A T a house, in the little town of Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, a memorable event took place. General Robert E. Lee here met General Ulysses S. Grant, and surrendered the Confederate Army under his command.
For four years, the terrible war between the North and South had been going on, until the Southern Army was reduced to a bare handful of ill-fed and badly clothed men. The South had been drained of her men and supplies, and Lee saw it was useless to continue the unequal struggle any longer.
The two great Generals met by agreement in this village to arrange terms for the cessation of hostilities.
The contrast between the two men was striking. Grant was forty-three years of age, five feet, eight inches tall, with brown hair and full brown beard. He wore a single-breasted blouse, of dark blue flannel, an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his trousers inside; he was without spurs, and he had no sword. A pair of shoulder-straps was all to show his rank. Around him sat or stood a dozen of his staff officers.
Lee, on the other hand, was six feet tall, and faultlessly attired. His hair and beard were silver gray, and quite thick for one of his age. He was sixteen years older than Grant. He wore a new Confederate uniform, and, by his side, was a sword of exquisite workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. It was the sword presented to him by the State of Virginia. His boots were new and clean, and he wore a pair of handsome spurs. He was attended by a single officer, his military secretary.
Lee was the first to arrive, and, when Grant entered, he arose and bowed profoundly. Grant and his officers returned the greeting. Grant then sat at a marble-top table, in the center of the room, while Lee sat at a small oval table, near a window.
General Grant began the conversation by saying, "I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere."
"Yes," replied Lee, "I know I met you in Mexico, and I have often thought of it. Those were wonderful experiences for us, when we were young soldiers."
After a few more remarks about Mexico, Lee said, "I suppose, General Grant, that the object of our meeting is understood. I asked to see you to find out upon what terms you would receive the surrender of my army."
Grant replied, "The terms are that all officers and men surrendered are to be paroled, and are not to take up arms again; and all guns, ammunition, and supplies are to be handed over as captured property."
Lee suggested that the terms be written out for his acceptance. This was done, Grant adding that the side-arms, horses, and baggage of the officers were not to be included in the terms of surrender. There was no demand made for the surrender of Lee's sword, nor was there any offer of it on Lee's part. In fact, nothing was said about it.
When the document was written, Lee took out his glasses, and slowly put them on. Reading the terms of surrender, he remarked,
"I would like to mention that the cavalry and artillery own their horses. I would like to know whether those men will be permitted to retain their own stock."
Grant immediately replied, "I take it that most of the men in the ranks are small farmers, and, as the country has been so raided by the armies, it is doubtful if they will be able to put in a crop to carry them through next winter without the aid of the horses they now have. I will instruct the officers to let the men, who claim to own horses or mules, take the animals home with them to work their little farms."
Lee appreciated this concession, and said, "This will have the very best possible effect upon the men. It will do much toward conciliating our people." He then wrote out his acceptance of the terms of the surrender.
When this was done, General Grant introduced the members of his staff to General Lee. Some of them Lee had known before, and the conversation became general and cordial. Lee at length said, "General Grant, I have a thousand or more of your men as prisoners, a number of them officers. I shall be glad to send them into your lines as soon as possible, for I have no provisions for them. I have indeed nothing for my own men. They have been living for the last few days on parched corn, and we are badly in need of both rations and forage."
General Grant immediately offered to receive the prisoners back into his own lines, and said, "I will take steps to have your army supplied with rations at once." Turning to an officer, he gave the command for the issuing of the rations to the hungry Confederate Army.
The two Generals then shook hands, and, bowing gravely to the others, Lee prepared to depart. Reaching the porch, he signaled for the orderly to bring up his horse. When it was ready, he mounted and rode away, to break the sad news to the brave fellows he had so long commanded.
The news of the surrender reached the Union lines, and firing of salutes began at several places. Grant sent orders to stop this, saying,
"The war is over, and it is ill-becoming to rejoice in the downfall of a gallant foe."
When Lee appeared among his soldiers, they saw by his sad countenance that he brought them news of surrender. They stood in silence, as he rode before them, every hat raised, and down the bronzed cheek of thousands of hardened veterans there ran bitter tears.
As Lee rode slowly along the lines, the old soldiers pressed about him, trying to take his hand, to touch his person, or even to lay their hands upon his splendid gray horse, thus showing for him their deep affection. Then General Lee, with bare head, and tears flowing, bade adieu to his soldiers. In a few words, he told the brave men, who had been so true, to return to their homes, and begin to rebuild their waste lands.