Here is a look at what was happening in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. The war is winding down, and John Wilkes Booth is winding up. Of all the terrible battles we’ve covered through recent years, this week and next are the most difficult to describe. It really makes one wish time machines had been invented so we could go back and warn Lincoln and/or stop Booth.
But we can’t. A curse of blood and hatred was on the land, and things had to play out just as they did. Our role is only to chronicle them and learn everything we possibly can from these tragedies.
One more thing – towards the end of this week, we’ll hear the N-word, which I will write out this time, considering who says it and what he was about to do.
For contrast with this week’s great events, let’s also follow something relatively small but infinitely important to those involved. US General John Croxton and his brigade were on their own in rural Alabama…after raiding Tuscaloosa and burning the university there.
Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battle of Spanish Fort continues.
Military events: Alabama operations/Wilson’s raid: After hitting Tuscaloosa and burning the university there, US General John Croxton, who is supposed to rejoin General Wilson, is lost. As his troops wryly refer to themselves as the “Lost Brigade,” Croxton heads west, towards Columbus, Mississippi. (37) This may have been a feint, with the actual plan to move on the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad that ran between Demopolis, Alabama, and Meridian, Mississippi. There is much looting and skirmishing through the day. The battles above involved, I think, a detachment Croxton sent toward Columbus (more information here) as well as Croxton’s main force. At one point, fighting extends in a line almost 30 miles long between Romulus and Northport. Croxton finally withdraws to Northport. His detachment is unable to reach him and instead heads for Union lines at Decatur, over 100 miles away. (38)
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: John Surratt arrives in Montreal and registers at a hotel as John Harrison, although Confederate operatives in Canada know him as Charley Armstrong. Booth is in Boston to see his brother Edwin. Edwin says the fall of Richmond is “a great blessing to mankind,” but Booth doesn’t argue with him. No one today knows what business John Wilkes and Edwin Booth discuss. John Wilkes Booth later sees a friend and gives him an inscribed ring. When asked what the occasion is, Booth tells the man, “I’ll never see you again.” (21)
Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battle of Spanish Fort continues.
Virginia operations: Cumberland Church. The battle of High Bridge ends.
Military events: Virginia operations: The “surrender correspondence” begins.
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Kauffman doesn’t specify a date, but around this time Booth returns to New York where he meets Sam Chester again. Booth is drunk and rather combative. In a bar, Booth assures Chester that he has given up the scheme to kidnap Lincoln. Chester, nervous, tries to change the subject, and Booth slams his hand down on the table, saying, “What an excellent chance I had to kill the President, if I had wished, on Inauguration Day! I was on the stand, as close to him nearly as I am to you.”
Chester says, “You’re crazy, John. What good would that do?
“I could live in history.”
Chester tells him there’s glory in a stage career, if Booth will go back to it. Booth shakes his head, telling Chester that he’s just like Booth’s brother Edwin. (21)
Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battle of Spanish Fort ends. Though the port is closed, Mobile will remain in civilian hands for a few more days.
Virginia operations: Appomattox Station.
Other: Between April 8th and the 11th, “Lieutenant W. H. Parker [CSA], commander of the Midshipmen who were escorting the Confederate archives and treasury, arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, from Danville…and deposited the important cargo in the Confederate Mint located in that city. While awaiting further orders, Parker learned that a Union cavalry detachment was nearby and since the city was without military protection, the naval officer, on his own initiative, prepared to move the archives and treasury southward. He added the uniformed personnel of the local Navy Yard to his escort, bringing its numbers up to 150 and drew quantities of provisions from the naval warehouse. Parker offered the protection of his command to Mrs. Jefferson Davis, who had only recently arrived in Charlotte, and strongly urged that she accompany him southward. Mrs. Davis accepted Parker’s offer, and on the 11th the Navy-escorted entourage bearing the archives, treasury, and first lady of the Confederacy set out from Charlotte.” (25, including quote)
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Around this time, Booth returns to Washington, but stops along the way in Philadelphia, where he meets an old friend and says, “You will hear from me in Washington. I am going to make a big hit.” (21)
Battles: Virginia operations: Appomattox Courthouse.
Military events: Virginia operations:
APPOMATTOX COURT-HOUSE, VA.
April 9, 1865
General R. E. LEE:
In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by U. S. authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 9, 1865
Lieut. Gen. U. S. GRANT:
I have received your letter of this date containing the terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia as proposed by you. As they are substantially the same as those expressed in your letter of the 8th instant, they are accepted. I will proceed to designate the proper officers to carry the stipulations into effect.
R. E. LEE,
This is a good time to take a break and read Thomas Nelson Page’s short story, “The Burial of the Guns.” Not coincidentally, it begins with the word “Lee” and ends with the word “God.”
