Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author, Roger Futrell
The Appomattox Court House paroles which General Ulysses S. Grant issued to Robert E. Lee’s surrendered Army of Northern Virginia, in April 1865, symbolized President Lincoln’s desire to unify the Nation. While Mr. Lincoln held the Confederate government in contempt, he had compassion for its rank-and-file troops. He recognized that there were good men on both sides; he simply wanted to reunite the country. Lincoln initially offered pardon or amnesty to any Confederate willing to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States when he issued The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in 1863. In March 1865, The President met with Generals Grant, Sherman, and Admiral David Porter, at City Point, Virginia, and instructed the trio to: “Let them [Confederates] surrender and go home… let them have their horses to plow with and, if you like, their guns to shoot crows with…Give them the most liberal and honorable of terms.” Many of Lincoln’s supporters questioned his forgiving policy. A number thought the defeated Southerners should have been jailed rather than pardoned.
General Grant set the stage for the Nation’s reunification on April 9, 1865, when he finalized surrender terms with Robert E. Lee at Wilmer McLean’s home in Appomattox Court House. Grant insisted that the North and South reconcile their differences since they were all Americans. His plan abolished Lee’s Army, allowed its members to go home, and forbade them from taking up arms against the United States. Lee’s acceptance of Grant’s proposal led to the unification of America.
Generals Grant and Lee met just outside Appomattox Court House, on horseback, for a last time on April 10, 1865. Lee asked Grant to provide each of his soldiers with an individual “paroled prisoner’s pass” so they could go home without the fear of being mistaken for a deserter or straggler. Grant honored Lee’s request and ordered his staff to produce approximately 30,000 partly-printed parole forms. Hand cranked field presses were set-up inside Clover Hill Tavern where printers worked around-the-clock churning out templates of four paroles per sheet. The paroles, produced on ordinary paper stock, were about the size of a personal check; they provided personal identification for the parolees when completed. The Rebels were required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States before receiving their paroles. In return, they could go their way, free of harassment from Federal officials.
Beginning April 12, 1865, nearly twenty-nine thousand soldiers in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia marched down the Richmond Lynchburg Stage Road into Appomattox Court House and formally surrendered. They laid down their arms, furled their flags, picked up their paroles—signed by their commanding officers—and headed home.The Union soldiers, lining the surrender route, stood at stone-faced attention as the former enemy passed by. The respect shown to the men in gray was chilling.
The Appomattox parole passes allowed the Rebels to board available Federal trains and steamships on their journey home, and to obtain rations at Union supply depots across the South. Similar styled paroles were distributed to the remaining Confederate troops as they surrendered in the weeks following Appomattox.
Official war records indicated that a total of 28,231 Confederate soldiers were paroled from Appomattox Court House between April 9 and April 15, 1865. The names of those paroled were published long after the war. Ronald G. Wilson, a former Appomattox Court House National Historical Park historian, who co-authored the most recent parolee registry, suggested that the rolls were far from complete.
The Appomattox passes have been widely reproduced; the original Appomattox paroles are highly sought items. The historic slips of paper sell for upwards of $6,500.00 on today’s antiquarian market.
I have held a keen interest in Appomattox paroles since childhood because one was issued to my maternal great-grandfather, James K. Polk Banton (Co. H, 2nd Va. Cav.). His parole stoked my interest in the Civil War. Banton’s youngest daughter, John-Ida Baldwin, of Adairville, Kentucky, kept the parole in her fathers’ Bible. When she died in 1975 her sons could not agree on the division of her personal effects so the trunk, Bible, and parole pass went on the auction block. The relics went to the highest bidder. The buyer’s identity remains unknown. Several descendants, who had interest in the parole, were not aware of the pending sale until after it had occurred.
 The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, www.freedmen.umd.edu/procamn.htm.
 “President Lincoln Visits City Point and Petersburg,” www. nps.gov.
 Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York: Charles L. Webster & Co., 1886), 2:483-498.
 James T. Yenckel, “The Quiet and Compelling History of Appomattox,” The Washington Post, April 19, 1987.
 William Marvel, Lee’s Last Retreat: The Flight To Appomattox (Chapel Hill & London, UNC Press, 2002), 192-97.
 “Paroling the Army of Northern Virginia,” www.nps.gov.
 R.A. Brock, The Appomattox Roster… April 09, 1865 (1887; reprint, New York: Antiquarian Press, 1962); and William G. Nine & Ronald G. Wilson, The Appomattox Paroles April 9-15, 1865 (Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1989).
 (Appomattox Parole), “Paroled Prisoner’s Pass,” Catalog 175, Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, INC., Chicago, IL, website, accessed June 23, 2016; “Appomattox Parole of Pvt. James House, 14th. N.C.,” Sale 38 Lot 134, Alexander Historical Auctions, Chesapeake City, MD, website accessed June 23, 2016.
 Interviews with Eva Baldwin (Banton’s daughter); Katie Rogers-Shaver (niece); Catherine Rogers (great-niece), 1975.
[Banton’s Compiled Military Service Record confirmed he was paroled at Appomattox Court House.]
8 Responses to Appomattox Paroles
TO BAD ABOUT YOUR GREAT GRANDFATHERS PAROLE PERHAPS THE OWNER WILL FIND OUT AND CONTACT YOU . GREED IN PEOPLE RUINS SO MUCH GOOD.
Thanks for your comment. Wish his parole pass could have been included in the collections of the Appomattox Court House Park.
Roger this is very interesting. Thanks for the information. I didn’t realize we had ancestors at
Appomattox. Sure wish government leaders today could learn to do what Lee and Grant did there.
Thanks for sharing that bit of family history with me.
Enjoyed the information about our ancestors. Too bad country leaders can’t show same compassion and respect to each other into days world.
I had toured Appomattox and was given a facsimile of the parole form. I subsequently gave a civil war talk to my daughter’s 5th grade class and brought copies of the form and paroled each student. They got quite a kick out of it!
Thanks for sharing your story. You most likely laid the foundation for several children to pursue an interest in history and the American Civil War…