May 6, 1865 (Saturday)
“One of our scouts,” wrote General James Wilson to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, “says [Jefferson] Davis left Washington [Georgia] with only six men. This I regard as probable. He can’t possibly get through the country with an escort.” Wilson, commanding troops movements from Macon, Georgia, had learned that Jefferson Davis was being escorted by several small brigades of Rebel cavalry. Rumor had it that they were traveling with at least $100,000 in gold. Wilson promised it whole “to be paid out of the booty to be captured, for the apprehension of Davis.”
Though Wilson knew where Davis had been, he wasn’t as certain about where he was trying to go. “Our scouts are already on every road in North Georgia,” he continued, “by tonight, I will have a complete watch in every part of the State as far down as Hawkinsville on the Ocmulgee.”
Still, his troopers had not caught the scent. But once they did, his orders to them were “to follow to the Mississippi River,” figuring that Davis was moving west.
To General John Schofield, Wilson told more. “My own impression,” he related, “is that we have yet no definite clue to his movements, and therefore I am filling the country full of scouts and watching every crossing and road… If Mr. Davis is a fugitive and well mounted, it will be exceedingly difficult to stop him, but I will spare no effort.”
Wilson had also learned some about Davis’ journey from North Carolina. “Mr. Davis was guarded by about seventy-five officers who had volunteered for that purpose. The troops were supposed to number about 3,000, but were deserting very rapidly. The leading officers were to have held a council at Cokesbury, but the approach of our troops from the north broke it up.”
Wilson believed that Davis would make for the Oconee River, and in this, he was correct. Davis was poised to cross the following day and thus far, Wilson had not yet barred all of the ferries. Davis’ party had arrived in Sandersville on this date. There, he and those few with him divided up several thousand dollars in gold.
$3,500 of it went John Reagan, Treasury Secretary, who was already carrying $2,000. Davis took nothing. Reagan and a few others accompanied their President, while the wagons carrying the rest of the booty – $25,000 in all – went its separate way.
From that place [Sandersville] we moved on south to the Oconee River, and encamped on the east bank. During the evening, Colonel Johnston and another man, having walked down to the ferry, heard some men describing a wagon train which was moving across the country, some twenty miles to the left of our course, which they spoke of as a quartermaster’s or commissary train, and which they understood was to be robbed that night by some disbanded soldiers. From the description, Colonel Johnston knew it to be that of Mrs. Davis, the wife of the President. Mr. Davis had not seen her since she left Richmond, and had not known where she was for some time. When he received this information he ordered and mounted his horse, addressing himself to those with him, “This move will probably cause me to be captured or killed. I do not feel that you are bound to go with me, but I must protect my family.”
The entire company went along. The roads we had to travel for the most part were dim and tortuous, and it was near morning when we reached Mrs. Davis’s camp. 1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 49, Part 2, p628,629; Memoirs by John Reagan; The Long Surrender by Burke Davis. [↩]