Appomattox Plus 150

Today is the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox. It’s important to remember these things.

It’s also important to remember them correctly. Here are Grant’s recollections as recorded in his memoirs.  Grant had a remarkable capacity for not hating people, and it would be like him to feel sympathy for Lee at the surrender. Later that day, according to other accounts, he encountered the Confederate General James “Pete” Longstreet. The pair had been close friends for much of their adults lives. It’s said that upon seeing Longstreet Grant immediately suggested they get together a game of cards, as they used to. Longstreet burst into tears.

Grant forbade loud celebrations along the Union lines and arranged for a dignified ceremony for the surrender of flags, with (by then) Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in charge. Grant’s sensitivity and generosity of spirit had a lot to do with why armed rebellion more or less stopped, at least against the Union. It is a slander of Grant to suggest he did these things because he recognized Lee to be the better general or that he knew the Union victory was somehow illegitimate; he thought no such thing. He was the better general, and he knew it. So have said a lot of military historians, including some British military historians who could look at the Late Unpleasantness with more objectivity.

It’s said that the victor writes the history books, but that’s not what happened in the U.S. Historian Elizabeth Varon explains how southerners twisted the events around in history books to soothe their own egos. So much about how the Civil War and Reconstruction are remembered in popular history is a load of crap.

I’d like to write more on this later, but I need to go do some Zen stuff.

14 thoughts on “Appomattox Plus 150

  1. I love that your Zen stuff takes priority. Maybe I’ll go do some Zen stuff myself.

  2. Some days the 21st Century is awesome — I can just click an Internet link and read U.S. Grant’s diary entries on Lee’s surrender.

    (Weird – on April 8th [2015] I too had a sick headache. I should’ve tried the bathe-feet-in-mustard cure. Or maybe the shake-hands-with-your-enemy cure.)

    Seriously, the history is fascinating. Thanks for providing the link!

  3. I have not heard that term “sick headache” for a long time. My mother suffered from migraines her whole life and that is what she called them. They came like clockwork once a month so were probably hormonal related. Her cure was to go to bed in a dark room, suffer until she could vomit, then she felt better. It usually took about 24 hrs. I don’t think she knew about bathing her feet in mustard. Of course, nowadays, they have drugs for migraines but that was a different time.

  4. joan,
    The only known cure back then, was whiskey – and a lot of it!
    And Grant didn’t fail to use that cure – daily!

    On a serious note, Lee was a great general – as was Grant.
    But each had his own specialty.
    Lee specialty lay in defense, which is what the South needed, since they were low on manpower.
    Grant could take offensive positions, since he had an almost unlimited supply of troops.

    When the Union won at Gettysburg, and Vicksburg fell, the writing was on the wall. All that was left, was the death and wounding of troops on both sides.

    If you have a few spare months, is highly recommend Shelby Foote’s trilogy on the Civil War.
    There are better histories and historians if you want to know the nuts and bolts of each general and each battle, but Foote was a novelist, and his writing is so elegant, it feels like you’re reading a great long work of fiction, instead of trudging through the blood and guts of history.

  5. I read the Shelby Foote trilogy a few years ago, as CUND mentioned, it is wonderfully written, and hard to put down. The only other war history that I’ve found comparable reading is “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” When you’re finished you’ll probably buy an old cavalry sabre to gather dust in the corner, in the case of “SPoW” probably a tulwar or something.

    My memory might be faulty, but, I seem to recall, Foote, either in the book or in an interview, cite the belief that Grant drank copious amounts of bourbon as unsubstantiated. As I recall, there was a bit of bad blood between Grant and a journalist that led to rumors of his excessive drinking, and of course proponents of the “noble cause” version of history found it useful.

    Stonewall Jackson had the curious habit of maintaining manic activity for days at a time and then suddenly getting off his horse in mid stride, lying down on the ground and falling asleep. On at least one occasion, he missed, and was missed at an important battle.

    Anyway, the trilogy is a must read, but don’t drop them on your toes, their pretty hefty tomes.

  6. As a former migraine sufferer, I know for a fact that alcohol is the worst thing you van take for one. Liquor makes them worse, especially anything fermented.

  7. Shelby Foote related the story (I heard it from him when I was an undergraduate at Memphis State University) of when he concluded that the two greatest generals of the Civil War were Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest. When he visited Forrest’s granddaughter, whom he knew well, to relate this to her, her only response was the haughty retort, “We never speak that name in this house!”

    I have recently retired and am looking forward to re-reading his massive trilogy.

  8. Maha: That makes sense from a biological perspective. Migraines are caused by blood vessels in the brain being dilated and alcohol also dilates the blood vessels so would make the problem worse.

  9. Migraines seem like a very difficult thing to endure. My heart goes out to anyone who suffers from them. My sister had them for a while, but, I was more fortunate.

    In a recent article, Oliver Sachs notes tangentially that he once treated a mathematician who suffered from migraines. When the migraines were relieved, he seemed to lose some of his mathematical abilities. He opted to forgo the medication, suffer the migraines and pursue his mathematics.

    Then, of course, there was Hildegard Von Bingen.

    I have pretty high pain tolerance, but, I think I would opt for the unremarkable life. Is there research that links migraines to creative activity?

    Idea for a tragi-comedy: Rock guitarist who can only create during a migraine episode forms spectacularly successful heavy metal band. –Sorry, not in the best of taste.

  10. goatherd,
    But what will s/he do when they start getting tinnitus, and going deaf?

  11. Hmmmmm reading this is struck me that the more things
    Change the more they stay the same in that the right seems
    to behave as though decency is a show of weakness rather
    than strength. That peace is somehow a cave in, when in
    fact it is much more difficult to achieve. How sad we are
    still dealing with this same tired notion. Very nice piece
    the way!

  12. I had until recently been assuming that there would be some kind of big ceremony at Appomattox yesterday with the President and any number of bigwig elected officials, not to mention stories in each of the big network’s news programs. Aside from a short piece on the CBS Evening News, there was not a whisper so far as I could tell.

    Next month is the 70th anniversary of VE Day, and I will bet that there will be plenty of news coverage and lots of ceremonies for that one, not to mention VJ Day in August. Let us compare and contrast, as they used to say in high school essay tests. You remember: “Compare and contrast the Embargo Act with the Non-Intercourse Act.” Compare the anniversary coverage of the ends of two huge wars comment on the differences.

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