Evidence That Jefferson Davis Planned Guerilla War



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June 29, 2004
Appendix to
Chapter 9: “Why Reconciliation Happened”


Evidence That Jefferson Davis Planned Guerilla War



Richard J. Sweeney *

McDonough School of Business


Georgetown University


37th and “O” Streets, NW

Washington, DC 20057

(O) 1-202-687-3742

fax 1-202-687-7639, - 4130

email sweeneyr@georgetown.edu

Abstract: The U.S. was very fortunate that the defeated Confederates did not turn to guerilla war. Some authors stress how close the U.S. was to guerilla war by claiming that Confederate President Jefferson Davis planned to turn to guerilla war, rather than have Confederate armies surrender and go home. The evidence that Davis planned for guerilla war is thin. Most of the evidence is built on interpretation of the proclamation he issued in Danville, Virginia, on April 5, 1865, but this can at best be interpreted as an oblique and subtle call for guerilla war. Davis had many occasions in the last month of the Confederacy that he could have used to call for guerilla war, but he never did.


Appendix to
Chapter 9: “Why Reconciliation Happened”

Evidence That Jefferson Davis Planned Guerilla War


Abstract: The U.S. was very fortunate that the defeated Confederates did not turn to guerilla war. Some authors stress how close the U.S. was to guerilla war by claiming that Confederate President Jefferson Davis planned to turn to guerilla war, rather than have Confederate armies surrender and go home. The evidence that Davis planned for guerilla war is thin. Most of the evidence is built on interpretation of the proclamation he issued in Danville, Virginia, on April 5, 1865, but this can at best be interpreted as an oblique and subtle call for guerilla war. Davis had many occasions in the last month of the Confederacy that he could have used to call for guerilla war, but he never did.

Appendix to


Chapter 9: “Why Reconciliation Happened”

Evidence That Jefferson Davis Planned Guerilla War1

From the discussion of the behavior of high Confederate military and civilian leaders, it is clear that there was little enthusiasm for guerilla warfare, and no official call for it. These leaders might, however, have decided for guerilla war; their decision was not a foregone conclusion. In light of Lee’s personality and temperament, he seems unlikely ever to choose guerilla war, but his behavior at Appomattox and later was more reconciliatory than might have been expected even of him. Had Lee not encouraged Mosby and his men to surrender, Mosby might have led some type of partisan warfare in Virginia. Perhaps a bigger threat was Forrest; he was charismatic, famous, and had more men. He bitterly pondered alternatives to surrender for several days. His main alternative was to lead his men to Mexico (though it is not clear that he would have continued the fight from Mexico). The reasons because of which he decided on surrender and on making a strong appeal for good behavior (see paper) are not clear, though he had stated that he despised bushwackers such as Quantrill2.

Confederate attitudes towards partisan war changed over the course of the war. The Confederate Congress passed the Partisan Ranger Act of April, 1862, allowing formation of partisan groups, but attempting to control such groups. On the one hand, the civilian and military leaders in Richmond were leery of guerilla or partisan warfare. On the other hand, a number of Confederate officers in the field supported guerilla warfare. General Thomas Hindman drew up terms authorizing guerilla warfare in Missouri that seemed to meet his superiors’ concerns for regulation and control of the fighters, but essentially authorized and supported bushwhacking (Brownlee 1958). Hindman and his colleagues and successors, including Edmund Kirby Smith, resisted pressures from other Confederate officers and civilian leaders to clamp down on the guerillas.

As Winik (2002, pp. 163-164) notes:


By 1864, … because of the heightened number of atrocities committed by bushwackers in the West, as well as the penchant for plunder that virtually all guerilla bands displayed, powerful Southern voices called for repeal of the Partisan Ranger Act…. Finally, in early 1865, the Confederate Congress revoked the act and the government ended its sanctions of all partisan groups, with two notable exceptions: Mosby’s rangers in the north [of Virginia], and McNeill’s partisans in western Virginia.
Lee was among those who strongly favored repeal. Mosby’s forces were by no means comparable to the guerillas in say Missouri, who were not part of the Confederate army and were under no Confederate control (Brownlee 1958). In Union General Phillip Sheridan’s campains in the Shenandoah Valley, he came to agree to treat Mosby’s men as he did with other prisoners of war (Foote 1986, pp. 805-806). Confederate commanders often complained that guerillas not in the army would not obey. Eventually, the Confederate government threatened to turn over to Federal forces those guerillas who would not join the Confederate army and accept army discipline.3

At the end, in April and May, 1965, minor Confederate civilian leaders urged continuing the fight with guerilla war, but virtually all Confederate national leaders opposed guerilla war. The major possible exception is Jefferson Davis, the subject of this appendix. A number of authors assert that Davis planned on, or at least entertained seriously, the idea of turning to guerilla war. Other authors do not explicitly address the issue of whether Davis planned on or seriously considered turning the Confederacy to guerilla war. Davis’s intentions regarding partisan or guerilla warfare are not clear, and may well have varied over the period from his abandonment of Richmond on April 2 to his capture on May 9, 1865. The evidence is at best mixed that he ever seriously considered calling for guerilla war. Some authors interpret some of what Davis said and wrote as supporting the view he contemplated guerilla war. Other authors appear never to have considered such interpretations of the same evidence.



