Jefferson Davis Captured, 1865

2021-05-12T16:44:47-05:00May 12, 2021|HH 2021|

Jefferson Davis Captured, May 11, 1865

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” —James 1:2-4

The noble and persevering President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis, had no intention of submitting to the overwhelming hordes of blue-coated soldiers from the United States, even after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. As long as armed Confederates were still in the field, the fight for Southern independence could continue. He embarked on what became a more than six-hundred-mile-long ordeal, in an attempt to reach Generals Kirby Smith or Richard Taylor, and their southern armies west of the Mississippi River. In what turned into the penultimate chapter in Davis’s battle for survival, courage, loyalty, and honorable principles, stiffened his resolve but could not overcome the relentless pursuit by the forces with whom he had contended for four valorous years.

Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), only President of the Confederate States of America

An artist’s rendition of Union Army General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant accepting Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865 in Appomattox County, VA

Jefferson Davis was in his place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia on Sunday, April 2, 1865, when a courier slipped into the church and silently handed the President a note. In the brief missive, General Robert E. Lee wrote that he and the army would evacuate their position and retreat westward that very evening. Davis rose from his place and went straightway to the executive offices to order the packing up of as many government papers as possible. He had sent his wife Varina and the children on ahead south by train, to be caught up with at a later time. By nightfall, Davis was on the train with his cabinet and aides, chugging southwest from Richmond to establish a new capital in a safer place. He penned a final letter to the People of the Confederate States of America. With an unfaltering hope that Lee’s and Johnston’s armies would soon join him to counter-attack the Yankees, he wrote in conclusion that:

The White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA, executive residence of the Davis family from August 1861 until April 1865

“…with confidence in your spirit and fortitude…it is my purpose to maintain your cause with my whole heart and soul…Let us not, then, despond, my countrymen: but relying on the never-failing mercies and protecting care of our God, let us meet the foe with fresh defiance and with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.”

The last meeting of the Cabinet of the Confederacy in Fort Mill, South Carolina

The government in exile established a command post in Danville, Virginia with President Davis and his most loyal and competent cabinet members John Reagan (Post Office), Judah P. Benjamin (Secretary of State), John C. Breckinridge (Confederate General and new Secretary of War), Burton Harrison (Private Secretary), Stephen Mallory (Secretary of the Navy), and a few others. An elite cavalry escort led by Kentucky Colonel David Wark Griffith guarded the presidential column. After a week in Danville, the entourage moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where they found they were not welcome, out of fear of reprisal, and had to sleep in a railroad car. General Lee had surrendered on April 9, and Generals Johnston and Beauregard gave a report on the bleak military prospects of Confederate arms in other theatres of the war.

Wedding daguerrotype of Jefferson Davis and Varina Howell, 1845. Varina fled ahead of her husband, along with their surviving children, and met up with him along his escape route.

The persevering President, however, with the encouragement of the ever cheerful and optimistic Judah Benjamin, headed further south by horseback and wagon on April 15. Upon reaching Charlotte, NC, some of the advisors fell away and Secretary Benjamin gave a dire report about continued resistance. The last formal meeting of the remaining cabinet members took place in Abbeville, South Carolina on May 2, whence President Davis and the remaining associates continued to Washington, Georgia where most of the rest dispersed after a final brief convocation and a final payment from the Confederate gold reserves. On May 6, the President entrusted the rest of the Confederate treasury to its last acting treasurer, Captain Micaja Clark. The next day, Jefferson’s devoted wife and their children joined Davis for the final attempt to reach the sea and sail for Texas.

A memorial at Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site in Irwin County, GA marks the exact spot where Jefferson Davis was captured by Union troops

Little did Davis know that certain federal politicians had accused him of the assassination of President Lincoln, and that there was a $100,000.00 price on his head. Union cavalry were swarming the countryside, searching for the Confederate government party. The blue troopers caught up to the Davises near Irwinville, Georgia, surprising them in their camp. Jefferson grabbed an overcoat and made for the creek, but was nabbed by Michigan troopers. They hauled the fifty-seven-year-old President to Fortress Monroe, on the Virginia peninsula, where he was clamped in leg irons to await a trial for both treason and assassination. He languished there for two years while Congress debated procedure. Famous Union generals who were also lawyers offered to defend Davis for free. He had broken no laws and ordered no assassinations, and had been one of the most experienced and respected Senators in Congress in the 1850s. The President bore his predicament with calmness and Christian fortitude, and fellow Southerners who had belittled him and resisted his leadership during the war now felt sympathy and appreciation for his sacrifice and perseverance.

