Respect of an Army
by Mort Kunstler
Appomattox C. H., Va., April 9, 1865
Perhaps one of the most touching scenes of the entire Civil War took place at the very end of the conﬂict. After four terrible years of ﬁghting, the gallant Army of Northern Virginia had sustained great hardships and was unable to recover. Outnumbered, under-equipped and nearing desperation, the Confederate forces reluctantly conceded to their Union counterparts. After communicating through a series of dispatches, General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant agreed to meet to discuss the terms of surrender. The spot for this historic event took place at the McLean House at Appomattox Court House.
According to the ofﬁcial account of the event, General Grant initiated the conversation by saying “I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico, when you came over from General Scott’s headquarters to visit Garland’s brigade, to which I then belonged. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere.” “Yes,” replied General Lee, “I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature.”
After completing the terms, General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other ofﬁcers, and left the room. Grant’s staff and those in attendance followed their former foe out onto the porch and front grounds as the Confederate commander signaled for his horse. According to a witness:
While the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond where his army lay — now an army of prisoners. He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union ofﬁcers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our ofﬁcers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.The reverence and awe exhibited by the victors spoke directly to the character and reputation of their former enemy, who had risen against the odds time and time again to achieve success on the battleﬁeld. Despite feeling an overwhelming sense of relief that the war was over, no one that day took pleasure in Lee’s personal defeat. Despite the circumstances that may have separated them, the soldiers who had fought so hard against one another shared a mutual respect that represented the ﬁrst step toward reuniting the country.
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