On my return home, after an absence of a month, I find your letter of July 17th, inclosing a communication from General James H. Wilson
to the Philadelphia
weekly times, headed “Jefferson Davis
flight from Richmond
You asked me to inform you how much truth there is in the statement of General Wilson
, and say that you desire my answer for publication, and request me to make it full.
My answer is at your disposal, and may be published or not, as you think best.
I will answer this article as well as I can remember the facts at this date, and those which are material, so far as they come to my knowledge, were doubtless so impressed on my mind by the deep interest of the occasion that they will not be forgotten.
I have in the outset to say that General Wilson
must have written his statement from information derived from others, as he could not personally have known the facts about which he writes; and that he has either adopted the fanciful fiction of others, who know as little of the real facts as himself, or he has been egregiously imposed on. I have read the slip you send me twice carefully over; and if there is a single truth in it, outside of the great historical facts incidentally referred to, of the fall of Richmond
and the surrender of General Lee
, I have not discovered it. On the contrary, it is made up of statements which are utterly void of truth.
I will call attention to some of them.
The statement has been made by General Wilson
, as it has been made in many other newspaper articles, that “On the first Sunday in April, 1865, while seated in St. Paul's church, in Richmond
received a telegram from Lee
announcing the fall of Petersburg
, the partial destruction of his army, and the immediate necessity of flight.”
On that point I make this statement: “On the Sunday referred to, I went by the War Department on my way to church.
When at the department I was informed of two dispatches just received from General Lee
, stating briefly the circumstances which made it necessary for him to withdraw his army from its position in front of Richmond
at seven o'clock that evening, and that it would be necessary for the government archives and public property to be removed at once.
On receiving this intelligence, not knowing that Mr. Davis
had already received it, I walked toward his residence, which was a few hundred yards off, to confer with him about it, and on the way met him and Governor Lubbock
, of his staff.
We three then walked on to the Executive office.
He then assembled his Cabinet, and sent for the Governor
and the Mayor
Directions were then given to prepare the public archives for removal, and measures were considered and directions given to secure, as far as practicable, good order and safety to persons and property in the city until it should be surrendered.”
In this paper it is also said that, “Although he (Mr. Davis
) 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 more resolute wife spent the rest of the day in packing their personal baggage.”
And it is added that, “Those who are acquainted with the personal character of Mrs. Davis
can readily imagine with what energy and determination she must have prepared her family for flight,” etc. And that, “They may believe, too, that although heartsick and disgusted, there was nothing irresolute or vacillating in her actions.”
I would express my surprise, if I could be surprised now by anything of this kind, that such a statement should come from any respectable source.
Now, the truth is, Mr. Davis
did not, “with tremulous and nervous haste, hurry home to his more resolute wife.”
From where I met him he went directly to the Executive office, where he remained nearly all day, and, if I remember right, a part of the night, looking after and giving directions in relation to public affairs, and seeming to take no notice of his private matters.
He did not go to where his wife was, or act with her in preparing for flight; for neither she nor their children were in Richmond
, or had been for three or four weeks before that time.
And I am sure there is
no man who saw Mr. Davis
on that trying occasion but was impressed with his calm and manly dignity, his devotion to the public interest, and his courage.
It is apparent that one object of this statement is to try to produce the impression that Mr. Davis
, in the hour of extreme peril, had forgotten his great office and trust, and descended to the care of his personal baggage while the Confederate Government was dissolving; and that another of its objects was to show that, on this great occasion, he was irresolute, tremulous, nervous, and wanting in self-possession and dignity.
Nothing could be further from the truth; and I venture the statement that there is no one who saw him then, or who knew his character, who would not unhesitatingly contradict such a statement; and I venture the further suggestion that neither of these charges will ever be sustained, nor will any attempt ever be made to sustain them by any legitimate or trustworthy evidence, and that no man will make such charges who has respect for truth and a just regard for his own reputation.
It is just for me to say that early in the war Mr. Davis
allowed all his property to be destroyed or carried away from where it was in Mississippi
without making any effort to save it, and the fact was then noted as an evidence of his entire unselfishness.
