As soon as General Debrell arrived the party prepared to march, and they set out on the following day. Jeff Davis and the rebel officials rode in front, followed by ambulances containing the women and children, and the specie [money in the form of coins rather than notes], which was currently reported among the officers to amount to eleven millions of dollars. It was put up in heavy iron-bound kegs and boxes, and had a guard of one thousand men led by General Debrell himself, which followed this train.
General Debrell, who commanded his escort, was engaged in the battle near Raleigh, N. C, when he received intelligence of the surrender of Lee, and at the same time Wheeler got a despatch from Jeff. Davis, dated at Greensboro, N. C, calling for one thousand picked men to escort him and what remained of his government to Washoe, Ga.
Debrell was accordingly despatched with the required force, and after a march of three days reached Greensboro, at which point he found Jeff. Davis with his family, Judah P. Benjamin, John C. Breckinridge, Senator Burnett, of Kentucky, J. H. Reagan, Postmaster-General, Gustavua A. Ilurns, of Tennessee, and other rebel officials.
At a point, about five miles from Greensboro they encamped, the rebel president and family taking up their quarters in a house in the vicinity. Here the rank and file first learned the object of their mission, and it was discussed with all the surmises which it naturally excited, the men being extremely anxious to know the destination of their government.
On the following day he visited the boys and made a soul-stirring speech, adverting to the disasters that had overtaken their beloved Confederacy, but giving them every assurance that they were not irrevocably lost -- that all that was necessary to ultimate success was confidence in their Government, and the undaunted bravery which had characterized the Confederate Array during its past career.
Upon taking up the line of march they rode in the same order, Davis having by his side young Colonel Johnson, son of General Albert Sydney Johnson, in whom he evidently reposed the most implicit confidence.
They reached Charlotte, N. C, where they again camped, and Davis harangued the men again, inspiring confidence in them, and dealing in glowing words of rebel patriotism. He appeared happy and cheerful, took the boys by the hand, and entered into cheerful conversation with them. He would praise their valor in the presence of the ladies, and call them the faithful thousand, the flower of the Confederacy, and paid other pretty but not substantial compliments.
At this point they were joined by Basil Duke, Ferguson, and Vaughn, which increased the escort to the magnificent proportion of five thousand men.
After the new comers had mingled with the others, they soon learned the condition of things; and they, too, had their surmises. Like a pack of hungry wolves, they were suddenly reminded that the government was slightly indebted to them, and as the treasure was near at hand the idea of presenting their bills very naturally suggested itself.
The men would congregate in groups, and their low mutterings boded no good to the government. Jefferson found it necessary to redouble his efforts to conciliate, but his eloquence was wasted now. The men obeyed their marching orders, and followed Jeff. into South Carolina to Abbeville, where they again halted, very much fatigued iinto demoraliization.
On tlie 6th things began to assume a new desperate feature, and Davis found it politic to inspire his brave boys "with somethihg more substantial than words. The treasure was opened, and the division of General Debrell, with the brigades of Duke, Ferguson, and Vaughn were formed in line, and the soldiers were paid off. Some of the men were paid $30, some $28, and others $20. They were paid in gold and silver, the coin being chiefly Mexican dollars, with a few United States.
In the everting Duke sent his Adjutant-General, Captain Davis, to notify all his men who wished to go west of the Mississippi River, to report at 11 o'clock on the following day. At the appointed time all the men reported, but Duke refused to take only those who were armed, and left the others to shift for themselves.
They heaped curses on Duke, and with heavy hearts went to Washoe, Ga., where they surrendered themselves to General Wilson, together with the brigades of Ferguson and Vaughn.
The command of General Debrell escorted Jeff. Davis to Vienna Valley, on the west bank of the Savannah River, about twenty rniles from Washington, when the grand dissolution took place on the 9th.
At this point Benjamin, Breckinridge, Burnett, and several others, took a last farewell of Davis and his family. At the hour named, Jeff, and suite crossed the river, and the other portion of the government galloped off to Washington, their pocket-handkerchiefs in mourning. The command was apprised of the fact that they were now left to follow the bent of their own inclinations. Benjamin and Breckinridge, with their friends, no doubt reached the west bank of the Mississippi.
