I have an image in my head, likely based on what I remember from American history in college, that when Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant agreed to surrender terms at Appomattox in April 1865, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia went home. Two weeks later, William Johnston surrendered to William Sherman at Greensboro, North Carolina, and Johnstone’s Army of Tennessee went home. And that was end of the Civil War.
Well, not quite.
As Lee’s army fled west from Richmond and then Petersburg, what had been about 60,000 men was losing strength. Some were captured, some took off for points west, and some disappeared into the woods and valleys. By the time Lee and Grant met, Lee’s army was likely between 30,000 and 40,000, and more men were leaving every day.
Grant’s purpose, to which he stuck ferociously through the negotiations and through the coming months, was to bring peace. Lee’s men could go home. They would be issued rations and paroles. A parole was good to obtain rations from Union provosts and to obtain transportation on ships and trains to go home. There would also be no reprisals for having served in Lee’s army.
Many headed east first – to get to the ports where they could get passage to Mobile, New Orleans, and other ports. Others headed toward rail stations, though those were more problematic; many railroad tracks were not repaired from the war, and men would find themselves alternately riding and walking to the next station.
But for many in the Confederate army, the war was not over. Some tried to reach Johnston’s army, which was Lee’s army was trying to do in his flight from Richmond. Others decided to try to Texas and the army of General Edmund Kirby Smith. Still others would become guerillas and continue to war effort – something Grant feared almost more than anything. The region of Virginia and North Caroline experienced upheaval, chaos, and disruption that would continue for weeks (see my review of Hearts Torn Asunder: Trauma in the Civil War’s Final Campaign in North Carolina by Ernest Dollar Jr.).
It looked like peace and an easy reunification might prevail, until the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14 crystalized the desire for vengeance. It would be argued from the man in the street to the highest levels of government that Grant’s paroles of Lee’s men had limited application, and Lee, his officers, and many of his mean should be tried for treason. The wave demanding vengeance could only be stopped, and then incompletely, by Grant himself.
In Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army After Appomattox, Caroline Janney tells a riveting story of the final days and weeks of Lee’s army, its officers, and its men, how their paroles came almost seen to be worthless before cooler heads, notably Grant’s, prevailed. No peace could be or would be drafted and signed; peace treaties were between sovereign nations, and the United States view the Confederacy as a region of rebellion. A peace treaty would have also hammered out what punitive terms there might be for the defeated nation, its leaders, and its military. In the place of a peace treaty stood only the terms of Lee’s surrender to grant, which were extended by Sherman to Johnston.
But, as Janney makes clear, in those final, chaotic days of confusion, despair, and anger, the idea of what the South called “the Cause” became “the Lost Cause.” The South had not been defeated on the battlefield but by Northern industrial might, foreigners in the army, and the use of freed slaves as troops. Any evidence to the contrary was discounted and dismissed; the South believed its cause had been a righteous one.
Janney is the John Nau III Professor of the American Civil War and director of the John L. Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia. She has worked as a historian for the National Park Service and taught at Purdue University. has also published Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (2008) and Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (2013). She received a B.A. Degree in government and a Ph.D. degree in history from the University of Virginia.
She recently received the 2022 Gilder Lehman Lincoln Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Gettysburg College for Ends of War. The book was also a joint recipient of the Richard Barksdale Harwell Award of the Atlanta Civil War Roundtable for the best book on a Civil war subject published in the preceding ear.
The awards are no surprise. The book is an extraordinarily well-researched effort, as demonstrated by the extensive notes and bibliography. Written in non-academic language, it’s difficult to put Ends of War down. She succeeds in making her case, and she’s changed our understanding of the end of the Civil War and how it affected the country for a century afterward.