Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter VIII: The Surrender: President Davis hears the news

The Document

As I was riding toward Appomattox on the 9th, I met a body of our cavalry with General T. H. Rosser at the head. He told me that General Lee and his army had surrendered, and that this force had made its way out, and was marching back to Lynchburg, expecting thence to reach General Johnston's army. To say that I was surprised does not express my feelings. I had never heard the word "surrender" mentioned, nor even a suggested, in connection with our general or our army. I could not believe it, and did not until I was positively assured by all my friends who were with Rosser's column that it was absolutely so. Very sadly I turned back and went to Lynchburg along with them. There I found some wagons from our headquarters which had been sent back, and with them the horses and servants of the staff. These I got together, not believing for an instant that our struggle was over, and, with several officers from our command and others, we made our way to Greensboro, North Carolina. There I found Mr. Davis and his cabinet and representatives of the Confederate departments from Richmond. There was a great diversity of opinion amongst all present as to what we should do. After waiting a couple of days, looking over the situation from every point of view, consulting with my uncle, Commodore S. S. Lee, of the Confederate Navy, and with many others, old friends of my father and staunch adherents of the Southern cause, it was determined to go back to Virginia to get our paroles, go home, and go to work.

While at Greensboro I went to see President Davis, just before he proceeded on his way further south. He was calm and dignified, and, in his conversation with several officers of rank who were there, seemed to think, and so expressed himself, that our cause was not lost, though sorely stricken, and that we could rally our forces west of the Mississippi and make good our fight. While I was in the room, Mr. Davis received the first official communication from General Lee of his surrender. Colonel John Taylor Woods, his aide-de-camp, had taken me in to see the President, and he and I were standing by him when the despatch from General Lee was brought to him. After reading it, he handed it without comment to us; then, turning away, he silently wept bitter tears. He seemed quite broken at the moment by this tangible evidence of the loss of his army and the misfortune of its general. All of us, respecting his great grief, silently withdrew, leaving him with Colonel Wood. I never saw him again.

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee,, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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