150 Years Ago This Week: The Confederacy unravels

April/May 1865

On Saturday, April 29, President Andrew Johnson removed trade restrictions in former Confederate states east of the Mississippi River, within military lines. President Jefferson Davis and the remainder of the Confederate cabinet continued their movement to the south; they arrived in Yorkville, South Carolina, while there was a skirmish the same day between Union and Confederate troops in Lyon, Kentucky.

Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train arrived in Columbus, Ohio, allowing thousands to view the President’s remains. On the last day of April, a few miles north of Mobile, Union Maj. Gen. Edward Canby met with Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor and agreed on a truce before the surrender of Confederate troops in Alabama and Mississippi. The Lincoln funeral train arrived in Indianapolis, Ind., en route to Springfield, Ill.

As the month of May 1865 opened, it was pretty much over. With the end, so much had happened: Armies had surrendered, one chief executive had been murdered while another fled the conquerors. Not sure how to put the pieces of their lives together, the people north and south existed in somewhat of a vacuum. Most of the shooting had stopped.

Two Confederate armies still remained in the field, though negotiations were underway to surrender the primary Southern force east of the Mississippi River. West of the river, Gen. Kirby Smith still commanded the Trans-Mississippi army of the Confederacy, and there were still occasional skirmishes on that side of the river between them and Union troops.

Most Southern soldiers, however, were heading home, some glad, some bitter, some relieved. Many had no homes to return to, and they began looking to the west, or even to other countries around the world. In Washington, Radical Republicans pressured President Andrew Johnson to pursue a vindictive policy against the South and its people, but Johnson gave indications that he would try to carry out the policies of the murdered Mr. Lincoln.

On Monday, May 1, President Johnson ordered the appointment of nine army officers to make up a military commission to try the Lincoln conspirators now in custody. Federal authorities had ruled that John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators would be tried by a military commission rather than a civil court, even though civil courts were operating.

Those to be tried were David Herold, Lewis Powell, Edman Spangler, Michael O’Laughlen, George Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold, Dr. Samuel Mudd, and Mrs. Mary Surratt. The Lincoln funeral train arrived in Chicago, and thousands of people went to the courthouse to pay their respects. The following day, Gen. Canby wired Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant that Gen. Taylor had accepted the terms of surrender for his Confederate forces in Alabama and Mississippi along the same conditions accepted by Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

President Johnson issued a proclamation on May 2, accusing President Davis and others of inciting the murder of President Lincoln; a $100,000 reward was offered for Mr. Davis’s arrest. No concrete evidence has ever been proven to connect the Confederate president with the crime.

Mr. Davis and the cabinet were at Abbeville, South Carolina, and Mr. Davis reluctantly accepted the resignation of Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory. The Confederate guards carrying the Confederate treasury turned over the assets to Mr. Davis, and most of them turned to go home. The next day, Secretary of State Judah Benjamin also departed, heading first to Florida before going to England, where he later established his residence and resumed a law practice.

On Thursday, May 4, at Citronelle, Alabama, about 40 miles north of Mobile, Taylor surrendered his forces east of the Mississippi to Gen. Canby. The same day, Abraham Lincoln and his son Willie were buried in a vault in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Springfield, Illinois.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.