Volume 12 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis follows the former president of the Confederacy as he and his family fight to find their place in the world after the Civil War. A federal prisoner, incarcerated in a "living tomb" at Fort Monroe while the government decided whether, where, and by whom he should be tried for treason, Davis was initially allowed to correspond only with his wife and counsel. Released from prison after two hard years, he was not free from legal proceedings until 1869. Stateless, homeless, and without means to support himself and his young family, Davis lived in Canada and then Europe, searching for a new career in a congenial atmosphere. Finally, in November 1869, he settled in Memphis as president of a life insurance company and, for the first time in four years, had the means to build a new life.
Throughout this difficult period, Varina Howell Davis demonstrated strength and courage, especially when her husband was in prison. She fought tirelessly for his release and to ensure their children's education and safety. Their letters clearly demonstrate the Davises' love and their dependence on each other. They both worried over the fate of the South and of family members and friends who had suffered during the war.
Though disfranchised, Davis remained careful but not totally silent on the subject of politics. Even while in prison, he wrote without regret of his decision to follow Mississippi out of the Union and of his unswerving belief in the constitutionality of state rights and secession. Likewise, he praised all who supported the Confederacy with their blood and who, like himself, had lost everything.
As William J. Cooper, Jr., writes in his Introduction, “Davis’s notability does not come solely from his crucial role in the Civil War. Born on the Kentucky frontier in the first decade of the nineteenth century, he witnessed and participated in the epochal transformation of the United States from a fledgling country to a strong nation spanning the continent. In his earliest years his father moved farther south and west to Mississippi. As a young army officer just out of West Point, he served on the northwestern and southwestern frontiers in an army whose chief mission was to protect settlers surging westward. Then, in 1846 and 1847, as colonel of the First Mississippi Regiment, he fought in the Mexican War, which resulted in 1848 in the Mexican Cession, a massive addition to the United States of some 500,000 square miles, including California and the modern Southwest. As secretary of war and U.S. senator in the 1850s, he advocated government support for the building of a transcontinental railroad that he believed essential to bind the nation from ocean to ocean.”
From the Hardcover edition.
PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF ULYSSES S. GRANT
The memoirs of the legendary Union general chart the fortunes that shaped his life and character—from his frontier boyhood to his heroics in battle to the grinding poverty from which the Civil War “rescued” him. Among autobiographies of great military figures, Grant’s is considered one of the finest.
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
Abraham Lincoln called Uncle Tom’s Cabin “the book that made this great war.” Langston Hughes called it “a moral battle cry.” Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic novel offers a shockingly realistic depiction of slavery and a portrait of human dignity in the most inhumane circumstances.
THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
One of the greatest works of American literature, The Red Badge of Courage gazes fearlessly into the bright hell of war through the eyes of one young soldier, the reluctant Henry Fleming. Stephen Crane’s novel imagines the Civil War’s terror and loss with an unblinking vision so modern and revolutionary that critics hailed it as a work of literary genius.
JEFFERSON DAVIS: THE ESSENTIAL WRITINGS
The Confederate president is one of the most complex and controversial figures in American political history. Editor William J. Cooper combs through the authoritative Papers of Jefferson Davis for this selection of letters, major speeches, and public and private writings. Collectively, they present a multifaceted portrait of a man who continues to fascinate scholars and Civil War buffs alike.
THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
The greatest of all American presidents left us a vast legacy of writings, some of which are among the most famous in our history. From the plainspoken eloquence of the Gettysburg Address to the soaring rhetoric of his Second Inaugural, this marvelous volume serves as a guide to Lincoln’s life through his speeches, letters, and public remarks.
Mary S. Dix, Assistant Editor
At the end of Volume 2 Jefferson Davis had left Congress to become a colonel in the First Mississippi Regiment. The first item in this volume is a speech as he prepares to leave on a riverboat to serve in the Mexican War. The years 1846 through 1848 see Davis play a conspicuous role in the war and in the subsequent political clashes and controversies over slavery.
Volume 3 details Davis' first experience in battle as an officer of a regiment as well as his initial term as a U.S. senator. He received both praise and criticism for his leadership in Mexico. In 1847 he returned to Mississippi a wounded hero of national fame, refused a brigadier generalship, and took his place in the U.S. Senate.
There are several items of correspondence with Zachary Taylor that shed light on Taylor's attitude toward the proposed nomination that would lead to his election as president in 1848. Davis' first wife was Taylor's daughter; and in spite of political and family differences the two men maintained a close friendship. In a major speech in July, 1848, Davis protested the formal prohibition of slavery from the Oregon Territory; he then voted for the Senate's compromise bill on Oregon.
Volume 3 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis includes letters to and from Davis, his speeches in chronological order, and other documents, further illuminating Davis' character, opinions, philosophy, and personal relationships as well as continuing the development of his military career.
The social problem of maintaining the just relation between constitution, government, and people, has been found so difficult, that human history is a record of unsuccessful efforts to establish it. A government, to afford the needful protection and exercise proper care for the welfare of a people, must have homogeneity in its constituents. It is this necessity which has divided the human race into separate nations, and finally has defeated the grandest efforts which conquerors have made to give unlimited extent to their domain. When our fathers dissolved their connection with Great Britain, by declaring themselves free and independent States, they constituted thirteen separate communities, and were careful to assert and preserve, each for itself, its sovereignty and jurisdiction.
At a time when the minds of men are straying far from the lessons our fathers taught, it seems proper and well to recur to the original principles on which the system of government they devised was founded. The eternal truths which they announced, the rights which they declared "unalienable," are the foundation-stones on which rests the vindication of the Confederate cause.
He must have been a careless reader of our political history who has not observed that, whether under the style of "United Colonies" or "United States," which was adopted after the Declaration of Independence, whether under the articles of Confederation or the compact of Union, there everywhere appears the distinct assertion of State sovereignty, and nowhere the slightest suggestion of any purpose on the part of the States to consolidate themselves into one body. Will any candid, well-informed man assert that, at any time between 1776 and 1790, a proposition to surrender the sovereignty of the States and merge them in a central government would have had the least possible chance of adoption? Can any historical fact be more demonstrable than that the States did, both in the Confederation and in the Union, retain their sovereignty and independence as distinct communities, voluntarily consenting to federation, but never becoming the fractional parts of a nation? That such opinions should find adherents in our day, may be attributable to the natural law of aggregation; surely not to a conscientious regard for the terms of the compact for union by the States.
The eleventh volume of The Papers of Jefferson Davis follows the last tumultuous months of the Confederacy and illuminates Davis's policies, feelings, ideas, and relationships, as well as the viewpoints of hundreds of southerners -- critics and supporters -- who asked for favors, pointed out abuses, and offered advice on myriad topics. Printed here for the first time are many speeches and a number of new letters and telegrams. In the course of the volume, Robert E. Lee officially becomes general in chief, Joseph E. Johnston is given a final command, legislation is enacted to place slaves in the army as soldiers, and peace negotiations are opened at the highest levels. The closing pages chronicle Davis's dramatic flight from Richmond, including emotional correspondence with his wife as the two endeavor to find each other en route and make plans for the future in the wreckage of their lives.
The holdings of seventy different manuscript repositories and private collections in addition to numerous published sources contribute to Volume 11, the fifth in the Civil War period.
Richard E. Beringer, Visiting Coeditor
In Volume 4 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis, which covers the years 1849 to 1852, Davis had clearly chosen politics ar his life's work. He relished in his role as Mississippi's senior senator and willingly assumed the responsibility of being a national spokesman for the South. This period also saw a number of events in Davis' personal life, notably the birth of his first child and the beginning of a long estrangement from his brother Joseph.
In January, 1849, Davis signed the Southern Address, although he occasionally disagreed with the extreme positions of its author, John C. Calhoun. Outside the Senate, Davis supported the objectives of the Nashville Convention and, later, the idea of a southern congress. During the crisis of 1850 Davis spoke often on such key issues as the regulation of slavery in the territories, the extension of the Missouri Compromise line, the admission of California, the Texas-New Mexico boundary, the continuation of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1851 he proposed purchasing camels for military transportation and urged that a Pacific railroad route be considered in the definition of the Mexican boundary.
As a loyal Democrat, Davis had supported Lewis Cass in 1848, but he was a conspicuous personal favorite of Zachary Taylor, the new Whig president and his former father-in-law. In 1850 Taylor reportedly intervened to prevent a duel between Illinois representative William H. Bissell and Davis, who was incensed by Bissell's remarks about the Mississippi regiment at Buena Vista. Soon after joining the Taylor family at the president's deathbed in July, 1850, Davis defended Taylor's Mexican War performance in well-publicized Senate speech. Between sessions in 1849 Davis canvassed Mississippi, addressing gatherings throughout the state in favor of congressional candidates. He warned of northern aggressions, yet urged the exhaustion of all means of peaceful resistance before secession be considered. When he returned home after the arduous 1850 session, he defended his course, denying charges that he was a disunionist.
In February, 1850, Davis had been reelected to the Senate for a full six-year term, but in September, 1851, he resigned to accept the Sate Rights nomination for governor in opposition to Union nominee Henry Foote. Although illness precluded much active campaigning in the few weeks before the election, Davis substantially reduced the Union lead and lost by a narrow margin. A private citizen for the first time since 1845, Davis continued his involvement in politics. Despite nagging personal problems and ill health, he promoted Democratic unity and took to the stump for Franklin Pierce in 1852.
Although his position with the insurance company provided temporary financial stability, Davis resigned after the Panic of 1873 forced the sale of the company and its new owners canceled payments to Carolina policyholders. He left for England the following year in search of employment and to recuperate from ongoing illnesses. In 1876, Davis became president of the London-based Mississippi Valley Society and relocated to New Orleans to run the company.
Throughout the 1870s, Davis waged an expensive and seemingly endless legal battle to regain his prewar Mississippi plantation, Brierfield. He also began working on his memoirs at Beauvoir, the Gulf Coast estate of a family friend. Though disfranchised, Davis addressed the subject of politics with more frequency during this decade, criticizing the Reconstruction policies of the federal government while defending the South and the former Confederacy. The volume ends with Davis's inheritance of Beauvoir, which was his last home.
The editors have drawn from over one hundred manuscript repositories and private collections in addition to numerous published sources in compiling Volume 13.
For almost a decade a dedicated team of scholars has been collecting and documenting Davis' papers and correspondence for this multi-volume work. The first volume includes not only Davis' private and public correspondence but also the important letters and documents addressed to and concerning him. Two autobiographical accounts, a detailed genealogy of the Davis family, and a complete bibliography are also included.
This volume covers Davis' early years in Mississippi and Kentucky, his career at West Point, his first military assignments, and his tragic marriage to Sarah Knox Taylor. Together, the letters and documents unfold a human story of the first thirty-two years of a long life that later became filled with turbulence and controversy.
While completing these books, Davis attended and spoke at numerous Confederate memorial services and monument dedications, all the while waging a bitter feud with two of his former top generals-Joseph E. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard-over the reasons for the fall of the Confederacy. In late 1889, having returned to New Orleans from a trip to his plantation, Brierfield, Davis succumbed to pneumonia. His funeral procession attracted an estimated 150,000 mourners, a testament to the lasting popularity of the Confederacy's only president.
In volume 14 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis, the editors have drawn from over one hundred manuscript repositories and private collections, in addition to numerous published sources, to offer a compelling portrait of Davis over the last decade of his life.
Peggy L. Dillard, Editorial Associate
The autumn of 1863 was a trying time for Jefferson Davis. Even as he expressed unwavering confidence about the eventual success of the Confederate movement, he had to realize that mounting economic problems, low morale, and rotating army leadership were threatening the welfare of the new nation. Less than a year after the October 1863 Confederate victory at Chickamauga, the South relinquished Atlanta to Sherman.
During the tumultuous eleven months chronicled in Volume 10, Davis retained his fervor for southern nationalism as he struggled furiously to command a war and maintain a government. As the letters contained here illustrate, he soldiered bravely on.
Mary Seaton Dix, Coeditor
Introduction by Frank E. Vandiver
Volume 7 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis offers a unique view of 1861, the first year of the Confederacy, Davis' presidency, and the Civil War.
On January 21 Davis made his affecting farewell speech before a hushed Senate, then left for Mississippi. His uncertainty over a military or political course vanished when he received news of his unanimous election as president of the Confederate States of America. Inaugurated at Montgomery, Alabama, on February 18, Davis quickly set to work to forge a government, in a race with events to select a cabinet, establish departments, and plan for the common defense.
Hopes for a peaceful separation from the North ended with the firing on Fort Sumter; subsequent documents reveal a president absorbed by the problems of waging a war that soon stretched from the Atlantic Coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Victory at Manassas produced euphoria among southerners but plunged the president into the first of several unfortunate controversies with his generals, this one over the failure to pursue the enemy and capitalize on success.
Throughout 1861 the Confederate commissioners in Europe reported to Davis on their expectations of recognition, convinced that the demand for cotton would induce Great Britain and France to break the North's blockade of southern ports and help supply arms for the defense of the fledgling nation.
Volume 7 provides a rare opportunity to assess anew Davis' strengths and weaknesses as executive, to reexamine his relationship with generals, governors, congressmen, cabinet officers, the press, and the public. Davis ended the year as he begun, aware of the difficulties of the course the South had adopted and confident that its cause would ultimately triumph. Containing illustrations, maps, and more than 2,500 documents drawn from numerous printed sources and more than seventy repositories and private collections, Volume 7 covers a year of paramount importance in our country's history.
The fifth volume of The Papers of Jefferson Davis presents 9,000 of the approximately 21,000 known Davis letters, papers, and speeches from the years 1853 through 1855, when Davis served as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce. Most of the documents are included in summary form in an extensive calendar; 93 are published in full with annotation.
Well prepared for the War Department position by his military education and experience, Davis was already known as a champion of the army and West Point from his years in Congress. As secretary, Davis administered a department of eight bureaus and a military establishment spread thinly from coast to coast. An increase and reorganization of the army along with the establishment of new posts became top priorities as a tide of settlers encroached in Indian lands in the Mexican cession and Far West. Davis also supervised army engineering projects as varied as the Capitol extension, military roads, and river and harbor improvements. The curriculum of the Military Academy, new weapons and armaments development, the activities of the Crimea commission, the Pacific railroad surveys, and the camel expedition -- all commanded his minute attention
.Despite the burdens of office, Davis maintained a lively interest in the issues of the day, among them Latin American filibustering, the purchase of Cuba, states' rights, slavery, and the conflict in Kansas. The wide attention accorded his travels and speeches brought national prominence to him and speculation about his future candidacy for governor, a return to the Senate, the vice-presidency, and even the presidency.
Personal correspondence includes letters that touch on Davis' long estrangement from his brother, the death of his first child, persistent health problems, and relationships with friends and family. Much of hiss official correspondence, especially several angry exchanges with army officers, reveals even more about Davis' personality. In addition to the documents published in full and calendared, an appendix includes over one hundred recently discovered personal and political items dates from 1838 through 1852, before Davis' selection as secretary of war.