Here I learned that a regiment of the enemy were moving upon Washington, Georgia, which was one of our depots of supplies . . . .
Continuing 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
We proceeded at easy stages; some of the command thought we went too slow. After making two halts of about half a day each, we reached the Savannah River. I crossed early in the morning of the 4th of May, with a company, which had been detailed as my escort, and rode some miles to a farmhouse, where I halted to get breakfast and have our horses fed. Here I learned that a regiment of the enemy were moving upon Washington, Georgia, which was one of our depots of supplies, and I sent back a courier with a pencil-note addressed to General Vaughn, or the officer commanding the advance, requesting him to come on and join me immediately. After waiting a considerable time, I determined to move on with my escort, trusting that the others would overtake us, and that, if not, we should arrive in Washington in time to rally the citizens to its defense. When I reached there, scouts were sent out on the different roads, and my conclusion was that we had had a false alarm. The Secretary of State, Mr. Benjamin, being unaccustomed to traveling on horseback, parted from me, at the house where we stopped to breakfast, to take another mode of conveyance and a different route from that which I was pursuing, with intent to rejoin me in the trans-Mississippi Department. At Washington, the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Mallory, left me temporarily to attend to the needs of his family. The Secretary of War, Mr. Breckinridge, had remained with the cavalry at the crossing of the Savannah River.
During the night after my arrival in Washington, he sent in an application for authority to draw from the treasure, under the protection of the troops, enough to make to them a partial payment. I authorized the acting Secretary of the Treasury to meet the requisition by the use of the silver coin in the train. When the next day passed without the troops coming forward, I sent a note to the Secretary of War, showing the impolicy of my longer delay, having there heard that General Upton had passed within a few miles of the town on his way to Augusta to receive the surrender of the garrison and military material at that place, in conformity with orders issued by General Johnston. This was my first positive information of his surrender. Not receiving an immediate reply to the note addressed to the Secretary of War, General Breckinridge, I spoke to Captain Campbell, of Kentucky, commanding my escort, explained to him the condition of affairs, and telling him that his company was not strong enough to fight, and too large to pass without observation, asked him to inquire if there were ten men who would volunteer to go with me without question wherever I should choose. He brought back for answer that the whole company volunteered on the terms proposed. Gratifying as this manifestation was, I felt it would expose them to unnecessary hazard to accept the offer, and told him, in any manner he might think best, to form a party of ten men. With these. Captain Campbell, Lieutenant Barnwell, of South Carolina, Colonels F. E. Lubbock, John Taylor Wood, and William Preston Johnston, of my personal staff, I left Washington. Secretary Reagan remained for a short time to transfer the treasure in his hands, except a few thousand dollars, and then rejoined me on the road. This transfer of the treasure was made to Mr. Semple, a bonded officer of the navy, and his assistant, Mr. Tidball, with instructions, as soon as it could be safely done, to transport it abroad and deliver it to the commercial house which had acted as the financial agent of the Confederate Government, and was reported to have incurred liabilities on its account.
Mr. Reagan overtook me in a few hours, but I saw no more of General Breckinridge, and learned subsequently that he was following our route, with a view to overtake me, when he heard of my capture, and, turning to the east, reached the Florida coast unmolested. On the way he met J. Taylor Wood, and, in an open boat, they crossed the straits to the West Indies. No report reached me at that time, or until long afterward, in regard to the cavalry command left at the Savannah River; then it was to the effect that paroled men from Johnston’s army brought news of its surrender, and that the condition of returning home and remaining unmolested embraced all the men of the department who would give their parole, and that this had exercised a great influence over the troops, inclining them to accept those terms. Had General Johnston obeyed the order sent to him from Charlotte, and moved on the route selected by himself, with all his cavalry, so much of the infantry as could be mounted, and the light artillery, he could not have been successfully pursued by General Sherman. His force, united to that I had assembled at Charlotte, would, it was believed, have been sufficient to vanquish any troops which the enemy had between us and the Mississippi River.
Had the cavalry with which I left Charlotte been associated with a force large enough to inspire hope for the future, instead of being discouraged by the surrender in their rear, it would probably have gone on, and, when united with the forces of Maury, Forrest, and Taylor, in Alabama and Mississippi, have constituted an army large enough to attract stragglers, and revive the drooping spirits of the country. In the worst view of the case it should have been able to cross the trans-Mississippi Department, and there uniting with the armies of E. K. Smith and Magruder to form an army, which in the portion of that country abounding in supplies, and deficient in rivers and railroads, could have continued the war until our enemy, foiled in the purpose of subjugation, should, in accordance with his repeated declaration, have agreed, on the basis of a return to the Union, to acknowledge the Constitutional rights of the States, and by a convention, or quasi-treaty, to guarantee security of person and property. To this hope I persistently clung, and, if our independence could not be achieved, so much, at least, I trusted might be gained.