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And the War Ends – by David J. Kent

On April 9, 1865, just four weeks after President Abraham Lincoln had taken his second oath of office, Confederate General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. So began the end of the Civil War. They met at the house of Wilmer McLean in a village called Appomattox Court House. The trials of four years of war etched the faces of both Generals as their weary troops struggled between thankfulness that the war was ending and patriotism for the causes they felt were still attainable.

In the days before the surrender, Grant and Lee had exchanged a series of messages through the front lines. Both men were cautious, avoiding commitments that they could not keep. Not surprisingly, Lee was hesitant to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to the Union forces. But he was a realist. After the defeat at Petersburg, Lee had on April 2nd warned Confederate President Jefferson Davis that Richmond could no longer be protected. As Davis and the Confederate government fled southward, Lee knew that his armies could no longer hold off the inevitable. The South would fall in defeat.

The terms of the surrender were simple. All Confederate forces were to be disbanded and allowed to return to their homes, "not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles." While "arms, artillery, and public property" were to be confiscated, officers were allowed to keep their side-arms (swords and pistols), private horses and baggage.

As General Lee mounted his horse to ride away from the McLean house, "General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded."

The war would rapidly come to an end. But just as rapidly, President Lincoln would be assassinated. Shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, Good Friday, while watching the comedic play, Our American Cousin in Ford's Theatre. He was carried across the street to the Petersen House where he died the next morning, April 15, at 7:22 am. "Now he belongs to the ages," spoke Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, before engaging in a 12-day chase that ended with the death of the assassin.

Soon after Lincoln's demise, long-time admirer Walt Whitman wrote an extended metaphor poem, "O Captain! My Captain!" Whitman lived in Washington during the Civil War and often watched President Lincoln ride by on horseback, later by carriage, to and from his summer living quarters in the Soldier's Home. It begins:

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

According to the Wiki article:

The captain in the poem refers to Abraham Lincoln who is the captain of the ship, representing the United States of America. The first line establishes a happy mood as it addresses the captain. The phrase “our fearful trip is done” is talking about the end of the Civil War. The next line references the ship, America, and how it has “weathered every rack”, meaning America has braved the tough storm of the Civil War, and “the prize we sought”, the end of slavery, “is won”. The following line expresses a mood of jubilation of the Union winning the war as it says “the people all exulting”; however, the next line swiftly shifts the mood when it talks of the grimness of the ship, and the darker side of the war. Many lost their lives in the American Civil War, and although the prize that was sought was won, the hearts still ache amidst the exultation of the people. The repetition of heart in line five calls attention to the poet’s vast grief and heartache because the Captain has bled and lies still, cold, and dead (lines six through eight). This is no doubt referencing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Whitman’s sorrow for the death of his idol.

Such a sad, yet exalting, eulogy for the fallen President. It has now been 150 years since that fateful day and battles still remain in our desire to form "a more perfect union." As Lincoln noted in his Gettysburg Address: "It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work…" that Lincoln "so nobly advanced."


David J. Kent is an independent Lincoln scholar and is currently writing a book about Abraham Lincoln's interest in science and technology. He is also the author of the Sterling Publishing book Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. His website is www.davidjkent-writer.com.

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