The Last Days of the Confederate Government. It was Lee who proposed to Davis that Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia abandon the defense of Richmond and Petersburg, and escape from Grant’s besieging army. Lee would then join Johnston in North Carolina, and attempt first to defeat Sherman’s army and then Grant’s (Winik 2002, pp. 31-32). Lee put this plan into action on April 2, and Davis and the Confederate government left Richmond late that evening by train, for Danville, Virginia, the new Confederate capital.4 At Danville, on April 5, Davis issued an optimistic announcement to the public regarding the abandonment of Richmond. Towards the end of the statement, he wrote: (J. Davis 1923, pp. 529-531, italics added):

We have now entered upon a new phase of the struggle. Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense; with an army free to move from point to point and strike in detail the garrisons and detachments of the enemy; operating in the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible and where the fore will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse, nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve. Let us but will it and we are free…5

In some authors minds, the phrase “new phase of the struggle” refers to guerilla war. Of course, this is only one possible interpretation. Further, Davis referred to the “army,” and forewent an opportunity to rally support for a guerilla war.

Davis told General Braxton Bragg on April 4 that his military goal remained the prevention of a junction of Sherman and Grant (Cooper, p. 524). Lee’s surrender on April 9 was a surprise and a major blow to Davis.6 Nevertheless, on April 12, Davis expressed the hope of gathering deserters and conscripts to create an army large enough to give the Confederacy a chance. Davis’s emphasis on gathering up deserters and conscripts to rebuild the size of Confederate armies was a theme in his thinking through the last months of the Civil War, and he appeared to pin much of his hopes on this rebuilding. On April 13, “I think we can whip the enemy yet if our people will turn out.” (Woodworth 1995, p. 324, italics added.) This appears to be a hope of rebuilding the size of the Confederate armies, through the return of stragglers and deserters, and a flood of new volunteers, rather than a hope of massive turn out for guerilla war.

When Davis met with Generals Johnston and Beauregard on Thursday, April 13, to plan strategy, he still held out hope: resistance could and must continue until the North tired and let the South go. Johnston, Beauregard and most of his cabinet told Davis, however, that the time had come to ask for terms from Sherman. In response, Davis authorized Johnston to seek terms from Sherman, and at Johnston's request wrote out a note of the terms that Johnston signed; the note authorized only discussion of “cessation of hostilities so that civil authorities in states could act to end the war.” (Cooper, pp. 525-526.) Davis said he had no confidence in this initiative, and believed that the federal government would reject it—but he followed the advice of his cabinet and generals.

Cooper (pp. 526-527) argues that at this time,


Davis hoped to reach Confederate forces in the Gulf States or even in the Trans-Mississippi where he could carry on the fight. To him, waging a guerilla campaign was not an acceptable option. His closest aide, William Johnston, reported him as saying, “Guerillas become brigands, and any government is better than that.”7
(The quote is from a speech of Davis’s close aide, William Preston Johnston, dated June 2, 1875.)

Joseph Johnston wrote to Sherman on April 14, asking to meet to discuss terms, and they met on April 15. Davis had forbidden Johnston to discuss surrender, and his U.S. civilian superiors had forbidden Sherman to discuss any arrangements but surrender. Nevertheless, the two decided to meet the next day with Major General John C. Breckinridge8, Confederate Secretary of War, to discuss a settlement that would encompass the surrender of all Confederate troops, not just Johnston’s army. At that meeting on April 16, Sherman drew up a generous document, the “Memorandum, or Basis for Agreement.”9 Johnston and Breckinridge accepted the generous terms, on the condition that the final decision rested with the Confederate civilian government (ultimately, Davis); Sherman made clear that the terms were subject to approval by the Federal civilian government.10

Meanwhile, Davis had left Greensboro on April 15, Holy Saturday; Lincoln had died in the early hours of that morning, after being shot the night before, Good Friday. Davis arrived at Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 19. There, on April 22, having finally received Sherman’s written terms, Davis asked that each of his cabinet members submit in writing his views on whether to accept Sherman’s terms, and what to do if they should decide to reject the terms. Each advised accepting the terms, arguing that there was no way to support an army east of the Mississippi, and most argued that fighting would likely degenerate into guerilla war.11 Breckinridge saw “no possibility of assembling, equipping and maintaining a large army east of the Mississippi.” He said: “I think we can no longer contend with reasonable hope of success.” Because of the cabinet’s views, Davis reluctantly agreed to Confederate armies’ surrender on Sherman’s terms; 12 he believed, however, that the federal government would reject these terms, forcing the armies to fight on (Cooper, p. 528, Winik 2002, p. 259, W. Davis 2001, pp. 188-189).

