150 Years Ago This Week: The Confederacy collapses

May 1865

After the surrender of Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor and his Confederate army in Alabama and Mississippi on Thursday, May 4, there remained only Confederate troops under Gen. Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi; Brig. Gen. Jeff Thompson’s troops in Arkansas; and Brig. Gen. Stand Watie’s Indian Brigade in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

On May 6, the Federal War Department issued orders setting up the military commission to try the alleged Lincoln assassination conspirators. Maj. Gen. David Hunter was appointed president of the commission, assisted by Joseph Holt, judge advocate general of the army; also serving were Maj. Gen. August Kautz, and Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace (later author of “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”). None of the nine commissioners had a distinguished military career, which may explain why these officers were selected to serve at the will and pleasure of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton was determined to extract revenge for the death of the president. The same day, President Jefferson Davis and his party reached Sandersville, Georgia, in a quest to get south of areas occupied by Union troops.

The commissioners of Union Maj. Gen. Edward Canby accepted the paroles of Gen. Taylor’s troops in Mississippi and Alabama on May 8. Throughout the former Confederacy, small groups and individual Confederate soldiers surrendered or just went home. At Chalk Bluff, Arkansas, on May 9, negotiations took place for the surrender of Gen. Thompson’s Confederate troops.

The same day, President Andrew Johnson recognized Francis Pierpont as governor of Virginia. During the war, in those areas of Virginia controlled by Union troops, Gov. Pierpont led a “restored” Union state of Virginia. In Washington, the trial of the eight alleged conspirators in the Lincoln assassination began in the Washington Arsenal (now Fort McNair). Near Dublin, Georgia, on the Oconee River, President and Mrs. Davis met, with Federal cavalry closing in.

Early on the morning of Wednesday, May 10, near Irwinsville, Georgia, Federal troops surprised President Davis and his party. Because of the rain, Mr. Davis wore a waterproof raincoat and a shawl, and had attempted to escape when he was captured by the 4th Michigan Cavalry. His attire led to the erroneous and exaggerated tales by the Federals that he was disguised in woman’s clothing.

Also captured were his private secretary, Burton Harrison, and Postmaster General John Reagan. With the president’s capture, the Confederate government ceased to exist. Mr. Davis was first taken to Macon and then held in custody at Fort Monroe in Virginia, awaiting a trial that never was to be convened. The same day, President Johnson declared in a proclamation that “armed resistance to the authority of this Government in the said Insurrectionary states may be regarded as virtually at an end.”

The Navy was ordered to arrest the crews of the Confederate commerce raiders still on the high seas, and bring them in. Mr. Johnson also warned against continued hospitality by foreign governments to Confederate cruisers. The blockade of states east of the Mississippi River was lifted.

Confederate Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones surrendered Confederates under his command at Tallahassee and in Kentucky, the notorious Confederate guerrilla fighter William Quantrell was mortally wounded while looting by an irregular force of Federal troops. On Thursday, May 11, Gen. Thompson surrendered what was left of his famous Missouri brigade at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas, under the same terms granted to Gen. Lee at Appomattox. In southern Texas, Union troops moved out of Brazos Santiago towards Brownsville, where Confederate troops were reported to be encamped. The Confederate raider CSS. Stonewall arrived for repairs and restocking at Havana, Cuba.

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.