The End of the Ordeal, continued
Texans may have won the last battle, but nothing could change the fact that they had lost the war. Even as the battle at Palmito Ranch was unfolding, Kirby Smith and John Magruder were negotiating surrender terms with Union general John Pope. Smith tried to get amnesty for himself and other officers of the Trans-Mississippi, but he had nothing with which to bargain. On May 30, Smith finally acknowledged that he had no army left with which to fight. That same day, Union troops entered Brownsville. Only 500 bales of cotton that had never made it across the river and a few abandoned horses and mules gave testimony to the Confederate era there.
On June 2, Kirby Smith signed the surrender of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi onboard the U.S.S. Fort Jackson in Galveston Bay. It was only a formality. Most of his army were already home. (Smith was almost the last general in the Confederacy to surrender. Only Stand Watie, the leader of the Confederate Indians, held out longer.)
Smith and Magruder, along with Governor Murrah and former Texas governor Ed Clark, fled to Mexico. At the time, they had reason to fear they would be arrested, tried for treason, and possibly hanged. In all, about 2,000 former Confederates headed for Mexico or West Texas after the surrender. Most soon returned to seek amnesty and begin new lives. One exception was the unfortunate Murrah. He succumbed to tuberculosis and died in Monterrey only a few weeks after leaving Texas.
For a time, Texas was lawless, without either civil or military authority. In most places, local efforts prevented complete chaos. In Austin, a civilian mob of women and children, white and black, attacked and looted abandoned storehouses. A band of ex-soldiers wrote the final ignominious chapter of the Confederacy. They sacked the unguarded treasury building in Austin and stole $17,000 in gold and silver from the people of Texas -- more than half the hard currency in the treasury.
On June 19, 1865, federal military authority was established in Texas when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston. Granger proclaimed the end of slavery (an event that later became known as Juneteenth), declared the laws of the Confederacy null and void, and announced that all cotton was now public property.
Civilian government was restored on July 25, when General Wesley Merritt and the 18th New York Cavalry escorted Andrew Jackson Hamilton to the Capitol building in Austin. The Austin attorney and Unionist had fled Texas for his life in 1862 and offered his services to the United States. A hero in the North, he was now back home—as the new federal governor of Texas. Reconstruction had begun.
Page last modified: August 25, 2011