Book Review: Caroline E. Janney, Ends of War

Caroline E. Janney, Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattox 

Reviewed by Burrus M. Carnahan

How can a democracy turn from a state of civil war to a state of peace? After April 9, 1865, US military officers, government officials, and ordinary citizens wrestled with this problem in the months following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox when, in the author’s words, “the war was ending but not ended.” Caroline Janney has given us a thoroughly researched, dramatic and highly readable narrative of what, in the hands of another author, could have been a dry account of legal issues.
Rather than confine Lee’s soldiers in prisoner of war camps, General Grant offered to parole them, allowing them to return to their homes and not “be disturbed” by US authorities if they took no further part in the War.

In the months following Appomattox, Grant was required to issue a stream of rulings and orders on the interpretation of the terms of surrender and the effect of the paroles. Grant’s main motive in offering generous terms to the Army of Northern Virginia was to prevent its defeated soldiers from resorting to guerrilla warfare by returning them to their homes as soon as possible. Lee soon fades from the author’s narrative and is replaced on the Confederate side by Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the South’s most famous and effective guerrilla leader. While technically part of the cavalry component of the Army of Northern Virginia, Mosby’s command did not participate in the surrender and parole process.

Whether to offer parole to Mosby and his men was one of the issues Grant faced. As a professional officer, Grant felt distaste for clandestine guerrilla tactics; earlier in the War he had ordered Mosby hanged without trial if captured, and even after Appomattox offered a $5,000 reward for his capture. For his part, Mosby had dissolved his unit of Partisan Rangers once he realized that further fighting was futile, issuing a final order praising his men in the spirit of later “Lost Cause” mythology. Grant’s determination to prevent renewed hostilities finally led him to offer parole to Mosby and his men. Understandably cautious about whether offers of parole were made in good faith, Colonel Mosby was not paroled until June 17, 1865.

Parole was a concept unique to the international law of war, and was unknown in American peacetime law. The Lincoln government had never recognized the Confederacy as a legitimate government, but it had, for both practical and humanitarian reasons, applied the international law of war to the conduct of hostilities in the Civil War. But what would happen once it was clear that the war was over? In principle, when the war was over the law of war would no longer apply and former prisoners of war, even if paroled, could be tried for treason. That was the view of President Johnson and most legal experts, including Attorney General James Speed. General Lee was thereafter indicted for treason by a federal grand jury in Virginia.

For General Grant, however the issue was not a legal one but a matter of personal honor. If the government would not respect his promises to the officers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia then he would resign in protest. As the author notes, the increasingly unpopular President Johnson could not face losing the support of the Union’s leading military hero, so Lee’s trial was delayed and Johnson eventually pardoned him. There were no further treason charges against paroled Confederates.

Some issues Grant had to wrestle with were unique to a civil, rather than international, conflict. Grant envisaged that his terms would allow paroled enemy soldiers to return to their homes, thus breaking up Lee’s army as an organized military formation. However, many members of the Army of Northern Virginia had their homes in Maryland, a border state that had remained in the Union. US military commanders in Maryland became concerned that, if the peace did not hold and hostilities resumed, paroled Confederate soldiers could form a guerrilla force operating in loyal states. Grant soon ruled that Lee’s men could go “home” anywhere in the seceded states but not to the loyal states, even if their homes were there.
In international conflicts, prisoners of war, whether confined or paroled, have the right to wear their national uniforms. After April, 1865, Union commanders in the occupied South became concerned that the open display of Rebel uniforms could serve as an incitement to armed resistance to federal authority. Again, Grant ruled that wearing of Confederate uniforms by parolees could be prohibited by local military authorities. (Paroled soldiers too poor to buy civilian clothes had to remove all “CSA” buttons and military insignia from their uniforms, or soldiers of the US Army would do it for them, often as roughly as possible.)

Colonel Mosby appears again near the end of the book, traveling to Alexandria, Virginia, in August 1865 to seek reinstatement of his Virginia law license. The local Army Provost Marshal refused to believe that such a notorious character had been paroled, and locked up Mosby until he could check with the War Department in Washington. Army Headquarters confirmed the parole but, in the sensitive atmosphere following Lincoln’s assassination, told Mosby that he was forbidden to enter Washington, DC or Alexandria until further notice.

The author does not follow Mosby’s story beyond that point, but it is interesting to note that this early hero of the Lost Cause movement had, by 1872, become a pariah to most white Virginians. In that year he met with, and supported the reelection of, President Grant, who had once placed a price on his head, and joined the Republican Party. He served in a number of political jobs under Republican presidents and in 1916 died in a Washington, DC hospital, the city the War Department had once forbidden him to enter.

Burrus M. Carnahan is Adjunct Professor of Law at George Washington University