Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final part of a series on the battle that ended the American Civil War and the negotiations between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Click here for Part One and here for Part Two. Part Three is available here.
Negotiation Lesson Six Always close with honor, dignity, clarity, and amity
After Lee’s departure for the evening, Grant telegraphed President Lincoln in Washington. Grant also commanded a cessation to celebration by the Union forces that were firing volleys into the air so that no exultation would be shown to the Confederacy over their downfall.
Before Grant left for Washington “with a view to putting a stop to the purchase of supplies, and what I now deemed other useless outlay of money” he visited Lee with one last request. In negotiation we call this nibbling. “…so next morning I rode out beyond our lines towards his headquarters, preceded by a bugler and a staff-officer carrying a white flag.”
“Lee soon mounted his horse… and met me. We had… a very pleasant conversation of over half an hour, in the course of which Lee said to me that the South was a big country and that we might have to march over it three or four times before the war entirely ended, but that we would now be able to do it as they could no longer resist us. He expressed it as his earnest hope, however, that we would not be called upon to cause more loss and sacrifice of life; but he could not foretell the result.”
“I then suggested to General Lee that there was not a man in the Confederacy whose influence with the soldiery and the whole people was as great as his, and that if he would now advise the surrender of all armies I had no doubt his advice would be followed with alacrity. But Lee said, that he could not do that without consulting the President first. I knew there was no use to urge him to do anything against his ideas of what was right.”
Grant had no choice but to agree to Lee’s demurral, based as it was in reality. Further, Grant had use the “higher authority” tactic just a day earlier. While both generals desired no more loss of life or destruction, they recognized that the vastness of the country and the state of communications could require months before the news was accepted. Indeed, the last Confederate General to surrender was Cherokee chief Stand Watie on June 23, 1864.
As to amity, Grant recorded this observation. “I was accompanied by my staff and other officers, some of whom seemed to have a great desire to go inside the Confederate lines. They finally asked permission of Lee to do so for the purpose of seeing some of their old army friends, and the permission was granted. They went over, had a very pleasant time with their old friends, and brought some of them back with them when they returned.”
With obvious great desire to return to some form of normalcy, Grant wrote, “When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag. For the time being it looked very much as if all thought of the war had escaped their minds. After an hour pleasantly passed in this way I set out on horseback, accompanied by my staff and a small escort, for Burkesville Junction, up to which point the railroad had by this time been repaired.”
Would this ending has been anywhere near as good if both generals, and particularly Grant, had not been so gifted in negotiation?