It is further said in this paper that, “At nightfall everything was in readiness.
Even the gold still remaining in the Treasury, not exceeding in all $40,000, was packed away among the baggage,” etc. If it is meant by this statement simply that the money in the Treasury, gold and all, was taken with the archives and public property away from Richmond
by the proper department officers, the statement is correct; but if it is meant by this insidious form of a statement to be understood that this or any other public money was taken from Richmond
in Mr. Davis
' baggage, then the statement is wholly untrue.
It is also said in this paper, when speaking of the train which carried Mr. Davis
and other officers from Richmond
, that, “This train, it is said, was one which had carried provisions to Amelia Court-House
's hard-pressed and hungry army, and having been ordered to Richmond
, had taken these supplies to that place, where they were abandoned for a more ignoble freight.”
This whole paragraph is ridiculously absurd.
No supplies were then being carried from the South
— I mean after Lee
's retreat began.
And it was a train of passenger, and not of freight cars, which carried the persons referred to, and was provided for the express purpose of carrying them off. General Wilson
also says: “It is stated, upon what appears good authority, that Davis
many weeks before Lee
's catastrophe, made the 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 aboard.
These orders were sent to the rebel cruiser many days before Lee
's lines were broken,” etc. If the writer believed he had respectable authority for so important a statement, why did he not advise his readers what his authority was?
No such question, nor any other question as to the means of escape, or as to instructions to the “Shenandoah
” to facilitate such an escape, was ever considered by the Cabinet
; nor, so far as I know or believe, was any such question considered or discussed with any member of the Cabinet
I do not believe that any such subject was considered or discussed by Mr. Davis
or any member of his Cabinet at any time, before or after the surrender of General Lee
Nor do I believe that any man who regards his reputation for truth will allow himself to be given as authority for this statement.
In confirmation of this view, I may state that when Mr. Davis
was informed that General Sherman
would allow him to leave the United States
on a United States
vessel, with whoever or whatever he pleased to take with him, his reply was that he would do no act which would place him under obligations to the Federal Government
, and that he would not leave Confederate soil while there was a Confederate regiment on it. I referred to this afterward in conversation with Mr. Davis
, and he told me I would remember that he was one of the Senators
who refused to vote the honors of the United States Senate to General Kossuth
, and that his reason was that Kossuth
, and left an army behind him. I may also mention that after this General Breckenridge
and myself proposed that we should take what troops we had with us and go westward, crossing the Chattahoochie
, and get as many of them across the Mississippi
as we could, and in the meantime keep up the impression that Mr. Davis
was with us, and for him to go to the coast of Florida
and cross to Cuba
, and charter a vessel under the English
flag and go to Brownsville, Texas
, and thence return and meet us to the west of the Mississippi
He refused to assent to this plan, on the ground that he would not abandon Confederate soil.
I ought to add that we were influenced to make this suggestion, because we thought him so exhausted and enfeebled that we did not think he could make the trip by land to where it was hoped to embody the troops west of the Mississippi
I know, too, that it was Mr. Davis
' purpose to try to get to the west of the Mississippi
before our troops were disbanded, and to get together as many as we could, he hoped sixty or eighty thousand, and place them where they and their horses could be subsisted on the beef and grass of Texas
, and where they could not be flanked by railroads and navigable rivers, and there to try and hold out for better terms than unconditional surrender.
From all this it will be seen how absurdly untrue the statement of General Wilson
is. The following passage is found in his paper: “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.
, 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 adopt the alternative of trying to push through to the southwest,” etc. I have answered so much of this as refers to the supposed plan of escape.
The writer seems to have been in the same predicament as many others have been, who have sought to force or to make facts to suit fanciful theories.
and his Cabinet were not, when they left Richmond
, laboring under the belief that General Lee
could avoid surrendering only a short time.
It was still hoped at that time that Generals Lee
might be able to unite their armies at some point between the armies of Generals Grant
, and turn upon and defeat one of them, and take their chances for defeating the other by fighting them in detail.
If I knew then where the “Shenandoah
” was, I have now forgotten, and I certainly never heard the subject mentioned of an intended or desired escape from the country by her.
I think I am entirely safe in saying that neither Mr. Davis
nor any member of his Cabinet contemplated leaving the country when we left Richmond
, but two of them afterward determined to do so. And I do not believe that Mr. Davis
or any other member of his Cabinet afterward desired to leave the country.
, prostrated by a long and dangerous illness, resigned his position as Secretary of the Treasury
while we were on our way south, and went to his home.
, Secretary of the Navy
, and Mr. Davis
, Attorney General
, went to their homes, and all of them remained there until put under arrest by the authority of the
. Mr. Davis
and myself were captured while endeavoring to make our way to the west of the Mississippi
for the purpose of continuing the struggle there, if practicable, long enough to get better terms.
was not sent to confer with General Johnston
as soon as Mr. Davis
heard of the surrender of General Lee
, if that is what the writer means to assert.
and his Cabinet remained at Danville, Virginia
, for several days after being informed of the surrender of General Lee
, and then went to Greensboroa, North Carolina
, where they remained a week or two.
It was after we had left Greensboroa for Charlotte, North Carolina
, and had gone as far as Lexington
, in that State, that Mr. Davis
received a dispatch from General Johnston
, requesting him to send him assistance in his negotiations with General Sherman
. General Breckenridge
and myself were then sent back by him to join General Johnston
at his headquarters, near Hillsboroa, and to aid him in his negotiations.
This was done at this time, and at the suggestion of General Johnston
, and not as soon as Mr. Davis
heard of the surrender of General Lee
, as supposed by General Wilson
Much as Mr. Davis
, no doubt, respected and esteemed General Breckenridge
, it is not true that he confided his hopes to him, or to any other single person.
What is said by General Wilson
about the “last council of the Confederacy
,” is, no doubt, a fancy sketch, intended to round up handsomely this fiction, unrelieved by a single fact.
If the writer of this paper is Major General Wilson
, who was in command at Macon, Georgia
, when we were captured, I shall regret that he has allowed himself to be the author of such a paper, as I felt, and still feel, under obligations to him for a personal favor when I was passing that place.
When we reached Macon
, where we remained a few hours, we were informed that Mr. Davis
and Mr. Clay
, of Alabama
, who were there, would be sent on to Washington City
, and that I and the other prisoners were to remain there.
At my own request, I saw General Wilson
, and applied to him to have the order so modified as to allow me to go on with Mr. Davis
I based this request on the ground that Mr. Davis
was worn down by his labors, and in feeble health; that I was the only member of his Cabinet with him, and I hoped to be of some service to him; and as we had been together through the conflict, I desired to share his fortunes whatever they might be. After some remarks by him about the danger I would invoke on myself, and my reply that I had fully considered all that, he said that he would see if the order could not be changed, and before we left there we were notified that we were all to go together.
While I regretted that some others were sent on, I was grateful to him for the favor done me.
Since writing the foregoing the Philadelphia
weekly times, of July 7th, has been put in my hands, which contains what I suppose to be the whole of General Wilson
Much of it appears to be an account of military orders and of military operations with which he was connected, and about which I have no personal knowledge.
What I wrote above had only reference to the portion of his letter which was then before me (the first two paragraphs of it), and has no reference to what he afterward says about military operations His paper is long and I have not leisure now to review it fully.
I will say, however, that he is in error as to many of his statements of facts, and as to many of his conclusions in that part of his letter which was not before me when I wrote the foregoing pages.
For instance: “He says that after he was advised by General Sherman
of the armistice which was entered into between him and General Johnston
, and that one of its provisions was, that neither party should make any change of troops during the continuance of the armistice,” he proceeds with this further statement: “Having heard from citizens, however, that Davis
, instead of observing the armistice, was making his way toward the south with an escort, I took possession of the railroads and sent scouts in all directions in order that I might receive timely notice of his movements.”
He then confesses to having violated the terms of the armistice, but excuses himself by saying that he had heard from citizens
that Mr. Davis
was violating it by going south with an escort.
He says the first he heard of the armistice was from Generals Cobb
, at Macon, Georgia
, on the 20th day of April.
That after that he was advised of its existence by General Sherman
, and that it was “intended to apply to my [General Wilson
He also says that in a short time he was informed by General Sherman
, by telegram, of the termination of hostilities, and surrender of General Johnston
, on the 27th of April.
Now the armistice was agreed to on the 18th of April, and on the 24th of April General Sherman
notified General Johnston
it would terminate in forty-eight hours, leaving the parties bound by its terms until the 26th of April. Mr. Davis
was at Charlotte
when the treaty and armistice was agreed to. He remained there under the terms of the armistice until the notice of its termination was given by General Sherman, and until the expiration of the forty-eight hours, when it was finally terminated, and did not leave there until he learned of the surrender of General Johnston, which took place on the 27th of April.
says: “The first direct information of Mr. Davis
' movements reached me on the 23d of April, from a citizen,
now a prominent lawyer and politician of Georgia
, who had seen him at Charlotte, North Carolina
, only three or four days before, and had learned that he was on his way, with a train and escort of cavalry, to the south.”
This citizen may have seen Mr. Davis
at the time named at Charlotte
But if he did, he saw him halted there, awaiting the result of the negotiations with General Sherman
, and afterward the termination of the armistice, until the 27th or 28th of April, with perfect good faith and honor, and not violating a solemn engagement, always binding on the true soldiers and honorable men, as General Wilson
confesses he was, after he had been notified by General Sherman
that the armistice was binding on him. And this violation of faith was aggravated by the fact that Mr. Davis
was then struggling with defeat and disaster, environed on all sides by two overwhelming forces of a victorious army; while General Wilson
, by his own statement, knew these facts, and had the game all in his own hands, and would have been in no danger of losing any of his advantages by acting in good faith.
I leave him and his readers to determine whether he was justified in such a breach of faith by idle rumors, which he has since had ample time and opportunity to know were untrue, as the whole history of this affair has long since been within his reach.
There is a statement in General Wilson
's letter which is important only as showing how the most minute facts can be mis-stated, where the error can by any means cast discredit on Mr. Davis
He states, in substance, that the ferryman, where we crossed the Ocmulgee river
, had told Colonel Harnden
that we had crossed the river about one o'clock in the morning.
This, it may have been supposed, would produce the belief that we were in precipitate flight.
Now the truth is we reached that river just at dusk, and crossed it before it was fully dark, and that Mr. Davis
had made his regular rides since leaving Washington, Georgia
, in the day and rested at night, with the single exception of having rode across the country, north of the Ocmulgee river
, a part of one night, to reach and protect his family, whom he had not seen for several weeks, against threatened evil.
There is one other statement made by General Wilson
which is so gross a perversion of the truth that I must quote it at length and state what did occur.
Shortly after the recognition of Mr. Davis by his captors, Colonels Pritchard and Harnden rode up to where the group were standing.
Davis, recognizing them as officers, asked which of them was in command.
As these officers were lieutenant colonels of different regiments, belonging to different brigades of different divisions, and had, therefore, probably never before met, except casually, much
less compared dates of commission, they were somewhat taken aback at the question, and hesitated what answer to make.
Whereupon Mr. Davis upbraided them with ignorance, reproached them with unchivalrous conduct in hunting down women and children, and finally declared with the air and manners of a braveo, that they could not have caught him but for his desire to “protect his women and children.”
“How would you have prevented it, Mr. Davis?”
said Colonel Pritchard. “Why, sir, I could have fought you or eluded you.”
“As for fighting us, we came prepared for that,” replied the Colonel; “it would have saved us some trouble, and, doubtless, you a good deal; but as for eluding us, I don't think your garb is very well adapted to rapid locomotion.”
In relation to this statement I wish to say, with whatever of emphasis I can give my words, that I was present at the time Mr. Davis
and Colonel Pritchard
recognized each other, as was also Governor Lubbock
, and that there is not one truth stated
in this whole
did not come up for some time after Mr. Davis
was made a prisoner.
When he rode up there was a crowd, chiefly of Federal soldiers, around Mr. Davis
He was standing and dressed in the suit he habitually wore.
He turned toward Colonel Pritchard
and asked: “Who commands these troops?”
replied, without hesitation, that he did. Mr. Davis
said to him: “You command a set of thieves and robbers.
They rob women and children.”
then said: “Mr. Davis
, you should remember that you are a prisoner.”
And Mr. Davis
replied: “I am fully conscious of that.
It would be bad enough to be the prisoner of soldiers and gentlemen I am still lawful game, and would rather be dead than be your prisoner.”
I have often since thought and spoken of this scene and colloquy.
I cannot have forgotten the substance of it. I think I repeat very nearly, or quite the words used.
Not one word was said by Mr. Davis
about fighting or eluding our pursuers.
Not one word was said by Colonel Pritchard
about saving any trouble.
Not one word was said about Mr. Davis
' garb, for there was nothing in his dress or appearance to call for such a remark.
Not one word was said by Mr. Davis
about “protecting his women and children.”
He only pointed to the fact that they were being robbed.
I doubt if Colonel Harnden
had then reached where we were; but of this I do not profess to know.
I only know that a few moments before his men were fighting Colonel Pritchard
's, on the north side of the creek, near which we had camped, and that few or none of the men from the other side of the creek had then reached us. And I do not think General Wilson
can have had the
authority of Colonel Pritchard
for this statement, for he knows the facts as they are, and I cannot think would falsify them in this way.
Was this miserable falsehood about Colonel Pritchard
saying to Mr. Davis
, “I don't think your garb is very well adapted to rapid locomotion,” intended to form another link in the chain of evidence to show that, when captured, Mr. Davis
was disguised as a woman Is it to be quoted by the next person who may write an article revamping this despicable slander, as additional and conclusive evidence
that he was so disguised, and made conclusive by the fact that Colonel Pritchard
so called attention to this disguise in the midst of the assemblage then around Mr. Davis
Outside of those who robbed the ladies and children, and those who rummaged among their wrappings, as this writer describes, I cannot believe there was one man in those two commands base enough to allow himself to be made the author of this false statement.
I will not go through the disgusting details of falsehoods by which, in cold blood, twelve years after the war, when sensational statements and the bitterness of passion, and even the wish by falsehood to wrong an enemy, should have died away, General Wilson
revamps and remodels the story of Mr. Davis
I will only make this statement as to what then occurred to show that if Mr. Davis
had sought to disguise himself he could not have done so for want of time, and the facts show that it was impossible for him to have conceived and executed a plan of disguise.
I was not immediately with him when we were attacked.
, Colonel Johnston
, Colonel Wood
, and myself had slept under a tree, something like a hundred yards from where Mr. Davis
and his family camped.
We went into camp before nightfall the evening before, and had no fears of the presence of an enemy.
We were misled as to our security for the time being by the following facts: We were getting well south in Georgia
, with a view to turn Macon
and pass through the piney wood country to the south of these cities, where the population was more sparse, and where the roads were not so much frequented.
We were to cross the Ocmulgee river
below, where it could be forded, and where there were not many ferries.
On approaching that river we expected to encounter trouble, if the Federal
authorities knew the course we were traveling.
In this event we supposed the ferries would be guarded.
When we crossed the river, about dusk, we found no opposition, and, at the same time, learned that there was a considerable cavalry force at Hawkinsville
, twenty-three miles up the river from where we crossed it.
Learning that this force was so near, and seeing that the ferries
were not guarded, we concluded our course was not known at that time, and traveled rather slowly the succeeding day, and went into camp, early in the evening before we were captured, with the understanding from Mr. Davis
that he, Mr. Harrison
, his staff officers and myself would probably go on after supper and leave his family, then supposed to be out of reach of. danger, which caused us to leave our course and join them.
I state all this to show our feeling of temporary security, and the reasons why we felt and acted as we did. The first warning we had of present danger was the firing just across the little creek we were camped on, which took place between the Wisconsin
cavalry, between day-dawn and full light.
, as I afterward learned from him, had some time before posted one part of his command across the road in front of us, and the other part across the road in the rear of us, and behind the little creek on which we were encamped.
The firing was between these troops in, rear of us and the Wisconsin
troops, who were pursuing us on the road we had traveled.
When this firing occurred, as Mr.Davis
and Mrs. Davis
both told me afterward, Mr. Davis
started out of his tent, saying to his wife, “those people have attacked us at last.”
(Meaning the men whom we had heard intended to rob Mr. Davis
' train the night we quit our course, and went across the country to the north of the Ogeechee river
.) “I will go and see if I can stop the firing; surely I will have some authority with Confederates yet.”
His staff officers and myself were camped about one hundred yards in the direction of the firing from him, and he supposed we were being fired on, as he told us afterward.
As he stepped out of his tent, as he told me that day, he saw the troops which had been posted in front of us, and which were under the immediate command of Colonel Pritchard
, in full gallop toward him, and within some sixty yards of his tent.
He turned to his wife and said: “It is the Federal
cavalry, and they are on us.”
As he turned to go out again, I understood his wife threw a waterproof cloak around his shoulders; he stepped out, and was immediately put under arrest.
Directly afterward, Lubbock
and myself went to him, where he was surrounded by the soldiers.
He then had no cloak or other wrapping on him; was dressed in a suit of Confederate gray, with hat and boots on just as usual.
Directly after this, and about the time the firing ceased between Colonel Pritchard
's and Colonel Harnden
's troops across the creek (I say Colonel Harnden
because General Wilson
says they were his, for I did not before know what officer commanded them), it was that the conversation above alluded to took place between Mr. Davis
and Colonel Pritchard
From these facts the impossibility of Mr. Davis
' disguise, as charged, will be seen.
And it is out of these facts that the story of his disguise no doubt grew, with all the varied forms, more or less elaborate, it has been made to assume by sensational and reckless writers, who seem to have been willing to originate and circulate any story which they thought would gratify hate and bring ridicule on the leader of a brave people, who had risked all and lost all in a cause as dear to them as life; and under whom vast armies had been organized, many great battles had been fought, and a mighty struggle carried on for four years, which had shaken this continent, and arrested the attention of the civilized world; and which was then being supported by a million Federal soldiers, as was afterward shown by President Johnson
; the leader of a cause sustained by a more united people, with clearer convictions of what was involved in the struggle, probably, than any people who ever engaged in revolution, if others may so call it, not simply to preserve slavery, but to secure the rights of local self-government, and friendly government, to a homogeneous and free people; and to secure protection against a government hostile to their interests and to an institution which had been planted in this country in early Colonial times by the Christian
powers of Europe
, in what they understood to be the humane policy of civilizing and Christianizing a people so barbarous then that they sacrificed, ate, enslaved, and sold each other; an institution which existed in nearly all the States of the Union
when the Declaration of Independence
was made, and when the Federal Constitution
was adopted; an institution which was protected by the Constitution
and laws of the United States
, and of all the States in which it existed.
It was a struggle, whatever it may be fashionable to say about it now, of a comparatively weak people, with limited resources, against a people of more than twice their strength, and of vastly superior resources; of an unorganized people, without an army or navy or treasury, against a powerful government with all these at command; a struggle which cost more than half a million of lives, and caused the sacrifice of probably ten billions of dollars' worth of property, to gratify a fierce and aggressive fanaticism against the weaker section, and against the traditions, the Constitution
and laws of the country.
But for this, history will write it down that there would have been no such war, no such sacrifice of life, and no such sacrifice of property, and the country might have gone on in its grand career the freest, the most prosperous an( happy the world ever saw.
The time will some day come when the questions which led to
this war, and which have grown out of it, and the acts and motives of those who participated in it, will be discussed with candor and fairness, and with freedom from the passions and prejudices which still in some degree surround them.
Then the real truth will be known, and those who come after us will, no doubt, do that justice to each side which neither can be expected to do to the other now, rapidly as we have advanced from the fierce passions of war toward a patriotic and fraternal restoration of good will.