Category Archives: Military

The Trans-Mississippi Surrender

May 26, 1865 – Federal commanders accepted the surrender of the last major organized Confederate force still in the field.

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

Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith commanded the Trans-Mississippi District, in which the Army of the West was assigned to cover western Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Texas, and the territories of New Mexico and Arizona. The army had not been much of a fighting force since its failed Missouri incursion last fall, but Smith urged his men to continue resisting nonetheless:

“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.”

In early May, Smith rejected a proposal from Major General John Pope, commanding the Federal Department of the Missouri, to surrender under the same terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given Robert E. Lee, William T. Sherman had given Joseph E. Johnston, and E.R.S. Canby had given Richard Taylor. Two days later, Smith reported that most of his 50,000 men had “dissolved all military organization and returned to their homes.”

Nevertheless, Smith continued holding out while other Confederate commanders gave in. Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson, the “Swamp Fox of the Confederacy” who had harassed Federals in Missouri and Arkansas throughout the war, surrendered the remnants of his brigade at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas. Major General Samuel Jones surrendered his small command in Florida at Tallahassee. And notorious raider William C. Quantrill was mortally wounded in Spencer County, Kentucky, thereby ending most of the guerrilla warfare in the border states.

Finally realizing that Federal numbers might be too overwhelming, Smith called a conference with the exiled governors of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas at Marshall, Texas, on the 13th. Smith told the attendees that it was his duty to hold out “at least until President Davis reaches this department, or I receive some definite orders from him.” Smith was still unaware that Jefferson Davis had been captured.

The governors disagreed, considering it “useless for the Trans-Mississippi Department to undertake to do what the Cis-Mississippi Department had failed to do.” However, Brigadier General Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby, one of Smith’s lieutenants, threatened to arrest his superior if he followed the governors’ advice and surrendered. The men ultimately decided to appoint Louisiana Governor Henry W. Allen to go to Washington to try negotiating a settlement.

Two days later, Smith refused a second overture from Pope to surrender. Pope’s messenger offered Smith a choice between unconditional surrender or “all the horrors of violent subjugation.” Smith told the man that he could not “purchase a certain degree of immunity from devastation at the expense of the honor of its (the Confederacy’s) army.” Smith instead opted to shift his headquarters from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Houston, Texas, where Major General John B. Magruder’s small Confederate army was stationed. Smith hoped to unite with Magruder and carry on the fight.

Meanwhile in Washington, Grant issued orders to Major General Philip Sheridan, who was preparing for the Grand Review:

“Under the orders relieving you from the command of the Middle Military Division and assigning you to command west of the Mississippi, you will proceed without delay to the West to arrange all preliminaries for your new field of duties… Your duty is to restore Texas, and that part of Louisiana held by the enemy, to the Union in the shortest practicable time, in a way most effectual for securing permanent peace… if Smith holds out, without even an ostensible government to receive orders from or to report to, he and his men are not entitled to the considerations due to an acknowledged belligerent. Theirs are the conditions of outlaws, making war against the only Government having an existence over the territory where war is now being waged.”

Sheridan was to take command of 50,000 troops to destroy what remained of Smith’s army. Sheridan asked to stay in Washington to participate in the Grand Review, but Grant insisted that he leave immediately. Grant explained that not only would Sheridan be forcing Smith’s surrender, but he would also be discouraging France from colonizing Mexico in violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Sheridan’s fearsome reputation for pillage and destruction would surely precede his arrival.

Smith soon received word both that Sheridan was coming and Jefferson Davis had been captured. With his army rapidly disbanding, he decided to finally negotiate. He dispatched his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, to discuss peace, not with Pope at St. Louis but with Major General E.R.S. Canby at New Orleans. Smith was still reluctant to surrender and did not expect Buckner to make that decision without consulting him on what terms he could expect.

Buckner and Canby began conferring on the 25th, and the next day Buckner made that decision without consulting Smith. He surrendered the Confederate Army of the West to Canby’s chief of staff, Major General Peter J. Osterhaus, under the same terms Grant had given Lee. As fate would have it, Buckner had surrendered the first Confederate army at Fort Donelson in 1862, and now he surrendered the last.

Smith arrived in Houston on the 27th and learned that his army had been surrendered the day before. He refused to endorse the agreement, and on the 30th he issued a final order to his few remaining men in the form of an admonition: “Soldiers! I am left a Commander without an army– a General without troops. You have made your choice. It was unwise and unpatriotic, but it is final. I pray you may not live to regret it.”

Smith finally relented and signed the articles of surrender on June 2, aboard the steamer Fort Jackson at Galveston. Those who refused to give up were paid in gold and mustered out, including Jo Shelby and others hoping to continue the fight from Mexico. Smith himself would join them later.

The surrender of E.K. Smith’s Trans-Mississippi District meant that the last significant Confederate fighting force was no more. Some commanders who led small, less organized units continued holding out, including General Stand Watie. Others just went home, ultimately accepting that the war was over at last.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 224-25; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 488-89; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 23115, 23124; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 556; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 568-70, 572; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 502, 550, 626-27; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21464-503, 21502-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 590-91, 593; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 572; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161; 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. 686-90; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 760; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 755

The Triumphant Grand Review

May 23, 1865 – The “Grand Armies of the Republic” staged a triumphant review through Washington to celebrate the Federal victory and end of the war.

Based on the recommendation of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, President Andrew Johnson directed the adjutant general to issue Special Order No. 239, mandating a review of the victorious Federal armies in Washington. The troops would march down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House in a two-day procession designed for spectators to watch and cheer the heroes who won the war.

Men from the Army of the Potomac were already stationed at or near Washington, while Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals marched north from North Carolina through Virginia to get there. As in their march to the sea and then through the Carolinas, the army moved in two wings, with the left (west) wing passing through Culpeper Court House and Manassas Junction and the right (east) wing moving up the main road from Fredericksburg. Sherman moved between the wings to visit as many northern Virginia battlefields as possible along the way.

Sherman’s troops camped at Alexandria, while the troops under Major General George G. Meade camped at Washington and Georgetown. On the morning of the 23rd, the White House flag flew at full mast for the first time since Abraham Lincoln’s death, though the Capitol was still draped in black to mourn Lincoln and all those who died in the war. A reviewing stand was erected on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House, where President Andrew Johnson sat with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, and Stanton. Troops from the Veteran Reserve Corps guarded the stand.

