Johnston Finally Able to Surrender His Army

April 26, 1865 (Wednesday)

General Sherman had apparently overstepped his bounds, wishing to treat with the entire Confederacy rather than simply Joe Johnston’s army. In his mind, he wanted to wrap the entire war up in one fell swoop and thought that the capitulation of all the remaining Rebel forces, as well as the reestablishment of civil governments of the seceded states, was the way to go about it. In the eyes of Washington, he was wrong. Both General Grant and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wanted him to deal only with the Confederate army before him, and Grant had arrived with the message to make sure that all went according to plan.


On the day previous, Sherman dealt some with the fall out, writing to Stanton an explanation for what he tried to accomplish.

“I admit my folly in embracing in a military convention any civil matters,” he wrote, “but, unfortunately, such is the nature of our situation that they seem inextricably united, and I understood from you at Savannah that the financial state of the country demanded military success, and would warrant a little bending to policy.”

Sherman, when he first met with Johnston, looked toward two examples for terms. First, he wanted to mirror the terms Grant had put forward for Lee’s surrender. Second, however, he wanted to implement the policy that nearly went into effect in Virginia – that of allowing the state government to continue to function. He thought it the best policy, and also believed that was what Lincoln had wanted. Sherman did not know that Lincoln had rescinded and re-explained the order for Virginia shortly before he was murdered. Now things were different.

“I still believe the General Government of the United States has made a mistake,” he said in closing, “but that is none of my business – mine is a different task….” And with that, Sherman had arranged with Johnston to meet once more at the Bennett House.


Joe Johnston had been faced with a decision apart from whether or not he should surrender. Though President Davis had relented to a full capitulation of all military forces when that was still on the table, he had reconsidered. On the 25th, Johnston received a message from the Secretary of War, John Breckinridge, which had obviously come from Davis.

It was suggested that the infantry could be disbanded prior to any surrender and then moved to some other place farther south. The cavalry, especially, could simply be brought off, along with any other soldiers who could find mounts. Even some artillery might be spared. Johnston later explained his decision.

“I objected, immediately, that this order provided for the performance of but one of the three great duties then devolving upon us—that of securing the safety of the high civil officers of the Confederate Government; but neglected the other two—the safety of the people, and that of the army. I also advised the immediate flight of the high civil functionaries under proper escort.

“The belief that impelled me to urge the civil authorities of the Confederacy to make peace, that it would be a great crime to prolong the war, prompted me to disobey these instructions—the last that I received from the Confederate Government. They would have given the President an escort too heavy for flight, and not strong enough to force a way for him; and would have spread ruin over all the South, by leading the three great invading armies in pursuit. In that belief, I determined to do all in my power to bring about a termination of hostilities.”

And with that, Johnston agreed to meet with Sherman on this date.

They met in a downstairs room, but all did not go well. Johnston believed that basing the terms on those set for Lee’s army was a bad idea. His reasoning was that, as he explained to Sherman, “the disbanding of General Lee’s army has afflicted this country with numerous bands having no means of subsistence but robbery, a knowledge of which would, I am sure, induce you to agree to other conditions.”


But what other conditions could Sherman offer? He was certain that if they deviated in any way from Grant’s to Lee Washington wouldn’t approve them. This was solved by General John Schofield, who had accompanied Sherman and was waiting out side.

“At length I was summoned to their presence,” wrote Schofield after the war, “and informed in substance that they were unable to arrange the terms of capitulation to their satisfaction. They seemed discouraged at the failure of the arrangement to which they had attached so much importance…. I listened to their statements of the difficulties they had encountered, and then stated how I thought they could all be arranged.”

Basically, after all this was over, Schofield would still remain in command of the military department. Essentially, Sherman could offer, and Johnston could accept, the same terms offered by Grant to Lee, and Schofield could then offer a set of supplements which he termed the “Military Convention of April 26.”

Schofield immediately sat down and wrote these out. While the main terms were identical to Grant’s, these were the amendments:

1. The field transportation to be loaned to the troops for their march to their homes, and for subsequent use in their industrial pursuits. Artilleryhorses may be used in field transportation, if necessary.

2. Each brigade or separate body to retain a number of arms equal to one-seventh of its effective strength, which, when the troops reach the capitals of their States, will be disposed of as the general commanding the department may direct.

3. Private horses, and other private property of both officers and men, to be retained by them.

4. The commanding general of the Military Division of West Mississippi, Major-General Canby, will be requested to give transportation by water, from Mobile or New Orleans, to the troops from Arkansas and Texas.

5. The obligations of officers and soldiers to be signed by their immediate commanders.

6. Naval forces within the limits of General Johnston’s command to be included in the terms of this convention.

Both Generals Sherman and Johnston agreed and signed. “I believe that is the best we can do,” said Johnston when it was over.

Following Sherman’s departure, Johnston sent this message to the governors of the concerned states:

“The disaster in Virginia, the capture by the enemy of all our workshops for the preparation of ammunition and repairing of arms, the impossibility of recruiting our little army opposed to more than ten times its number, or of supplying it except by robbing our own citizens, destroyed all hope of successful war. I have made, therefore, a military convention with Major-General Sherman, to terminate hostilities in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. I made this convention to spare the blood of this gallant little army, to prevent further sufferings of our people by the devastation and ruin inevitable from the marches of invading armies, and to avoid the crime of waging a hopeless war.”

When Sherman returned to his headquarters in Raleigh, he showed the terms to Grant, who approved them without hesitation. Major Henry Hitchock, of Sherman’s staff, described the evening’s festivities in a letter home to his wife:

“I wish you could look in at the scene here tonight at our Headquarters, – the Governor’s mansion. Quite a crowd of officers have been sitting and standing all the evening on the portico in front; a fine brass band playing in a large yard in front of the house since 8 o’clock; and a little while ago, looking through the front window of the right hand parlor, from the portico, one could see Grant and Sherman sitting at the center table, both busy writing, or stopping now and then to talk earnestly with the other general officers in the room – Howard, Schofield, ‘Johnny Logan,’ and Meigs.”

General Grant would leave the following day, and Sherman would soon follow. The two largest armies of the Confederacy were now no more.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 3, p304; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Marching With Sherman by Henry Hitchcock; Forty-Six Years in the Army by John Schofield; Narrative of Military Operations by Joseph Johnston. []

The Flight and Capture of John Wilkes Booth

April 25, 1865 (Tuesday)


The assassin and his accomplice made the successful landing on Virginia’s banks of the Potomac on the morning of the 23rd. Thomas Jones, the Confederate spy who provided the boat for crossing, has also provided them with a name of a women who would help them – Mrs. Quesenberry.

Again on solid ground, the two split up. The assassin’s leg was broken and painful, and so he was hidden while the accomplice strode toward Mrs. Quesenberry’s house. When the accomplice met her and convinced her that Jones had sent them, Quesenberry enlisted help from Thomas Harbin, also a Confederate spy, but one who also knew the assassin.

It was Harbin’s idea to wait until nightfall to meet the assassin. It would be safer. But after that, speed was essential. He needed to get into the Deep South as quickly as possible. He needed protection and that he could not find here.

But first, the assassin needed medical attention. Now accompanied by William Bryant, another Confederate spy, they traveled eight miles out of their way to visit Dr. Richard Stuart. But Stuart, upon hearing their cover story, didn’t believe it, and didn’t see why he should help. He was your basic physician, not a surgeon, and wanted little to do with this strangers claiming to be Maryland Confederates. He did, however, feed them.

His knife.

His knife.

Still, his suspicions got the better of him, and in what escalated into a panic, Bryant pleaded with the assassin and his accomplice to leave the house – they were not wanted. They fled as they could to the shack of William Lucas, a free black man. Mr. Lucas refused to help, but they broke in and commandeered his small shack anyway. The assassin, having not just indifference for the black race, but a seething, venomous hatred, pulled a knife and threatened Mr. Lucas.

They wanted most his team of horses and wagon. Mr. Lucas had corn to plan come next week, and lied about the location of his stock. This only made the assassin more irate. “We will not go any further,” he said, “but stay here and make this old man get us his horse in the morning.” And so, gathering his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Lucas, fearing for their safety, kept vigil through the dark, resting not in their own bed, but on the front steps.

Come the morning of the 24th, they were on the road again – traveling by daylight – making for Port Conway on the Rappahannock River, accompanied by one of Mr. Lucas’ adult sons. There, they met William Rollins, who owned a fishing boat and had agreed to take them across, though declined the offer to guide them to Bowling Green. But Rollins couldn’t do it just yet. He was putting out his nets, and this took time.


Then arrived a strange serious of events. As the assassin and his accomplice were trying to convince Rollins to take them across now, they were approached by three young Confederates on horseback, remnants of Mosby’s command. Fabricating that they were from A.P. Hill’s Corps and were hoping to get to Mexico to continue the fight, the accomplice, who suspected the three Rebels were apt to do the same thing, insisted that they travel together.

“Our name is Boyd,” lied the accomplice, “his name is James William Boyd and mine is David E. Boyd.” It was a thin lie, and Mosby’s men saw through it. Understanding this, the accomplice took one of them, William Jett, aside and explained their true identities. Soon they all knew.

Enough time had elapsed and Rollins was ready to take them across. All would go, crossing to Port Conway. Once across, Jett first stopped at a house, asking if the half dozen strangers could stay the night. The first refused them, as did the second. The name of Richard Garrett, who owned a farm set well off the road, three miles away, was breathed by one of those who kindly refused them.

Garrett welcomed them, buying their story, and offering them shelter. But Jett and the two other Rebels were inclined to keep moving on to Bowling Green. The accomplice wished to go with them in the hopes of buying a new pair of shoes. And so he left the assassin behind with promises to return the next morning.

Willie Jett

Willie Jett

The assassin and Garrett whiled away the afternoon and evening. Garrett’s sons had just returned from the surrender and the soldiers swapped stories. The assassin was in fine character, playing his part well and never letting slip a word not carefully considered. Night came, and then morning.

This day, the 25th, for the most part, was uneventful. The accomplice returned with Mosby’s men, who left immediately. He asked the assassin if they were not moving again tonight. But no. The assassin wished to remain.

But Mr. Garrett had gone away for the day, and his son, John, now suspicious of this ward, refused to grant them permission until his father returned. They would wait. Hours slid slowly by, and Richard Garrett did not return.

The Garrett House

The Garrett House

And then hooves and dust from two riders were espied on the road to the front. They were calling “Marylanders, you had better watch out,” they rang. “There are forty Yankee cavalry coming up the hill!” They were two of Mosby’s men – not William Jett – and had seen the patrol crossing the Rappahannock on a ferry. They then rode off as quickly as they appeared.

The assassin and his accomplice ran as they could for the woodlot behind the house. But before long, the news seemed to prove false, and they returned. This incredibly suspicious behavior was noticed, and Richard Garrett’s son asked them to leave. As the accomplice tried to convince him that he would be safe, the patrol of cavalry galloped by the house, never stopping, never considering that they had just raced by their quarry.

Perhaps the John was right. Perhaps now was the time to leave. The accomplice asked him where they might hire a team and wagon to get them to Orange Court House. John raced to the home of a family of free blacks, but the owner, wasn’t home. The wife, however, had a story to tell. The cavalry had stopped at their house, asking if there were any white men about. This convinced John that his own two white men had to leave.

The items he carried. Minus the weapons.

The items he carried. Minus the weapons.

When he returned, he asked them outright when they were planning to go. But they casually waved it off, telling him that they planned to stay until morning.

Mr. Garrett returned that evening to a house full of thick tension and suspicion. To him, however, the guests were still guests, and they sat all together at the dinner table. After, however, the accomplice, now exhausted, now nearly out of his mind, babbled on about his part in the war. It was a part which he made up from the thinnest of airs. He was with the 13th Virginia, Company C, under Captain Robinson. But the son, John, knew all this to be a lie. He was very familiar with this particular company, and knew of no Captain Robinson. The accomplice backed down, lying that he had only been there a week, but the damage was done.

Though the night previous they had slept in a bed in Richard Garrett’s own room, it was now John who refused them such accommodations. His suspicions made them unwelcomed. They would have to sleep in the bar, which he very reluctantly allowed. They made their way to the barn, and without mattress or blanket, went to sleep.

Inaccurate print of the event.

Inaccurate print of the event.

As the assassin and his accomplice slept, two forces were working against them, and neither were from the North. First, John Garrett and his brother, William, had not sussed out the true identities of their guests. Instead, John was convinced that they would steal the horses in the night, and so he pad-locked the couple inside the barn. Come morning, he would deal with these horse thieves.

The Second was William Jett. Through luck, the Federal cavalry had come upon Rollins, the owner of the fishing boat. When showed a likeness of the assassin, he identified him and the accomplice, but he also knew Jett. He knew that young Willie courted a girl in Bowling Green, where her father ran a hotel. In all likelihood, that is where they could all be found.

This was the same patrol which raced by the Garrett house that afternoon. By 11pm, they were rapping on the door of the Star Hotel. After some confusion, they found Willie Jett, but the hoped-for assassin was not with him. He was threatened, but it was hardly necessary. Pulling one man aside, Jett spoke, “I know who you want, and I will tell you where they can be found.”


William Jett told all. The assassin and his accomplice were at Mr. Garrett’s house, three miles from Port Royal. He would even lead the way. It was 12:30am. Two hours later, William Jett and the Federal cavalry were at Garrett’s gate. William unlocked it, and the troopers entered the lane. The reigned up, and then charged.

The noise woke the assassin and his accomplice, and they quickly tried to escape. The door, they found, was locked. The Garretts had betrayed them. As the cavalry surrounded the house itself, they tried to break the lock, and when they proved impossible, they tried to break a few planks from the wall to make their way. But their strength was weak, and Mr. Garrett knew better how to build a barn.

“You had better give up,” said the accomplice. “I will suffer death first,” came the reply. And then the soldiers were upon the barn, surrounding it. The Garretts had truly betrayed them.

John Garrett, the son, was threatened, though he would have helped without it. They threatened to burn down every building on the Garrett property if John did not enter the barn and disarm the captives. He had no choice, and figured that he would soon be dead one one bullet or another.

The door was unlocked, and he entered, telling them that it was over. The barn was surrounded, and that they better surrender. “Damn you!” came a regal voice, unnerved, but not panicked. “You have betrayed me! If you don’t get out of here I will shoot you!” John Garrett fled, and the cavalry took over.

From Harper's Weekly.

From Harper’s Weekly.

But they did not fall upon the place as they might. Instead, they talked. “I want you to surrender,” came the call from the Federals. “If you don’t, I will burn this barn down in fifteen minutes.”

-“Who are you?” came the reply. “What do you want? Whom do you want?”

“We want you, and we know who you are. Give up your arms and come out!”

-“Let us have a little time to consider it.”

“Very well.”

Across the quarter of an hour, the accomplice begged the assassin to allow him to surrender himself. But no. That could not happen. Not now. Not after all of this. “You damned coward! Will you leave me now?” But still. What could be done? “Go, go!” he cried, “I would not have you stay with me!”

There was more debate between both the assassin and his accomplice and the cavalry. Finally, the accomplice was allowed by the assassin to leave. But the cavalry wasn’t convinced that he was unarmed. “Upon the word and honor of a gentleman,” vowed the assassin, “he has no arms – I own all the arms and intend to use them on you gentlemen.”

After some argument, he was allowed to make his egress. And by the collar, he was led away.

Time went on, and it became clear that the cavalry and John Garrett were gathering kindling. “Captain,” came the call from the barn, “I know you to be a brave man, and I believe you are honorable. I am a cripple. I have got one leg. If you will withdraw your men in line one hundred yards from the door, I will come out and fight you.”

“We did not come here to fight you,” came the obvious reply, “we simply came to make you a prisoner. We do not want any fight with you.”


Again came the plea. “Give me a chance for my life.”

But no. No. The assassin would have to come out. And if he would not, the burning barn would force him.

The fire started and spread quickly. And soon it was inside. The assassin tried as he could to fight it, but it was too swift. He moved to the center of the barn, away from the flames. “One more stain on the old banner,” he shouted.

Through the flames, he was watched by all in the cavalry save one, Sergeant Boston Corbett, who had made his way to the other side of the barn unnoticed. He had a shot, if he wanted it, but declined. “Making no demonstration to hurt anyone,” he revealed, “I did not shoot him, but kept my eye upon him steadily.”

All expected the assassin to flee the flames and choking smoke. But that is not what happened. He made for the door, but stopped, and leveled his carbine as if to shoot. Sgt. Corbett saw and decided. “My mind was upon him attentively to see that he did no harm,” he testified, “and when I became impressed that it was time, I shot him. I took steady aim on my arm, and shot him through a large crack in the barn.”

At first, when they rushed the barn after hearing the report of a pistol, they believed that he had shot himself. The blood came from the neck, and it was suicide. They picked up the assassin, and carried him outside. He was not dead, but dying.

Water was thrown on his face, and he opened his eyes. Those around him hear faintly the whisper. “Tell mother,” it began before he nearly fainted. But he came to. And again he tried. “Tell mother I die for my country.”

But those were not his last. The ball had passed through his neck. The next word he spoke: “Kill me, oh kill me” came as the sun began to rise. But no. “We do not wish to kill you.” The wound, they hoped, was not fatal. And they spoke. William Jett’s name was mentioned. “Did Jett betray me?” But the question was ignored.

It was seen that he was paralyzed. The ball must have severed part of his spinal cord. He looked down at his hands. “My hands,” he said. One of his captors, who was cradling him in his lap, washed the assassin’s hands in ice-water. There must have been no feeling.

“Useless, useless.”

His lips were swelling, as was his throat. He was now gasping, panic and terror filling the eyes of the assassin. His throat now closed completely, and his body shuddered, convulsing and unable to live. And with the sun fully up, death finally claimed him.1

  1. Sources: Various accounts and testimony cobbled together from The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence edited by William C. Edwards and the Impeachment Investigation conducted by Congress in 1867. I used Manhunt by James L. Swanson for the timeline of events. []

Sherman Learns of the Rejection; Davis Wants a Body Guard

April 24, 1865 (Monday)

Though General Sherman was expected Major Henry Hitchcock to arrive on the train from Washington with news of Washington’s approval or disapproval of his terms of surrender for Joe Johnston, what he was not expecting was General Grant. Believing this too important to be left to Sherman alone, Grant decided to accompany the news and guide Sherman if needed.

