The Appomattox (or Shenandoah) Parole Passes and Confederate Cavalry After Appomattox

A printing press set up at Clover Hill Tavern at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the same building where originals were created.

Following the combat at Appomattox Court House on the morning of April 9, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia prepared to surrender. Lee and Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant met in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s house in the small town. There they discussed terms that Grant had previously set in messages to Lee – that enlisted men and officers of the Army of Northern Virginia would be paroled. Lee assented, but also brought up a few additional measures. Grant magnanimously agreed to allowed Confederates to retain their personal mounts, as Confederates often owned the horses they used personally, and allowed officers to retain their sidearms and baggage. The terms were copied and signed, and the victorious Union army began distributing rations to their former foes. However, not all soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia were among them. Some, including Confederate cavalryman Andrew Gatewood, who I’ve written about previously, had fled to avoid surrender. Escaping westward, they held out hope for continued resistance but were eventually compelled to surrender, receiving similar parole passes later.

In the midst of the surrender proceedings, Robert E. Lee issued his farewell address, often described as General Order No. 9. In it, he urged his men to return home peacefully and not to continue the conflict into a bloody guerilla period that the Union army feared. However, his words also proved foundational in the Lost Cause ideology. In part, he wrote:

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuation of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.[1]

Lee had given birth to key tenants of the Lost Cause, stating that their defeat was not due to any shortcomings he may have had as a commander or and inadequacies his men may have had as soldiers but instead was due to the numbers and resources of the North. These worlds exempted the soldiers from blame and allowed them to cling to their defeated cause as a glorious and honorable one even if it had been in vain.

Following this first meeting, Lee and Grant had a second conference on the morning of April 10. There, Grant agreed to issue individual paroles to Confederate soldiers. Major General John Gibbon, one of the Union commanders in charge of overseeing the surrender and the parole process, recorded that Grant spoke to him, saying, “’Gen. Lee is desirous that his officers and men should have on their persons some evidence that they are paroled prisoners, so that they will not be disturbed’…I said I thought that could be arranged, and I had a small printing press and could have blank forms struck off which could be filled in and one given to each officer and man of the army.”[2] At once, Gibbon brought his command’s printing press to the Clover Hill Tavern, and sent out a call for all soldiers with printing experience to assist in the herculean task of printing 30,000 passes. Lee and Grant understood the importance that physical parole passes would have, as this paper would provide safety from former solders being executed as deserters or guerillas. Little did they know, however, how important these passes would become to some former Confederates.

Grant took the generosity of his surrender terms even further. On the 10, he issued a special order, and had it distributed to commands of both the Union and Confederate armies. It read, “All officers and men of the Confederate service paroled at Appomattox Court House who to reach their homes are compelled to pass through the lines of the Union armies, will be allowed to do so, and to pass free on all Government transports and military railroads.”[3] These parole passes also allowed Confederates to draw rations from Union troops they met along the way. Often, surviving examples of parole passes have penciled-on writing by Union troops detailing when a Confederate used this order to gain food or transportation. Gatewood’s parole does not appear to have any of these marks, although the pencil writing on the front is nearly illegible and there is no current way to read what may be on the rear of the pass due to how it is displayed.

A reproduction of the parole passes issued at Appomattox Court House, showing a design typical of the April 1865 examples. Photo by author.

These paroles were distributed to the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry and artillery on April 11, though as previously mentioned many cavalrymen had fled rather than surrender. The infantry received theirs following their formal surrender and stacking of arms on the 12th. Almost immediately, Confederate soldiers grasped the importance of the papers. To them, “the paroles represented the promise that they would not be treated dishonorably.”[4] Instead, they could travel home without fear of being accosted and even draw food or transportation from Union garrisons they passed. These papers were sought after “as a shield against ‘punishment and vengeance,’” and a Union officer recorded “It was very noticeable how greedily the Confederates, rank and file especially, clutched at their ‘protection papers’ provided for them by the terms of the treaty.”[5]

Following the brief fight, most of the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry fled. For example, no members of the 11th Virginia Cavalry, such as Andrew Gatewood, received parole passes printed at Appomattox Court House between April 10 and 13.  One artillerist who avoided capture and surrender wrote home explaining his choice. “I am by no means conquered yet,” wrote Ham Chamberlayne. “We refused to take part in the funeral at Appomattox C.H. & cut or crept our way out.”[6] One can imagine that Gatewood felt similarly.  Hoping to bring these stragglers in to surrender rather than allowing them to form pockets of resistance, Grant offered the same parole terms to any scattered Confederate to turn themselves in. Fitzhugh Lee and most of the cavalry returned to be paroled, but many men in the division under Thomas Rosser, including Gatewood, did not.[7]

When Rosser saw the inevitable, he arranged for the surrender of his command. Though he intended for a mass surrender on May 10, his dispersed command surrendered in a much less organized fashion. On May 4, the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry received orders to travel to Staunton and receive the surrender of Rosser’s command. The orders stated, “By agreement with the authorities here he is to have his command collected and necessary steps taken for their parole on the 10th instant. The general terms are the same as those agreed upon between Gens. Grant and Lee.”[8] Franklin Stratton, Lieutenant Colonel of the 11th Pennsylvania, wrote that when his regiment arrived, he found other Union troops had begun to parole the Confederates. He wrote to his commanders, complaining that Rosser “had made no visible preparation for paroling the remainder of his men, nor was there any tangible evidence of his intention to turn over any rebel government property whatever. After several interviews with him I ascertained that the men of his command were entirely dispersed, and would only come in in small detachments, or singly, to be paroled.”[9] Doing little to ameliorate fears of guerilla warfare, Rosser had admitted he had hidden several pieces of artillery that he had no intention of turning in. Slowly but surely, however, Gatewood and others made their way to surrender and be paroled.

Andrew Gatewood’s Parole Pass. Note the design on the left hand side. A.C.L. Gatewood Papers, West Virginia and Regional History Center.

These parole passes printed in the Shenandoah Valley looked extremely similar to those issued the month prior, and as such it is difficult to find extensive research on their specifics. One key difference is that the decorative design on the left differs from those printed at Appomattox, which can be seen by comparing Gatewood’s pass to the reproduction pass. Additionally, examining the detailed returns and records kept by both armies during the parole distribution revealed that no members of the 11th Virginia Cavalry received passes at Appomattox. This same decorative left-side design is shown on the parole pass issued to Sergeant Benjamin H. Woodford of the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry and published in “A Priceless Legacy” in the March 2006 copy of the Civil War Times. The 62nd was similarly not at Appomattox. Although the location of issue is unknown, many other soldiers of the unit were paroled by the Middle Military Division headquartered out of Winchester, Virginia.[10] Thus, it appears that this design was copied and printed by a military office handling the paroles of straggling Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley, and is likely of the same origin as Gatewood’s pass. The reason the passes were so similar was because, despite the change in political situation in the aftermath of President Lincoln’s assassination, Rosser’s command was to receive the same terms as those that surrendered at Appomattox. As such, they kept the same textual design, even to the point of including the original date, and the same privileges.

Unfortunately, Gatewood’s wartime diary skips the month of May and never officially records when he received the parole pass. He may have ridden into Staunton to surrender, or he may have received it when elements of the 8th Ohio Cavalry arrived on his farm in early June.[11] Most likely, however, he received the pass in Winchester since other examples of this style were issued there. Despite his later pride in his pass, he may have been embarrassed to surrender and not recorded the event. In any case, by July his diary turned away from war and politics and towards recording farm business. Gatewood’s war was over.

These parole passes, whether gained during those fateful April days at Appomattox Court House or acquired later by men who had broken out of the Union lines, took on great importance. One veteran, Edgar Warfield, had his parole pass until his death in 1934. He recorded, “I still have it. I have carefully preserved it, valuing it as a priceless relic, as it furnishes official proof that I was present with the army to the last.”[12] Over time, they transformed from a sign of defeat to a practical tool to ensure food, transportation, and safety and eventually a sign of Lost Cause pride. They were a symbol that a soldier had fought for the cause until the last moment, even beyond Appomattox in some cases, and were treasured by those who had them, whether they were an Appomattox or Shenandoah version.

[1] J. Jones, Life and Letters of Robert Edward Lee, Soldier and Man (District of Columbia: Neale Publishing Company, 1906), 486.

[2] William G. Nine and Ronald G Wilson, The Appomattox Paroles, April 9-15, 1865, 3rd ed. Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series (Lynchburg: H.E. Howard, 1989), 5.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Elizabeth R. Varon, Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2014), 72.

[5] Varon, 73.

[6] Caroline E. Janney, “Free to Go Where We Liked: The Army of Northern Virginia after Appomattox.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 9, no. 1 (2019): 10.

[7] Varon, 73-75.

[8] Henry Wilson Storey, History of Cambria County Pennsylvania, Vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1907), 202.

[9] Ibid, 203.

[10] Coco, “A Priceless Legacy,” Civil War Times, March 2006, 44. My thanks to Ryan Quint for this.

[11] Diary June 1, 1865, A.C.L. Gatewood Papers, WVRHC.

[12] Coco, 43.

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12 Responses to The Appomattox (or Shenandoah) Parole Passes and Confederate Cavalry After Appomattox

  1. carsonfoardsbcglobalnet says:

    Never missing an opportunity to slam “The Lost Cause”, Mr. Tracey (once again, with legions of others, unable to admit the South was any sort of worth adversary to a population three times its size) fails to note the primary point of Lee’s statement, that not even a Cause fought so hard was worth more “useless sacrifice”. It’s hard to imagine the mindset that can be so focused on yet another jab at Southerners that it totally ignores the importance – even nobility – of that statement. In fact, the Confederacy came within 11 miles of continuing the War, the distance from Appomattox to Lynchburg and waiting trains. The information on differing parole slips is interesting, but ignores the fact that between Five Forks and Appomattox, some cavalry were overrun by Sheridan and Custer, and melted into the westward woods, with their horses, heading for Lynchburg to reconvene with the Confederate Army there. They did not receive parole passes of any kind at that point, but left Lynchburg, with dull hearts but traveling without incident, to be paroled locally in May, 1865. The reason they had their horses was that it was routine for groups of four to trade out three fighting for one holding the horses a useful distance away; the reason I know any of this is that my Greatgrandfather J.B. Foard was one of those cavalrymen at Namozine Church, April 3, 1865, whose memory you’ve just besmirched, Mr. Tracey and Emerging Civil War, by attributing his efforts, and his belief in the Confederacy, to a sneering remark that exemplifies the Union’s best defense against any thought that its own cause wasn’t as “Just” as they hoped, and still hope, people will believe. It’s sad that, in a country fighting for unity today, these kinds of divisive and demeaning and untrue remarks are found liberally scattered throughout the dialogue of publications such as yours.

    • Jon Tracey says:

      Rosser was pretty clear that when he fled Appomattox he wanted to continue to fight. Gatewood’s diary was too. If you’d like to challenge my research conclusions on Gatewood, I would be more than happy to point you to the three different research institutions that house his letters, diaries, and postwar memoir and UCV documents so that you too can spend as much time as I did consulting documents and microfilm. Thanks.

  2. bfswartz says:

    Thank you for this post.

  3. Mike Maxwell says:

    Thanks for introducing this discussion… because it involves more than Parole passes.
    The end of the Civil War was not neat and tidy; and the surrender of Lee and his Army only “finished” the war, in hindsight. There seems to have been serious consideration of continuing the struggle 1) in the mountains; 2) from Mexico; 3) “out West.” But continuation would have required adoption of more ruthless tactics (such as Quantrill’s, who was still active “out West” in April 1865.) Perhaps nothing was more ruthless than the assassination of President Lincoln on 14 April 1865; and elements of Mosby participated in that assassination (Lewis Payne), or after-the-fact in late April (Jett and Bainbridge), assisting John Wilkes Booth in his flight south. The desire and opportunity to continue the fight likely ended with Joseph Johnston’s second surrender 26 April 1865; and this renegotiated surrender was probably influenced by the assassination of President Lincoln AND a realization in the North of the need to nip in the bud any contemplation of a Southern continuance of the struggle as a guerrilla war.

    • Jon Tracey says:

      Mike, I agree completely. It all seems so clean and clear from the vantage of 2021, but those weeks in April were very uncertain. Gatewood’s diary skips most of May, unfortunately, but his entries throughout the Appomattox campaign and after the cavalry fleeing are very interesting.

  4. John B. Sinclair says:

    Excellent article, Mr. Tracey. Well done. Illegitimi non carborundum.

  5. rcocean says:

    Fascinating Post. Thanks!

  6. Pingback: Civil War paroles at Appomattox – Halfway Home: halfway between Crozet and Hampden-Sidney

  7. mark harnitchek says:

    thanks Jon, great essay … for years i have been reading about “paroles,” particularly the ones Confederates received at Appomattox … i wondered what they actually were, what they looked like and who made them — now i know … and i was not aware that much of the ANV’s cavalry either left prior to or was not present for the surrender — another historical void filled.

  8. Mike Maxwell says:

    Mere days after the Surrender of Vicksburg, U.S. Grant paroled all of the captured Rebels of that garrison… only to see most of them return to the fight within a few weeks. For these “too generous terms,” and for ignoring Jefferson Davis’s decree IRT “enslavement of captured Black Union soldiers and execution of their officers” dated 24 DEC 1862 (and rumored put into practice at Milliken’s Bend), General Grant was admonished by then-Chief of the Army, Henry Halleck [see Papers of US Grant vol.9 pages 4 & 81-82; and OR vol.24 (part 3) pages 469-471, 478 (Special Orders No.181), 488, 490, 497-8 (Halleck to Grant), 546-7 (Grant to Halleck) and OR ser.2 vol.6 pages 92-93 (Halleck to Grant of 8 July 1863.]
    The Terms of Parole granted after Appomattox, and the issuing of Parole Passes, seem to indicate the expectation (on the part of the Union) that “the end of the war is in sight.” Likely, there would be no further prisoner exchanges (or releases from Parole; or releases from captivity) until the war was concluded. As regards the action of vast numbers of Rebel cavalrymen, avoiding Parole and gathering together (under Nathan Bedford Forrest) in Northern Alabama, the numbers are too large to indicate spontaneous assembly: “something” sent them towards Northern Alabama (see OR vol.49 (part 2) page 451.) And Jon Tracey appears to be sorting out what that “something” was…

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