Fall of the South: Lee Surrenders

We're covering the final days of the Civil War exactly 150 years later. This is the eighth installment of the series. 

April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders 

The Union breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2, 1865 spelled the end of the Southern rebellion – but there would be one more week of bloodshed before the sentence was delivered, as Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee retreated west with his beleaguered Army of Northern Virginia in one last, desperate attempt to evade the tragic climax. This meant seven more days of death and misery for his exhausted soldiers, now in the final extremity of privation. 

As the Confederate defenses around Petersburg collapsed on April 2, Lee ordered his remaining army, now numbering fewer than 30,000 men, to withdraw along roads northwest of the city, following the Appomattox River into central Virginia. If they could just reach the Allegheny Mountains in western Virginia, there was still a chance –however slim – of shaking Grant and joining forces with Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the South, now retreating northwest towards Raleigh, North Carolina, with William Tecumseh Sherman in pursuit. 

It was not to be, as Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant pounced on the retreating rebel force, determined that Lee would not slip away again. Harried relentlessly by Philip Sheridan’s Union cavalry, Lee’s army was also weighed down by the wagon train holding the Confederate government’s (now meaningless) official documents, which made slow going over unpaved roads transformed into quagmires by spring rains. Incompetent to the last, the fleeing Confederate government also sent a train full of crucial supplies to the wrong destination, depriving his troops of rations. One Southern officer, Edward Sylvester Ellis, recalled their pathetic condition: 

Nearly all were barefoot; they were in rags, were living on a few grains of corn apiece, were worn out, and in the dismal hours of early morning had turned their backs on their capital and the enemy which they had beaten times without number… When his troops withdrew from their entrenchments, two days before, they were without rations, and during the interval that had passed since had not secured a single meal apiece; they were actually undergoing the pangs of starvation… 

On April 5, Sheridan’s forces intercepted a letter from Confederate officer W.B. Taylor to his wife, which said it all: “Our army is ruined, I fear.”

But still the fighting continued. On April 6, 1865 disaster struck at Sailor’s Creek, a small tributary of the Appomattox about 45 miles west of Petersburg. As the Confederates retreated Sheridan’s Union cavalry maneuvered alongside them, harrying them with constant hit-and-run attacks that eventually forced part of the Confederate army to stand and fight. As three rebel army corps turned to face their tormentors at Sailor’s Creek, another Union cavalry force under the bold (and ill-fated) George Armstrong Custer charged in behind them, cutting them off from the rest of Lee’s army long enough for the Union infantry to arrive and finish the encirclement.

Sheridan’s forces took 7,700 prisoners at Sailor’s Creek, including Lee’s son Custis Lee, reducing the rebel army by a quarter. For the captured soldiers it was probably an act of mercy. Indeed, according to Ellis the rebel soldiers could barely fight at Sailor’s Creek: “A large number staggered from weakness, and were barely able to keep their feet; many were so worn out that they would drop the guns which they had just loaded and discharged, and, regardless of the firing, sink down upon the ground and fall asleep.” For his part Lee saw the writing on the wall and wrote to President Jefferson Davis in Danville, Virginia, warning, “a few more Sailor's Creeks and it will all be over.” 

On April 7 Grant wrote Lee a letter delivered under flag of truce, pointedly putting the blame for continued death on Lee’s shoulders:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia. 

Ever courteous, and still hoping to win some concessions through a negotiated armistice, Lee replied: 

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood, and therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender. 

However Grant was under orders from President Lincoln to demand unconditional surrender. As Custer’s cavalry captured much-needed Confederate supply trains at Appomattox Station on April 8, Grant replied to Lee’s previous letter stating, “there is but one condition that I insist on, namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms against the Government of the United States…” Meanwhile the remaining rebel army, now encamped at the village of Appomattox Courthouse, (below, a Union camp at the courthouse following the surrender) found itself encircled from the east by Union infantry from the Army of the James under Andrew Humphreys and George Wright, and from the west by Sheridan’s cavalry. 

On the evening of April 8, 1865, Lee held a war council with his top commanders, who decided they had no choice but to make a last-ditch effort to break out of the encirclement and reach the last remaining supplies at nearby Lynchburg. One member of Lee’s staff, Charles Marshall, described the melancholy scene around the campfire: 

Somebody had a little cornmeal, and somebody else had a tin can, such as is used to hold hot water for shaving. A fire was kindled, and each man in his turn, according to rank and seniority, made a can of cornmeal gruel and was allowed to keep the can until the gruel became cool enough to drink… This was our last meal in the Confederacy. Our next was taken in the United States. 

