Matthew Wittmann's doing a great job with the new American Numismatic Society blog, Pocket Change. The April 14, 2015
installment discusses a medal issued for U.S. Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign and the "myth of Appomattox." -Editor
The 150th anniversary of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Appomattox was commemorated in New York City this
weekend with some celebratory cannon shots from Castle Clinton in Battery Park. Historian Gregory P. Downs also had an excellent column in
the New York Times about some of the pernicious myths that cloud our understanding of this hallowed event. As Downs points out, the war
hardly ended at Appomattox, as Southerners continued to violently and rather successfully resist efforts towards racial equality in the
years that followed.
This ongoing struggle and the violence, though, has largely been obscured by the myth of reconciliation at Appomattox, where Confederate
soldiers were supposed to have accepted their defeat graciously, stacked their arms, and returned to peaceful civilian lives. One of the
remarkable things about what Downs calls the “myth of Appomattox” is how quickly it took hold. See, for example, this medal issued by Quint
and Sons of Philadelphia for Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign.
The medal burnished Grant’s image as a magnanimous victor, and someone focused on peace and reconciliation rather than continued
conflict. Grant was clearly aware of the problems posed by recalcitrant Southerners and made some aggressive but ultimately ineffectual
moves to see Reconstruction through. These efforts were in part undermined by the growing legend of Appomattox and peaceful rapprochement.
Indeed, this was something that the reverse of the medal articulated explicitly with the redolent symbolism of stacked arms.
The plowing horse image and quote referred to Grant’s decision to allow Confederate troops who owned their own horses to take them with
them after the surrender. The idea, related by Grant in his memoirs, was that this would make it easier for the soldiers-cum-farmers to
“put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter.” This conciliatory gesture became part of the myth of
To read the complete article, see:
THE MYTH OF APPOMATTOX
Wayne Homren, Editor
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