The Fierce Yell First Heard at Manassas
“Jefferson Davis, broken in health and greatly enfeebled by his confinement, came to Richmond [in May 1867] for his anticipated trial in the custody of General Henry S. Burton, commandant of Fortress Monroe, and stopped at the Spottswood Hotel, Eighth and Main Streets. A huge crowd filled the street in front of the hotel and in the vicinity of the customhouse where the [charge of treason] was to be heard.
He was represented by a remarkable array of eminent Northern attorneys, who had come to the conclusion that he was being treated with great injustice and offered their services. The list included Charles O’Conor of New York, probably the leader of the American bar; George Shea of New York; and William Read of Philadelphia. John Randolph Tucker, who had served as attorney general of Virginia, also was one of the defense counsel, together with Judge Robert Ould and James Lyon, both of Richmond.
O’Conor requested that the trial begin at once, but the government declared that this was impossible. [Presiding] Judge [John C.] Underwood, perhaps impressed by the fact that Davis was represented by such distinguished Northern counsel, said the defendant would be admitted to bail in the sum of $100,000.
The bail bond was promptly signed by such onetime foes of the Confederate President as Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, and Gerrit Smith, New York reformer and foe of slavery. Another New Yorker who signed was Cornelius Vanderbilt.
As soon as the court announced that Davis would be admitted to bail, someone ran to a window and shouted to the crowd below on Main Street, “The President is bailed!” A mighty roar of applause greeted the news.
When the formalities were completed and Davis was released from custody, he was escorted to his carriage on Bank Street by Charles O’Conor and Judge Ould. As the three men emerged from the building, they were greeted with “that fierce yell which was first heard at Manassas, and had been the note of victory at Cold Harbor, at Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and wherever battle was fiercest. The “rebel yell” reverberated again as the carriage passed along Main Street to the Spottswood.
Silence fell upon the crowd as the vehicle stopped at the hotel door. Then, as Davis rose from his seat to alight, a deep voice boomed the order, “Hats off, Virginians!” Thousands of men uncovered, as a gesture of respect for the brave man who had led them through four years of desperate conflict and then had suffered two more years in prison. Jefferson Davis was never tried by the Federal authorities.”
(Richmond: the Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts pp. 206-207)