Jefferson Davis' Escape Locomotive

   When Richmond fell, its well recorded that Jefferson Davis escaped on a special train on the Richmond & Danville Railroad. On rare occasions, the locomotive that pulled that train is identified as the Charles Seddon.

   However, on June 21, 1864, Lt. Col. Sims paid the Edgefield & Kentucky Railroad $100,000 for locomotive A. G. Green. He noted on the voucher that the locomotive's name had been changed to James A. Seddon (the current Secretary of War). Green/Seddon's details are: a 4x4x0 with 15"x24" cylinders and 48" drivers. After this transaction, I have no further record of locomotive James A. Seddon.

   With the completion of the Piedmont Railroad in June of 1864, the Piedmont/Richmond & Danville line had been the primary supply line for Richmond. The need for additional rolling stock on both roads was extreme.  It is highly likely that the Confederate government bought Green/Seddon to add capacity to the Richmond & Danville section of this critical supply line.

   Below is a post-war photo of the locomotive that pulled Davis' train. 

   The photo is located in the Southern Methodist University library's digital collections at 

   The SMU data for the photograph gives the title as "Locomotive for train on which Jefferson Davis fled from Richmond in April 1865", the photographer is unknown, the date is listed as 1860-1865. The picture is from a 1921 print from a glass plate negative. Handwritten is "Jeff Davis engine Rogers."

   Another version of the same photograph (though clearly doctored), on the same SMU site, has the following information. Title: "Locomotive for train on which Jefferson Davis fled from Richmond in April 1865." Alternate Title: "Norfolk  Western, Locomotive No. 14, "Sheldon." Photographer is unknown, but a date of 1858 is given. It also states that it is "Part of Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works builders cards. Copy print made from original ca. 1910." Handwritten: "Rogers Loco & Mach. Co. No. 833, Dec. 1858. As Virginia & Tennessee "Tehauntepec" to Norfolk & Western 14 "Sheldon" pulled the train on which Jefferson Davis fled from Richmond in April 1865."

   The researchers who located the photo, and much of the material that follows (John Stewart and Jane Singer), point out that the photo is found in various books, with the identification being Charles Seddon.

   One book with the photo is Lance Phillips' 1965 Yonder Comes the Train. The caption is: "The little 4-4-0 that carried President Davis' train out of Richmond on April 2, 1865. Built by Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works, her cab panel carried the name Charles Seddon when delivered to the Confederate government in 1864. A short time after this trip, the engine was purchased by the Richmond & Danville, and numbered 24 (later named to No. 14). The picture was made at the roundhouse in Manchester, after she had been converted from a wood burner to the use of coal (note pipe from sand dome in front of first pair of drivers, also elaborate scroll work on bell hanger)." The photo is credited to the Cook Collection at the Valentine Museum in Richmond.

   So, we have a bit of confusion: Green/James A. Seddon, Tehauntepec/Charles Seddon, or Tehauntepec/Sheldon?

   Rogers builder's data shows that the Green was their number 883, except that they were not using numbers at that time in the shop. The 883 comes only from the line in the record book on which the locomotive order is entered. Also, the Green had 48" drivers, the Tehauntepec had 60" drivers and the photos clearly show 48" drivers.

   From the Virginia & Tennessee's Records of Miles Run by Locomotive, it is clear that Tehauntepec ran about the same number of miles, pulling passenger trains, in 1865 as it did in the previous several years. It could have run some of those miles on a different road, but the annual report makes no mention of their locomotives running on other roads.

   As noted above, Green had 48" drivers (the large wheels near and under the cab) and by 1860, almost all passenger trains were pulled by 60" driver equipped locomotives; 48" and 54" were usually used for freight service. But by this time in the war, roads could not be picky -- they had to use whatever type was at hand and in running order. The use of a 48" locomotive to pull Davis' train, in this instance, does not present a problem to my mind. I suspect that a desire to have a Rogers 60" locomotive pull the Davis train is what got the Tehauntepec pulled into the discussion, but I see no evidence that the Tehauntepec was in Richmond.

   We know who James A. Seddon was; who was Charles Seddon? Our research has not located any Charles Seddon related to the Confederacy or to any of the railroads in Virginia or Tennessee. And where did "Sheldon" come from? Again, no results from our searches. Lacking any information on Charles Seddon or Sheldon, it seems reasonable to assume that both are mistakes and that James A. Seddon is the correct name.


   Now, lets look at the history of the photograph itself.

   In 1880, the famous photographer George Smith Cook left Charleston and moved to Richmond. He owned a large studio there and also accumulated photos, prints, negatives, etc. from other Richmond photographers when they went out of business or left town. He eventually built up a huge collection.

   George's son, Huestis Pratt Cook, got into the business with his father in 1891; when his father died, in 1902, Huestis took over the business.

   Huestis died in 1951, leaving a widow and an attic full of photographs, one of which was the negative under glass of the photograph in question, complete with a description in Huestis' hand. We do not know when the description was written, but it refers to the locomotive as the Charles Seddon. This is the description given in the many books with the Davis locomotive identified. (The Tehuantepec identification has not been seen anywhere except in the SMU collection.)

   Around 1954, the Widow Cook sold the entire collection to the Valentine Museum, where it remains. They have the negative under glass and three prints from that negative, all with descriptions that are pretty much the same, all from Huestis' original description.

   In 1968, Richmond Newspapers, Inc. donated to the Valentine Museum a black and white picture -- the one we are discussing. To add confusion, they called it the Timberlake and said that it was an old Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad locomotive. J. H. Timberlake was built in 1855 by Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor, not by Rogers Locomotive & M. Works (which is what appears on the emblem on the locomotive nose in our photograph).


   Can we identify when and where the photograph was made? Stewart and Singer have determined that it was taken in early 1885 at the Tanner & Delaney works at Shockoe Valley, later the Richmond Locomotive & Machine Works. We know that the Richmond & Danville was converting all their locomotives from wood to coal and the photograph is of a coal burner. In 1884, the R&D started adding extension fronts to their locomotives' boilers, and the photograph has not had the extension added. Finally, the building in the background was built in 1882.


   To summarize, the photo above is an 1885 photo of the A. G. Green/James A. Seddon taken in Richmond at the Tanner & Delaney Works. This is probably the locomotive that pulled the train that carried Jefferson Davis out of Richmond on April 2, 1865.


   In January, 2015, John Stewart released "Jefferson Davis' Flight from Richmond" a 300-page book, published by McFarland, which includes the above findings. He and I are in agreement on everything up to the last paragraph. At that point, John states that the Richmond & Danville RR had numbered their locomotives in 1864, so the James A. Seddon would have carried the number 24 while evacuating Davis. However, this cannot be, since the Richmond & Danville RR 1864 Annual Report lists the locomotives by both name number and the James A. Seddon is not listed -- because it was still a Confederate Government locomotive. The October 1865 Annual Report lists locomotives by number only, 1 through 22. The text says that 5 locomotives were being bought from the U. S. Government and that locomotives leased from the Memphis & Ohio RR and other locomotives owned by the C. S. Government were still operating on the road. I suspect that the James A. Seddon became number 24 when the former Confederate Government locomotives were seized by the U. S. Government and then sold to the Richmond & Danville RR (about November, 1865).