Missed opportunity

Today is the anniversary of that day when people show paintings of the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, and I ask, “General Grant, why are you shaking hands with that piece of shit?” I also wonder if American generosity to bloody-handed traitors might have something to do with our current habit of appeasement to Nazis, anti-Semites, and insurrectionists.

The surrender, 9 April 1865


  1. says

    If you want a genuine answer to your question, read “April 1865 – the Month that Saved America” by Jay Winik. Grant’s generous terms were the only way to end the conflict while several other Confederate armies were still in the field and could have prolonged the bloodshed….. and then keep in mind that Grant as President led surprisingly effective efforts for civil rights, which included crushing the first version of the Klan and supporting the first glimmers of black voting and office holding during Reconstruction. Sadly, most of his efforts were reversed when he left office after the election of 1876 when deals were made to allow the South to return to its “old ways” and Jim Crow took hold – along with a rebirth of the Klan.

  2. Walter Solomon says


    Sadly, most of his efforts were reversed when he left office…when deals were made to allow the South to return to its “old ways”

    So you’re saying America was too generous to bloody-handed traitors?

  3. consciousness razor says

    Not to make bad excuses for anyone but to make some observations, although I admit it’s not so easy to know what to take from it…. Wars which actually do come to an end (or more often than not, deescalation for a period of time) by means of people talking in a room usually look better than the alternatives, but also, hindsight is 20/20. Any degree of trust is hard to establish and takes time, for good reason, even in the best of circumstances. Despite all that, not being easy shouldn’t be a reason to give up on peace and democracy, and the circular firing squad approach doesn’t really seem to do the job, unless we’re firing bubbles or t-shirts or jokes or stuff like that.

  4. says

    Well he made pretty clear his feeling in his Memoirs at the point of Lee’s surrender: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

  5. awomanofnoimportance says

    Unfortunately, what is good policy, and what one actually has the necessary firepower to accomplish, are not always the same thing. Robert E. Lee should have been tried for treason and hanged but it would have prolonged the war by several months. The Republicans should never ever win another election, but the progressive votes just aren’t there to make that happen. So one does the best one can with the resources one actually has.

  6. mordred says

    @3: I sometimes wonder how European history had looked like if one of the assassination attempts on Hitler had worked out and a somewhat more realistic German leadership had managed to cut a deal with the allies instead of fighting to the bitter end.
    Would the fascist regimes have collapsed after a few years and a peaceful, free Europe achieved with much less bloodshed or would the axis have continued for decades, murdering their own people and their neighbours in smaller conflicts?
    Impossible to answer, but I think I grew up in better country because Nazi-Germany was crushed. Of course my grandparents needed a bit of luck to survive the last years of the war, so I came close to not existing at all.

  7. Artor says

    Not that I generally advocate for capital punishment, but that painting should have been of a hanging, not a shaking of hands.

  8. monad says

    Regardless of whether it was a good idea at the time, that Confederates like Forrest immediately turned around and founded the KKK should have taught America the sense of clemency toward white supremacist traitors. Sadly a mistake that keeps happening to this day.

  9. rwiess says

    Judge in context, and look at the whole man. Prior comments have addressed context. The man, RELee, was the respected head of his class at West Point. As the war loomed, it was a question of conscience for him as to whether his greater allegiance was to his state or the country. His choice was painful for the Union, but had some respect because it was not a matter of expediency. And he conducted an honorable war, as those things go. Compare that to Trump.

  10. andywuk says

    @7: Ironically Hitler’s incompetence was precisely the reason that the allies didn’t make a concerted effort to assassinate him. The fear was that someone competent like Donitz might have replaced him. If I remember correctly there was only 1 allied attempt early in the war. Later attempts were internal to the Nazi state.

    More apropos the original post though – this foreigner (Brit) can’t understand why Trump isn’t in a cell at the very least and why the traitors in congress are still taking their orders from him. The utter failure of the US legal system to hold him to account for actions carried out in public on live TV just invites the next coup plotter to learn from his mistakes.

  11. says

    Robert E. Lee should have been tried for treason

    An effort was started by Congress to proscecute all US trained officers who had resigned and fought for the CSA.
    But Grant (rightly) pointed out that those officers were covered by the Appomattox surrender agreement.

    What I don’t understand is why Lee et al were allowed to resign without an obligation not to take up arms against the Union. That would potentially have avoided a lot of bloodshed.

  12. awomanofnoimportance says

    andywuk, No. 12, the reason is that the authors of the US Constitution, in their so-called wisdom, decided that dispersing power to the greatest extent possible would prevent a strong central government from becoming tyrannical. So, they devised a system in which rural voters have political power far disproportionate to their numbers. By way of example, the largest (by population) state, California, has two votes in the US Senate. The bottom 15 states, whose populations together add up to California’s, have 30 votes in the US Senate.

    Most of the country is horrified at the idea of another Trump presidency, but because of our anti-democratic institutions, it is entirely possible that the 25% of the country that likes him may succeed in forcing him on the rest of us. And his Congressional toadies benefit from the same anti-democratic procedural rules, meaning that Trump supporters have far more representation in Congress than they should. In a sane, normal polity, he would have soundly gotten his butt kicked the first time he ran and never been heard from again.

    The leadership of the Republican Party mostly has the same opinion of Trump as those of us here. They can’t do anything about it because their base loves him.

  13. crimsonsage says

    Should have hung every slave owner from poles from Virginia to Texas and parceled out the land to all the freedman aa small holders. And yes I know that up to 1/3 of white southerners owned slaves at some point in their lives, I stand by what I said.

  14. numerobis says

    Accepting the rebels’ surrender (or the previous regime’s surrender, depending) after a bloody civil war is the usual way civil wars end. The alternative is to keep fighting on and on, which is even worse.

  15. numerobis says

    andywuk: the abject failure of the US justice system means we don’t need to wait for the next coup plotter. I suspect Trump will be even less successful in his second attempt though.

  16. Prax says

    Man, I wish the Union had insisted that Lee shake hands with a black soldier instead.

  17. unclefrogy says

    not a big political deal nor of great historical significance really but I think of personal significance to Lee. His own property, sans slaves of course, the family home and lands became Arlington national cemetery filling it up with many of the dead which he enabled and making it impossible for him to ever live there nor profit from it again .

  18. Rich Woods says

    @numerobis #17:

    I suspect Trump will be even less successful in his second attempt though.

    I think Trump will be unsuccessful too, but I do think more people will die this time round. The first few will be in the polling stations on election day and the next tranche during counting. I wouldn’t want to be a police officer charged with transporting ballots in a state rife with Trump-fired fraud suspicion and having open-carry laws.

Leave a Reply