After the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, North Carolina it became clear that it was just a matter of time that the remainder of the Confederate armies would surrender. Gen. Johnston’s surrender was the largest for the Southern armies with 89,270 soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. His surrender was finalized on April 25, 1865.
Lt. General Richard Taylor was a brother-in-law of Jefferson Davis and also a son of President Zachary Taylor. He was given command of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. After John Bell Hood’s disastrous campaign into Tennessee, Taylor was given command of the Army of Tennessee. Taylor had a total of only 12,000 men in his command.
With the closing of April 1865, knowing full well that all hope was lost for the Confederacy, Gen. Taylor agreed to meet with Union Maj. Gen. E.R.S. Canby for a conference a few miles north of Mobile, Alabama. After learning of the surrender of Lt. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army near Appomattox, Virginia, Canby and Taylor established a truce on April 29th. Two days after the initial truce was established, Taylor received additional news which told of Maj. Gen. Johnston’s surrender to Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina, and of President Jefferson Davis’s capture in Georgia.
With pressure to broker a favorable peace for his army, Taylor elected to surrender rather than initiate a campaign of guerrilla warfare. On the 4th of May at Citronelle, Alabama, Taylor surrendered the last Confederate Army east of the Mississippi. Under the terms of surrender, officers retained their sidearms, and mounted men their horses; all other property and equipment, however, was to be turned over to the Federals. Confederate soldiers under Taylor’s command were paroled, began their long and sad journey’s home, and the war east of the Mississippi was finally over.
The last sizable Confederate Army left in the field was that of the Trans-Mississippi Department commanded by Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Smith’s main area of operation was west of the Mississippi in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, present day Oklahoma, and as far west as the New Mexico Territory. Upon hearing the news of the crippling major surrenders in the Eastern Theater – Lee surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia on the 12th of April and Gen. Johnston the Army of the Tennessee on the 26th – Smith, nevertheless, desired to continue his fight for Confederate Independence.
He remained resolute even as his relatively small 20,000 man force began to melt away into the Texas brush. In a last ditch effort to morale, Smith took a stagecoach on the 18th of May bound for Houston in hopes of mustering more men. Along the way however, the remnants of his army further dissolved when Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, acting in Smith’s name, surrendered the Trans-Mississippi Department on the 26th of May. Finally reaching Houston on the 27th and realizing that he had virtually no troops left to command, Smith reluctantly agreed to surrender his forces and did so officially on June 2nd in Galveston Harbor aboard the Fort Jackson. Thus ended all major and organized Confederate military resistance in North America.
The very last force to surrender was led by Brig. Gen. Stand Watie. He was a leader of the Cherokee Nation and a brigadier general of the Confederate Army. During the Civil War Watie served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (1862–1866). By then, the majority of the tribe supported the Confederacy. A minority supported the Union and refused to ratify his election.
Fearful of the Federal Government and the threat to create a State (Oklahoma) out of most of, what was then, the semi-sovereign “Indian Territory”, a majority of the Cherokee Nation initially voted to support the Confederacy for pragmatic reasons, though less than a tenth of the Cherokee owned slaves. Watie organized a regiment of cavalry. In October 1861, he was commissioned as colonel in the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles.
Although he fought Federal troops, he also led his men in fighting between factions of the Cherokee and in attacks on Cherokee civilians and farms, as well as against the Creek, Seminole and others in Indian Territory who chose to support the Union. Watie is noted for his role in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on March 6–8, 1862. Under the overall command of General Benjamin McCulloch, Watie’s troops captured Union artillery positions and covered the retreat of Confederate forces from the battlefield after the Union took control. However, most of the Cherokees who had joined Colonel John Drew’s regiment defected to the Union Side. Drew, a nephew of Chief Ross, remained loyal to the Confederacy.
He was promoted to brigadier general by General Samuel Bell Maxey on May 10, 1864, though he did not receive word of his promotion until after he led the ambush of the steamboat J. R. Williams on July 16, 1864. He commanded the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, composed of two regiments of Mounted Rifles and three battalions of Cherokee, Seminole and Osage infantry. These troops were based south of the Canadian River, and periodically crossed the river into Union territory.
Among the battles in which he participated were Wilson Creek, Bird Creek, Pea Ridge, and Cabin Creek. In the battle of Cabin Creek, the Confederates routed the Federals and captured about three hundred wagons loaded with supplies, thus, for a time, enabling the destitute Indian Confederates to continue in the war. The total value was estimated at about $1 million. The Confederate Army put Watie in command of the Indian Division of Indian Territory in February, 1865. By then, however, the Confederates were no longer able to fight in the territory effectively.
On June 23, 1865, at Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation, Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives for his command, the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. He was the last Confederate general in the field to surrender.