Lee Surrendered – Have You?
One hundred forty seven years ago today, on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia at 2:00 p.m. Lee, formerly an officer in the Union Army, had left the northern army following his native Virginia as it sided with the South during the Civil War. This resignation resulted in his loss of US citizenship, which was ultimately restored by Pres. Gerald Ford more than 110 years later.
Lee, a devoutly religious man, ended up being promoted to lead the Confederate army in January, 1865 and reported directly to Confederate States of America (CSA) President Jefferson Davis. Previously, Lee had been a brilliant strategist in the northern army before assuming command of the southern forces. His wife was related to Mary Custis, wife of President Washington, and Lee lived on an estate that was later converted into Arlington National Cemetery.
With his loyalty turned toward the South, Lee forfeited much of the land and holdings that his family had amassed throughout the years. And although he was deeply divided in his loyalties, siding with the South, he had personally given freedom to his own slaves in support of the northern position.
One of the the interesting twists of fate has to do with the events leading to the surrender of his troops that fateful day in 1865. Lee had previously been opposed to assuming the rank of General, hoping instead to maintain the rank he had enjoyed in the Union Army, preferring to wait until a southern victory was inevitable before accepting the rank of General. He was in charge during many of the Virginia campaigns, having declined an opportunity to lead the Union troops in the defense of Washington, D.C. as he was afraid that fulfilling his commission may have resulted in an attack on his native Virginia – which he never could have done.
Anyway, Lee and his troops, having won several victories, found themselves cut off from retreat and unable to get back to North Carolina where his troops would have been safe and secure. He was hopelessly outnumbered by Grant’s forces and finally, when there was no other viable option, he surrendered at Appomattox Court House, VA in April 9, 1865.
True to his upbringing, Lee showed up in full dress uniform, including sword and sash, while Grant appeared 30 minutes later in his battle worn, dirty clothes. Grant wrote out the terms of surrender which became the model for other surrenders that followed in the ensuing weeks as the war came to a conclusion. Although Lee was encouraged by other southern sympathizers to support the idea of raiding parties against the North after the surrender, Lee steadfastly refused. He believed that the nation needed to heal and that both sides needed to move forward and rebuild post war.
He has gone down in history as one of the most respected military heroes in our country’s history. A graduate of West Point, he is admired for his loyalty to his native Virginia as well as his military victories as an officer for the North before his acceptance of his command for the South. But it is important to note that Lee, even though he believed in peace and did not want to fight, especially against his beloved Virginia, he did not surrender until there was no other option on the table.
But once his surrender was accomplished, Lee never reneged on his promise. He ran the risk of living the rest of his life in disgrace, but instead, he became the president of Washington College in Lexington, VA – now called Washington and Lee University, where he is buried with the rest of his family.
It seems to me that Lee’s journey with his surrender to Grant is not so different from the way that most of us surrender to Christ. It is only when we are backed into a corner, with no other viable option on the table, that we decide to ask Christ to come into our lives and help us – in other words, we surrender to Him. When we realize that we can’t accomplish something in our own power, we are “forced” to surrender. I guess we could always say “no”, but most of us realize that we are limited to do things in our own strength – we need God. Of course, the terms that we are offered from God are far better than the terms that Grant offered Lee.
While Lee was offered freedom from jail, he lost his citizenship in the US. Christ offers us eternal life as citizens in His kingdom. Like Lee, we do have to choose sides. We can’t live in the dark and then claim to live in the light. Only one loyalty is possible, and God is a jealous God. It is important that we make the right choice.
The verse for tonight reflects the grace and compassion of Jesus. In John 6:37, we are told, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” In other words, those who surrender to Jesus will never been turned away.
My encouragement this evening is to make sure that you know that no matter what you have done in your life, nothing can separate you from the love of God. And my prayer is that you will understand the peace that comes from total surrender to Christ.
Lee was pleased with the terms of surrender that Grant afforded the Confederacy – freedom to go home, no jail sentence, the ability to keep their personal possessions, and the officers were even able to keep their sidearms. But that’s nothing compared to what Christ offers us – eternal life in heaven, a relationship with the living God and peace that can only come from total surrender to God. Grace and peace……