Libraries Acquire Historic Letter
AUBURN UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES ACQUIRES HISTORIC LETTER
Auburn University recently acquired a letter documenting one of the more dramatic moments in American history: Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
On April 9, 1865, Lee met with Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. The following day, Grant sent Lee a letter describing the terms of surrender. Auburn acquired Grant’s April 10 letter through the generosity of 1971 graduate James L. Starr. Wendy Bonner, working as a development officer for the College of Liberal Arts, made the contact that led to Starr’s gift.
“Something as historically important as this should be preserved for future generations. I knew Auburn’s collection was the best place for it. Now it can be enjoyed by not only students and scholars, but the community as well,“ said Starr.
Dwayne Cox, head of Special Collections & Archives, commented that, “In more than thirty years as an archivist, I’ve never received an item of equal or greater significance.”
Grant’s terms included the parole of all officers and enlisted men in Lee’s army. In this context, parole meant the promise of a prisoner of war not to take up arms again against his captors.
The terms called upon Lee’s army to surrender their artillery and other weapons, but excluded officers’ side arms, as well as private horses and other personal items.
Finally, Grant allowed officers and men to return to their homes, “not to be disturbed by the United States authorities,” provided they observed their parole and the laws of their localities.
Historians consider the latter provision an attempt on Grant’s part to preclude treason trials. Generally, scholars interpret Grants terms of surrender as magnanimous.
Kenneth W. Noe, professor of history at Auburn and an authority on the Civil War, called Starr’s donation “a landmark addition to the university’s holdings of letters, diaries, and rare books” related to the conflict.
Bonnie MacEwan, dean of libraries at Auburn, noted that “gifts like Mr. Starr’s give the Auburn University Libraries its distinct personality, making our collection unique.”
The Grant letter will appear on a website that will include all of Auburn University’s original Civil War manuscripts. The site is planned for release during the Civil War sesquicentennial.