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Last letters and telegrams of the Confederacy—Correspondence of General John C. Breckinridge.

[We are indebted to Hon. C. R. Breckinridge for copying and verifying from the originals the following letters and telegrams which were among the last in the official correspondence of his distinguished father, the last Secretary of War of the Confederacy:]

Greensboroa, April 25th.
Hon. J. C. Breckinridge,—The officers named shall be sent.

This paper is endorsed as follows in my father's handwriting: ‘Mill. Papers, April, 1865.’ ‘They did not come.’

Greensboroa, Apl. 26, 7 A. M.
General J. C. Breckinridge, Secretary War,—I am going to meet General Sherman at the same place.

Greensboroa, April 24th.
Hon. Jno. C. Breckinridge, Sec. War,—I telegraphed you yesterday [98] that Gen'l Sherman informed me he expected his messenger to return from Washington to-day. Please answer.

Greensboroa, Apl. 24th.
Hon. J. C. Breckinridge,—Gen'l Johnston directs me to remain in this office to ascertain if you can decipher the telegram. You will please notify me, that I may report to him.

D. S. Ryan, Opr. for Gen'l J.

Greensboro, Apl. 25th, 11:30 A. M.
Hon. J. C. Breckinridge, Sec'ty of War,—I have proposed to Gen'l Sherman military negotiations in regard to this army.

Greensboro, April 25, 10 A. M.
Hon. J. C. Breckinridge, Sec. War,—Your dispatch received. We have to save the people, save the blood of the army, and save the high civil functionaries. Your plan, I think, can only do the last. We ought to prevent invasion, make terms for our troops, and give an escort of our best cavalry to the President, who ought to move without loss of a moment. Commanders believe the troops will not fight again. We think your plan impracticable. Major-General Wilson, U. S. A., has captured Macon, with Major-Generals Cobb and G. W. Smith, Brigadiers Mackall, Mercer, and the garrison. Federal papers announce capture of Mobile, with three thousand prisoners.


Charlotte, N. C., April 24, 1865, 11 P. M.
Gen'l J. E. Johnston, Greensboro, N. C.,—Does not your suggestion about disbanding refer to the infantry and most of the artillery? If it be necessary to disband these, they might still save their small arms and find their way to some appointed rendezvous. Can you not bring off the cavalry, and all the men you can mount from the transportation and other animals, with some light field pieces? Such a force could march away from Sherman, and be strong enough to encounter anything between us and the southwest. If this course be possible, carry it out, and telegraph your intended route.

John C. Breckinridge, Sec. of War.


The above is all my father's hand, and is endorsed by him simply ‘Mill. Papers-April, 1865.’

C. R. B.

May 3d, 1865—Half mile west of Savannah Bridge, 8 P. M.
Dear Sir,—I have not heard from you in answer to my note of this day, and the condition of things here, together with great fatigue, have prevented my going forward.

Nothing can be done with the bulk of this command. It has been with difficulty that anything has been kept in shape. I am having the silver paid to the troops, and will in any event save the gold and have it brought forward in the morning, when I hope Judge Reagan will take it.

Many of the men have thrown away their arms. Most of them have resolved to remain here under Vaughn and Dibbrell, and will make terms. A few hundred men will move on and may be depended on for the object we spoke of yesterday. I would respectfully and earnestly repeat the suggestions I then made. Let me know if you desire me to adopt any other course than that proposed. If you are at Washington, or this side, I can ride forward in the morning to see you.

Yours very truly,

John C. Breckinridge, Sec. of War.

To President Davis. Official: Wm. J. Davis, A. A. G.
P. S.—9 P. M..—Your note of 3:5 P. M. this date just received. What I have written above explains condition of affairs. The specie train could not have been moved on but for the course adopted. Out of nearly four thousand men present but a few hundred could be relied on, and they were intermixed with the mass. Threats have just reached me to seize the whole amount, but I hope the guard at hand will be sufficient.


J. C. B.

This paper is endorsed in the same hand as the paper itself, which, I presume is that of Major Davis: ‘Copy of communication from Secr'y of War to the President. May, 3rd, 1865.’

C. R. B.

[extract special order No.——.]

Confederate States of America, War Department, 1 1/2 Miles west of Savannah Bridge, Georgia, May 3, 1865.
Maj. E. C. White, Senior Q. M., will take charge of silver (in [100] specie and bullion) belonging to the Government, and estimated at one hundred and eight thousand, three hundred and twenty-two 90/100 dollars ($108,322.90). He will distribute the specie, proportionably, to the troops present upon certified returns of the strength of their commands by the several brigade commanders. He will correctly estimate the value of the bullion in coin; and will pay in gold, placed in his hands for the purpose, as above required for the distribution of the silver in specie.