Thousands of spectators lined the street as the Army of the Potomac began the review on the 23rd. These were the veterans of such battles as Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, the Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, Mine Run, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Richmond, Sayler’s Creek, and Appomattox.

The Grand Review at Washington | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Meade led his troops down the avenue, then stopped at the presidential reviewing stand to join the dignitaries in watching his men march by. It took several hours for all 80,000 cavalrymen, infantrymen, artillerymen, engineers, pioneers, and other military personnel to pass. Women and children showered the troops with flowers as the crowd sung patriotic songs.

According to the New York Times:

“Every circumstance has combined to make it a complete success. The weather has been magnificent; the air, delightfully tempered by the rains of the past week, is cool and fragrant, and dust is for the time subdued… Washington has been filled as it never was filled before; the hotel-keepers assert that the pressure upon their resources never was so great, and thousands of people have been nightly turned away to seek a place of rest where best they might…”

Sherman was invited to join the dignitaries at the presidential reviewing stand. He later wrote:

“The day was beautiful, and the pageant was superb. Washington was full of strangers, who filled the streets in holiday-dress, and every house was decorated with flags. The army marched by divisions in close column around the Capitol, down Pennsylvania Avenue, past Johnson and cabinet, who occupied a large stand prepared for the occasion, directly in front of the White House.”

The precision and discipline of these eastern soldiers caused Sherman concern. His westerners were not as well-equipped or disciplined, and he told Meade, “I’m afraid my poor taddermalion corps will make a poor appearance tomorrow when contrasted with yours.” Grant later wrote in his memoirs: “Sherman’s troops had been in camp on the south side of the Potomac. During the night of the 23d he crossed over and bivouacked not far from the Capitol.”

The signal gun fired at 9 a.m. on the 24th, and Sherman put his 65,000 men in motion. These were the veterans of Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Iuka, Corinth, Perryville, Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Resaca, Peachtree Creek, Jonesboro, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, Savannah, Columbia, Wilmington, Averasboro, Bentonville, and Raleigh.

This western army was looser and leaner than Meade’s precise easterners, and it sparked “something almost fierce in the fever of enthusiasm” among the spectators. Former slaves followed Sherman’s “bummers,” who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue with southern prizes such as dogs, goats, mules, raccoons, gamecocks, and even a monkey. The men wore ragged uniforms and hung chickens and hams from their bayonets to the crowd’s delight. The bands played the same songs they had played when they began the march to the sea, including “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Marching through Georgia,” and “John Brown’s Body.” Sherman wrote in his memoirs:

“When I reached the Treasury-building, and looked back, the sight was simply magnificent. The column was compact, and the glittering muskets looked like a solid mass of steel, moving with a regularity of a pendulum… we rode on steadily past the President, saluting with our swords. All on his stand arose and acknowledged the salute. Then, turning into the gate of the presidential grounds, we left our horses with orderlies… I shook hands with the President, General Grant, and each member of the cabinet. As I approached Mr. Stanton, he offered me his hand, but I declined it publicly, and the fact was universally noticed.”

Stanton had enraged Sherman by suggesting he was a traitor for offering what he considered overly generous surrender terms to Joseph E. Johnston last month. Sherman’s troops proceeded in review until the last regiment finally passed the presidential reviewing stand at 4:30 p.m. Sherman wrote:

“It was, in my judgment, the most magnificent army in existence–sixty-five thousand men, in splendid physique, who had just completed a march of nearly two thousand miles in a hostile country, in good drill, and who realized that they were being closely scrutinized by thousands of their fellow-countrymen and by foreigners… when the rear of the column had passed by, thousands of spectators still lingered to express their sense of confidence in the strength of a Government which could claim such an army.”

The mustering-out process began the next day, as army units quickly began dispersing and soldiers began heading home. The Army of the Potomac passed out of existence on the 28th, and on the 30th Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 76 disbanding his army:

“The general commanding announces to the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia that the time has come for us to part. Our work is done, and armed enemies no longer defy us… Your general now bids you farewell, with the full belief that, as in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens; and if, unfortunately, new war should arise in our country, ‘Sherman’s army’ will be the first to buckle on its old armor, and come forth to defend and maintain the Government of our inheritance.”

A newspaper correspondent wrote: “In a few weeks this army of two or three hundred thousand men melted back into the heart of the people from whence it came, and the great spectacle of the Grand Army of the Republic on review disappeared from sight.”

The war was over.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 225; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 319; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 490-91; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 570-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21385-405, 21434-54; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 592-93; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 579-80; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 689-90; McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 230-31; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 8-15; Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889, Kindle Edition), Loc 12727-821; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 393; Welles, Gideon, Diary of Gideon Welles Volumes I & II (Kindle Edition. Abridged, Annotated) Loc 12122

Jefferson Davis Arrives Off Virginia

May 19, 1865 – The ocean vessel conveying former Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other captured members of his government arrived at Fortress Monroe, on the tip of Virginia’s York-James Peninsula.

The William P. Clyde had left Port Royal three days ago carrying Davis, Vice President Alexander Stephens, Treasury Secretary John Reagan, General Joseph Wheeler, and former Texas Governor Francis Lubbock. Also aboard were Davis’s wife, children, and servants, and other Confederate officials, including Senator Clement C. Clay and his wife Virginia. Mrs. Clay later wrote:

“Our journey on the Clyde, though sorrowful, apprehensive as we were concerning the fate to which the prisoners were being led, was otherwise uneventful. Mr. Davis was exceedingly depressed, and moved restlessly about, seeming scarcely ever to desire to sit down. Always an intellectual cosmopolite, however, he made observations on the natural phenomena about us, commenting from time to time on the beauty of sea or sky. Our meals, which were served at a table reserved for the prisoners, by no means represented the fare of the coastwise steamers of to-day, but few of us were in a mood to take note of culinary deficiencies.”

The Clyde was originally ordered to bring the prisoners up Chesapeake Bay to Washington, but Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had persuaded Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to imprison Davis at Fort Monroe under the command of Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles, “the object being to put an officer at Fortress Monroe who will by no possibility (allow) the escape of the prisoners to be confined there.”

The prisoners remained confined aboard the Clyde for three days while arrangements were made to accommodate them. Stanton, worried about political intrigue, wanted the preparations to remain secret. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles explained that “the papers would have the arrivals announced in their next issue,” and “he could not stop the mails, nor passenger-boats, and twenty-four hours would carry the information to Baltimore and abroad in that way.”

