Peace comes to the war torn land
Appomattox Court House is where the Civil War essentially finished. While not technically accurate, there were after all more armies to surrender, General Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia proved to be the last curtain call for the armies of the Confederacy. During the time period of 8-12 April, 2015, I attended the National Park Service commemoration of this event in Appomattox Virginia. This is the second of several blogs on that event. It was too large in scope for just one blog.
The focus of this blog is the 150th Commemoration Program and related events of April 9th, the day of the surrender. With battle finished, the mood of the sesquicentennial and its focus shifted to rebuilding of the country. Certainly General Grant’s terms of surrender went a long way towards that end, as did his insistence that there be no celebration by Union troops. “The war is over; the Rebels are our countrymen again, and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations in the field.” Grant’s private meeting with General Lee the next day added to the low key that guided the conduct of the armies.
A Nation Remembers: Appomattox, April 9, 2015, 11 a.m.
Immediately prior to the commemoration program, the Appomattox Park recognized Ed Bearss for his extraordinary accomplishments for the NPS, particularly his work on developing several Civil War NPS sites. Personally, I have attended several of Ed’s programs at other locations. His encyclopedic knowledge of history is legionary.
As noted in the program, the key note speaker was Dr. James I. Robertson, Alumni Distinguished Professor in History, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University [but not shown].
A 150th Anniversary Commemorative Events Guide was liberally provided to all visitors to Appomattox during the event. There was no parking at the normal visitor’s area. Instead, all were directed to a location east of the Court House village on park property. From there, all were bussed to the village. While plagued with occasional rain on the 8th and 9th, this arrangement worked well. An alternative was to park at the new Museum of the Confederacy property located west of the park, from where other buses provided transportation.
Events of the day: Appomattox, April 9, 2015
A feature at all National Park Service (NPS) Sesquicentennial commemorations was the notion of “real-time”. When possible, a talk, a walk, or program was held at the same time as the event occurred 150 years ago. One of these was the Surrender Meeting Commemoration Program held adjacent to the McLean House from 1:30 to 3:05. With assistance of reenactors representing General Lee and Grant plus staffs, a full and meaningful program was conducted. The main speaker was noted historian Dr. Ed Ayres, President of the University of Richmond.
Upon receiving the request from General Gordon for assistance of General Longstreet’s Corps in the battle—and having watched the battle through field glasses—Lee then said, “Then there is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” Lee was the son of ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee who had been present at the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. On that occasion, Cornwallis sent a subordinate to represent him and to surrender his sword. The elder Lee felt this was shameful behavior on the part of Cornwallis. The lesson from his father was not lost on R.E. Lee. Lee would not shame the family name nor his honor. He would go himself fully expecting to be arrested for treason at the conclusion of the surrender. We know the arrest did not happen. Grant’s terms were very lenient and were based upon President Lincoln’s guidance given on March 28th on the River Queen at City Point. “Let them surrender and go home…let them have their horses to plow with and, if you like, their guns to shoot crows with… Give them the most liberal and honorable of terms.”
Grant’s surrender terms as agreed to with Lee.
1. The soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia would lay down their weapons and not take them up against the U.S. government again.
2. Soldiers would be paroled and allowed to return home instead of being imprisoned.
3. All Confederate equipment would be relinquished and inventoried.
4. They agreed that any Confederate who claimed to own a horse or mule and would need it for spring planting would be allowed to keep it.
In addition, following General Lee’s request, rations were issued by the Union to the Confederates.
Following this, a special ceremony titled ‘Bells Across the Land’ was conducted. The bell ringers, decedents of soldiers or other persons present at Appomattox spoke and jointly rang a bell for four minutes. This represented one minute for each year of fighting during the war. This was followed nationally, with ringing of the Liberty Bell at 3:15, as well as others across the country, ringing out the end of war and the rebirth of the nation. If you are interested in more information on this or other aspects click on the URL to see CSPAN-3. (http://www.c-span.org/video/?325201-1/surrender-appomattox-150th-anniversary-ceremony)
The following photographs are representative of events or talks that occurred on the 9th and 10th of April.
The following photos are of a demonstration of U.S. Artillery. During the demonstration, the fired three times, with ten minutes between each firing for safety. They used approximately half the normal amount of black powder for this cannon, about half a pound, which would be used in Civil War combat. It was loud, but safe. No live ammunition was used. Between each firing, one of the crew or a NPS Ranger would provide information about the gun and the responsibilities of each crew member.
My next Appomattox blog will cover the parole and stacking of arms required under the surrender terms. This will include a section each on cavalry, artillery and infantry.
Additional sources of information: