Jefferson Davis was born 3 June 1808 in Fairview, Todd County, Kentucky, United States to Samuel Emory Davis (1756-1824) and Jane Cook (1759-1845) and died 6 December 1889 New Orleans, United States of unspecified causes. He married Sarah Knox Taylor (1814-1835) 17 June 1835 in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, United States. He married Varina Banks Howell (1826-1906) 26 February 1845 in United States.

Jefferson Davis

President of the Confederate States
In office
February 18, 1861 – May 10, 1865
provisional: February 18, 1861 – February 22, 1862
Vice President Alexander Stephens
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished

23rd United States Secretary of War
In office
March 7, 1853 – March 4, 1857
President Franklin Pierce
Preceded by Charles Conrad
Succeeded by John Floyd

In office
March 4, 1857 – January 21, 1861
Preceded by Stephen Adams
Succeeded by Adelbert Ames
In office
August 10, 1847 – September 23, 1851
Preceded by Jesse Speight
Succeeded by John McRae

In office
December 8, 1845 – June 1, 1846
Preceded by Tilghman Tucker
Succeeded by Henry Ellett

Born June 3, 1808(1808-06-03)
Fairview, Kentucky, U.S.
Died December 6, 1889 (age 81)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sarah Knox Taylor (June–September 1835)
Varina Banks Howell (1845–1889)
Alma mater Transylvania University
United States Military Academy
Religion Episcopal
Military service
Allegiance United States United States
Confederate States of America Confederate States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1828–1835
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit 1st Dragoons
Mississippi Rifles
Battles/wars Black Hawk War
Mexican-American War

Jefferson Finis Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President of the Confederate States of America for its entire history, from 1861 to 1865.

Davis was born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane (Cook) Davis. After attending Transylvania University, Davis graduated from West Point and fought in the Mexican–American War as the colonel of a volunteer regiment named the Mississippi Rifles. He served as the United States Secretary of War under Democratic President Franklin Pierce. Both before and after his time in the Pierce administration, he served as a Democratic U.S. senator representing the state of Mississippi. As a senator, he argued against secession, but did agree that each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union.[1]

On February 9, 1861, after Davis resigned from the United States Senate, he was selected to be the provisional President of the Confederate States of America; he was elected without opposition to a six-year term that November. During his presidency, Davis took charge of the Confederate war plans but was unable to find a strategy to stop the larger, more powerful and better organized Union. His diplomatic efforts failed to gain recognition from any foreign country, and he paid little attention to the collapsing Confederate economy, printing more and more paper money to cover the war's expenses.

Historians have criticized Davis for being a much less effective war leader than his Union counterpart Abraham Lincoln, which they attribute to Davis being overbearing, controlling, and overly meddlesome, as well as being out of touch with public opinion, and lacking support from a political party (since the Confederacy had no political parties).[2] His preoccupation with detail, reluctance to delegate responsibility, lack of popular appeal, feuds with powerful state governors, inability to get along with people who disagreed with him, and neglect of civil matters in favor of military ones all worked against him.[3]

After Davis was captured on May 10, 1865, he was charged with treason. Although he was not tried, he was stripped of his eligibility to run for public office; Congress posthumously lifted this restriction in 1978, 89 years after his death.[4] While not disgraced, he was displaced in Southern affection after the war by the leading Confederate general, Robert E. Lee. However, many Southerners empathized with his defiance, refusal to accept defeat, and resistance to Reconstruction. Over time, admiration for his pride and ideals made him a Civil War hero to many Southerners, and his legacy became part of the foundation of the postwar New South.[5] By the late 1880s, Davis began to encourage reconciliation, telling Southerners to be loyal to the Union.[6][7][8]

He was aided in the last decade of his life by the generosity of Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, a wealthy widow. First she invited him to her plantation near Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1877, at a time when he was ailing, and gave him a cottage to use for working on his memoirs. She bequeathed Davis her plantation upon her death in 1878, as well as additional funds for his support. This enabled him to live in some comfort with his wife until his death in 1889. Though heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, this residence was reconstructed and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark; it is known as Beauvoir and is a popular tourist attraction in the Biloxi area.

Early life and first military career

Davis was born on June 3, 1808, in Christian County, Kentucky, the last child of ten of Jane (née Cook) and Samuel Emory Davis. Both of Davis' paternal grandparents had immigrated to North America from the region of Snowdonia in North Wales; the rest of his ancestry can be traced to England. Davis' paternal grandfather, Evan, married Lydia Emory Williams. Samuel Emory Davis was born to them in 1756. Lydia had two sons from a previous marriage. Samuel 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 (also born in Christian County, in 1759 to William Cook and his wife Sarah Simpson). Samuel died on July 4, 1824, when Jefferson was 16 years old. Jane died on October 3, 1845.[9]

During Davis' youth, his family moved twice: in 1811 to St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, and later to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Three of Jefferson's older brothers served during the War of 1812. In 1813 Davis began his education at the Wilkinson Academy, near the family cotton plantation in the small town of Woodville. 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 went on to Jefferson College at Washington, Mississippi, in 1818, and then to Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1821.[10]

Later in life Davis entered the United States Military Academy (West Point).[11] While at West Point, Davis was placed under house arrest for his role in the Eggnog Riot in Christmas 1826. He graduated 23rd in a class of 33 in June 1828.[12] Following graduation, Second Lieutenant Davis was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment and was stationed at Fort Crawford, Wisconsin. Davis was still in Mississippi during the Black Hawk War of 1832, but at its conclusion, his Colonel Zachary Taylor assigned him to escort the chief 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 Black Hawk's situation as a prisoner.[13]



  • 1 Jefferson Finis Davis (1808-1889)
  • 4 Evan Davis (1729-1758), born in Cardiff, Wales
  • 5 Lydia Emory
  • 6 William Cook
  • 7 Sarah Simpson
  • 14 Samuel Simpson (1706-1791)
  • 15 Hannah Unknown

First marriage and early career

Taylor became Davis' commanding officer at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin Territory. Davis fell in love with Taylor's daughter Sarah Knox Taylor and sought his commander's permission to marry her. Taylor refused, as he did not wish his daughter to have a difficult life as a military wife on frontier army posts. Davis resigned his commission through a letter of resignation dated April 20, 1835, sent to the War Department for him when he did not return from leave, as prearranged, on May 12, 1835.[14] He made no mention to Taylor of his intention to resign or of his letter of resignation to be sent for him in order to try to clear Taylor's objection to the marriage.[15] Against his former commander's wishes, on June 17, 1835, he married Sarah in Louisville, Kentucky.[16] His resignation became effective June 30, 1835.[17]

Joseph Davis gave his brother 1,800 acres (730 ha)[18] of land adjoining his property, where Davis eventually developed Brierfield Plantation. Davis began with one slave, James Pemberton. By early 1836, Davis had purchased 16 slaves. He held a total of 40 slaves by 1840 and 74 by 1845. Pemberton served as Davis' overseer, an unusual position for a slave in Mississippi.[19]

After three months of marriage, Sarah died of malaria at the age of 21 on September 15, 1835, on Davis's Mississippi plantation.[20][21] Davis also contracted the disease at the same time and became severely ill.[22] His family feared for his life as well.[23] In the month following Sarah's death, he slowly improved, although he continued to remain weak.[23]

Near Christmas 1835, Davis made a voyage to Cuba to help restore his health, accompanied by Pemberton.[24] There Davis observed the Spanish military and was warned against further sketching of Spanish military installations.[24] Being bored and with Davis feeling somewhat better, the two men returned to Mississippi.[25] For eight years following Sarah's death, Davis was reclusive; he worshipped her memory. He spent time developing his plantation, studied government and history, and had private political discussions with his brother Joseph.

