Generals Grant and Lee shake hands inside the McLean house at Appomattox CH (National Park Service)
Thousands of men from York County served in the Union army (and a handful in the Confederate army) during the American Civil War. Only a handful, however, ever recorded seeing legendary Confederate General Robert E. Lee in person. One hundred and fifty years ago on April 9, 1865, his main pathways to rendezvousing with the army of Joseph Johnston blocked by powerful Union forces, Lee decided to surrender rather than risk further futile bloodshed.
According to the National Park Service, a Confederate general with a strong connection to York County sent word to Lee that he could not break loose from the cordon of Federal forces. “At dawn on April 9, General John B. Gordon’s Corps attacked the Union cavalry blocking the stage road, but after an initial success, Gordon sent word to Lee around 8:30 a.m. ‘… my command has been fought to a frazzle, and unless Longstreet can unite in the movement, or prevent these forces from coming upon my rear, I cannot go forward.’ Receiving the message, Lee replied, ‘There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.'”
(John Gordon, of course, was the charismatic, talented Rebel general whose men marched from York to Wrightsville back in June 1863 in an attempt to seize the covered bridge over the Susquehanna River.)
Lee met with Union General Ulysses Grant inside the parlor of the Wilmer McLean house near Appomattox Courthouse to discuss the terms of the surrender. After a brief meeting, he emerged, mounted his horse Traveler, and slowly rode back to his beloved men.
The next day, April 10, Lee met Grant on horseback for further conversation. Gordon would officially surrender the honor to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Gettysburg hero who Grant selected as his representative.
A young soldier from York County was there.
His name was Henry Shultz.
A corporal in the 87th Pennsylvania, Shultz watched as the great Rebel chieftain, adorned in his best uniform, rode past him, along with U. S. Grant.
Here is Shultz’ brief account…
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