A powerful scene from the movie Tennessee Johnson (1942), the resignation of Jefferson Davis from the Senate. The scene captures well the portentous nature of the event, as men North and South now realized that all the contentions between their sections had at last ended in a conflict that rent the nation in two. The crisis had been building for decades and I think most men had assumed that some sort of compromise, as in the past, would eventually be worked out. The speech of Davis was a final sign that this was not to be, and that the time for words had ended. Here is the full text of the speech: (more…)
Continuing on with our examination of the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the first part of which may be read here, we turn to Jefferson Davis and the suspension of habeas corpus in the Confederacy. The Confederate Constitution provided for the suspension of habeas corpus:
Sec. 9 (3) The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.
On February 27, 1862 the Confederate Congress vested in Davis the power to suspend Habeas Corpus. On March 1, 1862 Davis used this power, suspending the writ of Habeas Corpus and declaring martial law in a ten-mile radius around the City of Richmond.
Davis would use this power throughout the War, especially in regions where Unionist sentiment was strong, for example in East Tennessee where martial law was imposed and the writ of habeas corpus suspended in 1862. (more…)
Abraham Lincoln was not the only president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation in the Civil War:
Once more upon the plains of Manassas have our armies been blessed by the Lord of Hosts with a triumph over our enemies. It is my privilege to invite you once more to His footstool, not now in the garb of fasting and sorrow, but with joy and gladness, to render thanks for the great mercies received at His hand. A few months since, and our enemies poured forth their invading legions upon our soil. They laid waste our fields, polluted our altars and violated the sanctity of our homes. Around our capital they gathered their forces, and with boastful threats, claimed it as already their prize. The brave troops which rallied to its defense have extinguished these vain hopes, and, under the guidance of the same almighty hand, have scattered our enemies and driven them back in dismay. Uniting these defeated forces and the various armies which had been ravaging our coasts with the army of invasion in Northern Virginia, our enemies have renewed their attempt to subjugate us at the very place where their first effort was defeated, and the vengeance of retributive justice has overtaken the entire host in a second and complete overthrow. (more…)
On November 18, 1861, Jefferson Davis issued a report to the Confederate Congress on the progress of the War. It is a fascinating document. It details how he perceived the War at this early stage. Here is the text of the report, interspersed with comments by me:
Richmond November 18th 1861
The few weeks which have elapsed since your adjournment have brought us so near the close of the year that we are now able to sum up its general results. The retrospect is such as should fill the hearts of our people with gratitude to Providence for His kind interposition in their behalf. Abundant yields have rewarded the labor of the agriculturist, whilst the manufacturing industry of the Confederate States was never so prosperous as now. The necessities of the times have called into existence new branches of manufactures, and given a fresh impulse to the activity of those heretofore in operation. The means of the Confederate States for manufacturing the necessaries and comforts of life within themselves increase as the conflict continues, and we are gradually becoming independent of the rest of the world for the supply of such military stores and munitions as are indispensable for war. The operations of the army soon to be partially interrupted by the approaching winter have afforded a protection to the country, and shed a lustre upon its arms through the trying vicissitudes of more than one arduous campaign, which entitle our brave volunteers to our praise and our gratitude.
The Confederacy would expand its industrial plant enormously during the War, but it could never compete with the industrial might of the Union. The crop of 1861 was indeed bountiful, and it did small good for the Confederacy since Davis had decided on an informal cotton embargo which it was assumed would convince Great Britain to recognize the Confederacy since the British textile industry relied upon cotton from the South. It was a ghastly mistake. With the Union blockade in its infancy, most of the cotton crop of 1861 could have been shipped to Europe and earned much-needed hard currency for the purchase of badly needed supplies and weapons. Instead, what cotton was not used for domestic purposes in the Confederacy in 1861, simply sat in warehouses and on docks. This policy was one of the main blunders of the Davis administration in 1861. (more…)
Continuing on with our series on the Governors of Illinois, we come to William Henry Bissell, the eleventh governor of Illinois, and the first Republican governor. Bissell was born on April 25, 1811 near the town of Painted Post in New York. Studying medicine, he opened a practice in Monroe County in Illinois. Eventually at the age of 30 he shifted careers from medicine to the law. In 1840 he was elected to the state legislature as a Democrat. Passing the bar he was appointed by the legislature as prosecuting attorney for the judicial circuit in which he lived.
During the Mexican War he was elected as Colonel of the Second Illinois infantry regiment and commanded that unit at the battle of Buena Vista. He earned the praise of General Zachary Taylor that day: “Colonel Bissell, the only surviving colonel of the three (Illinois) regiments, merits notice for his coolness and bravery on this occasion (Buena Vista).” (more…)
Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederacy was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. Davis made many reforms in the Army, helping to modernize equipment, enlarge the size of the Army, improve instruction at West Point, and in general helped improve the US Regular Army. One of his initiatives makes for an interesting footnote in American history.
