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Chapter 72: letters from Fortress Monroe.

From Mr. Davis to Mrs. Davis.

Fortress Monroe, Va., January 16, 1866.
I had feared that our negroes would be disturbed by the introduction of others among them, but could not have imagined that they would be driven away from their home by those pretending to be their especial advocates. What a beast he must have been who turned old Uncle Bob out of his house, to find where he could a shelter for the infirmities of more than a hundred winters. That claim was manifest. Of the truth, the fidelity, the piety which had so long secured him the respect of all who knew him, a stranger might plead ignorance ... 17th. I have been suffering from neuralgia in the head, and the usual effect upon the eyes causes me to write at intervals. Indeed, considering the circumstances, it is rather to be wondered at that I am not worse. Once a day it is still permitted to me to walk in the open air; and, though the time is brief, the result is beneficial. ... [742] 18th. The gifts with which men are divinely endowed are various, and the requirements of the Lord are never beyond the range of possibility; for He knows our infirmities and judges of our motives. These man cannot know, and is therefore forbidden to judge. We hope and pray for God's forgiveness on the ground of true repentance, and as we cannot tell, in the case of those who trespass against us, whether the repentance is true or feigned, we are bound to accept the seeming. This is possible, but is not easy for virtue far short of the God-like or saintly examples of the Redeemer, the first Christian Martyr. ...

From Mr. Davis to Mrs. Davis.

Fortress Monroe, Va., January 24, 1866.
Judge Campbell, I have been told, wrote a full account of the interview with Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, and that it has been published in the Northern papers. Mr. Hunter promised me to write such a statement. The stories told of Mr. Stephens are improbable, because the meanest capacity must perceive that my powers and duties rested on the organization made by the Southern States, and that it would have been treasonable usurpation to attempt to destroy the organization by the exercise offunctions given to maintain it. [743] When the Continental Congress sent Commissioners to meet Lord Howe, who had announced himself as empowered to treat for the adjustment of the controversy between the States and Great Britain, the Commissioners, on learning that the basis must be a return to allegiance, informed his Lordship that the Colonies having declared their independence, it was not competent for the Congress to return them to a state of dependence. In both cases, there was an obvious mode, but it was adopted in neither, viz., to suspend hostilities and submit propositions to be laid before the States. Judge Campbell mache an inquiry which opened, and received an answer which closed, that view. I suppose it is narrated in his stlaement.1 Excluded from an opportunity to reply, slanders have worked without check, and have no doubt deceived many. Again, any dolt whose blunders necessitated frequent conviction, and whose vanity sought for someone on whom to lay the responsibility of his failures, could readily, and if mean enough would now, ascribe them to me. Things done against my known views, and of which explanations were written to me when success was expected to result from the change of [744] plan, have lately been attributed to my orders. Beauregard, Hood, Hardee, and Cobb know of a case in point, memorable by its consequences. Generals Lee and Bragg could give the history of the two largest armies. ... I never sought to make up my own record, intent on the discharge of my duties in the various public positions I have held. If the question had occurred to me, how will this be told hereafter? I would have preferred to leave that task to others. Nor is the hazard great, for the dependence of the parts of a whole will generally correct the perversions of recital by interested narrators.

That power to compare and sift testimony is as necessary to a historian as to an attorney, and I hope the faculty will be put in exercise proportionate to the field our time has offered ...

The New York paper containing an account of the interview between the South Carolina committee and President Johnson, was handed to me soon after its publication. I did not credit the statement, because I was sure you had not in such correspondence given expression to your personal feelings.2 [745]

To all the trials, mental and physical, to which I am subjected I will oppose all the moral power I possess, that my life may be prolonged as far as such drains will permit, and my power to meet any future ordeal be as great as possible to me.

Mr. Clay, like myself, no doubt, suffers from food unsuited to him, and to anyone in close confinement, even were it good, I think it would soon become so ...

Bowed down by anxiety for my family, suffering from neuralgia and dyspepsia, covered by the dusky cloud of falsehood and injustice, I am supported by the conscious rectitude of my course, and humbly acknowledging my many and grievous sins against God, can confidently look to His righteous judgment for vindication in the matters whereof I am accused by man. ...

From Mr. Davis to Mrs. Davis.

Fortress Monroe, January 28, 1866.
... Did you ever hear that Colonel MacCree refused to dine with the Duke of Wellington? He, of course, gave no reason on that occasion, but it was well understood to be or mine. President Johnson afterward acknowledged to the Honorable Reverdy Johnson, that he had made a misstatement in answer to my application for a copy of the putative letter. [746] on account of the treatment received by Napoleon after his surrender.

