Jefferson Davis, Statesman (Part 3)

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Editor’s note: The following is extracted from Not All Warriors: 19th Century West Pointers Who Gained Fame in Other Than Military Fields, by William Baumer, Jr. (published 1941).

(Continued from Part 2)

In front of the Capitol at Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis on February 18 was inaugurated President of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America. Here before a well-dressed, wildly enthusiastic crowd of 10,000 people, he delivered his inaugural address — a coldly legalistic conception of the “inalienable” right of each State to secede. Davis averred that he had taken this philosophy of separation from the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln, a few weeks later, in his inaugural, electrified the soul of the Union by speaking to the disaffected States, not as enemies, but as friends. He said powerfully: “In your hands . . . and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. You can have no conflict without yourselves being the aggressors.” The culture and education of the Southern Statesman could not equal the homespun eloquence and common sense of the Union leader. Davis now turned to affairs of state.

In his selection of a Cabinet arose the same sectional feeling which characterized the fighting, living, and dying of the Confederacy. Whether it was the appointment of generals, supply of troops, protection of coast or river line, the naming of military units, or selection of a Cabinet — the same states’ rights doctrine hampered the South. Six states, other than Davis’s Mississippi, were represented in the ministry and this fact tended to make it a conglomeration of nonentities. The one man of strength was Davis’s former senatorial colleague, Judah T. Benjamin. An eternally smiling New Orleans Jew, married to a Roman Catholic French woman, Benjamin had been the subject of an unintentional insult while in the Senate. The tearing up of a challenge to duel, and an apology before that body, averted a possible tragedy. From such political problems of appointments the new President turned to industrial and military questions.

Three days after his inauguration, the Southern leader sent Captain Raphael Semmes, later the commander of the Alabama, to the North, “to make purchases of arms, ammunition, and machinery.” There was little difficulty in placing contracts for these munitions, but export was prevented by vigilant authorities. Six weeks later a Major Huse was sent to England for the same purpose, but he “found few serviceable arms upon the market.” The Southern agent however placed contracts for future delivery, though the English Government later prevented shipment of completed orders, said Sir Frederick Maurice. Balked in these two moves, Davis looked to George Washington Rains, a West Point graduate of 1842, to procure an adequate supply of gunpowder. The carte blanche given to him to take necessary measures was an absolutely necessary delegation of authority because the census of I860 listed two powder mills, one in South Carolina and one in Tennessee, both of negligible manufacturing output. Colonel Rains, in a hasty survey of the South, selected Augusta, Georgia, as the best location for a powder plant. This decision was a wise one as was evidenced by that city’s isolation from the active theater of war. The South’s supply of gunpowder, according to The History of the Explosives Industry, was limited to a few left over supplies from the Mexican War, plus 60,000 pounds of captured goods from the Norfolk arsenal. Colonel Josiah Gorgas was appointed Chief of Ordnance for the Confederacy and in a short time gathered 150,000 arms, chiefly smooth-bore muskets. There was “no equipment for infantry, artillery or cavalry; no field artillery or cartridges; no rifles…and 250,000 percussion caps;…and but one cannon foundry, the Tredegar Works at Richmond…”

Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, had become the focus of attention of the North and South. Lincoln, believing that Davis’s plan was to starve out the garrison of his West Point friend and frontier companion, Major Robert Anderson, decided to send a supply ship with arms and men. Davis, sensing Lincoln as the aggressor, saw no alternative but to order an attack. At a cabinet meeting this grave decision was upheld. Jefferson Davis, in ill health at the beginning of the war, was now becoming worn down with effort. McElroy quoted at length from T. C. de Leon upon Davis’s condition. This visitor, amazed by the change in Davis since his departure from Washington a few months before, said: “He looked worn and thinner, and the set expression of his somewhat stern features gave a grim hardness, not natural to their lines…At this time the Southern Chief was 52 years old — tall, erect, and spare by natural habit, but worn thin almost to emaciation by mental and physical toil…Mr. Davis had lost the sight of one eye, many months previous, though that member scarcely showed its imperfection; but in the other burned a deep, steady glow, showing the presence with him of thought that never slept.”

After the fall of Fort Sumter the task of creating a government, an army, and a navy, out of the slender resources of the South; of providing the government with a financial system; and of organizing the supply of arms, munitions, and food, confronted Davis ominously. While administering the government, Davis also looked to the diplomatic position of his new nation. He sent the Yancey Commission to England and France; John T. Pickett was dispatched to gain recognition from Mexico — that imponderable of the Western hemisphere, which, while promising little, seemed to pique the interest of both Davis and Lincoln. The Yancey Commission was a failure in its mission of gaining help and recognition for the Confederacy. Since their instructions were general they could at this time deal with England only in a preliminary manner on “the justice of the cause and cotton.” On the Confederacy’s aims it was quite apparent that Lord John Russell had no thought of committing himself and England hastily; King Cotton was not the lever in foreign policy that it appeared it should have been because of its necessity in the textile industry of England and France. Sir Frederick Maurice stated: “By the time the Confederate Government had been constituted, the whole of the 1860-61 cotton crop had been exported, and before the ’61-62 crop was ready the Northern blockade had become sufficiently effective to make exportation in bulk impossible. Professor Channing…has shown conclusively that when the war broke out there was a glut of cotton in Europe, and that the brokers of Manchester were actually re-exporting cotton to Northern ports as late as May 1862.” Cotton famine was not at this time reason for British intervention on the side of the South.

Up to the time of the attack on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia, with its resources of men, morale, and munitions, had withheld its agreement to secede. The remainder of the South, which felt the need of Virginia, agreed to “strike a blow to bring Virginia in.” Two days after the fall of Sumter, Virginia joined the Confederacy, bringing with her several of the South’s ablest commanders, Lee, Jackson, and Stuart.

Events continued to move rapidly in the new nation. The Convention, after selecting a President, faced the problem of writing a Constitution. In their search for such an instrument they arrived, quite unexpectedly, at agreement with Jefferson Davis that the American Constitution as written — and not as misinterpreted by the strong Federalist group — was the best instrument of government ever written for any nation. Adoption therefore of the United States Constitution was voted with a few exceptions. In a preamble the rights of secession were voiced and the right of property in negro slaves was put into black and white. Maurice said that both North and South had Constitutions which conferred powers sufficient to give the President the power of a dictator in time of war. He continued: “It may however be doubted whether the provision of the Constitution of the United States which makes the President Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy prove to be equally wise. The control of military forces by the civil power could be assured in other ways, and the distinction between control and command should be clear… Davis was forced by the pressure of circumstances and of public opinion to hand over those functions to another, while Abraham Lincoln abrogated them voluntarily.”

With such near-dictatorial powers at his command, and with momentum exerted in diplomatic, political and industrial fields, it was not surprising that Davis next turned to his favorite business — that of military administrator and commander. As Secretary of War, he had had an excellent opportunity to judge the officers of the regular army. Also Davis, while a young officer and cadet, had known many officers intimately. The President of the Confederacy had given P. T. Beauregard the command of the first echelon of troops which were engaged in the capture of Fort Sumter. Six weeks later, with the removal of the capital to Richmond nearer the theater of military operations, and with the Virginia commanders on his roster, Jefferson Davis was able to make his first permanent appointments. He called upon Robert E. Lee, an Engineer officer, to head the Army of Virginia. Joseph E. Johnston, former Quartermaster General of the regular army, and Davis’s West Point antagonist, was sent into the field to guard the Shenandoah Valley from the critical location at Harper’s Ferry. P. T. Beauregard was stationed at Manassas on the Washington-Richmond highway. Davis’s old friend, Leonidas Polk, now an Episcopal Bishop, had agreed to administer the Mississippi region until Albert Sidney Johnston, the friend of himself and Davis, could leave his army post in California and join the Confederacy. Maurice stated significantly: “It is indeed rare that the selection of four commanders, made before they had undergone the test of battle, proved to have been more than justified at the end of a long war…” For the moment, Davis’s knowledge of his own field of endeavor paid dividends, but later developments such as unfortunate appointments and too much attention to detail, proved a loss to the Confederacy.

With the strength that Davis showed in these early months of the Confederacy, it yet was not sufficient to break down the stone wall of states’ rights. Paradoxically the very cornerstone of the Confederacy was the weakest part of its foundation as a nation. Because of the claim of Southern States as to precedence of states’ rights, none of them were willing to relinquish even trivial rights for the common good. In selecting the Cabinet, two strong men from one state could not be appointed because of state prejudice. Weak appointments accordingly resulted. Davis himself had aroused state pride in his “Mississippi Rifles” in the Mexican War. His example continued to be followed during the long Civil War. The morale of troops was promoted by keeping regiments from the same State together, but when the selection of Division Commanders was sacrificed to local expediency, loss of efficiency resulted. Davis wrote to Major General G. W. Smith, late in 1861, “Kentucky has a Brigadier but not a brigade; she has however, a regiment; that regiment and Brigadier might be associated together.” Davis the cosmopolitan would probably have wished to cut across picayune sectional pride, but he was continually subjected to strong political pressure. The handling of such de tails of military rank and procedure were in themselves a waste of time for the head of a state. The difficulties between Lee and Longstreet, which were of serious nature, were not smoothed by Davis, suggested Maurice, because the removal of Longstreet, the favored son of Georgia, would be an offense to the State. Furthermore, Jefferson Davis was forced to organize the Confederacy into military departments along state lines, and the resulting lack of cooperation brought further grief to the South, for in war time military operations necessarily cut across geographical boundaries. Two great armies lay opposite each other, both guarding their own capitals — the Southerners having a defensive policy in mind and the Northerners at this point having little idea of taking the offensive. On July 21, 1861, Beauregard met General Irving McDowell at Manassas Junction in the first battle of Bull Run. Davis, knowing that the battle was in progress, could hardly be kept at his desk during the morning, and early in the afternoon he was on his way to the battlefield. On the road he saw broken lines and confusion and assumed that his army was routed. At this time, endeavoring to find out some accurate information, Davis sought someone in authority. Failing that, the spirit of Buena Vista rose up in Davis and he began exhorting the soldiers to rally. A senior officer who was having a slight wound dressed told Davis, in a rough tone, that the men were his and that they had won the battle. The officer was Stonewall Jackson. Finally, the President reached Beauregard’s headquarters and over the protests of members of the staff insisted on going into the field on horseback. After a time Davis met Joseph E. Johnston, whose timely arrival had aided Beauregard to win the victory. Davis’s arrival on the field of battle brought forth ringing accounts from Southern newspapers. The Charleston Courier likened Davis to “Washington in modern history.” Here it was that the President was praised for his ability in a dual capacity of political soldier. Upon his meeting with General J. E. Johnston, Davis was informed that the enemy was in full retreat, and immediately asked “what steps had been taken to follow the retreating enemy and continue the advantage gained by our army.”

