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April, 2015

Part 2 of 2. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Joseph E. Johnston

Joseph E. Johnston

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, ever the good soldier, obeyed Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s order. He informed his adversary, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, that the civil authorities in Washington, D. C. had rejected their treaty on the grounds that Sherman had exceeded his authority. He informed Johnston that his sole authority to treat with him was to offer him the same terms that Grant had offered to Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Davis, opposed the surrender of Johnston’s command under the terms given to Lee, ordered Johnston to disband the infantry and escape with the large force of cavalry attached to Johnston’s army. To his undying credit, Johnston disobeyed those orders and surrendered the nearly 90,000 Confederate troops remaining under arms on the same terms given to Lee’s army at Appomattox. The troops included men in the Carolinas, Georga, and Florida. Only after Johnston surrendered did the armies of Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor and Gen. Edmund Kirby-Smith finally surrender, too.

Johnston and Sherman meet to discuss the terms of Johnston’s surrender.

Johnston and Sherman meet to discuss the terms of Johnston’s surrender.

On April 26, 1865, just eight days after the execution of the putative peace treaty, Sherman and Johnston reconvened at James Bennett’s small log farmhouse near Durham, North Carolina, where they had negotiated their putative peace treaty, to complete the formal surrender of Johnston’s army. Initially, the two generals had trouble reaching an accord. Johnston was concerned that without adequate provisions in place, the disbanding Confederate army would turn into marauders and robbers—in other words, that anarchy would reign. Sherman persuaded Johnston that he need not be concerned about that, and eventually got the Virginian to agree to the same terms that Grant had given to Lee.

Sherman presented Johnston with a prepared instrument of surrender, and Johnston signed it:

Terms of a Military Convention, entered into this 26th day of April, 1865, at Bennitt’s House, near Durham Station, North Carolina, between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General W.T. Sherman, commanding the United States Army in North Carolina:

All acts of war on the part of the troops under General Johnston’s command to cease from this date.

All arms and public property to be deposited at Greensboro, and delivered to an ordinance-officer of the United States Army.

Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate; one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by General Sherman. Each officer and man to give individual obligation in writing not to take up arms against the Government of the United States, until properly released from this obligation.

The side-arms of officers, and their private horses and baggage, to be retained by them.

This being done, all the officers and men will be permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities, so long as they observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.

W.T. Sherman, Major-General

Commanding United States Forces in North Carolina

J.E. Johnston, General

Commanding Confederate States Forces in North Carolina

Approved: U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General

These were precisely the same terms as those accepted by Robert E. Lee for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. The difference was that Johnston surrendered all remaining Confederate forces still in the field—nearly 90,000 men.

With the execution of the instrument of surrender, Joseph E. Johnston and his 32,000 man army stacked arms in a ceremony reminiscent of the one wherein Lee’s army surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Rifles were stacked, and colors were furled, and then the defeated Confederate soldiers tearfully returned home. Their war was over.

In the years after the war, the War Department purchased the entire village of Appomattox Court House and turned it into a shrine. It’s now part of the National Park Service, with many of the buildings–including Wilmer McLean’s handsome home–having been reconstructed as replicas of the original structures. The Appomattox Court House National Park consists of 1800 acres and includes 27 original structures. It is amply monumented, and the small battlefield area–the fight was brief and aborted when Lee realized that Union infantry had arrived and that his plight was hopeless–is well interpreted. There’s even a small military cemetery on site, a large Eastern National Park & Monument Association bookstore with an excellent selection, and a visitor center with a nice museum.

In many ways, what happened at Bennett Place is more remarkable, and more important, than what happened at Appomattox. However, the Bennett Place episode has long been ignored in light of the more dramatic events at Appomattox. The Bennett Place surrender site is a North Carolina state park that occupies about four acres. The Bennett house burned to the ground in 1921, and a replica was constructed on the site. In 1923, a Unity Monument was placed on the site to commemorate this historic event. There is a recently remodeled visitor center with some museum exhibits, a movie, and some books for sale. The contrast is absolutely shocking when compared with the plush and huge national park at Appomattox. The Bennett Place site sits a couple of hundred yards from an Interstate freeway, nestled among houses, so there is no way that it could be expanded. And that’s all there is to commemorate the place where two of the great men of the Civil War era combined efforts to accomplish one of the most important and remarkable events of the American Civil War.

The Unity Monument with the replica of James Bennett’s farmhouse in the background.

The Unity Monument with the replica of James Bennett’s farmhouse in the background.