It is not long since a newspaper paragraphist would have been rebuked by public opinion if he had attempted, by epithets and one-sided statements, to inflame the mind of his readers against a prisoner waiting a trial; but that would have been a small offence compared with that of a law-maker who would seek to produce the effect, and then, by retrospective legislation, to bring it to bear upon an anticipated trial by endowing such prejudiced minds with the power to judge. The minor objections growing out of the official character of the person, which, if alone, would be great, are hidden by the magnitude of the offence of uttering such libellous assertion under the circumstances which he knew surrounded me. That his authority was not called for, that he was not scoffed by the multitude as the home-bred sentiment of fair play demanded, shows you how deep-seated the disease has become.

The same conclusion as to your course is reached by every line of thought. Trying as it may be, you will have to make the effort to leave me, for the present, out of all your plans; and may our Heavenly Father strengthen your heart for the difficult task of filling the place of both parents to our children. [747] Tarry thou the Lord's pleasure, and let us always remember that all He does is right, and that hereafter it will be given to us to comprehend His ways and say all was well ... 29th. ... Oh, that the law-makers had facts instead of suggestions on which to base their action in regard to the Southern States. ... Fear not what man can do, it is God disposes. Now I am shut up and slander runs riot to destroy my fair repute, but any investigation must redeem my character and leave it for an inheritance to my children, which in after-times they will not be the worse for possessing. The treatment I have received will be compared with my treatment of others, and it will be the reverse of the picture my enemies have drawn. Conscious rectitude is a great support to the sufferer, whatever may be the form or the end of the afflictions.

Fortress Monroe, Va., February 3, 1866.
... Men turn to the judgment of posterity for the reversal of the decrees of their contemporaries, appealing with the self sustaining hope of conscious rectitude, from “Philip drunk to Philip sober.” ... The newspapers will have informed you of the petition in my behalf by seven thousand [748] ladies of Richmond and vicinity. It was not ineffectual, it refreshed my burdened heart as the shower revives a parched field.

I have just heard that Mr. Cass is dying, and regret it as well on account of my kind feeling for him and the respect which his amiable character commanded, as because he was one of those on whom I felt I could rely to vindicate my character from some of the accusations made against me. After Mr. Crittenden, there was no one to whom I talked so much and so freely concerning the sectional troubles in 1860-61. With Mr. Crittenden I daily conferred when we served on the compromise committee in that winter, the record of which shows who it was who opposed every effort at accommodation.

Like you, I feel sorry for the negroes. What has been done would gradually and measurably be corrected by the operation of the ordinary laws governing the relation of labor to capital, if they were let alone. But interference by those who have a theory to maintain by the manufacture of facts, must result in evil, evil only and continually ...

At every renewal of the assertion that the Southern people hate the negroes, my surprise is renewed; but a hostility, not now or heretofore existing, between the races may be [749] engendered by just such influences as are indicated ...

On the night of the 13th I was sitting before the fire, because I could not sleep, and had a startling optical illusion, such you know as were common to me in fever; but to my vision, I saw little Pollie 3 walk across the floor and kneel down between me and the fire, in the attitude of prayer. I moved from consequent excitement and the sweet vision melted away. I have not called it a dream, because not conscious of being asleep, but sleep has many stages, and that only is perfect sleep which we call Death.

To use your expressive phrase, I am hungry for the children's little faces, and have habitually to resist the power of tender feelings which may not be gratified. ... To look only to those hopes of which man cannot deprive me, and to such relief as a record may afford, in the event to which my enemies refer as a means, not of learning the truth and doing justice, but of condemnation and punishment.


From President Davis to Mrs. Davis.

Fortress Monroe,Va., February 17, 1866.

19th day. Mrs. Clay, after her return to Washington, sent me a coffee-pot, to enable me to make coffee for myself. Dr. Cooper came and gave me full instructions as to its use, making very good coffee as a part of the lecture. I have followed directions not with the best success; indeed, I am led to doubt whether cooking was designed to be my vocation.4 ... My eyes do not suffer much from inflammation; but the neuralgia of the head sometimes renders me almost blind during the paroxysm. I recollect Frederick Maginnis 5 very well; first met him at Manassas, and had a very favorable opinion of him.

The “Quadrilateral” was handed to me and I soon found, what was not told, that it had been sent by you. The writer has attempted [751] the very difficult task of portraying the inconsistencies of human nature. Sir Walter Scott alone has succeeded in doing it. We have as much in real life as anyone can need, and in fiction we might be treated to pictures harmonized in coloring. The disclosure of Ida's secret, and the slaughter of prisoners who had laid down their arms, could not have been done by one as true and generous and brave as the hero is represented. The horse is the best character in the book, as I measure them. Do you recollect “Old Duke” the horse I rode in the Pawnee campaign? He might have stood for the portrait, except that even in extreme age he was not gentle. ...

