Chapter 1: from Washington to Mississippi.

The task of relating my husband's life in the Confederacy is approached with anxious diffidence, but it must be fairly set forth for his justification. I am unwilling needlessly to antagonize any part of the country, but love my own with devotion proportionate to the great sacrifices made in its behalf. The memories of the Confederacy, its triumphs, its decadence, and fall, are proud, and very bitter. If in dwelling upon the splendid gallantry of our soldiers, the cheerful endurance and unwonted labor of all classes of our women, or the barbarities practised upon us, both before and after the subjugation of our country, I speak plainly, it is because my memory furnishes data which the deliberate judgment of my old age does not contradict, and the anguish is a living pain which years have done little to soothe, and from which the [2] desire for recrimination, or even for revenge, is totally absent.

One of the most patriotic, humane, and benevolent of men has been portrayed as a monster of ambition and cruelty, and the mistaken policy of silence under these accusations has fixed upon the minds of right and fair-minded opponents their belief in the truth of the allegations. Here, before a jury of his peers and the world, I would present his case as he stated it, and with it contemporary testimony. This proof impartially weighed will show him to have honorably and religiously lived, and fearlessly died. His services to his country were many and brilliant; to it he sacrificed his ambitions, his prosperity, his time, health, and happiness. He gave his all-and since he enjoyed the love and confidence of eight millions of our own people, “verily great was his reward.”

“ During the interval,” wrote Mr. Davis,

between the announcement by telegraph of the secession of Mississippi and the receipt of the official notification which enabled me to withdraw from the Senate, rumors were in circulation of a purpose, on the part of the United States Government, to arrest members of Congress preparing to leave Washington on account of the secession of the States [3] which they represented. This threat received little attention from those most concerned. Indeed, it was thought that it might not be an undesirable mode of testing the question of the right of a State to withdraw from the Union. 1

No attempt was made, however, to arrest any of the retiring members; and, after a delay of a few days, spent in necessary preparations, I left Washington for Mississippi, passing through Southwestern Virginia, East Tennessee, a small part of Georgia, and North Alabama. A deep interest in the events which had recently occurred was exhibited by the people of these States, and much anxiety was indicated as to the future. Many years of agitation had made them familiar with the ideas of separation. Nearly two generations had risen to manhood since it had begun to be [4] discussed as a possible alternative. Few, very few, of the Southern people had ever regarded it as a desirable event, or otherwise than as a last resort for escape from evils more intolerable. It was a calamity which, however threatened, they still hoped might be averted, or indefinitely postponed, and they had regarded with contempt, rather than anger, the ravings of a party in the North, which denounced the Constitution and the Union, and persistently defamed their brethren of the South.

Now, however, as well in Virginia and Tennessee, neither of which had yet seceded, as in the more southern States which had already taken that step, the danger so often prophesied was perceived to be at the door, and eager inquiries were made as to what would happen next, especially as to the probability of war between the States.

The course which events were likely to take was shrouded in the greatest uncertainty. In the minds of many there was not the unreasonable hope (which had been expressed by the Commissioner sent from Mississippi to Maryland) that the secession of six Southern States-certainly soon to be followed by that of others, would so arouse the sober thought and better feeling of the Northern people as to compel their representatives to agree to [5] a Convention of the States, and that such guarantees would be given as would secure to the South the domestic tranquillity and equality in the Union which were rights assured under the Federal compact. There were others, and they the most numerous class,--who considered that the separation would be final, but peaceful. For my part, while believing that secession was a right, and, properly, a peaceable remedy, I had never believed that it would be permitted to be peaceably exercised. Very few in the South, at that time, agreed with me, and my answers to queries on the subject were, therefore, as unexpected as they were unwelcome.

