McLean House

McLean’s House, Appomattox, Va. Scene of Lee’s surrender. (Library of Congress)

At 1:30 p.m. on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee met Union General Ulysses S. Grant in the two-story brick house of Wilmer McLean at Appomattox and surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.

John F. Poore, the last Poore brother not yet a prisoner, was one of just six members of his Company D, 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment to surrender at Appomattox. The company had once mustered about 100 men. Of the once nearly 1,000 men in the entire 13th Mississippi, 74 were left to surrender with Lee.

When the ragged Southern soldiers learned of the surrender, many brave men who had faced every kind of hardship and death for four years wept openly. John no doubt was among them.

The mood changed to one of relief as John and the others learned that they wouldn’t be going to a Yankee prison, and as the federal soldiers showed them kindness. More than likely John ate his fill of the rations Union soldiers shared with the starving Southerners. For the first time in perhaps years, John and his comrades enjoyed such luxuries as real coffee, condensed milk, sugar and butter.

Before John and his comrades were allowed to leave Appomattox Courthouse for home, the federals required them to formally surrender on April 12. Under cold, gray skies, a little after 9 a.m. on that day, John and the other survivors of the Army of Northern Virginia formed up in a long gray column for the last time.

C.S. General John Brown Gordon and his men led the column along the road through Appomattox. John and his fellow soldiers marched silently. No bands played, no drums beat. At the point set for the Confederates to stack their arms, Union troops lined both sides of the road.

Except for the weeping of some of the haggard veterans, a silence fell over the scene. John and his comrades halted at an assigned place before a column of waiting federals and dressed their ranks.

The worn and weak Southerners faced the Union men, fixed their bayonets and stacked their arms. John and the other surrendering soldiers took off their cartridge box belts and laid them on the ground.

U.S. Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain observed that, “Lastly—and reluctantly, with agony of expression—they tenderly fold their flags, battle-worn and torn, blood-stained, heart-holding colors, and lay them down; some . . . clinging to them, pressing them to their lips with burning tears.”

Many of the grizzled veterans kissed their old flags or tore small pieces and put them in their pockets. This scene repeated itself as each regiment surrendered its arms and folded its flags, the ceremony didn’t end until nearly 4 p.m.

By April 13, John and most of the soldiers had received the paroles that would let them travel homeward unmolested by Union troops. Alone or in small groups, he and the other surrendered soldiers began leaving Appomattox.

Did you have an ancestor who surrendered at Appomattox? You can find a list of Confederate soldiers issued parole passes on the website of the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park.