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April 2015

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

Robert E. Lee
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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.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

April 9 marks the 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 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated its population to be 16,119.
  • 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 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, 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 County, GA, and was captured by Union soldiers in Irwinville, GA, 5 days later. President 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 southern 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.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

This Month in Census History

The U.S. Census Bureau conducted an oral history of A. Ross Eckler on April 11, 1984. Eckler's 30-year career at the agency included stints as its longest serving deputy director (1949-1965) and director (1965-1969).

UNIVAC computer
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On This Day in History

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

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—in 2010.

Civil War Amputee
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Did You Know?

The Civil War Trust Link to a non-federal Web site estimates that 1.5 million casualties were reported during the Civil War—620,000 killed, 476,000 wounded, and 400,000 captured or missing. In the war's aftermath, many occupations that dealt with these casualties saw significant increases between 1860 and 1870.

The number of artificial limb manufacturers rose from 5 in 1860 to 24 in 1870, and the number of establishments constructing coffins grew from 210 in 1860 to 642 in 1870. Establishment of military cemeteries likely helped increase the number of undertakers from 835 in 1860 to 1,996 in 1870.

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: May 23, 2022