HDQRS. FOURTH MICHIGAN CAVALRY DETACHMENT,
Washington, D. C., May 25, 1865.
SIR: I have the honor to report that in obedience to orders received from Col. R H. G. Minty, commanding Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, I left Macon, Ga., at 8 p.m. on the 7th instant in command of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry, with a numerical strength of 419 enlisted men and 20 commissioned officers, with directions to move down the south bank of the Ocmulgee River from 75 to 100 miles, to take possession of all the ferries below Hawkinsville, picket the river as far as the strength of my regiment would permit, and to scout the country on both sides of the river for the purpose of capturing Jefferson Davis and party, who were reported to have left Washington, Ga., on the morning of the 4th instant, traveling southwestward, with an intention of crossing the Ocmulgee River at some point between Hawkinsville and Jacksonville, or to capture any other parties who might be fleeing from Richmond in that direction. I marched the command all night and until 8 a.m. of the 8th instant, having marched thirty-six miles, when I halted five hours, rested, and fed my command, moving on again at 1 p.m. I marched fifteen miles further and encamped for the night three miles below Hawkinsville, having marched a distance of fifty-one miles inside of twenty-four hours, including all halts. At 5 a.m. of the 9th instant I moved my command out in the direction of Abbeville, which place I reached at 3 p.m., and where I discovered the first traces of the object of our search. Here I learned that a train of twelve wagons and two ambulances (as reported) had crossed the Ocmulgee River at Brown's Ferry, one mile and a half above Abbeville, about 12 o'clock on the previous night; had stopped at Abbeville long enough to feed their animals, and moved on again before daylight in the direction of Irwinville. I had met the lieutenant-colonel of the First Wisconsin Cavalry (Hinton [Harnden], I believe), who informed me that he with a force of seventy men was following on the track of the train, and that his men were from one to two hours in advance. As Colonel Hinton [Harnden] had ample force to cope with that supposed to be with the train, I decided not to move on the same road with him, and continued my course three miles farther down the river, where I learned additional facts regarding the character of the train, and which convinced me that it belonged to some of the parties for whom we were looking, and I immediately determined to pursue by another road, believing that if they were hard pressed at any time they would pass from road to road to baffle the efforts of their pursuers, and as they were reported as doing before crossing the river. Accordingly I ordered a detail of 128 enlisted men and 7 commissioned officers, besides myself, of the best mounted men in the command, leaving the rest of the regiment under command of Captain Hathaway, directing him to picket the river, scout the country, &c., in accordance with former orders.
At 4 o'clock I put the column in motion, moving down the river road a distance of twelve miles, to a point known as Wilcox's Mills, thence by a blind-woods road through an almost unbroken waste of pine forest for a distance of eighteen miles in a southwesterly direction to Irwinville, which we reached about 1 o'clock on the morning of the 10th instant. Here, passing my command as Confederates, and inquiring for "our train," representing that we were a rear guard left to fight back the Yankees, &c., I learned from the inhabitants that a train and party meeting the description of the one reported to me at Abbeville had encamped at dark the night previous one mile and a half out on the Abbeville road. I at once turned the head of my column in that direction (impressing a negro for a guide). After moving to within half a mile of the camp, I halted under cover of a slight eminence, dismounted twenty-five men, and sent them, under command of Lieutenant Purinton, to make the circuit of the camp and gain a position in its rear, and thus cut off all possibility of escape, and with special directions to execute the movement, if possible, without discovery; but if discovered, and an alarm was raised, I would immediately charge the camp from the front, when he was to operate with his command from any point which he might then occupy; that, if no alarm was raised, I should consider that he had gained the position directed, where he was to wait until I should commence the attack from the front. I had not decided at this time whether to move upon the camp at once or to wait until daylight; but, upon further consideration, decided to delay, as it was now after 2 o'clock in the morning. The moon was getting low, and the deep shadows of the forest were falling heavily, rendering it easy for persons to escape undiscovered to the woods and swamps in the darkness. After waiting an hour and more, and just as the earliest dawn appeared, I put the column in motion, and we were enabled to approach within four or five rods of the camp undiscovered, when a dash was ordered, and in an instant the whole camp, with its inmates, was ours. A chain of mounted guards was immediately thrown around the camp and dismounted sentries placed at the tents and wagons. The surprise was so complete, and the movement so sudden in its execution, that few of the enemy were enabled to make the slightest defense, or even arouse from their slumbers in time to grasp their weapons, which were lying at their sides, before they were wholly in our power. But, at this moment a new scene opened, destined, in its mournful results, to cloud the otherwise perfect and glorious success of our expedition, for we had not held possession of the camp but a few minutes, and not long enough to ascertain the extent of our capture, when sharp firing was commenced between the dismounted force under Lieutenant Purinton and, what was supposed at the time to be, the rebel force guarding the train. The firing was about 100 rods in rear of the camp, and across a narrow swamp. I immediately ordered all my forces forward to the scene of the firing, leaving only a three sufficient to guard the camp and prisoners. On arriving on the ground I found my men engaging a force of dismounted men, who were concealed behind trees, &c. I at once formed my men in line, dismounted them, threw out a line of skirmishers, who were advancing handsomely, when I became apprehensive that we were contending with some of our own men from the determination displayed on their part and the peculiar report of their fire-arms. I ordered my men at once to cease firing, and rode out toward our opponents, and hallooed to them, asking them who they were, and received the reply, "First Wisconsin."
This mistake was not discovered until it had cost the loss of two men killed and a lieutenant severely wounded in the Fourth Michigan Cavalry and three men severely and several slightly wounded in the First Wisconsin. This lamentable accident arose principally from the refusal of the sergeant in command of the advance of the First Wisconsin to give a-proper response to the challenge of Lieutenant Purinton, and partially from the overzeal of both parties, each supposing they had met the enemy; and it was yet so dark in the woods that it was impossible to distinguish the uniforms of the men. As soon as the firing had ceased I returned to camp and took an inventory of our capture, when I ascertained we had captured Jeff. Davis and family (a wife and four children), John H. Reagan, his Postmaster-General; Colonels Harrison [Johnston] and Lubbock, aides de-camp to Davis; Burton N. Harrison, his private secretary; Major Maurin, Captain Moody, Lieutenant Hathaway, Jeff. D. Howell, midshipman in the rebel navy, and 12 private soldiers; Miss Maggie Howell, sister of Mrs. Davis; 2 waiting-maids, 1 white and 1 colored, and several servants. We also captured 5 wagons, 3 ambulances, about 15 horses, and from 25 to 30 mules. The train was mostly loaded with commissary stores and private baggage of the party. Upon returning to camp I was accosted by Davis from among the prisoners, who asked if I was the officer in command; and upon my answering him that I was, and asking him whom I was to call him, he replied that I might call him what or whom I pleased; when I replied to him that I would call him Davis, and after a moment's hesitation he said that was his name; when he suddenly drew himself up in true royal dignity and exclaimed, "I suppose that you consider it bravery to charge a train of defenseless women and children, but it is theft--it is vandalism!" After allowing the prisoners time to prepare breakfast, I mounted them on their own horses, taking one of the ambulances for my wounded, and one of the wagons for the dead, using the other two ambulances for the conveyance of the women and children, and started on my return by the direct route to Abbeville, where I arrived at sunset the same day. Here I halted for the night and called in the rest of my regiment from its duty along the river, and resumed my march toward Macon at an early hour on the morning of the 11th, after having buried our dead and performed the last solemn rites of the soldier over his fallen comrades; sending couriers in advance to announce the success of the expedition. On the afternoon of the 11th, and when several miles below Hawkinsville, we met the rest of our brigade just coming out from Macon, and received from them the first knowledge of the President's proclamation, accompanied by General Wilson's order offering a reward for the capture of Davis and party. Retaining my independent command, I continued my march to Macon, where I arrived at 3 p.m. on the 13th instant, having marched over 200 miles inside of six days. While yet on the march and nine miles out of town, I received orders by courier to provide myself with a special detail of three officers and twenty men from my regiment and prepare to depart at once for Washington as a special escort for Davis and party; also to take 150 men to act as train guard as far as Atlanta.
I left Macon by special train at 7 o'clock in the evening of the 13th under the direction of Major-General Wilson, having turned over all the private soldiers captured with Davis and party, excepting two, receiving an accession of Clement C. Clay and wife. Arriving at Atlanta at daylight on the morning of the 14th, I found a train and guard in readiness to convey and escort the party to Augusta, where we arrived at sunset of the same day, finding carriages and everything in readiness to convey us to the steamer Standish, lying four miles below the city. We arrived on board at 8 o'clock, where I received Alex. H. Stephens and Major-General Wheeler and staff, and immediately sailed for Savannah, where we arrived at 1 a.m. of the 16th instant. Reported to General Birge, and at 4 a.m. the steamer Emilie was ordered alongside, and the prisoners and guard transferred on board, when she immediately steamed for Hilton Head. When opposite Fort Jackson we met steamer Colt with General Gillmore on board, to whom I reported; and when he reached Savannah he telegraphed to Hilton Head for the steamer Clyde to be got in readiness at once to receive the prisoners and convey them to Washington, where, upon our arrival we found all things in readiness, and the transfer from the Emilie to the Clyde took place immediately. And at 3 o'clock of the 16th we put to sea under convoy of the steam sloop-of-war Tuscarora, and arrived off Fortress Monroe at noon of the 19th instant. I immediately proceeded on shore and telegraphed my arrival to the Adjutant-General and received orders in reply to anchor and await further orders. At midnight of the same day I received further orders from your honor to the same effect, saying that General Halleck would be there at noon of the 20th to arrange for the final disposition of the prisoners. We remained on shipboard until the 22d instant, disposing, meanwhile, of all the prisoners except Davis, Clay, and families, in obedience to orders from General Halleck, and as per receipts in my possession. On the afternoon of that day the prisoners Davis and Clay were transferred, under orders from the same source, to the case-mates of Fortress Monroe and turned over to Brevet Major-General Miles, the Fourth Michigan Cavalry acting as special escort, after which it was temporarily assigned quarters within the fort. On the afternoon of the 23d I received orders from the War Department, through General Miles, directing me to procure the disguise worn by Davis at the time of his capture, and proceed to Washington and report to the Secretary of War. Accordingly I went over to the steamer Clyde and received from Mrs. Davis a lady's water-proof cloak, or robe, and which Mrs. Davis said was worn by Davis as a disguise at the time of his capture, and which was identified by the men who saw it on him at the time.
On the morning following the balance of the disguise was procured, which consisted of a shawl, which was identified and admitted to be the one by Mrs. Davis. These articles I brought to Washington and turned them over to the Secretary of War; and thus closes my account of the capture and custody, up to the time of his being turned over to the U.S. authorities, of the great conspirator and traitor, Jefferson Davis. But I would not close this report without recording my evidence of the high merits due to every officer and soldier in the command for their earnest zeal and untiring perseverance through many sleepless nights and long, weary marches, many going without murmur entirely without food for forty-eight consecutive hours. And it is with great consolation that I am enabled to state that whatever efforts were put forth, either by individuals or by the command, for the capture of Davis, they were not called forth by the glitter of gold or incited by prospective rewards, but were actuated solely by patriotism and the highest sense of a soldier's duty, for no knowledge of the President's proclamation or General Wilson's order offering rewards for Davis were received until two days after the capture. It is, indeed, hard to individualize where all have done their whole duty; but still I would make special mention of those assigned to important duties and who performed them well, amongst whom are Capt. John C. Hathaway, commanding that portion of regiment picketing the river; Capt. Charles T. Hudson, in charge of advance guard of fourteen picked men, and who led the charge into the enemy's camp; Lieuts. Silas I. Stauber and Henry S. Boutell, who were in command of fifty men each, the latter of whom was severely wounded while gallantly leading his men; Lieut. A. B. Purinton, who had charge of dismounted men who made the circuit of the enemy's camp; Lieutenants Dickinson and Davis, for general duties as aides, and Lieutenant Bennett, commanding rear guard. All of the above officers are entitled to the highest praise and, in my judgment, merit promotion. I would also specially mention the names of Corporals Munger, of C Company, and Crittenden, of E Company, together with Privates James F. Bullard, C Company, Andreas Bee and Daniel H. Edwards, of L Company, who were present at the immediate capture of Davis. And in conclusion and in compliance with the request of the Adjutant-General that l should state in my report to whom, in my judgment, the reward offered by the Government ought to be given, I would say that, in view of all the facts, I am convinced that to no one individual does it justly belong, for, while one man might have been fortunate enough to have said "Halt!" to Mr. Davis first, it was whilst he was yet within the regular line of sentries thrown around the camp, and while some man was doing this (of which there are several claimants) others were performing equally important duties in guarding, fighting, &c. And I feel that in no case should the reward be distributed to a less number than the 128 men and 8 officers actually present at the time of the capture, and I am inclined to the opinion that it should be distributed to the 419 men and 20 officers comprising the expedition, and when I say this I believe I but utter the wishes of a large majority of both officers and men. And for the better guidance of the Department I recapitulate to the following extent, to wit: Special detail present at capture, 1 lieutenant-colonel, 1 captain, 4 first lieutenants, 2 second lieutenants, 128 enlisted men; picketing river, scouting country, &c., 1 captain, 6 first lieutenants, 5 second lieutenants, 291 enlisted men; total commissioned, 20: total enlisted, 419. With these remarks the whole is respectfully submitted, and I have the honor to subscribe myself.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. D. PRITCHARD,
Lieutenant-Colonel Fourth Michigan Cavalry.
Hon. E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.