I inherited from my father a tendency to be early to everything.
Again I found myself in Appomatox before the park opened. On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee arrived there early as well. He sat and waited, impeccably dressed, for Grant to arrive, mud spattered and in regular issue uniform. The war was over.
This meeting took place in the parlor of Wilmer McLean. Mr. McLean once said that the war started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor. It is true in that the first battle of Bull Run took place at his then home, causing him to move, then later the final battle at Appomatox happened on the property he had retreated too in order to be more safe. Some guys have all the luck I suppose.
McLean’s home and property were looted as everyone left. Gen. Custer, who received the desk the final treaty was signed on as a gift from Grant, was said to have handed McLean a handful of cash as they marched away. Some see this as one of the tragedies of the war but as I stood and looked at the building, a rather nice building, I also looked at what it had in common with many other manors of the day. It also had a small grouping of shacks surrounding it. Maybe those that should have carried away McLean’s possessions were the one’s who had lived in those shacks and labored to allow McLean the lifestyle he had previously enjoyed.
The official surrender happened some days later at the courthouse. Lee wrote to his troops:
After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.
But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
It was the end of America’s bloodiest war, the beginning of a unified country, and most importantly the ushering in of our countries most studied, written about, and debated era. The focus of 8 out of 10 American amateur historians. A war turned into a hobby.