1865 April 18: Edwin Levings—The death of our beloved President saddens my heart and saddens all loyal hearts North or South
On April 10, 1865, Union General William T. Sherman resumed his Carolinas Campaign and as his troops advanced toward Raleigh, North Carolina. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army fell back and halted around Greensboro, where Johnston met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Meanwhile, the Union and Confederate commanders received word of Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9 to Ulysses S. Grant. This convinced Johnston that further resistance was futile. Sherman’s troops reached and occupied Raleigh on April 13, and four days later, Sherman and Johnston began negotiations for the Confederates to surrender. Their preliminary agreement, which included political issues as well as military, was rejected by President Andrew Johnson. That is why Edwin Levings thought Johnston had surrendered but then later in this letter says “I was a little too fast in stating Johnson [sic] had surrendered.” The two commanders met again on April 26 and agreed to terms. The surrender in North Carolina was the largest of the war with almost 90,000 Confederate troops in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida involved. Johnston’s surrender was the virtual end for the Confederacy, although some smaller forces held out, particularly in the Trans-Mississippi region.
The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Raleigh N. C. April 18th, 1865.
My Dear Parents;
Your letter in answer to ours from Fayetteville was received yesterday. A week has passed since I wrote you, but sooner than expected, the privilege of writing to you is again mine and I hasten to use it.
You watch the Union armies now, no doubt, as you never did before, and while rejoicing over the late great victories in Virginia that destroyed Lee’s army [Robert E. Lee] and seemed to us Richmond, and Petersburg. You wait to hear what news from N. C., hoping for like success there; that there may be more victories to rejoice over, and that soon it can be said there is no longer a rebellion in the U. S. The news is soon told. Johnson’s [sic] army ], like Lee’s is no more. After several day’s consultation with Sherman he surrendered his army; more than that, his whole Dept. which I understand to include all east of the Mississippi. Billy [Sherman] would accept nothing less, so you see how thourough [sic] has been our work. I suppose if Johnson [sic] had refused, a terrible battle would have ensued, when the rebels would have been converted into mince meat, for our boys will not now be trifled with by their parleyings.¹ Johnson [sic] was completely hemmed in, and saw how foolish would be a further resistance. The army is in the best possible joyous mood over the downfall of the Confederacy and looks for a declaration of peace very shortly. When Mobile falls what will there be for fight, except guerrillas and assassins ? A portion of the troops may be discharged. Some will have to remain to occupy posts, quell disturbances, and open up the country to trade and enterprise. There will have to be an army in this country for a time, at least for among so many rough rebel characters as are now let loose, life would be endangered.
But there is one event that saddens my heart and saddens all loyal hearts North or South. It is the death of our beloved President which occurred in Washington City at the hands of an assassin. We rec’d the mournful intelligence night before last in silent indignation, for we saw our foe[,] despairing of success in an honorable warfare[,] resorting to the power of the assassin. We felt the battle spirit, and if then led against the enemy, Heaven only knows how terrible would have been their punishment. The news was official, yet it is hardly believed yet by many that he is dead. It seems we could better lose one of our best generals than the President who has carried us under Providence through the past four years terrible experience; but this calamity we must believe will result in the more complete overthrow of our adversaries, and their cause, Slavery.
8 P. M. It is now evening, and I will finish before bedtime. I have been on guard at Hd. Qrs. to-day. It seems that the Confederacy is utterly gone up—the rebel armies generally being surrendered. I heard a staff officer say that the Trans. Miss. Dept. and troops were included in the recent surrenders. Is it so ? Is it true that this carnage is over. I can not realize the fact. It seems more like a dream. Have we passed through this bloody ordeal of the Nation to the end, and yet safe ? Are the proud armies of Slavery that we have so long fought with such sacrifice destroyed ? Dear Parents I can not yet realize the fact. We may now breathe forth the words—The End; and let us thank God who has gone before like a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in all this long conflict. We are beginning to talk now of coming home ere many months. If all things work favorably, we could not expect to go home in several months; but I must not multiply words on this subject, for they will not determine that happy hour. We may have to accompany these rebel soldiers to their respective State Capitals where they will lay aside all arms &c. & go home.
Our duties are guarding, foraging, pitching and striking Hd. Qr. tents where required, escorting General when on the march, &c. Homer, I think, is suited—I am certainly. There is no excitement now—won’t my letters be prosaic
now ? If you wish to know more fully about soldiering than I can write wait till I come home.
April 19th — A word more and I will not detain the letter longer. We are expecting to make a long march before many days,—rumor has it to Harpers Ferry. We are getting our horses ready in anticipation by yard feeding. Gen. Sherman tells us he hopes to have us on the homeward trip shortly. I was a little too fast in stating Johnson [sic] had surrendered. Arrangements have been made with him and other high rebel officials to surrender the entire Confederacy, and the proposition is now awaiting endorsement in Washington. No more foraging now. Raliegh [sic] is not a large place, but looks rather pretty. The young ladies of Raliegh [sic] ride about with our soldiers, and all the people receive us gladly, rejoicing that the war is over. I will stop—write soon as possible—direct as usual.
Edwin D. Levings
1. A discussion or conference, especially one between enemies over terms of a truce or other matters. Comes from the French word parlez, which means to speak or talk.