DAVIS, Jefferson (1808-1889), President, Confederate States of America. Autograph letter signed ("Jefferson Davis") to the Reverend William Mercer Green, Beauvoir, Harrison County, Mississippi, n.d. [probably 7 February 1878]. 6pp., 8vo, consisting of about 500 words. In very fine condition.
DAVIS'S VIVID ACCOUNT OF HIS CAPTURE IN 1865, VEHEMENTLY DENYING "THE VILE STORY OF MY BEING DISGUISED IN FEMALE DRESS"
A highly important letter in which Davis attempts to set the record straight regarding his capture by troops of the 4th Michigan Cavalry near Irwinsville, Georgia, in the early morning hours of 10 May 1865. Controversy over this incident--especially the humiliating story that he was disguised in women's garb in an effort to evade capture--was to dog the former Confederate President for the rest of his life. Here, he explains that his wife, Varina, has been delayed in Memphis. As to a certain photograph of himself, he leaves the matter up to Green: "... I have on several occasions, presented copies from the same negative, with a statement that I wore for the purpose the same clothes I had on when captured. To be full and minute...when ordered to 'halt,' I dropped the water-proof cloak and shawl from my shoulders, and advanced towards the man who ordered me to halt, in the identical clothes I put on for the purpose of having this photo taken. The only difference being that my hat was on my head instead of in my hand, and I wore a pair of brass spurs, large & conspicuous from having silver devices on the bars. The spurs having been stolen after my capture they do not appear [in the photograph]. My good wife, seeing the Cavalryman drop his Carbine to fire at me, ran up behind me and threw her arms around my neck to stop me. My purpose was thus thwarted and saying 'God's will be done,' I turned to lead her back to her tent, for now others of the Enemy were gathering around us."
"The morning was chilly & I passed on to a camp fire to warm, and there remained unmolested and I suppose unrecognized for some time. A soldier from Maine published a statement in contradiction of the vile story of my being disguised in female dress, and said he had known me in Portland Maine and recognized me at the moment of my capture, I had not undressed, but laid down with even riding boots and spurs on, having been warned that a band of robbers would probably visit the camp that night. So when my servant came to tell me that there was firing near our camp I immediately went out, and saw the Cavalry deployed and closing in on it. The firing was by two Regts. who...commenced firing, each supposing the other to be confederates. I suppose you have heard all the particulars from my wife and myself, and I am inflicting on you the tedium of a twice told tale."
"The demoralization of War had filled the land with roving plunderers, the news that such a gang was in pursuit of my Wife and Children to rob them of their teams, induced me to change my course and follow after them, and so I was with them when captured, not having seen them before overtaking them in Georgia, since they left Richmond, some months before its evacuation..."
Green was Episcopal Bishop and Chancellor of the University of the South. Many of the telling details recounted here were synthesized into the excellent account of this incident by William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (New York 1991), pp.635-637 and fn. Not in Correspondence, ed. D. Rowland, though Green's letter to Davis, prompting the present response, is published there (vol.7). See Chester Bradley, "Was Jefferson Davis disguised as a Woman When Captured?" in Journal of Mississippi History, 36 (August 1974), pp.243ff.
Provenance: Anonymous (sale, American Art Association, 20 January 1937, lot 75) -- Calvin Bullock (sale, Christie's, 19 December 1986, lot 57) -- Jerome Shochet (sale, Christie's, 20 May 1994, lot 23).