April 26, 1865 – General Joseph E. Johnston considered dispersing his Confederate army and waging guerrilla warfare, but he ultimately decided to surrender just as Robert E. Lee had done at Appomattox.
Johnston had orders from President Jefferson Davis to disband his Confederate army and reorganize it farther south so it could protect the fleeing Confederate government and continue the fight. But Johnston disregarded those orders and instead asked Federal Major General William T. Sherman to meet him again at the Bennett house. Sherman agreed. Johnston later explained why he disobeyed the order of his commander in chief:
“I objected, immediately, that this order provided for the performance of but one of the three great duties then devolving upon us–that of securing the safety of the high civil officers of the Confederate Government; but neglected the other two–the safety of the people, and that of the army. I also advised the immediate flight of the high civil functionaries under proper escort.
“The belief that impelled me to urge the civil authorities of the Confederacy to make peace, that it would be a great crime to prolong the war, prompted me to disobey these instructions–the last that I received from the Confederate Government. They would have given the President an escort too heavy for flight, and not strong enough to force a way for him; and would have spread ruin over all the South, by leading the three great invading armies in pursuit. In that belief, I determined to do all in my power to bring about a termination of hostilities.”
Johnston and Sherman met once more on the 26th. Sherman had told Johnston that he must surrender on the same terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. However, Johnston objected because “the disbanding of General Lee’s army has afflicted this country with numerous bands having no means of subsistence but robbery, a knowledge of which would, I am sure, induce you to agree to other conditions.”
Sherman could offer no other conditions because he had been ordered by Grant to offer nothing more than what had been offered to Lee. Major General John Schofield, commanding the Department of North Carolina, then intervened and suggested that since the surrender would take place within his jurisdiction, if Johnston agreed in principle to the same terms as Lee, Schofield could offer unofficial amendments to the agreement. The Federals then wrote out the terms, beginning with the official portion:
“Terms of a Military Convention, entered into this 26th day of April, 1865, at Bennett’s House, near Durham’s Station., North Carolina, between General JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General W. T. SHERMAN, commanding the United States Army in North Carolina:
- All acts of war on the part of the troops under General Johnston’s command to cease from this date.
- All arms and public property to be deposited at Greensboro, and delivered to an ordnance-officer of the United States Army.
- Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate; one copy to be retained by the commander of the troops, and the other to be given to an officer to be designated by General Sherman. Each officer and man to give his individual obligation in writing not to take up arms against the Government of the United States, until properly released from this obligation.
- The side-arms of officers, and their private horses and baggage, to be retained by them.
- This being done, all the officers and men will be permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities, so long as they observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.
Then the amendments:
- The field transportation to be loaned to the troops for their march to their homes, and for subsequent use in their industrial pursuits. Artillery horses may be used in field transportation, if necessary.
- Each brigade or separate body to retain a number of arms equal to one-seventh of its effective strength, which, when the troops reach the capitals of their States, will be disposed of as the general commanding the department may direct.
- Private horses, and other private property of both officers and men, to be retained by them.
- The commanding general of the Military Division of West Mississippi, Major-General Canby, will be requested to give transportation by water, from Mobile or New Orleans, to the troops from Arkansas and Texas.
- The obligations of officers and soldiers to be signed by their immediate commanders.
- Naval forces within the limits of General Johnston’s command to be included in the terms of this convention.
Johnston agreed to surrender everything under his authority–nearly 90,000 Confederates in the Army of Tennessee and those stationed in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. The only Confederates still operating east of the Mississippi River were small units commanded by Generals Richard Taylor, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Dabney Maury in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. But most people in both North and South conceded that Johnston’s surrender effectively ended the war east of the Mississippi.
Johnston read the terms, said, “I believe that is the best we can do,” and signed the document. Sherman signed as well. Johnston later wrote to the governors of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida:
“The disaster in Virginia, the capture by the enemy of all our workshops for the preparation of ammunition and repairing of arms, the impossibility of recruiting our little army opposed to more than 10 times its number, or of supplying it except by robbing our own citizens, destroyed all hope of successful war. I have made, therefore, a military convention with Major-General Sherman, to terminate hostilities in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. I made this convention to spare the blood of this gallant little army, to prevent further sufferings of our people by the devastation and ruin inevitable from the marches of invading armies, and to avoid the crime of waging a hopeless war.”
Sherman returned to his Raleigh headquarters, where Grant was waiting. Grant read the surrender documents and approved. Major Henry Hitchcock of Sherman’s staff wrote to his wife describing the Federal celebrations that took place that night:
“I wish you could look in at the scene here tonight at our Headquarters,–the Governor’s mansion. Quite a crowd of officers have been sitting and standing all the evening on the portico in front; a fine brass band playing in a large yard in front of the house since 8 o’clock; and a little while ago, looking through the front window of the right hand parlor, from the portico, one could see Grant and Sherman sitting at the center table, both busy writing, or stopping now and then to talk earnestly with the other general officers in the room–Howard, Schofield, ‘Johnny Logan,’ and Meigs.”
Grant left the next day to return to Washington with the new surrender documents. Schofield would preside over the Confederate surrender in North Carolina, while Major General James H. Wilson, whose cavalry command had recently captured Mobile and Montgomery, would handle surrenders in Georgia.
The northern newspapers arriving at Sherman’s headquarters, most notably the New York Times, described Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s condemnation of Sherman’s attempt to negotiate on political matters with Johnston. Stanton accused Sherman of insubordination and implied that his order to Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry to fall back to Raleigh would allow Jefferson Davis and other high-ranking Confederate officials to escape “to Mexico or Europe.”
Sherman believed he had authority to discuss political matters with the enemy because Stanton had authorized him to do so while occupying Savannah. Also, Sherman was unaware that President Abraham Lincoln had reversed his decision to allow the Virginia legislature to assemble and repudiate secession; this had formed the basis of the Sherman-Johnston agreement. Moreover, Grant had never sent Sherman the message from Lincoln restricting generals to military matters only.
Sherman raged against what he believed was Stanton’s treachery. Staff officers described how Sherman paced “like a caged lion, talking to the whole room with furious invective.” He called Stanton “a mean, scheming, vindictive politician” who refused to accept that what Sherman tried to do had been “right, honest, and good.”
Sherman protested to Grant that the Times article gave “very erroneous impressions.” He explained that Stoneman had been ordered to Raleigh because “I would have had a mounted force greatly needed for Davis’s capture, and other purposes.” He angrily denied being insubordinate: “I have never in my life questioned or disobeyed an order, though many and many a time have I risked my life, health, and reputation, in obeying orders, or even hints to execute plans and purposes, not to my liking…” Sherman demanded that this letter be printed as a rebuttal to Stanton’s condemnation, and he would never forgive Stanton for what he believed was a personal insult.
As for the Federals, they would soon move north from Raleigh to Richmond, and from there to Washington. Federal officials requested the services of 150 bakers from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to have bread ready for the troops’ triumphant arrival. After four long years, the war along the eastern seaboard was over.
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