This Day (Hoop Skirts & Chivalry Edition)

Published:May 10, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1863, Belle Boyd was captured while attempting to smuggle documents aboard a blockade-runner bound for England. (She ended up marrying one of her captors, who was quite fond of her face, thank you very much.) While I’m not certain what time of day this happened, I can say that at three fifteen on that very afternoon Stonewall Jackson expired, having just invited his bedside companions to “cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.” They took a raincheck.

Two years later on May 10 Jefferson Davis was captured by Union forces near Irwinville, Georgia. Rumors soon spread that, when overtaken, the president’s attire was better suited to the fairer sex. He “had on a black dress,” swore one of the Michigan cavalry officers present at the arrest, “and, though it did not fit fairly at the neck, it covered his form to the boots.” Davis apparently also wore a black shawl and carried a tin pail, all of which was categorically denied by self-respecting rebels everywhere.

“Many loyal men have declared that Davis should have been tried by drum-head court-martial and executed,” reported one writer in 1879; “but what new disgrace could the gallows inflict upon the man who hid himself under the garb of woman, when, if ever, he should have shown the courage of a hero?”

Of course, one could—and a year to the day later, the United States did—indict him for treason. Whether this counted as a disgrace or a point of pride depends on your point of view. But by this time the former president, being held at Fort Monroe, had grown quite ill, and when his wife arrived to see him—again, on May 10—she was alarmed: “Through the bars of the inner room I saw Mr. Davis’s shrunken form and glassy eyes; his cheek bones stood out like those of a skeleton. Merely crossing the room made his breath come in short gasps, and his voice was scarcely audible.”

In the end, the United States government issued an official “never mind” proclamation and Davis went free, not crossing the river to rest in the shade of the trees until 1889.

IMAGE: “Jeff. Davis Caught At Last”