How General Lee’s Surrender Effectively Ended the American Civil War

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Age of Revolution America 1765 - 1865
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On 9 April 1865 the American Civil War, having claimed the lives of up to three-quarters of a million people, effectively came to an end when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant.

“There is nothing left for me to do”

By Spring 1865 the Confederate army was exhausted. General Lee was surrounded and his line of retreat to Lynchburg was blocked. His subordinate officers urged Lee to scatter his army and continue the war using guerrilla tactics. But it was clear to Lee that he was out of options.

‘There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.’

General Robert E. Lee

At 1pm on Palm Sunday, April 9 1865, Lee rode into the small settlement of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

General Lee Surrendering to Grant at Appomattox.

The surrender in Appomattox Court House actually took three days in total. On the first day, April 9, Lee surrendered to Grant at the Mclean farmhouse. Grant and Lee were the generals-in-chief of all the Union and Confederate forces fighting across the country.

The terms

However, neither had the political authority to bring the war to a final conclusion. The talks between Grant and Lee at Appomattox Court House dealt only with the surrender of Lee’s army in Virginia. Under Grant’s terms, the rolls listing the Confederate officers and men were to be handed over.

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Paroles were offered on the promise that the men,

‘will not take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged … the arms, artillery and public property, to be packed and stacked and turned over to the officers appointed by me … each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes … so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force, where they made reside.’

At 4.30pm, General Grant send the following message to the United States War Department:

‘General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon, upon terms imposed by myself…’.

A portrait of Commanding General Ulysses S Grant.

The last weeks of the Civil War

The surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia left three major Confederate forces in the field: Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina, Richard Taylor’s army in eastern Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, and Edmund Kirby Smith’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi west of the Mississippi River.

Most of the Confederate forces had given up by May, 1865, but it took seven weeks from Lee’s surrender at Appomattox for the last Confederate force to lay down its arms.

Peace eventually came when each of the seceded states returned to the Union and accepted the terms on which that Union was based. This meant, notably, accepting the Thirteenth Amendment of January 1865, which abolished slavery in the United States.

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