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Jefferson Davis in Women’s Clothing

In a case of fake news that goes back 150 years, the many accounts of the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis tended to focus on what he was wearing at the time. After Lee surrendered to the Union Army at Appomattox in 1865, Davis fled from Virginia with his family, hoping to regroup in Texas to fight on without his army. The Union Army caught up with him in Georgia.  

According to a handful of accounts from the period, Davis was captured while wearing women’s clothes. The story, as it’s generally told, depicts a man desperate to escape and so, with the encouragement of his wife, Varina, he donned her overcoat and shawl and slipped into the Georgia swamp with a female servant (other accounts say he grabbed his wife's coat and shawl accidentally). Union troops spotted the two “women” and, on closer look, realized that one was wearing spurred boots. Given away by his footwear, Davis surrendered to the Union troops.

The majority of contemporary accounts say this is not true at all. However, the story was too juicy to not share, and, encouraged by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the press pounced on it. The lasting rumor defied even physical evidence to the contrary. The result was the above political cartoon and other ephemera from the period, including a photograph you can see along with the story at Mental Floss.

(Image source: Flickr user Boston Public Library)


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