Pfc. Cloyse Eldridge
USARC, Salem, Virginia
The Officers of the 2nd Battalion, 319th Regiment (Cadet Summer Training), 1ST Brigade and its subordinate companies conducted a staff ride at Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park during their March Battle Assembly. This historically significant park is ideally located for this activity, roughly between the three geographic locations of the battalion and its subordinate companies.
Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia was the location of the final confrontation between The Army of Northern Virginia and Union Forces. It was the second meeting on the battlefield between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, ultimately the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the beginning of the end of the US Civil War. The subjects of the staff ride were the battles that occurred at the location and the ensuing surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The following is a brief summary of key events leading up to and influencing the surrender.
Earlier in the Civil War, President Lincoln had selected Grant to lead the Union Army. Lincoln and Grant agreed that in order to defeat the Confederacy it would not be sufficient to capture civilian governances in order to win the war and keep the Union intact. Rather, The Confederate Armies must be defeated. Based on this, Union forces pursued Confederate forces relentlessly and attacked confederate forces and their supply trains.
In the months and weeks leading up to the showdown at Appomattox, Grant began to enact his plan to close with and destroy the Confederate forces. The saga began with the Siege of Petersburg and lasted 9 months ending April 2, 1965 when Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army was able to cut Lee’s supply line into Petersburg at the battle of Five Forks. This forced the Army of Northern Virginia westward from Petersburg and then Richmond. Lee had planned to meet up with a supply train at Amelia’s Courthouse (West of Richmond) and thereafter the Army of Tennessee in an effort to continue the fight.
However, General Grant’s forces pursued Lee’s Army as it moved westward and continued the assault. Several Battles occurred leading up to the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse and the ensuing surrender. Among these were the Battles of Sailor’s creek, High Bridge, Farmville and Cumberland Church.
The Battle of Appomattox Station, April 8th, 1865: The 2nd New York Cavalry, subordinate to notable Civil War Commanders Brevet Maj. Gen. George A. Custer and Maj. Gen. Philip A. Sheridan, attacked a Confederate Supply point at Appomattox Station. The supply point had several trains with supplies to include artillery and food rations. Confederate General Brig. Gen. Reuben Lindsay Walker’s Reserve Artillery attempted to defend the supply point with artillery fire, but the effort was unsuccessful and the supply depot was ultimately captured by Union Forces which blocked the road, cutting off Lee’s retreat westward.
The Battle of Appomattox Courthouse, April 9th, 1865: The final battle of the day happened on the morning of April 9th near the Appomattox Courthouse. The confederate Army made slow progress moving forward against the 2nd NY Cavalry, which was equipped with repeating rifles. Later that morning two Divisions of Infantry arrived to support the Cavalry. The Army of Northern
Virginia was thus trapped, exhausted, and without supplies. Having communicated with General Grant over the prior few days regarding possible surrender terms, around 11 a.m. the Army of Northern Virginia waved a flag of truce.
The Surrender, April 9th, 1965: Lee had previously sent a letter to Grant asking Grant what his terms of surrender might be. Grant responded he would meet at a place of Lee’s choosing to discuss the full terms of surrender. Around 11 a.m. the Army of Northern Virginia waved a flag of truce, ending the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. The place chosen for the meeting was a parlor of a house owned by Wilmer McLean, located just west of the actual Appomattox Courthouse.
General Lee arrived first, at 1 p.m. dressed in a fresh clean uniform, polished boots, and a polished sword, and took a seat in the room. General Grant was advised en route to the battlefield that Lee was waiting for him at the parlor. Mounted and wearing a muddy uniform, he hastened to meet
General Lee for the second time in their lives, and arrived at about 1:30 p.m. As noted by the Park Service tour guide, the first time they had met was during the Mexican War. Lee had been a Senior Officer in the war and Grant a Junior Officer serving as a Regimental Quartermaster. Grant had arrived to a briefing of senior Officers in a dirty field uniform, and Lee chastised him for this.
Small talk finally led to a discussion of terms, wherein Lee asked Grant to write out his terms. Two crucial aspects of the written terms were a requirement for a formal surrender wherein Confederate Soldiers would lay down their arms, and following this the Soldiers would be given parole papers and be allowed to return home. Per Grant’s direction, these parole papers guaranteed the Confederate Soldiers safe passage from Union forces on the way home, and could be used at Union supply stations to secure food or transit on Union military trains and ships.
At Lee’s request, Grant also agreed to two other unwritten requests. These were that the Confederate Soldiers would be provided immediate rations, and the Soldiers could keep privately owned livestock for their return to farming.
The surrender occurred over three days, with all Confederate Soldiers laying down their arms in front of Union troops. The Cavalry surrendered their arms first, so that the men could depart with their horses because there was very little forage remaining in the area.
It should be noted that Confederate President Jefferson Davis had given Lee orders, should he be unable to prevail over the Union Army, to disband the Army of Northern Virginia and direct the Soldiers to pursue guerilla warfare against the Union. General Lee chose instead to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia based on the favorable terms offered by General Grant, though he declined Grant’s request that he issue a surrender order to other Confederate Armies.
This decision to surrender his Army and also the terms of surrender marked one of the most significant turning points in US History. First, it sent a message that the Confederacy could not win the war. Second, and more importantly, the terms of this “Gentlemen’s Agreement” is considered the first mending of the rift between the Northern and Southern states.
The Battalion Commander, LTC Jack Rebolledo, took advantage of this opportunity to conduct an Officer Professional Development briefing on Officer Professional Military Education and the Officer promotion process for the four Field Grade and ten Company Grade Officers present. Said the Battalion Commander: “This was a terrific coming together of all of the Officers in the Battalion. We were extremely fortunate to have such pleasant weather today. I have to commend the S3 for his thorough planning and thank the Park Service Staff for an informative and interesting briefing. I appreciate all of the Officers for making the effort to come together for this event.”
- National Park Service Staff