May 8, 1865 – Federal forces accepted the paroles of Confederate soldiers from the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, thereby disbanding the last major Confederate force east of the Mississippi River.
Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate department from Meridian, Mississippi, had become the senior Confederate commander east of the Mississippi after Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to William T. Sherman. When Taylor learned of Johnston’s surrender, he contacted Major General Edward R.S. Canby at New Orleans and requested an armistice. Canby granted a 48-hour truce to discuss surrender terms on April 30.
The next day, Canby informed Taylor that the original “Basis of Agreement” between Johnston and Sherman had been rejected by Washington. Therefore, hostilities would resume as soon as the 48-hour armistice expired unless Taylor surrendered under the terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given to Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Hopelessly outnumbered, Taylor accepted. Canby informed Grant and then made arrangements for negotiations.
Taylor and Canby met on the 4th at Citronelle, Alabama, 40 miles north of Mobile on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Under the surrender agreement, Confederate soldiers would be paroled, officers would retain their sidearms, and Taylor could use the railroads and waterways to send his men home.
The official surrender took place on the 8th at Citronelle. In addition to Taylor’s army, Commodore Ebenezer Farrand’s small Confederate naval fleet on the Tombigbee River (consisting of the C.S.S. Morgan, Balti, Black Diamond, and Nashville) capitulated. The total number of officers, soldiers, and sailors paroled was reported to be just over 42,400.
Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the legendary “Wizard of the Saddle” who had confounded Federal forces throughout the war, had considered fleeing to Mexico before finally deciding to surrender with the rest of Taylor’s men. He issued a farewell address to his cavalry command from Gainesville, Alabama, on the 9th:
“… That we are beaten is a self-evident fact, and any further resistance on our part would be justly regarded as the height of folly and rashness… Fully realizing and feeling that such is the case, it is your duty and mine to lay down our arms, submit to the ‘powers that be,’ and aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land… Civil war, such as you have just passed through, naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings, and, so far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate feelings toward those with whom we have so long contested and heretofore so widely but honestly differed… Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the government to which you have surrendered can afford to be and will be magnanimous.”
Taylor stayed with his staff at Meridian until all his men were paroled. He then went to meet Canby at Mobile, and from there Canby arranged for Taylor to return to his New Orleans home by boat. Taylor expressed gratitude for Canby’s generous terms, but he later regretted not continuing the fight. He wrote, “At the time, no doubts as to the propriety of my course entered my mind, but such have since crept in.”
Nevertheless, this dissolved the Confederate Military Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. Grant soon ordered Canby to prepare a Federal expedition to confront the last major Confederate army still in the field: Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi army.
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