At Appomattox Court House, Va., Robert E. Lee hands over his 28,000 Confederate troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, barred from joining the surviving Confederate force in North Carolina, and constantly harassed by Union cavalry, Lee had no other choice.
In retreating from the Union Army’s Appomattox campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia had stumbled into the Virginia campaign stripped of food and supplies. At one point, the Union cavalry forces under the command of General Philip Sheridan had actually overtaken Lee’s army, blocking their retreat and taking 6,000 prisoners at Sayler’s Creek. Desertions accumulated every day and on April 8, the Confederates were surrounded with no possibility of escape. On April 9, Lee texted Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. The two generals met in the living room of the Wilmer McLean house at one in the afternoon.
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Lee and Grant, both the most senior in their respective armies, had known each other slightly during the Mexican War and exchanged embarrassing personal questions. Characteristically, Grant arrived in his muddy country uniform while Lee turned out in full dress, with belt and sword. Lee asked for the terms and Grant hastily drafted them. All officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property – most importantly, the horses, which could be used for late spring planting. The officers would keep their guns aside and Lee’s starving men would receive rations from the Union.
Silencing a band that had started playing in celebration, General Grant told his officers, “The war is over. The rebels are our compatriots again. Although the dispersed resistance continued for several weeks, for all intents and purposes the civil war had ended.