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Chapter 62: leaving Charlotte.—The rumors of surrender.

As time wore on all the news we received was of that kind which is reputed to travel fast, but did not over the broken railways, and tangled and trailing telegraph wires. At last came the dreadful rumor that General Lee was retreating, and the President and his cabinet were coming to Charlotte to meet General Johnston and his army. I felt then that I must obey Mr. Davis's solemn charge, and also that I might embarrass him sadly by remaining there.

That night the treasure train of the Confederacy and that of the Richmond banks, escorted by the midshipmen under the accomplished and gallant Captain Parker, came through Charlotte; and as among the escort were my brother Jefferson and Mr. Davis's grandnephew, and there seemed to be a panic imminent, I decided to go with my children and servants on the extra train provided for the treasure, which could only run as far as Chester, as the road was broken, [611]

We reached there in the morning and were met by Generals John S. Preston, Hood, and Chesnut. General Preston said, “We of this day have no future, but we can worthily bear defeat; anything that man can do I will for you or the President.” General Hood said: “If I have lost my leg and also lost my freedom, I am miserable indeed.” And General Chesnut bowed his dignified head and said: “Let me help you if I can, it is probably the last service I can render.” And these three types of Southern gentlemen formed a noble picture as they stood calm in the expectation of our great woe.

With much trouble an ambulance was secured for my family and a wagon for our luggage, and after dark I started to follow the treasure train on the road to Abbeville. The ambulance was too heavily laden in the deep mud, and as my maid was too weak to walk and my nurse was unwilling, I walked five miles in the darkness in mud over my shoe tops, with my cheerfil little baby in my arms. There were various alarms of “Yankees” at Frog Level and other places on the road, but about one o'clock we reached in safety a little church in which the treasure guardians had taken refuge. A little bride who had accompanied her husband, who was with the bank treasure, told me kindly, “We are lying on [612] the floor, but have left the communion table for you out of respect, but the additional comfort of the table did not tempt one to commit sacrilege.” After a weary night we moved on at daylight.

Captain Parker was exceedingly kind and attentive to us. We held no communications with the actual guardians of either the Confederate or bank treasury.

The price for provisions on the road, from the hostelries and even the private houses, was fifty cents or one dollar for a biscuit, and the same for a glass of milk. It was difficult to feed my children except when we reached the house of some devoted Confederate, and then I did not like to avail of their generosity.

Finally, when it seemed we had endured fatigue enough to have put a “girdle round the earth,” more dead than alive, we reached Abbeville, where our welcome was as warm as though we had something to confer. The treasure trains, without halting, moved on to Washington, Ga.

Mr. Armistead Burt and his wife received us in their fine house with a generous, tender welcome, though fully expecting that, for having given us shelter, it would be burnt by the enemy. There we remained for a few days resting, and in painful expectation of worse news, It came, as we feared, all too soon. [613]

The following letter was received, and a despatch announcing General Lee's surrender.

Augusta, April 21, 1865.
Madame: Herewith I send despatch just received, and which I hope will reach you promptly.

I send you copy of despatch announcing the suspension of arms.

I have the honor to be,
Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,

A. D. Fry.

A specimen of wild rumors is appended to show the cloud that covered us with thick darkness.

Cokesbury Depot, Saturday Afternoon, 2.30 o'clock P. M., April 22, 1865.
Mrs. Davis.
Madame: I have the honor, in compliance with my offer, to write from this place. I presume you heard the rumors of yesterday, viz., that an armistice of sixty days had been agreed upon, and General Grant had sent couriers to the different raiding parties to that effect; that commissioners to negotiate terms had been appointed, consisting on our part of Generals Lee, Johnston, and Beauregard, and on the part of the Yankees of Grant, Sherman, [614] and Thomas; also that the French fleet had attacked the Yankee gun-boats at New Orleans, and had taken the city. One passenger said that President Davis left Ninetysix Station by stage for Augusta, Ga.; another that he had an escort of three hundred cavalry, and would come the route by Abbeville. As all the above are reports, I know nothing positive of their reliability. The Newbury train is now one hour and a half behind time. If it arrives in time for the Abbeville train, I will add a postscript if there is anything new. If I can do anything for you, you have but to command me ... P. S. 3.30. The Newbury train is in. I saw Mr. Fleetwood, from Columbia. He says he conversed with Colonel Urquhart, of the army, that the armistice is positively so, and he had seen orders to the Yankee raiders to that effect. He was told that President Davis was escorted by General Geary, and was on his way to Augusta, Ga.

