Remembering another important day in United States history
This is the time of year when we reflect on our nation’s great history and achievements. Most of us concentrate on the Fourth of July, and it certainly is one of the most important dates in our history. Yet, there are many others – Armistice Day, V-J Day, V-E Day, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the enactment of a number of amendments, just to name a few.
Yet it seems to me that one of the most important and overlooked day in our history was April 9, 1865. I suspect many aren’t at all aware of what happened on that day and its significance.
On that day at Appomattox Court House, two of our greatest Americans met, ended the Civil War and in many ways charted the future of our nation. As a nation we were fortunate that two men of vision and good will – Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant – agreed on a charitable peace that started the long and slow process of healing our nation.
At that time the U. S. Civil War was probably the bloodiest the world had ever seen. After a couple of years of failure, President Abraham Lincoln made a bold and correct decision. He promoted Grant to lead all Union forces. Grant has never received enough credit for his brilliant leadership. He understood modern warfare and used his superior forces and resources to bludgeon the Confederate Army into submission. His philosophy of “never sound retreat” kept pressure on the Confederates led by an equally brilliant general, Robert E. Lee.
By the spring of 1865 it was evident that the Southern military forces couldn’t last much longer. They were running out of supplies and manpower. Gen. William T. Sherman had destroyed much of the south and barring a miracle, the entire Confederate Army would be annihilated. Lee was smart enough to realize he was defeated. It was with a heavy heart that he agreed to meet Grant and to surrender. He wrote later that he expected to be arrested and probably hanged.
But that wasn’t the case; Grant strongly agreed with President Lincoln that the end of the war should be the start of a new era. The nation had to be brought together as one country. Lee was also farsighted and also envisioned a great, strong and free United States. When some of his officers supported guerilla warfare, Lee said he personally would hunt them down.
Grant proposed the most unique terms in the history of the world. There would be no arrests, all the Confederate soldiers had to do was lay down their weapons and sign a pledge to never again take up arms against the United States. Grant knew the Confederate Army was starving, and he ordered rations to be sent to them. He refused to allow any celebration by his troops and pointed out the gray-clad soldiers were no longer enemies but fellow countrymen.
Lee worked to solve any problems and together they put together a fair and honorable peace. Unlike revolutions elsewhere, there were no reprisals or mass executions. Instead the emphasis was not vengeance but binding up the wounds and moving the United States forward.
No, it didn’t work perfectly, but it was the first step toward greatness for our nation. Our future was molded by two men of good will and vision. Our nation is fortunate that they had foresight and forgiveness. It was truly a great day in our history that still remains very important. Maybe the important lesson is that we all need to always compromise, cooperate and work together toward a greater future for all citizens.