By command of the Sec'ty of War.


For Maj. White, Q. M.

W. J. Davis, A. A. G.

This is endorsed in the same hand as the previous paper, No. 8, and as follows: ‘War Dep't C. S., May 3rd, 1865. Extract Special Order No. ——. (Copy.) Directs Maj. White, Q. M., to take charge of Gov't silver, and pay to troops, &c. A true copy—Wm. J. Davis, A. A. G.’

The signature confirms that this and other papers are correctly construed as Maj. D—'s handwriting.

C. R. B.

Greensboroa, 23 April.
Gen'l J. C. Breckinridge,—Gen. Sherman writes that he expects the return of his officer from Washington to-morrow.

Charlotte, N. C., April 23, 1865.
To His Excellency the President:
Sir,—In obedience to your request, I have the honor to submit my advice on the course you should take upon the memorandum or basis of agreement made on the 18th inst., by and between Gen. J. E. Johnston, of the Confederate States Army, and Gen. W. T. Sherman, of the United States Army, provided that paper should receive the approval of the Government of the United States.

The principal army of the Confederacy was recently lost in Virginia. Considerable bodies of troops not attached to that army have either dispersed or marched toward their homes, accompanied by many of their officers. Five days ago the effective force in infantry and artillery of General Johnston's army was but 14,770 men, and it continues to diminish. That officer thinks it wholly impossible [101] for him to make any head against the overwhelming forces of the enemy. Our ports are closed and the sources of foreign supply lost to us. The enemy occupy all or the greater part of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, and move almost at will through the other States to the east of the Mississippi. They have recently taken Selma, Montgomery, Columbus, Macon, and other important towns, depriving us of large depots of supplies and of munitions of war. Of the small force still at command many are unarmed, and the ordnance department cannot furnish 5,000 stand of small arms. I do not think it would be possible to assemble, equip and maintain an army of 30,000 men at any point east of the Mississippi. The contest, if continued after this paper is rejected, will be likely to lose entirely the dignity of regular warfare. Many of the States will make such terms as they may; in others, separate and ineffective hostilities may be prosecuted, while war, wherever waged, will probably degenerate into that irregular and secondary stage out of which greater evils will flow to the South than to the enemy.

For these, and for other reasons which need not now be stated, I think we can no longer contend with a reasonable hope of success. It seems to me the time has arrived when, in a large and clear view of the situation, prompt steps should be taken to put a stop to the war. The terms proposed are not wholly unsuited to the altered condition of affairs. The States are preserved, certain essential rights secured, and the army rescued from degradation.

It may be said that the agreement of the 18th instant contains certain stipulations which you cannot perform. This is true, and it was well understood by General Sherman that only a part could be executed by the Confederate authorities. In any case, grave responsibilities must be met and assumed. If the necessity for peace be conceded, corresponding action must be taken. The modes of negotiation which we deem regular, and would prefer, are impracticable. The situation is anomalous, and cannot be solved upon principles of theoretical exactitude. In my opinion you are the only person who can meet the present necessities.

I respectfully advise—

1st. That you execute, so far as you can, the second article of the agreement of the 18th instant.

2d. That you recommend to the several States the acceptance of those parts of the agreement upon which they alone can act.

3d. Having maintained, with faithful and intrepid purpose, the [102] cause of the Confederate States while the means of organized resistance remained, that you return to the States and the people the trust which you are no longer able to defend.

Whatever course you pursue, opinions will be divided. Permit me to give mine. Should these or similar views accord with your own, I think the better judgment will be that you can have no higher title to the gratitude of your countrymen and the respect of mankind than will spring from the wisdom to see the path of duty at this time, and the courage to follow it, regardless alike of praise or blame.

Respectfully and truly your friend,

John C. Breckinridge, Sec. of War.

This paper is endorsed: ‘Charlotte, N. C., April 23, 1865. Letter John C. Breckinridge to the President.’

This is a copy of the original, and seems to be in the handwriting of Col. James Wilson. Here and there are a few small corrections in the handwriting of my father; as, for instance, an and is scratched and above it or is placed. This is next to the last word in the letter.

C. R. B.

headquarters First brigade E. Tenn. Cav. Div'n. Lincolnton, N. C., April 23rd, 1865.
General,—I have the honor to acknowledge receipt by flag of truce from you of two communications addressed to Major-General Stoneman, one from Major-General Sherman and one from General J. E. Johnston.

These communications were immediately forwarded to General Stoneman through the Headquarters of this Cavalry Division, and I have no doubt that a reply will be sent by flag of truce within a few days.

I am, General, your obedient servant,

Wm. J. Palmer, Brevet Brigadier-General Commanding Brigade. Major-General J. C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War, Charlotte, N. C.

Greensboroa, April 27th.
Brig.-Gen'l Z. York,--Your dispatch rec'd. Will communicate [103] with you. Forward following to Gen'l Breckinridge immediately.

Wade Hampton, Lt.-General

Greensboroa, April 27th, 1 P. M.
Gen. J. C. Breckinridge,—You gave me orders on 25th to move on my return on 26th. I found Military Convention. I think I am free from its terms by your previous order. Have notified Gen'l Johnston that I will abide by your decision. Am ready to move as ordered. Answer here or Lexington.

Wade Hampton, Lt.-Gen'l

This has no endorsement. You perceive, from certain abbreviations, which are not omissions of mine, that the communication was apparently written in haste.

C. R. B.

Catawba Bridge, April 28th, 1865.
Hon. John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War—My Dear Sir,—I send you a dispatch just received from General Hampton, by my A. A. G.

Have the kindess to send me two mounted couriers.

I sent you early this morning by my only courier two dispatches.

Yours, truly,

Z. York, Brig. General.

This is from Colonel Hoke, as follows:

headquarters Charlotte, April 27th, 1865.
General John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War: Dear Sir,—I send copy of telegram received at 11 O'clock to-day:

Greensboro, 27th April.
Brigadier-General Echols,—A military convention has been made by General Sherman and myself terminating hostilities between our commands. Send intelligence to Secretary of War, if you can, and give information to Major-General Stoneman.


I have sent a flag of truce, with a letter of General Cooper, to General Stoneman.

Yours, respectfully,


Catawba Bridge, 28th April, 1865.
Hon. Jno. C. Breckinridge, Sec'y of War: My Dear Sir,— I send you a dispatch just received with instructions to deliver it without delay. I have heard nothing from General Wade Hampton except what is mentioned in the enclosed dispatch.

I have answered him at every point along the line, informing that the ferry at this point was in good order and that you had ordered me to hold it till he (General Hampton) came, which I shall do regardless of consequences, unless relieved by your order.

Yours respectfully,

Z. York, Brig. General

The following paper was first dated 14th April, is all in pencil, and the 1 of 14 was changed, in ink, at the top and bottom, and made a 2. Therefore it reads as follows. I will add that the alteration is evidently old, and may have been made by my father, as his endorsement on the back—‘Mill. Papers, April, 1865’—is the only writing in ink contained in this paper. My father likewise endorsed on the back in pencil: ‘Telegram from General J. E. Johnston—ans' d.’

C. R. B.

Greensboroa, April 24—6:30 P. M.
Hon. J. C. Breckinridge, Sec. War,—I have just rec'd dispatches from Gen. Sherman informing me that instructions from Washington direct him to limit his negotiations to my command, demanding its surrender on the terms granted to Gen. Lee, and notifying me of the termination of the truce in forty-eight hours from noon to-day. Have you (I presume he meant your—C. R. B.) instructions. We had better disband this small force to prevent devastation of country.

J. E. Johnston, General.

Headquarters Gilbert's House, May 2, 1865.
Major-Gen'l J. C: Breckinridge, Secretary of War: Sir,—For the purpose of executing the orders received from you this evening, it is necessary that I be supplied with public funds, the amount turned over to my disbursing officers having been exhausted. I respectfully request that a portion of the funds be furnished in specie, if practicable.

I have the honor to be, Gen'l, very respectfully your obt. svt.,


Below appears the following addition in the same hand as the signature, which is different from the body of the communication, and I presume is made by General Bragg himself:

C. R. B.

My own money all in Confed paper, and very limited.

B. B.

Chester, 27 April.
Gen. York,—Forward following dispatch by courier to Gen'l Breckinridge.


Hon. J. C. Breckinridge, Company Shops,—Some time ago I notified Gen'l Johnston not to include me in any surrender. You gave me orders to move on (25th). In return I find army surrendered. Think I am free. What is your decision? Answer here and Greensboro.

Wade Hampton, Lt. General This is in my father's hand-writing: C. R. B.

Love's Ford, Broad River, April 28th, 1865.
Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton, Greensboro, Lexington, Salisbury, or any other point on line,—Your dispatches of 27th rec'd. The verbal directions to you contemplated your meeting Gen. Johnston, and his action before any convention with enemy. If my letter to him of 25th, which you carried, was not rec'd before completion of terms, the Gov't, with its imperfect knowledge of the facts, cannot interfere as to the body of the troops; but, in regard to yourself, if not present nor consenting, it is the opinion of the Government that you, and others in like condition, are free to come out.

John C. Breckinridge, Sec. of War.

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