Today in History: The End of the American Civil War

A war that took 750,000 lives over the span of almost four years ended when General Lee surrended his Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox Court House. The correspondence between these two generals over the surrender is found here in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. General Lee’s message to his troops is online as well; General Grant’s recollection of these proceedings are included in his Personal Memoirs (chapter 67).

The New York Times ran a lengthy report on the Appomattox surrender in its April 12,1865 issue and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle picked it up for its April 14 issue; other papers throughout the nation also reported this news. This 1865 timeline can prove helpful in following events.

But please remember that communications at that time were only as fast as a galloping horse. With the tremendous destruction of the communications infrastructure – downed telegraph poles, torn-up railroad tracks, blocked waterways – news of this surrender did not reach other combatants for months.

Confederate General Joseph Johnston would surrender his army to General William Sherman on April 26, 1865 ((Sherman’s Personal Memoirs, v.2, 348+; Johnston’s Narrative…. , 398+; Official Records…, v.47, pt.3, 243;  “Sherman-Johnston Convention,” Scribner’s Magazine, 28(July-Dec 1900): 489-505)).

General Richard Taylor (son of ex-President Zachary Taylor) surrendered his army to General Edward Canby at Citronelle, Alabama on May 4 (Taylor’s Destruction and Reconstruction, 224-29; Official Records, vol.49, pt.2, 609).

General Kirby Smith also surrendered his troops to General Canby; he did so on May 26 (Noll’s General Kirby-Smith  contains orders, letters, and addresses, 253+; Official Reports…, series 2, vol.8, 717).

General Stand Watie relinquished command to Colonel Asa Matthews on June 23, 1865 (Official Records, vol.48, pt.2, 1098+; Watie’s Letters). His was the last major Confederate force to surrender.

The CSS Shenandoah surrendered in Liverpool, England on November 6, 1865 ((“The Cruise of the Shenandoah,” Southern Historical Society Papers, 35(1900): 235-258; Hunt’s The Shenandoah; or, The last Confederate cruiser; articles from The Liverpool Mercury, November 1865)). This was the last Confederate surrender.

President Johnson issued Declaring that Peace, Order, Tranquillity, and Civil Authority Now Exists in and Throughout the Whole of the United States of America on August 20, 1866 formally ending this conflict.

The wounds are still deep. Please read The Civil War Isn’t Over from the April 2015 issue of The Atlantic.

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