The Surrender of Lieutenant General Richard Taylor's Forces
The finality of the American Civil War was going to prove a bustling period for Major General Edward R. S. Canby commanding the Military Division of West Mississippi. It would wrap up a month later in late May when the Department of the Trans-Mississippi surrendered; however while in correspondence with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana on the subject of prisoner exchange; events in the east gave cause to extend to these Confederate forces an opportunity to terminate any further effusion of blood and accept surrender rather than defend, in vein, a lost government.
On March 27, 1865 the federal forces began investing Spanish Fort, Alabama, held by Brigadier General Randall Lee Gibson with a brigade of soldiers, holding on nearly two weeks before the possession of the last route out nearly cut him off, having managed to march out by the evening of April 8th for Mobile, Alabama.
Brigadier General St. John Richardson Liddell and Brigadier General Francis Marion Cockrell were the next to go as Fort Blakely fell the following day. Major General Dabney Herndon Maury did not wish to evacuate the garrison until the last possible minute, but proved too late as the fall of Spanish Fort left no resistance for an immediate federal assault and another twenty five hundred men were quickly lost as prisoners of war.
Maury's forces marched out of Mobile itself on the 12th of April about the same time word had reached Alabama of the surrender at Appomattox. It therefore became the endeavor of General Taylor to join forces with the Army of Tennessee, still intact in North Carolina. The Confederate authorities were now fleeing in that direction and the added forces would offer them a bit more protection. Many of the Congress from the southwestern states who had fled Richmond in the early days of April arrived to offer their services; but it seemed to the military authority that going back to their homes would have shown a more noteworthy example to the southern citizenry than to follow along. Their presence was looked upon more as a hindrance than a help.
When it came time again for field operations, these men of office had changed their minds and had returned home after all, with the exception of one, Isham G. Harris, who had lost his governorship over Tennessee back in 1862 to the current President of the United States, Andrew Johnson. His mind was made up to create as much havoc for the restored central government then to be a promoter of peace. General Taylor offered to get him across the Mississippi River with the intent of fleeing the country, but he refused to have anything of it.
Carrying away the coinage from the Bank of Tennessee, Harris refused to return it in the name of honor. It therefore became the duty of Taylor to turn it over to the federal authority in the days coming and Harris himself would wind up incarcerated for his continued acts of rebellion.
News soon came that both Major General William Sherman and General Joseph Johnston were awaiting word by the central government regarding terms of surrender for the Army of Tennessee. Canby and Taylor had already met once pursuant to a prisoner exchange outside of Mobile, however; now on April 30, 1865 notification was sent to General Taylor stating that the current terms offered in North Carolina had been disapproved by the President and the suspension of hostilities between them would expire forty eight hours after receipt. Accompanied with the letter was a memorandum dictating terms of surrender to his forces much the same as given to General Robert E. Lee in Virginia.
To further the trust between the opposing forces, Canby instructed his Chief of Staff, Major General Peter J. Osterhaus to prepare orders for Major General Frederick Steele now in Selma and Major General Andrew J. Smith in Mobile to desist from any further hostilities or destruction of property with the exception necessary to any offensive movements by the Confederates. Instead of detailing his own orderly to carry the message, it was Canby's intent to deliver it to Lieutenant General Richard Taylor asking of him to ensure that both Generals Steele and Smith receive it. By doing so, the federal department commander secured the confidence of his Confederate counterpart that it has become the best interest of all to put an end to the blood letting.
The following day, having become convinced that further resistance could come of no more profit, Taylor assented to the suggestion of surrendering his forces peaceably. On May 3, 1865, the Chief of Staff, Division of West Mississippi wrote to Major General Andrew J. Smith of the 16th Army Corps directing he relieve all the troops of Major General Frederick Steele on the line from Montgomery to Selma. Both department commanders had a scheduled meeting to deliver and accept terms on May 4th; but should there be any surprise, it was advised to have the entire line entrenched and with all vigilance be in readiness should an attack of the enemy come.
On May 6, 1865 Taylor passed along the information regarding the established surrender of two days earlier by publishing General Orders No. 54 from Meridian, Mississippi. The federally controlled and impassable Mississippi River west and the downfall of the major armies in the east left the scant force in between little hope of continuing the struggle against such overwhelming numbers.
His army of 10,000; now preserved in the strictest sense, what has become technically known as "Military Honors," instructed that all fire arms of the troops be turned over to their respective ordnance officers. Having done so, none would be subject to any humiliation or degradation, the men and officers were entitled to keep their own private horses. The command organization was permitted to remain intact as that all paroled officers and men shall return at public expense to their homes in one body.
The intelligent, comprehensive and candid bearing, pending the negotiations of surrender from Major General Edward R. S. Canby, received nothing but praise worthy comments from the former Confederate department commander. He had conducted himself with liberality and justice with an honest desire to have done all in his power to prevent unnecessary hardship and suffering. And so it went, another army, honorable and true to the ideals on which they fought, rolled up their battle flags and passed away having made noteworthy American History.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org