150 Years Ago in the Civil War
As the calendar turned to June 1865, the final shots had fired, the last of the Confederate forces were preparing to surrender, and the nation began to reunite and rebuild.
On June 2nd, Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith boarded the Union steamer U.S.S. Fort Jackson in Galveston harbor and formally surrendered the Confederate Trans-Mississippi armies. The terms, which were the same as those of all other Confederate surrenders, had been agreed to in New Orleans on May 26th by General Simon Buckner. At the time, Smith was moving his headquarters to Houston from Shreveport, Louisiana, under the belief that enough support remained in Texas to continue the fight. When he arrived in Houston, he found that many of his troops had had enough and had gone home, and that Buckner had arranged a surrender. There was nothing left to do but sign the surrender document. This was the last sizable Confederate army to surrender.
The next day, Confederate naval forces on the Red River, what was left of them, officially surrendered. Then on June 23rd, at Doaksville, near Fort Towson in the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma), Brigadier General Stand Watie surrendered the Native American troops under his command to Lt. Col. Asa Matthews of the U.S. Army. Watie was the last general to surrender, and with that, the Confederate army ceased to exist.
Oblivious to events in America, the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah continued to attack U.S. shipping as it had since it first put out to sea from the Portuguese island of Madeira in October 1864. Commanded by Lieutenant James Waddell, Shenandoah had sailed south, then east around the Cape of Good Hope and across the southern Indian Ocean to Melbourne, Australia. From there, the ship sailed north through the Caroline Islands and South Pacific seas that would see much fighting three quarters of a century later in World War II, and up to Sea of Okhotsk near Siberia, and then on to the Bering Sea in June of 1865. Several U.S. whaling ships were among the Shenandoah’s victims. The ship continued north into the Arctic Ocean before ice–and a lack of targets–compelled it to sail south.
After returning to warmer waters in July, Waddell decided to make a bold move. He set sail for California, with the intention of entering San Francisco harbor and holding the city for ransom. But on August 2nd, Waddell received definitive word from a British ship that the war was over.
Shenandoah steamed around Cape Horn and into the Atlantic and then on to England. On November 6th, Shenandoah entered the Mersey River and anchored at Liverpool. Waddell surrendered the vessel to British authorities, and the Confederate flag was lowered for the last time. It was the last surrender of the war.
Not everyone surrendered. General Jo Shelby and his command crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico. Fearing they would be tried for treason, some officers and Confederate government officials fled to Europe, Canada, and other foreign countries; many returned within a couple of years, in response to President Andrew Johnson’s issuance of a proclamation of amnesty on December 25th, 1868. Confederate president Jefferson Davis was released from detention at that time.
Edmund Ruffin, the ardent Virginia secessionist who participated in the firing on Fort Sumter at the beginning of the war, took another approach. On June 17th, Ruffin made a final diary entry in which he proclaimed his “unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule” before shooting himself to death.
A few thousand southerners took up Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil’s offer of cheap land and other incentives to settle in that country. The emperor wanted to establish cotton farming in Brazil. Though some returned to the United States, many others stayed. These settlers, and their modern day descendents are known as Confederados. Though they are fully integrated into Brazilian society, the Confederados still celebrate their connection to the American south.
Others, both north and south, moved west to start new lives in new territories.
On June 30th, the six week trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators came to an end with the conviction of all eight defendants by the military tribunal. Four–Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin, Edward Spangler, and Dr. Samuel Mudd–were sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas islands off the Florida Coast. O’Laughlin died of Yellow Fever in 1867, Mudd was pardoned in 1868, and Spangler and Arnold were pardoned in 1869.
The other four conspirators–George Atzerodt, David Herold, Mary Surratt, and Lewis Payne (a.k.a Lewis Powell)–were sentenced to death by hanging. Several appeals were made to spare Surratt–who owned the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth met with the conspirators–from death, but Johnson would not commute the sentence. On the afternoon of July 7th, the executions were carried out at the grounds of the Washington DC Arsenal Penitentiary. Surratt was the first woman executed by the U.S. government. The bodies were buried near the gallows in the arsenal grounds, though they were later returned to their families and buried elsewhere. The site of the execution is now a tennis court at Fort McNair military base.
On November 10th, another execution was carried out. This time, it was Captain Henry Wirz, the commander of the infamous Andersonville Prisoner of War Camp . Wirz was charged with both conspiracy to kill or injure prisoners by withholding supplies of food, etc. and he was also charged with multiple charges of murder, from ordering killings to doing them himself. Wirz defense in the military tribunal contended that he did the best he could considering the shortages of everything in the Confederacy as the war dragged on, but the two month trial ended in a conviction in October.
Elsewhere, reconstruction was underway as new state governments were formed under the watchful eye of Union troops. Secretary of State William Seward declared the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, to be in effect on December 18th. Georgia had been the 27th and deciding state to ratify the amendment on December 6th. Though slavery was now outlawed in the Constitution, the attainment of full Civil Rights by all would take a lot longer.
With the formation of new governments in all of the former Confederate states except Texas complete, President Johnson declared the war officially over on April 2nd, 1866. Johnson declared the war over in Texas on August 20th after that state’s new government was in place.
The Civil War was over. As many as 750,000 had died during the conflict, with countless others wounded. Those who survived knew they had lived through and participated in a series of events of great national significance. Many wrote personal memoirs of their service or a history of their regiments. In some cases it was to justify their own actions (or lack thereof) for posterity; more often it was to record history as they saw it and to keep alive the memories of their fellow soldiers and the sacrifices that were made. These veterans were also instrumental in helping to preserve the old battlefields as national parks. The first four–Chickamauga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg–were established by Congress in the 1890s. As a result of all this, interest in the Civil War remains high after 150 years, and will continue.