In early April, 1865, the Federal forces commanded by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, after ten months of siege warfare in front of Petersburg, Virginia, forced the Army of Northern Virginia out of its works. The Confederates abandoned the Richmond defenses and tried to escape.
With the end in sight, Grant's Union troops mounted an aggressive pursuit, inflicting heavy losses on the Confederates at Five Forks, Amelia Court House, and Sailor's Creek. Finally, Major General Philip Sheridan's men cut off the Rebels from their supply trains. General Robert E. Lee recognized the futility of continued resistance; "there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I had rather die a thousand deaths."
Lee sent a courier with a flag of truce, responding to a letter from Grant seeking to discuss terms of surrender. "I now request an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday ...," Lee wrote.
Grant hastened to Appomattox Court House; Lee awaited him with Colonel Charles Marshall in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean house. Ironically, McLean had moved to Appomattox Court House shortly after two major battles at Manassas Junction had nearly destroyed his home there. Now the war would practically end in his front parlor, on Palm Sunday.
According to Grant, "When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands, took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview." This painting, commissioned by the National Park Service, depicts the scene as described by several eyewitnesses. After exchanging pleasantries, the two leaders discussed the terms of surrender, Grant magnanimous, and Lee courteous and appreciative for the thoughtfulness shown for his men.
One of Grant's military secretaries, Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian, is depicted with Charles Marshall, Lee's military secretary, in the left of the painting going over the surrender terms. Among Grant's officers is Captain Robert T. Lincoln, son of the President, shown holding Grant's chair, while Philip H. Sheridan is seated behind Lincoln.