Fall of the South: Lee Surrenders

We're covering the final days of the Civil War exactly 150 years later. This is the eighth installment of the series. 

April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders 

The Union breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2, 1865 spelled the end of the Southern rebellion – but there would be one more week of bloodshed before the sentence was delivered, as Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee retreated west with his beleaguered Army of Northern Virginia in one last, desperate attempt to evade the tragic climax. This meant seven more days of death and misery for his exhausted soldiers, now in the final extremity of privation. 

As the Confederate defenses around Petersburg collapsed on April 2, Lee ordered his remaining army, now numbering fewer than 30,000 men, to withdraw along roads northwest of the city, following the Appomattox River into central Virginia. If they could just reach the Allegheny Mountains in western Virginia, there was still a chance –however slim – of shaking Grant and joining forces with Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the South, now retreating northwest towards Raleigh, North Carolina, with William Tecumseh Sherman in pursuit. 

It was not to be, as Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant pounced on the retreating rebel force, determined that Lee would not slip away again. Harried relentlessly by Philip Sheridan’s Union cavalry, Lee’s army was also weighed down by the wagon train holding the Confederate government’s (now meaningless) official documents, which made slow going over unpaved roads transformed into quagmires by spring rains. Incompetent to the last, the fleeing Confederate government also sent a train full of crucial supplies to the wrong destination, depriving his troops of rations. One Southern officer, Edward Sylvester Ellis, recalled their pathetic condition: 

Nearly all were barefoot; they were in rags, were living on a few grains of corn apiece, were worn out, and in the dismal hours of early morning had turned their backs on their capital and the enemy which they had beaten times without number… When his troops withdrew from their entrenchments, two days before, they were without rations, and during the interval that had passed since had not secured a single meal apiece; they were actually undergoing the pangs of starvation… 

On April 5, Sheridan’s forces intercepted a letter from Confederate officer W.B. Taylor to his wife, which said it all: “Our army is ruined, I fear.”

But still the fighting continued. On April 6, 1865 disaster struck at Sailor’s Creek, a small tributary of the Appomattox about 45 miles west of Petersburg. As the Confederates retreated Sheridan’s Union cavalry maneuvered alongside them, harrying them with constant hit-and-run attacks that eventually forced part of the Confederate army to stand and fight. As three rebel army corps turned to face their tormentors at Sailor’s Creek, another Union cavalry force under the bold (and ill-fated) George Armstrong Custer charged in behind them, cutting them off from the rest of Lee’s army long enough for the Union infantry to arrive and finish the encirclement.

Sheridan’s forces took 7,700 prisoners at Sailor’s Creek, including Lee’s son Custis Lee, reducing the rebel army by a quarter. For the captured soldiers it was probably an act of mercy. Indeed, according to Ellis the rebel soldiers could barely fight at Sailor’s Creek: “A large number staggered from weakness, and were barely able to keep their feet; many were so worn out that they would drop the guns which they had just loaded and discharged, and, regardless of the firing, sink down upon the ground and fall asleep.” For his part Lee saw the writing on the wall and wrote to President Jefferson Davis in Danville, Virginia, warning, “a few more Sailor's Creeks and it will all be over.” 

On April 7 Grant wrote Lee a letter delivered under flag of truce, pointedly putting the blame for continued death on Lee’s shoulders:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia. 

Ever courteous, and still hoping to win some concessions through a negotiated armistice, Lee replied: 

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood, and therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender. 

However Grant was under orders from President Lincoln to demand unconditional surrender. As Custer’s cavalry captured much-needed Confederate supply trains at Appomattox Station on April 8, Grant replied to Lee’s previous letter stating, “there is but one condition that I insist on, namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms against the Government of the United States…” Meanwhile the remaining rebel army, now encamped at the village of Appomattox Courthouse, (below, a Union camp at the courthouse following the surrender) found itself encircled from the east by Union infantry from the Army of the James under Andrew Humphreys and George Wright, and from the west by Sheridan’s cavalry. 

On the evening of April 8, 1865, Lee held a war council with his top commanders, who decided they had no choice but to make a last-ditch effort to break out of the encirclement and reach the last remaining supplies at nearby Lynchburg. One member of Lee’s staff, Charles Marshall, described the melancholy scene around the campfire: 

Somebody had a little cornmeal, and somebody else had a tin can, such as is used to hold hot water for shaving. A fire was kindled, and each man in his turn, according to rank and seniority, made a can of cornmeal gruel and was allowed to keep the can until the gruel became cool enough to drink… This was our last meal in the Confederacy. Our next was taken in the United States. 

On the morning of April 9, ragged rebel infantry and cavalry under John Gordon and Fitzhugh Lee drew themselves up outside Appomattox Courthouse. Ellis remembered that the men looked “like moving skeletons. They were too weak to carry their muskets. The three thousand cavalry looked as if riders and horses should be in the hospital.” 

