Jefferson Davis in Irons
Charles A. Dana emerged from a prewar involvement with the transcendentalist and communist societies like Brook Farm and working for Greeley’s New York Tribune, where he invited Karl Marx to submit regular articles for publication — to become Lincoln’s Assistant Secretary of War. He is credited with the order to place a feeble Jefferson Davis in irons, and a subservient General Miles eagerly complied. General Miles went on to a US army career of exterminating Native Americans.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Jefferson Davis in Irons:
“Mr. [Charles A.] Dana, in describing the prison in which Mr .Davis and Mr. [Clement C.] Clay were confined, says: “The casements on each side and between those occupied by the prisoners are used as guard rooms, and soldiers are always there. A lamp is constantly kept burning in each of the rooms. I have not given any orders to have them placed in irons, as Gen. Halleck seemed opposed to it; but Gen. [Nelson A.] Miles is instructed to have fetters ready, if he thinks them necessary.
However, on May 23, 1865, Mr. Dana issued the following order to Gen. Miles: “You are hereby ordered and directed to place manacles and fetters upon the hands and feet of Jefferson Davis and Clement C. Clay whenever you deem it advisable in order to render their imprisonment more secure.”
Under this permit, Gen. Miles, on May 24, wrote Mr. Dana: “Yesterday I directed that irons be put on Mr. Davis’s ankles which he violently resisted, but became more quiet afterwards.” This was intended to be kept secret, but the soldiers on guard gave it out, and the papers of the North severely criticized the cruelty; and the placing of Mr. Davis in irons excited sympathy and indignation, instead of applause. Therefore, on May 28, 1865, Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, telegraphed Gen. Miles as follows: “Please report whether irons have or have not been placed on Jefferson Davis. If they have been, when was it done, and for what reason? Have them removed.”
In reply to this telegram, Gen. Miles wired: “I have had the irons removed. I had the anklets put on his ankles to prevent his running, should he endeavor to escape.”
(Confederate Veteran Magazine, February 1901, page 87)