Today In Western History: Jefferson Davis Sees The End Coming

April 23, 1865

Confederate President Jefferson Davis writes to his wife, Varina, of the desperate situating facing the Confederates, today in 1865.  Things 

 Jefferson Davis, President of the CSA
Jefferson Davis, President of the CSA

were falling apart very fast for the Confederacy in the last three weeks. “Panic has seized the country,” he wrote to his wife in Georgia. Davis was in Charlotte, North Carolina, on his flight away from Yankee troops. It was three weeks since Davis had fled the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, as Union troops were overrunning the trenches nearby. Davis and his government headed west to Danville, Virginia, in hopes of reestablishing offices there. When Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to surrender his army at Appomattox Court House

Robert E. Lee, General CSA, Hero of the Confederacy
Robert E. Lee, General CSA, Hero of the Confederacy

Virginia, on April 9, Davis and his officials had traveled south in hopes of connecting with the last major Confederate army, the force of General Joseph Johnston. Johnston, then in North Carolina, was himself in dire straits, as General William T. Sherman’s massive force was

US General, William Tecumseh Sherman, scourge of Georgia
US General, William Tecumseh Sherman, scourge of Georgia, and hero of the Union

bearing down on him.  Davis continued to write in his letter to his wife, “The issue is one which it is very painful for me to meet.  On one hand is the long night of oppression which will follow the return of our people to the ‘Union’; on the other, the suffering of the women and children, and carnage among the few brave patriots who would still oppose the invader.”

The Davis’ were reunited a few days later as the president continued to flee and continue the fight for Southern independence, but it was just not to be.  Two weeks later, Union troops finally captured the Confederate president in northern Georgia.  Davis was charged with treason, and put in prison in a casemate at Fortress Monroe, on the coast of Virginia, on May 19, 1865.  He was placed in irons for three days.  Davis was indicted for treason a year later. but he was never tried.  After two years of imprisonment, Davis was released on bail of $100,000 (which would be $1,563,464.44 in 2015), which was posted by prominent citizens of both Northern and Southern states, including Horace Greeley, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Gerrit Smith.  he died at age 81 in 1889.


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WESTERN HISTORY TODAY: Jefferson Davis Becomes President

 Jefferson Davis, President of the CSA
Jefferson Davis, President of Confedrate States of America

On this day in 1861, sJefferson DavisJefferson Davi, a former U.S. senator from Mississippi who served as U.S. secretary of war in the 1850s, receives word he has been selected president of the new Confederate States of America. Delegates at the Confederacy’s constitutional convention in Montgomery, Alabama, chose him for the job.

Davis was at his plantation, Brierfield, pruning rose bushes with his wife Varina when a messenger arrived from nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. The presidency was not a position Davis wanted, but he accepted it out of a sense of duty to his new country. Varina later wrote of her husband’s reaction to the news: “Reading that telegram he looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family. After a few minutes he told me like a man might speak of a sentence of death.”

Davis said of the job: “I have no confidence in my ability to meet its requirement. I think I could perform the function of a general.” He could see the difficulties involved in launching the new nation. “Upon my weary heart was showered smiles, plaudits, and flowers, but beyond them I saw troubles innumerable. We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by powerful opposition but I do not despond and will not shrink from the task before me.”

Davis was prescient in his concerns, and often drew sharp criticism during the Civil War, caused by his difficult personality.  Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice president, said Davis was “weak and vacillating, timid, petulant, peevish, obstinate.”

Davis remained president of the Confederacy until its government was dissolved on May 5, 1865. Less than a week later, he was captured by the Union and jailed for two years. He died at age 81 in New Orleans in 1889.



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