Part of the USA Today Network

York County soldier was at Appomattox; saw General Lee

Generals Grant and Lee shake hands inside the McLean house at Appomattox CH (National Park Service)
Generals Grant and Lee shake hands inside the McLean house at Appomattox CH (National Park Service)

Thousands of men from York County served in the Union army (and a handful in the Confederate army) during the American Civil War. Only a handful, however, ever recorded seeing legendary Confederate General Robert E. Lee in person. One hundred and fifty years ago on April 9, 1865, his main pathways to rendezvousing with the army of Joseph Johnston blocked by powerful Union forces, Lee decided to surrender rather than risk further futile bloodshed.

According to the National Park Service, a Confederate general with a strong connection to York County sent word to Lee that he could not break loose from the cordon of Federal forces. “At dawn on April 9, General John B. Gordon’s Corps attacked the Union cavalry blocking the stage road, but after an initial success, Gordon sent word to Lee around 8:30 a.m. ‘… my command has been fought to a frazzle, and unless Longstreet can unite in the movement, or prevent these forces from coming upon my rear, I cannot go forward.’ Receiving the message, Lee replied, ‘There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.'”

(John Gordon, of course, was the charismatic, talented Rebel general whose men marched from York to Wrightsville back in June 1863 in an attempt to seize the covered bridge over the Susquehanna River.)

Lee met with Union General Ulysses Grant inside the parlor of the Wilmer McLean house near Appomattox Courthouse to discuss the terms of the surrender. After a brief meeting, he emerged, mounted his horse Traveler, and slowly rode back to his beloved men.

The next day, April 10, Lee met Grant on horseback for further conversation. Gordon would officially surrender the honor to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Gettysburg hero who Grant selected as his representative.

A young soldier from York County was there.

His name was Henry Shultz.

A corporal in the 87th Pennsylvania, Shultz watched as the great Rebel chieftain, adorned in his best uniform, rode past him, along with U. S. Grant.

Here is Shultz’ brief account…

Detail from a National Park Service wayside marker at Appomattox Courthouse, Va.
Detail from a National Park Service wayside marker at Appomattox Courthouse, Va.

“I was lying along the railroad tracks near Appomattox Court House and saw Generals Lee and Grant riding side by side along the railroad not more than thirty feet away,” Corporal  Shultz  recalled. “This was on the day of Lee’s surrender. He didn’t turn to look at me; he must have been ashamed.”

Henry Shultz, a hired farm hand from Hellam Township in eastern York County, had run away at the age of seventeen to join the army back in September 1861. He had seen a lot of combat over the next few years in the ranks of the 87th Pennsylvania, and had survived two wounds at the Second Battle of Winchester in the Gettysburg Campaign, when he was captured. He now was a corporal at Appomattox.

Henry Shultz’s reminiscences are courtesy of his great-great-grandnephew, David F. Spangler, and are used by written permission. Adapted from the popular book by Scott Mingus and Jim McClure, “Civil War Voices from York County, Pa.

Also from that 2011 book…

The reports of Lee’s surrender touched off celebrations almost immediately.

Joyous citizens rushed into the streets to share in the moment.

In Wrightsville, 29-year-old lumber merchant John Stoner Beidler penned in his diary, “News came that Lee surrendered his whole army to Grant. Bells ringing all around this morning.”

The female-owned Hanover Spectator also rejoiced, “Certainly the surrender of Lee is a victory such as we never had before to rejoice over.”

When news reached York County about the Rebel surrender at Appomattox, Lewis Miller drew a red, white, and blue scene topped by a soaring eagle.

“To our brave footmen, who handled sword and gun,” he wrote under the drawing.

He also praised officers of the navy and applauded the great Union generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Kilpatrick, among others.

“Our gun is pois’d, our aim is Sure, Our wish is good, our End is pure,” Miller wrote, “To virtue we are Sworn allies, And Shoot at folly as it flies.

[Note that at 3:15 today, April 9, 2015, bells across America will ring simultaneously in commemoration of the symbolic end of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Several communities in York County, including the city of York, are participating. More than 700,000 men perished in the four-year conflict.]