The Day They Drove Old Dixie Down

On this day in 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 Confederate troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War.

That morning the two sides fought a battle at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. As Lee crested the hill with his troops he realized that they were severely outnumbered by Union soldiers. His General confirmed his fears of imminent defeat in a letter to Lee to which he responded, “Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Lee and Grant then exchanged their own letters arranging the terms for surrender. Grant generously allowed Lee to choose the location for discussion and Confederate troops went looking for a suitable place. They happened upon the homestead of Wilmer McLean who showed them to a run-down, unfurnished house on his property. The soldiers refused the lackluster building for such a momentous occasion so McLean offered his own house up.

When the generals met the contrast in appearance was stark. Lee, standing a full six feet tall and 16 years Grant’s senior, donned a new uniform, silk-stitched boots, a felt hat, and a jewel-studded sword. Grant arrived in a mud-splattered uniform and boots, with tarnished shoulder straps. The two men had fought alongside each other in the Mexican-American war two decades prior and Grant noted, “I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere.” To which Lee replied, “I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature.”

Rather than imprison the Confederate men in their defeat, Grant acted magnanimously for the good of a newly reunited Union. He allowed the men to return home, sparing their pride by allowing them to keep their arms and their horses for their upcoming spring planting. He also offered 25,000 rations to the soldiers, who had been starving without rations for several days. When Grant’s men began celebrating Grant ordered them to stop. “The Confederates were now our countrymen,” he said, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.” From that day forward Lee would never allow another man to speak unkindly of Grant in his presence.

Repatriation Chess

At the beginning of the US War for Southern Independence captured prisoners were exchanged. This helped the South more than the septentrional invaders because the Rebels could not replace their soldiers as easily as could the North. Not only did the yankees have a much larger population from which to draw, they also fielded many thousands of mercenaries while the Southern soldier was fighting to protect home and family. It is written that the yankees would take a poor immigrant right off of the ship, promising him citizenship if he would fight for the yankees. Yet the so-called historians have blamed the South for ending the practice. The victor writes history and does so in such a way as to distort the truth in order to make themselves look good, and the vanquished to look bad.

“The war, begun with noble pronouncements, sentimental loyalties, rash heroism, and codes of gentlemanly honor, soon takes a turn. For two years, prisoners are captured on the battlefield and repatriated according to conventions as old as wars between nations, formalized in the summer of 1862 in an agreement called the Dix-Hill Cartel ( After he captures Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4, 1863, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is appalled to learn that his 37,000 rebel prisoners — all exchanged according to the Cartel — have returned to their regiments. He expresses his frustration succinctly: “If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated.” He refuses to fight the same men over and over till they are all wounded or killed.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton heeds Grant’s wisdom: There will be no more prisoner-of-war exchanges. Grant has effectively condemned many captured soldiers to suffering and death — ironically for the most humane of reasons, to end a greater suffering and death as quickly as possible.” (

In chess a piece is captured, not killed. I pondered this while reading the wonderful “Grandmasters at the Shogi Forum” By Peter Heine Nielsen on the Chessbase website. ( Shogi has a “drop rule”; it was the first chess variant wherein captured pieces could be returned to the board to be used as one’s own.” ( This has been described as allowing a previously captured piece to “parachute” back into the field of battle. What if a form this were allowed in chess?

Allowing a piece to “drop back in” seems a little too “buggy” for me. But what if a captured pawn or piece could be sent back into battle by having to be placed on the exact square where it began? For example, what if, as the General of the White pieces, you contemplated exchanging your Kings Knight for Black’s Queen Knight, but you had previously castled Kingside and your King occupied the g1 square? That would mean moving your King before being able to place the Kings Knight on g1. If Black’s b8 square were unoccupied, then after the exchange of Knights you would have to move your King, allowing Black to play his captured Knight to b8 before you could play your previously captured Knight to g1. Would you still make the exchange?

Combine this with not allowing an agreed draw or a threefold repetition and draws would almost be eliminated. Chess would then have more credibility in the eyes of those who play Wei-Chi and Shogi, for whom the idea of offering a draw is anathema.