Friday, April 24, 2015

Peace down east? War out west? It flip-flops

ASHEVILLE, N.C.
     Don't let anyone tell you that the Civil War ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
     Appomattox was pivotal, but it was only the first in a series of surrenders, and Lee's army in Virginia wasn't even the Confederacy's largest.
     The largest surrender of troops was by Gen. Joe Johnston at the Bennett Place near Durham, N.C., on April 26. Gen. Standhope Watie's regiment of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma held out until June 23.
     The last Confederate surrender was in Liverpool, England, of all places. That's where the C.S.S. Shenandoah finally docked Nov. 6, 1865, after sinking or capturing dozens of Union merchant ships, many of them whalers off the coast of Alaska. (Read how the rebels saved the whales.)
     From the standpoint of Stoneman's Raid, the war wasn't over until May 13, when the cavalry learned that Michigan troops had captured the fugitive Confederate President Jefferson Davis May 10 in Irwinville, Ga.
     Uncertainty and misunderstandings about the end of the war would have awful consequences in Asheville, N.C., and Anderson, S.C. 
     Communications in the South were so painfully slow that one lady in Asheville said the first she heard of Lee's surrender was from Yankees on April 2617 days after the fact. The White House and Union generals were getting telegraph reports in real time, but the telegraph and railroad lines in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia had been destroyed by Stoneman, Sherman, and Sheridan.
     Not only were southerners woefully uninformed, but Union troops operating in the South had to deal with outdated intelligence and rampant rumors.
     April 1865 was one of the biggest month for breaking news in U.S. history:
April 9: Gen. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia; ceasefire in Virginia.
April 14-15: Lincoln assassinated; Andrew Johnson sworn in as President.
April 18: Gen. Johnston agrees to surrender Confederate forces in the Carolinas and most of Georgia and Florida. 
April 22: Secretary of War Stanton rejects political terms of Johnston's surrender.
April 24: Sherman orders Stoneman's cavalry to resume raids "to bring Johnston to better terms."
April 26: Johnston surrenders a second time without political concessions.
     In the meantime, crucial military decisions in the mountains were being made based on outdated information. 
     Union Gen. Sherman and Confederate Gen. Johnston agreed to a truce April 18, but the word did not reach Gen. Alvan Gillem, commander of Stoneman's Raid, until Sunday, April 23 as he was about to attack Asheville. For five days, there was peace down east but still war in the west.  
     The same day Gillem found out about the truce (thanks to an epic 110-mile ride by a messenger), Grant told Sherman that the terms of surrender had been rejected in Washington. Now there was peace in the mountains but a renewed state of war between Johnston and Sherman.
    There would be two more flip-flops in the days to come. 
    So Confederate Gen. James Martin and Union Gen. Alvan Gillem had a lot to sort out on Monday, April 24, 1865, when they negotiated the surrender of Asheville. Martin, 46, and Gillem, 34, were both West Point graduates, and their meetings were evidently quite cordial.
     The wily Martin, a lawyer by trade, tried to take advantage of the fast-changing situation. As they negotiated, he asked Gillem to return a four-cannon battery that the Yankees had captured the day before, because technically it had been captured during a cease-fire. Gillem wisely refused, though he was probably amused.
     Gillem had an unusual request, too: "I announced to him my decision to march to Greeneville (Tenn.), and at the same time suggested to him that it would be a great relief to the people if he could supply me with three days' rations, and thus avoid the necessity of stripping the citizens of their scanty supplies."
     Eager to get the Yankees out of Asheville, Martin agreed.
     Before they got to the Tennessee line, though, the situation flip-flopped again, and Stoneman (now in Knoxville) ordered Gillem's cavalry to resume raiding and force the Confederates "to bring Johnston to better terms."
    At sunset April 26, Stoneman's Raid returned to Asheville with a vengeance. That same day, Johnston surrendered unconditionally to Sherman. Now the telegraphs in Washington and points north were clattering with news of peace in the Carolinas, but the mountains were once again at war.

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