On Thursday the sixth, Lee, closely beset in flank and rear, lost seven thousand men at Sailor's Creek, mostly as prisoners. The heroes of this fight were six hundred Federals, who, having gone to blow up High Bridge on the Appomattox, found their retreat cut off by the whole Confederate advanced guard. Under Colonel Francis Washburn, Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry, and Colonel Theodore Read, of General Ord's staff, this dauntless six hundred charged again and again until, their leaders killed and most of the others dead or wounded, the rest surrendered. They had gained their object by holding up Lee's column long enough to let its wagon. train be raided.
Grant, now feeling that his hold on Lee could not be shaken off, wrote him a letter on Friday afternoon, saying: "The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance." That night Lee replied asking what terms Grant proposed to offer. Next morning Grant wrote again to propose a meeting, and Lee answered to say he was willing to treat for peace. Grant at once informed him that the only subject for discussion was the surrender of the army. That evening Federal cavalry under General George A. Custer raided Appomattox Station, five miles southwest of the Court House, and held up four trains. A few hours later, early on Sunday, the famous ninth of April, 1865, Lee's advanced guard was astounded to find its way disputed so far west. It attacked with desperation, hoping to break through what seemed to be a cavalry screen before the infantry came up; but when Lee's main body joined in, only to find a solid mass of Federal infantry straight across its one way out, Lee at once sent forward a white flag.
Grant, overwrought with anxiety, had been suffering from an excruciating headache all night long. But the moment he opened Lee's note, offering to discuss surrender, he felt as well as ever, and instantly wrote back to say he was ready. Pushing rapidly on he met Lee at McLean's private residence near Appomattox Court House. There was a remarkable contrast between the appearance of the two commanders. Grant, only forty-three, and without a tinge of gray in his brown hair, took an inch or two off his medium height by stooping keenly forward, and had nothing in his shabby private's uniform to show his rank except the three-starred shoulder-straps. When the main business was over, and he had time to notice details, he apologized to Lee, explaining that the extreme rapidity of his movements had carried him far ahead of his baggage. Lee's aide-de-camp, Colonel Charles Marshall, afterwards explained that when the Confederates had been obliged to reduce themselves simply to what they stood in, each officer had naturally put on his best. Hence Lee's magnificent appearance in a brand-new general's uniform with the jeweled sword of honor that Virginia had given him. Well over six feet tall, straight as an arrow in spite of his fifty-eight years and snow-white, war-grown beard, still extremely handsome, and full of equal dignity and charm, he looked, from head to foot, the perfect leader of devoted men.
Grant, holding out his hand in cordial greeting, began the conversation by saying: "I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico . . . . I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere." After some other personal talk Lee said: "I suppose, General Grant, that the object of our present meeting is fully understood. I asked to see you in order to ascertain on what terms you would receive the surrender of my army." Grant answered that officers and men were to be paroled and disqualified from serving again till properly exchanged, and that all warlike and other stores were to be treated as captured. Lee bowed assent, said that was what he had expected, and presently suggested that Grant should commit the terms to writing on the spot. When Grant got to the end of the terms already discussed his eye fell on Lee's splendid sword of honor, and he immediately added the sentence: "This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage." When Lee read over the draft he flushed slightly on coming to this generous proviso and gratefully said: "This will have a very happy effect upon my army." Grant then asked him if he had any suggestions to make; whereupon he said that the mounted Confederates, unlike the Federals, owned their horses. Before he had time to ask a favor Grant said that as these horses would be invaluable for men returning to civil life they could all be taken home after full proof of ownership. Lee again flushed and gratefully replied: "This will have the best possible effect upon the men. It will be very gratifying and do much toward conciliating our people."
While the documents were being written out for signature Grant introduced the generals and staff officers to Lee. Then Lee once more led the conversation back to business by saying he wished to return his prisoners to Grant at the earliest possible moment because he had nothing more for them to eat. "I have, indeed, nothing for my own men," he added. They had been living on the scantiest supply of parched corn for several days; and this famine fare, combined with their utter lack of all other supplies--especially medicine and clothing--was wearing them away faster than any "war of attrition" in the open field. After heartily agreeing that the prisoners should immediately return Grant said: "I will take steps at once to have your army supplied with rations. Suppose I send over twenty-five thousand; do you think that will be a sufficient supply?" "I think it will be ample," said Lee, who, after a pause, added: "and it will be a great relief, I assure you."
Then Lee rose, shook Grant warmly by the hand, bowed to the others, and left the room. As he appeared on the porch all the Union officers in the grounds rose respectfully and saluted him. While the Confederate orderly was bridling the horses Lee stood alone, gazing in unutterable grief across the valley to where the remnant of his army lay. Then, as he mounted Traveler, every Union officer followed Grant's noble example by standing bareheaded till horse and rider had disappeared from view.
Grant next sent off the news to Washington and, true to his sterling worth, immediately stopped the salutes which some of his enthusiastic soldiers were already beginning to fire. "The war is over," he told his staff, "the rebels are our countrymen again, and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations in the field."
In the meantime Lee had returned to his own lines, along which he now rode for the last time. The reserve with which he had steeled his heart during the surrender gave way completely when he came to bid his men farewell. After a few simple words, advising his devoted veterans to become good citizens of their reunited country, the tears could no longer be kept back. Then, as he rode slowly on, from the remnant of one old regiment to another, the men broke ranks, and, mostly silent with emotion, pressed round their loved commander, to take his hand, to touch his sword, or fondly stroke his splendid gray horse, Traveler, the same that had so often carried him victorious through the hard-fought day.