Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Different Kind of May Day

Ashtabula May 1, 1865...This morning all seemed beautiful and quiet and with hearts cheered by rumors of a speedy and honorable peace, we sat together working. At 12 o'clock I went to dress, expecting some of our cousins to dine with us, when a large body of men passing attracted my attention. After thirty or forty passed, four men, one of them an officer, galloped in and demanded where the stables were. Rushing down they immediately seized Bill and Nena...                                                                         ~from the diary of Clarissa Adger Bowen

The old Pendleton District, nestled in the northwestern corner of South Carolina in what is now Anderson County, snug against the Blue Ridge Mountains, had been a safe haven during most of the Civil War. Refugees from the turmoil of battles in the larger cities of South Carolina had sought out shelter there, particularly if fortunate enough to have family—or even acquaintances—there. A Broyles relative, years later, mentioned that the nearby town of Anderson was also "full of refugees from Charleston." Some, perhaps, also saw the region's relative isolation as assurance of safekeeping of their valuables during unpredictable war years.

What these secluded southerners could not possibly have foreseen was the avalanche of events that brought their secret hideaway out into the open.

Before General Lee had surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his cabinet had made their way south. Carried along with them was what was said to be $500,000 in gold from the Confederate Treasury.

Meanwhile, one by one, and only gradually over the following days and weeks, the Confederate generals followed suit, agreeing, as had Robert E. Lee, to terms of surrender to the Union, including General Joseph Johnston who surrendered to General Sherman in North Carolina on April 26.

"Not so fast" may have been the reaction of United States Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who, within hours of that surrender, wired another of his Union generals, George Thomas in Tennessee,
The bankers have information today that Jeff Davis' specie is moving south as fast as possible.... Take measures to intercept the rebel chiefs and their plunder. The specie is estimated at $6,000,000 to $13,000,000...spare no exertion to stop Davis and his plunder.

General Thomas immediately ordered Major General George Stoneman of the Cavalry:
If you can possibly get three brigades of cavalry together, send them across the mountains into South Carolina to the westward of Charlotte and toward Anderson. They may possible catch Jeff Davis, or some of the treasure. They say he is making off with from $2,000,000 to $5,000,000."

Stoneman, in turn, wired General Davis Tillson with directions to have his brigades sent across the Saluda River and to "follow down this river to Belton or Anderson"—although this time, the money mentioned again grew to "$5,000,000 or $6,000,000."

By April 29, the troops were ready to march. On May 1, internal dialog between officers indicated they had scoped out the likely escape route for the fleeing Confederate president and cabinet, possibly through Abbeville, maybe through Anderson, and eventually across the river to Georgia—perhaps, even, following the stage road to Carnesville which went directly through Pendleton.

May first being what it always has been, at the home of General Cliff Reed, children were merrily dancing around the May pole when news of the approaching cavalry caused "nurses" to snatch up their charges and run for the seclusion of their homes.

That same May Day afternoon, Anderson resident Caroline Ravenel was giving music lessons at her home when she heard pistol shots. Rushing to a window to see the cause of the commotion, she spotted a neighbor "driving as if for his life." Others in the street, saying a soldier had fired at them, ran into the house; they locked the door and closed the blinds, but to no avail. Soldiers broke in, taking watches and anything else they could find, ordering the occupants to "give up the gold."

To complicate matters, in town at Anderson, the soldiers stumbled upon a large cache of liquor, which was immediately consumed, and the rush for "gold" took on dangerous overtones. Many stories, such as the one about "Uncle Henry," thrice hung to the "bedstead" with a noose around his neck so that only his toes could touch the ground while being demanded to give up his gold, appeared not only in the Ashtabula book, but in other recountings of the post-surrender May Day, as well, as one after another local citizen was accosted in the push to reclaim "the gold"—or, if not Jefferson Davis' stash, any gold that could be had.

As for the deposed Davis himself, wherever he stayed that night, his possible nearness to Anderson instigated the uproar of what may have been "up to five thousand men" of Union troops, but he still remained undetected. It wasn't until May tenth, when he had penetrated deep into Georgia, that Davis was apprehended in Irwinville.

In the meantime, though Anderson had been assaulted, for some reason, the town of Pendleton itself escaped the brunt of the attack. Ashtabula's new owners, the Adger family, however, weren't so fortunate. Nor, for that matter, were the Broyleses in their new home in Anderson.   


  1. Just when you think it’s over ....

    1. I'm sure this was quite the surprise for those residents in Anderson County!

  2. In looking at old newspaper articles for April and May, 1865, there was confusion in the southern states. Most did not clearly understand that the war was over. Either they had NOT heard the news of Lee's surrender, or they chose not to see it as affecting the whole Confederate government. There are a few articles describing the frantic flight of Jefferson Davis and his entourage, but I haven't yet seen one describing the events in Anderson. I will take some better search words from your post here, and keep searching.

    1. Lisa, I had looked at some Pendleton and Anderson newspapers without much success--although I realized one thing: most news reports were dated a week to ten days prior to the actual publication date. News, apparently, traveled much more slowly back then.


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