An Unlikely Friendship

Conflict: Civil War

Bennett Place, where Johnston surrendered to Sherman. Near Durham Station, North Carolina.

Bennett Place, where Johnston surrendered to Sherman. Near Durham Station, North Carolina.

The armies of Union general William T. Sherman and Confederate Joseph E. Johnston battled each other time and time again throughout the Atlanta and Carolinas campaigns in 1864 and ’65. But the two men never met in person until 17 April 1865, when, a week after Lee’s surrender to Grant, Johnston decided to surrender almost 90,000 of his and other Confederate troops to Sherman, the largest surrender of the war.

The two men met three times during the surrender negotiations. Johnston convinced Sherman to try to end the war once and for all by negotiating both military and civil terms. But the document Sherman drew up was rejected by President Johnson and his cabinet, who felt the proposed terms were too lenient with the South, and they insisted that Sherman give Johnston the same terms that Grant gave Lee and not concern himself with civil matters. Sherman wasn’t surprised by the cabinet’s rejection of the proposed terms, and Johnston—ignoring a suggestion from the Confederate secretary of war to fall back with his troops to Georgia—agreed to the Grant-Lee terms, which admittedly were already fairly generous. Sherman also gave Johnston 10 days’ worth of rations for 25,000 men, and the two generals left with a high opinion of each other.

William T. Sherman

William T. Sherman

Johnston never forgot Sherman’s generosity, and the two cultivated a friendship after the war. When Sherman died in 1891, Johnston, then 84 years old, attended his funeral as a pallbearer. It was a cold February day, but when Johnston was told he should put on his hat so he didn’t catch cold, Johnston replied, “If I were in [Sherman's] place, and he were standing in mine, he would not put on his hat.” Johnston consequently caught a cold at the funeral, which turned into pneumonia, and he died a month later.

Joseph E. Johnston

Joseph E. Johnston

Read more about Sherman and Johnston here, here, or here. Or search through Fold3’s Civil War collection for other stories from the war.