Most historians of the Civil War South have ignored the final days of the Confederate States of America, including the government's April-May 1865 retreat from Richmond. The only previous scholarly account, Alfred Jackson Hanna Flight into Oblivion, was published in Richmond in 1938. Hanna focused on the fortunes of President Jefferson Davis's cabinet during the retreat. Indeed, half of his book details the escape of cabinet members after the government had been dissolved and Davis captured. Journalist James C. Clark uses the same format in his slim popular work, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond ( Jefferson, N.C., 1984). Burke Davis The Long Surrender ( New York, 1985) goes beyond Hanna and Clark to include a survey of the activities of the retreat's main characters during the postwar years. None of these accounts successfully investigates the historical significance of the crucial final hours.
My book is an attempt to present a thorough, interpretive account of the retreat and to demonstrate its influence on later Southern and American history. The major portion is devoted to the period from 2 April, the day the government evacuated Richmond, to 10 May, when Jefferson Davis was arrested in Georgia. I have tried to place the story of the retreat in perspective as the final chapter of the Confederacy by showing the mood of Southerners facing defeat; describing the personalities, roles and interrelationships of Confederate government and military leaders during the last days; and analyzing the various controversies born during the flight and continuing into the postbellum era.
As the title suggests, my emphasis is on Jefferson Davis rather than on his cabinet. None of the many Davis biographers have given enough attention to the effect of the Confederacy's final days on Davis's presidency and his image in the postwar years. As Southerners began to sense the inevitability of defeat during the winter months of 1864-1865,