Since the 1830s the idea had been discussed about the formation of a Camel Corp in the US Army for use in desert regions of the country. Following the Mexican War and the acquisition of large desert regions in the southwest the idea was taken more seriously in Washington. Secretary of War Davis got behind the idea, and on March 3, 1855 Congress appropriated $30,000.00 for the purchase of camels. In January of 1856, some 21 camels were purchased in Turkey. The camels arrived in Indianola, Texas on May 14, 1856. A second shipment of 41 camels arrived in the US at Indianola on February 10, 1857. (more…)
On February 9, 1861, Jefferson F. Davis, newly resigned US Senator from Mississippi, was chosen President of the provisional government of the Confederacy by the delegates of the Montgomery Convention. In one sense Davis was a logical choice. He had vast experience both in regard to military service, having served in the Mexican War and as a Secretary of War, and in government in both the US House and Senate. He was widely regarded as the successor of John C. Calhoun as the unofficial leader of the South. In another sense he was an odd choice. While never doubting the right of secession, he very much doubted its wisdom. He had argued against secession in the Mississippi legislature. Davis is so much a symbol of the Confederacy, that it is odd to recall that he doubted the wisdom of withdrawal from the Union. (more…)
Prior to the Civil War, the radical fringe of the pro-slavery movement was pushing for re-opening of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, banned under federal law since 1808. Davis, and most pro-slavery leaders opposed this effort. When Davis was attacked by Southern firebrands prior to the War for his opposition to a renewed international slave trade, Davis stated that his concern was for the well-being of Mississippi, a state with a large slave population, rather than abolitionist concern over the well-being of slaves.
The Confederate Constitution banned the international slave trade, except with the United States:
(1) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.
The issue came up quite early in the term of Davis as President of the CSA, when he vetoed a measure in regard to the international slave trade. (more…)
Jefferson Davis was always a friend to Catholics. In his youth as a boy he studied at the Saint Thomas School at the Saint Rose Dominican Priory in Washington County Kentucky. While there Davis, the only Protestant student, expressed a desire to convert. One of the priests there advised the boy to wait until he was older and then decide. Davis never converted, but his early exposure to Catholicism left him with a life long respect for the Faith.
When the aptly named anti-Catholic movement the Know-Nothings arose in the 1840s and 1850s, Davis fought against it, as did his great future adversary Abraham Lincoln.
During the Civil War, Pope Pius wrote to the archbishops of New Orleans and New York, praying that peace would be restored to America. Davis took this opportunity to write to the Pope.
RICHMOND, September 23, 1863.
VERY VENERABLE SOVEREIGN PONTIFF
The letters which you have written to the clergy of New Orleans and New York have been communicated to me, and I have read with emotion the deep grief therein expressed for the ruin and devastation caused by the war which is now being waged by the United States against the States and people which have selected me as their President, and your orders to your clergy to exhort the people to peace and charity. I am deeply sensible of the Christian charity which has impelled you to this reiterated appeal to the clergy. It is for this reason that I feel it my duty to express personally, and in the name of the Confederate States, our gratitude for such sentiments of Christian good feeling and love, and to assure Your Holiness that the people, threatened even on their own hearths with the most cruel oppression and terrible carnage, is desirous now, as it has always been, to see the end of this impious war; that we have ever addressed prayers to Heaven for that issue which Your Holiness now desires; that we desire none of our enemy’s possessions, but that we fight merely to resist the devastation of our country and the shedding of our best blood, and to force them to let us live in peace under the protection of our own institutions, and under our laws, which not only insure to every one the enjoyment of his temporal rights, but also the free exercise of his religion. I pray Your Holiness to accept, on the part of myself and the people of the Confederate States, our sincere thanks for your efforts in favor of peace. May the Lord preserve the days of Your Holiness, and keep you under His divine protection.
JEFFERSON DAVIS (more…)
Yesterday I wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s service in the Black Hawk War. Jefferson Davis had far more extensive military service than Abraham Lincon. A graduate of West Point, class of 1828, he also served in the Black Hawk War, although there is no evidence that he and Lincoln ever met during that conflict. Marrying the daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, of General Zachary Taylor, who opposed the marriage, he resigned his commission in the Army in 1835. However, in many ways Davis never ceased to be a military man, always retaining a fascination for all things martial. Thus it was only natural that Davis, a Congressman from Mississippi at the beginning of the Mexican War, resigned from Congress and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, which he led as colonel.
On July 21, 1846, the regiment sailed from New Orleans to join the army of Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico. The daughter of Taylor had tragically died of illness shortly after her marriage to Davis, and relations between the men had remained cool thereafter.
Davis had armed his regiment with 1841 percussion rifles, the latest technology, with much more reliable percussion caps substituted for flint locks. Davis’ men during the war would use the rifles with such deadly skill that ever afterwords the rifles became known as 1841 Mississippi percussion rifles.
Davis and his men participated in the siege of Monterrey in September of 1846. The war in northern Mexico then entered a quiet phrase which was shattered in February of 1847 by a Mexican offensive.
On February 23, 1847 Taylor and his Army of 4500 men were assaulted by Santa Anna the Mexican dictator leading a force of 16,000 troops. The battle was a see-saw affair with the larger Mexican force launching assault after assault against the smaller American Army at the mountain pass of Buena Vista. Davis and his men broke an attacking Mexican column under General Ampudia by launching a flank attack during which Davis was wounded in the foot. A second attack was beaten off by the Mississippians and the 3 Indiana forming an inverted V. The Mexican force, 2000 men, charged into the V and were shattered by the murderous cross-fire. (more…)