There were many sides to the character of Jefferson Davis, but this inquiry will be directed toward that side through which ran the thread of the soldier attacking the political problems of his nation. Clemenceau, the old fox of French politics, declared: "War is much too important a business to be left to soldiers." It is an interesting question as to how much of war and most military strategy a statesman should know.
Statesmen with little knowledge of military strategy who tried in varying degree to control the Martian arm of their nations are numerous; statesmen with a larger amount of military knowledge have much less often been in control of modern democratic nations in time of war. For this reason Jefferson Davis is of interest to the biographer.
His military opponent, General U. S. Grant, said late in life that Jefferson Davis fancied himself a military genius. Pollard and other historians writing in the 19th century criticized Davis for a complete lack of military ability. The answer perhaps lies somewhere between.
Jefferson Davis through his three-fold career as soldier, politician, and statesman, found his martial spirit expressing itself in each phase. Some have suggested that less success in his Mexican War venture might have aided the Confederacy in its short life. True it is that his recognition for gallant conduct and strategical soundness in that conflict made him much more aware of his military abilities. It may be said that Jefferson Davis throughout his life was a political soldier, rather than a soldier politician. He approached political problems with military directness. He brought discipline to political life. Whether or not as a statesman he became lost in the details of p53 military strategy, instead of setting forth a broad military policy, is a large question in this inquiry.
Jefferson Davis was born of Scotch-Irish stock in a four-room log cabin in Christian (now in part Todd) County, Kentucky, June 3, 1808. The fact that eight months later Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin •some 60 to 100 miles away, has been a fruitful source of comparison for historians. The comparison has been drawn out to show how one man retained through life the homely common sense frontier-type personality, whereas the other developed a broad culture and was known as the typical Southern aristocrat. The Davis family emigrating to America in 1701 brought with it all the obstinacy and restlessness typical of the Scotch-Irish. They settled in Pennsylvania but the urge to move took them to Georgia, and before Jefferson Davis's birth, to Kentucky.
Jefferson Davis's father, Samuel Davis, prior to the war of 1812, tired of breeding blooded horses in the Blue Grass country and motivated by economic pressure, migrated to Bayou Teche in Louisiana, but the lowland heat caused another move to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. There the family settled down to the life of cotton farmers.
Life was simple on this cotton farm and the father, though possessed of little education, grew up with an inordinate interest in politics. Naturally, a man of his caliber would wish that his son be educated. After a short schooling in the log cabin near home, Samuel Davis decided that the youngest of his ten children should be sent to school in Kentucky despite Mrs. Davis's objections. The boy's name itself — Thomas Jefferson — indicated to some extent the hopes which his father had for his future.
Knowing the difficulties of travel to far‑away Kentucky, through territory still peopled by Indians, Samuel Davis sought for a friend who would accept his son in a caravan going eastward. Major Hinds with his family being bound for Kentucky from New Orleans, took Jefferson Davis on this adventurous journey. The party mounted on horseback, stopped along p54 the way at little inns operated by white men who had intermarried with Indians, and at one stage in the journey visited at General Andrew Jackson's Hermitage. They were well received, as Major Hinds had fought with Jackson only a few years before at the Battle of New Orleans. The elder Davis sons had also fought in the War of 1812, and Jackson therefore accepted young Jefferson with more than the usual courtesy. During their stay of three weeks, Jefferson Davis obtained an impression of the General which he expressed later in life: "He inspired reverence and affection which has remained with me through my whole life . . . my first vote was cast in favor of him for President." The caravan, having resumed its march, left young Davis in Washington County, Kentucky, where he entered the school of Saint Thomas Aquinas, conducted by Dominican Fathers.a
The tuition of $100 a year is said to have been paid by a Charles Greene of Bardstown, a man listed as Davis's guardian. For two years young Jefferson, of a Quaker and Baptist background, lived in the atmosphere of Roman Catholicism. There he was taught Latin and from that study dated his liking for the sonorous phrases of his political speeches thirty years later. When nine years of age he returned home, to the great joy of his mother.
Jefferson Davis continued his studies in Adams County, Mississippi at what was called "Jefferson College." From this school he was shortly transferred to Wilkinson Academy, near home. Resentful of the stern discipline which the principal, John A. Shaw, maintained, young Davis went to his father seeking sympathy. The father wisely said: "It is for you to elect whether you work with your head or hands. My son could not be an idler." Accepting the side of labor Jefferson was sent into the fields to pick cotton under the boiling Mississippi sun. Intellectual interests were in ascendancy by nightfall. At the Wilkinson Academy Davis averred that he learned more from the head master "than I ever learned from anyone else."
In 1821 Davis returned to Kentucky to study at Transylvania p55 University, "The Southern Harvard" in Lexington. Here he had the benefit of a liberal era in which that Presbyterian school came under the direction of a Yale graduate of Unitarian belief.
The studies at Transylvania were in the classical tradition and Davis was a diligent scholar of Greek and Latin and inherently loved political philosophy and history. J. W. Jones, a classmate who became a congressman and eventually one of Davis's biographers, recalled Davis as "always gay and brimful of buoyant spirits . . . he never was perceptibly under the influence of liquor, and he never gambled." By his senior year Davis "confesses to taking an honor" though he found need for a tutor in mathematics. At this time Samuel Davis died and Jefferson, the youngest child, came under the direction of his eldest brother Joseph, a prominent member of the Mississippi bar. At Joseph's wish, Jefferson intended to finish the course at Transylvania and enter the University of Virginia, which was to be opened in 1825. For some unexplained reason Joseph Davis secured an appointment to West Point for Jefferson. Evidently the elder Davis had some connections in Congress, and had sufficient influence so that on March 11, 1824, John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War, sent his cadet warrant to President Monroe for his signature. As the warrant was posted to Transylvania, Davis did not receive it at Lexington until July 7. He immediately accepted the commission and briefly explained his tardiness. He stated that he would present himself at West Point before September and explain to the Superintendent upon his arrival.
At West Point the entrance examinations were successfully passed by Davis. There Davis lived a normal cadet life with its lack of recreation and its close attention to discipline and study. His scholarship was never brilliant and mathematics was again a most difficult subject for him to master. It is not surprising therefore that his final academic rating was 23 in a class of 33. Of lasting importance to Davis were the friendships he made in the Military Academy's close-knit organization. His best p56 friends were Albert Sidney Johnston, two classes senior, and Leonidas Polk, one class ahead of him. Two other men whom he saw much of later, Joseph E. Johnston and Robert E. Lee, were in the second class below him.
With his lack of distinction in academic and disciplinary lines, Davis was frugal to a point unknown by other cadets. Polk before him and Edgar Allan Poe after him, found the allotted $28.00 entirely inadequate to cover food and other necessaries. Despite the fact that Davis occasionally sent money to his mother he was yet able to partake of liquors at Benny Havens's, the tavern famous in West Point history. Two serious mishaps arose from visits to Benny Havens's. On one occasion Davis, in company with several other cadets, was caught and brought before a court-martial for drinking. The charges against Davis were of going beyond the limits prescribed for cadets, that he entered a public house, Benny Havens's, where liquors were sold, and that he did drink spirituous and intoxicating liquors. Though four of the offenders were dismissed, Jefferson Davis was "pardoned and returned to duty" because of his past record of good conduct, and because of the source with which he wrote his own defense. Davis argued that there had never been any official order forbidding cadets to frequent Benny Havens's; also he claimed that that cider and porter enjoyed at the tavern were not spirituous liquors. Evidently the trial by court-martial did not deter Davis from repeating his visit to the congenial Benny Havens's. While enjoying Benny's porter, he was frightened by visiting authorities. Davis, in attempt to escape with a companion along the steep bluff of the Hudson River, fell •forty feet and narrowly escaped fatal injury. From his own testimony his injuries were more than a serious shaking‑up.
Other reminiscences of his West Point days recalled his meeting Joseph E. Johnston at old Fort Putnam to settle a dispute over some tavern keeper's daughter. Johnston, the heavier but shorter cadet, is said to have given Davis the worst of the p57 encounter of fisticuffs. If this is true it may be the basis for their difficulties during the Civil War.
Davis's career at the Military Academy offers little to boast of and certainly no indication of his future ability was apparent. Other than a mediocre record in his studies and in "discipline," or conduct, Davis carried with him a high sense of honor and duty, and a self-discipline which tightened his thin lips often during the remainder of his life.
Jefferson Davis in his autobiography modestly and briefly covers his active military career of seven years as a lieutenant in the army. "I graduated in 1828, and then, in accordance with the custom of cadets, entered active service with the rank of Lieutenant, serving as an officer of infantry on the northern frontier until 1833, when, a regiment of dragoons having been created, I was transferred to it. After a successful campaign against the Indians, I resigned from the army in 1835." Evidently life on the frontier appealed to the adventurous young graduate at Davis's time as it did to subsequent graduates throughout the remainder of the century. The United States had been at peace for some time prior to 1828 and the West offered the only real "soldiering." His first army station, after graduation, was at Jefferson Barracks, in the gusty city of St. Louis. From that jumping‑off place he next moved up the Mississippi River to Fort Crawford, now Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
Arriving at Fort Crawford on one of the triple-deck, stern wheel steamboats, Davis found himself at an extreme outpost on the frontier. For almost a hundred years a fur trading post sent out from Quebec had stood on the same spot. Near the Fort and up and down the river, were many Indian tribes, Sacs and Foxes, Wyandots, Menominees, Winnebagos, and Pottawatomies. On several occasions when Davis was out with detachments he and his men encountered warring parties. Davis spent his first spring in the army lumbering in the wilds of what is now northern Wisconsin. There on Yellow Creek •a hundred miles from his home post he established a saw mill p58 and set up Fort Winnebago. While there Davis was very ill at times and it was claimed that his faithful colored servant, James Pemberton, nursed him through these illnesses.b
Life at Fort Crawford was similar to that of every other frontier fort. The army life reflected the life of the civilian population, and at this time was still agricultural. To obtain logs for the construction of forts, lumbering crews were sent into the woods. Davis was the leader of one of these crews and was therefore one of the originators of the lumber industry of Wisconsin, though for totally different reasons from those who followed. Returned from lumbering, there was always construction in progress. Others must work in the flour mills or engage in raising vegetables. Still others were sent out to drive cattle in for provisions. The army fort was the center of culture on the frontier, for its officers were the only men with college educations. Jefferson Davis with his desire for study entered into the life at the Fort Crawford in all of its aspects.
