Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War, and on April 9, 1865, he surrendered. His surrender is commonly regarded as the ending point of the Civil War. However, the war dragged on for over a year later after his surrender.
Lee’s army established a reputation as the most important army of the Confederacy. Thus, naturally, his surrender would mean that American reunification was finally won by the Union. However, the true end of the war involved scattered battles, dozens of surrenders, and a ship cut off from communications, and peace was not officially declared until August of 1866.
After months under frustrating siege, Richmond and Petersburg fell to General U.S. Grant. With Confederate President Jefferson Davis in flight and no hope for relief, Lee abandoned the capital of the Confederacy on April 2, 1865. As the Army of Northern Virginia attempted to find a strong position with the victorious Union armies encircling them, Lee received a direct letter from Grant on April 7:
“The result of last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C.S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.”
General Lee refused to concede the hopelessness of his situation, but inquired about General Grant’s terms of surrender. Meanwhile, Lee’s army continued to search for an escape. He marched west in the hope of finding his supplies and transportation south at the Appomattox South Side Railroad.
General George A. Custer and his cavalry, under the command of Major General P.H. Sheridan, reached the station first and secured the relief supplies. Lee was thus blocked from moving forward and had no opportunity to retreat.
In the home of Wilmer McLean, only seven days after the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant met to discuss the terms of surrender for the Confederacy’s largest army. After some negotiation, the men of the Army of Northern Virginia forfeited their weapons, signed paroles, and returned to their homes with no further punishment. Additionally, any man who brought his own horse to fight could keep it and 25,000 rations were distributed to the starving army.
Despite Lee’s surrender, the war did not end on April 9, 1865. Colonel John Mosby and his “Rangers” had broken off earlier from Lee to continue specific campaigns and were not present at Appomattox, along with other battalions. Lee’s army may have been the largest, but it was not the only fighting force from the South. Smaller units of the Confederacy continued with scattered battles, even in the face of a northern victory.
As Confederate morale plummeted, the Union offered parole and no punishment to any soldier who surrendered, not including the officers. Men begrudgingly flocked to the nearest parole station, including Mosby’s Rangers, and agreed to lay down their arms. By May 10, 1865, Jefferson Davis was found and captured, further dampening hopes for a Confederate victory.
One-by-one smaller units conceded and a Northern victory was guaranteed. However, some groups continued to fight. Surrenders of General Joseph Johnson, Colonel Richard Taylor, and other smaller units were hard-won. West of the Mississippi River, Colonel Stand Wati and General Edmund Kirby Smith fought until late June 1865.
The CSS Shenandoah continued to disrupt U.S. shipping throughout the spring and summer of 1865. The Shenandoah had been sailing in micronesia at the time of Lee’s surrender and remained unaware of the impending Union victory. The ship targeted whalers and merchant vessels in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean for months. By the time the Shenandoah learned of the crumbling Confederacy from a British vessel, it had captured or destroyed 38 ships. The crew sailed to Liverpool and surrendered on November 6, 1865.
Even after months of surrenders, the Civil War was still not officially over. Small skirmishes continued to haunt a country that ached to move forward. On April 2, 1866 President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation. He stated that the “insurrection” had ended in every southern state except Texas. Away from reliable supply lines and far into the American Southwest, Texas remained troublesome throughout the spring and summer of 1866.
On August 20, 1866 the bloodiest American war declared officially over, with the words of President Johnson,
“And I do further proclaim that the said insurrection is at an end and that peace, order, tranquility, and civil authority now exists in and throughout the whole of the United States of America.”
General Robert E. Lee’s surrender had marked the beginning of the slow fall of the Confederacy. The Union prevailed over the largest and most effective force of the South, but it took one year and four months before the entire country saw official peace from that war.
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