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1865 May 6: Further Details of Sherman’s Great Blunder

May 9, 2015

The article in yesterday’s post was followed by this one in the May 6, 1865, issue of The Prescott Journal.

The Conference between Sherman and Johnston.

Further Details of the Great Blunder.

RALEIGH, N. C., April 20, }
via Washington, April 24. }

“Peace from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and I hope soon to lead you to your homes,” were the cheering words in which General Sherman [William T. Sherman] announced to his proud army the result of his two days’ conference with General Johnston [Joseph E. Johnston].  The terms as they were understood in the army—unconditional submission to the laws as they will be interpreted by the civil courts of the Federal Government—were read with perfect satisfaction.

Strange as it may seem, the actual terms, as they are this morning published by authority from the War Department, were not known, even to those very high in authority, at the time your correspondent left that army.  The terms, as understood, were believed to be of Gen. Sherman’s own choosing, and declared by him to a conquered army, and their acceptance by the Government was not a question.  So firm was the belief that absolute peace would be proclaimed from Washington, that Gen. Sherman’s announcement that he hoped soon to march his army homeward was accepted as a certainty, and preparations accordingly made.—The real conditions upon which the surrender was made, when known, will probably be as promptly rejected by the army as they have been by President Johnson [Andrew Johnson], his cabinet and Gen. Grant [Ulysses S. Grant].

At the first meeting, at which General Johnston only was present, no terms were finally agreed upon.  At the second meeting, however, at which Breckinridge [John C. Brechinridge] officiated, conditions were accepted and papers signed.  Johnston, on the first day, probably learned what Gen. Sherman’s terms were., and after full consultation with Jeff. Davis [Jefferson Davis], who was at Hillsboro, concluded to accept them, taking  Breckinridge with him, however, to draw up the papers.  This important conference was held at the solicitation of the rebel General, who, on the 4th inst., sent by flag of truce a request for a cessation of hostilities, till Grant could be sent for.  Sherman answered immediately by saying that if the surrender of his (Johnston’s) army was the object of such a truce, he was competent to attend to such a want ;  but if anything else was desired, he wished to know it, when he would decide whether or not it would be necessary to send for the Lieutenant General.—Johnston was further informed that he (General Sherman) was ready to meet him at any time, to confer on the subject of his wants.  This offer was promptly accepted, and the point of meeting was agreed upon at Mr. James Bennett’s, a little hut on the left of the Chapel Hill road, five miles from Dunham’s [sic: Durham’s] Station, and thirty from Raleigh.

The memorable meeting took place.   Gen. Sherman, accompanied by his right-hand man, his able Chief Engineer, Colonel O. M. Poe,¹ and General Barry, with others of his staff, met General Johnston, with Major Johnston and Captain Crampton, of his staff.  Both generals were accompanied by their cavalry Generals, Kilpatrick [Judson Kilpatrick] and Wade Hampton.

After the more important questions had been settled, Generals Sherman and Johnston conversed freely and frankly.  General Johnston fairly admitted, that the grand Army of the Mississippi was the best army ever marched.  “Why,” said Johnston, “my engineers, my officers and the people of South Carolina all insisted upon it, that no army could ever penetrate Salkahatchie swamps, and you not only marched your army through them, but corduroyed and bridged them for miles, and then drew after you your immense supply trains.  The like could not have been done by any other army.”

Gen. Wade Hampton’s action and conduct, in the light of such a manly and candid admission, are doubly disgusting.  He denied that the South was conquered or even worsted, and fully announced the theory that one Southern man could whip three Northern men.  We believe four years of war have at least reduced the odds, even in his opinion, from five to three.

In speaking of the armies in the Southwest, Sherman inquired where Gen. Wilson, with his cavalry was.  “He is at Columbia, Ga.,” replied Johnston, “and I wish for God’s sake, that you would stop him, for he is raiding all through that country, tearing everything to the devil.”

Gen. Sherman then showed Johnston a dispatch he had just received from Gilmore [sic: Quincy A. Gillmore], saying that Potter,¹ with a force of infantry and cavalry, was finishing the work of devastation in South Carolina.  Sherman forestalled Johnston’s request to have that stopped, by saying that he thought it would not hurt that people to bear a still heavier burden.  “Let Potter burn a little longer,” said he.

General Breckinridge was morose and reticent.  He showed plainly how deep was his humiliation.  He conversed, however, with those who addressed him, and to General Sherman, in a discussion as to the slavery question, made this remarkable confession :  “The discussion of the slavery question is at an end.  The amendment to the Constitution, forever forbidding slavery, is perfectly fair, and will be accepted in that spirit by the people of the South.”

The news of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln was received by Gen. Sherman while at Kilpatrick’s headquarters, on the way to his first day’s meeting.  We have it from Gen. Sherman himself, that Johnston was shocked, and manifested as much feeling and concern as an intimate friend would have done ;  and well he might, for the exasperated soldiery of the Union army would have desolated the land from the right to the left.  The rebel chieftain, expressing himself deeply pained at the unfortunate event, was told that it would be politic in him to publish a disclaimer of any connection or knowledge of the deed, or the conduct of our army could not be answered for.

Johnston has been notified, ere this, that the terms of surrender agreed upon cannot be accepted, and that the truce, at the expiration of the forty-eight hours, must end ;  but we predict that there will be no fighting.

