With the South’s Army of Tennessee shattered and great swaths of Confederate territory now controlled by or within the reach of northern forces, the key obstacle to Union victory was the defeat of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, entrenched in Richmond and Petersburg. But that was a big obstacle, indeed. Lee was by far the Confederacy’s best field commander. He may well have been the outstanding commander of the war, on either side. The army that Lee led was not only the Confederacy’s largest but also its most lethally effective, as a string of Union generals could ruefully attest. So neither Abraham Lincoln nor Ulysses S. Grant was about to underestimate the task that faced them now—not only to defeat Lee and his army in a battle but to force its complete and unconditional surrender. Even as he planned and maneuvered to do that, moreover, Grant struggled with another anxiety—that the wily and unpredictable Lee might find a way to escape the Richmond siege. “I knew he could move much more lightly and more rapidly than I,” Grant later recalled, “and that, if he got the start, he would leave me behind so that we would have the same army to fight again farther south—and the war might be prolonged another year.”1
Lee enjoyed one major advantage in 1865 that Confederate general John C. Pemberton had lacked during the Vicksburg siege two years earlier. The cordon around Richmond and Petersburg, unlike the one that had choked Vicksburg, was not complete enough to seal it off from all outside sources of supply. The extent and nature of the ground to be covered made it far more difficult for Union forces to completely surround the defenders there. Some supplies therefore continued to reach Richmond by canal and wagon.2 Most important, Lee managed to keep railroad lines open to the west and to Raleigh, successfully repelling some attempted attacks on them and relatively quickly repairing the damage inflicted upon them by Union raiders. That is why the confrontation at Petersburg lasted so much longer than did the one at Vicksburg—more than nine months by late March 1865.3
But the closing of the port of Wilmington in mid-January had severed Raleigh’s (and therefore Petersburg-Richmond’s) link to the sea, reducing the amount and kind of material that Lee now received. And Sherman’s drive northward menaced the Raleigh lifeline itself. Johnston’s failure at the battle of Bentonville to significantly damage Sherman’s army killed any realistic hopes of stopping its northward advance. If Sherman’s army reached Petersburg, Lee knew, the besiegers’ combined forces would surely overwhelm his Army of Northern Virginia.
Lee had begun to prepare Jefferson Davis for that eventuality in the last days of January 1865. If Grant’s force grew much stronger, he told Davis, “I do not see how in our present position he can be prevented from enveloping Richmond.” Before Sherman arrived, therefore, Lee would have to try to strike a blow against Grant—a decisive blow if possible, but one strong enough at least to allow Lee to break out of the Petersburg entrenchments and make his way westward to rail lines that would carry his army southward toward North Carolina and Joseph Johnston’s force.4 On March 9, Lee warned the War Department that he probably could not long “maintain our present position with the means at the disposal of the Government.”5
By the last week of March, Lee saw that his position had finally become indefensible. On March 25, he ordered troops of John B. Gordon’s command to attack Union siege lines at Fort Stedman, an earthen redoubt just east of Petersburg. He aimed either to break through Grant’s lines there or at least compel Grant to reinforce that point at the expense of others, thereby opening gaps through which Lee’s army could escape the two cities.
The attack at Stedman began well but then stalled and failed in the face of fierce artillery barrages and massive infantry counterattacks. “On they came,” an awe-struck Confederate soldier recalled of one Union assault, “shoulder to shoulder, the stars and stripes flying over their heads. Again the fire broke from our rifle pits, extending to the right and left till the whole line … was crackling and sputtering. But forward still swept the line of blue, heeding neither their dead nor their wounded. Forward still, with a rush and a shout, the flag well to the front, and our hearts sink with the fear that they will go over the works at the first charge.” Gordon’s troops fired another volley, and “the enemy’s line falters, appears about to break and flee.” Just then, however, “the color bearer runs forward alone with his flag. With a shout that rings again, the blue line follows in a swift charge through our deadliest fire. They reach the works and turning rapidly to the right and left, sweep the line in both directions for a long distance, taking possession of half a mile of rifle pits.”6
Gordon’s promising assault on Fort Stedman had ended in disaster. It proved to be, as one southerner wrote, “only the meteor’s flash that illumines for a moment and leaves the night darker than ever.”7 It cost the Army of Northern Virginia thousands of additional casualties and left Union troops closer than ever to Lee’s lines.8
Grant now dispatched Philip Sheridan and a large force of infantry and cavalry westward, to the far right of Lee’s line, aiming to get around it and interdict the Southside Railroad. On April 1, 1865, at a crossroads called Five Forks, Sheridan’s troops collided with brigades under George Pickett’s command, ultimately smashing them and taking thousands of prisoners.9
That victory, in turn, encouraged Grant to order a general advance. Before dawn the next morning, soldiers of the Union’s Sixth Corps broke through Confederate lines south of Petersburg at the Boydton Plank Road. Confederate casualties that day exceeded five thousand—perhaps a tenth of Lee’s entire army—with many surrendering to the attacking bluecoats.10
Lee would afterward attribute much of this Union success to his own troops’ sinking morale. Their actions “were not marked by the boldness and decision which formerly characterized them,” he reported. “Except in particular instances, they were feeble; and a want of confidence seemed to possess officers and men.”11
That same morning, Lee informed Jefferson Davis of Grant’s breakthrough at the Boydton section of the line. The Confederate president then went to Sabbath services at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church. Before the service concluded, the church sexton came striding up the aisle to bring President Davis another message. This one advised him that Lee was about to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg and urged the government to do the same.12
Upon reading those words, Davis arose, walked back down the aisle, and left the church. Cabinet members and other officials followed soon afterward. Other congregants, guessing what was afoot, ignored the pastor’s attempts to keep them in their seats and filed out the doors as well. What they saw on the street confirmed their worst fears: government functionaries burning piles of official documents.13
Documents were not the only things consigned to flames that day. Confederate soldiers torched tobacco warehouses to deny their contents to the Yankees. The flames then spread into the rest of the city, eventually reaching the arsenal and detonating explosives kept there. Naval vessels, too, were set ablaze or blown up in the harbor. To Sallie Putnam and others, these sounds and scenes seemed to foreshadow “the horrors of the final conflagration, when the earth shall be wrapped in flames and melt with fervent heat.”14
Panic now seized many of Richmond’s white residents.15 A young woman found her neighbor “running from room to room, wringing her hands, tearing her hair,” and bewailing the prospect of soon facing black Union troops. “They say the black wretches are in the very front of Grant’s army,” she cried, “and will rush into the city before any decent white men are here to restrain them!”16
Richmond’s black population reacted rather differently to news of Lee’s flight. Men and women worshipping at the African Church now came onto the streets, too. When they learned of the impending evacuation, Confederate navy secretary Stephen Mallory observed, they began “shaking hands and exchanging congratulations upon all sides. Many of them walked the streets with eager faces, parted lips, and hurried strides, gazing anxiously into the distance as if to catch the first glimpse of their coming friends.”17
As southern troops began to leave the two cities, some black residents joined deserters and poor whites in pillaging shops and warehouses.18 Others disappeared from the streets. Afraid of being forced to accompany fleeing white masters, they spent that night in their churches.19 Still others took advantage of the evacuation-spawned chaos to escape from their masters across the same bridges over which Confederate soldiers streamed westward toward the Richmond and Danville Railroad line.20
Along with members of his cabinet and the Confederate Treasury, Jefferson Davis left the capital that night by train. His newest secretary of war, General John C. Breckinridge, would join them later.21 Many civilians hurried to leave as well, by horse, on foot, in wagons and carriages, or by rail, often offering extravagant sums for any kind of vehicle.22 Slave dealer Robert Lumpkin frantically begged for access to crowded railroad cars for himself and fifty black people he held in shackles. Unable to gain passage, he had little choice but to return his human goods to the jail that normally held those destined for sale.23
