New York Post
Lasting struggle after Civil War
ONE hundred fifty years ago today, Gen. Robert E. Lee met Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant in the parlor of a grocer’s house at Appomattox, Va., to surrender his army. Therewere other Confederate forces still in the field, but the army Lee commanded, the Army of Northern Virginia, was the pride and shield of the rebellion. When it gave up, the Civil War was over.
On that momentous day, Grant and Lee made an odd couple. Lee wore spurs, full uniform and dress sword; Grant wore muddy boots, a private’s blouse with general’s shoulder straps attached and no sword.
Their dress matched their fighting styles. Grant’s Army of the Potomac had been pursuing Lee since May 1864. Lee’s strength as a commanderwas his mastery of dashing maneuver. Grant beat him by enclosing him in an anaconda’s grip.
Lee could not drive Grant off, and he could not get away from him. The great tactician was subdued by the steady strategist.
The guiding principles for peace had been stated eloquently by President Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address on March 4 — “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Lincoln fleshed out his ideas in a conference with Grant and other senior officers at the end of March.
“I want no one punished,” Lincoln said of the enemy. “Treat them liberally all around.” Lincoln thought Confederate soldiers were not wicked but “deluded”; once they were “disarmed and back to their homes . . . they won’t take up arms again.”
In the parlor at Appomattox, Lee asked for the Union’s terms. Grant wrote out a generous paragraph. Officers would promise that neither they nor their men would take up arms against the United States; long guns and artillery were to be stacked, parked and surrendered.
But exrebels could keep their side arms and their mounts. Asking them to give up their pistols and swords, Grant wrote later, would have been “an unnecessary humiliation,” and Southern men, most of them farmers, needed their horses and mules for spring plowing.
When Lee read the terms, he said they would have “a happy effect upon his army.”
The generosity of the victors ensured that the United States was spared the cycles of civil strife that havewracked countries from France to China. The Union was restored, never to split again.
The peace of Appomattox failed to achieve one of theUnion’s main goals, however— the newbirth of freedom for black Americans.
Slavery was already dying. The Emancipation Proclamation had freed the slaves of rebels on New Year’s Day, 1863. The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery nationwide, was approved by the Senate in April 1864 and by the House at the end of January 1865.
Two days after Appomattox, Lincolnwent farther: He told a crowd celebrating victory on the White House lawn that at least some newly freed blacks in the South should have the right to vote. Lincoln specifically mentioned veterans and “the very intelligent.”
“The colored man,” he went on, would be “inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring” to fight for his rights. Lincoln looked beyond the end of slavery to citizenship for all.
But on April 14 Lincoln was shot ( he died the next day). The White House passed from one of the greatest presidents ever to one of theworst. AndrewJohnson, smallminded and temperamental, could not guide the South on a newpath.
The South needed guidance. Robert E. Lee accepted the postwarworld in stoical silence for the five years that he lived in it. But after his death in 1870, the guardians of Confederate memorywere Lost Cause romantics and bitterend partisans.
White Southerners could no longer own blacks, but maybe they could bully and dominate them. Terrorist organizations — the Ku Klux Klan and the White Leagues — sprang up to murder black and white Republicans throughout the South.
Ulysses Grant, elected president in 1868 and reelected four years later, did the best he could in the face of renewed violence. Grant arrested Klansmen inNorth Carolina, and sent the army to fight a pitched battle with New Orleans’ White League.
But as the years passed, the Northern public tired of combatting the neoConfederate insurgency. The election of 1876 symbolized the nation’s weariness. Republicans and Democrats both claimed victory ( the votes of three Southern states, and Oregon, were disputed).
The deadlock was broken by a secret deal: Republicans would get the White House; in return, the party of Lincoln and Grant agreed to give up the struggle for black rights in the South.
The new birth of freedom was stifled in its cradle; it would not begin to revive until the civilrights movement of the 1950s.
Appomattox ended our worst war, repaired the Union — and left challenges that we are still dealing with today.