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Jefferson Davis in Richmond

Jefferson Davis   Jefferson Davis, born in Kentucky and raised in Mississippi, knew life as a boy on the plantation; as a soldier in the field in the Black Hawk War and the Mexican War, and then as a senator in Washington. But his most famous residence was the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Virginia, where Davis—as President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865—lived with his wife Varina and their children. Here the Davis's enjoyed the beauty and comfort of this stately dwelling, but also suffered a great tragedy. In April 1864 the couple's five-year-old son Joseph was playing on the porch when he fell 15 feet below to his death.

While Davis grieved over his personal loss, he was soon beset by other woes. With the Southern army's forces and supplies rapidly dwindling, it would not be long before his dreams for the Confederacy would be finished.

Image of Jefferson Davis care of Leib Image Archives.

White House of the ConfederacyOn April 2, 1865 General Robert E. Lee sent a telegram to the War Department advising the Confederate President to evacuate Richmond; the end of the war was at hand. Davis turned pale as he read the dreaded message that was delivered to him while he sat in the pews at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Acting on Lee's advice, Davis and his cabinet fled Richmond that night. The following week, on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered the army.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church   Though the war had officially ended Davis's troubles continued to pursue him. On May 2, 1865 President Andrew Johnson offered a reward for his capture, and eight days later Federal cavalrymen caught up with Davis and brought him to Fortress Monroe in Virginia. He remained imprisoned there for two years and was never brought to trial. Upon his release in May 1867, Davis returned once more to Richmond.

Jefferson Davis later traveled abroad to Europe and spent some time in Canada, then eventually settled in his beloved home state, Mississippi. From 1878 to 1881 he spent time writing a book, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

Despite having expressed his share of disappointment and bitterness after the war, during the latter years of his life he was reflective on the outcome of the events, and was willing to put the past Davis's bronze statue at Hollywood Cemeterybehind him for the sake of the future of the South. In his final speech that he delivered in 1887, Davis proclaimed:

The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes, and its aspirations. Before you lies the future, a future full of golden promise, a future of expanding national glory, before which all the world shall stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to take your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation to be wished—a reunited country.

Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans in December 1889, and was re-interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, on May 31, 1893. His wife and children are buried beside him in the Davis Circle.


Photos of Richmond from the top: Davis's Executive Mansion, known today as The Museum and The White House of the Confederacy (by DLO); St. Paul's Episcopal Church (by DLO); and Davis's bronze monument at his gravesite in Hollywood Cemetery (by CNO).


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