Thursday, April 9, 2015

Live blog: 150th anniversary of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House

(National Park Service photo)

The Civil War Picket listened today via C-SPAN 3 and the National Park Service to a ceremony marking the exact time on April 9, 1865, that Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met to finalize the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Their meeting took place at the McLean House at Appomattox Court House, Va. Here are updates from the event at the national historical park. (The Picket was not at the ceremony)

3:14 p.m.: Call for bells to be rung across America. Ceremony concludes and crowd slowly disperses to other activities at Appomattox.

3:08 p.m.: The descendant of a slave begins the bell-ringing, followed by a descendant of Ulysses S. Grant and then others.

3:06 p.m.: National Park Park Service officials prepare to play a bell to mark the 150th anniversary of Lee's surrender. Union officers walk out of the home onto the McLean porch.

3 p.m.: Grant and Lee ended their meeting at this time on April 9, 1865. John Hennessy of the National Park Service talks about all of the emotions present at Appomattox. (Lee actor leaves the building and walk down the stairs). The end of slavery was real and much reconstruction and reconciliation awaited, Hennessy tells the crowd. ("Auld Lang Syne" is played as Lee's horse is brought up. The general rides away.)

2:57 p.m.: There was a mixture of joy at war's end and mourning. Park Service historians talk about some of the soldiers who died near the end of the war. 

2:48 p.m.: University of Richmond President Edward Ayers says the South did not believe Reconstruction would be militarily enforced. They did not see Appomattox as the beginning of a more profound revolution in America: Enslaved people would become full citizens who could vote. People in the North, Ayers says, knew that freed people would have to have laws, education, ability to obtain property and vote. Grant, when he become president, saw suppression of blacks in the South as not representing the spirit of Appomattox.

2:42 p.m.: Ayers speaks of the Southerners' sincerity to their cause: Freedom, rights and independence. They would say they fought for home and rights. But the fight for slavery was the reality underneath, Ayers tells the crowd. 

2:38 p.m.: Historian Edward Ayers says Appomattox showed America at is best: The humility, restraint and generosity shown toward one another after four years of bloody war. "This story shows our best selves." Grant, Ayers said, helped create this version of the story. The Union commander allowed no salutes or unnecessary embarrassment of the Confederates. But Grant also criticized the cause for which his opponents fought. Ayers says this mixed message is one with which Americans wrestle.

2:35 p.m.: Noted Civil War historian and retiring president of the University of Richmond, Edward Ayers, gives remarks outside the Wilmer McLean House. (Union re-enactors march up to the home, to the beat of a drum)

2:30 p.m.: Recognition of descendant of Ely Parker (see below).

2:27 p.m.: Bigelow says his Confederate ancestor became a peacemaker after the Civil War.

2:22 p.m.: Dennis Bigelow, a descendant of  Charles Marshall, the Confederate officer who accompanied Lee to the McLean House, gives remarks. Marshall wrote of the courtesy given by Federal officers to the defeated men in gray.

2:18 p.m.: (More recounting of the surrender:) Grant orders end to celebratory gunfire, saying the Rebels were now fellow countrymen.
Ely Parker

2:13 p.m.: Lt. Col. Ely Parker, a Grant aide who was a Native American, wrote down final terms of the surrender. Lee tells Grant that he has no rations for his men or captives. Abraham Lincoln's oldest son, Robert, is present.

2:11 p.m.: Lee and Grant, meeting in the parlor, talk about meeting during the Mexican-American War and then begin discussing surrender terms. (More Union re-enactors ride up to the McLean House). The two generals go over terms previously detailed in a letter.

2:05 p.m.: More details on April 9, 1865, when Lee decided the fight was over. Patrick Schroeder of the NPS talks about Grant's meeting message being delivered to Lee, who was resting near an apple tree. Lee would not leave the surrender responsibility to a subordinate. Wilmer McLean had first offered a different building for the surrender, but then offered his own home. Lee, wearing a new uniform, arrived at the home about one half hour before Grant, who had ridden on muddy roads.

2 p.m.: National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly describes the physical and leadership characteristics of Ulysses S. Grant. "He has the tenacity of a bulldog."

1:58 p.m.: Spectators outside of the McLean House are told of Robert E. Lee's military prowess during the Civil War that ended ultimately in defeat at Appomattox. "His was a mind that craved the initiative and he was most effective when he possessed it," Hennessy said.

1:54 p.m.: Wilmer McLean and family came to Appomattox in 1863, having moved with his family from the battlefield in Manassas, Va. They thought (incorrectly) they had escaped the war.

1:47 p.m.: NPS historian John Hennessy, standing outside the home, talks about that meeting between the two generals. The Liberty Bell and bells around the country will ring at 3:15 p.m. ET to remember the symbolic end of the war.

1:46 p.m.: The actor portraying U.S. Grant has a cigar, fittingly, clamped in his teeth as he rides up. He returns a salute. He enters the McLean House to meet with Lee, who arrived at about 1:30 p.m. on April 9, 1865.

1:43 p.m.: Union officers ride on horseback through the crowd toward the McLean House, one of the staff members carrying an American flag.

1:40 p.m.:  The U.S. Postal Service dedicates the final two stamps of the Civil War sesquicentennial series. One depicts the Battle of Five Forks and the other recalls the surrender at Appomattox.

1:32 p.m.: Park Superintendent Robin Snyder recalls diaries and letters from Civil War soldiers about the war's end. "They recall uncertainty, but also hope," she says. Snyder mentions coming equality for freed slaves. "Let us remember... that the hope of the moment often requires efforts of generations to realize."

1:30 p.m. The ceremony is underway.

1:28 p.m.: The actor portraying Robert E. Lee, in full formal dress, walks up the steps into the McLean House.

1:20 p.m.: Spectators are gathered under a cloudy sky around a white picket fence surrounding the McLean House in the historic Appomattox village. Living historians portraying Union officers are in the courtyard of the home. With them is a reproduction of Phil Sheridan's two-star headquarters flag. Lee will arrive at about 1:30 p.m. 

1:14 p.m.: The National Park Service has a livestream of music, informal talks and living histories leading up to the 1:30 event. Click link.

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