LEE SURRENDERS TO GRANT April 9, 1865
Recollections of John Lansing Pray, 1896
The Civil War had been raging for four bloody years, from the spring of 1861 until the spring of 1865, when General Lee’s Confederate army was trapped and forced to surrender by General Grant’s Union forces on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Waterville’s own John Lansing Pray, a grandson of our founder John Pray, was present at this event as a signalman and sergeant in the 5th Army Corps. He writes his recollections of Lee’s surrender in a speech he presented for the April 9, 1896 Appomattox meeting of the G.A.R. at Memorial Hall in Toledo. Below are several excerpts from this speech. The entire paper can be seen at the Wakeman Archival Research Center along with other J.L. Pray papers.
“There never was a better time during the whole course of the rebellion that the Army was in better condition for severe warfare than in the spring of 1865. Experience had so matured the material of the army that almost every man was competent to maneuver a successful campaign.
“The Corps to which I belonged (the 5th) was in Sheridan’s command during the Appomattox Campaign. Sheridan sent word to the Corps ‘to spend themselves for every bit of leg power there was in them,’ for he was not only keeping even with the enemy on the march but he would get ahead of them.
“Long and rapid marches had been the order of movement right along, but now the push was started at daylight on the morning of the ninth of April – the 5th, 24th, and a part of the 25th A.C. (Army Corps) were moved hastily to the right to support the Cavalry and successfully blocked further progress of the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee toward Lynchburg. At this moment the 2nd, 6th and a portion of the 9th were pressing the Rebel Army from the rear…As my comrade, Sgt. B.W. Marcy and myself were hastily bringing in our horses some Cavalrymen sang out ‘They have surrendered!’ In a moment we met a Confederate officer riding rapidly nearly in our direction and carrying a small white flag…We hastened to the outside line of our Cavalry and found the skirmish line of our Cavalry skirting the south side of the village of Appomattox Court house.
“Ground was taken on the northeast side of the village, on the hill. The First Brigade, Seventh Division, Fifth Army Corps was lined up in order and the Confederate infantry came up by brigades and stacked their arms and returned to their camp. Only about 10,000 of the Confederate infantry went through the formality. Here we saw a few of the general officers of the Rebel Army but most of them had some way saved themselves the embarrassment. General Grant very kindly allowed the Rebel Cavalry to keep their horses and it seemed that every man among them that could get hold of a horse owned it after that. General Grant also found it necessary to supply them with subsistence immediately after the surrender and in many instances the Johnnie Rebs were welcomed to the Yankee mess. Former enemies were now friends and the last feature of the war was kindly feeding and transporting the men that we had been striving so long to slay.”
Note: Several interesting sections of this speech have been omitted to keep this article to a reasonable length.