This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: President Davis Leaves the Capital for the Last Time.
Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America. I selected passages from his book that pertain to President Davis’ flight from Richmond to his capture by Union troops that reveal his own perspective of the journey. His account has a lot of argumentation and justification. This presentation skips over these in order to stick to the narrative of the journey.
This selection is from The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis published in 1881.
Place: Macon, Georgia
On Sunday, the 2nd. of April [1865 – jl], while I was in St. Paul’s church. General Lee’s telegram, announcing his speedy withdrawal from Petersburg, and the consequent necessity for evacuating Richmond, was handed to me. I quietly rose and left the church. The occurrence probably attracted attention, but the people of Richmond had been too long beleaguered, had known me too often to receive notice of threatened attacks, and the congregation of St. Paul’s was too refined, to make a scene at anticipated danger. For all these reasons, the reader will be prepared for the announcement that the sensational stories which have been published about the agitation caused by my leaving the church during service were the creations of fertile imaginations. I went to my office and assembled the heads of departments and bureaus, as far as they could be found on a day when all the offices were closed, and gave the needful instructions for our removal that night, simultaneously with General Lee’s withdrawal from Petersburg. The event was not unforeseen, and some preparation had been made for it, though, as it came sooner than was expected, there was yet much to be done. My own papers were disposed as usual for convenient reference in the transaction of current affairs, and as soon as the principal officers had left me the executive papers were arranged for removal. This occupied myself and staff until late in the afternoon. By this time the report that Richmond was to be evacuated had spread through the town, and many who saw me walking toward my residence left their houses to inquire whether the report was true. Upon my admission of the painful fact, qualified, however, by the expression of my hope that we would under better auspices again return, the ladies especially, with generous sympathy and patriotic impulse, responded, “If the success of the cause requires you to give up Richmond, we are content.”
The affection and confidence of this noble people in the hour of disaster were more distressing to me than complaint and unjust censure would have been.
In view of the diminishing resources of the country on which the Army of Northern Virginia relied for supplies, I had urged the policy of sending families as far as practicable to the south and west, and had set the example by requiring my own to go. If it was practicable and desirable to hold the south side of the James, then, even for merely material considerations, it was important to hold Richmond, and this could best have been done if there had been none there save those who could aid in its defense. If it was not practicable and desirable to hold the south side of the James, then Richmond would be isolated, and if it could have been defended, its depots, foundries, workshops, and mills could have contributed nothing to the armies outside, and its possession would no longer have been to us of military importance. Ours being a struggle for existence, the indulgence of sentiment would have been misplaced.
Being alone in Richmond, the few arrangements needful for my personal wants were soon made after reaching home. Then, leaving all else in care of the housekeeper, I waited until notified of the time when the train would depart; then, going to the station, started for Danville, whither I supposed General Lee would proceed with his army.
In a previous chapter I promised to expose the fiction which imputed to me the removal of supplies intended for Lee’s army at Amelia Court-House, Though manufactured without one fiber of truth, it has been copied into so many books, formed the staple of so many jeremiads, and pointed so many malignant reflections, that I deem it proper for myself and others concerned now to present the evidence which will overthrow this baseless fabric.
[Snip: omitting this. – JL]
In the night of the 2nd., the same on which General Ewell evacuated the defenses of the capital and General Lee withdrew from Petersburg, I left Richmond and reached Danville on the next morning.
Neither the president of the railroad, who was traveling with me, nor I knew that there was anything which required attention at Amelia Court-House or other station on the route. Had General Lee’s letter to me, written on the afternoon of the 2d, been received at Richmond, which I think it was not, the fact that he proposed to march to Amelia Court-House would have been known; but it would have been unjust to the officers of the commissary department to doubt that any requisition made or to be made for supplies had received or would receive the most prompt and efficient attention. If, however, I had known that General Lee wanted supplies placed at Amelia Court-House, I would certainly have inquired as to the time of reaching that station, and have asked to have the train stopped so as to enable me to learn whether the supplies were in depot or not. The unfounded calumny, after perhaps having given it more consideration than it was worth, is now dismissed.
Though the occupation of Danville was not expected to be permanent, immediately after arriving there rooms were obtained, and the different departments resumed their routine labors. Nothing could have exceeded the kindness and hospitality of the patriotic citizens. They cordially gave as an “Old Virginia welcome,” and with one heart contributed in every practicable manner to cheer and aid us in the work in which we were engaged.
The town was surrounded by an entrenchment as faulty in location as construction. I promptly proceeded to correct the one and improve the other, while energetic efforts were being made to collect supplies of various kinds for General Lee’s army.