Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hunting Jefferson Davis 'to the end of the earth'

     After Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9 and the rebels in the Carolinas capitulated on April 26, the Union was just one step away from proclaiming the end of the Civil War. All the Yankees had to do was catch the fugitive Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. 
     Despite the pursuit of thousands of cavalry and the promise of a fortune to anyone who turned him in, Davis remained at large for two more weeks. He was just 90 miles from Madison, Fla.a Confederate haven from where he might have escaped to Cuba or Texaswhen Union troops finally caught him May 10, 1865, in Irwinville, Ga.
     On April 27, Gen. George Thomas ordered Stoneman's cavalry to pursue Davis. 
If you can possibly get three brigades of cavalry together, send them across the mountains into South Carolina to the westward of Charlotte and toward Anderson. They may possibly catch Jeff Davis or some of his treasure. They say he is making off with from $2 million to $5 million in gold.
     Stoneman immediately sent orders from Knoxville which reached freshly breveted Gen. William Palmer either on April 28 at Hickory Nut Gap in N.C., or April 29 at Cowpens, S.C. Stoneman inflated the value of the Confederate loot:
I want the 8th and 13th Tennessee, Miller's brigade; and the 11th and 12th Kentucky and 11th Michigan, Brown's Brigade; all sent to Asheville, and as soon as they are all concentrated at that point, wish the following instructions carried out by Gen. Brown: Move via Flat Rock or some other adjacent gap to the headwaters of the Saluda River; follow down this river to Belton or Anderson. From that point, scout in the direction of Augusta. The object is to intercept Jeff Davis and his party, who are on their way west with $5,000,000 or $6,000,000 of treasure, specie, loaded in wagons. If you can hear of Davis, follow him to the end of the earth, if possible, and never give him up. If Col. Palmer is in Asheville or can be got hold of, he will join his brigade to the other two, assume command of the whole, and carry out the forgoing instructions. Gen. Brown is not to wait for Col. Palmer but push on, as time is precious, and Palmer will follow and overtake the other two brigades.
     Whoever caught the Confederate president would strike it rich. On April 28, Union Gen. J.H. Wilson in Macon posted a $100,000 bounty on Davis. The manhunt intensified after a May 2 proclamation by President Johnson, alleging that Davis may have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln.
     Some of Brown's troops in Asheville headed south through Brevard April 29 and crossed Caesar's Head on April 30, where they enjoyed their end-of-month payday and an unforgettable perspective of South Carolina.
      Others went past Hendersonville and reached the Saluda Gap (the original route for U.S. 25 from Greenville) on April 29 and Pickensville (now Easley, S.C.) on April 30. Both reached Anderson, S.C., on May 1, skirmishing along the way.
     Palmer backtracked from Chimney Rock through Rutherfordton and headed into South Carolina. On April 29 near Cowpens, he learned that Davis had spent the night of April 27 in Yorkville (now York). He turned to the southwest in pursuit. 
     In the next two days, Palmer's troops captured some of Davis' rear guard at Smith's Ford on the Broad River (between York and Spartanburg) and two more at Swancey's Ford on the Saluda River (between Clinton and Greenwood). It became apparent that Davis was heading southwest toward Athens, Ga., and was only about a day ahead of the Union cavalry. 
     We know now that Davis spent the night in private homes April 30 near Joanna (near Clinton), May 1 at Cokesbury (near Greenwood), and May 2 at Abbeville.
     Some of the captured guards said the Confederate treasury included 100 boxes of gold and 60 kegs of silver that might be worth $10 million altogether. About 2,000 troops guarding Davis had been promised to be paid in gold and silver once they reached the Mississippi River. As the Yankees closed in, many of his escorts deserted.
      On April 30, Palmer captured Spartanburg without incident. The next day, he sent his Pennsylvania regiment via Laurensville (now Laurens) toward Abbeville, while he led the Ohio and Michigan regiments toward Anderson, bypassing Greenville for a more southerly route toward Williamston. They would reunite May 2 in Anderson. 
     Greenville would not be spared, however, as we will see May 2 and in an epilogue May 22.

Stoneman was once on Jeff Davis' all-star team

     Like many Civil War adversaries, Stoneman and Davis were personally acquainted. Davis graduated from West Point in 1828, 18 years ahead of Stoneman, and they both fought in the Mexican War. After Davis became secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce in 1853, he appointed Capt. Stoneman to explore mountain passes for western railroads.
     In 1855, Davis hand-picked the officers for the newly formed 2nd U.S. Dragoons, organized in St. Louis. These included future Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, and William Hardee; as well as Union generals Stoneman and his commander, George Thomas. Davis commended Stoneman for his steadfastness under fire and his concern for his soldiers.

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