Jefferson Davis’s Flight from Richmond: The Calm Morning, Lee’s Telegrams, the Evacuation, the Train, the Passengers, the Trip, the Arrival in Danville and the Historians’ Frauds
by John Stewart
TOCWOC’s Take: Despite the somewhat odd ending to the subtitle, this book appears to do what the author says it does, “examin[ing] all relevant source material—much of it newly discovered by the author—as well as the writers, diarists and eyewitnesses themselves, and construct[ing] a minutely detailed new account…” Author John Stewart writes that Davis’s flight from Richmond was badly reported on by the newspapers of the time, with falsehoods and innuendo coloring much of the story. In addition, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen A. Mallory’s account, among others, has been uncritically accepted as fact by historians. Stewart goes back to the archives, finding and dusting off “new” material on the Davis flight from the Confederate capital. This material changes the story from what we all thought we knew. An important note is that Stewart focuses only on the days of April 2-3, 1865, noting that it took a book’s length to simply correct the errors from those two days alone. Another note of interest is that Stewart’s bibliography contains covering notes for some of the books which are central to his thesis.
Stewart’s approach in this book is admittedly one I enjoy reading. Take a “well known” event, go back and look at all of the sources over time, and find the origin of each “fact.” Then examine how these facts were seized upon by others and regurgitated down the years until they become canon. It’s fascinating stuff. It also makes readers appreciate just how hard it is for historians to stay disciplined and track down every source to its origin. It’s very, very easy to lapse and just reuse material without critical inspection, and bad history abounds. Does Stewart succeed in convincing the reader that Davis’s flight has been misrepresented until now? Buy the book and find out!
In the space of a few hours on the night of April 2, 1865, Richmond, the Confederate capital, was evacuated and burned, the government fled, slavery was finished in North America, Union forces entered the city and the outcome of the Civil War was effectively sealed.
No official documents tell the story because the Confederate government was on the run. First there were newspaper accounts—mostly confused—then history books based on those accounts. But much of what we know about the fall of Richmond comes from “eyewitnesses” like Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory, whose tale became history.
A great deal of what has been presented over the years by historians has been plagiarized, invented or misconstrued, and nearly all we have learned of Jefferson Davis’s flight from Richmond to Danville is wrong. This book closely examines all relevant source material—much of it newly discovered by the author—as well as the writers, diarists and eyewitnesses themselves, and constructs a minutely detailed new account that comes closer to what Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he said, “History is not history unless it is the truth.”
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