April 1865


The Battle of Five Forks occurred in Virginia, as Federal forces crushed the right flank of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia defending Petersburg. This severely battered the western sector of the Confederate line and threatened their last supply route along the South Side Railroad.


The Federal Army of the Potomac slowly advanced and overpowered the Confederates entrenched around Petersburg. Federals killed Confederate General A.P. Hill as he tried rallying defenses around the South Side Railroad and the Boydton Plank Road.

Late this morning, Robert E. Lee began moving his Confederates through the last escape route westward out of Petersburg and across the Appomattox River. Lee wired Confederate President Jefferson Davis: “I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight…” Lee informed Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge: “I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here till night. I am not certain that I can do that. If I can I shall withdraw north of the Appomattox, and, if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line tonight from the James River.”

Davis received Lee’s message while attending Sunday services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. He hurried out of the church and gathered Confederate officials to decide upon an evacuation plan. At 11:00 a.m., Davis boarded a special train with other top Confederate officials, documents, and about $500,000 in gold. They planned to go to Danville, about 140 miles southwest.

Observing the fighting around Petersburg, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wired General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant: “Allow me to tender you, and all with you, the nation’s grateful thanks for this additional, and magnificent success.”

Hysteria swept Richmond as residents clogged roads and railroad stations. Supplies that could not be moved were burned; the flames spread through the city and burned most public buildings and newspaper offices. During the night, mobs looted the remaining valuables.

Brigadier General James Wilson’s 12,000 Federals captured Selma, Alabama, along with 2,700 prisoners, 40 cannons, and vast amounts of supplies. This deprived the Confederacy of another industrial center.

Federals began laying siege to Fort Blakely overlooking Mobile, Alabama. This was an expansion of their current siege of Spanish Fort, another garrison guarding Mobile.


At 8:00 a.m., Federals raised the U.S. flag over the former Confederate State House. Major General Godfrey Weitzel wired Washington, “We entered Richmond at 8 o’clock this morning.” Massive celebrations began throughout the North. U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered a 300-gun salute to commemorate the capture of Petersburg and another 500 guns for Richmond. After four years of terrible war, the Confederate capital had finally fallen.

Jefferson Davis and most of the Confederate government relocated to Danville, Virginia. Davis issued a proclamation: “Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities… with our army free to move from point to point… nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but… our own unquenchable resolve… No peace (will ever) be made with the infamous invaders… It would be unwise, even if it were possible, to conceal the great moral, as well as material injury to our cause that must result from the occupation of Richmond by the enemy. It is equally unwise and unworthy of us, as patriots engaged in a most sacred cause, to allow our energies to falter, our spirits to grow faint, or our efforts to become relaxed, under reverses however calamitous… I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of any of the States of the Confederacy… let us… meet the foe with fresh defiance, with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.”


President Lincoln arrived at Richmond and toured the captured city. Cheered by the city’s former slaves, Lincoln visited the Confederate White House and sat at President Davis’s desk. Lincoln also met with former Confederate Assistant Secretary of War and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, who conceded the war was over.

Robert E. Lee’s Confederate vanguard reached Amelia Court House, where Lee had arranged with the Confederate Commissary Department to ship rations to his hungry troops by rail. Meanwhile, Federals under Major General Philip Sheridan blocked Lee’s path at Burkeville.


However, the rations did not arrive. Lee issued a proclamation to local citizens: “The Army of Northern Virginia arrived here today, expecting to find plenty of provisions. But to my surprise and regret, I find not a pound of subsistence for man or horse. I must therefore appeal to your generosity and charity to supply as far as each one is able the wants of the brave soldiers who have battled for your liberty for four years.” Lee arranged for supplies to be delivered to Jetersville, but Federals were already there blocking his path.

President Lincoln returned to Richmond and met with John A. Campbell once more. Lincoln then issued a proclamation that peace could only be attained by restoring Federal authority over all states, abolishing slavery, and disbanding all remaining hostile forces. After going back to City Point, Lincoln learned that Secretary of State William H. Seward had been seriously injured in a carriage accident at Washington.


