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Chapter 58: the President's account of the evacuation of Richmond.

I give Mr. Davis's story of the evacuation of Richmond in his own words.

On Sunday, April 2d, 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 me. I quietly left the church. The occurrence probably attracted attention, but the people had been 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. 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 instruction for our removal that night, simultaneously with General Lee's from Petersburg. The event was foreseen, and some preparations had been made for it, though, as it came sooner [583] than was expected, there was yet much to be done. 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 should under better auspices again return, they all, 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 complacent and unjust censure would have been. ...

Being alone in Richmond, a few arrangements needful for my personal wants were soon made after reaching home. Then leaving all else in the care of the house-keeper, I waited until notified of the time I would depart, and going to the station, started for Danville, whither I supposed General Lee would proceed with his army.

Here he promptly proceeded to put the town in a state of defence. Energetic efforts [584] were made to collect supplies for General Lee's army.

Upon his arrival at Danville, President Davis wrote to Mrs. Davis as follows:

Danville, Va., April 5, 1865.
... I have in vain sought to get into communication with General Lee, and have postponed writing in the hope that I would soon be able to speak to you with some confidence of the future. On last Sunday I was called out of church to receive a telegram announcing that General Lee could not hold his position longer than till night, and warning me that we must leave Richmond, as his army would commence retiring that evening.

I made the necessary arrangements and went to my office, and then to our house, to have the proper dispositions made there; nothing had been done after you left, and but little could be done in the few hours which remained before the train was to leave ... The people here have been very kind, and the Mayor and Council have offered assistance in the matter of quarters, and have very handsomely declared their unabated confidence. I do not wish to leave Virginia, but cannot decide on my movements until those of the army are better developed.


From President Davis to Mrs. Davis.

Danville, Va., April 6, 1865.
... In my letter of yesterday I gave you all of my prospects which could now be told, not having heard from General Lee, and having to conform my movements to the military necessities of the case. We are arranging an executive office where the current business may be transacted here, and do not propose at this time definitely to fix upon a point for a seat of government in the future. I am unwilling to leave Virginia, and do not know where, within her borders, the requisite houses for the departments could be found.

While employed in preparing for the defence of Danville, no trustworthy information in regard to Lee's army was received, until Lieutenant John Sargent Wise of Virginia, who declined to be paroled at Appomattox, arrived, from whom it was learned that when he left Lee's army, it was about to be surrendered. Other unofficial information soon followed, of such circumstantial character as to confirm these reports. How Mr. Davis bore defeat is best described by the following letter, written by Mr. Davis's faithful friend, M. H. Clarke, whose opportunities of knowing the President were better than those of another [586] less intimately associated with him in a time of great trial.

Clarksville, Tenn., October 6, 1890.
My Dear Mrs. Davis:
The history of his country is indissolubly woven with your honored husband, and therefore I offer my individual impressions of him in scenes which are yet unwritten. The sum of such impressions helps to give an idea of one phase of his manysided individuality, both simple and grand, which rounded out the perfect man.

I came out of Richmond with him, the chief and confidential clerk of the Executive Office, in charge of the office papers, a member of his military family, composed of his cabinet and staff; and I was close to his person, until he parted with me on May 6, 1865, near Sandersville, Ga., and sent me on, in charge of our wagon train, he leaving “everything on wheels” to join you.

Thus daily and nightly he was under my eyes, which watched over him with affectionate and earnest solicitude.

On that retreat (if so leisurely a retirement could be so called), when I saw an organized government disintegrate and fall to pieces little by little, until there was only left a single member of the cabinet, his private secretary, a few members of his staff, a few [587] guides and servants, to represent what had been a powerful government, which had sustained itself against the soldiery of all nations of the earth; his great resources of mind and heart shone out most brilliantly. Still the head, he moved, calm, self-poised, giving way to no petulance of temper at discomfort, advising and consoling, laying aside all thought of self, planning and doing what was best, not only for our unhappy and despairing people, but uttering gentle, sweet words of consolation and wise advice to every family which he entered as guest; he filled my own distressed heart so full of emotions of love and admiration, that it could hardly contain them.

To me he then appeared incomparably grander in the nobleness of his great heart and head, than when he reviewed victorious armies returning from well-won fields.

I could give you many touching incidents of evenings around the fireside, or noon-day halts for rest and refreshment, of the little children taken on his knee, of tender and comforting answers to eager, breathless questions. He left every family sanctified by his blessed presence, adding his household words to their treasured memories. “ Here was where he sat; here he slept; he said this, and that.” Along the route, there were pleasant [588] anecdotes and reminiscences to hearten up his following, and help the weary, anxious hours during those long days from April 2d to May 6th. Thoughtful of all details, he gave directions about the horses, how best to feed and care for them, remedies for the sick ones, how to cross the rivers, and was watchful of the comfort and health of all. He was the father and comforter, while still the leader and director of affairs.

Through all these scenes, the real man shone out and dignified the mantle of his office. I thank God it was given to me to see him as I did, and to have embalmed in my heart such sweet and precious memories of our great chief.

To me, the last Confederate officer on duty, he gave the great reward and honor of two personal visits to my roof-tree, knowing with his delicate perception how greatly I would value them, and the commendation that “ I gave true and faithful service to the last.”

With profound regard, I am, Faithfully yours, M. H. Clarke.

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