May 26, 1865 (Saturday)
While the surrender of Lee’s army had gone off with little trouble, and Johnston’s eventually worked out, that of Kirby Smith’s sprawling yet dwindling army west of the Mississippi was a different story.
It had been coming, of course. Ever since they learned of Lee’s capitulation it was certain. There were some attempts to make such a surrender political rather than solely of the military, but any attempt at such a venture had been shut down before it even started.
In all, the various Confederate leaders throughout Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas had tried four different times to come to some sort of agreement where the word “surrender” wouldn’t be bandied about so much. Those four were either shut down or came too late. Some even went as far as the assure the Federals that Kirby Smith had sent them – something which he later denied.
On this date, , Generals Samuel Buckner, Sterling Price, and J.L. Brent took a steamer to New Orleans to meet with Union General Edward Canby. After some brief talk, they agreed to the same terms offered by Grant to Lee and Johnston.
These terms were signed by all, but were subject to Kirby Smith’s approval. The rub was that General Smith didn’t quite know about the machinations of Buckner, Price, and Brent. In the middle of May, Kirby Smith decided to move his headquarters from Shreveport, Louisiana to Houston, Texas. This trip took about a week as he traveled by stagecoach.
Smith’s plan had been to leave Shreveport in the loving embrace of General Buckner as he rallied the Texas troops of General John Magruder to somehow save Texas. He did this regardless of the fact that desertions were rampant and his army was quickly disintegrating, even without a formal surrender.
By the 25th, with Kirby Smith still two days out from Houston, Magruder admitted that he had no control whatsoever over his own men. Smith probably deduced as much along his travels as he met bands of retired soldier – some with less-than-fond memories of their time in the Confederate ranks.
And so, when Kirby Smith reached Houston on the 27th, waiting for him was the notice that the rest of his army had been surrendered. It was, as stated, subject to his own approval. He did not immediately approve. Instead, he called for a court of inquiry. The court, which actually managed to take Smith’s order seriously, found that nobody was to blame since there was basically no army left.
Still Kirby Smith would not sign. Instead on the 30th, he would pen a bitter farewell address to his men:
“Soldiers! I am left a Commander without an army – a General without troops. You have made your choice. It was unwise and unpatriotic, but it is final. I pray you may not live to regret it.”
Two days later, after paying his remaining officers in gold, he finally signed the terms of surrender and gave himself over to the Federal authorities.
In the end, perhaps 2,000 “unreconstructed” Rebels crossed the Rio Grande for Mexico. General Jo Shelby would join them, as would Kirby Smith.
Smith’s surrender dealt not with the Natives from Oklahoma, and a separate peace would have to be made with them (a story for another time). And a few random Confederate units were simply forgotten here and there. But for the most part, by this date, all organized Confederate forces were no more.