Davis spent two years as a military prisoner at Fort Monroe near Norfolk. Confined to a small room known as a casemate, he was monitored by soldiers who ensured that he ate, made no escape attempt, and did not commit suicide. Later, Davis was moved to spacious quarters in the officers’ hall and was allowed visitors and exercise. In May 1866, his wife,, took up permanent residence at Fort Monroe. Although an unauthorized biography suggested that Davis was treated poorly, Davis himself did not believe that to be the case. He was transferred to civilian custody on May 13, 1867, and then released on $100,000 bail.
Americans were divided on how or whether to punish Davis. The government could prosecute Davis for alleged participation in the Lincoln assassination, for the mistreatment of Union prisoners of war, or for leading a rebellion against the United States. U.S. president Andrew Johnson favored murder charges. Many abolitionists and lawmakers opposed punishing Davis, and instead preferred a Reconstruction plan that would punish the former Confederacy. Yet many civilians wrote the president asking for Davis to be hanged; some even volunteered to construct the gallows. The Davis issue remained prominent in public discussion in 1865 until it gave way to other Reconstruction issues, such as the rights of black freedmen. When the Lincoln conspirators’ trial failed to establish a connection to Davis, Johnson settled on treason charges.
Potential Jurors for the Treason Trial of Jefferson Davis
After enduring two years of imprisonment and nearly four years of uncertainty, Davis became a free man. The incomplete prosecution of his case and others’ gave clear indication that the government intended Reconstruction to realign southern society rather than punish a select few leaders for causing the rebellion.