The Battle of Sayler’s Creek occurred in Virginia, as Federals surrounded one of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate corps and forced its surrender. The Confederates lost some 8,000 men (mostly captured), or one-third of the Army of Northern Virginia. This was the worst defeat ever sustained by Lee’s army, ultimately sealing its fate.

President Lincoln at City Point wrote to Godfrey Weitzel, commanding Federals at Richmond, “It has been intimated to me that the gentlemen who have acted as the Legislature of Virginia, in support of the rebellion, may (now) desire to assemble at Richmond, and take measures to withdraw the Virginia troops, and other support from resistance to the General government. If they attempt it, give them permission and protection…” Without acknowledging the Confederacy’s existence, Lincoln directed Weitzel to be cooperative if the legislature repealed secession, and if the legislature did so, Lincoln did not commit himself to do anything in response.


At 9:30 p.m., Robert E. Lee received a message from Ulysses S. Grant: “The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance… I… regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C.S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.” Lee discussed the message with his top commanders, and Lieutenant General James Longstreet advised, “Not yet.” At this time, Lee’s forces had gathered supplies at Farmville, which gave Federals time to move ahead of them and block their path at Appomattox Court House.


Robert E. Lee responded to Ulysses S. Grant that although Lee did not share “the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.” Lee planned to move through Appomattox Court House to Lynchburg, unaware that Federals blocked him.

This evening, Grant replied to Lee: “Peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon, namely that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified from taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged.”

Lee answered: “I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition.” He did not believe “the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army…” After holding a council of war, Lee decided to try breaking through the Federal lines tomorrow morning, even though most agreed that Lee could not break through and join General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army in North Carolina.

In Alabama, Federals began a heavy bombardment of Spanish Fort guarding Mobile. This evening, the outnumbered Confederates abandoned the fort, escaping to Mobile on riverboats after an 11-day siege.

Delegates to the Missouri constitutional convention approved a new state constitution calling for the immediate abolition of slavery, 38 to 13. In addition, men were required to take loyalty oaths to vote, and black men were not granted voting rights.


After being trapped by Federal forces, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. According to the surrender terms, Confederate troops would relinquish their arms and go home until paroled; Confederate officers would do the same but were allowed to keep their sidearms; all men would keep their horses.

Lee Surrenders to Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Lee Surrenders to Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Lee returned to his troops and announced: “I have done for you all that it was in my power to do. You have done all your duty. Leave the result to God. Go to your homes and resume your occupations. Obey the laws and become as good citizens as you were soldiers.”

At 9 p.m., Grant wired Washington, “General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon on terms proposed by myself.” Jubilation swept through the Federal ranks.

In Alabama, Federals quickly overwhelmed the 4,000 Confederate defenders at Fort Blakely and captured the garrison. Two other forts were not yet captured, but the fall of Spanish Fort and Blakely was enough to open Mobile for Federal occupation. Confederate Major General Dabney H. Maury ordered Mobile’s evacuation.

10 APR

At dawn, a 500-gun salute took place in Washington celebrating Robert E. Lee’s surrender, and all government departments were closed. Celebrations took place in most other major northern cities as well. Thousands serenaded President Lincoln at the White House throughout the day. He declined to speak but requested that a band play “Dixie,” as it was “one of the best tunes I have ever heard.”

Robert E. Lee issued General Order No. 9: “After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources…”

President Davis at Danville received the news of Lee’s surrender. He ordered the relocation of the Confederate government to Greensboro, North Carolina.

11 APR

This evening, thousands thronged the White House, where President Lincoln delivered a speech from a window. Most people expected an uplifting celebratory speech, but Lincoln instead discussed reconciliation and restoring the southern states to the U.S. He cited Louisiana as an example of effective reconstruction under the plan he had introduced in December 1863. This long, serious speech disappointed many.

The train carrying Jefferson Davis and his party arrived at Greensboro. Residents did not receive the Confederate officials well, mainly because they feared reprisals from advancing Federal troops for sheltering the government leaders.

