[From the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, July 16, 1893.]
[Reprinted in Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 21, Page 304]
The Account of Captain William H. Parker,
Confederate States Navy, Who Had It in Charge in Its Transportation
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.
[Some of the above is transcribed with the kind permission of the Messrs. Scribner from my "Recollections of a Naval Officer." Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1883.]
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.
to the list of Assorted Topics
SHSP, Vol. 21, Page 304