What might have happened if Robert E. Lee hadn't signed the surrender?
|Update: July 10, 2015 Over the last eight years, this piece has received a lot of attention and appreciation, brief as it is. I find it wonderful so many people are as fascinated by the Civil War history as I am. I have studied the Civil War and Robert E. Lee since the eighth grade when I was assigned to do a report for history class. Until that time, it had never really seemed real to me as a war but the research I did made it real. I will likely try to pick this up in the future and try my hand at a historical fiction novel. I could see this being full of intrigue and government attempts to silence it. With all the interest lately in the confederate flag it would likely be worthwhile. When the time is right. Thank you to everyone who has shared third thoughts and I hope more will continue to do so.
(This was an entry for The History Contest - to create an alternative for an event in history.)
Melissa walked up the stone porch steps and hesitated. She swallowed hard, then took a moment to smooth her blue skirt and straighten her blouse. Her hand trembled as she rang the doorbell. A short, gray haired woman opened the door.
“Hello, may I help you?”
“I’m Melissa Cartridge. We spoke on the phone earlier about my research on Robert E. Lee?”
“Oh yes, come in dear.”
“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Ms. Wilcox.”
“Please, call me Angela."
Melissa followed Angela into the living room and together, they sat on the large leather sofa. The room was decorated with two beautiful oil paintings of landscapes as well as what appeared to be a family portrait.
“Let me see, I put that journal right over here,” Angela reached into the drawer of a nearby end table then handed the bound journal to Melissa.
Melissa held the book with nervous fingers. The pages were yellowed and loose, the brown leather binding cracked.
“Angela, this is a priceless piece of history. Why haven’t you donated it to one of the museums? The pages need to be preserved with the utmost care.”
“To be honest, it was at the bottom of a box full of civil war family heirlooms. I suppose no one’s ever paid much attention to what's in that old box, we just pass it from one person to the next. I plan to give it to my granddaughter next month at her twelfth birthday party.”
Melissa flipped open the tattered leather bound journal and stared for a moment at the neat scrawl. The pages were well preserved considering their age. She turned each page, careful not to use too much pressure. Melissa found a page dated April 9, 1865 and took a deep breath before she began to read.
“…General Grant offered General Lee a drink, which he accepted. Lee continued to speak regarding a battle they had fought in together during the Mexican War. Grant handed Lee his cup who took a drink before he continued his story. In mid-sentence, General Lee gasped and sat forward in his chair. He clutched at the left side of his chest while his free hand opened and closed several times, as if in a spasm. Lee's aides gathered to his side while another went to fetch the field doctor. General Grant was able to catch Lee when he toppled out of his chair and his aides helped move him onto the floor.
An attempt was made to determine what was wrong, but General Lee wouldn't respond to our queries and didn't appear to be breathing. One of the aides felt for a heartbeat and found none. Lee's lips had turned blue and his eyes were dilated, a look in his eyes that had been seen often on the battlefields of this long conflict.
The doctor arrived and confirmed General Lee was dead and General Grant, without hesitation, gave the aides permission to return with Lee to their camp under the cease fire agreement.Gen
A few hours later a contingent of men appeared and with them they carried a white flag. General Grant rode out to meet them followed by his aides and they spoke for a short time before Grant returned to camp.
‘They believe we poisoned Robert E. Lee.' I shall never forget how Grant's voice, mournful and sad, as he looked at his aides. ‘They now refuse to surrender. Gather our forces and prepare to attack.’ I could see he did not relish the idea of continued conflict with the Confederate army, not because of any cause for concern over victory or defeat but more, the futility of it all. The confederates were vastly outnumbered, three to one or better, had little rations, and had already gone through two weeks of pitched battles to come to this ignominious battle, of which defeat was certain.
It was a slaughter down to the last rebel soldier. The gunfire lasted only until sunset and although many attempted to escape in the heat of the battle, most all were captured. Even with their larger numbers, many Union soldiers died or were injured along with the Confederates...”
“This is amazing.” Melissa closed the journal. “May I borrow this to show my professor?”
“I suppose a little travel shouldn’t hurt it. Let me give you a bag to carry it in.”
Melissa soon left and headed home. She worked on her notes and sent an email to her professor to schedule an appointment for the next afternoon. The following day at noon she met her professor in his office.
“Dr. Brown, I have the most remarkable journal to show you. “ Melissa handed him the plastic wrapped book. “It’s Wilmer McLean’s.”
“You mean Wilmer McLean, as in the one whose house Robert E. Lee was killed in?” Dr. Brown stared at her.
“The same.” Melissa nodded and turned to the journal entry she’d read the night before. “The best part is, I don’t think Lee was poisoned. I think he had a heart attack.”
Dr. Brown picked up his spectacles and began to read the passage. He removed his glasses once he was done and stared at her.
“My god, could you imagine if Robert E. Lee had signed that surrender?” The professor stood and leaned on his desk. “Hundreds of thousands of lives would have been spared. The Confederates wouldn't have spent the next ten years in rebellion against the Union army. The economic and political effects would have been enormous. There would have been an end to slavery a hundred years sooner.”
Melissa nodded. “If he’d signed the surrender, the world would be a very different place.”
965 words*Note: I have received numerous comments that this could be extended into a longer piece and maybe one day in the future I will do so but at this time, I have no intentions of expanding it. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!