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.