The surrender at Appomattox Court House: 150th anniversary

Thursday, April 9, marks the 150th anniversary of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. In recognition of this historic event that symbolized the end of the Civil War, take a look at our battlefield copy of the terms of surrender signed by General Ulysses S. Grant.

The Confederacy's days were numbered as Union forces advanced on General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. By April 3, the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, had fallen to Grant. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with his cabinet members, escaped the Union's grasp and fled the region. In the following days, battles and skirmishes around Appomattox Court House left Lee's army in a dire state—encircled by Union forces. Cut off from supplies and virtually trapped, Lee decided to surrender rather than risk losing his men in a defiant and pointless battle.

On the morning of April 9, feeling the weight of his loss, Lee begrudgingly stated to his staff, "There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

That afternoon, Lee, dressed in a dignified manner, met with a mud-splotched Grant at the McLean home in Appomattox Court House, where they formalized and signed the terms of surrender for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Handwritten document in cursive on blue paper, one sheet

Though just under 200 words, it contains some interesting points. As Harry Rubenstein, curator of Political History at the museum, recently wrote, it "allowed Confederates who owned their own horses to keep them so that they could tend their farms and plant spring crops."

The copy reads:

April 9, 1865
General R. E. LEE:

In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia 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 to be 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 officers appointed by me to receive them. 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 his home, not to be disturbed by U. S. authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.


Although many reflect on this event as signifying the end to the Civil War, fighting continued between Confederates and Unionists. Like dominos, the remaining armies and departments of the Confederacy surrendered to terms similar to those signed by Grant and Lee. The Army of Tennessee surrendered to Major General William Sherman in North Carolina on April 26, followed by the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana on May 4.

The Department of Trans-Mississippi surrendered in New Orleans on May 26, but not without a fight. The last battle between Confederate and Union forces was fought on May 12-13 at Palmito Ranch, Texas—a Confederate victory.

Leaders of American Indian Nations that allied with the Confederacy had to make their own surrenders to the Union. The last to do so was General and Chief Stand Watie who surrendered the First Indian Cavalry Brigade on June 23. Watie was also the last Confederate general to yield to the Union.

Though surrenders continued afterward, April 9 is the date most often commemorated as the effective end of the Civil War. On April 9 this year, bells will reverberate around the country as national parks and communities commemorate the end of the war. Bells will ring first at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park at 3:00 p.m. EDT, 150 years to the moment when Grant and Lee met to set the terms of surrender. Communities across the country will ring bells precisely at 3:15 p.m. EDT for four minutes, with each minute symbolizing one year of the war. Among them will be the sound of the Smithsonian Castle's Bell

The commemorative events at Appomattox will also be available to watch online

White towel, beige with age, with two reddish stripes and fringe at bottom, neatly folded

Christy Wallover is a project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. She has also blogged about the Battle of Ft. Fisher and Irish American artifacts.