150 Years Ago This Week: The Grand Review

May 1865

On Saturday, May 20, near Longwood, Missouri, Federal troops got into a firefight with Confederate guerrillas on the Blackwater River. This kind of engagement was common as news of the Confederate surrenders spread around the country. President Andrew Johnson on May 22 removed commercial restrictions on Southern ports except in far southern Texas: Galveston, LaSalle, Brazos Santiago, Point Isabel, and Brownsville.

Again, in Missouri, there was a skirmish the same day between Confederate guerrillas and Union troops at Valley Mines. President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in a cell at Fortress Monroe, at the mouth of the James River in Virginia, while Federal authorities in Washington tried to decide what to do with him. Also in Washington, the trial by military commission of the eight conspirators implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln continued at the Old Penitentiary at the Washington Arsenal.

In the nation’s capital, the Grand Armies of the Republic had been gathering to stage a Grand Review on Pennsylvania Avenue before President Johnson, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, members of the Cabinet, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant and Maj. Gen. William Sherman. On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 23 and 24, crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol.

Children sang patriotic songs and the soldiers marched. The Army of the Potomac had come home from Virginia to the appreciation of the nation. For the first time since the sad day in April when the 16th President had died, the flag at the White House flew from the top of the pole. By regiment, by brigade, by division, and by corps, the conquerors of the South passed by in review.

Newspapers reported “there were the dashing horsemen of the cavalry, the long, never-ending lines of blue infantry, the cries of the crowd for their heroes. There were engineers and pioneers with their implements of their branch, the Irish Brigade with sprigs of green twigs in their hats, the ambulances, the artillery, and the Zouaves in their flashy uniforms. It was a march of victory and triumph—yet unseen thousands of others were there—those who had fallen on ten thousand battlefields. The war was truly over.”

The second day the troops continued to pass in review in Washington. These were the men of the West. Gen. Sherman’s men were more rough-cut, more loose in their marching than the men of the Army of the Potomac. Some units were the typical “Sherman’s bummers” complete with mules loaded with camp equipment and the spoils of foraging off the land. Camp pets and black followers joined the parade, adding to a less formal air to the Grand Review.

On the reviewing stand, Gen. Sherman shook hands with President Johnson but refused the hand of Secretary of War Stanton; Gen. Sherman was still miffed over the disagreement in the surrender of Gen. Joseph Johnston’s Army of Tennessee in North Carolina. After the Grand Review ended, the Union troops both East and West disbursed, and began to be mustered out of the service.

From Mobile, Alabama, came word on May 25 of the explosion of some 20 tons of captured Confederate powder stored in a warehouse. The blast set off several other explosions; boats at the dock, warehouses, and other buildings were left in ruins. Three hundred people were casualties, and property damage costs were estimated at $5 million.

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