Surrender at Appomattox Court House (April 9, 1865)

Updated: April 09, 2015

On April 9, 1865, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met at the home of Wilmer McClean, located in the small Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, to negotiate the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. By 4 p.m., the two generals reached an agreement, and Lee signed a document surrendering his army.

On March 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert to strike the Confederacy from several directions. Grant would travel with Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the Richmond, Virginia area; Major General William T. Sherman would march three Federal armies south from Chattanooga, Tennessee to capture Atlanta, Georgia; and Major General Franz Sigel would invade western Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to cut off supplies to Lee's army and to prevent any Confederate attempts to attack Meade's flank.

The Union Army of the Potomac relentlessly engaged the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia throughout the spring of 1864. By June, Grant forced Lee to retreat to the Richmond-Petersburg area. Thereafter, both armies entrenched, and a stalemate ensued for the next ten months. During that period, Grant probed Lee's defenses, but to no avail. Despite being well entrenched, the Confederate situation grew progressively worse as supplies dwindled. By the spring of 1865, Lee knew that, when the weather allowed, his army must escape the Union stranglehold or be starved into submission.

On March 25, 1865, Lee made one final attempt to break the Siege of Petersburg by ordering forces commanded by Major General John B. Gordon to attack Fort Stedman, a Union fortification in the siege lines surrounding Petersburg. Gordon's pre-dawn attack was successful initially, but blistering Union counterattacks forced the Rebels back inside their lines. On March 29, Grant opened an offensive against Lee that eventually forced the Army of Northern Virginia to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond on April 2. Lee marched his army west, hoping to secure much needed provisions and to join forces with Major General Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina. For the next week, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James assailed the Rebels as they moved westward, taking large numbers of captives and denying the Confederates access to the food, clothing, and ammunition that they desperately needed.

On April 7, one day after a decisive Union victory at the Battle of Sailor's Creek, Grant informed Lee that, because he considered Lee's situation to be hopeless, he felt that it was his "duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia." That night, Lee responded to Grant, disputing the Union general's assessment regarding the "hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia." Nevertheless, Lee went on to inquire about "the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender." The next morning, April 8, Grant generously replied, “there is but one condition I would insist upon, – namely that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged.” He once again invited Lee to meet with him to discuss the surrender of Lee’s army.

As Lee was pondering Grant’s proposal, Major General George Custer's cavalry seized a Rebel supply train at Appomattox Station, denying Lee’s army vital provisions. Custer also captured Lee's lead artillery unit and secured the high ground west of Appomattox Court House, directly in Lee's line of retreat. Despite the fact that Lee’s situation had deteriorated during the day, that night he stated in his response to Grant’s morning proposal, “I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army. . .” Lee went on to suggest that the two generals meet to discuss terms of peace between the North and South.

Early the next morning, Grant declined Lee’s request, noting that he "had not authority to treat on the subject of peace." The same morning, April 9, Lee made a last desperate attempt to escape Grant's enclosing forces. He ordered John Gordon's 2nd Corps to attack Philip Sheridan's cavalry early in the morning to open an escape route for the Confederate army. The Union cavalry was stationed along the ridge that Custer had secured the day before. Gordon's troops successfully penetrated the Federal cavalry and seized the ridge. To his dismay, however, Gordon discovered that on the other side of the ridge he faced the entire Union 5th and 24th Infantry Corps formed for battle. Gordon had no alternative other than to withdraw. Meanwhile, to the north of Appomattox Court House, the Federal 2nd Corps was closing in on Major General James Longstreet's 1st Corps. Realizing that his army was trapped, Lee contacted Grant to arrange a meeting "with reference to the surrender of this army." Upon receiving Lee’s request, Grant dismounted his horse and wrote a note at 11:50 a.m,. informing Lee that he would "push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you."

On the afternoon of April 9, the two generals met at the home of Wilmer McClean, located in Appomattox Court House. Lee arrived first, and Grant followed soon thereafter. After exchanging pleasantries, Lee asked Grant to commit his terms to paper, which Grant agreed to do. Upon reviewing Grant’s terms, Lee informed Grant that, unlike the Union army, the horses and mules of the Confederate artillery and cavalry were personal property of the soldiers. Lee asked if Grant would permit his men to retain the animals to tend to their farms. Grant complied with Lee’s request. Lee also noted that he held approximately one thousand Federal prisoners that he would like to return as soon as possible, as he had no provisions for them, let alone his own army. Grant agreed to a quick exchange and ordered his chief commissary to send 25,000 rations to the starving Confederates. Having settled on the terms of surrender, Lee drafted and signed a short letter to Grant stating:

GENERAL: I received your letter of this date containing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th inst., they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.

The meeting ended at approximately 4 p.m., and the generals returned to their armies.

On April 10, a transcription of the articles of surrender was prepared which read as follows:

1st The troops shall march by Brigades and Detachments to a designated point, stock their Arms, deposit their flags, Sabres, Pistols, etc. and from thence march to their homes under charge of their Officers, superintended by their respective Division and Corps Commanders, Officers, retaining their side Arms, and the authorized number of private horses.

2. All public horses and public property of all kinds to be turned over to Staff Officers designated by the United States Authorities.

3. Such transportation as may be agreed upon as necessary for the transportation of the Private baggage of Officers will be allowed to accompany the Officers, to be turned over at the end of the trip to the nearest U.S. Quarter Masters, receipts being taken for the same.

4. Couriers and Wounded men of the artillery and Cavalry whose horses are their own private property will be allowed to retain them.

5. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia shall be construed to include all the forces operating with that Army on the 8th inst., the date of commencement of negotiation for surrender, except such bodies of Cavalry as actually made their escape previous to the surrender, and except also such forces of Artillery as were more than Twenty (20) miles from Appomattox Court House at the time of Surrender on the 9th inst.

Also on April 10, Lee and Grant met again briefly. Lee requested that Grant provide written paroles for his soldiers so that they would have evidence to protect them from arrest or annoyance as they returned home. Grant agreed and ordered 28,231passes to be printed and issued to the Confederate soldiers. Later that day, Lee gave his farewell address to his army. Meanwhile, officers from the two sides met to make arrangements for the formal surrender ceremony. Lee designated Generals Longstreet, Gordon, and Pendleton to represent the Confederacy, and Grant selected Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain.

On April 11, the Rebels relinquished their artillery. The next day, as the Army of Northern Virginia passed by the assembled Union army to stack their arms and colors at the formal surrender ceremony, General Chamberlain ordered his men to salute in honor of the vanquished Confederates.

It should be noted that Lee's surrender did not end the Civil War, as is oftentimes erroneously believed. Hostilities continued in various parts of the South for several months. The Confederate government met for the last time on May 5, 1865, before being dissolved. Union troops captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis on May 10. Finally, on August 20, 1866, over one year later, President Andrew Johnson signed a Proclamation—Declaring that Peace, Order, Tranquillity [sic], and Civil Authority Now Exists in and Throughout the Whole of the United States of America.

Among Ohio units present at Lee’s surrender were:

Infantry units:

4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

23rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

34th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

36th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

91st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

110th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

116th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

122nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

123rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

126th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery Units:

Battery L of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment

Cavalry Units:

2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry


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"Surrender at Appomattox Court House," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 19 Oct 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=416>

APA Style

"Surrender at Appomattox Court House." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved October 19, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=416

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