Today in History: Jefferson Davis is Captured in Georgia (1865)

Today in History: Jefferson Davis is Captured in Georgia (1865)

Matthew Weber - May 10, 2017

While Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 is almost unanimously seen as the ‘end’ of the Civil War, the fighting continued on for days afterwards, and was only one of the “surrenders” that took place to end the war.

It took a huge effort on the part of the U.S. government to reintegrate the Southern states back into the Union once the war was over. The process of “Reconstruction” lasted over a decade, and was highly controversial. In fact, it wasn’t until the early months of 1877 that the last of the federal troops left the South for good.

Once the fighting was over, there were consequences for the leaders of the South that we don’t think about much today, such as what happened to Jefferson Davis and the other leaders who led the South in their rebellion. After all, technically they were guilty of treason (at least it could be argued so).

Today in History: Jefferson Davis is Captured in Georgia (1865)
Jefferson Davis Monument. History

The answer to that question is that on May 10, 1865, Jefferson Davis was captured near Irwinville, Georgia. He had left the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia on April 2, 1865, seven days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, because Lee had written to him and warned him that he could no longer defend Richmond.

His goal was to eventually leave the United States and move to a more sympathetic nation like Britain or France. He also considered setting up a government in exile. He was caught before he could put any plans into motion by a detachment of the 4th Michigan Calvary.

Today in History: Jefferson Davis is Captured in Georgia (1865)
Jefferson Davis. History on the Net

Once the U.S. government had him in custody, they had to decide what to do with him. Trying him for treason was the ideal goal, but members of President Andrew Johnson’s government thought that a conviction would be unlikely. It was thought that Davis might be able to get acquitted by arguing that secession was legal.

Jefferson Davis wpent two years in prison before he was released on bail. The U.S. government would never put him on trial. In May 1867 he was released from prison at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and he settled in Mississippi for the rest of his life.

The cleanup that took place after the American Civil War took decades. More than 600,000 people died in the conflict, making it America’s bloodiest war. The social and cultural ramifications of the North’s victory would take even longer to settle in. It could even be argued that the United States still hasn’t settled on a post-Civil War identity, and that many of the social and cultural problems that existed at the end of the Civil War are still around today.

Jefferson Davis and the leaders of the Confederacy didn’t just go away after the fall of the Confederate States of America. Davis would spend his time in prison and then retired until his death in 1869. Robert E. Lee would be pardoned (though he did lose the right to vote) by Andrew Johnson, and would support the government’s efforts during Reconstruction.