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Part 1 of a two-part series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston learned of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in Wilmer McLean’s parlor in the hamlet of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 several days later. Lee had been trying to outrace the pursuing Union armies in an attempt to link up with Johnston’s army near Weldon, North Carolina. Once Lee’s army surrendered, there was no reason for Johnston to continue the bloodletting—it was over, and the wise old Confederate general knew it. Johnston, also horrified by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and worried about potential recriminations stemming from it, was eager to end the war. The wily old Virginian had a great deal of respect for his adversary, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, and he saw an opportunity to not just end the fighting, but to end the war itself. Sherman, weary of the butchery, also wanted the same thing.

Bennett Place

Bennett Place

Johnston proposed a meeting between the two army commanders to treat for peace, and they selected James Bennett’s modest farmhouse, near Durham, North Carolina, which was approximately halfway between the positions of the two armies. As one of Sherman’s staff officers put it, “two great men came together in the heart of North Carolina, intent, with true nobility of soul and in the highest interest of humanity, upon putting a stop to the needless sacrifice of life.”

As Sherman was preparing to leave for his conference with Johnston, he learned of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln via telegram. He swore the telegraph operator to secrecy to keep word from reaching the men and jeopardizing the meeting.

On April 17, the two army commanders entered the little Bennett house and began hashing out the terms of not just the surrender of Johnston’s army, but for peace and the restoration of the Union. Each commander arrived with his staff and a cavalry escort. Sherman informed Johnston of the assassination, and the Virginian said that the president’s death “was the greatest possible calamity to the South.” Sherman offered Johnston the same terms offered to Lee by Grant. However, Johnston believed the purpose to cease the fighting so that the civil authorities could make peace. He proposed to surrender all remaining Confederate forces in the field, and idea that Sherman eagerly embraced, as he wanted to avoid a long guerrilla war.

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton of South Carolina, Johnston’s chief of cavalry, and the highest-ranking Confederate cavalry officer, and Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, Sherman’s cavalry commander, accompanied their commanders to the peace conference. Both officers had transferred from the Virginia theater of operations, and they had tangled many times. Hampton was a patrician, reportedly the richest man in the antebellum South. Kilpatrick, small, ambitious, and with an unsavory reputation, were two entirely opposite personalities.While their men mingled and chatted, Hampton and Kilpatrick instead engaged in a loud and ugly argument that led to “both parties expressing a desire that the issue of the war should be left between the cavalry.” Their row had grown so loud that Sherman and Johnston had to interrupt their important discussions to separate their quarreling subordinates. A few minutes later, the two respective contingents mounted up and rode off after scheduling another meeting for the next day to finalize their discussions. Johnston needed time to communicate with the Confederate authorities. Hampton remained at headquarters the next day to avoid another ugly confrontation with his old adversary.

Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick

Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick

The next day, April 18, Sherman and Johnston met again. Johnston wanted to have the advice of General john Breckinridge, the Confederate Secretary of War, and an experienced attorney and politician, as to the legalities, so he invited Breckinridge to attend the meeting. Sherman initially opposed the presence of a civil official of the Confederacy, but agreed to permit the Kentuckian to remain once Breckinridge agreed to act solely in his capacity as a major general. Pausing only to take a sip of whiskey, Sherman began writing. The two commanders then signed a remarkable document:

Memorandum, or Basis of Agreement, made this 18th day of April A.D. 1865, near Durham Station, in the State of North Carolina, by and between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Army of the United States in North Carolina, both present:

The contending armies now in the field to maintain the status quo until notice is given by the commanding general of anyone to its opponent, and reasonable time – say forty-eight hours – allowed.

The Confederate armies now in existence to be disbanded and conducted to their several State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State Arsenal; and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war, and to abide by the action of the State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordinance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United States, and, in the mean time, to be used solely to maintain peace and order within the borders of the States respectively.

The recognition, by the Executive of the United States, of the several State governments, on their officers and legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and, where conflicting State governments have resulted from the war, the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The re-establishment of all Federal Courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of person and property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostility, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.

In general terms – the war to cease; a general amnesty, so far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies.

Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority, and to carry out the above programme.

W.T. Sherman, Major-General,

Commanding Army of the United States in North Carolina

J.E. Johnston, General,

Commanding Confederate States Army in North Carolina

This remarkable document, if ratified, would not only ensure the surrender of Johnston’s army, it would end the war and restore the authority and civil government of the United States in the former Confederacy. It marked Sherman’s and Johnston’s attempt at statesmanship. Sherman then ordered the halting of hostilities by all troops under his command.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis quickly accepted these generous terms. However, the civil authorities in Washington, D. C., still enraged over the assassination of Lincoln, declared that Sherman lacked authority to treat for peace. Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant, Sherman’s superior officer, ordered Sherman to abrogate his treaty and to inform Johnston that he could only offer to Johnston the same terms that Grant had offered to Lee at Appomattox. Their remarkable efforts came to naught.

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