US Coins

This Day in History: April 9

America’s Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, after four years of combat and some 750,000 lives lost. A 1961 medal marks the centennial of the war and the peace that followed.

Medal image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee brought his Army of Northern Virginia, nearly 27,000 soldiers strong, to Appomattox Courthouse, Va., on April 9, 1865, in resignation.

Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, though not the last for a Confederate commander in the field, effectively ended America’s Civil War, that bloody conflagration that tore apart families, communities, and the Union itself. 

After four years of combat causing 750,000 deaths and widespread destruction primarily in the South, the war ended and the difficult task of Reconstruction would begin. 

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The causes of the Civil War were complex and have been controversial since the war began, with continuing rampant historical revisionism meant to confuse and conflate the reality. 

The several roots of the conflict all revolved around slavery. The economy of the agricultural South relied on slave labor in contrast with the more mechanized North. 

The issue of states’ rights is oft-cited by Southern sympathizers, but that concept again is inextricably linked to the issue of slavery.

South Carolina became the first to withdraw from the Union in the week before Christmas 1860, the first loose thread of the unraveling Union. 

Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter, hostilities escalated and President Lincoln called for troops to support the Union cause.

The war saw the advent of naval technology with the Battle of Hampton Roads (between the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, often called the Monitor vs. the Merrimac), the gruesome deaths of soldiers because of a medical community then ignorant of now-basic principles of antiseption, and unrivaled fracture in the people of America.

In some instances, brother really did face off against brother, or against father. Loyalties and legacies were tested.

Battles at sites like Antietam, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Shiloh define the struggle, and live on in memory and memorial.

In 1961, the Civil War Centennial Commission issued medals to mark the anniversary of the start of the war. At that point, the American commemorative coin program had been dormant for seven years, and no American coins were minted to mark the event. 

The medal, however, was made available in giant 3-inch bronze or silver versions, shows on the obverse the two generals who met at the end of the war and on the reverse one soldier each from the “Blue and Gray” sides. 

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