Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln

Five days after the South began capitulating to end the fighting of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by a Confederate sympathizer, leaving his successor to direct the course of postwar Reconstruction in the defeated South.

Summary of Event

President Abraham Lincoln Lincoln, Abraham
[p]Lincoln, Abraham;and Ulysses S. Grant[Grant] was the chief architect of the Union victory that ended the long U.S. Civil War. In March, 1864, he called General Ulysses S. Grant Grant, Ulysses S.
[p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Abraham Lincoln[Lincoln] to the White House and placed him in overall command of the Union armies. Grant then embarked upon a vigorous campaign aimed at the Confederate capital at Richmond Richmond, Virginia;and Confederacy[Confederacy] , engaging General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia in two important battles west of Fredricksburg, Virginia—Wilderness, May 5-7, and Spotsylvania, May 8-9, 1864. Grant suffered heavy casualties Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);casualties but pushed on to Cold Harbor (June 1-3). There, the Confederates repulsed his attack, which, had it been successful, would have led to the fall of Richmond. Grant then attempted to outflank Lee by crossing the James River and driving toward Petersburg, where he intended to cut vital rail connections. Lee was able to check Grant’s advance short of Petersburg, however, and a nine-month stalemate ensued. Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Confederacy surrenders
Grant, Ulysses S.
[p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Robert E. Lee[Lee]
Lee, Robert E.
[p]Lee, Robert E.;and Ulysses S. Grant[Grant]
[kw]Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln (Apr. 9 and 14, 1865)
[kw]Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln, Surrender at (Apr. 9 and 14, 1865)
[kw]Assassination of Lincoln, Surrender at Appomattox and (Apr. 9 and 14, 1865)
[kw]Lincoln, Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of (Apr. 9 and 14, 1865)
Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Confederacy surrenders
Grant, Ulysses S.
[p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Robert E. Lee[Lee]
Lee, Robert E.
[p]Lee, Robert E.;and Ulysses S. Grant[Grant]
[g]United States;Apr. 9 and 14, 1865: Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln[3820]
[c]Terrorism and political assassination;Apr. 9 and 14, 1865: Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln[3820]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 9 and 14, 1865: Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln[3820]
Booth, John Wilkes

General Robert E. Lee signs the terms of surrender as Union general Ulysses S. Grant (seated at right) looks on.

(The Co-Operative Publishing Company)

Meanwhile, General William T. Sherman had completed his destructive march from Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia;in Civil War[Civil War]
Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Sherman’s march to sea
Sherman, William Tecumseh
[p]Sherman, William Tecumseh;march to sea to the sea at Savannah, Georgia. He then moved northward in a march that was to take him through South Carolina and North Carolina. All signs pointed to a Confederate defeat in 1865: The Union blockade Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Union blockade was becoming increasingly effective; Great Britain Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);and Great Britain[Great Britain]
Great Britain;and U.S. Civil War[U.S. Civil War] no longer showed much sympathy for the Confederacy; the economy of the South was breaking down under the impact of the war; and Grant continued to receive troop replacements, whereas Lee’s troops were becoming exhausted. A peace conference, which Confederate president Jefferson Davis Davis, Jefferson
[p]Davis, Jefferson;peace proposals had suggested, was held on February 3, 1865. Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens Stephens, Alexander H.
[p]Stephens, Alexander H.;and peace conference[Peace conference] led the delegation from the South, while Lincoln spoke for the Union. Lincoln insisted upon the disbanding of the Confederate forces, but the Confederacy was not then willing to surrender.

In April, 1865, Grant was able to extend Lee’s lines to the breaking point, and Lee was forced to evacuate the Confederate capital of Richmond Richmond, Virginia;and Confederacy[Confederacy] as well as Petersburg. Lee’s escape route lay to the west and south; he hoped to join forces with General Joe Johnston Johnston, Joseph Eggleston in North Carolina, but Grant’s forces blocked his escape. Now Grant, Ulysses S.
[p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Confederate surrender[Confederate surrender]
Lee, Robert E.
[p]Lee, Robert E.;surrender of convinced of the futility of continuing the war, Lee met Grant at the McLean house in Appomattox Courthouse, where he surrendered on April 9. Following the spirit of President Lincoln’s instructions, Grant agreed to release Lee’s officers and men on parole. Lee’s troops were allowed to keep their horses, mules, and sidearms and then return home.

