“Jefferson Davis crosses the Catawba River at Nations Ford and the Broad River at Pinckneyville’s Ferry”
The Davis Flight Through York County — Part 1
On April 2, 1865, General Robert E. Lee wired President Jefferson Davis that he could no longer hold the line at Petersburg and that Richmond must be evacuated. The Confederate government made all speed possible to relocate in Danville, Virginia. With all speed possible Mrs. Davis and her children and the three Trenholm daughters were expressed to Charlotte while the Presidential train was made ready. At the same time a third train was being loaded with the Confederate Treasury and funds belonging to the Virginia bank.
By eight o’clock that evening all ten cars of the Presidential train was ready, but the President did not board until just before midnight. Sixteen long, worry-filled hours passed before the train pulled into the Danville depot at 3 PM on April 3. One hour later the treasure train pulled onto a siding, hardly noticed. Many of the clerks and wives applauded their escape from Richmond and that night, around the camp, they danced gleefully around the fires.
Quietly and out of view of the public, the Confederate treasure and the Virginia bank funds were off loaded into a well guarded warehouse. Two days later, on April 6, Davis sent the treasure ahead to Greensboro and on to Charlotte.
At three o’clock in the afternoon of April 10, President Davis was handed a message notifying him of Lee’s surrender. Davis made plans to make an immediate move to Greensboro and Charlotte.
Leaving Danville with hopes of reorganizing an army in Mississippi, the large entourage consisted of three brigades of cavalry, supply and escort wagons, a sizeable staff, and a special guard of 50 British soldiers for the President and his cabinet. These troops had sent by the Crown as special consideration and sign of sympathy to the Southern cause, notwithstanding Britain’s hoping of gaining Southern cotton. The folks of the old north state received their president with less than an enthusiastic matter. This might be explained by the fact that Union general George Stoneman had threatened to burn every roof that gave Davis shelter. Colonel F. R. Lubbock, a former governor of Texas and a South Carolinian boasted of his home state, saying to Davis, “Wait, sir, until you get to my native state.”
After leaving Charlotte on 26 April 1865, Davis arrived at the Springfield Plantation near Fort Mill around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and spent the night with Colonel Andrew Baxter Springs. The President and members of his cabinet spent part of the evening on the floor, playing marbles with the Colonel’s two young sons. Secretary of the Navy, Mallory, would later write of the scene: “.the game lasted nearly an hour and not withstanding the skills of his opponents, Breckenridge, who plays the best game of marbles of any public man since Judge Marshall, and who had his usual good luck, came off victorious. The youngsters, to bright, intelligent Southern boys, will never forget the ardently disputed game of marbles with Mr. Davis, who to their infinite delight seemed as much at home with the words of caution and command from ‘knuckle down at taw’ to ’roundings’ as themselves.”
The following morning, Davis called a cabinet meeting, which assembled on the lawn of the home of Colonel William E. White. With the President were Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin; Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory; and Secretary of War, John C. Breckenridge. Absent was Attorney General, George A, Davis, who had resigned at the Charlotte meeting and Secretary of the Treasury, George A. Trenholm. Trenholm was too ill to attend, but sent his resignation, desiring to return to his home in Columbia.
When the meeting adjourned, troops were assembled and the entourage headed south on the Nations Ford Road toward the Catawba River and Yorkville. A Stoneman raiding parties on April 19 had already destroyed the bridge across the Catawba. Davis and his staff crossed over on a pontoon bridge while the cavalry and wagons forded the river. Tench F. Tilghman, who was in charge of the baggage, wrote in his diary: “What a sight to see Jeff Davis and Breckenridge and the cabinet standing on the pontoon. Dickinson and I thought of the Bruce and his retreat to the mountains surrounded by a few faithful followers. The Cause has gone up. God only knows what will be the end of all this.”
REBECCA JANE MCCOLLOUGH by Mrs. Tom Faris
Rebecca Jane McCollough, daughter of William and Jane McCollough, born Jan. 27, 1856 in York County near Carhartt, S. C. [Carhartt was a mill village in the early 1900s near Nation Ford, Catawba River, east of Rock Hill.]
When the war closed she was about nine years of age and remembers quite well the Yankees under Gen. Stoneman setting fire to Catawba River bridge. The fire could be seen from the house. Some old men and boys were guarding the bridge but they saw all the Yankees and they made no effort to stop them. “Realizing that the Yankees, were so near we made every effort to hide away what we could. My brother and I actually cut the necks of the gourd and filled them with corn and wheat. On account of their being so damp through all of this spoiled. My Mother had a brother living in N. C. and we went there and stayed for a long time. We were there when Sherman marched through this territory, but got home just before Stoneman, destroyed the bridge. I was married to a Confederate Veteran in 1876, S. Jasper Hutchinson. ”
Found in the papers of the S. D. Barron Chapter, U. D. C., Rock Hill, S. C.
