April 12, 1865: Stacking Arms

On April 12 the Army of Northern Virginia stacked arms, furled flags, and formally completed surrendering. Much has been made of this ceremony, largely by Joshua Chamberlain and John B. Gordon, two gifted writers with vivid imaginations and healthy egos whose stories improved with age. Yet neither Grant nor Lee was present (Lee waited until after the ceremony to head back to Richmond, where his wife remained), and in fact several Confederate units had already stacked arms and signed paroles. Gordon had attempted to have his men stack arms on April 11, avoiding the ceremony, but John Gibbon and Charles Griffin, in charge of arranging the surrender, insisted upon a more formal process that would take place the next day: otherwise Gibbon would not issue paroles. Nor did everyone have arms to stack: what remained of George Pickett’s division left a mere fifty-three rifled muskets at the surrender.

There was another surrender elsewhere, as US forces occupied Mobile, Alabama. This time it was Dabney Maury who set fire to the cotton in town before he left, although Mobile fared better than did Columbia, South Carolina. To the north James H. Wilson’s horsemen entered Montgomery; back in North Carolina William T. Sherman’s forces were closing in on Raleigh. Aware of what might happen next, Joseph Johnston recommended opening negotiations with his Yankee counterpart, but Jefferson Davis demurred. Only after extensive discussion did Johnston get his way when members of Davis’s cabinet sided with the general.

In the aftermath of his speech on Reconstruction policy, Abraham Lincoln pulled the plug on any notion of gathering the members of Virginia’s Confederate legislature together to help remove the Old Dominion from the conflict. After all, events at Appomattox had gone far to achieve that end. Meanwhile, Ulysses and Julia Grant left City Point and made their way to Washington. That city continued to celebrate the news of victory with anticipation of greater things to come.

14 thoughts on “April 12, 1865: Stacking Arms

  1. bob carey April 13, 2015 / 5:31 am

    Brooks, A couple of things here, first , when Lee and Grant met the second time , and Grant asked Lee to order the remaining Confederate forces to give up the struggle, Lee deferred to Davis. Is their any evidence that Lee tried to contact Davis before the surrender of the ANV, and ask his consent? Second Chamberlain and Gordon never lost an opportunity to improve on the facts.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 13, 2015 / 11:18 am

      There’s no evidence that Lee contacted Davis to present Grant’s idea as an open question. Lee would prepare a report, dated April 12, followed by correspondence down the road that suggested what he thought Davis should do.

  2. Rosemary April 13, 2015 / 6:48 am

    Some people never and for always wont like Chamberlain.

    However, in his lifetime he did a good job keeping attention on the war and reasons for the war (yes, attention on himself but also on war… without war he is just a Maine guy no one heard of)…

    He was one of the first to counter Lost Cause. … One of the first, I say.🙂

    Since Killer Angels, he is doing the same job he did in his lifetime post war. He gets people’s attention on the war.

    So, Chamberlain does stand out among his peers.

    Chamberlain creates countless “educational moments” — many members of the public pay attention because of him. Having people’s attention is gold. Today’s talkers can take it from there. Attention doesn’t happen because other guys were doing heroic work July 2.

    Chamberlain was a good soldier. He was a good writer/communicator, too. He was personable enough to find success at things he was good at – people gave him work, gave him ink.

    He deserves respect for that.

    Josh who? Why, Chamberlain, of course!

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 13, 2015 / 11:16 am

      Joshua Chamberlain was an extremely able commander and a very interesting man. That said … his attempts to enhance the narrative do not enhance his reputation nowadays. Typical college professor.

      • John Foskett April 13, 2015 / 11:57 am

        The dangers of tenure. 🙂

    • John Foskett April 13, 2015 / 11:56 am

      He and Gordon both were good, brave soldiers who justifiably earned the accolades and ranks they received. That said, both were also embellishers who knew how to make a good story “better”. I think the Professor may also (quite understandably) have relished his central role in the popular understanding of the war and probably would not have been embarrassed at the over-the-top presentations by Shaara, Burns and Maxwell regarding his “exploits” at Gettysburg. Hence the entire planet has heard of the “20th Maine” while very, very few outside the Civil War universe have ever heard of the 1st Minnesota, 16th Maine, 24th Michigan, etc., etc.

      • Rosemary April 14, 2015 / 3:05 am

        Aw, I realize Chamberlain’s image can’t be rehabilitated.. Even early-day practitioners of spin such as the Maine prof and Gordon and, thank goodness, Early cant get by people who actually observe and think. (I love that Lee is starting to get justly unspun – thank you Dr Varon)…

        Still, Jeff Daniels looked fine in that blue uniform🙂

        • John Foskett April 14, 2015 / 10:05 am

          Actually. in the two (God-awful) movies, Chamberlain lost about 30 lbs. from Fredericksburg to Gettysburg. Something to be said for that diet Joe Hooker must have implemented. 🙂

      • Buck Buchanan April 14, 2015 / 6:57 am

        Not to mention Strong Vincent and the 44th New York, the 83rd Pennsylvania and the 16th Michigan Infantry Regiments.

        I have 2 prints of Chamberlain hanging in my office…one titled Bayonet portraying the charge at Gettysburg and the other being The Last Salute of Chamberlain at Appomattox. They were from an earlier time before I became a more serious student of the Civil War.

        All of that said he was an excellent self promoter. But the war was neither won nor lost by him and his regiment. No where near as famous but of equal if not more importance was the stand of George Greene and his 5 New York regiments on Culp’s Hill.

        There are literally hundreds of instances like this throughout the war.

        • John Foskett April 14, 2015 / 10:07 am

          Yep. At Gettysburg alone, one could easily come up with several infantry regiments which performed service which was at least as important to the outcome.

  3. Charles Lovejoy April 13, 2015 / 5:56 pm

    You think there was any Britten Woods type meetings when the Civil Was coming to a close behind closed doors? Possible why reconstruction ended as it did?

  4. Bob Huddleston April 14, 2015 / 4:00 pm

    JLC was a true patriot, a hard fighter for his side, wounded multiple times, who accomplished much but also never let the truth get in the way of a good story. John Gordon was ditto on the Rebel side. IIRC, it was Bruce Catton who wrote Chamberlain was the last Civil War soldier to be mortally wounded – it just took 50 years for him to die of his wounds.

    I would suggest reading the following:

    Ellis Spear, _Civil War Recollections of General Ellis Spear_ (Orono, ME: 1970)

    Abbott Spear and Ellis spear, _The 20th Maine At Fredericksburg, And Other Titles. The Conflicting Accounts Of General Joshua L. Chamberlain And General Ellis Spear_ (Union, ME, 1989)

    Ellis Spear, who started as a captain and ended as the last colonel of the 20th, was a supporter of Chamberlain but too honest a Maine native to exaggerate. Read Chamberlain’s account of Fredericksburg then Spear’s rebuttal – the latter with references to the ORs! And you will also discover Charles Gilmore, the 20th’s first major. Gilmore was ignored by both Pullen and Shaara! He did not fit into their mythology. Perhaps someone ought to so a new regimental on the 20th!

    And for what happened during the Appomattox surrender parade see:

    William Marvel, _Lee’s Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox_ (Chapel Hill, 2002)

    William Marvel, _A Place Called Appomattox_ (Chapel Hill, 2000)

    You can locate good used copies at http://www.bookfinder.com

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