Unconditional Surrender

When it comes to having a relationship with God, it's all or nothing.

by Trey Graham

In February 1862 during the American Civil War, the Union troops attacked the Confederate stronghold at Fort Donelson, Tennessee. The conflict finally ended when the northern commander, Brigadier General Ulysses Simpson Grant, convinced the southern commander, Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner, to surrender.

When the two commanders met to negotiate the terms of the Confederate surrender, Buckner was surprised by Grant’s proposal. He expected Grant to offer the terms of the surrender and then allow them to negotiate a final agreement.

Grant, however, had other plans. When the southern leader sent a courier to ask for Grant’s terms, the northern general replied with a note that contained the following message: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.”

Buckner wrote in his reply, “The overwhelming force under your command compel me to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.”

Unusual demand

Grant’s demand was unusual in warfare of the nineteenth century. The gentlemanly thing to do was to negotiate to find terms acceptable to both sides. In this case, however, Grant refused to negotiate, because the North needed to gain some momentum for their army. The Battle of Fort Donelson was the Union’s first major victory of the war and helped spur its forces to continue fighting, eventually capturing the entire Mississippi River Valley. After this battle concluded, Grant received a promotion to major general and, due to his initials, was henceforth nicknamed “Unconditional Surrender.”

What makes Grant’s demand even more surprising is that he knew Buckner. It was common during the Civil War for opposing commanders to both be West Pointers and to have previously served together in the American army before the South seceded. These generals were no different. Having graduated from West Point, Grant in 1843 and Buckner a year later, both had known each other for over 20 years when their forces fought one another near Dover, Tennessee.

However, Grant and Buckner were not simply professional associates; they were friends. Not simply friends; they were close friends. How close? Simon Bucker had been a groomsman in the wedding of Ulysses and Julia Dent Grant in 1848, 13 years before the Civil War began and 14 years before the Battle of Fort Donelson.

Buckner and Grant were friends not only in life but also in death. In July 1885, when President Grant died of throat cancer, Kentucky Governor Buckner served as a pallbearer at his funeral.

Needed momentum

Why, then, at the Battle of Fort Donelson, would Grant require unconditional surrender from his friend? Why would he show no mercy to a fellow West Pointer? To answer this question, you must understand what was at stake.

For Grant, this battle provided the momentum his forces needed. In war, the victor does not negotiate with the victim. The winning side does not have to consult the losing side.

God’s love

The same is true of God. He loves you. You are special and important to Him. How important? More important than a groomsman or a pallbearer. In fact, you and I are important enough to God that He would sacrifice His own Son so that we might have fellowship with Him. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16, 17).

As much as God loves us and wants to know us, however, we can come to know Him only on His terms. We are not allowed to make the rules. We can choose to follow God only by following His rules.

Greater and lesser

Spiritually, as militarily, the greater power sets the terms; the lesser simply must accept them. Grant’s army was stronger than Buckner’s. Buckner admitted that he had no choice but to surrender as Grant had demanded.

Likewise, God is the strong power. As Creator, He reigns over His creation. Just as Buckner was forced to surrender to Grant, so we must surrender to the Lord. Finite humans do not dictate to the infinite Father. Sinful men and women do not make demands on the sinless Savior.

If you and I want to know Christ as Savior, we don’t negotiate surrender terms. We do not get the privilege of debate. Jesus’ demands are the same as Grant’s: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.”


God loves us and wants to grant us the glorious blessing of eternal life. How can you and I gain that blessing? By accepting God’s terms, which require people to “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9, 10).

Grant knew Buckner and respected him, but the cause of the Union army took precedence over their friendship. In the same way, God loves you as His child, but you must follow the truth of the gospel and the guidelines of Scripture.

Have you made Christ your Savior? Have you unconditionally surrendered to the One who loves you and wants you to join His army?

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.