Receiving word that the Confederate President was moving toward Yorkville, the populace of the courthouse town was making ready to give the President a grand welcome. Rumors were alight and one was that Davis would be in disguise. The President, however, smartly dressed himself in a plain gray suit topped with a broad brimmed hat. The bedraggled remnants of Holcomb’s Legion were given the honor of leading the entourage into York. The former glory of this outfit was hidden among dirty and tattered uniforms and half-starved, battle scared horses. Among this company of Holcomb’s Legion rode prankster Adolphus E. Fant of Union County. Finding out that the people were expecting their leader to be in disguise, he thought this would be a good time to have a little fun. As the company made its way up the street of York, the street was lined with men and women and children hoping to get a glimpse of Jeff Davis. When the parade stopped in front of Ephraim Crenshaw’s home, ladies bearing large bouquets of flowers, with tears trickling down their faces rushed up to the mounted soldiers and said, “Do be so kind as to show me the President, do please point him out to us.”
When Fant was approached by a young Yorkville lady who said, “Do show us Mr. Davis,” he leaned down from his saddle and whispered, “There is the President,” pointing out a most conspicuous soldier in a ragged and dirty uniform with sleeves bearing the strips of a corporal. Mounted on a dilapidated, miserable, bob-tailed horse, the soldier was devoid of any front teeth and with his mouth wide open saliva ran down his scraggy beard. They ladies rushed to the toothless corporal and surrounded him on every side. Several handed him huge bouquets while others tossed flowers at him until he was nearly covered. While the corporal was frozen with astonishment, Fant and the rest of the company moved on in laughter, leaving him to attend to the Yorkville ladies.
Upon arrival Davis was escorted to the home of Colonel J. Rufus Bratton while others of the staff were housed next door at Rose’s Hotel. Bratton, later recalling the evening, noted in his journal: “He appeared to be somewhat fatigued in body and depressed in spirits though easily aroused with his native fire. He caressed and spoke kindly to my four boys, Louis, John, Andral and Moultrie.”
The evening was not without a mishap. Just before retiring, Pete, the butler, had a mishap with a tray of wine and whiskey that he was taking to the President’s room, upsetting the decanters and ruining the President’s nightshirt that laid nearby on the bed. Doctor Bratton sent the servant across the street to the home of widow Hackett to borrow a nightshirt belonging to her husband who had been killed at the Battle of the Crater. The night passed without a further incident and the next morning, the entourage prepared to leave town. Davis thanked Bratton for his hospitality and for his faithfulness to the Confederacy. Upon leaving the President told his host, “Do not expect anything just or right from the abolition Yankees. They will never grant you your rights.” Although the President successfully resisted the assembled crowd to do a bit of speech making, General Breckenridge mounted the balcony of Rose’s Hotel and made a brief speech instructing the people to have courage.
Two days earlier, as Davis had been entering York County, E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War for the United States telegraphed Major General George Thomas, Commander of the Army of the Cumberland that was headquartered in Nashville. Stanton informed Thomas that intelligence reported that the Davis entourage had left Goldsboro heading southward to Charlotte with a treasure totaling six to thirteen million in gold and silver. Stanton ordered Thomas to stop Davis and seize the booty at all costs. In turn, General Thomas wired Stoneman whose: “If you can possibly get three brigades of cavalry together, send them over the mountains into South Carolina to the westward of Charlotte and toward Anderson. They may possibly catch Jeff. Davis, or some of his treasure.”
About the same time, but unknown to Stoneman, a group of raiders under the leadership of Brevet Brigadier General William J. Palmer was moving toward Davis’ southern route. Leaving Rutherfordton, NC, Palmer’s troops crossed the upper Broad River and arrived near the Cowpens Battleground; here Palmer received a message from Stoneman to pursue the Confederate entourage.
President Davis in Bullock’s Creek – Part II
Leaving the crowd of well-wishers in Yorkville, Davis and his length entourage traveled into western York County along the Yorkville-Pinckney Road. Since arriving in South Carolina, Davis seemed to be more relaxed and exhibited a brighter mood. Historian Shelby Foot would write, “He spoke of Scott and Byron, of hunting dogs and horses in a manner his fellow travelers found singularly equable and cheerful.”
The April sky seemed to reflect the same cheeriness; the sky was bright and clear. Sometime before noon they reached the small community of Blairsville, about seven miles from Yorkville. Rev. R. Y. Russell, who lived at Blairsville and near the intersection of the Rutherfordton Road and the Pinckney Road, noted in his journal, “President Davis, with an escort, passed my house . . .” At this junction, the entourage split into two division. The three brigades of cavalry was directed to turn off westward onto the Rutherfordton Road in order to cross the Broad River at a shallows known as Smith’s Ford while Davis’ cabinet, personal staff and guards proceeded southward to the Pinckneyville ferry.
Four or five miles below Blairsville, in the Bullock’s Creek community, word that Davis would be passing by; men, women and children lined the old road to greet their presidents with waves and shouts.
