Jefferson Davis would have
described himself as a loyal American. His heroes were George Washington,
Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, James Madison, and Zachary Taylor. All these
American heroes were Presidents, Southerners, and slave owners.
founded the country and wrote the Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution. If these men didnít have any
problem with slavery, why was it an issue, he asked?
Jefferson Davis served his
country well. He graduated from West Point, served in the Mexican War, ran for
Congress and won, ran for governor of Mississippi and lost, but was then
appointed a United States Senator from Mississippi.
He married well. His first
wife, Sarah Knox Taylor, was the daughter of President Zachary Taylor. Wow,
how much more American can you get than by marrying the Presidentís
Zachary Taylor, like many
fathers in the military, did not want his daughter to marry an Army officer.
Taylor was also unhappy that Davis had not followed his suggestions during a
court-martial in which Davis was a member.
Taylor initially refused to
allow his daughter to see Davis. Davis became so angry that he told his
friends that he was going to challenge the General to a duel. Luckily, Davisís friends
convinced him that a duel with a superior officer was not a good idea. This,
however, clearly illustrated the temper that was to cause Jefferson Davis and
the Confederacy so much trouble in the war years.
Unfortunately, Sarah died
three months after the wedding. Davis spent the next ten years as a bachelor.
Then he met and married Varina Howell. She was 19 years younger than Davis. She was
also was from an aristocratic up-bringing as her grandfather was a former
governor of New Jersey.
Jefferson Davis and
his second wife, Varina
Politically, Jefferson Davis
did not favor Mississippi seceding from the Union. He held his senate seat
until he received the telegraph that Mississippi had voted to secede.
Davis also had little
interest in becoming President of the Confederate states who were meeting in
Montgomery, Alabama. He declined to attend and was very surprised when he was
unanimously elected President. He really wanted to be appointed commander of
the Confederate Army.
Jefferson Davis did however,
accept the Presidency and moved to Montgomery, Alabama. A dusty little town of
9,000 people, half of whom were black. Jefferson Davis did not take care in
appointing his vice president and cabinet members. He concentrated on
appointments representing different states and not on ability. His approval of
Alexander Stephens as Vice President was his biggest blunder. Stephens spent the
entire war blaming Davis for every problem the South confronted. In fact,
Davis spent much of the war shuffling and reshuffling his cabinet. Davis, whoís
health was never good, spent the war micromanaging the government and never
relied on his cabinet.
Abraham Lincoln on the other
hand, did reshuffle his cabinet early in his administration but after that,
let his cabinet members do their work without much interference. Jefferson
Davisís worst nightmare was Vice President Alexander Stephens.
We have a presentation this
year about Lincoln and his generals but very few discuss Davis and his
Davis had General P.G.T.
Beauregard who was a southern George B. McClellan. Beauregard thought he
should have been appointed President of the Confederacy after the first battle
of Bull Run. He filed a report three months after the battle saying he could
have taken Washington following his victory at Bull Run but was ordered by
Jefferson Davis not to do so.
Davis, who did not issue any
such orders, was furious. He should have fired Beauregard but showed another
of his weak qualities which hurt the South: his inability to actually
get rid of a poor or lying general. By the end of the war Generals Beauregard,
Bragg, Pemberton, and Joseph Johnston were still Army Generals even though they
had failed in the field or actively worked against Davis.
Clearly, the biggest problem
Jefferson Davis had was developing a strategy for the war. The South of course
didnít have to win the war; a draw would be fine. Davis was always mulling
the problem on whether to try to defend the entire country which he felt was
necessary politically. However, militarily, the South needed to concentrate
their limited forces to effectively oppose the much larger Union Army.
Important Events In the Life of Jefferson
Fairview, Kentucky. Moves to Woodville, Mississippi when a
small child. Educated at Jefferson College, Washington,
Mississippi, near Natchez, and at Transylvania College,
US Military Academy at West Point at the age of twenty.
Knox Taylor, daughter of General Zachary Taylor. Resigns
from U.S. Army to become a planter.
Taylor Davis dies of malarial fever.
Anne Banks Howell. Settles on plantation, Brierfield.
|Elected as a
Member of Congress, U.S. House of Representatives from
|As Colonel of
Mississippi Volunteers, commands the First Mississippi
Regiment in the Mexican War at the Battles of Monterrey and
Buena Vista and is hailed as a war hero.
|Elected to the
U.S. Senate from Mississippi.
Secretary of War by President Franklin Pierce, serving four
|Returns to the
provisional President of the Confederate States of America at
|Elected to a
six-year term as President of the Confederate States of
|Meets with his
Confederate Cabinet for the last time in Washington, Georgia,
and officially dissolves the Confederate Government.
Irwinville, Georgia by the Fourth Michigan Cavalry.
Fortress Monroe, Virginia.
Fortress Monroe prison on a $100,000 bail bond signed by
twenty prominent men, among them Horace Greeley, Cornelius
Vanderbilt, and Augustus Schell, each posting $5,000.
Memphis, Tennessee. Visits Canada, England, Wales,
Scotland and continental Europe.
Beauvoir, Gulfport, Mississippi. Spends the last twelve years
of his life on the estate.
|Dies in New
Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, following the largest funeral
procession ever held in the South.
Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.
Carter signs bill to restore citizenship to Jefferson Davis
which passes the U.S. Congress without a dissenting vote.
The Union on the other hand
started with Winfield Scott's Anaconda plan until Ulysses S. Grant took
over in early 1864. Grant made the Union strategy smash-mouth against the
Confederate Army and total war against Southern farms, factories, and civilian
In the meantime the Confederate government
went from defending the entire southern border to military concentration (as
at the battle of Chickamauga) then back to defending as much of the South as
possible. Because Jefferson Davis never made a clear policy his generals like
Robert E. Lee and Bratton Bragg developed a strategy that served their ideas.
Robert E. Lee, commander of
the Confederacy largest army, was touring southern Pennsylvania while Davisís
home town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, including 31,000 Confederate troops
surrendered to the Union Army. P.G.T. Beauregard thought he should be
appointed Confederate President for life. Robert E. Lee developed his own ideas
on how to win the war.
General Braxton Bragg, who got
to see first-hand how concentrating the southern army at Chickamauga produced
victories, sent General Longstreet and the First Corps of the Army of
Northern Virginia away because he didnít like Longstreet.
Jefferson Davis journeyed to
see Braggís army in Tennessee as other generals in Braggís command were
demanding Bragg be replaced. Davis did not replace Bragg nor did he leave him
a strategy to fight the war.
The result was a crushing defeat at the hands
of Ulysses Grant and the Union Army at Chattanooga. A defeat that
set the stage for the fall of Atlanta and the elimination of the Confederate
Army of the Tennessee.
Itís easy to point out
Jefferson Davisí mistakes and weaknesses, as we could for Abraham Lincoln.
So letís give him some credit. He started with no country, no army, and no
government. Also after eights months the capital was moved to Richmond.
The Confederate government
raised, equipped, and fed an army of 860,000 men - a huge number for the time.
Although the lack of supplies to the Confederate army is well known, no battle
was ever lost by the lack of rifles or bullets. The Confederate army gave the
Union Army all it could handle for four years even though the northern
population was four times that of the south.
People at the time did not
lay single blame on Jefferson Davis for losing the war. He drew enthusiastic
crowds during a speaking tour of the south in the 1880ís. He, like Longstreet,
suffers today from the myth of Robert E. Lee. The myth says Lee never made any
mistakes so someone has to be blamed. Jefferson Davis and Longstreet are
convenient people on whom to place that blame. However, Robert E. Lee
himself said about
Davis, ď I know of no man who could have done better.Ē
We started with the question,
ďWas Jefferson Davis, the reason the Confederacy lost the Civil War?Ē
Jefferson Davis made serious
mistakes. The most critical of which was not providing his generals a strategy
to win the war. However, Lincoln also made serious blunders. Ah, but the north
could afford to make serious mistakes and the south could not. Both sides made
serious mistakes and guess who won?