Returning to Fort Crawford before winter set in in 1831, Davis had an opportunity to partake of the social life of this small post, and in the scouting and tactical problems about the Fort. Colonel Zachary Taylor, in the meantime, had taken command of the Fort. Jeff Davis and his fellow bachelors, all West Point graduates, began courting the three Taylor daughters.c
Unfortunately for Davis, Colonel Taylor took a violent dislike to him. Various reasons are given for this aversion, one, that Taylor did not want any of his daughters to marry into the hardships of the army. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to see that a Post Commander in the wilderness, possessing as he did virtually dictatorial powers, could believe that he could make such an arbitrary dictum. For that matter, had this been the sole reason, the Colonel could have sent his daughter away. A more plausible answer to Taylor's dislike of Davis is the squabble which arose between them, whether a newly arrived officer not in uniform would be allowed to sit on a court-martial. On this occasion Taylor is said to have refused to accept the newly arrived officer's excuse that his uniforms were in his trunk then p59 en route to the Fort. When the matter was brought to vote among the court-martial's officers, Davis sided with others to continue the trial. This event seemed to cloud Taylor's appraisal of Davis's good qualities. At any rate he was refused access to the Taylor household.
The Black Hawk War broke out in the upper Mississippi Valley in 1832, Fort Crawford being within the battleground. The Indians, notably the Sacs, were angered because they were being pushed off the rich land east of the Mississippi. Though Black Hawk had signed away the legal right in a treaty, he reasoned that the land could not be sold. He stated: "The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon . . ." The Federal Government had weakened its position following a full treaty payment of $1000 by a shamefaced peace token of 60,000 bushels of corn. Numerous young graduates of the Military Academy were present in the theater of war. Albert Sidney Johnston, Davis's friend, was one of these; Robert Anderson, later the Union hero at Fort Sumter, another.
Fighting with these young officers were many militia officers like Abraham Lincoln, who was said to have been sworn in as a Captain of Illinois volunteers by Lieutenant Jefferson Davis. The militia had been called out for a period of thirty days to fight the Indians, and Lincoln flippantly remarked: "I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes . . ."
The military operations were engagements between small detachments, and the final battle of Bad Axe was fought •twenty miles up‑river from Fort Crawford. Though Black Hawk escaped, leaving 190 warriors dead or captured, he was closely pursued by Lieutenant Davis's detachment. Davis's report of the capture of the Indian Chief gave credit to aid from the Winnebagos. Robert Anderson was ordered to take Black Hawk and the other Indian prisoners to jail, but his illness gave Davis the assignment. The group moved down-river on a steamer to Jefferson Barracks. Black Hawk said of Jefferson Davis that he was a "young war chief who treated us all with much kindness." Though Davis returned shortly afterwards p60 from this duty to Fort Crawford he had only a brief period to whisper a few words to his lady-love, Sarah Knox Taylor. Whether or not they became engaged at this time is rather doubtful. Davis's next move was to Fort Gibson, in the spring of 1833, where he joined the new regiment of cavalry, the First Dragoons. His reasons for this action were his undoubted love for horses and perhaps his wish to be removed from Colonel Taylor's ire. Fort Gibson of the 1830's was described by Bonneville, and by Washington Irving, who visited it at that time. For the next two years Davis remained at Fort Gibson. He corresponded with "Knox," as Taylor's daughter was called and perhaps saw her more than once during this period. Eventually Davis announced to the irreconcilable parent that marriage with his eldest daughter would take place in the near future.
Jefferson Davis, as Adjutant of the First Dragoons, was sent off from Fort Gibson to "impress the wild Indians" with the might of the United States. Several of these expeditions, notably that of Toyash, took the dragoons into the Comanche country, where their display of force brought the Indians to the peace table. Returned from this difficult journey with an appalling amount of sickness which accounted for 163 members of the Dragoons in slightly more than a year, the regiment's morale was not of the best.
Major R. B. Mason appointed Davis his acting assistant quartermaster late in 1834. "Somewhat of a martinet," according to Grant Foreman, Major Mason upbraided Davis for his absence from a reveille roll call. For speaking in a disrespectful and insubordinate manner, the young Lieutenant was placed in arrest in quarters. Because of Davis's failure to move at once to his quarters, the order was repeated a second and a third time. Only at the last peremptory command did Davis obey. At a court-martial held at Fort Gibson, February 12, 1835, the acquittal stated that "No criminality (was attached) to the facts of which he is found guilty." Several weeks later he asked for leave of absence. When this was granted, Davis p61 before departing left his resignation in the hands of General Arbuckle, asking that it be forwarded to the War Department if he did not return at the specified time. General Arbuckle held up the resignation as long as possible, hoping that Lieutenant Davis could be induced to return. Davis had gone to Kentucky to be married. He never returned.
Other than the court-martial, many reasons for Davis's resignation can be assigned. America was opening up and the opportunities for amassing wealth were much increased; this, coupled with the slow promotion in the army, as evidenced by the fact that Robert Anderson, a graduate of 1825, had only reached a Major's commission when in command at Fort Sumter in 1861, was reason enough for the many resignations during the 1830's. An objective critic would say that these men showed a certain wisdom, even though a lack of loyalty. A large number of West Point graduates entered civil pursuits and had reached some eminence when called into the army for the Civil War. Due to the systems of promotions through the militia and by political appointments, there was no deterrent to their reaching high rank as quickly as their brother officers who had remained in the army. Jefferson Davis probably desired the quieter life of a planter because of the influence of his older brother Joseph, who seemed willing to share some of his considerable fortune with his youngest brother and protege.
Within a month after his resignation, Davis was meeting his fiancee. The marriage of Sarah Knox Taylor and Jefferson Davis has often been called an "elopement," but the facts do not support this contention. Mrs. Gibson Taylor, Knox's aunt, pleaded with Colonel Taylor to change his mind about Davis; and he finally gave his reluctant consent. The marriage was performed at Mrs. Gibson Taylor's home in Kentucky. Knox wrote to her mother of her marriage plans. Mrs. Taylor was only surprised by its imminence. The daughter assured herself in this letter that her mother would still feel affection for her daughter who was being married without the sanction of her parents. The p62 bridal couple settled down on a portion of Joseph Davis's plantation, calling their home "Brierfield." This plantation, which lay in a bend of the Mississippi River •some twenty miles below Vicksburg, was an isolated home in a not‑too-healthy climate. In a short time Mrs. Davis contracted the dread fever and in less than three months after her marriage was dead.
Jefferson Davis, following his wife's death, moved up to his brother's plantation home and there lived for years the life of a hermit, acting as an absentee landlord of his own "Brierfield." During this period Davis by study and reading and discussion with his brother Joseph, a Jeffersonian Democrat, supplemented his collegiate work with a good insight into political problems. In time Davis to became a Democrat and a firm believer in strict construction of the Constitution. From his plantation management he derived two convictions: "That emancipation will not solve the negro problem; and that the only hope for improvement in the negroes' condition was in the slow process of fitting him for economic competition with his white superiors."
Davis in addition to his inherited attitude toward slavery, also acquired the "Southern Gentleman's Code." In the latter, gambling debts were most sacred and dueling was the only proper method of dealing with an insult. During this period of seclusion and study Davis had an unparalleled opportunity for discussion and for the acquisition of certain political theories, all of them colored by his environment. In 1843 Jefferson Davis entered practical politics with his educated background and his cosmopolitanism aiding him in quickly reaching the higher rungs of the political ladder. From Davis's nomination to the Mississippi State Legislature by the Democratic Party he was a man of the people and continued to belong to the public until his capture in 1865.
Davis's entry into political life came about in this way. The Whigs, who usually commanded a majority in Warren County, Mississippi, put up two candidates for the seat in the Mississippi legislature. The Democrats, hoping to win by a split p63 vote, put up a candidate who proved unsatisfactory. The nomination of Davis as a substitute a week before election brought forceful opposition from the Whig party. Sergeant S. Prentiss, a famous New Orleans orator, met Davis in debate. Though Davis, in this first political speech, was inept compared to Prentiss, his character so impressed itself upon the electorate that he was defeated by far fewer votes than any previous Democratic candidate. Because of his good work Davis was next named a delegate to the Democratic State Convention to select a Presidential candidate. At the Convention Davis made a strong speech for John C. Calhoun, the former Secretary of War, who had appointed him to West Point. In the fall of the year Jefferson Davis was named an elector on the Polk-Dallas ticket. The young politician was now launched on his career.
Good fortune came to Davis in 1845, for he married a very capable woman, Varina Howell, and was also elected to Congress from the state-at‑large. The Howell family had moved from New Jersey to the Mississippi River country where Howell became a leading citizen and lawyer of Natchez. William Howell and Joseph Davis were close friends, so that it was quite natural for Varina, his daughter, to visit the Davis plantation. She was at this time 17 years old with dark eyes and hair and a certain haughtiness. Jefferson Davis on his journey to Vicksburg to make a political speech stopped at a niece's plantation where Varina Howell was staying to tell her that she was expected at her brother's plantation home. Varina wrote to her mother a significant letter: "Today Uncle Joe sent, by his younger brother (did you know he had one?), and urged an invitation to me to go at once to 'The Hurricane.' I do not know whether this Mr. Jefferson Davis is young or old. He looks both at times; but I believe he is old, for from what I hear he is only two years younger than you are. He impresses me as a remarkable kind of man, but of uncertain temper, and has a way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him when he expresses an opinion, which offends me; p64 yet he is most agreeable and has a particularly sweet voice and a winning manner of asserting himself . . . I do not think I shall ever like him as I do his brother Joe. Would you believe it, he is refined and cultivated, and yet he is a Democrat!" Before Varina Howell left the Davis home she was engaged to the man whose character sketch she had done so perfectly from first sight. They were married February 26, 1845, at her father's home. The wedding trip was a prosaic steamboat journey to New Orleans. Davis's campaign for Congress was not as smooth as his courtship.
During the campaign the question came up of the payment of bonds, which had previously been issued by the State for the stock of certain banks. The leader of the Democratic party, one Briscoe, another Democrat, was for the repudiation of these debts. Davis took the opposite, and unpopular, stand against repudiation. He stuck to his guns, bearded Briscoe, caused pamphlets to be published, and in a bitter fight won the Congressional nomination and the election. It is unnecessary to note that even Briscoe voted for Davis in the end. Long years later this old controversy was brought up when the Confederate States requested a loan of England. No matter ever wounded Davis more than such reference to his early stand against repudiation of the State's debt, for Davis felt that his honor was involved in the case. Before leaving for Washington, Davis had occasion as representative-elect to present John C. Calhoun to a group of Democrats at Vicksburg where the great statesman had stopped on his way to a Convention at Cincinnati. Carefully Davis wrote out his address and presented his views upon certain political issues of the day; low tariff, sound currency, the annexation of Texas, and a strict construction of the Constitution. Sagely the young politician left the doctrine of nullification to Calhoun, knowing well that it was the visitor's favorite topic. Davis's speech was well received and finding that he had spoken extemporaneously, with his written speech only a guide, stated that it would be the last speech he would put into manuscript. Even Calhoun was able p65 to recall the incident five years later and predicted that his successor "as leader of the south would be the young scholar-planter, Jefferson Davis."
Jefferson Davis, now 37 years of age, took his place in Congress in December 1845. Gamaliel Bradford said that Davis almost at the beginning of his career in the Federal Government was known as "a scholar and a thinker." Such men were needed in the controversial state in which the nation was living, according to Robert McElroy. He said further that Davis's personality and gift for leadership accounted for his rapid progress in politics, though one must not forget that he had studied much and had knowledge and conviction "upon the two great issues of the day; the rights of slavery and the rights of sovereign states." True enough Davis appeared a little cold and perhaps too dignified when he presented his legalistic points of view but he had so many advantages for the career of a politician that it was not surprising that he rose to fame. Varina Davis said of her husband's congressional life that he visited very little and studied until two or three o'clock in the morning. His visitors were few in number, though Calhoun was an accepted friend and many of Davis's former comrades in the army stopped in to see him on their visits to Washington. Within a few months Davis was entering into the discussion on the floor of the House.
In May of 1846 Zachary Taylor, who had led his army into Texas to guard the boundaries, collided with Mexican soldiers and awoke the country to Mexican difficulties. Davis took the floor in Congress a few days later to support a resolution of thanks to General Taylor for his frontier guard. He went on to praise the American army officers and emphasized that "it was the triumph of American courage, professional skill, and that patriotic pride which blooms in the breast of every educated soldier." Then turning to a fellow Congressman, who had denounced West Point and its graduates, he unfortunately blundered into asking this man, Andrew Johnson, if he believed "a tailor could have secured the same result." Johnson's p66 temper, for which he was notorious, rose in response to what he believed an insult to his former calling. The next day Johnson responded in resentful tone to the "illegitimate, swaggering, bastard, scrub aristocracy," in which he placed Davis as a member. The austere Jefferson Davis at once made known that there was no thought of personalities in his remark. Two days later, while discussing an army pay bill, he said once again that he was incapable of wounding the feelings of any man knowingly.
Davis's Congressional career came to a temporary end in June of 1846 when Mississippi called him to lead its Mexican War volunteer regiment. Jefferson Davis, like Teddy Roosevelt later, began preparations for war by selecting the best available arm for his men. He made himself unpopular with the veteran army chief, General Winfield Scott, by passing over his objections to the Whitney percussion rifle and ordering sufficient for his regiment. With this, the best arm of its day, on their shoulders, instead of the old flintlock muskets, the regiment assembled at a New Orleans camp where they were met by their Colonel. Very soon the "Mississippi Rifles" had moved to Point Isabel on the Texas coast where Davis began drilling his men and implanting in them the discipline which ruled his own life. In his camp on Brazos Island, Colonel Davis heard from his old commanding officer, Zachary Taylor. General Taylor said that he took much pleasure in the fact that Davis had safely arrived with an excellent regiment of volunteers. "Old Rough and Ready" said further, "I can assure you I am more than anxious to take you by the hand." Evidently time had healed animosities and Taylor was pleased at having in command of a volunteer regiment an ex‑congressman who could speak capably and sincerely in favor of the army, and more particularly of General Taylor. After some drilling the Mississippi Rifles were transferred to the mouth of the Rio Grande, where they awaited the overdue transports.
p67 At the new camp Davis continued the hard drill and other regimental training even though the Mississippi boys were jocularly referred to as the "awkward squad." Davis, chafing under delays, wrote several letters to Washington. In these letters he spared others no less than his troops and himself. On August 24, he penned a note to the Secretary of War, Robert C. Walker: "We have met delay and detention at every point. The Quartermasters at New Orleans have behaved either most incompetently or maliciously, and I am now but two days in possession of the rifles ordered forwarded before I left Washington." When Davis arrived in camp with General Taylor he was welcomed as a professional soldier who could communicate his own ideas to his volunteers. Aside from Davis's praise of Taylor in Congress, the General could appreciate that Davis was in league with him against "Old Fuss and Feathers" Scott, who was not supplying him sufficiently in this far‑off campaign.
Taylor, realizing that he could not wait forever for supplies, set out for Monterey with 6000 inadequately equipped men, the 1st Mississippi Regiment in the vanguard. The remainder of the War is history. Davis became a great sectional hero for his brave charge at Buena Vista and for his clever use of a tactical "V" formation. His former father-in‑law was well pleased and handed Davis high praise. As the Mississippi volunteers prepared to depart from Mexico, their term of service having expired, they drew up facing the General for their farewell. Zachary Taylor was choked with emotion on this occasion. Returning to New Orleans, Davis was offered an appointment as Brigadier General by President Polk, and his former political opponent, Sergeant S. Prentiss, welcomed him in a typical burst of oratory. Jefferson Davis thanked the President for the tendered appointment but added that the Constitution gives the President no power to appoint militia officers. Though Davis had been wounded severely in the foot at Buena Vista, where a ball drove part of his spur into his p68 foot, he now hobbled around on crutches giving assistance in the enlistment and equipping of a second regiment of Mississippi volunteers.
Because of General Taylor's commendation of Davis, in which he said "the Mississippi Rifles under Colonel avis were highly conspicuous for their gallantry and steadiness," Davis gained great popularity in the State. Owing to the death of Senator Speight, Governor Albert Gallatin Brown appointed Davis to fill the vacancy. In December, pale and emaciated, Jefferson Davis took his seat in the Upper House. One of the first men to welcome Davis was Henry Clay, whose son and namesake had been at West Point with Davis and had been killed in battle during the Mexican War.
Though Davis now mixed himself in the Presidential race between General Taylor and Lewis Cass, he found time to enter into the councils of the Senate. Not long after he had been seated by his colleague, Senator Sevier, Davis had occasion to defend his old Chief, General Taylor.
The Mississippi senator was asking for munitions and men to complete the war then still in progress. Once Davis took the floor against Calhoun and Webster to argue that "the whole of Texas . . . was included in this disputed territory." This reply was in answer to Calhoun's charge that the President had had no right to order an army into "disputed territory." The Presidential race tore Davis between divided loyalties. He was more than willing to defend his father-in‑law, but he felt as a good party man that he should support the Democratic candidate. Upon another occasion McElroy inferred that Davis would have been an excellent leader in one of today's dictatorships, for he subscribed to the idea that "a strong and efficient nation may properly seize and make economically productive a country that is 'going to waste'." The Mississippi legislator remarked in extenuation of his statement that he was not attempting as a moralist to justify the seizure of Mexico. But all this work was routine compared to the debate over the great issue of Clay's Compromise.
p69 This compromise in its presentation before the Senate brought forward some of Davis's greatest political effort. He attempted to justify the age‑old claim of the South to State Sovereignty. He voiced the scheme of taking more property into Southern territory so that the South could work out the gradual emancipation of the slaves — an idea that had been growing in his brain since he sat and watched the Mississippi roll by during his life as a hermit.
On June 23, 1848, while the Oregon Bill was pending, Davis proposed an amendment that "nothing contained in this act shall be so construed as to authorize the prohibition of domestic slavery in said territory." He argued in defense of this amendment that "before the Constitution was adopted, slavery was local: and had been made national by the very terms of the Constitution which recognized its rights . . ." As Jefferson had claimed that spreading slaves over a large territory, while not increasing their numbers, would alleviate their condition, so also, was this the credo of Davis. "While defending slavery as a necessary stage in the progress of the negro race toward ultimate freedom, (Davis) never looked upon it as a final solution of the problem of the race." In the same speech, Davis said: "American slavery may have for its end the preparation of that race for civil liberty and social enjoyment." During the period the national election elevated Zachary Taylor to the Presidency. Davis, who had refrained from speaking against him, was elected to the Senate on the Democratic ticket. In the Capitol he continued his fight for the South and its doctrines.
Joined in the great three-cornered fight of Clay, Calhoun and Webster, over the compromise of 1850, were other prominent senators, Seward, Chase, Douglas and Davis. Clay, fighting always for compromise against implacable Calhoun, often found himself hooked up in debate with Davis also. The latter's thin lips drew tight as he stood up for his severe interpretation of State Sovereignty and the rights of slave-owning p70 Southerners. Hot words were spoken in these forensic battles, but usually nothing more than words ensued.
Davis during this term of office was particularly touchy about any indictment of the conduct of his Mississippi Rifles in the Mexican War. An old controversy, that the Second Indiana Regiment should have been the one to receive credit for gallantry at Buena Vista rather than the Mississippi Rifles, who it was alleged were some distance from the scene at the time of the battle, brought Davis into conflict with the Hon. Colonel William H. Bissell. Fortunately, Colonel Bissell changed his allegation to conform more nearly to Davis's views and a forthcoming duel was prevented. While the Senate roared, Davis received an unwelcome call from his party in Mississippi to be their candidate for Governor against ex‑senator Hendrick Foote, who ran on a Unionist slate.
The news of his selection by "the people and the Democratic press of the whole State" was brought to Davis while he was confined to his room because of the serious condition of his left eye. The member was most painful and caused him to remain in a darkened room much of his time. With his wife he returned to "Brierfield." The campaign for the Governorship was a particularly bitter one, and Davis put on a strong campaign though his health and the shortness of time were handicaps. That his canvass was partially successful is indicated by his whittling the Unionist majority from 7500 to 999 votes. Defeat was real humiliation to Davis and he was left now with little to compensate him for his sacrifice in coming home to party strife. His resignation from the Senate, where he had enjoyed a position of honor, must have seemed a particularly ill‑fated move when he found himself defeated in Mississippi and pushed off even the local stage of politics. Nevertheless, Jefferson Davis, in company with his wife devoted himself, with inspiration springing from humiliation, to rejuvenating his cotton plantation. Varina says that they worked together cultivating their garden roses, of which Jefferson was proud, and one day they planted a small oak that years later had p71 grown so that it spread its shade over •90 feet. There was some talk at this time of placing Davis's name in nomination for the Presidency. His party passed over such men as Cass, Douglas, Buchanan and Marcy, to select Franklin Pierce, as a dark horse, to run against General Scott. Pierce, having won easily, by 254 to 42 electoral votes, asked "his friend" Davis, to come and talk to him about a place in the Government. Mrs. Davis wished her husband to take his ease and regain his health. In compliance with her wish Davis declined the proffered post of Secretary of War. Accepting an invitation to witness the inauguration of Pierce, Davis found himself in the bright light of the Capitol unwilling to decline again the War Secretaryship.
Davis had cause to thank his friend Pierce for rescuing him from political oblivion. It would be an understatement to say that Davis failed to repay his debt to the President, because during his four years in the Cabin he was not only an able administrator, but a strong advisor. Neither Pierce nor Davis had many close friendships. As austere men they never could clap a companion on the back and call him by his first name. All during the years of Pierce's presidency they remained on a relationship of calling each other by last names, or by formal titles. This does not indicate that their friendship was less deep. For the remainder of his life and in his memoirs Jefferson Davis spoke well of Pierce.
Ingersoll, in his history of the War Department, stated that Davis conducted his office "with notable success, and with great acceptability to the Army." Davis himself, in a letter to a Major Crosmand, keyed his administration's policy approval of the subordinate's course in not allowing department clerks to have assessments levied against them by various political committees. The Secretary added, "It is my desire to keep the military branch of the Government free from political influences . . ." Carl Schurz, visiting Davis in his office, wrote an impression declaring that he represented the well-known strong, American type, because of "his slender, tall and erect p72 figure, his spare face, keen eyes, and fine forehead, not broad but high and well-shaped . . . there was in his bearing a dignity . . . which does not invite familiar approach." Senator Sumner added: "No one has ever yet found his (Davis's) judgment and taste at fault." Among men closer to Jefferson Davis, Pierce's Postmaster General, James Campbell, despite the relations vis‑à‑vis of Cabinet Ministers, said: "(He) is not popularly known as a socially genial man, but he was, as I came to know him . . . he was very quiet and domestic in his habits, correct in his private life, and exceedingly temperate in both eating and drinking . . . (He) was the best educated man whom I ever came in contact with. His acquirements were broad and often surprised us . . . He was famous for his retentive memory, and the extent and range of his knowledge was encyclopedic . . ." With such abilities, it is not surprising that Davis's talents encompassed more than military administration.
One of the Secretary's most constructive works was a series of surveys of proposed railway routes to the Pacific Coast. He gave as his reason for such railroad extension the necessity for "safe and rapid communication with the Pacific slope, to secure its continuance as part of the Union." The four routes planned in the years 1853 to 1856 were later followed substantially by the rail lines of the Southern, Kansas, Union, and Northern Pacific roads. In addition, he built an arsenal, so the army could economically manufacture its own rifles; he imported a number of camels for campaigning in the Southwest;e and he strongly recommended that non‑military expenses, such as those for river and harbor work, should not be charged to the military budget. Through his administration runs one discordant note.
Jefferson Davis had never liked General Winfield Scott, from either a professional or a political standpoint. The depth of Davis's antagonism showed a lack of balance in dealing with his immediate military subordinate. In one instance, Davis protested the payment of retroactive salary as a Lieutenant General to Scott, on a highly technical point. Scott said little p73 and allowed Davis to shift an inordinate amount of energy into the controversy. Because of his animosity, another name alongside Cadet Joseph E. Johnston and Congressman Andrew Johnson was added to Davis's list of opponents. A survey of his accomplishments in the War Secretaryship showed that he expanded the army in size and increased its pay; he replaced the smooth bore muskets with up‑to‑date rifles; he strengthened the sea coast defenses, aiding Captain Rodman of the Ordnance Department in his development of recently invented artillery; and Davis sent a commission to study the Crimean War (young Captain George McClellan was a member). Davis's interest in the Military Academy was absorbing. Out of his own experience with its deficiencies in cultural education, which he felt in company of men of wide university education, Davis caused the West Point course to be extended to five years. This allowed the insertion in the curriculum of a Department of Ethics, for the study of Philosophy, History, and Literature. His relations with Robert E. Lee, the Academy Superintendent, were felicitous and at the latter's request, officers' quarters and other necessary construction was authorized. This relationship, with the meeting of two able personalities, was of great strength later to the Confederacy. Lee learned to get along with his superior; knew what the compressing of his lips meant; knew how to make Davis confident in his judgment. Conversely Davis believed in Lee more than in any other soldier he knew. The Secretaryship, with its four years of constructive administration, was terminated in March, 1857. Pierce, grasping the hand of his retiring cabinet minister, said: "I can scarcely bear the parting from you who have been strength and solace to me for four anxious years, and never failed me." Davis in his dignified way, and feeling the same sentiment, could only turn away. Next he sent for his papers and effects directing that they be moved to the Senate Office Building.
Jefferson Davis's re‑entrance into that great political debating body, the Senate, assured his presence on the stage of politics as the Nation drifted swiftly toward a military and political p74 cataclysm. In 1858, Davis was in ailing health. Bedridden from laryngitis, the Mississippian suffered intense pain from his unrecovered left eye which had become inflamed and swollen so that he could endure no light. In his absence from the Senate, his most devoted visitor was his political antagonist, William H. Seward. During one visit, the talk turned to slavery. Mrs. Davis asked him, "In view of his seeing slavery as it actually was while an instructor at an academy in Georgia, how he could make such piteous appeals for the negro and believe all he said in his debates." Seward answered good-naturedly, "I do not, but these appeals . . . affect the rank and file of the North." Davis in surprise asked, "Do you never speak from conviction alone?"
At Seward's negative, Davis's blindfolded head rose from the pillow and he spoke feelingly: "As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive." Seward, putting his hand on the sick man, and returning him to the pillow, agreed with him, stating "I am always sure of it." For the remainder of his years in the Senate, Davis in poor health ably upheld Horace Greeley's estimation of him, as "the foremost man in the South . . . whose occasional unintentional arrogance which reveals his consciousness of great commanding power," in no way lessened the fact that "he belongs to a higher grade of public men in whom formerly the slave-holding democracy was prolific." The estimation of the publisher was to be of value later.
Events moved swiftly after the Dred Scott decision and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In addition to taking the floor on the latter bill, Davis took part in such declarations as his faith in free trade, and the need for world markets to keep pace with increased production. During this senatorial term Davis journeyed to New England to make several political speeches. Though he spoke boldly for slavery he was favorably received. The counter-balancing of his strong assertions of principle, of certain tactful tempering of his ideas perhaps explained his acceptance. The temporizing with the South's principles brought p75 criticism of Davis from his home state. Never a man to run from a controversy, he felt called upon to answer the charges of his fellow Mississippians.
As a practical man Jefferson Davis foresaw that a separation from the Union might come; he urged Mississippians to prepare, warning that such forehandedness need not precipitate the trial of secession. Meanwhile, he told his people that he considered separation from the Union to be the last remedy. His military instincts appeared more boldly when in his position as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs he urged national preparedness as the best safeguard for peace. He made many pleas for larger military appropriations by Congress, but while asking for money and pointing out the lack of arsenals below Harper's Ferry, he sought no appropriation to build any. Davis's conduct in soliciting interest in the military affairs of the nation brought no dishonest aid to the Southern states. He can be cleared of the charge of using his position in Washington to prepare the South for conflict.
Abraham Lincoln's election in December, 1860, brought the controversy between North and South into sharp focus. Mississippi seceded from the Union on January 19, 1861. Davis, a day later, resigned his seat in the Senate, though he had previously bidden a heart-rending farewell to that body on January 9. With Mrs. Davis he returned home to "Brierfield" to find that the State had commissioned him Major General of her force approximating 10,000 men. Problems of organization, supply, and training, became his daily labor. As he prepared, Davis was looking far ahead. Though most people felt the contest might never break out into warfare, and while most Southerners were assuring themselves that any conflict would be a short one, Davis looked forward to a long struggle.
While the political soldier, in military garb, was interesting himself in the detailed problems of his Mississippi armed force, a Convention of the Southern States was meeting at Montgomery, Alabama. This body of electors ruled out the strong Georgia candidates, Toombs and Stephens, selecting p76 instead for President the cosmopolitan statesman, Jefferson Davis. The latter, when apprised of his new responsibility, was in a sick bed at home. When told of the Government's choice, he "reluctantly consented to assume the difficult and arduous task" of heading the Confederacy. His surprise at the appointment was tempered by his mechanical acceptance of the simple duties of closing his "Brierfield," and bidding farewell to his slaves. He started for Montgomery alone.
In front of the Capitol at Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis on February 18 was inaugurated President of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America. Here before a well-dressed, wildly enthusiastic crowd of 10,000 people, he delivered his inaugural address — a coldly legalistic conception of the "inalienable" right of each State to secede. Davis averred that he had taken this philosophy of separation from the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln, a few weeks later, in his inaugural, electrified the soul of the Union by speaking to the disaffected States, not as enemies, but as friends. He said powerfully: "In your hands . . . and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. You can have no conflict without yourself being the aggressors." The culture and education of the Southern Statesman could not equal the homespun eloquence and common sense of the Union leader. Davis now turned to affairs of state.
In his selection of a Cabinet arose the same sectional feeling which characterized the fighting, living, and dying of the Confederacy. Whether it was the appointment of generals, supply of troops, protection of coast or river line, the naming of military units, or selection of a Cabinet — the same states' rights doctrine hampered the South. Six states, other than Davis's Mississippi, were represented in the ministry and this fact tended to make it a conglomeration of nonentities. The one p77 man of strength was Davis's former senatorial colleague, Judah T. Benjamin. An eternally smiling New Orleans Jew, married to a Roman Catholic French woman, Benjamin had been the subject of an unintentional insult while in the Senate. The tearing up a challenge to duel, and an apology before that body, averted a possible tragedy. From such political problems of appointments the new President turned to industrial and military questions.
Three days after his inauguration, the Southern leader sent Captain Raphael Semmes, later the commander of the Alabama, to the North, "to make purchases of arms, ammunition, and machinery." There was little difficulty in placing contracts for these munitions, but export was prevented by vigilant authorities. Six weeks later a Major Huse was sent to England for the same purpose, but he "found few serviceable arms upon the market." The Southern agent however placed contracts for future delivery, though the English Government later prevented shipment of completed orders, said Sir Frederick Maurice. Balked in these two moves, Davis looked to George Washington Rains, a West Point graduate of 1842, to procure an adequate supply of gunpowder. The carte blanche given to him to take necessary measures was an absolutely necessary delegation of authority because the census of 1860 listed two powder mills, one in South Carolina and one in Tennessee, both of negligible manufacturing output. Colonel Rains, in a hasty survey of the South, selected Augusta, Georgia, as the best location for a powder plant. This decision was a wise one as was evidenced by that city's isolation from the active theater of war. The South's supply of gunpowder, according to The History of the Explosives Industry, was limited to a few left-over supplies from the Mexican War, plus •60,000 pounds of captured goods from the Norfolk arsenal. Colonel Josiah Gorgas was appointed Chief of Ordnance for the Confederacy and in a short time gathered 150,000 arms, chiefly smooth-bore muskets. There was "no equipment for infantry, artillery or p78 cavalry; no field artillery or cartridges; no rifles . . . and 250,000 percussion caps; . . . and but one cannon foundry, the Tredegar Works at Richmond . . ."
Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, had become the focus of attention of the North and South. Lincoln, believing that Davis's plan was to starve out the garrison of his West Point friend and frontier companion, Major Robert Anderson, decided to send a supply ship with arms and men. Davis, sensing Lincoln as the aggressor, saw no alternative but to order an attack. At a cabinet meeting this grave decision was upheld. Jefferson Davis, in ill health at the beginning of the war, was now becoming worn down with effort. McElroy quoted at length from T. C. de Leon upon Davis's condition. This visitor, amazed by the change in Davis since his departure from Washington a few months before, said: "He looked worn and thinner, and the set expression of his somewhat stern features gave a grim hardness, not natural to their lines . . . At this time the Southern Chief was 52 years old — tall, erect, and spare by natural habit, but worn thin almost to emaciation by mental and physical toil . . . Mr. Davis had lost the sight of one eye, many months previous, though that member scarcely showed its imperfection; but in the other burned a deep, steady glow, showing the presence with him of thought that never slept."
After the fall of Fort Sumter the task of creating a government, an army, and a navy, out of the slender resources of the South; of providing the government with a financial system; and of organizing the supply of arms, munitions, and food, confronted Davis ominously. While administering the government, Davis also looked to the diplomatic position of his new nation. He sent the Yancey Commission to England and France; John T. Pickett was dispatched to gain recognition from Mexico — that imponderable of the Western hemisphere, which, while promising little, seemed to pique the interest of both Davis and Lincoln. The Yancey Commission was a failure in its mission of gaining help and recognition for the Confederacy. Since their instructions were general they could at p79 this time deal with England only in a preliminary manner on "the justice of the cause and cotton." On the Confederacy's aims it was quite apparent that Lord John Russell had no thought of committing himself and England hastily; King Cotton was not the lever in foreign policy that it appeared it should have been because of its necessity in the textile industry of England and France. Sir Frederick Maurice stated: "By the time the Confederate Government had been constituted, the whole of the 1860‑61 cotton crop had been exported, and before the '61‑62 crop was ready the Northern blockade had become sufficiently effective to make exportation in bulk impossible. Professor Channing . . . has shown conclusively that when the war broke out there was a glut of cotton in Europe, and that the brokers of Manchester were actually re‑exporting cotton to Northern ports as late as May 1862." Cotton famine was not at this time reason for British intervention on the side of the South.
Up to the time of the attack on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia, with its resources of men, morale, and munitions, had withheld its agreement to secede. The remainder of the South, which felt the need of Virginia, agreed to "strike a blow to bring Virginia in." Two days after the fall of Sumter, Virginia joined the Confederacy, bringing with her several of the South's ablest commanders, Lee, Jackson, and Stuart.
Events continued to move rapidly in the new nation. The Convention, after selecting a President, faced the problem of writing a Constitution. In their search for such an instrument they arrived, quite unexpectedly, at agreement with Jefferson Davis that the American Constitution as written — and not as misinterpreted by the strong Federalist group — was the best instrument of government ever written for any nation. Adoption therefore of the United States Constitution was voted with a few exceptions. In a preamble the rights of secession were voiced and the right of property in negro slaves was put into black and white.º Maurice said that both North and South had p80 Constitutions which conferred powers sufficient to give the President the power of a dictator in time of war. He continued: "It may however be doubted whether the provision of the Constitution of the United States which makes the President Commander-in‑Chief of the Army and Navy prove to be equally wise. The control of military forces by the civil power could be assured in other ways, and the distinction between control and command should be clear . . . Davis was forced by the pressure of circumstances and of public opinion to hand over those functions to another, while Abraham Lincoln abrogated them voluntarily."
With such near-dictatorial powers at his command, and with momentum exerted in diplomatic, political and industrial fields, it was not surprising that Davis next turned to his favorite business — that of military administrator and commander. As Secretary of War, he had had an excellent opportunity to judge the officers of the regular army. Also Davis, while a young officer and cadet, had known many officers intimately. The President of the Confederacy had given P. T. Beauregard the command of the first echelon of troops which were engaged in the capture of Fort Sumter. Six weeks later, with the removal of the capital to Richmond nearer the theater of military operations, and with the Virginia commanders on his roster, Jefferson Davis was able to make his first permanent appointments. He called upon Robert E. Lee, an Engineer officer, to head the Army of Virginia. Joseph E. Johnston, former Quartermaster General of the regular army, and Davis's West Point antagonist, was sent into the field to guard the Shenandoah Valley from the critical location at Harper's Ferry. P. T. Beauregard was stationed at Manassas on the Washington-Richmond highway. Davis's old friend, Leonidas Polk, now an Episcopal Bishop, had agreed to administer the Mississippi region until Albert Sidney Johnston, the friend of himself and Davis, could leave his army post in California and join the Confederacy. Maurice stated significantly: "It is indeed rare that the selection of four commanders, made before p81 they had undergone the test of battle, proved to have been more than justified at the end of a long war . . ." For the moment, Davis's knowledge of his own field of endeavor paid dividends, but later developments such as unfortunate appointments and too much attention to detail, proved a loss to the Confederacy.
With the strength that Davis showed in these early months of the Confederacy, it yet was not sufficient to break down the stone wall of states' rights. Paradoxically the very cornerstone of the Confederacy was the weakest part of its foundation as a nation. Because of the claim of Southern States as to precedence of states' rights, none them were willing to relinquish even trivial rights for the common good. In selecting the Cabinet, two strong men from one state could not be appointed because of state prejudice. Weak appointments accordingly resulted. Davis himself had aroused state pride in his "Mississippi Rifles" in the Mexican War. His example continued to be followed during the long Civil War. The morale of troops was promoted by keeping regiments from the same State together, but when the selection of Division Commanders was sacrificed to local expediency, loss of efficiency resulted. Davis wrote to Major General G. W. Smith, late in 1861, "Kentucky has a Brigadier but not a brigade; she has however, a regiment; that regiment and Brigadier might be associated together." Davis the cosmopolitan would probably have wished to cut across picayune sectional pride, but he was continually subjected to strong political pressure. The handling of such details of military rank and procedure were in themselves a waste of time for the head of a state. The difficulties between Lee and Longstreet, which were of serious nature, were not smoothed by Davis, suggested Maurice, because the removal of Longstreet, the favored son of Georgia, would be an offense to the State. Furthermore, Jefferson Davis was forced to organize the Confederacy into military departments along state lines, and the resulting lack of coöperation brought further p82 grief to the South, for in war time military operations necessarily cut across geographical boundaries.
Two great armies lay opposite each other, both guarding their own capitals — the Southerners having a defensive policy in mind and the Northerners at this point having little idea of taking the offensive. On July 21, 1861, Beauregard met General Irvin McDowellº at Manassas Junction in the first battle of Bull Run. Davis, knowing that the battle was in progress, could hardly be kept at his desk during the morning, and early in the afternoon he was on his way to the battlefield. On the road he saw broken lines and confusion and assumed that his army was routed. At this time, endeavoring to find out some accurate information, Davis sought someone in authority. Failing that, the spirit of Buena Vista rose up in Davis and he began exhorting the soldiers to rally. A senior officer who was having a slight wound dressed told Davis, in a rough tone, that the men were his and that they had won the battle. The officer was Stonewall Jackson. Finally, the President reached Beauregard's headquarters and over the protests of the staff insisted on going into the field on horseback. After a time Davis met Joseph E. Johnston, whose timely arrival had aided Beauregard to win the victory. Davis's arrival on the field of battle brought forth ringing accounts from Southern newspapers. The Charleston Courier likened Davis to "Washington in modern history." Here it was that the President was praised for his ability in a dual capacity of political soldier. Upon his meeting with General J. E. Johnston, Davis was informed that the enemy was in full retreat, and immediately asked "what steps had been taken to follow the retreating enemy and continue the advantage gained by our army."
There is a great controversy over Davis's part in ordering a pursuit of the broken Federal army. It seems that Davis did at one time during the day actually write an order for what he called a pursuit, but the numbers of troops involved were so meager that in retrospect they can only be called a "mopping up unit." At about 11 o'clock that night Davis joined Joe p83 Johnston and Beauregard at headquarters, none of them dreaming of the hysterical flight of McDowell's troops. The President, upon hearing reports of abandoned artillery and other supplies in a near‑by town, "asserted the necessity for an urgent pursuit" of the Union army. All the next day a heavy rainfall filled the creeks of Virginia to their banks. Another conference between the same three commanders met the next night, but even with an accurate measure of victory the two military leaders agreed that they were not strong enough to take the offensive. Upon his return to Richmond, crowds welcomed Davis and clamored for a speech. Davis retracted any idea that he had been responsible for saving the day and "passed high eulogies upon Joe Johnston and Beauregard." The South was literally intoxicated over this first victory and it was not for some weeks that criticism, not of the military Commander, but of Davis, for not following up the Union army, began to appear. In extenuation of Davis and the military commanders at Bull Run, it can be understood "that the disorder consequent upon engaging very partially trained troops in battle made pursuit impossible."
The Confederate President, in a desire to follow constitutional lines, was slow to disturb the freedom of the press. No newspaper was suppressed by the government and no checks were put upon even the Richmond newspapers. Davis bore the criticisms of his political interference at Bull Run with grim patience and only plunged the harder into his business of administering the secessionist states.
A month after Manassas, Davis appointed five Generals in the following order: Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston and P. T. Beauregard. Trouble began at once as partisans of J. E. Johnston and Beauregard indignantly pointed to the first three Generals, complaining that they had won no victories. Joseph E. Johnston particularly protested the injustice to himself, stating to Davis, "It reduces my rank in the grade I hold. This has never been done heretofore in the regular service but by sentences in court-martial. It p84 seems to tarnish my fair fame as a soldier and as a man . . ." Davis, perhaps in the shortness of temper of ill health, replied much as he had done on a previous occasion as Secretary of War to General Scott: "Sir, I have received and read your letter of the 12th inst. The language is as you say unusual, its arguments and statements utterly one‑sided, and its insinuations as unfounded as they are unbecoming." Naturally, this was not to be the last of the "affair Johnston." To add to the President's discomfiture, his Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker, the first of five to fill this position, resigned to enter army service. Most biographers agree that Davis's difficulty with the War ministry was due to the fact that he exercised full control, thereby reducing the cabinet officer to the position of clerk. Davis selected Judah Benjamin as Walker's replacement.
Up to this moment of the war, Jefferson Davis's policy could be expressed broadly as that of defending Southern territory while making efforts to gain foreign aid for the cause of Confederacy. Maurice said that this policy was futile because it allowed the enemy with superior resources to gain time and because it allowed wavering border states to be lost by lack of enterprise. In November James Mason and John Slidell, the Confederate Commissioners to England and France, were taken from the British ship Trent by the Federal man-of‑war, San Jacinto. Davis looked to England to interpret this incident as a defilement of the British flag and hoped that it would be the overt act bringing him a much desired and helpful ally. Perhaps it was such hope, in addition to the joy of the Bull Run victory, which prevented Davis from making a more aggressive policy. Southern arms had not been victorious nor active after the battle of Bull Run and they might well have been pushed into offensive war by their soldier leader. The Northern blockade during the first year of war was being taken out of the "paper" stage and a determined assault by the South might have opened a sea lane enough for supplies from the Continent.
p85 General Joseph E. Johnston had sufficiently swallowed his pride by October to invite Davis to confer with the generals. The disaffected General said "he needed 19,000 men to enable him to invade Maryland." General Gustavus Smith argued for another 10,000, but the President stated, "He had not a man to give them." It was a matter of policy and not of troop movement, for Davis could surely have withdrawn sufficient men from the coastal guard to fill Johnston's request. The President's policy of defensive warfare won out. By the end of the year the Confederacy was in a critical position; her armies had only one victory to their credit and were allowing a more powerful North to gain a breathing spell; in the economic war the failure to break the blockade or to gain recognition by European powers meant the stagnation of Southern credit and the inability to sell her one cash crop — cotton.
President Davis was bitterly criticized for active participation as Commander-in‑Chief of the Army, and yet criticized when he entrusted military powers to commanders who proved unsuccessful. As censure mounted Davis, in the spring of 1862, appointed General Robert E. Lee as his military advisor in Richmond. Lee, taking up his new duties as director of all the Confederacy's military operations, found his armies in retrograde movement. Beauregard, sent West with reinforcements, had been unable to prevent the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson. In the East, McClellan was preparing for the invasion of Virginia, with a huge Federal army.
When McClellan started his advance in March, General Joe Johnston saw his best chance for success in a slow retreat where he could pick his own battlefield. President Davis, in his obstinate way, was peculiarly averse to retreat, thinking of it as a sign of weakness. Davis, riding out from Richmond to Johnston's army, found him on the near side of Chickahominy River. An explanation was demanded by Davis, and Johnston p86 spoke of "the advantage of having the river in front, rather than rear of him . . ." Furthermore, the General planned to attack McClellan when astride the river. Other than this, General Johnston would disclose nothing of his military plans to the worried President, who had just passed artillery in the suburbs of Richmond. Davis then sent for Lee in Richmond and expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of preparations for defense. Lee smoothed over the affair by agreeing with Davis that it would be satisfactory to attack McClellan on the other side of the river, and added that "Johnston should of course advise you of what he expects or proposes to do."
Having foreseen a long war and having taken advantage of a twelve months' enlistment for his first volunteers, Davis showed himself an able administrator of that phase of military preparation. He was quick to see that the next step was the passage of a Conscription Act in April, 1862. This latter law meant an inner struggle for Jefferson Davis, for he had consistently "chided the North for its destruction of civil liberty." Aside from the conflict with his own constitutionalist principles, Davis met opposition from the Southern statesmen who felt that their states' rights had been violated. All men between the ages of 18 and 35, with certain exemptions, were brought into the military service. The exempted groups, ministers, railway employees, and teachers, included plantation overseers at the rate of one to every twenty negroes. This last specification gave to the law the name of "20 nigger law."
As plans continued for the stopping of McClellan's invasion in the direction of Richmond, word came of the first fateful defeat of the South at Shiloh in the West. General Johnston along the Chickahominy continued to find President Davis a trial during these critical days. Lee, ever tactful, intervened with satisfactory results. The President had insisted oftentimes that it was his policy to leave commanders with the power of judgment and of action, but he nevertheless made a point of riding out with a considerable following to visit the army each day. Ordinary courtesy brought him the invitation into the p87 military councils, but he failed to control his generals completely, as he had said, because they rejected his plans for the coming engagement of Seven Pines. In a letter to his wife, he remarked: "Had the movement (to stop McClellan) been made when I first proposed it, the effect would have been more important."
Finally Johnston became so annoyed at the daily arrival of Davis's party on the battlefield that he would ride to the extreme front in order to avoid the President. This anti-social maneuver, according to his staff, was the cause of his serious injury at the opening of the Battle of Seven Pines. Davis, upon seeing the injured general taken care of on that occasion, sought out Lee and assigned him to the command of Johnston's army. In another letter to Mrs. Davis, he expressed his pleasure at the change in commanders because Lee had the faculty of "rising to the occasion." Davis, during the period of the battle, dropped hints about Johnston's complete lack of knowledge of the enemy's objectives.
Lee, upon his appointment on the battlefield, brought his larger knowledge to the difficult situation at Seven Pines and succeeded in making it a drawn battle. Soon afterwards, the Commander-in‑Chief happened to stop at one of Lee's conferences. Several of the general officers were explaining to Lee that their disparity of numbers would prevent taking any action against the Union forces under McClellan. He cut short such talk with the remark, "If you go on ciphering we are whipped beforehand." Lee also had an amusing little brush with Davis and his hangers‑on, who had to have box seats for every battle. One day Lee turned to Davis and asked, "Who are all this army of people, and what are they doing here?"
Davis countered, "It is not my army, General." Lee replied that the army was not his. The only polite recourse left to Davis was to withdraw so that his entourage would follow.
After the second battle of Bull Run, Lee influenced Davis to modify his military policy of defending Southern territory and hoping for foreign intervention. In clear‑cut language, p88 Lee expressed his aim of driving the Federals from Virginia, and further, he intended to keep them out. The new‑won initiative he now hoped to retain and with consummate tact explained to the President, "We cannot afford to be idle, and though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipment, must endeavor to harass if we cannot destroy them." Lee's policy was to keep his troops in motion, cross the Potomac and push into Maryland. By seizing the initiative and risking everything on invasion, a satisfactory peace might be made, thought Lee, "Before the North had time to develop its resources."
The war in the West meant only defeat for the Confederacy in the second period of the war. Grant had defeated Albert Sidney Johnston at Forts Henry and Donelson early in the year. Events were not moving too smoothly in the East either. Morris Schaff stated in his Jefferson Davis that after the war Judah Benjamin in a letter to Lee's aide, Colonel Charles Marshall, said that he was unable to fill the requisitions of the Southern Commander in command of Roanoke Island. It was thought best at this time that Benjamin should accept the censure rather than let Northern spies know of Southern deficiencies. This same lack of arms and ammunition according to Schaff was reason for the weakness of A. S. Johnston's lines — "a fact that neither he nor Davis could let the world know." Albert Sidney Johnston was being severely criticized all during the year but Davis, knowing more of the facts, maintained a defense of him. Davis, writing Albert Johnston, said: "We have suffered great anxiety because of recent events in Kentucky and Tennessee, and I have been not a little disturbed by the repetition of reflections on yourself. In the meantime I have made you such defense as friendship prompted . . ." Albert Sidney Johnston in reply reported the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson and closed his letter as frankly as any military man ever has, "The test of merit in my profession, with the people, is success. It is a hard rule, but I think it is right." Albert Sidney Johnston was killed at Shiloh on April p89 6, just as his troops had broken the center of Grant's line. With his death, Davis lost his ablest leader in the West and was never able to replace him adequately.
Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis, in ill health and in good health, was unflinchingly taking the criticism from the press, politicians, and people of the South. Only in confidential messages did Davis express his disappointment and anxiety. On reply to his friend Honorable W. N. Brooks of Macon, Georgia, who had notified him of adverse criticism, the President admitted: "I acknowledge the error of my attempt to defend all of the frontier, sea‑coast and inland but will say in justification, that if we had received the arms and munitions which we had good reason to expect, the attempt would have been successful, and the battlefields would have been on the enemy's soil." This explains Davis's defensive military policy at the commencement of the war. Further he explained: "Without military stores, without workshops to create them, with the power to import them, necessity, not choice, has compelled us to occupy strong positions. The country has supposed our armies more numerous than they are and our munitions more extensive than they have been. I have borne reproach in silence because to reply by an exact statement of facts would have exposed our weakness. Your estimate of me I hope assured you that I would not, as stated, treat the Secretary of War 'as a mere clerk,' and if you knew Mr. Benjamin you would realize the impossibility of his submitting to degradation at the hands of any one . . . Against the unfounded story that I keep the Generals in leading strings may be set the frequent complaints that I do not arraign them for what is regarded as their failures or misdeeds, and do not respond to the popular clamor by displacing Commanders upon irresponsible statements. You cite the cases of Johnston and Beauregard, but you have the story nomine mutata,º and though Johnston (Joseph E.) was offended because of his relative rank, he certainly never thought of resigning, it is surely a slander on him to say that he ever p90 considered himself insulted by me. In closing, he reminded Mr. Brooks: "I have endeavored to avoid bad selections by relying on military rather than on political recommendations."
On June 14, Davis sent Colonel William P. Johnson to Beauregard's headquarters to ask explanations of his retreat from the Charleston and Memphis railway and information of his plan for future operations. A long list of other questions was added and the tenor of the note was one of grilling Beauregard. In answer to the President's emissary, Beauregard "turned over his command to General Bragg and left on surgeon's certificate in the hope of restoring his shattered health . . ." Davis immediately appointed Bragg to head the army of the West, but wrote to his wife secretly voicing the wish that Joseph E. Johnston "were able to take the field."
In September, 1862, Lincoln came forward with his Emancipation Proclamation but it had little effect on the South. The moral advantage of the proclamation rested with the North and it increased the menace to the domestic life of the South. Gladstone's almost simultaneous speech in the British Parliament wafted help to the South when he said: "We may have our own opinions about slavery . . . but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis, and other leaders of the South, have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either — they have made a nation."
McClellan was relieved from command of the Union forces in the fall of 1862 and Burnside, who took his place, advanced toward Fredericksburg on the straightest route from Washington to Richmond. Meanwhile Lee explained his plan of action to the President. He desired to allow Burnside to advance and he in opposition would move against the Federal flanks and lines of communication. But Davis's dislike of yielding ground, according to Maurice, caused him to ask Lee to oppose Burnside on the Rappahannock. Lee acceded to the President's views because perhaps the wet weather of November might have made his extensive flanking maneuvers slow and unsure. Again a Federal attack was repulsed and again p91 the lack of pursuit caused criticism from the Southern press.
At this time Davis journeyed west to inspect his Western army, and, if possible, to heighten the morale of the people in the Mississippi Valley. In December he told the Legislature of his home state, "Rest not your hopes on foreign nations," indicating his belief that England's strict neutrality could not be changed to Southern alliance. When news of Southern victory at Fredericksburg arrived, Davis was at the headquarters of General Joseph E. Johnston at Chattanooga. Previously, Davis had reviewed General Braxton Bragg's troops at Murfreesboro, noting that "the troops . . . were in fine spirits, and well supplied." In a speech in that city Davis reversed the disbelief of foreign intervention which he had voiced in Mississippi. All during his tour of the Southwest, the President tried to explain his policies, such as the failure to invade the North and the need for Conscript Laws. Davis also took this opportunity to inspect General J. C. Pemberton's Mississippi command, and to visit General Joe Johnston, soon to be the supreme Commander in the West. The old year had seen tragic defeats in the West, the new year might bring brilliant victories by Lee in the East.
Davis was a sick man upon his return from the Southwest. The knowledge that the people were against him caused a deepening of his sensitiveness. His constant illnesses were a small handicap compared with that caused by the activities of some of the Governors of States, who went about making picayune attempts to stress the sovereignty of their own governments. The Conscription Law and Davis's appointments to military command continued to be used as weapons of abuse by these politicians. Military matters continued to be one of the main interests of Jefferson Davis. In planning new objectives, Davis on January 29, 1863, telegraphed to General J. C. Pemberton at Jackson, Mississippi: "Has anything or can p92 anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?" As had occurred before, Joseph E. Johnston saw in this message an attempt to go over his head as Commander in the West.
In the East difficulties arose in the military field also. Longstreet engaged in a useless siege of Suffolk against an equal number of Federal troops, could not rejoin Lee until the end of the battle of Chancellorsville on May 2. It appeared that Longstreet had been sent into this area around Suffolk only to relieve the strain on the railway transport and supply problem. Prior to Chancellorsville, Lee had attempted to settle Longstreet's provision problem but was blocked by the authorities in Richmond. Though Lee won an almost perfect battle at Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson's death on that battlefield was an irreparable loss to the Confederacy. A few days after the battle Lee wrote to Davis: "There are many things about which I would like to consult your Excellency, and I should be delighted, if your health and convenience suited, if you could visit the army." That Davis was in poor health in May, 1863, is attested by the diary of the rebel war clerk Jones: "I learned today that the remaining eye of the President is in a very feeble and nervous condition, and that he is really threatened with a loss of sight altogether."
In the spring of 1863 Davis's problem of continuing the war on two military fronts necessitated a reappraisal of the military policies concerning them. The Mississippi was of vital necessity to the South as its loss meant the splitting off of three states and the deprivation of men and supplies. The question arose as to whether the main effort of the Confederacy should have as its objective the saving of the Mississippi with its fortresses at Vicksburg. Other Southerners saw the major policy as an invasion of the North, following up the victory at Chancellorsville. In men and munitions the South's strength was sorely strained and only in success lay the hope of a favorable peace. While pondering the problem as to whether Lee in the East or Joe Johnston in the West would make the p93 great effort to save the Confederacy, Davis left the army at rest. He was quite ill and conferences were often held at his home. Lee had put forward his idea of an invasion toward Gettysburg and a conference was held on May 15. The meeting hinged on whether aid should go to the Mississippi, or whether the North should be invaded. Davis deferred to Lee's plan, abandoning his own program for detaching troops from the Army of Northern Virginia to relieve Vicksburg. True enough, a few men were sent from Beauregard in Charleston and a few from Alabama to the army in the West. Maurice said that in June Davis was eager to give Lee greater powers, but did not know how to accomplish this purpose. He proposed to place him in command of all troops in the East but Lee rightly said that he could not operate in such a manner. Realizing the President's need, Lee might at this time have proposed his own advancement to Commander-in‑Chief, the position that Davis gave to him later in the war. Lee made his preparations for invasion, hinging his success upon encouragement from the "rising peace party in the North." Maurice stated succinctly: "The President's confidence in Lee made him approve the plan for the invasion of Pennsylvania, but he never seemed to have grasped that this was the Confederacy's last throw for victory, and he did not give Lee the support which the army of Northern Virginia might have received . . ."
In the meantime Davis wrote to Lee about his troubles in Mississippi and other points and said that General J. E. Johnston did not, as Lee thought advisable, attack Grant promptly while he was investing Vicksburg. Davis, fearing the result would be as Lee anticipated, expended effort there equal to his furtherance of Lee's invasion of the North. Davis telegraphed to General Pemberton "to hold both Vicksburg and Fortº Hudson as it is necessary to our connection with trans-Mississippi." At the same time he wrote to his older brother Joseph, an apology for the slowness of his generals in the West. Davis felt that he was not getting coöperation from "bald, quiet Joe Johnston, little Scotch dominie of a General." p94 As a result he detailed instructions to him, commanding that with Pemberton he should join forces, as that would be the only means of saving Vicksburg. Johnston replied that he was cut off from Pemberton, and Davis said sadly that he had moved too late, though he did not accept Joe Johnston's excuses. History was now in the making, for Vicksburg and Gettysburg fell within three days of each other, two fatal blows to the Confederacy.
The great strain of working out the decision to invade the North while leaving Vicksburg insufficiently guarded proved too much for Davis's health. But greater than physical pain was the intellectual defeat, for he felt that "He had not devised a means to win his Congress, his military men or his people." Lee too, had given his all and in a letter a month later, thanked Davis for his help and asked that he be allowed to resign so that someone else might take his place. Davis in reply admitted the propriety of Lee's conclusion, which was similar to Albert Sidney Johnston's, that a military leader who had lost the confidence of troops and nation should be relieved, but the Confederate head asked quite rightly where he could find a new Commander of greater ability.
The focus of battle moved to the mid‑section in eastern Tennessee, where Bragg with Longstreet alongside fought the great battle of Chickamauga. Though the Confederate troops were near to victory, the Union General Thomas, called the "Rock of Chickamauga," overcame the great Southern drive. Bragg was thereupon removed from command and even Davis's loyal support gave way "for the good of the service." On October 14, a few weeks after the battle, Davis thanked the Army of Tennessee for its glorious victory, and though he had removed Bragg, he staunchly stood by General Pemberton. Jefferson Davis had a loyalty to his subordinates, whether Pemberton or Bragg. He had made an attempt to save Bragg by visiting his camp a month before the battle of Chickamauga, on Missionary Ridge. But this only brought further criticism of Bragg. Unfortunately he had never elicited confidence p95 from his subordinates and eventually had to be removed. Davis "took him upstairs" to Richmond as military advisor for the South's military efforts. With these actions the year came to a close with the South facing only sadder days.
With the arrival of the new year, Davis still insisted that the South might win. He held to his slavery theories and continued his leadership of the Army and Navy. On January 9, 1864, he warned General Maury, General Joseph E. Johnston, and General Leonidas Polk of his Western army that "Admiral Farragut is preparing to attack Mobile, and will try to rush by the Forts as was done at New Orleans." By springtime Davis was concerned over General Johnston's detailed plan for the operations of the Army of Tennessee. General Pendleton, who had been dispatched by the Confederate President on a mission to Johnston, found that the latter was bent on moving into Tennessee. Davis soon received news which showed the error of Pendleton's report. The enemy began its advance in May and General Johnston began retreating "until he was finally brought to the suburbs of Atlanta." Convinced that Johnston intended to give up Atlanta without a battle, Davis relieved him of command. Meanwhile the military situation nearer Richmond was as grave. Efforts were made to induce Davis to arm the slaves as soldiers, but he refused such a plan. Again it was the old states' rights doctrine which hampered Davis, for he insisted that the states alone had the right to control slavery. Upon questioning by General Polk as to how to deal with captured negro soldiers of the Union Army, Davis answered: "If the negro soldiers are escaped slaves, they should be held safely for recovery by their owner. If otherwise, inform me."
That Jefferson Davis was the cement holding the Confederacy together, was amply illustrated by the testimony of two Union envoys sent by Lincoln to Richmond. Davis, during p96 their conversation, asserted that peace could be gained if the South were given self-government. Further, Davis refuted their argument that the majority ruled, averring that history has never proved any such theory. The two Federals, when reporting to Lincoln, stated that "Davis was the power which held the Confederacy to its hard task of unequal warfare. There can be no peace so long as Mr. Davis controls the South. Ignoring slavery, he himself states the issue — Union or Disunion."
The Northern armies under Grant were •twenty-five miles from Richmond in the siege of Petersburg in June. Tired of his administrative details, Davis found a certain relief in daily visits to Lee. Here again he was the soldier and in Lee saw the centering of command faculties which brought decision. Events continued to go badly in the South as Sherman forged ahead in his long march to the sea.
Though Davis knew Johnston was an able general he could not as usual bring himself to agree on continued retreat. As soon as he learned that Johnston intended to surrender Atlanta, Davis consulted Lee about his removal, naming Hood as the substitute. Lee, as usual, refused to take the decision from Davis, and reminded: "It is a grievous thing to change the commander of an army . . . if Johnston abandons Atlanta, I suppose he will fall back on Augusta. This loses us Mississippi and communication with trans-Mississippi . . . Hood is a good fighter, . . . I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness, and zeal. General Hardee has more experience in managing an army." The removal of the Scotch dominie General became a matter of bitter controversy. The removal of Johnston pleased only the Northern Commanders. Johnston defended himself in a series of articles long after the war, claiming that Davis knew nothing of the terrain nor the situation confronting the Army before Atlanta.
After Hood had been defeated at Atlanta, giving up the city to Sherman, Davis in a hurried visit addressed the army. With its resolution revived, Hood led it off to cut Sherman's communications. p97 Continuing on a tour of the South, Jefferson Davis tried his voice on the people of Georgia. Though severely denounced for Hood's failure the stubborn President could still say at Macon "that the cause was not lost."
Back in Richmond the pressure of defeat continued. Farragut's ships had shattered the defenses of Mobile; Thomas had defeated Hood at Nashville; and Sherman had reached the sea.
By March of 1865 the bill authorizing 300,000 negro troops was passed by the Confederate Congress despite the infringement of States' Rights. Furthermore, Davis had lost his slight hold on Congress. Again and again his favored measures were defeated. The criticism of Davis and the blame for the fall of Atlanta continued in increasing volume. The determination of Congress to compromise his military direction brought in a bill for the selection of a General-in‑Chief. Prior to the passage of the bill, Davis took the power into his own hands, giving the supreme military command to General Lee, and again appointing Johnston to head the Army of the West. But it was too late.
Soon after his appointment as General-in‑Chief, Lee found himself in a pincers between Sherman's army marching north and Grant's army moving south. Evacuation of Richmond was necessary. Davis did not argue with Lee about retreat but impressed upon the military leader that "faith in the possibility was still winning our independence . . ." Having removed his family from Richmond, Davis awaited the inevitable. The President was apprised of the desperate situation around Richmond while attending church one Sunday. With quiet dignity he left the edifice and walked to his office, where he directed the removal of the Government to Danville. Despite the pressure of administrative duties, Davis still found time to write Lee warning that Sherman, according to rumor, was coming to Danville for a troop concentration. p98 Simultaneously Lee was preparing for surrender at Appomattox. When news of the surrender on Palm Sunday reached Davis, he moved quickly to Greensboro, North Carolina. While fleeing, he wired General Johnston to bring his army there. On April 15, he met Johnston and Beauregard in secret. Knowing that Federal cavalry were near, Davis planned to take the remnants of the army and the remainder of the Confederate treasury to Texas where he intended to continue the fight. Upon being asked his views of the war by Davis, General Joseph E. Johnston said: "Our people are tired of the war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight." Accounting the odds against them and noting the increased desertion among his men, Johnston completed his bitter remarks. After General Beauregard had concurred in his brother officer's statement Davis asked Johnston what he proposed. Johnston, contrary to the opinion held by Davis, claimed that Sherman would treat with him for a peaceful surrender. Without waiting to learn of Johnston's conclusion of the proposed agreement between himself and Sherman, Davis left to search for his wife and family before continuing his journey to Texas.
The death of Lincoln had put a different light on the status of the head of the Confederate States. Davis had received a letter from his wife stating her plans for flight. In addition she brought to him the great strength and confidence which he needed at this time. She stated simply: "It is surely not the fate to which you invited me in brighter days, but you must remember that you did not invite me to a great hero's home, but to that of a plain farmer. I have shared all your triumphs, have been the only beneficiary of them. Now I am but claiming the privilege for the first time of being all to you . . ." At Washington, Georgia, — the proposed meeting place — Davis with his few traveling companions found that Mrs. Davis had become alarmed and moved on. Though catastrophe had befallen Davis he had no idea that President Andrew Johnson had issued a proclamation offering $100,000 reward for his arrest, presumably because evidence had been uncovered connecting the p99 Southern leaders with the atrocious murder of Abraham Lincoln.
A few days later Davis caught up with his wife's party and they traveled on together. Federal troops seemedº all about but Davis insisted on continuing the journey to Texas until actually confronted by a Northern trooper who covered Davis with his carbine.
He learned for the first time of the price on his head. He was brought to Macon, Georgia, and delivered to General Wilson, who had been a cadet at West Point when Davis was Secretary of War. Wilson stated that however petulant Davis may have been when captured, he had regained composure when delivered to him. The Confederate head spoke kindly of his old West Point friend, and feelingly of Lee. He also referred to Mr. Lincoln with "respect and kindness." By ship Davis was next conveyed to Fortress Monroe for imprisonment.
McElroy, in his biography of Davis, rightly called him the "scapegoat." Charles A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, was present to see that the confinement order was carried out in full. He reported that Davis "bore himself with a haughty attitude . . . his features were composed and his step firm." Furthermore, Dana reported that the prisoners were secure because each one, Davis and Clay, occupied inner casemate rooms with heavily barred windows. Besides, a sentry in front of the door and an officer had the duty of checking the prisoner every 15 minutes. Davis, with indomitable spirit, settled down to two years of prison life and took not too kindly to the treatment of his jailers. When at first Jefferson Davis asked a sentry which way the embrasure faced he received no answer; nor was any answer forthcoming upon repeated questioning. Then it was said Davis threw up his hands and his bitter laugh echoed: "I wish my men could have been taught your discipline!" Dr. John J. Craven, in his book The Prison Life of Jefferson Davis, spoke highly of Davis's conduct, and said that the iron shackles were a severe trial. The prisoner refused to believe p100 that there were orders placing him in irons. He called for the Commanding General, Major General Sherman Miles, but the sentry only answered, "Those are my orders." About this time, Dr. Craven was called in upon an illness of Davis. The prisoner asked for tobacco and also asked of the officer of the day whether the Secretary of War or General Miles had put him in irons. Davis calmed as he smoked his meerschaum, evincing only by his smile that the deprivation of tobacco had been a severe cause for complaint. Even when he complained that the sentry's walk disturbed his thoughts he add cheerfully "that it was by this — touching his pipe — he hoped to become tranquil." Meanwhile Mrs. Davis appealed to Horace Greeley, the famed New York City newspaper publisher, asking that he attempt to gain an early trial for her husband. Judge Shea of New York was unwilling to set an early trial unless satisfied that the charge against Davis of starvation of and cruelty to Northern prisoners was untrue. As the Confederate records were in Canada, Judge Shea visited Montreal and there convinced himself that Davis was guiltless of "indifference to the welfare of prisoners." Greeley gave considerable time to securing an early trial. O'Connor, a prominent lawyer of New York, volunteered his services as defense counsel.
Congress, in the following year, appointed a committee to discover the facts in Davis's case, and to "recommend his trial by a commission or the courts." Mrs. Davis was attempting to gain mercy from President Johnson until justice was brought to her husband; and Greeley was using all his influence to bring about a speedy trial. Jefferson Davis was never tried by any court and yet was released in 1867, nearly two years after his incarceration. Out on bail, Davis moved to Canada but the climate was too severe for his weakened condition. Leaving the fishing and the many Southern refugees, he returned to his plantation, to find it a neglected, pillaged estate. For a time, owing to the generous people of Memphis, he was President of the Southern Life Insurance Company. He declined the honorarium p101 of a house for his services and maintained his independence of spirit. The company failed to prosper and Davis wound up its affairs with heavy losses to himself and stockholders. Returning again to Mississippi he spent his time quietly preparing himself for the distasteful task of writing his great apologia, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. As the years passed he encountered less and less criticism of his Presidency and the people of the South began to look upon him as an elder statesman. Rather bitterly he lived out four score years. His sons had died and though his daughters and wife lived on they were ill much of the time.
Davis had never been pardoned as Lee had been nor was his citizenship recognized. Nevertheless on several occasions he spoke out disparagingly of the Federal Government. In an address to the Army of Tennessee he said that he could not praise President Hayes who had removed the Federal troops from the South, because he regarded him as "an usurper, never lawfully chosen President . . ." General Johnston, too, had kept up the old controversy over his removals by Davis from military command, emphasizing their unreasonableness so that Davis felt called upon finally to answer him. The ex‑President's words were not calculated to bring reconciliation with his former West Point schoolmate.
At his home in Beauvoir, Mississippi, Davis, with grief and the "storm of calumny" about him, wrote his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Stricken with bronchitis he sank rapidly in December, 1889, dying in New Orleans. In 1893 the body was taken to Richmond, where services were held at the old Confederate Capitol, before he was laid to rest in Hollywood Cemetery on the banks of the James. Since that day Davis has consistently gained stature as a high-principled political soldier who followed a lost cause with unswerving faith.
a About five kilometers from Bardstown, which in 1817 was the new episcopal see of Kentucky, the Dominican seminary of St. Thomas was the principal Catholic school in the Commonwealth and the usual residence of its first Catholic bishop, Benedict Flaget. It is frequently mentioned in Maes's Life of Charles Nerinckx (a pioneer priest of the time); see in particular pp395, 366, 374.
b A fairly detailed view of this time of Davis's military career — Fort Winnebago, the sawmill, James Pemberton — is given by Milo Quaife in "The Northwestern Career of Jefferson Davis" (J. Ill. S. H. S. XVI).
c Jefferson Davis was stationed at Fort Crawford in 1829‑1831. By my count, Cullum's Register records fourteen other West Pointers at the post during at least part of that time. Busy daughters!
To be fair, I haven't taken the trouble to determine how many were bachelors at the time. For the insatiably curious who might wish to do so, however, here's the list, in order of their graduation; each man linked to his entry in the Register: Thomas J. Beall • Albert S. Miller • Alexander Johnston • Alexander S. Hooe • David Perkins • Alexander J. Center • Edgar M. Lacey • Enos J. Mitchell • Sidney Burbank • Lloyd J. Beall • Camillus C. Daviess • George W. McClure • Horatio P. Van Cleve
In addition, at least one other West Point graduate was in the area and courting at the time, since he married at Prairie du Chien in 1830, although not one of the Taylor daughters: Thomas B. W. Stockton.
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