Conversations with Jefferson Davis
Whatever may be any ones opinion in regard to the justice of the cause he advocated, the man who headed for four years the greatest revolt of modern times, can not but be deemed one of the formost figures of American history. Whatever crime against his country some think he has commited (and it may be state here that the writer is not one who holds any such belief) he has drained his full cup of suffering. As he stated not long ago, he did not seek the position in which he was placed, but obeyed a command which he, with Lee and thousands of other good & true men regarded as imperative, the voice of his native state calling him in her defense.
He did no more than other men to bring on the war and the question may well be asked as he asked it a few days ago "Why should I suffer more than others." Why when others went free should I have been loaded with chains that would have burdened an ox; the quetion is easier to ask than answer for the flimsy pretence that he has willfully caused the terrible state of affairs at Andersonville vanished at the first investigation by men who had been his bitter opponents—It is needless to record here Mr. Davis' history as a soldier—he was the Blucher of Genl Taylor's Waterloo at Bronea Viola, Mexico—or his long and distinguished service in Congress but one incident of his life as a Cabinet officer may well be mentioned, render his direction of the acqueduct supplying Washington with water was built, and without an instanse of his; his name was commenced some stone he won in office took the pitiful measure of erasing it—but thereby seemed a lasting commemoration of his service for all visitors at once notice the rough marks of the chisel, and their inevitable by the statement that from the stone the name of Jefferson Davis has been ended, his influence also did much to ornament the capitol and the Capitol City.
The object of this article however is not to re-affirm either the northern or the Southern view of Mr. Davis' courage or to tell again a twice told tale, but to give a resume of various conservative [sic] which he held with a friend in whom he confided, and who had no intention of publishing his words, nothing will be made public here, however, that Mr. Davis would object for the world to know and all that follows is in substance what he has said.
Shortly after reaching Montgomery Alba to take his seat, he found he was watched by a number of men, not only to report his words and deeds but to take his life. Two exconvicts who had been sent from Philadelphia and promised a large reward if they killed him. The plot was discovered in time.
When he arrived in Richmond he was exposed to the same danger after having been the unanimous choice of the whole Southern Confederacy and received in that city with enthusiastic welcome he was soon startled by the knowledge that there were cowardly villains who would seek to assassinate him. One evening he was riding below Richmond with Col. Wm Preston Johnston (son of Genl. Albert Sidney Johnston) his horse walked faster that that rider by his companion just after crossing Gillies Creek, at the lower end of the City a short space separated them. Just as they passed this point the report of a gun was heard and a ball whistled between them, Mr. Davis knowing well whom the shot was intended for, checked his horses and a thorough examination of the neighborhood was made, but no one was found upon whom the assault could be charged. Next day a man was arrested in a house near where the firing took place and a rifle and a Federal uniform overcoat were found in the house but as no conclusive evidence was provided against he was put in the army and a few weeks he deserted and nothing more was heard of him.
This was not the occasion which Mr. Davis ran such a risk. Once when he was returning from an inspection of the fortification near the city he was fired at—about dusk—from behind a wall, but had the good fortune to escape untouched. His conversations from day to day as various topics were suggested to him can be reduced to historical sequence, but must be given as he uttered them. He never took any action in regard to military affairs without consultation with his officers of the highest rank in the army. This action in attempting to end the War by means of peace commensing his in the South has been the subject of more criticism than any other of his life.
"I have been severely condemned in regard to the Peace Commission and many people say that the war could have ended if J. had not prevented it—But I tell you J was in favor of peace. I believe that an agreement would have securred if a man high in office under the Confederate Government had not betrayed the condition of the South to Mr. Lincoln. Only in our instance that J suggested to Genl Lee the movement from before Petersburg as his army was guided and depleted and only time would inundate it by the crime or make a coup d'etat. Fort Stedman was as you know the result ending at Appomattox.
Give his home at Beauvoir a happy Father and husband and nothing is mor that happening but some unjust criticism from his enemies. A beautiful home looking out on the Mexican Gulf surrounded by luxuriant trees the shadows fliting over his erect figure in his evening walks.
These pre-Katrina photos of Beauvoir appear courtesy of Galen R. Frysinger (www.galenfrysinger.com).
The depiction of Jefferson Davis comes from Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library. Beauvoir suffered catastrophic damage during the hurricane, images of which may be viewed here.
The original essay and its transcription are in the possession of the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, www.famcc.org, who has kindly made it available. The paragraph breaks and leading title were inserted during editing for HistoryPoint.org.