The reason that we in the twenty-first century need to develop these complementary sensibilities is that the Civil War erupted against a standard of literacy different from our own, one with increasingly unfamiliar conventions of reading and writing. Because most of us know what we know about the war primarily through the medium of writing, understanding the war we read about depends to a large extent on our understanding as many historical and aesthetic layers of its writings as possible.
What about the second major surrender, that of Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston to U.S. general William T. Sherman, at a farmhouse between Hillsborough and Durham Station, North Carolina? There were several smaller, later surrenders, too, the last of them that of the C.S.S. Shenandoah by Captain James Waddell to a captain of the British Royal Navy in Liverpool on November 6, 1865. But the negotiations initiated by Johnston—in a letter written April 13 and received by Sherman April 14, which was also Good Friday and the same day John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater—led to the largest surrender of the war. Although more than 30,000 soldiers in the Army of Tennessee surrendered in North Carolina (fewer Army of Northern Virginia veterans were paroled at Appomattox), in fact the terms signed by Johnston and Sherman officially disbanded Confederate units fighting in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, putting the number of soldiers involved close to 90,000.
Why do most of us hear and know so much less about this surrender, the largest of the war?
Over at our Civil War blog, Stephen Cushman, author of Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War highlights a Civil War anniversary likely to be overlooked in this year’s sesquicentennial observances.