Editors note: The Times columnist and Investigative Editor Marc Chase is portraying a 19th century journalist at the 150th anniversary of the surrender that effectively ended the Civil War in Appomattox Court House, Va. He is embedded with the 20th Indiana Infantry re-enactors, covering the re-enactment for The Times as if the events are unfolding in real time.
APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE, VA., 1865 | Morning cannon blasts and crackling rifles fomenting a new day of this bloody war gave way to a long-awaited peace Saturday for Union men of the South Shore.
It couldn't have come soon enough for the remaining fighting boys of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties who are still alive and attached to the 20th Indiana Infantry.
What began four years ago as a 1,000-man Hoosier volunteer fighting regiment — with a hundred hailing from the Crown Point region — is now down to a ragged 74 men.
More than 300 20th Indiana Infantry men died of disease or from enemy bullets, and so many more left the war without arms and legs.
An exhale of exhausted satisfaction permeated the ranks of those remaining local men as they struck a victorious blow against the Confederates in what is now being called the Battle of Appomattox Court House.
Cheers went up along the Union lines after a short but fiery fight yielded victory against a rebel foe short on supplies and munitions.
The mood turned to utter delight as rebel commanding Gen. Robert E. Lee rode his gray horse into this typically sleepy Virginia town, ready to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia that has confounded our northern troops for four years.
Our 20th Indiana boys watched as Lee rode up to the farmhouse of Appomattox man Wilmer McLean shortly before 3 p.m. Mr. McLean offered up his home as the meeting site for Lee to discuss and sign terms of surrender with our Union commanding Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
The long-awaited meeting put an effective end to a four-year war that has divided our nation and sent hundreds of 20th Indiana men home in pine boxes.
Lake County Pvt. John H. Myers, had occasion to speak with Mr. McLean ahead of Lee's arrival, and McLean's story was enough to make the hair stand at attention on the necks of our fighting Hoosiers.
Four years ago, in 1861, it was McLean's previous home in Manassas, Va., that was commandeered as a Confederate headquarters during the First Battle of Bull Run — the war's first major engagement. After the battle, a colossal early defeat for our Union boys, McLean moved to Appomattox Court House to get away from the fighting.
"He told me the war began in his front yard in Manassas and ended in his front parlor in Appomattox," Pvt. Myers said.
And so it did.
With Lee in his polished uniform looking ever the punctual gentleman, our own Gen. Grant arrived to the historic meeting late, wearing a dirty and rumpled private's jacket hardly befitting the stature of a triumphant commander.
But to his men, even given his slovenly appearance, Grant was God on this day.
Lake County's Pvt. Charles Dean can now look forward to returning to life on his Crown Point farm.
Young Pvt. Dillon Simon may return to his educational pursuits in Lowell.
After the terms of Lee's surrender were accepted and the horrific bloodshed of the East ended, Lee walked from the McLean house and mounted his horse to return to the encampments of his remaining troops.
Men of the 20th Indiana were among those who saluted in respect at the exit of their vanquished foe — once again welcomed back into the arms of a nation from which the South never really left.