Copyright

Horace Porter's Lee Surrenders to Grant, April 9th, 1865

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the eyewitness account of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, as provided by Horace Porter, one of Grant's lieutenant-colonels.

Surrender

Giving up is never easy. Whether you are admitting defeat in Monopoly or giving up a lifelong dream, quitting is usually an unhappy experience.

Of course, losing a board game pales in comparison with losing something momentous like a war. In this lesson, we will examine one document which gives us an intimate account of just such an experience: Horace Porter's Lee Surrenders to Grant.

Background

Before we get to the document itself, it's important to have some context. Horace Porter was a lieutenant-colonel in the Union's Army of the Potomac, commanded by Ulysses S. Grant. As such, he was present when General Robert E. Lee surrendered at the house of Wilmer Mclean in Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Lee commanded the Confederacy's Army of Northern Virginia throughout the war. For the better part of four years, Lee's military genius and the fighting spirit of his men harried the Union forces across the Mid-Atlantic region. Indeed, Lee's early successes caused several Union generals to be dismissed from their command; Grant was only the latest lead general, appointed in 1864.

Nonetheless, after Grant's appointment, due to a range of factors including Union victories and poor supplies, the tide of war turned against the Confederates. On April 3, 1865, the Confederate capital, Richmond, fell. As Lee's Army retreated, Grant's pursued. The two exchanged correspondence and agreed to meet between the lines at Appomattox Court House on the afternoon of April 9.

Porter's Account

Horace Porter, present for the entire meeting, gave the only eyewitness account of the surrender that has survived. The picture Porter paints is of two generals, old acquaintances, one gracious in victory, the other just as gracious in defeat.

Porter recounts how the meeting began cordially enough, with the two soldiers reminiscing about how they once met while both in service in the U.S. Army in Mexico. He says that Lee was clearly uncomfortable - as any General about to surrender his army, and essentially, his country, would be - and he appeared anxious to move the proceedings along. Lee asked for the terms of surrender, to which Grant replied that all officers and men must surrender all arms and supplies and be barred from ever taking up arms against the United States again.

Lee complied with all of these measures with a nod of his head. He then asked Grant to write out these terms on paper so that he could sign the document, officially surrendering his army. Grant wrote out the terms of surrender then and there as he had just stated them. Porter said Grant looked up upon finishing, and seemed to look at the dress sword Lee carried. He then added to the terms that officers would be allowed to keep their side-arms as well as private horses and baggage.

Lee was 'evidently touched' by the addition, according to Porter, saying to Grant upon finishing his review, 'This will have a very happy effect upon my army.' Grant then asked Lee to sign the terms, but Lee had one final request. Lee mentioned that it was customary in the Confederate army for cavalrymen to ride their own private horses - the Confederate government had not supplied their army with animals. Many of his soldiers, he admitted, were small homesteaders and would need their own horses to bring in their harvests and work their farms.

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