The End: War is Over

By Dr. Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journa

City of Baton Ruge was one of worst devastated on the entire South
When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, in April 1865, most Confederate generals realized the war was lost and began surrendering from east to west like falling dominoes. Word of Lee's surrender reached Louisiana on April 19 and news of Abraham Lincoln's assassination the following day. Nonetheless, from his headquarters in Shreveport, Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith told his soldiers on April 21 that the cause was not yet lost. "With you," he declared, "rests the hopes of our nation, and upon your action depends the fate of our people." Smith pointed out that the Trans-Mississippi Department still had ample men and supplies, and declared his intentions to continue the fight.

While some soldiers and civilians agreed with Smith that the war could still somehow be won, most gave way to despair. Confederate money was traded for specie at greatly inflated prices, and the costs of basic food items soared. In Shreveport, robberies and other violent crimes increased so much that even General Smith was forced to travel with an armed guard.

General John Pope, who commanded Union forces in the far west, contacted Smith through a flag of truce and presented him copies of the surrender terms Grant gave Lee. After threatening that Grant's and Sherman's armies would now move west to confront him, Pope offered Smith the same terms.

On May 9, Smith replied to Pope that the "propositions for the surrender of the troops under my command are not such that my sense of duty and honor will permit me to accept." That same day, he also contacted the Confederate governors of Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri and asked that they meet with him to help form future policies on how best to continue the war. The governors met in Marshall, Texas, on May 13 (without Smith), but, to the general's disappointment, they recommended that he disband his armies and surrender the department.

Having lost the civilian government's support, Smith dutifully sent word to Pope that he was now willing to discuss terms.

In the meantime, many Confederate soldiers made their own decisions. Across Louisiana, entire regiments disbanded without authorization, and the men simply went home. Some soldiers who had not been paid in more than two years broke into government warehouses for badly needed supplies and were furious to find huge stockpiles of currency. Realizing resistance was futile, many quartermasters simply opened their doors and let the men take what they wanted.

On May 18, General Smith left Shreveport and transferred his headquarters farther out of the enemy's reach to Houston, Texas. However, when he arrived on May 20, he learned that virtually all of the Texas troops had deserted, as well. Finding himself a general without an army, Smith surrendered on June 2. Instead of a climactic finish, the Civil War had ended with a whimper.

During the four years of war, approximately 600 battles had occurred in Louisiana, and the state now lay in ruins. Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and Port Hudson were the largest battles, but smaller ones occurred in such places as Pontchatoula, Donaldsonville, Harrisonburg, Transylvania, and Vidalia, and along bayous Lafourche and Teche and the Red and Mississippi rivers. Many towns were burned, hundreds of plantations and homes were destroyed, most of the livestock had been taken off or killed, unattended fields were overgrown with weeds, and levees and railroads were broken up. Even worse, approximately 15,000 of the 65,000 Louisiana men who served in the Confederate army were dead and thousands more disabled.

Because each Civil War company was raised from one area, some communities lost an entire generation of men. An extreme example is the Pelican Rifles from DeSoto and Natchitoches parishes. The Pelican Rifles company was assigned to the 2nd Louisiana and became part of the famous Louisiana Tigers, who fought under Robert E. Lee. During the war, 151 men served in the company, but only 32 survived. Of those, 31 were wounded. The death toll among civilians, both black and white, was also tremendous, but there is no way of calculating exact numbers.

Thousands of other Louisianians had fought, and sometimes died, for the Union. Most notably were the 24,000 African Americans who served in the Union army. More black soldiers came from Louisiana than any other state, and virtually all of the black officers in the Union army were Louisianians.

When the Civil War began, Louisiana had the highest per capita income of any Southern state. When the war ended, it had the lowest. It would take decades for the state to recover from the disaster that was the American Civil War.

This is the last of Dr. Terry L. Jones's monthly articles commemorating the Civil War sesquicentennial. The fifty articles are being published in a book that will be available through Amazon books in this summer. "Louisiana in the Civil War: Essays for the Civil War Sesquicentennial" will be available in both Kindle and paperback editions.