The Civil War in Georgia, An Illustrated Travelers Guide
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured near Irwinville on the morning of May 10, 1865, the final major event of the Civil War. Had Davis who discussed fighting on with remnants of the Confederate army in the trans-Mississippi Department escaped as he had planned, there may have been more history to write. Davis was making his way south across Georgia, pursued by a detachment of Wilson's cavalry which had recently received the surrender of Macon. He reunited with his family in Dublin on May 7 and travelled to Abbeville where he camped on May 8. The next day he travelled to Irwinville, unaware that his pursuers were close behind, and camped there with his staff for the night. A detachment of Wilson's cavalry quietly surrounded him that evening and waited for dawn. The next morning a separate detachment of cavalry, in a mix-up, rode in to seize Davis, and a skirmish broke out between two sets of Union troops, killing two and wounding four before they realized their mistake.
Davis had heard the firing, just before daylight, and snatched up his wife's cloak by mistake as he left the tent and ran to a horse. Just as he reached the reins, a Federal officer yelled, "Halt!" As Davis turned to look at the soldier, his wife Varina ran up to him and threw her arms around him, fearing he would resist and be shot. In all the confusion, not a single Confederate gun was fired. U.S. Lt. Col. B.D. Pritchard rode up and reportedly said, "Well old Jeff, we've got you at last." The Confederacy was dead.
The Jefferson Davis Museum has many fine artifacts and displays relating to the capture and Confederacy, including a battle flag and other items. In the park, which consists of almost 13 acres, you find various plaques, historical markers, and picnic tables. But the main feature is a 12-foot high memorial to the captured president, featuring a bronze bust of Davis on a granite base of Oglesby granite. An engraving on the side of the monument shows the moment of his capture with Davis in a cloak. U.S. Gen. James Wilson, in his report about the capture, wrote that Davis was wearing women's clothing when he tried to escape, a false rumor which delighted the Yankees and embarrassed Jeff Davis. The monument's sculptor was Laurence Tompkins, the great nephew of Robert Toombs, secretary of state in Jefferson Davis' first cabinet.
On Dec. 1, 1864, the Georgia Militia Fourth Brigade under Brig. Gen. H.K. McKay arrived in Wayne County to prepare a defense of the Savannah and Gulf Railroad bridge over the Altamaha River. The Rebels built earthworks on the north bank of Morgan's Lake, which is bisected by the railroad and located just north of the river. On the southern side of the river, two 32-pounder rifled guns were mounted at Doctortown (also spelled Doctor Town), to sweep the bridge if attacked. A light gun mounted on an engine supported two companies of Confederates at Morgan's Lake. On Dec. 16, Gen. W.T. Sherman, stalled outside Savannah, sent Union troops to destroy the railroad from the Ogeechee River all the way to the bridge. A brigade of Gen. Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry under Col. Smith Atkins attacked the bridge and destroyed trestlework past Morgan's Lake, but was unable to capture the bridge or seize the Confederate battery at Doctortown on Dec. 19. The Yankees withdrew to the Ogeechee River. A historical marker (U.S. 301 on the north side of the river) stands near the location of the Confederate victory. Local legend states that the original railroad bridge from the battle still stands in Doctortown, but some experts refute this. After the Civil War, one of the Rebel cannons used in the battle was spiked and loaded with a dangerous charge. It was defused and given to Waycross in 1887. Today, it stands in front of the Ware County Confederate Monument in Phoenix Park in Waycross.