There is a great controversy over Davis’s part in ordering a pursuit of the broken Federal army. It seems that Davis did at one time during the day actually write an order for what he called a pursuit, but the numbers of troops involved were so meager that in retrospect they can only be called a “mopping up unit.” At about 11 o’clock that night Davis joined Joe Johnston and Beauregard at headquarters, none of them dreaming of the hysterical flight of McDowell’s troops. The President, upon hearing reports of abandoned artillery and other supplies in a near-by town, “asserted the necessity for an urgent pursuit” of the Union army. All the next day a heavy rainfall filled the creeks of Virginia to their banks. Another conference between the same three commanders met the next night, but even with an accurate measure of victory the two military leaders agreed that they were not strong enough to take the offensive. Upon his return to Richmond, crowds welcomed Davis and clamored for a speech. Davis retracted any idea that he had been responsible for saving the day and “passed high eulogies upon Joe Johnston and Beauregard.” The South was literally intoxicated over this first victory and it was not for some weeks that criticism, not of the military Commander, but of Davis, for not following up the Union army, began to appear. In extenuation of Davis and the military commanders at Bull Run, it can be understood “that the disorder consequent upon engaging very partially trained troops in battle made pursuit impossible.”

The Confederate President, in a desire to follow constitutional lines, was slow to disturb the freedom of the press. No newspaper was suppressed by the government and no checks were put upon even the Richmond newspapers. Davis bore the criticisms of his political interference at Bull Run with grim patience and only plunged the harder into his business of administering the secessionist states.

A month after Manassas, Davis appointed five Generals in the following order: Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston and P. T. Beauregard. Trouble began at once as partisans of J. E. Johnston and Beauregard indignantly pointed to the first three Generals, complaining that they had won no victories. Joseph E. Johnston particularly protested the injustice to himself, stating to Davis, “It reduces my rank in the grade I hold. This has never been done hereto fore in the regular service but by sentences in court-martial. It seems to tarnish my fair fame as a soldier and as a man…” Davis, perhaps in the shortness of temper of ill health, replied much as he had done on a previous occasion as Secretary of War to General Scott: “Sir, I have received and read your letter of the 12th inst. The language is as you say unusual, its arguments and statements utterly one-sided, and its insinuations as unfounded as they are unbecoming.” Naturally, this was not to be the last of the “affair Johnston.” To add to the President’s discomfiture, his Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker, the first of five to fill this position, resigned to enter army service. Most biographers agree that Davis’s difficulty with the War ministry was due to the fact that he exercised full control, thereby reducing the cabinet officer to the position of clerk. Davis selected Judah Benjamin as Walker’s replacement.

Up to this moment of the war, Jefferson Davis’s policy could be expressed broadly as that of defending Southern territory while making efforts to gain foreign aid for the cause of Confederacy. Maurice said that this policy was futile because it allowed the enemy with superior resources to gain time and because it allowed wavering border states to be lost by lack of enterprise. In November James Mason and John Slidell, the Confederate Commissioners to England and France, were taken from the British ship Trent by the Federal man-of- war, San Jacinto. Davis looked to England to interpret this incident as a defilement of the British flag and hoped that it would be the overt act bringing him a much desired and helpful ally. Perhaps it was such hope, in addition to the joy of the Bull Run victory, which prevented Davis from making a more aggressive policy. Southern arms had not been victorious nor active after the battle of Bull Run and they might well have been pushed into offensive war by their soldier leader. The Northern blockade during the first year of war was being taken out of the “paper” stage and a determined assault by the South might have opened a sea lane through for supplies from the Continent.

General Joseph E. Johnston had sufficiently swallowed his pride by October to invite Davis to confer with the generals. The disaffected General said “he needed 19,000 men to enable him to invade Maryland.” General Gustavus Smith argued for another 10,000, but the President stated, “He had not a man to give them.” It was a matter of policy and not of troop movement, for Davis could surely have withdrawn sufficient men from the coastal guard to fill Johnston’s request. The President’s policy of defensive warfare won out. By the end of the year the Confederacy was in a critical position; her armies had only one victory to their credit and were allowing a more powerful North to gain a breathing spell; in the economic war the failure to break the blockade or to gain recognition by European powers meant the stagnation of Southern credit and the inability to sell her one cash crop — cotton.