Stanton wrote out the orders for dealing with the prisoners, and according to Welles:

“In framing his dispatch, he said, with some emphasis, the women and children must be sent off. We did not want them. ‘They must go South,’ and he framed his dispatch accordingly. When he read it I remarked, ‘The South is very indefinite, and you permit them to select the place. Mrs. Davis may designate Norfolk, or Richmond.’ ‘True,’ said Grant with a laugh. Stanton was annoyed, but, I think, altered his telegram.”

Stephens and Reagan would be placed aboard the warship U.S.S. Tuscarora and sent to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, while Wheeler, Lubbock, and presidential aide William P. Johnston would go to Fort Delaware in Philadelphia. Davis and Clay would be confined within Fort Monroe. Mrs. Clay remembered:

“On the morning of May 22d a sultry, drizzling rain fell. It was a day exactly calculated to induce melancholy even in the stoutest-hearted. To us, eagerly alert to learn what we might of our fate, it was unspeakably distressful. Shortly after breakfast my husband came quietly into our stateroom. ‘There is no longer any doubt,’ he said, ‘that this fort is the one destined for Davis and me! I have just been notified that we are expected to take a ride on a tug. I am convinced we shall be taken to Fortress Monroe. I can’t imagine why they do not come out boldly and tell us so, but be sure this is our farewell, my wife!’ We took leave of each other in our stateroom, nor did I leave it to follow Mr. Clay to the deck. I stood, instead, at the fourteen-inch window of my cabin, alone with my thoughts.”

The Davises son Jeff wailed upon learning that he would be taken from his father. A soldier told him, “Don’t cry, Jeff. They ain’t going to hang your pa!” Little Jeff replied, “When I get to be a man, I’m going to kill every Yankee I see!” He then ran to his mother and cried, “They say they have come for father, beg them to let us go with him.” Davis confirmed the news and told Varina, “Try not to cry. They will gloat over your grief.”

Davis and Clay were put aboard a tug to take them to the fort, and as Mrs. Davis recalled, “he stood with bared head between the files of undersized German and other foreign soldiers on either side of him, and as we looked, as we thought, our last upon his stately form and knightly bearing, he seemed a man of another and higher race, upon whom ‘shame would not dare to sit.’”

Back aboard the Clyde, Federal troops rummaged through the Davises’ trunks and took whatever they wanted. Tugs carrying curiosity-seekers came out to visit the Clyde, and Mrs. Davis wrote, “They steamed around the ship, offering, when one of us met their view, such insults as were transmissible at a short distance.” When Federals tried getting into Mrs. Clay’s room, she admonished them, “Gentlemen, do not look in here, it is a ladies’ state-room.” One Federal remarked, “There are no ladies here,” to which she replied, “There certainly are no gentlemen there.”

Davis and Clay were confined in subterranean casemates that had been hastily converted into prison cells. Davis later wrote:

“Not knowing that the Government was at war with women and children, I asked that my family might be permitted to leave the ship and go to Richmond or Washington City, or to some place where they had acquaintances, but this was refused… I was informed that they must return to Savannah on the vessel by which we came… why, I did not then know, have not learned since, and am unwilling to make a supposition, as none could satisfactorily account for such an act of inhumanity.”

The New York Herald reported on the 23rd:

“At about 3 o’clock yesterday, ‘all that is mortal’ of Jeff’n Davis, late so-called ‘President of the alleged Confederate States,’ was duly, but quietly and effectively, committed to that living tomb prepared within the impregnable walls of Fortress Monroe… No more will Jeff’n Davis be known among the masses of men. He is buried alive.”

Alfred Waud sketch of Jefferson Davis jailed at Fort Monroe | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Federal guards allowed Davis just the clothes he wore and a small-print Bible. General Miles received orders from the War Department “to place manacles and fetters upon the hands and feet of Jefferson Davis… whenever he may think it advisable in order to render imprisonment more secure.” Davis forcibly resisted being shackled, but the guards overcame him and placed him in chains.

Northern protests soon compelled Miles to remove the shackles. But Davis continued to be subjected to other methods of punishment, including having guards continuously march past his cell, burning lamps around the clock, and exposing him to illnesses brought on by confinement below sea level. Davis’s health declined as sympathetic northerners raised funds to provide him with legal counsel.

Federal authorities considered trying Davis for treason; Davis welcomed such a charge because it would give him the opportunity to argue for the legality of his cause. Fearing he might win, officials opted not to try him. They also lacked evidence to implicate Davis in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which they had accused him of when they set out to capture him in the first place.

In 1867, Davis was released on a $100,000 bond, which was financed by such prominent northerners as Horace Greeley (editor of the New York Tribune) and Gerrit Smith (one of the financial backers for John Brown’s raid of Harpers Ferry in 1859). In 1868, President Andrew Johnson issued a “pardon and amnesty” to “every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion,” including the former president of the Confederate States of America.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 570; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21337-57, 21791-831; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 592; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 689; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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), Q265

Jefferson Davis Escorted to the Coast

May 14, 1865 – Jefferson Davis and what was left of the Confederate government-in-exile was sent under Federal guard to Augusta, Georgia, from which they would be shipped by water to the coast.

Jefferson and Varina Davis | Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Davis and his party were captured by Colonel Benjamin Pritchard’s 4th Michigan cavalry troopers at Irwinville, Georgia, on the 10th. Among the prisoners were First Lady Varina Davis, the four Davis children, Colonel William P. Johnston, presidential secretary Burton Harrison, Treasury Secretary John Reagan, and former Texas Governor Francis Lubbock. They were taken on a three-day trip to the Federal command post at Macon, Georgia.

Reagan accused Colonel Pritchard of looting the prisoners’ personal effects and admonished him, “It does not look well for a colonel of cavalry in the United States Army to steal clothes.” When Pritchard threatened to put the prisoner in irons, Reagan said, “You have the power to do so, but it will not make you a gentleman or a man of truth.” Varina Davis wrote in her memoirs:

“Within a short distance of Macon we were halted and the soldiers drawn up in line on either side of the road. Our children crept close to their father, especially little Maggie, who put her arms about him and held him tightly, while from time to time he comforted her with tender words from the psalms of David, which he repeated as calmly and cheerfully as if he were surrounded by friends. It is needless to say that as the men stood at ease, they expressed in words unfit for women’s ears all that malice could suggest. In about an hour, Colonel Pritchard returned, and with him came a brigade, who testified their belief in Mr. Davis’s guilt in the same manner.”

When the prisoners reached Macon, Davis was brought to the hotel serving as headquarters for Major General James H. Wilson, commanding Federal forces in Georgia. As Davis recalled:

“A commodious room was assigned to myself and family. After dinner I had an interview with General Wilson. After some conversation in regard to our common acquaintance, he referred to the proclamation offering a reward for my capture. I supposed that any insignificant remark of mine would be reported to his Government, and feared that another opportunity to give my opinion of A. Johnson might not be presented, and told him there was one man in the United States who knew that proclamation to be false. He remarked that my expression indicated a particular person. I answered yes, and that person was the one who signed it, for he at least knew that I preferred Lincoln to himself.”

According to Wilson:

“Mr. Davis seemed quite cheerful and talkative, but in his whole demeanor showed no dignity or great fortitude. He remarked with a smile that he thought the U.S. would find graver charges against him than the murder of Mr. Lincoln, and seemed to regret that Mr. L. had been killed. He has asked no favors, but Mrs. D. insinuates once in a while that the ‘President’ is not treated with becoming dignity… The thought struck me once or twice that Jefferson Davis was a mad man. The indifference with which he seemed to regard the affairs of our day savored of insanity. He was polite and gracious in his intercourse with me and almost affectionate in taking leave of me.”

Reagan later wrote:

“After dinner I learned that orders had been received to send to Washington President Davis and Senator (Clement) Clay, who had voluntarily surrendered after President Johnson’s proclamation implicating him in the assassination of President Lincoln; and that I and the others with us were to remain at Macon… I thereupon observed that President Davis was much worn down, and that, as I was the only member of his political family with him, I might be of some service to him, and requested to have the order so changed as to send me on with him… He observed that mine was a queer request, but that he would ask that it be granted. In two or three hours he notified us that the first order had been changed, and that all of us would be sent to Hampton Roads.”

The prisoners spent the night of the 13th in Macon, and the next morning they were escorted to the train station, where they would be sent to Augusta. Virginia Clay, wife of captured Senator Clement C. Clay, later recalled:

“As the cavalry approached the station, the significance of the scene became plain to us. They were a guard, flanking on each side an old ‘jimber-jawed, wobblesided’ barouche, drawn by two raw-boned horses. In the strange vehicle were seated Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Mr. Davis was dressed in a full suit of Confederate grey, including the hat, but his face was yet more ashen than was his garb… the alien and motley crowd along the walks yelled and hooted in derision. But not all–one heartless Union soldier tried the patience of a sorrowful ‘rebel’ onlooker. ‘Hey, Johnny Reb,’ shouted the first, ‘we’ve got your President!’ ‘And the devil’s got yours!’ was the swift reply.”

During the Davis party’s day-long train ride, word arrived in Washington that Davis had been captured. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: “Intelligence was received this morning of the capture of Jefferson Davis in southern Georgia. I met (Secretary of War Edwin) Stanton this Sunday P.M. at (Secretary of State William) Seward’s, who says Davis was taken disguised in women’s clothes. A tame and ignoble letting down of the traitor.”

That night, Federals loaded the prisoners on the tugboat Standish, bound for Port Royal outside Savannah. Confederate General Joseph Wheeler and Vice President Alexander Stephens were also aboard as prisoners, having been captured elsewhere. The trip lasted over 24 hours, with the vessel arriving in the pre-dawn morning of the 16th. From there, the prisoners were transferred to the ocean side-wheeler William P. Clyde to take them up the Atlantic Coast. The Clyde was escorted by the warship U.S.S. Tuscarora. The trip would take three days.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 23177-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 569; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21179-99, 21228-68, 21327-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-86; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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), Q265

The Battle of Palmito Ranch

May 13, 1865 – A skirmish that took place in south Texas after the war ended ironically resulted in Confederate victory.

Colonel Theodore Barrett had dispatched a force of about 300 Federals under Lieutenant Colonel David Branson to seize the vital port city of Brownsville, on the tip of Texas where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico. This violated an unofficial truce between the opposing forces that had been in place most of this year. Branson hoped to surprise the Confederate outpost at Palmito Ranch, situated on a hill commanding the approach to Brownsville from Brazos Island. But as Branson later reported:

“I could not reach Palmetto Ranch before daylight to surprise it, and therefore hid my command in a thicket and among weeds on the banks of the Rio Grande one mile and a half above White’s Ranch, where we remained undiscovered until 8.30 a.m., when persons on the Mexican shore seeing us started to give the alarm to the rebels. At the same time soldiers of the Imperial Mexican Army were marching up that bank of the river.”

Branson reported that his Federals attacked and drove the Confederates “from their camp, which had been occupied by about 190 men and horses, capturing 3 prisoners, 2 horses, and 4 beef-cattle, and their ten days’ rations, just issued.” The Confederate field commander at Brownsville, Colonel John S. Ford (nicknamed R.I.P. or “Rest in Peace” Ford), planned to counterattack, even though “this may be the last fight of the war, and from the number of Union men I see before me, I am going to be whipped.”

Ford’s superior, Brigadier General James E. Slaughter, had learned that the major Confederate armies to the east had surrendered and told Ford that he did not want a fight. Ford replied, “You can retreat and go to hell if you wish! These are my men, and I am going to fight. I have held this place against heavy odds. If you lose it without a fight the people of the Confederacy will hold you accountable for a base neglect of duty.”

Supported by two guns, Ford’s Confederate cavalry advanced and drove the Federals back. Ford told his troops, “Boys, we have done finely. We will let well enough alone and retire.” That night, Branson reported that “a considerable force of the enemy appeared, and the position being indefensible, I fell back to White’s Ranch for the night, skirmishing some on the way…” Colonel Barrett, who was not on the scene, reported to his Federal superiors:

“The enemy was driven in confusion from his position, his camp, camp equipage, and stores falling into our hands. Some horses and cattle were also captured and a number of prisoners taken. Destroying such stores as could not be transported, Lieutenant-Colonel Branson returned to the vicinity of White’s Ranch, and took up his position for the night.”

Barrett answered Branson’s call for reinforcements by sending another regiment. The troops crossed the Rio Grande in skiffs and marched up to join their comrades at White’s Ranch that night. Barrett arrived early next morning to take personal command of the force, which now numbered 800 men. Barrett later reported, “I at once ordered an advance to be again made in the direction of Palmetto Ranch, which, upon the retirement of Lieutenant-Colonel Branson, had been reoccupied by the rebels. The enemy’s cavalry were soon encountered.”

