previous next

The gold of the Confederate States Treasury. [from the times-dispatch, April 24, 1904.]

Guarded to Atlanta, Georgia, by the Naval Cadets.

[See Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. IX, p. 542, et seq., and Vol. XXVI, p. 94. et seq.]

The following we take from the columns of the Confederate Veteran for April 1904. It is doubly interesting, because it gives some history of the formation of the Confederate Naval Cadet Battalion, and bacause it deals with the transportation of the government gold from the time when it was taken from Richmond on the day of the evacuation until it was put into the bank vaults at Augusta, Ga. The author was Dr. John W. Harris, of Augusta, who died in 1890:

Confederate Naval Cadets.

It may not be known generally that the Confederate government had established and conducted through the last three years of its existence a regularly organized and well perfected naval school for the education of naval officers. Early in 1862 a prospectus appeared in one of the Richmond papers announcing the formation of an academy for the instruction of midshipmen; and soon after, by regular congressional appointments, the various districts of the Confederacy were enlisted.

The school was under the command of Captain William H. Parker, a lieutenant of the old service. Assistant instructors in the various departments were detailed, some of them ex-students of Annapolis, and others men of high scholarship selection from the army. The steamer Yorktown, which, a few months before had participated in the conflict of the Merrimac and the Monitor as a tender to the former ship, was fitted up, given the name of Patrick Henry, and anchored off the shore batteries at Drewry's Bluff, where the school was quartered in cottages built for the purpose. Here she remained for a short time, and was then towed up the river to within two miles of Richmond, where she lay for nearly a year, with the entire academy on board, and finally, about eight [158] months previous to the surrender, was moved up to this city and lay at Rocketts, where she perished in the flames of the 3d of April, 1865.

In March, 1865, the health of the crew became impaired by the foulness of bilge water, and the midshipmen were removed from the ship and quartered in a large tobacco factory on the corner of 24th and Franklin streets. The writer, in company with twelve or fifteen others, had been sent to the naval hospital in the city some two weeks previous.

On Sunday, the 2d of April, there were anxious looks upon the faces of medical officers of the hospital, and about 4 o'clock in the afternoon a midshipman, coming into the ward to see a sick comrade, met the jeers and amused expressions of many of us because he was armed and equipped as an infantry soldier instead of the dainty dress of the Confederate ‘Middy.’ The visitor informed us that at 2 o'clock that day orders had been issued for the corps to be armed as infantry, and that they had been marched to the naval storehouse in double-quick time and supplied with all the necessary accoutrements. Other rumors came in that members of the senior class and some passed-midshipmen had been seen as officers in infantry marching through the streets, and that a naval brigade had been formed and the iron-clad squadron at Drewry's Bluff had been abandoned.

Then began a bustle in and about the wards, and at sundown the statement was freely bandied around that the President and cabinet had left the city, and that it was to be evacuated at once. At 8 o'clock the writer and two comrades drove in the hospital ambulance to the quarters of the midshipmen at the factory and found it empty. On one of the upper floors was the mahogany table and the silver table service of the wardroom, watched over by an old boatswain's mate, and, sitting in solemn state at the bottom of it, drinking, and eating crackers, was the second lieutenant. To him we mentioned the rumors, asked where the boys had gone, and requested to have the sailors transport our baggage to the depot from which the school had started. These he met with ridicule, denied the evacuation of the city and said the ‘Middies’ had gone to Chapel Hill, N. C., which would be the seat of the naval academy for the rest of the war. He told us to return to the hospital and retire, and the next day leave with him and two other midshipmen for Chapel Hill. We did so, and on the next morning were awakened by the explosion of the magazines. Dressing rapidly, we proceeded to the surgeon's [159] office and received our discharge from the hospital, with ‘permission to leave the city.’

On going out into the street it appeared as if the final day of doom was upon us. The air was filled with smoke and sparks, and the darkness of twilight was over and about the city. Stores were being broken open and rifled; dead men—shot down in the attempt to rob—were lying at intervals, while negroes fought over barrels of provisions that had been rolled from burning warehouses. Mingled with the roar of flames came the appalling crash of exploding magazines and the rumble of falling walls. Rapidly as possible we forced our way through the frantic masses and gained the Danville Railroad bridge, only to find it in flames at different points, and no evidence of trains on the southern side. Retracing our steps, we sought egress from the north side of the city. When crossing Main street we noticed two blocks below us, advancing on a trot, a regiment of Federal cavalry. They overtook us and rode by without observing us, although we were gorgeous in full uniform, but without side arms or accoutrements, save small haversacks, in which we had stored all the crackers we could get. By means of a locomotive, obtained under compulsion, and with the assistance of two army officers, we rode twenty-five miles from Richmond, and then, having no experienced engineer, and the steam being exhausted, we abandoned it on a side track and reached the Valley of Virginia after days of tiresome progress on foot.

The Confederate Treasury.

Going back now to the departure of the midshipmen from the warehouse, we can trace the connection of the Naval Academy with the fleeing treasury of the Confederacy. For the following accurate narrative we are indebted to the diary of Midshipman R. H. Fielding, then a zealous and efficient young officer, and now a Presbyterian minister of prominence in Virginia. He says:

We left our quarters at the tobacco factory at 4 P. M. on Sunday, and proceeded rapidly to the Danville depot. On reaching it we were formed in line and were addressed by Captain Lowall, the commandant of midshipmen, who told us that we had been selected by the secretary, because he believed us to be brave, honest and discreet young officers and gentlemen, for a service of peculiar danger and delicacy; that to our guardianship was to be committed a valuable train, containing the archives of the government, with its [160] money. We were then marched into the depot, where our train, in company with others, was receiving freight. Guards were placed at all entrances, and the squad, with fixed bayonets, cleared the building of loafers and citizens.

The train left the depot at midnight, and two midshipmen, with two loaded revolvers, were placed in each car containing the government boxes, one to sleep while the other watched, in these cars also were government clerks, with several ladies, their wives, and their personal baggage. The next day we reached Danville, and on the 5th of April Admiral Semmes, with the men of the James River Squadron (the ironclads had been blown up on the night of the 2d) reached the point and were assigned to its defense. Midshipman Semmes was here detailed to his father's staff, and Midshipman Breckenridge accompanied his father (Secretary of War) as his personal aid. Our train stood on the track not far from the depot, and our encampment was in a grove not far from the train.

On the 9th of April, we left Danville and reached Greensboro, N. C., about 4 P. M., the 10th; then on to Charlotte. While there the money was placed in the mint and the midshipmen feasted at the leading hotels. On the 13th we were off to Chester, S. C. Here the government's specie, papers, treasury clerks and their wives, etc., were placed in wagons for a march across country to to the railroad at Newberry. I saw the cargo transferred to the wagons, and there were small, square boxes, which we supposed contained gold, or bullion, and kegs, resembling beer kegs, which we inferred contained silver. The train was not a long one. Mrs. Davis and child and nurse occupied a large ambulance. I do not know whether she joined us at Greensboro or Charlotte. We marched to Newberry, reaching there on the 15th of April, and the same day took cars for Abbeville. Left Abbeville with wagon train on the 17th, and reached Washington, Ga., on the 19th. We went to Augusta, Ga., on the 20th, and here the money was placed in the vaults of a bank. Some of it, I know not how much, was sold to citizens; at least men crowded around with Confederate currency to get gold. On the 26th we were ordered back to Washington, Ga., the things going along with us. (It seems the ‘middies’ had playfully dubbed the specie boxes the things.)


The coin.

On the 27th the midshipmen who desired them were offered furloughs, which were accepted by all but five Virginians—Quaries, Hudson, Slaughter, Carter and Fleming. The things were again put in wagons, and across the country we marched on the 29th of April to Abbeville, S. C., where the things were put on board some cars that stood at the depot. We had no guard duty to do after leaving Washington, Ga. On May the 2d President Davis and Staff and Cabinet reached Abbeville, coming, I imagined, from Charlotte, on horseback. On that day we five Virginians were discharged, as per the following order, probably the last official act of the navy of the Confederate States:

Abbeville, S. C., May 2, 1865.
Sir,—You are hereby detached from the Naval School, and leave is granted you to visit your home. You will report by letter to the Hon. Secretary of the Navy as soon as practicable. Paymaster Wheless will issue you ten days rations, and all quartermasters are requested to furnish transportation.

Respectfully, your obd't servant,

William H. Parker, Commanding.

In continuation, Mr. Fleming does not know when the money left Abbeville, but thinks it was on the morning of the 1st of May. Some money was paid to the soldiers at Greensboro, how much he did not know, but says he observed soldiers en route home rattling coins in their pockets and singing, ‘One dollar and fifteen cents for four years service.’ The President and staff left on the night of the 2d. A committee of five discharged midshipmen, through Captain Parker, requested Secretary Reagan before leaving to pay them in gold sufficient to enable them to reach home. He obtained several hundred dollars to be distributed pro rota among the naval officers, and the midshipmen received forty dollars apiece. They remained in Abbeville until May 7, when they started homeward. A few days before the remaining specie had been placed in charge of some general of the army, and there personal knowledge of it ends. [162]

This is the high testimony of a man who had followed closely the fortunes of the Confederate cause in its death throes, and who adhered until the last feeble nucleus of an organization had dissolved, In the close of a private communication recently received from him he says, referring to the imputations against President Davis and his connection with the government money: ‘I have no word of commendation for his accusers. Mr. Davis was never with the specie train a single day during our connection with it.’

We contribute this as a subject which has never been referred to in any written records of the war, and it possibly contains a more succinct history of the route pursued by the heads of the government after the 3d of April than any yet given.

We have ever regarded the safe transit of this treasure through so large an area of country as a tribute to the honesty and law-abiding spirit of the Southern people. It will not be forgotten that the region through which it passed, with its little guard of forty boys, was filled with stragglers and unofficered bands of scattered and suffering soldiers—men knowing all the pangs of hunger and destitution of clothing and utterly hopeless of the success of their cause, yet men who obeyed through their sense of right when no law existed, and kept their hands free from the stain of robbery while boxes of this treasure lay in their midst, with only the lives of its slender little bodyguard between them and its possession.

(The coin belonging to the Richmond banks was upon the same train, but on a different car. It was under the charge of the officers of the banks, we believe.—editor Confederate column.)


Dr. John W. Harris was born in Augusta county, Virginia, July 16, 1848. His father was Dr. Clement R. Harris, M. D., surgeon in charge of the gangrene ward in Dellivan Hospital, at Charlottesville, Va. His mother was Eliza McCue, of Scotch descent. His early boyhood was spent near Brandy Station, Culpeper county, Va. This home was broken up by the war. In 1863-64 he entered the Confederate States service from Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va., enlisting with Mosby. He could, in his vivid and versatile manner, tell of his experience with this command, which was varied and oftentimes savored of hairbreadth escapes. In January, 1865, he received from his congressman the appointment as midshipman in the Confederate States Navy. He [163] passed his examination before Secretary Mallory and went aboard the school ship, Patrick Henry, at Rocketts, James river, Richmond, Va., where he remained until a few days before the evacuation of Richmond, when, with many of the ship's crew, having contracted dysentery, he was sent to the old Belleview Block Hospital, at which place the ever-memorable morning of the 3d of April, 1865, found him somewhat improved, though by no means sufficiently strong for the journey to his home, after receiving his discharge. He, with two of his shipmates, began a forced and weary tramp, however, up the old Central Railroad for Staunton, Va. They tarried and rested a few hours with his friend, Mr. Pratt, at the University of Virginia, and in due time they reached the old homestead at Mount Solon, Augusta county.

We all know what those days were to older hearts and heads than his, but he carried with him to the end the consciousness that he had stood by his State through her dreadful ordeal. While at the University of Virginia, three years after the war, he formed a lasting friendship with his classmate, the late lamented Henry W. Grady, whose untimely death he deeply mourned. These two friends died of the same disease, only one month apart. Dr. Harris studied the problems of unity between the North and South, and thought that Grady's genius was the touchstone that would be a power in formulating this unity of interests.

During the prevailing epidemic of la grippe, which appeared in Staunton in 1890, Dr. Harris was engaged in taking care of others, and in thus exposing himself to the weather, he contracted cold, which was followed by acute pneumonia, which resulted in heart failure, which was the immediate cause of his death, January 24, 1890. He fell with his ‘harness’ on in the faithful discharge of his professional duties.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: