Jefferson Davis Chained On May 23rd
“On the morning of the 23rd 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 anyone who had had enjoyed such eminence. This morning Jefferson Davis was shackled.
It was while all the swarming camps of the Army of the Potomac, the Tennessee and Georgia—over two hundred thousand bronzed and laurelled veterans—were preparing for the Grand Review of the next morning, in which, passing in endless succession before the mansion of the President, the conquering military power of the nation was to lay down its arms at the feet of the Civil Authority, that the following scene was enacted at Fortress Monroe.
Captain Jerome Titlow of the 3rd Pennsylvania Artillery, entered the prisoner’s cell, followed by the blacksmith of the fort and his assistant, the latter carrying in his hands some heavy and harshly-rattling shackles. “Well,” said Mr. Davis as they entered, slightly raising his head.
“I have an unpleasant duty to perform, Sir,” said Captain Titlow; and as he spoke the blacksmith took the shackles from his assistant. Davis leaped instantly from his recumbent attitude, a flush passing over his face for a moment, and then his countenance growing livid and rigid as death. “My God! You have not been sent to iron me?” “Such are my orders Sir,” replied the officer….
“This is too monstrous,” groaned the prisoner, glaring hurriedly around the room as if for some weapon or means of self-destruction. “I demand, Captain, that you let me see the commanding officer. Can he pretend that such shackles are required to secure the safe custody of a weak old man, so guarded and in a fort such as this?” “It could serve no purpose,” replied Captain Titlow; “his orders are from Washington, as mine are from him.”
“But he can telegraph,” interposed Mr. Davis, eagerly; “there must be some mistake. No such outrage as you threaten me with is on record in the history of nations. These are not the orders for a soldier, they are orders for a jailor—for a hangman, which no soldier wearing a sword should accept! I tell you the world will ring with this disgrace. The war is over; the South is conquered; I have no longer any country but America, and it is for the honor of America, as for my own honor and life, that I plead against this degradation. Kill me! Kill me! Rather than inflict on me, and on my people through me, this insult worse than death.”
“Do your duty blacksmith,” said the officer…”It only gives increased pain on all sides to protract this interview.” At these words the blacksmith advanced with the shackles…Mr. Davis suddenly seized the assailant and hurled him half-way across the room.
“I am a prisoner of war,” fiercely retorted Davis; “I have been a soldier in the armies of America and know how to die. Only kill me and my last breath will be a blessing on your head. But while I have life and strength to resist, for myself and my people, this thing shall not be done.”
Captain Titlow called in a sergeant…Immediately Mr. Davis flew on him, seized his musket and attempted to wrench it from his grasp. In a moment Davis was flung upon his bed, and before his four powerful assailants removed their hands from him, the blacksmith and his assistant had done their work….
This being done, Mr. Davis lay for a moment as if in a stupor. Then slowly raising himself and turning round, he dropped his shackled feet to the floor. The harsh clank of the striking chain seems first to have recalled him to his situation, and dropping his face into his hands, he burst into a passionate flood of sobbing, rocking to and fro, and muttering at intervals: “Oh, the shame, the shame.”
(The Prison Life of Jefferson Davis, John J. Craven, MD, Carleton Publisher, 1868, pp. 33-39)