At Appomattox, Palm Sunday,
He donned his best but not to pray,
Oh no…respects he had to pay
To one who fought him all the way
From Pennsylvania to the bay,
From Appalachia, grim and gray,
To Sherman’s march, that grim foray…
To Appomattox…Palm Sunday.
His army, starving, poorly shod,
Had put its thousands under sod,
But even now made prayer to God
To bless them as they still would plod;
For some, they knew why they were there,
For others, mostly unaware,
For others, still, just on a dare,
For all of them, they were nowhere.
The battle had been lost a while,
Surrender, though, was not his style,
Was there in him some profound guile
That led men to this final mile?
Perhaps he knew, perhaps knew not…
He surely saw the total rot
That on the South had stamped a blot
Of misery – its sorry lot.
Ignominy – surrendered sword –
Was something generals abhorred…
But then his men could ill afford
Alternatives that were untoward;
Therefore, a flag of truce was flown
And carried to where it was shown
By aides who would not him disown,
Who would yet die when charge was blown.
And so he mounted up and rode
To where his enemy bestrode
The land which once he had bestrode
To plead that mercy be bestowed,
And mercy was allowed full sway,
And fittingly on Palm Sunday
As symbolized in just the way
Christ promised life on Easter Day.
It was a strange and mournful time, at best,
For those who were the victims of conquest,
But as he took his rest this Palm Sunday,
He led the victor…not to church to pray…
Oh no, he led an army poised to prey
Upon a hapless foe in disarray
For want of sustenance and ammo, arms,
Reduced to foraging the friendly farms.
A failure at most everything he tried,
He nonetheless successfully had vied
With generals whose minds were sharp as swords –
Their armies killed each other by the hordes;
He was unkempt this hallowed day in camp,
Mud-splattered in late winter’s cold and damp,
At Appomattox, though, there was but gall,
He meant to kill the foe for once and all.
And then the rider came with flag of truce,
Already he had messaged to induce
Surrender of his foe to save their men
From useless death – Palm Sunday’s sad amen;
For four long years, the bloody war he waged,
To see it end with no more fights engaged
Was almost more than any man could hope –
No matter, though, he knew that he could cope.
Ignominy – surrendered sword abhorred –
A thing that generals could ill afford,
He wondered if his foe was far too vain
To give it up, no matter all the slain,
He wondered, too, if he could do the same,
Admitted sometimes war a daring game
Where winners did not take it to the bank
And losers lost their lives or lost their rank.
And so he mounted up that Palm Sunday
And rode to hear his enemy’s parlay,
He knew his president’s discomfiture
With vengeance that a soldier must endure –
His own mindset and also honor-bound…
He thought of all his men now in the ground,
Refused the sword his enemy now bore…
Showed mercy, sent them home for war no more.
It was Palm Sunday – sixty-five…
No battle yet upon that morn
For army yearning to survive
Beneath a burden long since borne;
Four years of bloodshed till this day
At Appamattox – war now lost –
A beaten army – disarray,
And all for nothing…with great cost.
And on that day in blood inured
The other army camped nearby
With victory all but secured,
Prepared again to fight and die
But held the hope that finally
Some common sense would enter in
And that no battle would it see –
The smell of death…putrid as sin.
It was a clear day, springtime warm,
When churches reenact Christ’s ride
Upon an ass, where foes would swarm,
Where crucifixion would betide;
At Appamattox two men rode
Fine horses to their meeting-place—
Opposing armies they bestrode
But met to end this war’s disgrace.
And so surrender was complete,
Commanders putting peace in place,
The guns all stacked in rows quite neat
But years of dying not erase;
The soldiers leaving – soon or late –
Might make it home by Sunday next,
Christ’s resurrection celebrate
And put their battles in context.
And so it goes.