Johnston Surrenders to Sherman

April 18, 1865 – General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered all Confederate troops in his command to Major General William T. Sherman, signing a capitulation document that proved highly controversial in the North…

As General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate army in Virginia, the last significant Confederate force east of the Mississippi River lingered in North Carolina under Johnston, which included the remains of the once-mighty Army of Tennessee. The Confederates withdrew as Sherman’s Federals advanced on Raleigh, and on April 12, Federal cavalry attacked a supply train at Salisbury between Greensboro and Charlotte.[1]

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

At Grant’s Creek, the Federals charged some 3,000 Confederate defenders, capturing about 1,300 prisoners along with 10,000 small arms and 14 cannons. Had the Federals attacked Greensboro instead, they would have captured Jefferson Davis and his remaining administration officials. Nonetheless, the Federal attack deprived Davis of the option to escape Federal capture via the railroads.[2]

Governor Zebulon Vance and other North Carolina officials fled before Sherman entered the state capital at Raleigh on the 13th. The mayor formally surrendered to Sherman the next day, making Raleigh the 9th of 11 Confederate state capitals to fall (only Austin and Tallahassee remained unconquered). Federals skirmished in heavy rain around Raleigh and Morrisville as Sherman planned to advance on Johnston’s main force near Greensboro.[3]

Meanwhile, Johnston conferred with Davis and obtained permission to talk with Sherman only if those talks could result in peace negotiations among the civil authorities in the U.S. and the Confederacy. Johnston contacted Sherman and asked if he was “willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations” to negotiate a peace. Despite the political ramifications of such a request (President Lincoln had directed his generals to only discuss surrender, not peace terms, with Confederate army commanders), Sherman replied on April 16:[4]

“I am fully empowered to arrange with you any terms for the suspension of further hostilities between the armies commanded by you and those commanded by myself, and will be willing to confer with you to that end.” Sherman proposed granting the same surrender terms that Robert E. Lee had received, and expressed “desire to save the people of North Carolina the damage they would sustain by the march of this army through the central or western parts of the state.”[5]

Prior to meeting with Johnston, Sherman received a wire from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in Washington dated April 15: “President Lincoln was murdered about 10 o’clock last night in his private box at Ford’s Theatre in this city, by an assassin who shot him through the head by a pistol ball… I have no time to add more than to say that I find evidence that an assassin is also on your track, and I beseech you to be more heedful than Mr. Lincoln was to such knowledge.”[6]

Sherman did not immediately share the news of Lincoln’s assassination with his troops because he feared reprisals against Raleigh. But the news quickly spread among the men nonetheless, and Federal commanders tried stopping their soldiers from exacting revenge. Major General John Logan even threatened to turn Federal artillery on his own men to prevent them from destroying Raleigh.[7]

On April 17, Sherman and Johnston met under white flags in a farmhouse owned by a man named Bennett at Durham Station, about 26 miles northwest of Raleigh. General Judson Kilpatrick accompanied Sherman, and General Wade Hampton accompanied Johnston. Sherman showed Johnston the dispatch announcing Lincoln’s death. Johnston called it a disgrace and a great calamity for the South, and he assured Sherman that the Confederate government had not been involved.[8]

Sherman rejected proposals to defer to civil authorities, which had been Davis’s requirement for Johnston to negotiate. Johnston then exceeded Davis’s instructions by offering to make “one job of it” (with Davis’s permission) by settling “the fate of all armies to the Rio Grande.” Johnston declared that he had the authority to do this from Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, who would join the talks the next day. Sherman only allowed Breckinridge to take part after Johnston assured him that Breckinridge, a major general, would negotiate from a military, not a political, point of view.[9]

The next day, the commanders met again at the Bennett House, along with Breckinridge. With Johnston offering more than Sherman had expected, Sherman reciprocated by proposing better terms than Ulysses S. Grant had given Lee. In fact, the terms exceeded anything Sherman had permission to offer. The document, called “Memorandum, or Basis of Agreement,” contained seven paragraphs:[10]

  • All armies would stop fighting
  • All Confederate soldiers would surrender their arms at local arsenals
  • All Confederates would agree to stop making war and accept Federal authority
  • The president would recognize existing state governments when their officials swore allegiance to the U.S.
  • Federal courts would resume operations in the South
  • Southerners would be guaranteed the rights of person and property
  • Federal authorities would not disturb southerners if they lived in peace
  • All Confederates would receive a general amnesty[11]

Sherman, who had wrought more destruction on the South than any other Federal commander, ironically negotiated the most generous terms of surrender with the Confederates. This agreement was very controversial because Federal generals had only been authorized to discuss military matters with the enemy, not political issues such as restoring states to the U.S. or granting amnesty. The document went well beyond Grant’s terms by calling for readmitting the conquered states into the U.S. with the people retaining full citizenship rights without prosecution.[12]

Sherman based his authority to negotiate such an agreement on the conference he had with President Lincoln at City Point the previous month. But Lincoln’s conciliatory attitude toward the South died with him on April 15, and vindictiveness now pervaded in Washington.[13]

The signatories acknowledged that the agreement would require approval from the civil authorities. Sherman sent the signed document to his superiors requesting approval and even offering to take charge of carrying the terms out. But both Sherman and Johnston would soon be disappointed by the Federal response.[14]

—–

[1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20343-20363; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 672-75

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20343-20363; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 673-75

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20343-20363; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 673-75; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20808-20877; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 675-77

[5] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20808-20838

[6] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20828-20838

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20848-20877; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20848-20877; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 678

[9] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20848-20877; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60

[10] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 222-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 678-79

[11] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 678-79

[12] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 222-23; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[13] Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 592; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20897-20917

[14] Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 678-79; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Kindle Locations 58777-58780

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5 thoughts on “Johnston Surrenders to Sherman

  1. […] General William T. Sherman’s Federal army entered the North Carolina capital of Raleigh. Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston moved from Greensboro to Hillsboro, North […]

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  2. […] General William T. Sherman’s Federal army entered the North Carolina capital of Raleigh. Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston moved from Greensboro to Hillsboro, North […]

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  3. […] 1865 – New President Andrew Johnson and his cabinet flatly rejected Major General William T. Sherman’s surrender document, thus renewing hostilities with the Confederate army under General Joseph E. […]

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  4. […] Johnston negotiated with Sherman, Davis and his party fled Greensboro for Charlotte, arriving there on the 19th. Davis received a […]

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  5. […] Major General Edward R.S. Canby and requested an armistice as soon as Taylor learned that Joseph E. Johnston had surrendered to William T. Sherman. On May 1, Canby informed Taylor that the original “Basis of Agreement” between Johnston and […]

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