6 Civil War Battles After Appomattox

6 Civil War Battles After Appomattox

1. Battle of Morrisville Station (April 13)

News of Lee’s surrender across the border in Virginia reached both armies in North Carolina on April 12. The following day, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s cavalry captured Raleigh and pursued Confederate forces under General Joseph E. Johnston west from the state capital. At Morrisville Station, Union troops shelled the town and attacked its train station to prevent the departure of a rebel train carrying supplies and wounded soldiers westward to Greensboro. The Confederate cavalry held off the attack long enough to decouple the rail cars carrying supplies and allow the wounded to escape, but they were ultimately forced to retreat. The following day, a Confederate courier bearing a white flag rode into the Union camp in Morrisville to begin negotiations that resulted in the largest surrender of the war when Johnston’s 90,000 troops laid down their arms on April 26.

2. Battle of West Point (April 16)

Throughout April, Major General James H. Wilson’s Union troops swept through Alabama, seizing Selma and then Montgomery. The next target of Wilson’s Raid was the South’s last major industrial supply center—Columbus, Georgia. Wilson divided his forces and ordered a contingent under Colonel Oscar LaGrange to seize a bridge spanning the Chattahoochee River at West Point, Georgia, 35 miles upstream from Columbus. On Easter Sunday, the day after President Abraham Lincoln’s death, LaGrange’s forces attacked the badly outnumbered Confederates and seized Fort Tyler, a small earthen defense on the Alabama side of the river, before taking the bridge. The attack claimed the life of Brigadier General Robert C. Tyler, who became the last Confederate general to die in battle.

3. Battle of Columbus (April 16)

As the battle continued at West Point, Union soldiers attacked the trenches, breastworks and earthen forts ringing Columbus. After an afternoon of fighting, Wilson’s forces launched a daring nighttime raid that succeeded in breaking the Confederate defenses. The rebels set fire to one of the two covered bridges spanning the Chattahoochee River between Columbus and the Alabama town of Girard (now called Phenix City), but the Union soldiers managed to cross the other. Wilson’s forces ransacked Columbus and destroyed Confederate armaments, including the still-unfinished ironclad CSS Jackson, which was burned and sunk.

4. Battle of Anderson (May 1)

Inland in South Carolina—on the opposite side of the state from where the Civil War opened at Fort Sumter four years before—a skirmish broke out between Union and Confederate fighters in Anderson County, where Major General George Stoneman’s Union cavalry was searching for Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the Saluda River valley. The exact location of the battle is unknown, but it is thought to have been the last exchange of gunfire east of the Mississippi River during the Civil War.

5. Battle of Palmito Ranch (May 12-13)

The rebels may have lost the Civil War, but ironically they won what some consider the war’s final land battle. Days after Wilson’s forces captured Davis on May 10, Southern forces in the Trans-Mississippi region had yet to surrender. When Union forces left Brazos Island on the far southern tip of Texas and marched inland toward Brownsville along the banks of the Rio Grande, they encountered rebel outposts. With both sides fully aware of the surrender at Appomattox, a force of 350 Confederates under Colonel John Ford defeated 800 Union troops commanded by Colonel Theodore H. Barrett, who narrowly avoided being trapped in a bend of the Rio Grande. Among the handful of dead was Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana Infantry Regiment, who is thought to have been the last of the more than 600,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War. When Confederate General Kirby Smith agreed to surrender his Army of the Trans-Mississippi two weeks after the Battle of Palmito Ranch (also referred to as the Battle of Palmetto Ranch) on May 26, it ended the organized military rebellion against the Union.

6. CSS Shenandoah raids (Summer 1865)

The fearsome commerce raider CSS Shenandoah was purchased from the British and commissioned by the Confederacy in October 1864. Commanded by Captain James Waddell, CSS Shenandoah sailed the high seas from Madeira to Australia on a mission to capture and destroy Union commercial vessels. It achieved its greatest success in the months following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox as it decimated the Yankee whaling fleet harvesting the Bering Sea off the Alaskan coast. On June 28 alone, the Confederate vessel seized 10 whalers. On August 2, a British ship captain broke the news to Waddell that Davis had been apprehended and the Civil War had ended. Fearing capture by the U.S. Navy, Waddell dismantled the ship’s armaments and disguised its appearance, even painting the hull to resemble an ordinary merchant vessel. For three months, CSS Shenandoah remained at sea before reaching Liverpool, England, on November 6, 1865, and surrendering to British authorities. The raider that had captured nearly 40 ships, more than half of them after Appomattox, fired the last shots of the Civil War and lowered the Confederate flag for the very last time.

Battle of High Bridge

The Battle of High Bridge refers to two engagements fought on April 6, 1865 and April 7, 1865, near the end of the Appomattox Campaign of the American Civil War about 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Farmville, Virginia. The first battle is often the one identified as the Battle of High Bridge.

On April 6, 1865, Confederate cavalry under Major General Thomas L. Rosser fought stubbornly to secure the South Side Railroad's High Bridge and lower wagon bridge over the Appomattox River near Farmville, Virginia. A large Union Army raiding party intended to destroy the bridges to prevent the Confederate Army from crossing back to the north side of the river. Both sides had several officers killed and wounded. The Union force suffered 42 killed and wounded. The entire surviving Union force of about 800 men was captured. The Confederates suffered about 100 casualties. Union Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Theodore Read and Confederate Colonel Reuben B. Boston were killed. Union Colonel Francis Washburn and Confederate Colonel James Dearing (often identified as a brigadier general but his appointment was never confirmed [4] [5] ) were mortally wounded in the engagement.

On April 7, 1865, Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet's rear guard attempted to burn the bridges that the Confederates had saved the day before in order to prevent Union forces from following them across. Troops of the Union II Corps fought the Confederates assigned to burn the bridges in an effort to drive off the Confederates and save the bridges. Part of the railroad bridge burned and was rendered unusable but Union forces were able to save the wagon bridge over which the II Corps crossed in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Failure to destroy this bridge enabled Union forces to catch up with the Confederates north of the Appomattox River at Cumberland Church 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Farmville.

The Civil War Ends at Appomattox Court House

This post was written by Mark Meader. Mark is an Archives Specialist with the Motion Picture, Sound and Video branch. He participated in historical reenactments for over forty years, including over twenty years as a Union private in Civil War reenactments.

People often think of history as just names, dates, places where “something” happened a long time ago. They rarely think of the emotions that accompanied such events, emotions that made it so memorable that the participants could never forget what occurred at this place or that. So it was with a small Virginia hamlet that started out as Clover Hill Tavern, a stagecoach stop in 1819, and grew to become Appomattox Court House, the county seat of Appomattox County. It consisted of five houses, several businesses off the main street, and a court house. It is also the only town in the United States where one wholly American army surrendered to another.

Union General Ulysses Grant had a migraine. He had suffered from it off and on ever since his pursuit had begun of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s starving, threadbare Army of Northern Virginia, which had evacuated the defenses around Petersburg, Virginia on April 2, 1865. The 100,000 men of the Union Army of the Potomac had pursued the Confederates west where they hoped to obtain food and supplies and then join Confederate forces in North Carolina to keep the war going. Grant knew he had to prevent this to end the costly four-year Civil War. He had sent Lee messages offering terms of surrender, but Lee had only replied as to what these terms would be. Grant’s reply was to give little hope of prolonging the struggle, but to surrender Lee’s army to prevent the loss of another life. Then on the morning of April 9 th a messenger from Lee presented a letter that asked for an interview in accordance with Grant’s offer. “I was still suffering with the sick headache but the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured,” he wrote in his memoirs.

General Robert E. Lee knew that from the moment his army evacuated the defenses around Petersburg on April 2nd his soldiers could not survive without plentiful food to recover from the months of starvation in the trenches. He had watched his gallant army win battle after battle, or survive defeats intact since May 1862 against odds that would have destroyed another force, but now he knew the end was near. There were only some 28,000 soldiers remaining in the Army of Northern Virginia, and they were heading west towards Appomattox where supply trains waited for them. If they reached them and were fed, he would point the army south towards Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee in North Carolina. But Union Army cavalry under General Philip Sheridan got there first, captured and burnt the trains, and blocked the way. When word of this reached Lee’s headquarters he knew the end was near. He and Grant had exchanged letters on the subject of surrender, and Lee suggested a meeting between the lines. When news of the arrival of three Union Infantry Corps to further block the way reached Lee on the morning of April 9 th , he realized the retreat of his beleaguered army had finally been halted. He stated the inevitable, with such emotions few men have ever known. “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths” he said to his aide.