To wrench oneself from the ties of fifteen years is a most distressing effort. Our friends had entered into our joys and sorrows with unfailing sympathy. We had shared their anxieties and seen their children grow from infancy to adolescence. To bid them farewell, perhaps to meet in the near future with a “great gulf between us,” was, “death in life.” Mr. Davis was resigning an office which, of all others, was the most congenial to his taste, and conducive to the increase of his reputation. He anticipated a long and exhausting war, and knew that his property in cotton planting would be utterly destroyed in [6] the course of the impending conflict. Deeply depressed and supremely anxious, he made his preparations to go home.

We left Washington “exceeding sorrowful,” and took our three little children with us. As we came into the Southern States the people surrounded the train at every little hamlet, and called Mr. Davis out. Wherever we stayed long enough, he told them to prepare for a long and bloody war, and tried to impress them with the gravity of the occasion. After many short speeches, he became very much exhausted from the constant exertion. When the conductor noticed it he said, “Never mind, when we stop at the next two or three stations I will blow off steam at ‘My friends and fellow-citizens,’ and go off at once;” and so he did, much to the disgust of the crowd.

We proceeded without accident until we reached the Crutchfield House, at Chattanooga. There a crowd was gathered, among whom was the cordial proprietor, the elder Crutchfield. While the supper was being prepared, a speech was called for. Mr. Crutchfield's brother was a Union man, and had been drinking. He began a violent tirade against Mr. Davis. He had twelve or thirteen people with him who seemed to be his companions in jollity, but who did not partake [7] of his irritation. He offered to resent personally anything Mr. Davis might say. The excitement became intense. The office was in one corner of a large, unfurnished room. News of the disturbance was brought to me, and I went into the room. The excitement was at its highest pitch. A rough man sitting on a barrel said to a negro near him, “Tell that lady she need not be uneasy, Jeff Davis ain't afraid. He will make his speech.” Mr. Davis proceeded at once to make the address for which the crowd called, and his audience closed around him with expressions of affectionate respect. The disturber of the peace was “hustled out.” The interruption lasted about ten minutes. Much has been made of this scene, but it was merely the vagary of a drunken man, for which his brother apologized.

As soon as we reached Mississippi, man after man boarded the train and accompanied us to Jackson, until nearly a brigade was on the cars. The Governor and the State authorities met Mr. Davis informally, and went with him to a boarding-house kept by an old lady of wonderful acumen, named Dixon, whose husband had been a member of Congress. She knew intimately every man of prominence in the State, and had no little political influence. We were rendered very [8] anxious by the accounts she gave of the state of excitement pervading everyone; there was no rest anywhere.

At Jackson, Mr. Davis found his commission from Governor I. I. Pettus, as Major-General of the forces of Mississippi, dated January 25, 1861. Then began the business of making provisions for arms, and for the organization and discipline of the forces of Mississippi. Governor Pettus came to Mr. Davis to consult about the purchase of arms. He thought 75,000 stand would be sufficient. Again Mr. Davis was very emphatic, saying, “The limit of our purchases should be our power to pay. We shall need all and many more than we can get, I fear.” Governor Pettus, once or more during the conference, remarked, “General, you overrate the risk.”

There were hundreds coming to and fro during the week of our stay, and on nearly every occasion a warning was given to prepare, by rigid economy and by the establishment of such small factories as were practicable, to supply the domestic needs of those who remained at home, and to take every other means of making the South independent; for a great war was impending over the country, “of which no man could foresee the end.” [9]

Mr. Davis wrote thus of his arrival in Jackson :

On my arrival at Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, I found that the Convention of the State had made provision for a State army, and had appointed me to the command, with the rank of Major-General. Four brigadier-generals, appointed in like manner by the Convention, were awaiting my arrival for assignment to duty. After the preparation of the necessary rules and regulations, the division of the State into districts, the apportionment among them of the troops to be raised, and the appointment of officers of the general staff, as authorized by the ordinance of the Convention, such measures as were practicable were taken to obtain necessary arms. The State had few serviceable weapons, and no establishment for their manufacture or repair. This fact (which is as true of other Southern States as of Mississippi) is a clear proof of the absence of any desire or expectation of war. If the purpose of the Northern States to make war upon us because of secession had been foreseen, preparations to meet the consequences would have been contemporaneous with the adoption of a resort to that remedy — a remedy the possibility of which had for many years been contemplated. Had the Southern States possessed [10] arsenals and collected in them the requisite supplies of arms and ammunition, such preparations would not only have placed them more nearly on an equality with the North in the beginning of the war, but might, perhaps, have been the best conservator of peace.

