President of the Confederate States (1808-1889) not of the whole US
Top 10 Jefferson Davis related articles
- 1 Early life
- 2 First marriage and aftermath
- 3 Second marriage and family; election to Congress
- 4 Mexican–American War
- 5 Return to politics
- 6 President of the Confederate States
- 7 Imprisonment
- 8 Later years
- 9 Author
- 10 Death and burials
- 11 Legacy
- 12 Screen portrayals
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Bibliography
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
|President of the Confederate States|
February 22, 1862 – May 5, 1865
Provisional: February 18, 1861 – February 22, 1862
|Vice President||Alexander H. Stephens|
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Succeeded by||Office abolished|
|United States Senator|
March 4, 1857 – January 21, 1861
|Preceded by||Stephen Adams|
|Succeeded by||Adelbert Ames (1870)|
August 10, 1847 – September 23, 1851
|Preceded by||Jesse Speight|
|Succeeded by||John J. McRae|
|23rd United States Secretary of War|
March 7, 1853 – March 4, 1857
|Preceded by||Charles Conrad|
|Succeeded by||John B. Floyd|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Mississippi's at-large district
December 8, 1845 – October 28, 1846
|Preceded by||Tilghman Tucker|
|Succeeded by||Henry T. Ellett|
Jefferson Finis Davis
June 3, 1808
Fairview, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||December 6, 1889 (aged 81)|
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Resting place||Hollywood Cemetery,|
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
(m. 1835; died 1835)
|Education||United States Military Academy (BS)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Branch/service||United States Army|
United States Volunteers
|Years of service||1825–1835|
|Unit||1st U.S. Dragoons|
|Commands||1st Mississippi Rifles|
Jefferson Finis Davis[a] (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American politician who served as the president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865. As a member of the Democratic Party, he represented Mississippi in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives before the American Civil War. He previously served as the United States Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857 under President Franklin Pierce.
Davis was born in Fairview, Kentucky, to a moderately prosperous farmer, the youngest of ten children. He grew up in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, and also lived in Louisiana. His eldest brother Joseph Emory Davis secured the younger Davis's appointment to the United States Military Academy. After graduating, Jefferson Davis served six years as a lieutenant in the United States Army. He fought in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), as the colonel of a volunteer regiment. Before the American Civil War, he operated a large cotton plantation in Mississippi, which his brother Joseph gave him, and claimed ownership of as many as 113 enslaved people. Although Davis argued against secession in 1858, he believed states had an unquestionable right to leave the Union.
Davis married Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of general and future President Zachary Taylor, in 1835, when he was 27 years old. They were both stricken with malaria soon thereafter, and Sarah died after three months of marriage. Davis recovered slowly and suffered from recurring bouts of the disease throughout his life. At the age of 36, Davis married again, to 18-year-old Varina Howell, a native of Natchez, Mississippi, who had been educated in Philadelphia and had some family ties in the North. They had six children. Only two survived him, and only one married and had children.
Many historians attribute some of the Confederacy's weaknesses to Davis's poor leadership. His preoccupation with detail, reluctance to delegate responsibility, lack of popular appeal, feuds with powerful state governors and generals, favoritism toward old friends, inability to get along with people who disagreed with him, neglect of civil matters in favor of military ones, and resistance to public opinion all worked against him. Historians agree he was a much less effective war leader than his Union counterpart, President Abraham Lincoln. After Davis was captured in 1865, he was accused of treason and imprisoned at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. He was never tried and was released after two years. While not disgraced, Davis had been displaced in ex-Confederate affection after the war by his leading general, Robert E. Lee. Davis wrote a memoir entitled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, which he completed in 1881. By the late 1880s, he began to encourage reconciliation, telling Southerners to be loyal to the Union. Ex-Confederates came to appreciate his role in the war, seeing him as a Southern patriot. He became a hero of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy in the post-Reconstruction South.
Jefferson Davis Intro articles: 19
Birth and family background
Jefferson Finis Davis was born at the family homestead in Fairview, Kentucky, on June 3, 1808. He sometimes gave his year of birth as 1807. He dropped his middle name in later life, although he sometimes used a middle initial.[a] Davis was the youngest of ten children born to Jane (née Cook) and Samuel Emory Davis; his oldest brother Joseph Emory Davis was 23 years his senior. He was named after then-incumbent President Thomas Jefferson, whom his father admired. In the early 20th century, the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site was established near the site of Davis's birth. Coincidentally, Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, only eight months later, less than 100 miles (160 km) to the northeast of Fairview.
Davis's paternal grandparents were born in the region of Snowdonia in North Wales, and immigrated separately to North America in the early 18th century. His maternal ancestors were English. After initially arriving in Philadelphia, Davis's paternal grandfather Evan settled in the colony of Georgia, which was developed chiefly along the coast. He married the widow Lydia Emory Williams, who had two sons from a previous marriage, and their son Samuel Emory Davis was born in 1756. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, along with his two older half-brothers. In 1783, after the war, he married Jane Cook. She was born in 1759 to William Cook and his wife Sarah Simpson in what is now Christian County, Kentucky. In 1793, the Davis family relocated to Kentucky, establishing a community named "Davisburg" on the border of Christian and Todd counties; it was eventually renamed Fairview.
During Davis's childhood, his family moved twice: in 1811 to St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, and less than a year later to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Three of his older brothers served in the War of 1812. In 1813, Davis began his education at the Wilkinson Academy in the small town of Woodville, near the family cotton plantation. His brother Joseph acted as a surrogate father and encouraged Jefferson in his education. Two years later, Davis entered the Catholic school of Saint Thomas at St. Rose Priory, a school operated by the Dominican Order in Washington County, Kentucky. At the time, he was the only Protestant student at the school. Davis returned to Mississippi in 1818, studying at Jefferson College in Washington. He returned to Kentucky in 1821, studying at Transylvania University in Lexington. (At the time, these colleges were like academies, roughly equivalent to high schools.) His father Samuel died on July 4, 1824, when Jefferson was 16 years old.
Early military career
Joseph arranged for Davis to get an appointment and attend the United States Military Academy (West Point) starting in late 1824. While there, he was placed under house arrest for his role in the Eggnog Riot during Christmas 1826. Cadets smuggled whiskey into the academy to make eggnog, and more than a third of the cadets were involved. In June 1828, Davis graduated 23rd in a class of 33.
Following graduation, Second Lieutenant Davis was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment and was stationed at Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien, Michigan Territory. Zachary Taylor, a future president of the United States, had assumed command shortly before Davis arrived in early 1829. In March 1832, Davis returned to Mississippi on furlough, having had no leave since he first arrived at Fort Crawford. He was still in Mississippi during the Black Hawk War but returned to the fort in August. At the conclusion of the war, Colonel Taylor assigned him to escort Black Hawk to prison. Davis made an effort to shield Black Hawk from curiosity seekers, and the chief noted in his autobiography that Davis treated him "with much kindness" and showed empathy for the leader's situation as a prisoner.
Jefferson Davis Early life articles: 29
First marriage and aftermath
Davis fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of his commanding officer, Zachary Taylor. Both Sarah and Davis sought Taylor's permission to marry. Taylor refused, as he did not wish his daughter to have the difficult life of a military wife on frontier army posts. Davis's own experience led him to appreciate Taylor's objection. He consulted his older brother Joseph, and they both began to question the value of an Army career. Davis hesitated to leave, but his desire for Sarah overcame this, and he resigned his commission in a letter dated April 20, 1835. He had arranged for the letter to be sent to the War Department for him on May 12 when he did not return from leave, but he did not tell Taylor he intended to resign. Against his former commander's wishes, on June 17, he married Sarah in Louisville, Kentucky. His resignation became effective June 30.
Davis's older brother Joseph had been very successful and owned Hurricane Plantation and 1,800 acres (730 ha) of adjoining land along the Mississippi River on a peninsula 20 miles (32 km) south of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The adjoining land was known as Brierfield, since it was largely covered with brush and briers. Wanting to have his youngest brother and his wife nearby, Joseph gave use of Brierfield to Jefferson, who eventually developed Brierfield Plantation there. Joseph retained the title.
In August 1835, Jefferson and Sarah traveled south to his sister Anna's home in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana; the plantation was known as Locust Grove. They intended to spend the hot summer months in the countryside away from the river floodplain, for their health, but each of them contracted either malaria or yellow fever. Sarah died at the age of 21 on September 15, 1835, after three months of marriage. Davis was also severely ill, and his family feared for his life. In the month following Sarah's death, he slowly improved, although he remained weak.
