Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Surrender at Appomattox - The Beginning of the End

This is one of the most popular posts from 2010. It has garnered about 9,000 "hits" and always nets me several thank you notes each year, presumably from students doing research into the Civil War. 

Until I moved to North Carolina I had a rather one sided picture of the Civil War. The reason it is still a contentious issue today is due to the fact that the war was never officially ended by a treaty between the two sides. There was simply a proclamation by President Johnson in 1866 that the war was over. And that lack of a treaty is at the very root of any discord which remains from the Civil War today.

I cannot think back to a time when I was unaware of the Civil War. The fact that the wounds of the war were still raw in half of our country was surely a contributing factor to this. I was about 7 when all the Centennial Observances began in full swing. To make matters even more confusing, in school we were taught only part of the story concerning the end of the Civil War.

Today marks the 149th Anniversary of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. It was there that Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia, which effectively ended the South's ability to wage war. But there never was a formal surrender by the Confederate Government. Neither treaty nor truce was ever called.

When I first moved down South I was very confused at the attitude that the War Between the States had never ended. So, I did as I usually do; I headed to the library. I was very surprised at all that I did not know.

General Grant, writing his memoirs with the aid of Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, recalled the following conversation just prior to the signing of Lee's surrender;

"Lee soon mounted his horse, seeing who it was, and met me. We had there between the lines, sitting on horseback, a very pleasant conversation of over half an hour, in the course of which Lee said to me that the South was a big country and that we might have to march over it three or four times before the war entirely ended, but that we would now be able to do it as they could no longer resist us. He expressed it as his earnest hope, however, that we would not be called upon to cause more loss and sacrifice of life; but he could not foretell the result. I then suggested to General Lee that there was not a man in the Confederacy whose influence with the soldiery and the whole people was as great as his, and that if he would now advise the surrender of all armies I had no doubt his advice would be followed with alacrity. But Lee said that he could not do that “without consulting the President first. I knew there was no use to urge him to do anything against his ideas of what was right."

President Jefferson Davis refused to surrender the Confederacy, instead seeking to consolidate his forces west of the Mississippi. He was of the hope that they could establish the Confederacy in Texas. This was a misguided hope at best. Davis was captured in May enroute to Texas. He was then imprisoned under unduly harsh conditions and emerged a physically broken man. But he never signed the Loyalty Oath and never formally surrendered his government.

As a matter of fact, the last action of the Civil War took place up around the Arctic Circle on November 6th, 1865. The C.S.S. Shenandoah, under the Command of James Waddell and out of communication with land, continued conducting raids and seized 4 Yankee merchant vessels before being informed that the War was over. In June of 1865 the Shenandoah had captured two Yankee ships, and while aboard the Susan Abigail, Commander Waddell saw a San Francisco newspaper that stated the war was over. But it was not until they heard the news from a British ship that they gave up the cause.

At that point the Captain of the U.S.S. Donegal took the formal parole of the Shenandoah, and Commander Waddell elected to sail to England rather than the U.S. to avoid his crew being tried as raiders instead of being released as former soldiers. Some other Confederate ships had surrendered only after their crews were reclassified as "artillerymen", thus avoiding criminal trials for the crime of piracy.

The last ship of the Confederacy was then sailed over 9,000 miles to Liverpool, by Commander Waddell and presented to a Joint House of Parliament in 1866. He then simply walked away.

When the "Carpetbaggers" arrived to plunder the ruined Southern States, in direct opposition to Lincoln's plan of a gentle reunion, the stage was set for the violence and opposition to what the South called "the Army of Occupation." When that "Army" finally left in the 1870's, a backlash of "Jim Crow" laws became the norm and the Southern States entered upon a century of violence and segregation.

The fact that the War Between the States was never properly adjudicated, and the subsequent lack of any formal Instrument of Surrender being tendered, has left a hollowness in the "peace" that is often cited as an end to hostilities. The Union did, however, have the last word. In May of 1866, President Andrew Johnson simply proclaimed the War to be at an end.

Sadly, vestiges of that war remain unresolved to this very day. And the chief culprit of this "hollowness" in our national unity is, in my opinion, directly attributable to the lack of a formal ending of the hostilities.

No comments:

Post a Comment