Thursday, April 9, 2015

150th Anniversary of Lee at Appomattox

Grant and Lee at Appomattox by Tom Lovell.

Happy Easter Thursday!

Today, 9 April, in 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his force, the Army of Northern Virginia, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia to the combined Union armies (Meade's Army of the Potomac & Ord's Army of the James, with Sheridan commanding the cavalry) under the command of General U.S. Grant.

This famous surrender occurred only after Lee's army had retreated from Petersburg, Virginia following the collapse of the siege there on 2 April 1865.  Grant vigorously pursued Lee, with General Sheridan particularly notable for the effectiveness of his pursuit and his timing in preventing Lee from turning his army south to join that of Confederate General Joseph Johnston.

Appomattox Campaign, 2-9 April 1865.  "Appomattox Campaign Overview" Map by Hal Jespersen, Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On 9 April 1865, at the Battle of Appomattox Court House, Lee instructed General John B Gordon of Georgia to try to break out their position past what they thought were Union lines of only cavalry; this, in hopes of reaching Lynchburg, Virginia.  The appearance of the Union V Corps (and Ord's troops, as well) shattered any hopes of a breakout; with the Union II Corps (with the VI coming up) blocking Longstreet's Corps at New Hope Church to the east, surrender became inevitable.

For more on this battle, you should consult:
NPS Battle Summary: Appomattox Court House, VA

Civil War Home: Appomattox

Civil War Trust: Appomattox Court House

At 3PM, then, on 9 April, Palm Sunday of that year, General Robert E. Lee signed the surrender terms agreed to with General Ulysses Grant in the parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Court House.  McLean famously moved to Appomattox from Yorkshire in Prince William County where his house had been used during the two Battles of Manassas.

The site of the surrender is commemorated at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, whose official site you can find here:
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Robert E. Lee issued this final order to his men the following day:
"The Last Order of General Robert E. Lee, C. S. Army, 
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia.
April 10, 1865.
        After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them. But, feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
        By the terms of the agreement officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
        With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous considerations for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.
 R. E. LEE, General"

Joshua Chamberlain - Brady-Handy.jpgJbgordon.jpg
Left: Union Gen. J. L. Chamberlain; Right: Confederate Gen. J. B. Gordon

The official stacking of arms and surrender of the army would take place on 12 April, with Union Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine receiving the capitulation of the Confederate Army from Major General John B. Gordon of Georgia.  Both of those men would go on to be governors of their respective states.

The surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia marked the collapse of the Confederate war effort and Southern hopes of independence from the United States.  The other Southern military units would rather quickly capitulate (notably that of Joseph Johnston at Durham Station, NC on 26 April 1865), and the difficult period of Reconstruction would soon begin.

As this event, among other things, marks the end of the brilliant and admirable military career of Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), I think it worth pausing a moment to recall the man.

File:Robert E Lee in 1863.png

His father a leader in the American Revolution, "Light Horse" Harry Lee, and his mother a member of the distinguished Carter family of Virginia, Lee certainly had notable bloodlines.

More than this, however, was his own talent and character.  Lee's remarkable military career is well known, with his great victories, such as that at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville.  He was loved by his men, feared and respected by his foes, gracious in victory and humble in defeat.

This speaks to his character.  Lee was a devout Episcopalian, who took his faith, and, in particular, his duties, very seriously.  Indeed, just as duty might be said to partly define what a gentleman is, so it defined Robert E. Lee.  There are any number of stories that attest to his great sense of duty and honor.

It was this sense of duty that caused him to remain loyal to his home state of Virginia with the coming of the war, despite the fact that he was no zealot for secession.  When offered command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia, his speech to the Convention at Richmond on 23 April 1861 was brief, but very much in character:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the occasion on which I appear before you, and profoundly grateful for the honour conferred upon me, I accept the position your partiality has assigned me, though I would greatly have preferred your choice should have fallen on one more capable.  Trusting to Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow citizens, I will devote myself to the defense and service of my native State, in whose behalf alone would I have ever drawn my sword."

After the war, he would serve as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he is buried.

Here is a short biography of Lee:
Civil War Home: Robert E. Lee

He was born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia:
Stratford Hall Official Site

He lived for many years with his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, (great-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington by the first lady's first husband) at the Arlington House, in the county now named for it.  This home is on a magnificent bluff overlooking Washington, DC, and was, of course, seized by the federal government to be used as a cemetery, now Arlington National Cemetery.  The Lee family was later reimbursed for what was determined to be wrongful seizure.  The house itself is now designated as the Robert E. Lee Memorial:
NPS: Arlington House

Finally, Robert E. Lee is buried in the chapel of Washington & Lee University:
W&L Chapel

To close then and return to our own time, here is the Gregorian chant introit for this Easter Thursday, as we continue the celebration of the Easter Octave:

Surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia!

Happy Easter!  Live well!