Today on April 9, 1865, the American Civil War inched closer to its inevitable conclusion with Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Battle of Appomattox Court House.
The Battle of Appomattox Court House began on the morning of April 9 in the Appomattox County of Virginia. The conflict would end being one of the last major battles of the American Civil War. By the spring of 1865, General Robert E. Lee and his hastily assembled army were in the midst of a full-scale retreat South. They had recently abandoned the Confederate capital city of Richmond, Virginia. Lee's plan hinged on regrouping with the remaining southern forces stationed in North Carolina. He believed they would then be strong enough to mount a counteroffensive against the advancing Union army.
Meanwhile, the Northern army under the command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant took up a defensive position near the small town of Appomattox Court House. Grant was determined to prevent Lee's retreat at all costs. The Union forces were confident, and with good reason — they outnumbered the Confederate army by more three-to-one. The once-mighty Army of Northern Virginia had been reduced to a mere 26,000 soldiers.
Grant opened the Battle of Appomattox Court House by ordering his superior cavalrymen to start harassing the enemy. Within a few days, his cavalry divisions managed to outflank Lee's troops completely. By the morning of April 8, they had expertly cut off the Confederate army from marching further South. Desertions were now rampant across Lee's ranks — the beloved hero of the South had run entirely out of options. Any chance of breaking through enemy lines was lost.
"It would be useless and therefore cruel to provoke the further effusion of blood, and I have arranged to meet General Grant with a view to surrender." — Robert E. Lee
The next morning, Lee sent a message to Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. The two generals met at the home of Wilmer McLean shortly after lunchtime on April 9. Lee characteristically arrived in his full ceremonial uniform while Grant was still wearing his muddied field attire. Both men held the highest rank of their respective armies and began negotiating terms of surrender. With less than a thousand combined casualties, the Battle of Appomattox Court House was now over. The Civil War Trust has since acquired and preserved more than 500 acres of land around Appomattox Court House.
Ulysses Grant hastily wrote down the terms of the agreement and signed the document. The two sides held a formal ceremony later that afternoon, marking the official disbandment of the Army of Northern Virginia and the parole of its officers and men. All of the soldiers received full pardons and were allowed to return home with their horses and swords. Lee never forgot Grant's generosity and respect during the surrender, and for the rest of his life wouldn't tolerate a rude word about Grant in his presence. The Union victory at Appomattox Court House effectively ended the war in Virginia and triggered a series of capitulations across the South.