Yesterday I finished reading Yael Sternhell’s wonderful book, Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South, which explores various aspects of mobility in the Confederate South. The author argues that what could be seen on the roads throughout the South tells us quite a bit about Confederate nationalism, the collapse of slavery and a strictly defined racial hierarchy, and defeat.
Her brief discussion of the capture of Jefferson Davis caught my attention:
On May 10, while camping outdoors in the piney woods near Irwinville, Georgia, Davis and his party were captured. Two Union cavalry regiments, searching for the presidential party, raided their camp at daybreak with no specific knowledge of who was staying there. In the confusion of the raid, Davis tried to escape from his tent and into the woods, but a Federal officer noticed him attempting to get away and called him to stop. With a carbine gun pointed at him, Davis had no choice but to surrender. Much has been made of the fabricated story that he was dressed as a woman when caught. Yet the true significance of the circumstances of his capture lies in the fact that he was apprehended not only in flight, but in the woods. Davis was forced to follow the ways of his former slaves and take refuge within the alternative geography they had used for generations to hide from the bloodhounds and armed patrollers who chased them without mercy. The Civil War did not end with Robert E. Lee’s dignified surrender at Appomattox. It ended with Jefferson Davis, in the forest, staring in fear at a group of white men who were coming to get him. The war had reduced even the most elevated of masters, the Confederate president, to a desperate runaway. [p. 192]
This is one of the most insightful books I’ve read about the Confederacy this year. I only wish I had this when writing my own essay on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia.