April 26 marks the official end of the War Between the States for Georgia. It was on that date in 1865 that Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina.
Already, General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Supporters of the Southern cause can feel pride in the way General Lee conducted himself at that meeting. It is reported that Lee maintained dignity to the end. He appeared at Appomattox Courthouse in a brand new uniform, wearing an embroidered red sash, and polished boots with spurs. Standing tall, with his gray hair and beard in place and his dress uniform impeccable, he met General Grant whose boots were muddy and his old slouch hat askew.
The Generals, nevertheless, were gracious to each other. Grant said to Lee, "I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I would have known you anywhere." (p. 167, National Geographic, "Almanac of American History," c2005).
Lee had evaluated the hard nine-month siege at Petersburg and decided that holding on longer would bring only a sad, pointless loss of more lives. He agreed to meet Grant and work out terms of surrender.
The Confederates were to lay down their arms, which they did. Lee suggested that his men would need their horses for spring planting. Grant agreed to this request and also promised to provide rations to the emaciated Confederate Army.
Astride his horse, Traveller, General Lee rode among the ranks of his faithful soldiers. His words to them were: "Men, we have fought this war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more." (p. 167, "Almanac of American History.") General Grant expressed his feelings with these words: "I feel like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who has fought so long and valiantly." (p. 167, "Almanac of American History.")
Much lay ahead before the War Between the States was officially over. Because news traveled slowly in April of 1865, there were more skirmishes in various places before complete cessation of fighting. That's why the treaty between Johnson and Sherman was not signed until April 26, 1865.
And then remained the long road to Reconstruction. In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln expressed his hope for reconciliation: "With malice toward none, with charity for all...let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."
President Lincoln's assassination shot hit him at Ford's Theater in Washington on April 14, 1865 and he died the next day. His death complicated efforts at Reconstruction and hampered reconciliation between the North and South.
As we observe Confederate History Month this April, we remember the sacrifices of soldiers, many of them our ancestors, who fought for what they believed.
Without the war, slavery may not have died out soon. The South's economy may have lingered for many more decades to agrarian pursuits with production hinging on slave labor. The Civil War and the period of Reconstruction were tragedies in America's history. But through it all came "a new birth of freedom," and proof that democracy could prevail, that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people would not perish from the earth."
An anonymous poet has written these striking lines for "Confederate Memorial Day":
The marching armies of the past
Along our southern plains,
Are sleeping now in quiet rest
Beneath the Southern rains.
We bow our heads in solemn prayer
For those who wore the gray,
And clasp again their unseen hands
On our Memorial Day.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 27, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.