The Iraq War was quietly concluded on December 15, 2011, when negotiations to extend the occupation failed. The end of the Civil war wasn’t nearly as anticlimactic as that, and victory was certainly more conclusive. The end began with the Battle of Appomattox Court House, fought on the morning of April 9, 1865. General Robert E Lee and his forces had spent months under siege in Petersburg, but were finally forced to evacuate. He led his men onward with a plan to reassemble and restock, but were thwarted by Union soldiers at every turn.
Union General Ulysses S Grant began sending letters to Lee, suggesting that he surrender his army with no further bloodshed. Lee met his offers with refusal but, thinking pragmatically, inquired what terms his surrender might receive and how the Confederacy would be treated. With a dwindling army and depleted resources, perhaps he knew their fight was nearing its conclusion. His men made their last stand at the Court House, hoping to press through the Union cavalry to the safety of Lynchburg, but Lee’s bold marshalling wasn’t enough. Finally, he said, “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”
In the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s house, Lee formally surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. Other Confederate armies remained at large and it would be four months before the war was officially proclaimed to be over, but the fall of the Virginia army was a domino that set in motion the end of the Confederacy. Grant accepted surrender magnanimously and without malice, even supplying food to the starving Southerners for their return home. For this, Lee was always grateful, and for the rest of his life would not allow anyone around him to speak badly of Grant.
All of this, the turbulent finish to the American Civil War, can be found summed up in the Soldiers’ National Museum, in Diorama #10. Those who have visited before know just how breathtaking and heart-breaking these miniature moments, frozen in time, can be.