May 1865


Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase toured the South with journalists on a political mission for the Radical Republicans. By this time, Union Leagues in New York and Philadelphia had already begun organizing blacks into a group clamoring for the right to vote. Chase went to the South not as the chief justice, but as a politician aspiring to the presidency in 1868. At Charleston, he delivered a speech assuring blacks they would be granted suffrage. Many northerners were not pleased. The New York Herald, which had charged Chase with going on an electioneering tour, denounced the speech as “incendiary talk” and found “the whole tenor of the speech that of a firebrand thrown into a complicated and difficult situation.” The New York World also objected, but Chase continued.


President Andrew Johnson appointed nine military officers to a commission to try the eight people accused of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William H. Seward, and then-Vice President Johnson. The eight were Lewis Paine, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin, Edman “Ned” Spangler, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Samuel Mudd, and Mary Surratt.

Johnson formed the commission based on Attorney General James Speed’s controversial opinion that the president had power to try the accused by a military commission and not in a constitutionally guaranteed civil court. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton supervised the appointments, all of which were Republicans. The commission could form its own rules on how to conduct the trial and to convict by a two-thirds majority rather than a unanimous decision.

A procession of some 50,000 people walked with former President Lincoln’s coffin to Chicago’s Cook County courthouse. The funeral hearse was attended by pallbearers, an honor guard, and 36 schoolgirls in white representing the 36 states. A sign over the courthouse read, “Illinois Clasps to Her Bosom Her Slain, but Glorified Son.”

The Lincoln Funeral Car | Image Credit:

The Lincoln Funeral Car | Image Credit:

Jefferson Davis continued moving southwest with his remaining cabinet and cavalry escort. The travelers spent the night at Cokesbury, South Carolina.

At the Missouri constitutional convention, delegates voted 43 to 5 to replace all significant state government officials with appointees of Governor Thomas Fletcher until the next election. Some 800 government workers lost their jobs, including all state supreme court justices.


President Johnson issued a proclamation accusing Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders of inciting Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Despite no evidence linking Davis or the Confederate government to the crime, Johnson offered a $100,000 reward for Davis’s capture.

Davis and his group reached Abbeville, South Carolina. He met with five brigade commanders who unanimously rejected Davis’ proposal to wage a guerrilla war to sustain the government-in-exile. Davis said, “All is lost indeed.” The commanders resolved to help Davis reach Mexico but nothing more. Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory resigned.

Federal General Edward R.S. Canby informed General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant that Confederate General Richard Taylor had accepted Canby’s terms of surrendering his Alabama and Mississippi forces. The terms were similar to those given to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state in Chicago’s Cook County courthouse. Some 125,000 mourners paid last respects before the coffin was placed back on the Alton Railroad train for the ride to Springfield. Some 12,000 people held torches and watched the train pass through Joliet near midnight.


This morning, Jefferson Davis and his party crossed the Savannah River and entered Georgia. Secretary of State Judah Benjamin resigned and began heading for Florida in the hopes to getting to Europe to obtain foreign recognition for the government-in-exile.

President Johnson met with a Pennsylvania delegation headed by Thaddeus Stevens and Simon Cameron at the White House. Johnson pledged to punish Confederate leaders but offer leniency to soldiers forced to fight by Confederate draft laws.

Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state in the Illinois Statehouse. Some 75,000 mourners paid last respects. Others gathered in front of the Lincolns’ home on the corner of 8th and Jackson streets.


Richard Taylor surrendered his Confederate forces to Edward R.S. Canby at Citronelle, Alabama. This ended all organized Confederate resistance east of the Mississippi River.

At Washington, Georgia, Jefferson Davis held his last cabinet meeting. Davis was reluctant to disband the government because he had no power to do so under the Confederate Constitution. However, officials continued leaving to join their families, and Davis and his dwindling party again moved south to Eatonton, Georgia.

Abraham Lincoln was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. As many as seven million people had witnessed some part of Lincoln’s funeral procession from Washington to Springfield.


Jefferson Davis and his party reached Sandersville, Georgia. With much of Georgia under Federal occupation, Federal cavalry units pursued him.


The War Department issued orders setting up the military commission to try the eight alleged conspirators in the Lincoln assassination. Major General David Hunter headed the commission, and Brigadier General Joseph Holt served as judge advocate.


Jefferson Davis met wife Varina’s wagon train in Georgia.

Edward R.S. Canby’s commissioners accepted the paroles of Richard Taylor’s Confederate troops. Ulysses S. Grant ordered Canby to prepare to confront General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate Trans-Mississippi Army, the last large Confederate army still resisting.


Jefferson Davis and his wife and party reached Irwinville, Georgia, some 70 miles from Florida.

The trial began for the eight alleged conspirators in the Lincoln assassination. The tribunal adjourned to allow the defendants to obtain legal counsel.

President Johnson recognized Francis H. Pierpont as governor of Virginia. Pierpont had led the pro-U.S. part of the state under Federal occupation during the war.

General Edmund Kirby Smith rejected an offer from Federal General John Pope to surrender his forces by the same terms granted to Robert E. Lee.

10 MAY

Troopers of the 4th Michigan Cavalry captured Jefferson Davis near Irwinville, Georgia. This permanently ended all Confederate government operations.

President Johnson proclaimed that “armed resistance to the authority of this Government in the said insurrectionary States may be regarded as virtually at an end…” Johnson partially lifted the Federal blockade east of the Mississippi River.

The military commission informed the eight alleged conspirators in the Lincoln assassination of the charges against them, even though they had not yet obtained lawyers. Commissioners accused the defendants of “traitorously” conspiring with Jefferson Davis and “others unknown” to “kill and murder” Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, William H. Seward, and Ulysses S. Grant. The commissioners conformed to the general northern opinion that the assassination had been the work of the Confederate government to prolong the war.