This bedraggled force struck west against Sheridan’s cavalry, and at first seemed to be succeeding, as the surprised Union cavalrymen gave ground – but then Union infantry rushed forward and halted the advance. One Union officer, Frederic Cushman Newhall, painted a dramatic picture of the infantry counterattack that Sunday morning: 

As the chimes of the early church-bells at home pealed their sweet matins, which clashed harmoniously in mid-air like cymbals, these fields trembled under the sounding peals of war’s clangor, which met discordantly and were hurled in gruff rumblings far over the hills… The undulating lines of the infantry, now rising the crest of a knoll, now dipping into a valley or ravine, pressed on grandly across the open; for here at last we were out of the woods in the beautiful clear fields stretching away to the horizon, and here, if the rebellion should crumble, all who fought against it might see its fall.

At the limit of their strength, the rebels simply collapsed. The Battle of Appomattox Courthouse would be the last fought by the Army of Northern Virginia. After a further exchange of letters, at 10am Lee met with Grant at the McLean House, a brick farmhouse on the outskirts of town owned by Wilmer McLean (below). 

Marshall recalled the dramatic, yet oddly casual, moment when the generals finally met: 

General Lee was standing at the end of the room opposite the door when General Grant walked in. General Grant had on a sack coat, a loose fatigue coat, but he had no side arms. He looked as though he had had a pretty hard time. He had been riding and his clothes were somewhat dusty and a little soiled. He walked up to General Lee and Lee recognized him at once. He had known him in the Mexican war. General Grant greeted him in the most cordial manner, and talked about the weather and other things in a very friendly way. Then General Grant brought up his officers and introduced them to General Lee.

The generals sat at two separate tables, surrounded by their officers, reviewing and amending the document in which Lee agreed to surrender. Grant’s gracious decision to allow the Southern officers to keep their swords – a traditional point of honor – was well received, with Lee remarking: “That will have a very happy effect.” Grant also agreed to allow former cavalrymen to keep their horses (most had supplied their own animals, and would need them to resume farming when they returned home). Finally the Union officers arranged for 25,000 rations to be delivered to Lee’s starving army, while Union prisoners of war held by the rebels – starving along with their captors – were immediately released to be fed by their compatriots. Importantly, the instrument of surrender didn’t cover Johnston’s Army of the South, still holding out in North Carolina. 

Lee and his officers then departed. According to one Union general, Horace Porter, Grant and his staff gave them a chivalrous sendoff: 

Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step, and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond, where his army lay-now an army of prisoners. He thrice smote the palm of his left hand slowly with his right fist in an absent sort of way, seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard, who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unaware of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, moving toward him, and saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present. Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off at a slow trot to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded. 

The scene that followed at the farmhouse was considerably less dignified, as Union officers began buying everything in the room where the surrender was signed as a keepsake – finding the objects’ owner, Wilmer McLean, very amenable to offers of Union gold to replace his worthless Confederate paper money. Porter recalled:

Then relic-hunters charged down upon the manor-house, and began to bargain for the numerous pieces of furniture. Sheridan paid the proprietor twenty dollars in gold for the table on which General Grant wrote the terms of surrender, for the purpose of presenting it to Mrs. Custer and handed it over to her dashing husband, who galloped off to camp bearing it upon his shoulder. Ord paid forty dollars for the table at which Lee sat… General Sharpe paid ten dollars for the pair of brass candlesticks; Colonel Sheridan, the general's brother, secured the stone ink-stand; and General Capehart the chair in which Grant sat… Captain O’Farrell of Hartford became the possessor of the chair in which Lee sat… 

Meanwhile Lee faced the difficult task of telling his loyal soldiers that the long fight was over. His farewell message to his army, written by General Bradley T. Johnson at his command, read in part: 

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yeild [sic] to overwhelming numbers… You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection – With unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. 

R. E. Lee

         Gen–

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14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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Late MythBusters Star Grant Imahara Honored With New STEAM Foundation

Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Genevieve via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans of MythBusters and White Rabbit Project host Grant Imahara were saddened to hear of his passing due to a brain aneurysm in July 2020 at the age of 49. Imahara, a graduate of the University of Southern California, used the television medium to share his love of science and engineering. Now, his passion for education will continue via an educational foundation developed in his name.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation was announced Thursday, October 23, 2020 by family and friends on what would have been Imahara’s 50th birthday. The Foundation will provide mentorships, grants, and scholarships that will allow students from diverse backgrounds access to STEAM education, which places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. (Formerly referred to as STEM, the “A” for art was added more recently.)

Imahara had a history of aiding students. While working at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 2000s, he mentored the robotics team at Richmond High School to prepare for the international FIRST Robotics Competition. Whether he was working on television or behind-the-scenes on movies like the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels, Imahara always found time to promote and encourage young engineering talent.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation’s founding board members include Imahara’s mother, Carolyn Imahara, and close friends Don Bies, Anna Bies, Edward Chin, Fon H. Davis, Coya Elliott, and Ioanna Stergiades.

“There are many students, like my son Grant, who need the balance of the technical and the creative, and this is what STEAM is all about,” Carolyn Imahara said in a statement. “I’m so proud of my son’s career, but I’m equally proud of the work he did mentoring students. He would be thrilled that we plan to continue this, plus much more, through The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation.”

Imahara friend Wade Bick is also launching an effort in concert with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to name a study lounge after Imahara. Donations can be made here.

You can find out more about the foundation, and make a donation, on its website.