Almost every year I have published the same post for Palm Sunday, sometimes supplemented by one from Jessica. Mine deals with the leadership Jesus showed during the Passion week. I do recommend it and it is here, two years ago, Jessica picked up on the theme with a quite wonderful article, which is here.
But I want to recall a Palm Sunday, also April 9th, from American history. It was an important day, which echoes forever in American, and world history. For this is when it was decided that the republic really was indivisible.
On the 15th of April, in 1861, Confederate batteries opened on Fort Sumter, leading to a poignant scene showing the honor of the American Army.
And so, the president called for volunteers, and all the officers made their choices and soon their was a war on. The war would be the end of the old United States and would show the outlines of what we would become. As we made that course change many a legend was created, for change on this order doesn’t happen cheaply or easily. If you know anything about American history the names echo in your heart: Longstreet, Pickett, Stuart, and always Stonewall, and Chamberlain, Meade, Sheridan, and Custer, and so many more.
And the places they had been: Bull Run, the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and now Appomattox Court House. Almost all have been preserved and on all of them if you listen carefully, you can still here the cries of the wounded, the orders of the officers, and always the guns and the rattle of musketry, for in these places, at the cost of 600,000 dead Americans, the future was forged. Note that preserving these battlefields is what President Trump donated all but a dollar of his salary to the other day.
It’s fascinated everybody ever since because of something unique in history. The two main armies, The Federal Army of the Potomac, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, fought each other up and down the eastern theater, fighting battles as hard fought as anything in history for four years and neither one could defeat the other.
There have been and still are two strains in American war-fighting, they first became evident in the Mexican War, and they are still part of our heritage.
The first is superb leadership, especially in small units but extending up to army leadership. This was the forte of the Army of Northern Virginia, especially the combination of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. One of Lee’s staff officers said that Lee’s middle name was actually Audacity, never has there been an officer who was better at taking a reasoned chance and having it work out, especially with Jackson as his strong right arm. In any other conflict they would have defeated nearly any enemy easily but they had the misfortune to be fighting the very first of the moderns.
Because once he came east as the Lieutenant General, America has only rarely had a better general than US Grant. He was never loved like Lee and he wasn’t as daring, although he could be witness his campaign leading up to Vicksburg. But when he came east, he realized that while he could lose the war with the Army of the Potomac, he could not win it, that would be up to Sherman. His task as Patton would have put it was to hold the Confederacy by the nose, so Sherman could kick it in the rear. But Grant, like Sherman, and Sheridan, was a modern general, really more of a manager than a leader. Grant wrote superbly clear and succinct orders, that were easily transmitted by telegraph. If you doubt this you need to read his autobiography which he finished as he was dying of throat cancer, and he wrote the last few chapters in longhand, and they are almost perfect copy. He also was a master of logistics, and concentration of force.
And these are the two thrusts of the United States military ever since. Overwhelming force applied at the point of decision and an incredible ability to move around and surprise enemies. With the leadership skills down to the squad level to make it work.
But, today we are met to commemorate another day in April for on Palm Sunday, 9 April 1865, the fabled Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Army of the Potomac. It was trying to break through Sheridan’s cavalry and had just discovered that there were two fresh infantry corps behind the cavalry. There was nowhere left to go, and so, on Palm Sunday would come this scene.
[Much of what follows is from Joshuapundits’ haunting account of the day. I strongly recommend that you read it all]
Lee and Grant and their staffs didn’t meet in an actual courthouse. Instead, they met in a private home, that of Wilmer McLean, at 1:30 PM on a balmy spring afternoon.
For two and a half hours they sat and talked. After pitting every muscle and sinew, every ounce of intelligence, every iota of courage and will the two of them and their armies possessed against each other, the two adversaries finally met face to face.They had not seen each other since the Mexican War two decades earlier.
Here’s how General Horace Porter, one of Lee’s staff described what happened next:
“We entered, and found General Grant sitting at a marble-topped table in the center of the room, and Lee sitting beside a small oval table near the front window, in the corner opposite to the door by which we entered, and facing General Grant. We walked in softly and ranged ourselves quietly about the sides of the room, very much as people enter a sick-chamber when they expect to find the patient dangerously ill.
The contrast between the two commanders was striking, and could not fail to attract marked attention they sat ten feet apart facing each other. General Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and full beard were a nut-brown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing a waistcoat underneath. He wore an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his trousers inside, and was without spurs. The boots and portions of his clothes were spattered with mud. He had no sword, and a pair of shoulder-straps was all there was about him to designate his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.
Lee, on the other hand, was fully six feet in height, and quite erect for one of his age, for he was Grant’s senior by sixteen years. His hair and full beard were silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a little thin in the front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. His top-boots were comparatively new, and seemed to have on them some ornamental stitching of red silk. Like his uniform, they were singularly clean, and but little travel-stained. On the boots were handsome spurs, with large rowels. A felt hat, which in color matched pretty closely that of his uniform, and a pair of long buckskin gauntlets lay beside him on the table.”
The two men talked briefly of their experiences in Mexico, including the one time the two men had met as young officers near Vera Cruz. Then Lee, with an emotion that can only be imagined, asked Grant to write out his terms for surrender.
Grant took out his order book, and began to write:
“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them.”
At that point, according to the men who were there, General Grant gazed at General’s Lee and at his sword for almost a full minute. And then continued writing:
“This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”
Grant said later that after looking at Lee and thinking about the matter for a moment, he realized that it would be an unnecessary humiliation to require officers to surrender their swords,and that requiring members of the Confederate Army to lose their privately owned horses and mules would be a great hardship, because those animals would be badly needed to carry out the spring plowing and planting and to help rebuild the devastated South.So in the end, all officers and men were allowed to take their privately owned horses and mules home with them.
Lee read over the terms, which were as generous as he could have possibly wanted. He had fully expected that senior officers like himself might be arrested and prosecuted for treason on the spot, with Grant demanding unconditional surrender.
So Lee took up a pen and wrote out a short note agreeing to the terms, which was officially recorded at 4 PM that same afternoon.
Grant immediately issued orders to send food rations to Lee’s starving army, and then Lee took his leave. From the account of General Porter:
“At a little before 4 o’clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and 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.”
As Lee rode away and the news of the surrender spread, the Union soldiers broke out in wild cheering. But as Grant recounted later, he ordered an immediate halt. “I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped,” he said. “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”
Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, 10th April 1865.
After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.
But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
— R. E. Lee, General, General Order No. 9
On April 12, the rain had stopped and the sun broke out, almost as if the heavens had allowed the southern officers and men an appropriate background to mourn over their dead and the Lost Cause, and then signaled that it was time to move on. Something like 28,000 Confederate soldiers passed by and stacked their arms on that day as the victorious Union Armies held a ceremony of surrender.
The Union officer chosen to lead the ceremony was not General Grant or any of the professional soldiers. Instead, it was Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, the former Maine college professor who could justifiably be said to have won the Battle of Gettysburg, holding the left flank of Little Round Top at Gettysburg against all hope by leading the survivors of the 20th Maine in a successful bayonet charge down the south slope when they were almost out of ammunition to push the enemy troops out.
Chamberlain did an unusual thing for a victor in a hard won war, something that showed he was a man of rare courage and insight both on and off the battlefield. As the Confederate Army trooped by to stack arms, Chamberlain ordered his men to present arms in salute to their defeated enemies. As he recounted later in his book:
The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!
The passing of the dead..an interesting and moving phrase.
General Chamberlain, like many others who stood on the grounds of Appomattox that bright spring day day was undoubtedly thinking of the men left behind, and it is to his credit that he had the depth of empathy and understanding to see it from both sides. But that was then. At Appomattox today, you don’t find the ghosts you find in other civil war sites. No matter how bulldozed,cleaned up and changed the landscape is, the spirits of the dead remain in easy reach at those other places. But not at Appomattox.
Even the furnishings at the McLean House are mere replicas with no real history of their own.
Appomattox today is a shrine to something else entirely.Not to the dead, but to the living, the ones who survived that great conflict that ran like a livid scar across the American landscape.
Just as there was a time of war, there came a time of peace. Just as there was a time of bitter divide and conflict,there came a time of healing, a time when men who had fought each other with an uncommon ferocity for four years remembered again that they were all still members of one American family with more in common than they realized.
That should give us hope in our own times, when morally bankrupt charlatans and their willing stooges seek to manipulate us, divide us and turn us against ourselves for their own power, enrichment and aggrandizement.
Take a moment today, if you will, to remember what occurred that long ago, almost forgotten April day, what happened there. It’s something worth thinking about.
Appomattox: The Fire Is Quenched ~ J O S H U A P U N D I T.
I am going to add a bit more to this already too long article but realize that Grant (and later Sherman) as well as Chamberlain took their cue from President Lincoln, who shortly before had told Grant and Sherman to “let ’em up easy’. In fact very soon as word spread and a celebration was taking place in the evening in Washington, he came out and requested a tune from the band, saying that it now belonged to the nation, as it still does. It was this one
And so the Confederacy dissolved into the Lost Cause to be forever revered by Americans, not because of any of its beliefs but because brave Americans, so many of them, revered their freedom enough, on both sides, to sell their lives at a very high price. And in the remembrance of glory we move forward to the point that by 1898 this could happen in “… the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Johnny Reb and Billy Yank; the twin images of America