Skip navigation
Mrs. Jeff. Davis--"Don't provoke the President or he may hurt some of you."
Date: 1865
Artist and Related People:
Dimensions: Image: 3 1/2 x 2 3/16 in. (8.9 x 5.6 cm) Mount: 3 15/16 x 2 3/8 in. (10 x 6 cm)
Medium: Albumen silver carte-de-visite
Credit Line: Gift of Charles Schwartz, 2012

The first official government report from May 12 about the capture of Jefferson Davis makes no mention of his attire. However, the rumor of his escape in women’s clothes was introduced in the May 14 dispatch by Brevet Major-General J. H. Wilson, chief of the Union cavalry:

The captors report that he hastily put on one of his wife’s dresses and started for the woods, closely followed by our men, who at first thought him a woman, but seeing his boots while he was running, they suspected his sex at once. The race was a short one, and the Rebel President was soon brought to bay. He brandished a bowie-knife and showed signs of battle, but yielded promptly to the persuasions ofColt’s revolvers, without compelling the men to fire. He expressed great indignation at the energy with which he was pursued, saying that he had believed our Government more magnanimous than to hunt down women and children. Mrs. Davis remarked to Col. Harden after the excitement was over that the men had better not provoke the President, or “he might hurt some of ’em.”

Artists relied on these government reports, printed in major newspapers, to create their photomontages and cartoons, which illustrate the scene (dress, boots, and bowie knife) and even include quotes—most likely fabricated—attributed to Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina.

Accession Number: 2012.18.19