The cracks now showing in Sherman's plan.

The cracks now showing in Sherman’s plan.

“Of course, I was both surprised and pleased to see the general,” wrote Sherman after the war. He “soon learned that my terms with Johnston had been disapproved.” Grant urged Sherman to attack Johnston following the forty-eight hour truce. War would continue unless Johnston agreed to the same terms given by Grant to Lee.

Just after the sun rose, Sherman sent a message from Greensboro to Johnston in Raleigh.

“I have replies from Washington to my communications of April 18th. I am instructed to limit my operations to your immediate command, and not to attempt civil negotiations. I therefore demand the surrender of your army on the same terms as were given to General Lee at Appomattox, April 9th instant, purely and simply.”

As the courier rode to find Johnston, Sherman began to ready his army for either attack or pursuit of a fleeing foe. Even Major Hitchcock, who carried the news with him, did not know that the terms had been rejected by Washington. Seeing the fuss now, however, it was what he assumed.

“The impression seems to prevail here universally that the conditional agreement made between Sherman and Johnston on the 18th was not approved,” he wrote the following day, “which is strengthened by the fact that the army supplies have been kept coming forward rapidly from below, and that today [meaning the 25th] is published in the city papers a General Order from Schofield directing the ‘Army of the Ohio’ to be prepared to march at 6 A.M. tomorrow [meaning the 26th]. Everybody anticipates, and I think everybody regrets another march; for this time, if the Army does advance, it is necessarily in pursuit not of a single object as heretofore, or to reach a a definite ‘objective point,’ but to pursue a flying enemy and meanwhile live on the country.”

When Johnston received the message from Sherman, he had not an hour before, finally received Davis’ approval to accept Sherman’s original terms. For that one brief span, Johnston believed the war to be truly over. But when Sherman’s news arrived, he understood that he would have to begin the process anew.

This was not what Davis had wanted. He had yielded to the pressures from his Cabinet members, who lobbied now for peace no matter the costs. “Your action is approved,” wrote Davis. Johnston was given the authority by the President to “complete the arrangement… on the basis adopted.” He concluded with an ever-nagging “Further instructions will be given as to the details of negotiation and the methods of executing the terms of agreement when notified by you of the readiness on the part of the general commanding U.S. forces to proceed with the arrangement.”

Joe Johnston is fading....

Joe Johnston is fading….

This was Davis – meanderingly verbose. With one hand, he had given Johnston the authority to treat with Sherman, and with the other, he limited the position to that of a mere messenger boy. This would have been more acceptable if Johnston had any idea how long Davis would remain in Charlotte. The general had not even been informed when Davis left the Raleigh area.

By evening, Johnston had received both Davis’ missive and Sherman’s communication. They were, of course, irreconcilable, and Johnston must have cringed as the prospect of trying to untangle this without Davis. Fortunately for him, because of Sherman’s restrictions to treat only upon military affairs, Johnston’s job was more simple. Still, he felt that he needed the government’s approval.

“I have just received dispatches from General Sherman,” wrote Johnston to Secretary of War John Breckinridge, “informing me that instructions from Washington direct him to limit his negotiations to my command, demanding its surrender on the terms granted to General Lee, and notifying me of the termination of the truce in forty-eight hours from today.”

“Have you instructions?” he asked, adding, “We had better disband this small force to prevent devastation to the country.”

When Breckinridge received this message, his mind ceased upon the last sentence. Just what did Johnston mean by “disband”? Whatever was meant by it, President Davis crafted his own definition.

Breckinridge had lobbied tirelessly to simply end the war, to surrender everything. But now Davis saw once more some hope. Though the message in reply was penned by Breckinridge, there’s little doubt that the words contain the sentiment of the President and not the Secretary of War.

“Does not your suggestion about disbanding refer to the infantry and most of the artillery?” it began. “If it is 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 of the men you can mount from 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.”

This could not have come as anything but a shock to Johnston. Davis had flipped from begrudgingly accepting a full surrender to calling for Johnston not to capitulate, but to mount those he could and abandon the rest – all to serve as Jeff Davis’ body guard as he made his way across the Mississippi. This would do nothing to protect the people of the South or to end the war. This was desperate, dishonorable, and cowardly. This may have been Jefferson Davis, but it was not Joe Johnston.

Johnston would not receive Davis’ and Breckinridge’s message until the following morning, but when he did, he replied in no uncertain terms:

“We have to save the people, spare 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 cavalry to the President, who ought to move without loss of a moment. Commander believe the troops will not fight again. We think your plan impracticable.”

Sherman and Johnston agreed to meet once more on the 26th to talk surrender.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 3, p835; Narrative of Military Operations by Joseph Johnston; A Long Shadow by Michael B. Ballard; The Long Surrender by Burke Davis. []

Davis Plans to Retreat into Texas or Mexico

April 23, 1865 (Sunday)

“The dispersion of Lee’s army and the surrender of the remnant which remained with him destroyed the hopes I entertained when we parted,” wrote Jefferson Davis to his wife. Jefferson Davis was still in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had scurried away from Richmond mere hours before its fall, and by April 3rd, he was in Danville, Virginia, where he hoped to re-establish the Confederate capital. With Grant’s army threatening to devour Lee’s army, Davis fled south to Greensboro, arriving on the 11th. There, he heard the news of Lee’s surrender, and gave some sort of nod toward Johnston who wished to follow suit.


Jefferson Davis had little desire to be captured – sentiment held that he would most certainly hang. And so he dipped farther south, leaving Greensboro without even telling Johnston, to Charlotte, arriving on the 19th. The original idea had been to there re-establish the seat of government and to carry on the war.

And there he remained still, though it was not what he had wished. The rest of his Cabinet had arrived on the 22nd. With them came the confirmation of Lincoln’s assassination and the terms of surrender as given by Sherman to Johnston. Though Washington had already rejected them, at this point, not even Sherman knew of their status. Believing that they would possibly end the war, Davis wished for each of his Cabinet members to state their opinions on what they might do next.

All had concluded that a continuation of the war through the use of partisans and guerrillas would be devastating. The terms should be accepted, the held. There was, however, a problem. They also concluded that the Confederate Constitution did not allow the President to dissolve the government. Some wished for each state to have a part in such an event, though that idea was quickly tilting toward impossibility. Others, however, cared little about formality and wanted it to simply end for the sake of the people.

Davis’ opinions on this matter were set down in a letter to his wife.

“The issue is one which it is very painful for me to meet. On one hand is the long night of oppression which will follow the return of our people to the ‘Union'; on the other the suffering of women and children, and courage among the few brave patriots who would still oppose the invader, and who unless the people would rise en masse to sustain them, would struggle but to die in vain.”

For his wife, Davis wished her save passage “from Mobile for a foreign port or to cross the [Mississippi] River and proceed to Texas, as the one or the other may be more practicable.” He did not know that Mobile had already fallen.

For himself, he had no thoughts of facing the results of his position over the past four years. Continuing, he wrote, “it may be that our Enemy will prefer to banish me, it may be that a devoted band of Cavalry will cling to me and that I can force my way across the Mississippi. And if nothing can be done there which it will be proper to do, then I can go to Mexico and have the world from which to choose a location.”

Davis had already paved some of the way for this likelihood. A few days back, he had ordered Kirby Smith, still operating in Louisiana, not to surrender under any circumstances. If all went south, he would go west.

A "touched up" John Breckinridge.

A “touched up” John Breckinridge.

When Davis met on this date with North Carolina’s Governor Zebulon Vance, he urged the official to gather up as many North Carolina troops as he could find and come with him to the Trans-Mississippi to join Kirby Smith. This raised little confidence, and even urged Secretary of War John Breckinridge to restate the obvious – that the war was over.

Meanwhile, near Raleigh, General Sherman had just learned that he would know for certain the following day whether the terms of surrender that he had drafted in the company of Joe Johnston were accepted or rejected by Washington. They had included the surrender of all the Confederate armies and liberally waded into civic issues. Sherman had hoped and even trusted that they would be met with approval and thus end the war, restoring states to the Union and keeping their governments in tact.

Accompanying this news, which was to arrive the next morning, was General Grant, though Sherman did not yet know this.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 3, p287, 830-831; Marching with Sherman by Henry Hitchcock; Letter from Jefferson Davis to Wife as published in Papers of Jefferson Davis; Narrative of Military Operations by Joseph Johnston; A Long Shadow by Michael B. Ballard; The Long Surrender by Burke Davis. []

And Darkness Favors Us – Booth Escapes into Virginia

April 22, 1865 (Saturday)

John Wilkes Booth, accompanied by his compatriot, David Herold, had been on run for over a week. Having hastily planned to be in Virginia long before now, due to Booth’s broken leg they found themselves still in a thicket of pines on the Samuel Cox property near the Potomac River in Maryland. They had made it but forty miles south of Washington.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth

Though they were on Cox’s land, he did little to help them otherwise. Instead, he had gotten word to Thomas Jones, a former Confederate spy who lived along the river, to help ferry them across. After visiting with Booth and Herold on Easter Sunday, the 16th, Jones returned to his home and tried to figure out a way to coyly make use of one of his two boats.

He told the assassin that it would take up to a week for him to be able to get the two fugitives across. Jones then set about with a scheme involving his former slave, Henry Woodland, who was ordered to go fishing regularly every morning and to return to boat to Dent’s Meadow, a secluded spot with a large stream running through it. Jones had determined that it was here where the two would cross.

But this would take time. For days, Jones would carry food and coffee to Booth and Herold. From the first day, Jones noticed that Booth was not well. His broken leg was intensely painful, and he desperately wanted to be in Virginia. The plan was for them to wait long enough that the Federal cavalry patrols, some of which passed 200 yards from their hiding spot, to move farther south.

Over the next several days, Cox kept a watch on his property, and Jones went into the nearest town, Port Tobacco, to catch whatever news he could find. On that Tuesday, the 18th, Jones met Captain William Williams in a local bar. Williams was in pursuit of Booth, and had, unbeknown to Jones, just interviewed Dr. Samuel Mudd, who had set Booth’s leg. Mudd told Williams of “two strangers” who had visited him the night of the assassination, claiming not to know their identities. He did, however, point the Federal cavalry under Williams in the right diction.


This brought Captain Williams to Port Tobacco, a hive of Confederate feelings and loyalty, where he offered $100,000 to anyone who would betray that loyalty and give up Booth. This was Jones’ chance to make everything right and retire well in the process. All Jones said to him was “That is a large sum of money and ought to get him if money can do it.”

But money could not do it. After the war, Williams claimed to have thought that Jones knew more than he was telling, but that his honest face and “come-to-the-Lord-and-be-saved expression” he wore rose in Williams enough doubt to not question further. “There was something which told me he knew where Booth was or could lead to his capture,” claimed Williams, “but he couldn’t be worked. No amount of money or glory would have tempted him. No human being can read his face and tell what is passing in his mind. It is like a stone.”

Writing later, Jones was in agreement: “But it seems to me that, had I, for money, betrayed the man whose hand I had taken, whose confidence I had won, and to whom I had promised succor, I would have been, of all traitors, the most abject and despicable. Money won by such vile means would have been accursed and the pale face of the man whose life I had sold, would have haunted me to the grave.”

Across the following two days, the cavalry flooded into the landscape, even visiting Jones’ house several times, searching it once. Apart from Cox, Jones confided in nobody. Jones did not even have to order his former slave, Henry, to lie, as he told him nothing of the larger picture.

“As the days rolled away,” wrote Jones, “Booth’s impatience to cross the river became almost insufferable.” The assassin’s leg was swollen, infected, and horribly painful. And though it had not rained, the nights were cold and the ground was damp. Each had only a single blanket, given to them by Jones or Cox, and nothing more. For six days and five nights, this tedium repeated.

David Herold

David Herold

“He never tired of the newspapers,” Jones recalled. “And there – surrounded by the sighing pines, he read the world’s just condemnation of his deed and the price that was offered for his life.

On Friday the 21st, Jones found himself once more at a bar, and once more seated next to a Federal cavalry officer. But this time was different. This time, the officer announced to his men, “Boys, I have news that they have been seen in St. Mary’s!” The troopers left the bar, remounted their rides, and made for St. Mary’s County. The search, it seemed to Jones, had now moved from the Port Tobacco area to St. Marys – upwards of forty miles away.

Here was Jones’ chance. Toward evening, the clouds thickened and by nightfall, a fog had rises from the surrounding marshes. He rode swiftly to Booth and Herold’s bivouac in the pines.

“The coast seems to be clear,” said Jones to Booth, “and darkness favors us. Let us make the attempt.” Jones gave his horse to Booth to ride, while Herold and himself would walk. Jones strode out in front, probing the darkness for any soul that might give them up. He went forward fifty some paces and stopped. The way unbarred, Jones whistled back to Booth and Herold to come forward. When they reached him, he paced fifty steps once more, and gave the call when clear.

“As we journeyed cautiously on my feelings were wrought up to an intense degree of anxiety, not so much on my own account as for the successful accomplishment of what I had undertaken. When I paused to listen, the croaking of a frog, the distant barking of a dog, the whir of the wing of some nightbird as it passed over my head, would cause my heart to beat quicker, and my breath to come faster. When I gave the low whistle agree upon as the signal that the road was clear, it sounded in my ears as loud as the blast of a trumpet, and though the ground was soft and yielding, the tramping of the slowly advancing horse, to my over-wrought fancy, was like the approaching of a troop.”

The box containing Booth's compass.

The box containing Booth’s compass.

