In the United States, Appomattox Day is marked every year on April 9. It signifies the end of the Civil War, which lasted four years. On April 9, 1985, General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant and soldiers from the Union army. On April 7th, after the Confederate troops had suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, Grant asked Lee to surrender. Grant declared that any “further effusion of blood” was solely on Lee’s head. However, Lee refused as he still believed he could escape Grant but asked about the possibility of a peace agreement. Lt. General Grant replied that a peace agreement was out of the question, but he could consider a military surrender. Upon realizing that his army was cornered, General Lee requested to discuss terms of surrender on April 9. The two sides signed the surrender agreement at the McLean House.
History of Appomattox Day
On the morning of April 9 in Appomattox, General Lee could not believe that the war was over. He had stationed the remainder of the Confederate cavalry, 8,000 men from Maj. General John B. Gordon’s Second Corps, and Lee’s nephew Fitzhugh Lee for battle west of the village of Appomattox Court House. Lee was counting on there being only a few Union cavalrymen ahead of him that he could easily fight off and find rations and supplies. From there, he would turn south to march to North Carolina to continue the fight.
However, Grant thwarted Lee’s plans to turn south for a week straight. He blocked Lee’s movements and tried to encircle his men. Grant’s troops finally got ahead of Lee at Appomattox. General Lee was in the middle of the fight while his headquarters was located east of the village near the center of his army. West of the village, Gordon’s Second Corps and the Cavalry were preparing for a fight. Longstreet’s command, the First and Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, were in the east patrolling the rear.
At this point, Lee knew that more Union troops were approaching from the east and maybe the south. He hoped he could move his forces before the arrival of Union reinforcements. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. Thousands of Union infantry, including the United States Colored Troops, marched most of the night and descended on Lee and his men. By 8:00 a.m., General Gordon’s troops retreated to the village, Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry fled toward the west, and Lee finally accepted that his war was over. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia came after they were defeated in the final battle of the war in Virginia. 11 days earlier, the Battle of Lewis’ Farm began and this ended with the Battle of Appomattox Court House.
Since the 19th century, authorities have put in more concerted efforts to preserve the history of the Appomattox Court House for the public to experience. In 1940, the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park was established on about 1,700 acres. The Park includes Lee’s headquarters, some of the battlefield land, the Court House, and a reconstructed McLean House (though missing a lot of its original furniture).
The American Battlefield Trust has preserved additional acreage which includes land that Griffin used during his counterattack and land where Bvt. Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s cavalry division stopped an advance by Brig. Gen. Martin Gary’s Confederate cavalry down the LeGrand road.
Appomattox Day timeline
Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.
Roughly 30,000 parole passes are printed in the Clover Hill Tavern and given to the Confederate soldiers.
The McLean House is dismantled with the aim of moving it to Washington, D.C. as a Civil War museum.
The McLean House is reconstructed.
Appomattox Day FAQs
How many people died at Appomattox?
The battle claimed 700 lives.
How many people attended the surrender meeting?
From Grant and Lee, only Lt. Colonel Marshall and perhaps a half dozen of Grant’s staff officers were present for most of the meeting.
What were the terms of the surrender meeting?
The agreement stated that the United States government would not prosecute surrendered soldiers if they did not take up arms again.
How to Observe Appomattox Day
Visit the Appomattox Courthouse
What better way to immerse yourself in the history of the battle than to visit the National Historic Park in Virginia? You'll get to see original relics from this important event and walk on the land where the fight took place.
Re-enact the battle
Gather some friends for a fun day of re-enactment. If you're able to get attire and weapon replicas, all the better.
Watch a series or film
There are several T.V. series and movies about the battle at Appomattox. This holiday is the best time to learn more about the war and the lives of America's Civil War generals as well as their families.
5 Facts About The Surrender At Appomattox
A Native American drafted the terms
Grant’s military secretary, Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker (a Seneca Indian Chief), drafted the official copies of the surrender terms signed by Lee and Grant.
Union troops saluted their former enemies
Brig. Chamberlain ordered his men to salute the defeated Confederate soldiers as a gesture of respect.
After the surrender, souvenir-seeking soldiers took or destroyed many historic artifacts: Confederate dollars, furniture from the McLean House, and regimental flags.
Lee's son in battle
Maj. Gen. William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee’s son, also joined in the battle, commanding a cavalry division under his cousin Fitzhugh.
The surrender meeting took two hours
Historical accounts indicate that the surrender meeting happened between 1:00 and 3:00 pm.
Why Appomattox Day is Important
It’s an important historical event
Sometimes, historical events get forgotten or fade in popularity. Appomattox Day keeps the memories of the battle and related events alive.
We learn more about Virginia
Virginia has many interesting historical events. The Appomattox battle is one of the most significant and it's befitting that there's a day dedicated to it.
It's an insight into slavery
Slavery in the U.S. is a difficult topic, but understanding its history is a great push toward healing. Even though millions of African Americans were finally free by law with the end of the Civil War, local practices ensured discrimination and slavery continued in other forms.
Appomattox Day dates