previous next

General Johnston's surrender. Did the terms Sherman offered carry out Lincoln's policy?

Senator Sherman, in his eulogy of his brother, said they did, and the Honorable George C Gorham writes a letter to prove that they did Not—he also shows that Grant disapproved of the agreement before he submitted it to the President.

[New York Sun, April 11, 1892.]

Washington, April 10th.
George C. Gorham has written the following open letter to Senator Sherman, respecting the latter's statement about the terms of Johnston's surrender in his recent eulogy of General Sherman at New York:

Honorable John Sherman, United States Senate.
dear Sir—In your recent address in New York on the character and public services of your illustrious brother, General W. T. [206] Sherman, you made the following reference to the terms proposed by him for the surrender of the forces of General Joseph Johnston and other commanders at the close of the civil war:

General Sherman believed in and sought to carry out the policy of Mr. Lincoln. The terms of surrender were tentative, and the conditions were entirely subject to the supervision of the executive authorities, but instead of being submitted to the generous and forgiving patriot who had fallen, they were passed upon in the shadow of a great crime by stern and relentless enemies, who would not have consented to the conditions imposed by General Grant upon General Lee, and who would have disregarded them had not General Grant threatened to resign upon their refusal to carry out his terms. When this arrangement with General Johnston was submitted to President Johnson and Mr. Stanton, it was rejected, with the insulting intimation that it proceeded from either cowardice or treachery. The old cry against General Sherman was again started. It was even imputed that he would attempt to play the part of a Cromwell or a military usurper. The generous kindness of Grant came to his relief. New terms were agreed upon and the war closed.

You would have it understood by this that while General Sherman was engaged in a praise-worthy and purely military act, which President Lincoln would have desired him to perform had he lived, he was sat upon and insulted, and his arrangements set aside by President Johnson and Edwin M. Stanton, then Secretary of War, in a mean and narrow spirit of revenge, because of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, and that at this juncture the generous kindness of General Grant interposed between him and these alleged enemies, and that the two Generals agreed on new terms and ended the war. You state all this as though you had approved General Sherman's course.

Whatever policy Mr. Lincoln might have recommended to Congress for the restoration of the Confederate States to their relations with the Union, none knew better than you that he never would have undertaken to usurp the powers of Congress on the subject, much less to allow a military subordinate to guide him in this work by an unauthorized arrangement made under the supervision of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. Mr. Lincoln left no room for doubt on this point, for he gave the following direction to General Grant a fortnight before the Sherman-Johnston negotiations:


The President directs me to say to you that he wishes you to have no conference with General Lee unless it be for the capitulation of Lee's army, or on solely minor or purely military matters. He instructs me to say to you that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer on any political question; such questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no: military conferences or conventions. Meantime you are to press to the utmost your military advantages.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

You will say that General Sherman had not seen this order of Mr. Lincoln's when he made his arrangement with Johnston, but it is none the less absolute proof that he (Mr. Lincoln) would have disapproved the arrangement. The General needed no such admonition to teach him that discussion of public policies in a military convention was an invasion of the civil authority and wholly outside the powers and duties of a military commander. He frankly admitted this, and in a letter to Secretary Stanton, dated April 25, the day after receiving the government's disapproval of his terms, he said: ‘I admit my folly in embracing in a military convention any civic matters.’

If you will refer to his ‘Memoirs,’ page 349, you will see that in his interview with General Johnston he asked him if he could control other armies than his own. Johnston replied that he could not do this, but indicated ‘that he could procure authority from Davis.’ On the following page, he says: ‘General Johnston, saying that he thought during the night he could procure authority to act in the name of all the Confederate armies in existence, we agreed to meet on the next day at noon.’ The two Generals met again accordingly, and Johnston then assured Sherman that ‘he had authority for all the Confederate armies, so that they would obey his order to surrender.’

The Confederate Secretary of War, John C. Breckinridge, was then brought in, and participated in arranging the terms. These terms comprehended an armistice, to continue until forty-eight hours after notice of either side for its termination. The Confederate armies were to disband, their arms and munitions of war to be turned over to the several States of the Confederacy, the governments of which were to be recognized by the President, and the inhabitants of the South were to be guaranteed all their rights of property (including [208] slaves) and all the political power they possessed before the rebellion, and to be relieved from all consequences of the rebellion by a proclamation of general amnesty. The arrangement concluded with the following words:

‘Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to obtain the necessary authority and to carry out the above programme.’

A messenger was sent to Washington with the proposed agreement. At the same time General Sherman wrote the commanding general of the armies in Virginia:

‘I have agreed with General Joseph E. Johnston for a temporary cessation of active hostilities, to lay before our government at Washington the agreement made between us, with the full sanction of Mr. Davis and in the presence of Mr. Breckinridge.’

His messenger reached Washington on the 21st of April, and delivered his despatches to General Grant. You represented General Grant as coming to General Sherman's relief, from which those not acquainted with the history of the case would suppose that he approved the agreement. When you made this statement you must have known that General Grant condemned General Sherman's act before consulting either President Johnson or Secretary Stanton. He wrote that very evening to General Sherman, acknowledging receipt of the agreement, and said:

‘I read it carefully before submitting it to the President and the Secretary of War, and feel satisfied that it could not possibly be approved.’

In the same letter he says that upon his suggestion a Cabinet meeting was called, the result of which was ‘the disapproval by the president of the basis laid down and the disapproval of the negotiations altogether, except for the surrender of the army commanded by General Johnston, and an order for the termination of the armistice and the resumption of hostilities.’ I have before me while I write the original of the following note from General Grant to General Stanton:

headquarters armies of the United States, Washington, D. C., April 21, 1865.
Hon. E. M. Slanon, Secretary of War:
Sir—I have received and just completed reading the despatches brought by special messenger from General Sherman. They are of [209] such importance that I think immediate action should be taken on them, and it should be done by the president in council with his whole cabinet. I would respectfully suggest whether the president should not be notified and all his cabinet, and a meeting take place to-night.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.

General Grant started immediately after the adjournment of the cabinet meeting for Raleigh, North Carolina, and arrived at Sherman's headquarters on the 24th to execute the president's order. Under this order Sherman gave notice that hostilities would be resumed, whereupon Johnston's army was surrendered upon the terms accorded by Grant to Lee.

As a matter of prudence and necessity, Mr. Stanton telegraphed to General John A. Dix, then in New York, with permission to publish the same, a copy of the Sherman-Johnston agreement and its disapproval by the government. To it was appended the reasons for its disapproval. These reasons were as follows:

1. It was an exercise of an authority not vested in General Sherman, and on its face shows that both he and Johnston knew that General Sherman had no authority to enter into any such arrangement.

2. It was a practical acknowledgement of the Rebel government.

3. It undertook to re-establish the Rebel State governments that had been overthrown at the sacrifice of many thousand loyal lives and an immense treasury, and placed the arms and munitions of war in the hands of Rebels at their respective capitals, which might be used as soon as the armies of the United States were disbanded, and used to conquer and subdue the loyal States.

4. By the restoration of Rebel authority in their respective States they would be enabled to re-establish slavery.

5. It might furnish a ground of responsibility for the Federal government to pay the Rebel debts, and certainly subject the loyal citizens of Rebel States to debts contracted by Rebels in the State.

6. It would put in dispute the existence of loyal State governments and the new State of West Virginia, which had been recognized by every department of the United States Government. [210]

7. It practically abolished the Confiscation law and relieved the Rebels, of every degree, who had slaughtered our people, from all pains and penalties for their crimes.

8. It gave terms that had been deliberately, repeatedly and solemnly rejected by President Lincoln, and better terms than the Rebels had ever asked in their most prosperous condition.