President Davis was bitterly criticized for active participation as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and yet criticized when he entrusted military powers to commanders who proved unsuccessful. As censure mounted Davis, in the spring of 1862, appointed General Robert E. Lee as his military advisor in Richmond. Lee, taking up his new duties as director of all the Confederacy’s military operations, found his armies in retro grade movement. Beauregard, sent West with reinforcements, had been unable to prevent the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson. In the East, McClellan was preparing for the invasion of Virginia, with a huge Federal army.

When McClellan started his advance in March, General Joe Johnston saw his best chance for success in a slow retreat where he could pick his own battlefield. President Davis, in his obstinate way, was peculiarly averse to retreat, thinking of it as a sign of weakness. Davis, riding out from Richmond to Johnston’s army, found him on the near side of Chickahominy River. An explanation was demanded by Davis, and Johnston spoke of “the advantage of having the river in front, rather than rear of him . . .” Furthermore, the General planned to attack McClellan when astride the river. Other than this, General Johnston would disclose nothing of his military plans to the worried President, who had just passed artillery in the suburbs of Richmond. Davis then sent for Lee in Richmond and expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of preparations for defense. Lee smoothed over the affair by agreeing with Davis that it would be satisfactory to attack McClellan on the other side of the river, and added that “Johnston should of course advise you of what he expects or proposes to do.”

Having foreseen a long war and having taken advantage of a twelve months’ enlistment for his first volunteers, Davis showed himself an able administrator of that phase of military preparation. He was quick to see that the next step was the passage of a Conscription Act in April, 1862. This latter law meant an inner struggle for Jefferson Davis, for he had consistently “chided the North for its destruction of civil liberty.” Aside from the conflict with his own constitutionalist principles, Davis met opposition from the Southern statesmen who felt that their states’ rights had been violated. All men between the ages of 18 and 35, with certain exemptions, were brought into the military service. The exempted groups, ministers, railway employees, and teachers, included plantation over seers at the rate of one to every twenty negroes. This last specification gave to the law the name of “20 nigger law.” As plans continued for the stopping of McClellan’s invasion in the direction of Richmond, word came of the first fateful defeat of the South at Shiloh in the West. General Johnston along the Chickahominy continued to find President Davis a trial during these critical days. Lee, ever tactful, intervened with satisfactory results. The President had insisted oftentimes that it was his policy to leave commanders with the power of judgment and of action, but he nevertheless made a point of riding out with a considerable following to visit the army each day. Ordinary courtesy brought him the invitation into the military councils, but he failed to control his generals completely, as he had said, because they rejected his plans for the coming engagement of Seven Pines. In a letter to his wife, he remarked: “Had the movement (to stop McClellan) been made when I first proposed it, the effect would have been more important.”

Finally Johnston became so annoyed at the daily arrival of Davis’s party on the battlefield that he would ride to the extreme front in order to avoid the President. This anti-social maneuver, according to his staff, was the cause of his serious injury at the opening of the Battle of Seven Pines. Davis, upon seeing the injured general taken care of on that occasion, sought out Lee and assigned him to the command of Johnston’s army. In another letter to Mrs. Davis, he expressed his pleasure at the change in commanders because Lee had the faculty of “rising to the occasion.” Davis, during the period of the battle, dropped hints about Johnston’s complete lack of knowledge of the enemy’s objectives.

Lee, upon his appointment on the battlefield, brought his larger knowledge to the difficult situation at Seven Pines and succeeded in making it a drawn battle. Soon afterwards, the Commander-in-Chief happened to stop at one of Lee’s conferences. Several of the general officers were explaining to Lee that their disparity of numbers would prevent taking any action against the Union forces under McClellan. He cut short such talk with the remark, “If you go on ciphering we are whipped beforehand.” Lee also had an amusing little brush with Davis and his hangers-on, who had to have box seats for every battle. One day Lee turned to Davis and asked, “Who are all this army of people, and what are they doing here?”

Davis countered, “It is not my army, General.” Lee replied that the army was not his. The only polite recourse left to Davis was to withdraw so that his entourage would follow.

After the second battle of Bull Run, Lee influenced Davis to modify his military policy of defending Southern territory and hoping for foreign intervention. In clear-cut language, Lee expressed his aim of driving the Federals from Virginia, and further, he intended to keep them out. The new-won initiative he now hoped to retain and with consummate tact explained to the President, “We cannot afford to be idle, and though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipment, must endeavor to harass if we cannot destroy them.” Lee’s policy was to keep his troops in motion, cross the Potomac and push into Maryland. By seizing the initiative and risking everything on invasion, a satisfactory peace might be made, thought Lee, “Before the North had time to develop its resources.”

The war in the West meant only defeat for the Confederacy in the second period of the war. Grant had defeated Albert Sidney Johnston at Forts Henry and Donelson early in the year. Events were not moving too smoothly in the East either. Morris Schaff stated in his Jefferson Davis that after the war Judah Benjamin in a letter to Lee’s aide, Colonel Charles Marshall, said that he was unable to fill the requisitions of the Southern Commander in command of Roanoke Island. It was thought best at this time that Benjamin should accept the censure rather than let Northern spies know of Southern deficiencies. This same lack of arms and ammunition according to Schaff was reason for the weakness of A. S. Johnston’s lines — “a fact that neither he nor Davis could let the world know.” Albert Sidney Johnston was being severely criticized all during the year but Davis, knowing more of the facts, maintained a defense of him. Davis, writing Albert Johnston, said: “We have suffered great anxiety because of recent events in Kentucky and Tennessee, and I have been not a little disturbed by the repetition of reflections on yourself. In the mean time I have made you such defense as friendship prompted…” Albert Sidney Johnston in reply reported the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson and closed his letter as frankly as any military man ever has, “The test of merit in my profession, with the people, is success. It is a hard rule, but I think it is right.” Albert Sidney Johnston was killed at Shiloh on April 6, just as his troops had broken the center of Grant’s line. With his death, Davis lost his ablest leader in the West and was never able to replace him adequately.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis, in ill health and in good health, was unflinchingly taking the criticism from the press, politicians, and people of the South. Only in confidential messages did Davis express his disappointment and anxiety. In reply to his friend Honorable W. N. Brooks of Macon, Georgia, who had notified him of adverse criticism, the President admitted: “I acknowledge the error of my attempt to defend all of the frontier, sea-coast and inland but will say in justification, that if we had received the arms and munitions which we had good reason to expect, the attempt would have been successful, and the battlefields would have been on the enemy’s soil.” This explains Davis’s defensive military policy at the commencement of the war. Further he explained: “Without military stores, without workshops to create them, without the power to import them, necessity, not choice, has compelled us to occupy strong positions. The country has supposed our armies more numerous than they are and our munitions more extensive than they have been. I have borne reproach in silence be cause to reply by an exact statement of facts would have ex posed our weakness. Your estimate of me I hope assured you that I would not, as stated, treat the Secretary of War ‘as a mere clerk,’ and if you knew Mr. Benjamin you would realize the impossibility of his submitting to degradation at the hands of any one . . . Against the unfounded story that I keep the Generals in leading strings may be set the frequent complaints that I do not arraign them for what is regarded as their failures or misdeeds, and do not respond to the popular clamor by dis placing Commanders upon irresponsible statements. You cite the cases of Johnston and Beauregard, but you have the story nomine mutata, and though Johnston (Joseph E.) was of fended because of his relative rank, he certainly never thought of resigning, it is surely a slander on him to say that he ever considered himself insulted by me.” In closing, he reminded Mr. Brooks: “I have endeavored to avoid bad selections by relying on military rather than on political recommendations.”

On June 14, Davis sent Colonel William P. Johnson to Beauregard’s headquarters to ask explanations of his retreat from the Charleston and Memphis railway and information of his plan for future operations. A long list of other questions was added and the tenor of the note was one of grilling Beauregard. In answer to the President’s emissary, Beau regard “turned over his command to General Bragg and left on surgeon’s certificate in the hope of restoring his shattered health…” Davis immediately appointed Bragg to head the army of the West, but wrote to his wife secretly voicing the wish that Joseph E. Johnston “were able to take the field.”

In September, 1862, Lincoln came forward with his Emancipation Proclamation but it had little effect on the South. The moral advantage of the proclamation rested with the North and it increased the menace to the domestic life of the South. Gladstone’s almost simultaneous speech in the British Parliament wafted hope to the South when he said: “We may have our own opinions about slavery…but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis, and other leaders of the South, have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either — they have made a nation.”

McClellan was relieved from command of the Union forces in the fall of 1862 and Burnside, who took his place, advanced toward Fredericksburg on the straightest route from Washington to Richmond. Meanwhile Lee explained his plan of action to the President. He desired to allow Burnside to advance and he in opposition would move against the Federal flanks and lines of communication. But Davis’s dislike of yielding ground, according to Maurice, caused him to ask Lee to oppose Burnside on the Rappahannock. Lee acceded to the President’s views because perhaps the wet weather of November might have made his extensive flanking maneuvers slow and unsure. Again a Federal attack was repulsed and again the lack of pursuit caused criticism from the Southern press.

At this time Davis journeyed west to inspect his Western army and, if possible, to heighten the morale of the people in the Mississippi Valley. In December he told the Legislature of his home state, “Rest not your hopes on foreign nations,” indicating his belief that England’s strict neutrality could not be changed to Southern alliance. When news of Southern victory at Fredericksburg arrived, Davis was at the headquarters of General Joseph E. Johnston at Chattanooga. Previously, Davis had reviewed General Braxton Bragg’s troops at Murfreesboro, noting that “the troops…were in fine spirits, and well supplied.” In a speech in that city Davis reversed the dis belief of foreign intervention which he had voiced in Mississippi. All during his tour of the Southwest, the President tried to explain his policies, such as the failure to invade the North and the need for Conscript Laws. Davis also took this opportunity to inspect General J. C. Pemberton’s Mississippi command, and to visit General Joe Johnston, soon to be the supreme Commander in the West. The old year had seen tragic defeats in the West, the new year might bring brilliant victories by Lee in the East.


Davis was a sick man upon his return from the Southwest. The knowledge that the people were against him caused a deepening of his sensitiveness. His constant illnesses were a small handicap compared with that caused by the activities of some of the Governors of States, who went about making picayune attempts to stress the sovereignty of their own governments. The Conscription Law and Davis’s appointments to military command continued to be used as weapons of abuse by these politicians. Military matters continued to be one of the main interests of Jefferson Davis. In planning new objectives, Davis on January 29, 1863, telegraphed to General J. C. Pemberton at Jackson, Mississippi: “Has anything or can anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?” As had occurred before, Joseph E. Johnston saw in this message an attempt to go over his head as Commander in the West. In the East difficulties arose in the military field also. Long- street engaged in a useless siege of Suffolk against an equal number of Federal troops, could not rejoin Lee until the end of the battle of Chancellorsville on May 2. It appeared that Longstreet had been sent into this area around Suffolk only to relieve the strain on the railway transport and supply problem. Prior to Chancellorsville, Lee had attempted to settle Longstreet’s provision problem but was blocked by the authorities in Richmond. Though Lee won an almost perfect battle at Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson’s death on that battle field was an irreparable loss to the Confederacy. A few days after the battle Lee wrote to Davis: “There are many things about which I would like to consult your Excellency, and I should be delighted, if your health and convenience suited, if you could visit the army.” That Davis was in poor health in May, 1863, is attested by the diary of the rebel war clerk Jones: “I learned today that the remaining eye of the President is in a very feeble and nervous condition, and that he is really threatened with a loss of sight altogether.”

(Continue to Part 4)

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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