Lincoln Hears News of Lee’s Surrender
Lincoln heard the news of Lee’s surrender late on the same day that it happened. The next morning, April 10, he ordered a five-hundred-gun salute to announce the victory. Thousands gathered around the White House, chanting for Lincoln. Eventually he appeared at a second-story window. He asked the band to play “Dixie,” telling the crowd that it is “one of the best tunes I have ever known. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it.” And so the band played “Dixie,” and then moved right into “Yankee Doodle.”
John Stauffer, Giants, The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. p. 296.
Union General George Meade Visits with Lee
“Doffing his cap as officers did in the old army, he said, ‘Good morning, General.’
“‘What are you doing with all that gray in your beard?’ Lee asked.
“‘You have to answer for most of it,’ Meade replied.”
Thomas Fleming, “Band of Brothers: The West Point Corps,” in With My Face to the Enemy, Robert Cowley, ed., p. 39.
Lee’s Farewell to His Troops
On the same day, General Lee issued his farewell message to his troops:
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
The first sentence of General Lee’s order was essentially accurate. His army had had four years of arduous service, its courage and fortitude was not surpassed by that of the Union Army, and the Union’s greater numbers and resources were a major factor in the Confederacy’s defeat. Those notions would be picked up within a year and made key elements in the “Lost Cause” argument — that the South hadn’t really been beaten on the battlefield, or at least not by virtue of bravery or commitment. They were brought down only by the fact that the North had greater resources, including a larger population from which it could form an army. In that way the Lost Cause argument helped preserve Confederate pride and gave former Confederates what they might consider something of a moral victory that helped sustain them in defeat and amidst the devastation of war.
US Flag Raised over Fort Sumter, Four Years to the Day After Its Surrender
April 14, 1865. Four years to the day after Major Robert Anderson had ceremoniously lowered the flag at Fort Sumter, the Stars and Stripes was raised again over the fort. The ceremony noting the fourth anniversary of the fall of the fort and the reversal of fortunes had been planned even before Appomattox. President Lincoln was invited to attend, but instead, the featured speaker for the occasion was Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most distinguished orators of the time. Toward the conclusion of his remarks, he said, “From this pulpit of broken stone, we speak forth our earnest greetings to all our land. We offer to the President of these United States our solemn congratulations that God has sustained his life and health under the unparalleled burdens and sufferings of four bloody years, and permitted him to behold this auspicious consummation of that national unity for which he was waited with so much patience and fortitude, and for which he has labored with such disinterested wisdom. . . .”
Lincoln Mortally Wounded on Good Friday
That night in Washington, Lincoln and his wife Mary, seeking relief and distraction from the responsibilities of his office, went to Ford’s Theater to see the play Our American Cousin. At 10:13 p.m. on Good Friday, during the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth entered the rear of his box and shot the president in the head. Doctors attended to the president in the theater then moved him to a house across the street, but he never regained consciousness. He died early on the next morning, April 15.
Bells Toll in Woe that So Lately Rang in Joy
April 15, 1865. Ann Eliza Smith of St. Albans, Vermont heard the news of Lincoln’s death while on a trip to Massachusetts. She begins a letter to her husband, Vermont’s Governor J. Gregory Smith, as follows:
. . . What a week of conflicting and contrasting vicissitude has this been! Victory and triumph, the wildest joy, and overflowing gratitud Thanksgiving, and fasting, the triumphant raising of the Flag at Sumter, murder by the bullet and knife of the stealthy assassin, the tolling of bells, all sights of woe, and a gloom that is almost the palsy of despair! . . .
Her letter ends, “It [is] now 12 o’clock and the bells are tolling which so lately rang in joy — . . .”
A War of the People, Vermont Civil War Letters, Jeffrey D. Marshall, ed. pp. 301-2.
The Two Armies’ Losses
“At the beginning of the war, the Union Army consisted of 16,000 officers and men — less 313 officers whose consciences compelled them to go with the South. . . .By the end of the war, 2,128,948 men had served in the Union Army (359,528 are known to have died). Of these, only 75,215 were regulars — that is, soldiers by vocation. Just under two million were volunteers, 46,347 were draftees, and 73,607 were substitutes (for the conscription laws of both sides permitted a draftee to hire a surrogate soldier to serve in his place). The average strength of the Union Army, according to one prominent authority, was a little over 1.5 million.
“The Confederate forces kept poor records, and much of what little was recorded burned in the fires that ravaged a conquered Richmond. Estimates of the strength of the Confederate Army range from 600,000 to 1,500,000; the most generally accepted figure is a little over a million, about 200,000 of whom died.”
Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, My Brother’s Face, p. 7.
– All entries were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert