April 1865 saw the Union flag flying over Richmond's buildings for the first time since April 1861. To many the American Civil War was over. Others preferred to continue their fight against the North. But to all intents, the war ended in April 1865. Lincoln was also assassinated in April 1865.
The attack on Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia continued. Union troops were especially successful at Five Forks where nearly 50% of the Confederate force there was taken prisoner.
Grant launched an all-out attack against Lee’s army before dawn. Thick fog covered the attackers and the thinly defended Confederate line was broken in many places. The Army of Northern Virginia pulled back to the Amelia Court House, just 40 miles from Richmond. Panic swept through the Confederacy’s capital and many evacuated the city. Looting and a general breakdown in law and order occurred.
Grant’s men occupied Petersburg. There was nothing between Petersburg and Richmond to stop the approach of Union forces.
Selma was taken – nearly 3,000 Confederate soldiers surrendered here.
The US flag was flown in Richmond as Union troops entered the city. Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled their capital on a train that took them to Danville in Virginia. What was left of the Army of Northern Virginia fled in a westwards direction from the city but the level of command over these men was minimal.
President Lincoln visited Richmond and was greeted and cheered by many African Americans who up to this day had been slaves in numerous households in the city. Grant decided that an active pursuit of Lee’s men was not required. He got his army to follow them but only on a parallel course. Grant hoped that what had happened at Petersburg would lead to Lee’s army imploding with many soldiers simply trying to return home. However, Grant was wary about any attempt by Lee to link up with what was left of Johnston’s men.
General Lee gathered what was left of his command group at Amelia Court House. Here he expected to find rations for his men – but none had been sent.
Lee continued his retreat. But now mutiny was a problem. General Ewell had to surrender his men at Sayler’s Creek when they refused to carry out his order to fight advancing Union troops.
Grant called on Lee to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee was effectively surrounded by a very large Union force.
Lee decided to try to break through Grant’s lines and continue his retreat. However, he cautioned this decision with one rider – if nearby Union cavalry forces were supported by Union infantry, he would surrender. Lee assumed that Grant’s cavalry was further advanced than the infantry. If this was not the case, he believed that any attempted breakout was doomed to failure.
The Army of Northern Virginia fought its last battle. However, it was against Union infantry and Lee stuck to his plan. Lee and Grant met at Appomattox Court House and Grant presented Lee with the terms of surrender. Grant allowed all Confederate officers to keep their own personal weapons (primarily swords) and their horses if they claimed ownership. Lee rode back to what was left of the Army of Northern Virginia and told them: “Go to your homes and resume your occupations. Obey the laws and become as good citizens as you were soldiers.”
In the South, Mobile fell to Union troops when 16,000 troops attacked a much smaller Confederate force.
The Army of Northern Virginia received rations from Grant’s men. In a final address to his men Lee wrote: “With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you a affectionate farewell.”
April 11th: Sherman continued with his task of hunting down what was left of General Johnston’s army.
The Army of Northern Virginia formally surrendered its weapons and flags at Appomattox.
Montgomery in Alabama was occupied by Union forces.
President Lincoln met Grant to discuss the status of the war. In the evening he went to Ford’s Theatre to see the comedy ‘Our American Cousin’. At 22.00, Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth. The assassin made his escape by jumping on to the stage and running off.
Lincoln died at 07.22. At 11.00 Andrew Johnson was sworn in as President.
Wilkes Booth was helped by a doctor as he had badly damaged his leg when he leapt onto the stage during his escape. The doctor, Samuel Mudd, was sentenced to life in prison for helping Booth.
Sherman received a message from General Johnston asking for a cessation of hostilities with a view to negotiating a surrender.
Sherman and Johnston met at Durham Station. During the talks Johnston made it clear that he included other armies in the surrender, not just his own.
Sherman and Johnston continued their discussions. The terms of surrender went beyond military issues. Sherman guaranteed Southerners political rights as laid down in the US Constitution. The document also stated “the US government is not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they abstain from acts of hostility and obey the law.” Sherman received a great deal of criticism regarding this and politicians in Washington DC saw him as interfering in political issues that were outside of his military remit. In his defence, Sherman claimed that he was doing what Lincoln would have wanted as part of his policy of reconciliation.
Jefferson Davis learned of the death of President Lincoln. Lee wrote to Davis advising him that any form of guerrilla warfare against the victorious Union forces was folly.
Lincoln’s body started its journey to Springfield, Illinois.
Grant met with Sherman and criticised him for trespassing on political issues when he drew up the settlement with Johnston. He ordered Sherman to resume hostilities against Johnston until a proper surrender had been negotiated with a political input rather than a sole military one.
Sherman met with Johnston and told him that hostilities would have to begin between the two armies within 48 hours. Johnston informed Jefferson Davis that he would have to surrender to Sherman regardless of what terms were laid down.
General Johnston surrendered his army to Sherman who adopted the same terms as Grant had done for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Sherman even provided Johnston’s men with transport to their homes.
Federal troops surrounded a farm near the Rappahannock River where John Wilkes Booth was hiding along with an accomplice called David Herold. Ordered to surrender, Wilkes decided to fight. He was killed, probably by a federal trooper but possibly by his own hand. Herold surrendered.
Jefferson Davis continued to move further away from Federal forces.
Confederate forces around Mobile surrendered.
