On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, marking the beginning of the end of the grinding four-year-long American Civil War. But it would be more than 16 months before President Andrew Johnson would declare a formal end to the conflict in August 1866.
Appomattox was undoubtedly a decisive victory for the Union, and Grant’s peace agreement with Lee would provide a blueprint for other generals around the country. So why did it take so long for the war to officially end after that?
The Next to Fall
For one thing, Lee had surrendered only his Army of Northern Virginia to Grant. A number of other Confederate forces still remained active, starting with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, the second-largest Confederate army after Lee’s.
On April 12 in North Carolina, Johnston and his men received news of Lee’s surrender. The next day, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union cavalry captured Raleigh, pushing Johnston’s forces westward. Under relentless pressure from Sherman, Johnston reached out to discuss peace terms. After the newly sworn-in President Johnson and his cabinet rejected an initial accord which gave generous political concessions to the South, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to resume fighting. Johnston, knowing his back was to the wall, refused. On April 26, Sherman and Johnston signed a new surrender agreement, along the same lines as Grant and Lee’s Appomattox accord.
In the biggest surrender of the Civil War, Johnston gave up around 90,000 soldiers in all—virtually all remaining Confederate troops in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. When news of Johnston’s surrender reached Alabama, the next domino fell: Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, the son of President Zachary Taylor and commander of some 10,000 Confederate men, concluded a similar peace with his Union counterpart in the region and surrendered his army on May 4.