Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy

Various interesting notes about Jefferson Davis, and the Confederate States of America… with some Union history thrown in for good measure too:

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

  • Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky on June 3, 1808. A curious fact of the year 1808 (especially when you consider what Jefferson Davis’ life would mean to the Confederacy, slavery, and the history of the United States), is that in 1808 the importation of slaves was made illegal in the United States of America.
  • Jefferson Davis was a graduate of the United States Military Academy (West Point). Davis ranked 23rd in his 33 member class of 1828. Also graduating in the 1828 West Point class was Robert E. Lee.
  • After West Point, Davis was posted to the Pacific Northwest, serving there in the infantry. Davis transferred to the dragoons in 1833. After spending two years with the dragoons, Davis resigned as a first lieutenant.
  • Jefferson Davis married Sarah, she was the daughter of Colonel Zachary Taylor, Davis’ commander. Colonel Taylor did not approve of his daughter marrying Jefferson Davis. Sadly, a short three months after they married, she died of malarial fever. Later, Davis would marry Varina Howell.
  • Jefferson Davis took part as an officer in the Black Hawk War during the 1830s. Another officer in the Black Hawk War was Abraham Lincoln.
  • Davis served from 1845 to 1847 in the House of Representatives as a Democrat.
  • Davis fought in the Mexican War as a colonel of the 1st Mississippi Rifles. He was wounded at Buena Vista, and he declined a commission as a brigadier general. He then served in the United States Senate until 1853 when he became Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce. After Pierce’s presidency, Davis returned to the Senate.
  • While he was Secretary of War, Davis imported camels and sent them to Texas. Davis thought the camels would do well in the arid environment of Texas and could be used as beasts of burden. The camels would be used to haul supplies and equipment for the United States Army troops in Texas. The Texas camels idea did not work out as Davis had hoped.
  • Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina Howell Davis, had four children. They lost their first child in infancy and then lost a son. Five-year-old Joe Davis fell from a balcony of the Confederate White House and died. Davis had the balcony torn down.
  • After the Mexican War, Ulysses S. Grant was stationed in California. He was without his wife and children, and bored in California. Grant took to excessive drinking. Grant resigned his commission in 1854 and his resignation was accepted by the United States Secretary of War. The Secretary of War accepting Grant’s resignation from the United States Army was Jefferson Davis.
  • Jefferson Davis was a strong supporter of states’ rights and supported his state of Mississippi’s secession from the Union.
  • Mississippi seceded from the Union on January 9, 1861. On January 21, 1861 Davis was at the Capitol in Washington. History was about to happen. The Senate chamber was filled with curious on-lookers. On this morning, five senators from states that had seceded from the Union were to say their farewells. These senators were from the states of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Jefferson Davis was among them. Davis rose and gave a stirring and emotional good-bye speech. He had been ill for a week and in bed. Davis had not slept the night before and was suffering from severe migraine head-aches.
  • Montgomery, Alabama was the first capital of the Confederacy. On February 4, 1861 delegates from six of the states that seceded, met in Montgomery. Meeting at Montgomery, the Confederate States of America adopted a provisional constitution and also elected Jefferson Davis as provisional president. On May 20, 1861 the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. Montgomery only had two hotels, one of them was not up to desirable standards. The capital building in Montgomery was a bit small for the needs of the new Confederacy. Lack of adequate and decent hotel rooms and the need for a larger building in which to conduct the business of the Confederacy were some of the reasons for the move to Richmond.
  • In February of 1861, at Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the provisional president of the Confederacy. On February 22, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia (where the Confederate capital now had been moved), Davis was inaugurated as the president of the Confederate States of America. The Confederate president was to serve a six-year term.
  • Davis did not necessarily want to be president of the Confederacy. He would have preferred instead, to serve in the military and possibly command the Confederate army. As the events of the Civil War played out, Davis’ six-year term as the Confederacy’s president would be cut short.
  • The White House of the Confederacy was the executive mansion for Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis and his family. It is located in Richmond, Virginia. The Virginia State Capitol was the Capitol of the Confederacy.
  • “Dixie” was the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy. When Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Vice President Alexander Stephens rode to their inaugural, a band played “Dixie.”
  • Confederate postage stamps used only the portraits of President Jefferson Davis, General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, or Senator John C. Calhoun.
  • Jefferson Davis delivered his inaugural address from the Washington statue on the grounds of the Capitol of the Confederacy.
  • St. Paul’s Church in Richmond, Virginia became known as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy” because both Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee attended church services there.
  • Confederate President Jefferson Davis was attending church services at the “Cathedral of the Confederacy” in Richmond on Sunday April 2, 1865. During the church service Davis was given a note informing him that General Robert E. Lee’s lines had been broken at Petersburg. It was immediately time now, for the Confederate president to evacuate Richmond.
  • Union troops occupied Richmond, Virginia on April 3, 1865. The Confederate capital of Richmond had fallen. President Abraham Lincoln went to Richmond the following day and visited the White House of the Confederacy. This visit to Richmond was a moment of glory for President Lincoln. The South was very near defeat, the Union was to be preserved, and slavery was to end. Lincoln saw Jefferson Davis’ office and took the opportunity to sit in Davis’ chair.
  • Accompanying Lincoln in Richmond was his 12-year-old son, Tad. This was to be Lincoln’s first and last visit to Richmond. Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. Tad Lincoln would die of tuberculosis in 1871.
  • After the South surrendered and the Civil War was lost for the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was captured by Federal cavalry on May 10, 1865. He was accused of treason. On May 22, he was sent to prison at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Davis was kept there without benefit of a trial, for two years. Fort Monroe is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. It is named for President James Monroe.
  • Jefferson Davis died at New Orleans on December 5, 1889. Davis and his family, General J.E.B. Stuart, and General George Pickett are all buried at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Over 18,000 Confederate soldiers rest in peace at Hollywood Cemetery. The cemetery is so named because of its many holly trees.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration was on March 4, 1865. Washington, D.C. had been experiencing poor weather with lots of rain, and its streets were in their muddiest and sloppiest condition. Fog hung over Washington on March 4, 1865. It was a miserable, gloomy day with wind, rain, and mud.

He Was Gawky And Awkward

His Clothes Often Did Not Fit

President Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was now fifty-six-years-old. At six-feet-four inches tall, Lincoln often wore clothes that did not quite fit right, he was described as being gawky or awkward. Lincoln had a tenor, falsetto-like voice, and he’d had only one year of formal education. Nothing about Abraham Lincoln would lead people to think this man was a powerful speaker.

Note: You may read about Andrew Johnson’s drunken behavior during Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in this post.

With Malice Toward None

The horrible weather eased as Lincoln began his Second Inaugural Address. The wind stopped and the sun broke through the clouds to illuminate Lincoln at the podium. No one knew yet exactly when the the bloody Civil War would end, but it was now nearing an end. President Lincoln began to look ahead with hope to time without war. Included in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address are these memorable words:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

A Sacred Effort

Frederick Douglass, circa 1860s.

Frederick Douglass, circa 1860s.

In the gathered crowd listening to Lincoln was Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a former slave, an abolitionist, speaker, and newspaper editor. When Lincoln gave his First Inaugural Address, Douglass thought Lincoln was much too soft toward the South. Douglass twice met with Lincoln, once in 1863 and again in 1864. Douglass’ opinion of Lincoln ran hot or cold depending upon the current situation of the Civil War, and Lincoln’s leadership.

After Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address, he sought Frederick Douglass out at a following reception. Lincoln wanted to know what Douglass thought of the speech. Douglass said to Lincoln: “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”

An Actor Listens

A photograph of that day shows a twenty-six-year-old actor in the crowd listening to Lincoln as he gives his Second Inaugural Address. The young actor’s name is John Wilkes Booth, and he hates Abraham Lincoln. Only forty-one days later, Abraham Lincoln would belong to the ages… assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address


“At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is one of his best speeches. Today, it is engraved on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Undying Words Exhibit: The Second Inaugural Address