Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain was selected by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to accept Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Chamberlain had been a professor at Bowdoin College when he volunteered for the Union Army. He earned the Medal of Honor for his gallantry at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lee had surrendered on April 9, 1865 and the ceremony was scheduled for April 12. Neither Lee nor Grant was at the ceremony. John B. Gordon offered the surrender for the Confederate forces. The next day, Chamberlain described the event to his sister Sarah.
Here is the letter:
Head Quarters 3d Brigade
1st Div. 5 Army Corps
Appomattox Court House
April 13th 1865.
My dear Sae,
I am glad I was not tempted to leave the army this Spring. I would not for a fortune have missed the experiences of the last two weeks. It seems like two years, so many, + such important events have taken place, within that time. Father said in his last letter to me that “the glory of battles was over.” But if he had seen some of these we have had of late, in which we captured the enemy by thousands + carried their positions by a dash, and at last at Appomattox Court House received the surrender of Genl Lee + his whole army he would think differently.
For my personal part I have had the advance every day there was any fighting—have been in five battles – two of them being entirely under my own direction and brilliantly successful—twice wounded myself—my horse shot—in the front line when the flag of truce came through from Lee—had the last shot + the last man killed, in their campaign; + yesterday was designated to receive the surrender of the arms of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The bare mention of these facts seems like boasting, but I assure you I do not feel any of that spirit. I only rejoice that I was here + bore my part in the crowning Triumphs of the war. It was a scene worthy of a pilgrimage, yesterday, when the old “Third Brigade” of the 1st Div. was drawn up to receive the surrender of the Rebel arms. My Brigade you know consists of 9 Regts. the remnant of the old 5th Corps, veterans of thirty battles. They number about six thousand men all told- on the right was old Massachusetts with the remnants of her 9th, 18th, 22d + 32d. Then Maine, her 1st, 2d, + 20th- Michigan 1st, 4th, + 16th- Pennsylvania- with the sturdy relics of her 82d, 83d, 91st, 118th, + 155th.- with my staff + the old flag- the red maltese cross on a white field with blue border. I took post on the right at 5 a.m., + received first Maj. Gen Gordon with his corps—Stonewall Jackson’s—then Longstreet’s corps. with Hoods Andersons & Pickett’s old Divisions—men we had faced a score of times + almost recognized by face. [Picket’s] [Pickett’s] splendid Div. only stacked 53 muskets + not a single stand of colors—we had so completely used them up at 5 Forks. Last came Hill’s Corp.—by Divisions—Hill himself being killed. We received them with the honors due to troops—at a shoulder—in silence. They came to a shoulder on passing my flag + preserved perfect order. When the head of their column reached our left, they halted face toward our line + close to it—say 4 or 5 yards– + stacked their arms + piled their colors. Poor fellows. I pitied them from the bottom of my heart. Those arms had been well handled + flags bravely borne.
15,000 stand of arms + 72 flags were stacked before my line. I saw + conversed with nearly all the Rebel Generals, + shall have more things to tell you of by + by.
Your letter has just come. The first mail for two weeks. I thank you much. With great love to you all your aff. Lawrence