Wilmer McLean can truly be said to have a war begin and end on his property. A wholesale grocer and a retired major in the Virginia Militia, he was too old to return to active duty in 1861, but on June 21 the Union Army attacked the Confederate forces near McLean’s Yorkshire Plantation in Manassas, Prince William County,Virginia. Fighting spilled over his property and a cannonball fired by Union artillery dropped into his fireplace. When the battle was over, McLean decided to move because his commercial activities of supplying sugar to the Confederacy were centered mainly in Southern Virginia, and the presence of the Union Army in Northern Virginia made his work next to impossible. He was also determined to remove his family from such a dangerous area where a combat experience could easily reoccur, endangering them and his property.

In the spring of 1863, McLean and his family moved 120 miles south to Appomattox County, Virginia near a small crossroads community called Appomattox Court House. But on April 9 th , 1865, the war came again to knock on his front door when a messenger from General Robert E. Lee requested the use of McLean’s home to meet with General Ulysses S. Grant. McLean reluctantly agreed. There the two Generals and their aides met, and Lee surrendered his army to Grant in the parlor of McLean’s house, effectively ending the American Civil War. The generous terms allowed the Confederate officers to keep their side arms, and the soldiers to keep their horses, which they would need for the spring plowing. When Lee left to announce the surrender to his troops, officers of the Union Army entered McLean’s house and began to take souvenirs, tables, chairs, and various other furnishings that they could get, handing the protesting McLean money as they made off with his property. Later, a disgusted McLean is supposed to have said ‘The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”

McLean’s house is now part of Appomattox Court House National Historical Monument operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Footage of the historical reenactment staged for the 125th anniversary of the events at Appomattox Court House (see Reel 2 here). (Local Identifier: 79-HFC-23)

And what of the weary men of both armies, what were their thoughts and emotions on that Palm Sunday of April 1865? As they sat and watched the Confederates wheel in line by regiments to face the oncoming last onslaught of the Army of the Potomac, one Union officer was surprised to see that there seemed to be more battle flags than soldiers in the Rebel ranks, so few men were left in the Army of Northern Virginia. He thought that the entire army had turned to poppies and roses in the April breeze. Then an officer in grey rode out with a white flag to confer with Union officers and the men in Blue saw the Grey and Butternut ranks begin to stack arms and rest. Many times these armies had paused to take a look at each other across the fields, before the battle. Now the Stars and Bars were about to be furled for the last time, and both sides realized that they would live to see Easter and experience its mysteries. One Union soldier sat and looked at the Confederates across from them, and thought that it seemed too bad that after all their bravery and fighting skill, it had come to nothing but surrender. Another Yankee from the 77 th New Hampshire skirted around the picket lines and entered one of the rebel camps. There, he later recalled with a glow, that he was treated like one of them, no different than if he had been wearing grey. After four years of war, there was a stillness at Appomattox .

After Appomattox

On April 8, 1865, after four years of civil war, General Robert E. Lee wrote to General Ulysses S. Grant asking for peace. Peace was beyond his authority to negotiate, Grant replied, but surrender terms he would discuss. As Gregory Downs reveals in this gripping history of post&ndashCivil War America, Grant&rsquos distinction proved prophetic, for peace would elude the South for years after Lee&rsquos surrender at Appomattox.

After Appomattox argues that the war did not end with Confederate capitulation in 1865. Instead, a second phase commenced which lasted until 1871&mdashnot the project euphemistically called Reconstruction but a state of genuine belligerency whose mission was to shape the terms of peace. Using its war powers, the U.S. Army oversaw an ambitious occupation, stationing tens of thousands of troops in hundreds of outposts across the defeated South. This groundbreaking study of the post-surrender occupation makes clear that its purpose was to crush slavery and to create meaningful civil and political rights for freed people in the face of rebels&rsquo bold resistance.

But reliance on military occupation posed its own dilemmas. In areas beyond Army control, the Ku Klux Klan and other violent insurgencies created near-anarchy. Voters in the North also could not stomach an expensive and demoralizing occupation. Under those pressures, by 1871, the Civil War came to its legal end. The wartime after Appomattox disrupted planter power and established important rights, but the dawn of legal peacetime heralded the return of rebel power, not a sustainable peace.

The Civil War After the Civil War

Photo by Palestine, Texas Public Library

For most history buffs, the Civil War’s sesquicentennial ends on Thursday. That day in 1865, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Appomattox. Most historians, though, acknowledge that the war’s most ambitious aim—full equality for black citizens—took many more years to accomplish, and even continues. But in his new book, After Appomattox, historian Gregory P. Downs makes a far bolder claim. Appomattox hardly ended the war: A full-scale military occupation continued for at least another five years, and without it, slavery may have persisted far longer than it did. Almost 100,000 Army soldiers remained in the South through the end of 1865, Downs meticulously documents, with up to 20,000 troops stationed there until 1871.

For decades, historians have brushed off this military presence as meaningless—by comparison, 1 million Union soldiers were in the South just before Lee’s surrender. But in After Appomattox, Downs makes the case that the final end to slavery, and the establishment of basic civil and voting rights for all Americans, was “born in the face of bayonets.” Put simply, the military occupation created democracy as we know it. Downs’ book couldn’t come at a more opportune time, as American forces once again face the difficult question of how long, and to what ends, an occupying army must stay in conquered territory. After more than a decade of fighting abroad, we may be too war-weary to see that military occupations are sometimes a good, even necessary thing.

Downs begins his account by pointing out that even after the Confederacy surrendered, slavery was not yet legally abolished. Congress may have passed the 13 th Amendment, which ended slavery, in January of 1865, but to become law three-fourths of state governments needed to approve it. The surprising hero here is President Andrew Johnson, who assumed office after Lincoln’s assassination on April 14. Though Johnson’s administration would quickly turn out to be a disaster for black civil rights, he played a critical role in ending slavery. Johnson claimed that as president, he had sole authority to end the war and would do so only if Southern states ratified the amendment. It was not an empty threat, thanks to those 100,000 federal troops instituting martial law in the South.

Johnson’s strategy worked: Seven of the 11 former Confederate states ratified the amendment by December of 1865. Yet the immediate aftermath also revealed just how tenaciously white Southerners held onto racial domination. Almost as soon as the occupying forces left, the states that formally abolished slavery began enacting Black Codes that made a mockery of freedom. Local Southern lawmakers denied blacks the right to testify in court, to vote, to own property, to move about freely without arrest.

In addition, newly formed white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia, manned by ex-Confederates, terrorized black communities, often with the aid of local residents and the police. Over three days beginning on April 30, 1866, white residents in Memphis killed 46 black men, raped six black women, and burned more than 100 black schools, homes, and hospitals. In July of 1866, 1,500 whites ruthlessly assaulted a group of 200 black federal soldiers that marched in New Orleans to support the state constitutional convention. Within moments, 34 black men and four whites were killed.

The federal government’s inability to stop the violence exposed the futility of a hasty withdrawal. Having pulled back the military from states in exchange for self-rule, there was little the federal government could do. Moreover, after strong-arming Southern states to pass the 13 th Amendment, Johnson was eager to call the war over. But the Republican-dominated Congress resisted what ensued was a colossal two-year battle between the Congress and the president over who had the ultimate authority to end the war. The Constitution said nothing on the matter, only dealing with foreign wars. Amid the legal confusion, Congress essentially arrogated the war powers to itself while Johnson—backed by the Supreme Court—did the same for himself. Congress saved the occupation, Downs argues, by reclaiming war powers in 1867. Had Congress relented to Johnson and accepted his peace terms, the South would have rejoined the Union without having to lift a finger on civil rights.

Yet in the crucial years between late 1867 and 1870, something remarkable happened. After Radical Republicans took control of the military, they reimposed strict martial law throughout the South. They doubled the number of troops from 10,000 at the end of 1866 to 20,000 a year later, where it remained for the next few years. They also demanded that Southern states hold new state constitutional conventions that included blacks in the process. Meanwhile, Congress passed the 14 th Amendment, which guaranteed blacks basic civil rights like equal protection before the law, directly challenging the Black Codes. Stealing a line from Johnson’s playbook, Republicans offered Southern states an end to the occupation in exchange for approval of the 14 th Amendment. By November of 1868, all but three states—Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi—had accepted.

The holdouts would have been wise to take the bargain. By the end of 1868, the far less forgiving Ulysses S. Grant was elected president. Confident that the former general would not fight with them over war powers, Radical Republicans avoided declaring peace and, in 1869, passed the 15 th Amendment, which guaranteed blacks the right to vote. The remaining three states, plus Georgia—whose elected officials didn’t get to Washington in time to be sworn in in 1868—had to adopt the amendment for the occupation to conclude and to have their elected officials seated in Congress. Not until Georgia grudgingly accepted these terms in February of 1871 did the war truly end.

Downs hasn’t broken new ground with regard to the political battle between President Johnson and Congress. Where he has made an extremely valuable contribution is in detailing the precise dimensions of the military occupation. Historians of the post–Civil War period—aka Reconstruction—have been chary of studying the military’s role, in large part because Southern apologists have used it to claim themselves the victims of an overzealous federal government. But Downs isn’t bowed and is the first to tally the exact number of troops and where they were stationed throughout the occupation.


