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.

These Breaking Bad K-Swiss Sneakers Are Heisenberg-Approved

K-Swiss
K-Swiss

On the heels of last week's Netflix release of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, fans of Breaking Bad have another treat on tap. Sneaker brand K-Swiss just announced a special edition sneaker modeled after the now-iconic RV camper where unlikely drug kingpin Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman cooked batches of the finest methamphetamine New Mexico had ever seen.

A K-Swiss Classic 2000 x 'Breaking Bad' Recreational Vehicle sneaker is pictured
K-Swiss

The Classic 2000 x Breaking Bad Recreational Vehicle sneakers sport the same distinctive striped pattern as the camper and feature the show’s logo on the tongue. Inside is a lining that resembles the upholstery of the camper’s interior. The shoebox even has a few bullet holes to mimic the ones on the camper’s door.

Unlike Walt's meth, the sneakers are available only in limited quantities. K-Swiss plans on launching the shoe beginning at 6 p.m. PST on Thursday, October 17, at a pop-up store at 7100 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California. (The “store” is actually the screen-used RV from the series, and fans are welcome to stop by to take pictures with it.) The company will release 50 pairs at the pop-up, with another 250 through K-Swiss.com and through Greenhouse, a designer and collectible shoe app from Foot Locker.

The shoes retail for $80, but unless you’re one of the lucky few able to grab a pair through the routes above, you’ll probably have to consider a marked-up eBay sale. As Walter White well knows, quality comes at a heavy price.

10 Gruesome Facts About Dawn of the Dead

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment

In the late 1960s, George A. Romero changed horror cinema forever with Night of the Living Dead, an instant classic that defined zombie storytelling on the big and small screens for decades to come. Over the next decade, Romero—who was reluctant to revisit the creepy world of shambling corpses he’d brought to life—tried other things. But then a chance encounter with a shopping mall and a little help from a fellow horror master changed his mind. The result was Dawn of the Dead, an over-the-top horror comic book for the big screen that remains, for many fans, the greatest zombie film ever made.

It’s been more than 40 years since Dawn of the Dead first arrived in theaters, and the film remains a wickedly fun piece of horror satire full of exploding heads, mischievous bikers, and one very dangerous helicopter. In celebration of four decades of terror at the mall, here are 10 facts about the making of Dawn of the Dead.

1. We can thank the mall (and Dario Argento) for Dawn of the Dead.

When Night of the Living Dead became a massive hit after its release in 1968, Romero began fielding various offers to potentially revisit the world of ghouls that he had created. Romero, who’d made a living making TV commercials in Pittsburgh before Night of the Living Dead was made, was "paranoid" about the idea of returning for a second film, and left it alone for years until an idea unexpectedly came to him.

As Romero explained on Anchor Bay’s Dawn of the Dead commentary track, the idea for the film initially came to him when he touring Pennsylvania's Monroeville Mall, which was owned by some friends of his. During the tour, he was shown some crawlspace within the mall where various supplies were stored, and started thinking about what might happen if people holed up in the mall to try and ride out a zombie apocalypse.

The second big ingredient that led to Dawn of the Dead was Dario Argento, the acclaimed Italian director best known for Suspiria and Deep Red. Argento offered to help Romero get financing for a Night of the Dead sequel, and even invited him to Rome to work on the script.

“They got us a little apartment, I sat in Rome and banged this out,” Romero said.

2. George A. Romero came up with the most famous line while drinking.

A photograph of George A. Romero
Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Getty Images

The most famous line in Dawn of the Dead—a line so famous it became the movie's tagline and was later reused in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake—belongs to the character of Peter: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” As catchy and unforgettable as it is, Romero doesn’t recall any grand moment of inspiration. He was just drunk one night, trying to get the script finished.

“I just made that up. Truly. On a drunken night when I was really crashing to finish the script and I thought that was kind of nice. It was from something Dario Argento told me,” Romero told Rolling Stone in 1978. “My family is Cuban and Dario said, ‘Well you have a Caribbean background and that’s why you’re into the zombie thing; zombies originated in Haiti.’ I said, well, all right, and I just figured that’s something a voodoo priest might say. Whee! I’m just having fun, man.”

3. Multiple versions of Dawn of the Dead exist.

Argento helped Romero find financing for Dawn of the Dead and served as a “script consultant” on the film. In exchange, Argento retained the right to recut the film for various foreign markets, while Romero retained final cut for North and South America. As a result, the Italian version of the film was shorter than Romero’s U.S. version, as Argento trimmed certain jokes he felt Italian audiences wouldn’t get. This increased the darkness of the film, which led to certain content cuts in other foreign markets. This is why several different cuts of the film wound up existing around the world, including an R-rated re-release that was re-cut for drive-in theaters in 1982.

