Northern Virginia made camp just east of Appomattox Courthouse on April 8.
Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had sent him a letter on the night of April 7, following confrontations between their troops at Cumberland Church and Farmville, suggesting Lee surrender. The Southern general refused. Grant replied, again suggesting surrender to end the bloodshed. Lee responded, saying in part, "I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army," though he offered to meet Grant at 10 the next morning between picket lines to discuss a peaceful outcome.
In planning for the next day, Lee informed his men that he would ignore the surrender request and attempt to fend off Sheridan’s cavalry while at least part of the Army of Northern Virginia moved on toward Lynchburg—assuming the main
Union force was just cavalry. However, he asked to be informed if his men encountered any infantry, since that would mean he was outnumbered and would be forced to surrender.
Grant had spent the last week pursuing and closing in on Lee during the
Appomattox Campaign. On the north side of the Appomattox River, Major General
George G. Meade’s VI and II Corps were in close pursuit of Lee’s beleaguered army, while Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s cavalry had taken a southern route to outrun Lee and surround him on the west and south.
Early in the morning on April 9, Confederate maj. gen. John B. Gordon’s corps attacked the Union cavalry blocking the road toward the railroad. Initially, Gordon
had success in clearing cavalry from the road, but Union infantry moved in and he was unable to make further progress. Gordon sent word to Lee around 8:30 a.m. that he needed Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s support to make additional headway.
Upon receiving this request—and having watched the battle through field glasses—Lee then said, "Then there is nothing left for me to do but go and see
General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths." Having dressed that morning in his finest dress uniform, Lee rode to the spot where he thought he and
Grant would be meeting between the picket lines. There, he received Grant’s message, written the night before, in which Grant refused to meet to meet for peace talks.
Lee quickly wrote a reply, indicating that he was now ready to surrender, and rode on. Still hearing the sounds of fighting, Lee sent a letter to Meade requesting an immediate truce along the lines. Meade replied that he was not in communication with Grant but would send the message on and also suggested Lee send another letter to Grant via Sheridan. In addition, Lee also had Gordon place flags of truce along the line. As the messages moved through the lines and word of the surrender spread, the fighting stopped. Casualties for the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse were light, 260 for the Union, 440 for the Confederacy.
Grant received Lee’s letter of surrender just before noon. He replied, detailing his current position along the road toward Appomattox Courthouse, and asked Lee to select a meeting place.
Lee and his men, in searching for a suitable place to have the surrender meeting, encountered Wilmer McLean, who showed them an empty building without any furniture. When that was deemed unsuitable, he offered his own home for the meeting. It is interesting to note that McLean had moved to Appomattox after having survived the
First Battle of Bull Run
, much of which took place on his property in Manassas, Virginia. It is often said that the war started in his front yard and ended in his parlor, though that is not accurate.
Grant arrived in Appomattox at about 1:30 in the afternoon and proceeded to the McLean house. His appearance in his field uniform, muddy after his long ride, contrasted sharply with Lee’s clean dress uniform. They chatted for a while before discussing and writing up the terms of the surrender.
The soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia would lay