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  This webpage reproduces an appendix to Volume IV of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. IV
Appendix IV-3

The Exchange of Notes on April 9, 1865

The principal sources for the exchange of notes on April 9, 1865, are: Alexander, 609; Marshall's Appomattox, 17‑18; Taylor's General Lee, 289; Humphreys, 393‑95; Meade's report, O. R., 46, part 1, p605. The contradictions and confusion among these accounts and those based on them are many. Marshall stated that after Whittier went into the Federal lines he returned and brought Meade's promise of a truce for one hour. Marshall said nothing of the warnings Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Humphreys gave Lee to withdraw. The only mention of any request for a suspension of hostilities was by Marshall, who stated that after Lee and his attending officers rode to the apple orchard, a formal request for a suspension was made by Lee (Appomattox, 18). The reasons for shaping the narrative as it is in the text are these: Humphreys, who ought to know, says that Whittier carried the letter of Lee to Meade. If Whittier had received, also, the request for a suspension of hostilities, he would have carried that, too. Manifestly he did not carry it, because Meade at 10 A.M. forwarded Lee's letter to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant (O. R., 46, part 3, pp667‑68), saying nothing of a request for a suspension of hostilities, and at noon (O. R., 46, part 1, p666) mentioned a letter from Lee which he said he would forward to Grant. This letter could only have been the request for a truce. If Whittier carried the first letter and not the second, then the second either was sent by Taylor or Marshall into the Federal lines or else was given to the messenger whom Humphreys sent to Lee to warn him to retire. As neither Taylor nor Marshall mentioned delivering such a paper, the logical bearer would seem to be the courier or some unidentified officer from Humphreys. As this note reached Meade before noon, it could hardly have been sent after Lee returned to the Confederate lines and certainly not after Lee went to the apple orchard. Inasmuch as the original of this request for a suspension of hostilities is on the same paper as Lee's first note to Grant and is signed in the same p514 way, it probably was written under the same conditions and very soon after the first message. The third letter of the day to Grant is on a different paper and seems to have been written under less pressure. It probably was composed at the apple orchard. If this is the correct chronology and sequence of the two notes to Grant, the only difficulties that remain are those presented by Meade's letter of noon and by his official report. In his letter of 12 M. he said nothing of any truce other than that of two hours which he then granted Lee. In his report, also, he spoke as though this were the only truce he made. On the other hand in writing Grant at 10 A.M. he referred to an answer he had written Lee. This naturally would be the letter consenting to one hour's truce, which Humphreys, Taylor, and Marshall all agree was allowed by Meade. Humphreys stated positively that this was the letter Whittier delivered between 11 and 12 o'clock. It therefore seems reasonable to suppose that Meade granted an informal truce for one hour, and after Forsyth's arrival (see supra, p131) agreed to a formal suspension of hostilities for two hours, satisfied that the surrender was near at hand. Perhaps Meade's failure to mention the earlier truce was due to the very informality of its character.

To accept literally the statement in Meade's report is (1) to reject all the evidence as to the truce of one hour, (2) to assume that no armistice on Meade's front had been allowed until the arrival at Lee's headquarters of Colonel Forsyth, and (3) to assert that the letter of noon is in reality the dispatch of 10 A.M., with the hour changed and the reference to Forsyth added. This, in effect, arrays Meade against all the other witnesses, Federal and Confederate.

So far as Humphreys is concerned, the version adopted in the text accords fully with his narrative except that Humphreys did not mention Meade's letter of noon, of which it is possible that he knew nothing. The narrative here used does not disagree with Marshall, though he did not mention the warnings from Humphreys to withdraw. As for Taylor's narrative, it presents no obstacle to this chronology and helps little with it, because he was frankly confused in his memory as to what happened. It is worth noting that Alexander, who went over the evidence with some care, saw the inconsistency between the time the truce was supposed to begin and the time it actually covered. "This truce may have been prolonged," he stated (op. cit., 608). Evidently he overlooked Meade's dispatch of noon which, it is believed, in reality extended a truce already agreed upon informally.

In Henry H. Humphreys's Andrew Atkinson Humphreys: A Biography (1924), the author took the view to which the present writer has p515 come, though he differed slightly as to the time of the two truces. He said (pp306‑7): ". . . General Lee withdrawing from the front of the II Corps, at about 11 A.M., the corps had come up with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet's command. . . . The corps was at once formed for attack, the VI Corps forming on the right of the II, when at the moment the attack was to begin, it was suspended by the arrival of General Meade. He had read General Lee's letter to General Grant, granted on his [Meade's] lines a truce for one hour, in view of negotiations for a surrender. The truce expired at 1 P. M. . . . When the corps advanced at the expiration of the truce, the enemy's pickets or skirmishers had disappeared. . . . The corps on reaching the fringe of timber was again halted by General Meade, with the information that the time of the truce had been extended. A staff officer of either General Ord's or General Sheridan's had ridden through the enemy's lines, bearing a message to General Meade that the truce with them was on."

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