Gettysburg and the End of the War, Part 2 – Surrender at Appomattox
Updated: Apr 21
This is the second in a three-part series which focuses on reactions in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to the end of the Civil War’s Eastern Theater. Part 1 more fully explained this series and detailed the town’s response to the fall of Richmond.
Exactly one year before the battle began which defined the legacy of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to loyal states on July 1, 1862, calling “into the service an additional force of 300,000 men...chiefly of infantry.” As casualties began to climb insurmountably nationwide, the president hoped an influx of new troops into United States armies might “bring this unnecessary and injurious civil war to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion.”
By August 26, the newly christened 138th Pennsylvania Infantry claimed to be “the very first three years organization to leave the Keystone State under that requisition.” Company B included residents “of Adams county, principally at Gettysburg and its immediate vicinity,” and Company G was “composed of Adams county boys...at Bendersville, Heidlersburg, and other country towns” surrounding Gettysburg. “Adams county officers” were “especially energetic,” First Lt. Osceola Lewis recalled, including the Rev. J.F. Porter, regimental chaplain; and Cpl. Peter Thorn, the caretaker of Gettysburg’s famous Evergreen Cemetery.
The unit “became a part of the glorious Army of the Potomac, and shared in its operations” in the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg, wrote Lewis. During the Union penetration through enemy lines on April 2, 1865, Cpl. John Mauk of Company F killed Confederate corps commander A.P. Hill. According to Lewis, “It was willed by Providence that it should be the last fiery ordeal to be experienced by the 138th Regiment.”
The next day, Rebel officials and sympathizers evacuated their capital city at Richmond, Virginia, and within a week, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. On Sunday, April 9, “Following the truce which was allowed, and the actual surrender which ensued, came the official announcement of the latter to the troops,” Lieutenant Lewis remembered. Gettysburgians within the ranks were likely the first residents from their legendary hometown to hear the welcome news.
“Camps were at once alive with indescribable excitement,” Lewis penned in 1866; “men crazed with enthusiasm, though scarcely realizing the true aspect of the situation, shouted and leaped for joy, embraced and greeted each other, tossed up hats, and sent to the heavens such cheers as never before ascended from human throats....The 9th of April, 1865, was a day of victory and rejoicing to the Right,” he added, for Lee was “the wicked idol of a deluded people,” who boasted “mock principles of a confederacy of treason”—and now, in the name of “falsely claimed rights,” had signed “stipulations for a surrender” as the “sun shown down upon a Republic saved, strengthened, and perpetuated.”
About 250 miles north of Appomattox, one newspaper in the old stomping grounds for some men of the 138th Pennsylvania barely learned of the episode in time to print its April 10 edition.
“Lee Surrendered! MONDAY MORNING,” boasted the Gettysburg Compiler, which printed weekly on Mondays. “A dispatch has just been received from Baltimore, stating that Lee surrendered to Grant yesterday. Lee’s army to be paroled and go home until properly exchanged.”
With the benefit of an additional 24 hours to collect facts, on April 11, the rival Adams Sentinel more fully detailed the occurrence in its weekly Tuesday publication. “The War nearly Over!” a headline announced. “The news we give to day is of the most cheering kind....This we think is the beginning of the end of the unholy Rebellion; and we congratulate our readers on the glorious intelligence.” Interestingly, this congratulations toward “our readers” suggests that the Sentinel felt its Gettysburg readership—which had endured the effects of the war’s costliest battle in July 1863—was just as responsible for the Federal victory as soldiers fighting on the front lines.
The Sentinel opined, “It is a matter for general rejoicing, and of thanks to God for his goodness to us, in thus putting an end to the cruel war, and ordering Victory to perch upon our banners, and bringing back our great Nation to peace, with the prospect of a more glorious name in the future, than it has had in the past.”
Fittingly, the paper printed a letter from a local soldier identified as “L.R.N.,” then serving at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia. “The days of this terrible rebellion are surely drawing to a speedy close under the skillful blows delivered by our Army,” the warrior wrote. “Success to our brave boys. A few more blows and the final crash will be heard.”
“Upon receiving the glorious news of the surrender of Lee and his army,” the Sentinel reported, “yesterday morning, the pupils of the Public Schools of the Borough were assembled on the upper floor of the school building, and after being led by the Principal of the High School, in a prayer of thanksgiving to the King of kings, for His gracious interposition in our behalf as a nation, they united in singing the ‘Star-spangled Banner, ‘My Country, ’tis of Thee,’ and the Old Hundred Doxology. Cheer upon cheer was then vigorously given for our victorious Generals, our Government, the Old Flag, &c.—After these exercises, the schools were dismissed for the day. The Stores were also closed in the afternoon, and a general ‘jollification’ took place at night among the ‘Young Americans,’ as usual.”
“Last week was a time of general rejoicing all over the country, upon the news of Victory, and the speedy crushing out of the Rebellion which is now inevitable,” the Sentinel continued. “In all the cities and towns of the land, it has been a jubilee of the most enthusiastic character; and the country has probably never witnessed more heart felt rejoicing. In our town there was a general out burst, including even those who had been hitherto lukewarm, in the cause; and it culminated on Friday evening in a grand demonstration. Flags were floating in every direction, cannon, musketry, and every kind of crackers that would make noise, were brought into requisition—and a large bonfire in the Square kept up all night, added to the general enthusiasm.”
As the progressive Republican paper noted, it was the second week in a row that such commemorations commenced, following a similar demonstration after the fall of Richmond. This time, Gettysburgians were treated to an oration from a popular local abolitionist congressman and clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“In the course of the evening the people assembled were addressed by Hon. EDWARD McPHERSON, from the steps of the Courthouse, in his usual energetic and masterly manner, during which he was loudly applauded,” the Sentinel proclaimed. “Enthusiastic cheers were given at the close for Grant, Sheridan, Sherman, and the whole Army of the Union, &c. and for ‘General Rejoicing,’ who was now the greatest General in the world! ‘Young America’ kept up the performance in various ways of their choosing during the greater part of the night,” as “bells have been ringing, and cannonading going on.”
Per a proclamation from Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin, “the Churches of this borough” observed “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise,” the Sentinel noted, while yet another masthead shouted, “BRIGHT SKIES! Lee Surrendered AND HIS WHOLE ARMY!” The paper hoped, “This glorious event is the precursor of Peace, and a triumph of our principles, which will tell upon the future of this great Nation.” Optimistically, editor Robert Harper concluded, “We look upon the War as now, in fact, ended, so far as destruction of life is concerned; and we have not a doubt that the whole Rebel South will lay down their arms at once, and yield to the majesty of our glorious, well tried, and now really triumphant Government.”
For years, the Sentinel (and the Star and Sentinel, as it was known after a collaborative postwar rebranding) subsequently employed Appomattox as an example in press reports, and the Compiler posted a controversial story on a Pennsylvania private who claimed to witness “the first meeting between Grant and Lee.” The Confederate surrender was used as a means of analysis in Star and Sentinel coverage when Gettysburg welcomed Grant in June 1867, and even more directly when news reached town of Grant’s election to the U.S. presidency in November 1868.
“VICTORY! THE SECOND REBELLION CLOSED! A Second Appomattox! Surrender of the Rebel Army North & South!” the Star and Sentinel applauded in reporting Grant’s electoral success on November 6, 1868. “The great Presidential struggle has ended in a glorious triumph of Republican principles and a complete crushing out of the new Rebellion. Treason has met its second Appomattox. The men who saved the Republic are determined to rule it, while Rebels and Rebel sympathisers take back seats.”
Contrarily, after Grant’s counterpart, Lee, declined an invitation to attend Gettysburg’s first attempt at a joint Blue-Gray reunion in 1869, the Star and Sentinel attacked his reasoning as being “not in good taste.” Further, the paper promoted Gettysburg as being devoid of Confederate veterans, but rather “a perpetual memorial of the heroism of the Union army, the loyalty of the American people, and the discomfiture of Treason and Rebellion.”
Back in the immediate aftermath of Appomattox, on April 17, 1865, the Gettysburg Compiler printed more on the surrender than it had a week earlier, but Appomattox coverage was still dwarfed by the severity of intervening events: Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, and died the following day. As such, the Compiler apologized, “Our readers will, we know, excuse the late appearance of the Compiler this morning, when we tell them that it is caused by our desire to give them the particulars of the assassination of President Lincoln in this issue.”
Nevertheless, the conservative Democratic publication managed to adequately provide some interpretation of the Confederate capitulation, albeit in different terms when compared to the liberal Sentinel.
While the Sentinel was more inclined to utilize terms like “the unholy Rebellion” and “the terrible rebellion” to describe the U.S. military efforts against its enemy, the Compiler proclaimed “peace” above all else as the conflict’s fundamental result. The Sentinel principally hailed the Union victory, celebrated the end of the Southern rebellion, and vaunted the death of treason—while the Compiler primarily expressed relief that the conflict was over, that the surrender was itself nonviolent, and that the terms were magnanimous. Moreover, the Sentinel recognized the end of the war as a moment of transition, evolution, and progress—while the Compiler essentially maintained the Democratic mantra of keeping “the Union as it was, and the Constitution as it is,” devoid of sweeping changes or overhauls in the American social system.
Under the headline, “SURRENDER OF LEE AND HIS WHOLE ARMY TO GRANT. A GREAT AND BLOODLESS VICTORY. MAY IT BRING TRUE PEACE AND UNION,” the Compiler reprinted dispatches from Sec. of War Edwin Stanton, and the official correspondence between Grant and Lee. “The terms offered by General Grant, and accepted in good faith by General Lee are honorable; such as will be recognized as fitting, proper, and in complete accordance with all the usages of civilized warfare,” editor Henry Stahle recorded in another article. “He does not seek to degrade or even to humiliate a conquered enemy.”
Interspersed throughout the April 17 issue of the Compiler were syndicated articles on racial reactions to the effective end of the war, including a piece from the Age under the headline, “NEGRO EMANCIPATION AS A PRACTICAL QUESTION.” The Age (and in turn, the Compiler) reprinted an editorial which stated, in part, “We do most earnestly protest against the gatherings of negroes....It has pleased God to make labor the fundamental law of human existence....We know that many blacks are poorly fitted for freedom.”
In terms that the typically white supremacist-oriented Stahle likely touted as similar to his own, the Age opined, “So far, the Abolition humanitarians, and theorists, and politicians...have declared that the negro race is fully equal to the white in all those qualities which fit men for self government; and now they insist that a general emancipation shall take place, and the whole body of adult male negroes in the Southern States be added to the voting population of the Union. This is their theory,” the paper clarified. “But theories have been dissipate by recent events; and now the nation must step into the future led by bald, naked facts.”
In a piece titled, “THE HOUR OF VICTORY,” the Compiler summed up its thoughts as its editors and readership peered toward the future to determine the meaning of Appomattox. “The demonstrations of gladness with which Lee’s surrender was received all over the North indicate more clearly than words how the masses of the people yearn for the end of this bloody and desolating struggle,” the paper noticed. “God grant that peace and prosperity may soon follow the heroic achievements of Grant and [William] Sherman and those whom they command.”
“It now remains for the powers at Washington to exercise statesmanship in finishing up the work required to restore the Union, and put the nation again on the high road to prosperity,” the Compiler believed. “Will they do it? If ever there is a period, more than any other, requiring wisdom and all the virtues, it is the hour of victory. Let, therefore, all good men, while rejoicing in the glad tidings of Lee’s surrender, pray that true statesmanship may govern in the executive councils.”
However, in the aftermath of war, the “powers at Washington” and “the executive councils” of the United States received an unexpected blow—the startling death of a president who had once walked the very streets of Gettysburgians’ beloved and battle-scarred town.
Part 3 of this series will focuses on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It is available here.
 Abraham Lincoln, “Call for 300,000 Volunteers,” July 1, 1862, in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), vol. 5, 296-297.  Osceola Lewis, History of the One Hundred and Thirty-Eighth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (Norristown, PA: Wills, Iredell & Jenkins, 1866), 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 130, 167.  Lewis, History of the One Hundred and Thirty-Eighth Regiment, 25, 28, 158; “One Hundred and Thirty-Eighth Regiment,” in Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5 (Harrisburg, PA: B. Singerly, 1870), vol. 4, 351-358, 369.  Lewis, History of the One Hundred and Thirty-Eighth Regiment, 160-161.  “Lee Surrendered!” Gettysburg Compiler (Gettysburg, PA), April 10, 1865, 2.  “The War nearly Over!” Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, PA), April 11, 1865, 2.  “LETTERS FROM THE ARMY,” Adams Sentinel, April 11, 1865, 2.  Adams Sentinel, April 11, 1865, 2.  “BRIGHT SKIES!” Adams Sentinel, April 11, 1865, 2.  “GRANT REFUSED LEE’S SWORD,” Gettysburg Compiler, July 14, 1885, 1.  “VICTORY!” Star and Sentinel (Gettysburg, PA), Nov. 6, 1868, 2.  “MILITARY RE-UNION,” Star and Sentinel, Aug. 27, 1869, 2.  Gettysburg Compiler, April 17, 1865, 2.  “MISCELLANY,” Gettysburg Compiler, April 17, 1865, 1; Gettysburg Compiler, April 17, 1865, 2.  “NEGRO EMANCIPATION AS A PRACTICAL QUESTION,” Gettysburg Compiler, April 17, 1865, 2.  “THE HOUR OF VICTORY,” Gettysburg Compiler, April 17, 1865, 2.