HDQRS. CAVALRY DIVISION, DIST. OF EAST TENNESSEE,
Athens, Ga., May 6, 1865.
MAJOR: I had reached the vicinity of Cowpens battle-field, S. C., on April 29, when I received the order to endeavor to intercept Jefferson Davis, his Cabinet, and the Confederate specie. I had already ascertained that Davis and the money, with an escort of four brigades of cavalry, under Duke, Ferguson, and Dibrell, with scattered detachments of Vaughn's, Humes', and Butler's commands, all of which had evaded the terms of surrender of Johnston to Sherman, were moving from Yorkville, S. C., and had crossed Smith's Ford, of Broad River, toward Unionville and Abbeville, S.C., with the intention of going through to the Trans-Mississippi Department. Secretaries Breckinridge and Benjamin and most of the Cabinet, with a large number of generals, also Governor Harris, of Tennessee, accompanied Davis. Vice-President Stephens was not along, and is believed to be now at Crawfordsville, Ga., where he resides, and where he declares his intention of remaining, no matter what may be his fate. Jefferson Davis and his escort had remained at Charlotte during the armistice, but left there immediately on its termination and passed through Yorkville on the morning of the 28th. Davis, himself, with a small party, crossed Broad River at Pickneyville Ferry, but the cavalry went around by Smith's Ford. One of my regiments (the Twelfth Ohio) ran into the rear guard of his escort at that ford and captured ten prisoners, from whom definite information was obtained. The specie was in wagons, and was contained in about 100 boxes, of gold, and 60 kegs, of silver. Prisoners thought there was about $10,000,000 of specie in all. The cavalry escort, numbering in all at that time from 3,000 to 4,000 men, had been promised their back pay in specie on arriving at the Mississippi River, as an inducement for them to remain true to their chief, but in spite of this bribe as soon as they found we were on their track their men dropped out rapidly. Finding that the advance of Davis' escort had two days the start of us and were well mounted, and having but one brigade with me, and there being several considerable rivers to cross on the way to Georgia, at which small parties could successfully hold the fords and ferries and destroy bridges while the main body of the enemy was pushing on westward, I determined not to pursue on the direct line, but to strike by way of Spartanburg and Golden Grove for the head of the Savannah River, near Anderson, which would enable me to effect a junction with the other two brigades of the division which had marched from Asheville, N. C., toward Anderson, and also to cross the headwaters of the Savannah River at Hatton's Ford. Below this point there was no crossing of the Savannah except by ferries, and the pontoon bridge at Petersburg, at mouth of Broad River of Georgia. I felt satisfied that Davis and his party would cross at this pontoon, and I hoped to intercept them at Athens, Ga. The Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, which I had pushed toward Abbeville from Spartanburg on May 1 to reconnoiter and ascertain whether the enemy was aiming for Augusta or not, captured some of Davis' escort near the Saluda River, and ascertained from them and citizens that the enemy was concentrating at Abbeville, that Davis was with them, and that all would probably march via the pontoon bridge for Athens, Ga.
I reached Athens, Ga., on the afternoon of the 4th with my entire division, and found that I had succeeded in throwing the command entirely in front of the enemy, all of whom were between Athens and the Savannah River. I immediately pushed out a force to guard the fords and ferries of Broad River, and sent the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry to Lexington, with directions to send a detachment to Elberton and another to Washington, Ga., to guard the roads leading northwest and southwest from the pontoon bridge at mouth of Broad River. Fearing that Davis would abandon his escort and endeavor to make time by taking the railroad train at Washington for Atlanta or West Point, I sent a party to cut the railroad between Atlanta and Augusta at Madison, and also to communicate with General Wilson, commanding the Cavalry Corps, at Macon. This party carried General Thomas' cipher dispatches to General Wilson. I also sent a small party by railroad to Augusta to Communicate with General Upton, of Wilson's cavalry, who had just reached that point with his staff, but without troops. Yesterday afternoon I got reliable information of deserters from Davis' escort, just from Washington, confirmed by dispatches from Colonel Stacy, of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, and also from parties sent to Augusta, that Jefferson Davis had given over at Abbeville, S.C., on ascertaining that our force was moving to intercept him, the idea of cutting his way through to the Mississippi, and that he had abandoned his large cavalry escort near the Savannah River, and had pushed rapidly on with General Duke and about thirty-five men to Washington, which he reached on the morning of the 3d instant, intending thence to travel incognito. Also that some time during the 3d, or early the next morning, Davis had left Washington with a small party by railroad for Atlanta, but had abandoned the railroad at Union Point and gone southwestward on horseback. The specie had not yet reached Washington, as far as I can learn, when Davis left that place. A detachment of my troops entered Washington yesterday morning and ascertained that a large portion of the cavalry escort under Dibrell was still back toward the Savannah River, where it was waiting to surrender on demand. Colonel Breckinridge, with about 500 men, had just left Washington, taking the road to Macon, where he said he was going to surrender. The remainder of the four brigades had been disbanded, either at Abbeville, S.C., at the Savannah River, or at Washington, Ga. Before leaving Washington they distributed specie among the men at the rate of $35 to each private soldier, and I presume more to the officers. I have not yet been able to ascertain what has become of the balance of the specie, but presume it has either been concealed or shipped by railroad westward, in which latter event it will be stopped either by my party on the railroad at Madison, or by Colonel Eggleston, of Wilson's cavalry, who reached Atlanta on the morning of the 4th. I have ordered Colonel Stacy to pursue Colonel Breckinridge's party (as it is evident they only wish to get off with their specie pay); also to find out if possible what has become of the balance of the money. I have also sent Colonel Trowbridge with the Tenth Michigan Cavalry to Madison and Eatonton, with directions to guard the ferries and bridges of the Oconee River south to Milledgeville, and to intercept or pursue Davis or the party of Breckinridge if he can gain the slightest clue. I have also sent the Twelfth Ohio Cavalry (Colonel Bentley) to Monroe, Covington, and Lawrenceville, to prevent anything slipping through in that direction, in ease it should get between Athens and Colonel Trowbridge.
The Fifteenth Pennsylvania I hold here to move in any direction that the information received from the different quarters may warrant. I have also communicated the latest information to General Wilson at Macon, and have suggested that small parties from his command should guard the fords and ferries and bridges on the Ocmulgee south to Jacksonville, and on Flint River from Jonesborough to Albany, and also if practicable on the Chattahoochee and elsewhere in Alabama. I think it is the intention of Jeff. Davis to get around to the southward of Macon. I have sent General Brown's brigade to hold the cross-roads, fords, &c., from Athens northward to the head of the Savannah River, and Colonel Miller is doing the same from Lexington to Danielsville. This is for the purpose of intercepting the disbanded officers and soldiers of Davis' escort, depriving them of their arms and horses and making prisoners of the officers. The privates are so numerous we are obliged to informally parole them. I shall send General Brown's and Colonel Miller's brigades after this duty is ever to Greenville, S.C., from which place I recommend that they be recalled to Knoxville. Forage being scarce here, and General Wilson having a large cavalry force throughout this State. I would request authority, after the pursuit of Davis is over, to move with my own brigade to some point or points in South Carolina where forage can be obtained. I believe there is no U.S. cavalry in that State. I would use one regiment to guard the fords and ferries of the Savannah River from Rabun Gap to Petersburg pontoon bridge for the purpose of arresting straggling parties of disbanded officers and soldiers who are going home, or to the Trans-Mississippi Department, with arms in their hands and without paroles. If any of our troops be at Augusta they could do the same thing from Petersburg southward. I would recommend that Colonel Kirk be directed to blockade effectually all the gaps in the Blue Ridge from Rabun Gap eastward to Swannanoa Gap, and that he then be recalled to East Tennessee to prevent his men from pillaging and committing excesses, now that hostilities have ceased. There is evidently no further necessity for General Tillson's infantry remaining in the mountains. He requested me to send word whether there was or not. I have communicated directly with him, but send this by way of Dalton, which is the nearest railroad point. The reason I recommend that Brown's and Miller's brigades be immediately recalled to East Tennessee is because their officers for the most part have lost all control over their men. A large number of the men and some of the officers devote themselves exclusively to pillaging and destroying property. General Brown appears to have given them carte blanche in South Carolina, and they are now so entirely destitute of discipline that it cannot be restored in the field and while the command is living on the country.
I am, major, your obedient servant,
WM. J. PALMER,
Colonel and Brevet Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Assistant Adjutant-General, Headquarters General Stoneman.