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    John Taylor Wood: Archive of Letters Written While Escaping with Jefferson Davis comprised of ten letters total spanning the months April through July 1865. By April 1865, the situation looked grim for the Confederacy. Col. John Taylor Wood, the son of Union Bvt. Brigadier General Dr. Robert C. Wood, grandson of the twelfth president, Zachary Taylor, and nephew to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was with his uncle on April 2, attending St. Paul's Church in Richmond, when a telegram from Gen. Robert E. Lee arrived informing the president that Petersburg would soon fall and the government must evacuate. That evening, Wood, Davis, and other members of the Confederate government boarded a train for Danville, Virginia, and arrived there the following day.

    On April 6, Wood wrote a long letter to his wife, Lola, from Danville apprising her of the situation, to the best of his knowledge, in part: "I am doing more for the President than anyone else & until Mr. Harrison returns or we get settled. I have taken a house for the President for an office & for a dwelling . . . without furniture without anything hardly, commencing fresh. The President bears up nobly, he is as defiant as ever. . . . We are still without news from Genl. Lee, have not heard from him since the fall of Richmond, the enemy are at Burkeville Junction between us & Richmond. Genl. Lee must be near Amelia C.H. & may retreat towards Knoxville Lynchburg. Until the President hears from him & what his plans are he will not make any definite arrangements as to where he will locate . . . Most of the Secretaries are here but have not yet got to work. The news from Richmond is very contradictory. . . . It is only certain that there was great disorder, rioting in the lower part of the city several destructive fires were raging on Gary Street . . . The poor people of Richmond my heart bleeds for them. . . . The enemy has captured Selma, Ala. defeating our forces with a loss of 2,000 men; we are certainly getting it thick & heavy now, but by the blessing of Providence we will yet whip them & gain our Independence. . . . I can hardly realize that the events of the past few days are not a dream. Though for a long time the loss of Richmond was an event expected . . . we were putting it off & expecting to have ample warning. It came so suddenly and in a manner so unlooked for, five or six hours was all we had . . . If Genl. Lee can bring his army off safely, all will soon be well again." A second letter, dated the following day, appears on the final page of the previous letter reading, in part: "I will be with you tomorrow if nothing occurs which I do not know at present. I wish it were possible for me to give you some certain information as regards our movements or plans, but I am completely in the dark. . . . Our affairs are in a painful & trying condition . . . every department is broken up, some of the Bureaux & offices have hardly saved a paper. . . . I will be with you tomorrow if possible."

    Back on the move, Wood wrote again on the 10th, this time from Salisbury, North Carolina: "We arrived here last night after dark . . . the rest of the party are scattered at different places. Yesterday we traveled 21 miles, we could make twice the distance but are kept back by a large party & a long train that necessarily moves slowly. . . . This morning I couldn't help feeling gloomy & depressed at the condition of affairs. We are going down a precipice. . . . The news from Ga. is bad, the enemy have captured Columbus the most important point in the state . . . We have a large escort with us of good troops . . . Uncle [Davis] is well and in good spirits."

    With the war all but over, the search for Davis and the members of his cabinet intensified. On April 20, at Charlotte, North Carolina, word reached the party of the death of Lincoln. Writing to Lola on that day, Wood expresses his regret: "We have just heard of the death of Lincoln & of Seward. I cannot rejoice at their deaths for deeds of this kind provoke similar ones & Andy Johnson is in every point of view is a worse man than Lincoln. A low man, a base man & who is proud of being so. It may bring about a revolution in the North, the Army will be in favor of elevating Grant or Sherman, the politicians will favor the regular succession." The party remained in Charlotte for several days and it was at that place that news reached the president of the terms of surrender offered to Gen. Joseph Johnston by Gen. William T. Sherman. His hopelessness is evident when he wrote: "April 24 . . . I write to you with a sad & gloomy heart . . . You at once will divine the reasons. If I have understood correctly the terms of the negotiations now pending it is an eventual surrender of what we have been contending for during the past four years, our independence. . . . I never will consent to these terms & uncle never will . . . I do feel humiliated, almost heart broken, and have been so long without a home that it has become a matter of much concern, but to feel that you have no Country is bitter indeed." On April 25, Wood again put pen to paper when writing to his wife saying, "I wrote a gloomy letter yesterday but to-day I feel much better for the Yankees refuse the terms agreed upon between Genls. Sherman & Johnston. I do not know whether I am right, but I could not agree to those conditions, such a botched up & dishonorable peace could not last long, the end must be nearer now."

    The party left Charlotte on April 27 and headed further south into Georgia, where, on May 10, near the town of Irwinsville, Davis and Wood were both captured. Wood soon made his escape, with his uncle's permission, by bribing one of his captors and hiding in a nearby swamp until the Federals and their prisoners left the area.

    Wood made his way into Florida and met up with Major General John C. Breckinridge, the Confederate secretary of war and a former U.S. vice president, who himself was attempting to flee the country. Acquiring a small boat, Wood, Breckinridge, and several other men first attempted to row east to The Bahamas, but abandoned the plan and decided to instead to strike south toward Cuba. He managed to trade his boat to a crew of Union deserters for their slightly bigger sloop. They reached the north shore of Cuba on June 10. On June 15 he sent a short note from Havana asking the recipient (the name of which is illegible) to "please forward the enclosed to Lola wherever she may be."

    He remained in Cuba for another week before heading north to Canada. Also included in this lot are two letters written from Canada, dated July 13 and 15, respectively. In the earlier, Wood is in Montreal, having "left Halifax on the 4th by steamer." Having seen his name in the newspaper, he writes, "I hope my name will not appear again at present in the papers. . . . I am almost tempted to assume some other name but will not do it. I have done nothing yet to be ashamed of. However I am told there is an account of my escaping from a Yankee Cruiser . . . where I am represented as having shown false or bogus papers and thus avoided capture. I have not seen it, but it is not necessary to tell you dear that it is not true. This is related as having occurred on our way from Florida to the Island of Cuba."

    Wood's family soon joined him in Canada. Reunited, they settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Wood engaged in shipping and became involved in marine insurance. The family remained in Halifax for the rest of their lives. John Taylor Wood died on July 19, 1904.

    Condition: Each of the letters exhibits the expected folds and several show slight staining or age toning, but they are otherwise in great condition.


    More Information:  

    John Taylor Wood (1830-1904), the son of Union General Robert Wood and Anne Taylor, the daughter of twelfth president, Zachary Taylor, began his career in the United States Navy in 1847 and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1852, second in his class. Initially maintaining a neutral stance following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, his sympathies headed South after the Battle of Fort Sumter. On April 21, 1861, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy and retired to his Maryland farm. The farming life did not last long, however, as life was becoming too dangerous. Fearing for the safety of his family, the Woods moved south to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the new Confederate States where his uncle, Jefferson Davis, was now president (Jefferson Davis' first wife, Sarah Taylor, was Wood's mother's sister).

    By April 1865, the situation looked grim for the Confederacy. Wood was with his uncle on April 2, attending St. Paul's Church in Richmond, when a telegram from Lee arrived informing the president that Petersburg would soon fall and the government must evacuate. That evening, he, Davis, and other members of the Confederate government boarded a train for Danville, Virginia. They continued their flight south, where, on May 10, 1865, near the town of Irwinsville, Georgia, Davis and Wood were both captured by Union forces. Wood soon made his escape, with his uncle's permission, by bribing one of his captors and hiding in a nearby swamp until the Federals and their prisoners left the area.

    Wood made his way south to Florida and met up with Major General John C. Breckinridge. Acquiring a small boat, Wood, Breckinridge, and several other men first attempted to row east to The Bahamas, but abandoned the plan and decided to instead make their way south toward Cuba. He managed to trade with a crew of Union deserters his boat for their slightly bigger sloop. They reached the north shore of Cuban on June 10. He remained in Cuba for two weeks before heading north to Canada, where his family soon joined him. Reunited, they settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and remained there for the rest of their lives. John Taylor Wood died on July 19, 1904.

    Lots 49094 through 49099 in this auction relate to Wood's service during the war.



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2015
    4th-5th Wednesday-Thursday
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