Correspondence between General Lee and General Grant near the end of the Civil War of the United States.

Desperate as the situation had become, and irretrievable as it seemed hourly growing, General Lee could not forego the hope of breaking through the net that was rapidly enclosing him and of forming a junction with Johnston. In the event of success in this he felt confident of being able to manoeuvre with Grant at least until favorable terms of peace could be obtained.

A crisis was now at hand. Should Lee obtain the necessary supplies at Appomattox Court-House, he would push on to the Staunton River and maintain himself behind that stream until a junction could be made with Johnston. If, however, supplies should fail him, the surrender and dissolution of the army were inevitable. On the 8th the retreat, being uninterrupted, progressed more expeditiously than on the previous day. Yet, though the Federals did not press the Confederate flank and rear as on the day before, a heavy column of cavalry advanced upon Appomattox Station, where the supplies for the Confederate army had been deposited.

On the preceding day a correspondence had begun between the two commanding generals, opening in the following note sent by General Grant to General Lee:


"5 P. M., April 7, 1865.


" GENERAL,--The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as 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 Southern army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

" Very respectfully, " Your obedient servant, " U. S. GRANT,

"Lieutenant-General commanding Armies of the U. S."

To which General Lee replied,--

"April 7, 1865. "GENERAL,--I have received your note of this day. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

" R. E. LEE, " General. " LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT, commanding the Armies of the United States."

On the succeeding day General Grant returned the following reply:

"April 8, 1865.


"GENERAL, -- Your note of the last evening, in reply to mine of the same date, asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply I would say that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, -- namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you might name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.



General Lee immediately responded:

"April 8, 1865.

"GENERAL, -- I received at a late hour your note of today. In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but, as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but as far as your proposal may affect the Confederate States forces under my command and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten A. M. to-morrow on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.

"R. E. LEE,



When Lee in the afternoon reached the neighborhood of Appomattox Court-House, he was met by the intelligence of the capture of the stores placed for his army at the station two miles beyond. Notwithstanding this over-whelming news, he determined to make one more effort to force himself through the Federal toils that encompassed him. Therefore he made preparations for battle, but under circumstances more desperate than had hitherto befallen the Army of Northern Virginia. The remnant of that noble army, now reduced to ten thousand effective men, was marshalled to cut its way through a host seventy-five thousand strong; but, notwithstanding the stupendous odds, there was not in that little band a heart that quailed or a hand that trembled; there was not one of them who would not willingly have laid down his life in the cause they had so long maintained, and for the noble chief who had so often led them to victory.

Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 3)