APPOMATTOX, Va. (AP) — The surrender of Confederate Robert E. Lee to Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant 150 years ago Thursday was the definitive milestone of the end of the Civil War. This is a rolling account of Thursday’s commemoration of the anniversary, including a reenactment of Lee’s last clash with Grant’s troops and the Confederate surrender in a Virginia farmhouse. Interspersed are historical accounts of events 150 years ago. – By STEVE SZKOTAK, Associated Press
Ahead of the battle reenactment, the boys of the Confederate 11th Virginia were a seemingly pretty cool bunch as those portraying Union troops gathered several fields away at Appomattox Court House amid the rolling farm country dotted by neat brick buildings and white picket fences.
But a stoic Chris Ferree couldn’t contain his excitement when asked about his role in the 150th commemoration of Lee’s surrender here, effectively ending the Civil War 150 years ago Thursday.
“This is an awesome place to be,” said Ferree, a Roanoke resident. “We’re all excited to be here.”
The Confederate re-enactors were a ragtag, mismatched group of heavy wool coats, ill-fitting trousers and more types of hats than a haberdashery. Dozens stood along a rough wooden fence, their muskets stacked at the ready.
The Union and Southern re-enactors spent the night encamped in tents at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.
The smell of wood smoke greeted the first of thousands of visitors expected to throng the park for several days of commemorative events. The outline of Union troops in formation could be seen in fields as visitors approached the park.
Perry Miller of Salisbury, a re-enactor with the North Carolina 28th from Salisbury, explained the strategy succinctly: “We’re trying to break through the Union lines.”
Lee’s forces were in a state of increasing disarray in the hours before Lee formally called it quits. So the Associated Press reported 150 years ago this week. AP reported that ragged, hungry Southern soldiers, many straggling and on the run from federal forces, began giving up alone and in small bunches before the official surrender. Days earlier in April 1865, the Union Army had already smashed their way into the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.
Lee’s forces, seeking an escape route, had crossed the Appomattox River while burning bridges, AP reported 150 years ago this week. Union forces “attacked them vigorously” in the hours before the official surrender, convincing Lee the fight was over. AP reporting from the last days cited accounts as saying “the road for miles was strewn with broken down wagons, caissons, and baggage of all kinds, presenting a scene seldom witnessed on the part of Lee’s army.”
Editors Note: The Associated Press was there for the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox in 1865 and again is there today for the 150th commemoration of the end to the nation’s bloodiest conflict. This reports draws on reported of anniversary events from an AP reporter at the scene Thursday. For historical matters, it draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources. Here is a look at events both past and present as the anniversary is being observed.