Happy Appomattox Day

145 years ago, Lee surrendered to Grant and the war neared its end. I believe, but am not certain, that my great-grandfather John Caldwell’s Pennsylvania 61st was there this day, but regardless, he was soon on his way back to Pittsburgh and to a very successful life in his newly adopted country; a land  he’d just spent four years (almost a fifth of his life, then) fighting for.

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2 responses to “Happy Appomattox Day

  1. Great taste in regimental flag/burgee!

  2. Wally

    This is a long post, but this anniversary of the surrender of the Confederate Infantry at Appomattox is an appropriate time to recall one of the truly fine moments of the American Civil War, “The Salute” at Appomattox (this is one of my favorite Civil War stories). Maybe your Great-grandfather participated in this.

    It involved Colonel (later Major General) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (September 8, 1828 – February 24, 1914), who was an American college professor from the State of Maine, and who volunteered during the Civil War to join the Union Army. Although he had no earlier education in military strategies, he became a highly respected and decorated Union officer. For his gallantry at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. After the war, he entered politics and served four one-year terms of office as the 32nd Governor of Maine. He later served as president of his alma mater, Bowdoin College.

    Chamberlain achieved fame at the Battle of Gettysburg, where his valiant defense of a hill named Little Round Top became the focus of many publications and stories, including the novel The Killer Angels and the film Gettysburg.

    On the morning of April 9, 1865 Chamberlain learned of the desire by General Robert E. Lee to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia when a Confederate staff officer approached him under a flag of truce. “Sir,” he reported to Chamberlain, “I am from General Gordon. General Lee desires a cessation of hostilities until he can hear from General Grant as to the proposed surrender.” The next day, Chamberlain was summoned to Union headquarters where Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin informed him that he had been selected to preside over the formal surrender of the Confederate infantry at Appomattox Court House on April 12.

    Chamberlain thus became responsible for one of the most poignant scenes of the Civil War: as the downcast and dejected Confederate soldiers marched down the road to surrender their arms and colors, Chamberlain, on his own initiative, ordered his men to come to attention and “carry arms”, as an extraordinary “salute” and show of respect. Chamberlain described what happened next:

    “[Confederate General] Gordon, at the head of the marching column, outdoes us in courtesy. He was riding with downcast eyes and a more than pensive look; but at this clatter of arms he raises his eyes and instantly catching the significance, wheels his horse with that superb grace of which he is master, drops the point of his sword to his stirrup, gives a command, at which the great Confederate ensign following him is dipped and his decimated brigades, as they reach our right, respond to the ‘carry.’ All the while on our part not a sound of trumpet or drum, not a cheer, nor a word nor motion of man, but awful stillness as if it were the passing of the dead.”

    Chamberlain’s salute to the Confederate soldiers was unpopular with many in the North at that time, but he defended his action in his memoirs and it has subsequently been recalled as one of the finest gestures of the era. Many years later, General Gordon, in his own memoirs, called Chamberlain “one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army.”