No More Cause to Fight For
The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 was only the beginning to the end of a long, drawn out, and very bloody war. The news gave President Lincoln a glimmer of hope that the nation was going to be united once again, but at such a cost.
General Robert E. Lee was trying to make a junction with the Army of Tennessee now on the move towards Western North Carolina. Richmond, the Confederate Capital was in ruins, smoldering from being set afire, and the civil authorities were on the run. Cut off from every avenue of retreat, the war in Virginia had come to an end, yet there were several belligerent forces still operating in the field.
The situation had drastically changed now that Richmond was in federal control, and the government was evading capture. To the armies remaining under combat arms, it must have appeared that there was no more cause to fight for. This in itself was the mindset of the commanding general.
President Davis and cabinet were in Greensboro, North Carolina on April the 12th, and summonsed both Generals Johnston and Beauregard to consult with the President on the military situation, or so it seemed. His Excellency had already prearranged the object of the chat with his cabinet prior to his commanders' arrival. Davis, desired to retrieve all the deserters from the deep south, who had left Virginia to return home to take up the fight again. All the president wished to know was under what routes Johnston planned on withdrawing on, and while withdrawing calling into conscription all those who had avowed to take up arms again.
Both Johnston and Beauregard were shocked. They were watching their own government in flight, had recognized that they were barely able to muster perhaps 25,000 against Sherman's army, while Meade was free to add additional numbers in the matter of days. There were no more foundries, all that was left of the ammunition was within the soldiers cartridge boxes, the picture was becoming one of impossibility to resist any further.
Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory, Secretary of War John Breckenridge, and Postmaster General John Reagan all decided with their general officers. Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, however, did not; and it was with him that Davis heartily agreed with..
The morning of the 17th General Sherman responded to a written request by General Johnston for the purpose of a meeting and proceeded to Durham Station where he met General Judson Kilpatrick having a squadron of cavalry drawn up. The mounted party moved forward riding up the Hillsboro Road, a vedette carrying a white flag several paces ahead of them, halted at the approach of a Confederate white flag. Riding forward, Sherman met for the first time General Johnston in escort with Lieutenant General Wade Hampton. Further down the road behind him, Hampton suggested that they meet at the Bennett House to discuss terms.
The party of blue and gray returned there discussing the matter of an armistice. In meeting Johnston carried along a request written by Mallory that the armistice be extended to the civil authorities to meet and confer in ending the war. Sherman refused on grounds that the United States Government had never recognized the Confederacy as a legitimate government therefore could not allow them to meet for any such purpose, the federal commander's only responsibility were the Confederate military forces and can not be extended further. Very liberal terms of surrender were drawn up on the 18th of April, including a re-establishment of the civil authority within the states in order to protect themselves from further pockets of resistance. This draft was sent both to the fleeing party known as the Confederate Government as well as one sent to the War Department in Washington City for approval.
Meeting with his corps commanders that evening, General Sherman informed them that terms were sent off to Washington today for approval; however both army commanders could not reach a conclusion on what to do about Davis and his cabinet. Sherman just assumed let them all escape. Generals Francis Blair and John Logan in their humor recommended that the army provide them all a steamer and send them off to Nassau or Cuba.
On the other side of the picket line, General Johnston thinking it would be advantageous to have Secretary of War John C. Breckenridge and Postmaster General John Reagan's presence to help decide the question of Davis' government he sent for them. Upon learning of this new development however, Sherman was reluctant to allow their presence at the meeting on the 19th, insisting this is a counsel of military belligerents. Johnston reassured Sherman that Mr. Breckenridge would be happy to dispense with the political title and revert back to his army rank as major general. Sherman then agreed to his admittance, but rejected John Reagan.
During the meeting the following day while the three generals began deliberating over the question of political status for the soldiers surrendered, Postmaster General John Reagan managed to get some paperwork in for the generals review with the help of a messenger. After review by both Breckenridge and Johnston they were passed to General Sherman, but again, the terms asked for by the civil authorities were denied by Sherman as inadmissible.
On the 24th of April, a telegraph message came from President Davis to General Johnston giving his consent to the terms agreed to on the 18th. The Federal Government's answer came the same day when Major Hitchcock of Sherman's staff returned with a surprise visitor, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. In light of the recent assassination of President Lincoln, Grant chose to keep his visit hushed but felt his presence at Durham Station was essential to completing the military business there. The terms of the national government will only accept the surrender of the military forces in the field, all civil authorities in flight will be dealt with separately.
This meant that as new terms for the surrender of the Army of Tennessee were being drawn up with the same liberality given to General Lee's soldiers, Major General John C. Breckenridge, former Vice President of the United States and now Confederate Secretary of War would be advised to flee the country altogether. Since the government was intending to deal with the civil authority themselves, they would not be pleased with him if captured. He agreed that he would be going abroad for sometime.
It had been a long two weeks for the Army of Tennessee. Beginning with the shadow of a government in flight, the subjugation of the Army of Northern Virginia, even through news of assassination, they would surrender their arms and go home paroled, never to take up arms against the United States again. Only when it became evident that their national policy was scattered to the four winds, did the enforcers of it, realize further resistance would not have been war any longer, only murder.
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