With the Battle of Petersburg lost, Confederate General Robert E. Lee abandoned Richmond on April 2nd, 1865, and began a slow retreat westward under continuous pressure from Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The last major engagement between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac took place at Sayler’s Creek on April 6th. Following this action, Grant sent a letter to Lee seeking to end further bloodshed by requesting the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee agreed with Grant about ending hostilities and asked what terms Grant would offer on condition of Lee’s surrender.
As Lee’s reply reached Grant on April 8th, General Sheridan completed his swing around Lee’s flank and captured four railcars filled with food and supplies at a place named Appomattox Station, Virginia. Lee was surrounded. With his soldiers starving and deserting daily, Lee wrote to Grant on the morning of April 9th, requesting a cease-fire and a place to discuss terms of his surrender.
On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, at around 1 PM, General Lee met General Grant at the home of Wilmar McLean at Appomattox Court House. Lee was clad in full dress uniform, complete with sword, while General Grant, with his dress uniform in a storage wagon in the rear, wore a private’s uniform with Lieutenant-General shoulder boards as the only means of identification. At first the conversation was polite, then Lee brought the meeting to the topic at hand - his surrender. Grant put down on paper the modest terms Lincoln had directed him to give: all soldiers and officers were to surrender their arms and return to their respective homes and observe the conditions of their parole and abide by the laws of their individual states. Lee then asked Grant to permit those soldiers who owned their own horsed and mules to keep them. Grant agreed. Additionally, Lee requested food for his starving army. Again, Grant at once agreed, and gave Lee the food Sheridan had captured. With negotiations concluded, Lee signed the formal instrument of surrender. Never again would the great Armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia clash on the field of battle.