First Battle of Bull Run Edit

The initial engagement on July 21, 1861 of what would become the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) took place on McLean's farm, the Yorkshire Plantation, in Manassas, Prince William County, Virginia. Union Army artillery fired at McLean's house, which was being used as a headquarters for Confederate Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard, and a cannonball dropped through the kitchen fireplace. Beauregard wrote after the battle, "A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House." [1]

McLean was a retired major in the Virginia militia but, at age 47 he was too old to return to active duty at the outbreak of the Civil War. He made his living during the war as a sugar broker supplying the Confederate States Army. He decided to move because his commercial activities were centered mostly in southern Virginia and the Union army presence in his area of northern Virginia made his work difficult. He undoubtedly was also motivated by a desire to protect his family from a repetition of their combat experience. In the spring of 1863, he and his family moved about 120 miles (190 km) south to Appomattox County, Virginia, near a dusty, crossroads community called Appomattox Court House. [2]

Appomattox Court House Edit

On April 9, 1865, the war revisited McLean. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was about to surrender to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. He sent a messenger to Appomattox Court House to find a place to meet. On April 8, 1865, the messenger knocked on McLean's door and requested the use of his home, to which McLean reluctantly agreed. Lee surrendered to Grant in the parlor of McLean's house, effectively ending the Civil War. [2] Later, McLean is supposed to have said, "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor." [3]

Once the ceremony was over, members of the Army of the Potomac began taking the tables, chairs, and various other furnishings in the house — essentially, anything that was not tied down — as souvenirs. They simply handed money to the protesting McLean as they made off with his property. [4] Major General Edward Ord paid $40 (equivalent to $676 in today's dollars) [5] for the table Lee had used to sign the surrender document, while Major General Philip Sheridan took the table on which Grant had drafted the document for $20 (equivalent to $338 in today's dollars) in gold. [6] [7] Sheridan then asked George Armstrong Custer to carry it away on his horse. [7] The table was presented to Custer's wife and is now on exhibit at the American History Museum at the Smithsonian. [8] An authentic recreation of McLean's second home is now part of the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park operated by the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior.

After the war, McLean and his family sold their house in 1867, unable to keep up the mortgage payments, and returned to their home in Manassas. [9] They later moved to Alexandria, Virginia. He worked for the Internal Revenue Service from 1873 to 1876.

Wilmer McLean died in Alexandria and is buried there at St. Paul's Episcopal Cemetery.

Victory at Appomattox: From Surrender to Remembrance

(Washington, D.C.) — Dramatic scenes of the final fighting between Robert E. Lee’s and Ulysses S. Grant’s men are being preserved for posterity by the American Battlefield Trust.

Working over several years, the nation’s top historic land-preservation nonprofit has purchased six parcels that tell gripping stories of the actions by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Grant’s Army of the Potomac at Appomattox Court House.

The tracts include part of the ground where the battle’s last fighting near the courthouse occurred, incurring casualties even though truce flags had appeared. The six properties — totaling 276 acres — are adjacent to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and to other land the Trust has saved in prior preservation efforts, starting in 2000.

“Trust members and our government partners have achieved remarkable success at Appomattox, preserving the land where the Civil War effectively ended and a new chapter in our nation’s history began,” Trust President James Lighthizer said. “It is only fitting that we celebrate now. Our victories fortify us for the effort that remains.”

American Battlefield Trust

The total value of the six real-estate transactions is $1.81 million. Trust fundraising for them, over two annual campaigns, began in 2015.

The land was purchased with a combination of private-sector donations from American Battlefield Trust members and state and federal grants from the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund and the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program.

The Trust recently received a Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund grant for the latest parcel, which it acquired this summer. A conservation easement on those eight acres is pending with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

As a condition of the easements held by the Department of Historic Resources on the six parcels, the Trust will raze modern houses on some of the six tracts to restore the land to something closer to its wartime appearance.

All told since 2000, the Trust has preserved 557 acres on the Appomattox Court House and Appomattox Station battlefields. After Lee’s army surrendered, Union Brig. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain called the community “that obscure little Virginia village now blazoned for immortal fame.”

A grove of trees tops a ridge near Appomattox Court House, where battles on April 8 and April 9, 1865, forced Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia to Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The American Battlefield Trust has recently preserved 276 battlefield acres on six tracts, worth $1.81 million, next to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and other land the Trust saved in prior efforts. Mike Talplacido

Fighting around the rail station on April 8, 1865, gave the Federals control of the strategic ground necessary to force Lee’s surrender, which followed on April 9. Maj. Gen. George A. Custer’s Union cavalry division captured 25 cannons near Appomattox Station, which lies west of the courthouse town, and burned three wagons loaded with provisions badly needed by Lee’s army.

On the morning of April 9, Confederate General John B. Gordon’s 2nd Corps advanced and fought in a failed bid to open the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road as an escape route for Lee’s army. The back-and-forth fighting across the now-preserved property was some of the battle’s fiercest.

Also that morning, in the area of several of the newly preserved properties, Confederate soldier Robert Simms carried a truce flag into Custer’s line. Battlefield artist Alfred Waud sketched the scene. When Union Gens. Wesley Merritt and Philip Sheridan rode by, Custer’s several thousand soldiers gave them “three rousing cheers.” This ground, along the LeGrand Road, witnessed the battle’s last combat.

On an adjoining 201-acre tract preserved by the Trust, 12 artillery pieces and their support troops held the Confederate left flank as three Union brigades advanced, as word reached soldiers that hostilities were suspended. Sgt. Benjamin Weary of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry impetuously rode to the front of the 1st Confederate Engineers Regiment and demanded its surrender. Met with jeers, Weary snatched the regiment’s colors and started riding off, but was riddled with bullets. Buried nearby, he was later reinterred in Poplar Grove Cemetery near Petersburg.

On a different, 59-acre tract, the early morning of April 9 saw Confederates push back Union general Thomas Devin’s 1st Cavalry Division, until it was reinforced. “We had nothing to oppose Lee but cavalry and nobly did they do their work,” a 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry soldier wrote. “… They tried hard to break our line and poured in shot and shell with their musketry until the air seemed full of it.” Before a Union artillery and infantry counterattack toward the courthouse village — “a grand charge upon the enemy” with fixed bayonets — could take place, a truce flag halted the fight.

Later that day, meeting at the McLean House in the village, Lee and Grant agreed on the terms of surrender and parole for the Army of Northern Virginia. Their peaceful cessation of hostilities at Appomattox served as the model for further Confederate surrenders in the coming weeks.

The McLean House in the village of Appomattox Court House hosted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, as they negotiated Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Adjoining the national park that includes the McLean House, the American Battlefield Trust has recently preserved six important battlefield tracts. Shenandoah Sanchez

After 150 years, recalling the Civil War’s end in Appomattox

The Battle of Appomattox was small, but it signified the end. michael j. bailey/globe staff

APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE — Walk along the red dirt remnants of the Richmond-to-Lynchburg stagecoach road here, the quarter-mile from a tiny Confederate cemetery to the place of surrender in a private parlor, and carry with you the thought of Robert E. Lee. Astride his horse Traveler and dressed in a resplendent uniform, the lionized general rode away from Appomattox on this road on a Palm Sunday 150 years ago finally beaten, a knot of Union officers silently saluting him, his starving Confederate soldiers giving him a rousing cheer as he approached, then crumbling to the ground in sobs as he passed.

Think of Ulysses S. Grant, in a soldier’s shirt, spackled with mud, riding this road after writing and presenting to Lee the simple, generous terms of a surrender that would begin the generations-long process of binding the nation’s wounds, this the same man who had to corral personal demons of the bottle before conquering the rebels in battle.

Yet on your short walk amid the scent of fresh-cut hay, carry also in your reflections Jesse H. Hutchins, an infantryman who enlisted in the Confederate army days after the opening blasts of Fort Sumter, survived through four years and dozens of such brutal battles as Gettysburg, gave the last of his loyalty, in vain, during a skirmish on this battlefield, and lay now in that small cemetery, about 400 paces from the place of surrender and 690 miles from his Alabama home.

Mythologized figures haunt this land. Yet, the story of our Civil War and its climax are often best revealed in the hopes and horrors of the grunt soldier, the anxious townswoman, the slave.

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park understands this.

Tucked among the rolling hills of central Virginia, the park succeeds in walking the visitor through the trauma and drama of April 9, 1865, including the frenzied events leading to — and the poignant ones following — the surrender of Lee’s Confederates. And it captures not only this tiny town’s immense place in history but also the sense of the fraying fabric of lives a century and a half ago.

