This Day (What Sweet Closure Edition)

Published:April 12, 2013 by Brendan Wolfe

Other stuff happened on this date, I realize—Luther Porter Jackson died, for instance, Jerry Falwell got married, and so did Annie Dillard (again)—and I also realize that we’re still two years away from the surrender’s 150th anniversary … but still. How amazing is it that on this day in 1865, at five in the morning and almost four years to the minute after the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, Union general Joshua Chamberlain (a.k.a. Jeff Daniels) assembled elements of the Fifth Corps along the main street of Appomattox Court House as part of the formal surrender ceremony. The Union men reportedly saluted passing Confederates, who saluted back.

It’s not clear that this is how things actually went down, but as with many legends, it hardly matters at this point. Our entry elaborates:

The power of this moment, however embellished by subsequent narration, has captured many an imagination, its sublimity appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. A subject of popular Civil War art, for example, it has also appeared in recent books on business leadership, the importance of forgiveness in personal relationships, and spirituality for ministers. For many it closes the unsettling, complicated history of the war on an inspiring and reassuring note, and in certain areas of popular imagination it may prove far more difficult to dislodge or qualify than the story that Grant and Lee signed the surrender papers under an apple tree, a legend that arose after Lee spent time waiting for Grant on April 9 in an apple orchard.

For more on the firing on Fort Sumter, see our entries on Pierre G. T. Beauregard and Edmund Ruffin.

A version of this post was originally published on April 12, 2012.

IMAGEThe Last Salute by Don Troiani. For more on the artist’s perspective on this moment, see here.