11 MAY

Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson surrendered the rest of his Trans-Mississippi Confederates at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas under the same terms granted to Robert E. Lee. Smaller Confederate units continued surrendering, with other men simply heading home.

Confederate forces cleared Federals from Palmito Ranch, a supply post in Texas. Federal Colonel Theodore H. Barrett had broken a ceasefire agreement by sending cavalry to attack Confederate outposts.

General Edmund Kirby Smith reported that his Confederate Trans-Mississippi of some 50,000 men had “dissolved all military organization and returned to their homes.”

12 MAY

The Battle of Palmito Ranch occurred in Texas, as Theodore H. Barrett’s Federals attacked the supply post on the Rio Grande but Confederates forced them to withdraw.

The eight alleged conspirators in the Lincoln assassination pled not guilty to the charges against them. All eight had obtained lawyers, but could not consult with them except in the courtroom where guards could listen.

President Johnson appointed Major General Oliver O. Howard to head the new Freedmen’s Bureau.

13 MAY

The Battle of Palmito Ranch continued as Federals gained an early advantage but a Confederate counterattack led by Colonel John S. (“Rest in Peace”) Ford drove them off. This was the last major land battle of the war, and ironically a Confederate victory.

Edmund Kirby Smith met with the governors of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri, and a representative from Texas, at Marshall, Texas. Some threatened to arrest Smith if he refused to continue the war, and they agreed on terms under which he would continue.

The 4th Michigan Cavalry brought Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina to army headquarters at Macon, Georgia.

15 MAY

Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina were taken to Augusta, Georgia.

17 MAY

Ulysses S. Grant appointed Major General Philip Sheridan commander of all Federals west of the Mississippi River and south of the Arkansas River. Sheridan’s appointment caused resentment among southerners because of his destruction of the Shenandoah Valley.

21 MAY

Edmund Kirby Smith sent his top subordinate, Major General John B. Magruder, to discuss surrendering with General Edward R.S. Canby in New Orleans upon learning of Philip Sheridan’s appointment.

22 MAY

Mary Lincoln and sons Tad and Robert moved out of the White House; Mary had been confined to her room ever since Abraham Lincoln’s death.

Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina arrived at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Varina was eventually returned South, while authorities placed Davis in shackles and held him in solitary confinement at the fort. Authorities later bowed to pressure to remove the shackles. In 1868, one of President Johnson’s last acts in office was to pardon Davis, who never stood trial.

23 MAY

The Federal Army of the Potomac staged a grand review through Washington, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

A pro-U.S. Virginia government was set up at Richmond.

24 MAY

The Federal Army of the West staged a review through Washington. Major General William T. Sherman visited the White House viewing stand and shook hands with President Johnson. He refused to shake hands with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton because of Stanton’s suggestion that Sherman had committed treason by granting overly generous surrender terms to Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston.

Over 150,000 soldiers participated in this triumphant two-day procession. The Grand Review signaled an end to the war.

The Senate estimated that there were about 2,324,516 Federal soldiers enlisted for the war, with about 360,000 killed. In the Confederate Army, there were at least 1,000,000 enlisted and 135,000 killed. Cost to the U.S. was $6,189,908 and roughly half that for the Confederacy.

By war’s end, the national money supply, now including national bank notes and deposits, total $1.773 billion, up from $1.435 billion in 1863 and $745.4 million in 1860. This was an increase of 23.6 percent in two years. The result was massive inflation of prices, as wholesale prices rose from 100 in 1860 to 210.9 at the end of the war, a rise of 110.9 percent, or 22.2 percent per year.

25 MAY

An accidental explosion of 20 tons of gunpowder killed some 300 people and caused $5 million in property damage at Mobile, Alabama. The gunpowder was being stored in a warehouse used as an arsenal, and its detonation caused many other blasts.

26 MAY

General Edmund Kirby Smith’s subordinate, Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, surrendered the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department to Major General Peter J. Osterhaus, representing Major General Edward R.S. Canby at New Orleans. Smith received the same terms granted to Robert E. Lee. This ended all effective organized resistance.

29 MAY

President Johnson began implementing his version of former President Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan by issuing two proclamations. The “Amnesty Proclamation” pardoned those involved in the “existing rebellion” if they swore allegiance to the U.S. and acknowledged the end of slavery. Several classes of southerners were ineligible for amnesty, and they were required to personally request a presidential pardon and “realize the enormity of their crime,” whereupon amnesty would be “liberally extended.”

The “North Carolina Proclamation” restored civil government in that state. Johnson appointed William Holden as provisional governor; Holden was to organize a convention to draft a new state constitution. Convention delegates were required to swear allegiance to the U.S., reject the ordinance of secession, repudiate the Confederate war debt, and ratify the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. Ten percent of registered voters were required to approve the constitution before elections could be held for local, state, and federal offices.

The “North Carolina Proclamation” violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government for each state because Holden was not popularly elected, and 10 percent of the voters overruled the other 90. Nevertheless, Johnson used this as the template for restoring the remaining conquered states (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas) to the U.S.

30 MAY

The Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War concluded that the U.S. massacre of Native Americans at Sand Creek last November was “the scene of murder and barbarity.” The conduct of Colonel John M. Chivington disgraced “the veriest savage,” and Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans’ testimony consisted of “prevarications and shuffling.” President Johnson demanded and received Evans’ resignation.


Last Updated: 11/24/2014


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5 thoughts on “May 1865

  1. […] source 23 (May), “[US Supreme Court] Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase toured the South with journalists on a […]


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