1865 Jefferson Davis captured Jefferson Davis, president of the fallen Confederate government, is captured with his wife and entourage near Irwinville, Georgia, by a detachment of Union General James H. Wilson’s cavalry. On April 2, 1865, with the Confederate defeat at Petersburg, Virginia imminent, General Robert E. Lee informed President Davis that he could no longer protect Richmond and advised the Confederate government to evacuate its capital. Davis and his cabinet fled to Danville, Virginia, and with Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, deep into the South. Lee’s surrender of his massive Army of Northern Virginia effectively ended the Civil War, and during the next few weeks the remaining Confederate armies surrendered one by one. Davis was devastated by the fall of the Confederacy. Refusing to admit defeat, he hoped to flee to a sympathetic foreign nation such as Britain or France, and was weighing the merits of forming a government in exile when he was arrested by a detachment of the 4th Michigan Cavalry. A certain amount of controversy surrounds his capture, as Davis was wearing his wife’s black shawl when the Union troops cornered him. The Northern press ridiculed him as a coward, alleging that he had disguised himself as a woman in an ill-fated attempt to escape. However, Davis, and especially his wife, Varina, maintained that he was ill and that Varina had lent him her shawl to keep his health up during their difficult journey. Imprisoned for two years at Fort Monroe, Virginia, Davis was indicted for treason, but was never tried–the federal government feared that Davis would be able prove to a jury that the Southern secession of 1860 to 1861 was legal. Varina worked determinedly to secure his freedom, and in May 1867 Jefferson Davis was released on bail, with several wealthy Northerners helping him pay for his freedom. After a number of unsuccessful business ventures, he retired to Beauvoir, his home near Biloxi, Mississippi, and began writing his two-volume memoir The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881). He died in 1889 and was buried at New Orleans; four years later, his body was moved to its permanent resting spot in Richmond, Virginia. 1909 “Mother” Maybelle Carter is born From the late 1920s all the way through the 1950s, she was a familiar presence on American radio and a powerful influence on the course of country music. First as part of a trio in partnership with her cousin Sara and her brother-in-law A.P., and later alongside her own three daughters, Helen, Anita and June, she helped make the Carter family of southwestern Virginia the “First Family of Country Music.” Known universally by her affectionate nickname, “Mother” Maybelle Carter was born Maybelle Addington near Nickelsville, Virginia, on May 10, 1909. Music was an ever-present part of Maybelle’s childhood, as it was for so many popular-music pioneers born in the first half of the 20th century. Without any thought of music as a career path, Maybelle and other members of her extended family learned to play instruments and sing close-harmony and mastered a wide repertoire of traditional mountain folk songs. It was not until technology and economics drove the massive growth of the American recording industry in the 1920s that a set of talents like Maybelle’s had any real commercial value. In 1927, after performing together for several years at various local events, Maybelle, cousin Sara and Sara’s husband A.P. Carter—who became Maybelle’s brother-in-law in 1926 when she married his brother Ezra Carter—answered an advertisement calling for interested local musicians to come and be recorded in nearby Bristol, Tennessee, by a visiting producer for the Victor Talking Machine Corporation “The Bristol Sessions,” as they later came to be called, are often referred to as the “Big Bang of country music,” not just for launching the career of the Carter Family, but also for capturing the first-ever recording of country-music titan Jimmie Rodgers. Over the course of the next year, the Carter Family recorded a body of songs that are a significant part of the country and bluegrass canon—songs like “Wildwood Flower” and “Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By).” Those recordings earned the Carter Family a shot at their first regular live radio program, and those live radio programs influenced an entire generation of country and rock-and-roll stars, including Maybelle’s future son-in-law, Johnny Cash. After A.P. and Sara’s divorce in 1943, Maybelle carried on the Carter family name by bringing her three young daughters into the act. Under the new name “Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters,” this second incarnation of the Carter Family performed and recorded for the next 35 years, until Maybelle Carter’s death on October 23, 1978. Transcontinental railroad completed On this day in 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history. No longer would western-bound travelers need to take the long and dangerous journey by wagon train, and the West would surely lose some of its wild charm with the new connection to the civilized East. Since at least 1832, both Eastern and frontier statesmen realized a need to connect the two coasts. It was not until 1853, though, that Congress appropriated funds to survey several routes for the transcontinental railroad. The actual building of the railroad would have to wait even longer, as North-South tensions prevented Congress from reaching an agreement on where the line would begin. One year into the Civil War, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act (1862), guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the two railroads it chose to build the transcontinental line, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. With these in hand, the railroads began work in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, forging a northern route across the country. In their eagerness for land, the two lines built right past each other, and the final meeting place had to be renegotiated. Harsh winters, staggering summer heat, Indian raids and the lawless, rough-and-tumble conditions of newly settled western towns made conditions for the Union Pacific laborers–mainly Civil War veterans of Irish descent–miserable. The overwhelmingly immigrant Chinese work force of the Central Pacific also had its fair share of problems, including brutal 12-hour work days laying tracks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On more than one occasion, whole crews would be lost to avalanches, or mishaps with explosives would leave several dead. For all the adversity they suffered, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers were able to finish the railroad–laying nearly 2,000 miles of track–by 1869, ahead of schedule and under budget. Journeys that had taken months by wagon train or weeks by boat now took only days. Their work had an immediate impact: The years following the construction of the railway were years of rapid growth and expansion for the United States, due in large part to the speed and ease of travel that the railroad provided.