The Long Surrender

The Long Surrender

by Burke Davis

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Overview

A panoramic and spellbinding history of the last days of the Confederacy and the flight, capture, and imprisonment of Jefferson Davis

In April 1865, Richmond fell to the Union army and Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to his Northern counterpart, Ulysses S. Grant, at the Appomattox Court House. But the Civil War was far from over.

Determined to keep Confederate dreams of secession alive, President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled the burning capital city. With Union troops in pursuit, the fugitives rallied loyalists across the South and made plans to escape to Cuba. In the aftermath of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, a $100,000 bounty was placed on Davis’s head. Finally captured in Irwinville, Georgia, the former US senator and secretary of war became a prisoner of the American government. The harsh treatment he received would inflame tensions between North and South for years to come.

Meticulously researched and brilliantly told, The Long Surrender brings these dramatic events to vivid, unforgettable life and paints a fascinating portrait of Davis, one of history’s most enigmatic figures. By shining a light on this forgotten chapter of the Civil War, bestselling author Burke Davis examines the lasting impact of America’s bloodiest conflict on the national character.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504034401
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 03/29/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 319
Sales rank: 148,352
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Burke Davis (1913–2006) was an American author and journalist best known for his narrative histories of the Civil War, including To Appomattox: Nine April Days, 1865 (1959), Sherman’s March (1980), and The Last Surrender (1985). His acclaimed biographies of military and political figures include They Called Him Stonewall (1954), Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War (1956), Marine!: The Life of Chesty Puller (1962), and Old Hickory: A Life of Andrew Jackson (1977). A longtime special projects writer for Colonial Williamsburg, Davis also published many works of historical nonfiction for young readers. His numerous honors include the Mayflower Cup, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and election to the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Read an Excerpt

The Long Surrender


By Burke Davis

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1985 Burke Davis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3440-1



CHAPTER 1

"Now ... they will repent"


Spring came to central Virginia in late March 1865, in a season of cold rains. Fruit trees bloomed in the city of Richmond and in the scarred, desolate landscape beyond, where a ragged crescent of entrenchments sheltered a Federal army of some 100,000 men. The siege of Richmond and nearby Petersburg was in its ninth month. Within a few days the American Civil War would be four years old.

It seemed unlikely that the Confederate capital would survive to celebrate the anniversary. A perceptive diarist saw symptoms of approaching crisis in the disintegration of the army defending the capital:

"Desertions from the army were assuming fearful proportions that no legislative or executive rigor could diminish. Every day saw brigades double-quicking back and forth through the suburbs ... inadequate to man the vast extent of the lines."

Inflation ravaged the city and threatened the unfortunate with starvation. Flour sold for $1,500 per barrel, live hens for $50 each, butter for $20 per pound and beef for $15. The plight of Richmonders was a grim joke to a woman from Georgia, who had come to be near her husband at his post in the trenches: "Close times in this beleaguered city. You can carry your money in your market basket and bring home your provisions in your purse."

But there were those who suffered more keenly. Young A. R. Tomlinson, a wounded soldier serving as a hospital guard, though so weak that he could barely stand watch, could not bring himself to eat as his companions did: "The surgeons and matrons ate rats and said they were as good as squirrels, but having seen the rats running over the bodies of dead soldiers, I had no relish for them."


The past few days in the capital had been quiet despite growing pressure from General Ulysses S. Grant's Federal besiegers, so near at hand. Though it was clear that the city must soon fall, a stranger might have assumed that all was well. Overcrowded Richmond's 200,000 people went about their affairs almost as usual. The gadfly editor Edward Pollard of the Richmond Examiner wrote: "For months past the government had been reticent of all military news whatever; the newspapers had been warned not to publish any military matters, but what should be dictated to them from the War Department; and the public was left to imagine pretty much what it pleased. ... Indeed, the idea current in the streets ... was rather pleasant and assuring." Pollard repeated rumors of possible reinforcements for General Robert E. Lee's dwindling ranks from the army of General Joseph E. Johnston, now in North Carolina as the last barrier in the path of the invading horde led by General William T. Sherman. The grim Sherman had already driven through the Carolinas after sweeping from Atlanta to the sea. Even in face of such news of disaster in the air, Pollard wrote, Richmonders "had not the slightest inkling of the situation" as the Confederate capital neared its hour of doom.

But the partisan Pollard, who had heaped vituperation upon President Jefferson Davis and his administration during the war, was not always to be taken literally. By now, at least, Richmond's civilians were less naïve than the fault-finding editor assumed. A French businessman who came to the city noted that "everyone wore a haggard, scared look." And Captain Micajah Clark, a clerk in the President's office, said that the Treasury had been issuing coin for more than a month, changing currency into silver "for the relief of the people" — coins rarely seen in the wartime Confederacy. Clark and most other Richmonders realized that this exchange had but one purpose: coin might be spent after the fall of the city, when Confederate bills would be worthless. The ratio of paper to silver dollars was 60 to 1, and rising.

As Pollard charged, government propaganda had indeed misled many people, but more observant residents saw that the end was at hand. The fall of the city was so obviously imminent that only one Cabinet member's wife remained. An early exodus of government clerks and archives had begun March 1, and supplies of machinery, arms and food had been shipped southward with them to the relative safety of the interior. Congress had disbanded soon afterward with no plans to reconvene, departing amidst bitter exchanges with Davis that left the President "worn and exhausted," so his wife said. Another observer, noting that Congress had turned "madly against him," saw Davis as a sick lion attacked by jackals: "It is a very struggle for life with him ... He is in a sea of trouble, and has no time or thought for anything but the safety of the country."

More recently, within the past few days, President Davis was known to have sent most of the food in his mansion to the city's hospitals, as if preparing for his own flight. The enigmatic Confederate President, whose public manner was that of a stern, unyielding ascetic, became the focus of attention in the final days of the capital's life. The leader of the failing rebellion, though by no means a chameleon in dealing with people, did seem to inspire the most impassioned — and extreme — reactions from his frustrated subjects, reactions ranging from hatred to adoration. Those who knew him best still regarded him as the salvation of the Southern cause — but his early role as hero and founder of the Confederacy had altered greatly in recent months.

Thousands of Southerners, inconsolable in face of defeat and with passions inflamed by a press hostile to Davis, had made him a scapegoat, a symbol of their blasted hopes.

Physically Jefferson Davis had been stricken by pressures of war. No longer did he look "every inch the President," as he had during his 1861 inaugural. As now seen on Richmond's streets he was pale, feeble and distraught. He had become an incurable insomniac, and his condition could not have been improved by the regimen imposed upon him by his wife, Varina, and his doctors. She forced Davis to sniff chloroform and rubbed the anesthetic on his temples. The President also inhaled the vapors of burning rosemary leaves, and for a time had been dosed daily with two grains of opium, five grains of quinine, a teaspoonful of "calchocum wine"* and a portion of castor oil. Despite ailments, Davis kept to his usual rapid stride, his gaze fixed forward as if about some all-consuming business. Though he was, at fifty-six, a year younger than General Lee, Davis looked much older. One eye, now useless, was a stone-gray orb; he had been almost blinded by an ulcerated cornea and attacks of neuralgia. Varina, his second wife and eighteen years his junior, had also begun to age. She had lost the sensuous, doe-eyed beauty of her girlhood and was no longer "The Mississippi Rose" — she was now spoken of as "that Western squaw." An officer's wife had lately described the couple, "He looks badly — old, grey and wrinkled ... But she is enormously fat, and very cross and ill-tempered."

In the defensive trenches outside Richmond, where men lived like conies in their miserable burrows, firewood sold for $5 per stick. Under sporadic bombardment from enemy cannon and deadly rifle fire from sharpshooters, the gray line, always sparsely manned, had stretched so thinly that Robert E. Lee's troops could not hope to withstand an attack from the bluecoat hordes at their front. Hundreds of men stole away each night, drawn homeward by letters from their desperate families, many of whom lived in the path of General Sherman's pillagers. The rate of Confederate desertions had become ruinous.

General Lee had served barely a month as commander-in-chief after a belated promotion forced upon President Davis, who was incensed by such an infringement upon his powers. Though he admired Lee and had supported him stoutly through most of the war, Davis was zealous in defense of his presidential role.

This surprised no one who knew Davis, whose watchwords in life were pride, honor, duty and courage — and he had always been steadfast in purpose. Critics saw him as fanatical, so zealous in pursuit of his goals as to inspire Sam Houston of Texas to exclaim, "One drop of Jeff Davis' blood would freeze a frog."

There were similar estimates of Davis by his adversaries, particularly those who did not know him well and were repelled by the haughty exterior the President displayed to the world. Even the President's admirers found him somewhat distant, for he rejected intimacies. His manner seemed to sharpen criticism by political opponents, who became more vociferous in the last months of the war. There was a clamor by some to remove him from office — an ironic twist in the career of a man acknowledged as one of the most capable leaders of his era. A Kentuckian by birth, he had grown up in Mississippi, where his brother Joseph was a planter. Young Jefferson attended West Point and, fascinated by war, served in the Black Hawk War, fought Indians on the frontier and commanded his state's troops in the war with Mexico.

As senator from Mississippi, Davis had become the successor to South Carolina's John C. Calhoun, an eloquent spokesman for southern planters in the increasingly ominous debates over states' rights — and, more vitally, in the quarrels over the dilemma of controlling slavery as the nation expanded westward.

As Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, the forceful and energetic Davis had dominated the Cabinet and became known as the most capable and creative secretary to fill the post. It was Davis who had engineered the Gadsden Purchase, under which the U.S. acquired 30,000 square miles of Mexican territory. He had increased the standing army of the United States from 11,000 to 16,000 men, begun development of rail connections between the Mississippi Valley and the West Coast and experimented with camels as cavalry mounts in the Southwestern deserts. In an attempt to improve military education he lavished attention on West Point, where Robert E. Lee was then superintendent (and under fire for his kindly refusal to enforce the iron discipline customary in that era).

His years in the U.S. Senate had won Davis a reputation as a strict constitutionalist who repeatedly asserted the rights of the states. As one of the best-educated men in the Senate and its leading intellectual, well versed in history and the classics, he had attracted crowded galleries on the January day in 1861 when he made his farewell speech — his voice, as his wife said, "a silver trumpet." He had waited until Mississippi had left the Union, when he had no other recourse, and his brief address moved men on both sides of the aisle and in the throng above. "Unshed tears were in it," Varina Davis recalled, "and a plea for peace permeated every tone."

The South, Davis said, was merely following the lead of the founding fathers when they made their revolution, and though they bore no hostility toward others, Southerners would resist all enemies and "vindicate the right as best we may." When he had finished, to roars of applause, Davis had slumped to his desk, hiding his face, his shoulders shaking — with sobs, it was assumed. He was sleepless that night, blinded by neuralgia. In the next days he wrote or telegraphed leaders of each southern state, advising caution and reason. To ex-President Pierce, the New Englander, he said, "Civil war has only horror for me, but whatever circumstances demand shall be met as a duty and I trust be so discharged that you will not be ashamed of our former connection or cease to be my friend."

Davis had gone home at once, hoping to command troops in defense of the South, but he had been summoned, instead, to lead the Confederacy. He had accepted promptly enough but, as Varina said, he spoke of the call "as a man might speak of a sentence of death."

In the early years of the war, when Southern independence had seemed a certain prospect, Davis had been a hero to his people. Though unable to convince his friends of the grim outlook, he foresaw a long, desperate war. When the governor of Mississippi had told him that he overrated the risk Davis had replied, "I only wish I did." But once he had accepted this risk, Davis would be loath to abandon the cause until death. Supremely confident of his own powers, he would be psychologically unable to accept defeat.

This stern, almost painfully upright man seemed to have changed but little since youth. Varina had written perceptively of him after their first meeting: "I do not know whether [he] is young or old. He looks both at times; but I believe he is old ... a remarkable kind of man, but of uncertain temper, and has a way of taking for granted that everyone agrees with him ... which offends me; yet he is most agreeable and has a peculiarly sweet voice and a winning manner." The young, inexperienced Mississippi country girl had accurately plumbed the personality that was to baffle so many of Jefferson Davis's Confederate cohorts and historians of later years.


The war had brought dramatic changes in the reputations as well as the physical appearances of the Confederate chief and his commanding general. As the end of the struggle neared, it was Lee who had become the hero. Davis, whose earlier popularity had faded with the ebb of the South's military fortunes, had now become an object of scorn. The public, press and politicians had increasingly assailed the President for his role in the failure of the rebellion. Oddly, little of the blame for Confederate collapse seemed to attach to Lee.

War had taken its toll of the celebrated general, but as his soldiers saw him he was in apparently robust health. His jet-black hair and mustache of 1861 had grown gray, and there was a thick gray beard as well. By now Lee's face had become a popular image, a tintype or engraving of which was hung, almost reverentially, in thousands of homes. This was a form of hero worship that was to become embedded in a romantic legend of Southern folklore — a gently born warrior knight who had led devoted Anglo-Saxon legions against foemen unworthy of his steel, though superior in numbers and resources. It was a concept that was to shape regional attitudes toward other sections of the country for generations.

A staff officer who observed Lee during the last days of war was reassured by the presence of this beau ideal of Southern aristocracy. "He had aged somewhat in appearance ... but had rather gained than lost in physical vigor, from the severe life he had led. His hair had grown gray, but his face had the ruddy hue of health, and his eyes were as clear and bright as ever ... he seemed to be able to bear any amount of fatigue."

In January, at the insistence of Lee and Davis, Congress overcame fears of a slave rebellion and approved black troops for the army, but rejected Lee's proposal that they be freed for their service. The experiment was a failure, and a bitter disappointment, since Confederate losses from desertions were severe (more than one-ninth — 100,000 men — were away without leave). Northern desertions, even more severe, were largely made up by 200,000 blacks in uniform.

Lee had also warned that the army must be disbanded unless food supplies were improved. He urged the dismissal of Commissary General Lucius B. Northrop, an ineffectual officer whose chief qualification for the post seemed to be his long friendship with President Davis, dating from their days as West Point cadets. An eccentric who had been on permanent sick leave from the prewar United States Army for twenty-two years, Northrop wore newspapers inside his shirt rather than underclothing, and rustled remarkably at every move, a bizarre display of penury. But though Davis had finally replaced Northrop, supply had not improved. By now few trains were left to serve Richmond — and in addition some Southern states refused to share with the Confederacy in its time of need, though their warehouses were filled with food, uniforms and arms.

The desperate Lee rode into Richmond in early March to beg aid for his army from Virginia's congressional delegation, but despite his alarming reports, the politicians were not moved to action. After a disappointing session with them, Lee dined with his invalid wife and some of their family, and later, in talking with his son Custis, the general seemed "deeply troubled." He paced the floor, oblivious to all but the plight of his army, and then he turned abruptly to face his son.

"Well, Mr. Custis, I have been up to see the Congress and they don't seem to be able to do anything except eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving. I told them the condition we're in ... but I can't get them to do anything."

Lee paused to add sharply, "Mr. Custis, when this war began I was opposed to it, and I told these people that unless every man should do his whole duty, they would repent it; and now ... they will repent."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Long Surrender by Burke Davis. Copyright © 1985 Burke Davis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Dedication
  • Epigraph
  • Contents
  • Part 1: Flight
    • 1. “Now … they will repent”
    • 2. “We should abandon our position to-night”
    • 3. “Blow her to hell”
    • 4. “A fire bell in the night”
    • 5. “We could rally our forces”
    • 6. “I cannot feel myself a beaten man!”
  • Part 2: The Pursuit
    • 7. “Why are you still in the field?”
    • 8. “You’re Southern gentlemen, not highway robbers”
  • Part 3: The Capture
    • 9. “God’s will be done”
    • 10. “He must be executed”
    • 11. “This is not like being Secretary of State”
  • Part 4: The Prisoner
    • 12. “Oh, the shame! The shame”
    • 13. “Ankle deep in gold and silver”
    • 14. “Watch and wait for the morning”
    • 15. “We cannot convict him of treason”
    • 16. “The President is bailed!”
  • Part 5: The Phoenix
    • 17. “Preserve the traditions of our fathers”
    • 18. “Alas for frail humanity!”
    • 19. “My ambition lies buried”
    • 20. “No infidelity to the Union”
  • Epilogue
  • A Note on Sources
  • Bibliographical Notes
  • Image Gallery
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author

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The Long Surrender 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
ksmyth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A superior history of the last days of the Confederacy, as Richmond falls, Lee surrenders, and the government flees. Davis is an excellent storyteller.
BrianIndianFan More than 1 year ago
The end of the Civil War is generally portrayed as wrapping up in a nice, tidy fashion with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. However, there is, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story." Burke Davis tells that long, sad, and sordid trail. The battle outside Richmond focuses the Confederate government to flee with its important papers, officials, and its hard money. The resulting train ride, and later horseback ride, is retold in detail. At times (with over 150 years of hindsight), it becomes a very pitiable exodus. At its heart, Jefferson Davis refuses to surrender to the Union Army and firmly believes that there are still 40,000 southerns out there who will rise up at this late hour to support him. His delusion is perhaps the saddest part of this story. You can literally see him going though the stages of grief until he finally decides - albeit too late - to just run for his life. His imprisonment at Fort Monroe in Virginia slowly begins the process of redemption as he is almost immediately chained up despite being completely emaciated due to the vengeful hearts of radical Republicans. Over the years, Davis comes to be seen as a source of southern pride and not revolt in the eyes of people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Although technically unreconstructed (he never sought to regain his citizenship), he continued to exhibit a gentlemanly grace as well as undying love for his wife Varina. This book serves well to fill in that part of post-Civil War history usually dominated by the carpetbaggers and Reconstruction. It is a book that deserves to be given its place in that history. BOTTOM LINE: Essential reading for Civil War historians.
BrianIndianFan More than 1 year ago
The end of the Civil War is generally portrayed as wrapping up in a nice, tidy fashion with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. However, there is, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story." Burke Davis tells that long, sad, and sordid trail. The battle outside Richmond focuses the Confederate government to flee with its important papers, officials, and its hard money. The resulting train ride, and later horseback ride, is retold in detail. At times (with over 150 years of hindsight), it becomes a very pitiable exodus. At its heart, Jefferson Davis refuses to surrender to the Union Army and firmly believes that there are still 40,000 southerns out there who will rise up at this late hour to support him. His delusion is perhaps the saddest part of this story. You can literally see him going though the stages of grief until he finally decides - albeit too late - to just run for his life. His imprisonment at Fort Monroe in Virginia slowly begins the process of redemption as he is almost immediately chained up despite being completely emaciated due to the vengeful hearts of radical Republicans. Over the years, Davis comes to be seen as a source of southern pride and not revolt in the eyes of people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Although technically unreconstructed (he never sought to regain his citizenship), he continued to exhibit a gentlemanly grace as well as undying love for his wife Varina. This book serves well to fill in that part of post-Civil War history usually dominated by the carpetbaggers and Reconstruction. It is a book that deserves to be given its place in that history. BOTTOM LINE: Essential reading for Civil War historians.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not a civil war fan or history buff but I was interested in what happened at the very end of that conflict. The author follows Jefferson Davis and most of his cabinet and key advisors after the falls of Richmond and General Lee's surrender. But after about one third thru, readers are dumped with information about how each member of the escaping party acted, where they slept, and sometimes what they had to eat. Every person's movements are as detailed as possible and if you live for that kind of history lesson, you may like this. However, I believe it would be a more appealing story if cut in half and some extensive end notes were used for the many blow by blow descriptions or interesting trivia. I still do not know what happened to Jeff Davis after the war because I could not bring myself to finish the book! JC