Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War

Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War

by Elizabeth R. Varon
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Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War by Elizabeth R. Varon


Winner, Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction
Winner, Eugene Feit Award in Civil War Studies, New York Military Affairs Symposium
Winner of the Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize of the Austin Civil War Round Table
Finalist, Jefferson Davis Award of the Museum of the Confederacy
Best Books of 2014, Civil War Monitor
6 Civil War Books to Read Now, Diane Rehm Show, NPR

Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House evokes a highly gratifying image in the popular mind -- it was, many believe, a moment that transcended politics, a moment of healing, a moment of patriotism untainted by ideology. But as Elizabeth Varon reveals in this vividly narrated history, this rosy image conceals a seething debate over precisely what the surrender meant and what kind of nation would emerge from war. The combatants in that debate included the iconic Lee and Grant, but they also included a cast of characters previously overlooked, who brought their own understanding of the war's causes, consequences, and meaning.

In Appomattox, Varon deftly captures the events swirling around that well remembered-but not well understood-moment when the Civil War ended. She expertly depicts the final battles in Virginia, when Grant's troops surrounded Lee's half-starved army, the meeting of the generals at the McLean House, and the shocked reaction as news of the surrender spread like an electric charge throughout the nation. But as Varon shows, the ink had hardly dried before both sides launched a bitter debate over the meaning of the war and the nation's future. For Grant, and for most in the North, the Union victory was one of right over wrong, a vindication of free society; for many African Americans, the surrender marked the dawn of freedom itself. Lee, in contrast, believed that the Union victory was one of might over right: the vast impersonal Northern war machine had worn down a valorous and unbowed South. Lee was committed to peace, but committed, too, to the restoration of the South's political power within the Union and the perpetuation of white supremacy. These two competing visions of the war's end paved the way not only for Southern resistance to reconstruction but also our ongoing debates on the Civil War, 150 years later.

Did America's best days lie in the past or in the future? For Lee, it was the past, the era of the founding generation. For Grant, it was the future, represented by Northern moral and material progress. They held, in the end, two opposite views of the direction of the country-and of the meaning of the war that had changed that country forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199751716
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 10/04/2013
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 847,813
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth R. Varon is Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. A noted Civil War historian, she is the author of Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859; We Mean to be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia; and Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy, which was named one of the "Five Best" books on the "Civil War away from the battlefield" by the Wall Street Journal.

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Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
civiwarlibrarian More than 1 year ago
Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom At The End Of The Civil War, Elizabeth R. Varon, Oxford University Press, 2014, 305 pp., 1 map, 33 b/w illustrations, endnotes, index, $27.95. Francis August Schaeffer, a 20th century American theologian, philosopher, and pastor, held to a particular approach to answering the questions of the age. His illustration of ‘the universe viewed from two chairs’ promoted the examination of worldviews. Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom At The End Of The Civil War, offers a discussion of two worldviews; one typified by Robert E. Lee and one typified by Ulysses S. Grant. In popular culture, ‘The Brothers War’ comes to an end at Appomattox Courthouse, April 9, 1865. The very dignified Robert E. Lee surrenders to the very muddy Ulysses S. Grant. Lee is accompanied by one other staff officer; Grant brings about a half dozen generals and their staffs. At the surrender ceremony Lee, like during the war, is vastly outnumbered. Varon’s work views the surrender ceremony from two chairs: Lee’s and Grant’s personal interpretation of the surrender. For Varon, Grant’s terms for surrender created one spirit of Appomattox; Lee’s interpretation of the terms created another spirit of Appomattox. Grant’s view understood the surrender as offering reconciliation; Lee’s view understood the surrender to recognize that he was overwhelmed by numbers but unbowed. Lee felt Grant understood this. Grant’s terms were not his usual unconditional surrender terms; Lee’s soldiers left the surrender site with some of their arms, their horses and food in their stomachs. Grant’s and Lee’s understandings are contested by Andrew Johnson, northern Peace Democrats and Copperheads, moderate Republicans and radical Republicans, the war’s white and black veterans. Should Reconstruction become the war waged by non-military means and achieve a racial reformation of the South? Varon states and supports the argument that war left most questions set forth in 1860 unanswered and created new problems. The author is explicit in stating that the political problems of 1860 were not solved upon the surrender of the Confederate armies. Both Lee and Grant believed they transcended politics on April 9, 1865. For northern soldiers and politicians, individual courage and God’s cause of justice won the war. For southern soldiers and politicians, individual courage and the rightness of their cause was not enough to fend off the immigrant hordes in the Federal army which supplied by the North’s vast agriculture to deliver food and industry’s capacity to deliver armaments. The familiar story of Appomattox is opened up by Varon and in it she sees a variety of interpretations which the participants held. The author offers both an event based and a worldview based telling of the surrender and its immediate implications. Confederate, Federal, and African-American veterans, civilians, and politicians on both sides are well described in their own words. Using a narrative style that is accessible to most readers, Varon presents both worldviews with sharp details. Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom At The End Of The Civil War is superb.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is not a detailed explanation of the consequences of the surrender and peace established at Appomattox. It does cover many bases not usually covered in a tome of this subject. It is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to understand the period of Reconstruction and the figures who influenced it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For those who want to know what happened after Lee's surrender and how that effected life in the South for years to come, this is a good place to start.
alta01 More than 1 year ago
I am surprised that after 150 years, all of a sudden history revisionists like Varon have found "new" data that "rewrites" what many historians, over the years, have somehow forgotten to covered. I am more disturbed and perplexed that ultra liberal Varon connects Northern Conservatives to Southerners through her conspirators theory. Funny how it all connects to ultra liberals present day fight against present day Conservatives.