‘You Dare Not Hang That Man’ – Johnson Receives a Letter Brimming With Crazy

May 14, 1865 (Sunday)

“Intelligence was received this morning of the capture of Jefferson Davis in southern Georgia. I met Stanton this Sunday P.M. at Seward’s, who says Davis was taken disguised in women’s clothes. A tame and ignoble letting down of the traitor.” – Gideon Welles, Naval Secretary.

As the news spread through Washington, President Andrew Johnson received a curious letter signed “Pro Patrea et Preside,” complete with a cartoon dagger above the name, which translated from the Latin to “country and president.”

Johnson: "Just you try it."

Johnson: “Just you try it.”

The anonymous author began be referencing Johnson’s “infamous bribe,” referring to the $100,000 offered for the capture of Jefferson Davis, stating that it was responsible for the capture of the Confederate president.

“He is in your power; in no idle spirit of threatening I say to you Chief Magistrate of the United States, beware of how you exercise that power.

“Mr Davis is in no way responsible for the death of your predecessor: nor is he responsible for what you call the Rebellion. His part in it has been the servant of the people, of whom I am one. He was made so by their will, and that will would today uphold him if untrammeled by your horde of bayonets. It has upheld him to the death of the noblest and bravest of men the world ever saw. Thew few remaining would still give their lives for he cause which he has so nobly and conscientiously sustained, and many (I for one) would give their lives for his, and I will if his is taken. You dare not hang that man! Do so, and YOUR LIFE SHALL BE THE FORFEIT.

“Gaurded [sic] at every step as your craven life is, it will not always be so. There will come the time when you think, even the spirit of your people is crushed and exterminated, as are our rights., and you have nothing to fear from a rebellion so dead and buried. For that time I will watch and wait, WITH A RESOLVE AS FIRM & FIXED AS THE HEAVENS – to avenge my President and my country, with my life as the sacrifice. From this purpose your hanging of the alleged ‘conspirators’ and a hundred time their number will not intimidate or turn me.”

The news itself would appear in the newspapers of the following day.1

  1. Sources: Diary by Gideon Welles; The Papers of Andrew Johnson. []

The Last Volley of the War

May 13, 1865 (Saturday)

Union Colonel Theodore Barrett, 62nd US Colored Troops, official report1:

On the morning of the 13th about 200 men of the Thirty-fourth Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison, joined Lieutenant-Colonel Branson. Assuming command in person of the forces thus united. I at once ordered an advance to be again made in the direction of Palmetto Ranch, which, upon the retirement of Lieutenant-Colonel Branson, had been reoccupied by the rebels. The enemy’s cavalry were soon encountered.


Driving them before us, we reached the ranch by 7 or 8 a. m., and again compelled the rebels to abandon it. Such stores as had escaped destruction the day previous were now destroyed, and the buildings which the enemy had turned into barracks were burned, in order that they might no longer furnish him convenient shelter. A detachment was here sent back to Brazos Santiago with our wounded and the prisoners and captures of the day previous. The remainder of the force was ordered to advance. Nearly the entire forenoon [May 13] was spent in skirmishing.

The enemy, though taking advantage of every favorable position, was everywhere easily driven back. Early in the afternoon a sharp engagement took place, which, being in the chaparral was attended with comparatively little loss to us. In this engagement our forces charged the enemy, compelled him to abandon his cover, and, pursuing him, drove him across an open prairie beyond the rising ground completely out of sight. The enemy having been driven several miles since daylight, and our men needing rest, it was not deemed prudent to advance farther. Therefore. relinquishing the pursuit, we returned to a hill about a mile from Palmetto Ranch, where the Thirty-fourth Indiana had already taken its position.

Confederate soldier, Luther Conyer, writing over thirty years after the war2:

On the morning of the 13th a very small force was present in Brownsville. There were not more than 300 men at and below that city of Confederates. Colonel John S. Ford, assuming command, moved down the river to the San Martin ranch. Arriving at about 3 P. M., he found Captain William Robinson, of D. C. Gidding’s Regiment, in a heavy skirmish with J. W. Hancock’s Company, of the 2d Texas. and a company of the 34th Indiana.