In late 1835, Davis sailed from New Orleans to Havana, Cuba, to help restore his health. He was accompanied by James Pemberton, his only slave at the time. Davis observed the Spanish military and sketched fortifications. Although no evidence points to his having any motive beyond general interest, the authorities knew Davis was a former army officer and warned him to stop his observations. Bored and feeling somewhat better, Davis booked passage on a ship to New York, then continued to Washington, D.C., where he visited his old schoolmate George Wallace Jones. He soon returned with Pemberton to Mississippi.
For several years following Sarah's death, Davis was reclusive and honored her memory. He spent time clearing Brierfield and developing his plantation, studied government and history, and had private political discussions with his brother Joseph. By early 1836, Davis had purchased 16 slaves; he held 40 slaves by 1840, and 74 by 1845. Davis promoted Pemberton to be overseer of the field teams. In 1860, he owned 113 slaves.
In 1840, Davis first became involved in politics when he attended a Democratic Party meeting in Vicksburg and, to his surprise, was chosen as a delegate to the party's state convention in Jackson. In 1842, he attended the Democratic convention, and, in 1843, became a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives from the Warren County–Vicksburg district; he lost his first election. In 1844, Davis was sent to the party convention for a third time, and his interest in politics deepened. He was selected as one of six presidential electors for the 1844 presidential election and campaigned effectively throughout Mississippi for the Democratic candidate James K. Polk.
Jefferson Davis First marriage and aftermath articles: 13
Second marriage and family; election to Congress
In 1844, Davis met Varina Banks Howell, then 18 years old, whom his brother Joseph had invited for the Christmas season at Hurricane Plantation. She was a granddaughter of New Jersey Governor Richard Howell; her mother's family was from the South and included successful Scots-Irish planters. Within a month of their meeting, the 35-year-old widower Davis had asked Varina to marry him, and they became engaged despite her parents' initial concerns about his age and politics. They were married on February 26, 1845.
Election to Congress
During this time, Davis was persuaded to become a candidate for the United States House of Representatives and began canvassing for the election. In early October 1845 he traveled to Woodville to give a speech. He arrived a day early to visit his mother there, only to find that she had died the day before. After the funeral, he rode the 40 miles (64 km) back to Natchez to deliver the news, then returned to Woodville again to deliver his speech. He won the election and entered the 29th Congress.
Jefferson and Varina had six children; three died before reaching adulthood. Samuel Emory, born July 30, 1852, was named after his grandfather; he died June 30, 1854, of an undiagnosed disease. Margaret Howell was born February 25, 1855, and was the only child to marry and raise a family. She married Joel Addison Hayes, Jr. (1848–1919), and they had five children. They were married in St. Lazarus Church, nicknamed "The Confederate Officers' Church", in Memphis, Tennessee. In the late 19th century, they moved from Memphis to Colorado Springs, Colorado. She died on July 18, 1909, at the age of 54.
Jefferson Davis, Jr., was born January 16, 1857. He died at age 21 because of yellow fever on October 16, 1878, during an epidemic in the Mississippi River Valley that caused 20,000 deaths. Joseph Evan, born on April 18, 1859, died at the age of five due to an accidental fall on April 30, 1864. William Howell, born on December 6, 1861, was named for Varina's father; he died of diphtheria at age 10 on October 16, 1872. Varina Anne, known as "Winnie", was born on June 27, 1864, several months after her brother Joseph's death. She was known as the Daughter of the Confederacy as she was born during the war. After her parents refused to let her marry into a northern abolitionist family, she never married. She died nine years after her father, on September 18, 1898, at age 34. Jim Limber an octoroon (mixed race) orphan was briefly a ward of Jefferson Davis and Varina Howell Davis.
Davis had poor health for most of his life, including repeated bouts of malaria, battle wounds from fighting in the Mexican–American War and a chronic eye infection that made bright light painful. He also had trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder that causes severe pain in the face; it has been called one of the most painful known ailments.
Jefferson Davis Second marriage and family; election to Congress articles: 9
In 1846 the Mexican–American War began. Davis raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, becoming its colonel under the command of his former father-in-law, General Zachary Taylor. On July 21 the regiment sailed from New Orleans for Texas. Colonel Davis sought to arm his regiment with the M1841 Mississippi rifle. At this time, smoothbore muskets were still the primary infantry weapon, and any unit with rifles was considered special and designated as such. President James K. Polk had promised Davis the weapons if he would remain in Congress long enough for an important vote on the Walker tariff. General Winfield Scott objected on the basis that the weapons were insufficiently tested. Davis insisted and called in his promise from Polk, and his regiment was armed with the rifles, making it particularly effective in combat. The regiment became known as the Mississippi Rifles because it was the first to be fully armed with these new weapons. The incident was the start of a lifelong feud between Davis and Scott.
In September 1846, Davis participated in the Battle of Monterrey, during which he led a successful charge on the La Teneria fort. On October 28, Davis resigned his seat in the House of Representatives. On February 22, 1847, Davis fought bravely at the Battle of Buena Vista and was shot in the foot, being carried to safety by Robert H. Chilton. In recognition of Davis's bravery and initiative, Taylor is reputed to have said, "My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was." On May 17, President Polk offered Davis a federal commission as a brigadier general and command of a brigade of militia. Davis declined the appointment, arguing that the Constitution gives the power of appointing militia officers to the states, not the federal government.
Jefferson Davis Mexican–American War articles: 11
Return to politics
Honoring Davis's war service, Governor Albert G. Brown of Mississippi appointed him to the vacant position of United States Senator Jesse Speight, a Democrat, who had died on May 1, 1847. Davis, also a Democrat, took his temporary seat on December 5, and in January 1848 he was elected by the state legislature to serve the remaining two years of the term. In December, during the 30th United States Congress, Davis was made a regent of the Smithsonian Institution and began serving on the Committee on Military Affairs and the Library Committee.
In 1848, Senator Davis proposed and introduced an amendment (the first of several) to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that would have annexed most of northeastern Mexico, but it failed on a vote of 11 to 44. Southerners wanted to increase territory held in Mexico as an area for the expansion of slavery. Regarding Cuba, Davis declared that it "must be ours" to "increase the number of slaveholding constituencies." He also was concerned about the security implications of a Spanish holding lying relatively close to the coast of Florida.
A group of Cuban revolutionaries led by Venezuelan adventurer Narciso López intended to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule by the sword. Searching for a military leader for a filibuster expedition, they first offered command of the Cuban forces to General William J. Worth, but he died before making his decision. In the summer of 1849, López visited Davis and asked him to lead the expedition. He offered an immediate payment of $100,000 (worth more than $2 million in 2013), plus the same amount when Cuba was liberated. Davis turned down the offer, saying it was inconsistent with his duty as a senator. When asked to recommend someone else, Davis suggested Robert E. Lee, then an army major in Baltimore; López approached Lee, who also declined on the grounds of his duty.
The Senate made Davis chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs on December 3, 1849, during the first session of the 31st United States Congress. On December 29 he was elected to a full six-year term (by the Mississippi legislature, as the constitution mandated at the time). Davis had not served a year when he resigned (in September 1851) to run for the governorship of Mississippi on the issue of the Compromise of 1850, which he opposed. He was defeated by fellow Senator Henry Stuart Foote by 999 votes. Left without political office, Davis continued his political activity. He took part in a convention on states' rights, held at Jackson, Mississippi, in January 1852. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election of 1852, he campaigned in numerous Southern states for Democratic candidates Franklin Pierce and William R. King.
Secretary of War
Franklin Pierce, after winning the presidential election, made Davis his Secretary of War in 1853. In this capacity, Davis began the Pacific Railroad Surveys in order to determine various possible routes for the proposed Transcontinental Railroad. He promoted the Gadsden Purchase of today's southern Arizona from Mexico, partly because it would provide an easier southern route for the new railroad; the Pierce administration agreed and the land was purchased in December 1853. He saw the size of the regular army as insufficient to fulfill its mission, maintaining that salaries would have to be increased, something which had not occurred for 25 years. Congress agreed and increased the pay scale. It also added four regiments, which increased the army's size from about 11,000 to about 15,000. Davis also introduced general usage of the rifles he had used successfully during the Mexican–American War. As a result, both the morale and the capability of the army improved. He became involved in public works when Pierce gave him responsibility for construction of the Washington Aqueduct and an expansion of the U.S. Capitol, both of which he managed closely. Davis had a good relationship with Pierce but clashed and disliked with Winfield Scott over things like travel expenses. The Pierce administration ended in 1857 after Pierce's loss of the Democratic nomination to James Buchanan. Davis's term was to end with Pierce's, so he ran for the Senate, was elected, and re-entered it on March 4, 1857.
Return to Senate
In the 1840s, tensions were growing between the North and South over various issues including slavery. The Wilmot Proviso, introduced in 1846, contributed to these tensions; if passed, it would have banned slavery in any land acquired from Mexico. The Compromise of 1850 brought a temporary respite, but the Dred Scott case, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1857, spurred public debate. Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that African Americans had no standing as citizens under the constitution. Northerners were outraged and there was increasing talk in the South of secession from the Union.
Davis's renewed service in the Senate was interrupted in early 1858 by an illness that began as a severe cold and which threatened him with the loss of his left eye. He was forced to remain in a darkened room for four weeks. He spent the summer of 1858 in Portland, Maine. On the Fourth of July, Davis delivered an anti-secessionist speech on board a ship near Boston. He again urged the preservation of the Union on October 11 in Faneuil Hall, Boston, and returned to the Senate soon after.
As he explained in his memoir The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Davis believed each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union. At the same time, he counseled delay among his fellow Southerners, because he did not think the North would permit the peaceable exercise of the right to secession. Having served as secretary of war under President Pierce, he also knew the South lacked the military and naval resources necessary for defense in a war. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, however, events accelerated. South Carolina adopted an ordinance of secession on December 20, 1860, and Mississippi did so on January 9, 1861. Davis had expected this but waited until he received official notification. On January 21, the day Davis called "the saddest day of my life", he delivered a farewell address to the United States Senate, resigned and returned to Mississippi.
In 1861, the Episcopal Church split and Davis became a member of the newly founded Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. He attended St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond while he was President of the Confederacy. The two denominations were reunited in 1865.
Jefferson Davis Return to politics articles: 38
President of the Confederate States
Anticipating a call for his services since Mississippi had seceded, Davis sent a telegraph message to Governor John J. Pettus saying, "Judge what Mississippi requires of me and place me accordingly." On January 23, 1861, Pettus made Davis a major general of the Army of Mississippi. On February 9, a constitutional convention met at Montgomery, Alabama, and considered Davis and Robert Toombs of Georgia as a possible president. Davis, who had widespread support from six of the seven states, easily won. He was seen as the "champion of a slave society and embodied the values of the planter class", and was elected provisional Confederate President by acclamation. He was inaugurated on February 18, 1861. Alexander H. Stephens was chosen as vice president, but he and Davis feuded constantly.
Davis was the first choice because of his strong political and military credentials. He wanted to serve as commander-in-chief of the Confederate armies but said he would serve wherever directed. His wife Varina Davis later wrote that when he heard he had been chosen as president, "Reading that telegram he looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family."
Several forts in Confederate territory remained in Union hands. Davis sent a commission to Washington with an offer to pay for any federal property on Southern soil, as well as the Southern portion of the national debt, but Lincoln refused to meet with the commissioners. Brief informal discussions did take place with Secretary of State William Seward through Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, the latter of whom later resigned from the federal government, as he was from Alabama. Seward hinted that Fort Sumter would be evacuated, but gave no assurance.
On March 1, 1861, Davis appointed General P. G. T. Beauregard to command all Confederate troops in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, where state officials prepared to take possession of Fort Sumter. Beauregard was to prepare his forces but await orders to attack the fort. Within the fort the issue was not of the niceties of geopolitical posturing but of survival. They would be out of food on the 15th. The small Union garrison had but half a dozen officers and 127 soldiers under Major Robert Anderson. Famously, this included the baseball folk hero Captain (later major general) Abner Doubleday. More improbable yet was a Union officer who had the name of Jefferson C. Davis. He would spend the war being taunted for his name but not his loyalty to the Northern cause. The newly installed President Lincoln, not wishing to initiate hostilities, informed South Carolina Governor Pickens that he was dispatching a small fleet of ships from the navy yard in New York to resupply but not re-enforce Fort Pickens in Florida and Fort Sumter. The U.S. President did not inform CSA President Davis of this intended resupply of food and fuel. For Lincoln, Davis, as the leader of an insurrection, was without legal standing in U.S. affairs. To deal with him would be to give legitimacy to the rebellion. The fact that Sumter was the property of the sovereign United States was the reason for maintaining the garrison on the island fort. He informed Pickens that the resupply mission would not land troops or munitions unless they were fired upon. As it turned out, just as the supply ships approached Charleston harbor, the bombardment would begin and the flotilla watched the spectacle from 10 miles (16 km) at sea.
