Tying Up Loose Ends: The Capture of Jefferson Davis



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U.S. History
Tying Up Loose Ends:

The Capture of Jefferson Davis


General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army on

April 9th, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. The terms of the Confederate surrender stated that Confederate soldiers and officers were to be paroled (not put in prison) and that they had to disarm. The surrender was in keeping with Lincoln’s belief that the South should not be punished for the Civil War. Even though his top General had surrendered, C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis did not believe that the war was over. He still held out hope that the Confederacy would live on as an independent nation. He and his cabinet members traveled into the Deep South to plan a new strategy.

After the assassination of President Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, made the capture of Jefferson Davis one of their top priorities. Stanton began circulating stories that Davis was involved in the plot to assassinate Lincoln. Under President Johnson, the federal government offered up a $100,000 reward for his capture.


On May 10th, 1865 Davis was captured by the Union forces in Irwinville. Georgia. When the Union forces approached his tent he tried to escape. He grabbed a shawl to cover his head (hoping to hide his face – see the picture above). The shawl he grabbed happened to belong to his wife. Radical Republicans spread rumors that Davis had been disguised as a woman when they captured him as a means of bringing shame and embarrassment to Davis. Davis’ wife was mortified that the Union had made her husband seem like a coward.
Davis was brought to Fort Monroe in Virginia. He was charged with treason and kept in the prison for two years while he awaited trial. In 1867 a group of wealthy southern and northern businessmen posted his bail. While out on bail Davis spent time traveling around the through Canada, Europe and the United States. Eventually the government decided not to pursue the treason trial (though Davis was never officially pardoned for his crimes). Davis retired in Mississippi where he spent his final years. He wrote a book entitled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Davis died on December 6, 1889 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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