The Federals drove Ford’s 350 Confederates away from Palmito Ranch and, according to Barrett, “Such stores as had escaped destruction the day previous were now destroyed, and the buildings which the enemy had turned into barracks were burned, in order that they might no longer furnish him convenient shelter.” The Federals then fell back to rest and regroup.

The Battle of Palmito Ranch | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

During this time, Ford and Slaughter reformed their force and led a Confederate counterattack. Barrett reported:

“With the Rio Grande on our left, a superior force of the enemy in front, and his flanking force on our right, our situation was at this time extremely critical. Having no artillery to oppose the enemy’s six 12-pounder field pieces, our position became untenable. We therefore fell back, fighting. This movement, always difficult, was doubly so at this time, having to be performed under a heavy fire from both front and flank.”

The Federals fell back toward Brazos Island, with the Confederates trying to sustain an effective pursuit. Ford, concerned about the condition of his horses, finally called a halt. The Federals withdrew to Boca Chica, where they were evacuated by sea. Barrett sustained 115 casualties in a fight that he had started but had no effect on the war’s outcome.

When news reached the Confederates at Brownsville that many of their comrades had already surrendered, they began dropping from the ranks to go home. Nevertheless, the last battle of the War Between the States ended in a Confederate victory.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 556; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 591; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 196-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

The Booth Conspiracy Trial Begins

May 12, 1865 – The eight people accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln finally received legal counsel and pleaded not guilty to the military commission trying them.

The defendants were confined in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington. A courtroom was built on the third floor of that building, where a military commission charged–

“That David E. Harold (Herold), Edward Spangler, Lewis Payne (or Powell or Paine), John H. Surratt, Michael O’Loughlin (O’Laughlen), Samuel Arnold, George A. Atzerott (Atzerodt), Samuel A. Mudd, and Mary E. Surratt, did on April 15, 1865, combine, confederate, and conspire together to murder President Abraham Lincoln, Vice-President Andrew Johnson, Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant, and Secretary of State William H. Seward.”

The defendants were also charged with “traitorously” conspiring with Jefferson Davis and “others unknown.”

Those accused were granted legal counsel, and by the 12th they had obtained lawyers of surprisingly high quality. However, the lawyers were not allowed to consult with their clients except in the courtroom, with guards listening in. The commission prohibited the defendants from testifying on their own behalf. Unlike a civil trial, only five of the nine members on the tribunal needed to vote guilty to convict, and only six of nine were needed to impose a death sentence.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Proceedings began on the 12th. Major General David Hunter, the judge advocate general of the military tribunal, issued passes for spectators to witness the trial. After each defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, the taking of testimony began. It quickly became apparent that this would be more than just a trial of eight defendants; it would be a trial of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government for supposed crimes against the North.

Over a dozen prosecution witnesses testified that Confederate operatives in Canada had been plotting and funding acts of terror against the Federal government since early 1864. The witnesses claimed the Confederates had devised numerous incredible plots that included poisoning the New York City water supply, destroying Federal property throughout the North, and even launching biological attacks.

A witness named Godfrey Hyams alleged that he helped distribute trunks carrying clothing “carefully infected in Bermuda with yellow fever, smallpox, and other contagious diseases.” Prosecutor John Bingham claimed this caused the deaths of nearly 2,000 soldiers in a yellow fever epidemic in North Carolina. Of course, it was not discovered that mosquitoes carried the yellow fever virus until 36 years later.

Sanford Conover testified that Jacob Thompson, heading the Confederate Secret Service (formerly U.S. secretary of the interior under President James Buchanan), plotted to “leave the government entirely without a head” by killing Lincoln, Johnson, Seward, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Grant. Conover claimed that Thompson said there was “no provision in the Constitution of the United States by which, if these men were removed, they could elect another President.”

Conover added that he had attended a meeting between Thompson and John Surratt (son of defendant Mary Surratt) in Montreal, during which Surratt delivered ciphered dispatches from Jefferson Davis regarding assassinating Lincoln and other Federal leaders. According to Conover, “Thompson laid his hand (on the messages) and said, ‘This makes the thing all right.’” Another witness testified that Surratt visited Davis and Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin in Richmond prior to this meeting. It was later revealed that Conover’s real name was Charles Durham, and his testimony was almost completely false.

Henry Van Steinacker, who was imprisoned for deserting the Federal army, testified that he spoke with John Wilkes Booth in the summer of 1863, when Booth told him, “Old Abe must go up the spout, and the Confederacy will gain its independence.” Steinacker, whose real name was Hans Von Winklestein, was freed from jail shortly after testifying, leading many to question if he had simply been told what to say as part of a quid pro quo.

Richard Montgomery, a Federal double agent operating in Canada, testified that Thompson said in January 1865 that it would be a “blessing” to “rid the world” of Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant. According to Montgomery, Thompson said a “proposition” had been made by “bold, daring men” to kill them. Montgomery attested that Richmond had rejected the plot, with one of Thompson’s operatives stating it was “too bad that the boys had not been allowed to act when they wanted to.”

Samuel Chester alleged that Booth had wanted his help to kidnap Lincoln and bring him to Richmond, where he could be exchanged for Confederate prisoners of war. Several witnesses testified that Jacob Thompson and Clement Clay (another Confederate secret agent) often met with Booth, Lewis Paine, and John Surratt in Montreal. The prosecution argued that these meetings in Canada indicated a conspiracy between the defendants and the Confederate government. Bingham declared:

“What more is wanting? Surely no word further need be spoken to show that John Wilkes Booth was in this conspiracy; that John Surratt was in this conspiracy; and that Jefferson Davis and his several agents named, in Canada, were in this conspiracy… Whatever may be the conviction of others, my own conviction is that Jefferson Davis is as clearly proven guilty of this conspiracy as John Wilkes Booth, by whose hand Jefferson Davis inflicted the mortal wound on Abraham Lincoln.”

Much of the so-called evidence was circumstantial at best and at worst outright false. Some prosecution witnesses were allowed to testify in secret, some were later found to have perjured themselves, and some were even paid by Federal officials for providing false testimony. Despite the dubious testimony and questionable evidence, there was little doubt about the guilt of three men: Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt.

Lewis Payne or Powell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Witnesses positively identified Powell as the man who attempted to murder Seward, and since it was established that he had visited Booth and John Surratt at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse several times, there was no doubt that he was involved in the Booth conspiracy. Captain William E. Doster, Powell’s attorney, did not deny his client’s guilt, but only asked the commission to spare his life because he was most likely insane.

Doster said, “I say he is the fanatic, and not the hired tool. He lives in that land of imagination where it seems to him legions of southern soldiers wait to crown him as their chief commander.” When Doster asked Powell why he tried to kill Seward, Powell said, “I believed it was my duty.” Doster argued, “We know now that slavery made him immoral, that war made him a murderer, and that necessity, revenge, and delusion made him an assassin. Let him live, if not for his sake, for our own.”

David Herold | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

There was also no doubt about Herold’s guilt, having admitted to a Confederate after fleeing with Booth into Virginia, “We are the assassinators of the President.” Herold’s attorney, Frederick Stone, tried convincing the commission that his client had the mind of a child. One defense witness testified of Herold, “In mind, I consider him about 11 years of age.” Another called him “a light and trifling boy… easily influenced.” Such a man, said Stone, “was only wax in the hands of a man like Booth.”

The prosecution had damning evidence against Atzerodt as well. Colonel W.R. Nevins testified that Atzerodt approached him at the Kirkwood Hotel, where Andrew Johnson was staying, and asked him where Johnson was. Police officer John Lee testified that the day after Lincoln’s assassination, he searched Atzerodt’s room at the Kirkwood and found a loaded revolver under a pillow, a bowie knife, a map of Virginia, and Booth’s bank book. It was established that Booth and Atzerodt often met in front of the Pennsylvania House in the capital.

George Atzerodt | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Doster, representing Atzerodt, argued that his client was too cowardly to be seriously involved in the conspiracy. Doster said, “I intend to show that this man is a constitutional coward; that if he had been assigned the duty of assassinating the Vice President, he could never have done it; and that, from his known cowardice, Booth probably did not assign to him any such duty.” Defense witnesses confirmed that Atzerodt was a “notorious coward,” “remarkable for his cowardice.”

Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen had been involved in a past conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln, but no tangible evidence suggested that they helped assassinate him. Authorities found a letter on Booth’s body from Arnold, dated March 27, stating Arnold’s willingness to help kidnap Lincoln: “None, no, not one were more in favor of the enterprise than myself.”

Walter Cox, Arnold’s attorney, argued that Arnold “backed out from this insane scheme of capture,” which was “abandoned somewhere about the middle of March.” Cox stated that there “is no evidence that connects” Arnold with the “dreadful conspiracy” to assassinate top officials. Arnold’s “mere unacted, still scheme” to kidnap Lincoln was “wholly different from the offense described in the charge.”

Evidence against O’Laughlen included a few vague telegrams from Booth telling him, “Don’t fear to neglect your business.” Several witnesses testified that O’Laughlen had gone to Stanton’s home on the night of April 13. Walter Cox, also representing O’Laughlen, argued that the witnesses could not have seen him in the dark, and he was attending the “night of illumination” victory celebration in the capital. Cox asserted that O’Laughlen spent the day of the assassination drinking at the Lichau House before leaving for Baltimore on the 15th.

Dr. Samuel Mudd | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Regarding Dr. Samuel Mudd, several prosecution witnesses claimed that he and the conspirators had a close relationship well before Mudd set Booth’s broken leg on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. One claimed that Mudd had helped Booth buy a horse last November, while another claimed that Mudd met with John Surratt at Washington’s National Hotel. An investigator who questioned Mudd after Booth and Herold had left Mudd’s home testified, “When we first asked Dr. Mudd whether two strangers had been there, he seemed very much excited, and got pale as a sheet of paper and blue about his lips, like a man frightened at something he had done.”

Witnesses also attested to Mudd’s hatred of Lincoln. A slave testified that one of Mudd’s friends told the doctor that “Lincoln was a goddamned old son of a bitch and ought have been dead long ago.” Mudd replied “that was much of his mind” as well. Another witness stated that Mudd had said (perhaps jokingly) in early 1865 that “the President, Cabinet, and other Union men” would “be killed in six or seven weeks.” Another slave asserted that Mudd criticized Lincoln for having “stole (into office) at night, dressed in women’s clothes,” and if “he had come in right, they would have killed him.”

Mudd’s attorney, Thomas Ewing, argued that Mudd had met Booth just the one time in November, and all other testimony stating that Mudd met with Booth were lies. Ewing asserted that there was no crime in setting a man’s broken leg, even if that leg was Booth’s. He further stated that the prosecution did not sufficiently prove that Mudd had helped the conspirators in any meaningful way. The prosecution countered that Mudd had shown Booth and Herold the route out of Maryland after setting Booth’s leg.

Mary Surratt | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Mary Surratt, being a woman, was the most controversial defendant of them all. Several witnesses testified that Booth, Powell, Herold, and John Surratt (Mary’s son who had fled to Europe to avoid prosecution) met at Mary’s boardinghouse to develop their scheme. Because of this, President Johnson called Mary the keeper of “the nest that hatched the egg.”

In addition, Mary had lied when asked if she knew Powell, telling officials, “Before God sir, I do not know this man.” Witness Louis Weichmann testified that Mary had met with Booth several times at her boardinghouse, with money exchanging hands on one occasion. Tavern owner John Lloyd testified that Mary came to his tavern on the day of Lincoln’s assassination and told him that men would be collecting the “shooting irons” left there by John Surratt, Herold, and Atzerodt.

Frederick Aiken, representing Ms. Surratt, argued that Lloyd’s testimony was not credible because he was “a man addicted to the excessive use of intoxicating liquors,” and he sought to “exculpate himself by placing blame” on Mrs. Surratt.

The tribunal continued into June.

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References

Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-58; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19876-86; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21762-72; law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

Battle Looms in South Texas

May 11, 1865 – In distant Texas, a Federal expedition threatened to break an informal truce before news arrived that the war was over.

The recent capture of President Jefferson Davis and the dissolution of the Confederate government effectively ended the war. But the news had not yet reached opposing forces near Brownsville, on the southernmost tip of Texas. Earlier this year, the two sides had agreed to an unofficial armistice since there was no reason to continue fighting there.

Gen. Lew Wallace | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

When Major General Lew Wallace took command of the Federal district overseeing Brownsville in early March, he tried to negotiate a formal ceasefire with the Confederates. He met with Brigadier General James E. Slaughter and Colonel John S. “Rest in Peace” Ford at Port Isabel in hopes that their meeting “may result in something more than words.”

