts of the south that would result in the surrender of the remaining field armies of the Confederacy over the next few months.

On April 26th General Joseph Johnston surrendered to Major General W. T. Sherman near Durham, North Carolina (now Bennett Place State Historical Park), on May 4th General Richard Taylor, the son of 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor, surrendered at Citronelle, Alabama, on June 2nd General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered the Confederate Department of the Trans Mississippi to Major General Canby, and on June 23rd General Stand Watie surrendered Confederate Cherokee Indian forces in Oklahoma.

Ely Parker - Chief, Lawyer, Engineer, and Brigadier General.

In Galena, Parker met Grant, an obscure ex army Captain working as a clerk in his brother's store. The two men became friends and during the war Grant made a position for the able Parker on his staff. At the time of the surrender Parker was a Lieutenant Colonel, but received the rank of Brevet Brigadier General after the War.

Lieutenant Colonel Ely Parker made the formal ink copy of General Grant's letter that spelled out the terms of surrender. "Having finished it, I brought it to General Grant, who signed it, sealed it and then handed it to General Lee." Lt. Colonel Ely Parker

At the surrender meeting, seeing that Parker was a Native American, General Lee remarked to Parker, "I am glad to see one real American here." Parker later stated, "I shook his hand and said, We are all Americans."

Among members of Grant's Staff Parker was known for his fine handwriting, his knowledge of the law, his sense of humor, and as a good fellow to have around in a fight. Parker once described himself as "a savage Jack Falstaff of 200 weight."

Original Structures

Original Structures at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

A. Original Buildings

Name Date

Sweeney Prizery ca. 1790

Clover Hill Tavern 1819

Clover Hill Tavern Guest House 1819

Mariah Wright house 1823

Charles Sweeney Cabin ca. 1840

Clover Hill Tavern Kitchen and Guest House 1848

Bocock-Isbell house ca. 1849-50

Bocock Isbell Smokehouse ca. 1849-50

Bocock Isbell Outside Kitchen ca. 1849-50

Jones Law Office ca. 1850

Woodson Law Office ca. 1851

Plunkett-Meeks Store 1852

Plunkett-Meeks Storage Building ca. 1850

Plunkett-Meeks Store Stable ca. 1850

Peers House ca. 1855

Sweeney Conner Cabin ca. 1860

New County Jail ca. 1860-70

Williams Cabin ca. 1865

B. Original Structures - Roads and Lanes

Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road ca. 1790

Prince Edward Court House Road ca. 1790

Back La ca. 1850

Market Lane ca. 1850

Bocock Lane ca. 1850

Sears Lane ca. 1850

Trent Lane ca. 1850

Tibbs Lane ca. 1850

Wright Lane ca. 1850

Williams Lane ca. 1850

Conner Cabin Road ca. 1850

Pryor Wright Lane ca. 1850

Oakville Road prior to 1856

* the above is a partial listing of structures on the Appomattox Court House "List of Classified Structures."

 

The Appomattox Campaign

THE APPOMATTOX CAMPAIGN ~
March 29 - April 9, 1865

What was to become the final campaign for Richmond began when the Federal Army of the Potomac crossed the James River in June 1864. Under Lieutenant General U.S. Grant's command, Federal troops applied constant pressure to the Confederate lines around Richmond and Petersburg, and by Autumn, three of the four railroads into Petersburg had been cut. The South Side Railroad remained as the only means of rail transportation into Confederate lines, and once severed, the Army of Northern Virginia would have no other choice but to evacuate the capitol.

However, Lee's concern stretched beyond the Confederate capitol to Federal actions elsewhere in the south. By February of 1865, two federal armies, one under Major General William T. Sherman and the other under Major General John M. Schofield, were moving through the Carolinas. If not stopped, they could sever Virginia from the rest of the south, and if they joined Grant at Petersburg, Lee's men would face four armies instead of two.

Realizing the danger, Lee wrote the Confederate Secretary of War on February 8, 1865: "You must not be surprised if calamity befalls us." By the time he wrote this letter, Lee knew he would have to leave the Petersburg lines, the only question was when. Muddy roads and the poor condition of the horses forced the Confederates to remain in the trenches throughout March.

Once again, Ulysses S. Grant seized the initiative. On March 29, Major General Philip H. Sheridan's cavalry and the V Corps began moving southwest toward the Confederate right flank and the South Side Railroad. On the 1st of April, 21,000 Federal troops smashed the 11,000 man Confederate force under Major General George Pickett at an important road junction known locally as Five Forks. Grant followed up this victory with an all - out offensive against Confederate lines on April 2nd.

With his supply lines cut, Lee had no choice but to order Richmond and Petersburg evacuated on the night of April 2-3. Moving by previously determined routes, Confederate columns left the trenches that they had occupied for ten months. Their immediate objective was Amelia Court House where forces from Richmond and Petersburg would concentrate and receive rations sent from Richmond. Once his army was reassembled, Lee planned to march down the line of the Richmond and Danville Railroad with the hope of meeting General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee coming from North Carolina. Together, the two Confederate armies could establish a defensive line near the Roanoke River, and assume the offensive against Sherman.

The march from Richmond and Petersburg started well enough. Many of the Confederates, including Lee, seemed exhilarated at being in the field once again, but after the first day's march signs of weariness and hunger began to appear. When Lee reached Amelia Court House on April 4, he found, to his dismay, that the rations for his men had not arrived. Although a rapid march was crucial, the hungry men of the Army of Northern Virginia needed supplies. While awaiting the arrival of troops from Richmond, delayed by flood conditions, Lee decided to halt the march and send wagons into the countryside to gather provisions. Local farmers had little to give and the wagons returned practically empty.

The major result of this delay at Amelia was a lost day of marching which allowed the pursuing Federals time to catch up.  Amelia proved to be the turning point of the campaign.

Leaving Amelia Court House on April 5, the columns of Lee's army had travelled only a few miles before they found Union cavalry and infantry squarely across their line of march - through Jetersville and on toward Danville and Johnston's Army.

Rather than attack the entrenched federal position, Lee changed his plan. He would march his army west, around the Federals, and attempt to supply his troops at Farmville along the route of the South Side railroad. The retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia was under constant Federal pressure. Union cavalry attacked the Confederate wagon train at Paineville destroying a large number of wagons. Tired from lack of sleep (Lee had ordered night marches to regain the day he lost) and hungry, the men began falling out of the column, or broke ranks searching for food. Mules and horses collapsed under their loads.

As the retreating columns became more ragged, gaps developed in the line of march. At Sailor's Creek (a few miles east of Farmville), Union cavalry exploited such a gap to block two Confederate corps under Lt. Generals Richard Anderson and Richard Ewell until the much larger Union VI Corps arrived to crush them.

Watching the debacle from a nearby hill, Lee exclaimed, "My God! Has the army been dissolved?" Nearly 8,000 men and 8 generals were lost in one stroke, either killed, captured, or wounded. The remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia arrived in Farmville on April 7 where rations awaited them, but the Union forces followed so quickly that the Confederate cavalry had to make a stand in the streets of the town to allow their fellow troops to escape and most Confederates never received the much needed rations.

Blocked once again by Grant's army, Lee once more swung west hoping that he could be supplied farther down the rail line and then turn south. Just north of Farmville, Lee turned west onto the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road. The Union II and VI Corps followed. Unbeknownst to Lee, however, the Federal cavalry and the V, XXIV, and XXV Corps were moving along shorter roads south of the Appomattox River to cut him off. While in Farmville on April 7, Grant sent a letter to Lee asking for the surrender of his army. Lee, in the vicinity of Cumberland Church, received the letter and read it. He then handed it to one of his most trusted corps commanders -- Lt. General James Longstreet. Longstreet tersely replied, "Not yet." As Lee continued his march westward he knew the desperate situation his army faced. If he could reach Appomattox Station before the Federal troops he could receive rations sent from Lynchburg and then make his way to Danville via Campbell Court House (Rustburg) and Pittsylvania County. If not, he would have no choice but to surrender.

On the afternoon of April 8, the Confederate columns halted a mile northeast of Appomattox Court House. That night, artillery fire could be heard from Appomattox Station, and the red glow, to the west, from Union campfires foretold that the end was near. Federal cavalry and the Army of the James -- marching on shorter roads -- had blocked the way south and west. Lee consulted with his generals and determined that one more attempt should be made to reach the railroad and escape.

At dawn on April 9, General John B. Gordon's Corps attacked the Union cavalry blocking the stage road, but after an initial success, Gordon sent word to Lee around 8:30 a.m. "... my command has been fought to a frazzle, and unless Longstreet can unite in the movement, or prevent these forces from coming upon my rear, I cannot go forward." Receiving the message, Lee replied, "There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths."