Jefferson Davis

Today we take a walk through the cotton fields of the Deep South. We will think for a few moments about one of the political leaders of the South who has been honored by the State of Mississippi by having his statue placed in the Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.

What is his name? Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky and later moved to Mississippi. He graduated from West Point in 1828 and served in Black Hawk Indian War. He was elected to the House of Representatives in Washington. He resigned from Congress to serve in the war with Mexico. After the war, he was elected to the United States Senate but after serving for five years, he was named Secretary of War in President Franklin Pierce’s Cabinet where he served for four years.

He was again elected to the United States Senate where he served five more years before resigning from the Senate when the state of Mississippi seceded from the Union. The following year, the Confederate States called a constitutional convention at Montgomery, Alabama, and Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederacy.

He was inaugurated on the portico of the state capital building in Montgomery and a bronze plaque marks the place. I have been to Montgomery and stood on that same spot. Alexander Stephens of Georgia, who was elected Vice President, introduced President Jefferson Davis and one of his references to the newly elected President were these words that are carved on the bronze plaque: “The man and the hour have met.”

Historians say that Jefferson Davis was a man of courage and conviction and he fought a good fight for the principles he advocated, but they question his judgement that took him and his Confederate States down the road to defeat and disaster.

When General Lee surrendered to General Ulysses Grant at Appomattox, the Confederacy ceased to exist. Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled south from Richmond but most were captured within a few days. Jefferson Davis was caught in Georgia and imprisoned at Fort Monroe, Virginia, for about 2 years. He was charged with treason but the charges were dropped and he was never tried. He retired to his beautiful estate “Beauvoir,” five miles west of Biloxi, Mississippi, where he wrote a history of the great conflict entitled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government .

Do you have any idea of the cost of the Civil War? In actual money, the cost ran right around 25 billion dollars. The money is not too important, but what is important is that about 800 thousand men died on the battlefields from Bull Run to Gettysburg to Richmond and Atlanta. Also the economy of the South was completely destroyed and it took 50 years to recover. War certainly is a stupid and brutal game for people to play as we have seen in our lifetime.

I often wonder if Jefferson Davis had any regrets as he worked on his book about the Confederacy for the part he and other leaders played in bringing about this needless and tragic war. With cooler heads and a spirit of compromise on both sides, this war could have been avoided.

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