The officers discussed possible peace terms, but Slaughter and Ford warned that General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, may be plotting with Emperor Maximilian of Mexico to either fall back into Mexican territory or join forces with the Mexican army. Maximilian had been installed as Mexican ruler by Emperor Napoleon III of France, which the U.S. had protested violated the Monroe Doctrine. The emperor’s regime was known to be friendly with the Confederates.

For Wallace, the discussions went so well that he reported, “What I am at now is nothing less than bringing Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana voluntarily back into the Union. The business is well begun, and at this moment looks promising.” Slaughter and Ford were “not only willing, but anxious to find some ground upon which they could honorably get from under what they admitted to be a falling Confederacy.”

The Confederate officers sent their ideas to Major General John Walker, commanding the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Under the proposal, Confederate troops could either swear allegiance to the Union or leave the country. Slavery would be subject to congressional legislation, and Texas would eventually return to the Union. Walker rejected this plan, and he wrote to Wallace on April 6 explaining why:

“It would be folly in me to pretend that we are not tired of a war that has sown sorrow and desolation over our land; but we will accept no other than an honorable peace. With three hundred thousand men yet in the field, we would be the most abject of mankind if we should now basely yield all that we have been contending for during the last four years–namely, nationality and the rights of self-government. With the blessing of God, we will yet achieve these, and extort from your government all that we ask. Whenever you are willing to yield these, and to treat as equal with equal, an officer of your high rank and character, clothed with the proper authority from your government, will not be reduced to the necessity of seeking an obscure corner of the Confederacy to inaugurate negotiations.”

Wallace considered Walker’s letter “both childish and discourteous.” He responded, “Slavery as between the sections was the only separating social and political interest, you know that. Where is slavery now? We armed it over a year ago, and now you are doing the same thing. Apropos, once a soldier, never more a slave.”

Wallace wrote to Slaughter and Ford, “I regret this conclusion. Could we have succeeded, then consequence would have been more honorable to us all than battles fought. The people of Texas, at least, would have been grateful to us.” Wallace then reported to Washington on April 18: “Of one thing I am sure. Texas rebels are without heart or confidence, and divided among themselves.” These troops, and even those under E.K. Smith, were ready to lay down their arms, as long as Smith was “not too far committed to Maximilian.”

Despite Walker’s rejection, the opposing sides agreed not to fire on each other without written notification. This changed when Colonel Theodore Barrett took command of the 1,900-man Federal brigade stationed on blockade duty at Los Brazos de Santiago. The brigade consisted of the 34th Indiana (veterans from other disbanded regiments), and the 62nd and 87th U.S. Colored Infantry regiments.

When Barrett learned the Confederates were about to abandon Brownsville, he decided to break the ceasefire by ordering his men forward to seize enemy outposts on the road to that vital town. Some claimed that Barrett did this to obtain mounts for his cavalry, while others thought that he just wanted “a little battlefield glory before the war ended altogether.”

Col. John S. “R.I.P.” Ford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The expedition consisted of 250 men from the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry and 50 men from the 2nd Texas (U.S.) Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel David Branson. Branson planned to capture White’s Ranch and Palmito Ranch near Fort Brown, which was garrisoned by Ford’s Confederates defending Brownsville.

The Federals were supposed to cross Point Isabel on the morning of the 11th, but the steamer they were to use had mechanical problems and a storm was approaching. They instead crossed at Boca Chica in heavy rain around 9:30 that night. According to Branson, “At 2 a.m. of the 12th, after making a long circuitous march, we surrounded White’s Ranch, where we expected to capture a rebel outpost of sixty-five men, horses, and cattle, but they had been gone a day or two.”

Branson’s Federals would advance at daylight.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 591; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 196-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688; Wikipedia: Battle of Palmito Ranch

The Capture of Jefferson Davis

May 10, 1865 – Federal cavalry seized Confederate President Jefferson Davis and members of his party near Irwinville, Georgia.

Davis had reunited with his wife Varina and their children on the 9th out of fear that they might be vulnerable to nearby marauders. Once their combined wagon train reached Irvinville that night, Davis felt confident that his family was safe, and he therefore planned to separate from them again the next morning to keep them out of Federal danger. Davis hoped to continue south before turning west and carrying on the fight beyond the Mississippi River.

During the night, troopers of the 4th Michigan Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin C. Pritchard surrounded the Davis encampment after learning the party had traveled south from Abbeville. Just before dawn, Davis’s coachman notified him that men were approaching. Thinking they were marauders, Davis told his wife, “Those men have attacked us at last; I will go out and see if I cannot stop the firing; surely I will have some authority with the Confederates.” According to Varina:

“Just before day the enemy charged our camp yelling like demons. Mr. Davis received timely warning of their approach but believing them to be our own people deliberately made his toilette and was only disabused of the delusion, when he saw them deploying a few yards off. He started down to the little stream hoping to meet his servant with his horse and arms, but knowing he would be recognized, I pleaded with him to let me throw over him a large waterproof wrap which had often served him in sickness during the summer season for a dressing gown and which I hoped might so cover his person that in the grey of the morning he would not be recognized.

“As he strode off I threw over his head a little black shawl which was around my own shoulders, saying that he could not find his hat and after he started sent my colored woman after him with a bucket for water hoping that he would pass unobserved. He attempted no disguise, consented to no subterfuge but if he had in failure is found the only matter of cavil.”

As the president left the tent, a Federal trooper rode up and ordered him to halt. Davis refused and the trooper raised his rifle toward him. Davis turned as if to charge the man, but Varina came forward and threw her arms around him. The Davises and the trooper exchanged angry words as more troopers rode up. Davis finally said, “God’s will be done,” and sat down at a fire near the tent.

Northern version of Davis’s capture | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Davis, his wife, and their four children became prisoners, along with aide Colonel William P. Johnston (son of the late General Albert Sidney Johnston), secretary Burton Harrison, Treasury Secretary John Reagan, former Texas Governor Francis Lubbock, and some others. The Federals plundered Davis’s camp, seeking incriminating documents and the millions of dollars that Federal officials claimed he carried. Colonel Pritchard later reported:

“Upon returning to camp I was accosted by Davis from among the prisoners, who asked if I was the officer in command; and upon my answering him that I was, and asking him whom I was to call him, he replied that I might call him what or whom I pleased; when I replied to him that I would call him Davis, and after a moment’s hesitation he said that was his name; when he suddenly drew himself up in true royal dignity and exclaimed, ‘I suppose that you consider it bravery to charge a train of defenseless women and children, but it is theft–it is vandalism!’