9. It formed no basis of true and lasting peace, but relieved the Rebels from the pressure of our victories, and left them in condition to renew their efforts to overthrow the United States Government and subdue the loyal States whenever their strength was recruited and any opportunity was offered.

The publication of these reasons was absolutely demanded in the interest of the public safety. The expectations which General Sherman had raised in the minds of the army and the people, that our soldiers only awaited the president's order to return rejoicing to their homes, could not be realized under his terms consistently with the dignity or the safety of the country. This had to be made evident to the people and the army to prevent serious and perhaps dangerous discontent. The Honorable Jacob Collamer, then a Senator from the State of Vermont, in a letter to Mr. Stanton, dated June 14, 1865, expressed his opinion on this point as follows:

General Sherman promulgated to his army and the world his arrangements with Johnston. Indeed, the armistice could not in any other way be accounted for, and the army was gratified with the expectation of any immediate return home. To reject that arrangement was clearly necessary, and to do it without stating any reason for it would have been a very dangerous experiment, both to the public and to the army. Indeed, many had serious apprehensions of its effect on the army, even with the conclusive reasons which were given. Should not this view be presented in any and every true manifesto of the case?

It is not necessary here to discuss the terms. No one in his senses will question the good intentions of General Sherman in agreeing to them, but it is the truth of history that they were rejected by the union people of the country at the time as unanimously as they were by the president and his cabinet.

In conclusion, allow me to quote one more authority in support of Mr. Stanton's view and in condemnation of General Sherman's fearful mistake. The authority will not be seriously questioned by you. It reads as follows: [211]

Cleveland, O., April 27, 1865.
my dear Sir—I am distressed beyond measure at the terms granted Johnston by General Sherman. They are inadmissible. There should now be literally no terms granted. We should not only brand the leading rebels with infamy, but the whole rebellion should wear the badge of the penitentiary, so that, for this generation at least, no man who has taken part in it would dare justify or palliate it. Yet with these views I feel that gross injustice has been done General Sherman, especially by the press. The most that can be said about him is that he granted the rebels too liberal terms. The same may be said, but to a less degree, of Mr. Lincoln and General Grant in their arrangement with Lee. General Sherman had not understood the political bearing of that agreement. It is his misfortune that he believes the promises of these men, and looks upon the whole contest in a simple military view. He thought the disbanding of their armies is the end of the war, while we knew that to arm them with the elective franchise and State organizations is to renew the war.

I feel so troubled in this matter, following so closely upon the death of Mr. Lincoln, that I was inclined to drop everything and go to Raleigh, but I promised to join the funeral cortege here, and on Saturday week have agreed to deliver a eulogy of Mr, Lincoln at Mansfield. This over, I will gladly go to Washington or anywhere else, where I can render the least service. I do not wish General Sherman to be unjustly dealt with, and I know that you will not permit it, and especially I do not want him driven into fellowship with the copperheads. His military services have been too valuable to the country to be stained by any such fellowship. If you can, in your multiplied engagements, drop me a line, pray do so. You can if you choose show this to the president, or, indeed, to anyone.

Very truly yours,

I cannot find in this letter any reference to the insult with which you now assert that General Sherman's terms were rejected by President Johnson and Mr. Stanton. But I do find in it an assurance from you to Secretary Stanton that you knew he would not permit General [212] Sherman to be unjustly dealt with. You could not have said this had you thought Mr. Stanton himself had already dealt unjustly by him, by publishing the reasons above quoted, and which had been in print in every leading newspaper of the country four days before you wrote your letter.

I honored and admired General Sherman. I knew him personally and enjoyed the honor of his friendship. No more patriotic American, no braver or more faithful soldier ever lived. But I also honored and admired Mr. Stanton, whose biography I have undertaken, and whose private papers are in my keeping; and I cannot remain silent when one of the greatest and wisest of his official acts is brought forward, misstated, and perverted in a useless effort to show that General Sherman was right when he himself admitted (with the concurrence of Senator Sherman) that he was wrong.

Very truly yours,

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 People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: