‘This Slow Progress Was Harassing’ – Davis Continues

April 30, 1865 (Sunday)

“Soon after I heard that Johnston had surrendered to General Sherman,” wrote Union General James Wilson, commanding the cavalry out Georgia, “I received information that Davis, under escort of a considerable force of cavalry, and with a large amount of treasure in wagons, was marching south from Charlotte, with the intention of going west of the Mississippi River.”

Basil Duke
Basil Duke

From Macon, he dispatched a web of cavalry divisions to stop and capture Jefferson Davis. One was sent to Atlanta to watch the roads to the north. Another was ordered to Athens, and more to Washington. And still others were sent behind the suspected route of the Confederate President with orders to “follow them ot the Gulf or the Mississippi River, if necessary.” So too were troops in Florida given warning lest the Rebels somehow wound their way through his net.

Davis was still in South Carolina, nearing the town of Abbeville, not ten miles from the Savannah River and the Georgia line. His wife had already crossed and was moving a day or so ahead of him, trying her best to make it to Florida and out of the country.

The Confederate march was anything but swift. Basil Duke had once ridden with John Hunt Morgan, but now found himself in charge of the column. After the war, he recalled:

“We made not more than twelve or fifteen miles daily. To the cavalry this slow progress was harassing, and a little demoralizing withal, as the men were inclined to construe such dilatoriness to mean irresolution and doubt on the part of their leaders. They were more especially of this opinion because a large body of Federal cavalry, the same which I had encountered at Lincolnton, were marching some ten or fifteen miles distant on our right flank, keeping pace with us, and evidently closely observing our movements. At Unionville I found Colonel Napier, with nearly all of the horses of my brigade and some seventy or eighty men.

“Mr. Davis, General Breckinridge, Mr. Benjamin, and the other cabinet and staff officers mingled and talked freely with the men upon this march, and the effect was excellent. It was the general opinion that Mr. Davis could escape if he would, but that was largely induced by the knowledge that extraordinary efforts would be made to prevent his falling into the hands of the enemy. We all felt confident that General Breckinridge would not be made prisoner if duty permitted him to attempt escape. As Judge Reagan had been a frontiersman and, as we understood. a ‘Texas Ranger,’ the men thought his chances good; but all believed that Benjamin would surely be caught, and all deplored it, for he had made himself exceedingly popular.”

The column would continue on, much more slowly than it should. And the Federals would draw closer each passing day.


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