On April 1st, a Union combined force under General Phil Sheridan met and defeated Confederate General George Pickett's combined force at the strategic Five Forks. The Southern withdrawal left in jeopardy the Southside Railroad, one of the few remaining lifelines for the Army of Northern Virginia.
From April 2nd through the 9th, Union General Edward Canby led a successful attack on Fort Blakely in Baldwin County, Alabama. The defeat opened the doors for the occupation of the vital port of Mobile on the 12th.
General Grant finally achieved his breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2nd. The Confederate lines crumbled as Lee frantically sent the remnants of his Army of Northern Virginia in the direction of Appomattox. Upon receiving word that Lee was abandoning his positions, President Jefferson Davis ordered the evacuation of the Confederate government.
Also on the 2nd, Selma, Alabama fell to Union forces under James H. Wilson, defeating Confederate legend Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Union troops occupied Petersburg and Richmond on April 3rd. The next day, Union President Lincoln arrived in Richmond to the sounds of cheers from hundreds of freed slaves. Lincoln went to the Southern White House and sat at the desk that had belonged to Jefferson Davis.
The Union army now in full pursuit of Lee's Army fought a series of engagements between the 4th and the 7th. In the Battle of Saylor's Creek, 8,000 Confederate troops surrendered.
On the 7th, Grant and Lee began a series of communications history has called "The Surrender Letters" in which Grant attempted to convince Lee to end the war which was so clearly lost.
On the 8th, Sheridan's cavalry struck Appomattox Station, driving the Rebels back and capturing badly needed supplies from Lee's army which was now on the verge of starvation.
Lee made one last gallant attempt to break out of the Union encirclement, which failed. There is a poignant scene in which Lee emerges from his tent to observe cooking fires on the hills around his Army, and then jolted to the realization that the fires were Union.
On April 9th, in the home of Wilmer McLean near Appomattox Court House. McLean had been forced to evacuate his family from his home near Manassas during the epic first major battle of the war. It is said that the Civil War began in his backyard and ended in his front parlor.
On April 12th, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, personally selected to do so by General Grant received the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. As the defeated Southerners passed between two lines of Union infantry, Chamberlain ordered "Carry Arms!" as a salute to the soldiers in grey. General John B. Gordon was surprised by the gesture but acknowledged the salute, wheeling his horse gracefully while saluting Chamberlain with his sword. Gordon later would describe Chamberlain as "the knightliest General in the Union Army."
Two days later, President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth, an actor with strong southern sympathies. The President died early the next day.
The surrender of Lee's Army triggered similar capitulations. By the 26th, nearly all of the Confederate forces had surrendered. The war, for all intents and purposes, was finally over.
Jefferson Davis continued to elude Union pursuers, withdrawing to North Carolina on the 11th. Davis would not officially dissolve the Confederate government until May 5th in Irwinville, Georgia.
After a long and brutal pursuit, John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed on the 26th while fleeing from a hiding place in a barn that Union soldiers had set afire.
Shipping restrictions are lifted on all Southern ports on the 29th.
Between the moment when Confederate guns opened fire on Ft. Sumter on April 13, 1861 until the guns finally fell silent on April 9th, 1865 nearly four years of unspeakable violence and exquisite national agony had passed. In it's wake, the American Civil War left over a million casualties from both sides. Projected into modern terms, that percentage of the total population today would be 10.6 million dead and wounded. Estimates of dead soldiers range from 620,000 up to 850,000, with some 50,000 civilian deaths. One in thirteen veterans were amputees. The bitterness of defeat in the south would persist for many decades, exploding into violence again during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, when the check of freedom written by Abraham Lincoln would finally be cashed.
In retrospect, it is amazing the the United States survived this terrible tragedy. But survive it did, to grow eventually into the economic, political, and military powerhouse it is today.
But on battlefields across the country are rows of tombstones marking the graves of those who fought and died, each one giving their lives for their particular ideal of freedom. From their memory and sacrifice we should promise ourselves that they will not have died in vain. That the Stars and Stripes will fly forever over a land and a people who, despite our differences, will always be United.
- Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living. I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh. I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me. Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying. I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.