Civil War Centennial
This series features five stamps – one for each year of the Civil War – to commemorate its 100th anniversary.
In the spring of 1864, the Union and Confederate armies were in a race toward Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s main objective was to get between Lee’s army and Richmond, thus severing its communications and supplies.
On May 3, 1864, the Union army crossed the Rapidan River and entered a dense forest known as the Wilderness. Knowing that Lee avoided engagements on difficult ground, Grant ordered his men to camp for the night. The next morning they would set off and attempt to get between Lee and Richmond.
The following morning, as the Union army was beginning its march out of the Wilderness, the Confederates attacked. Because of the thick vegetation in the forest, it was difficult to see or maneuver properly, making an effective battle impossible. Cavalry and artillery were useless in such an environment, so much of the fighting was nearly hand to hand. Before long, the flashes from muskets ignited the dry underbrush. Fire claimed the lives of many wounded still lying on the battlefield.
Grant considered the battle a Union victory because he was able to accomplish his objective of getting his troops across the Rapidan River (practically in the face of Lee’s army) and re-forming as a unit on the other side. However, because of the heavy casualties on both sides, history remembers it as a tactical draw.
On April 9, 1865, after a week of almost daily conflicts with Grant’s Union army, Lee’s Confederates approached the small Virginia settlement of Appomattox. After a short battle with a much larger Union force at Appomattox, Lee sent word to Grant that he wished to surrender.
The two generals, each with a small group of officers, met in the parlor of Wilmer McLean to negotiate terms. Grant’s terms were generous. Soldiers were allowed to keep their horses for the next year’s plowing, and officers were allowed to keep their pistols. Grant also ordered that Confederate prisoners be fed with Union rations and that the Union soldiers refrain from celebrating the victory in the presence of the defeated Confederate army.
At long last, America’s tragic Civil War had come to an end.