In April 1865, the confederacy was in its death throes. Confederate President Jefferson Davis heard on the way home from church on April 2, 1865 that Grant had broken through the line at Petersburg. The evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy was underway. The Confederate cabinet commandeered to special trains on the only open line left to Danville, Virginia- one carrying the cabinet and the other the Confederate treasury along with the assets of six Virginia banks. The Confederate treasury was worth about $500,000 at the time, which is about 10 million dollars in today’s money. It consisted of gold ingots, gold double eagle coins, silver coins, silver bricks and $200,000 of Mexican silver dollars. The bank assets added up to about 9 million dollars in today’s money. Included in the loot was allegedly donated jewelry, and even floor sweepings from the Dahlonega, Georgia mint. The gold and silver were packed in wooden crates and loaded onto the train. The only men available to guard this valuable treasure were young midshipmen from a training ship on the James River. Some of them were as young as twelve years old.
The train hit Danville and some money was paid out an exchanged for Confederate paper money, which quickly became worthless. The train kept moving south, but when the money was counted a few days later there was some $200,000 missing. Legends abound that this money was pulled off the train and hidden somewhere in Danville. More on that in a later post. The men were instructed to take the remaining money to the old mint at Charlotte, North Carolina, however, they were thwarted by the US Cavalry. They hid what money was left in old flour and sugar containers and ran for the Georgia/South Carolina line. They met in Washington, Georgia, where Jefferson Davis was holed up with what was left of his cabinet. Some of the funds were disbursed to soldiers as pay, but this did not use up all the funds. It was here where the money and the Confederate cabinet was captured. The money was prepared for transport to Washington DC. However, this is where the story gets hazier.
The wagon train stopped outside the Chennault plantation on May 1865. At 11:00pm that night, a man in blue uniform rode passed the camp. An hour later, twenty raiders attacked the camp in a well organized attack. It was so well executed the Chennault family was not even aware it was taking place. The raiders were found to members of the 7th and 8th Tennessee, which were originally Confederates then switched sides to the Union. They busted open the wagons and began stuffing so much gold in their saddlebags they were overflowing. Legend says that one man had a hole in his bag and didn’t realize it and rode off leaving a trail of gold coins. Union general Edward A. Wild was in charge of finding the missing money and earned infamy for his treatment of the Chennault family, who were innocent bystanders to the raid. The men tortured and the women strip searched. Angry soldiers even shot the family dog. They were dragged to prison, but eventually released. Some of the money was recaptured, but a portion of it was never found. This led to the legends that the money was buried somewhere in Wilkes County, Georgia. Some stories said that after a rain, gold coins would wash up on the dirt roads.
Another legend persists about the gold and the involvement a local family, the Mumfords. Stories say that a portion of the treasury was given to members present at the last Confederate cabinet meeting. Sylvester Mumford, a Confederate sympathizer from New York who had a cotton plantation in the neighborhood, was present and took his share. One legend says he was given the entirety of the treasury. It is alleged, Mumford took the money he was given and took a portion of it by steamer from Florida to Great Britain. The other portion was inherited by Mumford’s daughter, Goertner “Gertrude” Mumford Parkhurst, who lived in New York. Supposedly, she decided this money should go back to the people it came from and she established trust funds for the education of the descendants of Confederate soldiers. These were established through her will after her death in 1946. This story gained popularity from the book Snow White Sands, written by Martha Mizell Puckett.
Wayne J. Lewis was one of the first recipients of the scholarship and became interested in the story. Through his research, he disproved this connection finding that the stolen money from the Washington heist was accounted for and had been tied up in the federal court system until 1893, where it was awarded back to the federal government.
Sources available on request