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What Happened After Appomattox

Following Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination, imprudent actions on all sides scuttled chances for a just peace.

On April 12 a century and a half ago, Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered what was left of his Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Over the next month and a half, three other Confederate armies would follow suit.

The North rejoiced: The rebellion had been put down and the Union saved. But Northerners also breathed a sigh of relief. Many had feared that the Confederacy would not accept defeat, but instead would continue the struggle by means of guerrilla warfare. Indeed, Lee’s chief of artillery, E. Porter Alexander, had suggested this option before Lee’s surrender. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, also wished to continue the war in this manner. But Lee rejected the guerrilla option in favor of unifying the country. And General Joseph Johnston defied Davis’s orders to continue hostilities, instead surrendering his force to William Tecumseh Sherman at Durham Station in North Carolina in order to “save the people [and] spare the blood of the army.” But in reality, the war was not over. It would continue for nearly another decade and a half in the form of Reconstruction.

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