The Appomattox Campaign

April 7, 1865 – After suffering his worst defeat at Sayler’s Creek, Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee embarked on the final campaign of his military career.

The surviving remnants of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia straggled to Farmville to collect rations awaiting them. Many starving Confederates had lived on dried corn intended for the horses, so they gobbled up what they could before repulsing another attack by Federals under Major General Philip Sheridan. Lee established headquarters at Farmville and met with Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, who had come to inspect the army.[1]

Lee’s troops continued west toward Lynchburg on the evening of the 7th, but their delays in collecting rations allowed Sheridan to race ahead of them and block their path at Appomattox Station and Court House. The Confederates were now in danger of being trapped by Sheridan in their front and the rest of the Federal army in their rear. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote to General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant, “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”[2]

Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant dispatched a message to Lee: “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 C.S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.”[3]

Lee received the message near 10 p.m. on the 7th and shared it with Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who said, “Not yet.” Lee responded to Grant: “I have recd your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of N. Va. I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, & therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.”[4]

Grant received Lee’s response on April 8 and dispatched another message: “Peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, namely that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified from taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged.” Grant concluded, “I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.”[5]

Grant wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “I feel very confident of receiving the surrender of Lee and what remains of his army tomorrow.” Later on the 8th, a division of Sheridan’s Federal cavalry under General George A. Custer captured four supply trains at Appomattox Station. Sheridan reported to Grant that Federals had begun arriving at Appomattox Court House to block Lee, and “If the 5th Corps can get up tonight we will perhaps finish the job in the morning. I do not think Lee means to surrender until compelled to do so.”[6]

By this time, Lee’s Confederates were moving toward Appomattox Court House on their way to Lynchburg, unaware that Sheridan’s Federals blocked them. Lee wrote to Grant: “I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition.” Because he did not believe “the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army,” he wrote: “I cannot therefore meet you with a view to surrender the Army of N. Va.; but as far as your proposal may affect the C.S. forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I shall be pleased to meet you at 10 a.m. tomorrow on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies.”[7]

This message enraged Grant’s staffers because Lee tried shifting the topic from surrender to peace negotiation. Grant did not share their anger; he simply said, “It looks as if Lee means to fight.” Grant proposed to meet with Lee nevertheless, until his top staffer, General John Rawlins, reminded him that President Lincoln had ordered Grant to only discuss surrender, not peace, with Lee.[8]

Meanwhile, Confederate Secretary of War Breckinridge reported to President Jefferson Davis that Lee had been “forced across the Appomattox” River to find “temporary relief” from the Federals in his continuing effort to “move around (the Federals) toward North Carolina. The straggling has been great, and the situation is not favorable.”[9]

Lee held a council of war with his top commanders on the night of the 8th. By this time, Federals had virtually surrounded Lee and outnumbered his army by five-to-one. Supply lines had been cut, denying the Confederates any hope for food or reinforcement. Nevertheless, Lee resolved to make one last effort the next morning to break through the Federals blocking his path.[10]

—–

[1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 19355-19365; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 668-69; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 377-81

[2] Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 668-69; Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 18973-18983

[3] Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 668-69

[4] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19531-19541; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[5] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19590-19600; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 669-70

[6] Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 581; Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19657-19696

[7] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19599-19609; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 669-70

[8] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19657-19696

[9] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 19355-19375

[10] Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 669-70; Ward, Burns, Burns, The Civil War, p. 377-81

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3 thoughts on “The Appomattox Campaign

  1. […] the morning of Palm Sunday, Grant responded to Lee’s message received late on the 8th seeking a meeting to discuss peace: “I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace; the […]

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  2. […] General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant sent Robert E. Lee a message “asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C.S Army known as the Army of Northern […]

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  3. […] General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant sent Robert E. Lee a message “asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C.S Army known as the Army of Northern […]

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