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Your memory serves you well; Michael Shaara did indeed win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975 for his novel, "The Killer Angels." It is a wonderful book. The Houston Post said it was "akin to Hemingway " [and] Steven Crane's 'Red Badge of Courage'." However, "The Killer Angels," is a work of historical fiction and not always historically accurate.

The "fact" that "General Joshua Chamberlain's division received the formal Confederate surrender" at Appomattox is a myth that has grown up with the lionizing of Joshua Chamberlain. I don't want to detract from Chamberlain; he was a very brave and courageous man, as witnessed at Gettysburg and several other battles. He was wounded at least twice and highly decorated during the war.

The following are facts about the surrender at Appomattox:

General Lee surrendered to General Grant at the McLean House on April 9,1865. Chamberlain was not present. He did receive one of several flags of truce on that day. On April 12, he was the officer selected by General Grant to accept the formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. This entailed the surrender of flags and arms (rifles). General Grant on the 9thhad allowed General Lee and all Confederate officers to retain their sidearms (swords and revolvers), as a concession to their standing and to help maintain some semblance of military discipline as the Confederate army disbanded.

According to military protocol, Lee would only surrender to a peer, in this case Grant. A full general (four stars), commanding an army, would not surrender or tender his sword to a brigadier general (such as Chamberlain, who was only a brigade commander). At the formal surrender on the 12th, Chamberlain was in temporary command of the First Division, Fifth Corps, and accepted the surrender of Gordon's, Longstreet's and Ewell's Corps, in succession. General Lee was not involved in that ceremony.

Patrick Schroeder, a living history interpreter at the Appomattox Courthouse from 1986 to 1994 has written a pamphlet entitled "More Myths About Lee's Surrender," which discusses among other things Chamberlain's part in the surrender. Schroeder's pamphlet is well researched and based on writings by Chamberlain himself, General Horace Porter's memoirs, "Campaigning with Grant," and official records of the Union and Confederate armies. His rebuttal of the Chamberlain myth is consistent with writings of professional historians including Shelby Foote, James McPherson, and Noah Trudeau, who have written specifically on this subject.

Grant also provided Lee's army with rations. Grant had calculated the size of Lee's army from daily estimates that he received and said, "Suppose I send over 25,000 rations, do you think it will be ample?" Lee replied "I think it will be ample," and added in an earnest tone, "and it will be a great relief, I assure you."(Porter, 483) Grant turned and instructed his chief commissary officer, Col. M. R. Morgan, to arrange for the issuing of the rations. Over 28,000 Confederates surrendered. Grant's men had been instructed to carry a twelve-day supply of rations and the day of surrender was the twelfth day of the campaign.

Here is the list of those present at the McLean House at the time of Lee's surrender:


Gen. Robert E. Lee

Lt. Col. Charles Marshall


Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Lt. Col. Orville E. Babcock

Lt. Col. Adam Badeau

Brig. Gen. John G. Barnard

Lt. Col. Theodore S. Bowers

Brig. Gen. Frederick T. Dent

Brig. Gen. Rufus Ingalls

Col. M. R. Morgan

Maj. Gen. Edward Ord

Lt. Col. Ely S. Parker

Lt. Col. Horace Porter
Brig. Gen. John A. Rawlins

Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan

Brig. Gen. Seth Williams

Horace Porter, in his memoirs, describes the parting of Lee and Grant in this way:

"A little before four o'clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step, and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond, where his army lay now an army of prisoners. He thrice smote the palm of his left hand slowly with his right fist in an absent sort of way, seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard, who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unaware of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, moving toward him, and saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present. Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off at a slow trot to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded." (Porter, 485, 486)

Porter, General Horace. "Campaigning With Grant." New York, The Century Co., 1897. Reprinted, 1981, Time-Life Books, Inc.

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux