The Capture of Jefferson Davis


Corporal - USMC
MI.Net Member
Feb 22, 2006
It is my belief that President Davis was not wearing a dress when captured.
With the secession of his state, Mississippi in 1861, Senator Jefferson Davis withdrew from the U.S. Senate. He was against secession but felt compelled to follow his state, whose fate would be his fate. Such are principled and free men, subject to make decisions about honor, not about conquest and riches.
Jefferson Davis was made provisional President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861 and was elected by popular vote as the first President of the Confederate States of America on February 22, 1862.
The defense of Richmond in 1865, the Confederate capitol, was no longer feasible and General Robert E. Lee so advised President Davis who along with many of his cabinet members fled the city on April 2, 1865. On April 9, President Davis learned of the surrender of General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. President Davis continued to head south, first North Carolina, then South Carolina until he was finally in Georgia. His plan was to catch a boat on the coast of Georgia and go to Texas or possibly Cuba and continue to direct the war from there. There was a guard of Texas cavalry and many wagons along with servants and baggage. There were rumors of much gold also with this party of fleeing Confederate officials. On April 14, 1865 John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln and the search was on for John Wilkes Booth and Jefferson Davis. There was offered a reward of $100,000 for the capture of President Davis. In Georgia, President Davis met up with his family. This turned out to be his undoing, as the party slowed down the escape. The majority of officials with the guard of Texas calvary departed but President Davis agreed to spend two extra days with his wife and family, still on the move south, but behind and slower. Federal troops had been after President Davis all the way from Richmond, without success. The troops that tried the hardest and ultimately were successful was a 150 man detachment of the First Wisconsin Calvary under the command of Liet. Colonel Henry Harden. These men pursued, without sleep or rations, relentlessly at night and in heavy rain, the trail of the Davis party. As they were closing in, at the small town of Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865, another Union military force, the Fourth Michigan under Liet. Colonel Pritchard also appeared and both Union parties, unaware of the others presence, fired on each other in the dark rain. There were casualties, dead and wounded before the mistake was revealed. It seems that friendly fire accidents happened then as well as now. The party of President Davis heard the gunfire and were at a loss to explain as they knew there were no Confederate troops on hand. The Yankees appeared out of nowhere and neither side knew who was who or what exactly was going on. President Davis came out of his tent. He had on his wife's dark gray raglan (a short-sleeved cloak) and a black shawl. She put both on him before he left the tent because of the rain and because they suspected marauders and deserters had arrived, looking for Confederate gold. He was not dressed in ladies clothes and he did not try to evade or escape capture, it was too late for that. He was not recognized and was asked was he Davis and he responded, yes, I am President Davis.
After the war, a letter written by his wife to a friend, states that President Davis had on the shawl and raglan only because of the rain and that it was his wife who put it on him. This letter resides in the Library of Congress. The man who was there and later wrote his story, for the official record was Liet. Colonel Harden. His words, in the record state: "President Davis wore a common slouched hat, nice fine boots, no spurs, coat and pants of light blue English broadcloth. Taking all circumstances into consideration, he was neatly dressed." The story of President Davis wearing a ladies dress is bogus.
The $100,000 reward was originally given all to the Fourth Michigan to divide until the truth came out at a later date and it was then split equally between only those present at the capture from both the First Wisconsin and Fourth Michigan. President Davis was taken to prison at Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he remained for two years until he was granted release with a huge bond in 1867. In 1868, the federal government dropped all charges against him. He never asked nor was offered citizenship again of the United States.
I still subscribe to the theory that the winners write the history books and as you can see, there are still rumors and untruths repeated to this day about the losers from the War Between the States. I believe history needs to be remembered accurately, nor rewritten for public consumption and political expediency or to make one side or the other look better or worse then they actually were. The truth will set you free or deny your own beliefs, both are preferable to me to a lie.
Semper Fi
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I tend to agree with you. Jeff Davis had some pretty strong critics in the South. Some of them would say B. Judah actually ran the CSA and Davis messed it up. I know Mrs. Davis strongly went after those who flamed her husband. Not much different than politics today.