By SJWNY, a Trail Mix Contributor
Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865.
Lee had one bit of additional business he wanted to conclude with Grant. Explaining first that he had more than a thousand Federal prisoners whom he could not feed, he added glumly, “Indeed, I have nothing for my own men.” Without hesitation, Grant proposed sending rations for the 25,000 men across the lines. Was that enough? he asked. “Plenty,” Lee said. “An abundance, I assure you.”
After the two men had signed preliminary papers, Grant proceeded to introduce Lee to his staff. As he shook hands with Grant’s military secretary, Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian, Lee stared for a moment at Parker’s dark features and finally said, “I am glad to see one real American here.” If this account is true, Parker responded to the general, “We are all Americans.”
…… By now, a crowd of anxious sightseers was clustered around the front porch to catch a glimpse of the Confederate general. His face flushed a deep crimson, Lee emerged onto the porch, carrying his hat and gloves. Here he paused, put on his hat, and slowly drew on his gloves, absentmindedly gazing out into the field beyond. Once, then twice, then a third time, he unconsciously balled his left hand and pumped the fist into the palm of his right. Still seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, he automatically returned the salute given to him by the Union officers crowding around the porch, then descended the stairs. Now, as if drawing himself back from a daze, he glanced deliberately in one direction and then the next. Not seeing his horse, he called out in a half-choked and more than half-tired voice, “Orderly! Orderly.” The horse was brought around. The general smoothed Traveller’s forelocks as the orderly fit the bridle, then with a slow, exhausted tug, pulled himself on the horse, letting out a long, deep sigh, almost a groan. By then, Grant had walked out on the porch, too, and as Lee rode past him, their eyes met. Each silently lifted his hat to the other. On the porch and in the yard, countless other Federals also returned the gesture.
In no small measure, this one poignant moment captured the spirit of Appomattox more than words ever written about that day. But this didn’t stop participants from trying to give voice to the event, including Grant himself. “I felt sad and depressed,” Grant later explained of this moment, “at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought.”
Two of Grant’s aides put it thus: “This will live in history,” one wrote. Another commented, “Such a scene only happens once in centuries …”
From April 1865, The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik, pages 189-191, Harper Collins 2001
Once in a while reality meets up with reason, providing a defining moment in history featuring a perfect cast of people born to court destiny.
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