Very truly your obedient servant,

A. A. Franklin Hill, Major First Georgia Regulars.

A courier arrived with the news that General Johnston's army were engaged in the preliminary arrangements for surrender. He also informed me of Mr. Davis's arrival in [615] Charlotte, and of the announcement made to him there of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. I burst into tears, the first I had shed, which flowed from the mingling of sorrow for the family of Mr. Lincoln, and a thorough realization of the inevitable results to the Confederates, now that they were at the mercy of the Federals.

I felt unwilling, if all was lost east of the Mississippi River, to hamper the Confederate President in his efforts to reach the trans-Mississippi, and there by resistance enforce better terms than our conquerors seemed willing to grant.

Our friend, Colonel Henry Leovy, kindly consented to meet him at the Saluda River with a note, to say that I would not wait his coming, but try to get out of the country as best I might, and meet him in Texas or elsewhere. This letter Mr. Leovy delivered, but Mr. Davis pushed on to Abbeville, hoping to see us before our departure. We had, however, left there for Washington, Ga., on the morning of the day he arrived.

Mr. Harrison arrived that day and brought me a telegram as follows, which he had received from Mr. Davis, who had asked him to join and take care of us. [616]

Charlotte, N. C., April 24, 1865.
B. N. Harrison, Chester, S. C.
The hostile Government reject the proposed settlement, and order active operations to be resumed in forty-eight hours from noon to-day.

Jefferson Davis.

About half an hour's travel out of Abbeville, our wagons met the treasure of the Virginia banks returning. After a few words of greeting to the officer in command, the train moved on, and we continued our journey to Washington.

We found the whole town in a state of most depressing disorder. GeneralElzey and Mrs. Elzey called to see me, and said that when the news of the surrender was received there, the quartermasters' and commissaries' stores had been sacked, and Mrs. Elzey laughingly told me she had picked up a card of pearl buttons in the street which General Elzey insisted she should throw down again, as it was “undoubtedly public property.” General Toombs called with many kind offers of hospitality, but I was anxious to get off before Mr. Davis could reach Washington, fearful that his uneasiness about our safety would cause him to keep near our train and of his being pursued by the enemy. My young brother Jefferson [617] had been paroled at Augusta, and came at once to join and offer me his services.

Colonel Moody, a Mississippi lawyer who was going home, and Colonel Moran, of Louisiana, volunteered to accompany us and take charge of the party. Mr. Harrison, who had rejoined us at Abbeville, was travelling with us; he had been an inmate of our house so long that we were mutually attached, and he rendered every service in his power. Added to these were Messrs. Hathaway, Messick, and Winder Monroe, all of Kentucky, and some paroled Confederate soldiers who drove the ambulance and wagons. We moved out on the afternoon of the same day that we reached Washington, and made ten miles that afternoon.

As soon as our tents were pitched, while we were trying to get our tea in the awkward manner of townspeople camping out, Mr. Davis's nephew-in-law, Mr. Richard Nugent, came up with a note from him bidding farewell and expressing his bitter regret at not seeing us at Washington for consultation, and offering a few words of counsel. Mr. Nugent took back an answer immediately, begging him not to seek an interview, and the ground felt very hard that night as I lay looking into the gloom and unable to pierce it even by conjectures. The next day we moved on and [618] met crowds of soldiers walking home, some very foot-sore and depressed, but generally cordial. I invited as many as would to take a drive in one or the other of the wagons or the ambulance.

On the third day one of our party found we were to be halted by a number of disorganized mounted Confederates, to “have a divide,” as they thought we were quartermasters going off with treasure. After we halted for the night the party came up to the camp fire, and the commander of it recognized me as having dressed his wounded arm in Richmond. After many protestations of regard, they gave us a safe-conduct to pass by another party whom we met on the cross roads. I explained to them that in lieu of money I had a few groceries, my clothes, and nothing more. One of them said, “I am sorry it is not money, you could have kept it.” Now we began to see branches of trees newly broken lying in the road; evidently, from the number of them, they indicated something, and it gave the gentlemen in charge much uneasiness. Colonel Moody communicated his suspicions to me, that we were followed by some enemy.

At last, after a long day's journey, we halted about sundown, and my coachman went into town for some milk. A party of men [619] met him, took the mule that he was riding, and told him that they would have all the mules and horses that night. Our dread was great of being left helpless in the woods without transportation. Upon hearing this circumstance the gentlemen parked the wagons and tied the horses and mules inside. They divided into watches so as to meet the robbers before they had made an assault.

Mr. Davis has related the rest of the journey better than another could.

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