Jefferson Davis Reaches Georgia

May 5, 1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his dwindling government-in-exile reached Sandersville, Georgia in their southward flight to avoid Federal capture.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

As May began, Davis and his party reached Cokesbury, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to them, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation declaring that Davis and other Confederate officials were responsible for assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Despite no evidence linking Davis to the crime, Johnson offered a $100,000 reward for Davis’s capture.[1]

The Davis group arrived at Abbeville, South Carolina on the afternoon of the 2nd, where guards turned over the Confederate treasury to Davis and his cabinet. In addition, cabinet officials received instructions to destroy most official government papers to prevent Federals from confiscating and using the documents against them. At 4 p.m., Davis held a “council of war” with Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, General Braxton Bragg, and five brigade commanders.[2]

At the council, Davis announced: “It is time that we adopt some definite plan upon which the further prosecution of our struggle shall be conducted. I have summoned you for consultation. I feel that I ought to do nothing now without the advice of my military chiefs.” Davis’s idea to continue the fight—supported by Breckinridge—astounded the military commanders. The top two Confederate field generals, Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, had already surrendered, and Richard Taylor was about to surrender all Confederate forces in Alabama and Mississippi. To the remaining military leaders, further resistance seemed futile.[3]

The commanders explained to Davis that the people were exhausted and impoverished. Prolonging the war “would be a cruel injustice to the people of the South,” and even worse for the soldiers because “if they persisted in a conflict so hopeless they would be treated as brigands and would forfeit all chance of returning to their homes.” They unanimously declared they would not risk their families to wage a guerrilla war to sustain a government-in-exile. They agreed to use their troops to help Davis get to Mexico, but nothing more.[4]

Davis listened, then rose and said, “Then all is indeed lost.” He stumbled, but Breckinridge braced him as he left the room. After Davis left, Breckinridge and the military leaders began planning to get Davis across the Mississippi River and out of the country.[5]

Later on the 2nd, Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory resigned, citing “the dependent conditions of a helpless family.” The next day, Secretary of State Judah Benjamin also left the Davis party, which reached Washington, Georgia by day’s end. Davis agreed that Benjamin should try escaping from the U.S. by way of the Caribbean, get to Europe, and appeal for foreign aid.[6]

Davis held a cabinet meeting on May 4 and explained his reluctance to disband the government since the Confederate Constitution did not authorize him to do so. Before leaving the group, Stephen Mallory offered to have a boat take Davis up the Indian River to Cuba or the Bahamas. Davis declined, stating he would not leave the Confederacy as long as soldiers continued fighting for it.[7]

On the 5th, Davis and Breckinridge separated, and Davis took a small cavalry escort with him as he continued southward. By this time, Federals were scouring the countryside in search of the Confederate president, and Johnson’s proclamation reached Federal troops in nearby Macon, Georgia: “One hundred thousand dollars Reward in Gold will be paid to any person or persons who will apprehend and deliver JEFFERSON DAVIS to any of the military authorities of the United States. Several millions of specie reported to be with him will become the property of the captors…”[8]

Davis and his escorts continued moving, catching up with the wagon train of Davis’s wife Varina and their children near Dublin, Georgia on May 7. They separated again the next day, but then Davis joined his wife and children once more after hearing rumors of marauders attacking travelers. The joint group made camp around 5 p.m. on May 9 near Irwinville, Georgia, about 70 miles from the Florida state line and 120 miles from the Gulf Coast. Davis planned to continue on before dawn, unaware that two regiments of Federal cavalry were quickly closing in on the camp from opposite directions.[9]

—–

[1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-85; 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), Location 60190-92

[2] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 685; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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), Location 60190-92

[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), Location 21179-99; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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), Location 60190-92

[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), Location 21179-99; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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), Location 60190-92

[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), Location 21179-99; 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), Location 60190-92

[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), Location 21209-29; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 685; 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), Location 60190-92

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21219-29; 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), Location 60190-92

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21228-58; 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), Location 60190-92

[9] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21248-68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686; 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), Locations 60190-92

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2 thoughts on “Jefferson Davis Reaches Georgia

  1. […] President Jefferson Davis and his party continued their southward flight toward […]

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