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1865 May 27: More Details on the Capture of Jefferson Davis—In a Dress

May 31, 2015

The following two articles on the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis come from the May 27, 1865, issues of The Polk County Press and The Prescott Journal.

From The Polk County Press:

Capture of Jeff. Davis.

May 12, 1865. }

Major Gen. Dix [John A. Dix] :

Official information has reached this Department of the capture of Jeff. Davis and his staff by Col. Prichard [Benjamin D. Pritchard], of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry, on the morning of the 10th inst. at Irwinville, Irwin County, Georgia.

(Signed,)          .E. M. STANTON,
.                               .Secretary of War.

A dispatch from Col. Pritchard, of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, dated at Cumberlandville, Ga., May 11, says :

I have the honor to report that at daylight at Irwinville I surprised, and captured Jeff. Davis, and family together with his wife’s sister, and mother.  His Post Master General, his Private Secretary, Col. Harrison, Col. Johnson, A. D. C. on Davis’ Staff, Col. Morris, Lieut. Lubrec and Lieut. Hathaway, and several important persons, also a train of five wagons and three ambulances making a most perfect success.  Had not a most painful mistake occurred by which the 4th Michigan and the 1st Wis. came in contact we should have done better.

This mistake cost us two killed and Lieut. Boutle wounded through the arm in the 4th Michigan, and four men wounded in the 1st Wis.  This occurred just at daylight after we had captured the camp.  We returned to this point last night and shall move right on to Macon.  It will take me at least three days to reach Macon as we are 75 miles out, and our stock is exhausted.  I hope to reach Hawkinsville to-night.

From The Prescott Journal:

Jeff. Davis’ Capture.

NEW YORK, May 21.

The Herald’s correspondent gives the particulars of the arrest of Jeff. Davis, fully confirming the official accounts already published :

When the guard went to the tent they were met by Mrs. Davis, en dishabille [sic],¹ with—“Please gentlemen, don’t disturb the privacy of ladies before they have time to dress.”—“All right, madam,” said the corporal, “we will wait till you have on your dress.”  Presently there appeared at the door an ostensible old lady, with a bucket on her arm, escorted by Mrs. Davis and her sister.  “Please let my old mother go to the spring for some water to wash in,” said Mrs. D. in a pleading tone.  “It strikes me your mother wears very large boots,” said the guard, as he hoisted the old lady’s dress with his sabre, and discovered a pair of number 13 calfskin boots—“And whiskers, too,” said the sergeant, as he pulled the hood from her face, and Jeff Davis in all his littleness stood before them.—A Spencer was immediately pointed at his ear, and he was marched back to his tent and placed in durance vile.²

Only about $8,000 in specie was with the parties, though several boxes were not searched.  They were brought along however, and will be delivered to the authorities at Washington.  There was found on the person of Postmaster Gen’l Regan [sic]³ evidence that a large amount of specie had been shipped for London, which will also be delivered to the authorities by Col. Pritchard.  The later, with his prisoners, started immediately for Macon.  The parties were all sullen and Davis remarked to Pritchard, that had they not been taken by surprise, they would not have succeeded without a fight.  While on the road they recived [sic] a copy of President Johnson’s Proclamation offering $100,000 for Davis.  Davis read it, his hands trembled[,] dropped to his side, and with a groan he dropped the paper.  His wife, picked it up, read it aloud, and the entire party burst into tears.  The cavalcade arrived at Macon on the 10th, and soon after took a special train for Atlanta and thence to Augusta.

Sheet music, 1865, from the Library of Congress (see footnote 4)

Sheet music, 1865, from the Library of Congress (see footnote 4)

1.  En déshabillé  is a French expression meaning partly dressed in a loose or careless manner, or even undressed.
2.  Durance vile can mean a very long prison sentence, or, in this case, restraint by physical force.
3.  John Henninger Reagan (1818-1905) was a Texas politician and the Confederate postmaster general. Before the Civil War he was the first county judge of Henderson County, a member of the 2nd Legislature of Texas, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas (1857-1861). Reagan resigned his seat in Congress on January 15, 1861, and on January 30th attended the Texas Secession Convention (Texas seceded on February 2). Within a month Reagan was appointed postmaster general of the Confederacy. After the Confederate defeat, he called for cooperation with the federal government and thus became unpopular. He returned to public office when his predictions of harsh treatment for resistance were proved correct. Reagan served again as a U.S. Representative from Texas (1875-1887) and as a U.S. senator from Texas (1887-1891). In Congress, he advocated for federal regulation of railroads and helped create the Interstate Commerce Commission. Appropriately, he also served as the first chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.
4.  “Jeff’s double quick. The last words of the Confederacy: ‘Jeff’s war hoops’” (Philadelphia: Lee & Walker, 1865). Sheet music cover, “published for the benefit of the Western Sanitary Fairs of Chicago, Ill. and Milwaukee Wis.” Shows a comic version of Davis, clad as a woman and holding a wooden pail, being discovered by a trooper, who lifts the skirts of the fugitive to reveal a pair of black boots. Davis’s wife (at right) protests, saying, “Only my mother.” From the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

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