Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Confederacy returns home to die

     For a month, Jefferson Davis had been in full retreat.
     The Confederate president escaped his capital in Richmond just two days before Abraham Lincoln reclaimed the city for the Union. Davis exited Virginia and North Carolina at almost the same hour that his generals surrendered those states. He was on one of the last trains south from Danville, and when he arrived in Greensboro and heard that Stoneman's troops had burned a trestle behind him, he declared, "A miss is as good as a mile."
     Even when he left Charlotte on April 26, President Davis stubbornly believed that if he could regroup his forces in Alabama or Texas, he might yet win the war and save the Confederacy. Cabinet members tried to tell him otherwise and quit in frustration or fear. For two hundred miles from Greensboro to Abbeville, the proud president had to travel by horseback and occasionally camp in the woods or help push wagons out of the mud.
     On the morning of May 2, 1865, Davis arrived at the home of Armistead Burt in Abbeville, 30 miles south of Anderson. Davis' wife and children had spent a week there and had just left, traveling ahead of him to avoid being caught up in any possible ambush.
     At the Burt mansion (now known as the Burt-Stark House and open for tours), Davis called a war council to consult with his five generals and four cabinet members. The generals unanimously agreed that it was pointless to resist any longer.
     Davis asked them why were they still with him. 
     They told him all they were trying to do was protect him and help him escape.
     At that moment 150 years ago, reality finally hit Davis so hard that he physically stumbled as he left the meeting. "All is indeed lost," he said.
     Davis remained at large for another week, but for all practical purposes, the Confederate States of America died that day in Abbevilleless than a mile from where the rebellion was born.
     My friend Terry Dickson visited the birthplace at Secession Hill earlier this year and wrote the story for the Florida-Times Union.
     Secession Hill is on the opposite side of the Abbeville town square from the Burt-Stark Mansion. It was here on Nov. 22, 1860, that over 3,000 people gathered to hear the "secession speeches," elected delegates to a statewide convention, and instructed them to vote for South Carolina to secede from the Union.
     Among the delegates were Davis' host Armistead Burt and John A. Calhoun, whose uncle John C. Calhoun was known as the father of secession


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