Today marks the 150th Anniversary of Gen. Lee's surrender to Gen. Grant at Appomattox Court House!
This article by way of the WSJ was written by Frank Scaturro who serves as the President of the Grant Monument Association.
'Throughout his long life, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was profoundly affected by his experience fighting in the Civil War. The future Supreme Court justice recalled two decades later that “in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.” Long after the passing of the generations that lived through the Civil War, our collective national memory sets apart the era from most others in our history. But our recall ebbs and flows and, perhaps like most memories of powerful experiences, is sometimes marked by change in how we understand what we do remember.
What remains consistent as we mark the 150th anniversary of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender is the iconic scene at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. After 11 months of intense fighting since their first encounter on the battlefield, the victorious Union commander, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, met the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee, in the parlor of the McLean House.
Lee’s troops were paroled, meaning they could return home, and were given rations from Union wagons. Those who owned horses could keep them, and officers could retain their side-arms. Grant’s magnanimity was nearly unheard of in a civil war, and Winston Churchill later wrote that it “stands high in the story of the United States.”
Much of our nation’s memory of the surrender has been clouded by the Myth of the Lost Cause, a literary and cultural movement that arose after the war to ennoble the Confederacy and those who fought for it. Embraced by most vocal former Confederates and their intellectual descendants among generations of historians, the myth made its historical mark in several respects.
First, the role of slavery in the secession of the Confederate states has been played down, as has the fundamentality of emancipation to the Union cause during the second half of the war. Once slavery was nationally repudiated, apologists for the losing side constructed a narrative in which the reasons for fighting shifted to more sympathetic aspects of the antebellum South.
Because of the post-Reconstruction retreat from civil rights, few Americans know that three constitutional amendments—the 13th, 14th and 15th—ratified after the Civil War conferred legal equality on former slaves. These long-ignored amendments provided the foundation of the 20th-century civil-rights movement, which was arguably at its peak 50 years ago with passage of the Voting Rights Act. That coincided with the close of the Civil War Centennial, during which few prominent historians challenged Lost Cause interpretations of race.
The Myth of the Lost Cause also distorts our understanding of the military leadership that brought about Union victory, dismissing the outcome as the inevitable result of the Union’s numerical and industrial superiority. We know from the past 50 years alone—prominently, the Vietnam War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—that superiority in numbers alone does not win wars. Before Grant arrived, a total of six Union commanders in the East had failed to achieve the decisive strategic victory that was necessary to defeat the Confederacy.
Memory of the Civil War has been distorted down to numbers, as evidenced on the plaque at Appomattox that asserted “Lee surrendered 9,000 men . . . to 118,000 men under Grant.” Those last five words were recently removed from the plaque, but both numbers are incorrect. As recounted in Elizabeth R. Varon’s “Appomattox” (2014), the most reliable estimates indicate that the weeklong campaign leading to the surrender began with nearly 80,000 Union soldiers pursuing 60,000 Confederates and ended with 60,000 Union and 30,000 Confederate troops near Appomattox.
Today, bells will ring across the nation, starting at Appomattox at 3 p.m.—the approximate time the terms of surrender were concluded and signed—and then at 3:15 for four minutes (representing the four years of the Civil War) at schools, historic sites, churches, temples and public buildings across the land. The National Park Service announcement offers several interpretations: “Some communities may ring their bells in celebration of freedom or a restored Union, others as an expression of mourning and a moment of silence for the fallen.”
It should be clear, however, that what happened at Appomattox determined the survival of the United States and made possible the freedom it promised to those who were denied it. Few events in history possess existential importance to the success of the American experiment, and none surpasses this one in magnitude.'
Mr. Scaturro, a partner at FisherBroyles LLP and author of “President Grant Reconsidered” (Madison Books, 1999), served as counsel for the Constitution on the Senate Judiciary Committee, 2005-09.