The Lost Confederate Treasure
The facts seem simple enough: On April 2, 1865 the Union Army faced tattered and battle-weary Confederate soldiers defending Richmond, Virginia under the overall command of General Robert E. Lee. Realizing that his lines could not hold and that the fall of the Confederate capital was imminent, General Lee sent an urgent message to President Jefferson Davis that the government must evacuate or face certain capture. Late that night a special train carrying the President and Members of the Confederate Cabinet departed Richmond for Danville, Virginia. Although the news was bleak, it was the hope of all on board that the struggle could be continued.
Shortly after midnight a second train departed the Richmond station following the fleeing government south. On board were all the hard currency reserves of the Confederate States of America guarded by a group of young midshipmen from the Confederate Navy who had scuttled their vessel in the James River. Amongst the official records of the Confederacy were many—some say hundreds—of crates and barrels containing gold and silver coins, bullion, and a substantial amount of fine jewelry donated to the Cause by women across the South. In addition there was more than $450,000 in gold from Richmond bank reserves, taken to keep it from falling into the hands of the invading Yankees.
By the end of the day on April 3, 1865 Richmond lay in ashes as occupying Federal troops had fanned out across the city looking for stragglers. Over the ensuing weeks, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Lincoln was assassinated, and the dwindling band of Confederate fugitives continued to work their way south, hoping to escape west beyond the Mississippi, or perhaps overseas to Cuba or Britain. When Jefferson Davis and his ragged group were finally captured by members of the Fourth Michigan Calvary near Irwinville in south Georgia on May 10th they had only a few dollars in their possession. The fabled riches of the vast “Confederate Treasure” were not to be found.
Lincoln’s assassination was widely but erroneously assumed to be the terrible result of a covert Confederate plot. The Northern press, rightfully outraged as such a horrific event, had screamed for retribution against Davis and other government officials. Fuel by vitriol in the press, rumors of the amount of gold and silver carried away by the fugitives grew to millions and millions of dollars. The knowledge of the fact that the treasure did leave Richmond with Jefferson Davis and was not with him when he was captured led to wild speculation as to its fate.
Over the years stories of “The Lost Confederate Treasure” have become ingrained in American culture and folklore. From movies to books to the internet, stories and guesses abound as to “what really happened.” The Clint Eastwood classic, “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” revolves around a search for missing Confederate gold. Dozens of cities and counties across the South and even further afield each have their own unique story as to where the treasure is “really” buried accompanied by—of course—logical reasons as to why it hasn’t yet been found.
Rumors and speculation aside, the truth is that the exact amount of the gold and silver carried south by the fleeing government is not known. The destruction and disorder that accompanied the fall of the Confederacy led to the loss of most of the records that could have been used to establish a more exact figure. The best estimates hold that the hard currency actually held in the Treasury at the end of the war was only about $327,000, a paltry sum for a government even in 1865. As many officials testified after the war when accused of somehow having knowledge of the treasure’s disappearance, the Confederacy was nearly broke. The reverses of the last two years of the war combined with the effective Federal blockage of southern ports had nearly drained the treasury dry. Assuming that this sum is in the range of accuracy, this amount together with the Richmond bank gold, plus jewelry and other valuables would suggest that the actual worth of the “treasure” was in the range of one million dollars.
So, what happened to it? Did the leaders of the Confederacy steal it as some have alleged? Was it buried in some secret location to be dug up by future generations? Or did the treasure suffer a more mundane fate? Why do rumors of “lost Confederate gold” persist even today, spurring on generation after generation of treasure hunters? Parts II and III of this article in the next issues of Splash! will attempt to answer those questions and others.
As recounted in Part I of this three-part series, the mystery of the “Lost Confederate Treasure” is one of the most enduring of Southern Legends. When President Jefferson Davis and the Cabinet fled the besieged Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia on April 2, 1865, they carried with them nearly a million dollars in gold, silver and jewelry. Part of this hoard was all that remained in Richmond of the hard currency assets of the rapidly collapsing Confederacy. Part of it was the gold assets of the Richmond banks, taken in order to keep them from falling into the hands of the seemingly unstoppable Northern forces. When President Davis and his family were captured in south Georgia some six weeks later, he had only a few dollars with him. What happened to the treasure?
Although the fall of Richmond and the government’s flight south was a crushing blow, many—including President Davis—were unwilling to admit defeat. The plan was to withdraw to a safer area, reestablish the Government, and continue the struggle. Barely avoiding Federal marauders, the train carrying the President and members of his Cabinet arrived in Danville, Virginia late in day on April 3rd.
The “treasure,” meanwhile, was transported on a second train guarded by Midshipmen from the Confederate Navy. In the chaos of impending defeat, it was an attractive target for would-be hijackers and other outlaws. It was heavy, consisting dozens of boxes and crates of gold and silver coins, some bullion, plus an unknown amount of jewelry donated to the Cause by southern women. One commander described it as “a very troublesome elephant.”
Over the next the next four weeks, Davis and other members of the government pushed steadily south, pursued by troops from the north and avoiding the areas in their path under Federal control. The treasure train followed a similar route, from Danville south to Charlotte, North Carolina, then on to Chester, South Carolina. Transferred to wagons then back on rail cars then back on wagons, all the while under heavy guard, the precious cargo passed through Newberry and Abbeville, South Carolina, arriving in Washington, Georgia on April 19th. When the threat of its capture became too great in Washington, the treasure was once again loaded on wagons, moved first to Augusta and then back across the Savannah River to Abbeville before returning back to Washington by May 3rd.
While Davis and the government fled south, two events that would forever change the course of American history took place. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Only five days later John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer, shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.
Many in the north, rightfully enraged at Lincoln’s death and fueled by wild speculation in the Yankee press assumed that the dying Confederacy, and Davis in particular, was behind a plot to topple the United States government. Lincoln, whose policy was one of reconciliation with the South after the war, was succeeded by Andrew Johnson who called for vengeance. Calls went out for Davis’s summary execution. A hundred thousand dollar reward was placed on his head, exceeding in comparison to the wages of the day the twenty-five million dollar reward offered currently for Osama Bin Laden.
During these weeks of flight, expenses for lodging and provisions as well as payment to the accompanying troops steadily drained the resources of the Government’s funds. A sample of known expenses includes $39,000 paid to soldiers in Greensboro, North Carolina, $108,000 paid to escorting troops near the Savannah River, about $40,000 paid for soldier’s provisions in Augusta and Washington, Georgia. According to A. J. Hanna, author of Flight Into Oblivion, by early May 1865 only about a hundred thousand dollars remained in treasury funds.
By the fourth of May, the Confederacy obviously defeated, President Davis and the few remaining members of the Cabinet with him made the decision to disband the government. Some $86,000 was given to a trusted officer to be smuggled abroad and held in Confederate accounts. Davis planned to make it to Florida, then perhaps west by boat to Texas where he would continue to lead the fight for Southern independence. With his wife and children, he headed south toward Macon with a small band of guards. A second group of core supporters split off and planned to meet up with him near the Florida line. Between them, they carried what remained of $35,000 in gold that had been allotted for expenses of the President and Cabinet some weeks earlier. It was all that was left of the government funds.
On May 10th just south of Irwinville, Georgia and not far from the Florida line, the fugitives were surprised and captured in an early morning raid by troops from the Fourth Michigan Calvary. They had with them only a few dollars. The fabled “Confederate Treasure” had disappeared. Or had it simply all been spent?
In the next installment of this series we will look at what happened to the gold from the Richmond banks, and some of the reasons that the legends surrounding this fabled treasure have developed over the years.
Today, more than a hundred and forty years later, the mystery of what “really” happened to the gold and silver that remained in the Confederate Treasury at the end of the Civil War continues to intrigue historians and treasure hunters alike. As detailed in Parts I and II of this series, President Jefferson Davis and other members of the Confederate government fled Richmond, Virginia on April 2, 1865, only hours before the capital fell to Yankee troops.
Accompanying them on their escape south was nearly a million dollars in gold, silver and jewelry. Part of it belonged to the Confederate Treasury. The other part was the gold reserves of the Richmond banks.
During the next six weeks Lee surrendered at Appomattox and Lincoln was assassinated. Davis and other members of the rebel government were touted by the northern press as war criminals. Huge rewards were offered for their arrest. When Davis was finally captured in south Georgia on May 10th, his small party of fugitives only had a few dollars with them. What happened to the treasure?
The answer to that question, like the fabled hoard itself, has two parts. First, only about half of it actually belonged to the Confederacy. With so many records lost in the final days of the war, even the exact amount is uncertain. Estimates range up to more than a million dollars, but a more generally accepted figure is about half that. Of this amount, there is reasonably good documentation that most of it was spent in support of the failing government and its troops. The truth, however unexciting it may seem, is that at the end of the war The Confederacy was nearly broke. The wild speculation in the news of the day was just that, speculation. There was no “Confederate Treasure” to go missing, only groundless rumors.
So why are there persistent legends about the “Confederate Gold”? Even today, why do movies like “Sahara” (based on the book of the same name by Clive Cussler) continue to attract audiences with their story lines about the “true” fate of these fabled riches? Perhaps the answer lies in the old adage that underlying most legends is a grain of truth. And the truth—in this case—refers to the fate of the gold reserves of the Richmond banks.
It should be remembered that the bank gold was technically not part of the “Confederate Treasure.” In the mid-nineteenth century before today’s highly regulated banking system, most banks were privately owned. They issued notes and currency backed by physical gold reserves. In fact, the link between the value of the US dollar and the price of gold was abandoned only in 1971. Unlike the estimated value of the specie from the Confederate Treasury, the Richmond bank gold’s worth was more accurately recorded as approximately $451 thousand. It had been left for safekeeping in a Washington, Georgia bank vault after the fugitive government split up in hopes of eluding Federal capture. Only days later it was in the hands of occupying Northern troops.
On May 24, 1865, a group of five wagons loaded with the Richmond bank gold set out on their long journey north. The gold was now the property of the United States government. At the end of the day they made camp near Danburg, Georgia on the grounds of the white-columned home of Dionysius Chennault. That night, troops guarding the gold were attacked by a group of men said to be locals, paroled soldiers, freed slaves and others. When the sun rose the following morning, more than a quarter million dollars in gold was missing, having been carried off in any way possible by the unknown attackers.
Occupying Federal troops reacted harshly. The area was under martial law, and tales of home invasions and torture in the search for the stolen gold were common. Chennault and his family were arrested and taken to Washington, DC in hopes of finding the whereabouts of the gold, but supposedly they knew nothing of its fate. In the end, roughly $111 thousand dollars was recovered, leaving some $140 thousand to disappear into the local economy. Rumors persist to this day of wealthy local families who trace their fortune to that night.
The stories of lost Confederate treasure seem to be more legend than fact. Stories based on a bit of truth that change and grow with the passing years as they are passed down from generation to generation. They may be myths, but in the South so much of the so-called history of that turbulent era has been enshrined in that form. Sometimes we believe what we want to believe. As for me, I’ll take my metal detector, a faded map, and the hope that somewhere out there….
The above article was written by William Rawlings Jr. Now let’s take a look at someone who would truly now some of what happened to the Confederate Treasure. This is an actual first hand eyewitness account written by Captain William H. Parker, Confederate States Navy, Who Had It in Charge in Its Transportation South. This log/diary is preserved and kept by the Confederate Navy Research Center, Mobile, Alabama.
The Account of Captain William H. Parker, Confederate States Navy, Who Had It in Charge in Its Transportation South.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
So many incorrect statements have appeared in the public prints from time to time concerning the preservation and disposition of the Confederate treasure, that a true and circumstantial account of where it was from April 2, 1865, to May 2, 1865, may prove interesting to the public.
I was an officer of the United States Navy from 1841 to 1861. In the latter year I entered the Confederate Navy as lieutenant.
During the years 1863-’64-’65 I was the superintendent of the Confederate States Naval Academy. The steamer Patrick Henry was the school-ship and the seat of the academy.
On the 1st day of April, 1865, we were lying at a wharf on the James river between Richmond and Powhatan. We had on board some sixty midshipmen and a full corps of professors. The midshipmen were well drilled in infantry tactics, and all of the professors save one had served in the army or navy.
On Sunday, April 2, 1865, I received about noon a dispatch from Hon. S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, to the following effect: “Have the corps of midshipmen, with the proper officers, at the Danville depot to-day at 6 P. M.; the commanding officer to report to the Quartermaster-General of the army.”
Upon calling at the Navy Department I learned that the city was to be evacuated immediately, and that the services of the corps were required to take charge of and guard the Confederate treasure.
Accordingly at 6 o’clock I was at the depot with all my officers and men–perhaps something over one hundred, all told–and was then put in charge of a train of cars, on which was packed the Confederate treasure, and the money belonging to the banks of Richmond.
ABOUT HALF A MILLION
I will here remark that neither the Secretary of the Treasury, nor the Treasurer were with the treasure. The senior officer of the Treasury present was a cashier, and he informed me, to the best of my recollection, that there was about $500,000 in gold, silver, and bullion. I saw the boxes containing it, many times in the weary thirty days I had it under my protection, but I never saw the coin.
Sometime in the evening the President, his Cabinet and other officials left the depot for Danville. The train was well packed. General Breckenridge, Secretary of War, however, did not start with the President. He remained with me at the depot until I got off, which was not until somewhere near midnight. The General went out of the city on horseback.
Our train being heavily loaded and crowded with passengers–even the roofs and platform-steps occupied–went very slowly. How we got by Amelia Courthouse without falling in with Sheridan’s men, has been a mystery to me to this day.
We were unconscious of our danger, however, and took matters philosophically. Monday, April 3d, in the afternoon, we arrived at Danville, where we found the President and his Cabinet, save General Breckenridge, who came in on Wednesday. On Monday night Admiral Semmes arrived with the officers and men of the James River squadron. His was the last train out of Richmond.
We did not unpack the treasure from the cars at Danville. Some, I believe, was taken for the use of the government, and, I suspect, was paid out to General Johnston’s men after the surrender, but the main portion of the money remained with me. The midshipmen bivouacked near the train.
IN THE MINT
About the 6th of April, I received orders from Mr. Mallory to convey the treasure to Charlotte, N. C., and deposit it in the mint. Somewhere about the 8th, we arrived at Charlotte. I deposited the money-boxes in the mint, took a receipt from the proper officials, and supposed that my connection with it was at an end. Upon attempting to telegraph back to Mr. Mallory for further orders, however, I found that Salisbury was in the hands of the enemy–General Stoneman’s men, I think.
The enemy being between me and the President (at least such was the report at the time, though I am not sure now that it was so), and the probability being that he would immediately push for Charlotte, it became necessary to remove the money. I determined, on my own responsibility, to convey it to Macon, Ga.
Mrs. President Davis and family were in town. They had left Richmond a week before the evacuation. I called upon her, represented the danger of capture, and persuaded her to put herself under our protection. A company of uniformed men, under Captain Tabb, volunteered to accompany me. These men were attached to the navy-yard in Charlotte. Most of them belonged to the game little town of Portsmouth, Va., and a better set of men never shouldered a musket. They were as true as steel.
Having laid in, from the naval storehouse, large quantities of coffee, sugar, bacon, and flour, we started in the cars with the treasure and arrived at Chester, S. C. This was, I think, about the 12th of April.
FORMED A TRAIN
We here packed the money and papers in wagons and formed a train. We started the same day for Newberry, S. C. Mrs. Davis and family were provided by General Preston with an ambulance. Several ladies in our party–wives of officers–were in army wagons; the rest of the command were on foot, myself included.
The first night we encamped at a crossroads “meeting-house.” I here published orders regulating our march, and made every man carry a musket. The Treasury clerks, bank officers, and others made up a third company, and we mustered some one hundred and fifty fighting men. Supposing that General Stoneman would follow, we held ourselves ready to repel an attack by day and night.
At sunset of the second day we went into camp about thirty miles from Newberry, S. C., and breaking camp very early the next morning, we crossed the beautiful Broad river on a pontoon bridge at noon, and about 4 P. M. arrived at Newberry. The quartermaster immediately prepared a train of cars, and we started for Abbeville, S. C., as soon as the treasure could be transferred.
On the march across the state of South Carolina we never permitted a traveler to go in advance of us, and we were not on a line of telegraphic communication; yet, singular to say, the news that we had the Confederate money was always ahead of us. [See Sir Walter Scott's remark on this point in "Old Mortality."] We arrived at Abbeville at midnight, and passed the remainder of the night in the cars.
Mrs. Davis and family here left me and went to the house of the Hon. Mr. Burt, a former member of Congress. In the morning we formed a wagon train and started for Washington, Georgia. The news we got at different places along the route was bad; “unmerciful disaster followed fast and followed faster.” We “lightened ship” as we went along–throwing away books, stationery, and perhaps Confederate money. One could have traced us by these marks, and have formed an idea of the character of the news we were receiving.
From Abbeville to Washington is about forty miles, and we made a two days’ march of it. The first day we crossed the Savannah river about 2 P. M. and went into camp. The next day we arrived at Washington (Ga). Here we learned that General Wilson, United States army, with 10,000 cavalry, had captured Macon, and was on his way north.
After a day’s deliberation and a consultation with some of the citizens of Washington (Ga), I determined to go to Augusta.
HEARD OF THE SURRENDER
On the 18th of April, or thereabouts, we left in the train, and at the junction, while we were waiting for the western train to pass, we heard of General Lee’s surrender. This we did not at the time credit. We arrived at Augusta in due time, and I made my report to General D. B. Fry, the commanding general. General Fry informed me he could offer no protection, as he had few troops, and was expecting to surrender to General Wilson as soon as he appeared with his cavalry.
However, Generals Johnston and Sherman had just declared an armistice, and that gave us a breathing spell. The money remained in the cars, and the midshipman and the Charlotte company lived in the depot. While in Augusta, and afterwards, I was frequently advised by officious persons to divide the money among the Confederates, as the war was over, and it would otherwise fall into the hands of the Federal troops.
The answer to this was that the war was not over as long as General Johnston held out, and that the money would be held intact until we met President Davis.
DECLINED TO DISBAND
While waiting in Augusta I received a telegraphic dispatch from Mr. Mallory directing me to disband my command; but under the circumstances I declined to do so.
On the 20th of April, General Fry notified me that the armistice would end the next day, and he advised me to “move on.” I decided to retrace my steps, thinking it more than probable that President Davis would hear of Mrs. Davis being left in Abbeville.
Accordingly we left Augusta on the 23d, arrived at Washington the same day, formed a train again, and started for Abbeville. On the way we met Mrs. President Davis and family, escorted by Col. Burton N. Harrison, the President’s private secretary. I have forgotten where they said they were going, if they told me.
THREATS MADE TO SEIZE IT
Upon our arrival at Abbeville, which was, I think, about the 28th, we stored the treasure in an empty warehouse and placed a guard over it. The town was full of paroled men from General Lee’s army. Threats were made by these men to seize the money, but the guard remained firm. On the night of May 1st I was aroused by the officer commanding the patrol, and told that “the Yankees were coming.” We transferred the treasure to the train of cars which I had ordered to be kept ready with steam up, intending to run to Newberry.
Just at daybreak, as we were ready to start, we saw some horsemen descending the hills, and upon sending out scouts learned that they were the advance guard of President Davis.
About 10 A. M., May 2, 1865, President Davis and his Cabinet (save Messrs. Trenholm and Davis) rode in. They were escorted by four skeleton brigades of cavalry–not more than one thousand badly-armed men in all. These brigades were, I think, Duke’s, Dibrell’s, Vaughan’s, and Ferguson’s. The train was a long one. There were many brigadier-generals present–General Bragg among them–and wagons innumerable.
TURNED OVER TO GENERAL DUKE
I had several interviews with President Davis and found him calm and composed, and resolute to a degree. As soon as I saw Mr. Mallory he directed me to deliver the treasure to General Basil Duke, and disband my command. I went to the depot, and there, in the presence of my command, transferred it accordingly. General Duke was on horseback, and no papers passed. The Charlotte company immediately started for home, accompanied by our best wishes. I have a dim recollection that a keg of cents was presented to Captain Tabb for distribution among his men, and that the magnificent present was indignantly declined.
The treasure was delivered to General Duke intact so far as I know, though some of it was taken at Danville by authority. It had been guarded by the Confederate midshipmen for thirty days, and preserved by them. In my opinion this is what no other organization could have done in those days.
A GALLANT CORPS
And here I must pay a tribute to these young men–many of them mere lads–who stood by me for so many anxious days. Their training and discipline showed itself conspicuously during that time. During the march across South Carolina, footsore and ragged as they had become by that time, no murmur escaped them, and they never faltered. I am sure that Mr. Davis and Mr. Mallory, if they were alive, would testify to the fact that when they saw the corps in Abbeville, way-worn and weary after its long march, it presented the same undaunted front as when it left Richmond. They were staunch to the last, and verified the adage that “blood will tell.”
The officers with me at this time were Captain Rochelle, Surgeon Garretson, Paymaster Wheliss, and Lieutenants Peek, McGuire, Sanxay, and Armistead. Lieutenants Peek, McGuire, and Armistead are living, and will testify to the truth of the above narrative.
Immediately after turning the money over to General Duke I disbanded my command. And here ends my personal knowledge of the Confederate treasure.
WHAT BECAME OF THE MONEY
On the evening of May 2d, the President and troops started for Washington, Ga. The next day the cavalry insisted upon having some of the money (so it is stated), and General Breckenridge, with the consent of the President, I believe, paid out to them $100,000. At least, that is the sum I have seen stated. I know nothing of it myself. It was a wise proceeding on the part of the General, and it enabled the poor, worn-out men to reach their homes.
The remainder of the treasure was carried to Washington, Ga. Here Captain M. H. Clark was appointed assistant treasurer, and in a frank and manly letter to the Southern Historical Society Papers, for December, 1881, he tells of the disposition of a portion of the money. Some $40,000, he says, was intrusted to two naval officers for a special purpose–to take to England, probably–but I happen to know that this was not done, and this money was never accounted for, and moderate sums were paid to various officers, whose vouchers he produces. Thus, it seems, he paid $1,500 to two of the President’s aids, and the same amount to my command. That is, he gave us who had preserved the treasure for thirty days the same amount he gave to each of the aids. I do not know who ordered this distribution, but we were very glad to get it, as we were far from home and penniless. It gave us each twenty days’ pay.
NEVER ACCOUNTED FOR
In my opinion a good deal of the money was never accounted for, and there remains what sailors call a “Flemish account” of it.
THE MYSTERIOUS BOX
Several years ago I read in the papers an account of a box being left with a widow lady who lived, in 1865, near the pontoon bridge across the Savannah river. It was to this effect: The lady stated that on May 3, 1865, a party of gentlemen on their way from Abbeville to Washington, Ga., stopped at her house, and were a long time in consultation in her parlor. These gentlemen were Mr. Davis and his Cabinet beyond a doubt. Upon leaving, they gave the lady a box, which, they stated, was too heavy to take with them. After they were gone the lady opened the box, and found it to be full of jewelry.
Somewhat embarrassed with so valuable a gift, the lady sent for her minister (a Baptist) and told him the circumstances. By his advice, she buried the box in her garden secretly at night. A few days after, an officer rode up to the house, inquired about the box, and said he had been sent back for it. The lady delivered it up, and the man went off.
Now, I believe this story to be true in every respect, and I furthermore believe that the box contained the jewelry which had been contributed by patriotic Confederate ladies. The idea had been suggested some time in 1864, but was never fully carried out.
Nevertheless, some ladies sacrificed their jewels, as I have reason to know.
As for the man who carried off the box, whether he was really sent back for it or was a despicable thief, will probably never be known, but to say the least, his action was, as our Scotch friends say, “vara suspeecious.”
CAPTURE OF PRESIDENT DAVIS
Mr. Davis was captured on the morning of May 9th, just a week after my interview with him at Abbeville. There were with him at the time Mrs. Davis and three children; Miss Howell, her sister; Mr. Reagan, Postmaster-General; Colonels Johnston, Lubbock, and Wood, volunteer aids; Mr. Burton Harrison, secretary, and, I think, a Mr. Barnwell, of South Carolina. There may have been others, but I do not know. Of these, all were captured save only Mr. Barnwell.
It is not my intention to write of this affair, as I was not present, and besides, Colonels Johnston and Lubbock, Judge Reagan, and others have written full accounts of it. I only intend to tell of the escape of my old friend and comrade, John Taylor Wood, as I had it from his lips only a few months ago in Richmond. It has never appeared in print, and I am only sorry I cannot put it in the graphic language of Wood himself.
But this is what he told me, as well as I recollect:
COLONEL WOOD’S ESCAPE
The party was captured just before daybreak on the 9th of May. Wood was placed in charge of a Dutchman, who spoke no English. While the rest of the Federal troops were busy in securing their prisoners and plundering the camp, Wood held a $20 gold piece (the universal interpreter) to his guard, and signified his desire to escape. The Dutchman held up two fingers and nodded. Wood gave him $40 in gold, and stole off to a field, where he laid down among some brushwood. The Federals (under a Colonel Pritchett, I think), having finished their preparations, marched off without missing Colonel Wood.
STARTED FOR FLORIDA
After they were out of sight, Wood arose and found a broken-down horse, which had been left behind. He also found an old bridle, and mounting the nag, he started for Florida. I have forgotten his adventures, but somewhere on the route he fell in with Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of State, and General Breckinridge, Secretary of War. Benjamin and Breckinridge owed their escape to Wood, for Wood was an old naval officer and a thorough seaman. On the coast of Florida they bought a row-boat, and in company of a few others they rowed down the coast, intending either to cross to Cuba or the Bahamas.
A CLOSE CALL
Landing one day for water and to dig clams they saw a Federal gunboat coming up the coast. Wood mentioned as an evidence of the close watch the United States vessels were keeping, that as soon as the gunboat got abreast of them she stopped and lowered a boat. Thinking it best to put a bold face on the matter, Wood took a couple of men and rowed out to meet the man-of-war’s boat.
The officer asked who they were. They replied: “Paroled soldiers from Lee’s army, making their way home.” The officer demanded their paroles, and was told the men on shore had them. It was a long distance to pull, and the officer decided to return to his ship for orders. As he pulled away Wood cried to him: “Do you want to buy any clams?”
Upon the return of the boat she was hoisted up, the gunboat proceeded on her way, and our friends “saw her no more.” Proceeding on her way to the southward, the party next fell in with a sail-boat, in which were three sailors, deserters from United States vessels at Key West, trying to make their way to Savannah. Wood and party took their boat, as she was a seaworthy craft, put the sailors in the row-boat, and gave them sailing directions for Savannah.
Wood then took the helm and steered for Cuba. In a squall that night he was knocked overboard. There was but one man in the boat who knew anything at all about managing her, and it looked black for him. Fortunately he caught the main sheet, which was trailing overboard, and was hauled in. It was providential, for upon Wood depended the safety of the entire party.
After suffering much from hunger and thirst they arrived at Matanzas (I think) and were kindly cared for by the Spanish authorities, from whom they received most respectful attention as soon as they made themselves known.
WILLIAM H. PARKER.