Though much of the trek was along farm lanes, there was a stretch of public road that had to be utilized. This filled Jones with the most dread. They passed a house with dog, and another filled with a free black family, passing both without more incident than Jones’ pounding heart. But finally they reached Jones’ house. Stopping outside, he told the two to wait while he fetched them something to eat.

“Oh,” Booth said to Jones, “can’t I go in and get some of your hot coffee?”

But no. Jones could not risk even that. “It cut me to the heart when this poor creature, whose head had not been under a rood, who had not tasted warm food, felt the glow of a fire, or seen a cheerful light for nearly a week, there in the dark, wet night at my threshold, made this piteous request to be allowed to enter a human habitation,” Jones lamented some thirty years after this poor creature had shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head.

Jones explained that he had servants in the house who would recognize him. “Remember, this is your last chance to get away.” Jones also claimed that refusing Booth’s request for a warm meal inside his house, “was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.”


Jones former slaves still worked for him, still called him “master,” and still had dinner prepared for him when he returned home. He quickly pocketed food enough for two men, and nobody seemed to notice. “They knew better than to question me about anything in those days.” He asked Henry if the boat was still at Dent’s Meadow – it was, and soon Jones, Booth, and Herold were off.

With some difficulty, due mostly to a fence and Booth’s inflamed leg, they reached the Potomac River. The good and faithful Henry had left the boat just where he told his master it was. Together, Herold and Jones lifted Booth into the flat bottomed boat, giving him an oar with which to steer from the stern. Herold would do the rowing.

Booth had little with him, but had thought enough to bring a compass. Jones set the course. “Keep to that,” he told him, “and it will bring you into Machodoc Creek. Mrs. Quesenberry lives near the mouth of this creek. If you tell her you come from me I think she will take care of you.”

Just as they were about to shove off, Booth offered Jones payment for his services. Jones refused all but $18 – the cost of the boat, which he knew he’d never see again. “God bless you, my dear friend, for all you have done for me,” spoke Booth to Jones. “Good-bye, old fellow.”

Jones pushed the boat into the river, and into the darkness. “I stood on the shore and listened till the sound of the oars died away in the distance and then climbed the hill and took my way home. Though I knew my danger was by no means over, I felt that a tremendous load had been lifted from my shoulders. I had successfully accomplished what I had undertaken to do, and my sleep that night was more quiet and peaceful than it had been for some time.”

Booth's compass.

Booth’s compass.

For five hours, Booth and Herold struggled across the Potomac. The current was swift and the dark disorienting. Finally by the morning of this date, the two landed. The exhausted Herold had spotted land that he actually recognized as a place he used to frequent before the war. The only drawback was that it was still in Maryland. The two had paddled upstream, but due to the breadth of the river and the curve and banks, the far shore was never seen. They had entered an inlet at Nanjemoy Creek, near Indiantown. But all was not lost. Herold knew the people who lived there.

The boat was hidden, and Booth managed to hobble the distance to the house owned by Peregrine Davis, on the farm overseen by John J. Hughes. When they called at Hughes’ door, the old friend recognized Herold and Booth. Knowing fully what they had done, Hughes allowed them inside. Herold explained their most recent predicament, as well as the need to keep hidden from the authorities.

And though Hughes had let them in, he declined to help in any other way. The Federal detectives, said Hughes, were thick in these parts, and if Booth was caught in his home, he would certainly be seen as a conspirator. They would have to, he bade, hide outdoors somewhere. They could stay for the day, but would have to leave as soon as possible. Since the river still had to be crossed, it was assumed they’d try again come night fall.


But they did not. When darkness once more fell, Herold was too sore, still too exhausted, to make the attempt. This would not be merely a delay of a few hours. They could not try again until nightfall of the next night. A full day would be wasted, as the Federals sifted through a second session of Dr. Mudd’s testimony, as the likenesses of Booth and Herold were solicited to every house and person along the banks of the Potomac. They were moving in on him, and Booth had to understand this. Still, they waited.

All through this date, they languished in still another swamp until dark, now two days behind after leaving Thomas Jones. But on this night, the darkness again favored them.

“That night at sundown,” Herold later confessed, “we crossed the mouth of Nanjemoy Creek, passed within 300 yards of a gunboat, and landed at Mathias Point.”

Having just barely dodged a patrol boat, and hidden only by the darkness, they were finally in Virginia.1

  1. J. Wilkes Booth: An Account of His Sojourn in Southern Maryland By Thomas A. Jones; Testimony of David Herold, as published in The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence edited by William C. Edwards; “Four Lincoln Conspiracies” by Victor Louis Mason, as printed in The Century, Vol. 51; Manhunt by James L. Swanson. []