On the afternoon of Sunday, April 9, 1865, in the tiny Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the 28,000 troops of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, signed surrender documents in the parlor of a house owned by Wilmer McLean.
Lee surrendered to U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, whose troops had relentlessly attacked and pursued Lee’s army since May of 1864. Lee’s surrender led to the subsequent capitulation of the rest of the Confederate armies and the end of the Civil War. On April 26, for example, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered 89,000 Confederate troops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. And on May 26 General Edmund K. Smith negotiated the surrender of the approximately 43,000 Confederate troops west of the Mississippi River.
President Abraham Lincoln had promoted Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General on March 3, 1864, giving him command of all Union Armies. Grant had earned the promotion due to his successful military campaigns in the western theater of the Civil War.
One of his first victories in the West was the capture of Confederate Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February of 1862. Grant’s troops had surrounded the fort, prompting Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner to ask for surrender terms. Grant responded, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” This earned him the popular nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.
After the war, Grant was elected U.S. president in 1868 and served for two consecutive terms. But after he left office his reputation took a hit due to the success of neo-Confederates in promoting criticism of him as part of their Lost Cause propaganda campaign. But his reputation as president has strongly rebounded since then.
In 1884 Grant learned he was dying of throat cancer, probably caused by his cigar smoking. He was nearly broke by this time and worried about leaving his wife enough money to live on. Mark Twain offered to pay him a 75% royalty for his memoir. He died a few days after he finished the Personal Memoirs Of U.S. Grant, which was a huge success and is still popular today.
Grant was buried, per his wishes, in Riverside Park, in Upper Manhattan, New York City. In 1897 his remains were relocated in the park to the newly completed General Grant National Memorial, popularly known as Grant’s Tomb. About 90,000 people from all over the world made donations to construct it, more than a million people attended its parade and dedication ceremony, and it remains the largest mausoleum in North America.
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