By March 1865 the situation for the South was hopeless. Despite this obvious military point, Sherman continued with his policy of destroying anything that might assist the South if he had to make a withdrawal even if the probability of this was negligible.
To hinder Sherman’s advance, Confederate troops destroyed bridges over the Middle Shenandoah. It was a sign of the state the Confederate Army was in as in previous campaigns these bridges would have been the ones used by them. Their assumption, presumably, was that they would be unlikely to use these same bridges again.
Custer led a successful attack against Confederate positions at Waynesborough. This victory all but ended Confederate military activity in the Shenandoah Valley.
Lee sent a letter to Grant that proposed a meeting.
In a sign that many believed the war was coming to an end, Congress created a Bureau for the Relief of Freedmen and Refugees. Once in being, its task was to supervise ownership of abandoned land and providing work for the displaced African American population.
Grant received a message from Lincoln forbidding any meeting with Lee in case discussions drifted into political issues.
Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term in office. Still failing to face reality, the Confederate Congress met to discuss and approve a new design for the Confederacy’s flag.
Sherman marched his army into North Carolina with his main target being Fayetteville. Union forces controlled the port of Wilmington. Therefore supplying Sherman’s large army was relatively easy. The food issue that had a devastating impact on Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was much less of a problem for Sherman.
The Confederate Senate voted in favour (by 9 to 8) of using slaves as troops.
Sherman’s troops entered Fayetteville.
Sherman continued with his policy of destroying any building that might have a future military use if he had to pull back. This time it was Fayetteville’s turn to suffer as shops, machine tool shops, arsenals, foundries etc were all burned down. Sherman’s rule was that no inhabited civilian homes should be touched but no one then could effectively control a fire once it had started and much of Fayetteville, as with many other towns and cities, had wooden based buildings.
Jefferson Davis signed into law the act allowing African Americans to become soldiers in the Confederate Army. It was assumed that any slave who volunteered to fight would be given his freedom once the war was at its end.
Sherman’s men clashed with a Confederate force near Averasborough, North Carolina. The South lost 800 men while Sherman lost 650. However, the Unionists forced back the Confederates who had to retreat.
The North started a major campaign to capture Mobile in Alabama. Major-General E Canby commanded a force of 32,000 men. Against him were 10,000 Confederate troops commanded by General Maury.
The Confederate Congress met for the very last time.
Confederate forces concentrated at Bentonville, North Carolina in an attempt to stop the advance of Sherman. 17,000 men were led by General Joe Johnston. In the immediate vicinity Johnston faced 17,000 Union soldiers but not far away were the remainder of Sherman’s army and other Union units in North Carolina – an extra 90,000 men. Johnston’s task looked hopeless.
Johnston commenced his attack against Union troops. His had initial success but news of the fighting compelled Sherman to move nearly 45,000 Union troops to Bentonville.
March 20th: Sherman’s army easily outflanked Johnston’s army. Sherman decided to concentrate his attack on Johnston’s centre while the flanks were ordered to engage the enemy to ‘keep them busy’ so that they could not reinforce Johnston’s centre. Johnston had to withdraw his army two miles and lost over 2,600 men. Sherman lost 1,500 killed and wounded.
A Union force commanded by Major-General James Wilson started its march to Selma, the last manufacturing city in the Confederacy.
The combined might of the Union Army in North Carolina joined at Goldsborough – 90,000 troops in total. Sherman’s advance north had served another very important purpose – supplies collected in the Carolinas and due for Lee’s army around Richmond never got there as either they were taken by the speedily advancing Union army or the means of transport – mainly rail – had been destroyed. Sherman described his advance as “like the thrust of a sword through the heart of the human body”.
Lee could only muster 35,000 fit men at Petersburg. He decided that they had to break out if they were to live to fight another day. He ordered General John Gordon to lead the breakthrough.
Gordon started his attempt to break out of Petersburg. It was a failure. The Unionist defenders near Fort Stedman, the scene of the attempted breakout, lost 1,500 men killed and wounded. However, the Confederates lost a disastrous 4,000 men – many of whom surrendered.
Grant planned to place his men around Petersburg so that Lee could not initiate any other attempted breakout. His plan was to trap Lee’s army once and for all.
Lincoln met with Grant and Sherman at City Point, Virginia. It was at this meeting that, according to Sherman, Lincoln agreed that any Confederate soldier would become a US citizen immediately he laid down his weapons.
Mobile was besieged by Union forces.
Grant prepared the Army of the Potomac for what he assumed would be the last offensive against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant had an army of 125,000 men while Lee could muster a total of 50,000 men. But many of those in Lee’s army were far from fit enough to fight in battle. Lee still harboured a desire to break out of Petersburg and march to join up with Johnston’s men in North Carolina. It was a plan that he was not able to carry out.
Grant started his attack against the Army of Northern Virginia.
Lee’s army, aided by torrential rain, coped with the attacks. However, Lee had over-extended his army along their defensive front so while he could defend more ground, his line was very thin almost everywhere and very open to a successful assault. For example, near the Dinwiddie Court House, Lee’s men who numbered 10,000 faced 50,000 Union troops.
Confederate forces faced with overwhelming odds started to withdraw from some of their entrenched positions outside of Petersburg.
"American Civil War March 1865". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2014. Web.