American Portraits

Prevent Further Effusion of Blood: The Surrender at Appomattox and Respect

In this lesson, students will read about the surrender at Appomattox between Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. They will learn about how the two men acted with respect despite their differences and be able to apply this lesson to their own lives.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.


On April 5, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee marched his starving, exhausted men across the swollen Appomattox River to Amelia Court House in central Virginia. In mid-afternoon, General Lee was visibly shaken when he was informed that the boxcars on the railroad did not contain the expected rations of food. There was very little forage for his troops in the surrounding countryside, and the Union cavalry under General Philip Sheridan were closing in and burning supply wagons. Lee reluctantly ordered his men to march due west without food. Those soldiers who were firmly committed to the cause set out without complaint, but increasing numbers were deserting the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee realized that he would have to surrender soon….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you be respectful of others?

Virtue Defined

Respect is civility flowing from personal humility.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will read about the surrender at Appomattox between Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. They will learn about how the two men acted with respect despite their differences and be able to apply this lesson to their own lives.


  • Students will analyze the relationship between Grant and Lee at the surrender at Appomattox.
  • Students will understand the purpose of being respectful even when you disagree with another person.
  • Students will determine ways in which they can be respectful in their own lives.


In 1864, the Union army decisively gained the upper hand over the Confederates. Union General William T. Sherman captured Atlanta in September and began a destructive “March to the Sea” that included the capture of Savannah, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina. Union General Ulysses S. Grant had a force more than double the size of Robert Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that marched towards the Confederate capital of Richmond. In November, President Abraham Lincoln won re-election and pushed the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress in January 1865.

In March, Lincoln delivered a conciliatory Second Inaugural Address, stating that he hoped to bind the nation’s wounds “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” By April 2, Grant broke the stalemate outside of Richmond and smashed through Confederate lines, forcing Lee to retreat westward. Union armies entered Richmond and raised the American flag as Grant went in pursuit of Lee. If Grant defeated Lee and forced his surrender, the war might end.  However, other Confederate forces might continue fighting. Confederate President Jefferson Davis even called for them to launch a guerrilla war that might last years and delay defeat. Finally, if Grant defeated Lee, how would the Union general treat the rebellious army? Would he treat them as a vanquished foe or magnanimously to restore the Union and heal the broken nation after four years of war?


  • Thirteenth Amendment
  • Conciliatory
  • Malice
  • Stalemate
  • Guerrilla
  • Vanquished
  • Magnanimously
  • Rations
  • Skirmished
  • Reproach
  • Posterity
  • Dissipated
  • Resplendent
  • Adversary
  • Subordinate
  • Solemnly
  • Valiantly
  • Triumphal
  • Rebuked
  • Procession

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Ulysses S. Grant’s role in the surrender at Appomattox? How did it differ from Robert E. Lee’s?
  • What was Grant’s purpose?
  • What did Grant do at the surrender that showed his respect?
  • How did Grant’s purpose affect his role as General-in-Chief of the Union army?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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