Jefferson Davis and the Memorial Day funeral train
Remembering Jefferson Davis
Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
May 29, 2010
“Nothing fills me with deeper sadness than to see a Southern man apologizing for the defense we made of our inheritance. Our cause was so just, so sacred, that had I known all that has come to pass, had I known what was to be inflicted upon me, all that my country was to suffer, all that our posterity was to endure, I would do it all over again.’‘——Jefferson Davis
Monday, the 31st day of May, in the year of our Lord 2010, is Memorial Day. It was on Memorial Day—Wednesday May 31, 1893, when the remains of Jefferson Davis was re-interred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Thursday June 3rd, is the 202nd birthday of Jefferson Davis.
Jefferson Davis served the United States as a soldier, statesmen and Secretary of War. He was also the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. On Saturday, April 24, 2010, a statue depicting Jefferson Davis and two of his sons Joseph and adopted Black son Jim Limber was unveiled at Beauvoir, http://www.beauvoir.org , the last home of Jefferson Davis located on the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast.
If you listen closely, and the wind blows in the right direction, you might hear a train whistle in the distance.
When I was growing up near Atlanta, Georgia, this and the sound of “taps” from nearby Fort McPherson were special sounds. Today, air conditioners and closed windows segregate the sounds of the trains, owls and the wonderful sounds that are nature’s symphony at night.
On Sunday, May 28, 1893, a few days before “Memorial Day”, in New Orleans, a story began that overshadowed all other events reported in the newspapers of the South and that of the North.
This was the day when the remains of Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederate States of America, laid in state at Confederate Memorial Hall in the historic crescent city of New Orleans. Jefferson Davis died in 1889 and was buried at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. Four years later, May 27, 1893, his body was moved from the burial site, placed in a new heavy brass trimmed oak casket and taken to Confederate Memorial Hall where it was placed on a huge oaken catafalque.
At 4:30 P.M., May 28th, a funeral service was held for Mr. Davis and a moving memorial address was delivered by Louisiana’s Governor Murphy J. Foster as thousands listened. There were no sounds of cars, planes, sirens, cell phones or sound systems. They did not exist. A reverent silence fell among the people as the casket was given to the commitment of veterans from Virginia who had been sent to receive it.
The procession then formed for a slow march to the railroad station on Canal Street.
Train No. 69, with Engineer Frank Coffin, waited patiently as the casket was taken to the platform and passed through an open observation car to a catafalque. The cars wall could not be seen due to the many flowers.
This was the vision of Mrs. (Varina) Jefferson Davis when she began three years previous to secure a funeral train and military escort for a 1,200 mile train trip from New Orleans, Louisiana to Richmond, Virginia. Train engine No. 69, of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad slowly pulled out of New Orleans Station at 7:50 P.M. L and N Railroad later became CSX Railroad.
Newspaper reporters from New Orleans, Richmond, Boston, New York and the Southern Associated Press were guests on the train. After a brief stop at Bay Saint Louis, and a slow-down at Pass Christian, where hundreds of people lined the tracks, the Jefferson Davis Funeral Train stopped at Gulfport, Mississippi, near Beauvoir which was the last home of Jefferson Davis. It was here that Davis wrote his book, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.”
Uncle Bob Brown, a former servant of the Davis family and a passenger on the train, saw the many flowers that the children had laid on the side of the railroad tracks. Brown was so moved by this beautiful gesture that he wept uncontrollably.
In Mobile, Alabama, the train was met by a thousand mourners and the Alabama Artillery fired a 21-gun salute. Locomotive No. 69 was retired and Locomotive No. 25 was coupled to the train. The new train’s Engineer was C.C. Devinney and Warren Robinson was its fireman.
Church bells rang in Montgomery, Alabama when the train pulled into the city at 6:00 A.M. on May 29th. A severe rainstorm delayed the funeral procession to about 8:30 A.M. when a caisson carried the body of Davis to Alabama’s state capitol. A procession carried the casket through the portico where Jefferson Davis, in 1861, had taken the oath of office as President of the Confederate States of America.
The casket was placed in front of the bench of the Alabama Supreme Court. Above the right exit was a banner with the word “Monterrey” and above the left exit was a banner with the words “Buena Vista.” During the War with Mexico, Jefferson Davis was a hero at Monterrey and wounded at Buena Vista.
All businesses and schools closed, and church bells toiled during the procession to and from the capitol. In final tribute, thousands of people of Montgomery, including many ex-soldiers and school children filed by the casket.
At 12:20 P.M. the funeral train departed over the Western Railway of Alabama and Atlanta and West Point Railroad for Atlanta. At West Point, Georgia, the train stopped under a beautiful arch of flowers to pick up Georgia’s Governor William J. Northen and staff. At 4:30 P.M. the funeral train pulled into Union Station in Atlanta, Georgia. It is estimated that 20,000 people lined the streets as the funeral procession made their way to the state capitol. Atlanta’s Gate City Guard, which had served as Company F, 1st Georgia (Ramsay’s) during the War Between the States, stood guard over the president.
At 7:00 P.M. the train went north on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which later became Southern Railway and, today, Norfolk Southern Railroad. The train traveled through Lula, Georgia, Greenville, South Carolina, and stopped at the North Carolina capitol at Raleigh.
A brief stop was made in Danville, Virginia, where a crowd of people gathered around the train and sang, “Nearer My God To Thee” as city church bells toiled.
Finally, the train reached Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday, May 31, 1893, at 3:00 A.M.. It was Memorial Day. Mrs. Davis met the train and her husband’s casket was taken to the Virginia State House.
At 3:00 P.M., May 31st, the funeral procession started for Hollywood Cemetery. The caisson bearing the casket was drawn by six white horses. Earlier rains kept the dust from stirring from the dirt roads.
With Mrs. Jefferson Davis were her daughters, Winnie and Margaret. Six state governors acted as pallbearers. It was estimated that 75,000 people attended this final salute to President Davis. The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute and “Taps”.