The Families of Adam Keith

In the Civil War

The Stories


Capture of “Jeff” Davis

Individual Report for Isaac I. Skinner


Anc: Adam Keith1>Johann Jacob Keith2>Jacob Keith3>Adam Keith4>Mary Alice “Mattie” [Keith] m. [Isaac I.] Skinner5


Birth Date: Jan 1839 Place: Perrysburg, Cattaraugus Co. NY

Death Date: 1916 Place: Hollister, San Benito Co. CA

Burial Place: Buckingham Cemetery, Perry Twp., Tama Co. IA

Spouse: *Mary Alice "Mattie" Keith (3 Sep 1851 - 1 Oct 1885)

Marr. Date: 2 Nov 1870 Place: Vinton, Benton Co. IA



1 Maud F. Skinner (1871-1913)

2 Nellie O. Skinner (1875-1973)

3 Jane Keith "Jennie" Skinner (1878-1964)

4 Stella Skinner (Cir 1883-1885)


Promoted to Full Sergeant. Enlisted as a Private on 9 August 1862 at the age of 23. Enlisted in  Company I, 4th Cavalry Regiment Michigan on 29 Aug 1862. Mustered Out Company I, 4th Cavalry Regiment Michigan on 1 Jul 1865 at Nashville, TN.


4th Michigan Cavalry and the capture of Jefferson Davis


On the 7th. of May 1865, the Regiment was ordered to proceed, as quickly as possible, to Spaulding, GA, in Irwin County, and picket the Ocmulgee River, from Hawkinsville to the mouth of the Oconee River, for the purpose of preventing the escape of Jefferson Davis, who was then supposed to be making his way to the coast, and if the Regiment got on his track to follow him wherever he went, then to capture, or kill him without fail. At Abbyville, Colonel Minty became satisfied that Davis had already crossed the Ocmulgee River, then ascertained that the 1st.Wisconsin Cavalry were following him closely in the direction of Irwinsville. With 153 of his best mounted men of the Regiment, he followed the line of the Ocmulgee for some miles, then took a bridle path, or blind road through the woods towards Irwinsville, arriving there about 2 A.M. on the 10th., to find that Davis's party had not yet passed.


Pretending to be a part of his escort, Colonel Pritchard gained information from a citizen that Davis was encamped in the woods about three fourths of a mile north of the town.


The camp in which Davis and his family were found was pleasantly situated, surrounded by a thick pine forest, close to a small swamp, not far from a running brook, affording healthful refreshment for the weary fugitives who rested near its banks. In the camp were standing three wall tents, in line, parallel with the road, facing the opposite direction, while the narrow space between the tents, was occupied by several horses, without equipment. Still beyond, in advance of this line of tents, was a small tent, pitched against a large tree. In this closure of tents, reposing all unconscious of the impending danger, lay Davis and his family, together with his military staff. Nearby was the rest of the camp, which appeared to be troops, with army wagons, ambulances, horses and cavalry equipment. The Regiment charged into the camp just at early dawn, completely surprising them, then making the arrest. A few Michigan men then guarded the tents, while the main force was called to the sound of firing, unfortunately caused by a collision of a portion of the 4th., with the 1st. Wisconsin Cavalry, closing in on the camp simultaneously with the 4th.


The camp was soon broken up, when after breakfast and a brief rest, the male prisoners were mounted on their own horses, Mrs. Davis, her servants and the rest of the family were placed in the ambulances for the trip to Macon. On arriving at Macon, Colonel Pritchard, Captain Hudson and Lieutenant's Stauber and Purinton, with 22 men were detailed to escort Davis to Washington D.C.


An excerpt from the account of Julian G. Dickinson, Late Adjutant 4th Michigan Cavalry and Brevet Captain, USV, on the capture of Jefferson Davis, read 1/8/1889, published 1899.


“... I turned and saw Andrew Bee, our "headquarters cook," who was standing close to the front of one of the wall tents and pointing to three persons in female attire, who, arm in arm, were moving rapidly across the clearing towards the thicket. Andrew called to me, "Adjutant, there goes a man dressed in woman's clothes."

The person indicated was quite apparent, and I rode at once toward the party, ordering them to halt, repeating the order rapidly, they seeming not to hear, or not inclined to obey, until I rode directly across their pathway, when they halted. At that moment Corporal Munger, of Company C, came riding up from the thicket, and taking a stand in the rear of the party brought his carbine to a position for firing upon the man dressed in woman's clothes, at the same time applying to him an appellation that was in vogue among the troopers as a designation of "Jeff. Davis." I ordered the corporal not to fire, there being no perceptible resistance.

The person in disguise was Jefferson Davis, and his companions were Mrs. Davis and her colored waiting maid. The scene thus presented was rendered pathetic by the cries of Davis' family at the tents and by the heroic conduct of Mrs. Davis, who placed her arms around the drooping head of her husband, as if to protect him from threatened peril; she made no other appeal to us.

Davis had on for disguise a black shawl drawn closely around his head and shoulders, through the folds of which I could see his gray hairs. He wore on his person a woman's long, black dress, which completely concealed his figure, excepting his spurred boot heels. The dress was undoubtedly Mrs. Davis' traveling dress, which she afterwards wore on her return march to Macon. At the time of the capture she was attired in her morning gown and a black shawl covering her head and stately form, while her waiting maid was completely attired in black.

Glancing from this party before me, and around the position, I was startled by the presence of several rebel officers who in the meantime quietly came upon the scene. The positions they had taken clearly indicated they were interested in the movement of their chief. I ordered Davis and his party to retire to their tents and then moved toward the rebel officers in question, requesting them to also retire. I was promptly obeyed.

I directed Corporal Munger to guard Mr. Davis and his party in their tents, and to take two men who came up with him for that purpose. I then rode forward to report to Col. Pritchard the episode that had taken place. In the meantime spirited firing had commenced, and the usual evidences of an engagement with an enemy appeared in the direction our column had advanced.

As I passed Davis' tent, in going to the front, Mrs. Davis called to me, and I dismounted to hear her request. She asked what we were going to do with Mr. Davis and whether herself and family would be permitted to go along with him. I informed her that I could not tell what would be done with any of them until I had reported to my commanding officer. She then very earnestly said that we must not interfere with Mr. Davis as he was a very desperate man and would hurt some of us. She further requested that I would see to certain things that she had in the wagon, and I promised to attend to that

As I moved into the road I met one of our officers from the front with something from the wagon, in the shape of a canteen of most excellent fluid, of which he freely offered me a share. I mete Col. Pritchard just returning from an unfortunate conflict with the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, that regiment having come upon our pickets and mistaking them for an enemy, retired and formed for a battle, which forced our column to form in line and skirmish with them, in the belief that we had met a force of the enemy. Col. Pritchard brought the engagement to a close by dashing into the lines of the 1st Wisconsin and notifying them of the mistake.

The fact was that the 1st Wisconsin and the 4th Michigan expected to find a desperate force of the enemy; the 1st Wisconsin, however, was marching without any knowledge of the locality of the camp, and without any expectation of finding it at that time, having been in bivouac most of the night, a few miles from our picket.

I reported to Col. Pritchard the capture of Jeff. Davis in his attempt to escape from the camp in female attire, and that I had put him under guard. In the meantime Mr. Davis put on his male attire - a suit of gray - and came out of his tent. When he saw Col. Pritchard he shouted out some inquiry, which he followed up with the old familiar charge, "You are vandals, thieves and robbers." He evidently had worked himself into a rage, for when I went to him soon after, getting the names of the prisoners, he refused my request for his name, and I was obliged to receive it from his wife, who spoke up proudly, in answer to my repeated question, "his name is Jefferson Davis, sir. ..."

There having been a reward, of 100,000 dollars, posted for the capture of Davis, the men of the 4th. were naturally elated at their good fortune, however, the War Department appointed a commission that decided that the men of the 4th. were indeed entitled to the money, but when Congress approved the appropriation, a claim was immediately put forth by the men of the 1st. Wisconsin. It was not until July of 1868 that a bill authorizing the payment was passed, and at that time Congress felt the reward be shared by both the 4th. Michigan and the 1st.Wisconsin. When the money was distributed, it was shared equally by all men who had participated in the expedition.


The Fourth gained a national reputation, with world wide notoriety, by the capture of Davis. It was an accomplishment of an eminently special and important duty, for the nation, so distinctive and definite in its character, as to render a like service impossible, giving it a place in the history of the war, without parallel.