On this day in 1865, with his army surrounded and his men weak and exhausted, Robert E. Lee realizes there is little choice but to consider the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant. After a series of dispatches between the two generals, they agree to meet at the relocated home of grocer Wilmer McLean, in the village of Appomattox Courthouse. The meeting lasted approximately two and one-half hours and at its conclusion the curtain slowly fell on bloodiest conflict in the nation’s history.
Three years and 362 days previously, the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston, SC, the resulting action and eventual surrender by the US Army marked the start of the American Civil War. In July of that year, 1861, the first full battle of the war erupted near the home of the same Wilmer McClean near Manassas, Virginia. Confederate forces under P. T. Beauregard hurled back Union General Irvin McDowell’s troops along the Bull Run stream, sending them in a hasty retreat to Washington before stunned picnic-goers. For his part, McClean vowed to move his family to safer environs.
Prior to that battle, CSA President Jefferson Davis proclaimed “I know that there beats in the breasts of Southern sons a determination never to surrender, a determination never to go home but to tell a tale of honor . . . Give us a fair field and a free fight, and the Southern banner will float in triumph everywhere.”
With honor juxtaposed against dishonor, providence against perfidy, and decency against division, four years of bloody, epic conflict claimed 620,000 souls on both sides; the active combat finally ceased with a hollow victory in the home of the same befuddled grocer. Hollow in that the battle for emancipation and justice against sedition, avarice, prejudice and ignorance continues to be fought to this very hour.