Norfolk Historical Society Page Header

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881
By George Holbert Tucker

Chapter 48

A Norfolk Girl Told President Davis

Contrary to the well-known story told for years by the little old lady who was a guide in Richmond's historic St. Paul's Episcopal Church, a courier from General Robert E. Lee was not the first person to notify Confederate President Jefferson Davis that Richmond had to be evacuated.

Miss Elizabeth Selden (Bettie) Saunders, the fiancee of Norfolk-born Colonel Walter Herron Taylor, Lee's aide-de-camp, was, according to a well-authenticated tradition handed down in her family, the first person to give President Davis the bad news.

Miss Saunders, a daughter of United States Navy Captain John L. Saunders and Mrs. Martha Bland Selden Saunders, lived during the war with the family of Lewis D. Crenshaw in Richmond, where she worked in the Confederate Mint and the Confederate Medical Department.

It was to the Crenshaw house that Colonel Taylor, to whom she was engaged, sent a special messanger either on Saturday night, April 1, 1865, or early on Sunday morning, April 2, to notify her that the Confederate capital had to be evacuated.

Colonel Taylor had instructed his fiancee to go as soon as possible to St. Paul's Episcopal Church and ask the rector to be at the Crenshaw house Sunday night at midnight to perform the marriage ceremony.

Before sending the messanger, Colonel Taylor had received special permission from General Lee to go to Richmond to give Miss Saunders "the protection of his name."

Miss Saunders went to the church just before the morning service was about to begin and met Dr. Charles Minnigerode, the rector, on the church portico. While she was talking to him, President Davis arried for Morning Prayer. Overhearing the conversation, Davis asked for more details. And according to the story as it has been handed down in the Taylor family, Miss Saunders told him, "Walter would hardly have bothered to send a special messenger to me if conditions didn't warrant it."

Davis, greatly disturbed by the news, went into the church and took his seat in the Presidential Pew. A few minutes later, General Lee's official courier walked down the aisle and whispered to Davis, who arose and left abruptly.

That night after midnight, on April 3, 1865, while the evacuating Confederates fired the city and looters ran wild in its streets, Colonel Taylor and Miss Bettie Saunders were married in the parlor of the Crenshaw house. Because of wartime inflation, the bride's wedding shoes cost three hundred dollars.

Poor rail connections and high water brought on by the spring rains had almost prevented the groom from arriving on time for the ceremony. Afterward, Lewis Crenshaw accompanied Colonel Taylor as far back toward the Confederate lines as safety permitted.

One week after Appomattox, Colonel Taylor returned to Richmond, picked up his bride, and drove her back to Norfolk in a buggy.

Chapter 49
Norfolk's Two Civil War Monuments

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

See the "Table of Contents" for links to every chapter in Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881 by George Holbert Tucker.