Robert Underwood Johnson.

Battles and leaders of the Civil War : being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers : based upon The Century War series online

. (page 117 of 145)
Online LibraryRobert Underwood JohnsonBattles and leaders of the Civil War : being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers : based upon The Century War series → online text (page 117 of 145)
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and struck off toward New Store. From that point he went by way of a

^ Since February 9th, 1865, Lee had been general-in-ehief of all the Confederate armies, and,
evidently, was aiming here at a treaty of peace and general surrender. — Editors.


cross-road to the south side of the Appomattox with the intention of moving
around to Sheridan's front. While riding along the wagon road that runs
from Farmville. to Appomattox Court House, at a point eight or nine miles
east of the latter place, Lieutenant Charles E. Pease of Meade's staff overtook
him with a dispatch. It was found to be a reply from Lee, which had been
sent in to our lines on Humphreys's front. It read as follows :

"April 9th, 1865.
" GrENERAii : I received yoiir note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to
meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with
reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview, in accordance with the offer
contained in your letter of yesterday, for that purpose.

"R. E. Lee, General.
"Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant."

Pease also brought a note from Meade, saying that at Lee's request he had
read the communication addressed to General Grant and in consequence of it
had granted a short truce.

The general, as soon as he had read these letters, dismounted, sat down on
the grassy bank by the roadside, and wrote the following reply to Lee :

"April 9th, 1865.
"General R. E. Lee, Commanding C. S. Army:

" Your note of this date is but this moment (11 : 50 a. m.) received, in consequence of my

having passed from the Richmond and Lynchburg road to the Farmville and Lynchburg road.

I am at this writing about four miles west of Walker's Church, and will push forward to the front

for the purpose of meeting you. Notice sent to me on this road where you wish the interview

to take place will meet me. , , ^^ ^ ^ ^ • ^

"TJ. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General."

He handed this to Colonel Babcock of the staff, with dii'ections to take
it to General Lee by the most direct route. Mounting his horse again the
general rode on at a trot toward Appomattox Court House. When five or six
mUes from the town. Colonel Newhall, Sheridan's adjutant-general, came rid-
ing up from the direction of Appomattox and handed the general a communi-
cation. This proved to be a duplicate of the letter from Lee that Lieutenant
Pease had brought in from Meade's lines. Lee was so closely pressed that he
was anxious to communicate with Grant by the most direct means, and as
he could not tell with which column Grant was moving he sent in one copy
of his letter on Meade's front and one on Sheridan's. Colonel Newhall joined
our party, and after a few minutes' halt to read the letter we continued our
ride toward Appomattox. On the march I had asked the general several
times how he felt. To the same question now he said, " The pain in my head
seemed to leave me the moment I got Lee's letter." The road was filled with
men, animals, and wagons, and to avoid these and shorten the distance we
turned slightly to the right and began to "cut across lots"; but before going
far we spied men conspicuous in gray, and it was seen that we were moving
toward the enemy's left flank, and that a short ride farther would take us
into his lines. It looked for a moment as if a very awkward condition of
things might possibly arise, and Grant become a prisoner in Lee's lines instead
of Lee in his. Such a circumstance would have given rise to an important



McLean's house, Appomattox court house, from a photograph.

cross-entry in the sys-
tem of campaign book-
keeping. There was
only one remedy — to
retrace our steps and
strike the right road,
which was done with-
out serious discussion.
About 1 o'clock the lit-
tle village of Appomat-
tox Court House, with
its half-dozen houses,
came in sight, and soon
we were entering its
single street. It is sit-
uated on some rising
ground, and beyond
the country slopes
down into a broad valley. The enemy was seen with his columns and wagon
trains covering the low ground. Our cavalry, the Fifth Corps, and part of
Ord's command were occupying the high ground to the south and west
of the enemy, heading him off completely. Generals Sheridan and Ord, with
a group of officers around them, were seen in the road, and as our party came
up General Grant said : " How are you, Sheridan ? " " First-rate, thank you ;
how are you ? " cried Sheridan, with a voice and look that seemed to indicate
that on his part he was having things all his own way. " Is Lee over
there ? " asked General Grant, pointing up the street, having heard a rumor
that Lee was in that vicinity. " Yes, he is in that brick house," answered
Sheridan. " Well, then, we'll go over," said Grant.