Jefferson Davis spent two years imprisoned at Fortress Monroe in Hampton, VA

In the end, no case was brought to the courts and Jefferson Davis was released from prison on Christmas Day, 1868, to live as an honored and often revered symbol of the Confederacy for the twenty-one more years God gave him on earth. He never begged for amnesty, for he believed to his dying day that he had done nothing wrong in supporting secession from the Union. Indeed, he hadn’t. The only United States President from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, restored Davis’s citizenship, without his permission, in 1978.

A marker at the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site in Irwin County, GA details the whole story of Davis’s flight and capture

The Birth of Machiavelli, 1469

2021-05-07T11:47:50-05:00May 4, 2021|HH 2021|

The Birth of Machiavelli, May 3, 1469

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” —Galatians 6:7

Some historical figures are known by one name, and everyone understands to whom you refer. In our times such a person is usually an entertainer and the first name is sufficient: Elvis, Cher, Prince, Lassie (did she even have a last name?). Seriously important historical characters known to history by a single appellation were men like Churchill, Newton, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Napoleon, Michaelangelo, Caesar (though Julius is helpful since everyone after him wanted the title). Along with the last three mentioned above, Italy also produced one of the best known singularly known individuals of all time, Machiavelli.

Niccoló Machiavelli (1469-1527)

Niccoló di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527) was born in the Republic of Florence to a well-placed and well known Florentine family. Machiavelli exemplifies in a number of ways the “Renaissance man” idealized by future historians of his era. After receiving a classical education minus the learning of Greek, and as the oldest son of a lawyer whose family background included men who served in the civil government of Florence for generations, Niccoló served variously in the office of chancellery, as a secretary and foreign diplomat representing the Republic in several different European countries.

The republic of Florence shown in dark green in relation to modern-day Italy

Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), whose fight for power greatly inspired Machiavelli’s thoughts and writings, was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI and member of the Spanish-Aragonese House of Borgia

He may have witnessed the burning to death of the proto-protestant Dominican friar Savonarola and his friends, in the town square, for defying papal authority and advocating certain reforms of the Church. Machiavelli observed the machinations of the Medici family who had ruled over Florence for sixty years, and the ruthlessness of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, as the papacy expanded its power and acquisition of land. While the educational and social ferment of Renaissance Italy put Florence in the midst of the turmoil engendered by the wash of new ideas and questioning of traditional ones, Machiavelli recorded his thoughts and published books, plays, comedies, and essays on popular culture, military alliances, and politics. Some historians consider him the father of political philosophy and political science.

The death of Friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498)

Machiavelli’s most influential contribution to the Renaissance and political philosophy emerged in his classic work Il Principe (The Prince), written in Italian rather than Latin, before 1513, although it was not officially published until 1532, five years after his death. He dedicated the book to Lorenzo de’ Medici, who ruled Florence for three years and whose daughter Catherine became the Queen of France. Lorenzo led the papal armies to seize and hold Florence, which ended almost as quickly as it had commenced. Lorenzo had died at 26, “worn out by disease and excesses.”

Lorenzo de’ Medici (1492-1519), Ruler of Florence, to whom Machiavelli dedicated The Prince

In The Prince, Machiavelli argued that princes could use any means to fulfill their destiny, in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Church. He used the word ‘state’ to refer to supreme political power in a republic, monarchy or lesser “princedom.” He recommended that a prince conquering a free state should destroy them as Rome destroyed Carthage; crushing all domestic opponents earns respect for the erstwhile prince. Once in power, the prince should use whatever ruthlessness necessary to hold that power and use every means at his disposal to eliminate competition. He recommends calculating the best moment to kill them all so he will not have to worry in the future and the people will forget about his less virtuous actions in the beginning.

Cover page of the 1550 edition of Machiavelli’s Il Principe (The Prince)

Machiavelli’s treatise on political power—how to achieve it and how to hold on to it—went well outside traditional works on political mores and power. He strongly recommended winning over the people since they are more numerous than the nobility and their approval most advantageous. Sound laws and strong military forces are both necessary for the prince to retain his position and protect his turf. Too much mercy shown to defeated enemies will work against the prince in the long run. Cruelty should be a standard tool of the prince’s power toolbox. Fear of the prince should keep potential rivals in line. Machiavelli used Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, and Cesare Borgia as examples whose actions proved his point. Cunning princes are the ones who keep their power, although “he should appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, guileless, and devout. And indeed he should be so. But his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how.”

Meeting of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama. To Machiavelli, Hannibal was the prime example of ruling in ruthlessness and therefore commanding respect versus Scipio Africanus who was a gentle ruler, which Machiavelli viewed as a weakness.

Machiavelli in his study

The immorality and pragmatism of Machiavelli’s treatise shocked his contemporaries and is still hotly debated. He loosened the bonds of the Roman Catholic Church to the extent that “princes” took his advice, and his name has entered western vocabulary as an adjective. He influenced greatly a number of philosophers through the centuries, his book has gone through more than fifteen editions, and used to be read as a classic work on political philosophy in universities around the world. Protestant reformers wrote against The Prince and its implications for civil government. In America, business and government leaders have sometimes proven to be absolutely Machiavellian.

L’Albergaccio, or Casa di Machiavelli, was the home of Niccoló Machiavelli during the time that he wrote The Prince. It is still owned by the Machiavelli family to this day.

Sultana Disaster, 1865

2021-05-07T11:56:37-05:00April 27, 2021|HH 2021|

Sultana Disaster, April 27, 1865

“Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” —James 4:14

According to Professor Benjamin Cloyd in his book Haunted by Atrocity: Civil War Prisons in American Memory, about 410,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were captured during the War Between the States, and about 56,000 died in confinement. Usually, no stigma was attached to giving oneself up to the enemy, unless a cowardly commanding officer capitulated prematurely. After the common practice of paroling men captured in battle ceased, and the prisoner exchange cartel came to an end by order of General Grant, the prisoners of both sides were incarcerated long-term in POW camps across the North and South. For those who survived the horrible conditions of the camps, the end of the war finally brought opportunity to return home. Multiple thousands of those who had endured the wretched, unhealthy, and dangerous conditions of the camps, carried disease and extreme physical debility with them, hoping to recover at home. The little-known story of Union ex-POWs’ return after the war provided the occasion for one of the truly horrendous and fatal “accidents” of the century, the worst maritime tragedy in American history, known as the Sultana Disaster.

A photograph of the Sultana taken at Helena, Arkansas on April 26, 1865, the day before the disaster, showing the decks grossly overcrowded with paroled prisoners

The sidewheel steamboat Sultana, constructed in the classic “wedding cake” design, was built in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1863 to haul cotton stolen from the Confederacy in the lower Mississippi River. She plied the river between St. Louis and New Orleans for two years, frequently docking in Vicksburg, Mississippi along the way. She had a capacity of 376 passengers and typically carried a crew of about 85. Although 269 feet long and 42 feet wide at the beam, she only drew seven feet of water. Four “fire-tube” boilers propelled the two large paddle wheels, which drove the layered and highly flammable light wood-constructed ship.

A photograph of the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp, taken August 17, 1864, showing the living conditions of the prisoners

On the day after the assassination of President Lincoln, Captain James Mason of the Sultana tied up at the dock at Vicksburg on his way to spread the news south. Captain Reuben Hatch, the chief quartermaster of the Union forces in that city and a man “with a long history of incompetence and corruption” (the quartermaster department was full of men like him), made a deal with the ship captain to transport Union soldiers at $2.75 per enlisted and $8.00 per officer to the North. They were men who survived Catawba and Andersonville Prisons, many of them sick or weak from starvation. The kickback bribe was too tempting to pass up and the two Captains loaded about 1,900 paroled prisoners from the Midwest, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, along with 22 guards and 70 paying cabin passengers. With the 80 or so crew members, a ship rated for just over 400 people was crammed with more than 2,100 people, plus 120 tons of sugar. The sagging decks had to be braced.

Bird’s eye view of Andersonville Prison from the south-east

For two days the Sultana fought against the spring-flooded Mississippi River that had outrun its banks more than three miles! At 2:00am on April 27, just seven miles north of Memphis, the ship’s boilers burst, sending scalding water into the hundreds of passengers on deck and below. The explosion blew out the pilot house and the whole ship became an uncontrolled floating inferno as the smoke stacks crashed down on the helpless victims below. Whole groups of men who had endured battle, prison, disease, and starvation clung to each other and drowned or succumbed to hypothermia by the hundreds in the raging Mississippi. Rescue boats began arriving a half hour after the explosions, but the dark swirling waters carried off most of the passengers, forever. The smoking ruins of the Sultana sank seven hours later near modern day Marion, Arkansas.

An artist’s rendering of the Sultana disaster, showing the plumes of smoke, burning shell, and scores of survivors fighting for life, from the popular publication of the day, Harper’s Weekly

Miraculously, about 900 passengers survived, due to quick-thinking people on the shore, including Confederate soldiers, who would have been shooting those passengers just a week or two before. For decades afterward, survivors held reunions until the last one, Private Charles Eldridge of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, died at home during World War II, in 1941, age 96. The subsequent inquest into the tragedy cited careening because of overload, super-heated poor quality metals in the boilers, an unrepaired leak, and the silting caused by using the muddy water of the river in the boilers. The man responsible for the whole affair had embezzled thousands of dollars throughout the war, but was previously, and on this occasion, protected by Illinois political connections in the Lincoln administration and by General Grant. The Captain of the ship was killed in the explosion, and the men who sent the soldiers from the parole camp to the ship were accused and convicted, but exonerated by the Judge Advocate General’s Office. No one was ever held accountable for the worst maritime disaster in American history.

One of many historic markers—this one in Ohio—telling the tragic tale of the Sultana

The Sultana was found in 1982 by Memphis Attorney Jerry Potter. It was buried thirty-two feet under a soybean field in Arkansas, miles from the ever-changing Mississippi River. There are memorial markers to the men who perished in the Sultana in Memphis (TN), Muncie (IN), Vicksburg (MS), Cincinnati (OH), Knoxville (TN), Hillsdale (MI), and Mansfield (OH). Unlike the Titanic, no one has tried to write biographies of the passengers, made romantic movies, or written hundreds of books about the tragedy; those boys in blue are just more casualty statistics from the War Between the States.

  • Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865, by Gene Eric Salecker
  • The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster, by Jerry O. Potter

Streight’s Raid Begins, 1863

2021-04-17T10:42:17-05:00April 19, 2021|HH 2021|

Streight’s Raid Begins, April 21, 1863

“The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” —Proverbs 16:33

He knew the risks. Union Colonel Abel Streight, “a capable and resourceful officer,” believed he could take 1,700 troopers and raid across north Alabama, destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and finally capture Rome, Georgia. He would be separated from any possible reinforcements and possibly chased by “the greatest cavalry officer ever produced in America,” an “authentic genius” (historian Shelby Foote), “the only cavalry leader I feared” (Grant), and “the man who must be killed if it breaks the treasury and costs ten thousand lives” (Sherman). He became known to the Union high command as “the Devil”—Nathan Bedford Forrest. Abel Streight would go down in the history books as the victim of a clever ruse, and loser of his entire command. Indeed, he would prove unable to out-wit or out-run “the Devil.”

Brig. General Abel Delos Streight, USA (1828–1892)

Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA (1821–1877)

Colonel Streight came up with a bold plan to counteract the embarrassing depredations that Forrest was inflicting on the Union army in Tennessee. He would assemble a command of hand-picked men and conduct what amounted to a one-thousand-mile raid beginning in Nashville, that would cripple the Southern army’s supply lines and wreck their transportation system prior to the next great Union offensive. While Union General Grenville Dodge kept Forrest busy near Corinth, Mississippi, and Grant and Sherman were in the midst of the Vicksburg Campaign, Streight, with seventeen hundred troopers from Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana, mounted recalcitrant mules (hence the taunting Confederate label of the “jackass cavalry”) and slipped away from Eastport, Mississippi on April 21, 1863, into their historic raid across northern Alabama.

Major General Grenville Dodge (1831-1916)

General Forrest realized quickly that Streight’s column had moved in an independent direction eastward, and sent scouts to intercept. He mounted his five hundred or so troopers and began a hot pursuit on the flanks of the Federal column. In Cullman County, Alabama near Sand Mountain, the Southern troopers caught up to the Union rearguard and made their first attack. Streight sped up his timetable after the repulse of the Southerners’ assault, foregoing sleep to get further ahead. Forrest leapfrogged his men, allowing some to rest, while detachments “kept up the skeer [scare]” on the tail of the Union expedition.

Map showing the route of Colonel Abel Streight as he made his way towards Rome, Georgia

Skirmishes at rural Alabama crossroads and hamlets like Crooked Creek, Hog Mountain, Blountsville, Black Creek, and Blount’s Plantation kept the exhausted Union troopers on the move and turning to fight whenever Forrest’s troopers tried to ambush them or force other confrontations along the way. A messenger was sent by the Southern commander to rouse the people of Rome, Georgia in defense of their town, if the Yankees got that far. The whole town turned out to fortify and prevent the Union vanguard from crossing the Coosa River, which is created by the junction of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers at Rome.

On May 2, Streight burned the wooden bridge across the Black Warrior River, believing he had finally thwarted the pursuit. When Forrest stopped at a home near the crossing and asked if there was a ford that could be used to cross, sixteen-year-old Emma Sansom volunteered to show the General a place she had seen cattle crossing, not too far from the main road. He pulled her up onto the rear of his mount and she pointed the way down stream to the hidden crossing. They came under heavy fire from the Yankees on the other side of the river and several bullets passed through her skirt. She said “they have only wounded my crinoline” and waved her bonnet in defiance. He returned her to her home and left this official note to be treasured all the days of her life:

Emma Sansom (1847–1900), the brave sixteen-year-old Alabama farmgirl who led Forrest and his troops to a nearby ford, enabling their circumvention of the bridge burned by Streight, and the eventual thwarting, surrender and capture of Streight and his troops

Hed Quarters in Sadle
May 2, 1863
My highest regardes to Miss Ema Sanson for hir gallant conduct while my forse was Skirmishing with the Federals across Black Creek near Gadisden, Allabama.
—N.B. Forrest
Brig Genl Comding N. Ala

After the war, the state of Alabama presented her with a gold medal commemorating her exploit and awarded her a section of public land “as a testimony of the high appreciation of her services by the people of Alabama.”

The Emma Sansom Monument in Gadsden, AL, depicting Emma pointing out the route, as well as double-mounted behind Forrest

The next day, Forrest rested some of his men and sent the rest to “devil them all night.” Streight lost his race to Rome, for the defenses were manned and the possibility of taking the town made impracticable. On May 3, Colonel Streight stopped twenty miles short of his objective to rest. His men were falling off their mules asleep. Under a flag of truce, Forrest met with his Union counterpart to demand the surrender of his entire command, claiming that the Southern forces outnumbered and surrounded the exhausted raiders. While they stood talking, Forrest’s artillery, only two guns, moved back and forth over his shoulder appearing to be multiple batteries. Streight counted fifteen guns, and Forrest told him that was all that were “able to keep up”! His troopers also moved back and forth as if they were five times their real strength. Colonel Streight gave up and surrendered about sixteen hundred men to Forrest’s four hundred ragged veterans. When Streight realized the trick, he demanded their rifles be returned so they could fight it out. Forrest allegedly offered that “all’s fair in love and war.”

Libby Prison, Richmond, VA, where Streight and his men were sent after their surrender to Forrest on May 3, 1863. After ten months, Streight and 107 other soldiers would escape from Libby Prison by tunnelling from their barracks. Streight was eventually able to cross through enemy territory and, on his return, give a debriefing report to his Union commanders. He was restored to active duty, and later participated in the battles of Franklin and Nashville.

The man who began the war as a private and ended it as a Lieutenant General had bested a formidable and persevering opponent once again. Streight later escaped from prison in the Great Escape from Libby Prison in Richmond and returned to the field against Forrest in the final campaign that ended the war in Alabama, with the Devil’s surrender. As the old Puritan minister John Flavel wrote, “Providence is a mystery, but it always fulfills God’s Will.”

Resources for Further Study

  • A Battle From the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest by Brian Wills
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest: In Search of An Enigma by Eddy W. Davison and Daniel Foxx

Remembering the Titanic

2021-04-14T18:03:37-05:00April 14, 2021|Articles|

Remembering the Titanic

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” —John 15:13

One hundred nine years ago tonight, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and, in less than three short hours before she sank, her enduring legacy of heroism and hubris was cemented in history.

Far into the early hours of April 15, wireless operators were misinformed regarding the severity of damage, and reports were that Titanic was still afloat and being assisted by multiple sister ships. This was not the case.

It was soon learned that only one ship had both received Titanic’s SOS and chosen to act. Only the Carpathia, captained by the heroic Arthur Rostron, chose to risk even his own passengers by blazing back through the ice to rescue desperate survivors.

What Rostron found in tallying the survivors was that 1,500 souls, including the captain, had gone down into the frigid Atlantic. The sinking of the ship RMS Titanic remains the deadliest in times of peace.

Sir Arthur Henry Rostron (1869-1940) captain of the RMS Carpathia

Edward J. Smith (1850-1912), captain of the RMS Titanic

In a century dawning with suffragettes, booming industrialism, communism and looming world war—all of which had new ideas regarding chivalry’s place in the world—the age-old practice of women and children first would, once again, have its role in Providence.

For many months, the eyes of the world were glued to an unfolding narrative of contrasts: one warring with human nature for the Christian ethic of sacrifice, the other compromising with the hellish doctrine of self-preservation.

April 16, 1912—Paperboy Ned Parfett stands outside the White Star Line offices in London

The Titanic sank in under three hours

Caught in unimaginable tragedy, men of the Titanic, and even some women, chose to lay down their lives for the weak. In the end, duty and gallantry, even at appalling cost, remained the victor that night.

The implication of that still grips us today.

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