north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      In the spring of 1865, as the Confederacy crumbled around them, President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled south from Virginia to Georgia, on a three-month journey to escape Union forces, staying for a time in Greensboro and Charlotte. Varina Davis, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, left Richmond on March 31, only a few days before General Lee’s defeat at Five Forks and Richmond’s demise. She, her four children, and sister arrived in Charlotte. Arriving on or soon after April 3, the party was given shelter at the Abram Weill (Wiele) house. Burton Harrison, personal secretary to Jefferson Davis, arranged the accommodations. Rumors of a Union assault on Charlotte, however, forced Varina to board the next train out of Charlotte, William Parker’s “treasure train,” the rail convoy that transported the remnants of the Confederate treasury. Varina and her group left on April 13, were taken to Chester, South Carolina, and then to Abbeville, arriving by April 19.

     Most historians assert Jefferson Davis and his roving cabinet arrived in Charlotte on April 19. Charlotte officials granted Davis use of the Bank of North Carolina branch office on Tryon Street as his government headquarters and presidential office. Davis biographer William J. Cooper describes the president’s personal quarters as “a private home.” Alfred Hanna and Michael B. Ballard, historians who have addressed Davis’s flight south, agree that Attorney General George Davis stayed at the William Myers House and Secretary of the Treasury George Trenholm stayed at the William Phifer House while Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin and secretary Burton Harrison stayed at the Weill (Wiele) House. The Confederate nucleus of President Davis and aides John Wood, William Johnston, and Francis Lubbock resided at the home of Lewis Bates on the corner of Tryon and Fourth street in Charlotte.

     Davis held regular meetings at the bank building, until Trenholm became so ill as to render travel impossible, at which time the Confederate cabinet met for the last time as a full body on April 26 at the Phifer House on North Tryon Street. The meeting adjourned with Davis conceding defeat and at the same time planning his escape across the Mississippi River, ultimately to Mexico, where he would then “have the world from which to choose a location.” The rebel government left the same day, leaving behind aides George Davis and Samuel Cooper while Harrison left for Abbeville a few days prior to attend to Varina and her party. Davis and his remaining staff then traveled to Abbeville, only to discover Varina had left on April 31 for Washington, Georgia, where she awaited her husband’s arrival. The couple, so long apart, met in Washington no later than May 3. Soon after, Davis was apprehended and taken to Fort Monroe, where he was imprisoned for two years until his release in 1867.


References:
Alfred Jackson Hanna, Flight Into Oblivion (1959)
Michael B. Ballard, A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy (1986)
Hudson Strode, ed., Private Letters of Jefferson Davis, 1823-1889 (1966)
William J. Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American (2000)
Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881)
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
George H. Hoemann, “The American Civil War Homepage”: http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/
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Jefferson Davis

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