Note that the discussion was all in terms of maintaining a viable, traditional army, not going to guerilla warfare. In particular, Breckinridge explicitly raised and deprecated the possibility of conflict degenerating into guerrilla war. W. Davis (1991, p. 515) writes:

And if the government should reject the Sherman proposal and continue the fight, the contest “will be likely to lose entirely the dignity of regular warfare. Many of the States will make such terms as they may; in others, separate and ineffective hostilities may be prosecuted, while war, wherever waged, will probably degenerate into that irregular and secondary stage out of which greater evils will flow to the South than to the enemy.”
Breckinridge appears to have argued in effect that surrender was desirable because the alternative was so awful; Breckinridge appears to have believed that the potential of conflict degenerating into guerilla war would sway Davis towards surrender. If Davis had intimated to Breckinridge or other cabinet members that he looked favorably on guerilla war, surely one or all would have addressed him directly on the point, or at the least have made extensive arguments in opposition to guerilla war. The same is true for Beauregard and Johnston when they met with Davis on April 13-14, 1865.

After the cabinet meeting, Davis made a brief impromptu speech to some Confederate soldiers. He told them that “the ‘cause is not yet dead.’ ‘Determination and fortitude’ could still bring victory.” (Cooper, p. 527.) This was at best an oblique, counterproductive way to call for guerilla warfare.

Davis seemed reluctant to surrender, but did not seem to contemplate guerilla war. While still in Charlotte, Davis met with North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance (Cooper, p. 528, italics added):

Davis talked of crossing the Mississippi and suggested that Vance come along with as many North Carolina troops as he could muster. After a momentary silence, Breckinridge said further fighting served no purpose. Sadly, Davis concurred. Yet when approached by officers who had escaped at Lee’s surrender or were not present at Johnston’s, he encouraged them to head south and keep up the fight.13


But note that this encouragement is consistent with fighting on as an army, and nowhere urges guerilla war.

On April 23, Davis wrote to his wife Varina Davis (Cooper, p. 529):


The issue is one that is very painful for me to meet. [He envisioned agonizing options.] On the one hand is the long night of oppression which will follow the return of our people to the “Union”; on the other, the suffering of the women and children, and carnage among the few brave patriots who would still oppose the invader, and who, unless the people would rise en-masse to sustain them, would struggle but to die in vain.
Even if the struggle of a “few brave patriots” is taken as an oblique reference to guerilla war, J. Davis sees no profit there. Further, in the same letter, he said that he planned to leave Charlotte quite soon and might get across the Mississippi.14

his views that resistance could and must continue until the Northern people and their leaders grow weary enough to negotiate a peace that acknowledges Southern independence. “Our late disasters are terrible,” he admitted, “but I do not think we should regard them as fatal. I think we can whip the enemy yet if out people turn out.”


Meanwhile, Lee took actions that put pressure on Davis to surrender. First, he wrote a communiqué (April 20) to Davis describing his surrender and putting forward reasons for it. In the communiqué, Lee said,

The apprehensions I expressed during the winter, of the moral condition of the Army of Northern Virginia, have been realized…. Except in particular instances, [operations] were feeble; and a want of confidence seemed to possess officers and men. This condition, I think, was produced by the state of feeling in the country, and the communications received by the men from their homes, urging their return and the abandonment of the field…. From what I have seen and learned, I believe an army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia, and as far as I know the condition of affairs, the country east of the Mississippi is morally and physically unable to maintain the contest unaided with any hope of ultimate success. A partisan war may be continued, and hostilities protracted, causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country, but I see no prospect by that means of achieving a separate independence. It is for Your Excellency to decide, should you agree with me in opinion, what is proper to be done. To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace. (Dowdey and Manarin 1961, pp. 938-939, italics added.)


As Winik (2002, p. 314) remarks, “Lee … well knew that word of his letter would seep out in the rest of the Confederacy…” Certainly, this put pressure on Davis to surrender. It is not at all clear that Lee thought the key danger was that Davis contemplated guerilla war.

Further, the New York Herald on April 29 published quotes from an interview that Lee had given in Richmond to its reporter. The quotes were favorable to the terms that the federals had given Lee, and Lee urged people to be good citizens (Winik, pp. 315-316):

Lee condemned the assassination of Lincoln…”deplorable,” beyond execration,” “A crime,” “unexampled”… he celebrated the end of slavery (“I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished,” “the best men of the South have long been anxious to do away with this institution,” “slavery [is] forever dead”) … the reporter was struck by the degree to which Lee talked throughout, freely and noticeably, as “a citizen of the United States.” The South, Lee stressed, “was anxious to get back into the Union and to peace.”
It is unclear that news of Lee’s interview remarks reached Davis before his capture on May 10—after May 2, Davis received little information (see below).

The new U.S. president, Andrew Johnson, and his cabinet were outraged at the terms Sherman had offered Johnston, and at Sherman for overstepping his authority.15 On April 24, Grant told Sherman that the terms were rejected, and the same day Sherman informed Johnston by note that the offer was withdrawn and the truce would end the next day unless Johnston surrendered on the same terms Lee had. (Johnston received Sherman’s information shortly after receiving Davis’s agreement to surrender on Sherman’s initial terms.) Johnston asked Secretary of War Breckinridge for instructions. In response, Davis ordered Johnston not to surrender, but to withdraw with his light artillery, his cavalry and as many infantry as could find mounts for. He furthered ordered Johnston to break his remaining infantry into small groups, with orders to escape and reassemble beyond the reach of Union troops. Johnston, however, disobeyed orders and surrendered his forces on April 26 on the same terms as Lee.16

Davis’s orders to Johnston, on April 26, not to surrender but to fight on, had envisaged a mounted, highly mobile force, which would later join with reassembled infantry, if possible. Clearly, if Davis had in mind some type of guerilla warfare, his ideas were very different from the proposals Alexander had put to Lee before Lee’s surrender. Recall, these involved Lee’s (largely) infantry forces slipping away to the countryside, to move as rabbits or partridges in areas of Virginia familiar to many of the men, perhaps eventually to make their way to their states to rally around their governors. Possibly Davis had in mind the same ultimate design, but if so, it is not clear why the infantry men should first move on to a further area, where for the most part they would be unfamiliar with the countryside. Further, one must wonder why Davis did not order that the infantry in North Carolina should turn to guerilla war, rather than trying to slip away to reassemble (Woodworth 1995, p. 326). Rather, it appears that when Davis gave his April 26 orders to Johnston, Davis planned to use the salvageable part of Johnston’s forces as a mobile army, with the goal of joining up with Taylor (or Forrest) east of the Mississippi or ultimately with Kirby Smith west of the Mississippi.

After Johnston’s surrender on April 26, Davis pressed on by horseback and carriage with his dwindling group of civilian supporters and approximately 3,000 cavalry troopers from Tennessee and Kentucky. His plan still appeared to be to escape from Sherman and join either Taylor or Kirby Smith’s forces. On May 2, having reached Abbeville, South Carolina, Davis called a meeting of his remaining cabinet officers, in particular Breckinridge, and also General Braxton Bragg (who had joined Davis May 1) and the six brigadiers commanding the approximately 3,000 Tennessee and Kentucky cavalry troopers who were guarding Davis’s group. Davis expressed his view that,

Even if the troops now with me be all that I can for the present rely on, 3,000 brave men are enough for a nucleus around which the whole people will rally when the panic which now afflicts them has passed away. (Foote 1986, p. 1005.)

The brigadiers expressed their view that the country was not undergoing panic, but exhaustion. (This implied that deserters and stragglers, let alone new conscripts, would not be swarming back to Confederate armies.) They said they would, however, aid Davis in his flight. Davis made a final plea to fight on, but changed no minds. He said, “Then all is indeed lost.” (Foote 1986, p. 1006.) He sent away most of his group, including the cavalry troopers. He did not order the troopers to conduct guerilla war, however, or even suggest it; he had them paid and dismissed from service (Cooper, pp. 530-535). Davis moved on with a small band, evidently in hopes of getting to the Trans-Mississippi. What type of warfare Davis might have waged there is unclear. But for the rest of the time until his capture early on May 10, Davis did not issue a call for guerilla warfare, either of the type Edward Porter Alexander had suggested or of a type involving cavalry raids.

Davis told people travelling with him, and civilians he met in South Carolina, that he personally would not surrender as long as there were any Confederate troops who had not surrendered. This sounds like a proud man who would not let down Confederate soldiers as long as they fought on. Cooper (2000, p. 531) interprets Davis’s behavior as “retain[ing] command of himself. He spoke bravely and talked about carrying on the fight.” Cooper notes, however, that, “he consistently acknowledged and acted on the realistic assessments of this secretary of war and military commanders.” On his trek in South Carolina and then Georgia, Davis nowhere called for all-out guerilla warfare. Of course, it is possible he might later have done so had he reached Trans-Mississippi.

Historians’ Debates over Confederate Strategy. The charge that Davis contemplated continuing the fight with guerilla warfare arises in part from the conflict among historians over the military strategy that the South “should” have followed.17 Gallagher (1997, p. 117) describes the source of the academic debate:

The Confederacy lost. Assuming it had begun the conflict with at least some chance of victory, it must have relied on a flawed strategy. If that were the case, what strategic alternative should Confederates have chosen?


A number of authors argue that the Confederacy suffered many more casualties than were necessary by relying too much on offensive moves (see McWhiney and Jamieson 1982). One school argues that the South should have turned to “a wide-scale guerilla resistance from the beginning.” (Gallagher 1997, p. 120). For example, Gallagher (1997, pp. 123-124) quotes Robert L. Kerby as suggesting “a war of national liberation,” citing “Mao, Che Gueverra, Fanon, Giap, Ho Chi Minh and others.” Kerby suggests the Confederacy should have turned to “a mobile-route army to cover her heartland … as Washington covered the interior of the Middle States [during the American Revolution], and with the commitment of the remainder of her forces to hit-and-run harrying operations.”

Gallagher (1997, p. 125) notes that some authors argue that, “as late as Appomattox guerilla warfare could have defeated the North.” (Presumably, this is aimed in particular at Beringer et al., 1986, among others.)18 Referring to Davis’s Danville declaration, on April 4, (“We have now entered upon a new phase of the struggle… Relieved from the necessity of …”) Gallagher (1997, p. 141) asserts, “For those enamoured of the guerilla option, Davis’s address has seemed to indicate that he belatedly recognized the merits of such a national strategy.” As seen above, other interpretations are possible.

One of Davis’s close aides later (1875) quoted him as saying, “Guerillas become brigands, and any government is better than that.” (Cooper, pp. 526-527.) On the one hand, after the war Davis refused to ask for pardon, but on the other hand urged reconciliation between North and South (Foote, 1974, p. 1058). J. Davis’s (1958) memoirs of the Confederacy show no evidence that guerilla war was his fixed purpose at the end, or even a serious option in his mind, but he wrote his memoirs long after the events, and may have omitted plans that at a later date would have seemed dishonorable.

Nevertheless, many authors are convinced that Davis not only considered but planned a guerilla war. Winik (p. 377) writes that Lee believed Davis planned for guerilla war. He argues that Lee’s aim in the sentence in his April 20 report, “A partisan war may be continued… and the hostilities protracted, causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country….” was to dissuade Davis from pursuing guerilla war. Winik offers no evidence to support the view that Lee believed that Davis planned for guerilla war. Further, an alternative interpretation of this passage is that Lee meant to warn Davis to be on guard to snuff out any attempts by subordinates to turn to guerilla war. As support for his views that Davis planned for guerilla war, Winik offers a citation of Thomas (1979).

Thomas (1995), in his biography of Lee, offers the same view of Davis’s plans. In the context of Alexander’s plea on April 9, that Lee’s army “scatter like rabbits and partridges in the woods,” Thomas writes, “He Lee [had] to consider a guerilla phase of this war, because he knew that Jefferson Davis was committed to just such a recourse.” Thomas offers a citation to his earlier work, Thomas (1979) to support his contention that Davis was so committed.

Trudeau (1996) rather casually accuses Davis of planning guerilla war:

Much has been said about Lee’s humanity in refusing even to consider ordering his army to scatter and continue the conflict in a guerrillalike fashion. In so acting, Lee responded no differently than any of his peers when presented with similar options. To the Confederate officer class, the prospect of social disorder was far more terrifying than the shame of surrender. Joseph E. Johnston actually defied an order from Jefferson Davis to scatter his army and instead surrendered it for that very reason. Also rejecting the guerrilla option were Richard Taylor and Edmund Kirby Smith. Lee’s action was quite in line with this way of thinking.
Trudeau offers no evidence to support his view of J. Davis’s commitment to guerrilla war; instead he refers to a discussion in Thomas (1979).

Four books focus on the flight of the Confederate government in April and May, 1865: Hanna (1938), B. Davis (1982), Ballard (1986) and W. Davis (2001) (W. Davis (2001) is the most useful and complete). It is useful to look at their treatment of J. Davis’s April 5 Danville proclamation (“We have now entered upon a new phase ... Relieved from the necessity …,”; see above). They reach quite different conclusions. Hanna (1938) and B. Davis (1982) mention nothing about J. Davis planning guerilla war. It is not clear what Ballard (1986) has in mind when he discusses J. Davis and guerilla war. W. Davis (2001) believes J. Davis contemplated guerilla war.

Regarding the Danville proclamation, Hanna (1938, p. 17) says nothing about any intention for guerilla war. He writes:

Probably with the purpose of instilling new hope in the people of the South and to counteract discouragement over the loss of Richmond, President Davis issued a proclamation on the day following his arrival in Danville. It gave, unmistakably, the impression that the head of the Confederacy had no intention of relinquishing the struggle. ‘I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of the Confederacy,’ asserted the proclamation; “let us … meet the foe with fresh defiance, with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.” Desperation rather than reason obviously produced such a statement.


B. Davis (1982) writes of the Danville proclamation:
On April 5, … Davis issued a proclamation exhorting the people of the South to further exertions…. Davis’s call to his people, as a biographer of [Secretary of State Judah] Benjamin wrote, was a cry of ‘desperation rather than reasoned hope.”

Ballard (1986, p. 37) writes:

The desperate president was proposing a war of persistent guerrilla-type harassment and was personally pledging never to give up. [He attaches the note (p. 71, n. 14):] Despite what some historians have written, Davis words do not indicate an advocacy of guerrilla war per se. The South still had enough men in the army in April 1865 to wage an effective guerrilla war. A recent study has concluded, however, that ‘the Confederate establishment would have found guerrilla warfare incongenial to its view of war.’” [He then cites Hattaway and Jones (1991).]
It is hard to know what Ballard means in these sentences taken as a whole.

W. Davis (2201) asserts that Davis planned guerilla war. His argument essentially relies on the Danville declaration of April 5, 1865 (“We have now entered upon a new phase … Relieved from the necessity of…”) In his earlier book on J. Davis, W. Davis (1991, pp. 608-609) offers the same argument: “… a policy of partisan warfare on a grand scale.” (See also W. Davis, 1996, where he does not make this case, pp. 155-156).

In his discussion of Why the Confederacy Did Not Fight a Guerrilla War After the Fall of Richmond, Frederickson (1996) also bases his discussion on the Danville declaration of April 5, 1865 (“We have now entered upon a new phase ... Relieved from the necessity of…”). He writes (pp. 7-8):

In effect, Davis was proposing that Lee disperse his army before it could be cornered and that the Confederacy shift from fighting a conventional war in defense of territory and population centers to a guerrilla war of attrition meant to wear down the North and force it to conclude that keeping the South in the Union was not worth the sacrifices that had to be made…. It is legitimate for historians to ask why this option was not pursued…. Charles Francis Adams raised this question… In his paper on “Lee at Appomattox,” Adams focused on Lee’s decision to rage at Davis’s advice and keep his army intact until its surrender rather than dividing and dispersing it while he still had a chance to do so….


Frederickson cites Thomas (1979, pp. 300-304) as support for the view that “Davis was proposing that Lee disperse his army … and that the Confederacy shift … to a guerrilla war …”19 From above, it is clear that Thomas’s (1979) views, that Davis contemplated guerilla war, may be a misinterpretation.

Most readers decide that in his memoirs, Johnston (1959) attempts to shift blame to J. Davis, and generally to put Davis in a bad light. Nowhere in his memoirs, however, does Johnston accuse Davis of planning guerilla war, and J. Davis (1958) asserts in his memoirs that he planned on conventional war. In light of the accepted hostility between Davis and Johnston, it seems peculiar that Johnston does not refer even to rumors of Davis’s plans for guerilla war, if indeed there were any evidence that Davis planned on guerilla war. Certainly, Johnston considered guerilla war dishonorable.



Thomas’s Argument That Jefferson Davis Planned Guerilla War. Thomas’s (1979, pp. 300-306) argument, cited by a number of other authors, is the most elaborate. Thomas makes the case that Davis and a small number of other Confederates, “a tiny minority of Southerners,” planned to switch to guerilla war, “a fight to the knife.” Thomas’ argument starts with Davis’s proclamation from Dansville (above, “We have now entered on a new phase … Relieved from the necessity …”). Thomas then asserts that (italics added),

The ‘new phase’ of which the president spoke was a guerrilla phase. Davis proposed to fight on from the hills or wherever Confederates kept the faith …. And there were other Southerners who shared the President’s dream.20

He cites as an example a letter to Davis from Confederate cavalry General Wade Hampton [April 19, 1865], and gives the quotation:

The main reason urged for negotiation [for peace] is to spare the infliction of any further suffering on the people. Nothing can be more fallacious than this reasoning. No suffering which can be inflicted by the passage over our country of the Yankee armies can equal what would fall on us if we return to the Union.


Hampton, however, is not proposing guerilla war, but an escape to Texas, to continue the struggle there21. Thomas continues: “In a more direct vein, another cavalry general, Thomas T. Mumford, wrote orders to his dispersed brigade [April 21, 1865].

We still have a country, a flag, an army, a Government. Then to horse! … Let us who struck the last blow as an organized part of the Army of Northern Virginia strike the first with that victorious army, which, by the blessings of our gracious God, will yet come to redeem her hallowed soil.”


Davis received the Hampton letter, but the Mumford orders may never have reached Davis. Note that the Hampton letter and the Mumford orders were both written after Johnston, along with Breckinridge, in negotiations that Davis had authorized, had agreed on April 16 to surrender all of the Confederate armies to Sherman under his “Memorandum, or Basis for Agreement.” Indeed, Hampton’s letter was in reaction to the surrender, urging Davis not to accept it. When Mumford gave his orders on April 21, Davis had not yet received the terms and thus had not decided whether to accept them (he received them from Breckenridge on April 22, asked for written comments from his cabinet, and decided to accept the terms on April 24, 1865). Mumford clearly appears to be urging his troops from the Army of Northern Virginia to fight on, though Lee had surrendered. The exact nature of the fight is unclear, however; some of the members of Lee’s army that were not covered by his surrender sought to join Johnston’s army, and there is little evidence that others turned to guerilla war.

Lee wrote to Davis on April 20, 1865. Thomas analyzes Lee’s communiqué, including a quote from Lee:

He [Lee] took some pains to speak of the issue of a ‘new phase’ of the war.

A partisan war may be continued and hostilities protracted causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country, but I see no prospect of achieving a separate independence.

What Lee meant by “a separate independence” was independence within a defined place with stable relationships among people. The independence for which Davis grasped was that of a guerilla nomad who might have to conduct reprisals against his own people. What Davis now asked was that Southerners make the ultimate sacrifice: that of themselves and their fundamental attachment to people and place. The overwhelming majority of Southerners would have none of it.
In fact, as seen above, Lee’s letter was fuller (Dowdey and Manarin 1961, pp. 938-939) and seems to make a different point. Lee seems to make the case that Davis has no real choice but to surrender. “An army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia, … the country east of the Mississippi is morally and physically unable to maintain the contest unaided with any hope of ultimate success.” Lee goes directly to the only fight conceivably left, “A partisan war may be continued, and hostilities protracted, causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country, but I see no prospect by that means of achieving a separate independence.” This can read as saying that both Lee and Davis would abhor a partisan war [and more strongly a guerrilla war], but this was the only option left, and should and would, of course, be rejected. Besides, a partisan war would not result in the “separate independence” that both Lee and Davis desired. Lee does not seem to be trying to talk Davis out of a partisan war; rather he seems to be warning Davis that if he did not surrender, he would get the unacceptable horror—unacceptable to Davis, in Lee’s mind—of partisan war. And Lee seems to believe that what Davis actually wanted was a “separate independence”; he does not seem to be making any attempt to argue that this is what Davis should want.

