With most of Florida’s tourist attractions, top restaurants, and resorts closed or operating on a limited basis, I thought I would contribute a story on one of Florida’s favorite topics: TREASURE. In this case, it isn’t pirate gold, but Confederate gold coins.
As a historian and college professor, I get several emails and letters every year from people who wishfully hope I have some lost diary or letter that might provide evidence where there is treasure such as “the Confederate treasury that fled Richmond before that city fell.”
Most scholars question whether the treasury was that extensive, but I can assure you some of it got to Florida and some of that gold might still be buried on the roadway between Archer and Waldo, Florida.
Here is a story based upon these facts:
It is APRIL 1, 1865, and the Confederacy is collapsing. In Florida, locals get a real jolt. Governor JOHN MILTON, worn down by the stress of his office and depressed with the inevitable collapse of Richmond, goes to his Marianna plantation Sylvania and fires a bullet into his skull. Ironically, Tallahassee is the only Rebel capital east of the Mississippi River that the Union forces do not invade.
APRIL 2, 1865: Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet flee Richmond by train. What is left of the Confederate Treasury and funds in the banks of Richmond are placed in a second train in boxcars that contain four Conestoga wagons and nine large buckboards. Important Confederate documents are also in the cargo.
APRIL 3, 1865: Richmond falls and Grant begins his chase of Lee south of the Rebel Capital. Although some Confederate officials are still talking about starting a new Rebel government in Texas, Cuba, or even the Bahamas, their plans will soon be ruined. The gold train could not reach the Deep South with General Sherman’s forces controlling the rail routes.
APRIL 9, 1865: Robert E. Lee surrenders the Confederate Army to U.S. Grant. The cause seems lost except to a few militants. In Washington, Georgia, the Richmond bank money is placed in a local bank to return to Virginia. Rebel funds are divided into various wagons and soldiers are paid. Then the wagons go in different directions.
MAY 10, 1865: Confederate President Jefferson Davis is captured outside Irwinville, Georgia. The 4th Michigan Cavalry claim Davis’s party has only a few dollars.
May 15, 1865: A small wagon train secretly enters Florida along a backwoods trail. Ten Rebel soldiers, two civilian scouts, and five black laborers travel at night to avoid Union forces that guard the Florida roads.
May 22, 1865: The wagons reach their destination: Cotton Wood, the plantation of former United States Senator DAVID LEVY YULEE, the railroad pioneer who built a railroad route from Fernandina to Cedar Key and right past Yulee’s Archer, Florida, farm.
The Senator is away but Mrs. Levy tells them the sad news that President Davis has been captured. The soldiers hide the wagon and give Mrs. Yulee chests and bags containing not just Rebel records, but some of Davis’ personal belongings.
That night, almost alongside the railroad, the ten Confederates decide to divide up the money they have, giving each soldier 400 gold sovereigns (worth $1,940 in 1865) plus $55 in travel expenses. They give another $975 in gold to each of the civilians and the five black servants.
MAY 23, 1865: The next morning Senator Yulee arrives and advises the men to seek paroles, surrender, and go home to their families in Virginia. The men leave immediately.
Records show that the ten soldiers surrendered at Waldo and Baldwin, and no mention of Confederate gold was made. It may be assumed that the men may have buried the gold along the rail route, knowing they would be searched if captured.
May 24, 1865: Senator Yulee took the Davis trunks to the Waldo railroad depot where Union forces seized them. Hours later Captain O. E. Bryant and Union cavalry arrived at Cotton Wood to take the wagons. They found no gold but Mrs. Yulee presented Bryant with Jefferson Davis’ French musket.
The Confederate gold may not have reached the Bahamas, but one key Rebel leader did escape via Florida.
MAY 25, 1865: Confederate Secretary of State JUDAH PHILLIP BENJAMIN reached the sugar plantation of Robert Gamble on the banks of the Manatee River.
Many tales stated he was dressed as a woman (sic); the reality was that Benjamin, born in the Dutch Virgin Islands, pretended he was a lost French newsman.
A few days later, pretending to be a French cook, the Gambles got him on a boat leaving Sarasota Bay. Benjamin moved to London and served as a lawyer.
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