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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The End of the Confederacy

On May 10, 1865, the Civil War ended when Wisconsin soldiers captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis. When Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9th, Davis fled south with his family. Madison lawyer Henry Harnden, commanding the Wisconsin First Cavalry at Macon, Ga., was ordered to scour the countryside for him.

Thirty-six hours into the search ("24 of them in the saddle"), Col. Harnden was awakened in the night by a local slave who was sure he'd seen Davis earlier that day. "All the gentlemen called him President Davis," the man reported, "and he had his wife with him, and she was called Mrs. Davis." Harnden later said that but for this help "we would have known nothing of Davis having crossed our track, and we would have gone the next morning toward Savannah, and Jeff. Davis would in all probabilities have escaped.

After four days on the trail, Harnden's squad came upon Davis' entourage early on May 10th. As they approached, they were attacked by soldiers hidden in the brush. Harnden's squad returned the fire and killed two of their adversaries before discovering they were U.S. troops who had converged on Davis from a different direction.

Entering the camp right after this friendly fire fiasco, Harnden "rode up, dismounted and saluted, and I asked if this was Mr. Davis. 'Yes,' he replied, 'I am President Davis.' At this the soldiers set up a shout that Jeff. Davis was captured." About 30 enlisted men from Wisconsin helped bring the war to its close that day, which was somehow fitting, since Davis began his career as a commander of Wisconsin troops 35 years earlier.

For more on the capture of Jefferson Davis, visit our online collection of Local History & Biography Articles.

:: Posted in Curiosities on May 9, 2006

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