Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Surrender at Bennett Place & Confederate Memorial Day

Bennett Place, Durham, NC.

On this day, 26 April, in the year of Our Lord 1865, the Confederate forces of CS General Joseph Johnston surrendered to US Major General William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, Durham, North Carolina.  This day had, for over a century, been marked as Confederate Memorial Day in Georgia, as it marked the end of hostilities in that state.

Left: CS Gen. Joseph Johnston; Right: US Gen. William Sherman

This momentous surrender marked the definitive end of the Confederate Army of Tennessee and formally ended the resistance of Southern troops in the the State of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  It came a couple of weeks after the surrender of CS General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on 9 April 1865.  The Army of the Tennessee was the primary Confederate field army in the Western Theatre; its surrender, with that of the Army of Northern Virginia, meant that the two chief field armies of the South were defeated.

Joseph Johnston had accepted terms -- the second offered by Sherman, as his first offer had actually been rejected by Washington, DC as too generous -- that resembled those given to Lee by Grant.

This surrender would be the largest of any of Confederate forces, as nearly 90,000 men laid down their arms, not just at Durham with the Army of Tennessee itself (that was about 30,000 of the total), but all Southern forces in Johnston's Department (NC, SC, GA, FL).

For more on Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina, you should note:
Bennett Place Historic Site office webpage

Historical Marker Database: Bennett Place

Civil War Daily Gazette: 26 April 1865

Confederate Rebel Flag.svg
Battle Flag of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.  That of the Army of Northern Virginia had the same pattern, but a square, rather than rectangular, shape.

So ended the history and campaigns of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, famous for its actions at Murfreesboro (Stone's River), Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and the Atlanta campaign, among others.

For more, you might note: Civil War Home: Confederate Army of Tennessee

So, too, was the American Civil War, and the cause of Southern Independence, near its end.

Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg First National flag of the Confederate States of America
Above: State flag of Georgia; Below: First National Flag of the Confederacy, the "Stars and Bars."


This anniversary has long been associated with a commemoration recalling those deceased that served the cause of their states and the Confederate States of America.  Indeed, the practice of remembering the Southern fallen ultimately helped contribute to our wider observance of a Memorial Day.

Thousands of Georgia citizens served their own state and the short-lived Confederacy with diligence and honor, even if they had initially opposed the motion to secede.  Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens of Georgia was once such opponent of secession that remained loyal to his own state and eventually held that high office of the South.

These men fought to oppose an invasion, and uphold a belief well expressed by Confederate General, and later Governor of Georgia, John B. Gordon:
"The South maintained with the depth of religious conviction that the Union formed under the Constitution was a Union of consent and not of force; that the original States were not the creatures but the creators of the Union; that these States had gained their independence, their freedom, and their sovereignty from the mother country, and had not surrendered these on entering the Union; that by the express terms of the Constitution all rights and powers not delegated were reserved to the States; and the South challenged the North to find one trace of authority in that Constitution for invading and coercing a sovereign State."
cf., General Gordon's Reminiscences

Men like this blogger's great-great grandfather, Thomas J. Cole, who hadn't even worn shoes prior to his service, gave limbs (my ancestor, a solider of the 3rd Georgia Reserve, lost a leg) and lives when their home state called.  In his case, he was a lad of just 16 years old that, with his father, served honorably.

The merits of secession as it occurred can certainly be debated.  The respective attitudes and actions of the Cotton States (seceding before Lincoln was inaugurated) and the Tobacco States (seceding only after Lincoln demanded they contribute troops to invade the Deep South -- Virginia having earlier voted against secession) certainly present two different paths to an attempted separation from the United States.  All of these states sought, in part, to defend legal slavery as it had been protected under the United States Constitution, and all of these states sought to depart the Union through elected conventions and in an orderly and legal fashion.

It was the decision of an American President to coerce member states to remain a part of the United States that inaugurated Civil War.  The citizens of Georgia, having voted in convention to secede from the United States, sought to defend their home from the invasion that followed.  They ultimately failed.  A free union preserved through coercion, it would be, and at the cost of 600,000 lives.

Today, however, we recall, in gratitude, the sacrifices of those that responded to their state's call.

Let us pray for their peaceful repose.

Last Monday, 24 April, was a "state holiday" in the State of Georgia, and was formerly labelled as Confederate Memorial Day.  While the official name may have been expunged owing to contemporary sensibilities, "A holy and wholesome thought it is to pray for the dead, for their guilt’s undoing." (2 Mac. 12:46)

Deo vindice.

Live well.

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