Palm Sunday 1865

(In commemoration of the Civil War beginning 150 years ago on April 12, I am repeating this post from last year on Palm Sunday.)

I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865.  Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox.  We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history.  The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war.  The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south.  Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated.  All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.

Near death as he finished his memoirs, Grant wrote this passage which sums up what he and Lee helped to accomplish:

I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”   A striking indication that Grant’s words were coming true occurred shortly after he wrote them.  At his funeral his pallbearers were Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan and Confederate generals Joseph Johnston and Simon Bolivar Buckner.  Union and Confederate officers rode together in carriages in Grant’s funeral procession.  The day was August 8, 1885.  What Grant and Lee planted 20 years ago was beginning to bear fruit.

2 Responses to Palm Sunday 1865

  • When I was a freshman in college, I did a research project for the Sumter County Historical Society on the history of religion in Sumter County, SC. The first Catholic school in Sumter was founded by Josephite nuns who came up from Charleston to flee the war. A batch of Sherman’s troops came through Sumter on Palm Sunday, 1865. The nuns, having come there to escape the war, were not about to have the war hit Sumter, so they met the troops in the street and pleaded with them to save the city in honor of Holy Week. They convinced the troops to put down their arms, put them up for Holy Week, and the students at the school put on a Passion Play. Sumter made it through unscathed.

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