The Surrender of the Confederate Armies: April-June 1865
On April 9th, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. This event at Appomattox Court House, Virginia is often regarded as the end of the Civil War. Actually, Lee’s surrender that day was the first in a series of events that took place over the next 2 1/2 months before all Confederate forces in the field surrendered. In the meantime, some scattered fighting continued as the war gradually ended.
After hearing that Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, Colonel John M. Mosby did not surrender his command. Instead, he simply disbanded his Partisan Rangers at Salem, Virginia on April 21st and sent them home.
In North Carolina, General Joseph E. Johnston had approximately 30,000 Confederate troops under his command that April. Opposing Johnston was the army of Major General William T. Sherman. On the 14th of the month, Johnston sent word to Sherman offering to discuss terms of surrender. Johnston and the Confederacy’s Secretary of War, Major General John C. Breckinridge, wanted to reach agreement not only on the surrender of Johnston’s army but also the surrender of all Confederate armies still in the field, as well as general post war peace terms for the south. The two sides met at the farm of James Bennett at Durham Station on April 17th and 18th, and worked out a wide ranging agreement that covered political and civil issues as well as surrender terms. The agreement was forwarded to Washington for approval by the new Andrew Johnson Administration; it was also sent to be approved by President Jefferson Davis’ Confederate government. Davis had escaped from Richmond just prior to the Confederate Capitol’s capture by Union forces earlier in the month. He and his party were headed south with the intention of reaching Texas.
In Washington, President Johnson and his cabinet, especially Secretary of War Stanton, rejected Sherman’s agreement with Johnston as being too wide reaching. The Johnson Administration would not allow Sherman to negotiate issues related to post war state governments or anything unrelated to the surrender of Rebel forces in North Carolina. He was ordered to offer the same terms that Grant had offered Lee at Appomattox. On April 26th, Johnston and Sherman returned to the Bennett farmhouse and reached an agreement based on the terms of Lee’s surrender. The last major Confederate army in the east was out of the war.
Lieutenant General Richard Taylor commanded the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. After hearing of Lee’s surrender and the first Johnston/Sherman agreement, Taylor asked for a meeting with his Union Army counterpart, Major General E.R.S. Canby, to discuss surrender terms. Taylor and Canby met near Mobile, Alabama on April 29th. Taylor believed that there was no point in prolonging what he called “a hopeless contest”, and after meeting with Canby a second time at Citronelle, Alabama on May 4th, he surrendered all forces under his command.
On May 9th, General Nathan Bedford Forest surrendered his cavalrymen at Gainesville, Alabama. By the middle of May, all significant forces east of the Mississippi River had surrendered or headed west to the Trans Mississippi States. On May 4th, Jefferson Davis met with his cabinet for the last time at Washington, Georgia. The group dispersed, and Davis continued on toward Texas with a much smaller traveling party. On May 10th, Davis was captured near Irwinville, Georgia by elements of the 1st Wisconsin and 4th Michigan Cavalry regiments. With that, the last remnant of the Confederate government ceased to exist.
By late May, the Confederacy had been reduced to the Trans Mississippi States of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and the Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma), and some of that was in Union hands. The department commander, General Edmund Kirby Smith, had a few thousand troops under his command, most of whom were in Texas. On May 20th, Smith moved his headquarters from Shreveport, Louisiana to Houston, Texas, to prepare a defense of Texas. But many people, both civilian and soldiers, had had enough. Desertions reduced the size of the army on a daily basis. Almost everyone just wanted it to end.
As Smith left Shreveport and headed to Houston, one of his subordinates, General Simon B. Buckner, also left and headed to New Orleans. There, he met with General Canby and worked out terms of surrender similar to those offered elsewhere. The two sides came to terms on May 26th, subject to approval by Smith. With nothing left to fight for, and with an army rapidly shrinking and many of those remaining unwilling to continue the fight, Smith signed the agreement surrendering his department on June 2nd at Galveston, Texas.
Not every General in the department surrendered. General Jo Shelby took his Missouri cavalrymen across the Rio Grande into Mexico. Other Generals including John B. Magruder, Sterling Price, and William Preston went into exile in Mexico, as did Kirby Smith after he surrendered his department. All five returned to the U.S. within a few years.
Finally, on June 23rd, Brigadier General Stand Waite surrendered his Native American troops at Doaksville, Indian Territory. Waite was the last Confederate general to surrender.
- The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol. 3 Red River to Appomattox (1986) by Shelby Foote
- Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (2006) by Ezra J. Warner
- “The Second Surrender” by John M. Taylor. Civil War Times, Jan. 2006.
- Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War, April-June 1865 (1994) by Noah Andre Trudeau