The Jefferson Davis Archive

Jefferson Davis in a BirdcageNews of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s capture by Union forces on May 10, 1865--and especially reports that, in an effort to evade arrest, he was wearing his wife’s dress--afforded P. T. Barnum with an opportunity to create an attraction for the American Museum that would appeal to the northern public. "I will give five hundred dollars to the Sanitary Commission or Freedman’s Association," Barnum telegrammed Secretary of War Stanton five days after the capture, " for the petticoats in which Jeff Davis was caught." Barnum was unable to obtain the garments (if they ever existed) but a wax figure, dubbed "The Belle of Richmond" was shortly mounted in the American Museum.

There are 11 matching records. Displaying matches 1 through 11 .


Jefferson Davis as an Unprotected Female
This cartoon from Harper's Weekly presented a disarmed and thoroughly cowed Jefferson Davis surrounded by mocking Union soldiers. Not only is Davis wearing a dress and bonnet, he carries a hatbox marked "C.S." for Confederate States, suggesting that not only Davis himself but the entire Confederacy was characterized by feminine attributes.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


John Brown Exhibiting His Hangman
This lithograph, rather than depicting the scene of Jefferson Davis' arrest, added other symbols to create a more allegorical representation of the Confederate President's capture by Union soldiers. Davis, wearing a woman's dress and bonnet, sits in a birdcage suspended from a hangman's scaffold. Next to the cage, John Brown, clad in a white robe, rises from out of the ground and points accusingly at Davis. Beneath the cage, diminutive figures of African Americans -- in costumes familiar from minstrel stage representations of supposed black character "types" -- perform a jubilant and mocking dance. Brown became the most famous martyr to the anti-slavery cause in 1859, when he led a small band of armed men in a raid against the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, intending to seize the weapons there and free all slaves in the vicinity. Brown and his associates were captured and hanged for treason.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


The Chas-ed "Old Lady" of the C.S.A., 1865
This mocking cartoon portrays the discovery by three Union soldiers of a disguised Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The onlookers (who include Davis' wife, sister, and an African-American man -- perhaps a servant) each explain that Davis is an old woman going out for water, while the soldiers each voice their discovery of the old woman's true identity. The wagon in the background marked "C.S.A." contains a barrel marked "whiskey" and a bag marked "stolen gold."
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


Capture of Jefferson Davis, at Irwinsville, GA
This engraving appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and was most likely the first image to appear in the North of the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It depicts a scene largely true to reported accounts, although Mrs. Davis is absent.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


Finding of the Last Ditch, 1865
This illustration of the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis served allegorical rather than documentary purposes. The figure of the Union soldier is not merely arresting Davis but, in a show of extreme dominance, apparently preparing to hurl him from a precipice. A knife and money escape Davis' grasp, and by extension that of the Confederacy as well, since the seat of Davis' pants is marked "C.S.A." The cartoon is filled out with a black man celebrating his release from bondage in the background and a devil figure lurking in the foreground. The "last ditch" might have referred to the New York Herald headline that announced, in part, of Davis' capture, "He Fails to Imitate Booth and Die in the Last Ditch. His Ignominious Surrender."
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


The Clothes in which Davis Disguised Himself
When Union soldiers captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis -- purportedly wearing his wife's dress and shawl -- on May 10, 1865, Barnum was not the only northerner to make a spectacle of the bizarre event. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton clothed a mannequin in a dress, hoopskirt, and shawl; had photographs taken of it; and distributed the photographs to the press. Newspapers ran sketches of the photo, like the one above (the technology to reproduce photos in newspapers did not yet exist). Later, Stanton claimed to have acquired the actual dress from Davis' wife and held a massive press conference to display it.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


Jeff's Last Shift
This illustration from Harper's Weekly depicts the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in fairly straightforward terms. Davis, in full dress and frilly bonnet, has drawn his knife but the Union soldiers (in full military uniforms down to the last detail) easily subdue their prisoner. The title's play on words, "Jeff's Last Shift," reinforced the image of a feminized Davis.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


Jeff's Race for the Last Ditch
This depiction of Confederate President Jefferson Davis' capture appeared on the cover of a musical composition dedicated to the lieutenant colonel who captured him. Davis is wearing a beribboned hat as well as a full dress, and his boots -- reportedly the detail that gave him away to a sharp-eyed Union soldier -- are a prominent detail. A whole company of Union soldiers is in hot pursuit, and their bayonets dwarf Davis' knife as symbols of masculinity. Perhaps because the illustration adorned a tribute to those involved in the capture, Davis is shown here requiring more of a chase than other descriptions or illustrations suggest was the case.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


Jeff. Davis Caught At Last. Hoop Skirts & Southern Chivalry.
After Union soldiers captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was allegedly attempting to escape disguised in female clothing, numerous illustrated broadsides lampooned the event for northern audiences. This image, published in 1865, proclaimed that it depicted “the only true Picture of the capture of Jeff. Davis from the account furnished by Col. Prichard of the 4th Mich. Cavalry.” While the two women protest that the figure is a grandmother going to the well to fetch water, one of the soldiers exclaims “she’s the Bearded lady . . . Where’s Barnum?”
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


The New York Times Coverage of the Fire, July 14, 1865
Northern newspaper readers delighted in the flood of stories and illustrations about disgraced Confederate leader Jefferson Davis. This excerpt from a New York Times article about the fire that destroyed the American Museum on July 13, 1865, chronicles the gathered crowd's boisterous response to the "Belle of Richmond" wax figure, which was thrown from the building to save it from the encroaching flames. The "sour apple tree" refers to a popular Civil War song (sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body," known to modern listeners as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") which promised "We'll Hang Jeff Davis From A Sour Apple Tree." After Davis' capture a sheet music publisher quickly put forth "The Sour Apple Tree; Jeff Davis' Last Ditch" to commemorate the event.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Text.


Jefferson Davis Portrait
Jefferson Davis, a former military commander, Secretary of War, and Senator from Mississippi, became President of the Confederate States of America in 1861. This portrait was taken by photographer Mathew Brady during the 1850s, when Davis was serving his second term in the U.S. Senate. On May 10, 1865, Davis was captured at Irwinville, Georgia, by Federal troops and imprisoned at Fortress Monroe. He spent two years in jail, accused of treason, but was released in without a trial in 1867, and settled on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He died in 1889, having never requested the official pardon that would have restored his U.S. citizenship.
Exhibit: Jefferson Davis.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.