Wilson on pages 218-19 of his memoirs "Under the Old Flag" about the prelude to the battle of Selma at Ebenezer Church: "The imptuosity of the Union cavalry was beautiful to behold. Its instinct for the flank had led it to the vital spot at the vital time, and it was now evident that nothing could stop its gallant onset. It had fairly turned Forrest's rules of war against himself, for, without disregarding tactics, it had not only "got the bulge on him", but "had got there first with the most men".
Lieutenant General Richard Tayler (Forrest's immediate superior), p. 220 of his memoirs "Destruction and Reconstruction": I have never met this General Wilson, whose soldierly qualities are entitled to respect; for of all the Federal expeditions of which I have any knowledge, his was the best conducted."
James H. Wilson (1837-1925) graduated as a military
from West Point in 1860. He was one of the war's "boy wonders," rising
the rank of major general by war's end. He spent much of the Civil War
Grant's staff. Although without previous cavalry experience, he was
on 17 Feb. 64 to head the newly-established Cavalry Bureau in
Washington. He armed the cavalry with the Spencer
a shorter version of the Spencer rifle which Wilder used so effectively
at Tullahoma and Chickamauga).
He then directed various cavalry
engagements in Virginia where he learned the trade so well that he
became an effective counterpart to Forrest. His role at the battles of
and Nashville was essential to the success
Thomas's plan to eliminate Hood's Army of Tennessee from further
in the Civil War.
|After the battle of
Nashville he remained under the command of Thomas
and conducted a
large scale mounted raid throughout the interior of the South to Selma,
(22 March - 22 Apr. 65) His force totaled 9,000 mounted and 3000
infantry, and all were armed with Spencers.
During this raid
he captured 5 fortified cities, 288 cannons, and 6,820 prisoners, and
personally led charges of his soldiers who assaulted the works at Selma
infantry after Forrest had been driven into the city. This was the
time that someone outmarched and outmaneuvered Forrest whose army,
was no longer what it had been. In addition, Forrest did not recognize
time that Selma was Wilson's objective, and he didn't succeed in
all of the forces at his disposal in his command area. Moreover,
and William H. Jackson's divisions were prevented from reaching Forrest
Croxton and E.M. McCook. Wilson's enterprise was also aided by the
of Millington, the civilian English engineer who had laid out the Selma
who then provided Wilson a detailed description of the works.
or later the Union was bound to come up with a gifted and athletic West
engineer who could manage large masses of troops, subordinate himself
a superior officer, and ride a horse.
Wilson's raid into the interior was done without the wanton destruction which accompanied Sherman's "picnic excursion" (Wilson's words) to the sea because Thomas and Wilson did not tolerate such behavior. It is charged that Wilson's men sacked Selma after the battle, but there was house to house fighting, fire broke out, and maurauders from both armies, along with escaping slaves, looted. Wilson quickly re-established discipline. According to the Confederate departmental commander Richard Taylor (pg. 269 of his memoirs Destruction and Reconstruction), Wilson's "soldierly qualities are entitled to respect, for of all the Federal expeditions of which I have any knowledge, his was the best conducted."
As the same time as the Selma expedition Thomas also sent
on a cavalry raid through East Tennessee, western Virginia, and North
Carolina in order to tear up track and prevent any possible escape of
to the mountains west or southwest of Petersburg, Va. Thomas even
to lead the raid personally, as the following excerpt from his dispatch
14 March 1865 to Wilson shows:
This wasn't Thomas' idea, as the following dispatch from
to Thomas of 7 March 1865 shows:
However, Grant, vindictive and manipulative as ever, was
just dangling the prospect of another battle in front of Thomas.
Grant's campaign for the 1868 presidential election had already begun, and
he had no
intention of giving Thomas another opportunity to add to his record, as
subsequent events demonstrate.
On 16 March Thomas was in Knoxville (ar104_3), but
never got any further. On the 20th he was back in Nashville (ar104_35),
and there is no order from Grant or Halleck in the Official Records
which explains Thomas' change in plans. However, we get a hint
of what must
have happened from a communication of Grant to Sherman, also dated 16
(ar99_859), in which Grant called Thomas "slow
excuse" and stated that Thomas would not under any circumstances be
"I told him to get ready for a campaign toward
Lynchburg, if it became necessary. He never can make one there or
added], but the steps taken will prepare for any one else to take his
and come east or go toward Rome, whichever may be necessary. I do not
From his command post in Macon, GA, with help from Thomas's far flung secret service, Wilson tracked and finally captured Jefferson Davis in Irwinsville, Ga. on 10 May 65. Briefly Wilson even had some of his troopers inserted into the column protecting Davis. The day of Davis's capture, two competing units (under Prichard and Harndon) actually got into a pre-dawn firefight in which one man was killed and 3 wounded because they mistook each other for Confederates. Lincoln had kind of hoped Davis would get away, but aside from 2 years of imprisonment in undignified circumstances, Davis did not fare too badly.
With the cessation of organized resistance and the capture of Davis, Thomas's troops under Wilson and Stoneman were in control of large areas of the former Confederacy. Thomas thus found himself the effective military commander of most of the South, and he began immediately the work of reconstruction. Later this command was formalized by President Johnson who appointed Thomas military governor of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, with headquarters in Nashville. In reconstruction Thomas showed himself to be just as enlightened as he had been during the "rebellion" as he never stopped calling it.
* Of course there was an order, and of
course it was either kept out of the records or suppressed. Grant sent
his original instructions to Thomas for the Stoneman raid via staff
and he could have called Thomas off in the same way.
Or he could have sent a telegram which was later removed. When
appointed his secretary and biographer Adam Badeau to be ambassador to
Britain (a sinecure to give him an income from state funds while he
on Grant's private business), Badeau took with him to London many of
documents which later became the Official Records. It was the perfect
for a discrete cleansing of compromising documents.
1. Thomas US
2. Wilson US - raid to Selma plus capture of Davis
3. Forrest CS - Chalmers' address
4. Opposing forces B&L
Other articles on Wilson's raid:
1. Thomas Van Horne on Wilson's raid and other cavalry operations
2. excerpt from Last Days of the Confederacy [capture of Davis] by Basil W. Duke, Brig.-Gen., CSA.
OPERATIONS DURING THE WINTER AND SPRING OF l865 - DISCUSSION OF
GENERAL GRANT'S LETTERS CENSURING THOMAS - CAVALRY EXPEDITIONS
- WILSON IN ALABAMA AND GEORGIA - STONEMAN IN EAST TENNESSEE,
VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA - CAPTURE OF MR. DAVIS.
On the first day of January, 1865, the rebellion was manifestly near
end. It was not indeed known in the North that one of the two great
that kept the rebellion alive had been virtually annihilated by General
and his army, but it was known that Hood had lost heavily in Tennessee,
that his forces had been driven in rout across the Tennessee River. It
evident after this campaign that the overthrow of General Lee's army
end the war. All projected operations, therefore, East and West, had
reference to the defeat of Lee's army, as Hood's had been defeated at
General Sherman's great army had been withdrawn from the central
of war, to give aid in the end to General Grant at Richmond; and when
Savannah, Sherman had received orders to transport his army by sea to
and to do this without waiting to reduce that city. When it became
that it was impracticable to obtain sufficient transports, an advance
the Carolinas was projected by Sherman, and approved by Grant. This
then became for a time the central one, and the remotest western
were to be conducted, as cooperative, more or less directly, with this
Page 375 - GRANT'S PLANS
All western movements, therefore, had these objects; to prevent the transfer of Hood's shattered army to North Carolina, and to attract the enemy's attention in various quarters, so that no other troops should go in this direction from the West and Southwest.
According to Badeau, Grant's plans widened into unprecedented comprehensiveness in the last stage of the war, and while Lee's army was the ultimate objective, the first series of operations were directed, so as to aid Sherman's movement to Richmond. The following passage, without distinctly mentioning the paramount objects, gives in outline the breadth of Grant's plans:
"Grant's plans at this time assumed a grander and more comprehensive character than at any other epoch of the war. The concentration of his armies went on from the most distant quarters, and cooperative movements were directed on a scale hitherto quite unprecedented." *
If this passage is put by the side of Grant's declaration to Thomas, that if he would destroy Hood's army, only one army would be left to the Confederacy to do harm, the inference is unavoidable that this final breadth of plan centred first upon Sherman's northward march from Savannah, and then upon the conjunction of two great armies against Lee. The operations required of General Thomas during the winter and spring of 1865, had relation to these objects.
When General Grant required Thomas to revoke his order placing his army in winter cantonments; General Halleck wrote, December 3lst :
"Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant directs all your
available forces not essential to hold your communications, be
collected on the Tennessee River, - say at Eastport and Tuscumbia, -
and be made ready for such movements as may be ordered. * * * * *
Please give us the earliest possible notice of
Hood's line of retreat, so that orders may be given for the continuance
the campaign. Lieutenant-General Grant does not intend that your army
go into winter quarters. It must be made ready for active operations in
*Mil, Hist. V. S. Grant. Vol. III. page 363.
Page 376 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
A new campaign was plainly indicated, but its purpose and field were not made known, and the inference was warranted that Thomas was to conduct it; still it was not the intention of Grant, as will be shown hereafter, that Thomas should command in aggressive operations. But it was to be his duty to prepare his troops for other generals to command them.
Sherman, however, was urgent that Thomas should advance into the
heart of Alabama. In a letter to Grant of December 24th, after
requesting that all
detachments and convalescents belonging to his own army should be sent
him, he said: "I do not mean to cripple Thomas, because I regard his
as all-important, and I have ordered him to pursue Hood down into
trusting to the country for supplies." As Thomas had not heard from
since he started for the sea, the latter in his letter to Grant must
referred to his parting instructions. On the 11th of November he had
"By using detachments of recruits and dismounted cavalry in your fortifications, you will have Schofield and Stanley, and A. J. Smith, strengthened by eight or ten new regiments, and all of Wilson's cavalry. You can safely invite Beauregard across the Tennessee, and prevent his ever returning. I still believe, however, that the public clamor will force him to turn and follow me, in which event you should cross at Decatur, and move directly towards Selma as far as you can transport supplies."
At the time these instructions were given, and ever afterwards,
General Thomas supposed that they had reference to Hood's prospective
action in immediately
following Sherman, and not to a winter campaign after' Hood had been
and was running for life through the
Page 377 - SHERMAN'S INSTRUCTIONS
marshes of Mississippi. To move an army through the sparsely settled region of North Alabama, upon roads made boggy by protracted rains, across swollen and bridgeless rivers, immediately after a campaign which had entailed long marches, two battles and minor conflicts, was an enterprise radically different from the conditional one suggested by General Sherman in November.
General Grant had, however, thought of dismembering Thomas' army before Thomas had ordered his troops into winter quarters. On the 27th of December, in consenting to Sherman's march from Savannah through the Carolinas to Richmond, Grant said:
"I have thought that Hood being so completely wiped out for present harm, I might bring A. J. Smith here with fourteen to fifteen thousand men. With this increase I could hold my lines and move out with a greater force than Lee has. It would compel Lee to retain all his present force in the defenses of Richmond, or abandon them entirely. This latter contingency is probably the only danger to the easy success of your expedition."
Badeau thus mentions Grant's purpose to take troops from Thomas:
"The torpor of Thomas in the Nashville campaign had determined the general-in-chief to entrust to that commander no more operations in which prompt, aggressive action was necessary. Hood's movements, however, were for a while uncertain, and on the 30th of December Grant said to Halleck: " I have no idea of keeping idle troops at any place, but before taking troops away from Thomas, it will be advisable to know whether Hood's army halts at Corinth. I do not think he will, but think he is much more likely to be thrown in front of Sherman. If so, it will be just where we want them to go. Let Thomas collect all his troops not essential to hold his communications at Eastport, * * * * and be in readiness for their removal where they can be used." *
It is evident, also, that on the 30th of December, the transfer of
Hood's army to the front of Sherman was expected and desired.
*Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant. Vol. III., p. 365
Page 378 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
On the 2nd of January General Halleck telegraphed:
"The orders of General Grant to concentrate your forces on the Tennessee were not intended to interfere in any manner with your pursuit of Hood, or your cutting off his lines of railroad, etc."
On the 4th, Thomas, from Eastport, replied to several despatches:
"In my telegram of 12 M., of the 21st, I reported the condition of the roads in this region of country, and since writing that telegram, an officer sent by me on a flag of truce towards Columbus has returned. He succeeded in getting ten miles beyond Fulton, and reports that both the road he went out on, and the one he returned by, are at this time impracticable for artillery and wagon trains. I have also received the same reports from reliable scouts and from refugees, of the condition of the roads leading from Tuscumbia, via Russellville to Tuscaloosa and Columbus. I therefore think it will be impossible to move from the Tennessee River upon Montgomery and Selma, with a large force during the winter. It was my purpose, after having driven Hood out of Tennessee, to have assembled my available force at or near Huntsville, Ala., for the winter, and as soon as the roads became practicable in the spring, to cross the Tennessee at Whitesburg and Decatur, move by Summerville and Blountsville, through Brown's and Murphree's valleys, via Elyton, Cedar Grove, Montevallo, Somerville, upon Selma, this country having been represented to me as being perfectly practicable and abounding in supplies. That country, however, is in the same condition as the country between this point and Columbus, Miss.; and I do not believe I could make a winter campaign with any reasonable chance of complete success, starting from either this point or Decatur. Should General Grant determine upon a campaign from some point on the Gulf, I could send General Canby, A. J. Smith's command, and all of the cavalry now here except two divisions, feeling able to securely hold the line of the Tennessee, and all the territory now held in East Tennessee, with the Fourth army corps, the troops in East Tennessee, and two divisions of cavalry."
General Thomas had inferred that he was expected to make a winter
campaign south from the Tennessee River, and knowing the difficulties,
if not impossibilities, he strenuously opposed it, but nothing of this
kind was then
Page 379 - A WINTER CAMPAIGN IMPRACTICABLE
required, and the inquiries made about Hood's movements had reference to the dismemberment of Thomas' army, and not for its advance. On the 7th of January General Grant wrote to General Halleck:
"Order Thomas, if he is assured of the departure of Hood south from Corinth, to send Schofield here with his corps, with as little delay as possible."
General Thomas had learned that Hood had not halted at Corinth, and therefore sent Schofield east on the 14th, and then the Departments of the Cumberland and Ohio were united under his command.
On the 15th there was a change of plan; on that day Grant said to Halleck :
"I now understand that Beauregard has gone west to gather up what he can save from Hood's army, to bring against Sherman. If this be the case, Selma and Montgomery can be easily reached. I do not believe, though, that General Thomas will ever get there from the north. He is too ponderous in his preparations and equipments to move through a country rapidly enough to live off of it."
But the instructions sent to Thomas by Halleck on the 19th, were not in accordance with Badeau's statement, that it was the purpose of Grant to intrust no operations to Thomas "in which prompt aggressive action was necessary." On that day Halleck said:
"General Grant has directed that no more horses be sent to your
command until the proposed expeditionary force of General Canby is
supplied. General Canby has been ordered to collect all his available
forces at some point on
the Gulf, and to move against Selma and Montgomery. It is the wish of
Grant that your army should cooperate by moving upon the same points,
you can be ready in time, or if this cannot be done, that all of your
not required for defense should be sent to the Gulf to operate with
Canby on that line. It is understood that Beauregard has gone west to
the remains of Hood's army to North Carolina, to oppose Sherman. If so,
can easily reach Montgomery, and if not, his movement will hold Hood in
and keep him away from Sherman. You will please communicate your views
these proposed operations, stating what line you propose to take,
to Selma as the objective point, and by what date you will be ready to
or if you do
Page 380 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
not propose a winter campaign from your present base, state how many men you can send to the Gulf. This information is necessary in order that General Grant may give final instructions for winter operations, if Hood comes to this coast, he will probably leave behind a part of Forrest's cavalry to make raids and demonstrations, but they will not be strong enough to do any serious harm."
There is no doubt that Thomas, both before and after Schofield's corps was taken from him, was opposed to a movement with a large force into Alabama. To him the proposed campaign seemed utterly impracticable in winter. The uncertainty with regard to Hood's purposes as well as the condition of the roads, alike forbade an early movement. Subsequently, events proved that General Thomas was wise in opposing this projected winter campaign. It was indeed the purpose of the Confederate leaders to move the remnant of Hood's army into North Carolina. In their view the march of Sherman's army north from Savannah necessitated the concentration of all their available forces in that State, to prevent if possible the conjunction of that army with the Army of the Potomac before Richmond. But the southward march of Thomas' army, had it been practicable, could not have prevented the transfer of Hood's forces to the East, since it would have been easy for them to have crossed Thomas' line of march without meeting his army. And every other object proposed for the movement of infantry into Alabama was subsequently attained by Wilson's cavalry corps. And such a cavalry expedition, Thomas had discussed with Wilson earlier than it was ordered, as he had also suggested the employment of A. J. Smith's command on the Gulf, long before he was directed to send it thither.
General Hood had retreated to Tupelo, Miss., where to prevent
unlimited desertions he had furloughed several thousand men, cavalry
and infantry. Subsequently,
four thousand men were sent to Mobile; the cavalry under Forrest was
to operate in Mississippi and Alabama,
Page 381 - CAVALRY EXPEDITIONS
and about fourteen thousand men started for North Carolina, of whom, if Hood's statement may be credited, only about four thousand joined General Jos. E. Johnston before the battle of Bentonville, and one thousand afterwards, nine thousand having deserted on the way. There was no need therefore, of a campaign in Alabama in the winter of 1865, either to pursue Hood's broken forces, or to prevent their transfer to North Carolina. What was needed was full preparation for the movement of a cavalry force into the heart of Alabama, as soon as practicable, and the request of Thomas for horses had reference to such an expedition.
On the 29th Halleck said to Thomas:
"I presume General Grant will give you orders about cooperating as soon as Canby is ready to take the field."
But on the 31st, Grant, in a long letter, sent very different instructions:
"With this I send you a letter from General Sherman.
At the time of writing it. General Sherman was not informed of the
depletion of your command by my orders. It will be impossible for you
at present to
move south, as he contemplated, with the force of infantry indicated.
Sherman is advised before this of the changes made, and that for the
you will be on the defensive, I think, however, an expedition from East
under General Stoneman, might penetrate South Carolina, well down
Columbia, destroying the railroad and military resources of the
thus visiting a portion of the State which will not be reached by
forces. He might also be able to return to East Tennessee by way of
North Carolina, thus releasing some of our prisoners of war in rebel
Of the practicability of doing this, General Stoneman will have to be
judge, making up his mind from information obtained while executing the
part of his instructions. Sherman's movements will attract the
of all the force the enemy can collect, thus facilitating the execution
this. Three thousand cavalry would be a sufficient force to take. This
can be raised in the old Department of the Ohio, without taking any now
General Wilson. It would require, though, the re-organization of the
of Kentucky, cavalry, which Stoneman had in his very successful raid
Page 382 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
It will be necessary, probably, for you to send, in addition to the force now in East Tennessee, a small division of infantry to enable General Gillem to hold the upper end of Holston Valley, and the mountain passes in rear of Stoneman. You may order such an expedition. To save time, I will send a copy to General Stoneman, so that he can begin preparations without loss of time, and can commence his correspondence with you as to these preparations. As this expedition goes to destroy and not to fight battles, but to avoid them, when practicable, particularly against anything like equal forces, or where a great object is to be gained, it should go as light as possible. Stoneman's experience in raiding will teach him in this matter better than he can be directed. Let there be no delay in preparations for this expedition, and keep me advised of its progress."
In this letter General Thomas was explicitly told that he was to be on the defensive for the winter, that he should send an expedition into North Carolina, composed of cavalry already in East Tennessee, that it was to be intrusted to General Stoneman, and that Thomas himself was to have nothing to do with it except to assist in preparations.
This letter was received on the 6th of February, and General Thomas promptly addressed himself to preparation for an early movement by Stoneman. On the 12th, he telegraphed to General Halleck:
"Have orders from General Grant to furnish an outfit of about three thousand cavalry for General Stoneman, and to do this shall require about one thousand additional horses, which I would respectfully request you will give instructions to Major W. P. Chainbliss, inspector of cavalry at Louisville, to furnish immediately."
Thomas had sent with Smith about eight thousand animals, five
thousand of them being cavalry horses. On the 13th of February Grant
Thomas to prepare a cavalry expedition of about five thousand men to
Northern Alabama, as cooperative with Canby's movement against Mobile
Central Alabama. Thomas had decided upon such a service for his
Page 383 - UNTRUTHFUL CRITICISM
after the close of the Nashville campaign. He believed that Wilson could attain every object which had been mentioned by General Grant, as calling for the movement of his infantry forces into Alabama. He then suggested to General Wilson to move on Selma and Montgomery, and after gaining these places to operate towards Mississippi, Mobile, or Macon, as circumstances might suggest or demand.
Acting under Grant's instructions of February 13th, Thomas arrived
on the 23rd, and gave immediate attention to the expedition now
by the lieutenant-general, and previously suggested by Thomas to
But there was delay in the advance of the cavalry southward, mainly for
reasons; want of horses, and the fact that Wilson's movement was to be
with Canby's, and the time of starting was dependent upon Canby's
The necessary postponement of these cavalry expeditions has been made
basis of an exceedingly untruthful criticism of General Thomas by
Meanwhile the same peculiarities which had distinguished Thomas in November and December, had become apparent in January, and February, and March. On the 25th of January Grant said to Halleck:
"When Canby is supplied, horses may be sent up the Tennessee, as General Thomas requests, and let him use all exertion to get off during the first favorable weather we may have. It is a great pity that our cavalry should not have taken advantage of Hood's and Forrest's forces being on furlough. They could have fed on the enemy, and where they could have collected their own horses."
Yet it was to collect and equip this cavalry that Thomas delayed so long at Nashville, and, after two weeks' pursuit of the enemy, he was unwilling to send it out again without another season of equipping and delay. *
In ordering Stoneman's movement, General Grant, as has been
mentioned, prescribed the forces which he should take, even to their
number, and Thomas was simply required to help in preparations. And
when he asked for horses, he
* Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. Ill, page 392.
Page 384 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
was told that Canby must be first supplied. And as to any operations for his infantry or Wilson's cavalry, he was denied all freedom. The plans were repeatedly changed, as were his instructions. He had indeed decided that it was impracticable to make a winter campaign with his infantry, but had he been given freedom to plan and execute, and had horses been supplied, Wilson would have moved from Eastport at the earliest moment possible. General Wilson in the emergency, had asked permission to impress horses in the North, and General Thomas was curtly told by General Halleck, in accordance with Grant's suggestion to him, that Alabama and Georgia were the places to impress horses. And if it had not been seriously proposed, it would have been a trenchant burlesque, to plan a cavalry expedition for midwinter, and have the dismounted men supplied with horses from the region from which the enemy had drawn his own horses in his last desperate effort to make a successful campaign in Tennessee. And as to the mounting of cavalry at Nashville, it should be remembered that Thomas had sent five thousand mounted men to Canby from Wilson's command, and that number, and the waste in the pursuit of Hood, would more than make up the number of horses he had at the battle of Nashville, while Stoneman's force was to be taken from East Tennessee, and not from Eastport, and horses were denied Stoneman until Canby could be supplied. General Thomas was not, therefore, responsible for the delay of Stoneman or Wilson.
On the 14th of February, General Grant said to Thomas:
"General Canby is preparing a movement from Mobile
Bay against Mobile and the interior of Alabama. His force will consist
of about twenty thousand men, besides A. J. Smith's command. The
cavalry you have sent
to Canby will be debarked at Vicksburg. It, with the available cavalry
in that section, will move from there eastward in cooperation. Hood's
has been terribly reduced by the severe punishment you gave it in
by desertion consequent upon their defeat, and now by the withdrawal of
of them to oppose Sherman. I take it, a large portion of the infantry
Page 385 - CANBY'S PROPOSED MOVEMENT
so withdrawn. It is so asserted in the Richmond papers, and a member of the rebel congress said a few days since in a speech, that one-half of it had been brought to South Carolina to oppose Sherman. This being true, or even if it is not true, Canby's movement will attract all the attention of the enemy, and leave the advance from your standpoint easy. I think it advisable, therefore, that you prepare as much of a cavalry force as you can spare, and hold it in readiness to go south. The object would be threefold: first to attract as much of the enemy's force as possible, to insure success to Canby; Second, to destroy the enemy's line of communications and resources; third, to destroy or capture their forces brought into the field. Tuscaloosa and Selma would probably be the points to direct the expedition against *****. Now that your force has been so much depleted, I do not know what number of men you can put into the field. If not more than five thousand men, however, all cavalry, I think it will be sufficient. It is not desirable that you should start this expedition until the one leaving Vicksburg has been three or four days out, or even a week. I do not know when it will start, but will inform you. by telegraph as soon as I learn. If you should hear through other sources before hearing from me, you can act on the information received."
Grant also inquired as to the number of men Thomas would be able to send.
"It thus appears that as late as February 14th, the expedition projected for Wilson's cavalry corps was not to start until Canby's cavalry were out from Vicksburg three or four days, or a week."
February 22d Grant wrote:
"I have it from good authority, that orders have
from Richmond to the commanders at Mobile, to hold that city to the
extremity. This raid causes a concentration of the rebel forces in that
and makes your cavalry expedition effective and easy, and will tend in
end to secure all we want without a long march into the interior by our
Page 386 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In this last conclusion General Grant came into agreement with the
views entertained by General Thomas early in the winter.
February 27th Grant instructed Thomas as follows:
"General Stoneman being so late in making his start from East Tennessee, and Sherman having passed out of the State of South Carolina, I think now his course had better be changed. It is not impossible that, in the event of the enemy being driven out fromRichmond, they may fall back to Lynchburg with a part of their force, and attempt a raid into East Tennessee. It will be, therefore, better to keep Stoneman between our garrisons in East Tennessee and the enemy. Direct him to repeat the raid of last fall, destroying the railroad as far towards Lynchburg as he can. Sheridan starts to day from Winchester for Lynchburg. This will vastly favor Stoneman."
Referring to East Tennessee, Grant added :
It is not impossible that we may have to use a considerable force in that section the coming spring. Preparations should be made to meet such a contingency."
Acting immediately upon this hint, Thomas promptly led the Fourth corps into East Tennessee. And Grant said to him when he heard of this movement:
"I think your precaution in sending the Fourth corps to Knoxville a good one. I also approve of your sending new troops to Chattanooga. Eastport must be held, particularly whilst troops are operating in Alabama."
It was not until March 1st, however, that General Grant made Wilson's movement independent of Canby's. He then telegraphed to Thomas:
"In view of the fact that Forrest is about Jackson, Miss., it will be well for Wilson to start before the Vicksburg forces. The latter may not be able to make their way across Flint River, until Wilson has created a diversion in their favor."
The only delay, therefore, that was possible for Thomas and Wilson, according to Grant's instructions, was subsequent to March 1st, and the causes of this are set forth in the following extract from General Wilson's report:
"The instructions of Lieutenant-General Grant,
transmitted to me by General Thomas, after directing me to be ready to
march as soon as
General Canby's movement had begun, allowed me the amplest
Page 387 - WILSON'S EXPEDITION
discretion as an independent commander. It was first intended that the expedition should begin its movements by the 4th of March, but heavy rain-storms setting in, the Tennessee River became much swollen and the roads impassable. Lieutenant-General Grant having directed all the surplus horses purchased in the West to be sent to General Canby, there were no means left in the hands of the cavalry bureau to mount Hatch's division. I therefore directed him to turn over his few remaining horses to General Upton, and continue the instruction of his command at Eastport."
In compliance with Grant's instructions of March 1st, Wilson made effort to start from Eastport on the 4th, and then swollen rivers and impassable roads delayed him until the 22nd. Stoneman started about the same time, not having obtained horses for an earlier movement. Eastern operations were also delayed by high waters, impassable roads, and other causes. Sherman delayed at Savannah from the 20th of December till the 1st of February, although under orders to go to Richmond as soon as possible. And Grant himself was restrained in movement in the vicinity of Richmond by impassable roads. On the l6th of March he wrote to Sherman:
"Lee has depleted his army but very little recently,
and I learn of none going south. Some regiments may have been detached,
think no division or brigade. The determination seems to be to hold
Richmond as long as possible. I have a force sufficient to hold our
lines, all that is necessary of them, and move out with plenty to whip
his whole army. But
the roads are entirely impassable. Until they improve I shall content
with watching Lee, and be prepared to pitch into him, if he attempts to
the place. * * * Recruits have come in so rapidly at the West, that
has now about as much force as he had when he attacked Hood. * * * * I
him to get ready for a campaign towards Lynchburg, if it became
He never can make one there or elsewhere, but the steps taken will
for any one else to take his troops and come east, or go toward Rome,
may be necessary. I do not believe either will."
Page 388 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
But Thomas had only the Fourth corps of infantry, that was equipped for the field, and this corps he conducted into East Tennessee, not to move into Virginia, but to offer resistance to General Lee, should he escape into East Tennessee. In his official report, General Thomas thus mentioned this movement:
"About this period (March 20th), reports reached me of the possibility of the evacuation of Lee's army at Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, and in that event, of his forcing a passage through East Tennessee, via Lynchburg and Knoxville. To guard against that contingency, Stoneman was sent towards Lynchburg to destroy the railroad and military resources of that section and of Western North Carolina. The Fourth army corps was ordered to move from Huntsville, Alabama, as far up into Tennessee, as it could supply itself, repairing the railroad as it advanced, forming in conjunction with Tillson's division of infantry, a strong support for General Stoneman's cavalry column, in case it should find more of the enemy than it could conveniently handle, and be obliged to fall back."
Badeau's statements - seemingly made by authority - and Grant's utterances alike evince, that in the opinion of the latter, Thomas was too slow to be intrusted with operations that required "prompt aggressive action," and this unreasonable and unsustained opinion has been given as history. with seeming indifference to truth and justice.
Grant and Thomas differed as to the proper time to attack Hood's army at Nashville, and the former attributed the postponement of action from the 2nd to the 9th of December to the sluggishness of Thomas, when it was due to his clear apprehension of the situation, and the adoption of measures which brought a decisive victory.
And these generals again differed as to the practicability and need
a winter campaign into Alabama with infantry and cavalry, and
proved that Thomas was right in opposing such a campaign. But the early
of his army and Grant's oft recurring change of plan plainly indicated
it was not long intended that he should move on Selma with a large
Page 389 - GRANT AND THOMAS
It is strange that General Grant could have looked back through the long line of successful operations conducted by General Thomas, and conclude that he was unfit to be intrusted with one of offensive purpose, and that therefore it was just to merely employ him to gather troops for other generals to use, and not let him know that this humiliating service was required of him. In striking contrast, however, with Grant's opinion that Thomas could never make a campaign to Lynchburg or elsewhere, he moved so quickly into East Tennessee without orders, as to elicit the hearty commendation of the lieutenant-general.
In the face of all the facts the assertion that General Thomas exhibited any sluggishness in the administration of military affairs in the winter and spring of 1865, or at any other time, cannot be sustained. He did all that he was ordered to do, and he would have done far more than he did do, if he had not learned in the Tennessee campaign, that he had little freedom as an army commander. After that campaign, his instructions were conditional, in a great measure, and he was censured for delays which resulted in part from the non-action of other generals, and in part from the denial of needed resources, or from obstacles that restrained all other commanders, East and West. There were impassable roads in Alabama, as well as in Virginia, and long marches were projected in the former State, and only short ones in the latter.
His reputed slowness will be discussed in another connection; in
this, it is enough to say, that he gave successful execution to every
plan formed by himself for his own command; and that when, as an army
commander, he participated
in operations in conjunction with other generals of the same rank, he
as quick to move, and as effective in movement as any other general.
operations and achievements of the Army of the Cumberland in the
before Chattanooga, and in the Atlanta campaign, fully illustrate this
Page 390 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In planning and conducting the Tennessee campaign, General Thomas had placed his generalship and his energy in boldest relief, and from November, 1864, to April, 1865, he had done more to crush the rebellion than any other general, if not more than all others combined.
General Sherman had marched to the sea and through the Carolinas, but in Virginia little had been accomplished, and General Grant had repeatedly expressed fear as to the outcome of Sherman's operations. In retrospect it seems almost incredible that Grant should have been so solicitous for the safety of Sherman while marching north from Savannah. He did fear, however; first, that the enemy would gather together on the line of Sherman's march all his fragmentary forces from the West and South, and then that Lee would withdraw from Virginia to resist his advance. Grant expressed this fear to Sherman when he consented to his northward march from Savannah; he then said, in addition to what has already been quoted:
"In the event you should meet Lee's army, you would be compelled to beat it or find the sea coast. Of course I shall not let Lee's army escape if I can help it, and will not let it go without followingto the best of my ability."
On the 21st of January he mentioned other grounds for fear:
"From about Richmond I will watch Lee closely, and if he detaches many men, or attempts to evacuate, will pitch in. In the mean time, should you be brought to a halt anywhere, I can send two corps of thirty thousand effective men to your support from the works about Richmond."
Thus, before General Sherman had begun his march from Savannah to
reenforce the army operating against Richmond, General Grant was
seriously considering the probabilities consequent upon that march - a
battle with General Lee's army to prevent its withdrawal to oppose
Sherman, the pursuit of that army southward from Richmond, or the
detachment of thirty thousand effective men
from the Army
Page 392 - STONEMAN'S EXPEDITION
of the Potomac to support Sherman, should he be brought to a halt. These surmises plainly show that the weakness of the enemy was the only justification of the plan of operations. Our three Eastern armies were widely separated, but the time had come when interior lines gave no opportunities to Confederate generals. It had not been practicable for Generals Thomas and Canby to prevent the transfer of the remnant of Hood's shattered army to North Carolina, but with this accretion, the army on Sherman's line of march was not large. Lee was not strong enough to hold his works and resist an advance in force upon his communications. Sherman's army, therefore, was not needed at Richmond, and the chief results of its long march were the indecisive battle of Bentonville and the surrender of the residuary Confederate army on the Atlantic coast. After the battle of Nashville, Lee's army sustained the ebbing life of the rebellion, and the widely separated, but unsparing operations of the National armies only touched its quivering extremities.
General Stoneman's cavalry was concentrated at Mossy Creek, March 22nd,
and on the 24th moved to Morristown, Tennessee. Stoneman was
orders to advance towards Lynchburg, Virginia, and then into Western
Carolina, to destroy railroads and the military resources of the enemy
his line of march. He moved through Jonesboro' to Boone, North
thence through Wilkesboro' and Mount Airy, to Hillsville, Virginia.
dividing his command, he destroyed a depot of supplies at Wytheville
the bridges and railroad near Salem. He then captured Christiansburg,
and Martinsville, and having united his forces advanced to Danbury,
Carolina. He then in turn moved to Germantown, Salem, Greensboro',
and Salisbury. From Salisbury he sent detachments to Morgantown and
At the latter place General Gillem, who had taken chief command a few
before, was informed by the enemy
Page 392 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
of the existence of a truce established by Generals Sherman and Johnston. This information, though not fully believed at first, arrested the expedition which had wrought great damage to the enemy in the defeat of all opposing forces, and in the destruction of railroads, manufactories, machine-shops, war-material, and cotton.
General Wilson's cavalry corps crossed the Tennessee River on the 18th of March, and moved southward on the 22nd. The corps at first was divided into detachments on various roads, to glean supplies from the country. The first important objective was Selma, and the division commanders, Generals McCook, Upton, and Long, under orders from Wilson, conducted several distinct operations, which utterly defeated the plans of General Forrest, and finally drove him and his troops into the fortifications before Selma, where Wilson united his forces. Although the defenses were strong and well manned, they were stormed and carried, April 2nd. General Long, with fifteen hundred men, advanced under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry for several hundred yards, and leaping over deep wide ditches and high parapets, dislodged the enemy by one of the most brilliant assaults of the war.
Ten days after the capture of Selma, Wilson received the surrender of Montgomery, the first capital of the Confederacy. The objects for this expedition, specified by General Grant, had then been attained.
On that day and the next, the corps moved towards Macon. On the 20th,
when within fifteen miles of the city, Colonel Minty, commanding the
Second division in room of General Long wounded at Selma, met a flag of
by General Robertson, who also bore a message from General Cobb
addressed to the commanding officers of United States forces. Minty
forwarded this message
to General Wilson, and dashed into Macon. Upon receiving information
a general truce had been proclaimed by General Sherman, Wilson had
to halt his command
Page 393 - SHERMAN'S ARMISTICE
at the defenses of Macon, and then act with deliberation, in respect to the announcement made through the enemy. However, before he could overtake his foremost troops, or reach their commander by an order sent by a staff officer, the city had been surrendered to Colonel White of Minty's division.
The two western cavalry expeditions were arrested; one in North Carolina, and the other in Georgia, by advices of a general armistice, received through the enemy. The Confederate officers at Macon, including General Howell Cobb, protested against being held as prisoners of war, on the ground that such action on the part of Wilson was a violation of an armistice. But General Wilson decided that he would hold them as prisoners of war, since he could not acknowledge the binding force of an arrangement made outside the limits of the military division, when his only information concerning the alleged armistice had been communicated by the enemy.
The problem, which embarrassed the generals of cavalry in North
Carolina and Georgia, threw also upon General Thomas a most intricate
problem. By Sherman's
order Thomas was in command of all the forces of the Military Division
the Mississippi, "not absolutely in the presence of the
general-in-chief." There was at first room to doubt the existence of an
armistice that was binding
upon himself and the troops under his command. It was not foreign to
precedents of war for an enemy to use deception to arrest operations
could not be withstood, but it had not been customary in war to
communicate orders of such importance through an enemy. General Thomas
desired to recognize fully the authority of General Sherman, at the
same time he was not willing to trust to the enemy as a channel for the
communication of Sherman's orders. He was, however, relieved from this
dilemma before his own action was imperative, by the official
announcement from Washington that the convention to which Generals
Page 394 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Sherman and Johnston were parties had been annulled, and that offensive operations should be immediately resumed. The surrender of all the regular Confederate forces, east of the Chattahoochee River, soon followed the renewal of hostilities; and on the 7th of May General Taylor surrendered to General Canby, all those between that river and the Mississippi.
The questions proposed to Mr. Stanton by General Thomas, show how careful he was to avoid all mistakes:
"Was the arrangement between Generals Sherman and Johnston the same as that between Generals Grant and Lee? I have by authority offered General Grant's terms to D. Taylor, and to the commanding general in Northern Georgia. Guerrilla bands also desire to surrender. Am I authorized to grant them any terms ?"
General Thomas had anticipated General Grant by a month in prescribing this service for his cavalry, believing that under the circumstances, Wilson's corps could do all that was necessary in the way of aggression in Alabama. In this he was right, as was illustrated by Wilson's uninterrupted success from Eastport to Montgomery. The resultant loss to the enemy, in war-material and cotton, was immense.
Beyond Selma, General Wilson acted as an independent commander,
wide discretion given him by both Grant and Thomas. He chose Columbus,
for his next important objective after Montgomery, a place of great
to the enemy on account of its military stores, railroad
boats, armories, arsenals and work shops, and was besides the key to
Georgia. The town was situated on the left bank of the Chattahoochee
was strongly fortified and held by three thousand men, but it was
stormed, under the cover of night, by four hundred men from Upton's
Colonel Noble of the Third Iowa cavalry leading. This small force
over bridges strongly
Page 395 - WILSON'S EXPEDITION
defended, and drove the enemy from his fortifications beyond. These troops, however, were well supported by other forces, in provision against a probable repulse. This action occurred on the 17th of April, and resulted in the capture of twelve hundred prisoners, fifty-two guns in position, the rebel ram Jackson, a large number of locomotives, and immense quantities of arms, stores and cotton. The same day La Grange captured Fort Tyler, at West Point, taking three hundred prisoners, three guns, and a large quantity of supplies.
Jefferson Davis, and several of his prominent associates, were
captured near Irwinsville, Georgia, May 10th , by Colonel
Pritchard of the
Fourth Michigan cavalry. Colonel Harnden, of the First Wisconsin
cavalry, was also near with his regiment, having followed Mr. Davis'
line of flight for three days. These regiments belonged to Wilson's
corps and were operating under his direct instructions, transmitted
through their respective division commanders.
Originally published in 1887 by Robert Underwood Johnson and
Clough Buell, editors of the "The Century Magazine".
[scanned, reformatted and corrected]
excerpt from LAST DAYS OF THE CONFEDERACY [capture of Davis] BY BASIL W. DUKE, BRIGADIER-GENERAL, C. S. A. (Condensed from "The Southern Bivouac," for August, 1886 - Editors)
When General Lee began his retreat from Richmond and Petersburg Brigadier General John Echols was in command of the Department of South-western Virginia.* Under him were General Wharton's division and the brigades of Colonels Trigg and Preston, between 4000 and 5000 infantry, and four brigades of cavalry, about 2200 men, commanded by Brigadier-Generals Vaughn and Cosby, Colonel Giltner, and myself. There was also attached to the departmental command Major Page's unusually well-equipped battalion of artillery. On the 2d day of April General Echols issued orders looking to a junction of his forces with those of General Lee. Marching almost constantly, by day and night, General Echols reached Christiansburg on the 10th, and concentrated his entire command there. He was confident that he would be able, within a few days, to join Lee somewhere to the south-west of Richmond, most probably in the vicinity of Danville. The command had halted for the night; General Echols and I were dismounted and standing upon the turnpike surrounded by the soldiers. Just then Lieutenant James B. Clay, who had been sent ahead three days before to gain information, galloped up and handed General Echols a dispatch. The latter's face flushed, and then grew deadly pale. The dispatch was from General Lomax, and in these words: "General Lee surrendered this morning at or near Appomattox Court House. I am trying with my own division and the remnants of Fitz Lee's and Rosser's divisions to arrange to make a junction with you."
After a brief conference we agreed that the news should be concealed from the men until the next day, if possible, and communicated that night only to the brigade and regimental commanders. We hoped that some plan might be devised which would enable us to hold the troops together until we could learn what policy would be pursued by Mr. Davis, and whether it would be our duty to endeavor to join General Johnston. But to conceal such a fact when even one man was aware of it was impossible. Before we had concluded our brief conversation, we knew from the hum and stir in the anxious, dark-browed crowds nearest us, from excitement which soon grew almost to tumult, that the terrible tidings had gotten abroad. That night no man slept. Strange as the declaration may sound now, there was not one of the six or seven thousand then gathered at Christiansburg who had entertained the slightest thought that such an event could happen, and doubtless that feeling pervaded the ranks of the Confederacy. We knew that the heroic army which had so long defended Richmond was in retreat. We knew that its operations could no longer be conducted upon the methods which support regular warfare, and that everything necessary to maintain its efficiency was lost. We could hazard no conjecture as to what would be done; yet, that the Army of Northern Virginia, with Lee at its head, would ever surrender had never entered our minds. Therefore, the indescribable consternation and amazement which spread like a conflagration through the ranks when the thing was told can only be imagined by one who has had a similar experience.
During all that night officers and men were congregated in groups and crowds discussing the news, and it was curious to observe how the training and discipline of veteran soldiers were manifested even amid all this deep feeling and wild excitement. There was not one act of violence, not a harsh or insulting word spoken; the officers were treated with the same respect which they had previously received and although many of the infantrymen who lived in that part of Virginia went off that night without leave and returned to their homes, none who remained were insubordinate or failed to obey orders with alacrity. Great fires were lighted. Every group had its orators, who, succeeding each other, spoke continuously. Every conceivable suggestion was offered. Some advocated a guerrilla warfare; some proposed marching to the trans-Mississippi, and thence to Mexico. The more practical and reasonable, of course, proposed that an effort to join General Johnston should immediately be made. Many, doubtless, thought of surrender, but I do not remember to have heard it mentioned.
On the next day General Echols convened a council of war composed of his brigade commanders. He proposed that the men of the infantry commands should be furloughed for sixty days, at the expiration of which time, if the Confederacy survived, they might possibly be returned to the service. The infantry commanders approved of this policy, and it was adopted. General Echols then requested the officers commanding the cavalry brigades to give expression to their views. General Cosby and Colonel Giltner frankly declared their conviction that further resistance was impossible, and that it was their duty to lose no time in making the best terms possible for their men. They expressed a determination to march to Kentucky and immediately surrender. General Vaughn and I believed that we were allowed no option in such a matter, but that, notwithstanding the great disaster of which we had just learned, we were not absolved from our military allegiance. We thought it clearly our duty to attempt to join General Johnston, and to put off surrender as long as the Confederate Government had an organized force in the field. We expressed ourselves ready to obey, any order General Echols might issue. For my own part, I was convinced that all of the troops there would rather have their record protected than their safety consulted.
General Echols verbally notified each brigade commander of cavalry
that he would be expected to take his brigade to General Johnston, and
* See p. 422. General Echols succeeded General Early in command of the department, March 30th, 1865.--Editors.
that a written order to march that evening would be delivered to each. I received such an order. The infantry ostensibly was furloughed, virtually it was disbanded, in accord with this programme. The guns of Page's batteries were spiked and the carriages burned. The artillery horses and several hundred mules taken from the large wagon-train, which was also abandoned, were turned over to my brigade that I might mount my men, for our horses had mostly been sent to North Carolina for the winter, and had not been brought back. I had been joined at Christiansburg by a detachment of paroled prisoners of John Morgan's old command. I permitted as many of them as I could mount to accompany me, and armed them with rifles left by the disbanded infantrymen. I was compelled peremptorily to order a very considerable number of these paroled men to remain in a camp established in the vicinity of Christiansburg. They were anxious to follow on foot. Late on the evening of the 11th General Echols, at the head of Vaughn's brigade and mine, the latter on muleback, began the march toward North Carolina, which was to close with the final surrender of the last Confederate organization east of the Mississippi River. The rain was pouring in torrents. On the next day ninety men of Colonel Giltner's brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel George Dimond, overtook us. They had learned, after our departure, of the result of the conference, and of General Echols's determination to join General Johnston.
As we approached the North Carolina border, we heard frequent rumors that a large force of Federal cavalry was in the vicinity, prepared to contest our progress. The point at which it was supposed we would encounter them, and where collision would be most dangerous to us, was "Fancy Gap," which, however, we passed in safety.
On the second day after entering North Carolina, we crossed the Yadkin River, and on the evening of the next day thereafter reached Statesville. Here General Echols left us in order to proceed more promptly to General Johnston, who was supposed to be at Salisbury. Vaughn marched in the direction of Morganton, and I set out for Lincolnton, where I expected to find my horses and the detail, under Colonel Napier, which I had sent in charge of them to their winter quarters in that vicinity . Crossing the Catawba River on the top of the covered railroad bridge I pushed on rapidly.
I had obtained credible information that the Federal cavalry under Stoneman [see foot-note, p. 495] were now certainly very near, and also marching in the direction of Lincolnton. I was very anxious to get there first, for I feared that if the enemy anticipated me the horses and guard would either be captured or driven so far away as to be entirely out of my reach. Early in the afternoon I discovered unmistakable indications that the enemy was close at hand, and found that he was moving upon another main road to Lincolnton, nearly parallel with that which I was pursuing, and some three miles distant. My scouts began fighting with his upon every by-road which connected our respective routes; and I learned, to my great chagrin and discomfort, that my men were not meeting with the success in that sort of combat to which they were accustomed, and which an unusual amount of experience in it might entitle them to expect. They were constantly driven in upon the column, and showed a reluctance to fight amounting almost to demoralization. Every man whom I questioned laid the blame in the most emphatic manner on his "d-d mule." All declared that these animals were prejudiced against advancing or standing in any decent fashion.
I sent a party of some twenty-five or thirty, mounted on horses and better equipped than the others, with instructions to get into Lincolnton before the enemy and communicate with Colonel Napier. However, when I had come within three miles of the place, about sunset, I met this party retiring before a very much larger body of Federals.
To countermarch would have destroyed the morale of the men; and if I had been attacked in rear my column would have dissolved in utter rout. Fortunately I had learned that a road, or rather trace, turned off to the left near this point, and led to other paths which conducted to the main road from Lincolnton to Charlotte. I turned into this road. Procuring guides, I marched some 15 miles and reached the Charlotte road late in the night.
At Charlotte, where we arrived the same day, we found General Ferguson's brigade of cavalry; the town was also crowded with paroled soldiers of Lee's army and refugee officials from Richmond.* On the next day Mr. Davis arrived, escorted by the cavalry brigades of General Dibrell, of Tennessee, and Colonel W. C. P. Breckinridge, of Kentucky.
In response to the greeting received from the citizens and soldiery, Mr. Davis made a speech which has been the subject of much comment, then and since. I heard it, and remember nothing said by him that could warrant much either of commendation or criticism. In the course of his remarks a dispatch was handed him by some gentleman in the crowd, who, I have been told since, was the mayor of Charlotte. It announced the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Davis read it aloud, making scarcely any comment upon it at all. He certainly used no unkind language, nor did he display any feeling of exultation. The impression
* On Sunday, April 2d, on receipt of dispatches from General Lee that the army was about to evacuate the Petersburg and Richmond lines, Mr. Davis assembled his cabinet and directed the removal of the public; archives, treasure, and other property to Danville, Virginia. The members of the Government left Richmond during the night of the 2d, and on the 5th Mr. Davis issued a proclamation stating; that Virginia would not be abandoned. Danville was placed in a state of defense, and Admiral Raphael Semmes was appointed a brigadier-general in command of the defenses, with a force consisting of a naval brigade and two battalions of infantry. Upon the surrender of Lee and his army (April 9th), the Confederate Government was removed to Greensboro, North Carolina. On the 18th Mr. Davis and part of his cabinet and his accompanied by a wagon-train containing the personal property of the members of the Government and the most valuable archives, started for Charlotte, North Carolina. On the 24th the terms of the convention [see p. 755] between Generals Johnston and Sherman were approved hy Mr. Davis as President of the Confederate States.--Editors.
produced on my mind by his manner and few words was that he did not credit the statement.
General John C. Breckinridge, who was then Secretary of War, had not accompanied Mr. Davis to Charlotte, but had gone to General Johnston's headquarters at Greensboro and was assisting in the negotiations between Johnston and Sherman.
When General Breckinridge reached Charlotte, about two days after Mr. Davis's arrival he was under the impression that the cartel he had helped to frame would be ratified by the Federal Government and carried into effect. I saw him and had a long conversation with him immediately upon his arrival. He was in cheerful spirits, and seemed to think the terms obtained some mitigation of the sting of defeat and submission.
In the afternoon of that day General Johnston telegraphed that the authorities at Washington refused to recognize the terms upon which he and Sherman had agreed, that the armistice had been broken off, and that he would surrender, virtually, upon any terms offered him. Upon the receipt of this intelligence Mr. Davis resolved at once to leave Charlotte and attempt to march, with all the troops willing to follow him, to Generals Taylor and Forrest, who were somewhere in Alabama. He was accompanied by the members of his cabinet and his staff, in which General Bragg was included.* The brigades of Ferguson, Dibrell, Breckinridge, and mine composed his escort, the whole force under the command of General Breckinridge. 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. One morning he suddenly disappeared. When I next heard of him he was in England. **
At Abbeville, South Carolina, Mr. Davis held a conference with the officers in command of the troops composing his escort, which he himself characterized as a council of war, and which I may be justified, therefore, in so designating. It was, perhaps, the last Confederate council of war held east of the Mississippi River, certainly the last in which Mr. Davis participated. We had gone into camp in the vicinity of the little town, and, although becoming quite anxious to understand what was going to be done, we were expecting no immediate solution of the problem. We were all convinced that the best we could hope to do was to get Mr. Davis safely out of the country, and then obtain such terms as had been given General Johnston's army, or, failing in that, make way to the trans-Mississippi. The five brigade commanders [S. W. Ferguson, George G. Dibrell, J. C. Vaughn, Basil W. Duke, and W. C. P. Breckinridge] each received an order notifying him to attend at the private residence in Abbeville, where Mr. Davis had made his headquarters, about 4 o'clock of that afternoon. We were shown into a room where we found Mr. Davis and Generals Breckinridge and Bragg. No one else was present. I had never seen Mr. Davis look better or show to better advantage. He seemed in excellent spirits and humor; and the union of dignity, graceful affability, and decision, which made his manner usually so striking, was very marked in his reception of us. After some conversation of a general nature, he said: "It is time, that we adopt some definite plan upon which the further prosecution of our struggle shall be conducted. I have summoned you for consultation. I feel that I ought to do nothing now without the advice of my military chiefs." He smiled rather archly as he used this expression, and we could not help thinking that such a term addressed to a handful of brigadiers, commanding altogether barely three thousand men, by one who so recently had been the master of legions was a pleasantry, yet he said it in a way that made it a compliment.
After we had each given, at his request, a statement of the equipment and condition of our respective commands, Mr. Davis proceeded to declare his conviction that the cause was not lost any more than Hope of American liberty was gone amid the sorest trials and most disheartening reverses of the Revolutionary struggle; but that energy, courage, and constancy might yet save all. "Even," he said, "if the troops now with me be all that I can for the present rely on, three thousand brave men are enough for a nucleus around which the whole people will rally when the panic which now afflicts them has passed away." He them asked that we should make suggestions in regard to the future conduct of the war.
We looked at each other in amazement and with a feeling a little akin to trepidation, for we hardly knew how w e should give expression to views
* In the party were General John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War; Judah P. Benjamin, secretary of State; S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy; John H. Reagan, Postmaster General; General Samuel Cooper, Adjutant General; George Davis, Attorney General; Colonels John Taylor Wood, William Preston Johnston, and Frank R. Lubbock, staff-officers, and Colonel Burton N. Harrison, private secretary to Mr. Davis.--Editors.
** Mr. Benjamin escaped through Florida to the
seacoast; thence to the Bahamas in an open boat.--Editors.
diametrically opposed to those he had uttered. Our respect for Mr. Davis approached veneration, and notwithstanding the total dissent we felt and were obliged to announce, to the programme he had indicated, that respect was rather increased than diminished by what He had said.
I do not remember who spoke first, but we all expressed the same opinion. We told him frankly that the events of the last few days had removed from our minds all idea or hope that a prolongation of the contest was possible. The people were not panic-stricken, but broken down and worn out. We said that an attempt to continue the war, after all means of supporting warfare were gone, would be a cruel injustice to the people of the South. We would be compelled to live on a country already impoverished, and would invite its further devastation. We urged that we would be doing a wrong to our men if we persuaded them to such a course; for if they persisted in a conflict so hopeless they would be treated as brigands, and would forfeit all chance of returning to their homes.
He asked why then we were still in the field. We answered that we were desirous of affording him an opportunity of escaping the degradation of capture, and perhaps a fate which would be direr to the people than even to himself, in still more embittering the feeling between the North and South. We said that we would ask our men to follow us until his safety was assured, and would risk them in battle for that purpose, but would not fire another shot in an effort to continue hostilities.
He declared, abruptly, that he would listen to no suggestion which regarded only his own safety. He appealed eloquently to every sentiment and reminiscence that might be supposed to move a Southern soldier, and urged us to accept his views. We remained silent, for our convictions were unshaken; we felt responsible for the future welfare of the men who had so heroically followed us; and the painful point had been reached, when to speak again in opposition to all that he urged would have approached altercation. For some minutes not a word was spoken. Then Mr. Davis rose and ejaculated bitterly that all was indeed lost. He had become very pallid, and he walked so feebly as he proceeded to leave the room that General Breckinridge stepped hastily up and offered his arm.
I have undertaken to narrate very briefly what occurred in a conference which lasted for two or three hours. I believe that I have accurately given the substance of what was said; and that where I have put what was said by Mr. Davis in quotation marks, I have correctly reproduced it, or very nearly so.
Generals Breckinridge and Bragg took no part in the discussion. After Mr. Davis retired, both, however, assured us of their hearty approval of the position we had taken. They had forborne to say anything, because not immediately in command of the troops, and not supposed, therefore, to know their sentiments so well as we did. But they promised to urge upon Mr. Davis the necessity and propriety of endeavoring without further delay to get out of the country, and not permit other and serious complications to be produced by his capture and imprisonment, and perhaps execution.
It was determined that we should resume our march that night for Washington, Georgia, one or two days' march distant, and orders were issued by General Breckinridge to move at midnight. About 10 o'clock I received a message from General Breckinridge that he desired to see me immediately. I went to his quarters, and he informed me that the treasure which had been brought from Richmond was at the railroad station, and that it was necessary to provide for its removal and transportation. He instructed me to procure a sufficient number of wagons to remove it, and to detail a guard of fifty men under a field-officer for its protection. He further informed me that there was between five and six hundred thousand dollars in specie,--he did not know the exact amount,--the greater part gold. I must, he said, personally superintend its transfer from the cars to the wagons. This was not a very agreeable duty. I represented that if no one knew just what sum of money was there, it was rather an unpleasant responsibility to impose on the officer who was to take charge of it. I would have no opportunity to count it, nor any means of ascertaining whether the entire amount was turned over to me. He responded that all that had been considered, and bade me proceed to obey the order. I detailed fifty picked men as guard, and put them under command of Colonel Theophilus Steele and four of my best subalterns. I obtained six wagons, and began at once the task of removing the treasure. It was in charge of some of the former treasury clerks, and was packed in money-belts, shot-bags, a few small iron chests, and all sorts of boxes, some of them of the frailest description. In this shape I found it loaded in open box-cars. I stationed sentries at the doors, and rummaging through the cars by the faint light of a few tallow candles gathered up all that was shown me, or that I could find. Rather more than an hour was consumed in making the transfer from the cars to the wagons, and after the latter had been started off and had gotten half a mile away, Lieutenant John B. Cole, one of the officers of the guard, rode up to me with a pine box, which may have held two or three thousand dollars in gold, on the pommel of his saddle. He had remained after the others had left, and ferreting about in a car which we thought we had thoroughly searched had discovered this box stuck in a corner and closely covered up with a piece of sacking. On the next day General Breckinridge directed me to increase the guard to two hundred men, and take charge of it in person. I suggested that instead of composing it entirely of men from my brigade, it should be constituted of details from all five. I thought this the best plan to allay any feeling of jealousy that might arise, and insure a more perfect vigilance, as I felt persuaded that these details would all carefully watch each other. My suggestion was adopted. Nearly the entire guard was kept constantly on duty, day and night, and a majority of the whole escort was usually about the wagons at every halt, closely inspecting the guard.
At the Savannah River, Mr. Davis ordered that the silver coin, amounting to one hundred and eight or ten thousand dollars, be paid to the troops in partial discharge of the arrears of pay due them. The quartermasters of the several brigades were engaged during the entire night in counting out the money, and until early dawn a throng of soldiers surrounded the little cabin where they were dividing "the pile" into their respective quotas. The sight of so much money seemed to banish sleep. My brigade received thirty-two dollars per capita, officers and men sharing alike. General Breckinridge was paid that sum, and, for the purpose, was borne on the roll of the brigade. On the next day, at Washington, Georgia, I turned over the residue of the treasure to Mr. M. H. Clarke, Acting Treasurer of the Confederate States, and experienced a feeling of great relief.(1)
Mr. Davis, having apparently yielded to the advice pressed upon him, that he should endeavor to escape, started off with a select party of twenty, commanded by Captain Given Campbell, of Kentucky, one of the most gallant and intelligent officers in the service. I knew nearly all of these twenty personally. Among them were Lieutenants Lee Hathaway and Winder Monroe of my brigade. Escort and commander had been picked as men who could be relied on in any emergency, and there is no doubt in my mind that, if Mr. Davis had really attempted to get away or reach the trans-Mississippi, this escort would have exhausted every expedient their experience could have suggested, and, if necessary, fought to the death to accomplish his purpose. I have never believed, however, that Mr. Davis really meant or desired to escape after he became convinced that all was lost. I think that, wearied by the importunity with which the request was urged, he seemingly consented, intending to put himself in the way of being captured. I am convinced that he quitted the main body of the troops that they might have an opportunity to surrender before it was too late for surrender upon terms, and that he was resolved that the small escort sent with him should encounter no risk in his behalf. I can account for his conduct upon no other hypothesis. He well knew--and he was urgently advised--that his only chance of escape was in rapid and continuous movement. He and his party were admirably mounted, and could easily have outridden the pursuit of any party they were not strong enough to fight. Therefore, when he deliberately procrastinated as he did, when the fact of his presence in that vicinity was so public, and in the face of the effort that would certainly be made by the federal forces to secure his person, I can only believe that he had resolved not to escape.
Immediately after Mr. Davis's departure the greater portion of the troops were notified that their services would be no longer needed, aud were given a formal discharge. Their officers made arrangements for their prompt surrender. General Breckinridge requested Colonel W. C. P. Breckinridge and myself to hold a body of our men together for two or three days, and, marching in a direction different from that Mr. Davis had taken, divert attention as from his movements.(2) We accordingly marched with 350 men of our respective brigades toward Woodstock, or Woodville, --I do not certainly remember the name. I moved upon one road; Colonel Breckinridge, with whom the general was, upon another. We were to meet at the point I have mentioned. I arrived first, and halted to await the others. I found that a considerable force of Federal cavalry was just to the west of the place, and not more than three miles distant. The officer in command notified me in very courteous terms that he would not attack unless I proceeded toward the west, in which event he said he would, very much to his regret, be compelled " to use violence." He said that he hoped I would think proper to surrender, as further bloodshed was useless and wrong; but that he would not undertake to hasten the matter. I responded that I appreciated his sentiments and situation, and that I would give the matter of surrender immediate and careful consideration. That evening Colonel Breckinridge arrived. He had encountered a body of Federals, who had made to him almost the identical statement the officer in my front had addressed to me. He had parleyed with them long enough to enable General Breckinridge, with one or two officers who were to accompany him in his effort to escape, to get far enough away to elude pursuit,(3) and then, telling them where ho wished to go, was allowed to march by upon the same road occupied by the Federal column. The men of the previously hostile hosts cheered each other as they passed, and the "Yanks" shouted, "You rebs better go home and stop this nonsense; we don't want to hurt each other!" The colonel brought an earnest injunction from General Breckinridge that we should both surrender without delay. We communicated his message to our comrades, and for us the long agony was over.(4)
(1) The treasure brought from Richmond included about $275,000 belonging to some Richmond banks.--EDITORS.
(2) Jefferson Davis was captured on the 10th of May near Irwinsville, Georgia, by a detachment of the 4th Michigan Cavalry (belonging to General R. H. G. Minty's division of General James H. Wilson's cavalry corps), under Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin. D. Pritchard. Pritchard left Macon, Georgia, on the 7th, and was moving south along the west bank of the Ocmulgee when he crossed the route on which Mr. Davis and his party were moving with about twenty-four hours start of their pursuers. A detachment of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry (belonging to General John T. Croxton's division), under Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Harnden, was following Mr. Davis in the direct road to Irwinsville, and Pritchard, making a swift march on another road, came upon the fugitives in their camp, and arrested Mr. Davis just as the advance of Harnden's command reached the scene.--EDITORS.
(3) Among those who surrendered at the time, besides Mr. Davis's family and the guard, were Mr. Reagan and Colonels Lubbock, Johnston, and Harrison. General Breckinridge and Colonel Wood escaped, and made their way to Florida, whence they sailed to Cuba in an open boat.--Editors.
(4) On the 29th of May, 1865, President Johnson issued a proclamation of amnesty to all persons (with some notable exceptions) who had participated in the rebellion, and who should make oath to support the Constitution and the Union, and the proclamations and laws relating to emancipation. Among the exceptions, besides certain civil and diplomatic officers and agents, and others, were the officers of the Confederate service above the rank of colonel in the army and that of lieutenant in the navy, and those who had been educated at the United States Military and Naval Academies.
Amnesty was further extended by proclamations, on September 7th, 1867, and December 25th, 1868. In the first the military exceptions made in the amnesty of May 29th, 1865, were reduced to ex-Confederate officers above the rank of brigadier-general in the army, and of captain in the navy, and in the second all exceptions were removed and the pardon was unconditional and without the formality of any oath.
Mr. Davis was imprisoned at Fort Monroe immediately
after his arrest, and was indicted on the charge of treason, by a Grand
the United States Court for the District of Virginia, at Norfolk, May
1866. On May 13th, 1867, he was released on a bail-bond of $100,000,
by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Gerrit Smith, and Horace Greeley, and in
1868, a nolle prosequi was entered in the case.--Editors.