First Printing of Robert E. Lee’s General Orders No. 9
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“With unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.” [ROBERT E. LEE].
Broadside Signed in type “R. E. Lee, General”: “General Orders No. 9”, “Head Quarters Army Northern Virginia [near Appomattox Court House], April 10th, 1865.” Very rare unrecorded variant.
This is very likely the first printing of Lee’s farewell to his troops, one of the most famous documents written during the Civil War and perhaps the most famous military order in American history. It is an unrecorded, hitherto unknown variant, possibly an expedient field printing, printed on verso of a recycled partial Confederate commissary’s receipt with the printed dateline “Lynchburg, Va.” in the heading.
For four years, Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia represented the Confederacy’s best hope for winning the war. But by April 1865, almost every major Southern city had fallen to advancing Union forces. On April 7, 1865, Lee received a message from Ulysses S. Grant: “The result of last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance…I…regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking you to surrender that portion of the Confederates States Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.”
Lee responded: “Though not entertaining the opinion you expressed of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.”
More than half a dozen notes passed between Grant and Lee, until on April 9th, Lee reluctantly decided to accept Grant’s terms. “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant…and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”
Charles Marshall, Lee’s aide-de-camp, drafted terms for surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, chose the sight of the surrender meeting, and was the only Confederate in the McLean House besides Lee. The morning after the surrender, Marshall found some privacy in Lee’s ambulance, with an orderly posted outside to deflect distractions, and penned General Orders No. 9.
Marshall described how General Order No. 9 came to be: “On the night of April 9th…General Lee sat with several of us at a fire in front of his tent, and after some conversation about the army and the events of the day in which his feelings toward his men were strongly expressed, he told me to prepare an order to the troops….”
Lee edited the first draft, making a few minor changes and striking out a paragraph which he felt would keep alive the current hostilities between the North and South. Lee hoped his order would help ease the South’s humiliation and sense of loss that came with the surrender.
This General Orders’ text is hand-set letterpress, exhibiting a hurried quality, as evidenced by a misspelled word, a line of type that goes off horizontal, and spacing errors within the text. The distinctly crude quality of the print suggests it was hurriedly printed. The text has slight grammar and punctuation differences from that published in the Wartime Papers of R.E. Lee, plus a few differences in wording (which, however, can also be found in the various manuscript copies Lee signed). Based on these characteristics, the handbill has the “feel” of field-printed, perhaps from Appomattox. Yet other indications of this unrecorded printing suggest that it was printed in Lynchburg within a very few days of the issuance date, April 10th. First, the necessity form itself is an A(rmy) of the C(onfederate) S(tates) form, datelined Lynchburg. Second, the Virginia State Confederate government had fled Richmond and convened in Lynchburg until April 10th, then finally to Danville. Third, the textual variances suggest a very early transcription. Lynchburg being 20 miles from Appomattox it is possible that this transcription came from a fleeing Confederate soldier. Hundreds of Confederates refused to surrender at Appomattox, heading South in hopes of joining General Joe Johnston (until he surrendered the Army of the Tennessee on April 26th in North Carolina). Fourth, after the terms had been agreed upon, Union soldiers worked for the next two days in the Clover Hill Tavern at Appomattox to print more than 28,000 parole passes that would permit Confederate soldiers to return home with their horses and mules without being hampered by Union patrols. When the presses at the Clover Hill Tavern gave out, the work was finished in Lynchburg.