Thursday, April 09, 2015

Appomattox Court House

150 years ago today, Robert E. Lee surrendered formally to the US Government at Appomattox Courthouse, and though the Civil War dragged on quite a while longer, this was where it ended. Lee's army was the Confederacy, really, especially after Nashville (maybe even Atlanta - once Hood left the city, his army was irrelevant, in terms of changing the ending) - and facing the facts and laying down arms put the rebellion to rest.

I have mostly written about the military aspects of the war in this series - I will have to turn to the politics as we go forward. (I hope to go forward: I need to read about Reconstruction, it's something I don't know enough about. I hope that is reflected on this blog - probably not tied to anniversaries so much, but I hope to continue to write about the period.) But for now, one more military post... There wasn't much left to the Confederacy in the spring of 1865. Sherman was marching where he would in the Carolinas; forces in the west were equally unfettered; only Lee offered much in the way of resistance. Dug in in Petersburg, he could still fight - though Grant was able to stretch his lines more and more until they were almost ready to break anyway. At the same time, they were almost cut off from supplies, not that there were many places left producing food in the South. They were beaten - but Lee kept trying. With spring, Grant renewed his pressure on Lee - mostly using Phil Sheridan to do the dirty work - they got around the Confederate lines, they got them out of the trenches and thrashed them when they did. That left the trenches too weak to be held - and on April 2, the Union broke through. Lee made one more try to extend the way, thinking he could make a dash to the Carolinas, to join Joe Johnston's army there and maybe be able to beat one of the Union armies. It was probably not very likely - either Grant or Sherman had more men than the combined rebel armies could muster - well equipped and well armed veteran forces unintimidated by the Rebels, led by generals who could count, knew they had all the cards, and were prepared to fight it out to the end. But it never came to that - never mind their fighting abilities, the days were long past when the Rebels were able to outrun Union troops, and Grant and Sheridan had no intention of letting them. They harried Lee with everything they had, and with Grant and Sheridan driving them, the Union army moved effectively - and ran Lee down with ease. There was some fighting - it didn't matter, Lee was out of options. So he stopped.

Grant, probably understanding Lincoln's desires to get the war finished and start the process of undoing its damage, gave generous terms. News spread, and other armies followed in surrender, usually also receiving good terms - and the war wound down. There was, maybe, for a moment, a chance that the aftermath of the war would be successful - the means of surrender went a long way toward making reconciliation possible between the two sides. But that was ruined quickly by John Wilkes Booth - and it's probably too much to hope to think the South, having just fought a suicidal war to preserve slavery, would accept any kind of decent settlement for Blacks after the war. Instead, they began fighting to suppress the freed slaves, while redefining the war to be about something other than treason in defense of slavery - a campaign that was a good deal more successful than the war itself had been. (And is still being fought today.) But that's all in the future, on April 9, 1865 - for that moment, for that week, maybe, there was peace and hope.

No comments: