On the morning of April 17th, 1865, General William T. Sherman was boarding a train in Raleigh, North Carolina on his way to meet with General Joseph E. Johnston in Durham to discuss terms of surrender of the Confederate forces under Johnston’s command, when he was handed a telegraph message from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:

WAR DEPT., ADJT. GENERAL’S OFFICE,
Washington, April 16, 1865.

The following order of the Secretary of War announces to the Armies of the United States the untimely and lamentable death of the illustrious Abraham Lincoln, late President of the United States:

WAR DEPARTMENT,
Washington City, April 16, 1865.

The distressing duty has devolved upon the Secretary of War to announce to the Armies of the United States that at 7.22 o’clock on the morning of Saturday, the 15th day of April, 1865, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United Lincoln's AssassinationStates, died of a mortal wound, inflicted upon him by an assassin. The Armies of the United States will share with their fellow-citizens the feelings of grief and horror inspired by this most atrocious murder of their great and beloved President and Commander-in-Chief, and with profound sorrow will mourn his death as a national calamity. The headquarters of every department, post, station, fort, and arsenal will be draped in mourning for thirty days, and appropriate funeral honors will be paid by every army, and in every department, and at every military post, and at the Military Academy at West Point, to the memory of the late illustrious Chief Magistrate of the Nation and Commander-in-Chief of its Armies.
Lieutenant-General Grant will give the necessary instructions for carrying this order into effect.

EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.

On the day after the receipt of this order at the headquarters of each military division, department, army, post, station, fort, and arsenal, and at the Military Academy at West Point, the troops and cadets will be paraded at 10 a.m., and the order read to them, after which all labors and operations for the day will cease and be suspended, as far as practicable in a state of war. The national flag will be displayed at half-mast. At dawn of day thirteen guns will be fired, and afterward, at intervals of thirty minutes, between the rising and setting sun a single gun, and, at the close of the day, a national salute of thirty-six guns.

The officers of the Armies of the United States will wear the badge of mourning on the left arm and on their swords, and the colors of their commands and regiments will be put in mourning for the period of six months.

By command of Lieutenant-General Grant:
W. A. NICHOLS,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Continue reading “General William T. Sherman Informs His Army of the Death of Abraham Lincoln” »

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On March 29th, 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant began the initial movements of the final campaign of the Civil War. Grant ordered his cavalry commander, Major General Philip Sheridan, to move toward Dinwiddie Court House ahead of an attack against General Robert E. Lee’s overextended lines on the Confederate right flank at Petersburg, Virginia. Sheridan’s cavalry was to lead the way and as soon as a Union infantry corps could be deployed in support, the attack would begin. A successful attack on the flank would be followed by a general assault ,which Grant believed would finally draw the Confederates out of their trenches and earthworks and into the open. Sheridan would be in position to keep Lee from heading south and linking up with General Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina.

Sheridan's Musicians

Sheridan’s cavalry, along with the 5th Corps, achieved a decisive victory at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1st, seizing that important road junction and essentially caving in the Confederate right flank at Petersburg. Federal forces captured the Petersburg lines the next day and Lee pulled his army out of both Richmond and Petersburg the night of April 2nd and 3rd. Both cities were occupied by the Union Army on April 3rd, and the pursuit of Lee’s army began. Several engagements were fought along the way as Grant’s forces raced to cut off Lee’s westward retreat and keep him from going south. Union forces caught up with the Confederates at Appomattox Court House, surrounding them on three sides and preventing any southward or westward movement. Lee surrendered on April 9th. Continue reading “General George A. Custer’s Report on the Appomattox Campaign” »

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150 Years Ago in the Civil War

After four years of fighting, the end was near as the calendar turned to the fifth April of the war. At Petersburg, Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant had begun a final push at the end of March to turn the Confederate right flank and cut off the Robert E. Lee’s last supply line. In North Carolina, William T. Sherman’s army was preparing to march north to assist Grant, while keeping an eye on Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates. Although the usual minor skirmishing still occurred throughout the south, the only other major action was in Alabama. The Trans-Mississippi region had long been cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, all southern seaports had been captured, most southern industry had been destroyed, and much of the Confederacy east of the Mississippi River was more or less under Federal control. But Confederate President Jefferson Davis still held out hope for success and the war went on.

On April 1st, General Phil Sheridan’s cavalry along with the Union 5th Corps attacked General George E. Pickett’s division at a crossroads called Five Forks on the Confederate right flank along the Petersburg siege line. The attack caved in Pickett’s left flank and Union infantry swept into the rear, capturing about 2400 Rebels and sending the remaining force into a headlong retreat.

Battle of Five Forks by Kurz and Allison

When word reached Grant about the victory at the Battle of Five Forks, the Union general in chief ordered a general assault along the Petersburg line on April 2nd. Overwhelming numbers of Federals assaulted the depleted Confederate lines, breaking through the outer defenses in several locations. With his lines on the verge of collapse, Lee organized a defense that would hold off the Federals long enough to allow his army to withdraw that night. Lee informed Davis that the army would withdraw, which meant that Richmond and Petersburg would soon fall and the Confederate government needed to abandon the capital. Continue reading “Fall of Richmond and Petersburg, Appomattox Campaign; Surrenders of Lee and Johnston; Lincoln Assassinated: April 1865” »

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