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 Sherman did not know that Lincoln had rescinded and re-explained the order for Virginia shortly before he was murdered.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