HomeLifestyleHuman InterestSomething You Might Not Have Known: Lost Confederate Gold

Something You Might Not Have Known: Lost Confederate Gold

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It is a mystery that historians and would-be treasure seekers have debated for over 150 years.

Legend has it that at the end of the Civil War, what was left of the Confederate treasury was secreted out of the capital of Richmond, Va. on a wagon train and then it vanished somewhere in Georgia.

Several movies such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) and Sahara (2005) had plot lines incorporating the legend, and scores of books have been devoted to the subject.

Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young is among the authors who have written fictional novels about the disappearance of Confederate gold.

By April of 1865, chaos reigned across the crumbling Confederacy. No city was more chaotic than Richmond, which was poised to fall to federal troops at any time.

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Indeed, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was in church on April 2, when he received a note sent by Gen. Robert E. Lee to evacuate immediately or face arrest by the now almost totally victorious Union Army

According to reports from the time, Davis left the church service and made a hasty escape attempt with his family. That is when accounts began to vary and the mystery of lost Confederate Gold was born.

One thing is sure, most of the rail lines throughout the South were disrupted or utterly destroyed, so when historians speak of a “gold train,” they are referring to a train of wagons.

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Some accounts have Davis emptying out what was left of the treasury and other accounts had the train leaving the capital separately. No one is really sure how the gold was spirited out of the capital; however, when Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, the war was essentially over, and Davis was left a fugitive.

It is not totally clear why Davis and his entourage decided on an escape route through Georgia, except that Davis may have had family in the state. The route may have been decided due to the fact that virtually every Eastern port was under blockade or had already surrendered, so escaping overseas by ship was pretty much out of the question.

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 15 made Davis an even more wanted man as the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a Confederate sympather and many people felt Davis was responsible for the death of the beloved president, whether he actively took part in the assassination or not. 

When Davis and his party were arrested on May 10 in Irwinville, Ga., leaders of the 4th Michigan Calvary only found a few worthless Confederate banknotes on his person, and there was no gold stashed away in the wagons.

One account has the gold being stolen in the far south area of Brooks County where local lore has it the train was attacked by Native Americans who massacred the soldiers and took off with the gold.

While the Brooks County legend has never been verified as having any truth to it, treasure seekers to this day continue to search the alligator infested swamps looking for buried treasure.

The most credible account to emerge has the wagon train stopping for the night near the Chennalt Plantation in Lincoln County near the border with Wilkes County. One theory is that the intention was to move the gold to Augusta, which was not under federal control even though the war was over, where it could be hidden for safe keeping until shipping resumed and could be spirited out of the country.

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However, the trail for the gold ends at the steps of the Chennalt House, which still stands today. Wild theories take over from there, with some saying the Confederate soldiers buried the gold, others claiming the soldiers were robbed by marauding federal troops, and fingers were even pointed at the Chennalt family themselves. 

Official records do show the family was arrested and interrogated, but no gold was ever found on the property. A small cache of coins were reportedly recovered near the property by loggers in the 1940s, but it has never been proven that the coins were part of the treasury.

Over the years, the tales have become even taller with people claiming the treasury contained billions of dollars worth of gold, silver and even precious stones donated by ladies who supported the cause. In reality though, what was left of the treasury likely only amounted to little over a million dollars in today’s money, as the Confederacy was nearly bankrupt.

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Some have even questioned if the gold ever existed at all.

After the war, Davis lost all of his money and his freedom. Northern newspapers mocked the former President and claimed that he was caught fleeing in women’s clothing. In reality, Davis had borrowed his wife’s shawl due to chilly weather and his ill health.

Davis would be set free after two years of confinement, but would not recover his citizenship until 90 years after his death.

Meanwhile, the gold, if it existed, was never recovered.

…And that is something you might not have known.

Scott Hudson is the Senior Reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at [email protected].


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9 COMMENTS

  1. To put legend to rest, in 2019 I published GRABALL ROAD, the historical account of what truly happened in Lincoln County in the summer of 1865. The book includes documents, contemporary accounts and witness statements. Clearly, the legend and the facts do not line up. For example, a wagon train robbery did not happen on the Chenault Plantation, but on the David Moss farm, about a mile away. Electronic scans of the Moss property in 2020 turned up coins and artifacts consistent with the historical record. GRABALL ROAD is available locally at Bargain Hunters and on line at Amazon.

  2. According to another legend, the gold was placed overnight in the vault of a bank in Washington, Georgia, where Jefferson Davis spent the night on his way to South Georgia. It was supposedly the last time the gold was seen. My 3rd great grand uncle J. J. Robertson was a clerk in the bank. He entertained Davis for supper in his residence in the upstairs above the bank.

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