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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: The Jefferson Davis Memorial Day Funeral Train

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Jefferson Davis Memorial Day Funeral Train

By Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.

A Southern President was laid to rest on Memorial Day.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have proclaimed 2008, as the "Year of Jefferson Davis" and Davis' 200th birthday, June 3, 2008, will be celebrated with many great events including the reopening of his last home "Beauvoir" on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Please share the following Memorial Day story with your family and remember Monday, Mary 26th, is Memorial Day in the USA.

Listen closely, when the wind blows, and you may hear a train whistle from the distance.

Many songs have been written about the passenger trains. On Sunday, May 28, 1893, a few days before Memorial Day, a story began in New Orleans, Louisiana that overshadowed all other events reported in the newspapers of the north and south.

Jefferson Davis died in 1889 and over 200,000 people witnessed his temporary burial at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. Four years later on a rainy Saturday, on May 27, 1893, the remains of Jefferson Davis was removed and taken to Confederate Memorial Hall where many people paid their last respects.

At 4:30 PM, May 28th, a funeral service was held for Mr. Davis and a moving memorial address was delivered by Louisiana's Governor Murphy J. Foster as thousands listened. A reverent silence fell among the people as the casket was given to the commitment of Veterans from Virginia.

The procession then formed for a slow march to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Station on Canal Street.

Train No. 69, with Engineer Frank Coffin, waited patiently as the casket was taken to the platform and passed through an open observation car to a catafalque. The cars wall could not be seen due to the many flowers.

This was the vision of Mrs. (Varina) Jefferson Davis when she began three years previous to secure a funeral train and military escort for a 1,200 mile train trip from New Orleans, Louisiana to Richmond, Virginia.

Train engine No. 69, of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, slowly pulled out of New Orleans Station at 7:50 PM. L and N railroad later became CSX Railroad.

Newspaper reporters from New Orleans, Richmond, Boston, New York and the Southern Associated Press were guests on the train.

After a brief Stop at Bay Saint Louis, and a slow-down at Pass Christian, where hundreds of people lined the tracks, the Jefferson Davis Funeral Train stopped at Gulfport, Mississippi and "Beauvoir,, that was the last home to Jefferson Davis and his family. It was here that Davis wrote his book, "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government."

Uncle Bob Brown, a former servant of the Davis family and a passenger on the train, saw the many flowers that the children had laid on the railroad tracks. Brown was so moved by this beautiful gesture that he wept uncontrollably.

In Mobile, Alabama, the train was met at midnight by parents who let their children stay up late to witness the historic ocassion that included a artillery salute. Locomotive No. 69 was retired and Locomotive No. 25 was coupled to the train with Engineer C.C. Devinney and Fireman Warren Robinson taking over.

The Atlanta Journal reported, quote, "The Cradle of the Confederacy is ablaze with life and light tonight. Everything is ready for honoring the memory of Jefferson Davis. Tomorrow morning with the rising of the sun the funeral train from New Orleans will reach Montgomery. unquote.

The train pulled into Montgomery at 6:00 AM, on the 29th. A severe rainstorm delayed the funeral procession until 8:30 AM when a caisson carried the body of Davis to Alabama's capitol building. A procession carried the casket through the portico where Jefferson Davis, in 1861, had taken the oath of office as President of the Confederate States of America.

The casket was placed in front of the bench of the Alabama Supreme Court. Above the right exit was a banner with the word "Monterrey" and above the left exit was a banner with the words "Buena Vista." During the Mexican War Jefferson Davis was a hero at Monterrey and wounded at Buena Vista.

All Businesses and schools were closed, and church bells toiled during the procession to and from the capitol. In a final tribute, thousands of people in Montgomery, including ex-Confederate soldiers and children, filed by the casket.

At 12:20 in the afternoon the funeral train departed over the Western Railway of Alabama and Atlanta and West Point Railroad for Atlanta. At West Point, Georgia the train stopped under a magnificently-beautiful arch of flowers to pick up Georgia's Governor William J. Northen and his staff.

The funeral train pulled into Atlanta's Union Station at 4:30 PM. It is written that over 20,000 people lined the streets as the funeral procession made their way to the state capitol. Atlanta's Old Gate City Guard stood guard over the president's remains. Among those in attendance was former Confederate General John B. Gordon who had also been Governor of Georgia.

The Boston Globe reported, quote, " Davis Funeral Train on way north. Visions of the past called up. Living links of the past cause. Sumter's flag appears once more. Both banners on the walls of Georgia's capitol. Thousands look upon the dead leader. Women of the South show their affection by flowers." unquote.

At 7:00 PM the train pulled out of the station going north on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which later became Southern Railroad and, today, Norfolk Southern Railroad. The train traveled through Lula, Georgia, Greenville, South Carolina and stopped in North Carolina at Raleigh. Davis' remains were taken to the North Carolina capitol building to lie in state.

A brief stop was made in Danville, Virginia where a crowd gathered around the train and sang, "Nearer My God To Thee" as the church bells toiled.

Finally, the train reached Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday, morning, May 31, 1893. It was Memorial Day. Mrs. Davis met the train and her husband's casket was taken to the Virginia State House to lay in state. There was no school this day and many children brought flowers that they scattered about the casket.

At 3 PM on May 31, 1893, the funeral procession started for Hollywood Cemetery with former Gen. John B. Gordon as Chief Marshall. The caisson was driven by six white horses and earlier rains kept the dust of the dirt roads from stirring.

With Mrs. Jefferson Davis were two of her daughters, Winnie and Margaret. Six Southern governors acted as pall bearers. Two hundred thousand people lined the streets and nearly 100,000 took part in the ceremony at the cemetery. The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute followed by "Taps."

It had been 28 years since the War Between the States ended, but they came by the thousands to pay tribute to their former president. In truth, they came to remember a hope and a dream. And all across the South hundreds of thousands heard that train.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans of Virginia are planning to erect a statue to Jefferson Davis and his African-American adopted son, Jim Limber.

Lest We Forget!!


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