Meanwhile, in the real world, as the news of Lee’s surrender spreads, Mosby’s rangers aren’t sure if they are included, as they are irregular forces. They break off a foraging mission and head into the Maryland area to find him and ask about their status. A few of them will meet the fugitive John Wilkes Booth next week and help him. (21)
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Booth returns to Washington and checks back in to the National Hotel. (21)
Military events: General Lee issues General Orders No. 9, his farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia. (27)
Other: CS President Davis hears of Lee’s surrender and orders the relocation of the Confederate government to Greensboro, North Carolina. (27)
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: The day dawns with a 500-gun salute in Washington (27), and there’s partying in the streets all day. George Atzerodt and Louis Weichmann are out in it. Atzerodt is cheering and Weichmann tells him he’s crazy. Atzerodt suddenly quiets down and says, “You will find out before long that I am not half as crazy as you imagine.” Booth, meanwhile, is depressed. He goes to a shooting gallery for some pistol practice and then heads over to Mary Surratt’s boardhouse, where he meets Weichmann, who says something about the Confederacy having “gone up.”
“No!,” says Booth. “It is not gone up yet.” He pulls out a map and explains how General Joseph Johnston’s forces might still escape from Sherman. Weichmann is uncomfortable and tries to talk Booth into returning to the stage. Booth says he’s through with that and the only play he wants to do now is Venice Preserved. Weichmann doesn’t know that’s about a plot to assassinate the leaders of Venice.
Booth later is at Ford’s Theatre and tells Ned Spangler, a stagehand who has been helping him keep a carriage out in the back alley, that he has no need for the carriage and Ned should clean it up and sell it. This was the carriage they were going to carry Lincoln away in after they had kidnapped him. (21)
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Mary Surratt has Louis Weichmann drive her to Surrattsville to settle some financial matters. They want to use Booth’s carriage, but he has sold it. He gives them money to rent one. On the way, Mrs. Surratt and Weichmann meet one of the men who hid firearms at the Surratt Tavern in Surrattsville after the aborted kidnapping attempt. Mary Surratt asks him if the firearms are still there. He says they are, and she tells him to get them ready as they will be called for soon. In the alley behind Ford’s Theatre, Ned Spangler tells Booth he couldn’t sell the carriage at an auction. Booth suggests he try selling it privately and asks, “You will help me, won’t you?”
Spangler says, “Of course.” (21)
In the evening, Lincoln addresses a crowd at the White House. At the front of the crowd are Booth and David Herold, listening closely to see if the US will take radical steps against the South. When Booth hears Lincoln say, “It is also satisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers,” Booth explodes, saying, “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through.” Booth turns on his heel and storms away. (21)
Military events: Alabama operations/Wilson’s Raid: Wilson captures Montgomery. (27)
Alabama operations/Mobile: US forces occupy Mobile. (6)
Virginia operations: “The official surrender ceremony of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia took place. Federal troops lined the main road of Appomattox, and the Confederates formally, silently laid down their arms and banners. Brevet Major General Joshua L. Chamberlain, presiding over the Federal ceremony, ordered a salute to the surrendering troops. General John B. Gordon, the designated Confederate commander, returned the salute.
President Davis met with his remaining top commanders, Generals Joseph Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, at Greensboro. Davis informed the commanders he intended to continue fighting. The generals informed Davis that their scant forces could not resist Major General William T. Sherman’s mighty Army of the West. Davis finally consented to Johnston negotiating with Sherman.” (27, including quote)
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Spangler sells the carriage. Booth stops by Ford’s to pick up his mail and tells some men there, “We are all slaves now.” (21)
(2) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).
(3) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).
(4) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(6) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(8) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(11) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.
(12) The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion…, Richard Miller Devens (1866).
(14) The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., 1995.
(15) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)
(16) The Sword of Lincoln, the Army of the Potomac. Jeffrey Wert (2005)
(17) Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War I (PDF), Roger D. Cunningham.
(18) Siege of Petersburg, Wikipedia.
(20) James F. Epperson’s Siege of Petersburg site.
(21) Michael W. Kauffman. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. New York. 2004. (Note: I use this source heavily for details of the assassination; it is probably the best general-information book on the assassination out there. However, for balance, here is an informed review of its pros and cons, and much, much more.)
(22) Timeline 1865. State of Tennessee
(23) Up From Slavery. Booker T. Washington
(24) Civil war battles in Alabama list.
(25) Naval History of the Civil War. History Central.
(26) Arthur F. Loux. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day. McFarland & Company. Jefferson, North Carolina. 2014. (Note: I have more confidence in Kauffman’s dates (source 23, above), but will use this to work in the other conspirators and events. Take these dates as general times of the month unless backed up by Kauffman.)
(27) The Legacy of the Civil War: April 1865.
(29) The Final Campaign. Talladega County American History & Genealogy Project
(30) The Mobile Campaign: Battle of Fort Blakely and Spanish Fort. Blakeley State Park.
(31) Wilson’s Raid. Wikipedia.
(32) The Evacuation and Burning of Richmond, Virginia. (PDF)
(34) Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond. James C. Clark. McFarland & Company. Jefferson, North Carolina. 1984.
(35) The Papers of Jefferson Davis, timeline. Rice University
(36) The Battle of Appomattox Court House. (Wikipedia)
Categories: American Civil War