Many have been led to believe, quite erroneously, that the surrender at Appomattox Court House marked the end of the Civil War. This belief overlooks the fact that Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. There were still other Confederate forces in the field; some still ready to continue fighting at their commanders’ orders. What happened to these forces, which were not included in Lee’s surrender of April 9, 1865?
On April 14, five days after the surrender of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant, on the day of President Lincoln’s assassination, General William T. Sherman received a request for cease-fire from Confederate opponent General Joseph E. Johnston. On April 17 and 18, General Johnston, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, met with General Sherman to discuss the surrender of Johnston’s army. The Army of Tennessee—weakened after their March defeat at Bentonville, North Carolina — had no hope of continuing the fight with Lee and his army now gone. The two commanding generals met at the Bennett place—a modest farm house near Durham Station, North Carolina. The terms that Sherman dictated to Johnston were similar to the terms under which Grant had released Lee, but Sherman had added points which would effectively declare the war over and would allow for state governments to remain in power. Sherman had proposed, in a sense, a “peace treaty.” Secretary of War Stanton denied Sherman’s petition to make these broad-reaching decisions, and would allow Sherman to grant Johnston only a military surrender. The two met again on April 26th to finalize the terms, and by April 28, Johnston’s Army had surrendered. Many of the men in his dissolved command were as crestfallen as Lee’s troops, but the terms allowed them the dignity of leaving their arms behind as they struck their camps. There was no “Stacking of Arms” as there had been at Appomattox Court House.
After the surrender, Sherman was not lauded as Grant had been. Following the assassination of President Lincoln, many in the North had grown angry and vengeful at the rebellious states (which is exactly what Lincoln did not want). Many in the government and the press had felt Sherman’s initial “peace terms” to be too lenient on the South, and thus reflected a mindset that was too forgiving and mild.
On May 4, Major General Edward Canby accepted the surrender of General Richard Taylor and the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana at Citronelle, Alabama. Taylor, son of former president Zachary Taylor and brother-in-law of Jefferson Davis, was released with his men under similar terms as Grant presented to Lee. The men received parole passes and were allowed to utilize military transportation to return to their respective homes.
On May 10, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his entourage were captured near Irwinville, Georgia, while fleeing south. Three days after Davis’ capture, Confederate forces under Colonel John “RIP” Ford defeated Federal forces under Colonel Theodore Barrett at Palmito Ranch near the Texas-Mexico border. This was the last battle of the Civil War.
The Confederate victory at Palmito Ranch was all for naught, for on the June 2, General Edmund Kirby Smith and his Confederate Trans-Mississippi Army succumbed to Federal forces under General Canby. The terms were set by Canby and a representative of Smith, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, in New Orleans on May 26. The final surrender was discussed on a paddlewheel steamer off the coast of Galveston, Texas seven days later. Smith and his men promised not to take up arms again. Some of his men fled across the Mexican boarder without receiving proper paroles. Once again, similar terms to General Lee’s were presented to and accepted by Smith.
The last surrender was to occur on June 23 in what is presently Oklahoma. At the time, it was a territory especially for the relocation of American Indians. The last Confederate land forces to surrender were the men of the Cherokee Rifle brigade, under Brigadier General Stand Watie, the only American Indian to ever hold the rank of General in either army during the conflict. His men were all American Indian; represented in the brigade were men of the Cherokee and Seminole nations — two of the tribes relocated to Indian Territory. Watie had been sent to the Indian Territory during the infamous “Trail of Tears.”
On November 6, the last active Confederate Naval vessel, the C.S.S. Shenandoah, steamed into port at Liverpool, England. Lieutenant James Waddell was commanding, and he and his men sought asylum with the British government. Their ship, however, was turned over to the United States government. By now, the war was well over, and both the victors and the defeated were beginning the long process of picking up the pieces and putting the country back together.