Dr. Henry A. Minor’s Account of Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox

We are pleased to share an account passed along to us by Mary Zelinka, who reaches out to us all the way from Albany, Oregon. Mary shares with us an account from her ancestor, Dr. Henry A. Minor, of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The account originally appeared in the Macon (MS) Beacon in April 1914.

“I really don’t know much in the way of background,” Mary admits. “My great-great-grandmother, Mary Minor Moseley (born 9-22-1827), was the daughter of Dr. William Thompkins Minor (born 1-15-1797).  Dr. Henry A. Minor would have been a cousin.  Though my mother (who is deceased) was active in the DAR, she was not particularly interested in who was related to who. She did, however, love the stories of our ancestors.  She was particularly proud of Dr. Henry A. Minor —not that he was at Appomattox, but that he walked the 800-900 miles home after the war and made many friends along the way. After the surrender, the war, for him, was over. When he finally arrived home in Macon, Mississippi, he rebuilt his life with his family and neighbors with remarkably good cheer.

“As a child, whenever I was convinced that life had slighted me somehow, I remember more than once mother admonishing me that Henry A. Minor’s blood was in my veins and if he could overcome the hardships he had to face, then so could I. Truthfully, Dr. Minor used to be quite an irritant to me.”

For Minor’s account, read on!

Dr. Henry A. Minor’s Account of General Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox
From Macon (MS) Beacon, April 1914

I was the surgeon of the 9th Alabama volunteers. Early in the morning of the 9th of April, 1865, we were halted in an old field about a mile from Appomattox Courthouse, faced to the right, marched in line about 100 yards, halted, stood at ease. Soon afterwards Fields’ division came up, were halted, faced to the left, marched 100 yards, halted, stood at ease. We had heard much of “the last ditch.” Here it was.

Up to this time we knew nothing of what was in our front—had not thought of surrender.

After an hour or two, I saw coming from the courthouse a cavalcade, two officers in front, one wearing the grey, the other the blue; about 20 men behind them, one half grey, the other the blue. As they came up I recognized Col. Fairfax of Gen. Longstreet’s staff. Stepping into the road, I asked, “Colonel, what means this?” His answer was, “General Lee has surrendered to General Grant.” I was shocked beyond expression. The men of our regiment called to me from the line to come to them to tell them what had occurred. No words can express the scene that followed: they had not thought of surrender, but they stood in line. After a while they were allowed to stack arms, but were ordered to remain near the line. We camped there until we started home. We were not allowed to wander about. There were no other troops in sight except mounted federal videttes all around us, about a mile away.

Altogether we remained in this “bull-pen” four days; the federals indulged in no boasts nor firing of guns, no cheers that we heard. Never in all history was a captured army treated with so much respect. We were half starved; too faint and weary, we were given one days’ short rations while there, the federals stating that they themselves had very little food.

On the 10th we were marched a mile or more, then came in sight of the U.S. Army, which we then saw for the first time at this place. In front of us was a field with two ridges or hills running parallel about one half of a mile apart. A cross ridge connected them, making three sides of a parallelogram, with the end next to us open. On the three sides of this were standing a large federal army; many thousands all armed and in serried ranks, with arms at shoulder, flags flying, officers in their places. It was a grand sight. No cheering, no orders audible to us. Perfect silence.

We entered the open end of this parallelogram half way between the two lines. Oh, the heart-breaking ordeal for us! Every officer alert, arms to “right”, flags flying. Oh the poor fellows. I cannot keep from shedding tears now, all these years after. Ragged, dirty, unkempt, many barefooted, many coatless, some hatless, eyes swollen. Oh, so hungry and so weary!

Yet as they entered this place where they were to be disarmed and turned loose, moneyless, to find their way back to their homes in the various Southern states, where mothers, wives, and children were so poor, so helpless, where houses had been burned and farm animals had died or been carried off, these poor fellows dropped their route step and fell into parade step, threw back their shoulders, raised their drooping heads and looked at the brave array of blue on both sides and in front of them. Oh, how proud of them was I – were all of us, for we were all well-nigh alike in clothing and other essentials.

When Gen. Mahone had progressed so far that the rear of our division was within the parallelogram, he halted his men and faced them to the left, ordered them to close up, then ordered them to stack arms.

What of the federals? Gen. Grant and his men treated us nobly, more nobly than was ever a conquered army treated before or since. The conduct of the federals on this occasion was soothing and comforting beyond anything that words can express. As the head of the column entered this parallelogram every flag in that great federal army came to and was held at salute. Every officers’ sword was drawn and held in salute and every man who carried a gun brought and held it at salute so long as we remained there.

We looked in amazement. The army that we had been fighting so long, that we were now surrendering to, had suddenly overwhelmed us with kindly courtesy and high appreciation of our soldierly qualities. They stood thus until our forces had passed out. It is impossible to estimate the comfort and relief this treatment gave us. It relaxed the tension of our nerves. We went back to camp, if that old field barren of tents, blankets, food, horses or wagons could properly be called a camp. On the evening of the third day we got our paroles. Next morning, no, there was no army there. No Federals! No Confederates!

On the second day before we had surrendered our arms, we saw coming toward us, two horsemen. Soon we knew that the foremost one was our dear old General Lee, with no escort save one orderly. He was riding the old gray thoroughbred, “Traveler.” As he came up we strung ourselves along both sides of the road. He lifted his hat and kept it up in his usual salute. His eyes were swollen, he looked, oh, so aged and sad. He did not speak. We stood with heads bare and streaming eyes. He passed on until out of sight. We never saw him again! We had received his last order, thanking us, praising us, loving us, and bidding us to go to our homes, rebuild them, and make good and loyal citizens of the United States. We had submitted our cause to the arbitration of the sword; the game had been played; we had lost.

Dear old General! He was the greatest of the great in his prosperity. Adversity and defeat only brought out the noblest characteristics of his Christian manhood.

The next day we remained in the bull-pen awaiting our paroles. About night we (myself and my brother) got our paroles and our last order from General Lee, his farewell to his soldiers.

Neither of us had a cent of money, no horse. It was between 800 and 900 miles to my home in Macon, Mississippi. We were weak from want of food. We had no baggage. We prayed for help and guidance to Him who is able to help and we started home.


7 Responses to Dr. Henry A. Minor’s Account of Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox

  1. Love this! The Civil War captivated me once I began to learn of my ancestor’s involvement–a few months ago. Thanks so much for sharing something meaningful to you personally, and important in our nation’s history.

  2. This is an amazing piece of literature worthy of being included in the best accounts of Appomattox.

  3. Honor and respect there was, in abundance. The first sounding of the theme of reconciliation among white Southerners and Northerners that would resound louder and louder into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a nation grew strong again.
    Yet this reconciliation presumed the exclusion of African Americans, newly and barely free, from political and social equality for a hundred years.

    1. Yes, by 1914 the Lost Cause and brothers in arms versions of the War were in full vigor, weren’t they? A good example here.

  4. An incredibly rich and powerful account and an important addition to the still unfolding story of the Civil War. I hope you’ll share more of Dr. Minor’s accounts if you have them.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!