The advance guard of Grant’s army marched into Petersburg on the morning of April 2, 1865, and from there continued into Richmond. The capital of the Confederacy had fallen at long last. General Godfrey Weitzel, commander of the all-black Twenty-Fifth Corps of the USCT, accepted the city’s formal surrender. As his troops surged into Richmond, well-to-do residents retreated into their homes, bolted their doors, and peered anxiously, indignantly, and incredulously through shuttered windows.24 Appalled, Sallie Putnam watched as “long lines of negro cavalry” flowed down Broad Street and raised their voices in the ode to John Brown, the man that Robert E. Lee had helped bring to the gallows in that state only six years before. The black horsemen brandished their sabers and shouted in triumph. To Putnam, the sound seemed “savage.”25
But it was all music to the ears of free blacks and those who were only now freed from slavery. They stood atop shacks and waved their hats, crying, “ ‘The Lord bless the Yankees, the Lord bless the Yankees.’ ”26 Others thronged the victorious cavalrymen in the streets and returned their exultant cheers. “Babylon is fallen, Babylon is fallen,” some sang; and “I’m going to occupy the land.”27 Black newspaper correspondent Thomas Morris Chester noted that the crowds included “pious old negroes, male and female” who called out to the black soldiers, “God bless you!,” “Jesus has opened the way!,” “We’ve been looking for you these many days!,” “You’ve come at last!”—and, nervously but hopefully, “Have you come to stay?”28
Once again, persistent illusions about slave faithfulness to their masters and their masters’ cause shattered. Black house servants eagerly informed Union soldiers of where some Confederate troops were still hiding in the city.29 Mary Fontaine’s father and husband were both Confederate generals. She watched in horror as her servants “danced and shouted, men hugged each other, and women kissed.”30 Fontaine herself sank to her knees, “and the bitter, bitter tears came in a torrent.”31 She heard others say “it was like their idea of the judgment day.” And, she reflected, “perhaps it may be.”32
One of the Union soldiers who entered Richmond that day was Garland White, who as a boy had been separated from his mother and sold to a young Georgian named Robert Toombs. Now the chaplain of the Twenty-Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, White thrilled to “the shouts of ten thousand voices” celebrating liberation on the streets of the former Confederate capital. Black men and women gathered around him, urging him to speak, and so he did; he “proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind.”33
As White stood in the street, trying to take it all in, an older woman approached him and asked his name, his birthplace, and the name of his mother. When he had answered all her questions, she quietly informed him that “this is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.” And so she proved to be, one of so many mothers and fathers that day peering hopefully into the faces of the black soldiers passing by, searching for the remembered features of other “children who had been sold south of this state in tribes” in years and decades past.34
The telegraph sent the electrifying news of Richmond’s fall flashing across the Union, everywhere provoking rapturous celebration. Flags waved, church bells rang, cannons boomed, crowds cheered. The word spread, too, through still-unoccupied parts of the Confederacy. When it reached the Virginia peninsula, the news reduced one planter family to tears. One of the servants, hearing and understanding the masters’ anguished cries, kept a straight face, finished her tasks as quickly as possible, offered an excuse, walked out of the big house, and then ran until she knew she was alone. Only then did she dare “jump up an’ scream, ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah to Jesus! I’s free! Glory to God.’ ”35
“Thank God I have lived to see this,” Abraham Lincoln exclaimed upon hearing the same news. “It seems to me that I have been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is over.”36 On April 3, 1865, the president visited the occupied city of Petersburg. Encountering Ulysses S. Grant, he pumped the general’s hand vigorously and at length. The next day Lincoln proceeded by launch to Richmond. Forty or fifty black laborers on the wharf rushed to welcome him. When word of his presence spread, hundreds more came streaming toward him through the streets. A Boston journalist on the scene described what transpired.
They gathered round the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the constantly increasing throng. They came from all the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women waved their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, Glory to God! glory! glory! glory!
An elderly black man took off his hat, bowed, and, with tears running down his cheeks, said, “May de good Lord bless you, President Linkum!” Lincoln replied by removing his own hat and silently returning the bow. That gesture, the northern reporter noted, “upset the forms, laws, customs, and ceremonies of centuries.” It represented, he thought, “a death-shock to chivalry, and a mortal wound to caste.” (No wonder that a white woman, watching the vignette from a nearby house, turned away “in unspeakable disgust.”)37
Another man Lincoln encountered in Richmond was Confederate assistant secretary of war John A. Campbell. Still encouraged by what he had heard at Hampton Roads just two months earlier—and now freed by Jefferson Davis’s absence to act as he saw fit—Campbell attempted to salvage something of the old South from the Confederacy’s ruins.
