Thursday, January 01, 2015

What happened to George Trenholm?

Anytime you are researching and have more than one source, you run into the possibility of the sources not agreeing. Such is the case of the journey of Confederate Secretary of the Treasury George Trenholm and the last days of the Confederate government.

There are four places that claim to have hosted the last meeting of the Confederate cabinet: Charlotte, NC; Fort Mill and Abbeville, SC; and, Washington, Georgia. My argument has always been that the last meeting of the Confederate cabinet was in Charlotte on April 26, 1865. After that morning meeting in the Phifer home, the government more or less broke up for all practical intents and purposes.

Who was present at that meeting?
George Davis - Attorney General
Judah P. Benjamin - Secretary of State
George Trenholm - Secretary of the Treasury
John C. Breckenridge - Secretary of War
Stephen Mallory - Secretary of  Navy
John H. Reagan - Postmaster General

George Davis was the first to leave. On April 25, Jefferson Davis advised George Davis (no relation) to look after his family. George Davis submitted his resignation, and it was accepted the following day. I do not believe that George Davis crossed into South Carolina with Jefferson Davis's party.
George Trenholm - The Secretary of the Treasury was sick, and had been sick on the entire trip, from Richmond to Danville to Greensboro, and eventually to Charlotte. He was so ill that the other members of the Confederate cabinet gathered in his room on the morning of April 26 before setting out. Mrs. Trenholm, who was a member of the party, wrote afterwards: "We started again in the ambulance on the 26th & reached Mr. White's, three miles from the Catawba Bridge (Fort Mills) the same day. Here Mr. Trenholm was so sick we had to stop a day. The President & Cabinet  proceeded on their journey. Mr. Trenholm had a consultation with them and decided that he was unable to go on with them and attend to the duties of his office so he there handed in his resignation." I believe Mrs. Trenholm's account was written after the events transpired.

An interesting, conflicting account is that of John T. Wood, one of Davis's staff officers. His diary seems to be a day  off. He chronicles that George Davis resigned on April 24, that the party crossed the South Carolina line on April 25, the same day that Trenholm resigned.

Post Master General Reagan wrote after the war that Trenholm, "made an effort to travel with us, but after some twenty miles found himself to go further, and resigned his position as Secretary of the Treasury. Thereupon a meeting of the Cabinet was held, in m
y absence; and after consultation, the President sent for me and requested me to accept the appointment as Secretary of the Treasury..."
Jefferson Davis himself, writing in Rise and Fall of Confederate Government, states, "I rode out of Charlotte attended by the members of my Cabinet (except General Davis, who had gone to see his family residing in that section, and the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Trenholm, who was too ill to accompany me), my personal staff and cavalry, representing six brigades, numbering about 2,000."

In a letter written in 1919, a Phifer descendant stated that the Trenholms remained in Charlotte several days before traveling to Fort Mill and to Winnsboro before turning toward home.  

There are many who claim that Fort Mill, South Carolina, was the site of the last meeting of the full Confederate cabinet. Reagan admits he was not there. George Davis had already resigned, and it would appear that Trenholm was not with the group, at least according to Jefferson Davis.  That leaves three members : Mallory, Benjamin, and Breckenridge, hardly the full Confederate cabinet.  

1 comment:

David Winslow said...

I think Abbeville's claim has as much to do with that the Great Seal of the Confederacy (I think entrusted to Sec of State Benjamin) was last seen there. Legend has it the Seal is buried somewhere in Abbeville.

As an aside, my modern day Jewish friends cite Benjamin's role in the government as proof that the south was less anti semetic than the north:-)