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Appomattox Day

Appomattox Day marks the date when the terms of surrender were signed to end the Civil War, after almost four years of fighting. Confederate commander Robert E. Lee had recently abandoned the Confederate capital, Richmond, as well as Petersburg, Virginia. His goal was to regroup his troops, who were low on supplies and food, and fight on. On April 8, his troops were almost completely surrounded near Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Still, on the following morning, the Confederates mounted an offensive under the command of Major General John B. Gordon. At first it was going well for the Confederates, but eventually they were turned back as they were outnumbered. General Lee is noted as saying, "There is nothing left me to do but to go and see Gen. Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

Robert E. Lee surrendered to commanding Union general Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean. Lee had sent a message to Grant earlier in the day saying he would surrender, and they met at 1 pm. Representative of the nature of the two men, Lee arrived impeccably dressed, with sash and sword, while Grant wore a field uniform that had mud splattered on it. Grant quickly wrote the terms of surrender after Lee asked for them. The Confederate troops were pardoned. The soldiers were allowed to keep their horses, which would be helpful for spring planting, and were allowed to return home. They also were given Union rations so they wouldn't starve. Confederate officers could keep their swords and sidearms.

Reenactments of the surrender often take place on today's date. Over the years various celebrations have been held, of which the centennial in 1965 was particularly notable. A ceremony was held at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, with Ulysses S. Grant's grandson and Robert E. Lee's great-grandson present. The day was marked across the country, especially in South, with costumed pageants and concerts of martial music.

How to Observe

Celebrate the day by going to a reenactment of Lee's surrender to Grant. The most appropriate place to do so is at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Wilmer McLean's house, where the surrender happened, was opened here by the National Park Service in 1949. You could also watch a film or documentary that deals with the Civil War or Appomattox, and read a book about the day.

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