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Nelson Miles [Jefferson Davis]

Autographed Letter

1248565-1

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Autograph Letter Signed “Nelson A. Miles” as “Bvt Maj Gen U.S. Vols / Comdg Dist.,” two conjoined pages, 7.75” x 9.75”. Head Quarters Military District, Fort Monroe, August 22, 1865. To an unnamed General, undoubtedly Assistant Adjutant General Edward D. Townsend to whom Miles sent all his reports about the prisoners and mail to be forwarded. Ink stain at top right of first page. Expertly strengthened on verso at folds. Fine condition.

In full, “I have the honor to state that the prisoner ‘Davis’ is feeling quite comfortable this morning, complaining a little however of erysipelas in the face and a carbuncle on his leg. I also enclose a communication from [Clement Clay to the ‘Sec of War’ together with a letter to his wife which he desires, forwarded. In regard to the Sentinels, when they were taken out of his room he said they did not disturbe or waken him, lately they have been required to make as little noise as possible and not to walk around in the room. I do not think it possible for him to escape, even if the sentinels are taken out of the front room, he will still be under two locks, aside from the Guard in front of his cell.”

On May 19, 1865, the propeller vessel “William P. Clyde” arrived at Hampton Roads, Virginia, with Confederate prisoners aboard including Jefferson Davis and Confederate Senator and diplomatic agent Clement Claiborne Clay. On May 22nd, Major General Nelson A. Miles arrived to take command of Fort Monroe.

From “Prison Life of Jefferson Davis” by Bvt. Lt. Col. John J. Craven, M.D., “Late Surgeon U.S. Vols., and Physician of the Prisoner during his Confinement in Fortress Monroe, from May 25, 1865, up to December 25, 1865” (New York: G.W. Dillingham Co., 1866): “The procession into the fort was simple though momentous ... First came Major-General Miles holding the arm of Mr. Davis, who was dressed in a suit of plain Confederate grey, with a grey slouched hat—always thin, and now looking much wasted and very haggard. Immediately after these came Colonel Prichard [Michigan Cavalry accompanying Mr. Clay, with a guard of soldiers in their rear ... Mr. Davis was shown into casemate No. 2 and Clay into No. 4, guards of soldiers being stationed in the cells numbered 1, 3, and 5, upon each side of them. They entered; the heavy doors clanged behind them, and in that clang was rung the final knell of the terrible, but now extinct, rebellion ... On the morning of the 23d of May, a yet bitterer trial was in store for the proud spirit – a trial severer, probably, than has ever in modern times been inflicted upon any one who had enjoyed such eminence. This morning Jefferson Davis was shackled ... These fetters were of heavy iron, probably five-eighths of an inch in thickness, and connected together by a chain of like weight ... On the morning of May 24th, I was sent for about half-past 8 A.M., by Major-General Miles; was told that State-prisoner Davis complained of being ill, and that I had been assigned as his medical attendant ...

“August 21st. – Called with Captain Corlis, on the staff of General Miles, Officer of the Day. Prostration increased, and the erysipelas spreading. Deemed it my duty to send a communication to Major-General Miles, reporting that I found the State-prisoner, Davis, suffering severely from erysipelas in the face and head, accompanied by the usual prostration attending that disease. Also that he had a small carbuncle on his left thigh, his condition denoting a low state of the vital forces...” The information in Dr. Craven’s communication to Miles was included by the General in this letter penned the next day.

Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer, in “A History of the United States Since the Civil War” (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1917), wrote about Davis in Fort Monroe. In part, “The President of the Confederacy suffered from insomnolency, dyspepsia, neuralgia, boils, carbuncles, erysipelas. Never during any night since his incarceration had he slept for two hours continuously. The creaking boots of the sentinels as they paced the floor, even after it was covered with straw matting, the noise as they hailed each other, the light in his room, his nervous and physical diseases, the lack of full opportunity for exercise were noted by the physician, who made so unfavorable a statement that many thought the distinguished culprit could not live for trial for his crimes.” In this letter, General Miles notes that the sentinels are “required to make as little noise as possible.” For keeping Jefferson Davis shackled in his cell, General Miles was the target of severe criticism, even in the North.

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