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 Sherman did not know that Lincoln had rescinded and re-explained the order for Virginia shortly before he was murdered.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. []

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. []

Sherman’s Terms Rejected by Washington

April 21, 1865 (Friday)

It was all going so well for General Sherman. He had convinced Confederate General Joe Johnston to capitulate, and drew up terms for the surrender of the Army of Tennessee. True, many of the objects touched upon in the terms were beyond the reach of the military, but Sherman was certain that Washington would jump at the chance to wrap this whole thing up quick as they pleased.

Tintype of Sherman in Thermoplastic frame.

Tintype of Sherman in Thermoplastic frame.

This was, in part, based upon the idea that Lincoln had allowed for the Virginia legislature to meet and to be considered official. This had been true, though Lincoln reconsidered. Word of this had not reached Sherman prior to the meeting with Johnston, and even on the 20th, Sherman sent newspapers to the Confederate stating that “in Virginia the State authorities are acknowledged and invited to resume their lawful functions.”

On this date, the 21st, Sherman reiterated that sentiment, telling Johnston that he felt “certain we will have no trouble on the score of recognizing existing State governments.” In the terms, he had stated that the people of the states once in rebellion immediately regained “their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of person and property….” He admitted to Johnston that “lawyers will want us to define more minutely what is meant by the guarantee of rights of person and property,” understanding that such language could certainly “undo the past as to the rights of slaves”.

They planned to meet again, after Johnston found someone adept at Constitutional law, to figure out just what all this meant. It was clearly over Sherman’s head. Being a pragmatic individual, Sherman believed he saw the easiest way:

“I believe if the south would simply and publicly declare what we all feel, that slavery is dead, that you would inaugurate an era of peace and prosperity that would soon efface the ravages of the past four years of war. Negroes would remain in the south, and afford you abundance of cheap labor, which otherwise will be driven away; and it will save the country the senseless discussions which have kept us all in hot water for fifty years.”

Perhaps the more he thought about all of this, the more he understood that he was overstating his authority. He mused to Johnston that “this is no subject of a military convention, yet I am honestly convinced that our simple declaration of a result will be accepted as good law everywhere.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, General Grant had just received Sherman’s terms. “They are of such importance,” he wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, “that I think immediate action should be taken on them and that I should be done by the President in council with his whole cabinet.” He strongly urged them to meet that night. By 6pm, Stanton was calling at the door of Gideon Welles, and two hours later, the meeting commenced.



“Among the Cabinet and all present there was but one mind on this subject,” recorded Welles in his diary. “The plan was rejected, and Sherman’s arrangement disapproved. Stanton and [Joshuah] Speed were emphatic in their condemnation, though the latter expressed personal friendship for Sherman. General Grant, I was pleased to see, while disapproving what Sherman had done, and decidedly opposed to it, was tender to sensitiveness of his brother officer and abstained from censure. Stanton came charged with specified objections, four in number, counting them off on his fingers. Some of his argument was apt and well, some of it not in good taste nor precisely pertinent. It was decided that General Grant should immediately inform General Sherman that his course was disapproved, and that generals in the field must not take upon themselves to decide on political and civil questions, which belonged to the executive and civil service.”

Grant said little of the meeting in his memoirs: “There seemed to be the greatest consternation, lest Sherman would commit the government to terms which they were not willing to accede to and which he had no right to grant. A message went out directing the troops in the South not to obey General Sherman.”

Stanton reminded Grant of the terms that Lincoln had put forward for the surrender of Lee – that he was not to meet with Lee “unless it be for the capitulation of General Lee’s army or on some minor and purely military matter.” Sherman was to follow these orders, swapping out Lee for Johnston.

Following the Cabinet meeting, Grant put pen to paper, explaining the situation to his old friend, Sherman. Grant knew, from the moment he read Sherman’s terms, that “it could not possibly be approved.” He explained the general feeling at the Cabinet meeting and that of President Johnson. “The result was a disapproval by the President of the basis laid down,” wrote Grant, “a disapproval of the negotiations altogether, except for the surrender of the army commanded by General Johnston.”

Grant reassured Sherman that “the rebels know well the terms on which they can have peace and just when negotiations can commence, namely, when they lay down their arms and submit to the laws of the United States.”

Stanton wished for Grant to send the message to Sherman via the quickest route, and this Grant would do, but would personally accompany the letters, arriving in North Carolina in three day’s time.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 3, p257, 263, 264, 265-266; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Diary by Gideon Welles; Sherman’s March Through the Carolinas by John G. Barrett. []

Sherman and Johnston Discuss Terms

April 18, 1865 (Tuesday)

William Tecumseh Sherman had left City Point in the Richmond area, where he was visiting with General Grant, at the end of the month previous. While Grant pursued Lee’s retreating army, Sherman reorganized and readied his own in Goldsboro, North Carolina to move not against Joe Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Smithfield, but to make for Virginia. It was now an army consisting of nearly 90,000 men.

William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman

With this host, he planned to “do the enemy as much harm as possible, while en route to the Roanoke River. The march was to have begun on the 10th of April, but when news of the fall of Richmond and Petersburg was received on the 6th, things were changed. Sherman assumed that Lee could get away and would soon join Johnston.

“I at once altered the foregoing orders,” Sherman recalled, “and prepared on the day appointed, viz., April 10th, to move straight on Raleigh, against the army of General Johnston, known to be at Smithfield, and supposed to have about thirty-five thousand men.”

And so, on the 10th, Sherman’s army, now with three wings instead of two, marched on Smithfield, fifty miles away. The 11th brought them to Smithfield, which they found to be vacated by the Rebels, who had “retreated hastily on Raleigh, burning the bridges.” That night, Sherman learned that Lee had surrendered.

“Of course, this created a perfect furore of rejoicing, and we all regarded the war as over, for I knew well that General Johnston had no army with which to oppose mine. So that the only questions that remained were, would he surrender at Raleigh? Or would he allow his army to disperse into guerrilla-bands, to ‘die in the last ditch,’ and entail on his country an indefinite and prolonged military occupation, and of consequent desolation? I knew well that Johnston’s army could not be caught; the country was too open; and, without wagons, the men could escape us, disperse, and assemble again at some place agreed on, and thus the war might be prolonged indefinitely.”

As Sherman’s cavalry battled with Johnston’s, his main body drew closer to Raleigh. Before the gates of the city, Sherman was met by representatives for North Carolina’s governor, Zebulon Vance. It seemed that Vance, having heard what Sherman did to Columbia, wished for Raleigh and its citizenry to be spared the same fate. Sherman, told them to “assure the Governor and the people that the war was substantially over, and that I wanted the civil authorities to remain in the execution of their office till the pleasure of the President could be ascertained.”

When Joe Johnston heard of Lee’s surrender late in the afternoon of April 12th. That night, he met with President Davis, who had fled himself to nearby Greensboro. There, he gathered not only Johnston, but P.G.T. Beauregard and Secretary of War John Breckinridge, who had carried with him these sad tidings. Davis contended that though things certainly appeared to be terrible, all was not lost, it was “not fatal,” he asserted. “I think we can whip the enemy if your people will turn out,” he was supposed to have said.

Johnston fell silent, and Davis grew uncomfortable enough to ask for his views. From across the room, as Johnston sat as far away from Davis as possible, he let his views be known: “Sir, my views are, that our people are tired of war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight!”

He was not finished. The enemy was too powerful, he continued, and they grew more powerful each passing day. How could they be opposed? “My men,” Johnston closed, “are, daily, deserting in large numbers, and are taking my artillery teams to aid their escape to their homes. Since Lee’s defeat, they regard the war as at an end. If I march out of North Carolina her people will all leave my ranks. It will be the same as I proceed south through South Carolina and Georgia, and I shall expect to retain no man beyond the by-road or cow-path that leads to his house. My small force is melting away like snow before the sun, and I am hopeless of recruiting it. We may, perhaps, obtain terms which we ought to accept.”

Joseph Johnston

Joseph Johnston

Davis, no doubt pleased that Johnston had finally shut up, turned to Beauregard. But to his dismay, Beauregard agreed with Johnston. Breckinridge also agreed, and wanted Johnston to draft a letter asking for terms. Johnston, however, thought it best if it came from Davis. It read:

“The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am, therefore, induced to address you in this form the inquiry whether, to stop the further effusion of blood and devastation of property, you are willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations, and to communicate to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding the armies of the United States, the request that he will take like action in regard to other armies, the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.”

The next day, Sherman received the letter, replying:

I have this moment received your communication of this date. I am fully empowered to arrange with you any terms for the suspension of further hostilities between the armies commanded by you and those commanded by myself‘, and will be willing to confer with you to that end. I will limit the advance of my main column, to-morrow, to Morrisville, and the cavalry to the university, and expect that you will also maintain the present position of your forces until each has notice of a failure to agree. That a basis of action may be had, I undertake to abide by the same terms and conditions as were made by Generals Grant and Lee at Appomattox Court-House, on the 9th instant, relative to our two armies; and, furthermore, to obtain from General Grant an order to suspend the movements of any troops from the direction of Virginia. General Stoneman is under my command, and my order will suspend any devastation or destruction contemplated by him. I will add that I really desire to save the people of North Carolina the damage they would sustain by the march of this army through the central or western parts of the State.

By the 16th, Johnston and Sherman had agreed to meet in the town of Durham on the 17th. Sherman was about to leave on the 16th when he received a telegram from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, informing him of the assassination of President Lincoln, as well as the attempt on Secretary of State William Seward. With that, and after swearing the telegraph operator to secrecy, Sherman departed, arriving in Durham at 10am.

They met in a small farm house owned by a Mr. Bennett, and before long, the two were on friendly enough terms. Sherman disclosed the telegraph from Stanton, and Johnston, according to Sherman, “denounced the act as a disgrace to the age, and hoped I did not charge it to the Confederate Government.” Sherman couldn’t believe that either Johnston or Lee was responsible, “but I would not say as much for Jeff Davis.” Sherman worried that word of the assassination might cause his men to level Raleigh, the closest Rebel city, as revenge, and wished to avoid such a fate.

The Bennett Place

The Bennett Place

Then it was down to the business at hand.

“I then told Johnston that he must be convinced that he could not oppose my army, and that, since Lee had surrendered, he could do the same with honor and propriety. He plainly and repeatedly admitted this, and added that any further fighting would be ‘murder,’ but he thought that, instead of surrendering piecemeal, we might arrange terms that would embrace all the Confederate armies. I asked him if he could control other armies than his own; he said, not then, but intimated that he could procure authority from Mr. Davis. I then told him that-I had recently had an interview with General Grant and President Lincoln, and that I was possessed of their views ; that with them and the people North there seemed to be no vindictive feeling against the Confederate armies, but there was against Davis and his political adherents; and that the terms that General Grant had given to General Lee’s army were certainly most generous and liberal. All this he admitted, but always recurred to the idea of a universal surrender, embracing his own army, that of Dick Taylor in Louisiana and Texas, and of Maury, Forrest, and others, in Alabama and Georgia.”

According to Johnston, Sherman entertained this idea:
“We then entered into a discussion of the terms that might be given to the Southern States, on their submission to the authority of the United States. General Sherman seemed to regard the resolutions of Congress and the declarations of the President of the United States as conclusive that the restoration of the Union was the object of the war, and to believe that the soldiers of the United States had been fighting for that object. A long official conversation with Mr. Lincoln, on Southern affairs a very short time before, had convinced him that the President then adhered to that view.”

The next day, they met again, and Sherman drafted these terms:

1. The contending armies now in the field to maintain the status quo until notice is given by the commanding general of any one to its opponent, and reasonable time—say, forty-eight hours—allowed.

2. The Confederate armies now in. existence to be disbanded and conducted to their several State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State Arsenal; and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war, and to abide the action of the State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordnance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United States, and, in the mean time, to be used solely to maintain peace and order within the borders of the States respectively. .

3. The recognition, by the Executive of the United States, of the sever State governments, on their officers and Legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and, where conflicting State governments have resulted from the war, the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.

4. The reestablishment of all the Federal Courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

5. The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of person and property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

6. The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostility, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.

7. In general terms—the war to cease; a general amnesty, so far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies.

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

And that was, of course, the rub. Sherman was overstepping his authority, but with the proper permission from Washington, by doing so, he could wrap up the entire war right here in Durham. The next day, he would telegraph the contents to Washington and wait for the reply.1

  1. Sources: Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Narrative of Military Operations by Joseph Johnston; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds. []