Excerpt From The Everything Civil War Book (Adams Media)

Robert E. Lee’s army got a one day jump on Ulysses S. Grant’s
pursuing forces, abandoning Petersburg for Danville, North
Carolina, where Jefferson Davis hoped to reinstate the
Confederate government and keep the war going. Lee knew the
continuation of hostilities was futile, but as a professional soldier
he couldn’t bring himself to question his commander-in-chief.

On the night of April 3, 1865, Lee’s army found itself in Amelia
Courthouse, a little more than 20 miles from Petersburg. Lee
had hoped to find rations for his starving men, but there wasn’t
a single morsel to be had. Desperate to move on, he had no
choice but to remain an extra day while scouts foraged the
countryside in search of food. This cost Lee his one-day head
start and placed him and his men in great jeopardy.

The problem was that the area was swarming with Union troops.
Following very close behind were three corps of Union infantry,
marching a few miles south of Lee on a parallel course. And on
the night of April 4, some of Sheridan’s cavalry made a tentative
move into Amelia Courthouse. Lee knew he couldn’t stay; to do
so would be folly.

The forage wagons upon which Lee had pinned his hopes
returned nearly empty on April 5. This meant that his men would
have to march on still-empty stomachs, something they had
been forced to do for far too long. After another brief delay so
additional Confederate forces under General George Thomas
Anderson and General Richard Ewell could join him, Lee
ordered his army to move out -- only to find his path blocked by
Union infantry and cavalry.

Rather than directly face the larger Federal force, Lee shifted
west toward Farmville, where he hoped to receive food and
provisions for his men from nearby Lynchburg. The night march
there took a heavy toll on Lee’s hungry, exhausted men, many
of whom stumbled out of the walking columns and were never
seen again. And as always, Federal forces continued to harass
the Confederates as they slowly made their way. Grant dogged
Lee with unflagging determination, pressing closer and closer,
unwilling to let his esteemed foe escape yet again. The end was
close, and both men knew it.

On April 6, Union forces overwhelmed John Gordon’s army,
which was covering the Confederate trains, at the small town of
Sailer’s Creek. During that battle, Federal soldiers captured the
majority of Lee’s supply wagons and, even more heartbreaking,
decimated the corps led by Anderson and Ewell. Lee’s army
took a huge hit during the battle, losing more than 7,000 men
and reducing his force to just 15,000 soldiers armed with only
muskets and sabers. Opposing them was 80,000 Union infantry
and cavalry.

The following day, Lee’s army stumbled into Farmville, where
they received food for the first time in many days. Once his men
had eaten their fill, Lee pressed on, crossing the Appomattox
River and burning the bridges behind him. But even that failed
to hold back Grant’s forces, and Lee continued to feel the Union
commander’s presence just miles behind him. That evening,
Lee received an invitation from Grant to surrender, an offer he
quickly refused. A tiny ray of hope remained: If Lee could only
get his men to Appomattox Station, he could feed them from
supply trains from Lynchville and then swing south to Danville.

On April 8, Grant’s army forced Lee into another rear-guard
action to protect his remaining wagons. As Lee’s men fought for
their very survival, Sheridan’s cavalry and infantry under E.O.C.
Ord quickly moved past Lee’s southern flank and drove into
Appomattox Station, where they captured Lee’s supply trains
and placed themselves cross his line of march. That evening,
Lee’s army entered Appomattox Court House and saw the
extent of Sheridan’s force. The Confederates were greatly
outnumbered by heavily armed Union cavalry and infantry, far
too many for them to engage. An assault would have been
sheer suicide, and all knew it. The end had finally come for Lee’
s Army of Northern Virginia.

The following day, April 9 -- Palm Sunday -- Lee put on his very
best dress uniform, including a red silk sash, a jeweled sword
given to him by some women in England, red-stitched spurred
boots, and long gray gloves, known as gauntlets. He planned to
meet with Grant to discuss surrender terms, and wanted to look
his best if Grant took him prisoner. It was an agonizing decision
for Lee, who told Gordon he would rather “die a thousand
deaths.” But he had no choice. If he didn’t surrender, thousands
more would needlessly die.

Sheridan was about to launch one final attack on Lee’s army
when a single man in gray rode out from the opposing ranks
carrying a white flag of truce. He told Sheridan that Lee was
waiting to meet with Grant at the nearby home of a man named
Wilmer McLean. Sheridan was at first skeptical but he quickly
ordered a cease-fire, and for a long moment the two armies
simply stood there staring at each other. Grant then rode up to
Sheridan and was told that Lee was expecting him at the house
below. “Well then,” Grant said, “let’s go up.”

Grant and Lee were an exercise in contrast when they shook
hands in Wilmer McLean’s parlor. Lee looked resplendent in his
finest dress uniform, while Grant, who had been nursing a
severe headache that morning and hadn’t had time to clean up,
rode up mud-spattered and disheveled. Grant arrived alone
and found Lee standing with two aides. He removed his gloves
and extended his hand to the man he had pursued for so long.
The two officers then sat down as six of Grant’s generals
entered the room and stood behind their commander.

Grant made a gesture at small talk, mentioning a time he and
Lee had met while serving in Mexico years before. They
discussed better times for a few moments, then Lee, who was
anxious to get on with the sad business at hand, said: “I
suppose, General Grant, that the object of our present meeting
is fully understood. I asked to see you to ascertain upon what
terms you would receive the surrender of my army.”

Realizing the gravity of the situation and the pain his adversary
must have felt, Grant did no gloating that day. Though he had
won, he was in no mood to celebrate. He told Lee that his
officers and men would have to surrender, then be paroled and
disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged,
and that all arms, ammunition, and supplies were to be
delivered up as captured property. The terms were written
down, then reviewed by Lee, who quietly corrected an
unintentional oversight before agreeing to them. He then asked
whether his cavalrymen and artillerists could keep their horses,
most of which were private property. Grant noted at first that
only officers would be allowed to keep their horses, but quickly
realized how much the issue meant to Lee. Changing his mind,
he promised to “let all the men who claim to own a horse or
mule take the animals home with them to work their little farms.”
Grant also authorized all of the provisions Lee needed to feed
his starving men. Lee was very appreciative of Grant’s kind
gesture, noting, “This will have the best possible effect on the
men. It will be very gratifying and will do much toward
conciliating our people.”

After signing the declaration of surrender, Lee stood up and
shook Grant’s hand one more time. He bowed to the other men
in the room -- all of whom knew they were witnessing history in
the making -- and walked silently out the door. On the porch,
Lee put his riding gloves on and gazed for a moment toward the
hillside where his ragtag army awaited his return. He absently
drove his right fist into his left hand three times, then mounted
his beloved horse Traveller and rode away to deliver the difficult
news to his men.

Three days later, on April 12, what was left of Lee’s Army of
Northern Virginia relinquished their weapons and received their
paroles, which allowed them to return home. Though a handful
of minor battles would be fought in the weeks ahead, the war
was finally over and the Confederate States of America, so
eager to prove its independence, no longer existed. On April
14, General Robert Anderson raised the American flag over
Fort Sumter -- the same flag he had been forced to lower
exactly four years earlier. Later that evening, Lincoln was killed
at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth. Others would die in
skirmishes over the next few weeks, but in many ways, Lincoln
was the final casualty in a war that took so many.
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