General Johnston was very reserved, and seemed far less than sanguine.
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
The failure of several attempts to open negotiations with the Federal Government, and notably the last by commissioners who met President Lincoln at Hampton Roads, convinced me of the hopelessness under existing circumstances to obtain better terms than were then offered, i. e., a surrender at discretion. My motive, therefore, in holding an interview with the senior generals of the army in North Carolina was not to learn their opinion as to what might be done by negotiation with the United States Government, but to derive from them information in regard to the army under their command, and what it was feasible and advisable to do as a military problem.
The members of my Cabinet were already advised as to the object of the meeting, and, when the subject was introduced to the generals in that form, General Johnston was very reserved, and seemed far less than sanguine. His first significant expression was that of a desire to open correspondence with General Sherman, to see if he would agree to a suspension of hostilities, the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war. Confident that the United States Government would not accept a proposition for such negotiations, I distinctly expressed My conviction on that point, and presented as an objection to such an effort that, so far as it should excite delusive hopes and expectations, its failure would have a demoralizing effect both on the troops and the people. Neither of them had shown any disposition to surrender, or had any reason to suppose that their Government contemplated abandoning its trust—the maintenance of the Constitution, freedom, and independence of the Confederate States.
From the inception of the war, the people had generally and at all times expressed their determination to accept no terms of peace that did not recognize their independence; and the indignation manifested when it became known that Mr. Lincoln had offered to our commissioners at Hampton Roads a surrender at discretion as the only alternative to a continuance of the war assured me that no true Confederate was prepared to accept peace on such terms. During the last years of the war the main part of the infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia was composed of men from the farther South. Many of these, before the evacuation of Petersburg and especially about the time of Lee’s surrender, had absented themselves to go homeward, and, it was reported, made avowal of their purpose to continue the struggle. I had reason to believe that the spirit of the army in North Carolina was unbroken, for, though surrounded by circumstances well calculated to depress and discourage them, I had learned that they earnestly protested to their officers against the surrender which rumor informed them was then in contemplation. If any shall deem it a weak credulity to confide in such reports, something may be allowed to an intense love for the Confederacy to a thorough conviction that its fall would involve ruin, both material and moral, and to a confidence in the righteousness of our cause, which, if equally felt by my compatriots, would make them do and dare to the last extremity.
But if, taking the gloomiest view, the circumstances were such as to leave no hope of maintaining the independence of the Confederate States — if negotiations for peace must be on the basis of reunion and the acceptance of the war legislation — it seemed to me that certainly better terms for our country could be secured by keeping organized armies in the field than by laying down our arms and trusting to the magnanimity of the victor.
For all these considerations I was not at all hopeful of any success in the attempt to provide for negotiations between the civil authorities of the United States and those of the Confederacy, believing that, even if Sherman should agree to such a proposition, his Government would not ratify it; but, after having distinctly announced my opinion, I yielded to the judgment of my constitutional advisers, of whom only one held my views, and consented to permit General Johnston, as he desired, to hold a conference with General Sherman for the purpose above recited.
Then, turning to what I supposed would soon follow, I invited General Johnston to an expression of his choice of a line of retreat toward the southwest. He declared a preference for a different route from that suggested by me, and, yielding the point, I informed him that I would have depots of supplies for his army placed on the route he had selected. The commissary-general, St. John, executed the order, as shown in his report published in the “Southern Historical Society Papers,” vol. viii, pp. 103-107.
Referring to the period which followed the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, General I. M. St. John, Commissary-General Confederate States Army, writes:
“The bureau headquarters were continued in North Carolina until the surrender of that military department. During the interval preparations were made for the westward movement of forces as then contemplated. In these arrangements the local depots were generally found so full and supplied so well in hand, from Charlotte southwest, that the commissary-general was able to report to the Secretary of War that the requisitions for which he was notified to prepare could all be met. The details of this service were executed, and very ably, by Major J. H. Claiborne, then, and until the end, assistant commissary-general.”
Major Claiborne, in his report, writes:
“Being placed under orders as assistant commissary-general, I forwarded supplies from South Carolina to General J. E. Johnston’s army, and also collected supplies at six or seven named points in that State for the supposed retreat of General Johnston’s army through the State. This duty, with a full determination at the evacuation of this city [Richmond] to follow the fortunes of our cause, gave me opportunity of ascertaining the resources of the country for my department. The great want was that of transportation, and specially was it felt by all collecting commissaries for a few months before the surrender.”