Archibald Gracie Camp #985
New York, N.Y.
Why Is Confederate Memorial Day April 26th?

In Florida and Georgia, April 26th is Confederate Memorial Day for the same reason Alabama and Mississippi observe the day on different April dates. Namely, April 26th was the day that Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army to infamous Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina. Other Southern states that celebrate Confederate Memorial Day do so around Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ June 3rd birthday (Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee), or the death of Stonewall Jackson and the arrest of Davis (North and South Carolina), or General Lee’s January birthday (Texas).

General Johnston’s April 26th surrender came after nearly a year of bitter tensions with President Davis. The Summer before, Johnston had been relieved of command by a furious Davis after a retreat that all but surrendered Atlanta to Sherman’s marauding forces.

General Joseph Eggleston Johnston
(1807 – 1891)

However, Johnston was a tremendously popular figure, and Davis was endlessly pressed to bring him back into service. Yet the pleas of dozens of Confederate congressmen and cabinet members fell on deaf ears. It was only at the end of February that General Lee finally convinced Davis to restore Johnston. The troops placed under his command included the department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, the latter pair being those states which honor Confederate Memorial Day on this date.

Johnston’s immediate desire was to connect with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to defeat Sherman, then move jointly to Virginia to face Grant’s forces. However, while Lee would ultimately decide to link up with Johnston’s Army (at which point such action would be impossible, and Lee would be forced to surrender), he initially rejected the plan, which may have saved the Confederacy.

Once Johnston, who had experienced some success against Sherman, learned of Lee’s surrender, he agreed to meet with Sherman. After three days of negotiations, Johnston surrendered a force substantially larger than that which Lee had surrendered days earlier.

The parallels between Lee’s surrender to Grant, and Johnston’s to Sherman are many, and it is interesting that the latter surrender is so much overshadowed by the former. While Lee’s may have sealed the fate of the South, it was Johnston’s that truly formalized it. One explanation for Johnston’s surrender being largely forgotten may be the initial reaction to it. Unlike in Lee’s case, Johnston ceded while still in a strong position to fight. In fact, President Davis considered the surrender treasonous for that very reason.

Nevertheless, while a number of Confederate forces would surrender after Johnston, none of them had any significant power or numbers. And so it is that today is remembered, at least in Georgia and Florida, so somberly as the day the South’s dreams of independence died.

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Archibald Gracie Camp #985
New York, N.Y.
1-800-MY-DIXIE (1-800-693-4943)