One hundred fifty years ago today, April 9, 1865, at 1:30 pm, General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander in Chief of the Union Army, ending four years of civil war. The meeting took place in the house of Wilmer McLean at the village of Appomattox Court House, Va. Formal surrender took place at the courthouse on Apr. 12. President Lincoln was shot on the 14th and died the following day.
The death toll for the Civil War is estimated at perhaps as many as 750,000, out of a total U.S. population of only 30 million at the time.
Lincoln had met with Grant in March to discuss the coming end of the war, and by common agreement they decided the terms of surrender would be generous and not vindictive or retaliatory. Confederate soldiers were permitted to keep their horses and return free to their homes, while Confederate officers were allowed to retain their swords and sidearms as well. In the terms of the surrender that Grant wrote, soldiers of the Confederate Army were “not to be disturbed by U.S. authority so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they may reside.”
If the peace terms seem overly gracious, it must be kept in mind that if postwar Reconstruction were to be successful, against such a bitter history of slavery, hatred and loss, personal and collective humiliation was thought better to be avoided. Grant and Lee in fact knew one another as far back as the Mexican War of 1848. By Grant’s order, there was no cheering when the surrender was signed. He and his officers saluted Lee when he rode away.
One year later, on April 9, Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 – over the veto of President Andrew Johnson – granting black people the rights and privileges of American citizenship and forming the basis for the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Also on Apr. 9: It’s Paul Robeson’s birthday in 1898.
Photo: Wikipedia (CC)