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U.S. Census Bureau History: Confederate Surrender at Appomattox Court House

Robert E. Lee
After an unsuccesful attempt to break through
the Union Army's lines and join forces with
Confederates in North Carolina, Robert E. Lee
and his Army of Northern Virginia were forced to
surrender to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.

April 9 marks the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee's surrender following the Battle of Appomattox Court House. In the weeks prior to the battle, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had abandoned its position in Petersburg, VA, and evacuated the Confederacy's capital—Richmond, VA. Lee hoped to evade the Union army and join Confederate forces in North Carolina; however his attempts to reestablish lines of supply were repeatedly thwarted.

By April 9, the Union army had converged on the Confederate's positions at Appomattox Court House, VA. Reports indicated that a weak point in the Union lines could provide an opportunity for Lee to escape being surrounded and reach desperately needed supplies in Lynchburg, VA. Confederate Major General John B. Gordon exploited this weakness, pushing past Union cavalry defending Lynchburg Road, but soon discovered that corps of the Union Armies of the James and Potomac had moved in to support the cavalry earlier that morning. At 8:30 a.m., Gordon sent word to Lee, "... my command has been fought to a frazzle, and unless [General James] Longstreet can unite in the movement, or prevent these forces from coming upon my rear, I cannot go forward." Outnumbered and surrounded, Lee replied, "There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

The impact the Civil War had on the United States was felt long after Lee's surrender. The following are just a few examples of how census data and records help us understand the United States in the 1860s and how the Civil War changed our nation:

  • In 1860, the U.S. population was 31,443,321 (which included 3,953,760 slaves). The 1870 Census found that the population had grown to 38,558,371.
  • During the Civil War, the nation's 36 states and territories were divided among the Union, Confederate States of America, and border states. According to the 1860 Census, the Union had a population of approximately 19.2 million. The five border states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia) had a population of about 3.5 million; and the Confederate States of America had 8.7 million.
  • In 1860, seven of the nation's ten largest cities were in northern states, including New York City (813,669), Philadelphia (565,529), and Boston (177,840). Two border state cities had populations of more than 100,000—Baltimore, MD (212,418), and St. Louis, MO (160,773). New Orleans, LA, was the only southern city qualifying as one of the nation's ten largest, with a population of 168,675.
  • New Orleans fell from the list of ten largest cities in 1890. A "southern" city did not return to the list until Houston, TX, qualified with a population of 938,219 in 1960. Houston was joined by Dallas, TX, with a population of 844,401 in 1970, and San Antonio, TX, with 935,933 in 1990.
  • The population of Appomattox County, VA, at the time of Lee's surrender was approximately 8,900. In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated its population to be 15,225.
  • Although most Confederate forces surrendered soon after Lee's defeat at Appomattox Court House, smaller groups continued fighting. The "final" land engagement of the Civil War—the Battle of Palmito Ranch—took place near Brownsville in Cameron County, TX, on May 12–13, 1865. Brigadier General Stand Watie (commander of the Indian cavalry of the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi) was the last Confederate General to surrender on June 23, 1865, in Choctaw County, Oklahoma. The CSS Shenandoah continued to attack the American whaling fleet in the Pacific until learning of the surrender in August, after which James Iredell Waddell surrendered the ship on November 6, 1865, in Liverpool, England.
  • Prior to the Civil War, U.S. cotton production peaked at 5,387,000 [PDF 128KB] bales (weighing 480 pounds each) in 1859. Cotton production would not return to pre-war levels until 1879, when 5,775,000 bales were harvested. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2014 Crop Production Summary [PDF 1.86MB], U.S. cotton production was estimated at 16.1 million bales.
  • Robert E. Lee's home, the "Curtis-Lee Mansion," was confiscated and the land used to establish Arlington National Cemetery on June 15, 1864. Lee moved to Lexington, VA, after accepting the presidency of Washington College (Washington and Lee University Link to a non-federal Web site) in October 1865. Lee served as the college's president until his death on October 12, 1870.
  • President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, disolved the Confederate government on May 5, 1865, in Washington, GA, and was captured by Union soldiers in Irwinville, GA, 5 days later. Andrew Johnson's administration chose not to try Davis for treason following his imprisonment at Fortress Monroe and released him in 1867. Davis was elected U.S. Senator for Mississippi in 1875, but was barred from taking office by Section 3 of the Fourteenth Ammendment. He published The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government in 1881. Although Davis completed a second book—A Short History of the Confederate States of America—in October 1889, it was not published until after his December 6, 1889, death.
  • Ulysses S. Grant continued to serve in the U.S. Army after the war, overseeing Reconstruction in the sourthern states and Indian wars on the western plains. As the Republican nominee for president, Grant defeated Horatio Seymour during the 1868 election and was reelected in 1872, after defeating Horace Greeley. In the final years of his life, Grant worked with Mark Twain to write his memoirs, completing the book shortly before his death on July 23, 1885.

Painting of the surrender at Appomattox Court House

Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, only ended the war for the Army of Northern Virginia.
The "final" engagement of the Civil War—the Battle of Palmito Ranch—took place near Brownsville in Cameron County, TX, on
May 12–13, 1865. During that battle, Union Army private John J. Williams was recorded as the Civil War's last battlefield death.

Historic census records from 1790 to 1940 are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, not the U.S. Census Bureau.

Visit the National Archives Web Site to access 1940 Census records

Online subscription services are available to access the 1790–1940 census records. Contact your local library to inquire if it has subscribed to one of these services.

Computing History at Census

On April 9, 1919, computer pioneer J. Presper Eckert, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, PA.

UNIVAC computer

Eckert and Dr. John Mauchly formed the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in 1945, and soon began work on the UNIVAC I computer for the U.S. Census Bureau. Delivered in 1951, UNIVAC I tabulated the 1950 Census, the 1954 Economic Census, and several economic surveys.

Eckert became an executive at Remington Rand after it acquired the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in 1950. In 1986, the company (then named Sperry Rand) merged with Burroughs Corporation forming Unisys. Eckert retired from Unisys in 1989, but continued to consult on projects until his death in June 1995.

The Census Bureau used Unisys computers until decommissioning its last Unisys mainframe—the Unisys Clearpath 4400 [PDF 3.5MB]—in 2010.

Tips for Genealogists

Interested in the 1790 to 1940 census records of our nation's presidents, movie stars, and other celebrities? Check out our Famous and Infamous Census Records page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: March 31, 2015