The following is a speech given to the Washington, Georgia Civil War Roundtable on February 26, 2007.
I am deeply honored to be here today in this wonderful town of Washington, and I thank you for the chance to speak before such a distinguished group of people. Claibourne has warned me that some of you all are extremely knowledgeable about the War Between the States, and to be careful not to make any mistakes because I will surely get caught and be called on it. So please go easy on me.
Before I begin I'd like to emphasize that while I am very proud of my ancestors, I'm not bragging about anything. I can claim no personal distinction for their heroism, which reflects what was common among the hopelessly outnumbered, outsupplied but not outfought Confederate troops, something in which we all take much pride.
Our ancestors often ran low on food, ammunition, and other supplies, but never on courage.
I write and talk about all this because I am proud of our heritage and committed to helping keep its memory alive and honored, amidst the ongoing campaign to rewrite history and discredit the valor and honor of the Confederate soldiers and their Cause. I know that no one here today needs educating on this issue.
Here in Washington, some very historic events have taken place, one of them involving one of my ancestors, and I'd like to talk a little about that today.
I am very proud that my great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Moses, Jr., of Sumter, S.C., and his four brothers fought for the Confederacy, and Major Raphael Jacob Moses was their uncle, [having married Eliza Moses, the sister of the Moses brothers' father, Andrew Jackson Moses, Sr.]
We know firsthand, from their letters, diaries, and memoirs, that they and their compatriots were not fighting for slavery, as is so often alleged. They were trying to defend themselves and their comrades, their families, homes, and country from an often cruel invading army that was trying to kill them, burn their homes and cities, and destroy everything they had.
Raphael Moses was a fifth-generation South Carolinian who in 1849 moved to Columbus, Georgia, where he was a lawyer, planter, and owner of a plantation he named "Esquiline." Moses' English ancestors came to America during colonial days, one of them being his great, great grandfather Dr. Samuel Nunez, fleeing the Inquisition. He is credited with saving the newly-established, mosquito-infested colony of Savannah, Georgia from being wiped out in 1733 by a "fever," then thought to be yellow fever but which was probably malaria.
Before the War, Moses pioneered the commercial growing of peaches and plums in Georgia, so it could thus be said that he is a major reason Georgia is called The Peach State. Moses is reputed to have been the first planter to ship and sell peaches outside of the South, in 1851, before there was any through connection by railroad. James C. Bonner's A History of Georgia Agriculture, 1732–1860, credits Moses with being the first to succeed in preserving the flavor of shipped peaches, by packing them in champagne baskets instead of pulverized charcoal.
Moses knew well and wrote in his memoirs about General Robert E. Lee (whom he was with at Gettysburg) and other major Confederate figures. The renowned Douglas Southall Freeman, in his authoritative work Lee’s Lieutenants called Moses “…the best commissary officer of like rank in the Confederate service.”
As General James Longstreet’s chief commissary officer, Moses participated in many of the major battles in the East, and was responsible for supplying and feeding up to 54,000 troops, porters, and other non-combatants. General Lee had forbidden him from entering private homes in search of supplies in raids into Union territory (such as the incursions into Pennsylvania), even when food and other provisions were in painfully short supply.
Moses always paid for what he took from farms and businesses, albeit in Confederate tender.
Often while seizing supplies, Moses encountered considerable hostility and abuse from the local women, which he always endured in good humor, and it became a source of much teasing from his fellow officers.
Moses always acted honorably, compassionately, and as a gentleman. Once, when a distraught woman approached Moses and pleaded for the return of her pet heifer that had been caught up in a cattle seizure, he graciously acceded.
The contrast is striking between the humane Confederate policies and those of the North. Union generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan regularly burned and looted homes, farms, courthouses, churches, libraries, and entire cities full of civilians, such as Atlanta and Columbia, South Carolina, and most everything of value in between, later engaging in the mass slaughtering of Native Americans in the West, largely old men, women, and children in their villages, in what we euphemistically call "The Indian Wars."
Moses' memoirs contain some very interesting observations on the Battle of Gettysburg. "…We lost the battle," laments Moses, "and then came the retreat; the rain poured down in floods that night ! I laid down in a fence corner and near by on the bare earth in an India rubber [tarp] lay General Lee biding the pelting storm."
In his memoirs, Moses reveals that "General Longstreet did not wish to fight the Battle of Gettysburg. He wanted to go around the hill, but Lee objected on account of our long wagon and artillery trains." Longstreet, as historian Ed Bearss notes, "knew what muskets in the hands of determined troops could do," and felt that the Union forces, holding the high ground, would have the same advantage over his forces that the Confederates had over the Federals at Fredericksburg. If his advice had been taken, it could have changed the course of the War.
But Lee rejected Longstreet's recommendation to swing his troops around the heights, and instead ordered the attack on the center of the Union forces at Cemetery Hill, saying of the Yankees, "I will whip them here, or they will whip me." Honorable as always, after the battle Lee took responsibility for the disaster, saying "All this has been my fault." Longstreet, feeling that the ground fought over had no military value, called that day "the saddest of my life." Shelby Foote calls Lee's decision "The mistake of all mistakes."
Interestingly, the entire battle might have been avoided and the course of the war changed if Longstreet's forces had not been forced to wait for their reinforcements to arrive. Moses says that if the Confederates had not been delayed near Cash Town for over a day waiting for General Richard Stoddert Ewell's wagon train of supplies, "…I do know that we could have marched easily from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, in a day, and been there before the Union troops."
Moses’ three sons also fought for the South, and one was killed at Seven Pines in May, 1862 after performing acts of amazing valor – Lt. Albert Moses Luria, the first Jewish Confederate to fall in battle.
He was killed at age nineteen after courageously throwing a live Union artillery shell out of his fortification before it exploded, thereby saving the lives of many of his compatriots.
(The last Confederate Jew to be killed was Major Moses’ nephew, Joshua Lazarus Moses, of Sumter, South Carolina, the brother of my great grandfather. Josh was killed in the battle of Fort Blakeley, Alabama, a few hours after Lee surrendered, commanding the guns firing the last shots in defense of Mobile. In this battle, Josh’s brothers Perry and Horace were respectively wounded and captured.)
RUNNING OUT OF FOOD
Prior to Virginia's Battle of the Wilderness in May, 1864, Moses was having more and more difficulty obtaining supplies, since farmers were refusing to sell their crops because of increasing speculation over prices. Moses decided to travel to Georgia, his major source of supplies, to talk to the farmers: ["It occurred to me, that if I could go to Georgia and speak to the people who had sons, brothers, relatives and friends suffering for food, that I could get supplies." Moses asked General Lee for a furlough to go there and loosen up the pipeline, and Lee replied, "Major, I would approve it but really we can't spare you, you know." But when Moses explained his plans, Lee responded, "Well, Major, if you think you can do anything for my poor boys, go and may God crown you effort with success."]
When he arrived in Georgia in mid-1864, Moses found few willing and able to help out.[ In his memoirs, he recalled a meeting where he spoke at Temperance Hall in Columbus:
There were about thirty persons present…When I last spoke at this hall, it was to urge the people of Columbus to send their sons and brothers to confront the hazards of war to redress their country's wrongs. The house was full from pit to gallery with patriotic citizens ready for the sacrifices asked. Now I come from those near and dear to the people here to appeal to them for bread, for the starving Army, and I am confronted by empty benches…
Travelling next to southwest Georgia, Moses was "met there with a very different spirit and had a very successful trip."] But while there, the Confederate Commissary for the state died, and Moses was appointed to fill the post.
Still, the pressures on Moses to obtain and distribute supplies of food remained relentless, and towards the end of the War, the situation had become desperate.
THE FINAL DAYS
Moses' account of those final, chaotic days after Lee's surrender is filled with stories of heroism and heartbreak, humor and tragedy. (There are many conflicting accounts of this era; what follows is from Moses' recollections.)
With the defeat of the Confederate forces, the capital of Richmond was abandoned in April, 1865, and the senior government officials and their staff headed south, avoiding Union forces, and ending up in Georgia.
Moses tells of Mrs. Jefferson Davis awaiting her husband in Washington, Georgia, where he arrived accompanied by his cabinet and "a train containing gold and silver bullion."
shortly before [General Joseph E.] Johnston's surrender, I was ordered to Washington, Wilkes County. Soon after, Davis and his cabinet arrived there. Mrs. Davis met her husband in Washington. A train containing gold and silver bullion accompanied the cabinet. It was brought from Richmond banks. I was staying with General Toombs… I remember seeing General [ Braxton] Bragg waiting under an oak tree to get his $20.00.
I received an order from General Johnston to provide 250,000 rations at Augusta for the returning soldiers…and there arrange as best I could with general Mollyneux [Molineux] who then occupied Augusta with Federal troops, to protect me in furnishing the troops as they passed through Augusta and to provide for the sick and wounded in hospitals.
One of Moses' stories describes the close escape from arrest by the Yankees of his close friend, and resident of this area, General Robert A. Toombs, a leading Georgia planter who served as the South's first Secretary of State.
Moses was in Washington with his son Israel Moses Nunez, called "Major," when, he writes, "…a cavalry man rode up coming from [War Secretary] Breckenbrige [sic] and threw over the fence a sack containing $5,000 in gold for his [Toombs'] personal use":
He [Toombs] handed it to Major and told him to buy corn and provisions with it and distribute it among the returning soldiers as they passed through Washington, and my son did so use it…
Shortly afterwards, Moses continues, "the government came to arrest [Toombs], and my son Major met the officer between the gate and the house, while [Toombs] escaped out of the back way, mounted his horse, donned blue spectacles and after many hair-breath escapes, fled to foreign parts, where his wife followed, and he lived with her some time in Paris."
THE LAST ORDER OF THE LOST CAUSE
About three weeks after the war's end, as chief commissary for Georgia, Moses carried out what is reputed to have been the last order of the Confederacy. It involved safeguarding and delivering the Confederate treasury's last $40,000 of silver and/or gold bullion (perhaps $750,000 today).
(Although the accounts are contradictory and confusing, it appears that Moses paid $10,000 to the Quartermaster-General in Washington [according to Avery, p. 326], and carried $30,000 in bullion to Augusta.)
Carrying out the order was no easy task, amidst the anarchy of defeat, orderly government and military discipline having collapsed, and lawless mobs of unruly, sometimes drunken former soldiers searching desperately for food and money.
[The Memoirs of Jefferson Davis, written by his wife, contain a letter written to Davis several years after the war by Acting Secretary of Treasury, describing how he "directed him [an acting treasurer] to turn the silver bullion over to Major Moses, as it was too bulky and heavy to be managed by us in our then condition; and I saw Moses putting it in a warehouse in Washington [Georgia] before I left there. I also directed him to burn the Confederate notes in the presence of General Breckinridge and myself.]
The Acting Treasurer, Captain M.H. Clark of Clarksville, Tennessee, described the disposition of the Confederate bullion in a 13 January, 1882 interview with the Louisville Courier Journal:
Before reaching town [Washington, Georgia], I was halted by Major R.J. Moses, to turn over to him the specie [coins] which president Davis, before he left, ordered to be placed at the disposal of the Commissary Department, to feed the paroled soldiers and stragglers passing through, to prevent their burdening a section already stripped of supplies. I turned over to Major Moses the wagons and silver bullion, and all of the escort except about ten men.
The government's final order was handed down at its last meeting, held in Washington, Wilkes County, Georgia on 5 May, 1865, which according to Moses, was attended, among others, by President Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, and Major Moses. (It is unclear who actually attended the meeting, with some accounts saying that Breckinridge arrived after Davis departed.)
And then, as "Confederate Veteran" observes, "…at last, in the old Heard House in Washington, on Georgia soil, the Southern Confederacy ceased to exist and passed into history."
That Last order reads as follows:
Major R.J. Moses, will pay $10,000, the amount of bullion appropriated to Q.M. [quartermaster] Dept. by Sec. War to Maj. R.R. Wood. By order of Q.M. Gen.
[signed] W.F. Alexander, Maj. And Asst. to Q.M. Gen., 5 May, 1865, Washington
But the Confederacy did not die a quiet death. "By early may, 1865, realizing the war was lost, the major units of the Confederate Army had surrendered," author Mel Young writes in Last Order of the Lost Cause, the authoritative published account for this historic event.
“Individual Confederate soldiers, groups of soldiers, and small units were trying to walk, ride, or move in groups back to their homes. They were in tattered uniforms, hungry and mostly penniless. Confederate General [Joseph E. ] Johnston, requested of President Davis that 250,000 rations be obtained to be distributed to these discharged soldiers.
In accepting this responsibility, Moses, now 53 years old, showed the usual courage and tenacity for which he was known. Facing down a turbulent mob of former Confederates who intercepted and threatened to storm his train in Barnett, Georgia, Moses successfully carried out the order to deliver the remaining Confederate gold bullion to help and provision the troops struggling to get back home,
In his classic work, The History of the State of Georgia, From 1850–1881, I.W. Avery describes the situation thusly:
Major Moses had a stirring time with his perilous treasure. It was, of course, known immediately that he had it in his possession. The war had unhinged men's ideas and principles. But still more demoralizing of the public conscience was the desperate stress of the people, coupled with the knowledge that the Confederate cause was dead, and that this specie was ownerless and a probable treasure trove and booty for the Federal soldiery. Maj. Moses, with punctilious honor, was resolved to part with it only with his life and to deliver it according to orders in fulfillment of its kindly mission.
Moses biggest problem was protecting the bullion in his charge from unruly soldiers: "The town was full of stragglers, cavalry men who had just been paid $20.00 each. They had arms but no consciences, and the little taste they had of specie provoked their appetites…"
Moses writes in his memoirs that General Robert Toombs gave me the names of ten of the Washington Artillery, all gentlemen well known to him":
I agreed to pay them $10.00 each in gold to guard it that night and go with me to Augusta. I then took a squad of them and destroyed all the liquor I could find in the shops. I then got part of a keg of powder and put it in a wooden building that was unoccupied and put the boxes of bullion in the same room, placed my guard outside and around the building, and gave out that I had laid a train of powder to the outside, and if the guard was forced, the train would be fired.
The next morning, Moses had the bullion loaded onto a train filled with some 200 soldiers and "29 cavalry men," and when the train was just outside of its destination of Barnett, the trouble started:
…the conductor, a nice old man, came to our car and said, "Major, from the talk I reckon the boys are going to u2018charge' your car when we reach Barnett." Charge meant to attack it and take the specie and divide it among themselves….I held a council with my guard, and I told them that if they would stand by me, keep cool, fire (and reload) through an opening we would make in the doors, I thought we could successfully defend the car, but they were not ready to do this, we would be overcome.
They consulted together, and I was afraid they would conclude "To join the Cavalry," but they finally said, "We will stand by you as long as there is a chance to save the specie."
Avery writes that "These desperate men, a reckless mob, coolly demanded the money, as being as much theirs as anyone's, and they were armed to enforce the demand."
Showing amazing courage, Moses then went out "among the men, who were as thick as blackbirds," and told them that "every dollar of the bullion would be devoted to feeding their fellow soldiers, and caring for the wounded in the hospitals at Augusta…that they might killed me and my guard, but they would be killing men in the discharge of a duty in behalf of their comrades ! That if they killed us, it would be murder, while if we killed any of them in defending the bullion, which we certainly should endeavor to do, we would be justified, because the killing would be in self defense and in a discharge of a sacred duty."
When two soldiers in the crowd spoke up and vouched for Moses, "the crowd began to disperse," but unfortunately, the train he was meeting was over an hour late. "…the billows of the seas rise and fall when disturbed by the winds, and this restless crowd at the depot would surge and press up against the door of my box[car] trying to get in, and I would have to threaten them and appeal."
Avery writes, in a page titled "Attempted Rape of the Bullion," that "Major Moses remonstrated quietly and argumentatively with the menacing men surrounding him, and appealed to their honor and patriotism and stated his orders. At length it is seemed nothing could avert the ravishment of this specie."
"At last, the storm seemed to be subsiding," writes Moses, when a fellow officer warned him that some men were about to charge his boxcar, led by a young man from Tennessee with a wound on his cheek. Again showing remarkable courage, Moses approached the man and said to him, "You appear to be a gentleman and bear an honorable wound":
I then read my orders to him, explained my position, and how trying it was to be forced perhaps to take life and lose my own in the performance of a duty that I could not voluntarily avoid. I told him I had a guard and some friends in the crowd, but we would be outnumbered unless I could enlist men like himself in our behalf. ..
I said, "I appeal to you in the spirit of that honor that belongs to all brave men, to assist me in the discharge of this trust."
He seemed embarrassed, but said, "I don't think you will have any further trouble," and I did not.
Finally, Moses and his men were able to catch the train to Augusta and deliver the goods, obtaining a receipt for the delivered bullion from Major and Quartermaster R.R. Wood dated 5 May, 1865.
The Atlanta Journal of 6 February, 1927, in an article entitled "Last official Writing of the Southern Confederacy," reproduced this receipt, calling it "…the last official writing ever issued by the Confederate administration":
It is as historic a curiosity as the world affords, this last
flicker of a mammoth revolution. Such thoughts cluster around it as would make a grand epic…the paper thus testifying to the honesty and promptness of the disbursing officer of a great shattered government – an administration gone down hopelessly in a grand ruin.
[The complete story is told in Mel Young’s Last Order of the Lost Cause, and Robert Rosen’s authoritative, The Jewish Confederates, and originally in I.W. Avery's History of the State of Georgia from 1850–1881.]
In his memoirs, Moses wrote: "I have never turned my back on an enemy that was attacking me, or failed to forgive one as soon as he cried for quarter. I can also say that I never deserted a friend…"
And the Atlanta Journal in 1928 summed up Moses' career thusly: "At the beginning of the war, although overage, he hastened to the defense of his beloved Southland, offering his fortune, his service, his sons – everything save his honor – a willing sacrifice on the altar of his country."
After the war, Raphael Moses became an outspoken critic of the Reconstruction government in Georgia, calling its members "spies, carpetbaggers, a class of politicians, men without character who came from the North in swarms seeking whom they might devour." He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and was named chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
On 3 April, 1867, Robert E. Lee, then President of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, wrote to Moses asking him, and other prominent men of the South, to help heal the wounds of a divided nation.
Moses remained a loyal Confederate until the very end. When he died in 1893, his calling card still read, "Major Raphael J. Moses, C.S.A."
Moses and his fellow soldiers typified many of the brave, beleaguered Confederates who honorably served their country, facing overwhelming, indeed hopeless odds, with loyalty and valor. That terrible war ended fourteen decades ago, but the memory of those soldiers should never be forgotten.
Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss and remember some of those events here with you today.
March 9, 2007