Fortress Monroe, Va., March 13, 1866.
Your reception at Macon was such as I anticipated from my own experience, and it is so much the more valuable because those friends have little demonstrativeness and no insincerity. The kind manifestations mentioned by you as made by the negro servants, are not less touching than those of more cultivated people. I liked them, and am gratified by their friendly remembrance. Whatever may be the result of the present experiment, the former relation of the races was one [752] which could only incite to harshness a very brutal nature.

I hope the reports of growing despondence, because of political action leading to organizations for expatriation, have been exaggerated. All cannot go, and those who must stay will need the help of all who can go away. The night may seem long, but it is the part of fidelity to watch and wait for morning.

Warned by a sad experience against such calculations as would make hope sanguine and expectation swift, I will yet hope, though in patience, and strive to find adequate protection beneath the shield of the conviction that all things are ordered in wisdom and mercy and love, that I may fully feel, “Even so, father, for it is Thy will.”

... In all the affairs of life we are reduced to choosing between evils, every situation having its disadvantages. You recollect the instructive satire of Horace on the desire for change, etc.

Remember me most affectionately to Ma. Tell her that the old one hit Le Roy at last, but that his faith held out and he never cried “quarter.” ...

If my letter seems disjointed and obscure, do not infer any physical ill as the cause. The tramping and creaking of the sentinel's boots [753] disturb me so as to render it difficult to write at all. ...

Fortress Monroe, March 22, 1866.
... I am in the condition to give the highest value to quiet, it being the thing never allowed to me by day or night.

The spring is slowly appearing and, as well as the calendar, reminds me of the many months during which I have been closely confined without any legal proceeding, or even informal notice of the charges and evidence on which I am held as a “state prisoner.” So I strive to possess my soul in patience, and by every means attainable to preserve my health against undermining circumstances. The officers of the guard treat me with all the consideration compatible with their position.

Fortress Monroe, Va., April 8, 1866.
... Next to the consciousness of rectitude, it is to me the greatest of earthly consolations to know that those for whom I acted and suffer, approve and sympathize. It is common in cases of public calamity for those who feel the infliction, to seek for some object on which to throw the blame, and rarely has it happened that the selection has been justly or generously made ... [754]

I feel deeply indebted to Dr. Craven and the ladies of his family for a benevolence which had much to suppress, and nothing selfish to excite, it, and but for which my captivity would soon have ended in death.

The letter from my little Polly is a sweet, graceful image of her honest, affectionate heart. I am sure she will be a comfort and honor to her family in after-years. ...

Fortress Monroe, April 21, 1866.
... The young soldier who saw you in the cars at Binghamton reported the interview, and described how bright and wideawake little Winnie was. It was a great pleasure to me to hear an eye-witness.

The weather is quite warm, the earth is clothed in her bright robes of promise, the birds sing joyously, and I will not, like the “Bard of Avon,” complain that they are so tuneful while “ I so weary fu‘ oa care.” Though not the voice I long to hear, I draw from it the pleasure it was designed to give by the bounteous Creator, who did not mean that man's happiness should be at the mercy of man, and therefore formed him for companionship with nature, and endowed his soul with capacity to feed on hopes which live beyond this fleeting life ...

... Often has it occurred in the world's [755] history that fidelity has been treated as a crime, and true faith punished as treason. So it cannot be before the Judge to whom all hearts arc open, from whom no secrets are hid. Dr. Cooper has just been here to visit me, he says all which is needful for me is air and exercise. It was the want which Cowper's bird had, and hardly had bird more usually sought for air and motion than I did when I had Byron's “Heritage of woe.” But I am not of Cato's creed, and do not hold that it is man's wisdom to equal the swallow, but man's dignity to bear up against trials under which the lower animals would sink. Resolution of will may not, according to Father Timon, prolong indefinitely our earthly existence, but it will do much to sustain the tottering machine beyond the observer's calculation. ...

... 23d. You can imagine how one, shut out from all direct communication with his friends, dwells upon every shadow and longs for light.

Yesterday my walk was extended to two hours, and I hope for the continuance of the extension, as the good doctor has urged the necessity for more air and exercise. ...

1 It was not, but much was narrated which inflamed the public against the hapless prisoner.

2 Mr. Davis refers to a misstatement of President Johnson, that I had written him offensive letters, when I had never written him but one, and that was an application to be allowed to go to my husband, and this was couched in respectful terms and handed to him by Francis P. Blair, who would not have done anything to injure me

3 The name of a sister he loved, and applied as an endearment to little Maggie.

4 This little coffee-pot is now in my possession. In his first effort at cooking he wrenched off the soldered top instead of taking off the dripper, and he gently and apologetically explained, “I did not learn to cook early enough.”

5 A colored man who was a courteous, refined gentleman in his instincts. He offered his services to me gratuitously in Georgia, which were accepted on the usual terms of remuneration, and he was a second providence to us by his care of Mr. Davis after I was allowed to go to him. He afterward married my maid, who was as dear as she was faithful to me, and they both live now in Baltimore, respected by all who know them.

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