Campaign Through the Carolinas: An Ohio Cavalryman’s Recollections in the National Tribune

This is the third part of the 1892 account of the last days of the Civil War in North Carolina by an unidentified captain of the 10th Ohio Cavalry.

I remember our Colonel that evening called all his officers together, when the

Adjutant read to us SHERMAN’S SPECIAL FIELD ORDER.

The General commanding announces with pain and sorrow, that on the evening of 14th instant, at a theater in Washington City, his Excellency, the President of the United States, Mr. Lincoln, was assassinated by one who uttered the State motto of Virginia. At the same time, the Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, while suffering from a broken arm, was also stabbed by another murderer in his own house, but still survives, and his son was wounded, supposed fatally. It is believed by persons capable of ‘judging, that other high officers were designed to share the same fate. Thus it seems that our enemy, despairing of meeting us in open, manly warfare, begins to resort to the assassin’s tools.

Your General does not wish you to infer that this is universal, for he knows that the great mass of the Confederate army would scorn to sanction such acts; but he believes it the legitimate consequence of rebellion against rightful authority.

We have met every phase which this war has assumed, and must now be prepared for it in its last and worst shape, that of assassins and guerrillas; but woe unto the people who seek to expend their wild passions in such a manner, for there is but one dread result.

In sadness we parted and returned to our tents to announce to our companies at roll call the sad news we had learned.

The next morning Sherman again took the train for Durham Station, accompanied by most of his personal staff, and by Gens. Blair, Barry and Howard. Reaching Durham they mounted and rode with the same escort of the day before to Bennett’s house, reaching there at noon. Gen. Johnston and Wade Hampton soon arrived, while Mr. Breckinridge, Secretary of War of the Confederate States, arrived later.

TERMS OF AGREEMENT.

The following memorandum or basis of agreement was made April 18, 1865, near Durham Station, N. C, between Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, commanding Confederate army, and Maj.-Gen. W. T. Sherman, commanding the army of the United States.

  1. The contending armies now in the field to maintain the status quo until notice is given by the Commanding General to any one of it opponents, and reasonable time–say 48 hours–allowed.
  2. The Confederate armies now on existence to be discharged and conducted to their several State Capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State arsenal; and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war and to abide the action of the State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordnance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United Stales. In the meantime to be used solely to maintain peace and good order within the borders of the States respectively.
  3. The recognition, by the Executive of the United States, of the several State Governments, on their officers and Legislatures taking the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United Slates, and where conflicting State Governments have resulted from the war, the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.
  4. The establishment of all the Federal courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.
  5. The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well ns their rights of person and properly, as defined by the United States and of the States respectively.
  6. The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostilities, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.
  7. In general terms, the war to cease,

A GENERAL AMNESTY,

so far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies. Not being fully empowered by our respective principals lo fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority and to carry out the above program.

During the interval while the memorandum was being made and signed the staff officers and escort of both Generals commingled together in friendly congratulations that the war was ended.

The plain black walnut table on which this document was written and signed was afterward purchased by Capt. David Cockley, of the 10th Ohio Cav., then Aide on Kilpatrick’s staff, who had an office desk made from it, for which ho was offered $350, but refused to part with it, and he still retains it.

These papers were conveyed to Washington by Maj. Hitchcock, who got off on the morning of the 20th.

Meantime the army remained status quo. The cavalry, with headquarters at Durham Station, extended down along the front below Chapel Hill, a distance of 20 miles. The railroad from Goldsboro to Raleigh had been repaired, when supplies and the mails came regularly to the latter place.

The history of the armistice, and of its disapproval, are parts of the political history of those days rather than the military campaign. It is only necessary to say here that the agreement reached Washington when the members of the Administration and the leaders in Congress were under the influence of a panic resulting from a belief that the Confederate leaders, conscious of the desperation of their cause, had organized a plot for the murder, not only of the President, but all of his Cabinet and the principal Generals of the army. Even Gen. Halleck, at Washington, had sent a dispatch to Sherman describing the man (his name said to be Clark) detailed to assassinate him. Sherman replied: “He had better be in a hurry, or he will be too late.”

No trait in Gen. Sherman’s character was more marked than his loyal subordination to his superiors in army rank or in the State. Full of confidence in his own views, and vigorous in urging them, HE NEVER COMPLAINED at being overruled, and instantly adapted his military conduct to the orders he received. When at once all debate was closed by specific direction from those in authority, he did not know that Gen. Grant had been directed to have no negotiations with Gen. Lee except for the military surrender of his army, and he overestimated the importance, as a guard against anarchy, of having a formal agreement of submission made in the name of all the Southern people.

His armistice and convention with Gen. Johnston was subject to confirmation or rejection. He had given to his Government the opportunity of doing either, or of taking the negotiation into the control of civil officers and modifying it. Had President Johnson simply said to him that the arrangement was inadmissible, and that he must resume the campaign unless the Confederate General made an unconditional surrender, ho would have obeyed not only without protest, but without any thought of complaint.

But instead of this, the Secretary of War published the agreement as if he was proclaiming a discovered treason, and was appealing to the country to sustain the Government against a formidable enemy in our own camp.

Gen. Grant was then hurried to Raleigh to supervise Sherman in control of his army, and to take away his responsibility, leaving him only a nominal command. Even this, perhaps, would have been taken from him had not the same unfounded fears made the authorities do the army the injustice of supposing it, too, might rebel.

Gen. Grant’s practical, cool, unselfish judgment made him turn his presence at Raleigh into an apparent visit of congratulation, and to consult with Gen. Sherman, who had promptly given the stipulated notice of the terms of the armistice before Gen. Grant’s arrival, in the following communication, dated April 24:

Gen. Johnston, Commanding Confederate Army:

You will take notice that the truce, or suspension of hostilities, agreed to between us will cease in 48 hours after this is received at your lines, under the first article of agreement.

At the same time he enclosed the following short note:

I have replies from Washington to my communication of April 18. I am instructed to limit my operation to your immediate command, and not to attempt civil negotiations. I therefore DEMAND THE SURRENDER OF YOUR ARMY on the same terms as were given to Gen. Lee at Appomattox, April 9.

About Eric J. Wittenberg

Award-winning Civil War historian Eric J. Wittenberg focuses on cavalry operations in the Civil War.
This entry was posted in Armies, Battlefields & Historic Places, Campaigns, Cavalry, Civil War Events, Common Soldier, Leadership--Confederate, Leadership--Federal, Lincoln, Newspapers, Personalities, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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