Davis wired General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the dwindling Confederate Army of Tennessee, seeking advice on strategy: “The important question first to be solved is at what point concentration should be made… Your more intimate knowledge of the data for the solution of the problem defers me from making a specific suggestion on that point.”

12 APR

The official surrender ceremony of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia took place. Federal troops lined the main road of Appomattox, and the Confederates formally, silently laid down their arms and banners. Brevet Major General Joshua L. Chamberlain, presiding over the Federal ceremony, ordered a salute to the surrendering troops. General John B. Gordon, the designated Confederate commander, returned the salute.

President Davis met with his remaining top commanders, Generals Joseph Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, at Greensboro. Davis informed the commanders he intended to continue fighting. The generals informed Davis that their scant forces could not resist Major General William T. Sherman’s mighty Army of the West. Davis finally consented to Johnston negotiating with Sherman.

Federals led by General Edward R.S. Canby entered Mobile, Alabama. This was the last major Confederate city to surrender. Northerners celebrated the fall of Mobile, even though its loss came after the war’s outcome had already been decided.

James Wilson’s Federals captured the Alabama capital of Montgomery.

President Lincoln responded to charges that he was allowing the pro-Confederate Virginia legislature to assemble by clarifying his position to Godfrey Weitzel at Richmond: “I spoke of them not as a Legislature, but as ‘the gentlemen who acted as the Legislature of Virginia in support of the rebellion.'” Lincoln decided not to allow the legislature to assemble amid criticism from many of his cabinet members.

13 APR

U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton halted the military draft and began demobilizing the military.

Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Washington to issue reports and complete paperwork; jubilant people thronged him until a police convoy had to escort him to the War Department.

Jefferson Davis met with his cabinet and generals at Greensboro. All present except Davis and Secretary of State Judah Benjamin favored allowing Joseph E. Johnston to ask William T. Sherman (now closing in from Raleigh, North Carolina) for surrender terms. Davis reluctantly wrote a letter, signed by Johnston, to Sherman seeking “a temporary suspension of operations… the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.”

14 APR

Federals raised the U.S. flag over Fort Sumter, South Carolina to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the fort’s surrender to the Confederates. Some 4,000 Federal officers, dignitaries, and former slaves attended the ceremony, including Brigadier General Robert Anderson, who had surrendered the fort in 1861. The fort had been virtually destroyed by Federal naval cannon since that time.

William T. Sherman replied to Joseph E. Johnston that he was willing to meet Johnston and suggested offering him the same surrender terms that Ulysses S. Grant had granted Robert E. Lee.

President Lincoln was shot in the back of the head and mortally wounded while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington. Audience members identified famed actor John Wilkes Booth as the assailant. Booth broke his leg after shooting Lincoln and jumping from the presidential box onto the stage. Booth limped out of the theater before the audience realized what had happened.

An assailant attacked Secretary of State William H. Seward at the secretary’s home, stabbing Seward several times before being subdued by servants. The assailant was Lewis Paine, a co-conspirator to Booth. Seward survived the attack. Meanwhile another co-conspirator, George Atzerodt, lost his nerve and did not carry out his mission to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson.

15 APR

Doctors pronounced President Lincoln dead at 7:22 a.m., aged 56. He was the first president ever to be assassinated. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton became the de facto government leader by ordering the arrest of John Wilkes Booth, who had been identified by witnesses as the assassin. Stanton also declared to the press that Lincoln’s assassination had been sanctioned by Jefferson Davis and other high-ranking Confederate officials. Although the claim lacked sufficient evidence, it sparked northern rage against the South.

Vice President Andrew Johnson took the oath of office and became the 17th U.S. president at 11 a.m. Johnson was a southern Democrat and the only congressman in the Confederate states to remain loyal to the U.S.

Lincoln’s death horrified the North but devastated the South as well. Southerners believed that Lincoln’s plan to restore the U.S. would have been much more conciliatory than that of the Radical Republicans dominating Congress, and new President Johnson urged harsh punishment on southerners he believed were responsible for starting the war.

