Son of Light Horse Harry - James Barnes

The End that Crowned

When, on April 2nd, the stubbornly held Confederate line, that had been maintained by half-starved men so long and so bravely, was broken, and Lee sent word back to Richmond that he was about to evacuate, there was one hope left. Great quantities of supplies had been gathered by a supreme effort of the Confederate commissary department, and these he ordered to be sent on to his famished army at Amelia Court-House, but through some delay or mistake the orders were never delivered and the supplies never came. The bitter disappointment can well be imagined. A provision-train, loaded with precious supplies, passed through Amelia and was unloaded at Richmond, a fair present to the enemy. General Grant was on the march with his forces in fine shape and men in fine spirits, and slowly encircling the Confederate army that had not the physical strength to make a long retreat. The principal rations of the men for weeks had been parched corn, and little enough of that; yet, as history shows, they were full of fight, although with a sad heart their commander felt the uselessness of calling upon them for a sustained effort.

A reconnaissance in force showed that a battle would have but one result; the idea of a "forlorn hope "and a last desperate stand was abandoned. On April 7th came the well-known note from Grant addressed to Lee, brought through the lines by General Seth Williams, Grant's adjutant-general, who had been Lee's adjutant when he was superintendent at West Point, and a very dear and intimate friend of the Confederate commander-in-chief. The letter was first received by Colonel Humphreys, who had repulsed the Union attack in the morning and who occupied the outposts, and by him was sent on at once to Lee, who received it about nine o'clock in the evening. It read as follows:

"GENERAL,—The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.

"General R. E. Lee."

Before midnight Lee's reply had been written, despatched, and received by General Grant. In this note he reciprocated the Northern commander's desire to avoid further bloodshed, and asked the terms upon which he might consider the surrender of his army of twenty-five thousand men. The gist of Grant's reply was that men and officers should be disqualified from taking up arms against the United States until properly exchanged. Before an answer to this communication could be sent the Union forces were moving. General Meade was marching on the north of the Appomattox River and Sheridan was south of it. They reached the railway and there captured a Confederate hospital train, twenty-five cannon, and four train-loads of supplies. These were absolutely Lee's last resources. On the 8th Grant received the following note from Lee:

"GENERAL,—I received, at a late hour, you note of to-day. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposal would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposal may affect the Confederate States forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10A.M. to-morrow on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.

R. E. LEE,, General.

"Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant."

No armistice had been declared, and on the morning of the 9th a desperate attempt was made to break the lines of Sheridan's cavalry at Appomattox, but the arrival of the Union General Ord's command, the 5th Corps, turned it back. It was then that the white flag was sent to the Union lines with a request that hostilities should be suspended pending negotiations for a general surrender. Lee's note asking for an interview was received about the same time. The request was granted: and in the house of Mr. Wilmer McLean, at Appomattox, the meeting took place.

Lee's feelings, as he rode along on his iron-gray horse, Traveller, can well be imagined. It was not so much the bitterness of the task that racked him as the doubtfulness of the future. What should be done with the brave men who had followed him for so many weary years? What would become of the land he loved so well, now devastated and racked by the ruin and desolation of war? There was no evidence of a breakdown of his grand spirit, no token of the grief that he felt because his pride must suffer; clad in his uniform of a major-general, that fitted his graceful figure to perfection, with spotless white gauntlets, and his presentation sword by his side, Lee made a noble, soldierly appearance. He was accompanied only by Colonel Charles Marshall, of his staff. Grant met him as soon as he had dismounted at the doorway to the house. The two shook hands. There was a great contrast in their looks, the Union general, short and thick-set, with his stubby brown beard, was attired in an old undress uniform blouse, the only marks of his rank being his general's shoulder-straps; his worn trousers were thrust into campaign-boots and his coat was unbuttoned. Ike glanced at the gray-bearded, handsome man before him in his trim uniform, with the three golden stars on the turn-down collar. Perhaps, in his mind's eye, there came to him a little scene so many years before in the city of Mexico, when Lee had spoken to him, almost in a reprimand, about his lack of neatness in appearance. Lee was in no position now to complain, but General Grant's first words, in their courtesy and kindness, could not have been better chosen, especially if Lee's thoughts had reverted to the self-same scene.

"General," he, said, "I must apologize for not having on a different uniform and not wearing my sword. I have been separated for three days from my baggage, which is, perhaps, a sufficient explanation."

With that he turned and introduced the members of his staff, and as they entered the room he began to talk about old times when they had served under General Scott. Nothing could better illustrate the "simplicity of greatness" than the meeting between these two great men. At last they came to the momentous business before them, and they approached it with all the honesty of men whose purpose was clear, whose duty was apparent, and who had no time to waste in exactions, demands, or misunderstandings. General Grant sat down at the little marble-top table, and, without hesitation, wrote the following letter, wonderful in its terseness, and yet remarkable in its all-embracing comprehension. It read as follows:

APPOMOTTOX C. H., VIRGINIA, April 9, 1865.
"General R. E. Lee, Commanding Confederate Skates Armies:

GENERAL, In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer as you may designate. The officers to give their individual parole not to take arms against the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of their command. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they may reside.

"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."

Lee read the letter carefully but quickly.

"Many of my artillerists and cavalrymen own their own horses, general," he said. "May I ask if the provision concerning the officers' horses will apply to them?"

"No," replied Grant, "it will not, as it is written; but as I think this will be the last battle of the war, and as I suppose most of the men in the ranks are small farmers, who without these horses would find it difficult to put in their crops, the country having been swept of everything movable, and as the United States does not want them, I will instruct the officers who are to receive the paroles of your troops to let every man who claims to own a horse or mule take the animal to his home."

Lee bowed.

"It will have a happy effect, general," he said, a tone of relief in his voice, and then, sitting down, he wrote out his formal letter of acceptance of the conditions. He had no paper on which to write, and turning to his aide, Colonel Marshall, he asked him for some. The latter had none either, and turned to Colonel Ely S. Parker, one of Grant's staff, who was a full-blooded Iroquois chief. He could only give him some note-paper, as all the other paper that he had was officially headed. Lee took this and, 238) ?> thanking Colonel Parker, sat down to write. His' note was short, and was nothing more than an acknowledgment of General Grant's letter and acceptance of the terms, and an expression of his intention to designate the proper officers to carry out the stipulations.

Once more the generals shook hands and Lee courteously bade a good-morning to the members of Grant's staff. There was no element of the dramatic in any part of the proceedings, and yet the picture of the moment lingered for all time in the minds of those who witnessed it, and has been embodied in a painting that has handed down the scene to posterity. It is the very absence of all glitter and panoply and circumstance that makes the picture the stronger. No tragic bemoaning of the past, no dramatic offer of the sword-hilt on the bended knee, no humbled leader or vainglorious conqueror, only two great men, as we have said before, simple and direct in their conduct under the weight of a vast responsibility, and each looking forward, with mutual hope and mutual desire, to the building of the future in which their followers should forget all enmities, and, hand-in-hand, labor in the building.

Before Lee departed he turned to General Grant, his dark eyes searching the latter's face.

"I have a thousand and more of your officers and men with me, whom we have required to march along with us for several days," he said. "I shall be glad to send them to your lines as soon as it can be arranged, for I have no provisions for them. My own men have been living for the last few days principally upon parched corn, and we are badly in need of both rations and forage."

Grant immediately suggested that he should send Lee twenty-five thousand rations, and Lee thanked him, assuring him it would be a great relief.

About three o'clock the Confederate commander left and rode slowly towards his own lines. But his shoulders were unbowed and his head erect, although his face showed the great sorrow that filled his bosom. His nephew has thus described the scene when Lee was once more with his men:

"The troops crowded around him, eagerly desiring to shake his hand. They had seen him when his eye calmly surveyed miles of fierce, raging conflict; had closely observed him when, tranquil, composed, undisturbed, he had heard the wild shout of victory rend the air; now they saw their beloved chieftain a prisoner of war, and sympathy, boundless admiration and love for him filled their brave hearts. They pressed up to him, anxious to touch his person or even his horse, and copious tears washed from strong men's cheeks the stains of powder. Slowly and painfully he turned to his soldiers, and, with voice quivering with emotion, said, 'Men, we have fought through the war together; I have done my best for you; my heart is too full to say more.'"

"It was hard to make these grizzled veterans believe that it was all over, that the end had come, to the fighting and marching. To thousands and thousands of course; it was a great relief, but many could not reconcile themselves to the new situation. It was long months before they could force themselves to accept the idea that the cause for which they had given so much (those who viewed their ruined country can understand) had failed.

The army disbanded. Lee returned to Richmond and there joined his family. On May 29th President Johnson, from Washington, proclaimed his policy of reconciliation, and in it Lee heartily agreed. On June 13th he wrote and requested to be embraced within its provisions, and tendered his allegiance to the only government in existence under whose flag he must resume the duties of citizenship. Lee was a private citizen now, for the first time since he had arrived at man's estate. For forty years he had been a soldier, but now he turned to ways of peace. He declined all offers of gifts and lucrative employment that were made to him, but accepted the position that he held till the day of his death—the presidency of Washington College, at Lexington, to which he was elected in August, 1865; and to his career as president the graduates of that university point with pride. But his health, that had been shaken from exposure during the trying campaigns, began to wane. He made one trip to the South. to Georgia, in the spring of 1870, in the hope that the rest and change of scene would do him good, and on that trip he visited Cumberland Island with his daughter Agnes, to lay a wreath there on the grave of his father, "Light Horse Harry." It was a touching scene. In a letter he described how the fresh flowers had been placed on the grave, and he added, "I presume it is the last time I shall be able to pay it my tribute of respect."

At first it seemed that the little vacation had done him good, but slowly his disease began to grow again and he showed evidence of increasing feebleness. One day, late in September, 1870, he stood at the head of his table while his family, with bowed heads, waited to hear him pronounce the well-known grace, but no words came. Feebly he sat down. It was the summons of his approaching end. For almost two weeks he lingered, growing weaker and weaker, until, on the morning of October 12, 1870, Robert Edward Lee passed away in the fulness of his greatness, surrounded by the love of a people, to the great and bitter sorrow of a loving family, and surely in his life challenging the admiration of all men, for certainly no purer life, no more unselfish personality, no more chivalrous gentleman ever lived, nor one better fitted to bear the honored inheritance of an honored name. Let the example of his life, stand before the eyes of his united coin en; may men of the North and South and East and West point to it with equal pride, and may their sons profit by its teaching.