The Last Order of the Confederacy
May 5, 1865 marks the date of an historic but largely forgotten event in Georgia—the last meeting held, and the last order given, by the Confederate government, before it passed into history.
That Last Order was given to my maternal ancestor, Major Raphael Jacob Moses, of Columbus, who was known as “the father of Georgia’s peach industry”.
General Robert E. Lee had surrendered about three weeks earlier, on April 9, 1865 and the Civil War had basically ended. The Confederate government's last official meeting was held in Washington, Georgia (Wilkes County), and included President Jefferson Davis and a few of his cabinet officers, fleeing the pursuing Yankee troops trying to arrest them.
Moses was given possession of the Confederacy's last supply of bullion—$40,000 of silver and/or gold bullion, worth perhaps $750,000 today. He was ordered to deliver it to help the thousands of defeated rebel soldiers straggling home, many in sore need of help—shoeless, hungry, sick, exhausted, in tattered uniforms.
This was no easy task for Moses, 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.
Moses gathered some brave soldiers to help protect the bullion from mobs of armed men who were trying to seize it, and succeeded in carrying out his orders.
“The Atlanta Journal” of 6 February, 1927, reproduced Moses’ receipt for the delivery of the bullion, calling it “…the last official writing ever issued by the Confederate administration …As historic a curiosity as the world affords, this last flicker of a mammoth revolution.”
The complete story is told in Mel Young's Last Order of the Lost Cause, and Robert Rosen's authoritative, The Jewish Confederates.
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. 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. Moses’ mother is said to have traced her ancestry back to Dr. Luria, the court physician to Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella. Moses described himself as “a descendant of Abraham, of the Tribe of Judah.”
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 a champagne baskets instead of pulverized charcoal.
He 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 historian Douglas Southall Freeman, in his authoritative Lee's Lieutenants called Moses "...the best commissary officer of like rank in the Confederate service."
As General James Longstreet's chief commissary officer, Moses participated in most of the major battles in the East, and was responsible for supplying and feeding up to 54,000 troops and support personnel, including porters, teamsters, 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.
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.
The contrast is striking between the humane Confederate policies and those of the North, wherein 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.
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, at age 19, the first Jewish Confederate to fall in battle. 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, firing the last guns in defense of Mobile. In this battle, Josh's brothers Perry and Horace were respectively wounded and captured.
Moses and his more than two dozen family members who fought for the South typified the many brave and beleaguered Confederate soldiers who served their country, facing overwhelming odds, with loyalty and valor. That terrible war ended fourteen decades ago, but the memory of those brave soldiers lives on.