Lee’s plan had been to force his way through the Union lines, and join Johnston farther south; but it was now too late. He was without food, and hemmed in on all sides by large armies. At the end of six days, therefore,—and after making as brave a stand as you can find in history,—he saw he must surrender. Sheridan had just won a last victory over his army at Five Forks, and Grant was rapidly moving toward Appomattox Courthouse. It was useless to fight any more, so, after exchanging a few letters, Grant and Lee met at a house which has since become historical.
There the two generals drew up the conditions of the surrender of Appomattox (April 9, 1865). Grant asked that Lee’s army should lay down their arms and promise not to fight again until properly exchanged. But he allowed the Southern soldiers to take their private horses with them, saying he knew the men “would need them for the spring plowing.”
When Grant noticed that General Lee wore a beautiful sword, which had been presented to him by his admirers, he also said that the officers might keep their side arms. This was both kind and thoughtful; and when Lee confessed that his men were starving,—having had little to eat but parched corn for several days,—Grant gave immediate orders to distribute rations among them.
The two greatest commanders of the Civil War then cordially shook hands; for, like–all true–hearted men, they bore each other no grudge. They had been on opposite sides, it is true, but they thoroughly respected each other, for they knew they had done nothing but what they believed right.
The interview over, Lee went back to his army, and, with tears in his eyes, sadly said: “Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more.” He then issued the necessary orders, and no sooner was it known in both armies that Lee had surrendered, than the men went to visit one another. Before many minutes, therefore, men in blue and in gray were sitting side by side, the Union soldiers sharing rations with their former foes in the friendliest way.
The very next day Lee made a farewell address to his men, who then went back to their homes, to work as hard as they had fought. Four years had now elapsed since the Civil War, or the “War for the Union,” had begun. This war cost our country untold suffering, nearly a mil lion lives, and about ten thousand million dollars. But it settled two important questions: that no state can leave the Union, and that slavery is forever at an end in our country.
On the fourth anniversary of the surrender of Fort Sumter, Anderson again hoisted the United States flag over its ruins. The war was so plainly over that joy all over the country was great, and even those who mourned were thankful that no more blood would be shed.
That evening, to please some friends who particularly wished it, President Lincoln went to a theater at Washington. While he was sitting there quietly in his box, John Wilkes Booth, an actor, stole in behind him. He noiselessly fastened the door, crept close to Lincoln, shot him through the head, and jumped on the stage, crying: “Sic semper tyrannis.” [So be it always to tyrants!] As he sprang, his foot caught in a United States flag draping the President’s box, and he fell, spraining his ankle. Nevertheless, he sprang up again, crying: “The South is avenged.” and escaped by a side door, where, mounting his horse, he dashed away before any one thought of pursuing him.
Lincoln, in the meantime, had fallen forward unconscious. He was carried to a neighboring, house, where every care was lavished on him; but he never recovered his senses, and quietly passed away the next morning. The people around him seemed stunned by this unexpected blow, and the whole nation, North and South, mourned for the murdered President.
When Lincoln’s death became known, all rejoicing was at an end. Houses decked in bunting the day before were draped in deep mourning; for every one felt that he had lost a friend. At first people were terrified, too, because that same night Secretary Seward, although ill in bed, was attacked and stabbed several times. It was later discovered that a few wicked people had made a plan to murder the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, and General Grant, because they thought they would thus serve the Confederate cause.
But this wicked and foolish attempt failed, and those who had taken part in it were justly punished. Booth was pursued and overtaken in a barn in Virginia, and—as he defended himself and refused to surrender—was shot on the spot by one of his captors. The rest of the criminals were tried and either hanged or imprisoned for life.