Ulysses S. Grant Remembers Appomattox

Many people are familiar with Ulysses S. Grant’s account of his meeting with Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, in his memoirs. Less well known is an earlier account, shared with correspondent John Russell Young during Grant’s trip around the world following his presidency. Here is that account:

“On the night before Lee’s surrender,” said General Grant, “I had a wretched headache — headaches to which I have been subject — nervous prostration, intense personal suffering. But, suffer or not, I had to keep moving. I saw clearly, especially after Sheridan had cut off the escape to Danville, that Lee must surrender or break and run into the mountains — break in all directions and leave us a dozen guerilla bands to fight. The object of my campaign was not Richmond, not the defeat of Lee in actual fight, but to remove him and his army out of the contest, and, if possible, to have him use his influence in inducing the surrender of Johnston and the other isolated armies. You see the war was an enormous strain upon the country. Rich as we were I do not now see how we could have endured it another year, even from a financial point of view. So with these views I wrote Lee, and opened the correspondence with which the world is familiar. Lee does not appear well in that correspondence, not nearly so well as he did in our subsequent interviews, where his whole bearing was that of a patriotic and gallant soldier, concerned alone for the welfare of his army and his state. I received word that Lee would meet me at a point within our lines near Sheridan’s head-quarters. I had to ride quite a distance through a muddy country. I remember now that I was concerned about my personal appearance. I had an old suit on, without my sword, and without any distinguishing mark of rank except the shoulder-straps of a lieutenant-general on a woolen blouse. I was splashed with mud in my long ride. I was afraid Lee might think I meant to show him studied discourtesy by so coming — at least I thought so. But I had no other clothes within reach, as Lee’s letter found me away from my base of supplies. I kept on riding until I met Sheridan. The general, who was one of the heroes of the campaign, and whose pursuit of Lee was perfect in its generalship and energy, told me where to find Lee. I remember that Sheridan was impatient when I met him, anxious and suspicious about the whole business, feared there might be a plan to escape, that he had Lee at his feet, and wanted to end the business by going in and forcing an absolute surrender by capture. In fact, he had his troops ready for such an assault when Lee’s white flag came within his lines. I went up to the house where Lee was waiting. I found him in a fine, new, splendid uniform, which only recalled my anxiety as to my own clothes while on my way to meet him. I expressed my regret that I was compelled to meet him in so unceremonious a manner, and he replied that the only suit he had available was one which had been sent him by some admirers in Baltimore, and which he then wore for the first time. We spoke of old friends in the army. I remembered having seen Lee in Mexico. He was so much higher in rank than myself at the time that I supposed he had no recollection of me. But he said he remembered me very well. We talked of old times and exchanged inquiries about friends. Lee then broached the subject of our meeting. I told him my terms, and Lee, listening attentively, asked me to write them down. I took out my ‘manifold’ order-book and pencil and wrote them down. General Lee put on his glasses and read them over. The conditions gave the officers their side-arms, private horses, and personal baggage. I said to Lee that I hoped and believed this would be the close of the war; that it was most important that the men should go home and go to work, and the government would not throw any obstacles in the way. Lee answered that it would have a most happy effect, and accepted the terms. I handed over my penciled memorandum to an aide to put into ink, and we resumed our conversation about old times and friends in the armies. Various officers came in — Longstreet, Gordon, Pickett, from the South; Sheridan, Ord, and others from our side. Some were old friends — Longstreet and myself, for instance, and we had a general talk. Lee no doubt expected me to ask for his sword, but I did not want his sword. It would only,” said the General, smiling, “have gone to the Patent Office to be worshiped by the Washington rebels. There was a pause, when General Lee said that most of the animals in his cavalry and artillery were owned by the privates, and he would like to know, under the terms, whether they would be regarded as private property or the property of the government. I said that under the terms of surrender they belonged to the government. General Lee read over the letter and said that was so. 1 then said to the general that I believed and hoped this was the last battle of the war ; that I saw the wisdom of these men getting home and to work as soon as possible, and that I would give orders to allow any soldier or officer claiming a horse or a mule to take it. General Lee showed some emotion at this — a feeling which I also shared — and said it would have a most happy effect. The interview ended, and I gave orders for rationing his troops.”

8 thoughts on “Ulysses S. Grant Remembers Appomattox

  1. Leo April 9, 2015 / 11:25 am

    I have never seen this before and thanks for posting it!

    On a somewhat related matter, I hear the midsouth flaggers will be protesting the Grant Library at Mississippi State University on May 9th. I am not sure what or why they are protesting.

  2. Sherree April 9, 2015 / 11:39 am

    Thanks for posting this, Brooks. Grant was so incredibly gracious.

    I can’t help but wonder why Lee did it. Why he did not say no to the Confederacy. Certainly the war would have been different without his military genius.

    I didn’t think that this final anniversary date of the sesquicentennial would affect me, but it has. It has because I know what is to come for people in my own area, people of my own past and their ancestors–people in both the white and black communities. My God, let us have peace, finally. Please.

  3. Bob D'Amato April 9, 2015 / 2:33 pm

    Good Great Grant. a HERO for the ages.

  4. Robert C. Conner April 10, 2015 / 8:41 am

    Isn’t Grant misremembering, conflating the events of that day and the next? Surely Lee had just the one aide with him, and Grant did not meet his old friend Longstreet until the next day.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 10, 2015 / 10:58 am

      Yes. But it’s just that one sentence that’s problematic when it comes to the events in McLean’s house.

  5. Noma April 10, 2015 / 11:45 am

    Favorite quote from this conversation:

    Lee no doubt expected me to ask for his sword, but I did not want his sword. It would only,” said the General, smiling, “have gone to the Patent Office to be worshiped by the Washington rebels.

    • Noma April 10, 2015 / 11:46 am

      Took me several years to figure out that “the Patent Office” is what we now call the Smithsonian Institute.

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