The Last Day of the Lost Cause
Gen. George H. Sharpe, in his decoration day address, gave the following dramatic account of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the leading of which carries one back to heroic and historic days:
“I remember–and it was recalled to me tonight in conversation when the name of Gen. Grant came up in the course of conversation–the wonderful scene that transpired in that little place in Virginia on the 9th of April 1865. It was late in the afternoon when it became known that Gen. Lee had sent for Gen. Grant to surrender to him. It was between two and three o’clock when we met in the little room in the house where the surrender of Lee’s army took place. I know there is belief that the surrender took place under an apple tree, where Grant and Lee met and exchanged a few words.
The surrender took place in the left-hand room of that old-fashioned double house. The house had a large piazza which ran along the full length of it. It was one of those ordinary Virginia houses with a passage-way running through the center of it. In that little room where the meeting took place, sat two young men–one the great grandson of Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court, reducing to writing the terms of the surrender on behalf of Robert E. Lee; the other a man with a dusky countenance–a great-nephew of that celebrated chief, Red Jacket–acting under Gen. Grant. The two were reducing to writing the terms of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to the Army of the Potomac. Gathered around the room were several officers, of whom I was one.
At some distance apart sat two men; one the most remarkable man of his day and generation. The larger and older of the two was the most striking in his appearance. His hair was as white as the driven snow. There was not a speck upon his coat; not a spot upon those gauntlets that he wore, which were as white and fair as a lady’s glove. That was Robert E. Lee. The other was Ulysses S. Grant, whose appearance contrasted strangely with that of Lee; his boots were nearly covered with mud; one button off his coat–that is, the button off was not where it should been[sic]–it had clearly gone astray; and he wore no sword, while Lee was fully and faultlessly equipped. The conversation was not rapid by any means. Everybody felt the overpowering influence of the scene. Every one present felt they were witnessing the proceedings between the two chief actors in one of the most remarkable transactions of this nineteenth century. The words that passed between Grant and Lee were few.
Gen. Grant–endeavoring to apologize for not being fully equipped, and noticing Lee’s appearance–while the secretaries were busy, said: “Gen. Lee, I have no sword; I have been riding all night.” And Lee, with that coldness of manner and all the pride–almost haughtiness–which, after all, became him wonderfully well, never made any reply, but in a cold, formal manner, bowed. And Gen. Grant, in the endeavor to take away the awkwardness of the scene, said: ‘I don’t always wear a sword, because a sword is a very inconvenient thing.’ That was a very remarkable thing for him to say, considering that he was in the presence of one who was about to surrender his sword. Lee only bowed again. Another, trying to relieve the awkwardness of the occasion, inquired: ‘Gen. Lee, what became of the white horse you rode in Mexico? He might not be dead yet, he was not so old.’ Gen. Lee bowed coldly and replied: ‘I left him at the White House on the Pamunkey River, and I have not seen him since. There was one moment when there was a whispered conversation between Grant and Lee, which nobody in the room heard.
The surrender took the form of correspondence; the letters were all signed in due form by the chief actors, in the presence of each other. Finally, when the terms of surrender had all been arranged, and the surrender made, Lee arose, cold and proud, and bowed to every person in the room on our side. I remember each one of us thought he had been especially bowed to. And then he went out and passed down the little square in front of the house, and bestrode that grey horse that carried him all over Virginia; and when he had gone away we learned what that whispered conversation had been about. Gen. grant called his officers about him and said: ‘You go to the Twenty-fourth, and you to the Fifth,’ and so on, naming the corps, ‘and ask every man who has three rations to turn over two of them. Go to the commissaries and go to the quartermasters, &c. ‘Gen. Lee’s army is on the point of starvation!’ And 25,000 rations were carried to the Army of Northern Virginia.”1
- Sharpe, George H. “The Last Day of the Lost Cause.” National Tribune 1 October 1879. 6:1-2. ↩