In early May, 1865, 145 years ago, my ancestor Major Raphael Jacob Moses attended the Last Meeting, and carried out the Last Order, of the Confederate Government.
It is an amazing story of heroism and heartbreak, humor and tragedy, and the final official act of a dying nation.
FATHER OF GEORGIA’S PEACH INDUSTRY
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.
Almost three dozen members of the extended family fought for the Confederacy, and participated in most of the major battles and campaigns of the War. At least nine of them, largely teenagers, died in defense of their homeland, and included the first and last Confederate Jews to fall in battle.
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 Portuguese 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.
FEEDING AN ARMY OF 54,000
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.
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."
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’ 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.)
THE FINAL DAYS
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.
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 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.
[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.]
CARRYING OUT THE LAST COMMAND
About three weeks after the war’s end, having assumed the post of 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 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.
And then, as “Confederate Veteran” observed, “…at last, in the old Heard House in Washington, on Georgia soil, the Southern Confederacy ceased to exist and passed into history.”
SAVING THE TREASURY FROM MOB ATTACK
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 ‘charge’ 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 him 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.
A LOYAL CONFEDERATE TO THE END
"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.
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 over fourteen decades ago, but the memory of those soldiers should never be forgotten.