Submission of the Trans-Mississippi
The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9th, the surrender of the Army of Tennessee on April 26th, the surrender of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana on May 4th, followed by the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis by the Fourth Michigan Cavalry on May 10, 1865 drove the morale of the soldier to its lowest depth within the Trans Mississippi Department commanded by General Edmund Kirby Smith. The Confederate soldiers within his command deserted in droves as it sat inside the state of Louisiana and watched the very life of their cause, their government, their very way of life slowly sinking into an eternal death.
The commander addressed his army on the third week of April while in Shreveport, Louisiana, appealing to his soldier's morale and hoped that they would continue to fight on for their families and firesides. Yet, in the midst of all that had happened, even Smith's command was showing signs of disintegration. Advice from the district commander of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, Major General John B. Magruder, suggested as things became unraveled in the east, the United States would concentrate most if not all of its forces upon the Rio Grande preventing supplies to further their resistance as well as cutting their communications between Texas and the empire of Mexico now in turmoil with the French.
The departmental situation became so bad in Texas that General Smith issued General Orders No. 48 on May 18, 1865 from Shreveport, Louisiana and removed his headquarters to Houston, Texas. This move left Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner in overall command of the forces in Louisiana. The federal armies of occupation continued to mop up the post war southeast as the Federal Government began shifting all operational troops through Mobile, Alabama for the purpose of a grand concentration along the Rio Grande; breaking up what was left of the Confederate resistance north as well as preventing their escape south into Mexico.
Seeking the civil support, the four state governors within the territory agreed to sustain the remainder of its army, yet along with the approval proposed a civil contingency should surrender be inevitable to them all. These terms provided inclusion of the civil authority within the territory; however national policy denied any such action to all subjugated armies. The civil authority would have no choice but to relent to the Washington political circle.
Major General John Pope had made the first attempt to negotiate a surrender with the Trans-Mississippi and sent an appeal to its commander in late April through Lieutenant Colonel John T. Sprague, having pointed out that the Confederate Government was on the run and the second of their armies in the east was imminently about to lay down their arms as prisoners of war. He wished to extend the very same generous terms that had been extended to General Lee; however, Smith in reply balked. In response, the Confederate soldiers still enjoyed open communication to the south and were in good fighting condition. He had only wished that the surrender appeal had been accompanied by a threat of its own, for then the thought of surrender would have been considered honorable. If one was not to be presented him, submission was completely out of the question.
On May 17th, the United States War Department issued General Orders No. 95 abolishing the military division of West Mississippi, and reassigned its territory with Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, the district of Key West and the Tortugas, established now as the Department of the Gulf with Major General Edward R. S. Canby as its commander. The 25th Army Corps had now been ordered to join Major General Frederick Steele in Mobile, Alabama. A prescribed military build up was underway to be deployed along the Rio Grande both preventing escape as well as foreign aid to maintain the resistance.
With the Confederate Department Commander in Houston, his army continued to sit idle inside of western Louisiana. Brigadier General Joseph L. Brent, now represented Major General Harry T. Hays, commanding the Military District of West Louisiana, and became the first to communicate through Major General Canby's people with a desire to suspend hostilities using Lieutenant Colonel Sprague's communications to slow the military progression down. On the following day, May 20th, it became clear to Canby's chief of staff, Major General Peter J. Osterhaus, that Smith's response to the government's idleness was simply that he would not relinquish his command but to continue the fight.
Brent accompanied by two colonels opened communication with Major General Francis Jay Herron and desired to negotiate surrender. Since the Trans Mississippi Commander was away on affairs in Houston, the district commander had the authority to surrender all hostile troops within and accordingly came to the decision that further resistance was useless.
In the absence of Smith, and without the consent thereof, Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Chief of Staff, Department of Trans-Mississippi and Major General Peter J. Osterhaus, Chief of Staff, Department of the Gulf agreed upon the terms given to the armies of the Confederacy throughout the past six weeks. The soldiers of the Trans-Mississippi were now paroled prisoners of war, and Smith's great Confederate Army dissolved on the 26th day of May 1865.
His department thus surrendered which resulted in grave disappointment, General Smith traveled south into Mexico leaving the by gone era of a lost hope behind. One by one the great and mighty armies of the Confederacy submitted to a one government rule, returned to their post war lives and subjected themselves to the turbulent peace that followed.
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 email@example.com