I found some cavalry at Charlotte, and soon had the satisfaction to increase them to five brigades.
Continuing Confederate Government’s Last Days,
our selection from The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis published in 1881. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Confederate Government’s Last Days.
Place: Macon, Georgia
It will thus be seen that my expectations, referred to above, caused adequate provision to be made for the retreat of our army, if that result should become necessary by the failure of the attempt to open negotiations for an honorable peace. I had never contemplated a surrender, except upon such terms as a belligerent might claim, as long as we were able to keep the field, and never expected a Confederate army to surrender while it was able either to fight or to retreat. Lee had only surrendered his army when it was impossible for him to do either one or the other, and had proudly rejected Grant’s demand, in the face of overwhelming numbers, until he found himself surrounded and his line of retreat blocked by a force much larger than his own.
After it had been decided that General Johnston should attempt negotiation with General Sherman, he left for his army headquarters; and I, expecting that he would soon take up his line of retreat, which his superiority in cavalry would protect from harassing pursuit, proceeded with my Cabinet and staff toward Charlotte, North Carolina. While on the way, a dispatch was received from General Johnston announcing that General Sherman had agreed to a conference, and asking that the Secretary of War, General J. C. Breckinridge, should return to coöperate in it. The application was complied with, and the Postmaster-General, John H. Reagan, also went at my request. He, however, was not admitted to the conference.
We arrived at Charlotte on April 18, 1865, and I there received, at the moment of dismounting, a telegram from General Breckinridge announcing, on information received from General Sherman, that President Lincoln had been assassinated. An influential citizen of the town, who had come to welcome me, was standing near me, and, after remarking to him in a low voice that I had received sad intelligence, I handed the telegram to him. Some troopers encamped in the vicinity had collected to see me; they called to the gentleman who had the dispatch in his hand to read it, no doubt supposing it to be army news. He complied with their request, and a few, only taking in the fact, but not appreciating the evil it portended, cheered, as was natural at news of the fall of one they considered their most powerful foe. The man, who invented the story of my having read the dispatch with exultation, had free scope for his imagination, as he was not present, and had no chance to know whereof he bore witness, even if there had been any foundation of truth for his fiction.
For an enemy so relentless in the war for our subjugation, we could not be expected to mourn; yet, in view of its political consequences, it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South. He had power over the Northern people, and was without personal malignity toward the people of the South; his successor was without power in the North, and the embodiment of malignity toward the Southern people, perhaps the more so because he had betrayed and deserted them in the hour of their need. The war had now shrunk into narrow proportions, but the important consideration remained to so conduct it that, if failing to secure our independence, we might obtain a treaty or quasi-treaty of peace which would secure to the Southern States their political rights, and to the people thereof immunity from the plunder of their private property.
I found some cavalry at Charlotte, and soon had the satisfaction to increase them to five brigades. They had been on detached service, and were much reduced in numbers. Among the troopers who assembled there was the remnant of the command which had spread terror north of the Ohio, under the command of their dauntless leader, General John Hunt Morgan. Their present chief, worthy to be the successor of that hero, was General Basil Duke. Among the atrocious, cowardly acts of vindictive malice which marked the conduct of the enemy, none did or could surpass the brutality with which the dying and dead body of Morgan was treated. Hate, the offspring of fear, they might feel for the valorous soldier while he lived, but even the ignoble passion, vengeance, might have been expected to stop when life was extinct.
On April 13, 1865, General Johnston wrote to General Sherman as follows:
“The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am therefore induced to address you, in this form, the inquiry whether, to stop the further effusion of blood and the devastation of property, you are willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations; . . . the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.”
General Sherman replied, on the 14th:
“I am fully empowered to arrange with you any terms for the suspension of hostilities between the armies commanded by you and those commanded by myself, and will be willing to confer with you to that end,” etc., etc.
[Snip: The U.S. Government rejected the Johnston surrender as too generous and ordered Sherman to renegotiate. We’re skipping Davis’ lengthy denouncement of this. – JL]
The advice may have been well enough, but, as there was an established channel of communication, and an order of responsibility necessary for effective cooperation in the public service, something more than courtesy required that the Executive should have been advised if not consulted. I had left Charlotte with no other sure reliance against any cavalry movement of the enemy than the force which was with me; that, however, I believed to be sufficient for any probable exigency, if the reinforcements hoped for should not join us on the way.