The Flight of Jefferson Davis

April 10, 1865 – President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government-in-exile left Danville, Virginia for Greensboro, North Carolina upon learning of General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis and other Confederate officials had arrived in Danville after fleeing Richmond on April 3. Vowing not to abandon the cause, Davis issued a proclamation “To the People of the Confederate States of America” the next day, which concluded: “Let us not, then, despond, my countrymen; but, relying on the never-failing mercies and protecting care of our God, let us meet the foe with fresh defiance, with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.”[1]

News of Lee’s surrender compelled Davis to weep, but it did not weaken his resolve. Leaving Danville ahead of the Federal cavalry on the 10th, Davis sent word of the surrender to General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina; Johnston commanded the last real Confederate force in the East, and Davis prepared to ensure that Johnston did not share Lee’s fate.[2]

Davis’s train arrived at Greensboro on the morning of April 12 to a less than enthusiastic welcome. This was partly out of fear for Federal reprisals, but mostly because many residents of North Carolina’s Piedmont region had either only moderately supported the Confederate war effort or outright opposed it. Of all the Confederate officials arriving at the town, only Davis and Treasury Secretary George A. Trenholm received lodging. The rest slept in train cars.[3]

Upon his arrival, Davis received word that the Confederate Treasury train had left off $39,000 at Greensboro for soldiers’ pay before continuing on to Charlotte. Davis then met privately in his train with General P.G.T. Beauregard, serving under Johnston in the region.[4]

Beauregard reported that Johnston had evacuated Smithfield, but Davis disagreed with the general’s assessment that the cause was lost. Davis believed that Johnston could continue the fight, even if it meant retreating west across the Mississippi River.[5]

Davis wired Johnston to meet him at Greensboro: “The important question first to be solved is what point of concentration should be made. Your more intimate knowledge of the data for the solution of the problem deters me from making a specific suggestion on that point.” Before following Davis’s orders, Johnston had been advised by North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance: “(Davis), a man of imperfectly constituted genius… could absolutely blind himself to those things which his prejudices or hopes did not desire to see.”[6]

—–

[1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 18705-18725; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 375

[2] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 219-21; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 672; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[3] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20295-20334; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 672-73; White, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed, Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[4] White, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed, Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[5] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20295-20315

[6] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20314-20334; White, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed, Kindle Locations 58777-58780

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2 thoughts on “The Flight of Jefferson Davis

  1. […] President Jefferson Davis, upon learning of Lee’s surrender, left Danville, Virginia to relocate at Greensboro, North […]

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  2. […] President Jefferson Davis, upon learning of Lee’s surrender, left Danville, Virginia to relocate at Greensboro, North […]

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