Goddamn, here I am riding an unruly horse, blasted by a migraine worse than normal and not merely from drinking, and headed for the home of Wilmer McClean in Appomattox and confused why the hell I let General Robert E. Lee choose the location for his surrender. Maybe he doesn’t really intend to quit. After all, his forces attacked mine just this morning of April ninth, 1865. Only another kick in the face persuaded him, perhaps briefly, to stop fighting. I think what he really cherishes is the ceasefire I granted.
Now he’s probably scheming to attack us somewhere else. His Army of Northern Virginia’s got fewer than twenty thousand men who’re anyway starving and can’t do much. But General Joseph E. Johnston still commands a hundred thousand troops in North Carolina. They can raise hell. What most worries me, though, is that our brave but uneducated and fanatical Confederate enemies will retreat into hills and mountains and, potentially for years, wage partisan warfare, emerging from shadows to attack us as we sleep. That they can assuredly do, shouting: lay siege to Richmond, burn Atlanta, we don’t want cities, we need slaves. They care not that our nation is bloody from the loss of a half million soldiers and unimaginable destruction of society.
Uneasily but with determination I step off my horse in front of Wilmer McClean’s house, salute my officers, and say, “Wait here,” as I march inside. Robert E. Lee is outfitted for an inaugural ball. His gray dress uniform is immaculate, or nearly so, and his boots ornate and clean, and his long sword, for the moment, sheathed. There I stand in muddy boots and worn uniform and without my cutlass.
To the tall man with brilliant gray hair and beard, even before he has time to rise, I announce, “I’ve offered to let your soldiers go home as free men and take their horses for spring planting as well as their revolvers for basic protection and personal dignity. In return I’ve merely demanded your military arms be turned over to Union troops and that you obey the laws of the United States and resume being loyal civilians. I won’t allow you to continue this slaughter with a band of outlaws.
“I have no such intentions, sir.”
“Take off that sword at once,” I say.
He does so and to me extends the weapon I grab and throw into a corner before stepping into Lee with a straight right to his gray beard, knocking him on his back.
I walk outside, “Men, come quickly, General Lee has fainted.”