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150 Years Ago: Surrender at Appomattox

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, bringing an end to the War Between the States. We can all bring to mind the picture of General Robert E. Lee, in full clean dress uniform with the sash and sword and the rather ramshackle, mud-spattered General Ulysses S. Grant standing in the room meeting at the time of the surrender. This was the end of a many-years war and a 10-month campaign that had brought the Southern troops to the end.

McLean House, Appomattox Court House. Public domain.

There are several interesting facts about Appomattox. First, Appomattox Court House was the name of the town and the actual surrender was held in the parlor of the McLean family. The McLean family had fled Manassas, Virginia, after one of the earliest battles of the war so that "the family could be away from the war." (NPS.gov)

Another interesting fact about the surrender was that the final draft was written by an American Indian, Ely Parker. Parker had been born on the Tonawanda Reservation in western New York, part of the League of Haudenosaunee (also known as Six Nations or Iroquois). He was taught at a nearby Baptist Mission school where he took the name Ely Parker. Parker studied law but could not sit for the bar because he was an Indian. He then studied engineering and worked as an engineer during the construction of the Erie Canal. At the age of 29 he moved to Galena, Illinois, where he was supervising the construction of a U.S. Custom House. At this time he met an ex-US army officer who was wasting time and bored with the work in his father's general store. The man was none other than Ulysses S. Grant. Grant and Parker became friends and three years later Parker served under Grant during the war. When it came time for the final draft of the surrender, Parker was considered the man to turn to since he was a sound wordsmith and a man with beautiful penmanship. At the actual surrender, General Lee remarked to Parker, "I am glad to see one real American here." Parker later stated, "I shook his hand and said, 'We are all Americans.'" (NPS.gov)

The surrender also reflects the personalities and respect that the two men had for each other. General Lee, in dress uniform, did not offer his sword and the mud-splattered Grant did not ask for it. The main negotiating points were for the men to be given pardons and not become prisoners. Lee also wanted his men to keep their firearms and their meager possessions. This included horses for the men who had them. After much negotiating these terms were agreed to. On the National Park Service website, one can see an alphabetical listing of every man who surrendered. This is a great way to trace relatives. If you are lucky enough to visit the site, there is a Wall of Honor depicting stories and pictures of men who served in the Civil War. It is an amazing treasure trove of history.

The Room in the McLean House, at Appomattox C.H., in which Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant. Public domain.

One other thing to know is to be careful if two great armies ever want to negotiate in your parlor. They may end up taking your furniture. According to "A House Divided" in The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin, the McLean household lost many items after the surrender, including the chairs where the two generals sat as well as the spindle-legged table that was placed between them. The chair that Lee used, a high cane-backed chair, was taken by Union General E. W. Whitaker where it made its way to an organization of Union veterans. The chair was awarded as a prize to the top ticket seller for a benefit and for many years was part of the collection at the Connecticut Historical Society where every veteran was encouraged to sit in it. The chair was donated to the Smithsonian in 1915.

Grant's chair was claimed by a Union officer, General Henry Capeheart, who later gave it to another general, who bequeathed it to the Smithsonian. According to Kurin the chair bears an inscription: "This is the chair in which Genl. U.S. Grant sat when he signed the Articles of Capitulation resulting in the surrender of the Confederate Army by Genl. R. E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9th, 1865."

In a twist of history, the spool table was either bought or taken, depending on whose side you believe, by Union Major General Philip Sheridan. Sheridan's aide at Appomattox was a young man, George Armstrong Custer. After Custer was killed at Little Bighorn, Sheridan gave the table to Custer's widow who loaned it to the Smithsonian and bequeathed it to the same at her death.

Art, Music and History All Rolled into One Extraordinary DVD

A New York film maker has recently released a new DVD titled The Stained Glass Windows at West Point. The entire collection of stained glass windows at West Point's Cadet Chapel are shown in this DVD. The windows were crafted to embrace the values and virtues of West Point, known as Duty, Honor and Country, as well as the Old and New Testaments' figures that have inspired cadets throughout the years. The Main Chancel Window is dedicated to those who have served over the centuries and those who continue to serve every day. Find out more about the DVD at WestPointWindows.com. To order this special DVD, please call Glendale at 800-653-5515. They are $29.95 each.

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