Let us, the survivors, however, not fail to do credit to the generous credulity which could not understand how, in violation of the compact of Union, a war could be waged against the States, or why they should be invaded because their people had deemed it necessary to withdraw from an association which had failed to fulfil the ends for which they had entered into it, and which, having been broken to their injury by the other parties, had ceased to be binding upon them.

He was deeply distressed by the temper of the people. Time and again, when visitors left the room, Mr. Davis ejaculated, “God help us, war is a dreadful calamity even when it is made against aliens and strangers. They know not what they do.”

At the end of the week we returned to Briarfield, and then my husband began to make provisions for a long absence.

He advised with the older negroes about the care of their families, urged them to look after the old and helpless, and interrogated old Bob, the oldest man on the place, as to [11] the comforts he thought he might need. I remember his study of the best rocking-chairs for Bob and his wife Rhinah. Mr. Davis bought him cochineal flannel for his rheumatism, and furnished an extraordinary number of blankets for the old couple.2

In one of his conversations with the more dependable of the men, he said: “You may have to defend your mistress and her children, and I feel I may trust you.”

Mr. Davis was so careworn and unhappy that when we were alone it was piteous to see him. He never gave up the hope of an adjustment and a peaceful reunion with the North until the first blood was spilled. He slept little and talked nearly all night. In one of these conversations I asked the question, how he thought the contending sections could be pacified. He said “a guarantee of our equal rights would bring the whole country back to-morrow.” Ie then spoke of a dual presidency, but did not think the scheme practicable. He said, “In any case, I think our slave property will be lost eventually,” and then went on to speak of the cordon of custom-houses which would be needful, if a commercial [12] treaty of free trade could not be made, and of the immense standing army that would necessarily deplete the resources of the country if the slaves were still to be kept in bondage. He went on to say that our swamp lands, he feared, could not be cultivated by white men. They were the most fertile lands in the country, but they must, he feared, lie fallow. That rivers were bad boundaries, and must necessarily constitute ours. He wound up, generally, by saying, “Let us pray for that peace on earth and good — will to men that is needful for prosperity and happiness.” This expression is copied from one of his letters at this time, and I heard the invocation many times during and before the war.

We both congratulated ourselves that he was to be in the field. I thought his genius was military, but that, as a party manager, he would not succeed. He did not know the arts of the politician, and would not practise them if understood, and he did know those of war.

1 Mr. Davis remained a week in Washington, hoping that he might be the person arrested. A part of this time he was ill and confined to his bed. To him came Commodore Shubrick, Captain Semmes, General Floyd, Colonel Chesnut, Senator Wigfall, C. C. Clay, and others too numerous to mention, as Southern men anxious about the fate of their country. I did not hear the conversations or know the purport of them from my husband, but was pained to see the deep depression under which he labored. The only time he ever seemed cheerful was when he spoke of his hope that the moderation of the President and his advisers would restrain the ardor of the anti-slavery men. “If they will give me time,” he said, “all is not lost; violence on one side and extreme measures of wrong on the other now, will dissolve the Union.” And bytelegrams and letters to every Southern State he endeavored to postpone their action.

2 When the Federal soldiers took his furniture, flannel, and other comforts at the sacking of our plantation, they said, in answer to Bob's remonstrance, that they did not believe he had received so many things from us, he must have stolen them.

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