The Last Ditch – or: The Adoption of a New Rebel Uniform


First Sergeant
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Jul 30, 2018
The Last Ditch of the Chivalry.jpg

Latest news! - "Cowardly behavior of the Head of Southern Chivalry." - "Jeff. Davis' Disguise." - "Capture in a woman's dress."

On May 10, 1865 the 4th Michigan Cavalry landed the big coup – they caught the Confederate president Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia. Their reward? $100,000 in gold.

After Lee's and Johnston's surrenders in April, victory was a foregone conclusion. But with the ringleader (so to speak) still on the loose, the rebellion was far from over – until one morning newspapers across the North reported on "The Finishing Blow" to the rebellion.

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What's worse than your flight being frustrated? Being caught in a woman's clothes.

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SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN, Massachusetts, May 15, 1865

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The Liberator, Massachusetts, 19 May 1865

Mrs. Davis argued:

I pleaded with him to let me throw over him a large waterproof wrap which had often served him in sickness during the summer season for a dressing gown and which I hoped might so cover his person that in the grey of the morning he would not be recognized. As he strode off I threw over his head a little black shawl which was around my own shoulders, saying that he could not find his hat and after he started sent my colored woman after him with a bucket for water hoping that he would pass unobserved.
From Varina Banks Howell Davis to Francis Preston Blair, Savannah, Ga., June 6, 1865. In Blair, Gist. Annals of Silver Spring, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 21 (1918), p. 172.

Varina valiantly defended her husband's attire at the moment of capture, but people love sensational press – and rumors fly faster than the wind.

Davis' capture provided plenty of fodder for humorists, and soon enough, caricatures of the ex-Rebels' president in a frilly bonnet and voluminous petticoats spread like wildfire through the media.

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CdVs, cartoons, litographs... Northern imagination knew no bounds. My personal favorite:

The Confederacy in Petticoats.jpg

The above is just a small collection; a lot more slumbers in the width of the internet for those daring to seek them out.

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matthew mckeon

Retired Moderator
Oct 3, 2005
Its unfair to Davis of course. It makes an interesting bookend with the loads of cartoons mocking Lincoln arriving in Washington early, and reportedly in disguise, images that bore little relationship with reality, and that had the unfortunate consequence that Lincoln ignored his personal security.

Its a symbolic reversal of fortune. The humorless, dignified Davis was greatly admired when he took office, "the man and the hour have met," while the bumpkin Lincoln seemed unequal to the challenge. Lincolns stature grew, while Davis, buffeted by constant criticism and the declining fortunes of the Confederacy, is reduced to a joke and scapegoat.

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