Past Times

Last journey for Jefferson Davis went through Raleigh

The funeral procession carrying the remains of Jefferson Davis makes its way down Fayetteville Street.
The funeral procession carrying the remains of Jefferson Davis makes its way down Fayetteville Street. STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

He’s known for being the president of the Confederate States of America, but Jefferson Davis also served as a U.S. Senator and as President Franklin Pierce’s secretary of war. At his death in December 1889, his widow, Varina Howell Davis, was too grieved to settle on a burial site. Davis was temporarily interred at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. She later selected Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, and on May 28, 1893, Davis’ remains began a journey through the south, with ceremony and spectacle along the way.

The funeral train arrived in North Carolina on May 30. In 1977, historian Marie D. Moore gave this account of the ceremonies.

When the rumble of the train was heard in Charlotte at 6:30 a.m., military contingents faced the track and three volleys were fired as the train braked to a stop.

The eight-car funeral train was draped in mourning. The interior of the Western N.C. Railroad observation car which bore the casket was painted red and light blue, and the flowers heaped about were predominantly white. Black ribbons extended from the chandelier to the corners of the car.

Aboard the train were Davis’s two surviving children, Miss Winnie Davis and Margaret Davis Hayes, Richmond’s mayor J. Taylor Ellyson, various governors, distinguished military and civilian personnel, and the press. The president’s widow would await the cortege in Richmond.

There was a momentary stop at Salisbury, a breakfast stopover in Greensboro.

Hardly a half-hour after it arrived in Greensboro, the Jefferson Davis funeral train rolled east. Six thousand people, many coming from miles away at special excursion rail rates, had assembled at Durham’s Richmond & Danville station by 9 a.m. Durham wore a holiday appearance. Flags flew at half mast.

At noon, church bells began to toll, other bells joined in, and Blackwell Factory’s big bell could be heard over them all. School children had covered the track with flowers, and 500 boys and girls lined both sides of the rails as the train stopped at Corcoran Street. Miss Winnie, holding a bunch of ox-eyed daisies, appeared with her sister on the rear platform. Julian S. Carr and daughter Lida, who had met the train in Greensboro, stood with them.

Plans for the commemoration of the reburial of Jefferson Davis had been underway in Raleigh for many weeks. Although Mayor Ellyson had asked that this state’s official ceremony be held at Greensboro, Gov. Elias Carr wrote Col. A.B. Andrews, vice president of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, to arrange a detour: “Since this State was the last to enter the contest and the last to leave it,” Carr said, “so her people desire that the remains of their only President may last rest, before reaching the Capital of the Confederacy, in our Capital City.” Gov. Carr’s request was honored.

The massive black funeral carriage, specially constructed from a design by A.G. Bauer, stood in readiness at the Martin Street entrance to Raleigh’s new Union Station near Nash Square.

The casket was removed through the window of the funeral car to the shoulders of pallbearers.

Participants in the cortege, organized into eight divisions, waited along Martin and Fayetteville streets, and fell in step as the procession passed. Throughout the funeral route buildings were draped in mourning, flags were at half-mast, and bells tolled. The day was clear, crisp, and beautiful; nearly 20,000 people had gathered in the capital city.

The procession moved up Fayetteville Street to Capitol Square where Governor Carr and his staff waited. At the west entrance of the Capitol, the cortege paused. On the portico above, a choir of 75 voices, directed by W.S. Primrose, sang Pleyel’s hymn. The invocation was pronounced by The Rev. M.M. Marshall, rector of Christ Church. More hymns followed, then the casket was moved to the rotunda where a catafalque had been erected.

The catafalque was surrounded by evergreens – magnolias for Louisiana, pine for North Carolina, and holly for Hollywood Cemetery. Black and white draperies covered the walls, and sentries in gray were stationed at the head and foot of the casket. At each corner of the catafalque, a young girl stood with flag draped and furled.

At about 3 p.m., the funeral procession returned to the station by way of Hillsborough and Dawson streets, where Miss Winnie shook hands with dozens of veterans before the train moved on. Governor Carr, to be an honorary pallbearer in Richmond, accompanied by a staff of twelve in a special car, left with the funeral train. The N&O 5/29/1977

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