Appomattox: The Last Days of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia
Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press
256 pp. $30.00/Hardcover
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. At 1:00 p.m. on April 9, 1865 (also Palm Sunday), Union General Ulysses S. Grant accepted Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Appomattox: The Last Days of Robert E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia details those last few months – and especially the last week – which brought about the end of major fighting during the American Civil War.
Author Michael E. Haskew has delved into military history numerous times before with West Point 1915: Eisenhower, Bradley, and the Class the Stars Fell On (I will be reviewing this book in the upcoming weeks), and The Word War II Desk Reference as well as other works. He is also the editor of WWII History magazine. What makes Appomattox different from the multitude of Civil War books found in bookstores or on library shelves is the fact that Haskew took a very focused approach, he narrowed in on Gen. Lee’s tactics and the reactions of those fighting in the Army of Northern Virginia during the war’s last stretch.
Appomattox begins with an brief biographical overview of Gen. Grant and Gen. Lee. The two came from very different backgrounds – Lee from a prominent family and Grant from a working-class setting. Lee was born on a Virginian plantation while Grant was raised in a one-story cottage in Ohio. Despite their differing childhoods, they both attended and graduated from West Point Academy. More studious than Grant, Lee excelled in academics and was the 2nd in his class of 46 (Grant finished 21st in his class of 39 students). Regardless of their backgrounds and academic careers, Grant and Lee were considered effective leaders and challenging adversaries.
There were important events that led to the final showdown in Appomattox County. About thirteen months before Lee surrendered to “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, the latter launched a decisive and deadly campaign – the Overland Campaign. Haskew spends some time discussing the purpose of the campaign and how it impacted the Army of Northern Virginia (cut off from supplies and safety). The siege of Richmond and the brutal trench battle at Petersburg ensued. There were times of little action in between bursts of fighting. All in all, Grant’s Overland Campaign proved to be successful but both sides suffered high casualties.
After the fall of Richmond to Union forces in April 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia had to look for a different life preserver. Running low on food and moral after the Union forces cut off supply lines to the south, the Confederates traveled west to meet up with Gen. Joseph E. Johnson’s Army of Tennessee. Union and Confederate forces engaged with each other at various point for the first week of April before the Confederate lines were divided by Union cavalries. Lee realized they were almost completely surrounded. With no feasible options and a substantial increase of desertions, he decided against losing more lives. Lee had made his choice, “…there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths” (p. 9). Lee surrendered his remaining troops, of approximately 28,000, to Grant.
Book Structure & Content
Haskew’s Appomattox comes in around 256 pages. It is an easy and quick read as long as you can keep the people/battles/places/etc… straight. However, I find that is a common (potential) issue with most military history monographs. For clarity sake, it would have been helpful if a map was included that detailed the areas talked. Along those same lines, a diagram of the military officers showing their ranking within the military hierarchy would be helpful for readers with limited knowledge of military and/or Civil War history. There were a handful of photographs used throughout the text, a bonus for those who are more visual learners.
The book is split up into six parts with two chapters under each section. The title of the parts represent the status of the Army of Northern Virginia. For example, the second part is entitled “The Forlorn Hope” and the chapters include the nine months of horrific trench warfare during the Siege of Petersburg and the Confederate loss at the Battle of Five Forks (this led to abandoning Richmond and Petersburg). Haskew also includes a section on endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Overall, the structure and pacing was good, and each part/chapter flowed from one to another very nicely.
Appomattox gives a great overview of the final days of the Civil War and the environment in which soldiers – mainly the Army of Northern Virginia – fought in. The reader will leave with a greater understanding of Lee and Grant’s leadership. I recommend Appomattox to anyone interested in Civil War and military history or even even those that enjoy general U.S. history topics.