A regiment of negro troops— 62d United States — were also moving forward, perhaps to sustain skirmishers. Ford immediately made his dispositions. His right wing was under command of Captain Robinson. Cocke’s and Wilson’s Companies were ordered to attack the enemy’s right flank; the artillery was directed to open fire at once, which was done with effect. Colonel Ford supported the movement in person, with two companies and two pieces of artillery.

The 62d United States Troops, Branson’s Negro Regiment, was quickly demoralized, and fled in dismay. Captain Robinson led a charge and drove back the skirmish line of the 34th Indiana and Hancock’s 2d Texas Company. The Indiana troops threw down their arms and surrendered; most of the Texans escaped, retreating through the dense chaparral. The entire Federal force were on the retreat, the fierce cavalry charges of the Confederates harassed them exceedingly, and the Confederate artillery moved at a gallop. Three times lines of skirmishers were thrown out to check the pursuit. These lines were roughly handled and many prisoners captured by the Confederates.

The Federals were driven for about eight miles into the Cobb ranch, which is about two miles from the fort at Boca Chica. The sun was about half an hour high. The enemy had commenced a double quick by the left flank across the slough, through which a levee had been thrown about 300 yards long. The slough was an [314] impassable quagmire for any character of troops, except the narrow levee. General Slaughter saw the movement of the enemy and ordered Captain Carrington, with Carter’s Battery, to press the rear guard of the enemy and cut it off before it reached the levee, but the rear guard was too quick and passed in a hurry. Although Carrington’s troopers were fresh and spurred their horses to their best running capacity, the enemy gained the levee when they were about 200 yards from the main body of the enemy, who had formed a line of battle at the further end of the levee among the sand hills.

Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, TX.

Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, TX.

Union Colonel Theodore Barrett:

About 4 p. m. the rebels, now largely re-enforced, again reappeared in our front, opening fire upon us with both artillery and small-arms. At the same time a heavy body of cavalry and a section of a battery, under cover of the thick chaparral on our right, had already succeeded in flanking us with the evident intention of gaining our rear. With the Rio Grande on our left, a superior force of the enemy in front, and his flanking force on our right, our situation was at this time extremely critical. Having no artillery to oppose the enemy’s six 12-pouuder field pieces, our position became untenable. We therefore fell back, fighting. This movement, always difficult, was doubly so at this time, having to be performed under a heavy fire from both front and flank.

Forty-eight men of the Thirty-fourth Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Captain Templer, put out as skirmishers to cover their regiment, were, while stubbornly resisting the enemy, cut off and captured by the enemy’s cavalry. The Sixty-Second U. S. Colored Infantry being ordered to cover our forces while falling back, over half of that regiment were deployed as skirmishers, the remainder acting as their support. This skirmish line was nearly three-quarters of a mile in length and, reaching from the river bank, was so extended as to protect both our front and right flank. Every attempt of the enemy’s cavalry to break this line was repulsed with loss to him, and the entire regiment fell back with precision and in perfect order, under circumstances that would have tested the discipline of the best troops. Seizing upon every advantageous position, the enemy’s fire was returned deliberately and with effect. The fighting continued three hours.

Confederate soldier, Luther Conyer:

Carrington immediately formed his troopers into line on the edge of the slough, then covered with tide water. While doing this he saw General Slaughter dash forward into the water in front and empty his six-shooter at the retreating foe. The Federal line formed on the other side of the slough was 300 yards off from the Confederate troopers. A heavy skirmish fire was kept up for nearly an hour across the slough. The enemy, though in full view, shot too high. They were five or six times as numerous as the Confederates, and were composed of veteran troops and commanded by experienced officers.

Union Colonel Theodore Barrett:

The last volley of the war, it is believed, was fired by the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry about sunset of the 13th of May, 1865, between White’s Ranch and the Boca Uttica, Tex. Our entire loss in killed, wounded, and captured was 4 officers and 111 men. In several instances our men were fired upon from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Upon our occupation of Brownsville a few days later it was reported, upon what appeared to be good authority, that during the engagement‘a body of Imperial cavalry crossed the Rio Grande from Matamorus to Brownsville, doubtless with a-view of aiding the rebels. Reports in detail of this action were forwarded to department headquarters at New Orleans shortly after the engagement took place.

Confederate soldier, Luther Conyer:

As the sun went down the fire slackened and the enemy began to retreat toward Boca Chica, a shell from the United States war ship Isabella exploded between the Confederates and the retreating force of the enemy. A seventeen-year-old trooper of Carter’s battery blazed away in the direction of the exploded shell with his Enfield rifle, using a very profane expletive for so small a boy, causing a hearty laugh from a half score of his comrades. The firing ceased. The last gun had been fired.

Colonel Barrett claims the last volley of the war was fired by the 62d United States colored troops. The United States war ship Isabella, very likely, fired the last shell, but it was a Texan, on Texas soil, of Carter’s battery, that fired the last gun. The last battle of the war was a victory for the Confederates, and it will go down in history as such.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 48, Part 2, p266-267. []
  2. “The Last Battle of the War” by Luther Conyer. As printed in the
    Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 24↩]

‘You Can Retreat and Go To Hell If You Wish!’ – Undefeated Rebels in Texas

May 12, 1865 (Friday)

The day previous, Col. Theodore Barrett, commanding the Federal troops at Brazos Santiago, Texas, ordered 250 men under Col. David Branson to attack and hold the nearby port of Brownsville. They marched, but were stymied by a storm and rerouted. Finding themselves in the dead of night near to a suspected Rebel outpost called White’s Ranch, they were reinforced and surrounded the base and waited for dawn.

"Rip" Ford

“Rip” Ford

“Owing to the exhausted condition of the men,” reported Col. Branson, “I could not reach Palmetto Ranch before daylight to surprise it, and therefore hid my command in a thicket and among weeds on the banks of the Rio Grande one mile and a half above White’s Ranch, where we remained undiscovered until 8.30 a. m., when persons on the Mexican shore seeing us started to give the alarm to the rebels. At the same time soldiers of the Imperial Mexican Army were marching up that bank of the river.”

Col. John “Rip” Ford, commanded the Rebels in the field. Seeing the Federals before him, he considered: “this may be the last fight of the war, and from the number of Union men I see before me, I am going to be whipped.”

Ford’s commander, General James Slaughter, felt quite a bit differently. He had established a sort of peace which had lasted several months. But now the Federals were stirring and seemed intent on disrupting this status quo. “I had heard of General Lee’s surrender and did not want to fight,” he said after the war.

But when Slaughter let his notion be known to Ford, the latter was to have said: “You can retreat and go to hell if you wish! These are my men, and I am going to fight. I have held this place against heavy odds. If you lose it without a fight the people of the Confederacy will hold you accountable for a base neglect of duty.”

Wishing to avoid battling the Rebels and France together, Branson fell back toward Palmetto Ranch, driving the Rebel cavalry before them. By noon, he had driven them “from their camp, which had been occupied by about 190 men and horses, capturing 3 prisoners, 2 horses, and 4 beef-cattle, and their ten days’ rations, just issued.”

Seeing that Ford’s Rebels and their two pieces of artillery had appeared before them, Col. Branson’s Federals thought better about any such further engagement.

“While there at 3pm a considerable force of the enemy appeared,” recalled Col. Branson, “and the position being indefensible, I fell back to White’s Ranch for the night, skirmishing some on the way, and had one man of Second Texas Cavalry [US] wounded.”

The Federal retreat caused Ford to turn to his men, saying, “Boys, we have done finely. We will let well enough alone and retire.”

Col. Barrett, commanding at Brazos Santiago, reported a much different take on the day, though he was not present:

The enemy was driven in confusion from his position, his camp, camp equipage, and stores falling into our hands. Some horses and cattle were also captured and a number of prisoners taken. Destroying such stores as could not be transported, Lieutenant-Colonel Branson returned to the vicinity of White’s Ranch, and took up his position for the night.

However Branson got back to White’s Ranch, when he saw the Rebels gathering he sent a message to Col. Barrett. Reinforcements were needed if anything at all was to be effected. Barrett took him up on the offer. At 10pm, he and another regiment made for White’s Ranch, crossing the Rio Grande on skiffs. It was then a seven mile march to join their comrades.