In 1840 he attended a Democratic meeting in Vicksburg and, to his surprise, was chosen as a delegate to the party's state convention in Jackson. In 1842, Davis attended the Democratic convention, and in 1843 became a candidate for the state House of Representatives, losing 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.[26][27]

Second marriage and family

Wedding photograph of Jefferson Davis and Varina Howell, 1845

That same year, Davis met Varina Banks Howell, then 17 years old, whom his brother Joseph had invited for the Christmas season at Hurricane plantation. She was the daughter of Margaret L. Kempe and William Burr Howell, and the granddaughter of the late New Jersey Governor Richard Howell and his wife Keziah. Within a month of their meeting, the 35-year-old widower Davis had asked Varina to marry him. They became engaged over her parents' initial concerns about his age and politics, and they married on February 26, 1845.


Offspring of Jefferson Davis and Varina Banks Howell (1826-1906)¢
Name Birth Death Joined with
Samuel Emory Davis (1852-1854)
Margaret Howell Davis (1855-1909)
Jefferson Davis, Jr. (1857-1878)
Joseph Evan Davis (1859-1864)
William Howell Davis (1861-1872)
Varina Anne (Winnie) Davis (1864-1898)

Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis had six children; three died before reaching adulthood. Margaret and Winnie survived Jefferson.

  • Samuel Emory, born July 30, 1852, was named after his grandfather; he died June 30, 1854, of an undiagnosed disease.[28]
  • Margaret Howell, born February 25, 1855.[29] Margaret was the only child of Jefferson and Varina 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.[30][31] In the late 19th century, they moved from Memphis to Colorado Springs, Colorado. She died on July 18, 1909, at the age of 54.[32]
  • Jefferson Davis, Jr., born January 16, 1857. He died of yellow fever at age 21 on October 16, 1878, during an epidemic in the Mississippi River Valley that caused 20,000 deaths.[33]
  • Joseph Evan, born on April 18, 1859; died at five years old as the result of an accidental fall on April 30, 1864.[34]
  • William Howell, born on December 6, 1861, and named for Varina's father; died of diphtheria on October 16, 1872.[35]
  • Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis, born on June 27, 1864, several months after Joseph's death. She died on September 18, 1898, at age 34. She was unmarried as her parents had refused to let her marry into a northern abolitionist family.[36]


Davis was plagued with poor health for most of his life. In addition to bouts with malaria, battle wounds from fighting in the Mexican–American War, and a chronic eye infection that made it impossible for him to endure bright light, he also suffered from trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder that causes severe pain in the face. It has been called one of the most painful ailments known to mankind.[37][31]

Second military career

In 1846 the Mexican–American War began. Davis resigned his house seat in June and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, becoming its colonel.[38] On July 21, 1846, they sailed from New Orleans for the Texas coast. 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. Davis clashed with his commanding General Winfield Scott, who said that the weapons were insufficiently tested and refused the request. Davis took his case to President James Knox Polk, who agreed with Davis that his regiment be armed and trained with the rifles, making it particularly effective in combat.[39]The incident was the start of a lifelong feud between Davis and Scott.[40]

In September 1846, Davis participated in the successful siege of Monterrey.[41]

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' bravery and initiative, commanding general Zachary Taylor is reputed to have said, "My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was."[11] On May 17, 1847, 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 United States Constitution gives the power of appointing militia officers to the states, and not to the federal government.[42]

Return to politics


Jefferson Davis around age 39, c.1847

Because of his war service, Governor Brown of Mississippi appointed Davis to fill out the Senate term of the late Jesse Speight. He took his seat on December 5, 1847, and was elected to serve the remainder of his term in January 1848.[43] The Smithsonian Institution appointed him a regent at the end of December 1847.[44]

In 1848, Senator Davis introduced the first of several proposed amendments to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; this one would annex most of northeastern Mexico and failed with a vote of 44 to 11.[45] Regarding Cuba, Davis declared that it "must be ours" to "increase the number of slaveholding constituencies."[46] He also was concerned about the security implications of a Spanish holding lying a few miles off the coast of Florida.[47]

A group of Cuban revolutionaries led by Narciso López intended to forcibly liberate Cuba from Spanish rule. In 1849, López visited Davis and asked him to lead his filibuster expedition to Cuba. He offered an immediate payment of $100,000,[n 1] plus the same amount when Cuba was liberated. Davis turned down the offer, stating that 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.[49][50]

The Senate made Davis chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. When his term expired he was elected to the same seat (by the Mississippi legislature, as the constitution mandated at the time). He 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 Davis opposed. He was defeated by fellow Senator Henry Stuart Foote by 999 votes.[51] 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.[52]

Secretary of War

Jefferson Davis around age 45, 1853

Franklin Pierce won the presidential election, and in 1853 he made Davis his Secretary of War.[53] In this capacity, Davis gave Congress four annual reports (in December of each year), as well as an elaborate one (submitted on February 22, 1855) on various routes for the proposed Transcontinental Railroad. He promoted the Gadsden Purchase of today's southern Arizona from Mexico. He also increased the size of the regular army from 11,000 to 15,000 and introduced general usage of the improved guns that he had used successfully during the Mexican–American War.[54]

The Pierce administration ended in 1857 with the loss of the Democratic nomination to James Buchanan. Davis' term was to end with Pierce's, so he ran successfully for the Senate, and re-entered it on March 4, 1857.[55]

Return to Senate

His renewed service in the Senate was interrupted by an illness that threatened him with the loss of his left eye. Still nominally serving in the Senate, Davis spent the summer of 1858 in Portland, Maine. On the Fourth of July, he 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.[56]

As Davis explained in his memoir The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, he believed that each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union. He counseled delay among his fellow Southerners, because he did not think that the North would permit the peaceable exercise of the right to secession. Having served as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, he also knew that the South lacked the military and naval resources necessary to defend itself if war were to break out. 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; then on January 21, the day Davis called "the saddest day of my life",[57] he delivered a farewell address to the United States Senate, resigned and returned to Mississippi.[58]

President of the Confederate States of America

Jefferson Davis is sworn in as President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861, on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

Anticipating a call for his services since Mississippi had seceded, Davis had sent a telegraph message to Governor Pettus saying, "Judge what Mississippi requires of me and place me accordingly."[59] On January 23, 1861, Pettus made Davis a major general of the Army of Mississippi.[11] On February 9, a constitutional convention at Montgomery, Alabama, considered Davis, Howell Cobb, Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs for the office of provisional president. Davis "was the champion of a slave society and embodied the values of the planter class, and thus was chosen provisional Confederate President by acclamation."[60] He was inaugurated on February 18, 1861.[61][62] He was chosen partly because he was a well-known and experienced moderate who had served in a president's cabinet. In meetings of his own Mississippi legislature, Davis had argued against secession; but when a majority of the delegates opposed him, he gave in.[63] Davis wanted to serve as a general in the Confederate States Army and not as the president, but accepted the role for which he had been chosen.[64]

On November 6, 1861, Davis was elected Confederate States President without opposition. He was inaugurated on February 22, 1862.

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. Lincoln refused. Informal discussions did take place with Secretary of State William Seward through Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, an Alabamian who had not yet resigned; Seward hinted that Fort Sumter would be evacuated, but nothing definite was said.[65]

On March 1, 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 avoid an attack on the fort. When Lincoln moved to resupply the fort with food, Davis and his cabinet directed Beauregard to demand its surrender or else take possession by force. Major Anderson did not surrender. Beauregard bombarded the fort, and the Civil War began.[66]

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.[67] 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.[68]

In June 1862, in his most successful move, Davis assigned General Robert E. Lee to replace the wounded Joseph E. Johnston in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, the main Confederate army in the Eastern Theater. That December he made a tour of Confederate armies in the west of the country. Davis had a very small circle of military advisers, and largely made the main strategic decisions on his own (or approved those suggested by Lee). Davis evaluated the Confederacy's national resources and weaknesses and decided that, in order to win its independence, the Confederacy would have to fight mostly on the strategic defensive. Davis maintained mostly a defensive outlook throughout the war, paying special attention to the defense of his national capital at Richmond. He attempted strategic offensives when he felt that military success would (a) shake Northern self-confidence and (b) strengthen the peace movements there. The campaigns met defeat at Antietam (1862) and Gettysburg (1863).[69]

Administration and cabinet

The original Confederate Cabinet. L-R: Judah P. Benjamin, Stephen Mallory, Christopher Memminger, Alexander Stephens, LeRoy Pope Walker, Jefferson Davis, John H. Reagan and Robert Toombs.

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, and 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.[70]

Since the Confederacy was founded, among other things, on states' rights, one important factor in Davis' choice of cabinet members was representation from the various states. He depended partly upon recommendations from congressmen and other prominent people, and 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.[71]

Once the war began, there were frequent changes to the cabinet. Robert Hunter of Virginia replaced Toombs as Secretary of State on July 25, 1861. On September 17, Walker resigned as Secretary of War; Benjamin left the Attorney General position to replace Walker, and Thomas Bragg of North Carolina (brother of General Braxton Bragg) took Benjamin's place as Attorney General.[72]

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 men kept their positions throughout the war. Memminger remained Secretary of the Treasury, while Thomas Hill Watts of Alabama was made Attorney General.[73]

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.[74]

Strategic failures

Most historians sharply criticize Davis for his flawed military strategy, his selection of friends for military commands, and his neglect of homefront crises.[75][76] Until late in the war, he resisted efforts to appoint a general-in-chief, essentially handling those duties himself. On January 31, 1865, Lee assumed this role, 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. Lee lost at Gettysburg, 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 his inability to create a harmonious departmental arrangement or to force such commanders as generals Edmund Kirby Smith, Earl Van Dorn, and Theophilus H. Holmes to work together.[77]

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.[78] He did relieve the cautious but capable Joseph E. Johnston and replaced him with the reckless John Bell Hood, resulting in the loss of Atlanta and the eventual loss of an army.[79]

Davis gave speeches to soldiers and politicians but largely ignored the common people and thereby failed to harness Confederate nationalism by directing the energies of the people into winning the war. More and more, the Plain Folk of the Old South resented the favoritism shown the rich and powerful.[80]

Barney speaks of "the heavy-handed intervention of the Confederate government." The Confederate income tax was higher than the Union one; and economic intervention, regulation, and state control of manpower, production and transport were much greater in the Confederacy than in the Union.[81] 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.[82] 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.[83]

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.[84] Davis feuded bitterly with his vice president. Perhaps even more serious, he clashed with powerful state governors who used states' rights arguments to withhold their militia units from national service and otherwise blocked mobilization plans.[85]

Final days of the Confederacy

William T. Sutherlin Mansion, Danville, Virginia, temporary residence of Jefferson Davis and dubbed Last Capitol of the Confederacy

On April 3, 1865, with Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant poised to capture Richmond, Davis escaped for Danville, Virginia, together with the Confederate Cabinet, leaving on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Lincoln sat in his Richmond office just 40 hours after Davis' departure. On about April 12, he received Robert E. Lee's letter announcing surrender.[86] Davis issued his last official proclamation as president of the Confederacy, and then went south to Greensboro, North Carolina.[87]

After Lee's surrender, there was a public meeting 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.[88] None of these plans were put into practice.

President Davis met with his Confederate Cabinet for the last time on May 5, 1865, in Washington, Georgia, and the Confederate government was officially dissolved. The meeting took place at the Heard house, the Georgia Branch Bank Building, with 14 officials present. Along with a hand-picked escort led by Given Campbell, Davis and his wife were captured on May 10, 1865, at Irwinville in Irwin County, Georgia.[89] They were intending to get to a point where they could sail to Europe.

