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Chapter 83: General Ransom's reminiscences of Mr. Davis.

General Robert Ransom was invited to send a reminiscence of my husband, who admired him as a soldier and trusted him as a friend, and he responded as follows:

On July 5, 1856, I first met Mr. Davis. He was then Secretary of War, and I a lieutenant of cavalry visiting Washington for the purpose of marrying my first wife, a young lady resident in that city and an intimate friend of SecretaryDavis and Mrs. Davis. I had been in the city a few days and had not paid my respects to the Secretary of War. On the evening of the 5th, the Secretary and Mrs. Davis held a reception, and I presented myself, and was, with the other company, received with the elegance and grace which characterized the host and hostess; but the Secretary remarked, with an air of playful reproof, “Young gentleman, I expected to have seen you before.” Turning to Mrs. Davis, I said: “Madam, do you think even the Secretary of War has a right to more than one visit from a young fellow on [907] leave of absence, who is here to marry his sweetheart day after to-morrow, when she and I both hope to see you and receive your congratulations?” He instantly replied: “ Go to your sweetheart and tell her, with my love, I am her friend and shall be to her husband, if he be worthy of so noble a woman.” To the day of his death he was true to the voluntary promise made upon the eve of my marriage, more than thirty years before. One among innumerable instances of tenacious memory and inviolable good faith shown through a life as full of extreme vicissitude as falls to the lot of man.

During the exciting period of “ Kansas Troubles,” in the autumn of 1856, I was again in Washington, and happened to be in company with Mr. Davis and other prominent men at a social gathering. The subject of the dispersion by Colonel E. V. Sumner, of the First Cavalry, of the “Topeka Legislature,” was broached, and Sumner was criticised by someone for not taking some of his officers with him into the hall where it had assembled, as that fact had been noticed by the press of the country. I was with Colonel Sumner that day, July 4, 1856, at Topeka, and was his adjutant. I was asked by one of the persons present as to the correctness of the statement regarding Sumner's going alone [908] into the hall, and I substantiated the fact. Mr. Davis, in answer to some adverse criticism upon Sumner, promptly replied: “ Brave and honest men are not suspicious, and Edwin Sumner is as brave as Caesar and honest as Cato.” This illustrates Mr. Davis's fidelity to truth and justice, regardless of sectional birth or habitation. All knew Sumner was from Massachusetts. Mr. Davis appointed him senior colonel of the four new regiments which were added to the army in. March, 1855.

Upon reaching Richmond, in the summer of 1861, after resigning the commission I held in the army, I delivered to President Davis a message from a young officer whom I had left upon the frontier. The young officer claimed Kentucky as his home. The message was to the effect that, if Mr. Davis would ask him to join the Confederacy, and give him high rank in the army, he, the young officer, would promptly repair to Richmond. Mr. Davis's response to me was prompt and emphatic, and to the effect: “I know the young man well, and have long been his and his family's friend. If his State join the Confederacy, he will surely follow her fortunes; if he voluntarily casts his lot with the Southern Confederacy, he shall have the recognition his character and ability deserve; but I shall not [909] make the least overture to him, as he ought to know from direct messages which I am aware he must have received from me.” The young man remained in the Federal army, but won no particular distinction. Mr. Davis has been traduced as a teacher of treason; this incident proves how far above the traitor he was by nature and arts.

In October, 1861, I carried to Richmond the first full regiment of cavalry, the First North Carolina, which had reached that city. We were there a few days, and the regiment was reviewed by the President. It numbered about eight hundred present, was admirably mounted, and, for our facilities, well equipped. The appearance and drill were more than creditable for cavalry not three months in the ranks, and the President, at the close of the review, accompanied by Colonel Chilton and some other gentlemen, advanced to me, and after congratulations and compliments, said in words nearly as follows: “ If we had had this regiment at Manassas, Washington would have been ours.” It is well known that the Confederate army, at the battle of the first Manassas, was without cavalry, excepting an irregular company or two. Colonel Chilton afterward spoke of the remark of the President, as demonstrating the fact that Mr. Davis realized the demoralization which possessed [910] the Federal army on the evening of the battle of the first Manassas ...

In April, 1864, I was called from East Tennessee to Richmond by telegram, “for other and distant service,” but a day or two after my arrival at Richmond was assigned to the command of the city and its outer defences, extending as far as Petersburg. It is needless to give the reasons for this change in the purposes of the President. For the next two months, hardly any forty-eight hours passed that I did not meet the President by appointment at his office or at his home; and often night and day, when upon the outer lines among and commanding troops Mr. Davis came to me to confer and always to encourage. It would run beyond the limit of my purpose, were I to detail all that memory and memoranda now supply of those many interviews; but that the world may know both the private life and public character of this singularly illustrious man, I shall narrate circumstantially some events that cannot fail to instruct and interest those who own truth ...

The day after the combat at Yellow Tavern, near Richmond, when Stuart met Sheridan and received his mortal wound, I had hurried from the vicinity of Drury's Bluff to the defensive lines north of Richmond with two small brigades of infantry, and by sunrise, or [911] before, confronted Sheridan, who had dispersed our cavalry. It was an hour to try every Confederate present. Mr. Davis was upon the field. No one could realize the situation more clearly than he. He never appeared to greater advantage. Calm, self-contained, cheerful, hopeful, determined, he was an inspiration to every soul who saw him. HIe did not once interfere, suggest, or order anything, but he was then demonstrating his readiness, and I have often thought his purpose, to assume control should the desperate moment arrive. He was kind enough to thank me then, and many times subsequently to refer most flatteringly to me for the operations of that day, and my service before Richmond during the spring and early summer of 1864.

There was no individual who was more familiar with the topography of Richmond and its vicinity than Mr. Davis. He had made himself acquainted with every road and bypath, and with the streams and farms for twenty miles around. Fond of horseback exercise, he rode often and frequently late into the night. Sometimes till sunrise or later the next morning in going over the lines and getting personal knowledge of localities and facts which might prove useful.

I recall very vividly the last visit he made me upon such an occasion. It was on the night [912] of June 11, 1864. I lay in bivouac a few hundred yards from Bottom's Bridge, over the Chickahominy, east of Richmond. Grant was then moving down the east bank of that stream for the purpose of making connection with Butler across the James. About two or three o'clock in the morning, I felt a light hand on my shoulder as I lay asleep with my head on my saddle, and started to rise. I recognized the voice of the President, in a low tone. “Do not rise,” said he. “I know you have but just fallen asleep, I give you an early call. Grant will not attempt to cross here, he is planning to do so below; to-day you will be relieved here. I have to send you with Early to meet Hunter, who is devastating the valley. Your task will be hard to organize the wild cavalry which has just been defeated at Rock Fish Gap, and that good soldier, but unhappy man, “Grumble Jones,” killed. Make your arrangements. You will get the order to-day.”

Mr. Davis was a very hospitable man, and his home was a charming resort to those who could appreciate the simple and unpretentious cordiality which marked every member of his family. Often I partook of that hospitality while he was a resident of Richmond, and since his return from Europe. The same urbanity and gentleness prevailed at his home, [913] whether as President, Cabinet officer, in wealth or power, or as the private citizen having the burden of a nation's woes. That the world may learn it from the pen of one who has experienced his kindness under almost all circumstances, I take the liberty to invade the privacy of his home on the occasion of my last meal at his table while he was President of the Confederacy. In the fall of 1864, I was ordered to the command of Charleston and vicinity, and received my orders in Richmond. The President asked me to breakfast. I went to a somewhat late one, and found that I and a lady guest had to entertain ourselves for a few minutes waiting for the host, who had not retired, as Mrs. Davis told me, until sunrise. Soon Mrs. Davis led the way to the breakfast-room, seating me by her, while Mr. Davis placed the lady at his right. The grace was said as usual. Our breakfast was simple in the extreme, and there was anything but profusion. Mrs. Davis poured some hot Rio coffee, Java and Mocha were then only known from memory. Mr. Davis had before him a dish of rather fat bacon, cut very thin and fried crisp. The neat man-servant handed cold baker's bread, and brought in corn batter cakes, while a very small plate of butter, the gift of a lady friend, graced the centre of the table. Such [914] was the breakfast of the President of the Confederacy. He possibly might have fared somewhat more sumptuously, for he was the recipient of some things from friends, but whatever of such supplies was received, or which he could procure, was sent to the soldiers in hospitals, whose needs he too well knew and never forgot. Mr. Davis could not have lived upon luxuries or enjoyed abundance when he knew his countrymen, standing as living walls between his home and a powerful enemy, were less well provided than himself.

In personal appearance and traits he was very attractive. His figure was erect and graceful, though spare; his carriage easy, alert, and dignified; his voice singularly clear and gentle. He was very approachable. So many pictures of his features are preserved that they need no description. His faculties of observation, naturally very fine, were highly cultivated. He was an excellent swordsman. His success as a planter showed his practical capacity in ordinary matters. He was fond of domestic animals, and few men were better judges of all classes of them. He believed in the thorough-bred in a horse, though I do not know that he ever raised them to any extent. With the forest trees of the various regions of our country he was well acquainted, and was, perhaps, the equal [915] of John Randolph as a geographer of his own country. Mr. Davis had not only read of the arts and sciences, of trades and commerce, and all that pertains to them, but was so conversant with such subjects that he was at home among experts in all branches. He must have been for the greater part of his life a hard student, and I think contracted the habit of “ burning midnight oil,” for he was a late riser. His memory was nearly infallible. A person whom he had met casually he could call by name years after, and convince the party he knew him by recalling instantly some incident of the meeting. He was a devout man, modest arid humble in his relations to his Maker, without a tinge of the Pharisee.

At his table he “ said grace,” or “ asked a blessing,” first seating himself, and then with bowed head, in silence making the invocation. When he lived in Memphis, I sometimes met at Mr. Davis's residence the venerable and Reverend Dr. Wheat, between whom and Mr. Davis there existed the sweetest relations. As together, on one occasion, we left his residence, Dr. Wheat said to me, “ If that man were a member of the Romish Church, he would be canonized as a saint, and his sufferings for our and the South's sake should forever enshrine him in our hearts as our vicarious sacrifice.” [916]

Of the relations which he established in his family in the position of husband and father, I am incompetent to write in the language befitting the parties concerned. Eulogy would be exhausted without exaggerating what seemed to the friend and guest the perfection of domestic existence. Knightly chivalry marked the tenderest attentions to wife and daughters, while with his sons he was a loving mentor and wise companion. An incident I witnessed will illustrate more than one characteristic. During one of my several visits to Memphis, when I was always a guest for longer or shorter periods, I was at dinner with the family. Just after being seated, and I think other company was present, an unusual commotion was heard in the passage leading to the dining-room, and almost instantly in rushed the bright, fairhaired Willie, his youngest son, a lad of eight or ten years, followed by half a dozen or more about his size and age, whom Willie had brought in to dinner. He rapidly told of some gardening or other work he had in hand, and which he wished finished at a certain time, and not being able to accomplish it so soon himself, he had gone into the streets and gathering his very promiscuous party of laborers, completed the task voluntarily assumed, and now wanted dinner for his co-workers. [917] I could easily discern the feelings of the father; with great cheerfulness and an expression of pride and satisfaction, Mr. Davis aided in preparing for his fine boy's guests, and with delicate tact and discriminating conversation soon had each little fellow as comfortable and unembarrassed as if on a picnic. The son had inherited from his parents high qualities and capacity, thus early indicated. The grave soon closed over the sons of the great father. To attempt to draw the veil from sacred griefs becomes not one who felt the agony such losses entailed, and who mourns the death of our South's greatest hero, and has wept with the sorrow of a bereaved son that the truest friend, the bravest soldier, the knightliest gentleman, and humblest Christian of our land no longer lives, the exemplar of all that makes men noble.

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