With both sides retired, the next morning was certain to see renewed battle.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 48, Part 2, p266, 267-268; History of Texas by John Henry Brown; Confederate Cavalry West of the River by Stephen B. Oates; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volumes 21-22 edited by Robert Alonzo Brock; Out of the Storm by Noah Trudeau. []

‘I Regret This Conclusion’ – The War Continues in Texas

May 11, 1865 (Thursday)

Lew Wallace

Lew Wallace

The mouth of the Rio Grande River had been guarded by a small blockade of Federal ships and less than 1,000 men stationed on the small island of Brazos Santiago. In late February, General Lew Wallace (who would later gain fame for his novel Ben-Hur), was sent south from Washington to oversee the operations and to see if he couldn’t convince Texas to leave the war.

The Confederate troops, stationed in the port town of Brownsville, were low in morale and number. Deserters would dwindling the count each day. Still, Confederate cotton there found an open port and thus the South had yet some contact with the outside world. The Federals had the numbers to overrun the Rebels, but had declined figuring that with even a modest reinforcement, the Rebels could easily take back the town.

Wallace, in early March, began some small talks with the Confederates in the area, hoping that they “may result in something more than words.” He stayed the night with General James Slaughter and Col. John “Rip” Ford. Both seemed more than favorable to the discussion of such an idea.

“What I am at now,” he wrote to Washington, “is nothing less than brining Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana voluntarily back to the Union. The business is well begun, and at this moment looks promising.”

This moment was in mid-March and the Federals and Rebels weren’t the only armies they had to deal with. There was also France’s Emperor Maximilian, ruling Mexico, and Kirby Smith’s army to the north. It was widely suspected by both Slaughter and Ford that Smith was about to join up with Maximilian in the hopes of bringing Texas under Mexico’s rule.

“General Slaughter was of opinion that the best way for officers in his situation to get honorably back into the Union,” wrote Wallace to Grant, “was to cross the river [the Rio Grande into Mexico], conquer two or three states form the French, and ultimately annex them, with all their inhabitants, to the United States.”

John "Rip" Ford in his Texas Ranger get up.

John “Rip” Ford in his Texas Ranger get up.

Both Slaughter and Ford were “not only willing, but anxious to find some ground upon which they could honorably get from under what they admitted to be a falling Confederacy.” They sent their opinions to General John Walker, commanding the Confederate District of Texas, in hopes that he would agree to the proposition to a cease fire for the eventual acceptance of Texas (at least) back into the Union. This wasn’t exactly a surrender, but more like a changing of flags. The soldiers would swear an oath of allegiance or leave the country. As for slaves, Wallace would leave that up to the Congress. It might be kept in mind that the Grant-Lee surrender had not yet happened, and so couldn’t be used by Wallace as a template.

But General Walker refused, and on April 6th explained to Wallace his reasoning.

“It would be folly in me to pretend that we are not tired of a war that has sown sorrow and desolation over our land; but we will accept no other than an honorable peace. With three hundred thousand men yet int he field, we would be the most abject of mankind if we should now basely yield all that we have been contending for during the last four years – namely, nationality and the rights of self-government. With the blessing of God, we will yet achieve these, and extort from your government all that we ask. Whenever you are will to yield these, and to treat as equal with equal, an officer of your high rank and character, clothed with the proper authority from your government, will not be reduced to the necessity of seeking an obscure corner of the Confederacy to inaugurate negotiations.”

Wallace was crestfallen. “I regret this conclusion,” he wrote to Slaughter and Ford. “Could we have succeeded, then consequence would have been more honorable to us all than battles fought. The people of Texas, at least, would have been grateful to us.” He called Walker’s reply “both childish and discourteous.”

James E. Slaughter

James E. Slaughter

Walker, in his own letter, regurgitated the doctrine of states rights, failing to recognize which specific right had started the war – that of slavery. “Slavery as between the sections was the only separating social and political interest,” Wallace countered, “you know that. Where is slavery now? We armed it over a year ago, and now you are doing the same thing. Apropos, once a soldier, never more a slave.”

General Wallace then returned to Washington, unable to do more than spar with Walker. “Of one thing I am sure,” he wrote on April 18th, “Texas rebels are without heart or confidence, and divided among themselves.” The soldiers were more than ready for peace, and even Kirby Smith, it was thought, would be willing to come to terms, “provided he is not too far committed to Maximilian.” He had little fear that the Confederacy would start a war alongside France as the soldier themselves had lost all taste for battle.

But this was hardly the end of things. The officer arriving shortly after Wallace took his leave was Col. Theodore Barrett, who ordered the troops at Brazos Santiago to march on the Rebels. The informal truce had been working well enough, and if left untouched would probably have lasted the rest of the war. But Barrett had learned that the Rebels were about to abandon Brownsville, and thought he could find horses for his regiments of cavalry who were without mounts.

To many it seemed as if Barrett just wanted to make a name for himself before the close of the war. And so on this date, the men were sent forward.

Theodore Barrett

Theodore Barrett

Col. Branson wrote in his report:

“On the morning of the 11th, in pursuance of instructions from T. H. Barrett, commanding post, I reported at 4 a. m. at your headquarters at the landing with 250 men, properly officered, ready to cross to Point Isabel. A storm coming, and steamer intended to be used for ferry breaking her machinery, I returned, as ordered, to camp, and prepared to cross at Boca Chica, with 100 rounds of ammunition and seven days’ rations (afterward five days’ only, by Colonel Barrett’s verbal order). Owing to a severe storm the crossing was with great dificulty effected by 9.30 p. m., with 250 of the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry, and 50 men of Second Texas Cavalry, not mounted, under First Lieutenant Hancock and Second Lieutenant James. Two six-mule teams were taken to haul surplus rations, ammunition, &c. At 2 a. m. of the 12th, after making along circuitous march, we surrounded White’s Ranch, where we expected to capture a rebel outpost of sixty-five men, horses, and cattle, but they had been gone a day or two.”

It was not the most auspicious of starts to what would be not the most auspicious ending to the war in Texas, but it was not yet over.

Jeff Davis Captured!

May 10, 1865 (Wednesday)

Following are five first-person accounts of the capture of Jefferson Davis. Four are from a Confederate points of view, while the last was written by the Union officer responsible for his capture.

President Jefferson Davis, CSA and his staff move south through Georgia, five days before his capture. From the Illustrated London Times.

President Jefferson Davis, CSA and his staff move south through Georgia, five days before his capture. From the Illustrated London Times.

Jefferson Davis:

I travelled with my family two or three days, when, believing that they were out of the region of marauders, I determined to leave their encampment at nightfall to execute my original purpose. My horse and those of my party were saddled preparatory to a start, when one of my staff, who had ridden into the neighboring village, returned and told me that he had heard that a marauding party intended to attack the camp that night. This decided me to wait long enough to see whether there was any truth in the rumor, which I supposed would be ascertained in a few hours. My horse remained saddled and my pistols in the holsters, and I lay down fully dressed to rest.

Nothing occurred to rouse me until just before dawn, when my coachman, a free colored man who clung to our fortunes, came and told me there was firing over the branch, just behind our encampment. I stepped out of my wife’s tent and saw some horsemen, whom I immediately recognized as cavalry, deploying around the encampment. I turned back and told my wife these were not the expected marauders, but regular troopers. She implored me to leave her at once. I hesitated, from unwillingness to do so, and lost a few precious moments before yielding to her importunity.

My horse and arms were near the road on which I expected to leave, and down which the cavalry approached; it was therefore impracticable for me to reach them. As it was quite dark in the tent, I picked up what was supposed to be my “raglan,” a waterproof light overcoat, without sleeves; it was subsequently found to be my wife’s, so very like my own as to be mistaken for it; as I started, my wife thoughtfully threw over my head and shoulders a shawl.

I had gone perhaps fifteen or twenty yards when a trooper galloped up and ordered me to halt and surrender, to which I gave a defiant answer, and, dropping the shawl and raglan from my shoulders, advanced toward him; he levelled his carbine at me, but I expected, if he fired, he would miss me, and my intention was in that event to put my hand under his foot, tumble him off on the other side, spring into his saddle, and attempt to escape. My wife, who had been watching, when she saw the soldier aim his carbine at me, ran forward and threw her arms around me. Success depended on instantaneous action, and recognizing that the opportunity had been lost, I turned back, and, the morning being damp and chilly, passed on to a fire beyond the tent.