4. Dawn of the Dead was released unrated in America.

Dawn of the Dead was released first in international markets, arriving in Italian theaters in the fall of 1978, months before it would land in the United States. In just a few weeks, the film was a commercial success overseas without ever playing to American audiences. So, when Romero and company ran into MPAA demands that they cut the film down or get an X rating, they doubled down and released the film unrated without any cuts to the gore.

5. The zombies didn’t get a lot of direction.

Though he’s renowned among horror fans as the man responsible for building zombies into one of the most effective movie monsters, Romero didn’t spend too much time guiding his undead ghouls. The director felt that if he tried to offer detailed direction in terms of zombie behavior, the zombies would all start acting one way instead of like a group of individuals. So, direction was kept to a minimum.

“You just have to say, ‘Be dead,’” he later recalled.

6. Yes, it was filmed in a working mall.

The Monroeville Mall was not a Romero invention. It was a real, working shopper’s paradise, owned by friends of his, which meant that it wasn’t just going to be shut down for weeks at a time so a zombie movie crew could come in and wreck it. Though Romero and his wife Chris later recalled having to stay out of the mall while the Christmas decorations were up (which is when scenes set elsewhere were shot), once the crew did get into the mall they could only shoot at night.

To make that easier, the crew replaced many of the lights in the mall with color-corrected lighting, so they could essentially shoot wherever they chose. At 7 a.m. each morning the mall’s Muzak would automatically start playing, which meant shooting was done for the day, and the cast and crew could shamble home for a little rest. (The Monroeville Mall, which is located about 10 miles from Pittsburgh, is still in operation today.)

7. Many of Dawn of the Dead's gore effects were improvised.

Though he would eventually become known as one of horror’s great gore wizards, at the time of Dawn of the Dead Tom Savini’s career as a special effects artist was still quite young. As he recalled later, he was doing a play in North Carolina when Romero called him and said: “We got another gig. Think of ways to kill people.”

Savini later recalled that he was given a great deal of freedom to play with different ideas for the many, many gore effects in Dawn of the Dead, so much so that many of the most memorable effects were made up on the day of shooting, including the scene in which a zombie takes a screwdriver through the ear and the exploding head during the SWAT raid on the housing project near the beginning of the film. Savini’s knack for improvisation also served him well in another capacity: The character of Blades the biker, which Savini plays, was not in the original script. He was simply added during shooting.

“George let us go play,” Savini recalled.

8. Dawn of the Dead is packed with cameos.

Like many of Romero’s films, Dawn of the Dead’s production was based in his native Pittsburgh, which meant that getting people to be in the movie was often as simple as contacting friends and family and inviting them to appear on camera. Romero makes a cameo in the film himself, alongside his future wife and producer Chris, in the film’s opening sequence at the TV station, where the couple is sitting side by side at a control panel (Romero, Savini noted on the commentary track, is also wearing his “lucky scarf”). Other cameos scattered throughout the film include Chris Romero’s brother Cliff Forrest as the man who leans over a sleeping Francine in the opening shot, and Tom Savini’s niece and nephew as the two zombie children who burst out of a closet at the landing strip and attack Peter.

9. The bikers were not actors.

As with some of the smaller speaking roles, getting extras to show up in Dawn of the Dead was often a matter of simply asking around Pittsburgh for the right people. As a result, the National Guardsmen present in the film, as well as some of the police officers, were real National Guardsmen and real cops.

For the legendary sequence in which a biker gang stages a raid on the mall, the production also managed to find real bikers in form of a group called The Pagans, who brought their own motorcycles for the shoot.

“I don’t remember who contacted them, but they just showed up,” Chris Romero later recalled.

10. Dawn of the Dead almost featured a darker ending.

During production on Dawn of the Dead, George Romero told Rolling Stone writer Chet Flippo that the film had, in Flippo’s words “no beginning and two endings.” Romero explained that this was because he was working “moment to moment” on the film. He eventually figured the beginning of the film out, of course, and went with an ending in which Peter and Francine fight their way out of the mall and onto the roof, where they escape in the helicopter. So, what was the other ending?

On the film’s commentary track, George and Chris Romero and Tom Savini all discuss a much darker concept to close the film, in which Peter would have shot himself (which he contemplates doing in the final cut) while Francine would have leapt into the spinning blades of the helicopter, mirroring one of the most famous zombie deaths earlier in the film. That ending would have followed in the footsteps of Night of the Living Dead’s dark ending, but Romero ultimately decided on something lighter.

Still, the original plan didn’t go to waste: Savini had already made a cast of actress Gaylen Ross’s head to use for Francine’s death scene, so he repurposed it—with the help of some makeup and a wig—for the famous exploding head shot during the housing project raid.

Additional Sources:
Shock Value by Jason Zinoman (The Penguin Press, 2011)
Dawn of the Dead DVD Commentary (Anchor Bay, 2004)

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER