A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/Peace
We began the last campaign of the war on April 10, entering Raleigh on the 13th without resistance. The next day we again began to organize our foraging parties, and to make preparations for a campaign back through Georgia. During the day, however, everything was changed. General Johnston, following Lee's surrender on April 9, had sent in asking for terms.
On April 20 I wrote home the following letter:
Camp of the 3rd Wis. Vet. Infty.
Raleigh, N. C., April 20, 1864.
The Angel of Peace has spread his wings over our country once more. The glad tidings were announced to the army last night by General Sherman in general orders. As soon as the agreement which he had made with General Johnston and higher authorities could be ratified at Washington, peace would be restored from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. It was a glorious day for us who have seen this thing through from the beginning to the end. General Sherman also says that he expects "soon to have the pleasure of conducting this army to its homes," and I believe that within six weeks you will see me in Chicago "home from the wars."
I don't know just exactly what the terms of surrender are, but it is the opinion of high officers that no troops will be needed for garrison duty in the South. The rebels have been so completely whipped that they will never want to try another rebellion. I understand that Jeff. made no stipulation for his personal safety, but said he was willing to take his trial before the courts, and trust to the mercy of the American people. The only difficulty in the negotiations was on the question of the confiscation of landed property, and I have not learned how that was arranged. But I believe that we have been so completely victorious that we can afford to be merciful, and that a general amnesty will do more to cement the Union than the most rigorous punishment. The punishment that the South has already endured is like Cain's "greater than they can bear." The destruction of life in this war in the South has been terrible.
The news that Johnston had asked for terms on which to surrender his army was published on the 16th. On the morning of the 17th a gloom was thrown over the whole army by the announcement of the assassination of the President, which was reported to have occurred on the 11th. I never saw such a gloomy, sad time since I have been in the army as that. I don't think we knew how much we did think of him until then. Many expressed the opinion that if it had been Andy Johnson and Stanton, it would not have been much of a calamity. The next day we had New York papers of the 14th which made no mention of the murder, and we all thought we had been hoaxed. Then the explanation was made that the operator at Morehead City had made an error, and that the assassination had been on the 14th instead of the 11th, and now I hardly know what to believe about it. We shall probably get more news today.
We are about to move our camp, and now for the first time comfort instead of safety is considered in the selection. Just think of it! I can hardly realize it. No more skirmishing, no more digging trenches and building breastworks, no more whistling bullets, rattling grape-shot, or screaming shells, no more friends and comrades to be killed or wounded.
I don't know what has become of all my letters lately. The mail has come in here three times, and I have not had a letter. My last letters were dated in February, except one from * * * of March 7. I suppose they will all come in a heap one of these days. * * * The weather is very fine though almost too warm. We have occasional showers, and vegetation is growing fine. This part of North Carolina is very fine country and crops look well.
A great many of Lee's paroled army are coming in here, and they seem more pleased at being whipped or at getting home than we do at having gained a victory. Some of them say they cheered louder when they surrendered than Grant's army when they captured them.
Our camps were now overrun with citizens and paroled Confederate soldiers, who were hunting for horses that they had lost; some of them had come as far as sixty or seventy miles. We gave them all the spare horses that we had, for we knew that the Government would have to help them in some way to keep them from starvation. We also issued to them large quantities of rations, for there was nothing eatable left in all the track of Sherman's army. On the 29th, general orders were issued announcing the formal surrender of Johnston's army.