By F. Welcker

By F. Welcker

Burton Harrison, Davis’ personal secretary:

I was awakened by the coachman, James Jones, running to me about day-break with the announcement that the enemy was at hand! I sprang to my feet, and in an instant a rattling fire of musketry commenced on the north side of the creek. Almost at the same moment Colonel Pritchard and his regiment charged up the road from the south upon us. As soon as one of them came within range, I covered him with my revolver and was about to fire, but lowered the weapon when I perceived the attacking column was so strong as to make resistance useless, and reflected that, by killing the man, I should certainly not be helping ourselves, and might only provoke a general firing upon the members of our party in sight. We were taken by surprise, and not one of us exchanged a shot with the enemy. Colonel Johnston tells me he was the first prisoner taken.

In a moment, Colonel Pritchard rode directly to me and,pointing across the creek, said, “What does that mean? Have you any men with you?” Supposing the firing was done by our teamsters, I replied, ” Of course we have—don’t you hear the firing?” He seamed to be nettled at the reply, gave the order, ” Charge,” and boldly led the way himself across the creek, nearly every man in his command following. Our camp was thus left deserted for a few minutes, except by one mounted soldier near Mrs. Davis’s tent (who was afterward said to have been stationed there by Colonel Pritchard in passing) and by the few troopers who stopped to plunder our wagons.

I had been sleeping upon the same side of the road with the tent occupied by Mrs. Davis, and was then standing very near it. Looking there, I saw her come out and heard her say something to the soldier mentioned; perceiving she wanted him to move off, I approached and actually persuaded the fellow to ride away. As the soldier moved into the road, and I walked beside his horse, the President emerged for the first time from the tent, at the side farther from us, and walked away into the woods to the eastward, and at right angles to the road.

Presently, looking around and observing somebody had come out of the tent, the soldier turned his horse’s head and, reaching the spot he had first occupied, was again approached by Mrs. Davis, who engaged him in conversation. In a minute, this trooper was joined by one or perhaps two of his comrades, who either had lagged behind the column and were just coming up the road, or had at that moment crossed over from the other (the west) side, where a few of them had fallen to plundering, as I have stated, instead of charging over the creek.

Attire supposedly worn by Jefferson Davis on the morning of his capture.

Attire supposedly worn by Jefferson Davis on the morning of his capture.

They remained on horseback and soon became violent in their language with Mrs. Davis. The order to “halt” was called out by one of them to the President. It was not obeyed, and was quickly repeated in a loud voice several times. At least one of the men then threatened to fire, and pointed a carbine at the President. Thereupon. Mrs. Davis, overcome with terror, cried out in apprehension, and the President (who had now walked sixty or eighty paces away into the unobstructed woods) turned around and came back rapidly to his wife near the tent. At least one of the soldiers continued his violent language to Mrs. Davis, and the President reproached him for such conduct to her, when one of them, seeing the face of the President,as he stood near and was talking, said, M Mr. Davis, surrender! I recognize you, sir.” Pictures of the President were so common that nearly or quite every man in both armies knew his face.

It was, as yet, scarcely daylight.

The President had on a water-proof cloak. He had used it, when riding, as a protection against the rain during the night and morning preceding that last halt; and he had probably been sleeping in that cloak, at the moment when the camp was attacked.

While all these things were happening, Miss Howell and the children remained within the other tent. The gentlemen of our party had, with the single exception of Captain Moody, all slept on the west side of the road and in or near the wagons. They were, so far as I know, paying no attention to what was going on at the tents. I have since talked with Johnston, Wood, and Lubbock, and with others, about these matters; and I have not found there was any one except Mrs. Davis, the single trooper at her tent, and myself, who saw all that occurred and heard all that was said at the time. Any one else who gives an account of it has had to rely upon hearsay or his own imagination for his story.

The image appears on the cover of a musical piece dedicated to Davis's captor, "Lieut. Col. D. B. [sic] Pritchard, 5th Mich. Cavalry," Davis, in a dress and bonnet and clutching a Bowie knife, flees through the woods with Union troops in close pursuit. One federal soldier has fallen down in his attempt to catch Davis.

The image appears on the cover of a musical piece dedicated to Davis’s captor, “Lieut. Col. D. B. [sic] Pritchard, 5th Mich. Cavalry,” Davis, in a dress and bonnet and clutching a Bowie knife, flees through the woods with Union troops in close pursuit. One federal soldier has fallen down in his attempt to catch Davis.

John Reagan, Confederate Treasury Secretary:

Under cover of the darkness, Colonel Pritchard moved to where we were, and posted one battalion in front of us, and another across the creek in our rear. About dawn, an Iowa battalion, in pursuit of us, came in sight of the Federals in our rear, and each took the other, in the dimness of the morning, for Confederates. Both battalions were armed with repeating rifles, and a rapid fusillade occurred between them. One or two were killed and a few wounded.

When this firing occurred the troops in our front galloped upon us. The major of the regiment reached the place where I and the members of the President’s staff were camped, about one hundred yards from where the President and his family had their tents. When he approached me I was watching a struggle between two Federal soldiers and Governor Lubbock. They were trying to get his horse and saddle bags away from him and he was holding on to them and refusing to give them up; they threatened to shoot him if he did not, and he replied (he was not as good a Presbyterian then as he is now) that they might shoot and be damned, but that they should not rob him while he was alive and looking on.

I had my revolver cocked and in my hand, waiting to see if the shooting was to begin. Just at this juncture the major rode up, the men contending with Lubbock disappeared, and the major asked if I had any arms. I drew my revolver from under the skirt of my coat and said to him, “I have this.” He observed that he supposed I had better give it to him. I knew that they were too many for us and surrendered my pistol.

The quotation at bottom, attributed to Mrs. Davis, reads: "The men had better not provoke the President as he might hurt some of 'em."

The quotation at bottom, attributed to Mrs. Davis, reads: “The men had better not provoke the President as he might hurt some of ’em.”

I asked him then if he had not better stop the firing across the creek. He inquired whether it was not our men. I told him that it could not be; that I did not know of an armed Confederate within a hundred miles of us except our little escort of half a dozen men, and that they were not then with us. We learned afterward that they, or the most of them, had been captured at Irwinsville. The major rode across the creek and put an end to the skirmish.

When the firing began, President Davis afterward told me, he supposed it to be the work of the men who were to rob Mrs. Davis’s train. So he remarked to his wife, “Those men have attacked us at last; I will go out and see if I cannot stop the firing; surely I will have some authority with the Confederates.” Upon going to the tent door, however, he saw the blue-coats, and turned to his wife with the words, “The Federal cavalry are upon us.”

He was made a prisoner of war. As one of the means of making the Confederate cause odious, the foolish and wicked charge was made that he was captured in woman’s clothes; and his portrait, showing him in petticoats, was afterward placarded generally in show cases and public places in the North. He was also pictured as having bags of gold on him when captured. This charge of his being arrested in woman’s clothes is disproven by the circumstances attending his capture. The suddenness of the unexpected attack of the enemy allowed no time for a change of clothes. I saw him a few minutes after his surrender, wearing his accustomed suit of Confederate gray, with his boots and hat on, and I have elsewhere shown that he had no money.

Currier & Ives Political Cartoon

Currier & Ives Political Cartoon

Varina Davis, Wife of Jefferson:

Just before day the enemy charged our camp yelling like demons. Mr. Davis received timely warning of their approach but believing them to be our own people deliberately made his toilette and was only disabused of the delusion, when he saw them deploying a few yards off. He started down to the little stream hoping to meet his servant with his horse and arms, but knowing he would be recognized, I pleaded with him to let me throw over him a large waterproof wrap which had often served him in sickness during the summer season for a dressing gown and which I hoped might so cover his person that in the grey of the morning he would not be recognized.

