Elizabeth Varon on
"Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War"
Dr. Elizabeth Varon speaks to the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia on the topic of her new book: "Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War." The presentation was made on January 13, 2015, at the Fort McNair Officers' Club in Washington D.C. Questions and answers follow presentation.

About The Topic: Dr. Varon will argue that Grant and Lee, as well as the sides they represented, held intensely different ideas of what the end of the war would mean.  As a result, Appomattox would not be the start of a national reconciliation but rather of a bitter argument over exactly what the war and surrender meant and what sort of nation would emerge from its crucible.

Robert E. Lee saw Union victory as might over right. The South had merely been worn down by the North’s relentless war machine.   Dr. Varon’s view is that Lee in no way felt that his cause had been justly defeated.  His old values remained intact and after Appomattox he would demonstrate a restrained resistance to the new order of things as would many former Confederates.  Dr. Varon does not see Lee as the proud yet resigned old man that will spend his post war years trying to rebuild his side as a model of reconciliation and forward thinking for a reunited country. She sees him as outraged over the defeat, the Union’s conduct of the war, and its effects on Virginia and the South.  If anything, her assessment is that Lee grew evermore angry up until his death in 1870.  Despite his public restraint and resignation, in private his frustration and bitterness were always just beneath the surface.  Although assuredly committed to peace, Lee was equally committed to restoration—the restoration of the South's political power within the reestablished Union and of the continuation of white supremacy.  Those feelings and that vision of the war were embraced by many Confederates and conservative northerners and stimulated Southern resistance to reconstruction.

Ulysses S. Grant did not see a future about restoration but about transformation.  He and most people in the North saw the Union’s triumph as that of “right makes might” and proof of the moral superiority of a free society.  For most African Americans, the surrender was the beginning of freedom itself.  Grant was committed to making the war mean something transformational in the history of the United States.  He viewed the surrender as the beginning of that new chapter and he never quit trying to get that new chapter started. 

 The irony is that Grant was defeated in the peace.  The politics of Reconstruction would ultimately best Grant as they did virtually everyone who tried to honor the promise made to the slaves and to the nation of a new birth of freedom as envisioned by Abraham Lincoln.  In the end, Appomattox disappointed both generals and both sides. The fighting of the armies was replaced by new political battles over realizing the potential that slavery’s end promised the freedmen.

About The Speaker:  ELIZABETH R. VARON is the Langbourne M. Williams Professor of History at the University of Virginia.  She is author of We Mean to be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (1998) and Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy (2003), which was named one of the "Five Best" books on the "Civil War away from the battlefield" by the Wall Street Journal.  Dr. Varon's latest book is Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War, which will be the subject of her presentation.

Dr. Varon graduated from Swarthmore College, and from Yale University, with a Ph.D, and was professor of history at Wellesley College, and Temple University. She is a member of the Distinguished Lectureship Program of the Organization of American Historians and the winner of the 19th annual Daniel M. & Marilyn W. Laney Book Prize given by the Austin Civil War Round Table, Inc.

For more information about Dr. Varon, please visit:

For information about the Round Table and to apply for membership, click HERE or the "About Us / Membership" Tab above. 

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