The Last Ditch of the Chivalry, or a President in Petticoats.
The Last Ditch of the Chivalry, or a President in Petticoats.

The Last Ditch of the Chivalry, or a President in Petticoats.

New York: Published by Currier & Ives, 1865. Lithograph, 22.5 x 35 cm, plus title and margins.

A lithograph satirizing Jefferson Davis’s infamous 1865 arrest, showing the President fleeing capture disguised in petticoats and a bonnet.

Just prior to his arrest, President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis committed a gaffe that only added insult to injury in the wake of the South’s defeat. On the morning of 10 May 1865, Federal cavalrymen apprehended a small group of Confederates that included Davis and his wife who had camped overnight near Irwinville, Georgia. Amid the confusion, Davis attempted to steal away unrecognized—but not before his wife hurriedly threw her shawl and raincoat over his shoulders to protect him from the morning chill. Davis would maintain that he was unaware he had donned his wife’s clothing. The more appealing version—quickly elaborated upon by Northern newspapers and magazines—was that the Confederate president had attempted to avoid capture by dressing up in women’s clothing.

Shown here being pursued by gleeful Union soldiers brandishing pistols and swords, Davis is depicted making a run for it in a petticoat and a bonnet. He exclaims: “Let me alone you blood thirsty villains:—I thought your government more magnanimous than to hunt down women and children!” Under his arm, Davis holds a sack of gold; in his hand he holds a knife. Behind him his wife Varina Howell yells to the soldiers in pursuit: “Look out you vile Yankees, if you make him mad he will hurt some of you!” One Union soldier hollers, “Give in Old Chap, we have got a $100,000 on you”—referring to the $100,000 reward President Andrew Johnson issued for the capture of Davis. And another calls to Davis: “Surrender Old Fellow, or we will let daylight into you; you have reached your last ditch!”

Unsurprisingly, the incident was a boon for political cartoonists who began producing scores of cartoons depicting Davis as a bearded Southern belle, wearing a petticoat, dress, and bonnet. In the wake of Davis’s arrest, P. T. Barnum announced that he would pay $500 for Davis’s dress, and “Jeff in Petticoats” soon became a popular post-war song in the North. Historian Andrew F. Rolle has noted that “[t]he North’s treatment of Jefferson Davis symbolized the humiliation being inflicted upon the South.”

REFERENCES: Manseau, Peter. Jefferson Davis on Fire at; Weitenkampf, Frank. Political Caricature in the United States in Separately Published Cartoons (NY, 1853), p. 151.

CONDITION: Good, expertly repaired tear through title margin extending 1.5” into image, pinhole in sky, very faint dampstain.

Item #3571