“After allowing the prisoners time to prepare breakfast, I mounted them on their own horses, taking one of the ambulances for my wounded, and one of the wagons for the dead, using the other two ambulances for the conveyance of the women and children, and started on my return by the direct route to Abbeville, where I arrived at sunset the same day. Here I halted for the night and called in the rest of my regiment from its duty along the river, and resumed my march toward Macon at an early hour on the morning of the 11th, after having buried our dead and performed the last solemn rites of the soldier over his fallen comrades; sending couriers in advance to announce the success of the expedition.”

As news of Davis’s capture reached the North, rumors quickly spread that he had been captured while disguised in women’s clothing. However, Davis actually wore a raincoat and shawl due to the rain. Reagan later asserted:

“As one of the means of making the Confederate cause odious, the foolish and wicked charge was made that he was captured in woman’s clothes; and his portrait, showing him in petticoats, was afterward placarded generally in show cases and public places in the North. He was also pictured as having bags of gold on him when captured. This charge of his being arrested in woman’s clothes is disproven by the circumstances attending his capture. The suddenness of the unexpected attack of the enemy allowed no time for a change of clothes. I saw him a few minutes after his surrender, wearing his accustomed suit of Confederate gray, with his boots and hat on, and I have elsewhere shown that he had no money.”

With the capture of Jefferson Davis, all that was left of the Confederate government ceased to exist.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 145; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 23150-69; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 569; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 840-41; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 590; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 687; Maddox, Robert J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 209; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 832-33; 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), Q265

Taylor Surrenders to Canby

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.

Gens Richard Taylor and E.R.S. Canby | Image Credits: Wikipedia.org

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.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 224; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 564, 566-67; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 379; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21046-66, 21085-115; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 589-90; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 572; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 685-86; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 743-44; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501

The Davis Family Reunites

May 7, 1865 – President Jefferson Davis reunited with his family at Dublin, Georgia, after responding to rumors that they were under attack by desperate Confederate troops.

Jefferson and Varina Davis | Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Davis and his small escort had camped on the Oconee River on the night of the 6th. First Lady Varina Davis and the couple’s children were part of a different group about 20 miles away. When Davis learned that his family might be in danger, he rode out to catch up to their wagon train. The rest of Davis’s party chose to join him, and they rode all night along dark, unknown roads while Federal forces combed the nearby countryside looking for them.

The president finally caught up to his family near Dublin. This marked the first time that the Davises had seen each other since Varina and the children left Richmond just before its fall. When Davis questioned the men guarding the camp, they assured him that the rumors of straggling troops attacking their wagon train were false and the family was not in danger.

Meanwhile, Federal cavalry was closing in on the Davis party. Major General James H. Wilson, commanding the Federals in Georgia, wrote to Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Department of North Carolina:

“Davis’ escort has been crowded so closely on all sides that it has been disbanded. Three regiments have given themselves up to us here, and many others are surrendering in Northern Georgia. Davis himself and a small party, variously reported from six to forty men, are supposed to have turned south from Washington. I have the Ocmulgee picketed from its head to Hawkinsville, and by 6 p.m. to-morrow will have it closely watched from Hawkinsville to Jacksonville. I have a line of stations along the railroad from Atlanta to Eufaula and Albany, and have directed McCook, at Tallahassee, Fla., to send scouts to north and eastward in all directions.”

Wilson wrote in his official report:

“The troops occupied almost a continuous line from the Etowah River to Tallahassee, Fla., and the mouth of the Flint River, with patrols through all the country to the northward and eastward, and small detachments at the railroad stations in the rear of the entire line. It was expected that the patrols and pickets would discover the trail of Davis and his party and communicate the intelligence by courier rapidly enough to secure prompt and effective pursuit.”

Wilson dispatched Colonel Robert Minty’s cavalry division to guard the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers, south of Macon, in case the Davis party tried moving in that direction. Minty in turn ordered Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin C. Pritchard to lead the 4th Michigan Cavalry to block any crossing of the Oconee River between Spalding and Hawkinsville, in case the Davis party managed to escape the dragnet covering the Ocmulgee and Flint. Minty sent another detachment to Randolph. According to Minty’s orders:

“You will take possession of and guard all Government property which you may find, not interfering, however, with that turned over to the State authorities by the major-general commanding for the benefit of the poor. All supplies needed for your command will be taken from the country, but proper vouchers will invariably be given by your quartermaster or commissary.”

At Dublin, Davis directed his secretary Burton Harrison to take the excess baggage and ride with Varina and the children while Davis went off with the small presidential escort. Harrison later wrote that the president “bade us goodbye and rode forward with his own party, leaving us, in deference to our earnest solicitations, to pursue our journey as best we might with our wagons and incumbrances.”

On the night of the 8th, Davis sent word to Harrison that Federal patrols were nearby. The Harrison party rode through a terrible storm to Abbeville, where the Davis party had stopped for the night to rest their horses. Harrison recalled:

“As we passed through the village of Abbeville, I dismounted and had a conversation with the President in the old house, where he was lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket. He urged me to move on, and said he should overtake us during the night, after his horses had had more rest. We kept to the southward all night, the rain pouring in torrents most of the time, and the darkness such that, as we went through the woods where the road was not well marked, in a light, sandy soil, but wound about to accommodate the great pines left standing, the wagons were frequently stopped by fallen trees and other obstructions. In such a situation, we were obliged to wait until a flash of lightning enabled the drivers to see the way.”

The next day, the Davis and Harrison parties joined once more and continued southward. The joint group made camp around 5 p.m. near Irwinville, Georgia, about 70 miles from the Florida state line and 120 miles from the Gulf Coast. Davis planned to continue on before dawn.

Pritchard’s 4th Michigan rode into Abbeville earlier that day, where they met elements of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. The commander of the 1st Wisconsin informed Pritchard that a wagon train had crossed the Ocmulgee and halted at Abbeville to rest the horses before continuing south toward Irwinville. The commander said the train might include Mrs. Davis but most likely did not include the president. Pritchard rode along and heard several other eyewitness accounts of the train’s crossing.

Pritchard led his troopers through the woods to the outskirts of Irwinville, arriving there around 1 a.m. on the 10th. They soon learned there was an encampment near the town on the Abbeville road. Pritchard deployed his men to surround the camp, careful not to make their presence known. Pritchard planned to attack at daylight, to prevent those encamped from escaping into the darkness of night.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 568; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21248-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686; 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), Q265