Two miles long, the park has as its bookends the sites of the field headquarters of Lee and Grant, but its centerpiece is the preservation and reconstruction of the original hamlet of Appomattox Court House. [The village of about 100 residents was abandoned three decades after the war the present-day town is 2 miles southwest of its namesake.]

The rebuilt original village has a half-dozen historically precise structures, including a tavern-inn, a store, and the courthouse, which serves as the park’s visitors center. Across from the courthouse is the McLean House, the site of the surrender.

The battle was more mad marathon sprint than another blood-soaked fratricide. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, having been stretched 53 miles thin to the point of fracturing in a nine-month siege, had fled Petersburg, the final sentry to the Confederate’s capital of Richmond. His only hope was a desperate flight from the pursuing Union army — now four times the size of his — to join Confederates in North Carolina. At Appomattox, he was to meet a train packed with food for his starving men, who were marching 30 miles a day and melting away, exhausted, into the countryside. However, a Union cavalry unit under George Custer got to the supply train first, seizing it and blocking Lee’s escape.

One last desperate charge by Lee to break through the US cavalry line on the morning of Palm Sunday briefly succeeded, until tens of thousands of Union infantry reinforcements arrived.

Lee had little choice but to look for a place for a meeting with Grant.

Wilmer McLean, one of the few townsmen to stay in Appomattox during the battle, reluctantly offered his parlor. The furnishings of the room are faithful to that fateful day, including the stately marble-topped table where Lee sat and the spindly wood table brought in for Grant. On the mantel lay the doll of 7-year old Lulu McLean. Union officers nervously tossed the doll among themselves as they awaited the proceedings, calling it their silent witness to history.

At 16 by 20 feet, the room is so small it’s hard to imagine it could hold such luminaries as Lee and Grant, plus the contingent of 15 or so Union officers, including Robert Lincoln, whose father would be dead six days later.

Along the lone stagecoach road outside, three days after that surrender, the ragged remainders of the Confederate army would silently stack their rifles. For anyone versed in the history of Civil War, reimagining this scene here is humbling.

“Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood men whom neither toils and suffering, nor the fact of death . . . could bend from their resolve standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect,’’ said Union General Joshua Chamberlain, Bowdoin professor, hero of Gettysburg, victim of six Confederate bullets over the course of the war, and the man designated to accept the rebels’ arms.

Said the man who led the surrender, General John B. Gordon, himself shot through the face in 1862 at Antietam: “As my men marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes — a token of respect from Americans to Americans.’’

The battlefield also yields nuggets of history compelling on a more personal level:

■ McLean had moved his family to Appomattox, as he related, in search of a refuge from the war. His previous home was 150 miles to the north, in Manassas, and the first major battle of the war was fought upon his fields. He was, in effect, a witness to the birth and the death of what many considered a second American Revolution.

■ Hutchins would live through the most horrific days of the war, only to die in a brief skirmish at his campsite. He would be one of the last of about 620,000 Americans to lose their lives in the war.

■ Thomas Tibbs, a Confederate lieutenant, would find himself upon familiar turf on that day. After fighting the Yankees over the fields of northern Virginia for months, he would at last lead his men in battle across his family farm at Appomattox.

These stories and dozens of others are offered in a series of intimate exhibits in the visitors center. The park also offers talks by rangers and living history actors, including rotating portrayals of a townswoman, a Union soldier, and a Confederate soldier.

As you reach the McLean House along the stagecoach road, seek out the story of Martha Stevens in the adjacent slave quarters. At 13, she was a slave of the town’s merchant and the nurse for his baby. Told to prepare for Armageddon on the day of the battle, she had hidden with the baby in a ditch as soldiers a few feet away fought the war’s last pitched battle.

After the cannons quieted, a soldier with a white flag spotted her in the hollow and halted.

5) Siege of Petersburg

Battlefield Name:


What Happened:

  • The Siege at Petersburg was the longest span of attacks in the war. Slow and steady, Union Lt. Gen. Grant took apart the wagon and rail connections supplying the Confederate army.

Must See:

  • The Crater. In the opening scene of the Jude Law movie Cold Mountain, there’s an earthshaking moment when Union troops tunnel under a Confederate line and set off explosives. Restoration efforts here include an outline of the crater from the blast and the tunnel access point.

Nearby City:


  • Plan a trip for Veterans Day evening to Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Petersburg. R eflect on the service and sacrifice of our veterans with the glow of grave site luminarias at this final resting place.

Gettysburg to Appomattox

Yet none of the Confederate victories was decisive. The Union simply mustered new armies and tried again. Believing that the North's crushing defeat at Chancellorsville gave him his chance, Lee struck northward into Pennsylvania at the beginning of July 1863, almost reaching the state capital at Harrisburg. A strong Union force intercepted him at Gettysburg, where, in a titanic three-day battle -- the largest of the Civil War -- the Confederates made a valiant effort to break the Union lines. They failed, and on July 4 Lee's army, after crippling losses, retreated behind the Potomac.

More than 3,000 Union soldiers and almost 4,000 Confederates died at Gettysburg wounded and missing totaled more than 20,000 on each side. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln dedicated a new national cemetery there with perhaps the most famous address in U.S. history. He concluded his brief remarks with these words:

On the Mississippi, Union control had been blocked at Vicksburg, where the Confederates had strongly fortified themselves on bluffs too high for naval attack. In early 1863 Grant began to move below and around Vicksburg, subjecting it to a six-week siege. On July 4, he captured the town, together with the strongest Confederate Army in the West. The river was now entirely in Union hands. The Confederacy was broken in two, and it became almost impossible to bring supplies from Texas and Arkansas.

The Northern victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863 marked the turning point of the war, although the bloodshed continued unabated for more than a year-and-a-half.

Encampment of Union troops from New York in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the capital of Washington.
(American History Slide Collection, © IRC)

Lincoln brought Grant east and made him commander in chief of all Union forces. In May 1864 Grant advanced deep into Virginia and met Lee's Confederate Army in the three-day Battle of the Wilderness. Losses on both sides were heavy, but unlike other Union commanders, Grant refused to retreat. Instead, he attempted to outflank Lee, stretching the Confederate lines and pounding away with artillery and infantry attacks. "I propose to fight it out along this line if it takes all summer," the Union commander said at Spotsylvania, during five days of bloody trench warfare that characterized fighting on the eastern front for almost a year.

In the West, Union forces gained control of Tennessee in the fall of 1863 with victories at Chattanooga and nearby Lookout Mountain, opening the way for General William T. Sherman to invade Georgia. Sherman outmaneuvered several smaller Confederate armies, occupied the state capital of Atlanta, then marched to the Atlantic coast, systematically destroying railroads, factories, warehouses, and other facilities in his path. His men, cut off from their normal supply lines, ravaged the countryside for food. From the coast, Sherman marched northward by February 1865, he had taken Charleston, South Carolina, where the first shots of the Civil War had been fired. Sherman, more than any other Union general, understood that destroying the will and morale of the South was as important as defeating its armies.

Grant, meanwhile, lay siege to Petersburg, Virginia, for nine months, before Lee, in March 1865, knew that he had to abandon both Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond in an attempt to retreat south. But it was too late. On April 9, 1865, surrounded by huge Union armies, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Although scattered fighting continued elsewhere for several months, the Civil War was over.

The terms of surrender at Appomattox were magnanimous, and on his return from his meeting with Lee, Grant quieted the noisy demonstrations of his soldiers by reminding them: "The rebels are our countrymen again." The war for Southern independence had become the "lost cause," whose hero, Robert E. Lee, had won wide admiration through the brilliance of his leadership and his greatness in defeat.

High Bridge

Harried mercilessly by Federal troops and continually cut off from turning south to reach Gen. Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina, General Robert E. Lee and his army headed west along the Appomattox River, eventually arriving in Cumberland County on April 6, 1865. Food and supplies that Lee's men desperately needed were waiting at Farmville, across the river. To get there, Lee needed to use the 2,500-foot long, 130-foot tall High Bridge, which carried the South Side Railroad over the Appomattox. A smaller bridge for wagons was located at the same crossing. On April 6, Lieut. Gen James Longstreet dispatched 1,200 cavalrymen under Major General Thomas L. Rosser to hold the bridges. A 900-man Yankee force of infantry and cavalry arrived first, and set about destroying the bridge. Rosser's men engaged the Union troopers and infantry, nearly destroying or capturing the entire force. Lee's retreating army used the crossing and made it to the awaiting rations at Farmville. The next day, elements of the Union Second Corps overwhelmed Longstreet’s rear guard attempting to set fire to the bridge to prevent Federal pursuit. Union forces were able to save the railroad bridge from destruction and crossed over the wagon bridge in pursuit of Lee’s army. Failure to destroy the High Bridge crossings enabled Union forces to catch up with the Confederates at nearby Farmville.

Watch the video: Grant - Appomattox Lee surrender - History (November 2021).