I’m reminded of the Leonard Cohen lyrics: “Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost.” Okay, the South wasn’t the “good guys”, except in the romantic fog of chauvinism. The War Between the States, the War for Southern Independence, the War of Northern Aggression, the War of the Rebellion, the Lost Cause. The Civil War. Whatever you call it, it came to an end in Appomattox.
It was a sleepy little Virginia town on April 9, 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. It’s still a sleepy little town, with a McDonald’s and an indelible place in American history.
Lee had hoped to reach the railroad in Lynchburg and get supplies for his beleaguered troops, but Union troops pinned his army at Appomattox, leaving the general no alternative but to surrender. “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant,” Lee said, “and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”Of course, there were other Confederate armies still fighting, but when word reached them of Lee’s surrender, they realized the dream was over. The last sizable Southern force gave up the fight over two months after Appomattox.
Grant was magnanimous to the vanquished enemy, allowing them to keep their horses and mules along with their personal sidearms. Lee appreciated Grant’s spirit, and never allowed a bad word to be said about the Union general in his presence.
Thousands of Civil War buffs visit the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park each year, making a pilgrimage to the McLean House, where the surrender was signed.