Appomattox and After

April 9: General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia on this day in 1865, signaling the end of the American Civil War. The eyewitness records of the event include the diary of William G. Hinson, a lieutenant in the 7th South Carolina Cavalry. The following excerpts follow Hinson's path from January 27, 1865, when he returned to battle after a month's leave:

  • Left home at 9 a.m. to return to Virginia with feelings that no pen can do justice to. Ah! The anguish of a mother under such circumstances, when all the natural feelings say try and retain him, as one has already been taken, but the nobler sense of duty says no, obey your country's call….
  • The fall of Charleston announced. Oh how it hurts me to think of the proud old city being in the hands of the enemy. How they will gloat over it. The spirits of our men are very low. …For several days no corn or grain for horses and no meat for men.
  • The evacuation of Richmond has commenced. …Witnessed a sight that will never be forgotten; thousands of ladies weeping and wringing their hands as they saw their last hope departing. Would that every one of the army could have seen it! The heart must indeed be a craven one, that would not be fired to noble deeds by the sight.

By the time that Hinson and the other troops under Lee's command arrive at Appomattox the cause is all but lost. But battle is engaged, and as Hinson and his men are firing on a troop of Yankee cavalry, forcing them into retreat, a rider speeds past him towards the Union side:

…At the same glance took in a horseman at a rapid gate riding towards them with a small white flag and horror of horrors! it flashes through the command that Lee had surrendered. My pencil almost refuses to write the disgrace….

It takes the starving Hinson three weeks to make it home, traveling through a South that itself "seems eaten out." His last diary entry confesses to tears and to feelings of disgrace: "I had expected the day I could put off my armor to be the proudest of my life but alas, how different."


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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