Monday, May 11, 2015

Reconciled: Yankees honor Jeff Davis' daughter

The 1907 reunion of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry in Colorado Springs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.
     After leading Stoneman's Raid in the manhunt for Jefferson Davis, Gen. William J. Palmer founded the city of Colorado Springs, built a railroad empire, and gave away fortunes. In 1894, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in the 1864 Battle of Red Hill, Alabama.
Gen. William Jackson Palmer
     As he turned 70 in 1906, the Quaker general was a widower who lived in a castle called Glen Eyrie and enjoyed riding horses with his daughter Margory in a majestic canyon called "the Garden of the Gods."
     His genteel world came crashing down on Oct. 27, 1906, when the old cavalryman was thrown from his horse and paralyzed by a broken neck.
     Gen. Palmer survived for over two years but was no longer able to travel on the trains he loved. He was so determined to attend the 1907 reunion of his Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry that he brought all the veterans to Colorado Springs, chartering a train for the 1,800-mile journey from Philadelphia.
     It would turn out to be much more than a reunion of aging Yankees, as the entrepreneurial magazine The World's Work reported in its February 1908 issue. Here is an excerpt:
HIS REGIMENT'S LAST REUNION
      As he became better, the desire grew upon him to see once more the other survivors of his old regiment, the Fifteenth Pennsylvania. He was unable to undertake the long trip back to Pennsylvania, as had always been his custom in former years, but his comrades in many a fight felt that their thirty-fifth, and perhaps their final, reunion would be but a sorry affair without their colonel. So, in his usual princely fashion General Palmer invited all the survivors to come to Colorado Springs as his guests from the moment they left their homes until they returned. It is noteworthy that 264, all but a few of those who are still alive, accepted his invitation. From Pennsylvania and back again, General Palmer ran a special train and provided transportation for all the members of the regiment who lived in other parts of the United States. It has been estimated that the reunion that was held last August cost General Palmer about $40,000.
Mrs. Margaret Davis Hayes
      During the reunion occurred an incident which might have been exceedingly unpleasant but which gave an opportunity for General Palmer to show again his gentleness and generosity of spirit. For twenty years, Mrs. J.A. [Margaret] Hayes has been one of the leaders in all that is best in the life of Colorado Springs. Entirely unaware of the fact that this gentlewoman, the wife of the city's most prominent banker, was the daughter of Jefferson Davis, one of the veterans hung in the rotunda of the hotel a framed copy of the proclamation offering a reward for President Davis' capture, which Gen. Palmer had issued in accordance with orders from the War Department. Although the villain doubtless regarded it merely as an interesting war relic, like a captured gun or flag, when General Palmer heard of its exhibition he at once made a request for it to be removed. As was natural, however, the newspapers made a feature of this proclamation, which declared that the Bureau of Military Justice had "indubitable evidence" that Mr. Davis and other Confederates had incited Lincoln's murder.
      Thereupon Mrs. Hayes wrote an admirable letter, full of self-restraint and concluding with a graceful tribute to General Palmer—"an ideal man, who spends his days in doing good deeds." In the course of her letter, Mrs. Hayes said:
     It may not be uninteresting to General Palmer's guests to hear how Jefferson Davis felt about this ill-timed and lamentable murder.
      I was a small child at the time, and, like most Southern children, I looked upon Lincoln as the arch-enemy of our country; and, thoughtlessly, as the servants and guards around us were rejoicing, I ran to my father with what I supposed would be good news to him. He gravely and gently took me in his arms and explained to me that this terrible deed had been done by a crazy man who, no doubt, thought he was the savior of the South, though really her very worst enemy. My father added, "Always remember, my little daughter, no wrong can ever make a right. The South does not wish her rights to come through dastardly murder, but through fair fight." Then he sighed deeply and said: "This is the bitterest blow that could have been dealt to the Southern cause. Lincoln was a just man and would have been fair and generous in his treatment of the Southern people; his successor is a man we can expect nothing from."
      Lincoln, who knew my father, would have know that Jefferson Davis and the other Southern men accused were incapable of instigating murder. Jefferson Davis could never understand how such an impression could have gained a foothold among the men who made history in the North, for many of them had known him and should have known he was above so vile an action.
      In response to this, General Palmer wrote a letter in which he said that it had been a long time since anyone believed that Mr. Davis had any responsibility for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. When the veterans held their farewell reception, the daughter of Jefferson Davis was one of the honored guests.
We interrupt this tender father-daughter moment …
 This marker at 200 South Tryon Street in Charlotte 
may be wrong by a day, but that doesn't account
for the discrepancy in Davis' daughter's story. 
     As much as I want to believe Mrs. Hayes, I am obliged to point out a discrepancy in the details of her story.
     Davis' family was not with him April 18 or 19, 1865, in Charlotte when he received the news that Lincoln had been fatally shot the night of April 14. His wife and children traveled well ahead of him during the retreat from Richmond, and they arrived in Abbeville, S.C., on April 17. Davis did not see his family again until May 7 when he caught up with them near Dublin, Ga. He was arrested May 10 near Irwinville, Ga.
     So if Margaret and her father ever had the talk she remembered, it would have been in a wagon or campsite almost four weeks after the assassination—nothing like the grave, gentle, news-driven scene she described.

Jefferson and Varina Davis' graves in Richmond.

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