previous next

Chapter 63: the journey to Greensborough.—the surrender of Johnston.

The President and his party moved to Greensborough. The President telegraphed to General Johnston from Danville that Lee had surrendered, and on arriving at Greensborough, conditionally requested him to meet him there for conference, where General Beauregard had his headquarters. Mr. Davis wrote in substance of the meeting:

In compliance with my request, General Johnston came to Greensborough, N. C., and with General Beauregard met me and most of my Cabinet there. Though sensible of the effect of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the consequent discouragement which these two events would produce, I did not despair. We had effective armies in the field, and a rich and productive territory both east and west of the Mississippi, whose citizens had shown no desire to surrender. Ample supplies had been collected in the railroad depots, and much still remained to be placed at our disposal when needed. [621]

At the first conference of the members of the Cabinet and the generals, General Johnston expressed a desire to open a correspondence with General Sherman, with a view to suspend hostilities, and thereby to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to end the war. As long as we were able to keep the field, I had never contemplated a surrender, except upon the terms of a belligerent, and never expected a Confederate army to surrender while it was able either to fight or to retreat. Lee had surrendered only when it was impossible for him to do either, and had proudly rejected Grant's demand until he found himself surrounded and his line of retreat cut off. I was not hopeful of negotiations between the civil authorities of the United States and those of the Confederacy, believing that, even if Sherman should agree to such a proposition, his Government would not ratify it. After having distinctly announced my opinions, I yielded to the judgment of my constitutional advisers, and consented to permit Johnston to hold a conference with Sherman.

Johnston left for his army headquarters, and I, expecting that he would soon take up his line of retreat, which his superiority in cavalry would protect from harassing pursuit, proceeded with my Cabinet and staff to Charlotte, [622] N. C. On the way, a despatch was received from him, stating that Sherman had agreed to a conference, and asking that the Secretary of War, General Breckinridge, should return to co-operate in it.

When we arrived at Charlotte, on April 18, 1865, we received a telegram announcing the assassination of President Lincoln. A vindictive policy was speedily substituted for his, which avowedly was to procure a surrender of our forces in the field upon any terms, to stop the further effusion of blood.

On the same day, Sherman and Johnston united on a basis of agreement, which contained the following provisions:

That both of the contending parties should maintain their status quo until either of the Commanding Generals should give notice of its termination, and allow reasonable time to his opponent.

That the Confederate armies should be disbanded and conducted to the several State capitals, and deposit their arms and public property in the State arsenal; each officer and man to file an agreement to cease from acts of war, and abide by the action of the Federal and State authorities.

That there should be recognition by the Executive of the United States of the several State Governments, on their officers and [623] 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.

That all Federal Courts should be reestablished, in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States, respectively

That the people and inhabitants of the States should 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.

That the Executive authority of the Government of the United States should not 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.

That, in general terms, war should cease; a general amnesty, so far as the Executive of the United States could command on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said [624] armies, Not being fully empowered by our respective principals, to fulfil these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain necessary authority, and to carry out the above programme.

W. T. Sherman, Major-General, etc. J. E. Johnston, General, etc.

I notified General Johnston that I approved of his last action, but in doing so doubted whether the agreement would be ratified by the United States Government. The opinion entertained in regard to President Johnson and Stanton, his venomous Secretary of War, did not permit me to expect that they would be less vindictive after a surrender of our army had been proposed than when it was regarded as a formidable body in the field. Whatever hope others entertained that the war was about to be peacefully ended, was soon dispelled by the rejection of the basis of the agreement by the Government of the United States, and a notice from Sherman of the termination of the armistice in forty-eight hours after noon of April 24th. On the 26th General Johnston again met General Sherman, who offered the same terms which had been made with General Lee. Johnston accepted the terms, and the surrender was made, his troops being paroled, and the officers [625] being permitted to retain their side-arms, baggage, and private horses.

The total number of prisoners thus paroled at Greensborough, N. C., as reported by General Schofield, was 36,817; in Georgia and Florida, as reported by General Wilson, 52,543; in all under General Johnston, 89,360.

General Lee had succumbed to the inevitable. Some persons, with probably a desire to pay a weak tribute to Lee's kind heart, or to rob Grant of his claims to magnanimity il the matter of the surrender, have said that General Lee had only surrendered to stop the effusion of blood.

This is not true. He had no weaknesses where his plain duty was concerned. He surrendered to overwhelming force and insurmountable difficulties. In Grant's treatment of his prisoners, let him have all the credit that can attach to him. The surrender of Johnston was a different affair. Johnston's line of retreat, as chosen by himself through South Carolina, was open and had supplies placed upon it at various points. He had a large force, of which over 36,000 were paroled at Greensborough, N. C. We had other forces in the field, and we were certainly in a position to make serious resistance. This was all the more important, as such ability would have [626] been of service in securing better terms in bringing the war to an end.

