It was Palm Sunday of 1865 when they met. It was a meeting that will never be forgotten. Granted, there was no CNN, no MSNBC or Fox News to cover the meeting and Facebook wasn’t even invented, let alone thought of.

Appomattox, Virginia sits 93 miles East of Richmond. It’s not very big. It’s kind of hard to find, unless you look for it really close. For four long years, from the time the first bomb flew over Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in South Carolina to the Palm Sunday of 1865, it wasn’t that well known and stood in the shadows while the North and South proceeded to kill each other.

On that Palm Sunday, time stopped. Time stood still. Bombs stopped exploding. People stopped shooting at each other. The world stood still as two men that had nothing more in common aside for attending the same college, West Point (also known as the United States Military Academy) met and talked about their days at West Point and in Mexico.

There was some small talk in that courthouse that morning, including the time that both men had fought on the same side for the United States in the Mexican War. While most of the citizens there were going to church, Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee talked peace. It was Grant that had the upper hand that day. In fact, it was the Union Army that would own the day.

The wheels of the Surrender really started turning on April 6, when Lee’s forces withdrew with Grant pursuing them, like a fox being chased by a hound. Cut off and surrounded by Union forces under Grant’s command, Lee and Grant started communications regarding a possible surrender of the remainder of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant said it was “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 Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.” Lee then asked about surrender terms.

Under a truce, the two met at the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox on the afternoon of April 9. A sharply dressed Lee and Lieutenant Colonial Charles Marshall arrived first, followed by a slightly disheveled Grant (who probably reeked of cigar smoke) and his officers, a group that included Robert Todd Lincoln.

Lee then asked Grant to write down the surrender terms, which allowed Lee’s officers to keep their side arms and horses, with a similar provision was provided for Lee’s cavalry and artillery troops. All of Lee’s troops were to “be allowed to return to their homes and not be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.” Grant also provided rations for the starved Confederate troops.

The generous surrender terms avoided potential trials of Confederate leaders and served as a blue print for other surrenders that followed.

After the papers were signed, the two men shook hands, sealing the deal for all time and Lee mounted his horse and saluted, while Grant and his officers returned the gesture. Approximately, 28,000 Confederate soldiers laid down their weapons over the next three days and returned home. A war that divided a nation, a nation that almost became the thing that Lincoln feared and loathed, a “house divided” was slowly being put back together. A war that saw bloodshed and death not just on the battlefield but also loss of civilian life had come to an end. It would not be an easy peace and the leader of the nation that almost destroyed itself would not live very long to see that peace, as he would die on Good Friday, if ever there was an irony.

A little court house in central Virginia was the center of the world in 1865. The world held its breath as two men that had a few things in common met and put an end to the hostilities that almost tore a young nation apart. They talked, they signed, they sealed the deal. Bloodshed had come to an end and peace would be at hand. It would not be an easy peace with Reconstruction to come and the Union becoming an occupier but in the end it would come. America would not be the “House divided.”

Grant and Lee came to a place that no one knew about for ages. Appomattox was a sleepy little town in Virginia that would become a part of America’s history. It would also be the place where hands of friendship and olive branches replaced weapons. Appomattox would be a place where swords were turned into plowshares. Those that died in the war, either through combat, disease or bombings, would have their own peace, even if it meant being in a grave. Those that survived whole lived their lives and went back to their lives prior to the war. For those that lost a limb, it would be a totally different matter in that they would be looked at in a different light.

Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands died of disease and about 2 percent of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty. Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls (or roughly, the entire population of the Los Angeles area).  As for the financial toll, the Union’s official 1879 estimate of wartime expenses amounted to over $6 billion. In today’s money, that total would be equivalent to over $71 billion. Furthermore, bills were still racking up as the United States government continued to pay veterans’ pensions well into the twentieth century. In case you forgot, it wasn’t just the North that suffered with loss of manpower and money, the South, a culture that was built on agriculture and slavery, was hit the hardest and felt the sting of a wartime economy, spending  spent nearly $3 billion fighting the war but it also had to deal with inflation that soared to over 9,000% by the end of the war. Confederate currency was nearly worthless and gold, silver and U.S. currency was in extremely short supply. Add to that the fact that much of the South had been physically destroyed by the war and most of the conflict had been fought on southern soil. Cities like Atlanta and Richmond were reduced to ashes. Industries and transportation infrastructures were in ruins. Homes and plantations had been burned and/or robbed of anything useful. Crops had been stolen or destroyed. Large portions of the countryside were scorched and empty.

A little place in the middle of nowhere. It would be the place where Grant would see his dying words come to life, “let us have peace.” Appomattox found itself in the spotlight, even though it wasn’t expected. It just happened. Lives that were torn apart by those that fought and died and their families and friends would be changed but in the end, it was a peace that was welcomed, even if at first it was an uneasy peace. For Appomattox, it was peace at the last.

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