With the collapse of the Confederacy in the Spring of 1865 Jefferson Davis his wife and company headed South to prevent from being captured by Union troops. With the death of Abraham Lincoln April 15, 1865 his successor Andrew Johnson issued a $100,000 reward for the capture of Davis and accused him of helping to plan the assassination.
The search for J. Davis intensified through the end on April into the early days of May. Eventually he was captured by Union Troops on May 10 in Irwinville, Irwin County Georgia. On May 19, 1865, Davis was imprisoned in a casemate at Fortress Monroe Virginia.
Irons were riveted to his ankles at the order of General Nelson Miles, who was in charge of the fort. Davis was allowed no visitors, and no books except the Bible. With his health failing the attending physician warned his life was in danger, but his treatment continued for some months until late autumn when he was finally given better quarters. General Miles was transferred in mid-1866 and Davis treatment and health continued to improve.
While Davis was imprisoned the trial for the conspirators of Lincoln’s death continued, Mary Surratt was found guilty an hanged by the neck until death. Father Jacob Ambrose Walter’s was especially outspoken in the defense of Surratt who was a devout Catholic and a parish member of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, Washington DC. The pastor stood beside her on the gallows at her execution praying and holding her hands moments before the trap door swung open snuffing her life.
Still imprisoned, Davis’s treatment and health improved and he was given more access to family, friends and supporters. During this time he was visited a great many times by Pastor Jacob A. Walter who believed that Davis wasn’t guilty of the treasonous acts the Federal Government had accused him of.
Not only did Davis receive support from the local Catholic Church but Pope Puis IX after learning that Davis was a prisoner sent him a portrait inscribed with the Latin words “Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus” which corresponds to Matthew 11:28….”Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you, sayeth the Lord”.
The hand written letter of Jefferson Davis to Reverend (Pastor) Jacob Ambrose Walter confirms the kindness and friendship that Davis and Walter shared for each other. It reads:
Accept my thanks for the kindness with
which you have remembered a captive
and believe me ever truly.
F. Monroe, Va
30th Oct. 1866
Also included in the collection is a signed CDV of Jefferson Davis while imprisoned at Fort Monroe. What’s interesting about the image is that it has a U.S. tax stamp on the back that was only used for the calendar years of 1864-1865 leading me to believe that this was given to a personal friend of Davis, probably November or December 1865 while he was held captive. During the first five months of his captivity “he could not have visitors, wasn’t allowed any luxuries or privileges”. I’m certain there isn’t many signed images of Jefferson Davis while held prisoner by the Federal Government in 1865.
If you have any questions about this item or any of the other items in the Civil War Arsenal Museum please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org attn: Gene West
It is interesting the Catholic connection with the conspirators. John Surratt was helped at every stage of his escape by Catholic priest until becoming a papal Zouave guard and final capture in Alexandria, Egypt. This same priest visited John Surratt while in prison awaiting trial.
The Catholic Church sympathy for Surratt is obvious, surprised there’s not more said or written about it. Post war legal battles of J. Surratt went on for a while after extradition from Egypt.
He admitted to the conspiracy of attempting to kidnap Lincoln however denied any connection with the murder plot and a hung jury granted him freedom…..interesting story.
Kind Regards, Gene