Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant



When I left Appomattox I ordered General Meade to proceed
leisurely back to Burkesville Station with the Army of the
Potomac and the Army of the James, and to go into camp there
until further orders from me. General Johnston, as has been
stated before, was in North Carolina confronting General
Sherman. It could not be known positively, of course, whether
Johnston would surrender on the news of Lee’s surrender, though
I supposed he would; and if he did not, Burkesville Station was
the natural point from which to move to attack him. The army
which I could have sent against him was superior to his, and
that with which Sherman confronted him was also superior; and
between the two he would necessarily have been crushed, or
driven away. With the loss of their capital and the Army of
Northern Virginia it was doubtful whether Johnston’s men would
have the spirit to stand. My belief was that he would make no
such attempt; but I adopted this course as a precaution against
what might happen, however improbable.

Simultaneously with my starting from City Point, I sent a
messenger to North Carolina by boat with dispatches to General
Sherman, informing him of the surrender of Lee and his army;
also of the terms which I had given him; and I authorized
Sherman to give the same terms to Johnston if the latter chose
to accept them. The country is familiar with the terms that
Sherman agreed to CONDITIONALLY, because they embraced a
political question as well as a military one and he would
therefore have to confer with the government before agreeing to
them definitely.

General Sherman had met Mr. Lincoln at City Point while visiting
there to confer with me about our final movement, and knew what
Mr. Lincoln had said to the peace commissioners when he met them
at Hampton Roads, viz.: that before he could enter into
negotiations with them they would have to agree to two points:
one being that the Union should be preserved, and the other that
slavery should be abolished; and if they were ready to concede
these two points he was almost ready to sign his name to a blank
piece of paper and permit them to fill out the balance of the
terms upon which we would live together. He had also seen
notices in the newspapers of Mr. Lincoln’s visit to Richmond,
and had read in the same papers that while there he had
authorized the convening of the Legislature of Virginia.

Sherman thought, no doubt, in adding to the terms that I had
made with general Lee, that he was but carrying out the wishes
of the President of the United States. But seeing that he was
going beyond his authority, he made it a point that the terms
were only conditional. They signed them with this
understanding, and agreed to a truce until the terms could be
sent to Washington for approval; if approved by the proper
authorities there, they would then be final; if not approved,
then he would give due notice, before resuming hostilities. As
the world knows, Sherman, from being one of the most popular
generals of the land (Congress having even gone so far as to
propose a bill providing for a second lieutenant-general for the
purpose of advancing him to that grade), was denounced by the
President and Secretary of War in very bitter terms. Some
people went so far as to denounce him as a traitor–a most
preposterous term to apply to a man who had rendered so much
service as he had, even supposing he had made a mistake in
granting such terms as he did to Johnston and his army. If
Sherman had taken authority to send Johnston with his army home,
with their arms to be put in the arsenals of their own States,
without submitting the question to the authorities at
Washington, the suspicions against him might have some
foundation. But the feeling against Sherman died out very
rapidly, and it was not many weeks before he was restored to the
fullest confidence of the American people.

When, some days after my return to Washington, President Johnson
and the Secretary of war received the terms which General Sherman
had forwarded for approval, a cabinet meeting was immediately
called and I was sent for. There seemed to be the greatest
consternation, lest Sherman would commit the government to terms
which they were not willing to accede to and which he had no
right to grant. A message went out directing the troops in the
South not to obey General Sherman. I was ordered to proceed at
once to North Carolina and take charge of matter there myself.
Of course I started without delay, and reached there as soon as
possible. I repaired to Raleigh, where Sherman was, as quietly
as possible, hoping to see him without even his army learning of
my presence.

When I arrived I went to Sherman’s headquarters, and we were at
once closeted together. I showed him the instruction and orders
under which I visited him. I told him that I wanted him to
notify General Johnston that the terms which they had
conditionally agreed upon had not been approved in Washington,
and that he was authorized to offer the same terms I had given
General Lee. I sent Sherman to do this himself. I did not wish
the knowledge of my presence to be know to the army generally; so
I left it to Sherman to negotiate the terms of the surrender
solely by himself, and without the enemy knowing that I was
anywhere near the field. As soon as possible I started to get
away, to leave Sherman quite free and untrammelled.

At Goldsboro’, on my way back, I met a mail, containing the last
newspapers, and I found in them indications of great excitement
in the North over the terms Sherman had given Johnston; and
harsh orders that had been promulgated by the President and
Secretary of War. I knew that Sherman must see these papers,
and I fully realized what great indignation they would cause
him, though I do not think his feelings could have been more
excited than were my own. But like the true and loyal soldier
that he was, he carried out the instructions I had given him,
obtained the surrender of Johnston’s army, and settled down in
his camp about Raleigh, to await final orders.

There were still a few expeditions out in the South that could
not be communicated with, and had to be left to act according to
the judgment of their respective commanders. With these it was
impossible to tell how the news of the surrender of Lee and
Johnston, of which they must have heard, might affect their
judgment as to what was best to do.

The three expeditions which I had tried so hard to get off from
the commands of Thomas and Canby did finally get off: one under
Canby himself, against Mobile, late in March; that under Stoneman
from East Tennessee on the 20th; and the one under Wilson,
starting from Eastport, Mississippi, on the 22d of March. They
were all eminently successful, but without any good result.
Indeed much valuable property was destroyed and many lives lost
at a time when we would have liked to spare them. The war was
practically over before their victories were gained. They were
so late in commencing operations, that they did not hold any
troops away that otherwise would have been operating against the
armies which were gradually forcing the Confederate armies to a
surrender. The only possible good that we may have experienced
from these raids was by Stoneman’s getting near Lynchburg about
the time the armies of the Potomac and the James were closing in
on Lee at Appomattox.

Stoneman entered North Carolina and then pushed north to strike
the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. He got upon that road,
destroyed its bridges at different places and rendered the road
useless to the enemy up to within a few miles of Lynchburg. His
approach caused the evacuation of that city about the time we
were at Appomattox, and was the cause of a commotion we heard of
there. He then pushed south, and was operating in the rear of
Johnston’s army about the time the negotiations were going on
between Sherman and Johnston for the latter’s surrender. In
this raid Stoneman captured and destroyed a large amount of
stores, while fourteen guns and nearly two thousand prisoners
were the trophies of his success.

Canby appeared before Mobile on the 27th of March. The city of
Mobile was protected by two forts, besides other
intrenchments–Spanish Fort, on the east side of the bay, and
Fort Blakely, north of the city. These forts were invested. On
the night of the 8th of April, the National troops having carried
the enemy’s works at one point, Spanish Fort was evacuated; and
on the 9th, the very day of Lee’s surrender, Blakely was carried
by assault, with a considerable loss to us. On the 11th the city
was evacuated.

I had tried for more than two years to have an expedition sent
against Mobile when its possession by us would have been of
great advantage. It finally cost lives to take it when its
possession was of no importance, and when, if left alone, it
would within a few days have fallen into our hands without any
bloodshed whatever.

Wilson moved out with full 12,000 men, well equipped and well
armed. He was an energetic officer and accomplished his work
rapidly. Forrest was in his front, but with neither his
old-time army nor his old-time prestige. He now had principally
conscripts. His conscripts were generally old men and boys. He
had a few thousand regular cavalry left, but not enough to even
retard materially the progress of Wilson’s cavalry. Selma fell
on the 2d of April, with a large number of prisoners and a large
quantity of war material, machine shops, etc., to be disposed of
by the victors. Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and West Point fell in
quick succession. These were all important points to the enemy
by reason of their railroad connections, as depots of supplies,
and because of their manufactories of war material. They were
fortified or intrenched, and there was considerable fighting
before they were captured. Macon surrendered on the 21st of
April. Here news was received of the negotiations for the
surrender of Johnston’s army. Wilson belonged to the military
division commanded by Sherman, and of course was bound by his
terms. This stopped all fighting.

General Richard Taylor had now become the senior Confederate
officer still at liberty east of the Mississippi River, and on
the 4th of May he surrendered everything within the limits of
this extensive command. General E. Kirby Smith surrendered the
trans-Mississippi department on the 26th of May, leaving no
other Confederate army at liberty to continue the war.

Wilson’s raid resulted in the capture of the fugitive president
of the defunct confederacy before he got out of the country.
This occurred at Irwinsville, Georgia, on the 11th of May. For
myself, and I believe Mr. Lincoln shared the feeling, I would
have been very glad to have seen Mr. Davis succeed in escaping,
but for one reason: I feared that if not captured, he might get
into the trans-Mississippi region and there set up a more
contracted confederacy. The young men now out of homes and out
of employment might have rallied under his standard and
protracted the war yet another year. The Northern people were
tired of the war, they were tired of piling up a debt which
would be a further mortgage upon their homes.

Mr. Lincoln, I believe, wanted Mr. Davis to escape, because he
did not wish to deal with the matter of his punishment. He knew
there would be people clamoring for the punishment of the
ex-Confederate president, for high treason. He thought blood
enough had already been spilled to atone for our wickedness as a
nation. At all events he did not wish to be the judge to decide
whether more should be shed or not. But his own life was
sacrificed at the hands of an assassin before the ex-president
of the Confederacy was a prisoner in the hands of the government
which he had lent all his talent and all his energies to destroy.

All things are said to be wisely directed, and for the best
interest of all concerned. This reflection does not, however,
abate in the slightest our sense of bereavement in the untimely
loss of so good and great a man as Abraham Lincoln.

He would have proven the best friend the South could have had,
and saved much of the wrangling and bitterness of feeling
brought out by reconstruction under a President who at first
wished to revenge himself upon Southern men of better social
standing than himself, but who still sought their recognition,
and in a short time conceived the idea and advanced the
proposition to become their Moses to lead them triumphantly out
of all their difficulties.

The story of the legislation enacted during the reconstruction
period to stay the hands of the President is too fresh in the
minds of the people to be told now. Much of it, no doubt, was
unconstitutional; but it was hoped that the laws enacted would
serve their purpose before the question of constitutionality
could be submitted to the judiciary and a decision obtained.
These laws did serve their purpose, and now remain “a dead
letter” upon the statute books of the United States, no one
taking interest enough in them to give them a passing thought.

Much was said at the time about the garb Mr. Davis was wearing
when he was captured. I cannot settle this question from
personal knowledge of the facts; but I have been under the
belief, from information given to me by General Wilson shortly
after the event, that when Mr. Davis learned that he was
surrounded by our cavalry he was in his tent dressed in a
gentleman’s dressing gown. Naturally enough, Mr. Davis wanted
to escape, and would not reflect much how this should be
accomplished provided it might be done successfully. If
captured, he would be no ordinary prisoner. He represented all
there was of that hostility to the government which had caused
four years of the bloodiest war–and the most costly in other
respects of which history makes any record. Every one supposed
he would be tried for treason if captured, and that he would be
executed. Had he succeeded in making his escape in any disguise
it would have been adjudged a good thing afterwards by his

As my official letters on file in the War Department, as well as
my remarks in this book, reflect upon General Thomas by dwelling
somewhat upon his tardiness, it is due to myself, as well as to
him, that I give my estimate of him as a soldier. The same
remark will apply also in the case of General Canby. I had been
at West Point with Thomas one year, and had known him later in
the old army. He was a man of commanding appearance, slow and
deliberate in speech and action; sensible, honest and brave. He
possessed valuable soldierly qualities in an eminent degree. He
gained the confidence of all who served under him, and almost
their love. This implies a very valuable quality. It is a
quality which calls out the most efficient services of the
troops serving under the commander possessing it.

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