General Robert E. Lee Surrenders

Author:   Robert E. Lee


By April 1865, Grant’s army had cut off Lee’s supply lines, forcing Confederate forces to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond. Lee and his men retreated westward, but Grant’s troops overtook him about a hundred miles west of Richmond. Recognizing that further resistance would be futile, Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The aristocratic Lee wore a full-dress uniform, with a ceremonial sash and sword, while Grant wore a private’s coat.

The next day, in a final message to his troops, Robert E. Lee acknowledged that he was “compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.” Three-quarters of the Confederate white male population of military age had fought in the war, but by 1865, the North had four times as many troops as the Confederacy. At the time he surrendered, Lee’s entire army had shrunk to just 35,000 men, compared to Grant’s total of 113,000. Lee’s decision to surrender, however, probably helped to prevent large-scale guerrilla warfare.


After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of North Virginia, has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard fought battles who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result with no distrust of them; but feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that would compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement officers and men can return to their homes and remain there until exchanged.

You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a Merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.


Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Robert E. Lee, General Order No. 9