April 10, 1865: Joseph Johnston’s Confederacy


The Civil War did not end at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.  A significant part of the Civil War – that of the military campaigns in Virginia – came  to a close that day. But the Confederacy, and thus the war, remained on April 10.  And keep in mind what was the Confederacy in reality at that time?  As had been the case since Major-General William T. Sherman cut through Georgia, the Confederacy was for all practical purposes the Confederate Army as it stood, where ever it stood, as an organized force.   Any discussion about how many rebellious state governments might still claim stars on the flag or how many places were not under Federal garrisons were moot points.  The Confederate government could only exist where its army stood.  And with the events at Appomattox on April 9, the Confederate government had contact with only one army – that under General Joseph E. Johnston.

I alluded to “Lee’s Confederacy” last month.  At this point 150 years ago, the weight of that burden fell to Johnston.  And his “Confederacy” was something like this:


Again, as with the assessment of Lee’s reach and grasp as of March 1865, we have to consider what Johnston could call upon.  If the resource, be that supplies or military units, were not close to a railroad, then Johnston could not call upon the resource to meet any immediate need.  Nor could President Jefferson Davis hope to leverage any forces outside Johnston’s reach, to exact any circumstantial change to the inevitable fall.

There were certainly military formations scattered across the south from South Carolina to Texas that remained in the field.  But neither Davis or Johnston had the ability to control those.  Even the “pocket” of Confederate forces from Bristol to Lynchburg, having just responded to Major-General George Stoneman’s raid to Christiansburg, were out of position to provide support to Johnston.

From his headquarters in Smithfield, on April 9, Johnston ordered the destruction of railroad bridges over the Roanoke River at Gaston and Weldon.  This move was just as much intended to block any move south by Federals operating in Virginia as it was to delay a move by Sherman’s forces to march north to join them.  With that act, save for the station at Danville, Johnston had no “influence” into Virginia.

On April 10, a series of reports trickled into Smithfield from Confederate cavalry.  At 7:10 p.m. that day, Major-General Joseph Wheeler reported, “Enemy advanced toward Smithfield to-day.  They say they are going to Raleigh.”

As I mentioned when discussing “Lee’s Confederacy” in March, the last acts of the Confederacy would play out within that shaded area.  But at this point 150 years ago, one of the main characters in the play – Robert E. Lee – was absent from the stage.  Johnston, the only Confederate commander then standing center stage, inherited a sphere of influence that extended only across the center of North Carolina.

There’s a lot I need to “catch up” on for my sesquicentennial time line – Stoneman, Sherman, and Potter…. but the story line is well known.  That sphere of influence would be cut, parted, and split by many hands.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: