On April 1, 1865, the Union army finally broke the Confederate army's siege lines around Petersburg at the Battle of Five Forks. When fighting across the siege lines erupted the next day, it forced Gen. Lee to make a disorderly retreat of both Petersburg and nearby Richmond. Left no choice with Lee's retreat, the Confederate government hurriedly evacuated Richmond, taking as many papers as they could, and Confederate president Jefferson Davis moved his headquarters to Danville, Virginia on April 3. On April 4, President Lincoln entered Richmond and famously toured the White House of the Confederacy, sitting at Davis's desk.
To most observers, the South was clearly reaching its end, but Davis had no intention of quitting the war. Even while he was fleeing, he attempted to order Confederate generals in the field to keep fighting. The last skirmish between the two sides took place May 12-13, ending ironically with a Confederate victory at the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas. As fate would have it, the last fighting of the Civil War took place two days after Davis had been captured in Georgia, and his capture remained controversial for several decades. Davis and his family had continued to flee south from Virginia trying to stay ahead of Union authorities, but with Lee and Johnston both surrendering, President Davis held a meeting of his cabinet in Georgia in early May 1865, during which he officially dissolved the Confederate government.
Davis still hoped to escape federal authorities, but his luck ran out on May 10 in Irwinville, Georgia, when he and his family were spotted. While attempting to run, Davis slung his wife's overcoat over his shoulders. In the North, Davis was portrayed as attempting to disguise himself as a woman to avoid capture. Publications gladly ran cartoons depicting Davis in dresses and women's attire. Placed in heavy shackles, he was transported to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he was charged with treason and planning to assassinate Lincoln, with the country still reeling over his assassination by John Wilkes Booth. Davis was put in a basement cell with one small barred window facing the moat. A grand jury would later indict him for treason.
On December 25, 1868, treason charges were officially dropped against him, much to Davis' chagrin. Davis actually relished the possibility of challenging the charges in court and was dismayed that he wasn't given a soapbox to make his arguments.
The Capture of Jefferson Davis: The History of the Confederate President's Attempt to Escape the Union Army analyzes the history of one of the final chapters of the Civil War. You will learn about the flight and capture of Jefferson Davis like never before.