The 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War is tomorrow. On April 9, 1865, generals Grant and Lee met at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia to hash out the terms of the Confederate surrender. It was the welcome end of a long and bloody war, but the American government and the Union brass had no desire to punish their defeated enemy further.
Many within the Union considered Confederates traitors who were personally responsible for this tremendous loss of lives and property. Lee’s own army had threatened the nation’s capital and had to be driven back in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. The terms of surrender, however, would be a simple gentlemen’s agreement. Healing the country, rather than vengeance, directed Grant’s and the Lincoln administration’s actions. There would be no mass imprisonments or executions, no parading of defeated enemies through Northern streets. Lincoln’s priority—shared by Grant—was “to bind up the nation’s wounds” and unite the country together again as a functioning democracy under the Constitution; extended retribution against the former Confederates would only slow down the process.
Read the story of the historic meeting at Smithsonian. And, since it’s the Smithsonian, we also get an account of the historic souvenirs onlookers made away with, many of which are now on display at the National Museum of American History.