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April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders at Appomattox Court House

“When Robert E. Lee met with Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, on the momentous morning of April 9, 1865, the Union commander insisted on introducing his staff members to Lee individually. The Rebel leader, ever courteous, shook each man’s hand. Among the men in Grant’s entourage was Lieutenant Colonel Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian. Lee hesitated upon meeting the swarthy Parker, apparently mistaking him for a freedman or mulatto; however, he quickly realized his error, extending his hand to Parker with the gracious comment, ‘I am glad to see one real American here.’ Parker accepted the proffered handshake, responding, ‘We are all Americans.'” — Ely Parker: Iroquois Chief and Union Officer

“When news of the surrender first reached our lines our men commenced firing a salute of a hundred guns in honor of the victory. I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped. The Confederates were now our prisoners, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.” — The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

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10 responses to “April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders at Appomattox Court House

  1. PeterD April 10, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    “And now, we can all get back to fighting guys like Parker here . . . ” said Grant.

    Sorry, couldn’t help it. It was the first thought that popped into my head.

    • jeffro April 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Related:

      “Custer distinguished himself by his actions at Waynesboro, Dinwiddie Court House, and Five Forks. His division blocked Lee’s retreat on its final day and received the first flag of truce from the Confederate force. Custer was present at the surrender at Appomattox Court House and the table upon which the surrender was signed was presented to him as a gift for his wife by General Sheridan, who included a note to her praising Custer’s gallantry. She treasured the gift of the historical table, which is now in the Smithsonian Institution.” — Wikipedia

  2. Radpert April 11, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Funny how he could be prejudiced & open-minded at the same time. While we’re on the subject, was Vicksburg a siege, or what? I had to take my Lee book back to the library.

    • jeffro April 11, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Some accounts make more out of that than others; some go so far as to claim that there was almost an incident over this. I’m skeptical. While racism was nearly universal and basically considered to be “settled science” at the time (see the Lincoln Douglas debates), I tend to think better of Lee than that. He was about to beg for food for his men who were literally starving. Would he really have jeopardized their welfare because he felt insulted by a “colored man” being on the Yankee staff…?

      Also, Vicksburg was primarily a siege, much to Grant’s chagrin.

  3. Alexis Smolensk April 11, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Funny that so many people had to die before politeness became important.

    • jeffro April 11, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Southerners almost reflexively attempt to ingratiate themselves in social situations. This often strikes Northerners as being tedious or even disingenuous, but in this case it was Lee that reminded Grant that they had to actually talk business after they spent 25 minutes discussing their time together in the Mexican War.

      • Alexis Smolensk April 11, 2014 at 9:57 pm

        I remember the tale. And I remember that they were both gracious, and after all neither of these men started the war. Neither particularly wanted it. Lee was faithful to his Virginia and Grant was faithful to the one profession that he had talent with. I don’t fault either man. But when people speak of the final surrender, somehow they always seem to overlook the fact that the politicians, who started the affair, never sat down graciously to sign any treaty that resolved any difference. Jeff Davis served time and he wasn’t polite. Governer Joseph E. Brown didn’t make any grand gestures, nor did Alexander Stevens, who was imprisoned for five months, then simply retook his senate seat. These men, and others, instigated the war, they waged it, they inspired men like Booth who made sure Lincoln couldn’t show any of the graciousness of Grant or Lee. It strikes me as most odd that we rush to remember this story, and repeat it, pointing at the event and according it all this mythological status, then overlook that the whole affair was butchery in the extreme, and that no hour in a house in Appomattox removes that stain. But let’s not remember that. Let’s remember that Grant and Lee were polite to one another. That’s the easier, nicer, more family friendly story, isn’t it?

        [Jeffro: Well, it happened.]

  4. Eric April 15, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Politeness and grace don’t mean much when you’re prosperous. Here’s a real example of such from the same time period: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=518

    • jeffro April 16, 2014 at 4:33 am

      Lee’s remark was no different from that of my southern relatives that would always exclaim upon meeting me: “my, how tall you are– you should be on the basketball team!” Ely Parker’s response is the only thing that makes the exchange interesting. This post is more about highlighting the magnanimity of Parker and Grant in their moment of victory that it is about “politeness and grace.” Your mileage may vary.

      • Eric April 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm

        Well, from the anecdote, it sounds like Lee would have refused to shake the hand of a “freedman or mulatto.” Natives were Real Americans, as were white immigrants, but forcibly immigrated blacks didn’t count. All I can say to that is “bless his heart.” There’s no Noble Lost Cause here.

        [Jeffro: Thank you for protecting the internet from untempered nostalgia for the antebellum South. It’s certainly a pressing issue.]

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