Jefferson Davis Captured

May 10, 1865 – Federal cavalry seized Confederate President Jefferson Davis and members of his party near Irwinville, Georgia.

Davis had planned to leave the encampment and continue southward, but Federal troopers from the 4th Michigan Cavalry closed in first. As Federals surprised the camp, Davis initially attempted to either flee or fight his way out. However, his wife Varina frantically pleaded for him to surrender. Davis said, “God’s will be done,” and formally submitted to the troopers. Davis and his wife and family became prisoners, along with Postmaster General John Reagan, presidential secretary Burton Harrison, and some others.[1]

The Federals plundered Davis’s camp, seeking incriminating documents and the millions of dollars in loot that the U.S. government claimed he carried. As news of Davis’s capture reached the North, rumors quickly spread that he had been captured while wearing women’s clothing. However, Davis actually wore a raincoat and shawl due to the rain.[2]

Davis and his family endured taunts from the Federals escorting them on a three-day trip to the Federal command post at Macon, Georgia. They spent the night of May 13 in Macon, and then Federals placed them and other high-ranking Confederate prisoners on a prison train to Augusta. Arriving at Augusta by nightfall, Federals loaded them on a tugboat bound for Savannah. Confederate General Joseph Wheeler and Vice President Alexander Stephens were also aboard as prisoners.[3]

The tugboat brought the prisoners to the ocean vessel William P. Clyde, which transported them up the Atlantic Coast. Initially the ship had orders to bring the prisoners to Washington, but she stopped at Fortress Monroe on the tip of Virginia’s York-James Peninsula. From there, Federal General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant persuaded Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to imprison Davis there under the command of Brigadier General Nelson Miles, “the object being to put an officer at Fortress Monroe who will by no possibility (allow) the escape of the prisoners to be confined there.”[4]

As William P. Clyde remained anchored off Virginia, Federals arranged to send Alexander Stephens and John Reagan to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. Joseph Wheeler, Texas Governor Francis Lubbock, and Preston Johnston were sent to Fort Delaware in Philadelphia. By May 22, Federals had prepared a cell for Davis below sea level within Fortress Monroe. As a tug came to bring Davis ashore, he told Varina, “Try not to cry. They will gloat over your grief.” Federals ransacked Davis’s belongings aboard the ship after he was taken away.[5]

Placed in solitary confinement, Federal guards allowed Davis just the clothes he wore and a small-print Bible. Davis forcibly resisted being shackled, but the guards overcame him and placed him in chains according to General Miles’s order. Miles had been instructed by the War Department “to place manacles and fetters upon the hands and feet of Jefferson Davis… whenever he may think it advisable in order to render (his) imprisonment more secure.”[6]

Alfred Waud sketch of Jefferson Davis jailed at Fort Monroe | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Alfred Waud sketch of Jefferson Davis jailed at Fort Monroe | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Northern protests soon compelled Miles to remove the shackles. Even so, the New York Herald reported on May 23: “At about 3 o’clock yesterday, ‘all that is mortal’ of Jeff’n Davis, late so-called ‘President of the alleged Confederate States,’ was duly, but quietly and effectively, committed to that living tomb prepared within the impregnable walls of Fortress Monroe… No more will Jeff’n Davis be known among the masses of men. He is buried alive.”[7]

—–

[1] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 145; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 687; 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), Locations 60190-92

[2] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 687; 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

[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), Locations 21327-37; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 687; 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), Locations 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), Locations 21337-47, 21791-21821; 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

[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), Locations 21337-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 689; 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

[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), Locations 21791-21821; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24

[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), Locations 21347-57; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24

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5 thoughts on “Jefferson Davis Captured

  1. […] cavalry captured Jefferson Davis and his group near Irwinville, […]

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  2. […] cavalry captured Jefferson Davis and his group near Irwinville, […]

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  3. […] reaches this department, or I receive some definite orders from him.” The men did not know that Davis had been captured three days […]

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  4. […] authorities imprisoned former Confederate President Jefferson Davis in a cell at Fortress Monroe, […]

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  5. […] authorities imprisoned former Confederate President Jefferson Davis in a cell at Fortress Monroe, […]

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