Jefferson Davis Escorted to the Coast

May 14, 1865 – Jefferson Davis and what was left of the Confederate government-in-exile was sent under Federal guard to Augusta, Georgia, from which they would be shipped by water to the coast.

Davis and his party were captured by Colonel Benjamin Pritchard’s 4th Michigan cavalry troopers at Irwinville, Georgia, on the 10th. Among the prisoners were First Lady Varina Davis, the four Davis children, Colonel William P. Johnston, presidential secretary Burton Harrison, Treasury Secretary John Reagan, and former Texas Governor Francis Lubbock. They were taken on a three-day trip to the Federal command post at Macon, Georgia.

Reagan accused Colonel Pritchard of looting the prisoners’ personal effects and admonished him, “It does not look well for a colonel of cavalry in the United States Army to steal clothes.” When Pritchard threatened to put the prisoner in irons, Reagan said, “You have the power to do so, but it will not make you a gentleman or a man of truth.” Varina Davis wrote in her memoirs:

“Within a short distance of Macon we were halted and the soldiers drawn up in line on either side of the road. Our children crept close to their father, especially little Maggie, who put her arms about him and held him tightly, while from time to time he comforted her with tender words from the psalms of David, which he repeated as calmly and cheerfully as if he were surrounded by friends. It is needless to say that as the men stood at ease, they expressed in words unfit for women’s ears all that malice could suggest. In about an hour, Colonel Pritchard returned, and with him came a brigade, who testified their belief in Mr. Davis’s guilt in the same manner.”

When the prisoners reached Macon, Davis was brought to the hotel serving as headquarters for Major General James H. Wilson, commanding Federal forces in Georgia. As Davis recalled:

“A commodious room was assigned to myself and family. After dinner I had an interview with General Wilson. After some conversation in regard to our common acquaintance, he referred to the proclamation offering a reward for my capture. I supposed that any insignificant remark of mine would be reported to his Government, and feared that another opportunity to give my opinion of A. Johnson might not be presented, and told him there was one man in the United States who knew that proclamation to be false. He remarked that my expression indicated a particular person. I answered yes, and that person was the one who signed it, for he at least knew that I preferred Lincoln to himself.”

According to Wilson:

“Mr. Davis seemed quite cheerful and talkative, but in his whole demeanor showed no dignity or great fortitude. He remarked with a smile that he thought the U.S. would find graver charges against him than the murder of Mr. Lincoln, and seemed to regret that Mr. L. had been killed. He has asked no favors, but Mrs. D. insinuates once in a while that the ‘President’ is not treated with becoming dignity… The thought struck me once or twice that Jefferson Davis was a mad man. The indifference with which he seemed to regard the affairs of our day savored of insanity. He was polite and gracious in his intercourse with me and almost affectionate in taking leave of me.”

Reagan later wrote:

“After dinner I learned that orders had been received to send to Washington President Davis and Senator (Clement) Clay, who had voluntarily surrendered after President Johnson’s proclamation implicating him in the assassination of President Lincoln; and that I and the others with us were to remain at Macon… I thereupon observed that President Davis was much worn down, and that, as I was the only member of his political family with him, I might be of some service to him, and requested to have the order so changed as to send me on with him… He observed that mine was a queer request, but that he would ask that it be granted. In two or three hours he notified us that the first order had been changed, and that all of us would be sent to Hampton Roads.”

The prisoners spent the night of the 13th in Macon, and the next morning they were escorted to the train station, where they would be sent to Augusta. Virginia Clay, wife of captured Senator Clement C. Clay, later recalled:

“As the cavalry approached the station, the significance of the scene became plain to us. They were a guard, flanking on each side an old ‘jimber-jawed, wobblesided’ barouche, drawn by two raw-boned horses. In the strange vehicle were seated Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Mr. Davis was dressed in a full suit of Confederate grey, including the hat, but his face was yet more ashen than was his garb… the alien and motley crowd along the walks yelled and hooted in derision. But not all–one heartless Union soldier tried the patience of a sorrowful ‘rebel’ onlooker. ‘Hey, Johnny Reb,’ shouted the first, ‘we’ve got your President!’ ‘And the devil’s got yours!’ was the swift reply.”

During the Davis party’s day-long train ride, word arrived in Washington that Davis had been captured. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: “Intelligence was received this morning of the capture of Jefferson Davis in southern Georgia. I met (Secretary of War Edwin) Stanton this Sunday P.M. at (Secretary of State William) Seward’s, who says Davis was taken disguised in women’s clothes. A tame and ignoble letting down of the traitor.”

That night, Federals loaded the prisoners on the tugboat Standish, bound for Port Royal outside Savannah. Confederate General Joseph Wheeler and Vice President Alexander Stephens were also aboard as prisoners, having been captured elsewhere. The trip lasted over 24 hours, with the vessel arriving in the pre-dawn morning of the 16th. From there, the prisoners were transferred to the ocean side-wheeler William P. Clyde to take them up the Atlantic Coast. The Clyde was escorted by the warship U.S.S. Tuscarora. The trip would take three days.


References; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 23177-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 569; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21179-99, 21228-68, 21327-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-86; 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), Q265

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