Four Authors of the
American Civil War:
Excerpts From Their Work

4. Douglas Southall Freeman


Douglas Southall Freeman (1886-1953) made his living as a journalist for many years, putting in full workdays as editor of the Richmond News-Leader, meanwhile becoming one of America’s leading military historians, publishing remarkable biographies of Robert E. Lee and George Washington.

In order to manage two full-time jobs, Freeman became, writes historian Keith Dickson, a “master of time management through an exercise of enormous self-discipline, making maximum use of what Freeman called ‘the economy of small idle time.’ ” Everything in his life was timed, writes Dickson: “rising, eating, work, gardening, family time, reading and study, sleeping.” His family paid a terrible price for his workaholism – his son James bitterly resented his father’s absence and never got over it. But the great tasks got finished. (Dickson offers his thoughts in a review of the biography “Douglas Southall Freeman” by David E. Johnson [2002]; the entire review can be found here. Johnson’s book is one of the better biographies of a historian. The entirety of Freeman’s study of Lee is available online here.)

Freeman “fully understood the appeal that the figure of Lee had for the American public in the 1930s,” writes historian John L. Gignilliat. “He found it natural that the best-selling biographies in the years of the Great Depression were ‘longer studies of the truly great,’ for, as he expressed it, ‘in these turbulent times we bewildered mortals find strength in the company of those strong men who met tests more severe than our own and kept the captaincy of their souls.’” In addition to Lee himself, Freeman’s study has another set of heroes: Lee’s men, the Army of Northern Virginia, described with “unforgettable vividness,” writes historian Dumas Malone. These soldiers, writes historian Bruce Catton, step out of Freeman’s pages “alive and believable, and wholly fascinating.”

Catton adds another thought about his peer: “It would be foolish to pretend that Dr. Freeman’s history was at all times completely objective. It was scholarly and it was fair, but it was never detached or passionless. It would be poorer history if it were those things.”

Freeman’s study of Lee is one of the most influential American biographies; it deeply shaped our view of the general, and of the Civil War, for a couple of generations. But the study of history is nothing if not an arena for debate and reinterpretation. See here for a provocative revisionist view of Lee by historian Michael Fellman, one of North America’s leading Civil War scholars. Additional insight into the controversy generated by Fellman’s work can be gotten from reviews at – H.F.



By Douglas Southall Freeman

From “R.E. Lee” (1934, 1935), chapter XV of the abridgement edited by Richard Harwell (1961). The main event of this excerpt took place in Virginia on April 9, 1865.

Lee dismounted in the yard and walked toward the wide steps of the house. Entering the central hall, he turned into a typical parlor of a middle-class Virginia home. Colonel Marshall went with him. Colonel Babcock accompanied Lee, also, with the explanation that General Grant would soon arrive.

Half an hour passed, perhaps the longest half hour in Lee’s life. About 1:30 o’clock there was a clatter in the road, the sound of the approach of a large body of mounted men. Babcock went to the door and opened it. A man of middle height, slightly stooped and heavily bearded, came in alone. He was dressed for the field, with boots and breeches mudbespattered. He took off his yellow thread gloves as he stepped forward. Lee had never seen him to remember him but he knew who he was and, rising with Marshall, he started across the room to meet General Grant. They shook hands quietly with brief greetings. Then Grant sat down at the table in the middle of the room, and Lee returned to his place. Marshall stood to the left and somewhat behind him. Babcock had a few whispered words with Grant, then went from the room. He soon was back, followed by a full dozen Federal officers. The newcomers arranged themselves behind Grant and in sight of Lee as quietly as boots and spurs and clanking swords permitted. Grant made no reference to their coming. Lee showed no sign of resentment at their presence.

The conversation began: “I met you once before, General Lee,” Grant said in his normal tones, “while we were serving in Mexico, when you came over from General Scott’s headquarters to visit Garland’s brigade, to which I then belonged. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere.”

“Yes,” answered Lee quietly, “I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature.”

Mention of Mexico aroused many memories. Grant pursued them with much interest. Lee felt the weight of every moment and brought Grant back with words that seemed to come naturally, yet must have cost him anguish that cannot be measured.

“I suppose, General Grant,” he said, “that the object of our present meeting is fully understood. I asked to see you to ascertain upon what terms you would receive the surrender of my army.”

Grant did not change countenance or exhibit the slightest note of exultation in his reply. “The terms I propose are those stated substantially in my letter of yesterday – that is, the officers and men surrendered to be paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition and supplies to be delivered as captured property.

Lee nodded an assent that meant more than his adversary realized. “Those,” said he, “are about the conditions I expected would be proposed.”

“Yes,” Grant answered, “I think our correspondence indicated pretty clearly the action that would be taken at our meeting; and I hope it may lead to a general suspension of hostilities and be the means of preventing any further loss of life.”

That was a theme that Lee’s conception of his duty as a soldier would not permit him to discuss. The civil authorities had the sole power, he held, to make peace of the sort General Grant had in mind. So he merely inclined his head again.

Grant talked on of peace and its prospects. Lee waited and then, courteously, said: “I presume, General Grant, we have both carefully considered the proper steps to be taken, and I would suggest that you commit to writing the terms you have proposed, so that they may be formally acted upon.”

“Very well, I will write them out.”

Lee sat in silence as Grant called for his manifold orderbook, opened it, lit his pipe, puffed furiously, wrote steadily for a while with his pencil, paused, reflected, wrote two sentences and then quickly completed the text. Lee sat as he was until Grant rose and put the book in his hands, with the request that he read over the letter. Lee took up the order book for a slow, careful reading:

Appomattox C.H., Va. Apr. 9th, 1865.

“Gen. R.E. Lee,
“Comd. C.S.A.


“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to-wit:

“Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the”

— At this point, Lee turned the page and read on –-

“Government of the United States until properly and each company or commander sign a like parole for the men of their command.”

Lee stopped in his reading, looked up, and said to Grant: “After the words ‘until properly,’ the word ‘exchanged’ seems to be omitted. You doubtless intended to use that word.”

“Why, yes,” answered Grant, “I thought I had put in the word ‘exchanged.’”

“I presumed it had been omitted inadvertently, and with your permission I will mark where it should be inserted.”


Lee felt for a pencil, but could not find one. Colonel Horace Porter stepped forward and offered his. Lee took it, thanked him, placed the book on the table, inserted the caret, and resumed his reading:

“The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them.

“This will not embrace the side arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.

Very respectfully,

U.S. GRANT, Lt. Gl.”

Lee looked up at Grant and said, “This will have a very happy effect on my army.”

“Unless you have some suggestions to make in regard to the form in which I have stated the terms,” Grant resumed, “I will have a copy of the letter made in ink and sign it.”

Lee hesitated. “There is one thing I would like to mention. The cavalrymen and artillerists own their own horses in our army. Its organization in this respect differs from that of the United States. I would like to understand whether these men will be permitted to retain their horses.”

“You will find,” answered Grant, “that the terms as written do not allow this. Only the officers are allowed to take their private property.”

Lee read over the second page of the letter again. His face showed his wish. His tongue would not go beyond a regretful “No, I see the terms do not allow it; that is clear.”

Grant read his opponent’s wish, and with the fine consideration that prevailed throughout the conversation – one of the noblest of his qualities, and one of the surest evidences of his greatness – he did not humiliate Lee by forcing him to make a direct plea for a modification of terms that were generous. “Well, the subject is quite new to me. Of course, I did not know that any private soldiers owned their animals, but I think this will be the last battle of the war – I sincerely hope so – and that the surrender of this army will be followed soon by that of all the others, and I take it that most of the men in the ranks are small farmers, and as the country has been so raided by the two armies, it is doubtful whether they will be able to put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter without the aid of the horses they are now riding, and I will arrange it this way: I will not change the terms as now written, but I will instruct the officers I shall appoint to receive the paroles to let all the men who claim to own a horse or mule take the animals home with them to work their little farms.”

It could not have been put more understandingly or more generously. Lee showed manifest relief and appreciation. “This will have the best possible effect upon the men,” he said. “It will be very gratifying and will do much toward conciliating our people.”

While Grant set about having his letter copied, Lee directed Marshall to draft a reply. In the wait that followed, Grant brought up and introduced the officers who had remained silent in the background. Lee shook hands with those who extended theirs and bowed to the others, but he spoke only to General Seth Williams, a warm friend during his superintendency at West Point

When the introductions were over, Lee turned again to Grant. “I have a thousand or more of your men as prisoners, General Grant, a number of them officers whom we have required to march along with us for several days. I shall be glad to send them into your lines as soon as it can be arranged, for I have no provisions for them. I have, indeed, nothing for my own men. They have been living for the last few days principally upon parched corn, and are badly in need of both rations and forage. I telegraphed to Lynchburg, directing several train loads of rations to be sent on by rail from there, and when they arrive I should be glad to have the present wants of my men supplied from them.”

There was a stir among the listeners at this remark, and they looked at Sheridan, for, unknown to Lee, he had the previous night captured at Appomattox Station the rations that had come down from Lynchburg. Those that had been sent up from Farmville had been found by the Federals farther down the road. Grant did not add to Lee’s distress by a recountal of these seizures. He merely said, “I should like to have our men within our lines as soon as possible. I will take steps at once to have your army supplied with rations, but I am sorry we have no forage for the animals. We have had to depend upon the country for our supply of forage. Of about how many men does your present force consist?”

Lee reflected for a moment: “Indeed, I am not able to say. My losses in killed and wounded have been exceedingly heavy, and besides, there have been many stragglers and some deserters. All my reports and public papers, and indeed, my own private letters, had to be destroyed on the march to prevent them from falling into the hands of your people. Many companies are entirely without officers, and I have not seen any returns for several days; so that I have no means of ascertaining our present strength.”

Grant had estimated Lee’s numbers at 25,000 and he asked, “Suppose I send over 25,000 rations, do you think that will be a sufficient supply?”

“I think it will be ample,” Lee replied. “And it will be a great relief, I assure you,” he added instantly.

By this time, Marshall had finished his draft of Lee’s acceptance of Grant’s terms. Lee made a few changes, and then had Marshall copy the document:

“Lieut-Gen. U.S. Grant,

“Commanding Armies of the United States.

“General: I have received your letter of this date containing the terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th instant, they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.

“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,”

Lee put his signature to this without a quiver. It was then about 3:45 p.m. The rest was casual and brief.

Lee rose, shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the spectators and passed from the room. He went through the hall to the porch, where several Federal officers at once sprang to their feet and saluted. Putting on his hat, Lee returned their salute and with measured tread crossed the porch. At the had of the steps, he drew on his gauntlets, and absently smote his hands together several times as he looked into space – across the valley to the hillside where his faithful little army lay. In a moment he aroused himself and, not seeing his mount, called in a voice that was hoarse and half-choked, “Orderly! Orderly!” Tucker answered from the corner of the house. Lee walked down the steps and stood in front of the animal while the man replaced the bridle. Lee mounted slowly and with an audible sigh. At that moment Grant stepped down from the porch on his way to the gate. Stopping suddenly, Grant took off his hat, but did not speak. The other Federals followed the courteous example. Lee raised his hat, without a word, and rode away to an ordeal worse than a meeting with Grant – the ordeal of breaking the news to his soldiers and of telling them farewell.

By no means all the men were prepared for the surrender. Such was the faith of the army in itself and in its commander that many were unwilling to believe the end had come. Lee came toward them as erect as ever, but with none of the composure that usually marked his countenance. The men started to cheer him, but somehow their cheers froze in their throats at the sight of him. They hesitated a moment, and then without a word they broke ranks and rushed toward him.

“General,” they began to cry, “are we surrendered?”

The question was like a blow in the face. He tried to go on, but they crowded about him. The road was full of frenzied, famished faces. He had to halt and answer his soldiers. “Men,” he said, “we have fought the war together, and I have done the best I could for you. You will all be paroled and go to your homes until exchanged.” Tears came into his eyes as he spoke. He attempted to say more but his self-mastery failed him. Moving his lips in a choking “good-bye,” he again essayed to ride on.

Each soldier reacted to it in his own fashion. Some wept. Others were dazed, as though they did not understand how the Army of Northern Virginia could surrender. To others, it was as the very end of the world. Some blasphemed and some babbled, but all who could crowded to say farewell to Lee. Catching hold of his hands, they looked up at him and cried the more. In a confused roar, half-sob, half-acclamation, they voiced their love for him, their faith in him, their good-bye to him as their commander.

Then Lee retired a short distance away from the road, and there he began to feel the reaction. He kept pacing up and down under a tree. The staff officers did not disturb him. He walked and turned and walked again and turned, battling with his own emotions.

Lee went about the duties of April 10 calmly but with an occasional evidence of abstraction. He felt that he should prepare a report of the campaign, and he sent a circular to the corps chiefs directing them to prepare brief accounts of their operations from March 29 “to the present time.”

About 10 o’clock Lee called for the draft of a farewell address to the army which he had instructed Marshall to write. Marshall had been so occupied amid all the coming and going around the camp that he had found no time for the task. Lee told him to go into his ambulance, which had been drawn up near his headquarters tent, and to stay there until he finished the document.

Soon came word that General Grant had ridden over to call on him and that he had been stopped and told he must wait until General Lee’s instructions could be given the pickets. Chagrined at this display of a lack of consideration for a distinguished visitor, Lee proceeded at a gallop to meet Grant. He found him on a little knoll to the right of the road to Lynchburg. Grant began by telling Lee that his interest was in peace and in the surrender of the other Confederate armies. Lee replied that the South was a large country and that the Federals might be compelled to march over it three or four times before the war was entirely ended, but the Federals could do this because the South no longer could resist. For his own part, he hoped there would be no further sacrifice of life. Thereupon Grant said there was no man in the South whose influence with the soldiers and with the people was as great as Lee’s, and that if Lee would advise the surrender of all the armies he believed they would lay down their arms. Lee knew far better than Grant possibly could the weakness of the Confederate forces still in the field. But Grant’s proposal had to do with a question that Lee felt he could not urge on his own initiative. He promptly said that he could not advise the remaining Confederate armies without first consulting the President. Grant understood Lee’s viewpoint and did not attempt to persuade him. The conversation lasted more than half an hour and, according to Grant, was “very pleasant.”

General Lee was returning to his camp when he met a cavalcade in blue and was greeted with a cheery “good morning, General” from a bearded man, who removed his cap as he spoke. The speaker recalled himself as none other than George Gordon Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, and an old friend of kindly days. Meade had ridden over on a visit of courtesy and, not finding Lee at headquarters, was starting back. Lee invited Meade to his tent and chatted with him for some time.

Later in the day Lee had another visitor in the person of the ablest of the Federal artillerists, General Henry J. Hunt. He found Lee “weary and care-worn, but in this supreme hour the same self-possessed, dignified gentleman that I had always known him.” Lee conversed pleasantly with Hunt for half an hour, until General Wise and, after him, General Wilcox, came in.

After dining frugally with his staff, Lee had still other visitors and not a few routine duties. He received the formal terms of surrender, and from Grant’s headquarters he got a copy of the Federal order under the terms of which paroled Confederates were to be allowed to pass through the Federal lines and to travel free on government transports and military railroads in order to reach their homes.

When Marshall had finished his pencilled draft of the farewell order, Lee went over it, struck out a paragraph that seemed to keep alive ill-feeling, and changed one or two words. Marshall then wrote a revised draft, which he had one of the clerks at headquarters copy in ink. General Lee signed this and additional copies made by various hands for the corps commanders and for the chiefs of the bureaus of the general staff. Other individuals made copies of their own which they brought to General Lee to sign as souvenirs. In hasty transcription and frequent reprinting the language of the order has assumed several versions. That which follows is from General Lee’s letter book, into which it was copied, after Appomattox, by Custis Lee.

Hd.qrs.Army of N.Va.

April 10, 1865

General Orders


After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern 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 from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must 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 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.

(Sgd) R.E. Lee


The next day, April 11, Lee began to receive the reports of his subordinates. Some of them were hurried and perfunctory, but others were well-considered. Those of the field officers concerned operations only. The general staff wrote in some instances of the problems of the retreat, and confirmed Lee’s judgment as to the necessity of surrendering when he did. With this material and doubtless with Marshall’s assistance, Lee set about preparing his own report. He sketched operations from the arrival at Amelia Courthouse to the surrender. The outcome was attributed primarily to failure to find at Amelia the provisions he expected would be there. The army, he explained, had been forced to halt a day in order to seek food in the surrounding country. “This delay,” he said, “was fatal, and could not be retrieved.” The nearest approach to blame for any individual was the statement, in reference to Sayler’s Creek, that “General Anderson, commanding Pickett’s and B.R. Johnson’s divisions, became disconnected with Mahone’s division, forming the rear of Longstreet.”

Proceeding to the events that ended in the capitulation, he said of his action in accepting Grant’s terms: “I deemed this course the best under all the circumstances by which we were surrounded. On the morning of the 9th, according to the reports of the ordnance officers, there were 7892 organized infantry with arms, with an average of 75 rounds of ammunition per man. The artillery, though reduced to sixty-three pieces, with ninety-three rounds of ammunition, was sufficient. These comprised all the supplies of ordnance that could be relied on in the State of Virginia. I have no accurate report of the cavalry, but believe it did not exceed 2100 effective men. The enemy was more than five times our numbers. If we could have forced our way one day longer, it would have been at a great sacrifice of life, and it its end I did not see how a surrender could have been avoided. We had no subsistence for man or horse, and it could not be gathered in the country. The supplies ordered to Pamplin’s Station from Lynchburg could not reach us, and the men, deprived of food and sleep for many days, were worn out and exhausted.” That was the closing sentence.

This report is dated April 12, “near Appomattox Courthouse,” and it doubtless was finished and signed that morning. By the time it was completed Lee had said farewell to many of his officers, had given his autograph to some of them, had written his pledge not to take up arms against the United States “until properly exchanged,” and had signed Taylor’s individual parole, the only one that required his personal attention.

As the paroling had begun on April 10, Lee might have started home that day. He never explained why he remained until the 12th, but doubtless he stayed because he did not wish to leave his men to bear without him the humiliation of stacking their arms and giving over their cherished battleflags. He did not witness that sad ceremony on the morning of April 12, but he did not break camp till the surrender was over and his tearful soldiers had turned away from the field of their last parade.

Quietly he left his last headquarters and started home. With him rode Taylor, Marshall, and Major Giles B. Cooke, the last-named sick and in an ambulance lent by the Federals. Colonel Venable started with them but parted company very soon, as his route to reach his family was different from theirs.

As evening drew on, General Lee passed through Buckingham Courthouse, where he was identified and greeted. Two miles beyond the village he came to the bivouac of Longstreet. The two spent their last evening together and parted the next day to meet no more, though they continued to correspond irregularly. “My interest and affection for you will never cease,” Lee wrote Longstreet the next January, “and my prayers are always offered for your prosperity.”

The news of Lee’s coming spread ahead of him. Women hastened to cook provisions and brought them out to the road, where they waited for him. On the 14th Major Cooke bade his chief farewell and turned off the road. Lee continued on his way. At evening Lee reached his brother’s farm in Powhatan County. He was made welcome, of course, but as the house was crowded he insisted on using his tent. It was his final bivouac, the last night he ever slept under canvas.

The next morning the company was swelled by the arrival of Rooney Lee and the General’s nephew, John Lee. Riders and vehicles soon got under way – there were twenty horses altogether – and went down the River road, through Powhatan and Chesterfield Counties. As they neared the capital of the dying Confederacy, in the midst of a spring downpour, General Lee and two of his officers went ahead of the wagons and of the ambulances. Ere long they reached Manchester, opposite Richmond.

The streets through which General Lee rode in Manchester cut off his view of Richmond until he was close to the James. Then he could see how deep and hideous were the scars on the city. Both bridges were gone: a line of Federal pontoons afforded the only crossing. Nearly the whole waterfront had been consumed in the fire of April 2-3 that had followed the evacuation. Arsenal, factories, flouring mills, tobacco warehouses, stores, dwellings – all were destroyed. On his left Belle Isle prison camp lay deserted. Beyond it the Tredegar Iron Works was intact, but east of it were blackened walls, sentinels over the once-busy plants that had supplied him with shell and with small arms. Thence eastward for nearly a mile fire had levelled the city. Scarcely a wall stood shoulder-high in the whole area, for safety had required the wrecking of those the flames and the fall of floors had left standing. The streets that had shown the proudest bustle in the days of the Confederacy now were mere tracks amid debris. Above them, was the capitol that Jefferson had designed, the capitol in which Houdon’s statue of Washington stood, the capitol where Lee himself had received command of the Virginia troops, the capitol where Jackson’s body had lain in state, the capitol through whose corridors had run the defiant voices of the Confederate Congress, swearing that the new nation should never know subjection. And now over its roof, in the easy pride of assured possession, the Union flag was flying. Against the gray sky of the dark April afternoon, above the waste and wretchedness of the city, that colorful flag must have seemed to dominate Richmond as the symbol of conquest.

General Lee probably was forced to wait at the pontoon bridge, for his wagons and companions overtook him and followed him across the river and up the streets of Richmond. He was anxious to avoid a demonstration of any sort. It had been the supposition of all loyal Confederates that Lee would return directly to his family in Richmond. A certain informal lookout for him had been kept. Now word spread quickly that he was riding uptown. As many as could hurriedly turned out to see him.

He had put aside his best uniform and had on one that had seen long service, but he still wore a sword, though not the handsome weapon he had carried at Appomattox. His mount was Traveller. With him now rode five others. These officers also carried their side arms, but their horses were gaunt and jaded. Behind them rattled the General’s old ambulance and the wagons the Federals had permitted the officers for the transportation of their effects. One of them, lacking a canvas, was covered with an old quilt. But those who looked at the sad little procession understood and choked and wept. Along a ride of less than a mile to the residence at 707 East Franklin Street the crowd grew thicker with each block. Cheers broke out, in which the Federals joined heartily. Hats went off, and uniform caps of blue along with them. General Lee acknowledged the greetings by uncovering repeatedly, but he was anxious to finish his journey as quickly as he could.

Arriving in front of the house, he turned his horse over to one of the men attending the wagons. In a moment, with his emotions strained almost to tears, he made his way to the iron gate, and up the granite steps. Bowing to the crowd, he entered the house and closed the door. His marching over and his battles done, Robert E. Lee unbelted his sword forever.