Tag Archives: Ely Parker

The Long-Awaited End

April 3, 1865/2015
Volume 6, Issue 14 (234 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Federal Troops Enter Richmond

Early in the morning of April 3, 1865, after Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress had fled Richmond, “Federal troops marched into Richmond with bands playing and colors flying. The army was immediately set to work to put out the . . . fires that destroyed the business part of Main Street. The Confederates left behind five thousand of their sick and wounded in the hospitals. They also left five hundred pieces of artillery, thousands of small arms, and many locomotives and cars.”


Witness to the Civil War, Stuart A.P. Murray, ed. (2006), p. 196.

Burned district of Richmond, Virginia, April 1865. Click on image to see it larger.

Burned district of Richmond, Virginia, April 1865. Click on image to see it larger.

Lincoln Visits Richmond

Lincoln biographer Harold Holzer writes, that on April 4, 1865, only a day after the Confederacy’s capital fell, Lincoln ignored the personal danger involved and, “accompanied only by his young son Tad, a unit of sailors, Adm. David Dixon Porter, and one White House guard, Lincoln stepped off a rowboat on the Richmond shoreline, and walked unannounced into the city.

“No conqueror entered a captured city with less pomp and circumstance.

“Within minutes, an elderly newly freed slave stepped forward to squint at the tall stranger in the black stovepipe hat. ‘Bless the Lord! There is the great Messiah!’ he shouted. ‘Glory, Hallelujah.’ While white citizens peered at the scene from behind drawn curtain, a crowd of African-Americans quickly surrounded the president, weeping, shouting and cheering. When some dropped to their knees, Lincoln, now in tears himself, insisted: ‘Don’t kneel to me. You must kneel to God only.’

Lincoln eventually made his way to the Confederate ‘White House,’ abandoned only a few days earlier by Jefferson Davis and the remnants of the rebel government. There, he sat in Davis’s old chair and asked only for a glass of water. Later, he toured the city and visited the state house designed by Thomas Jefferson. He found the floors littered with Confederate currency, and evidently picked up a worthless note or two as souvenirs. When doctors recovered his wallet after his murder ten days later, they found some of the notes still there.”


Harold Holzer, Lincoln in the Times, p. 226

Lincoln Telegraphs Grant: “Let the thing be pressed.”

On April 7, 1865, President Lincoln sent a telegram to General Grant saying, “General Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”

Brigadier General Ely Parker, an American Indian and Grant’s Personal Secretary, Drafts Terms of Surrender at Appomattox Court House. Meeting him, Lee said, “I am glad to see one American here.”  Shaking Lee’s hand, Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”

On April 7, 1865, Grant was closing in on Lee’s army. Grant began a correspondence with Lee through his personal secretary, an American Indian, Brigadier General Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian from Tonawanda, New York. On April 9, when Grant met with Lee at Appomattox Court House to discuss the terms of surrender, Parker was with him.

Ely Parker wears his grandfather Red Jacket's medal. The silver medal was given to Red Jacket by President George Washington in 1792. Photographer unknown, 1850s. Appomattox Court House National Historic Park.

Ely Parker wears his grandfather Red Jacket’s medal. The silver medal was given to Red Jacket by President George Washington in 1792. Photographer unknown, 1850s. Appomattox Court House National Historic Park.

Writes Reuben Fast Horse, a traditional Lakota singer, dancer, storyteller, and educator, “Grant’s staff met with Lee’s staff in the parlor of William McLean’s house where both staffs were formally introduced to one another. Lee was said to be courteous and cool, offering no further remarks to Grant’s staff other than a salutation. When Parker was introduced to Lee, Lee paused for several seconds, startled, then extended his hand to Parker and said, ‘I am glad to see one American here.’ Parker took Lee’s hand and replied, ‘We are all Americans.’ Grant then had Parker compose the surrender papers, which Lee signed.

Background: At the age of eighteen, Parker had taken a lead in the Seneca’s legal battle in federal court for the right to stay at Tonawanda, New York. He had been named one of fifty sachems of the Iroquois Confederacy, and shortly thereafter, the Grand Sachem of the Six Nations; he was then twenty-three years old. While working for the federal government in Galena, Illinois, he had become friends with Capt. Ulysses Grant. In the Civil War, he was commissioned to Grant’s staff as Assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers with the rank of captain. He accompanied Grant on the Chattanooga Campaign at the Battle of Orchard Knob and Lookout Mountain. Writes Reuben Fast Horse, “When Grant was promoted lieutenant general and went east to Washington, Parker went with him.

“After the war, Grant appointed Parker Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was the first American Indian to hold this post,” a position he held until he resigned in 1871.


General Ely Parker: We Are All Americans,” by Reuben Fast Horse, in On Second Thought, A publication of the North Dakota Humanities Council, Fall 2012.

Lee Surrenders to Grant

April 9, 1865. Grant told of the surrender in his bestselling Personal Memoirs:

When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.

What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face . . . his feelings . . .were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings . . .were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly and had suffered so much. . . .

General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value. . . . In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form . . . .

We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. . . . Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, . . . .

Then we gradually fell off again into conversation about matters foreign to the subject which had brought us together. This continued for some little time, when General Lee again interrupted the course of the conversation by suggesting that the terms I proposed to give his army ought to be written down. I called to General Parker, secretary on my staff, for writing materials, and commenced writing. . . .Indian to hold this post,” a position he held until he resigned in 1871.


Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs, p. 629-630.

– All entries were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert

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