Original Civil War letter detailing Lee’s surrender donated to Auburn

Ulysses S. Grant Letter
Ulysses S. Grant Letter
AUBURN – Auburn University recently acquired a letter documenting one of the more dramatic moments in American history: Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. 

On April 9, 1865, Lee met with Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.  In a letter of the same date, Grant gave Lee the terms of surrender.

The following day Grant apparently made a handwritten copy of the April 9 letter for posterity’s sake, dating it April 10. 

“Before the days of copy machines, it was common practice to produce more than one handwritten copy of important documents,” said Dwayne Cox, head of Auburn Libraries Special Collections. “In 30 years as an archivist, I have never received an item of greater significance.”

Auburn acquired the April 10 letter through the generosity of 1971 graduate James L. Starr. 

“Something as historically important as this should be preserved for future generations,” Starr said.  “I knew Auburn’s collection was the best place for it.  Now it can be enjoyed by students, scholars and the general public.”

Grant’s terms included the parole of all officers and enlisted men in Lee’s army.  In this context, parole meant the promise of a prisoner of war not to take up arms again against his captors.

The terms called upon Lee’s army to surrender their artillery and other weapons but excluded officers’ sidearms, as well as private horses and other personal items.

Finally, Grant allowed officers and men to return to their homes, “not to be disturbed” by United States authorities, provided they observed their parole and the laws of their localities.

Historians consider the latter provision an attempt on Grant’s part to preclude treason trials.  Generally, scholars interpret Grant’s terms of surrender as magnanimous.

Kenneth W. Noe, professor of history at Auburn and an authority on the Civil War, called Starr’s donation “a welcome addition to the university’s holdings of letters, diaries and rare books” related to the conflict.

Bonnie MacEwan, dean of libraries, commented that “gifts like Mr. Starr’s give the Auburn University Libraries its distinct personality, making our collection unique.” 

The Grant letter eventually will appear in Auburn’s Digital Library along with all of the university’s Civil War manuscripts, probably during the Civil War sesquicentennial, which begins in 2011.

Currently, the April 10, 1865, copy of Grant’s letter to Lee is on display in Special Collections, located on the ground floor of the Ralph Brown Draughon Library. 

**Click here to read the transcript of Grant’s letter.**

Contact: Dwayne Cox, (334) 844-1707 (coxdway@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)