Thomas goes on (p. 304):

A few days after Lee explained his rejection of the partisan option, on April 25, the President ordered Joe Johnston to begin the war’s new phase… Davis ordered Johnston to disband his infantry and appoint a future rendezvous for the men in order that they might continue the fights as partisans …. Like Lee, Johnston chose surrender, on April 29, instead of a partisan war, and he did so in the face of a direct order to the contrary.
But J. Davis (1958, italics added) himself had a very different view of what he wanted Johnston should do rather than surrender:

He [Johnston] should retire with his cavalry, and as many infantry as could be mounted upon draught-horses and light artillery, the rest of the infantry to be disbanded, and a place of rendezvous appointed. It was unnecessary to say anything of the route, as that had been previously agreed on, and supplies placed on it for his retreating army. This order was disobeyed, and he sought another interview with Sherman…


Johnston’s line of retreat was open, and supplies had been placed upon it. His cavalry was superior to that of the enemy, as had been proved in every conflict between them. Maury and Forrest and Taylor still had armies in the field—not large, but strong enough to have collected around them the men who had left Johnston’s army and gone to their homes to escape a surrender, was well as those who under similar circumstances had left Lee. The show of continued resistance… would have overcome the depression which was spreading like a starless night over the country…
Had General Johnston obeyed the order sent him from Charlotte, and moved on the route selected by himself [see J. Davis 1958, p. 681], … he could not have been successfully pursued by General Sherman. His force, untied to what I had assembled at Charlotte, would … have been sufficient to vanquish any troops which the enemy had between us and the Mississippi River.
Johnston published his Narrative in 1874, but he lived until 1891, and certainly had the opportunity to add the charge of plotting guerilla war to his feud with Davis, but he did not. It appears Johnston did not believe Davis was plotting guerilla war.


1 Works cited in this appendix are found in the References to “Secession, the EU, and Lessons from the U.S Civil War: Why Didn’t the U.S. Civil War Go On and On?”

2 See Brownlee (1958) and Fellman (1989) for discussion of guerilla warfare in Missouri.

3 Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge sent his brother to Kentucky to warn guerillas that, if the did not join regular units and accept army discipline, they would be turned over to federal troops.

4 Varina Davis and their children had left for Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 29.

5 In Woodworth’s (1995, p. 320) view:

He had been right, of course, in his claim that southerners could win their independence if as one man they determined to fight until they succeeded or were all dead, though it might have taken decades. That, however, was out of the question. The resolve of the southern people had been thoroughly quenched and too few of them willed any longer the sort of freedom of which Davis spoke.

See the quote from Lee’s April 20 communiqué (below) for the low state of morale among Confederate troops.

McPherson, in Boritt (1992) writes: “the will of either the northern or southern people was primarily a result of military victory rather than the cause of it.” For a similar view, see McPherson (1988). Winik (2002) qualifies this view by pointing out that terror attacks can sometimes stimulate public will, e.g., allied strategic bombing of Germany in the second world war. Wiley (1954, graph between p. 34 and p. 35) gives his qualitative time-series estimate of Southern morale, which he believes depended directly on the success and failure of the army.



6 On April 8, an officer reached Davis from Lee’s army, and said that he did not believe Lee could reach safety, and thought Lee’s surrender imminent (eighteen-year old Lt. John Wise, son of the Confederate ex-governor of Virginia Henry A Wise—see B. Davis, 1985, pp. 51-52, 57). On April 10, though he had had no official word, J. Davis informed Joseph Johnston that there was “little doubt” about Lee’s fate. Later on April 10, Davis received reliable information that Lee had surrendered, and prepared to move to Greensboro, North Carolina, near Johnston’s headquarters. (Cooper, pp. 525.) He did not receive official confirmation of Lee’s surrender until April 13, when Breckinridge arrived and informed him.

7 Brownlee (1958) argues that Davis opposed guerilla warfare, and thus General Tom Hindman had to provide sham, ineffective instructions for guerillas as cover.

8 On Breckinridge, see W. Davis (1973, 1996).

9 Half an hour into the meeting, Johnston received a finished version of a memorandum from John Reagan, which Breckinridge and Johnston had earlier discussed with Reagan. (Reagan was Confederate post-master general, and was traveling with Davis’s group. (Johnston 1959) Despite Sherman’s later denials, the memo seems to have influenced Sherman’s terms (Fellman 1995, p. 244). Johnston (1959) states that he read the memo to Sherman, and that “Sherman wrote very rapidly the memorandum that follows [ie., the “Memorandum, or Basis of Agreement”], with the paper presented by me before him.”

10 Sherman had learned prior to the meeting on April 16 that Lincoln had been murdered, and he informed Breckinridge and Johnston of this before negotiations started.