In short order, the other scattered Confederate armies followed General Lee’s lead and began the ordeal of surrender. The last significant group of men under arms, those under the command of General Joseph Johnston, began surrender negotiations with Sherman on April 17. The war had wrought a death toll far greater than anyone could have imagined four years earlier: 360,000 Union soldiers, 260,000 men from the South, and unknown numbers of civilians. The economic havoc would leave the South devastated for a century.

Contemporary depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. John Wilkes Booth (right) entered Lincoln’s theater box, fired a single bullet into his head, and then jumped down to the stage.

(Library of Congress)

News of Lee’s surrender reached Washington, D.C., on the same day that it took place, and it was received with great rejoicing. Lincoln made several extemporaneous speeches and delivered one prepared address during the course of the next several days in response to the demands of exuberant crowds. It was Lincoln’s view that the South should be welcomed back as brothers to enable healing to begin. In this regard, he was strongly opposed by the Radical Republicans within Congress. It was their view that the South had started the war and should be made to pay for it. Whether Lincoln might have curbed their hatred, had he lived, remains an unanswered question for history.

At approximately 8:30 p.m. on April 14, President and Mrs. Lincoln, Lincoln, Mary Todd in company with Clara Harris and Major Henry R. Rathbone, entered Ford’s Theater in Washington to see a performance of the play Our American Cousin. At about 10:15 p.m., John Wilkes Booth Booth, John Wilkes , a twenty-six-year-old actor who sympathized with the South, slipped into the president’s box and fired one shot into the back of Lincoln’s head. The president was mortally wounded and died the next morning at 7:22 a.m., without ever regaining consciousness. His body was taken back to Springfield, Illinois, on a circuitous seventeen-hundred-mile route that retraced the 1861 journey he made to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration.

After shooting Lincoln, Booth jumped onto the stage, breaking a small bone in his leg as he landed. From the stage he shouted the motto of Virginia, Sic semper tyrannis (thus ever to tyrants). In the confusion, he managed to evade capture in Washington, escaping over the bridge into Virginia. There, his broken leg was set by Dr. Samuel Mudd Mudd, Samuel . It remains unclear whether Mudd was aware of the significance of his patient. Booth was eventually trapped in a tobacco shed near Port Royal, Virginia, on April 26. There he died, either by his own hand or from a shot fired by one of the soldiers attempting to arrest him.

The assassination Lincoln, Abraham
[p]Lincoln, Abraham;assassination of of Lincoln was only one part of a major plot to murder the most important Union officials. Secretary of State William H. Seward Seward, William H.
[p]Seward, William H.;assassination plot against and his sons, Frederick and Augustus, suffered knife wounds at the hands of Lewis Paine, a former Confederate soldier and devotee of Booth. George A. Atzerodt Atzerodt, George A. , an alcoholic, was assigned by Booth to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson Johnson, Andrew
[p]Johnson, Andrew;assassination plot against , but he failed to make the attempt. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton Stanton, Edwin M.
[p]Stanton, Edwin M.;and Lincoln assassination[Lincoln assassination] took charge of the investigation and ordered the arrest of Paine, Atzerodt, David Herold, Edward Spangler, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin, Samuel Mudd, and Mary E. Surratt Surratt, Mary E. , the owner of the boardinghouse in which the conspirators met. It is likely that Surratt knew nothing of Booth’s plot. Booth, John Wilkes However, she and Dr. Mudd were caught up in the passion for revenge that followed Lincoln’s murder.

The alleged conspirators were tried before a military commission whose jurisdiction in their cases was questionable. The trial lasted from May 10 to June 30, and all the defendants were found guilty. Atzerodt, Paine, Herold, and Surratt were hanged seven days after the trial ended, while Spangler, Arnold, Mudd, and O’Laughlin were sentenced to life imprisonment. Surratt’s execution was almost certainly a miscarriage of justice that could not have been carried out if a few weeks or months had been allowed for passions to cool. By contrast, her son John escaped immediate capture and, when tried in 1867, was released after a jury failed to agree on a verdict.


Those sentenced to life imprisonment were pardoned in 1869, with the exception of O’Laughlin, who died of yellow fever Yellow fever;in United States[United States] at the Dry Tortugas prison off Key West. Dr. Mudd was found guilty as an accessory after the fact, and also sentenced to life imprisonment. However, his heroic actions during the yellow fever epidemic resulted in a commutation of his sentence, and he also was freed in 1869. Mudd’s Mudd, Samuel descendants have continued to argue for his innocence. Former president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis Davis, Jefferson
[p]Davis, Jefferson;treason charges against was taken prisoner soon after Lee’s surrender. Although he was indicted for treason Treason;Jefferson Davis[Davis] and imprisoned two years at Fort Monroe, he never came to trial.

The most important, and also the most enigmatic, consequence of Lincoln’s assassination was the fact that the task of reconstructing the South after the war was left to his successor, Andrew Johnson Johnson, Andrew
[p]Johnson, Andrew;becomes president . An entirely different kind of politician, Johnson quickly ran afoul of the Radical Republicans in Congress and nearly lost his presidency to impeachment. Meanwhile, Congress took control of Reconstruction Reconstruction;and Abraham Lincoln[Lincoln] and was inclined to punish the South for having caused the Civil War. If Lincoln had lived through his second term in office, Reconstruction would certainly have taken a different course, but it is impossible to know for certain what that course might have been. Lincoln, Abraham
[p]Lincoln, Abraham;assassination of

Further Reading

  • Bishop, Jim. The Day Lincoln Was Shot. New York: Harper & Row, 1955. Detailed and fascinating hour-by-hour account of the last day in Lincoln’s life.
  • Bonekemper, Edward H., III. A Victor, Not a Butcher: Ulysses S. Grant’s Overlooked Military Genius. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2004.
  • Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Highly readable biography that explores Lincoln’s political motivations. The author portrays Lincoln as ambitious, often defeated, and tormented by a difficult marriage, yet having a remarkable capacity for growth and the ability to hold the nation together during the Civil War.
  • Gienapp, William E. Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Most of this biography covers Lincoln’s years in the White House, which coincided with the Civil War years. The book describes his handling of the Civil War, depicting him as a shrewd politician and an extraordinary military commander.
  • McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Arguably the finest one-volume account of the Civil War, which it places within the perspective of the mid-nineteenth century United States.
  • Marvel, William. Lee’s Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Scholarly study of Robert E. Lee’s last campaigns and the series of setbacks that led him to surrender to Grant.
  • Moore, Guy. The Case of Mrs. Surratt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954. Discusses the role (or lack of it) played by Mrs. Mary Surratt, the innkeeper who was apparently innocently caught up in Lincoln’s assassination.
  • Oates, Stephen B. With Malice Toward None. New York: Harper Perennial, 1994. Update of Oates’s excellent 1977 biography of Lincoln.
  • Reck, W. Emerson. A. Lincoln: His Last Twenty-four Hours. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. Another detailed account of Lincoln’s last day.
  • Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998. Comparative study of the four U.S. presidents who were involved in Reconstruction policies: Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Rutherford B. Hayes. Simpson concludes that Johnson, Lincoln’s immediate successor, was an inflexible president, unable to overcome his racism and hatred.

Lincoln Is Elected U.S. President

Lincoln Is Inaugurated President

U.S. Civil War

First Battle of Bull Run

Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga

Reconstruction of the South

Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas

Watie Is Last Confederate General to Surrender

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

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Edwin Booth; Ulysses S. Grant; Andrew Johnson; Robert E. Lee; Abraham Lincoln; William H. Seward; Edwin M. Stanton. Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Confederacy surrenders
Grant, Ulysses S.
[p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Robert E. Lee[Lee]
Lee, Robert E.
[p]Lee, Robert E.;and Ulysses S. Grant[Grant]