Radical Republicans immediately caucused to seize control of the reconstruction process; Radical George Julian of Indiana said, “Its expression never found its way to the people, (but) while everybody was shocked at his (Lincoln’s) murder, the feeling was nearly universal that the accession of Johnson would prove a Godsend to our cause.”

Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders, unaware of Lincoln’s assassination, left Greensboro and advanced toward Charlotte, North Carolina.

John Wilkes Booth and accomplice David Herold escaped to Bryantown, Maryland, where Dr. Samuel Mudd sheltered them. Mudd set Booth’s broken leg with a wooden splint.

16 APR

President Andrew Johnson met with former President Lincoln’s cabinet, then with Radical Republican leaders in Congress. Leading Radical Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio told him, “Johnson, we have faith in you. By the gods, there will be no trouble running the government.”

Dr. Samuel Mudd ordered John Wilkes Booth and David Herold out of his house after learning of President Lincoln’s assassination. Meanwhile, Federal authorities captured Lewis Paine at the boardinghouse of Mrs. Mary Suratt. Authorities also arrested Mrs. Suratt as a co-conspirator after learning that Booth and his accomplices had discussed assassination plans in her home.

17 APR

William T. Sherman met with Joseph E. Johnston at the Bennett House near Durham Station, North Carolina. Sherman informed Johnston of Lincoln’s assassination; Federal commanders threatened their troops with death to keep them from destroying Raleigh in retaliation for Lincoln.

President Johnson addressed an Illinois delegation with a stenographer at his side. Afterward, he was given a copy of his remarks. When intimate friend Preston King suggested that all references to former President Lincoln be omitted, Johnson agreed. This encouraged the Radical Republicans even more.

18 APR

Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman signed a “Memorandum or basis of agreement” calling for an armistice among all armies. This attempted to answer political questions as well as military ones, and was ultimately deemed unacceptable by new President Andrew Johnson and his cabinet.

This evening, President Lincoln’s body was taken from the guest-chamber of the White House to the East Room for tomorrow’s funeral services. Some 25,000 people gathered on the White House lawn to mourn President Lincoln, a record number.

Federal General Benjamin F. Butler criticized Lincoln’s plan to reconstruct Virginia, stating, “the time has not come for holding any relations with her (Virginia) but that of the conqueror to the conquered.” The New York World attacked Butler for denouncing one “of the noblest acts of the late President” and “inflaming excited crowds into senseless cheers for the policy which that Magistrate ever refused to approve” by “an unscrupulous general whose cowardice and incapacity always left his enemies unharmed upon the field.”

Jefferson Davis and his party arrived at Concord, North Carolina.

19 APR

President Johnson, the cabinet, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, military leaders, and diplomats attended funeral services for President Lincoln in the East Room of the White House. Ulysses S. Grant stood at the head of the catafalque. First Lady Mary Lincoln was too grief-stricken to attend.

Jefferson Davis and his party reached Charlotte, where Davis received a wire from Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge: “President Lincoln was assassinated in the theatre in Washington on the night of April 14. Seward’s house was entered on the same night and he was repeatedly stabbed and is probably mortally wounded.”

Confederate General Wade Hampton suggested that the Confederate forces withdraw across the Mississippi River and continue resisting. Davis considered the proposal.

Major General John Pope, commander of the Federal Military Division of the Missouri, wrote to Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, requesting that Smith surrender to him based on the same terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given to Robert E. Lee.

20 APR

President Lincoln’s coffin lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Some 40,000 people filed past Lincoln’s coffin over two days.

Robert E. Lee advised Jefferson Davis not to wage a guerrilla war and recommended a complete surrender to restore peace.

Federal authorities captured George Atzerodt at Germantown, Maryland for his role in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy.

21 APR

President Johnson rejected the surrender document signed by William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston on 18 April because it addressed political issues as well as military ones. Johnson’s cabinet also unanimously rejected the document, with Secretary of War Stanton even intimating that Sherman had committed treason by overstepping his authority. Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman’s close friend, angrily denied the charge.

Abraham Lincoln’s body was placed aboard a special train bound for its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Also on the train were the disinterred remains of his son Willie, who had died in 1862.

