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How Jefferson Davis was overtaken.

Major General James Harrison Wilson.
On the first Sunday of April, 1865, while seated in St. Paul's Church, in Richmond, Jefferson Davis received a telegram from Lee, announcing the fall of Petersburg, the partial destruction of his army, and the immediate necessity for flight. Although he could not have been entirely unprepared for this intelligence, it appears that he did not receive it with self-possession or dignity; but with tremulous and nervous haste, like a weak man in the hour of misfortune, he left the house of worship and hurried home, where he and his personal staff and servants spent the rest of the day in packing their personal baggage. At nightfall everything was in readiness; even the gold then remaining in the Treasury, not exceeding in all forty thousand dollars, was packed among the baggage, 1 and [555] under cover of darkness the President of the Confederacy, accompanied by three members of his Cabinet-Breckenridge, Benjamin, and Reagan-drove rapidly to the train which had been prepared to carry them from Richmond. This train, it is said, was the one which had carried provisions to Amelia Court-House for Lee's hard-pressed and hungry army; and, having been ordered to Richmond, had taken those supplies to that place, where they were abandoned for a more ignoble freight.2 As a matter of course, the starving rebel soldiers suffered, but Davis succeeded in reaching Danville in safety, where he rapidly recovered from the fright he had sustained, and astonished his followers by a proclamation as bombastic and empty as his fortunes were straitened and desperate.3 [556] [557]

It is stated, upon what appears to be good authority4, that Davis. had, many weeks before Lee's catastrophe, made “the most careful and exacting preparations for his escape, discussing the matter fully with his Cabinet, in profound secrecy; and deciding that in order to secure the escape of himself and his principal officers, the ‘ Shenandoah ’ should be ordered to cruise off the coast of Florida, to take the fugitives on board.” These orders were sent to the rebel cruiser many days before Lee's lines were broken. It was thought that the party might make an easy and deliberate escape in the way agreed upon, as the communications with the Florida coast were at that time scarcely doubtful, and once on the swift sailing “Shenandoah,” the most valuable remnant of the Anglo-Confederate navy, “they [558] might soon obtain an asylum on a foreign shore.” When Davis and his companions left Richmond in pursuance of this plan, they believed that Lee could avoid surrender only a short time longer. A few days thereafter the news of this expected calamity reached them, when they turned their faces again toward the South.5 [559] Breckenridge, the Secretary of War, was sent to confer with Johnston, but found him only in time to assist in drawing up the terms of his celebrated capitulation to Sherman. The intelligence of this event caused the rebel chieftain to renew his flight, but while hurrying onward, some fatuity induced him to change his plans and to [560] adopt the alternative of trying to push through the Southwest toward the region which he fondly believed to be yet under the domination of Forrest, Taylor, and Kirby Smith, and within which he hoped to revive the desperate fortunes of the rebellion. He confided his hopes to Breckenridge, and when he reached Abbeville, South [561] Carolina, he called a council of war to deliberate upon the plans which he had conceived for regenerating what had now become in fact “The lost cause.” This council was composed of Generals Breckenridge, Bragg, and the commanders of the cavalry force which was then escorting him. All united that it was hopeless to struggle [562] longer, but they added that they would not disband their men till they had guarded their chieftain to a place of safety. This was the [563] last council of the Confederacy. Davis, who had hitherto commanded with all the rigor of an autocrat, found himself powerless and deserted. From this day forth he was little better than a fugitive, for although his escort gave him and his wagon train nominal company and protection till be had reached the village of Washington, just within the northeastern boundary of Georgia, they had long since learned the hopelessness of further resistance, and now began to despair even of successful flight. A division of National cavalry, under Stoneman, and a brigade under Palmer, had already burst from the mountains of North Carolina, and were in hot pursuit; while rumors reached him of another mounted force, sweeping destructively through Alabama and Georgia, cutting off, by its wide extended march, the only route to the trans-Mississippi and the far Southwest.

In order that we may properly understand the difficulties which were now rapidly encompassing Davis, and which ultimately led to his capture, let us leave him at Little Washington and consider the movements of the force then marching through Alabama and Georgia. It consisted of three divisions of cavalry, each nearly five thousand strong, an aggregate of nearly fifteen thousand men, all splendidly mounted, armed, and equipped, and, what was better still, inspired by the belief that they were invincible. It will be remembered that after the capture of Selma, on April 2d (which took place at nightfall of the very Sunday that Davis fled from Richmond), and the passage of the victorious cavalry to the south side of the Alabama, their march was directed to the eastward by the way of Montgomery, Columbus, West Point, and Macon; while a detached brigade, under Croxton, moved rapidly in the same direction, by a more northern route, through Jasper, Talladega, and La Grange. The limits of this sketch forbid a detailed narrative of how these gallant troopers captured the last stronghold of the Confederacy, pausing in their march to raise the National flag over the first rebel capitol; how the astonished rebel ladies at the beautiful village of Tuskegee bedecked their horses with flowers as a reward for perfect discipline and good behavior; how they spared one printing press, claimed by a strong-mined woman, upon the condition that “she and her descendants, unto the fourth generation, should permit nothing but Bibles, Testaments, and school books to be printed upon it,” and destroyed another, which had fled from them already through four States; or how two of Iowa's most gallant soldiers, Winslow and Noble, led by the intrepid General Upton, under the cover of darkness, broken only by the incessant flash of fifty-two cannons, carried the works which covered the bridges across the Chattahoochee river [564] at Columbus. A thousand incidents of daring and hardihood and a thousand scenes of exciting incident might be described. The flash and roar of artillery, the terrible crash of the breech-loading carbines, the headlong charge and shout of armed men, the neighing of warhorses, the wild excitement of victory, the confusion of night fighting, the burning of military stores and store-houses, the building of bridges, the passage of rivers in the light of burning cotton bales and gin-houses, and last, though not least, the appealing faces of the colored people, who hailed the advancing Union cavalry with transports of delight, and whose eyes were blinded with tears as the hurrying squadrons passed into the darkness, not heeding their prayer to be led out of the land of bondage, all conspire to make this one of the most exciting campaigns of the entire war.

On the evening of the 11th day of April, while the cavalry corps was marching from Selma to Montgomery, an officer of the advance guard sent in copies of the Montgomery papers of the 6th and 7th, containing brief accounts of the operations of General Grant about Petersburg, and from which, making allowance for rebel suppressions, it was supposed the Army of the Potomac had gained a decisive victory. It was stated that Davis and the rebel government had already gone to Danville, but that their cause was not yet lost. On the 14th and 15th information was received confirmatory of

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