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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One day this story should be told properly - it is a tale which would
leave mixed emotions because of what the men involved believed it, and
yet it showed great determination on the part of the central figure.
On May 10, 1865, at Dansville, Georgia, a Union cavalry troop captured a number of suspected Rebels. Although the Civil War's fighting was over, and Lee and Joe Johnston had surrendered, the North was in a particularly vicious mood - Lincoln had been assassinated by Booth, and there was evidence of a conspiracy that might go up to the highest echelons of the South. So Northern soldiers were looking for certain missing people: the leaders of the Confederate Government.
That day at Dansville they hit the jackpot - they met a bunch of Confederates carrying gold and money in the value of about $150,000.00 in 1865 (it would be in the millions today). But the leader of the bunch of refugees was Mr. Jefferson Davis, formerly U.S. Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War under his friend President Franklin Pierce, and first and only elected President of the Confederate States of America. It was, in 1865, identical in national impact to the capture three years ago of Saddam Hussein of Iraq near Takrit by American soldiers.
This episode of THE GREAT ADVENTURE dealt with the decision by Davis (Michael Rennie) not to surrender, despite Robert E.Lee's avowed intention of surrendering. On April 2, 1865, Davis got word that Lee's forces had been surprised by Phil Sheridan's forces at the battle at Five Forks, and the defenses at Petersburg were fatally punctured. This meant that Richmond could not longer be defended, and that the Confederate capital would soon be in Union hands. Davis called a quick cabinet meeting, and took stock of what options are left. He decided to keep fighting. Lee could keep Grant occupied for a week - Davis would go to Joe Johnston's army in North Carolina to continue the fight.
Taking the Confederate treasury, Davis gave orders to destroy all military stores in Richmond (unfortunately this started an uncontrollable fire that destroyed much of the city before the Northern troops put it out). He, his wife, and several cabinet people and soldiers head south through Virginia into North Carolina. Unfortunately, although one step ahead of the Yankees, Davis found Generals Joe Johnston and Pierre Beauregard far more realistic on assessing the chances of the war continuing as Davis hoped. Johnston finally dashed the chances there in Carolina by saying he was asking Sherman for terms of surrender.
Davis kept going through South Carolina and into Georgia. He hoped to reach the coast, board some boat to the coast of Texas, and link up with Generals Edmund Kirby-Smith and Richard Taylor (his ex-brother-in-law) commanding the last large army of the Confederacy. But that Yankee patrol caught him.
Rennie gave a moving performance - a highly respectable actor he could not fail in such a part. His Davis (like his real-life model) was a determined man, who could not stand facing unpleasant truths, but would do all in his power to keep his hope for Confederate nationhood alive. But it was not to be allowed by fate and Northern military might.
Most readers (including myself) probably feel it was just as well he failed - after all, his government was supporting slavery. But keep in mind, Lee had finally prodded (far too late) the Confederate government to give conditional freedom to slaves who volunteered to serve as soldiers for the South in March 1865. But it did take so long because Davis and his government really hated the idea.
Still he had guts in pushing despite the hopelessness of his task to the end. And he did not get proper recognition for years of his in-your-face fight. Rumor spread by Northern foes said he was found dressed as a woman when captured - this was unfair. He was taken back to Virginia, and imprisoned in Fortress Monroe for a treason trial. Poor health conditions raised the conscience of the nation about his treatment. Finally Horace Greeley stood bail for him, and Davis waited for the treason trial. It never came. He spent the last two decades of his life pursuing business opportunities in the South, and writing his memoirs defending his actions as the Confederate leader. His death in 1889 was marked by mourning by white southerners, and he did (until recent post - 1960 decades) get treated as a hero by them with his birthday celebrated as a "national holiday".
Could he have succeeded? No. As Rennie finds out at the conclusion of the episode, Kirby - Smith and Taylor surrendered a week before he was captured.
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