11 Some excerpts from the written comments of cabinet members (Apr. 22-23) on Sherman’s initial surrender document (Roland 1923, pp. 568-585):

Secretary of State Judah Benjamin: “… we could not at the present moment gather an army of 30,000 men by a concentration [italics added] of all our forces east of the Mississippi River… the struggle can no longer be maintained in any other manner that by a guerrilla or partisan war… Such a warfare is not in my opinion desirable, nor does it promise any useful result …”


Secretary of War, John C. Breckinridge: “The contest if continued after this paper is rejected will be likely to lose entirely the dignity of regular warfare… the war, wherever waged, will probably degenerate into that irregular and secondary stage, out of which greater evils will flow to the South, than to the enemy…”
Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory: “ I advise you to accept these propositions… I do not believe that by any possibility we could organize, arm and equip and bring into 6he field this side of the Mississippi, fifteen thousand men within the next sixty days… A guerrilla warfare might be carried on in certain portions of our country for a time, perhaps for years; but while such a warfare would be more disastrous to our own people that it could possibly be to the enemy, it would exercise little or no influence upon his military operations or upon his hold upon the country…. “
Postmaster General John H.Reagan: “I must advise the acceptance of the terms of the agreement…. [T]he despair of our people will prevent a much long continuance of serious resistance, unless they shall be hereafter urged to it by unendurable oppression….:


12 Johnston (1959, pp. 410-411) states that:

In the afternoon of the 24th, the President of the Confederacy, then in Charlotte, communicated to me, by telegraph, his approval… and, within an hour, a special messenger… brought two dispatches from General Sherman. In one… the Government of the United States rejected the terms of peace agreed on by us; and in the other he gave notice of the termination of the armistice in forty-eight hours from noon of that day.



13 W. Davis (1996, p. 151) writes: “Breckinridge, on his own authority, exempted General Wade Hampton and his cavalry from Johnston’s later surrender [i.e., on April 26] and allowed Hampton to try to get his command to the Trans-Mississippi.” See Foote 1986, pp. 1002-1003 for more on Hampton’s plans; he seemed to envisage leading his cavalry troops to the Trans-Mississippi to join with Kirby Smith. In J. Davis (1958), two letters from Hampton make clear that, after Johnston accepted the first surrender agreement, Hampton proposed to form as large a cavalry troop as possible to get to the Trans-Mississippi. (See a footnote below on these letters.)

14 Varina responded that she looked forward to joining him, perhaps “a re-union across the Trans-Mississippi, where she was sure he could prevail.” (Chapman, p. 530.)


15 In Grant’s (1885-1886, Chp. 69) view,

Sherman thought, no doubt, in adding to the terms that I had made with General Lee, that he was but carrying out the wishes of the President of the United States. But seeing that he was going beyond his authority, he made it a point that the terms were only conditional. They signed them with this understanding, and agreed to a truce until the terms could be sent to Washington for approval; if approved by the proper authorities there, they would then be final; if not approved, then he would give due notice, before resuming hostilities.



16 Johnston (1959, pp. 410-412) writes:

The reply, dated eleven o’clock P.M., was received early in the morning of the 25th; it suggested that the infantry might be disbanded, with instructions to meet at some appointed place, and directed me to bring off the cavalry, and all other soldiers who could be mounted by taking serviceable beasts from the trains, and a few light field-pieces. I objected immediately, that this order provided for the performance of but one of the three great duties then devolving upon us—that of securing the safety of the high civil officers of the Confederate Government; but neglected the other two—the safety of the people and that of the army. I also advised the immediate flight of the high civil functionaries under proper escort.


[These instructions] would have given the President an escort too heavy for flight, and not strong enough to force a way for him; and would have spread ruin over all the South, by leading the three great invading armies in pursuit. In that belief, I determined to do all in my power to bring about a termination of hostilities.

17 McPherson (1992) gives a brief survey of theories about why the North won (or the South lost). Beringer et al. (1986) give a survey in their Chapter 1, and their whole book can be taken as an extended debate over the theories.

18 Beringer et al. write (pp. 422-423):

[B]y April 1865, … an unconventional military strategy still presented a viable alternative for the Confederates, although it would have created more domestic turmoil, especially among the black population, than Confederates wanted to see. Nevertheless, guerilla war was by no means impossible for the South in 1865. [See also Chp. 17.]



19 In fact, Frederickson attaches his footnote reference to Thomas (1979) to the Davis declaration quote, (“We have now entered upon a new phase of the struggle… Relieved from the necessity of…”), rather than to the guerilla war argument that follows directly after. There can be little doubt that he meant Thomas as justification for the view that Davis planned guerilla war.

20 W. Davis (1996) makes a strong argument that the “hills” would have been very difficult for Confederate guerillas to use.

21 Hampton wrote two letters to Davis in the same vein, one on April 19, the other on April 22 (J. Davis 1923, pp. 552-553, 554). Hampton wrote on April 19:

Give me a good force of Cavalry and I will take them safely across the Mississippi—and if you desire to go in that direction it will give great pleasures to escort you. My mind is made up. As to my course I will fight as long as my government remains in existence, when that ceases to live I shall seek some other country…

He wrote on April 22:

If you should propose to cross the Mississippi I can bring many good men to escort you over. My men are in hand and many ready to follow me anywhere. I cannot agree to the terms which are proposed [Sherman’s first offer] and I shall seek a home in some other country. If Texas will hold out or seek the protectorate of Maximillian we can still make some head against the Enemy…. My plan is [call] the men who will stick to their colors and to get to Texas…





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