As he strode off I threw over his head a little black shawl which was around my own shoulders, saying that he could not find his hat and after he started sent my colored woman after him with a bucket for water hoping that he would pass unobserved. He attempted no disguise, consented to no subterfuge but if he had in failure is found the only matter of cavil.

Had he assumed an elaborate female attire as a sacrifice to save a country the heart of which trusted in him, it had been well. When he had proceeded a few yards the guards around our tents with a shocking oath called out to know who that was. I said it was my mother and he halted Mr. Davis who threw off the cloak with a defiance and when called upon to surrender did not do so and but for the interposition of my person between his and the guns would have been shot. I told the man to shoot me if he pleased, to which he answered he ‘would not mind it a bit,’ which I readily believe.

Cover for sheet music.

Cover for sheet music.

Lieut. Col. Benjamin D. Pritchard, Fourth Michigan Cavalry:

As soon as the firing had ceased I returned to camp and took an inventory of our capture, when I ascertained we had captured Jeff. Davis and family (a wife and four children), John H. Reagan, his Postmaster-General; Colonels Harrison [Johnston] and Lubbock, aides de-camp to Davis; Burton TSf. Harrison, his private secretary; Major Maurin, Captain Moody, Lieutenant Hathaway, Jeff. D. Howell, midshipman in the rebel navy, and 12 private soldiers; Miss Maggie Howell, sister of Mrs. Davis; 2 waiting maids, 1 white and 1 colored, and several servants. We also captured 5 wagons, 3 ambulances, about 15 horses, and from 25 to 30 mules. The train was mostly loaded with commissary stores and private baggage of the party.

Upon returning to camp I was accosted by Davis from among the prisoners, who asked if I was the officer in command; and upon my answering him that I was, and asking him whom I was to call him, he replied that I might call him what or whom I pleased; when I replied to him that I would call him Davis, and after a moment’s hesitation he said that was his name; when he suddenly drew himself up in true royal dignity and exclaimed, “I suppose that you consider it bravery to charge a train of defenseless women and children, but it is theft—it is vandalism!”

After allowing the prisoners time to prepare breakfast, I mounted them on their own horses, taking one of the ambulances for my wounded, and one of the wagons for the dead, using the other two ambulances for the conveyance of the women and children, and started on my return by the direct route to Abbeville, where I arrived at sunset the same day. Here I halted for the night and called in the rest of my regiment from its duty along the river, and resumed my march toward Macon at an early hour on the morning of the 11th, after having buried our dead and performed the last solemn rites of the soldier over his fallen comrades; sending couriers in advance to announce the success of the expedition.

	Northern rejoicing at the end of the Civil War often took the form of vengeful if imaginary portrayals of the execution of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Here abolitionist martyr John Brown rises from the grave to confront Davis, although in actuality the latter had nothing to do with Brown's 1859 execution. Brown points an accusing finger at Davis, who sits imprisoned in a birdcage hanging from a gallows. Davis wears a dress and bonnet, and holds a sour apple. Below, black men and women, resembling comic minstrel figures, frolic about.  Since the beginning of the war Union soldiers had sung about "hanging Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree." Davis's actual punishment was imprisonment at Fortress Monroe after his capture on May 10, 1865.

Northern rejoicing at the end of the Civil War often took the form of vengeful if imaginary portrayals of the execution of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Here abolitionist martyr John Brown rises from the grave to confront Davis, although in actuality the latter had nothing to do with Brown’s 1859 execution. Brown points an accusing finger at Davis, who sits imprisoned in a birdcage hanging from a gallows. Davis wears a dress and bonnet, and holds a sour apple. Below, black men and women, resembling comic minstrel figures, frolic about. Since the beginning of the war Union soldiers had sung about “hanging Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree.” Davis’s actual punishment was imprisonment at Fortress Monroe after his capture on May 10, 1865.

Jefferson Davis’ account was pulled from Jefferson Davis: Ex-president of the Confederate States of America, Volume 2 by Varina Davis. She quotes her husband’s version of the event.

Burton Harrison’s account came from “The Capture of Jeff Davis” by Burton Harrison, as appearing in The Century, Vol. 27.

John Reagan’s account appeared in MemoirsOfficial Records, Series 1, Vol. 49, Part 1, p536-537.