Thoughts on Appomattox (part one)

GrantsTomb-App-smOne of the images that hangs high over Ulysses S. Grant’s sepulcher is an image of a handshake. It’s an idealized painting of Grant and Lee at Appomattox, sealing their deal. A handshake was a man’s word. It’s the way good men did business.

The handshake serves as a perfect metaphor for reunion: two men, like two warring factions, come together in a gesture of agreement. One might daresay call it a gesture of peace.

The mural—one of three mosaics added in 1966 by artist Allyn Cox—adorns half-moon lunettes high in the tomb’s dome. Along with Appomattox, another depicts Grant on horseback at Vicksburg and Grant on Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga. One might wonder by their shape whether the half-moons are rising or setting, but all events clearly depict Grant on the rise. While Appomattox might be the moment he’s best remembered for, he did ascend all the way to the presidency.

Peace remains the order of the day at Grant’s Tomb. Grant’s words, inscribed above the door, serve as a reminder: “Let us have peace.”

Perhaps we’re still working at it. If more of us took time to shake on things—and mean it—we’d go a long way to fulfilling that vision.

2 Responses to Thoughts on Appomattox (part one)

  1. Unfortunately, Lee and Grant brought to their handshakes very different filters. Grant was hoping for a true reconciliation of North and South, which meant an acceptance by the South of defeat and a willingness to integrate the black race into all levels of American life. Lee believed Appomattox allowed the restoration of the old order and traditional leadership by plantation owner elites. Thus Reconstruction failed miserably without the leadership of the assassinated president and with unrepentant determination from Confederates led by their charismatic leader, Robert E. Lee.

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