The Confederate Government in Exile

April 22, 1865 – Jefferson Davis and his cabinet met in Charlotte, North Carolina to consider future plans as Federal pursuers closed in on them.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

Ten days earlier, Davis had met with Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston, at Greensboro. Davis informed his commanders that he intended to fight to the last man, but when Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge arrived to inform the group that Robert E. Lee had surrendered, the generals resisted Davis’s plan. Johnston said it “would be the greatest of crimes” to keep fighting when it would almost certainly destroy the South beyond repair.[1]

The next day, the group met again, with four of Davis’s five cabinet members favoring negotiations between Johnston and Federal General William T. Sherman. Davis told Johnston, “Well, sir, you can adopt this course, though I am not sanguine as to ultimate results.”[2]

Davis remained reluctant until Johnston frankly told him: “My views are, sir, that our people are tired of the war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight.” The Confederacy was “without money, or credit, or arms, or ammunition, or means of procuring them. My men are daily deserting in large numbers. Since Lee’s defeat they regard the war as at an end. We may perhaps obtain terms which we ought to accept.” When Davis asked Beauregard’s opinion, he said, “I concur in all General Johnston has said.”[3]

At Johnston’s insistence, Davis dictated a letter to Sherman for Johnston’s signature: “The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am, therefore, induced to address you in this form of inquiry whether, to stop the further effusion of blood and devastation of property, you are willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations… the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.”[4]

As Johnston negotiated with Sherman, Davis and his party fled Greensboro for Charlotte, arriving there on the 19th. Davis received a wire from Breckinridge: “President Lincoln was assassinated in the theatre in Washington on the night of April 14. Seward’s house was entered on the same night and he was repeatedly stabbed and is probably mortally wounded.” Davis said, “Certainly I have no special regard for Mr. Lincoln, but there are a great many men of whose end I would rather hear than his. I fear it will be disastrous to our people, and I regret it deeply.”[5]

Meanwhile, General Wade Hampton led a contingent of Confederate commanders still willing to fight. He wrote to Davis on the 19th: “The military situation is gloomy, I admit, but it is by no means desperate, and endurance and determination will produce a change… Give me a good force of cavalry and I will take them safely across the Mississippi, and if you desire to go in that direction it will give me great pleasure to escort you… I can bring to your support many strong arms and brave hearts—men who will fight to Texas, and who, if forced from that state, will seek refuge in Mexico rather than in the Union.”[6]

On the other hand, Davis received a message from Robert E. Lee opposing a guerrilla war and recommending complete surrender to restore peace as soon as possible. On the 22nd, Davis convened a cabinet meeting at the Bank of North Carolina building on South Tryon Street. They considered the surrender document that Johnston had signed four days ago and whether Sherman had authority to grant such terms. Davis asked for each officer’s written opinion on the matter.[7]

The meeting continued the next day, with Davis’s cabinet unanimously voting to accept the Johnston-Sherman agreement. Attorney General George Davis issued a legal opinion: “Taken as a whole the convention amounts to this: that the states of the Confederacy shall re-enter the (U.S.) upon the same footing on which they stood before seceding from it.” The group reserved the right to continue resistance if President Andrew Johnson rejected the agreement.[8]

Writing to his wife Varina (who had escaped Richmond ahead of her husband), Davis stated, “Panic has seized the country… The issue is one which it is very painful for me to meet. On one hand is the long night of oppression which will follow the return of our people to the ‘Union’; on the other, the suffering of the women and children, and carnage among the few brave patriots who would still oppose the invader.” He concluded, “My love is all I have to offer, and that has the value of a thing long possessed, and sure not to be lost.”[9]

On the 26th, Davis learned that Johnston had disobeyed orders and negotiated a new surrender agreement. Davis expressed dismay that Johnston gave up before he had even been surrounded as Robert E. Lee had been. Davis also resented Johnston’s last general order to his troops, blaming “recent events in Virginia for breaking every hope of success by war.” Davis and his cabinet agreed to continue moving southwest to avoid Federal capture.[10]

Attorney General Davis resigned, opting to stay in his home state of North Carolina and tend to his motherless children. Davis and his remaining party crossed into South Carolina that evening, and the next day Treasury Secretary G.A. Trenholm resigned due to illness. Davis thanked Trenholm for his “lofty patriotism and personal sacrifice.” Postmaster General John Reagan accepted Davis’s request to also take over the Treasury Department.[11]

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton wired Major General George Thomas at Nashville to “use all possible means to prevent the escape of Davis.” Stanton alleged that Davis carried up to $13 million in gold and silver among his baggage, thus providing extra motivation for Federals to find him. As April ended, Davis reached Yorkville, South Carolina and hoped to reach Texas before Federal forces caught up to him.[12]

—–

[1] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 222-23; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 20353-20373

[2] 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, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 20362-20392

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 20362-20392

[5] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 21016-21026; 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

[6] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 21120-21140

[7] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 680; 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

[8] 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

[9] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 680-81

[10] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 21110-21130; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 682-83

[11] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 21149-21169; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 682-83; 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

[12] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 21159-21169; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684; 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

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2 thoughts on “The Confederate Government in Exile

  1. […] Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee wrote from Richmond to President Jefferson Davis, “I believe an army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia,” or anywhere else […]

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  2. […] Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee wrote from Richmond to President Jefferson Davis, “I believe an army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia,” or anywhere else east of the […]

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