The camp where Jeff. was captured was situated in a pine forest on the side of the Abbeville road, about one mile from Irwinsville, Irwin County, Georgia. It consisted of a large wall tent, containing only the arch traitor and his famify, "and ordinary fly," containing the male portion of the caravan. Surrounding and contiguous to these were two common army wagons, two ambulances, and several horses and mules, with the usual amount of camp-paraphernalia, such as saddles, bridles, harness, cooking utensils, etc. Davis himself and Postmaster Reagan, with the two Colonels, Lubbock and Johnson, aides-de-camp, had only overtaken the party the night before, after a fatiguing journey from Washington, Ga., where they had remained to "settle some business,'' as they say, while Mrs. Davis, with the children and servants, had pushed forward, under the protection and escort of Private Secretary Harrison and a few of the faithful, such as Lieutenant Hathaway, Midshipman Howell, and about twenty private soldiers.
It was near Washington where Davis dismissed his escort and divided the spoils, under the most pressing circumstances. Some of Stoneman's cavalry were hard upon him, and he concluded to deceive them by letting them follow the body of cavalry, while he and his friends travelled incognito across the country and joined his family. To add to the horrors of his situation the escort demanded a division of the contents of the kegs and boxes of gold and silver, and he was obliged to delay some time and act as paymaster. As far as I could learn the division was very unequally made, some of the officers receiving as much as one hundred dollars and upwards, the lion's share, while others not so exacting received a bare pittance. This raised considerable disturbance in the camp, and during the melee Jeff. and his compagnons du voyage skedaddled.
The attack was made upon the camp by Colonel Pritchard just as the first streak of dawn began to light the eastern sky. Everything was profoundly silent. Jeff. was undoubtedly dreaming of his former greatness, and the entire party were wrapped in the somnambulent embrace of Morpheus, when they were suddenly startled by the yells of the soldiers, and awoke too late to make preparations for even a feeble resistance. After the officers and men in the "fly" were safely under guard, which occupied some time, a corporal went to the door of the tent occupied by defunct royalty, and ordered them to come forth and deliver themselves up. Mrs. Davis appeared at the door, and said: "Please, gentlemen, do not intrude upon the privacy of ladies. There are no gentlemen here, and you will oblige us greatly by giving us time to dress."
"All right, madam," said the little corporal; "we will give you time to make your toilet, and then you can take a ride to Macon for your health."
A guard was placed around the tent, and the reader's imagination must draw from the denouement what transpired inside. After a half hour's interval the monotony outside only being broken by the demands of the guard to "hurry up," there came to the door Mrs, Davis and Miss Howell, leading an apparently decrepit old lady, dressed in a lady's morning wrapper, with a tight hood on her head and her face covered with a small veil. The "old lady" could walk only with difficulty, but tottered through the door of the tent with a tin pail on her arm.
"Soldier, I suppose you have no objection to letting my old mother go to the spring for some water for us to wash with?" said Mrs. Davis.
"Well, I reckon I have some little objection to letting that old lady go," said the corporal. "She wears boots, don't she?" and with the point of his sabre he raised the frock, discovering a large coarse pair of calfskin boots. While the corporal was discovering and exhibiting the cloven feet of the beast, another soldier stripped the veil and hood from off his face, and lo! the great ass which has so long been hidden 'neath a lion's skin -- Jeff. Davis -- stood before them in all his pusillanimity [cowardliness], and in his true character, before the light of which Henry VIII. pales and Richard III. rises in the scale of human greatness.
When Jeif. saw that he was fairly caught, "and would be delivered into the hands of his enemies, he waxed exceeding wroth, and railed out at the soldiers whenever opportunity afforded. He frequently made use of such sneering remarks as: -- "Valorous soldiers, indeed, to make war upon women and children." ''I thought the Yankee Government was a little more valorous than to send its soldiers to steal defenceless women and children out of their beds at night, etc."
Mrs. Davis ironically remarked that she "was not aware that an old woman and four children were of so much value as to be escorted by three hundred soldiers tbrough the country."
I have not yet mentioned the effect produced upon Davis by the President's proclamation offering a reward of one hundred thousand dollars for his arrest. I have often tried to imagine the terror of Belshazzar when he read his doom in the handwriting on the wall, or the horror of the murderer when the hands of the officers of the law are laid rudely upon him. Such, but in a vastly magnified degree, must have been the feelings of Jeff. Davis when he read that proclamation. As his eyes glanced over the fatal lines, I have thought that he must have come to the first realization of his condition. He trembled like an aspen leaf, dropped the paper from his hands, and sank into reveries and sullenness. His wife picked up the paper, read its contents audibly, and they all burst into tears.
Colonel Pritchard and escort arrived at Macon about four o'clock on the afternoon of May 12th, 1865. For miles along the streets and on the road on which the cortege was expected to arrive were strung squads of people eager to catch one glance of the man who but so recently had been their sovereign, and at whose doors so many crimes and sins were laid. Their curiosity, however, was not gratified to any considerable extent, as he rode in a close ambulance, and when he alighted at the Lanier House (General Wilson's headquarters), the guard obstructed their vision. Dinner was already prepared, and the prisoners partook of it with a relish. After dinner Postmaster Reagan, who it seems had taken the contract to see "the President" (?) safe through to Texas, was admitted to General Wilson's room, where were congregated several officers, including the general himself, and the writer of this article, Reagan told General Wilson that he wished to ask his permission to accompany "the President" to Washington, adding that he had shared with him his prosperity -- (exactly so; vide the bills of exchange drawn on London in his name) -- and did not wish to desert him in the hour of his adversity. On receiving assurances that he would be permitted to accompany him he expressed his gratitude.
"You are under no obligations, sir," said the General, "for I should have sent you, whether you wanted to go or not. You are a civilian prisoner and he is a prisoner both military and civil."
The party was joined here by Clement C. Clay and his wife, they having come from Lagrange (their home) the previous day, and surrendered themselves to General Wilson. The meeting between Davis and Clay was very cordial, and Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Clay were very aflfectionate to each other. The affections and feelings of the two families seemed to run in one and the same channel, and they were often caught in secret counsel together, and separated by the guard. While in conversation with Colonel Pritchard and myself, Mrs. Clay jocularly remarked that as she brought Mr. Clay to Macon she should claim the reward.
"Yes," said Mrs. Davis, "one hundred thousand dollars would be considerable of an amount of pocket change for us poor unfortunates now. I sold my horses, carriages, silver ware and jewelry for what little money I had, and that has been stolen from me." I could not see, however, any lack of jewelry about her person, as she sported two splendid diamond rings upon one finger.
Nothing further of interest occurred during the route from Macon to Atlanta, as it was in the night, and most of the party, weary and sleepy, went off into deep slumber.
At Atlanta General Upton had a train, an escort, and a warm breakfast in waiting for us, and, after about an hour's delay, we were off for Augusta. General Upton and two of his staff officers accompanied us. From Augusta we proceeded to Port Royal, where the prisoners were transferred to a steamer and carried to Fortress Monroe.
Here, on the "sacred soil of Virginia," but a little distance from the scenes of his former greatness, the rebel president was placed in "durance vile." [incarceration] And thus dropped the curtain on the last prominent act in the great drama of the rebellion.
Thrilling Stories of the Great Rebellion: comprising heroic adventures and hair-breadth escapes of soldiers, scouts, spies, and refugees; daring exploits of smugglers, guerrillas, desperadoes, and others; tales of loyal and disloyal women; stories of the negro, with incidents of fun and merriment in camp and field: together with an account of the death of President Lincoln; fate of the assassins; capture of Jefferson Davis, and end of the war., Lieutenant-Colonel Charles S. Greene, late of the United States Army, (ca. 1864)
The Life and Death of Jefferson Davis, Ex-President of the Southern Confederacy: together with comments of the press, funeral sermons, etc., etc., A. C. Bancroft, 1889