Passing within a half mile of the Bullock’s Creek Presbyterian Church, the entourage stopped at a tavern about a mile from the Pinckneyville Ferry as preparations were being made for their crossing. At this same time, Mrs. Davis and her escort were twenty miles to the east in Chester. Davis took time to visit with the local folk who had assembled in hopes of seeing and speaking to their President. As the sky began to grow cloudy, Davis and his cabinet said their good-byes to the people of York County.
When Davis crossed the Broad River on the Pinckneyville Ferry and preceded peacefully toward Union, a grand finale to the drama to his flight through York County was about to take place. Just as the last of the Confederates crossed at Smith’s Ford, Palmer and his troops arrived and captured ten stragglers.
For many years it was believed that the only invasion into York County by the Union Army took place on 19 April 1865 when a detachment of about 400 of Stoneman’s Cavalry advanced from Lincolnton County, North Carolina and destroyed the bridge at the Nation’s Ford near present-day Rock Hill. But several families living in Western York County on the east bank of the Broad River had oral traditions that reported sighting invading troops as well as an exchange of gunfire near Jack Hill.
Jack Hill rises south of the intersection of Conservation Road and Bonner Horton Road; nearby was the plantation of the Vincent E. Parks family. The Parks family is one of those families with an oral tradition of making contact with invading Yankees. When the Union force arrived at the home, Vincent Parks had been dead for nearly five years, leaving his wife Rachel Robbins Parks with a large family. At the time, her oldest son, Thomas, was home recuperating from a wound received Drainesville, and left on the battlefield for dead. The family tradition mentions no exchange of fire, but that the raiding troops absconded with everything but one blind mule.
The plantations of the Hamiltons, Osbornes and Thomsons were also visited. When Dr. William P. Thomson received word that Union soldiers were looting just north of his plantation, he sent his personal servant out to bury the family’s silver. Upon returning, the servant and his master attempted to hide under the house. Doctor Thomson being a small man and was able to get into the lowest point, but the
servant had to be content with a shorter crawl. When the troops arrived, they discovered the quaking black man and forced him to go with them. Years later he was seen in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where his captors had abandoned him.
All of these families, hearing of the advance of Sherman through South Carolina assumed these raiders were not more than an expedition of Sherman’s “Bummers.” It seems the presence of Stoneman’s troops was a complete surprise to all. The story goes that when Palmer captured the stragglers at Smith’s Ford, they were interrogated about the number traveling with Davis–and the treasury. Supposedly the Confederates told Palmer that Davis was guarded by three or four thousand troops, and that he indeed was traveling with a treasury of 100 boxes of gold and 60 kegs of silver, totaling about 10 million. Believing what the Johnny Rebs told him, Palmer decided not to pursue the President of the Confederacy. When the raiding and looting was over, Palmer led his troops back across the Broad leaving the countryside in peace.
Several days later, the Yorkville Enquirer reported the presence of the Union troops, though their numbers may have been largely exaggerated. A force of the enemy’s cavalry, estimated at from three to four thousand, crossed Broad River at Smith’s Ford on Sunday evening and came within eleven miles of this place. They subsequently recrossed and are reported to have moved in the direction of Limestone Springs. A flag of truce bearing the recent order of Sherman was dispatched after them but failed to reach them at last account.
The follow Saturday, at two o’clock in the morning, the last scene of the York County drama begins. General Wade Hampton, saddle weary and worn tied his horse in front of the Yorkville house where his wife, Mary, has found sanctuary since the fall of Columbia.
Also in Yorkville was General Joe Johnston who had surrendered to Sherman in Greensboro on April 26. When Davis left Greensboro he had instructed Johnston to make whatever terms he could for a termination of the war. Hampton, however, wanted to pursue the fight. At the time of Johnston’s surrender Hampton was on special assignment to President Davis and did not believe he was bound by the surrender. Hampton and a few staff officers set out to find the President and upon reaching Charlotte, found a fresh horse and rode on to Yorkville.
After a warm exchange between Hampton and his wife, Mary labored to make her husband to see the futility of continuing the war for Southern independence. Mary reminded her husband that he had lost his home and fortune, had seen their son, Preston, shot down on a battlefield in Virginia and that an entire way of life had vanished. When he would not abandon the struggle, she sent for General Joe Wheeler who was staying nearby. Wheeler and Mrs. Hampton together were eventually able to dissuade the general, appealing to his obligation to a defenseless family and state. In final respect to his leader, Hampton penned a letter to the president and gave it to Wheeler saying, “Tell the President that if in the future there should appear any way in which I can serve him, I will do so to the last.” Wheeler took the message and rode southward in pursuit of Davis. Hampton turned northward, to North Carolina to seek out one of Sherman’s patrol officers and surrender.
J.L. West – Author
This article and many others found on the pages of Roots and Recall, were written by author J.L. West, for the YC Magazine and have been reprinted on R&R, with full permission – not for distribution or reprint!
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