There are meetings that take on a mythic life of their own: Stanley & Livingstone, Antony & Cleopatra, Alexander & Darius, the philosophers Popper & Wittgenstein, Hume and Rousseau, - and Grant & Lee at an obscure Virginia hamlet called Appomattox Court House on 9th April 1865.
The occasion was for US Grant, the Commanding General of the US Army, to accept the surrender of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the largest and most effective of the three Confederate Armies still operating.
The man who did more than anyone else (save Grant himself, arguably) to bring about that meeting on terms most unfavourable to Lee was the son of Irish immigrants, General Philip H Sheridan.
Sheridan is the smallish man, on the extreme left. There are many depictions of the meeting, but this seems to be fairly authentic.
Surprisingly, the Appomattox campaign took barely a week, in a war where campaigning seasons had lasted months. It began with Lee's army entrenched to the south of Richmond, with Grant seeking to extend his lines beyond the enemy right and cut off his railway supply lines.
The encirclement began on April 2nd. Sheridan, leading infantry and cavalry on an independent mission, smashed into the right of Lee's line and penetrated far enough to cut the Southside rail road. At this point, Lee informed President Davis that Richmond would have to be evacuated as supply could no longer be guaranteed.
On his side, Grant ordered a general assault for the next day. Richmond was occupied on the 3rd April, but most Union forces stayed away from the city, instead pursuing Lee.
It was Sheridan with a killer's instinct who sensed that Lee's Army could be caught in what the Germans in World War II called a Kessel ("Cauldron") and forced to either surrender or fight it out. "I see no escape for Lee" he wrote to Grant, urging his commander to press the pursuit.
At Saylor's Creek (April 6th) Sheridan cut off about 10,000 men of Lee's army and forced them to surrender. The haul included nine generals.
Ahead of Lee, cavalry under George Custer were capturing and burning the supply trains he needed for his army, Sheridan kept up flank attacks, while behind came Grant and the rest of the Union Army. The two commanders exchanged letters about a surrender, but with Lee stalling.
Sheridan sent a message to Grant "If the thing be pressed, I think Lee will surrender". Grant passed the message to Abraham Lincoln who replied "Let the thing be pressed". The Union was not letting this opportunity slip through its grasp.
On April 8th, Sheridan captured the supplies Lee so desperately needed, and posted cavalry at Appomattox Court House, with infantry soon to arrive. Lee was cut off, his army starving and demoralised. He had no further option than surrender if his army, which he did on honourable and fair terms.
Why is this meeting so resonant? Becasue Lee was a patrician Virginia planter, representative of a tradition of Vriginia planters. His father "Light Horse Harry" Lee was a beloved friend and young protege of George Washington himself, and spoke the eulogy at Washington's funeral. Lee himself married a daughter of Washington's adopted son.
Grant and Sheridan were representatives of a new and very different America. Grant's father was a tanner, and when the war broke out US Grant was a clerk at his father's store in Galena, Illinois. Sheridan's parents were Irish Catholics, not poor, but not very rich either. Sheridan's father got a contract maintaining some canals in Ohio, but never made a fortune of any kind.
A new America was coming into being, one without slavery or aristocratic leadership, and it was not clear what kind of USA it was going to be.
All three men had trained at West Point, where Lee's record is still one of the Academy's finest. Lee, of course, became Superintendent of West Point, and was always marked for success. Grant left the army, despite a distinguished record in the Mexican War, and failed in business.
Sheridan, from a younger generation, did not fight in the Mexican War, but it seized his imagination enough to make him want to be a soldier.
Personal insecurity made him a poor receptor of West Point "hazing", and on one occasion he changed a cadet officer with a bayonet for what he deemed an insult. He did turn the blade aside, but the incident led to a prolonged brawl between the young cadet and his "superior".
Legend has it that Sheridan should have been expelled, but the faculty deemed that the United States might one day have need of such pugnacity, so he was sent home for a year. It is one of this legends that might be true.
The statue of Sheridan that stands in Sheridan Circle, Washington, one of a series of city squares named after Union war heroes. The statue depicts the General rallying his troops at the Battle of Cedar Creek (1864), possibly his most famous victory.