April 9th, 1865
Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Court House
On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his approximately 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean's home in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. Less than a week earlier, General Lee had abandoned the Confederate capital of Richmond and the city of Petersburg in Virginia, hoping to escape with the remnants of his Army of Northern Virginia, meet up with additional Confederate forces in North Carolina, and resume fighting. When Union forces cut off his final retreat, General Lee was forced to surrender.
Retreating from the Union Army's Appomattox campaign, which began in late March 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia had stumbled through the Virginia countryside stripped of food and supplies. At one point, Union cavalry forces under General Philip Sheridan had outrun Lee's army, blocking their retreat and taking 6000 prisoners at Sayler's Creek. Desertions were mounting daily and by April 8 the Confederates were surrounded with no possibility of escape. On April 9, General Lee sent a message to General Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. Their afternoon meeting ended a war that had lasted four years and killed more than 600,000 Americans.
April 9th, 1951
Florida Sheriff Shoots Two Black Defendants After Supreme Court Overturns Convictions
On April 9, 1951, the United States Supreme Court overturned the convictions and death sentences of Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, two black men wrongly convicted of the rape of a white woman in Groveland, Florida. The Court held that the men were entitled to new trials because black people had been excluded from serving on their juries.
NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall represented Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Irvin in appealing their death sentences. The case originally had four black defendants, but one of the young men was lynched by a mob prior to trial, and the youngest defendant, at just 16 years old, had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Sheriff Willis McCall’s custody while awaiting their first trial, the three defendants had been brutally beaten and tortured in the Lake County Jail. Following the reversal of Shepherd’s and Irvin’s convictions, Sheriff McCall volunteered to personally transport the men back to the Lake County Jail from Florida State Prison for retrial.
En route to the jail, on November 6, 1951, McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin. McCall later claimed that Shepherd and Irvin, handcuffed to each other in the back of the police car, attempted to attack him when he stopped on a deserted road to check the vehicle’s tires. McCall shot both men.
Mr. Shepherd died instantly from his wounds. Deputy James Yates, who was summoned to the scene, observed that Mr. Irvin was wounded but still alive, and shot him again in the neck. Yates and McCall then ripped McCall’s clothing and struck a blow to his head to substantiate his self defense claims. After multiple people arrived at the scene, someone observed that Mr. Irvin was miraculously still alive, and he ultimately survived his injuries. Though Mr. Irvin told the NAACP and the FBI that McCall had shot him and Mr. Shepherd without cause, a coroner’s jury found that McCall had acted in self defense and cleared his name. McCall remained Lake County Sheriff until 1972, when he was indicted for the murder of another black prisoner.
Mr. Irvin was retried for rape, again convicted and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Florida governor in 1955, and Mr. Irvin was released on parole in 1968. In 2012, FBI investigative documents surfaced showing that medical examinations of the alleged rape victim in 1949 revealed no evidence of assault. Surviving family members of the Groveland Four have since launched efforts to secure exonerations and an apology from the State of Florida.