Davis faced the most important decision of his career: to prevent reinforcement at Fort Sumter or to let it take place. He and his cabinet decided to demand that the Federal garrison surrender and, if this was refused, to use military force to prevent reinforcement before the fleet arrived. Anderson did not surrender. With Davis's endorsement, Beauregard began the bombarding of the fort in the early dawn of April 12. The Confederates continued their artillery attack on Fort Sumter until it surrendered on April 14. No one was killed in the artillery duel, but the attack on the U.S. fort meant the fighting had started. President Lincoln called up 75,000 state militiamen to march south to recapture Federal property. In the North and South, massive rallies were held to demand immediate war. The Civil War had begun.
Overseeing the war effort
When Virginia joined the Confederacy, Davis moved his government to Richmond in May 1861. He and his family took up his residence there at the White House of the Confederacy later that month. Having served since February as the provisional president, Davis was elected to a full six-year term on November 6, 1861, and was inaugurated on February 22, 1862.
In June 1862, Davis was forced to assign General Robert E. Lee to replace the wounded Joseph E. Johnston to command of the Army of Northern Virginia, the main Confederate army in the Eastern Theater. That December Davis made a tour of Confederate armies in the west of the country. He had a very small circle of military advisers. He largely made the main strategic decisions on his own, though he had special respect for Lee's views. Given the Confederacy's limited resources compared with the Union, Davis decided the Confederacy would have to fight mostly on the strategic defensive. He maintained this outlook throughout the war, paying special attention to the defense of his national capital at Richmond. He approved Lee's strategic offensives when he felt that military success would both shake Northern self-confidence and strengthen the peace movements there. However, the several campaigns invading the North were met with defeat. A bloody battle at Antietam in Maryland as well as the ride into Kentucky, the Confederate Heartland Offensive (both in 1862) drained irreplaceable men and talented officers. A final offense led to the three-day bloodletting at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania (1863), crippling the South still further. The status of techniques and munitions made the defensive side much more likely to endure: an expensive lesson vindicating Davis's initial belief.
Administration and cabinet
As provisional president in 1861, Davis formed his first cabinet. Robert Toombs of Georgia was the first Secretary of State and Christopher Memminger of South Carolina became Secretary of the Treasury. LeRoy Pope Walker of Alabama was made Secretary of War, after being recommended for this post by Clement Clay and William Yancey (both of whom declined to accept cabinet positions themselves). John Reagan of Texas became Postmaster General. Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana became Attorney General. Although Stephen Mallory was not put forward by the delegation from his state of Florida, Davis insisted that he was the best man for the job of Secretary of the Navy, and he was eventually confirmed.
Since the Confederacy was founded, among other things, on states' rights, one important factor in Davis's choice of cabinet members was representation from the various states. He depended partly upon recommendations from congressmen and other prominent people. This helped maintain good relations between the executive and legislative branches. This also led to complaints as more states joined the Confederacy, however, because there were more states than cabinet positions.
As the war progressed, this dissatisfaction increased and there were frequent changes to the cabinet. Toombs, who had wished to be president himself, was frustrated as an advisor and resigned within a few months of his appointment to join the army. Robert Hunter of Virginia replaced him as Secretary of State on July 25, 1861. On September 17, Walker resigned as Secretary of War due to a conflict with Davis, who had questioned his management of the War Department and had suggested he consider a different position. Walker requested, and was given, command of the troops in Alabama. Benjamin left the Attorney General position to replace him, and Thomas Bragg of North Carolina (brother of General Braxton Bragg) took Benjamin's place as Attorney General.
Following the November 1861 election, Davis announced the permanent cabinet in March 1862. Benjamin moved again, to Secretary of State. George W. Randolph of Virginia had been made the Secretary of War. Mallory continued as Secretary of the Navy and Reagan as Postmaster General. Both kept their positions throughout the war. Memminger remained Secretary of the Treasury, while Thomas Hill Watts of Alabama was made Attorney General.
In 1862 Randolph resigned from the War Department, and James Seddon of Virginia was appointed to replace him. In late 1863, Watts resigned as Attorney General to take office as the Governor of Alabama, and George Davis of North Carolina took his place. In 1864, Memminger withdrew from the Treasury post due to congressional opposition, and was replaced by George Trenholm of South Carolina. In 1865 congressional opposition likewise caused Seddon to withdraw, and he was replaced by John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.
Cotton was the South's primary export and the basis of its economy and the system of production the South used was dependent upon slave labor. At the outset of the Civil War, Davis realized that intervention from European powers would be vital if the Confederacy was to stand against the Union. The administration sent repeated delegations to European nations, but several factors prevented Southern success in terms of foreign diplomacy. The Union blockade of the Confederacy led European powers to remain neutral, contrary to the Southern belief that a blockade would cut off the supply of cotton to Britain and other European nations and prompt them to intervene on behalf of the South. Many European countries objected to slavery. Britain had abolished it in the 1830s, and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 made support for the South even less appealing in Europe. Finally, as the war progressed and the South's military prospects dwindled, foreign powers were not convinced that the Confederacy had the strength to become independent. In the end, not a single foreign nation recognized the Confederate States of America.
Most historians sharply criticize Davis for his flawed military strategy, his selection of friends for military commands, and his neglect of homefront crises. Until late in the war, he resisted efforts to appoint a general-in-chief, essentially handling those duties himself. "Davis was loathed by much of his military, Congress and the public – even before the Confederacy died on his watch," and General Beauregard wrote in a letter: "If he were to die today, the whole country would rejoice at it."
On January 31, 1865, Lee assumed this role as general-in-chief of all Confederate armies, but it was far too late. Davis insisted on a strategy of trying to defend all Southern territory with ostensibly equal effort. This diluted the limited resources of the South and made it vulnerable to coordinated strategic thrusts by the Union into the vital Western Theater (e.g., the capture of New Orleans in early 1862). He made other controversial strategic choices, such as allowing Lee to invade the North in 1862 and 1863 while the Western armies were under very heavy pressure. When Lee lost at Gettysburg in July 1863, Vicksburg simultaneously fell, and the Union took control of the Mississippi River, splitting the Confederacy. At Vicksburg, the failure to coordinate multiple forces on both sides of the Mississippi River rested primarily on Davis's inability to create a harmonious departmental arrangement or to force such generals as Edmund Kirby Smith, Earl Van Dorn, and Theophilus H. Holmes to work together. In fact, during the late stages of the Franklin–Nashville Campaign, Davis warned Beauregard that Kirby Smith would prove uncooperative to whatever proposal the Creole general had in mind for him.
Davis has been faulted for poor coordination and management of his generals. This includes his reluctance to resolve a dispute between Leonidas Polk, a personal friend, and Braxton Bragg, who was defeated in important battles and distrusted by his subordinates. He was similarly reluctant to relieve the capable but overcautious Joseph E. Johnston until, after numerous frustrations which he detailed in a March 1, 1865 letter to Col. James Phelan of Mississippi, he replaced him with John Bell Hood, a fellow Kentuckian who had shared the Confederate President's views on aggressive military policies.
Davis gave speeches to soldiers and politicians but largely ignored the common people, who came to resent the favoritism shown to the rich and powerful; Davis thus failed to harness Confederate nationalism. One historian speaks of "the heavy-handed intervention of the Confederate government." Economic intervention, regulation, and state control of manpower, production and transport were much greater in the Confederacy than in the Union. Davis did not use his presidential pulpit to rally the people with stirring rhetoric; he called instead for people to be fatalistic and to die for their new country. Apart from two month-long trips across the country where he met a few hundred people, Davis stayed in Richmond where few people saw him; newspapers had limited circulation, and most Confederates had little favorable information about him.
To finance the war, the Confederate government initially issued bonds, but investment from the public never met the demands. Taxes were lower than in the Union and collected with less efficiency; European investment was also insufficient. As the war proceeded, both the Confederate government and the individual states printed more and more paper money. Inflation increased from 60% in 1861 to 300% in 1863 and 600% in 1864. Davis did not seem to grasp the enormity of the problem.
In April 1863, food shortages led to rioting in Richmond, as poor people robbed and looted numerous stores for food until Davis cracked down and restored order. Davis feuded bitterly with his vice president. Perhaps even more seriously, he clashed with powerful state governors who used states' rights arguments to withhold their militia units from national service and otherwise blocked mobilization plans.
Davis is widely evaluated as a less effective war leader than Lincoln, even though Davis had extensive military experience and Lincoln had little. Davis would have preferred to be an army general and tended to manage military matters himself. Lincoln and Davis led in very different ways. According to one historian,
Lincoln was flexible; Davis was rigid. Lincoln wanted to win; Davis wanted to be right. Lincoln had a broad strategic vision of Union goals; Davis could never enlarge his narrow view. Lincoln searched for the right general, then let him fight the war; Davis continuously played favorites and interfered unduly with his generals, even with Robert E. Lee. Lincoln led his nation; Davis failed to rally the South.
There were many factors that led to Union victory, and Davis recognized from the start that the South was at a distinct disadvantage; but in the end, Lincoln helped to achieve victory, whereas Davis contributed to defeat.
Final days of the Confederacy
In March 1865, General Order 14 provided for enlisting slaves into the army, with a promise of freedom for service. The idea had been suggested years earlier, but Davis did not act upon it until late in the war, and very few slaves were enlisted.
On April 3, with Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant poised to capture Richmond, Davis escaped to Danville, Virginia, together with the Confederate Cabinet, leaving on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Lincoln was in Davis's Richmond office just forty hours later. William T. Sutherlin turned over his mansion, which served as Davis's temporary residence April 3–10, 1865. On about April 12, Davis received Robert E. Lee's letter announcing surrender. He issued his last official proclamation as president of the Confederacy, and then went south to Greensboro, North Carolina.
After Lee's surrender, a public meeting was held in Shreveport, Louisiana, at which many speakers supported continuation of the war. Plans were developed for the Davis government to flee to Havana, Cuba. There, the leaders would regroup and head to the Confederate-controlled Trans-Mississippi area by way of the Rio Grande. None of these plans were put into practice.
On April 14, Lincoln was shot, dying the next day. Davis expressed regret at his death. He later said he believed Lincoln would have been less harsh with the South than his successor, Andrew Johnson. In the aftermath, Johnson issued a $100,000 reward for the capture of Davis and accused him of helping to plan the assassination. As the Confederate military structure fell into disarray, the search for Davis by Union forces intensified.
President Davis met with his Confederate Cabinet for the last time on May 5, 1865, in Washington, Georgia, and officially dissolved the Confederate government. The meeting took place at the Heard house, the Georgia Branch Bank Building, with 14 officials present. Along with their hand-picked escort led by Given Campbell, Davis and his wife Varina Davis were captured by Union forces on May 10 at Irwinville in Irwin County, Georgia.
Davis's wife recounted her husband's capture:
Just before day the enemy charged our camp yelling like demons. ... I pleaded with him to let me throw over him a large waterproof wrap which had often served him in sickness during the summer season for a dressing gown and which I hoped might so cover his person that in the grey of the morning he would not be recognized. As he strode off I threw over his head a little black shawl which was around my own shoulders, saying that he could not find his hat and after he started sent my colored woman after him with a bucket for water hoping that he would pass unobserved.:172
It was reported in the media that Davis had put his wife's overcoat over his shoulders while fleeing. This led to the persistent rumor that he attempted to flee in women's clothes, inspiring caricatures that portrayed him so dressed. Over forty years later, an article in the Washington Herald claimed that his wife's heavy shawl had been placed on Davis who was "always extremely sensitive to cold air", to protect him from the "chilly atmosphere of the early hour of the morning" by the slave James Henry Jones, Davis's valet who served Davis and his family during and after the Civil War. Meanwhile, Davis's belongings continued on the train bound for Cedar Key, Florida. They were first hidden at Senator David Levy Yulee's plantation in Florida, then placed in the care of a railroad agent in Waldo. On June 15, 1865, Union soldiers seized Davis's personal baggage from the agent, together with some of the Confederate government's records. A historical marker was erected at this site. In 1939, Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site was opened to mark the place where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured.