On April 6, 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia lost 8,700 men, about one-fifth of its strength, at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek. As a result, Lee lost his rearguard and any hope he had of eluding Grant and linking up with Joe Johnston in North Carolina vanished. Lee, observing the action, was heard to say “My God! Has the army been dissolved?” Moreover, the large number of prisoners taken, about 7,700 of the 8,700 surrendered indicated the extent to which hope had been lost.
The next day, General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding federal troops in the theater, opened communications with General Lee.
General R.E. Lee, Commanding C.S.A.:
5 P.M., April 7th, 1865.
The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
U.S. Grant, Lieutenant-General”
The note was carried through the Confederate lines and Lee promptly responded:
April 7th, 1865.
General: I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.
R.E. Lee, General.”
Two days later they would meet at the McLean house at tiny hamlet of Appomattox, Virginia.