It might have been possible to have made some arrangements that would have secured the political rights of the States, and their immunity from the terrible calamities that afterward fell upon them. General Johnston had these matters and the details of a plan for his proposed movement fully placed before him, with orders to execute it. He disobeyed the order and surrendered his army, and put every thing at the mercy of the conquerors, without making a movement to secure terms that might have — availed to protect the political rights of the people and preserve their property from pillage when it was in his power.

Mr. Davis felt that General Johnston's failure to attempt what might have turned out to be his most valuable service to the people of the South, should have tempered the violence of his assaults upon some others who were exerting themselves in behalf of the South.

On May 8th, General Richard Taylor agreed with General Canby for the surrender of the land and naval forces in Mississippi and Alabama, on terms similar to those made between Johnston and Sherman.

On May 26th, the Chiefs of Staff of Generals [627] Kirby Smith and General Canby arranged similar terms for the surrender of the troops in the trans-Mississippi Department.

The total number thus paroled by General Canby in the Department of Alabama and Mississippi was 42,293, to which may be added less than 150 of tlie navy; while the number surrendered by General Kirby Smith, of the trans-Mississippi Department, was 17,--686.

Extract from a letter written at this time:

. ... .It was at Salisbury where I first encountered Mr. Davis during that sad time, and I had found very pleasant quarters at the home of the Episcopal clergyman, rector of that charge. About sunset, Mr. Davis, General Cooper, Colonel William Preston Johnston (I think), and one or two others of the President's staff, came to the same house.

At tea and after tea, Mr. Davis was cheerful, pleasant, and inclined to talk. I remember we sat upon the porch until about ten o'clock, the President with an unlighted cigar in his mouth, talking of the misfortune of General Lee's surrender.

On the following morning, at breakfast, Mr. Davis sat at the left hand of the host. In the midst of the meal the clergyman's little girl, a child of only seven or eight years, came in crying and greatly disturbed. She approached [628] the table just between the President and her father, and said:

“ Oh, papa, old Lincoln's coming and going to kill us all.”

Mr. Davis at once laid down his knife and fork, and placing his right hand upon the child's head, turned her fearful face toward his own and said, with animation, “Oh, no, my little lady, you need not fear that. Mr. Lincoln is not such a bad man, he does not want to kill anybody, and certainly not a little girl like you.”

The child was soon pacified. I shall never forget the kindly expression of the President's face.

At Charlotte, on the 18th, I saw him again, on the day following the assassination of Mr. Lincoln.

The news had reached Charlotte, but was not credited. Somehow we learned that General Breckinridge would be on the train that afternoon, and with several other Kentuckians I went to the depot. His first desire was to see the President, so we went with him to Mr. Davis. We found him sitting in a chair in the door which opened on the sidewalk. After shaking hands with General Breckinridge, he asked immediately:

“ Is it true, General, that Mr. Lincoln was killed?” “Yes, sir,” replied General Breckinridge [629] (who had just come from the front).

General Sherman received a telegram this morning that he was shot in Ford's theatre, at Washington, last night.” Mr. Davis said promptly, and with feeling, “ I am sorry to learn it. Mr. Lincoln was a much better man than his successor will be, and it will go harder with our people. It is bad news for us.”

The letter that follows shows General Hampton's views of the surrender at the time, and his loyal feeling to our cause, which, however, like Mr. Davis's, were never doubted.

Yorkville, May 1, 1865.
My dear Sir: I left Hillsborough as soon as I learned of the agreement made between Generals Sherman and Johnston, and pushed on rapidly to this point, where I arrived at one this morning. A question arises as to whether I was included in this convention, and I have agreed to leave it to the Secretary of War for his decision. The convention and the subsequent order of General Johnston, disbanded all the troops at once. I think you will have to rely on a small body of picked men to get you across the river. I will have some such who will go on as soon as they arrive here, which they will do to-day or tomorrow. My own movements will depend on your orders and wishes. It will give me [630] great pleasure to assist you if I can do so, and you may rest assured that I shall stick to our flag as long as anyone can be found to uphold it. I have given General Wheeler my views of this movement out West, and he will explain everything to you. Should I not overtake you, I beg you to believe that you have my earnest good wishes and my prayers for your success. On my return to Hillsborough on the 25th, I found to my great surprise, that a convention had settled terms between Generals Johnston and Sherman. I told General Johnston that I did not consider myself as bound by his convention, but as he did consider me so bound, that the matter should be referred to you, and that I would abide your decision.

I sent a despatch to you and I have come as rapidly as possible to this point, in hopes of hearing from you. My plans will be determined by your decision and wishes. Whereever and however I can best do service, there I wish to be.

If I remain here I shall be most happy to render any service to Mrs. Davis. That God may protect you and bring you back in safety and with success, is the prayer of

Your sincere friend,

Wade Hampton. To his Excellency, President Davis.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 1st, 1865 AD (1)
April 18th, 1865 AD (1)
May 26th (1)
May 8th (1)
April 24th (1)
26th (1)
25th (1)
18th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: