US Grant was not his name…but since his enrollment at West Point he had lived with it. The Civil War brought him a nickname, Unconditional Surrender. His victories at Forts Henry and Donelson had cemented his reputation for no-nonsense. The best man at his wedding, Simon Bolivar Buckner, asked for terms when surrendering Fort Donelson- Grant’s response, “No terms other than unconditional surrender.” The name stuck, along with the dour disposition.
Robert E. Lee could not bear the thought…of surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia. The desperate situation of April, 1865 made the note he received from Grant on April 7 more difficult, “GENERAL: The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.” Lee’s response was simple, what terms did Grant propose? History showed the possibility of terms was all but impossible, but the absurdity of war takes history in strange directions.
Grant and Lee talked as if they were old friends… in Wilmer McLean’s parlor. Lee had to bring Grant’s attention to the matter at hand. Grant offered generous terms by military standards of the day. He also agreed to feed Lee’s starving men. Lee saw this gesture’s magnitude, “it will do much toward reconciling our country.” As Lee rode away, Union troops broke into cheers… Grant ordered them silenced, “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”