The Surrender Of Lee



A.D. 1865


From General Grant's Memoirs (New York: The Century Company), by permission of General Frederick D. Grant and the publishers

As the Civil War progressed through its first three years, it developed the fact that the most successful commander at the West was the Federal General Ulysses S. Grant; at the East, the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was therefore apparent, at the beginning of the fourth year, when Grant was transferred to the East and placed in command of all the Federal armies, that the most terrific struggle of the war was at hand. The characters of the two commanders were very different, and there was a corresponding difference in their achievements. Grant invariably assumed the offensive, never took a step backward, and obtained everything that he went for at the West. Lee was more cautious, stood mainly on a skilful and stubborn defensive, and was criticised for not following up his successes. When Grant, on May 5, 1864, crossed the Rapidan and plunged into the Wilderness, two veteran armies confronted each other in that gloomy region, whose broken ground and tangled thickets formed perhaps the worst battle-field that ever was chosen for civilized warfare. Grant's object was to place his army between the Confederate army and its capital, Richmond, and compel the Confederate army to fight where it might be captured or destroyed; for, as he announced at the outset, his objective was not Richmond, but Lee's army, which it was his duty to fight wherever he found it. Lee's object was to prevent Grant from getting between him and Richmond, and to hold a defensive that should make every step costly for his antagonist. Indeed, at the outset he assumed the tactical offensive and struck the Army of the Potomac in the Wilderness, hoping that after a heavy blow it would recross the river, since it had done this under its other commanders. But Grant never turned back, and high military authority has said that when, after that battle, he issued the order "Forward by the left flank," he practically determined what the end of the contest should be. Lee, partly because he had the shorter lines to traverse, and partly for other reasons, kept his army, at every move, between his capital and his antagonist, while Grant, after every contest in that fearful battle-summer, still marched forward by the left flank, until the armies were brought to a final stand at Petersburg, the junction of the Southern railroads that lead to Richmond. Here Lee occupied strong intrenchments surrounding the city, and Grant, constructing equally strong ones, established a siege that lasted through the autumn and winter with processes of destruction never intermitted day or night. By a series of engagements and movements westward, Grant cut off one after another of the roads by which Lee drew his supplies from the south; and when, on April 1, 1865, Lee could no longer hold his lines, he drew his army out of them and marched toward Lynchburg, hoping to elude Grant. But the Army of the Potomac was close after him and close beside him in a running fight of six days, and when he arrived at Appomattox Court House he found that a strong detachment was in his front as well, and there he was obliged to stop and surrender the remnant of his once powerful army. The final scenes in this campaign are told better by General Grant himself than by any other writer.

ON April 8th [1865] I had followed the Army of the Potomac in rear of Lee. I was suffering very severely with a sick-headache, and stopped at a farmhouse on the road, some distance in rear of the main body of the army. I spent the night in bathing my feet in hot water and mustard, and putting mustard-plasters on my wrists and the back part of my neck, hoping to be cured by morning. During the night I received Lee's answer to my letter of the 8th, inviting an interview between the lines on the following morning. But it was for a different purpose from that of surrendering his army, and I answered him as follows:

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