May 2015

Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War’s End

Reenactment of General Lee's surrender at AppomattoxReenactment of General Lee's surrender at Appomattox

Reenactment of General Lee's surrender at Appomattox
An actor playing General Robert E. Lee rode through a crowd of spectators following a reenactment of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

On April 9, 2015, about 6,000 people gathered at Appomattox (a•puh•MA•tuhks) Court House National Historical Park, in Virginia, to commemorate one of the most important events in United States history. At that very place, 150 years earlier, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, marking the end of the Civil War.

About 1,000 Civil War reenactors assembled to re-create the Battle of Appomattox Court House and the surrender that followed. Historians noted that the cool, damp, and foggy weather helped make the reenactment very similar to the actual battle 150 years ago.

Back in the beginning of 1865, the Civil War was starting to come to an end. In Virginia, General Grant’s army began defeating General Lee’s smaller army. Grant had cut off Confederate supply lines and kept forcing Lee’s army to retreat. In early April, Confederate troops evacuated their capital at Richmond, Virginia. Union troops took control of the city. Lee’s army moved west, with Grant’s forces in constant pursuit. Lee’s troops were starving and were outnumbered 10 to 1. Finally, they could retreat no farther, and they could no longer continue to fight.

On the afternoon of April 9, 1865, Lee met Grant at the McLean family’s farmhouse in the village of Appomattox Court House. Grant wrote out the terms of surrender, and Lee signed them. In the next few weeks, as word of Lee’s surrender spread, other Confederate generals surrendered, too.

After four years of bloodshed, the Civil War was finally over. The Union had been preserved, but at a terrible cost. More than 600,000 soldiers had died. Thousands more returned home wounded. Much of the South lay in ruins. However, the Union victory also brought about the end of slavery in America. In December 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. It abolished slavery in the United States and its territories.

In addition to this year’s reenactments, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park hosted a ceremony called “Bells Across the Land.” Bells were rung outside the McLean House just after 3:00 P.M. on April 9—the very moment that Grant and Lee’s historic meeting concluded. As visitors looked on, including descendants of Grant and Lee, the bells were sounded for four minutes—one minute for each year of the war. Bells were then rung at Boston’s Old North Church and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, and at many other historic sites and public places across the nation.

Image credit: ©Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Question 1
Which battle was reenacted on April 9, 2015?

Question 2
Why were bells rung for four minutes at the McLean House?

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