On this day in 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant, general of the Union army, and Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate army, met to negotiate the terms of surrender that would end the Civil War.
The meeting between the two highest ranking officers in their respective armies was a brief and cordial one. Lee, wearing his full dress uniform, contrasted with Grant, who wore his muddy field uniform. Lee asked that the terms of his army’s surrender to be put down in writing, so Grant wrote them down. The official terms of surrender pardoned all officers and enlisted men of the Confederate army and required the surrender of all equipment, including horses.
After reading the terms, Lee requested that his men be allowed to keep their horses since they would need them for late spring planting as they transitioned back to civilian life. Grant did not change the written terms of the surrender, but he did promise Lee that any Confederate soldier who claimed a horse would be allowed to keep it. In addition, Confederate officers were allowed to keep their side arms. Finally, Lee expressed his concern for his men who had been without food for days. Grant responded by arranging for rations to be sent to the hungry soldiers (1).
In one of the most frequently anthologized essays ever written, entitled “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts,” Civil War historian Bruce Catton (1899-1978) presents a detailed study of the two generals and their meeting on April 9, 1865.
While emphasizing the strength, dignity, and intelligence of the two West Point graduates, Catton’s major focus in his essay is the contrasting ways in which the two men personified the two opposing forces in the Civil War.
Lee stood for the old world transplanted to the new. He represented the aristocracy and the chivalric ideal of the South, which was based on land ownership. As Catton described Lee, he “embodied the noblest elements of his aristocratic ideal. Through him, the landed nobility justified itself.”
Grant, in contrast, represented the new breed of Americans. Born on the frontier, the son of a tanner, Grant embodied the spirit of the North: toughness, self-reliance, and hard work. In Catton’s words, men like Grant “stood for democracy, not from any reasoned conclusion about the proper ordering of human society, but simply because they had grown up in the middle of democracy and know how it worked. Their society might have privileges, but they would be privileges each man had won for himself” (2).
Today’s Challenge: Meeting of Minds
Who are some examples of pairs of individuals from the same profession that you might compare and contrast? Brainstorm a list of pairs, such as, Grant and Lee (military), Dickinson and Plath (Poetry), Lennon and McCartney (music), Aristotle and Socrates (philosophy), Bird and Johnson (Basketball), or Lincoln and Washington (U.S. presidents). Select one pair, and write a comparison and contrast composition, identifying specific areas of similarity and difference. Research the two individuals to find specific details that go beyond the obvious, and organize your details around a single central point. For example, Catton’s comparison and contrast focused on those details that are relevant to how the two generals embodied the characteristics of their perspective sides. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Grant was the modern man emerging; beyond him, ready to come to the stage, was the great age of steel and machinery, of crowded cities and a restless, burgeoning vitality. Lee might have ridden down from the old age of chivalry, lance in hand, silken banner fluttering over his head. –Bruce Catton
2-Catton, Bruce. “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts.”