On Sunday morning, April 2, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was sitting in a morning church service when he received an urgent message from General Robert E. Lee. Lee told him the defensive line at Petersburg had been broken, and that the Confederate government should evacuate Richmond immediately or risk capture.

President Davis begged Lee to hold the lines for just one more day, so he would have time to pull all the cash reserves of the Confederacy out of Richmond’s banks. General Lee advised Davis that he had until 8 p.m. to load the gold onto a train on the only rail line still open, southward to Danville, Virginia. Davis’s soldiers loaded all the gold reserves owned by the Richmond bank – baskets and crates full of gold ingots, gold double eagle coins, silver coins, silver bricks and Mexican silver dollars — and a large amount of jewelry donated by Confederate women onto a train and headed southeast. Another train carried Davis, his cabinet and important documents. When they got to Danville, Davis and his cabinet emptied that bank, too, and fled to deep into the South. They would be on the run, zigzagging through the South, for six weeks. After the assassination of President Lincoln on April 14th, a $100,000 reward was put on Davis’s head, and the Union Army was never far behind. Some say Jefferson Davis was planning a government in exile and that he hoped to flee to a sympathetic foreign nation such as Britain or France and while crossing and backtracking across South Carolina and Georgia over the next six weeks. Others just say he was running for his life, hoping the fortune would buy his way out of the hangman’s rope.

At dawn, May 10, 1865, the 4th Michigan Cavalry charged into Davis’ encampment near Irwinville, Georgia, and captured the fugitive group. Davis was captured as he ran through some trees toward the river. News spread of Davis’s capture, and there was considerable controversy. Many reports, those favored by the North, said he was disguised in women’s clothes, a woman’s night-robe and bonnet. Most Southern versions said Davis emerged from a tent wearing a loose-fitting, waterproof raglan overcoat, a garment as suited for a man as a woman. The “bonnet,” Davis’s wife Varina said, was a rectangular shawl she had thrown over his head because he had a cold and it was a cold, drizzly morning.

Northern newspapers and periodicals ridiculed him as a coward, alleging that he had disguised himself as he tried to flee. Cartoonists had a joyous time drawing merciless caricatures depicting Davis in hoop skirts and frilly bonnets, carrying bags of gold as he tried to escape Union troopers. There were always mocking captions, with merciless sexual puns and innuendoes. Satiric songs soon followed, with very bawdy lyrics.

“Jeff In Petticoats” is one very popular example:

This Davis he was always full of bluster and of brag,

He swore, on all our Northern walls he’d plant his Rebel flag.

But when to battle he did go he said, “I’m not so green,

To dodge the bullets I will wear my tin-clad crinoline.”

Oh! Jeffy D.!

You “flow’r of chivalree,”

Oh royal Jeffy D.!

Your empire’s but a tin-clad skirt

Oh charming Jeffy D.

Our union boys were on his track for many nights and days,

His palpitating heart it beat Enough to burst his stays.

Oh! What a dash he must have cut with form so tall and lean

Just fancy now the “What is it? Dressed up in crinoline!”

Oh! Jeffy D.!

You “flow’r of chivalree,”

Oh royal Jeffy D.!

Your empire’s but a tin-clad skirt

Oh charming Jeffy D.

The ditch that Jeff was hunting for he found was very near,

He tried to “shift” his base again, his neck felt rather queer.

Just on the out-“skirts” of a wood his dainty shape was seen,

His boots stuck out, and now they’ll hang Old Jeff in crinoline.”

Either way, it was hardly a respectable ending for a man who just a month earlier, while emptying the Danville banks, had penned a letter to the Confederate people to, telling them to fight on. Davis’s letter:

“To the People of the Confederate States of America.

Danville, Va., April 4, 1865

Animated by the confidence in your spirit and fortitude, which never yet has failed me, I announce to you, fellow-countrymen, that it is my purpose to maintain your cause with my whole heart and soul…. that I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of any one of the States of the Confederacy; ……Let us not, then, despond, my countrymen; but, relying on the never-failing mercies and protecting care of our God, let us meet the foe with fresh defiance, with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.”

Davis ended up serving less than two years in prison for his role in a War that killed 600,000 people. There are many rumors and legend about what happened to the  Lost Confederate Treasury and all that gold. The true value of the treasure will likely never be known. The low end estimates are $500,000 to $700,000, but Union officials estimated the value in the millions of dollars, as did several Confederate veterans’ organizations. Whatever the amount, no one really seems to know where it went. Some people believe that Davis and his group hid it, or sent it on a ship to England. Many believe it was distributed to Southern sympathizing business men and banks.

Some say by the time Davis was captured, there was no longer any Confederate Treasury to seize. The defenders of Jefferson say that during the hectic weeks of Davis’s flight, the money was paid out legitimately as his government disbanded. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, they say, went to departing Confederate officers, soldiers, and other creditors.

Some people assert that members of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, who captured Davis’ group, stole it. And another version says a different unit of Federal troops loaded the captured treasure into wagons bound for Washington, D.C. However, as it passed through Wilkes County, Georgia, the wagon train was bushwhacked by a gang of 20 armed bandits and deserters, who loaded the loot in saddlebags and rode away. It was said that the weight of all that gold was too much and they buried it at various places in the county. The location of the gold remains a mystery.

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