On the morning of April 9, ragged rebel infantry and cavalry under John Gordon and Fitzhugh Lee drew themselves up outside Appomattox Courthouse. Ellis remembered that the men looked “like moving skeletons. They were too weak to carry their muskets. The three thousand cavalry looked as if riders and horses should be in the hospital.” 

This bedraggled force struck west against Sheridan’s cavalry, and at first seemed to be succeeding, as the surprised Union cavalrymen gave ground – but then Union infantry rushed forward and halted the advance. One Union officer, Frederic Cushman Newhall, painted a dramatic picture of the infantry counterattack that Sunday morning: 

As the chimes of the early church-bells at home pealed their sweet matins, which clashed harmoniously in mid-air like cymbals, these fields trembled under the sounding peals of war’s clangor, which met discordantly and were hurled in gruff rumblings far over the hills… The undulating lines of the infantry, now rising the crest of a knoll, now dipping into a valley or ravine, pressed on grandly across the open; for here at last we were out of the woods in the beautiful clear fields stretching away to the horizon, and here, if the rebellion should crumble, all who fought against it might see its fall.

At the limit of their strength, the rebels simply collapsed. The Battle of Appomattox Courthouse would be the last fought by the Army of Northern Virginia. After a further exchange of letters, at 10am Lee met with Grant at the McLean House, a brick farmhouse on the outskirts of town owned by Wilmer McLean (below). 

Marshall recalled the dramatic, yet oddly casual, moment when the generals finally met: 

General Lee was standing at the end of the room opposite the door when General Grant walked in. General Grant had on a sack coat, a loose fatigue coat, but he had no side arms. He looked as though he had had a pretty hard time. He had been riding and his clothes were somewhat dusty and a little soiled. He walked up to General Lee and Lee recognized him at once. He had known him in the Mexican war. General Grant greeted him in the most cordial manner, and talked about the weather and other things in a very friendly way. Then General Grant brought up his officers and introduced them to General Lee.

The generals sat at two separate tables, surrounded by their officers, reviewing and amending the document in which Lee agreed to surrender. Grant’s gracious decision to allow the Southern officers to keep their swords – a traditional point of honor – was well received, with Lee remarking: “That will have a very happy effect.” Grant also agreed to allow former cavalrymen to keep their horses (most had supplied their own animals, and would need them to resume farming when they returned home). Finally the Union officers arranged for 25,000 rations to be delivered to Lee’s starving army, while Union prisoners of war held by the rebels – starving along with their captors – were immediately released to be fed by their compatriots. Importantly, the instrument of surrender didn’t cover Johnston’s Army of the South, still holding out in North Carolina. 

Lee and his officers then departed. According to one Union general, Horace Porter, Grant and his staff gave them a chivalrous sendoff: 

Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step, and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond, where his army lay-now an army of prisoners. He thrice smote the palm of his left hand slowly with his right fist in an absent sort of way, seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard, who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unaware of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, moving toward him, and 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 at a slow trot to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded. 

The scene that followed at the farmhouse was considerably less dignified, as Union officers began buying everything in the room where the surrender was signed as a keepsake – finding the objects’ owner, Wilmer McLean, very amenable to offers of Union gold to replace his worthless Confederate paper money. Porter recalled:

Then relic-hunters charged down upon the manor-house, and began to bargain for the numerous pieces of furniture. Sheridan paid the proprietor twenty dollars in gold for the table on which General Grant wrote the terms of surrender, for the purpose of presenting it to Mrs. Custer and handed it over to her dashing husband, who galloped off to camp bearing it upon his shoulder. Ord paid forty dollars for the table at which Lee sat… General Sharpe paid ten dollars for the pair of brass candlesticks; Colonel Sheridan, the general's brother, secured the stone ink-stand; and General Capehart the chair in which Grant sat… Captain O’Farrell of Hartford became the possessor of the chair in which Lee sat… 

Meanwhile Lee faced the difficult task of telling his loyal soldiers that the long fight was over. His farewell message to his army, written by General Bradley T. Johnson at his command, read in part: 

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yeild [sic] to overwhelming numbers… 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 unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. 

R. E. Lee

         Gen–

See the previous entry here. See all entries here.

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains
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iStock

Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.

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