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    General Sherman's final demand for Joseph Johnston's surrender, fifteen days after Lee's surrender at Appomattox

    William T. Sherman Autograph Letter Signed. One page, 5" x 8", Raleigh [North Carolina], April 24, 1865, on letterhead reading, "Head-Quarters Military Division of the Mississippi." In full:

    "Genl. Johnston-
    Comd Confederate Armies

    I have replies from Washington to my communication of Apl 18. I am instructed to limit my operations to your immediate command, and not to attempt civil negotiations. I therefore demand the Surrender of your Army on the same terms as were given Genl Lee ["in his" has been struck-through] at Appomattox of Apl 9 inst purely and simply.

    W. T. Sherman
    Maj. Gnl"

    In response to this letter - General Sherman's final demand for surrender - General Johnston surrendered the largest Confederate force two days later, thus ending all major combat of the Civil War.

    In March 1864, General Ulysses Grant, newly appointed by President Lincoln as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, turned his attention to the destruction of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Immediately after receiving his new appointment, Grant designated General William T. Sherman commander of western armies and ordered him to pursue the Army of Tennessee, which numbered 65,000 and was under the command of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. Grant ordered Sherman to inflict as much damage as possible to the Southern countryside. Following Grant's direct orders, Sherman (called "Uncle Billy" by his 98,000 men) set out through Georgia, sowing destruction all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in his famous (and infamous) March to the Sea.

    Along the way he captured the prized city of Atlanta, which made Sherman a household name and endeared him to President Lincoln by helping to assure his reelection. On Christmas Day 1864, his Union armies reached the coast and captured Savannah, providing the general an opportunity to present the city as a Christmas gift to the president via telegram. By January 1865, Georgia's most unwelcomed guest left the state to wreak even more havoc through the Carolinas, which until then, had been untouched by a Union invasion. The march became its own raisons d'être as it proceeded toward its new destination of Goldsboro, North Carolina, while engagement with Johnston became secondary.

    As the Union soldiers kept up an astonishing pace of ten miles a day through the swampy Carolinas, the overly cautious Joseph Johnston kept his distance. In February 1865, General Lee asked President Jefferson Davis to promote Johnston to commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Only reluctantly did Davis, who had a long-standing dispute with Johnston, give the promotion. But while the Confederate president disliked the general, his troops loved him. A responsible and loyal leader, Johnston was reluctant to take his men into battle against Sherman's superior numbers. Knowing that his task was to stop the Union advance, the Confederate general finally attacked Sherman at Bentonville, North Carolina. After three days of fighting in what proved to be the final battle between the two armies, Sherman won. Confident that the war was nearly over and eager to get his men to the end of their march in Goldsboro, he let the Rebel army escape into the night.

    Sherman finally reached Goldsboro on March 23, 1865. Waiting there was Union General John Schofield and his Army of the Ohio, 40,000-strong. The two armies combined with the sole objective now to destroy Johnston's army. On April 10, this wave of Union blue rolled toward the Confederates who were at Greensboro, 145 miles to the west. Two days later, they captured Raleigh, which was only eighty miles from Greensboro. On that same day, Sherman learned that Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse earlier on April 9.

    Johnston also learned of Lee's surrender on April 12. Realizing that any chance of victory was now hopeless, he sought to end hostilities. Under a flag of truce on April 14, he sent Sherman a message asking for his terms of surrender. Sherman replied immediately with a letter stating that he was "fully empowered to arrange with you any terms for the suspension of further hostilities between the armies commanded by and those commanded by myself, and will be willing to confer with you to that end. . . . I undertake to abide by the same terms and conditions as were made by Generals Grant and Lee at Appomattox" (Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, vol. 2 [New York: D. A. Appleton and Company, 1904], 347). The two generals agreed to meet on the morning of April 17 at a farm near Durham. As Sherman boarded the train for the meeting early that morning, the telegraph operator gave him news of the assassination of President Lincoln. At the private meeting with Johnston in a small farmhouse, Sherman informed the general of the assassination. Though the news complicated matters, both agreed to meet again the next day to draw-up the conditions.

    When they met on the 18th in the same house, they agreed to seven surrender terms, which Sherman sent to Washington on the 19th for approval. But the new president, Andrew Johnson, along with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, immediately rejected the terms because they went beyond a military surrender into civil policy. The most disagreeable conditions for Johnson and Stanton absolved the rebels of wrong-doing, allowed the rebel soldiers to give their weapons to their state governments, and restored all political rights, franchises, and property to the citizens of all Southern states. Stanton immediately ordered General Grant to Raleigh to replace Sherman's terms with new ones. Grant, who considered Sherman a friend, arrived at Sherman's headquarters early on the morning of April 24 and informed the surprised Sherman that his terms had been rejected and that new ones must be made immediately. We have the honor of presenting the letter Sherman addressed to General Johnston that very day.

    As soon as the letter was sent, Sherman ordered his officers to prepare to resume their pursuit of Johnston if the new terms were refused. The two generals met one final time on April 26th at noon. Johnston was presented with five new surrender conditions, which included the demand that all weapons be left at Greensboro. Although the generous terms of the first agreement were removed, the Confederate general agreed. All Confederate troops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida - the largest Confederate army at nearly 90,000 men - were surrendered and the Civil War was over. (On that same day, April 26th, John Wilkes Booth was killed in a tobacco barn in Virginia.)

    A fitting coda to these events occurred twenty-six years later at Sherman's funeral in New York City. The eighty-four-year-old Joseph Johnston served as a pallbearer on the bitterly cold February day of the funeral. Out of respect to Sherman, he refused to wear his hat during the ceremony. As the old general stood bareheaded in the cold, a friend suggested he cover his head to stay warm. Johnston replied, "If I were in his place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat" (Wilmer Jones, Generals in Blue and Gray, vol. 2 [Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2006], 69). Johnston caught a cold and died of pneumonia five weeks later.

    The paper has toned and bears minor mat-burn. The "3" in "April 23" has been struck-through and replaced with a "4", certainly by General Sherman. According to Sherman's Memoirs (846), he sent the letter on the 24th.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2010
    26th Saturday
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