I had gone perhaps fifteen or twenty yards when a trooper galloped up and ordered me to halt and surrender . . . .
Today’s installment concludes Confederate Government’s Last Days,
our selection from The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis published in 1881. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Confederate Government’s Last Days.
Place: Macon, Georgia
After leaving Washington in the manner and for the purpose heretofore described, I overtook a commissary and quartermaster’s train, having public papers of value in charge, and, finding that they had no experienced woodsman with it, I gave them four of the men of my small party, and went on with the rest. On the second or third day after leaving Washington, I heard that a band of marauders, supposed to be stragglers and deserters from both armies, were in pursuit of my family, whom I had not seen since they left Richmond, but of whom I heard, at Washington, that they had gone with my private secretary and seven paroled men, who generously offered their services as an escort, to the Florida coast. Their route was to the east of that I was pursuing, but I immediately changed direction and rode rapidly across the country to overtake them. About nightfall the horses of my escort gave out, but I pressed on with Secretary Reagan and my personal staff. It was a bright moonlight night, and just before day, as the moon was sinking below the tree-tops, I met a party of men in the road, who answered my questions by saying they belonged to an Alabama regiment; that they were coming from a village not far off, on their way homeward. Upon inquiry being made, they told me they had passed an encampment of wagons, with women and children, and asked me if we belonged to that party. Upon being answered in the affirmative, they took their leave.
After a short time I was hailed by a voice which I recognized as that of my private secretary, who informed me that the marauders had been hanging around the camp, and that he and others were on post around it, and were expecting an assault as soon as the moon went down. A silly story had got abroad that it was a treasure-train, and the auri sacra fames had probably instigated these marauders, as it subsequently stimulated General J. H. Wilson, to send out a large cavalry force to capture the same train. For the protection of my family I traveled with them two or three days, when, believing that they had passed out of the region of marauders, I determined to leave their encampment at nightfall, to execute my original purpose. My horse and those of my party proper were saddled preparatory to a start, when one of my staff, who had ridden into the neighboring village, returned and told me that he had heard that a marauding party intended to attack the camp that night. This decided me to wait long enough to see whether there was any truth in the rumor, which I supposed would be ascertained in a few hours. My horse remained saddled and my pistols in the holsters, and I lay down, fully dressed, to rest. Nothing occurred to rouse me until just before dawn, when my coachman, a free colored man, who faithfully clung to our fortunes, came and told me there was firing over the branch, just behind our encampment. I stepped out of my wife’s tent and saw some horsemen, whom I immediately recognized as cavalry, deploying around the encampment. I turned back and told my wife these were not the expected marauders, but regular troopers. She implored me to leave her at once. I hesitated, from unwillingness to do so, and lost a few precious moments before yielding to her importunity.
My horse and arms were near the road on which I expected to leave, and down which the cavalry approached; it was therefore impracticable to reach them. I was compelled to start in the opposite direction. As it was quite dark in the tent, I picked up what was supposed to be my “raglan,” a water-proof, light overcoat, without sleeves; it was subsequently found to be my wife’s, so very like my own as to be mistaken for it; as I started, my wife thoughtfully threw over my head and shoulders a shawl. I had gone perhaps fifteen or twenty yards when a trooper galloped up and ordered me to halt and surrender, to which I gave a defiant answer, and, dropping the shawl and raglan from my shoulders, advanced toward him; he leveled his carbine at me, but I expected, if he fired, he would miss me, and my intention was in that event to put my hand under his foot, tumble him off on the other side, spring into his saddle, and attempt to escape. My wife, who had been watching, when she saw the soldier aim his carbine at me, ran forward and threw her arms around me. Success depended on instantaneous action, and, recognizing that the opportunity had been lost, I turned back, and, the morning being damp and chilly, passed on to a fire beyond the tent. Our pursuers had taken different roads, and approached our camp from opposite directions; they encountered each other and commenced firing, both supposing they had met our armed escort, and some casualties resulted from their conflict with an imaginary body of Confederate troops. During the confusion, while attention was concentrated upon myself, except by those who were engaged in pillage, one of my aides, Colonel J. Taylor Wood, with Lieutenant Barnwell, walked off unobserved. His daring exploits on the sea had made him, on the part of the Federal Government, an object of special hostility, and rendered it quite proper that he should avail himself of every possible means of escape. Colonel Pritchard went over to their battle-field, and I did not see him for a long time, surely more than an hour after my capture. He subsequently claimed credit, in a conversation with me, for the forbearance shown by his men in not shooting me when I refused to surrender.
Wilson and others have uttered many falsehoods in regard to my capture, which have been exposed in publications by persons there present—by Secretary Reagan, by the members of my personal staff, and by the colored coachman, Jim Jones, which must have been convincing to all who were not given over to believe a lie. For this reason I will postpone, to some other time and more appropriate place, any further notice of the story and its variations, all the spawn of a malignity that shames the civilization of the age. We were, when prisoners, subjected to petty pillage, as described in the publications referred to, and in others; and to annoyances such as military gentlemen never commit or permit.
On our way to Macon we received the proclamation of President Andrew Johnson offering a reward for my apprehension as an accomplice in the assassination of the late President A. Lincoln. Some troops by the wayside had the proclamation, which was displayed with vociferous demonstrations of exultation over my capture. When we arrived at Macon I was conducted to the hotel where General Wilson had his quarters. A strong guard was in front of the entrance, and, when I got down to pass in, it opened ranks, facing inward, and presented arms.
This ends our series of passages on Confederate Government’s Last Days by Jefferson Davis from his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government published in 1881. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.