Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia

Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia

Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia

Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia

Synopsis

The last days of fighting in the Civil War's eastern theater have been wrapped in mythology since the moment of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House. War veterans and generations of historians alike have focused on the seemingly inevitable defeat of the Confederacy after Lee's flight from Petersburg and recalled the generous surrender terms set forth by Grant, thought to facilitate peace and to establish the groundwork for sectional reconciliation. But this volume of essays by leading scholars of the Civil War era offers a fresh and nuanced view of the eastern war's closing chapter. Assessing events from the siege of Petersburg to the immediate aftermath of Lee's surrender, Petersburg to Appomattox blends military, social, cultural, and political history to reassess the ways in which the war ended and examines anew the meanings attached to one of the Civil War's most significant sites, Appomattox.

Excerpt

Caroline E. Janney

Taking pen in hand on the evening of April 9, 1865, Capt. Henry A. Chambers of the 49th North Carolina could scarcely believe what he was about to write. “Today the ‘Army of Northern Virginia,’ the best army we Southerners have, was surrendered,” he began. For a week he had pushed west watching the once great army crumbling around him, yet Chambers remained in disbelief. “Who would have ventured to prophesy this two years, aye, twelve or six or three or even one month ago,” he wrote. All hope for independence had vanished. All that he and other Confederates treasured was lost. But what galled him more than anything at that moment was a deep humiliation. “Worse than all,” he admitted, “is the fact that these worthless fellows whom we have so often whipped, whose cowardly backs we have so often seen, have at last by sheer force of numbers, numbers swelled by contributions from almost every race and color on the face of the globe, have compelled us to come to this, can now lord it over us and ours, can pass, with the airs of conquerors, through our camps, and hereafter, through our whole country.” His hatred brimming from the tip of his pen, he hoped for some form of “terrible retribution” to befall “this motly crew who have waged upon us so unjust, so barbarous a warfare!”

Chambers’s call for vengeance stands in stark contrast to the romantic stories of Appomattox—of a peaceful and tidy end to the war, of the quiet dignity symbolized by the surrender. Indeed, the final campaigns of the Eastern Theater combined with Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant have been wrapped in mythology since 1865. Veterans and historians alike have focused on the inevitable defeat of the Confederacy and recalled the generous surrender terms set forth by Grant. Both the Confederacy’s certain demise and the terms, they suggest, helped to facilitate peace and served as the foundation for sectional reconciliation. But like Chambers, the authors in this collection offer a more nuanced and ambiguous portrait of the war’s final . . .

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