January 29, 2015

The Civil War Pens

, and other writing instruments at the signing of the Surrender at Appomattox.

From Ed & Lucy Faulkner’s ink bottle book, boxwood pocket inkwell, ca. 1864.

[Posted on L&P on Jan 27, 2013.]
        I was blundering about online looking for copies of The Century Magazine that didn’t have their ads stripped out, but before I could get smart and give up on that, I found this mention of the scarcity of pencils, and pens, and ink, and inkstands, and traveling or pocket inkwells, and paper in the Civil War battlefield at the signing of “The Surrender at Appomattox”.  As reported by Lt. Colonel Horace C. Porter, the signing took place in Wilmer McLean’s home, a brick house in “the little village of Appomattox Court House, with its half-dozen houses [on] its single street”.
        “Lee felt in his pocket as if searching for a pencil, but did not seem to be able to find one.  Seeing this and happening to be standing close to him, I handed him my pencil.  He took it, and laying the paper on the table noted the interlineation.  During the rest of the interview he kept twirling this pencil in his fingers and occasionally tapping the top of the table with it.  When he handed it back it was carefully treasured by me as a memento of the occasion.
        “General Grant then said: Unless you have some suggestions to make in regard to the form in which I have stated the terms, I will have a copy of the letter made in ink and sign it....
        “He handed the draft of the terms back to General Grant, who called Colonel T. S. Bowers of the staff to him and directed him to make a copy in ink.  Bowers was a little nervous, and he turned the matter over to Colonel Ely S. Parker, whose handwriting presented a better appearance than that of any one else on the staff.  Parker sat down to write at the table which stood against the rear side of the room.  Wilmer McLean’s domestic resources in the way of ink now became the subject of a searching investigation, but it was found that the contents of the conical-shaped stoneware inkstand which he produced appeared to be participating in the general breaking up and had disappeared.  Colonel Marshall now came to the rescue, and pulled out of his pocket a small boxwood inkstand, which was put at Parker’s service, so that, after all, we had to fall back upon the resources of the enemy in furnishing the stage properties for the final scene in the memorable military drama.
        “Lee in the meantime had directed Colonel Marshall to draw up for his signature a letter of acceptance of the terms of surrender.  Colonel Marshall wrote out a draft of such a letter, making it quite formal, beginning with I have the honor to reply to your communication, etc.  General Lee took it, and, after reading it over very carefully, directed that these formal expressions be stricken out and that the letter be otherwise shortened.  He afterward went over it again and seemed to change some words, and then told the colonel to make a final copy in ink.  When it came to providing the paper, it was found we had the only supply of that important ingredient in the recipe for surrendering an army, so we gave a few pages to the colonel.
        The pocket inkwell might also have been made of hard rubber, which, in its discolored form, can look like boxwood.

George Kovalenko.