Johnston’s army is about Chapel Hill, twenty-five miles from Raleigh, with his left wing on the Haw river.  His retreat has been cut off by Stoneman [George Stoneman], who is thought to be now on his flank, and has so destroyed the road that it cannot be repaired.  Sheridan is near at hand, and, with Kilpatrick and Stoneman, can alone handle Johnston’s army, which does not now number over 30,000 men, demoralized and already beaten.  Johnston can do nothing, then, but surrender unconditionally.  We think General Sherman has lost nothing by his truce.

The militia having been detained, I give a summary of the news from Raleigh.  It was occupied by Kilpatrick on the 13th, the city having been surrendered by ex-Governor Bragg and the Mayor of the city.  The city was at once thoroughly guarded, and not a house was disturbed.  It is now heavily guarded by troops from Major General Conte’s corps, lest the exasperated soldiery should seek their vengeance for the President’s assassination upon the city.  The citizens held a very large meeting, expressing sympathy with the north and the army in their midst, and denouncing the act.

Lee’s officers and men have, many of them, come into our lines at Raleigh.  Major General Grimes² and General Cox³ among the former.  The men go to their homes.  They are tired of the war.  The officers, however, are haughty, and claim that, though they are beaten, they are not conquered.

The negro troops, under General Terry [Alfred Terry], were to-day reviewed by Generals Sherman and Schofield.  It was a novel sight for the people of Raleigh.  The troops are grouped in camps about the city, wholly with a view to comfort and good police.

1.  Orlando Metcalfe Poe (1832-1895) graduated from West Point in 1856 and served as assistant topographical engineer on the survey of the northern Great Lakes. When the Civil War started he assisted in organizing volunteers from Ohio. He then became a member of General George B. McClellan’s staff and took part in the Rich Mountain campaign and organizing the defense of Washington, D.C. He was promoted to colonel of the 2nd Michigan Infantry and fought with them in the Peninsula Campaign from Yorktown through the Battle of Seven Pines. He participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Chantilly, and in reserve at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Next Poe transferred to the Western Theater, where, as chief engineer of the XXIII Corps, he was a instrumental in the defense of Knoxville, Tennessee. Due to Poe’s contributions, General William T. Sherman selected Poe as his chief engineer in 1864. Poe oversaw the burning of Atlanta, and supervised the dismantling of all buildings and structures in Atlanta with any military value, and he continued as chief engineer during Sherman’s March to the Sea.  Sherman promoted him after the fall of Savannah, he continued in the same capacity through the Carolinas Campaign. After the War, he oversaw the construction of lighthouses on the upper Great Lakes, and then served as engineering aide-de-camp on Sherman’s staff. Many consider his crowning achievement to be the design and implementation of the first Poe Lock in the at Sault Ste. Marie, which made the Great Lakes shipping industry possible.
2.  Bryan Grimes (1828-1880) was a plantation owner—with 100 slaves—in North Carolina before the Civil War. He was elected as a delegate to North Carolina’s secession convention. After the Ordinance of Secession passed, he joined the Confederate Army as major of the 4th North Carolina Infantry. He participated in the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861; was promoted to lieutenant colonel on May 1, 1862; fought at the Battle of Seven Pines, during which he was wounded when his injured horse fell on top of him; was promoted to colonel of the 4th N.C. Infantry in June 1862. Grimes led the regiment during the Peninsula Campaign, but missed the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam due to a severe leg injury. Grimes went on to fight at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, where he was wounded again, and Gettysburg.  During the Overland Campaign, Grimes was promoted to the rank of brigadier general (May 19, 1864) and given permanent command of his brigade of North Carolinians. He fought in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and when Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur was killed at Cedar Creek, Grimes assumed command of his division and led it for the rest of the war. He was wounded again at Cedar Creek. Grimes was the last man in the Army of Northern Virginia to be appointed as a major general (February 15, 1865). He served in the trenches surrounding Petersburg and led the final attack of the Army of Northern Virginia shortly before its surrender at Appomattox Court House. After the War, Grimes returned to North Carolina and farming. In 1880, he was ambushed and killed by a hired assassin, presumably to prevent him from testifying at a criminal trial.
3.  William Ruffin Cox (1832-1919) was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, a three-term member of the United States House of Representatives from 1881 to 1887, and Secretary of the United States Senate from 1893 to 1900. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Cox raised and outfitted the “Ellis Artillery Company.” Next he raised an infantry company and was appointed major of the 2nd North Carolina Infantry. He fought in the Battle of Antietam, and was given a promotion to lieutenant colonel, and then colonel (formally commissioned in March 1863). In May of that year, Cox was wounded three times at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He missed the Gettysburg Campaign due to his injuries and did not return to the field until the Fall of 1863.  Cox fought with distinction at the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. He was then assigned command of a brigade of North Carolina infantry, and participated in the Battle of Cold Harbor, Early’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, the Battle of Monocacy (playing a prominent role), and the trench defenses during the Siege of Petersburg, including the counterattack Fort Stedman. He was promoted to brigadier general and led a division, including the Appomattox Campaign. He surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865 and returned home. After the War, Cox he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, but lost the party nomination for re-election in 1886. In 1893 he was appointed Secretary of the U.S. Senate. At the time of his death in 1919, he was one of the last surviving generals of the Confederate army.

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