At Campbell’s urging, and in hopes of hastening the end of hostilities, Lincoln handed him a note allowing “the gentlemen who have acted as the Legislature of Virginia, in support of the rebellion,” to meet to order an end to that rebellion in the Old Dominion.38
Campbell had a far bigger role in mind for the Old Dominion’s secessionist lawmakers. He falsely informed members of the rebel state legislature that Lincoln had, in fact, invited them, as “the government of Virginia,” now to “administer the laws in connection with the authorities of the United States, and under the Constitution of the United States.” Lincoln had assured him, Campbell claimed, that if they (and, by implication, all their counterparts throughout the ex-Confederacy) agreed to do that, “no attempt will be made to establish or sustain any other authority” than theirs within their borders.39
As the Union president realized only later, Campbell was trying to transmute what Lincoln thought of as only a small, pragmatic concession (allowing them to meet simply to facilitate the state’s surrender) into a formal commitment to treat “the insurgent Legislature of Virginia … as the rightful Legislature of the State.” That would allow representatives of the Virginia elite to retain their political power and use it to enforce upon the black population either slavery or, failing that, the kind of strict racial subordination and draconian labor discipline that they had been seeking ever since slavery began to disintegrate during the war. It was no accident, thus, that Campbell’s brief message to Virginia’s Confederate legislature repeatedly suggested that the Emancipation Proclamation might yet be rescinded or pronounced legally invalid in the courts. In any case, Campbell announced, “the condition of the slave population” would now be decided through negotiations between Washington and the several southern state governments.40
When the president grasped Campbell’s purpose, he swiftly put an end to the maneuver. Lincoln rescinded his original offer to Campbell and ordered General Weitzel to prevent the Confederate state legislators from reassembling.41 He was not about to let them continue governing Virginia now that their rebellion had collapsed.
On the morning of April 10, 1865, a terrific artillery barrage filled the ears of Richmond’s residents. Confederate loyalists hoped the cannons were Robert E. Lee’s, come to retake the city. But they were, in fact, Union guns celebrating the capitulation of Lee’s army at Appomattox Court House the day before.42
As the Army of Northern Virginia had fled westward, General Sheridan’s Union cavalry followed it along a parallel route to the south, blocking escape in that direction, and the rest of Grant’s army chased after it from the east. Confederate soldiers anxious to lighten their loads abandoned vehicles, equipment, arms, blankets, and clothing. Many of Lee’s men, anticipating the end and unwilling to face it, abandoned the army itself along the way.43
On April 6, 1865, some fifty miles southwest of Petersburg, advance elements of the Army of the Potomac overtook and attacked Lee’s rearguard at Sayler’s Creek. In a series of clashes, Union forces killed, wounded, or captured almost eight thousand men, including eight Confederate generals.44 Observing the rout from high ground nearby, a horrified Robert E. Lee exclaimed, “My God! Has the army been dissolved?”45
The next day, Grant sent Lee a message pointing out the “hopelessness” of the latter’s situation and urging him to surrender in order to avoid “any further effusion of blood.” Lee rejected the suggestion, proposing instead that the two generals meet to end the war on terms more acceptable to the rebels. But Grant, mindful of Lincoln’s firm position, was having none of that. If southern soldiers wanted peace, he replied, they knew very well how to get it—by “laying down their arms.”46
That Lee’s position was, indeed, hopeless and that Grant’s ultimatum was irresistible became clear the following day. On April 8, 1865, Sheridan’s cavalry and infantry forces materialized in front of what remained of the Army of Northern Virginia. There was nothing to do now, Lee recognized, but to capitulate. He did that shortly after noon on April 9, by which time fewer than ten thousand troops remained with him.47
Grant’s terms, though extremely generous to individuals, were militarily and politically uncompromising. With the exception of the officers’ sidearms and the soldiers’ mounts and private baggage, all weapons and equipment were to be “parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me.” Pending exchange with Union soldiers still held as prisoners of war, Confederate officers and men would swear not to again take up arms against the U.S. government. Once they swore, they would be permitted to return to their homes.48
As the Army of Northern Virginia died, the train carrying Jefferson Davis, members of his cabinet, and the Confederate Treasury pressed southward. It reached Danville, Virginia, on Monday, April 3, 1865, where Davis attempted to re-form his government. On Tuesday, he issued a proclamation assuring diehard supporters that the catastrophe of Richmond’s loss was “not without compensation.” For now the Confederacy’s armed forces were “relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense.” Its soldiers were “free to move from point to point” and were “operating on the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible, and where the foe will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse.” Surely, therefore, “nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve.”49
Davis’s public optimism had scaled new heights of delusion. His government was in full flight and unable to influence events in any part of the South. Members of the Congress had scattered to the four winds. Joseph E. Johnston’s patchwork army in North Carolina had proved unable to do more than annoy Sherman’s. Most of the Confederacy’s supporters were by now exhausted, demoralized, and broken in spirit. So far as Davis then knew, Lee’s army remained in the field, but at last report it was desperately trying to elude a better-armed and far larger pursuer.
On the afternoon of April 9, 1865, couriers brought word of Lee’s surrender to Davis and his cabinet. Incredibly, according to navy secretary Stephen Mallory, Davis was “wholly unprepared” for this “unexpected blow.”50 On April 10, his train left Danville. Reaching Greensboro, North Carolina, the next day, the Confederate president summoned generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard to confer with him and his advisers about the state’s military situation. Davis conducted that two-day meeting in full denial of the obvious. “I think we can whip the enemy yet,” he declared, “if our people will turn out.”
Johnston refused to feed that fantasy. “Our people” will not turn out, he bluntly told Davis, because they already “feel themselves whipped.” His own army, the general added, was even then “melting away like snow before the sun.” Every day additional levies deserted, stealing artillery teams to use as mounts. “If I march out of North Carolina,” Johnston predicted, all of his soldiers who hailed from that state would instantly abandon him as well. And if he ordered the army still farther south, the South Carolinians and Georgians would abandon him, too.51 P.G.T. Beauregard seconded Johnston’s report. So, moreover, did Robert E. Lee, albeit in absentia. Davis had just received Lee’s preliminary report of his army’s disintegration and surrender; it noted that during the flight from Richmond “many” of the men “threw away their arms.”52
Rebuffed by his generals, Jefferson Davis polled his cabinet. Only Judah P. Benjamin endorsed Davis’s perspective. Postmaster General John H. Reagan counseled surrender, but surrender with certain conditions. The Confederate government should offer to capitulate if all residents of the rebellious states would retain all their political and property rights, and if they received immunity for their wartime conduct, and if throughout the South the rebel state governments would remain in office following reunion.53 Here was another try for the kind of deal that John A. Campbell had just sought to wangle from Lincoln. One Davis cabinet member after another endorsed the attempt. Davis remained committed to war, but to appease his advisers and generals, he allowed Johnston to ask Sherman for a cease-fire during which the Union and Confederate governments would formally consult on the terms of peace.54
North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance was by now in agreement with Davis’s cabinet. After long resisting the idea of seeking a separate peace between North Carolina and the United States, he had now come around to that idea: better to offer to surrender immediately in hopes of softening the terms of reunion than to await outright military defeat and the loss of all remaining bargaining leverage that would bring. To that end, Vance dispatched William A. Graham and David Swain to Sherman’s headquarters on April 12, 1865, where they received an encouraging welcome.55
Four days later, Sherman and Johnston met about midway between the two armies’ lines.56 Confederate secretary of war John C. Breckinridge joined them the next morning. By the end of that second day, the three men had drafted an agreement that incorporated nearly everything that the Confederate cabinet had hoped to obtain. All residents of the formerly rebellious states would be guaranteed full enjoyment of civil, political, and property rights in the Union. Confederate armies would not surrender to U.S. forces but simply disband on their own initiative. Their soldiers would not hand over their arms to Union troops but would carry them back to their own states’ arsenals, to be used thereafter “to maintain peace and order.” Who would define the “peace and order” that those arms would “maintain”? The answer to that question could be found in another of the pact’s provisions; it stipulated that “the several State governments” of the former Confederacy would continue to rule the southern states after they returned to the Union.57
The Union general was offering the mildest peace terms imaginable by this point—an end to the fighting and a return of the Confederate states to the Union with nearly all their political rights and power intact and even with the Confederate-era political leadership still in place at the state level. Preparing copies of this tentative pact for both the Union and Confederate leaderships, Sherman congratulated himself for making possible “peace from the Potomac to the Rio Grande.”58 For good measure, he assured his friend and superior officer, Ulysses S. Grant, that “all the men of substance [of the] south sincerely want peace” and “will in the future be perfectly subordinate to the Laws of the United States.”59
Sherman later claimed that the agreement he struck with Johnston accorded with Abraham Lincoln’s wishes. Unlike Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction of December 1863, however, Sherman’s terms required no southern state government to accept the abolition of slavery. In fact, they said nothing about slavery at all. That seemed of little moment to Sherman; he, Johnston, and Breckinridge had informally agreed that slavery had already passed into oblivion; was it really necessary to spell all that out in writing? Sherman privately assured Johnston that if “the South” would simply declare “that slavery is dead,” the “Negroes would remain in the South and afford you abundance of cheap labor.”60
These were, in short, the same terms that John A. Campbell had tried to extract from Lincoln a few days earlier—and that Lincoln had peremptorily dismissed.
