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Surrender at Appomattox

Excerpt from Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, by Bevin Alexander, pages 319-20

The Army of Northern Virginia was world-famous long before the retreat to Appomattox. But it was during this march toward surrender and defeat that the legend was born that this had been one of the greatest armies of all time. Its early victories had been stupendous, but the army’s behavior in these final days aroused a new understanding of how far beyond arms and power that heroism and dedication can carry a body of men.

Lee, as commander of this army, personified the army’s renown. The Southern people added to this fame a feeling of deep respect and honor for the man himself, a feeling that also expressed their gratitude for his efforts. Lee could never be accused of having failed to fight for Southern independence to the last inch. Therefore, when Lee urged his soldiers to be as good citizens of a united nation as they had been good soldiers in war, his admonition had immense and lasting power. It turned many Southerners away from their feelings of hate and revenge toward cooperation with the North and peace.

By 1865, slavery could not be reinstituted, not only because the rest of the civilized world had rejected it, but because the people of the South no longer wanted it either. The war had taught them that it was too expensive. The day after the surrender, Lee told General Grant that the South now was as opposed to human bondage as the North.1

1. Johnson and Buel, Battles and Leaders, vol. 4, 745.

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