“To the Bitter End” by Robert M. Dunkerly, (Savas Beatie, 2015)

TVCWRT Book Review by David Lady   10 April 2015


To the Bitter End by Robert M Dunkerly
To the Bitter End by Robert M Dunkerly

This volume covers the surrenders of all the major Confederate military and naval forces, including the forces of Native American tribes allied with the Confederacy. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 was only the first of the Confederate Army surrenders in 1865. Large Confederate organizations still remained in North Carolina and the southeastern states, in Alabama and Mississippi, and across the Mississippi River in Texas, Arkansas and the Indian Territory. With the Confederate capitol occupied by the United States Army, and with President Davis and his government on the run, the surrender of this most famous Confederate army only indirectly led to the suspension of hostilities throughout the former Confederacy.

Robert Dunkerly is a National Park Service Ranger and historian who has worked at Appomattox Court House, and who currently works at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, and is president of the Richmond, VA Civil War Round Table. He is a regular contributor to the Emerging Civil War blog and has co-authored this book as part of the Savas Beatie Emerging Civil War Series. Among his other books is No Turning Back: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign.

Dunkerly has written a very interesting and informative account covering the series of Confederate surrenders that took place over an almost-three month period. He startled me by pointing out that Appomattox was an anomaly among the surrenders: The Federal and Confederate armies were in very close proximity to each other; the surrender terms were decided upon and signed at one meeting; a formal ceremony took place at which weapons, munitions and army property were surrendered; paroles were issued to all Confederates that surrendered. Nowhere else in the South was surrendering a major organization so quick and formal.

In contrast to the surrender at Appomattox Court House, the surrender of the other major Confederate organizations were sloppy affairs, requiring two or more meetings to develop acceptable surrender terms. These surrenders encompassed larger Confederate forces over very large ‘departmental’ areas, and the Federal and Confederate combatants were not in close proximity of each other. Paroles were issued to the surrendering forces at various places over a period of weeks and months; many Confederates never receiving their paroles. More weapons were simply abandoned in place than ceremoniously turned-over to the U. S. government.

There was much unrest and some disobedience among the remaining Confederate forces and many soldiers simply went home, causing some organizations to dissolve.  One Confederate department commander, General Edmund K. Smith, surrendered the Trans-Mississippi area because his Texan and Louisianan troops became mutinous and forced the decision on him and his subordinate commanders. The last Confederate organization to surrender was the First Indian Cavalry Brigade on 23 June, 1865. This unit was commanded by Brigadier General Stand Watie of the Cherokee Nation and composed of Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Osage soldiers.

Although the terms of the Appomattox Surrender applied only to the Army of Northern Virginia and a few attached organizations, this event was invested with symbolic importance by both sides. The surrender involved both commanding generals, Lieutenant General Grant of the U. S. Army and General Lee (Confederate commanding general since January, 1865). These men were the greatest and most respected generals of their respective sides, and the terms offered by Grant and accepted by Lee represented President Lincoln’s ‘let ‘em up easy’ philosophy. These terms were approved by Lincoln, reiterated by the U. S. War Department, and were used by the other Federal and Confederate army commanders to guide their negotiations.

With news of General Lee’s surrender, the attitudes of most soldiers on both sides changed after 9 April, 1865. Most accepted that the war was nearly over, and many Federal and Confederate leaders discouraged further combat. Federal commanders adopted a largely peace making and civil support role; Confederate commanders negotiated to define and secure the legal status their soldiers and themselves within the United States. The soldiers of both sides longed (and sometimes simply left) to get home as quickly as possible. Evidence that most Confederate commanders advised their soldiers to resume law-abiding civilian lives is represented by quotations from the farewell messages of Generals Lee and Forrest to their soldiers.

Mr. Dunkerly also writes of how the Confederate surrender has been remembered in history and literature and of how the respectful and generous terms and ceremonies of Appomattox came to represent the reconciliation between the white citizens of the North and the South.  The various and sometimes unexpected fates of the various surrender sites are explained. Finally, Dunkerly provides visitors’ information for those interested in the sites, monuments, and museums devoted to surrender ceremonies.

I recommend this book as a good read and a road-trip guide.


   David Lady is a native of Washington, D. C., and grew-up in northern Virginia. His people lived in eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia during the Civil War, and his ancestors fought on both sides. He was a career U. S. Soldier, has published articles in Army professional journals, and has led groups of soldiers and civilians on battlefield tours of both eastern and western battlefields.  He and his wife Ellen reside in Huntsville, where he serves as membership officer for the Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table.