- 10 May 2023 13:12
May 10, Wednesday
In Georgia, even as President Davis’s party sleeps and dawn begins to glimmer through the pines, the two regiments of Union cavalry that set off in pursuit yesterday are closing in from opposite sides of the camp, one having circled it in the darkness to come up from the south, while the other bears down from the northwest. The result, as the two mounted units converge, is the last armed clash east of the Mississippi. Moreover, by way of a further distinction, all the combatants wear blue, including the two killed and four wounded in the rapid-fire exchange. “A sharp fight ensued, both parties exhibiting the greatest determination,” James Wilson will presently report, not without a touch of pride in his men’s aggressiveness, even when they are matched against each other. “Fifteen minutes elapsed before the mistake was discovered.”
All is confusion in the night-drowsed bivouac. Wakened like the others by the sudden uproar on the fringes of the camp—he had lain down, fully dressed, in expectation of leaving before midnight, but had slept through from exhaustion—Davis presumes the attackers are butternut marauders. “I will go out and see if I can’t stop the firing,” he tells his wife. “Surely I will have some authority with Confederates.” When he lifts the tent flap, however, he sees high-booted figures, their uniforms dark in the pearly glow before sunrise, dodging through the woods across the creek and along the road on this side. “Federal cavalry are upon us!” he exclaims. Terrified, Varina urges him to flee while there is time. He hesitates, then takes up a lightweight sleeveless raincoat—which he supposes is his own but is his wife’s, cut from the same material—and starts out, drawing it on along with a shawl she throws over his head and shoulders. Before he has gone twenty paces a Union trooper rides up, carbine at the ready, and orders him to halt. Davis pauses, dropping the coat and shawl, and then comes on again, directly toward the trooper in his path. “I expected, if he fired, he would miss me,” he will later explain, “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.” It is a trick he learned from the Amerinds, back in his early army days, and it might have worked except for his wife, who, seeing the soldier draw a deliberate bead on the slim gray form advancing point-blank on him, rushes forward with a cry and throws her arms around her husband’s neck. With that, all chance for a getaway is gone; Davis now cannot risk his life without also risking hers, and presently other blue-clad troopers come riding up, all with their carbines leveled at him and Varina, who still clings to him. “God’s will be done,” he says in a low voice as he turns away and walks slowly past the tent to take a seat on a fallen tree beside the campfire.
Elsewhere about the camp the struggle continues on various levels of resistance. Four days ago, a wagon had gone south from Sandersville with most of the $35,000 (2020 $576,969) in gold coin; the remaining $10,000 (2020 $164,848), kept for travel expenses between there and the Gulf, was distributed among the aides and Reagan, who carried it in their saddlebags; as the bluecoats now discover. Reagan, with his own and the President’s portion of the burden—some $3,500 (2020 $57,697) in all—turns it over with no more than a verbal protest, but his fellow Texan Lubbock hangs onto his in a tussle with two of the soldiers, despite their threats to shoot him if he doesn’t turn loose. “Shoot and be damned!” he tells them. “You’ll not rob me while I’m alive and looking on.” They do, though, and Preston Johnston loses his share as well, along with the pistols his father had carried when he fell at Shiloh. Only John Wood is successful in his resistance, and that is by strategy rather than by force. Knowing that he would be charged with piracy for his work off the New England coast last August, the former skipper of the Tallahassee takes one of his captors aside, slips him two $20 gold pieces, and walks off unnoticed through the pines—eventually to make it all the way to Cuba with Breckinridge, whom he will encounter down in Florida in two weeks, determined like himself to leave the country rather than stay and face charges brought against him by the victors in their courts.
But that is later. For the present, all Wood’s friends know is that he is missing, and only one of his foes knows even that much. Besides, both groups are distracted by the loud bang of a carbine, followed at once by a shriek of pain. Convinced that the reported millions in coin and bullion must be cached somewhere about the camp, one unfortunate trooper had used his loaded weapon in an attempt to pry open a locked trunk, and the piece had discharged, blowing off one of his hands. Others take over and get the lid up, only to find that all the trunk contains is a hoop skirt belonging to Mrs. Davis. Despite their disappointment, the garment turns out to have its uses, being added to the cloak and shawl as evidence that the rebel chieftain had tried to escape in women’s clothes. Suffering the indignity of looking on powerless while the treasure-hungry bluecoats rifle his and Varina’s personal luggage, tossing the contents about and only pausing to snatch from the fire and gulp down the children’s half-cooked breakfast, “You are an expert set of thieves,” he tells one of them, who replies, “Think so?” and keeps on rifling. Presently the Michigan colonel approaches and stands looking down at the Mississippian, seated on his log beside the campfire. “Well, old Jeff, we’ve got you at last,” he declares with a grin. Davis loses his temper at this and shouts: “The worst of it all is that I should be captured by a band of thieves and scoundrels!” Stiffening, the colonel draws himself up. “You’re a prisoner and can afford to talk that way,” he says.
Unaware that the Confederate leader had been captured before sunup down in Georgia, Andrew Johnson issues a proclamation declaring that “armed resistance to the authority of this Government in the said insurrectionary States may be regarded as virtually at an end....” Therefore the Navy should arrest the crews of commerce raiders still on the high seas and bring them in. He also warns against continued hospitality by foreign powers to Confederate cruisers. The blockade of states east of the Mississippi is partially lifted. This will be subsequently taken by some, including the nine Supreme Court justices, to mark the close of the war.
During the months after losing his control of the Missouri bushwhackers in March of last year, William Clarke Quantrill found consolation in the arms of Kate Clarke. Eventually growing restless, Quantrill assembled some two dozen followers, including Frank James and Jim Younger—but not George Todd or Bill Anderson, who had been killed within a month of the Centralia massacre—and set out for a crossing of the Mississippi on New Year’s Day, just north of Memphis, at the head of a column of blue-clad horsemen he identified as a platoon from the nonexistent 4th Missouri Cavalry, US. His plan, announced at the outset, was to proceed by way of Kentucky and Maryland to Washington, and there revive Confederate hopes by killing Abraham Lincoln. He took up so much time en route, however, that he never got there. In the Bluegrass by mid-April he learned that J. Wilkes Booth had beat him to the act. Now still in Kentucky three weeks later, he is wounded in a barnyard skirmish today, thirty miles southeast of Louisville. Like Booth he is struck in the spine and paralyzed, though he will live for nearly a month in that condition. Recognizing one of the physicians at his bedside, he asks if he had not treated him previously, in another part of the state. “I am the man. I have moved here,” the doctor replies. “So have I,” Quantrill says, enigmatic to the end, which will come on June 6th.
The military trial of the eight accused of complicity with Booth in his assassination plot, presided over by nine high-ranking army officers in Washington’s Arsenal Penitentiary, begins today. Shackled at their trial, as no prisoner has been in an English-speaking court for more than a hundred and fifty years, they are kept hooded in their cells, with thick cotton pads over eyes and ears, lest they see or hear each other or their guards, and two small slits in the canvas for the admission of food and air.
Four Confederate warships that had taken refuge up the Tombigbee almost a month ago, after the evacuation of Mobile, Alabama, strike their colors in accordance with a commitment by the flotilla captain to hand over to the Federals “all public property yet afloat under his command.”
Confederate Major General Samuel Jones surrenders forces under his command at Tallahassee, Florida.
Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.