It was reported that Davis put his wife's overcoat over his shoulders while fleeing, inspiring caricatures that portrayed him as having disguised himself as a woman while trying to avoid capture.[90] However, Davis made no attempt to disguise himself. Mrs. Davis' heavy shawl had been placed on him to protect him from the "chilly atmosphere of the early hour of the morning" by his slave James H. Johnson, who was with Davis during the Civil War and was his valet.[91] Meanwhile, Davis' 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' personal baggage, together with some of the Confederate government's records, from the agent. A historical marker now stands at this site.[92][93][94]


Early illustration of Jefferson Davis in prison

On May 19, 1865, Davis was imprisoned in a casemate at Fortress Monroe, on the coast of Virginia. He was placed in irons for three days. Davis was indicted for treason a year later. While he was in prison, Pope Pius IX sent Davis a portrait inscribed with the Latin words, "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus", which comes from Matthew 11:28 and translates as, "Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest, sayeth the Lord." A hand-woven crown of thorns associated with the portrait is often said to have been made by the Pope[95] but may have been woven by Davis's wife Varina.[96]

Varina Davis with their young daughter Winnie were allowed to join Davis, and the family were eventually given an apartment in the officers' quarters.

One of the attorneys for Davis was ex-Governor Thomas Pratt of Maryland.[97]

Later years

After two years of imprisonment, Davis was released on bail of $100,000, which was posted by prominent citizens of both Northern and Southern states, including Horace Greeley, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Gerrit Smith. (Smith was a former member of the Secret Six who had supported John Brown). Davis visited Canada, Cuba and Europe in search of work.

In December 1868 the court rejected a motion to nullify the indictment, but the prosecution dropped the case in February 1869. That same year, Davis became president of the Carolina Life Insurance Company in Memphis, Tennessee, where he resided at the Peabody Hotel.[98] Upon Robert E. Lee's death in 1870, Davis presided over the memorial meeting in Richmond, Virginia. Elected to the U.S. Senate again, he was refused the office in 1875, having been barred from Federal office by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He turned down the opportunity to become the first president of the Agriculture and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University).[99]

During Reconstruction, Davis publicly remained silent on his opinions; however, he privately expressed opinions that federal military rule and Republican authority over former Confederate states was unjustified. He considered "Yankee and Negroe" rule in the South oppressive. Davis held contemporary beliefs that Blacks were inferior to the White race. The historian William J. Cooper has stated that Davis believed in southern social order that included "a democratic white polity based firmly on dominance of a controlled and excluded black caste."[100]

In 1876, Davis promoted a society for the stimulation of US trade with South America. He visited England the next year. In 1877, Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, a wealthy widow who had heard of his difficulties, invited him to stay at her plantation of Beauvoir near Biloxi, Mississippi. She provided him with a cabin for his own use and helped him with his writing - through organization, dictation, editing, and encouragement.[101] Knowing she was severely ill, in 1878 Dorsey made over her will, leaving Beauvoir and her financial assets to Jefferson Davis and, in the case of his death, to his only surviving child, Winnie Davis.[102] Dorsey died in 1879, by when, both the Davises and Winnie were living at Beauvoir. Over the next two years, Davis completed The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881).[103]

Jefferson Davis at his home c. 1885

Davis' reputation in the South was restored by the book and by his warm reception on his tour of the region in 1886 and 1887. In numerous stops, he attended "Lost Cause" ceremonies, where large crowds showered him with affection and local leaders presented emotional speeches honoring his sacrifices to the would-be nation. The Meriden Daily Journal stated that Davis, at a reception held in New Orleans in May 1887, urged southerners to be loyal to the nation. He said, "United you are now, and if the Union is ever to be broken, let the other side break it." Davis stated that men in the Confederacy had successfully fought for their own rights with inferior numbers during the Civil War and that the northern historians ignored this view.[7] Davis firmly believed that Confederate secession was constitutional. The former Confederate president was optimistic concerning American prosperity and the next generation.[104]

Davis completed A Short History of the Confederate States of America in October 1889. On November 6 he left Beauvoir to visit his plantation at Brierfield. On the steamboat trip upriver, he became ill; on November 13 he left Brierfield to return to New Orleans. Varina Davis, who had taken another boat to Brierfield, met him on the river, and he finally received some medical care. They arrived in New Orleans three days later, and he was taken to the home of Charles Erasmus Fenner, an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Davis remained in bed but was stable for the next two weeks; however, he took a turn for the worse in early December. Just when he appeared to be improving, he lost consciousness on the evening of December 5 and died at age 81 at 12:45 a.m. on Friday, December 6, 1889, in the presence of several friends and with his hand in Varina's.[105][106]