The general-in-chief now rode on, accompanied by Sheridan, Ord, and
some others, and soon Colonel Babcock's orderly was seen sitting on his
horse in the street in front of a two-story brick house, better in appearance
than the rest of the houses. He said General Lee and Colonel Babcock had
gone into this house a short time before, and he was ordered to post himself
in the street and keep a lookout for General Grant, so as to let him know
where General Lee was. Babcock told me afterward that in carrying Gen-
eral Grant's last letter he passed through the enemy's lines and found
General Lee a little more than half a mile beyond Appomattox Court House.
He was lying down by the roadside on a blanket which had been spread over
a few fence rails on the ground under an apple-tree, which was part of an
orchard. This circumstance furnished the only ground for the widespread
report that the surrender occurred under an apple-tree. Babcock dismounted
upon coming near, and as he approached on foot, Lee sat up, with his feet
hanging over the roadside embankment. The wheels of the wagons in pass-
ing along the road had cut away the earth of this embankment and left the
roots of the tree projecting. Lee's feet were partly resting on these roots. One


of his staff-officers came forward, took tlie dispatch which Babcock handed
him and gave it to General Lee. After reading it, the general rose and said
he would ride forward on the road on which Babcock had come, but was
apprehensive that hostilities might begin in the meantime, upon the termina-
tion of ^ the temporary truce, and asked Babcock to write a line to Meade
informing him of the situation. Babcock wrote accordingly, requesting Meade
to maintain the truce until positive orders from General Grant could be
received. To save time it was arranged that a Union officer, accompanied by
one of Lee's officers, should carry this letter through the enemy^s lines. This
route made the distance to Meade nearly ten miles shorter than by the round-
about way of the Union lines. Lee now mounted his horse and directed
Colonel Charles Marshall, his mihtary secretary, to accompany him. They
started for Appomattox Court House in company with Babcock and fol-
lowed by a mounted orderly. When the party reached the village they met
one of its residents, named Wilmer McLean, who was told that General Lee
wanted to occupy a convenient room in some house in the town. McLean
ushered them into the sitting-room of one of the first houses he came to, but
upon looking about and finding it quite smaU and meagerly furnished, Lee
proposed finding something more commodious and better fitted for the occa-
sion. McLean then conducted the party to his own house, about the best
one in the town, where they awaited General Grant's arrival.

The house had a comfortable wooden porch with seven steps leading up to
it. A hall ran through the middle from front to back, and on each side was
a room having two windows, one in front and one in rear. Each room had
two doors opening into the hall. The building stood a little distance back
from the street, with a yard in front, and to the left was a gate for carriages
and a roadway running to a stable in rear. We entered the grounds by this
gate and dismounted. In the yard were seen a fine large gray horse, which
proved to be General Lee's, and a good-looking mare belonging to Colonel
Marshall. An orderly in gray was in charge of them, and had taken off their
bridles to let them nibble the grass.

General Grant mounted the steps and entered the house. As he stepped
into the hall Colonel Babcock, who had seen his approach from the window,
opened the door of the room on the left, in which he had been sitting with
General Lee and Colonel Marshall awaiting General Grant's arrival. The
general passed in, while the members of the staff, Generals Sheridan and Ord,
and some general officers who had gathered in the front yard, remained out-
side, feeling that he would probably want his first interview with General
Lee to be, in a measure, private. In- a few minutes Colonel Babcock came to
the front door and, making a motion with his hat toward the sitting-room, said:
" The general says, come in." It was then about half -past one of Sunday, the
9th of April. We entered, and found General Grant sitting at a marble-
topped table in the center of the room, and Lee sitting beside a small oval table
near the front window, in the corner opposite to the door by which we entered,
and facing General Grant. Colonel Marshall, his military secretary, was
standing at his left. We walked in softly and ranged ourselves quietly about



the sides of the room, very much as people enter a sick-chamber when they
expect to find the patient dangerously ill. Some found seats on the sofa and
the few chairs which constituted the furniture, but most of the party stood.

The contrast between the two commanders was striking, and could not
fail to attract marked attention as they sat ten feet apart facing each other.
G-eneral Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight
inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and fuU beard
were a nut-brown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-
breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing
a waistcoat underneath. He wore an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his
trousers inside, and was without spurs. The boots and portions of his clothes
were spattered with mud. He had had on a pair of thread gloves, of a dark-
yellaw color, which he had taken off on entering the room. His felt " sugar-
loaf " stiff-brimmed hat was thrown on the table beside him. He had no
sword, and a pair of shoulder-straps was all there was about him to designate
his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.

Lee, on the other hand, was fully six feet in height, and quite erect for one
of his age, for he was Grant's senior by sixteen years. His hair and full
beard were a silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a
Little thin in front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned
up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine
workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. It was said to be the sword
that had been presented to him by the State of Virginia. His top-boots
were comparatively new, and seemed to have on them some ornamental
stitching of red silk. Like his uniform, they were singularly clean, and but
little travel-stained. On the boots were handsome spurs, with large rowels.
A felt hat, which in color matched pretty closely that of his uniform, and a
pair of long buckskin gauntlets lay beside . him on the table. We asked
Colonel Marshall afterward how it was that both he and his chief wore such
fine toggery, and looked so much as if they had turned out to go to church,
while with us our outward garb scarcely rose to the dignity even of the
" shabby-genteel." He enlightened us regarding the contrast, by explaining
that when their headquarters wagons had been pressed so closely by our cav-
alry a few days before, and it was found they would have to destroy all their
baggage, except the clothes they carried on their backs, each one, naturally,
selected the newest suit he had, and sought to propitiate the god of destruc-
tion by a sacrifice of his second-best.

General Grant began the conversation by saying : " I met you once before.
General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico, when you came over from
General Scott's headquarters to visit Garland's brigade, to which I then
belonged. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should
have recognized you anywhere." " Yes,-" replied General Lee, " I know I met
you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect
how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature." After
some further mention of Mexico, General Lee 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 yon would receive tlie surrender of
my army." General Grrant replied : " The terms I propose are those stated
substantially in my letter of yesterday, — that is, the officers and men surren-
dered to be paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly
exchanged, and all arms, ammunition, and supplies to be delivered up as cap-
tured property." Lee nodded an assent, and said : " Those are about the con-
ditions which I expected would be proposed." Q-eneral Q-rant then continued :
"Yes, I think our correspondence indicated pretty clearly the action that
would be taken at our meeting ; and I hope it may lead to a general suspen-
sion of hostilities and be the means of preventing any further loss of life."

Lee inchned his head as indicating his accord with this wish, and General
Grant then went on to talk at some length in a very pleasant vein about the
prospects of peace. Lee was evidently anxious to proceed to the formal
work of the surrender, and he brought the subject up again by saying :

" I presume. General Grant, we have both carefully considered the proper
steps to be taken, and I would suggest that you commit to writing the terms
you have proposed, so that they may be formally acted upon."

" Very well," replied General Grant, " I will write them out." And calling
for his manifold order-book, he opened it on the table before him and pro-
ceeded to write the terms. The leaves had been so prepared that three im-
pressions of the writing were made. He wrote very rapidly, and did not
pause until he had finished the sentence ending with " officers appointed by
me to receive them." Then he looked toward Lee, and his eyes seemed to be
resting on the handsome sword that hung at that officer's side. He said
afterward that this set him to thinking that it would be an unnecessary
humiliation to require the officers to surrender their swords, and a great hard-
ship to deprive them of their personal baggage and horses, and after a short
pause he wrote the sentence : " This will not embrace the side-arms of the
officers, nor their private horses or baggage." "When he had finished the
letter he called Colonel (afterward General) Ely S. Parker, one of the military
secretaries on the staff, to his side and looked it over with him and directed him
as they went along to interline six or seven words and to strike out the word
" their," which had been repeated. When this had been done, he handed the
book to General Lee and asked him to read over the letter. It was as follows :
" General R. E. Lee, Commanding C. S. A. "Appomattox Ct. H., Va., April 9, 1865.

" General : In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose
to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit : EoUs



of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be des-
ignated by me, tlie other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The
officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the
United States until properly [exchanged], and each company or regimental commander to sign
a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be
parked, and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This
will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done,
each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United
States authorities so long as they observe their paroles, and the laws in force where they may
reside. Very respectfuUy, U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General."

Lee took it and laid it on the table beside him, while he drew from his
pocket a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles and wiped the glasses carefully with
his handkerchief. Then he crossed his legs, adjusted the spectacles very
slowly and deliberately, took up the draft of the letter, and proceeded to read
it attentively. It consisted of two pages. When he reached the top line of
the second page, he looked up, and said to General Grant : " After the words
' until properly,' the word ' exchanged ' seems to be omitted. You doubtless
intended to use that word."

" Why, yes," said Grant ; " I thought I had put in the word ' exchanged.' "

" I presumed it had been omitted inadvertently," continued Lee, " and with
your permission I will mark where it should be inserted."

" Certainly," Grant replied.

Lee felt in his pocket as if searching for a pencil, but did not seem to be
able to find one. Seeing this and happening to be standing close to him, I
handed him my pencil. He took it, and laying the paper on the table noted
the interlineation. During the rest of the interview he kept twirling this
pencil in his fingers and occasionally tapping the top of the table with it.
When he handed it back it was carefully treasured by me as a memento of
the occasion. When Lee came to the sentence about the officers' side-arms,
private horses, and baggage, he showed for the first time during the reading
of the letter a slight change of countenance, and was evidently touched by
this act of generosity. It was doubtless the condition mentioned to which he
particularly alluded when he looked toward General Grant as he finished
reading and said with some degree of warmth in his manner: "This will
have a very happy effect upon my army."

General Grant then said : " Unless you have some suggestions to make in
regard to the form in which I have stated the terms, I will have a copy of the
letter made in ink and sign it."

" There is one thing I would like to mention," Lee replied after a short
pause. " The cavalrymen and artillerists own their own horses in our army.
Its organization in this respect differs from that of the United States." This
expression attracted the notice of our officers present, as showing how firmly
the conviction was grounded in his mind that we were two distinct countries.
He continued : " I would like to understand whether these men will be per-
mitted to retain their horses ? "

" You will find that the terms as written do not allow this," General Grant
replied ; " only the officers are permitted to take their private property."


Lee read over tlie second page of the letter again, and then said :

" No, I see the terms do not allow it ; that is clear." His face showed
plainly that he was quite anxious to have this concession made, and
Grant said very promptly and without giving Lee time to make a direct
request :

" Well, the subject is quite new to me. Of course I did not know that any
private soldiers owned their animals, but I think this will be the last battle
of the war — I sincerely hope so — and that the surrender of this army will
be followed soon by that of all the others, and I take it that most of the
men in the ranks are small farmers, and as the country has been so raided
by the two armies, it is doubtful whether they will be able to put in a crop to
carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid
of the horses they are now riding, and I will arrange it in this way : I will not
change the terms as now written, but I will instruct the officers I shaU
appoint to receive the paroles to let all the men who claim to own a horse or
mule take the animals home with them to work their little farms." (This
expression has been quoted in various forms and has been the subject of some
dispute. I give the exact words used.)

Lee now looked gi'eatly relieved, and though anything but a demonstrative
man, he gave every evidence of his appreciation of this concession, and said,
" This will have the best possible effect upon the men. It will be very grati-
fying and will do much toward conciliating our people." He handed the draft of
the terms back to General Grant, who called Colonel T. S. Bowers of the staff to
him and directed him to make a copy in ink. Bowers was a little nervous, and
he turned the matter over to Colonel (afterward General) Parker, whose
handwriting presented a better appearance than that of any one else on the
staff. Parker sat down to write at the table which stood against the rear
side of the room. Wilmer McLean's domestic resources in the way of ink
now became the subject of a searching investigation, but it was found that
the contents of the conical-shaped stoneware inkstand which he produced
appeared to be participating in the general breaking up and had disappeared.
Colonel Marshall now came to the rescue, and pulled out of his pocket a small
box- wood inkstand, which was put at Parker's service, so that, after all, we
had to fall back upon the resources of the enemy in furnishing the stage
"properties" for the final scene in the memorable military drama.

Lee in the meantime had directed Colonel Marshall to draw up for his
signature a letter of acceptance of the terms of surrender. Colonel Marshall
wrote out a draft of such a letter, making it quite formal, beginning with " I
have the honor to reply to your communication," etc. General Lee took it,
and, after reading it over very carefully, directed that these formal expressions
be stricken out and that the letter be otherwise shortened. He afterward
went over it again and seemed to change some words, and then told the colonel
to make a final copy in ink. When it came to providing the paper, it was
found we had the only supply of that important ingredient in the recipe
for surrendering an army, so we gave a few pages to the colonel. The letter
when completed read as follows :


" Headquarters, Army op Northern Virginia, April 9tli, 1865.

" 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 wiU proceed to designate the
proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect. TJ TT T r 1

" Lieutenant- General U. S. Grant."

While the letters were being copied, General Grant introduced the general
officers who had entered, and each member of the staff, to General Lee. The
General shook hands with General Seth Williams, who had been his adjutant
when Lee was superintendent at West Point, some years before the war, and
gave his hand to some of the other officers who had extended theirs, but to
most of those who were introduced he merely bowed in a dignified and formal
manner. He did not exhibit the slightest change of features during this cere-
mony until Colonel Parker of our staff was presented to him. Parker was a
full-blooded Indian, and the reigning Chief of the Six Nations. When Lee
saw his swarthy features he looked at him with evident surprise, and his
eyes rested on him for several seconds. What was passing in his mind
probably no one ever knew, but the natural surmise was that he at first
mistook Parker for a negro, and was struck with astonishment to find
that the commander of the Union armies had one of that race on his per-
sonal staff.

Lee did not utter a word while the introductions were going on, except to
Seth Williams, with whom he talked quite cordially. Williams at one time
referred in rather jocose a manner to a circumstance which occurred during

Online LibraryRobert Underwood JohnsonBattles and leaders of the Civil War : being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers : based upon The Century War series → online text (page 117 of 145)