The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox

Another interesting piece from the always-interesting Disunion, the New York Times’ commemoration of the sesquicentennial. This one is a reminder that the “Appomattox Peace” was the end of the beginning, as far as Southern resistance went. Reconstruction gets airbrushed away in tales of Grant and Lee and nobility and surrender.

Grant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war’s end far too soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general’s plea for “peace” and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony to plan the Army’s occupation of the South.

To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750 towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.

And yet as late as 1869, President Grant’s attorney general argued that some rebel states remained in the “grasp of war.” When white Georgia politicians expelled every black member of the State Legislature and began a murderous campaign of intimidation, Congress and Grant extended military rule there until 1871.

Meanwhile, Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents, terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that 50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the first quarter-century after emancipation. “It is a fatal mistake, nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace,” a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. “We are in the very vortex of war.”

The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox –

April 10th Newspaper Clipping

Another of the historical events I wish I could have seen was the celebration in Washington in the days after the surrender. Grand illuminations and joy in the streets after four crescendoing years of hard war. What a shame it was all unravelled – on the day and for a century to come – by the assassins on April 14th.

April 10 1865

Wonder how many businesses today would do this? – Imgur.


I’ve been busy with an art project lately, so haven’t been updating, which is bad timing given we’re into the home stretch of the sesquicentennial. I’ve taken a few minutes to put my art aside and post someone else’s: Here’s a copy of my favourite Appomattox painting, by Tom Lovell. While still not 100% authentic, it’s beautifully painted and shows the two heroes at their separate tables. Lee looking solemn as Taylor dispassionately supervises the paperwork, and Grant leaning over intently. It’s a great scene, and wonderfully emotive. The closest we’ll get to time travel is through the brushstrokes of artists like this.

How Chicago Celebrated

A fitting article for mid-April remembrances: Here’s a description of how Chicago celebrated the news of Appomattox.  I’ve read descriptions of Washington’s illuminations, and felt a little cheated that photographic technology was too immature to capture it – what a sight that must’ve been!

At midnight the hundred guns of the Dearborn Light Artillery boomed. The noise continued through the night and into the dawn. Whether any of the city’s 200,000 residents got much sleep was doubtful.

Monday came. Nobody felt like going to work, and most businesses remained closed. The Court House, the newspaper offices, and other important buildings were decorated with bunting. Street vendors selling tiny American flags on sticks couldn’t keep up with the demand. Another night of celebration followed.

via How Chicago Celebrated the end of the Civil War | WBEZ 91.5 Chicago.