Funeral procession of Jefferson Davis in New Orleans

His funeral was one of the largest in the South. Davis was first entombed at the Army of Northern Virginia tomb at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. In 1893, Mrs. Davis decided to have his remains reinterred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.[107] After the remains were exhumed in New Orleans, they lay for a day at Memorial Hall of the newly organized Louisiana Historical Association, with many mourners passing by the casket, including Governor Murphy J. Foster, Sr. The body was placed on a Louisville and Nashville Railroad car and transported to Richmond.[108] A continuous cortège, day and night, accompanied his body from New Orleans to Richmond.[109] He is interred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond beneath a life-sized statue. The marker lists his accomplishments as a graduate of West Point, his positions in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate and his military service. His tenure as President of the Confederacy is not mentioned.

Restoration of U.S. Citizenship

Like Robert E. Lee, a move arose to posthumously restore the United States Citizenship of Jefferson Davis. This was accomplished with the passing of S.J. Res. 16 on October 17, 1978. In signing the law, President Jimmy Carter referred to this as the last act of reconciliation in the Civil War:

In posthumously restoring the full rights of citizenship to Jefferson Davis, the Congress officially completes the long process of reconciliation that has reunited our people following the tragic conflict between the States. Earlier, he was specifically exempted from resolutions restoring the rights of other officials in the Confederacy. He had served the United States long and honorably as a soldier, Member of the U.S. House and Senate, and as Secretary of War. General Robert E. Lee's citizenship was restored in 1976. It is fitting that Jefferson Davis should no longer be singled out for punishment.

Our Nation needs to clear away the guilts and enmities and recriminations of the past, to finally set at rest the divisions that threatened to destroy our Nation and to discredit the principles on which it was founded. Our people need to turn their attention to the important tasks that still lie before us in establishing those principles for all people.[110]


Large Davis memorial on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia

Postwar portrait of Jefferson Davis by Daniel Huntington

Numerous memorials were created to Jefferson Davis. Examples include the 351-foot (107 m) concrete obelisk located at the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview, Christian County, Kentucky, marking his birthplace. Construction of the monument began in 1917 and finished in 1924.[111]

The Jefferson Davis Presidential Library was established at Beauvoir Plantation, the white-columned Biloxi mansion that was Davis's final home, in 1998, after its use for some years as a Confederate Veterans Home. Dedicated in 1998, the house and library were damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The house reopened in 2008.[112] Bertram Hayes-Davis, Davis's great-great grandson, was recently hired as executive director of Beauvoir, which is owned by the Mississippi Division Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Based at Rice University in Houston, Texas, The Papers of Jefferson Davis is an editing project to publish documents related to Davis. Since the early 1960s, it has published 12 volumes, the first in 1971 and most recently in 2008; three more volumes are planned. The project has roughly 100,000 documents in its archives.[113]

The birthday of Jefferson Davis is commemorated in several states. His birthday, June 3, is celebrated in Florida,[114] Kentucky,[115] Louisiana[116] and Tennessee;[117] in Alabama, it is celebrated on the first Monday in June.[118] In Mississippi, the last Monday of May (Memorial Day) is celebrated as "National Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis' Birthday".[119] In Texas, "Confederate Heroes Day" is celebrated on January 19, the birthday of Robert E. Lee;[117] Jefferson Davis' birthday had been officially celebrated on June 3 but was combined with Lee's birthday in 1973.[120]

In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy conceived the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, a transcontinental highway to be built through the South.[121] Portions of the highway's route in Virginia, Alabama and other states still bear the name of Jefferson Davis.[121] On September 20, 2011, the County Board of Arlington County, Virginia, voted to change the name of "Old Jefferson Davis Highway" (the original route of the road in the county) after the chairman of the Board, Chris Zimmerman, who was originally from the Northeast, stated: "I have a problem with 'Jefferson Davis' ... There are aspects of our history I'm not particularly interested in celebrating. I don't believe Jefferson Davis has a historic connection to anything in Arlington. He wasn't from Virginia."[122]


  1. ^ $100,000 in 1849 would be worth more than $2,000,000 in 2010.[48]


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  5. ^ Strawbridge, Wilm K. (December 2007). "A Monument Better Than Marble: Jefferson Davis and the New South". Journal of Mississippi History 69 (4): 325–347. 
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  13. ^ Strode 1855, p. 76. Cooper 2000, pp. 53–55.
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Secondary sources

  • Allen, Felicity (1999). Jefferson Davis: Unconquerable Heart. Columbia: The University of Missouri Press.
  • Ballard, Michael B. (1986). Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Collins, Donald E. (2005). The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Cooper, William J. (2000). Jefferson Davis, American. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Cooper, William J. (2008). Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Current, Richard, et al. (1993). Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Davis, William C. (1991). Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Dodd, William E. (1907). Jefferson Davis. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs and Company.
  • Eaton, Clement (1977). Jefferson Davis. New York: The Free Press.
  • Escott, Paul (1978). After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Hattaway, Herman and Beringer, Richard E. (2002). Jefferson Davis, Confederate President. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
  • Neely Jr., Mark E. (1993). Confederate Bastille: Jefferson Davis and Civil Liberties. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
  • Patrick, Rembert W. (1944). Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Rable, George C. (1994). The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Stoker, Donald, "There Was No Offensive-Defensive Confederate Strategy," Journal of Military History, 73 (April 2009), 571–90.
  • Strode, Hudson (1955). Jefferson Davis, Volume I: American Patriot. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
  • Strode, Hudson (1959). Jefferson Davis, Volume II: Confederate President. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
  • Strode, Hudson (1964). Jefferson Davis, Volume III: Tragic Hero. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
  • Swanson, James L. (2010). Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Thomas, Emory M. (1979). The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865. New York: Harper & Row.

Primary sources

  • Davis, Jefferson (2003). Cooper, Jr., William J. ed. Jefferson Davis: The Essential Writings. 
  • Davis, Jefferson (1881). The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. 
  • Rowland, Dunbar, ed (1923). Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches. Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History. 
  • Monroe, Jr., Haskell M.; McIntosh, James T.; Crist, Lynda L., eds (1971–2008). The Papers of Jefferson Davis. Louisiana State University Press. 

External links

Definitions from Wiktionary
Textbooks from Wikibooks
Quotations from Wikiquote
Source texts from Wikisource
Images and media from Commons
News stories from Wikinews
Learning resources from Wikiversity
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Tilghman Tucker
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's At-large congressional district
(Seat D)

Succeeded by
Henry Ellett
United States Senate
Preceded by
Jesse Speight
United States Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
Served alongside: Henry Foote
Succeeded by
John McRae
Preceded by
Stephen Adams
United States Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
Served alongside: Albert Brown
Succeeded by
Adelbert Ames(1)
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Conrad
United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by
John Floyd
New title President of the Confederate States
Position abolished
Notes & References
1. Because of Mississippi's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for nine years before Ames succeeded Davis.

Template:Black Hawk War (1832) Template:SenArmedServiceCommitteeChairs Template:USSenMS Template:Pierce cabinet

NAME Davis, Jefferson
SHORT DESCRIPTION President of the Confederate States of America
DATE OF BIRTH June 3, 1808
PLACE OF BIRTH Christian County, Kentucky
DATE OF DEATH December 6, 1889
PLACE OF DEATH New Orleans, Louisiana


Footnotes (including sources)

‡ General
Ω Birth
  • County was then "Christian County".
¢2 Children 2
  • Margaret was the only child of Jefferson and Varina to marry and raise a family.
¶ Death
  • 12:45 a.m.
§ Remains
  • First interment, in 1889, was at the Army of Northern Virginia tomb at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.

Robin Patterson