A Flag of Truce

By late 1864 the war was coming to an end. In December Gen. William T. Sherman completed his destructive march to the sea. Richmond, the Confederate capital, fell early in April, and on April 9, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Over the course of the war, some 623,000 Northern and Southern soldiers died.
This towel was used as a flag of truce by Confederate troops during Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. It was preserved by Gen. George A. Custer, who was present at the surrender.
Bequest of Elizabeth B. Custer, 1936
associated date
associated person
Lee, Robert E.
Grant, Ulysses S.
associated place
United States: Virginia, Appomattox
Physical Description
linen (overall material)
white (overall color)
overall: 18 in x 18 1/2 in; 45.72 cm x 46.99 cm
mounted: 18 in x 9 1/2 in; 45.72 cm x 24.13 cm
fringe: 2 1/2 in; 6.35 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Elizabeth B. Custer
Civil War
related event
Surrender by General Lee
Civil War
See more items in
Political History: Political History, General History Collection
Government, Politics, and Reform
Selections from the Abraham Lincoln Collection
The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


In fact it was Lt. Col.. Whitaker who took the towel. He cut it in two and gave half to Custer’s wife, who later donated it to the Smithsonian. Full story here: http://www.whatitmeanstobeamerican.org/artifacts/the-gentlemans-agreement-that-ended-the-civil-war/
"To be more accurate, General Custer received this flag of truce when it was sent to him by Robert E. Lee on the morning of April 9, 1865, leading to Lee's formal surrender later in the day. This event was witnessed by famed Civil War sketch artist Alfred Waud in his work entitled "Custer Receives the Flag of Truce " now at the Library of Congress. Custer was not in the room for Lee's signing of the formal terms of surrender. "

Add a comment about this object