The Final Moments of the Civil War

Our new issue is on newsstands and in mailboxes (or beach bags or bathrooms or wherever it is you do your _flossing). This week we'll be sharing a few excerpts from the cover story, "The 50 Most Interesting Places in the Space-Time Continuum," by Jenny Drapkin and Ethan Trex, plus a few places that ended up on the cutting room floor.

21. In the Final Moments of the Civil War
How do you get a tenacious general like Robert E. Lee to surrender? Make him an offer he can't refuse. In April of 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant cornered General Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. After making a last-gasp effort to break through Union lines, Lee realized the situation was hopeless. "There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant," he concluded, "and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

But Grant took it easy on Lee. He told him that if he surrendered, the Confederate soldiers would be allowed to return home without being imprisoned or charged with treason. Grant also promised to give the starving Rebel troops several days of rations and to let them keep their horses. Lee accepted, knowing it was the best deal he was going to get.

Grant may have defeated Lee, but it was a surprisingly civil affair. As Lee rode away, the Union soldiers began firing their guns and cheering, but Grant quickly put a stop to their antics. "The war is over," he told them. "The Rebels are our countrymen again." If only all of Reconstruction had gone so smoothly.

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A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

A Tour of the New York Academy of Medicine's Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room at the New York Academy of Medicine documents the evolution of our medical knowledge. Its books and artifacts are as bizarre as they are fascinating. Read more here.


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