Robert E. Lee, as Confederate Commander
- A fine copy of his valedictory General Orders No. 9, signed (R E Lee | Genl")
- Paper, Ink
The day after he surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Lee issued the present poignant farewell to the men of the Army of Northern Virginia. Colonel Charles Marshall, Lee's military secretary, recalled the circumstances under which the order was composed: "On the night of April 9th … General Lee sat with several of us at a fire in front of his tent, and after some conversation about the army and the events of the day in which his feelings toward his men were strongly expressed, he told me to prepare an order to the troops. …" However, other activities prevented Marshall from drafting a text until late the next evening when Lee, "finding that the order had not been prepared, directed me to get into his ambulance, which stood near his tent, and placed an orderly to prevent anyone from approaching us. I made a draft in pencil and took it to General Lee who struck out a paragraph, which he said would tend to keep alive the feeling existing between the North and South, and made one or two other changes. I then returned to the ambulance, recopied the order and gave it to a clerk in the office of the Adjutant General to write in ink" (Marshall, ed. Maurice, pp. 275-76).
Copies were then made for transmittal to corps commanders and other members of the army staff, each dutifully signed by Lee that day, while other individuals made their own copies, which they brought to Lee to sign as souvenirs—a practice that continued for the remaining five years of his life. Apart from the deletion of five words, the elision of paragraph breaks, some incidentals of punctuation and capitalization, and the substitution of "unceasing" for "increasing" and "of" for "for" in the final sentence, the present copy agrees in all essential respects with the official text of Lee's eloquent farewell address (see Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, ed. Dowdey, pp. 934-35).
The dignity of Lee's valedictory address is worthy of the reverence with which generations of Southerners have regarded it: "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 . 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 would compensate the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifices of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement Officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection. With unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell."
For Robert E. Lee, the fighting was over. But even after the Army of Northern Virginia was disbanded, he fulfilled one last duty to the greater Army of the Confederacy, writing on 20 April to President Jefferson Davis that he saw "no prospect … of achieving a separate independence" and recommending that "measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace" (Wartime Papers, p. 939). When peace did come, Lee worked tirelessly to achieve a full reconciliation between the North and the South; as he wrote to Virginia's former governor, John Letcher, on 28 August 1865, "The questions which for years were in dispute between the State & Genl. Governments, & which unhappily were not decided by the dictates of reason, but referred to the decision of war, having been decided against us; it is the part of wisdom to acquiesce in the result, & of candor to recognize the fact. The interests of the State of therefore the same as those of the U. States."
BASED ON THE PAPER STOCK AND CLERICAL HANDWRITING, THIS COPY WAS ALMOST CERTAINLY SIGNED AT APPOMATTOX.