Sesquicentennial Spotlight: After Appomattox

the reconstructed mclean parlor where lee surrendered to grant at appomattox. (photo by author)

the reconstructed mclean parlor where lee surrendered to grant at appomattox. (photo by author)

Now that the 150th anniversary of Appomattox has passed, the Civil War sesquicentennial is over, right?  Not quite.

Most Americans consider Appomattox the end of the war; that was certainly what I was taught in school when I was younger.  However, Robert E. Lee’s surrender is only the beginning of the end.  When Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox he surrendered only the men under his command, not the entire military force of the Confederate States of America.  In the coming months these other military organizations would surrender separately; the last surrender of an organized Confederate military force would be in November 1865 with the capitulation of the CSS Shenandoah.  In addition, the Confederate government continued to exist until Jefferson Davis was captured in May 1865 and there was still fighting between Union and Confederate troops in that same month.  Many Union soldiers remained in their regiments well into 1866 and 1867 and it was not until August 20, 1866 that President Andrew Johnson issued a presidential proclamation declaring the Civil War over.  Even then, the same debates continued into Reconstruction and some Confederates decided to flee to other countries instead of accept the end of the war.

In truth, it is difficult to pinpoint the end of the Civil War.  There is not specific date that the Confederacy collapsed and waved the white flag of surrender.  The process was piecemeal and slow as individual groups, armies, and regions surrendered to the Union.  And the process of surrender bleed smoothly into the process of Reconstruction, a process that gave great leniency to former Confederates and allowed a continuation of some of the same problems that existed before the war.  Some might even argue that Americans still fight the war today in debates over expressions of Southern pride, race, and the legacy of the war.

Perhaps this is why Americans hold so tightly to the surrender at Appomattox.  It is a clear cut surrender that starts the domino effect of all later surrenders.  Without a definitive end point to the war, the beginning of the end works better in the timeline of the war.  Also crucial is that Lee is at Appomattox.  Even during the war Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were in the spotlight of both nations; his position in the pantheon of Confederate leaders was only solidified further in the Lost Cause after the war.  For many Americans, both then and now, Appomattox sounded a death note for the Confederacy that could not be countered, even though active forces were still in the field.

Even though the anniversary at Appomattox is over, Civil Discourse will continue to follow the anniversaries of surrender through the rest of the year, here on the blog and also on our social media accounts.  Be sure to check back to learn about the lesser known pieces of the war’s end.

Timeline of Civil War Surrenders:
April 9, 1865: Robert E. Lee Surrenders to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, VA
April 9: Battle of Fort Blakely and the surrender of troops under St. John Richardson Liddell
April 14: Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
April 16: Union troops capture Columbus, GA unaware of Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s death
April 21: Mosby’s Rangers disbanded
April 26: Joseph E. Johnston surrenders to William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, NC
May 4: Surrender of the Confederate departments of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana
May 5: Surrender of the Confederate District of the Gulf
May 5: Confederate Jefferson Davis holds last Cabinet meeting and declared the Confederate Government dissolved
May 9: President Andrew Johnson declares armed resistance “virtually” ended
May 10: Confederate President Jefferson Davis captured in Georgia
May 10: Surrender of the Confederate Department of Florida and South Georgia
May 11: Surrender of the Northern Sub-District of Arkansas
May 12: Surrender of William T. Wofford’s troop is North Georgia to Henry M. Judah
May 12-13: The Battle of Palmito Ranch, Texas
May 26: Kirby Smith surrenders the last significant Confederate force to Edward Canby
June 23: Surrender of Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Watie’s troops
November 6: CSS Shenandoah surrenders
August 20, 1866: President Johnson declares the Civil War ended

Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated from Siena College in May 2010 with a B.A. in History and a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies.  She earned her M.A. in History from West Virginia University in May 2012.  Her thesis “A Question of Life or Death: Suicide and Survival in the Union Army” examines wartime suicide among Union soldiers, its causes, and the reasons that army saw a relatively low suicide rate.  She is currently pursuing her PhD at West Virginia University with research on mental trauma in the Civil War.  In addition, Kathleen has been a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park since 2010 and has worked on various other publications and projects.