22 APR

The Lincoln funeral train reached Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where some 30,000 mourners passed the coffin this morning. The train then proceeded to Philadelphia, and Lincoln’s coffin lay in Independence Hall. A double-line of mourners stretched three miles.

John Wilkes Booth and David Herold crossed the Potomac River into Virginia undetected; they had waited in swamps for several days until it was safe to cross.

23 APR

Jefferson Davis met with his cabinet, who advised him to accept the surrender document signed by Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman, reserving the option to continue resistance if the Johnson administration rejected the document. Davis wrote his wife Varina, “Panic has seized the country… The issue is one which it is very painful for me to meet. On one hand the long night of oppression which will follow the return of our people to the ‘Union’; on the other, the suffering of the women and children, and carnage among the few brave patriots who would still oppose the invader.”

24 APR

Ulysses S. Grant met with William T. Sherman at Raleigh and informed Sherman the Johnson administration rejected the surrender document. Grant ordered Sherman to give Joseph E. Johnston 48 hours to agree to revised peace terms, or else hostilities would resume. Johnston requested another meeting for 26 April.

President Lincoln’s body lay in state at New York’s City Hall after a ferry had transported the train across the Hudson River from New Jersey.

John Wilkes Booth and David Herold crossed the Rappahannock River at Port Conway, Virginia. Federal pursuers drew closer. Farmer Richard H. Garnett allowed Booth and Herold to sleep in his barn in Bowling Green.

25 APR

Jefferson Davis ordered Joseph E. Johnston to disperse his men, then reassemble somewhere farther south and continue the war if the Johnson administration rejected the surrender document. However, the Army of Tennessee was already disbanding, and Johnston had already decided to surrender to William T. Sherman under revised terms.

The Lincoln funeral train proceeded from New York City to Albany. The body was placed in a cortege and marched up Broadway by some 160,000 people. Blacks were required to march in the rear. An estimated one million people watched the procession.

26 APR

Early this morning, Federal cavalry tracked John Wilkes Booth and David Herold to the Garrett farm in Bowling Green, Virginia. Federals surrounded the barn housing Booth and Herold; Herold quickly surrendered, but Booth refused and was shot. Booth died a few hours later.

Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee to William T. Sherman near Durham Station, North Carolina. The surrender terms were the same that Ulysses S. Grant had given to Robert E. Lee on 9 April. This marked the surrender of the Confederacy’s second largest army; Johnston also surrendered all forces in his department covering the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, or a total of about 89,000 men. This ended the war east of the Alleghenies.

President Davis held a cabinet meeting at Charlotte, North Carolina and pledged to move west across the Mississippi River and continue the fight. Attorney General George Davis disagreed with Davis’s decision and resigned.

27 APR

The steamship Sultana suffered a boiler explosion eight miles north of Memphis on the Mississippi River, killing 1,547 of the over 2,100 aboard. The explosion collapsed the superstructure and engulfed the boat in flames. Most passengers were Federal soldiers returning from Confederate prison camps. The boat’s capacity was 376. This was the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

The Lincoln funeral train paused at Rochester and Buffalo, New York. Former President Millard Fillmore and future President Grover Cleveland attended the funeral service at Buffalo.

Jefferson Davis and his party reached South Carolina. Treasury Secretary George A. Trenholm resigned, too ill to continue. Postmaster General John Reagan replaced Trenholm.

A boat carrying David Herold and the body of John Wilkes Booth arrived at Washington.

28 APR

The Lincoln funeral train reached Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people filed past the coffin in pouring rain. The body lay under a canopy in Monument Square because no public building could hold such a large crowd.

29 APR

President Johnson ordered the removal of commercial restrictions from most parts of the Confederacy except Texas.

The Lincoln funeral train reached Columbus, Ohio.

Jefferson Davis and his party arrived at Unionville, South Carolina, then moved on to Yorkville.

30 APR

Federal General Edward R.S. Canby and Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Taylor agreed to an armistice in Alabama and Mississippi until they could complete a surrender of Taylor’s forces.

The Lincoln funeral train reached Indianapolis, Indiana.


Last Updated: 11/25/2014


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5 thoughts on “April 1865

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