While a doubtlessly pleased Johnston returned to his army, Breckinridge brought a copy of the draft agreement to Davis and the cabinet, who were now in Charlotte, North Carolina, traveling by wagon train with a large escort of Confederate cavalrymen. Perusing the document, cabinet members quickly realized what a gift it was. Stephen Mallory could hardly restrain his enthusiasm. Surely these terms were “more favorable … than could justly have been anticipated,” he pointed out.61 The pact’s total silence on the subject of slavery, John H. Reagan pointed out, was a sheer windfall because it “requires no concession from us in regard to it.” The government should quickly accept these terms, Reagan continued, or the individual states would soon be forced to accept others far less agreeable.62 Even now, Attorney General George Davis added, the people of North Carolina were positively “eager to accept terms far less liberal” than Sherman’s.63 Even Judah Benjamin, who until that point had faithfully seconded his president’s defiant stance, now agreed with the others.
But on April 24, 1865, the Union cabinet abruptly shut down the maneuver. It unanimously rejected the Sherman-Johnston pact, ordering Grant to ride to Sherman’s headquarters in person and instruct his friend to demand the surrender of Johnston’s army immediately on the more stringent terms previously offered to the Army of Northern Virginia. Chastened, Sherman did as he was told.64
In response, Jefferson Davis and John C. Breckinridge instructed Joseph E. Johnston to prepare his army to resume fighting. Recognizing the futility of doing so, however, Johnston declined to comply. Instead, he and his army capitulated to Sherman on April 26, 1865.65 In Alabama one week later, on May 4, Confederate general Richard Taylor surrendered not only his own army of twelve thousand troops then in Alabama but all remaining southern forces east of the Mississippi River, nominally some forty-two thousand in number.
Outraged at Johnston’s insubordination, Jefferson Davis pointed his own party farther southward. If no one east of the Mississippi would fight on, he would make his way to Texas and the Trans-Mississippi Department where, with the support of General E. Kirby Smith’s army, he would once again prosecute the war.
Smith’s army, however, was hardly in a condition to do that. Deserters were already legion in the Trans-Mississippi Department at the start of 1865 and were barely bothering to conceal their intentions. “The state of things now in this Dept.,” one soldier marveled in February 1865, “approaches nearer to mutiny than anything I can say.” In early April, almost a hundred men in one regiment abruptly defied their officers and began plundering nearby farms. Such things became even more common in the next few days and weeks.66
Jefferson Davis’s fleeing column was splintering as well. By the time it reached Abbeville, South Carolina, in early May, many of the thousands of cavalrymen in his escort remained with him largely because doing so guaranteed them food. More than a few troopers, according to one witness, had already sold or thrown away their weapons. Others were deserting by the score.67 “I have the bitterest disappointment in regard to the feeling of our troops,” Davis told a secretary, “and would not have any one I love dependent upon their resistance against an equal force.”68
On May 3, 1865, the Davis party crossed into Georgia. Most of its escort now refused to go any farther. Keenly aware that the cabinet still carried thousands of dollars in gold and silver coin from the Confederate Treasury, the cavalrymen demanded a share of it in back pay. John C. Breckinridge handed the money over, sure (as he later explained to Postmaster Reagan) that otherwise the troopers would take it by force. Over the next two days, all but a few score abandoned the column.69
In the early evening of May 9, 1865, Davis and his remaining companions set up a tent camp just north of Irwinville, Georgia, where Davis continued planning to make his way to Texas. But the next day, Michigan and Wisconsin cavalry units discovered and took the president of the Confederate States of America and his party into custody. Within ten days, Davis would find himself charged with treason and imprisoned at Fort Monroe, “Freedom Fort,” where he would remain for two years.
The army on which Davis had pinned his last hopes—the troops of E. Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department—did not remain at large much longer. On May 13, the Confederate governors of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas resolved to seek terms from the Union reminiscent of those that Joseph E. Johnston had initially managed to wangle out of Sherman, including a provision that “the present State governments in this department, now in arms against the U.S. authority, be recognized” until such time as a final “settling [of] any and all conflicts between the people of the respective States” might occur.70 But the local Union commander demurred and demanded a simple surrender.71
E. Kirby Smith refused and began to prepare for combat. But before he could do much of anything, his army fell to pieces. On May 14, 1865, four hundred soldiers in the Confederate garrison at Galveston attempted an armed desertion en masse. Two days later, a Texas private warned his commander in writing that “if you intend on fighting the Yankey any more you Need Not count me and a thousand more in.”72 The level of desertion and mutiny rose so high that Smith was, by his own account, “compelled to remain 36 hours in Huntsville to escape the mob of disorderly soldiers soldierly thronging the roads.” A week later, cursing his soldiers for leaving him “a Commander without an army,” Smith belatedly and anticlimactically accepted the reality of Confederate defeat and surrendered what little remained of his command.73