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Google Earth Plug-in: American Civil War - Lees Defeat at Appomattox (Overlays)

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On April 1, 1865, Major General Philip Sheridan's cavalry turned Lee's flank at the Battle of Five Forks. The next day Grant's army achieved a decisive breakthrough, effectively ending the Siege of Petersburg. Lee abandoned Petersburg and Richmond and headed west to Appomattox Station, where a supply train awaited him. From there he hoped to move south to join with Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina. On April 8, 1865, Union cavalry under George A. Custer captured and burned three supply trains waiting for Lee's army at the Battle of Appomattox Station. Now both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James were converging on Appomattox.

With his supplies at Appomattox destroyed, Lee now looked to the railway at Lynchburg, where more supplies awaited him. The Union Army was closing in on Lee, but all that lay between Lee and Lynchburg was Union cavalry. Lee hoped to break through the cavalry before infantry arrived. His hopes restored, he sent a note to Grant saying that he did not wish to surrender his army just yet but was willing to discuss how Grant's terms would affect the Confederacy. Grant, with a throbbing headache, stated that "it looks as if Lee still means to fight." The Union infantry was close, but the only unit near enough to support Sheridan's cavalry was the XXIV Corps of the Army of the James. This corps traveled 30 miles in 21 hours to reach the cavalry. Major General Edward O. C. Ord, commander of the Army of the James, arrived with the XXIV Corps around 4:00 a.m. with the V Corps close behind. Sheridan deployed three divisions of cavalry along a low ridge to the southwest of Appomattox Court House.

At dawn on April 9, the Confederate Second Corps under John B. Gordon attacked Sheridan's cavalry and quickly forced back the first line. The Confederate cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee moved around the Union flank. The next line, held by Ranald S. Mackenzie and George Crook, fell back. Gordon's troops charged through the Union lines and took the ridge. As they reached the crest of the ridge they saw the entire Union XXIV Corps in line of battle with the V Corps to their right. Fitz Lee's cavalry saw the Union force and immediately withdrew and rode off towards Lynchburg. Ord's troops began advancing against Gordon's corps while the Union II Corps began moving against James Longstreet's corps to the northeast. Soon Longstreet and Gordon would be fighting back to back. Lee finally stated "…there is nothing left, but to go and see General Grant, and I had rather die a thousand deaths".

Many of Lee's officers, including Longstreet, agreed that surrendering the army was the only option left. The only notable officer opposed to surrender was Lee's chief of artillery, Edward Porter Alexander, who prophetically stated that if Lee surrenders then "every other [Confederate] army will follow suit". At 8:00 a.m., Lee rode out to meet Grant, accompanied by three of his aides. With gunshots still being heard on Gordon's front and Union skirmishers still advancing on Longstreet's front, Lee received a message from Grant. After several hours of correspondence between Grant and Lee, a cease-fire was enacted and Grant received Lee's request to discuss surrender terms. Lee's aid, Colonel Charles Marshall, was sent to find a location for Grant and Lee to meet. Marshall selected the home of Wilmer McLean, ironically the same man who was forced to lend his home to General P.G.T. Beauregard at the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the war.

Dressed in an immaculate uniform, Lee waited for Grant to arrive. Grant, whose headache had suddenly disappeared when he received Lee's note, arrived in a dirty private's uniform with only his shoulder straps showing his rank. Suddenly overcome with sadness, Grant found it hard to get to the point of the meeting and instead the two generals briefly discussed a previous encounter during the Mexican War. Lee brought the attention back to the issue at hand, and Grant offered the same generous terms he had before—that the officers and men of Lee's army were to surrender and be paroled, and all arms, with the exception of officers' swords as well as the private horses of all the men, were to be gathered as captured property. After writing down the terms, both generals signed the document of surrender. As Lee left the house and rode away, Grant's officers booed and jeered at him, but Grant demanded that they cease immediately and that they pay Lee the respect he deserved.

On April 10, Lee gave his farewell address to his army. The same day a six-man commission gathered to discuss a formal ceremony of surrender, even though no Confederate officer wished to go through with such an event. Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain was the Union officer selected to lead the ceremony. As General John B. Gordon passed, followed by the famous Stonewall Brigade, Chamberlain gave the order to salute. Gordon reared his horse and facing Chamberlain touched his sword to his toe returning the salute. Chamberlain said "It was honor answering honor." 27,805 Confederate soldiers passed by that day and stacked their arms.

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