The Trans-Mississippi Surrender

May 26, 1865 – Federal commanders accepted the surrender of the Confederate Army of the West, the last major body of troops remaining in the field.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

General Edmund Kirby Smith commanded the Trans-Mississippi District, which consisted of the Army of the West and covered western Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Texas, and the New Mexico and Arizona territories. Federals had already occupied much of this land. Nevertheless, when Smith had first learned of Robert E. Lee’s surrender last month, he urged his men to continue resisting:[1]

“Show that you are worthy of your position in history. Prove to the world that your hearts have not failed in the hour of disaster, and that at the last moment you will sustain the holy cause which has been so gloriously battled for by your brethren east of the Mississippi… The great resources of this department, its vast extent, the numbers, the discipline, and the efficiency of the army, will secure to our country terms that a proud people can accept, and may, under the Providence of God, be the means of checking the triumph of our enemy and securing the final success of our cause.”[2]

On May 9, Smith rejected a proposal from Federal Major General John Pope, commanding the Department of the Missouri, that Smith surrender under the same terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given Lee and William T. Sherman had given to Joseph E. Johnston. Two days later, Smith reported that most of his soldiers had simply stopped fighting and went home. That same day, Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson surrendered the remains of his Confederate brigade at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas on the St. Francis River.[3]

Smith began realizing that the Federal numbers were too overwhelming. He called a conference with the exiled governors of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas at Marshall, Texas on May 13, where Smith told the attendees that he considered it his duty to hold out “at least until President Davis reaches this department, or I receive some definite orders from him.” The men did not know that Davis had been captured three days before.[4]

Some attendees disagreed, considering it “useless for the Trans-Mississippi Department to undertake to do what the Cis-Mississippi Department had failed to do.” Some threatened Smith with arrest if he did not continue the war. The men finally decided to appoint Louisiana Governor Henry W. Allen to go to Washington and try negotiating a settlement.[5]

Nevertheless, Smith refused a second overture from Pope to surrender on May 15. Pope’s messenger offered Smith a choice between unconditional surrender or “all the horrors of violent subjugation.” Smith told the emissary that he could not “purchase a certain degree of immunity from devastation at the expense of the honor of its (the Confederacy’s) army.”[6]

Meanwhile, Federal General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant assigned Major General Philip Sheridan to command some 50,000 Federal troops west of the Mississippi. Although Sheridan expressed disappointment at having to miss the Grand Review, Grant explained to him that he would not only be forcing Smith’s surrender but also discouraging France from colonizing Mexico in violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Sheridan’s reputation for pillage and destruction made him one of the most hated and feared men in the South.[7]

When Smith received word that Jefferson Davis had been captured and Sheridan was coming west, he decided to finally negotiate. He dispatched his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner to arrange a surrender, not with Pope in St. Louis but with General E.R.S. Canby in New Orleans. Buckner had surrendered the first Confederate army at Fort Donelson in February 1862; he would now surrender the last.[8]

Buckner and Canby began conferring on May 25, and Buckner agreed to surrender on Smith’s behalf the next day to Canby’s chief of staff, Major General Peter J. Osterhaus. Canby granted the same surrender terms to Smith which had been given to Lee, Johnston, and Richard Taylor. This disbanded the Confederate Army of the West, which had not been an effective fighting force since its defeat at Westport the previous October.[9]

Smith signed the articles of surrender aboard the steamer Fort Jackson at Galveston, Texas on June 2 to make them official. The last significant Confederate military force was no more. Some troops, including those under Jo Shelby and Stand Watie, refused the Federal surrender terms and continued resisting in the West and Mexico. Others simply went home.[10]

—–

[1] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 224-25; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63

[2] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 224-25

[3] Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686-88

[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), Locations 21502-22;Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

[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), Locations 21502-22;Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

[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), Locations 21511-21

[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), Locations 21464-74, 21502-22; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688-89

[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), Locations 21521-31; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63

[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), Locations 21521-31; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 690

[10] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Locations 21521-31; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 692

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2 thoughts on “The Trans-Mississippi Surrender

  1. […] General M. Jeff Thompson surrendered the remains of his Confederate brigade at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas under the terms that Federal General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant had given to […]

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  2. […] General M. Jeff Thompson surrendered the remains of his Confederate brigade at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas under the terms that Federal General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant had given to […]

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